Passing the Peace: A Pneumatology of Shalom

shalom knitting

In 1947, a new movement began that sought to be more attentive to the whole message of Scripture, not only in content but also method. A group of people got together and thought this movement needed a name, which they called neo-evangelicalism, and it needed a journal, which they called Christianity Today, and it needed a seminary so that pastors and leaders could be trained to teach, preach, and live out this renewal in their context.1 They called this seminary Fuller Seminary, after Henry Fuller, father of the very well-known radio evangelist Charles E. Fuller. This was fortuitous, as the name “Fuller” also invited broad application. It was, after all, intended to be a fuller seminary than the fundamentalist Bible colleges the founders emerged from and a fuller seminary than the liberal institutions at which so many were trained.2 They wanted to offer a fuller engagement with the academy and a fuller engagement with culture, all while deepening a fuller understanding of Scripture and a fuller commitment to evangelism, ministry, and missions. As Carl Henry put it, “The new evangelicalism embraces the full orthodoxy of fundamentalism in doctrine but manifests a social consciousness and responsibility which was strangely absent from fundamentalism.”3

As a renewal movement, evangelicalism has been widely successful in many metrics and, as its flagship seminary, Fuller has contributed over 40,000 women and men to its cause. Like all renewal movements over time, however, evangelicalism faces being co-opted. While never really becoming the “establishment,” evangelicalism has increasingly become something even worse: it has become a demographic. It competes for power and influence and money and cultural cachet among many other claimants. This status as a demographic has led many to say evangelicalism has lost its way.

I’m not convinced that evangelicalism as a movement is over, but I am convinced we are at a key crossroads and in need of a new vitality. Such a reorientation can’t be about establishing defensive boundaries or making strategies to take the fight to our demographic opponents. That is the way of Rome, of Empire. Instead, if we are to continue as a renewing movement, we need to return to our initial goals of putting our focus on Christ’s call for us and the Spirit’s power in us. This evangelical call includes an emphasis on peace. Fortunately, this peace is part of Christ’s promise for us in sending the Holy Spirit.

In John 14–16, Jesus sets the stage for his departure. His leaving is not loss but gain. It is good because it will inaugurate a transformative experience of the Spirit. It is good because it will initiate a transformative experience of life and hope. This life is one of love; the hope is that there will be peace. As Jesus puts it in 14:25, the promised Spirit will “teach you everything, and remind you of all that I have said to you.” In the next verse, he emphasizes the element of peace: “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”

We cannot just stop at these verses and then pursue these themes with our own tactics and strategies, as if Jesus left us with a set of vague goals, as if the gospel were just a set of statements with which to agree. The gospel is not just a set of doctrines; it is a way of being, an orientation in life. These verses on the Spirit and peace are intentionally connected and part of the promise of Jesus to the people of God, the new promise of the arriving kingdom. The peacemaking Spirit passes the peace to us and we pass this peace to those around us. The gospel is an invitation to peace. We are to be peacemakers. This peace has three movements, each interconnected and mutually informing. First, we experience peace from God, next, we experience peace with our own self, and then we can pass this peace to others. This is a peace the world needs but cannot find. In this experience and expression of such peace we can regain a fuller sense of what it means to be evangelical.


The term peace has often become limited to a narrow definition: peace as the absence of violence. Indeed, this is not surprising, since generally people originally used the words shalom and eirene this way. Peace was the rare interlude between the constancy of war. Scripture, however, invests more meaning in shalom, and this meaning extends into the New Testament. Peace, in a biblical sense, involves wholeness and completeness, an experience of well-being that comes in experiencing God’s presence and extends outward. As Nicholas Wolterstorff puts it, “To dwell in shalom is to enjoy living before God, to enjoy living in one’s physical surroundings, to enjoy living with one’s fellows, to enjoy life with oneself.”4 Only peace with God allows for thorough peace in any other way.

Yet peace with God seems an impossibility because of brokenness and suffering on one side, and privilege and ego on the other. Some cannot find it and others do not want it. These distortions are a result of sin—and sin, at its core, opposes peace. Indeed, Cornelius Plantinga defines sin as “culpable disturbance of shalom.”5 It’s not supposed to be this way, of course. “God is for shalom,” as Plantinga puts it, “and therefore against sin.” God is against sin, but for us, loving us and inviting us into a peace that comes through a justifying faith in Jesus Christ, an emphasis Paul makes in Romans 5. This is good news precisely because it offers rest and hope in a world that so often denies those possibilities. It is good news because this is the Spirit’s work, and not within our own power. “It is,” Sarah Coakley writes, “the Spirit’s interruption that finally enables full human participation in God.”6 Having been invited, we invite, which is the orienting call for evangelism. This emphasis on evangelism was indeed a hallmark of the early decades of Fuller Seminary, with Fuller professors often spending significant time on their own or with students engaged in spreading the Good News in all sorts of places.7 Shalom does not stop with this, however. Peace with God leads into a new experience with the Spirit in our own lives, something even many Fuller faculty struggled with as they sought to do the Lord’s work in their own energy.8


The peace we have is the peace we pass. If we lack peace within, we cannot pass the peace elsewhere. Can we lose this peace once it is given? It seems troublingly so. The orientation in peace is an orientation in the ways of the Spirit, so grieving the Spirit (Eph. 4:30–31) is the quickest way of losing this peace, inviting frenzy back into our minds. We can forget or ignore this calling and we can easily become evangelized by this world, falling back into the stories of meaning and identity that it offers. The world says that if we do a certain thing, we will have peace—or identify in a certain way, and we will have peace. And maybe we will, for a moment. Then there’s something else after that, and onward we go away from true peace—the peace that surpasses all understanding—never whole, never settled, propelled back into desperation and division. Reality becomes unmanageable and untenable even as we may hold onto words about Christ.

In contrast to the peace of the world or the narrowed peace offered by a religious demographic, the peace Christ gives us in the Spirit is a transforming peace. It is the Spirit who awakens our self-imagination. Someone who is free in the Spirit, who has peace in the renewing life of Jesus, “knows himself in his spiritual essence,” as Anthony the Great once wrote, “for he who knows himself also knows the dispensations of his Creator, and what he does for his creatures.”9 This knowledge is given by the Spirit, and as we participate with the Spirit, we are given discernment about “all things,” even our own self. Sometimes this Spirit says go and sometimes this Spirit says stop, enabling a life-giving rhythm in our lives instead of exhaustion. The Spirit of holiness is also the Spirit of Sabbath.10 I’ve had to remind myself of this again and again.

This experience with peace is a beginning of liberation, a liberation of perceiving oneself entirely, seeing the self in the context of God’s self. In the peace with God that comes from the Spirit, we are led to a new encounter with all of reality, where there is “no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female.” This peace is part of the Spirit’s freedom for us, an aspect of the fruit of the Spirit that is a contrast to the fruit of the world.11 In the Spirit, we become truly alive, as the source of life is the power of life guiding and empowering our every step. This is generally called sanctification, but it might better be called enlivening. We begin to see as God sees, love as God loves, hope with God’s hope, and that transforms how we live in this world in all sorts of ways with ourselves and with others.

This experience of enlivening peace itself has three expressions. The first involves embracing hope and faith in the midst of crisis. We are steady when the world around us is caught in panic. The second involves understanding our calling and gifts. We are able to embrace our story instead of being jealous or frustrated about not being in other stories. We contribute as God has made us and find joy in the Spirit in this community connection. Finally, this peace is a way of discernment for us. The more we experience this thorough peace, the less tempted we are to reenter the alternative narratives of this world. We must be ever faithful to the path of peace and to trust God’s mission through it, which never leaves the important tasks of either evangelism or social action behind. The mission of the Spirit is always about a transformation of peace that extends outward.


Peace that is with us is the peace that is sent with us. We who experience peace with God, who find identity in God and confidence in God’s work in our lives, extend this peace to others. The holistic work of the Spirit is a work from God that transforms us so that we become a resonating presence of peace in, with, and for this world. Pursuing peace apart from participation in the Spirit can be dangerous because good goals can shelter destructive motives. In his book on the Holy Spirit, Moltmann writes:

Anyone who wants to fill up his own hollowness by helping other people will simply spread the same hollowness. Why? Because people are far less influenced by what another person says and does than the activist would like to believe. They are much more influenced by what the other is, and his way of speaking and behaving. Only the person who has found his own self can give himself. What else can he give? It is only the person who knows that he is accepted who can accept others without dominating them. The person who has become free in himself can liberate others and share their suffering.12

An empty person will expect filling from a context and incorporate patterns of restriction to protect their experience. Passing true peace must derive from the work of the Spirit, rather than other motives or goals, as Moltmann goes on to emphasize. At the same time, such activity must indeed take place, as the Spirit always fills in order to enact transformation in a context. As John Wesley said, “First, God works: therefore you can work. Secondly, God works, therefore you must work.”13 We are filled so as to be involved in this world that God so loves. This is good because the places that need peace are places that are not able to forge their own version of peace, and often such peace seems impossible. Likewise they cannot give us peace in response. We do not need to give in order to receive; we give what we are given by the Spirit and find our meaning sustained in the Spirit’s work. This is why such peace is truly good news in real and living ways. God carries the burden of this peace and establishes this peace in his own self, and this peace enables peace to be possible for the whole world, people and nature together.

Peace that is expressed in the power of the Spirit is thus certainly not passive. Peace can and should be disruptive. Not everyone wants peace; indeed, some thrive in the chaos. The early Christians, for instance, offered a contrasting way to the world and the world responded with persecution. “But it is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us,” Tertullian wrote. “See how they love one another, for themselves are animated by mutual hatred; how they are ready even to die for one another, for they themselves would sooner put to death.”14 Even in the persecution, the early Christians resisted the temptation to fight back. In this, they participated in a developing movement of the Spirit that brought more and more into this field of peace, responding to this world in real ways that brought life and hope.


In John 20, we encounter Jesus on the other side of the crucifixion. Now resurrected, his work is indeed finished as well as inaugurated in a new way. On the evening of the first day, Easter, Jesus appears to the gathered disciples. As John relates in verse 21, “Again Jesus said, ‘Peace be with you! As the Father has sent me, I am sending you.’ And with that he breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit.’” This chiastic restatement of his promise in John 14 emphasizes that Spirit and peace go together. Now that it is time for the giving of the Spirit, the disciples can take hold of this peace. Having this peace, they are now the ones being sent, sent as Christ was sent, participants in the messianic mission that loves the world and offers peace to the world.

But like the Israelites in the wilderness, the church has often lost sight of God’s promise and sought resolution in less sufficient ways: war, control, division, negation, fracturing the unity of the Spirit back into divided factions and competing demographics. This is our present danger as we wrestle with our identity as evangelicals in today’s world. If diverted, we can easily fall back into triumphalism or apathy and become fractured. We must also avoid both an idealized anthropology and an individualized pietism, the old dangers of liberalism on one side and fundamentalism on the other. If we lose our way, if we try to derive peace from our experiences in this world or an isolated religiosity, we lose peace with others and with ourselves, and we lose peace with God. Only the peace from God in the Spirit leads us into the to- and-fro of love, as Jean Vanier puts it: a love expressed in real relationships and real communities oriented towards reconciliation in all ways that the Spirit offers.15 This is why shalom is a spiral, leading us around and upward together. Life with the Spirit is truly a dance of peace.

Rather than conflict, we have peace. Rather than chaos, we have peace. Rather than frustration or anxiety or domination, we have peace. This is not the peace of the world, but a deeper peace, a lasting peace, a thorough peace. It is not just the ceasing of violence and war, it is more; it is an entering into a rhythm with the Creator of all that is, and living in light of this rhythm. This is truly, thoroughly, good news. This is the gospel, in which we discover not just a message about heaven but a message about all of reality, a reintegration into life with God that transforms our very experience of this world and leads us to resonate this experience back into this world. It is this peace Jesus promises to us. It is this peace that Jesus passes to us in the Spirit, and it is in participating with the Spirit that we pass this peace to others. This is the continuing call of a fuller evangelicalism.

Because Spirit and peace arrive together, peacemaking should be definitive for contemporary approaches of evangelism, for understanding of sanctification, for engagement in social activism and advocacy. These have long been part of Fuller Seminary’s institutional story—key elements of the “good ship Fuller” that have kept us afloat throughout the turbulent cultural seas of the last 70 years. Indeed, each of our three schools can be seen as specializing in one of these areas while seeking thorough integration together with them all. This gives us a significant role in leading evangelicalism back into shalom, as we train women and men for leadership and participation in this world in light of the gospel. The promise of peace is not elusive but indeed a promise that was inaugurated with the giving of the Spirit. We need to be reminded and to remind others what Jesus taught, incorporating wisdom about “all things” and reemphasizing the element of peace again and again in all our pursuits.

May this peace be with you.
May we be people who, wherever we are,
also pass this peace to others.

1. This is an extremely streamlined description of what happened. For a more detailed account see George Marsden’s great book, Reforming Fundamentalism (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987). Over time, the prefix was dropped in most cases, and the movement is more commonly simply called evangelicalism now. However, the prefix is helpful in distinguishing between historical and global forms of evangelicalism.
2. By “fuller” I am intending the contemporary understanding of “being more full,” not the older, traditional term applied to those who prepared cloth. Though it does not take too much of a stretch to include this latter meaning in a figurative way, I’ll not venture into that tub.
3. Quoted in Marsden, 148.
4. Nicholas Wolterstorff, Until Justice and Peace Embrace (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1983), 70.
5. Cornelius Plantinga, Not the Way It’s Supposed to Be (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1995), 16.
6. Sarah Coakley, God, Sexuality, and the Self: An Essay “On the Trinity” (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2013), 89.
7. See Marsden, 91.
8. Marsden, 193, notes, “Carnell and Roddy were only the best-known cases from what over the years was a distressingly high number of serious psychological crises or breakdowns among Fuller’s faculty.”
9. Samuel Rubenson, The Letters of St. Anthony: Monasticism and the Making of a Saint (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1995), 206.
10. See, for instance, Isaiah 63:11–14.
11. See Galatians 5.
12. Jürgen Moltmann, Spirit of Life (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001), 202.
13. Albert C. Outler, ed., The Works of John Wesley, Vols. 1–4, Sermons (Nashville: Abington, 1984– 1987), III:206.
14. Tertullian, Apology, ch. 39.
15. Jean Vanier, Becoming Human (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1998), 43.