War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century (Part 3)

War in the Bible

Many thanks (again) 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). You can read the first part and second part of my review of this book here and here. In this third (and final) post, the chapters we will look at cover diverse ground. One defends Christian pacifism, another looks at the distinction between Just Wars and Crusades. The three final essays take up the issues as they relate specifically to terrorism.

Chapter 4
Impulses toward Peace in a Country at War: The Book of Isaiah between Realism and Hope by M. Daniel Carroll R.

This essay begins with some personal experiences of the author’s time living in the midst of the war in Guatemala (1982-1996). Dissatisfied with how both sides of the conflict handled the situation, he was motivated to find an “appropriate evangelical response” (59). The writings of Reinhold Niebuhr (Faith and History; Moral Man and Immoral Society; and The Nature and Destiny of Man) and Stanley Hauerwas (extensive list in footnote 11, p 62) provided fertile ground for Carroll’s thinking, even though they reflect a sharp contrast in thought. Niebuhr “recognized humanity’s inherent will to power and noted that it plays itself out in destructive ways, both within and between nations” and “understood the pervasiveness of sin in society and politics” (61). Because of this, Niebuhr believes that there is the “unavoidable necessity of occasionally having to use coercion—sometimes to the point of waging war—to maintain and establish at least a modicum of justice in this unjust world” (61).

On the other hand, Hauerwas argues “for another starting point in the debate over whether Christians as individuals and the Church as an institution should support and be involved in war…Christians do not choose nonviolence because we can rid the world of war, but rather in a world of war we cannot be anything but nonviolent as worshipful followers of Jesus the Christ” (emphasis is the author’s, 62). Carroll agrees with Hauerwas. Out of this position Carroll identifies two foundational questions that must be answered: “Who are we?” (the issue of identity) and “What are we to do?” (the issue of mission). The answers to these questions will determine fundamental loyalty and a resulting goal for life/service.

To answer these questions (and to wrestle with the believer’s approach to war), Carroll looks to the book of Isaiah. He spends significant ink detailing the history, archaeological data, and prophetic message. He mines three lessons from Isaiah’s words for Judah: it is wise to explore the values and attitudes of those who make policy choices (character matters!); believers are “called to trust in the absolute power of Yahweh to deliver” (75); believers should not lose sight of the eschatological hope (war is not ultimate, one day it will end) (77).

Chapter 5
Distinguishing Just War from Crusade: Is Regime Change a Just Cause for Just War? by Daniel R. Heimbach

Heimbach does not address the pacifists’ question about whether a war is ever morally right. He respectfully disagrees with the pacifists and believes that a just-war approach to the ethics of war (and a Christian’s participation in such a war) is faithful to Scripture, has been the teaching of the majority of the church since the time of the New Testament, and is not a corruption of biblical morality (79). He attempts to define the line between just war and crusade. He distinguishes the two based on how each justifies going to war.

He situates his argument in the controversy about the war with Iraq. He discusses the justification given by President Bush for going to war with Iraq in 2003 (a pre-emptive strike against a potential threat). He also recounts numerous Christian leaders and their responses to this justification (quoting those who supported the President and those who cautioned against such justification). However, he does not agree that the justification given was valid. Instead, he believes that the arguments put forth come close to (if not actually) crossing the line from Just War to Crusade.

Nevertheless, Heimbach believes “that the war with Iraq was indeed justified, that there was legitimate just cause. But, in explaining how it was justified, President Bush and others included one reason with which I do not agree. The only morally appropriate reason for this war was to enforce the terms of the 1991 surrender. The just cause for the Persian Gulf War (the invasion of Kuwait) still pertained” (87). Aside, from this, Heimbach believes that the war would be difficult to justify (and he does give details to support his position). He concludes his essay with an appendix of Conflicting Statements on Just Cause (citing a diverse group throughout history, including, the prophet Amos, the apostle Paul, Plato, Augustine, Aquinas, Paul Ramsey, Wilton Gregory, Robert Tucker, Charles Colson, and President Bush).

Chapter 6
Noncombatant Immunity and the War on Terrorism by Tony Pfaff

Pfaff addresses the issues of noncombatant casualties, particularly in the pursuit of justice against terrorists. Pfaff sates that “it is a nearly universally accepted moral principle that it is wrong to harm innocent people intentionally. However, states are obligated to protect their citizens from harm, and individuals vested with this responsibility sometimes find it necessary to risk violating the moral principle in order to uphold the civil principle. Soldiers sometimes must attack enemy military targets located near civilian residences. Polices sometimes put bystanders’ lives at risk when they pursue criminals” (94-95).

Pfaff seeks to define terrorists and discusses the differences between criminals and enemies (and how they are to be brought to justice). The main distinguishing characteristic seeming to be the kind of threat or risk the terrorist(s) present. He discusses the different roles that police and soldiers hold, and how each role approaches justice and peace.

He concludes, in part, by saying “The al-Qaeda terrorists are criminals. But they are also enemies. Because it is always preferable to do less harm than more, it will always be preferable to pursue them under the criminal model because this model risks the least harm to noncombatants. But because terrorists are enemies, when it is not possible to pursue them as criminals, it is permissible to conduct operations that will knowingly though not intentionally harm civilians, given the restrictions outlined [in this essay]” (111).

Pfaff acknowledges that there are unresolved issues that he cannot address in the scope of this essay, including, permissions associated with violating political sovereignty and territorial integrity of other states in order to pursue terrorists and how to treat detained terrorists.

He warns “a state cannot rationally fight evil by committing it… [America’s] leaders must take care not to become like the enemy it opposes” (112).

Chapter 7
Terrorism: What Is It and How Do We Deal with It? by Ian G. C. Durie

Ian Durie, like Heimbach, affirms the just-war position. He was a former soldier (a participant in the first Gulf War, in 1991). After his experiences in war and subsequent examination of the roots of just-war doctrine he concluded, “the responsibility for justice, law, and order in society requires the state to be prepared to use force conditionally and in a closely controlled manner to deal with internal disorder and external aggression and that Christians have a duty to play their parts, although some may be called to pacifist as an individual stance” (113).

Durie also takes up the task of attempting to define terrorism, and asks if terrorism is ever legitimate. For example, “In the case of justified resistance, terrorism may be the appropriate method of fighting of a relatively powerless minority against a more powerful majority” (116). After discussing various types of terrorism, he deals with the topic of resisting (and defeating) international terrorism.

He concludes by saying that “terrorism is a potentially legitimate form of warfare, but terrorists never use it legitimately, and this is why it is not a justifiable means of resistance” (122). He gives three action items to consider: 1) Governments “have a duty to respond legitimately within the constraints of just-war doctrine and the international rules of war, taking care not to further the terrorist cause by repressive actions;” 2) “governments should seek to address the causes of injustice throughout the world, thus negating the means by which terrorists justify their actions;” 3) “Both governments and those who oppose them should be called to account by Christians and others who have the duty of responding to God’s call for justice and freedom from oppression for all nations and peoples” (122).

At the end of Durie’s chapter there is an appendix listing eight Criteria for Justified Resistance.

Chapter 8
Just Peacemaking Reduces Terrorism between Palestine and Israel by Glen H. Stassen

Stassen begins by saying that both pacifists and just-war theorists can agree on Just Peacemaking Theory. This theory answers the question: “What peacemaking practices are in accord with Jesus’ way, work in the real world, and are obligatory for Christians to advocate and practice in the real world?” (127). Stassen demonstrates Just Peacemaking practices in the Bible (e.g., Cain and conflict resolution; Jacob and independent initiative; Joseph and forgiveness; Moses and righting injustice, and Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount). He also uses examples from history to demonstrate Peacemaking Theory for the prevention of terrorism (e.g., Russia, Turkey, Biological weapons, and Israel & Palestine).

He also argues that because terrorism is purpose driven, preventive initiatives can make a difference. He gives several examples: Israel’s withdrawal from the Sinai Desert, the 1993 Oslo Agreement, and the Lebanon Border Incident (2007).

He concludes by pointing out the limits of unilateral power (i.e., there is a limit to what United States can do without help from other nations), and thus there is a need for cooperative foreign policy in the pursuit of justice and peace (especially in the fight against terrorism). Stassen believes that “Just Peacemaking offers a wiser and more effective way to dry up the sources of terrorism” (148).

My Conclusions
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.

John Goldingay, in a review from Themelios 33-3 (December 2008) and quoted on the publisher’s website, makes a very astute observation. “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.”

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.

2 thoughts on “War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century (Part 3)

  1. James


    Thanks for the thoughtful review. This is one of my favorite books to recommend to people who ask about war and pacifism—largely because it doesn’t offer pat answers. As you noted, it raises questions.


  2. Pingback: In the Mail: War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century | Unsettled Christianity

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