Terrence RYNNE, Jesus Christ, Peacemaker: A New Theology of Peace. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2014. pp. 253. ISBN 978-1-62698-097-6.
Reviewed by Marc TUMEINSKI, Anna Maria College, Paxton, MA 01612
Based on its title and opening paragraphs, I was enthusiastic about reading this book. The author brings a useful set of tools to his argument for a new theology of peacemaking (1): a positive vision of peace, love of Scripture, a call for Christians and the Church to live out the vocation to peace, an analysis of the signs of the times, a wide reading of relevant sources, concrete strategies, and contemporary examples. I appreciate the author’s intent, and his sincerity in raising the challenge of crafting a new theology of peace. Despite these strengths, key elements of the book do not rise to this challenge, for at least two reasons, and thus weaken his argument. The text often comes across as making a different argument than the one explicitly stated in the Introduction, and Rynne undermines his own argument in some of the ways that he crafts it.
In terms of Rynne’s argument for a new theology of peacemaking, his emphases, sources and exemplars can distract from this goal. His work tends to emphasize the individual Christian, rather than the community of disciples. Yet, the Catholic theological perspective that Rynne focuses on (in the Introduction as well as in chapters 1, 7, 9) necessarily incorporates both the ecclesia and the individual disciple (e.g., Benedict XVI’s 2009 encyclicalCaritas in Veritate, para. 53). This would be especially important insofar as peace is both individual and communal.
A potential strength of the framework of the book is that Rynne draws on Scripture, Church teaching, and Tradition, particularly the Church Fathers. More engagement with liturgical and sacramental theology, however, would have been welcome in shaping a new theological understanding of peacemaking.
His repeated emphasis on Gandhi’s nonviolence as a model for Christians, while perhaps understandable, is puzzling in a book aimed at providing a Gospel theology of peace. Rynne claims that “Gandhi gives a new lens with which to read the Scriptures and understand the life of Jesus” (191). The author clearly draws inspiration from Gandhi–evidenced by his book on Gandhi, Jesus and nonviolence–which is admirable. Yet his point remains a fairly unorthodox and distracting theological claim in this context. The Church has many saints to look to for examples of peacemaking.
The author focuses throughout the book on the ‘effectiveness’ of nonviolence. This is a helpful corrective to misunderstandings of Christian pacifism as passive. At the same time, it may inadvertently create others, such as that nonviolence is just another technique for getting what you want without using violence. Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder, cited by Rynne, critiques such a misapprehension (John Howard Yoder, The Original Revolution: Essays on Christian Pacifism [Scottdale, PA: Herald Press, 2003], 56).
Rynne’s writing style is not always consistent with typical academic practice. This is not necessarily a problem, but if the goal is to contribute to a new theology of peace, such an approach may be less likely to carry weight in the theological realm. His use of Scripture, perhaps inadvertently, can raises questions that divert readers from his argument. Rynne comes awfully close to putting forth the idea that the God of the Old Testament is a different god than the God of the New (27-28). He describes Jesus as talking of “his Abba/Imma,” which is Scripturally imprecise (28). The author translates Mt5:48 as ‘Be inclusive as my heavenly Father is inclusive’ (42), which is not found in most scholarly translations of the Greek teleios (commonly translated as perfect, complete, whole, or brought to wholeness). Rynne may be correctly discerning an aspect of Jesus’ meaning, but using an inaccurate translation does not further his theological argument.
The author does not provide clear descriptions of the key terms of his argument; namely, nonviolence and peace (though he does cite John XXIII’s description of peace on p. 3). A number of his quotations and footnotes are based on secondary sources, including non-academic ones, and key points of his argument are made without any citation. Without citing sources, he states that Matthew 5:39 was the most frequently quoted passage of Scripture by the early Fathers (114), and that Augustine taught that soldiers could kill while maintaining love in their hearts (152). Such gaps do a disservice to his readers, and in my opinion unfortunately disqualifies the text for academic use.
For the reasons laid out above, and with deep regret growing out of my commitment to this topic, I do not recommend this book. A relatively recent book on this topic which I did find helpful was Peacebuilding: Catholic Theology, Ethics, and Praxis, ed. Robert Schreiter, R. Scott Appleby and Gerald Powers (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 2010).