Book Review: Covenant of Peace
Willard M. Swartley, Covenant of Peace: The Missing Peace in New Testament Theology and Ethics. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2006.
I started to read this book when it was first published, but things got in the way, as life often does, even for those of us who are bibliophiles. This time, it was a mistake to get sidetracked. In my humble opinion, this is one of the most important studies in New Testament theology and ethics written in a very long time.
Swartley, President Emeritus and Emeritus Professor of New Testament at Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary (Elkhart, IN) surveyed 25 standard works in New Testament theology and ethics and found a major lacuna–they all failed to notice how central the concept of “peace,” and “peacemaking” are to every strand of New Testament theology. (Richard Hays does better than most, but a new edition of his The Moral Vision of the New Testament would be strengthened by incorporating Swartley’s insights.) Swartley shows that peace is at the heart of the gospel message and, in differing ways, every New Testament document (with the possible exceptions of 2 Peter and Jude!) reflects that centrality. The puzzle is that this has been missed by so many good biblical theologians since the rise of critical scholarship!
If those who teach courses in New Testament theology and/or ethics will use Covenant of Peace to supplement standard works in New Testament theology (e.g., Bultmann, Kümmel, Goppelt, Stauffer, Caird or, from the conservative spectrum, Ladd, Marshall, Morris) or ethics (Hays, Daly, Lohse, Schrage, Matera, Schnackenburg, Verhey), the results should transform the preaching and teaching of the next generation of pastors. Those considering writing a New Testament theology or ethics should not send a draft to their publisher without reading this work first and incorporating its insights. Those responsible for the regular exposition of the Word in the churches should read this immediately and let it inform their preaching at a deep level. The book is that good.
Swartley even takes up the question, which has divided many contemporary Christian pacifists, of whether GOD is always nonviolent or whether Christian nonviolence and peacemaking may depend not usurping God’s role in wrath, vengeance, and judgment. I am not completely satisfied with Swartley’s answer, but he lays out issues and evidence in a way that helpfully clarifies what’s at stake in both positions. (I may take up that debate in a future blog post.)
This is Swartley’s finest work. Get it and read it slowly–with your Greek NT handy and taking many notes! Then rededicate yourself to the gospel of peace through the Lamb’s victory over the Powers.
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