Brother Half Angel by Martin Roth
The first novel in Roth’s Military Orders series, Brother Half Angel asks questions which resonate through the series. Is a Christian threatened with violence justified in responding with violence? Is there one or are there several kinds of threats that justify violence rather than turning the other cheek? If instigating low-level violence prevents an assault by high-power violence, is the Christian acting in obedience to Christ to engage in this intervention? Does it make a difference if the Christian engages in this action to protect others before himself? To put this question in terms of the current political discourse in the USA, is a Christian ever justified in using a gun to defend his home and his family?
The Australian author of the Military Orders series reaches back to the Middle Ages for guidance. The South Korean Christians who recruit a man they call Brother Half Angel follow the model of the Christian military orders commonly called “the Crusaders.” Unlike the well-publicized view of ardent Islamists, the South Korean Christians refute the argument that the Crusades were unprovoked attacks on Muslims. They see the Crusades as “fully justified responses to attacks on Christians and the church.” These Christians, who are as active as possible in supporting their fellow believers in North Korea, view the violence wrought against Christians in their northern neighbor country as provocation like that which justified the Crusades. Faced with what they believe to be a similar problem, they craft a similar response. The reader is invited into a story that compels the reader to look inside and ask himself the same question: Is a Christian threatened with violence justified in responding with violence?
The story of Brother Half Angel is set in China, a country that tolerates Christianity like a rock in its cultural shoe. Churches are highly regulated, as are seminaries and the clergy itself. Even house churches are required to be registered, although few cooperate with that policy. The story is set in an unregistered seminary which poses as a school teaching English as a second language. In the same town there is a house church which poses as a shop teaching flower arrangement. Both groups suffer official and cultural condemnation which explode in a violent assault on students at the seminary, resulting in the death and mutilation of one student. The question arises: Is a Christian threatened with violence justified in responding with violence.
Brother Half Angel enters the story representing the answer that says, “Yes. There are times when a Christian really ought to act in his own defense, or in the defense of other innocent people.” Brother Ling, the director of the unregistered, illegal Christian seminary believes the best answer is to endure. He says, “I heard that, in America, Christians thank God because they live in a free country. Where does the Bible tell you to do that? Here in China we give thanks that we are suffering persecution, because we know that through persecution we are receiving God’s grace and blessings.” Yet these high-minded words are spoken by a man with a dark secret.
Brother Half Angel will not give the reader a final answer to the question, just as there is no final answer that feels right to all Christians at all times. This story is a fast-moving action drama, but it is also a deep exploration of important questions for Christians. In every country Christians are cultural targets.Culture shapes politics, which frequently targets Christians. In the USA, for example, increasingly secular officeholders view legal protections for the expression of faith in the US Constitution from a very different perspective today than previous generations of officeholders who considered Christianity normative in the culture. In many nations, legislation and policies which allege to protect religious liberty are actually enforced in ways that restrict public freedom to speak or act on religious principles.
Brother Half Angel is an excellent product of writerly craftsmanship. Any reader who simply wants an exciting action story will enjoy this book. The best action drama, such as the work of David Baldacci and Vince Flynne, always engages the mind and portrays the action as one element of a multi-dimensional character. This book follows in that tradition. However, like David Baldacci’s novel The Simple Truth this book portrays the exposition of cultural facets and faith practices that prod the reader to think more deeply about the characters and the plot.
I recommend Brother Half Angel to all devotees of action thrillers and fast-paced drama. I also recommend it to any reader who enjoys thought-provoking commentary on a complex contemporary global problem.