Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

From the Tower of Babel to the Peace of Jesus Christ: Christological, Ecclesiological and Missiological Foundations for Peacemaking

Academic journal article Mennonite Quarterly Review

From the Tower of Babel to the Peace of Jesus Christ: Christological, Ecclesiological and Missiological Foundations for Peacemaking

Article excerpt

Abstract: The first part of this article is an attempt to look at biblical salvation narratives in light of the question of globalization and peacemaking. The Tower of Babel story is construed as a first example of "globalization"--i.e., an imperialistic attempt to create a society based on technological prowess and a unique language. The project failed, but also resulted in the scattering of peoples into a world of "non-communication" and conflict. The call of Abraham anal Sarah is the biblical response to Babel, and the New Testament description of salvation in terms of "neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female" can be fruitfully understood as a critique of "Babel"--i.e., negative globalization. In the second part, the article explores how traditional Christology, ecclesiology and missiology can and should be linked to discussions of peacemaking in a globalized world. In spite of legitimate concerns that arise from the question of religious pluralism and theological justifications of violence throughout history, it would be a major mistake to separate peace theology from more traditional Christological claims as well as from the mission of the church in the world today. Instead, peace church theology has much to offer in dialogue with classical formulations of Christology and ecclesiology.


The practice of theology nearly always unfolds as an ongoing conversation between the past and the present, a never-ending series of questions posed to the Christian tradition and coming from ever-new and different cultural and historical contexts. When we address questions of globalization and peacemaking, we do so at least in part from the perspective of our own tradition, the historic peace churches. Our self-understanding is grounded in Scripture but interpreted through the prism of our history and our praxis of nonviolence and peacemaking.

It has become fashionable in theological circles to speak of Scripture and Christian theology as "narrative" in character. Even though theology cannot, and should not, be reduced to story, narrative is a fundamental way of construing our identity and thought. Looking at the Christian story of salvation points us toward helpful clues as to how to engage the questions of peacemaking and globalization. The vast canon of Scripture contains many stories originating in very different times and places. Nevertheless, we recognize a canon of stories that belong together. They find their coherence and meaning in relationship to each other and in response to the questions that we bring to them.

I will argue that peace and peacemaking are a central element of the biblical understanding of salvation. I will also argue that the salvation narrative of peace was consciously elaborated in response to the first story of globalization--the account of the Tower of Babel. In the second part of the essay, I will examine how the salvation narrative of peace can be related to our understanding of Christology, ecclesiology and the mission of the Church.


The Tower of Babel and the Call of Abraham

The story of the tower of Babel, recounted in Genesis 11:1-9, provides a conclusion to the biblical account of primeval history. It describes the last great judgment that befell humanity, in a sequence that begins with the fall in Genesis 3 and the "sons of God" episode in Genesis 6:1-4, both of which triggered divine judgments of great and enduring consequence. (1) The modern interpreter may find the juxtaposition of the "table of nations" (Ch. 10) and the tower of Babel story to be incongruous since they seem to offer two incompatible accounts of the origins of the nations and their different languages. However, the story of Babel is not intended to justify or explain the origins of linguistic, cultural or racial diversity. Families, languages, lands and nations already appear in a positive fashion in Chapter 10 showing that human diversity is already a given. …

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