War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century (Part 1)

War in the Bible 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
Miroslav Volf

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
Tony Pfaff

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:

  1. The Argument That Religion by Its Nature is Violent
  2. The Argument That Monotheism Entails Violence
  3. The Argument That Creation is an Act of Violence
  4. 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).

15 thoughts on “War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century (Part 1)

  1. John Murphy

    Having served in the Marines for 7 years, no one would ever accuse me of being a pacifist. It was a little frustrating to see the “just war” argument pulled out by many evangelicals in the case of Iraq, but somehow missing its application in other places (North Korea comes to mind). This implies to me that the “just war” theory was applied “just” where President Bush desired. Suspicious use of a theory, I would say.

    Speaking of suspicion, I would have to say that a company who jumps on the green press initiative would be a little more admirable were it not patently obvious that they did so because it saved them money. I suspect that they would not be so ready to jump aboard if it were costing them money. Just saying.

  2. Karyn Post author


    I wouldn’t be so quick to assume that the publisher (or printer) participates in the Green Press Initiative because of finances. That may or may not be true. My experience has been that it is more expensive to purchase some of these papers or use “green” processes. It will only become more economical when more people make this choice.


  3. James


    Eisenbrauns is firmly committed to being environmentally good stewards. Whenever possible, we use Green Press Initiative—whether it saves us money, or not. We take seriously God’s command to be a good steward of his creation.

    P.S. That is one reason I ride my bicycle to work every day (11 miles). The other reason is because I’m more than half crazy 🙂

  4. Karyn Post author

    thank you for confirming Eisenbrauns commitment to being good stewards. And I applaud your personal commitment to bicycling. Our second car is my Heron bicycle.

  5. Philip Stern

    It sounds like Volf is more of an apologist than a serious historian. The synoptic gospels are in large part polemics against the Pharisees, while the Gospel of John is in part a polemic against the Jews. Christians have acted towards Jews over the centuries in keeping with these polemics. Wars of religion, such as the Crusades and the wars between branches of the Christian faith, have been legion. Christian countries have started more wars, including World War I and World War II, than any other country or countries characterized by faith. That is not to say that there is no violence fomented by other religions; the Hebrew Bible, like its counterparts in Christianity and Islam, has a place for peace but it also recounts ruthless warfare against peoples that did not embrace the God of Israel, just as Christians and Moslems have warred against each other in later times. Warfare is doubtlessly a product of human nature, but to deny the fact that Christianity itself has been a cause of war on many occasions as have other religions–with the possible exception of Buddhism (I, for one, have never heard of a war started by practicing Buddhists)–is simply to deny too much history.

  6. Karyn Post author

    Thank you for your comments. I think Volf would agree with you that history does indeed (unfortunately) record that people have used Christianity as a justification for violence. The essay in the book is not denying that (and was very clear in stating this), rather it is looking at the Christian faith as it ought to be practiced and arguing that a true Christian faith is not necessarily violent. The issues you bring up of Canaanite warfare is dealt with in subsequent chapters/essays and I will be discussing those in future posts. No one essay in the book will be able to give a complete view or answer. I think the book, as a distillation of the symposium, must be taken as a whole. I hope you will check back to read about the other chapters. Or better yet, read the book yourself and let me know your views on the whole book. The best measure of the helpfulness of the book is ongoing dialogue.

  7. Steve Rives

    You taught at WTS, right? Did any of the authors deal with M. G. Kline and his Intrusion Ethics? I believe that solves the problem completely. Kline seems to settle the issue so thoroughly, that I hope someone picked up his work and advanced it in one of these articles.

    Steve Rives
    Writing for the Vosian and Klinian way…

  8. Carl Hostetter

    I can’t help but point out that if you want to sequester carbon, an _excellent_ way to do so is to cut down trees, convert them into some permanent form (building materials, furniture, or yes, books), and then plant new trees in their place to fix even more carbon.

  9. James

    John, sorry for the slow response.

    We went with the printer who offered us the option of Green Press Initiative versus the one who did not. I don’t recall the price difference anymore; it was over a year ago. I suspect it was cheaper, just because that printer is usually cheaper than the other ones and does excellent work.


    Yes, recent studies have shown that young trees fix more carbon than older trees. But, why cut down more trees just to print this book? More than enough trees are being cut already. Why not just plant more trees, instead?

    When we bought our place two years ago, the first thing I did was plant trees—over 40 of them (on about 2 acres).


  10. Carl Hostetter

    Yes, people should certainly be planting trees wherever they can. But converting existing trees into some permanent form locks up the carbon they’ve already fixed for centuries (as opposed to the trees eventually being burned or decaying, which releases their carbon). Doing so is thus an _additional_ sequestration to that achieved by planting new trees.

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