I wanted to spend some time going through the eight essays of this book, as I find that this issue is important. Not only in the we see the world at large, which has increasingly become known only through the lens of nativism, but so too how we remember ourselves. I’ll be up front – my views on such things as ‘an appropriate response to terrorism’ has been influenced by Richard T. Hughes and his book, Christian American and the Kingdom of God. I imagine it is more Mennonite than what some would like, but it is mine nevertheless because I view it as a Christian method of response.
This book, published by Eisenbrauns (here), is part of the Bulletin for Biblical Research Supplement series edited by ]]s and ]]. This particular volume is edited by Hess and Elmer A. Martens and includes distinguished writers, such as ]] and ]]. 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)
I want to examine, and to open up the discussion, on the first essay, as written by ]] entitled Christianity and Violence.
His thesis is essentially this:
The more we reduce Christian faith to a vague religiosity that serves primarily to energize, heal, and give meaning to a life the content of which is shaped by factors other than faith (such as national or economic interests), the worse off we will be (p3)
His goal is not to argue against the fact that Christianity has been employed to ‘foster violence’ (p3), but that Christianity might actually have some value in securing a more peaceful society. For an immediate historical allusion to this, just note the rise of secularization in Europe during the middle 19th century which brought about bloody and ruthless conflicts. In some small way, I believe that this is actually feeding a resurgence in those seeking religion in much the same way that the bloody religious wars of the 16th and 17th history fed secularization. Religion is simply not dead, nor as private as we might would like to this, according to Volf, who notes that this new religious fervor brought on by changes in the 20th century (think of the Soviet invasion and attempted secularization of Afghanistan in the 80’s and what he led to, culminating in the attacks on 9/11). The author’s answer? More Christianity, but not the thin veneer that we have come to know as Christianity, but something more ingrained.
He validates his argument by calling for a real commitment to this faith of ours, and not a ‘thin’ (his words) religious zeal which scratches the surface of Christianity and will most likely produce violence. Volf argues quite forcefully that by understanding real Christian theology and doctrine, and finding that these dogmas must by necessity of themselves ground the believer in a realm of peace, then the path to peace is entrenching oneself in the historic doctrines of the faith. Frankly, it is refreshing to see an author call for more religion to bring about peace instead of taking the modern path of calling for the end of religion altogether. To do so, he tackles four arguments which is used by scholars to show that religion, and Christianity in particular it seems, leads to violence. In doing so, he turns them on their head, approaching the Christian doctrine not from a stance of regret for doctrine, but a truly Apologetic discourse which attempt to set the record straight on violence in Christianity, or rather, violence for which Christianity is used to underwrite.
His take on Revelation is interesting, and while I may be leaning to the ‘non-violent violence of it all, I am not sure I am willing to completely accept this notion that Revelation is almost wholly without violence. Reader, you have to first understand what he means by violence and how that stands opposed to what we see as violence. I believe that Volf is seeing violence as imposition of will, which he doesn’t find either the Creation or the New Creation. Even in Creation, unless understood properly, someone could see abstract violence in that the Creator molded something which was not of His Nature. Yet, that is not the Christian Doctrine. While I do not explicitly believe in creatio ex nihilo, nor some of his other doctrines so expressed, Volf continues to show that in these doctrines, and even in the most violent of interpretations, there is still the grounding of Love. God is Love.
What is equally interesting and something of note, is that Volf takes these doctrines and simply shows how without them, people are prone to be more violent!
Volf is correct in that ‘The Christian faith is misused when it is employed to underwrite violence’. I have been on the receiving end of relatively a small amount of that violence, but I see the effects of the greater portion of that misuse in my community and circle of friends (he notes on p16 that this is the inflation of the negative in which the evil of religion overtakes the large amount of good produced by religion). I would agree with him, that if Christians were brought back to the historic texts (and I assume, digging through the patina of interpretations back to a better understanding of our values) that they would be true peacemakers. There is a hope for something that Volf speaks about, and I believe that this hope may be realized in this search for historic awareness of the Christian doctrines.
Cannot wait for the second essay…