A Book Review
by Darold H. Morgan
by Johann Christoph Arnold
[Dr. Darold Morgan is a former pastor of the Cliff Temple Baptist Church in Dallas and before retirement was the President of the Annuity Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.]
On your review of Johann Christoph Arnold's book Seeking Peace, could you please add a link to the author's website http://www.ChristophArnold.com where the book is available as a free e-book. From an email request January 20, 2004
A fly responsibly written book on peace should be welcomed and frustrated age especially when something really significant is said. You will not be disappointed when you open and begin reading this fresh, vital, stimulating volume. In fact you will be genuinely surprised by several practical, yet obvious, conclusions. The author draws from a surprising variety of spiritual traditions. There is a major input from the experiences of ordinary people. There are exceptional and relevant quotations from an array of familiar and famous writers. Anecdotes and personal experiences abound which are appropriately related to the main theme. The book is eminently readable. The author's writing style, characterized by rather short essays, is never tedious. Written beautifully in measured and balanced cadences, the author's reasoning is authentically Christian.
Coming from a tradition of German Pietists who were driven from their homeland by the Nazis, this well-known author and his family obviously suffered deeply from these persecutions. His Bruderhof Fellowship has identified with numerous peace-related causes, and out of this widely misunderstood commitment to pacifism there has emerged an unusual sensitiveness and understanding of the issues related to peace. Especially heartening to Christians is his internal, spiritual perspective on peace stemming from a solidly biblical base. Yet the Jewish, Buddhist, and even the Islamic cultures will also find much common ground in these pages. There is a unique appeal even to the unbeliever in the author's compelling emphasis on peace and justice. This universal appeal is a welcome focus of this book.
Much is made of the quest for peace as it relates to a simplification of our modern lifestyles. With the pressures of technology, the sheer number of people, the latest communication gimmicks, plus the array of personal problems people are facing, one could easily conclude that life is hopelessly complex. Such frustration leads to special difficulties related to seeking and finding peace. These powerful external influences simply cannot speak to the deeper issues of life, issues touching on such things as the meaning of suffering, personal depression, and loneliness. Answers or directions in these arenas are essential in the quest for peace.
The strongest section of the book is entitled, "Stepping Stones" in which he takes the current dilemmas of humankind and probes searchingly the needs of people everywhere for serenity, simplicity, and peace of mind. Essays in this section deal with Silence, Surrender, Trust, Forgiveness, Humility, etc. There are fifteen such practical "Stepping Stones."
Arnold quotes at length from the writings of his father and grandfather. Some may tire of this, but usually these references tie in with powerful memories from the past, revealing the depth of the Bruderhof commitment to peace. This is a family which has known the fundamental issues which have challenged peace at its deepest levels of life and experience. It is clear that the search for peace is not just the pursuit of scholarship. It is a combination of a biblical overview and personal commitment to spiritual priorities related to peace.
Anecdotes and quotations abound from remarkably varied sources like Dostoevsky, Mother Teresa, Bonhoeffer, Thomas Merton, Simone Weil, Kahlil Gibran, C.S. Lewis, Desmond Tutu, Victor Frankl, and many others.
The author subtly presses for his pacifist position, but his conclusions are not offensive to those who hold differing positions because his authentic Christian attitude and Christian commitment are beyond question. The quest for peace is a never-ending search in that our basic call from God is to be fruitful, not successful. He quotes approvingly Henri Nouwen that "fruitfulness comes from vulnerability and the admission of our own weakness." (P 54) Seeking peace, he infers, may never bring it to us, but actively loving in our world as Jesus did in his time on earth may lead us to discover peace as a gracious by-product of Christian love. The paradox of withdrawal from the world in order to serve prophetically and even sacrificially in the world may be too idealistic for some. But somewhere in between these extremes there is the potential for personal peace.
Arnold is influenced by the definition of peace, using the beloved Hebrew word, Shalom, for direction. "It means the end of war and conflict, but it also means friendship, contentment, security, and health, prosperity, abundance, tranquillity, harmony with nature, and even salvation. It is ultimately tied to justice because it is the enjoyment or celebration of human relationships which have been made right." (P 13)
This book deserves a wide reading. Any writing that helps anyone on a personal pilgrimage to personal peace is profoundly important. This good book does precisely that.