By Jesse Wheeler
Note: This is a difficult week to speak of peace. With heartbreaking tragedy in Egypt and unspeakable horror unfolding in Syria just a few hours away, peace now seems more than ever like an elusive dream continually beyond reach – all while I sit here feeling helpless in the face of such devastation. Furthermore, it is never helpful to speak glibly of peace to those suffering persecution, oppression, or violence. For too often, talk of peace has been used to silence very legitimate demands for justice, to enforce quiescence to an unjust status quo. This, however, means that a proper understanding of just peace and its continued pursuit is as imperative, albeit difficult, as ever.
In my previous entry, I explored the question: “What, if anything, does religion have to do with peace?” Asked in response to the historically inadequate, or otherwise superficial, inclusion of religious thinking within peacemaking and diplomatic paradigms, I came to the conclusion that to promote peace by means of secularization is to in many ways challenge the very identity and worldview of those engaged in conflict – with the very real possibility of doing more harm than good. Rather, the central place of religion within the realm of human experience can be instrumental in both the exacerbation and perpetuation of conflict, as well as in its mitigation and resolution.
This realization, however, leads to an equally important question for the church: What, if anything, does peace have to do with the Gospel?
“Why,” our brethren ask us, “focus on peace?”
Is not the primary task of believers to make disciples?
To preach the Gospel?
To know Christ and make Him known?
But rather than being a mere addendum to our mission as followers of Christ, peacebuilding inhabits the core of our purpose for being the church in the world. It’s kerygmatic!
As I mentioned last week, I in no way intend to disparage such questions, for they are supremely important in serving to remind the church to never lose sight of its first calling and first love: Jesus Christ. They force us to return to the text, to the witness of scripture, and to the great women and men of faith upon whose shoulders we stand. But, it is precisely here where we discover the centrality of peace and reconciliation for the life and witness of all who would claim to follow the Prince of Peace.
Why, then, seek peace? Because reconciliation IS the gospel.
In his monograph, “Christian Attitudes towards Islam and Muslims: A Kerygmatic Approach,” Martin Accad defines the kerygma (‘proclamation’ in Greek) as:
God’s gracious and positive invitation of humanity into relationship with Himself through Jesus.
This loving invitation to restored relationship, offered irrespective of ethnic or religious affiliation, provides the foundation for all Christ-centered peacebuilding efforts. Acting in imitation of the one God who gives of Himself on our behalf – as revealed most fully in the cross of Christ Jesus – we commit ourselves to the task of reconciliation: the comprehensive restoration of shattered relationships. For our restored relationship with God can never be divorced from the outward pursuit of reconciliation, be it interpersonal, interethnic, international, or interfaith.
Situating the topic of reconciliation within his discussion of Christ’s atoning work on the cross, Veli-Matti Karkkainen, in his brilliant chapter, “Reconciliation as the Church’s Mission in the World,” explains:
Casting the doctrine of atonement in proper Trinitarian framework and in the context of God’s faithfulness to His creation helps us widen and make more inclusive the work of atonement by focusing on the multifaceted meaning of the term ‘reconciliation’ – healing and bringing together broken relationships. Of all the metaphors of salvation, reconciliation has the potential of being the most inclusive and comprehensive, encompassing such ideas as “cosmic reconciliation, the Hebrew notion of shalom, the meaning of the cross, the psychological effects of conversion, the work of the Holy Spirit, the overcoming of barriers between Christians, the work of the Church in the world, peacemaking, movements towards ethnic reconciliation and the renewal of ecological balances between humanity and its natural environment.”
Underlying many of these facets of reconciliation is the motif of restoration of relationships. The goal of reconciliation is “the restoration of the sin-broken fellowship of humanity with its Creator, the source of its life.”
When the atonement, the central work of Christ on the cross, is recast in light of God’s pursuit of reconciliation for all creation, we are able to speak of the “Multidimensionality of Salvation”. Paraphrasing Amos Young, Karkkainen speaks of: “Personal Salvation; Family Salvation; Ecclesial Salvation; Material Salvation; Social Salvation (encompassing racial, class and gender reconciliation); Cosmic Salvation; and ultimately Eschatological Salvation (the [comprehensive] transformation and renewal of all creation).”
Peacebuilding can be defined, therefore, as the lived pursuit of reconciliation. And as we act in anticipation of the coming Kingdom, a Kingdom defined by all-encompassing joy, justice and peace, our task as followers of Christ is to partner with God in doing all we can to see this future vision become a present reality. Peace work is not therefore a distraction from our mission as followers of Christ, but is in-fact central to our calling. As such, it is plain to me that this is not simply the tired work of theological liberals discounting the supernatural in acquiescence to an increasingly secularizing society, as is commonly claimed. Rather, it’s an honest assessment of the effects of sin upon the whole of life, as well as an acknowledgment of the breadth, or ‘multidimensionality’, of salvation. Centered, therefore, on the person, mission and message of our king and savior Christ Jesus and manifested in his death and resurrection, reconciliation IS the Gospel.
Under this holistic gospel vision, evangelism can be conceived of and pursued as an act of ‘peacebuilding’ between fallen humanity and our creator God. On the other hand, something as seemingly so far removed as creation care can be conceived of as an act of ‘peacebuilding’ between humanity and God’s good world over which we have been granted stewardship, but have instead so abused. Likewise, the pursuit of socio-economic justice can be seen as an act of intercommunal peacebuilding, with counseling and psychology as the pursuit of interior wholeness, or peace. Although I might be at risk of overselling my point, under this definition, kerygmatic peacebuilding can be described as nothing less than the lived proclamation of the gospel.
Christ and the Religious Other
It’s important to note, however, that such thinking is decidedly Christ-centered, situated within a distinctively ‘Christian’ theological discourse and narrative. This is my intent. But how, then, do I make space within my thinking for the person or community who would not accept my theological worldview, for the religious or secular other? How do I remain true to myself, and yet open to the one not like me? For me as a Christian, the answer is once again Christ.
In essence, the closer we find ourselves to Christ, the closer we find ourselves in the midst our perceived ‘enemies’ with arms outstretched in love and minds prepared to listen. This embrace of those ‘not like us’ inhabits the core of the messianic proclamation. When encountering, or conflicting with, those who might look, think, act and pray differently, we find our security in a Christ crucified. Further elaborating upon the centrality of the cross in the pursuit of reconciliation within our Middle Eastern context, Salim Munayer writes:
The issues of identity and belonging to a group are major aspects of conflict. Identity greatly influences how parties relate to one another and behave towards each other. In our context, religion is a major factor in defining our identity, separating Christian, Jew and Muslim, and in playing an important role in the interaction between groups. The cross not only sets us free from our identities as sinners and from the roles of victim or oppressor, but also brings security to our own identity, a freedom that liberates us to embrace and accept others. [T]his is significant in conflict[s] where there are major struggles and insecurities concerning identity.
[W]e can acquire an understanding of our identity and behavior that is complementary and not contradictory to the behavior and identity of others. The cross that gives us freedom to be ourselves also gives security and freedom to engage with others; and as we engage with others, just as when we encounter God, the encounter is transformative.
It is precisely my commitment to Christ which allows me to embrace the religious other. For in Christ, our individual and collective identities are simultaneously affirmed and relativized, enabling us to treasure our own unique backgrounds, cultures and identities and yet not cling so tightly to them as to prevent us from fully embracing others in love. As a result of the cross, the identity and existence of the other no longer challenges my own, even those with whom I might profoundly disagree or struggle.
Ultimately, however, “It is through the power of [Christ’s] resurrection that we are enabled today to embody reconciliation in our relationships,” Munayer and Lisa Loden elaborate, for “our contexts of conflict are ultimately of marginal significance. This is because [Jesus] has already walked the context of the most intractable conflict, through death and into resurrected life. In that he has given himself fully to us, we have received the same power.”
 Veli-Matti Karkkainen, Christ and Reconciliation: A Constructive Christian Theology for the Pluralistic World (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 2013) 364
Karkkainen, Christ, 376 – 377
Karkkainen, Christ, 377
 I highly recommend: Rupen Das, Compassion and the Mission of God: Revealing the Invisible Kingdom (Carlisle: Langham Global Library, 2016). Dr. Das serves as Lead Faculty for MENA History, Politics and Economics in IMES’ Master of Religion in Middle Eastern and North African Studies program.
 Salim Munayer, “The Cross and Reconciliation in Palestine” in Jesus and the Cross: Reflections of Christians from Islamic Contexts (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 2008) 92 – 93
 Salim Munayer and Lisa Loden, Through my Enemies Eyes: Envisioning Reconciliation in Israel-Palestine (Milton Keynes, Paternoster, 2013) 199