Review: War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century

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During our time, we are watching threats arise in North Korea and Iran as well threats emerging again in Iraq and other portions of the Middle East. Not only that, but the wars which prompted these essays have yet  to subside and with each promise of withdrawal comes the passive acknowledgment that our children may not in fact see the end of these wars. This book doesn’t promise answers, and what answers it gives don’t always sit well with those of us to the political left who fight tooth and nail for the ‘pure’ doctrine of Just War. Of course, the political right will not find much comfort either in the idea of absorbing peace or the method of handling non-combatants.

This book, published by Eisenbrauns (here), is part of the Bulletin for Biblical Research Supplement series edited by Richard S. Hess and Craig L. Blomberg. This particular volume is edited by Hess and Elmer A. Martens and includes distinguished writers, such as Daniel Heimback and Ian G.C. Durie. It is a collect of essays inspired by Denver Seminary’s annual Biblical Studies conference, help in 2004, which attempted to ‘address… the question of the teachings of biblical ethics regarding modern war.’ (viii) Often times, especially in the latest round of discussion concerning war, terrorism and the appropriate response to attacks, the Hebrew bible is mined extensively (well, not too extensively, I suspect) to support a violent and oftentimes, religious response in the form of a crusade. I remember the days after 9/11 when our rhetoric was a ‘our God vs their god’ type mentality, with phrases such as ‘we should go Old Testament on their….’ brought up repeatedly. Richard Hess, an editor of this series, shapes a response to those who do violence to the Old Testament by using it to justify a swift and brutal reaction. His purpose is twofold: to consider the issue of war in a then/now spectrum as well as to allow the modern Westerner to regard him or herself in this light allowing them to see how much the views have changed by examining recent contributions to the ethics of war.

Elmer A. Martens, a co-editor of this volume and a Professor Emeritus at the Mennonite Brethren Biblical Seminary, brings us the second essay which attempts to answer, somewhat, Regina Schwartz‘s book which called for the end of Monotheism. In this essay, Martens attempts to answer the charges against the Cross as a symbol of a violent and uncaring God, but doesn’t exclude the fact that their is violence in Holy Writ, and that God does at times cause it. What is interesting is first his notion of shalom, which while we tend to think that it fits neatly as ‘peace’, really doesn’t, and second, his view of the absorption of violence by the believers, but most notably, by the Cross. It is looking to be a timely discussion with tensions rising again around the Korean Peninsula, Rodas examines Isaianic impulses toward peace in a country at war. He first tells his story of how he came to his conclusions on biblical theology of war and the impetus of this search, followed by a thorough review of Isaiah’s prophecies dealing with Hezekiah, a king who in the midst of a war turned to human innovations instead of relying upon YHWH. It is not about what we can do, but about who we are that confirms what we should do.

Daniel R. Heimbach writes the fifth essay in this book, an essay which is immediately challenging to my political notions which developed over the past eleven years. He takes on the notion, developed during the lead up to the Iraqi War, that a Just War is in effect the same as a Crusade, making such a Crusade a morally righteous act. He tackles Plato, Aristotle and Augustine in (re)dividing Crusade from Just War, admirably. The final several move from a proper method of protecting civilians in a time of war to a just war theory in use against terrorism and ending with final essay in this momentous book by Christian ethicist Glenn H. Stassen. It pertains not to pacificism or the Just War Theory but to something different – to the Just Peacemaking Theory. Immediately, with that phrase, I think about the end of the Great War, and what might have happened at the peacemaking with Germany being in line with Christian precepts, but I digress.

These essays aren’t about mundane, rational logic or philosophy, but approaches the issue from the Christian Tradition with each author tying their essay in some way back to Christ and Scripture. There are thoughts aplenty in this book with questions being raised, some answered, but more importantly, it is a call to conversation about how to handle acts of illegal terrorism as a Christian nation, if that is indeed what we are or at the very least, what we desire to become.

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