The message of "turning the other cheek" sounds absurd in a culture that has accepted war as inevitable.  But, is this the wisdom the world needs and is seeking?

The message of “turning the other cheek” sounds absurd in a culture that has accepted war as inevitable. But, is this the wisdom the world needs and is seeking?

Reviewed by Dr. Samuel Mahaffy. Like the fishermen of yester-year, Terrence Rynne meets Jesus Christ Peace Maker and drops his nets and follows him. The nets he drops are those that have ensnared and entangled cultures and civilizations in “sacralized violence” (p. 31) perpetrated in the name of religion.

Terrence Rynne speaks with the clear voice of one whose heart has been transformed by the “authentic voice of Jesus” (p. 78). It is the voice that has captivated the hearts of great teachers such as Gandhi, Thomas Merton, Dorothy Day, and the Rev. Martin Luther King. Sadly, it is a voice that is often not heard hard in mainstream Christian churches.

How different would the Christian church be today, if it held faithfully to the “ethic of creative, courageous, proactive peacemaking” (p. 92) that was the legacy of the early church? That legacy is dimmed by centuries of reinterpretation of Jesus’ profound message of love encapsulated in the Sermon on the Mount.

With exquisite care and historical scholarship, Terrence Rynne chronicalizes the metamorphosis of the Christian church from an inclusive and egalitarian community to “markedly vertical structures of dominance” (p. 161). This metamorphosis coincides and resides within the evolution from believing in creative and proactive peacemaking as a response to violence to the just war theory that legitimizes state-sanctioned violence.

With an incisive spiritual scalpel, Terrence Rynne cuts through the degradation of the message of nonviolence. Centuries of reinterpretation of this message by respected theologians such as Augustine and Aquinas, have served to sanction the wedding of the institutional church to a state that exercises hegemonic power under the cloak of moral justification.

Return with Terrence Rynne to the shores of Galilee. Witness the proclamation of a peaceable kingdom that is not about vengeance and retribution. This is the birthing of a “a new way to deal with humanity’s violence–by enduring it and still coming back with love” (p. 28).

The message of “turning the other cheek” sounds absurd in a culture that has accepted war as inevitable. It is the message of deep spiritual truth that the world characterizes as foolishness. Jesus Christ Peace Maker asks the profound question: “Is this the wisdom the world needs and is seeking?” (p. 82).

As I write this review, a CNN reporter is asking decorated U.S. General McChrystal: “Why not just whack off the head of ISIS every time it pops up?” Dare we ask instead this question, in considering a response to the brutality of ISIS: How might we “act in surprising, loving, creative, nonviolent ways to those who harm you?” (p. 136).

It is precisely the implausibility of this path of nonviolence that makes it so compelling. We endlessly try violent responses to violence. Is it time to recall practices of compassion and forgiveness, embedded deeply in our faith traditions, that hold promise to break the cycle of violence?

With scholarly precision, Terrence Rynne in Jesus Christ Peace Maker: A New Theology of Peace compels us to question the interpretations of our faith traditions. Rynne brings forward the little-heard voice that holiness is about inclusiveness. With his exegesis of the meaning of one Greek word–teleios–he profoundly reshapes the interpretation we have given to the “love your enemies” passage in the Sermon on the Mount. We have interpreted the word teleios to mean perfect. “Be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.” This interpretation calls us to exclusiveness and observance of external moral rules.

But, holiness is about inclusiveness, not perfection. The Sermon on the Mount is invitational to be “all embracing”. Rynne sights linguistic and theological scholars to demonstrate that the call is really to “limitless compassion” (p. 85) and all-embracing love.

This is the demarcation between religious fundamentalism and deep spirituality. The message of spiritual wisdom is always inclusive, while fundamentalism is exclusive. Spiritual wisdom carries a message calling all of humanity to a profoundly new way of being in the world.

If we had heeded a mandate over the last centuries to be all-embracing and inclusive rather than a mandate to be perfect, what religious wars might we have avoided and how might our world be different?

In reading Terrence Rynne’s work, I am aware that I carry some cynicism and jadedness about the institutional Christian church in which I was raised. I find it difficult to reconcile my deeply held convictions about peace making with a church that, for the most part, justifies war and supports hegemonic power over others. Rynne’s work awakens my yearning for community that promotes just sharing of resources rather than just war. Rynne cogently argues that the early Christian church was just such a community.

Rynne’s work calls me to a deeper reflection and hermeneutic about my own inherited tradition. He merges scholarship and historical understanding beautifully. But, more than that, Rynne speaks from his heart and his deepest discernment. He has clearly been touched by the conviction that the world must turn to peace as a “creative and dynamic process” (p.109).

Together, we must find practices that break the cycle of violence. That must happen across faith traditions. It must be inclusive of those who operate outside of faith traditions, but share the deep conviction that there is a better way.

Jesus Christ Peace Maker: A New Theology of Peace weaves a tapestry that suggests a life-giving way of being in the world. The fabric of this tapestry is egalitarian community, inclusiveness and proactive peacemaking. It points to restorative justice as an alternative to retribution.

Are we willing to take the risks of being peace makers? If you take anything away from this work, take this: “There is always an alternative to violence” (p. 88). Proactive peacemaking is ours to choose.

I invite you to these reflective questions. Can we nurture that place inside ourselves that knows there is a better way than violence? What are the fears we carry that compel us to instinctively respond to violence with more violence? Where is the place of peacemaking in our own faith or secular tradition? Has the peacemaking tradition of the religion of Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism and other faith traditions been diluted as it has in Christianity? Is there a time that we have experienced the power of proactive, creative and dynamic peacemaking? Are we willing to confront the predominate cultural and political paradigm of violence and retribution? Is state-sponsored violence (war) any less heinous than personal retribution? How can we fight violence and not become violent ourselves? Dare we hold the conviction that war is not inevitable?

Gandhi, Mandela, Doris Day, the Rev. Martin Luther King and countless others have pointed to this pathway of nonviolence and proactive peacemaking. Might we join them on this journey?

The journey that Rynne invites us to join is peacemaking that “calls us to unfetter our imaginations (p. 201). Can we imagine new ways of transforming conflict and building a “culture and a world of peace? (p. 65)

Rynne sees signposts of hope in global movements for peace. Peace circles, unarmed civilian peacekeeping forces, and nonviolent social change movements are emerging as alternatives to violent responses to injustice. Can we imagine a Shanti Sena, the peace army that Gandhi envisioned?

Peacemaking is about more than pacifism. Real peacemaking is inextricably linked to justice and restoration of right relationship. In the Gospel vision of peacemaking that Rynne brings forward, the symbol of justice “is not the blind folded woman with scales, but a surging river that waters dry land and restores the land to health (p. 218).   It is not a vision for a future heavenly kingdom, but a vision of peace and justice transforming our lives in our present time and place.

How might I more deeply live into this peace that calls for awakened imagination? Is it enough to have that quiet voice inside myself that whispers peace? Perhaps, the peace I must live into is loud and boisterous, demanding justice and standing at personal risk with those who are oppressed and who have been denied their own voice.

I close this review with my prayer for me and for you. In our going out and in our coming in, both in our home and on our journey together, may we know that deep peace (Shalom, Salem, Salaam) that is all-embracing and all-inclusive.


Jesus Christ Peace Maker: A New Theology of Peace is available from Orbis Books at this link: Jesus Christ Peace Maker: A New Theology of Peace. Terrence Rynne is the founder of the Marquette University Center for Peacemaking and the Co-President of the Sally and Terry Rynne Charitable Foundation. Samuel Mahaffy, the reviewer, has been involved in conflict transformation work for several decades. He invites your responses to this review and your reflections on peacemaking on his website. Follow Samuel Mahaffy on Twitter.