In the Mail: War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century

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With special thanks to James S. at Eisenbrauns…

From Eisenbrauns

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In February 2004, Denver Seminary’s annual Biblical Studies conference addressed the question of modern war and the teachings of biblical ethics regarding it. The conference was envisioned as a collaborative effort between the Association for Christian Conferences, Teaching, and Service (ACCTS), and the Biblical Studies division of Denver Seminary. A year earlier, the invasion of Iraq had taken place. The questions created by the outbreak of war prompted an urgency in the consideration of the topic. ACCTS, which sponsors international symposia in military ethics with officers from armed forces around the globe, provided ethicists and practitioners from within the military of both the U.S. and Great Britain. Hess and Martens also solicited papers from leading theologians and advocates representing pacifist and just-war views. They have succeeded in bringing together in this fine volume a group of Christians representing a wide range of perspectives to debate and discuss their heritage and biblical roots with regard to questions of war and its ethical dilemmas.

Product Details

Publisher: Eisenbrauns
Publication date: 2008
Bibliographic info: xii + 155 pages
Language(s): English
Cover: Cloth
Trim Size: 6 x 9
ISBN: 1-57506-803-6
ISBN13: 978-1-57506-803-9 9781575068039


“…Hess and Martens have produced a volume that illuminates once more the numerous issues involved in the intersection of the Bible, theology, ethics, and the practices of modern nation-states. Given the poignancy of these issues, this volume should be considered by all those interested in that conversation.”—Brad E. Kelle, Point Loma Nazarene University in Review of Biblical Literature, February 2009.

“This book will be profitable to anyone studying war in the Bible or a contemporary Christian view of war, especially in the area of terrorism. Though not systematic enough to serve as a textbook, each of the essays could be used as supplementary material in a variety of classes.”—Charlie Trimm, Wheaton College in Bulletin of Biblical Research, 19.1.

“This collection of essays results from a conference at Denver Seminary in 2004. It must have been an interesting event because the symposium represents a wide range of views. I would like to have overheard the conversations over dinner. It begins with a paper on “Christianity and Violence” by my former colleague, theologian Miroslav Volf, whose qualifications include his experience of the terrible conflicts that followed the breakup of Yugoslavia. I appreciated the way he argues against the idea that religion by nature is violent, the idea that monotheism entails violence, and the misuse of Christian faith to underwrite violence. I was less sure about his argument against the idea that neither creation nor new creation involve violence, since there is significant scriptural material that suggests that the contrary is true. The subsequent chapter by Richard Hess brings out this problem in its own way as it provides an overview of warfare in the Hebrew Bible and thus considers themes such as Yahweh the warrior. It closes with the observation that the Bible “recognizes battle as a necessary evil in the context of a greater struggle between good and evil” (p. 32). That again seems a modern way to frame the issue. The Bible is more accepting of warfare than this implies. Elmer Martens then argues that (contrary to one of the views Volf contests) shalom is the legacy of biblical monotheism. But he too has to comment that if this is so, “texts in which God instructs Israel to annihilate her enemies…represent a conundrum” (p. 43), and he surveys ways of seeking to resolve it. In my view, one of the considerations that help with the conundrum is that the peoples Dr. Martens mentions as ones God instructs Israel to annihilate (such as the Hittites and Canaanites) are not Israel’s enemies. They are people whom God chooses to treat as enemies (because of their wrongdoing). Daniel Carroll then discusses “Impulses Toward Peace in a Country at War: The Book of Isaiah Between Realism and Hope”; he too writes against the background of personal involvement in the issues he discusses, having lived in Guatemala from 1982 to 1996. It is a promising place to start if we want to hink about faith and warfare, given that like other prophets, Isaiah has no place for Israel fighting. Daniel Heimbach then provides an interesting reflection on the Gulf War, writing as someone who affirms the notion of “Just War,” though a key point he wishes to emphasize is that the claim that in our context the notion of just war can justify preemptive war is a harmful modification of this notion. Tony Pfaff, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army, then reflects on the moral dilemmas involved in attacking terrorist groups with the attendant risk of harmaing civilians. While the risk cannot be avoided, he concludes that, in the midst of justifiable U.S. anger, “its leaders must take care not to become like the enemy it opposes” (p. 112). Ian Durie, a former major general in the British army, continues the discussion of terrorism and just war, asking how far just war theory can be applied to attacks on terrorism. (I found this an especially moving chapter because Ian Durie was a student at the seminary where I taught in the U.K. but was killed in a traffic accident in Romania while in that country to teach the ethics of leadership.) The final chapter by my colleague Glen Stassen abjures discussion of whether war can be justified in favor of arguing for the way just peacemaking can reduce terrorism and suggests ten just peacemaking practices such as using cooperative conflict resolution, fostering just and sustainable economic development, and reducing the weapons trade. I would like to think he is right, though I am not sure that we have the evidence, and he reminded me of G. K. Chesterton’s saying: “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult and left untried.” I think much of the symposium reflects an unresolved and often unrecognized problem about biblical interpretation in connection with issues related to war and peace. It was only in the context of modernity that war became a problem, something whose existence people were no longer willing simply to accept as a reality of human life and something they believed could be overcome. The nature of war in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries and the frighteningly war-making nature of our lifetime then made it even more impossible to come to terms with the reality of war as “Just one of those things.” In this context I can quite believe that God calls the church to pacifism and just peacemaking. But the problem in connection with biblical interpretation is that we then read into Scripture such concerns that God gives us, when these concerns are not present in Scripture where the context was so different and where the nature of the faith’s interaction with war was so different. We assume that Scripture should and does operate with the same framework as we do. It does not, and this is all right. But we need to come to think in its framework if we are to learn from it.” –John Goldingay, Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California, in Themelios 33-3 (December 2008).

“Together these papers constitute a challenging study of what continues to be a most intractable problem in today’s world, in both political and theological terms.” –H. Kraus in JSOT 33/5 (2009).

“This collection of essays offers much food for thought and no simple answers. In fact, taken as a whole, the reader comes away with some views that are directly in opposition to one another. Yet, all are grounded in a biblical, Christian ideology. This highlights just how complicated the situations of war, terrorism, and peace can be on the personal, national, and international level… “This book would be an excellent choice for a small discussion group (perhaps in a classroom, book club, or church setting). The purpose of the book is really to bring the issues to the table, not to give pat answers. At 148 pages it is not a long read, and each chapter gives enough material to stimulate a discussion. Even the topics that are not taken up in detail, but nevertheless mentioned, could stimulate further study and consideration.”—Karyn Traphagen at Boulders 2 Bits, February 2010.

“his collection of articles demonstrates solid scholarship and is worthy of serious study. I think that a college or seminary class could use the book as a basis for discussing justification of war, the Bible, and the modern conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Pastors and laypersons will also find the book manageable to read and an informative discussion of the topic.” –Terry W. Eddinger, Carolina Evangelical Divinity School, Greensboro, NC, in Review and Expositor 106, Spring 2009.

“The book delivers a pacifist-just war punch, both ostensibly in the service of peacemaking. It evokes critical thought, especially of the 2003 Iraq war and current U.S. war goals in Afghanistan responding to terrorist challenges. Hess and Martens are to be commended for bringing this book to print. It will generate lively discussion in churches, universities and seminaries where both pacifist and just war Christians interact.” –Williard M. Swartley, Associated Mennonite Biblical Seminary, in The Mennonite Quarterly Review, January 2010.

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