Many thanks to the folks at Eisenbrauns for sending me a review copy of War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century edited by Richard S. Hess and Elmer A. Martens (Bulletin for Biblical Research Supplement 2).
This book (published in 2008) is a collection of 8 essays which came out of a 2004 conference at Denver Seminary. The event solicited papers from a variety of positions, each contributing to a search for biblical and ethical approaches to the questions of war and the Bible. I would have liked to have been a fly on the wall at that conference. Perhaps this set of essays is the next best thing.
Before I begin discussing the content of the book, it is worth noting that the hard-cover book of 155 pages is part of Eisenbrauns participation in the Green Press Initiative (for more information, visit www.greenpressinitiative.org). I usually pay attention to the type of paper that a publisher chooses, but I’m not accustomed to seeing such specific details listing the effects of choosing a particular paper. For this printing, the choice was 50% post consumer recycled paper (processed chlorine free). On the very last page of the book you learn that as a result, they saved 4 trees; 1,884 gallons of wastewater; 758 kilowatt hours of electricity; 208 pounds of solid waste; and 408 pounds of greenhouse gases.
The table of contents provides the structure which I will employ in reviewing this collection. I plan to post on each of the essays, which will allow a bit more space for quotes and summary.
Table of Contents for War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century
1. Christianity and Violence
2 War in the Hebrew Bible: An Overview
Richard S. Hess
3. Toward Shalom: Absorbing the Violence
Elmer A. Martens
4. Impulses toward Peace in a Country at War: The Book of Isaiah between Realism and Hope
M. Daniel Carroll R.
5. Distinguishing Just War from Crusade: Is Regime Change a Just Cause for Just War?
Daniel R. Heimbach
6. Noncombatant Immunity and the War on Terrorism
7 Terrorism: What is it and How Do We Deal with It?
Ian G. C. Durie
8. Just Peacemaking Reduces Terrorism between Palestine and Israel
Glen H. Stassen
In Chapter One, Miroslav Volf sets out to contest the claim that religion, and in particular, the Christian faith, fosters violence. He does not dismiss the violence done in the name of Christianity, nor does he ignore elements of Christian faith which, taken in isolation and out of safe-guarding context, can (and have been) used to legitimize violence. Nevertheless, his task here, he says, is not to answer these questions, but rather to demonstrate that the Christian faith should be regarded as a contributor to peaceful society.
I particularly appreciate his use of the concepts “thick” and “thin” as applied to the practice of Christian faith (be sure to read footnote 7, starting on page 3). While not a novel idea (e.g. Clifford Geertz and Gilbert Ryle), his application to religious practice is very helpful. “I am concerned to show how the “thinning” of religious practice opens religious convictions to be misused to legitimize violence because it strips away precisely what in “thick” religious faith guards against misuse of this sort” (fn 7, p 4).
After laying this foundation, Volf addresses four arguments:
- The Argument That Religion by Its Nature is Violent
- The Argument That Monotheism Entails Violence
- The Argument That Creation is an Act of Violence
- The Argument That the Intervention of a New Creation Generates Violence
I think he does a convincing job countering these positions, but I wonder if some readers may be less satisfied with how he handles the issue of violence in Creation and New Creation (even if they may agree with his conclusion).
Volf concludes with a section exploring how misuse of the Christian faith to legitimize violence happens and what can be done to prevent it. A sobering observation is that “Misconceptions of the Christian faith reflect the widespread misbehavior of Christians.” Of course this is not the whole story. He also lays some blame on the mass media and the “inflation of the negative.”
Woven throughout his arguments and observations in this essay are glimpses of his vision of how a “thick” practice of the Christian faith will “help generate and sustain a culture of peace.”
This first chapter sets the table for the courses of the meal that are served up by the following chapters. Next course: “War in the Hebrew Bible: An Overview” (Richard S. Hess).