Reading is a difficult thing for a pastor. First, there is too much to read and the internet age has multiplied it exponentially. Second, to know what to read you have to rely on the suggestions of friends, co-pastors and mentors who all recommend lousy books from time to time. Third, some books have wonderful ideas but are horribly written, making them painful. Other books are wonderfully written but have horrible ideas (or worse, no ideas) making them equally as painful.
With all this mind, I believe there is only one type of worthless book. It is the book that agrees with everything I all ready think. Those books are a waste of time and money. I would rather read a book that infuriates me by arguing that all dogs should go to hell than read a book that merely substantiates my belief that all dogs end up in heaven.
With that said, it was with no small amount of fear and trembling that I downloaded and read Robert Brimlow’s “What About Hitler: Wrestling with Jesus’ Call to Nonviolence in an Evil World.”
After all I am self described pacifist, though I have reservations with that exact word. Still, I wholeheartedly believe that to follow Jesus requires opposing violence and embracing peace. These views have been shaped over a long period of time which involved much prayer, Bible study, reading, reflection, conversations with friends and the like. Therefore, reading yet one more book about pacifism would only harden my opinions and waste my time.
The title of the book is what trapped me. “What about Hitler?” Every war monger asks a pacifist that question, “Well then what about Hitler?” Then they watch the now former pacifist hem and haw until they admit that they probably would kill Hitler if given a time machine. That question so annoys and frustrates me that I had to read the book to see if maybe there was an answer.
So with all trepidation I downloaded the book and began reading. And what followed was not a passionately argued philosophical treatise on pacifism that hardened my opinions. It was a call for renewal among pacifists to embrace peacekeeping in their very lives.
This call came in many forms. At times it certainly was passionate, philosophical argument. At other times it was devotional as Brimlow inserted written prayers that wrestle with Scripture passages. At other times it was honest autobiography as Brimlow struggled with his own testimony and setting. Then, suddenly, the last chapter was fiercely spiritual as Brimlow argued for a renewal of the spiritual disciplines among Christ’s followers. That chapter held the most wonderful paragraphs on prayer I have yet read, and I have read a lot about prayer.
With all this said, “What About Hitler” is perhaps the most self aware philosophy book out there. Every time Brimlow begins preaching he takes several steps back and honestly confesses, “Yet I am still not quite sure.” At one point near the end Brimlow says he hears trumpets pronouncing victory behind his argument and then tries to silence them by bringing fully into bear what he has argued.
I wish myself and other theologians and philosophers had the humility he does.
In the end he answers the question “What About Hitler” by claiming that if Christians had followed the peacekeeping commands of Jesus in the centuries leading up to World War 2 the Nazis would not have happened, or at least not been able to so easily convince the German citizenry to annihilate the Jewish people. In such thinking Hitler was the punishment for Christianity’s disobedience, not the cause of them.
That is certainly a bold argument, but it is persuasive because right after the claim, Brimlow admits his own efforts to keep peace are often thwarted by his own anger and hatred. This simple-spoken humility speaks volumes about peace. It turns out, at least according to Brimlow, that peacemaking and peacekeeping are useless without humility, something many “pacifists” just do not have.
On every page Brimlow humanizes and speaks love for those who disagree because he fully believes that loving those who disagree with you is what keep wars from happening.
This ends with a lovely chapter on prayer. Brimlow argues that every Christian from just war theorists to pacifists to taxpayers to soldiers and to those who won’t even kill spiders must renew their prayer.
He brings this to bear by saying, “Instead of trying to fit prayer into my busy schedule, I should try to fit my schedule into my busy prayer” (p. 184). I could not agree more.
In the end, this did the opposite of what I suspected. Instead of becoming more passionate about pacifism, I have become more loving towards those who disagree with me. Just maybe that will prevent a war one day. But who really knows?