“The myth of redemptive violence.” It seems like I’ve been seeing and hearing this term more and more lately, so I thought it was worth researching the history of the term and writing a definition for it.
I’ve traced the term myth of redemptive violence back as far as 1992, to the third book in Walter Wink’s Powers trilogy. I checked the first two books in the trilogy (which were published in 1984 and 1986), and the term doesn’t appear there.
Wink’s name often gets mentioned when this term is used, but not always. I’m sure there are people today who use the term without knowing who coined it (i.e., Walter Wink), but that’s the way it is with most words and phrases over time. For example, how many people know about the guy who coined the phrase “what would Jesus do?”
myth of redemptive violence n. In full the myth of redemptive violence. The belief that the use of violence can play a part in eventually bringing about peace and that such a use of violence is morally justifiable; the belief that violence is capable of ending a cycle of violence.
The people who use this phrase generally maintain that this belief is at odds with biblical values of nonviolent resistance and that the myth of redemptive violence actually has its roots in an ancient Babylonian religious mythology and worldview.
The term first appeared in print in 1992 in a book by Walter Wink (1935–2012), a professor and theologian (see quot. 1992).
1992 Wink Engaging the Powers: Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination 13 : We will discover that the religion of Babylon—one of the world’s oldest, continuously surviving religions—is thriving as never before in ever sector of contemporary American life, even in our synagogues and churches. It, and not Christianity, is the real religion of America. I will suggest that this myth of redemptive violence undergirds American popular culture, civil religion, nationalism, and foreign policy. 1998 Wink The Powers That Be 48 : In short, the myth of redemptive violence is the story of the victory of order over the chaos by means of violence. It is the ideology of conquest, the original religion of the status quo. 2004 Gustafson Biblical Amnesia: A Forgotten Story of Redemption 77 : Walter Wink contends that our relationship to the Babylonian creation myth may even be closer than this. He asserts that, like the Babylonians, we may still be under the influence of the myth of redemptive violence. 2004 Augsburger Hate-Work: Working Through the Pain and Pleasures of Hate 218 : The myth of redemptive violence has become the sacred story of the resolution of hatred in our Western culture. Walter Wink is the most incisive and prophetic critic of this phenomenon. 2004 Lewis What Are They Saying About New Testament Apocalyptic? 75 : Wink rejects what he calls the myth of redemptive violence in all forms and offers what he calls practical nonviolence for resistance, which he distinguishes from pacifism. 2006 Claiborne The Irresistible Revolution: Living as an Ordinary Radical 262 : There is something scandalous about grace. It’s almost embarrassing that God loves losers so much. It flies in the face of the world’s myth of redemptive violence. 2007 Bland, Fleer, eds. Preaching the Sermon on the Mount: The World It Imagines 67 : Do not resort to the ways of the world governed by the myth of redemptive violence, which simply perpetuate the cycle of violence. Instead, Jesus counsels creative, imaginative nonviolent resistance. We get extraordinary examples of turning the other cheek, giving the cloak also, and going hte extra mile, which are not acts of passivity, but rather ways of resisting evil nonviolently. 2009 Boyd The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church 26 : President George W. Bush said after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. The “good” (our tribe) must extinguish the “evil” (their tribe), using all means necessary, including violence. This is the age-old “myth of redemptive violence.” 2009 Cole God the Peacemaker: How Atonement Brings Shalom 254 : The myth of redemptive violence is the view that violence can overcome violence. 2012 McCarthy Becoming Nonviolent Peacemakers: A Virtue Ethic for Catholic Social Teaching and U.S. Policy 63 : Norman Lofink, Walter Wink, and Rene Girard argue that the Hebrew Scriptures represent a tradition of communal wrestling with who God is, and a gradual turning away from the image of a God of violence and the myth of redemptive violence as the prevailing myth of dominant religion. Wink coined the phrase myth of redemptive violence. 2013 Woods, ed. Evangelical Christians and Popular Culture: Pop Goes the Gospel I. 73 : Wink claims that American Christians have been more profoundly shaped by the pagan myth of redemptive violence than by the peace-centered story of Jesus Christ. This is in part because of their immersion in American mythology—which combines redemptive violence with biblical and Christian overtones.