For Your Pleasure – A Seminary Paper

A friend of mine said, “It would be nice to hear your conclusions as well though,” after I claimed that my seminary-esque posts are as much to capture my state of mind as they are to be evangelical. Well, here’s a paper I just wrote for my class “Israel’s Early History and Poetry”. It’s a book review that concludes with my thoughts on ministerial application. A couple of notes: Part of my intent is to encourage folks to attend more formal education. See how my writing isn’t uber-perfect? And yet I passed. Second, if you don’t know, the word ‘ibid’ in the footnotes or end-notes simply means the same source as just cited. So in this case, all my citing is from the same book. Without further ado.

I have only ever met two declared pacifists—an old married couple. They had recently joined the gym where I worked and I was their personal trainer for a few weeks. It was a part-time job while I waited to hear if I had been selected to go to pilot training in the Air Force. Oh, and then there was the time my mom sat me down in an effort to really dissuade me from joining. From the look on her face and the fact that we never talked about it again, I think that’s when she determined I must be too stupid to understand the cost of military service. Even she, though, was not acting out of principled belief. She just didn’t want me to die. An old couple and my mom. That’s it. Every other adult, every church member, every teacher, every scout leader—every single influential human in my life—valued military service. Ergo, I served.


War occurs in the Bible. Total war occurs and is sanctioned by God in the Bible (Joshua 6:17). And yet Christianity has as its leader a man who said, “Love your enemy” (Matthew 5:44). Putting into play Christian theologian’s favorite word, it seems the word tension is applicable; a tension exists regarding humanity’s political scene and Christianity’s role. War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century is a collection of post-9/11 writings that each attempt to ease this tension.[1] With the exception of Strassen’s “Just Peacemaking Reduces Terrorism between Palestine and Israel,” the writings are not so much intended to “call to action” as much as capture contemporary sentiments regarding the tension. They are a quick survey of the mood of a few Christian thinkers.

In addition to the personal anecdote above, we will begin the book review with Dr. Hess’s article. In it, Hess posits that there is value in beginning, not with the soft command to “love your enemy” but rather with God’s role in war in the Hebrew Bible. He argues that in starting with the Hebrew Bible, we ought gain perspective.[2] Implicit to this assessment is the timeline of the Hebrew Bible. While we’re over two millennia removed from both the New and Old Testaments, the New Testament timeline covers less than a century of data, whereas the Old Testament’s covers more than a millennia. Seeing no reason to disagree with this strategy, we’ll follow Hess willingly. To begin, Hess rather quickly asserts that it is mistaken to conclude that the Hebrew Bible is singular in its presentation of God’s valuation of war.[3] He offers instead a three-pronged approach with which to navigate the territory and devotes a few pages to each. The first is “Yahweh as Warrior,” second “Israel at War,” and third “Accounts of War as Propaganda.”[4] Taking each by turn, then, Hess concludes that the Hebrew Bible’s portrayal of God as warrior both for and, at times, against Israel is “consistent only if one recognizes that Yahweh’s warfare forms part of his commitment to preserve his holiness.”[5] Next, Hess doesn’t make an argument per se instead he opts to simply survey the types of war that Israel may or may not have participated in. The real value of going this route is his conclusion regarding holy wars in ancient history. To be clear, Hess argues that “no ancient war was entirely secular.”[6] While quite obvious after it’s made explicit, this observation centers the matter greatly. Ancient people, not unlike our contemporaries, invoked deities in matters of life and death. The question remains, however, how should the Christian behave? Pacifist or reluctant militant? Moving forward to his third-of-three discussion on the Hebrew Bible as war propaganda designed to intimidate Israel’s enemies from afar, Hess presents comparative evidence which convincingly demonstrates that this is not likely. Most notably, he argues that even when very specific descriptions of total victory occur, no other political states are mentioned as witnesses—and this is quite unlike other ancient culture’s propaganda-filled historical records.[7] Finally, Hess concludes that the Hebrew Bible certainly incorporates war into the human scene as a “necessary evil”.[8]

Immediately following Hess’s chapter, space is afforded to an argument advancing shalom. Here we must remind ourselves that the tension is concrete and caused by the disparity between Jesus’ command to love our enemies and the Old Testament’s portrayal as God as an active participant in total war. In War in the Bible’s third chapter, Elmer A. Martens argues that Jesus’ command to “turn the other cheek (Matthew 5:39)” is actually the starting and ending place regarding the Christian’s behavior. Martens argues that the Christian—by nature a pacifist—best advances the kingdom by absorbing violence.[9] Obviously Martens, employing the same method as Hess just from the opposite angle, begins his discussion on the tension with prescriptions found in the New Testament. Several pages in, he addresses his reasoning and how he incorporates the Old Testament God that commands, and at times, participates in human warring. He writes that the proper way to assess the painful tension is to view the Old Testament as a necessary juxtaposition to the New Testament’s revelation—not as a contrarian formula for a right relationship with God.[10]

Martens then uses quite a few pages of argument to categorize the different ways God relates to war and violence in the Old Testament. Like Hess, Martens finds strength in threes. His grouping includes: societal violence, God-commanded Israeli violence, and God being directly violent.[11] The most magnetic of these three categories proves to be Marten’s handling of instances of God being directly violent, such as the Flood (Genesis 6-9). He first spells out the ultimately unconvincing and passé “the Lord works in mysterious ways” argument.[12] But then, at least from this writer’s experience, Martens detours onto a radical new course. Instead of lingering on stagnating and baffling uncertainty, he begins to build a case for pacifism that involves his reasoning that God’s participation in violence, taken together with a cheek-turning command can only be resolved by confessing that, as it is most bluntly recorded in Deuteronomy 32:35, vengeance should be left to God and God alone.[13] This is an uncommon and welcome challenge to cultural norms. Rather than “pacifism,” he uses the phrase “absorb the violence” to describe this recommended attitude.[14] Ultimately, if Marten’s argument clearly does anything that both “just cause” and “pacifist” Christians should be able to agree on, it is that it places the burden of proof on the “just cause” Christians. In effect, his argument forces them to answer, “So you’re telling me that our Savior, the same one who bought our salvation through the absorption of violence, offers a loophole for when times get really tough and hope for peace appears nowhere to be found?” And answer they must.

An article by M. Daniel Carrol R. follows Martens and straightaway we find ourselves amidst another argument for peace and nonviolence. Immediately, Carrol establishes that he is not pulling punches by personalizing his argument. This humanizes Carrol and implicitly makes that point that this debate is not occurring within a heartless vacuum. His own Christian walk illustrated, rather directly, the tension War in the Bible highlights and this necessitated his forming a doctrine. Several pages into the chapter, Carrol presents the first clue to his ultimate thesis. He writes that in the debate between Neibuhr’s “necessary evil” and “pacifism,” another thinker, an ethicist named Stanley Hauerwas, makes the point that the real problem is that Neibuhr’s argument is framed by “the world”, not God.[15]

Like Hess before him, Carrol centers on the Old Testament to illustrate his argument’s scriptural soundness. Exhaustively, he presents the historical context of Isaiah’s recounting of the Assyrian invasion.[16] Carrol carries us through the importance of leader’s with high character and also how preparations for war and practical defense often result in pushing pursuit of relationship with God aside.[17] Like the Isaiah he so thoroughly exegetes, he is not afraid of clearly stating the actual challenge of following God’s instruction: trust.[18] Current events, not only current threats but also quantifiable population shifts, create an environment which scoffs at the idea of trusting God unless we also fund the US military. But that’s what Carrol argues we’re to do, if we’re to learn from the lesson of Judah in Isaiah. Will we learn?

Regarding the remaining few chapters of the book, we find ourselves amidst a nuanced discussion by Daniel R. Heimbach of whether pre-emptive war can be supported by “just cause” advocates.[19] Then, Tony Praff attempts to delineate war from crime on the international stage, and explain why the difference matters to Christians.[20] We’re then presented with Ian G. C. Durie’s useless argument that answers the question that we were unaware anyone is even asking, being, “Can terrorism be used for good?”[21] Incredulity aside the answer, not surprisingly, is no.[22] Glen H. Stassen’s concluding chapter of the book is one that, rather convincingly, argues for seeking the common ground on which pacifists and “just cause-ists” can mutually stand, that is what every Christian should insist upon no matter their current position—peace.[23] Finally, not wanting to leave out the first chapter, we confess being impressed with the careful attention Miroslav Volf gives to illustrating the danger of being seduced by notions of “absolute hospitality”, moreover he wisely establishes that Christianity is “thick” not “thin” (itself the likely reason Volf was afforded placed at the beginning of the book).[24] And any attempts to place religion as the mother of violence are only possible if the advocate uses “thin” Christianity, that is, an un-reflected Christianity.

The total effect these other chapters have is two-fold. First, they—especially Heimbach and Durie—establish the “just cause” tenets for those souls uninitiated in our tension. Second, with the exception of Strassen’s attempt at common ground, they illustrate the strength of Carrol and Marten’s pacifist stances. Once violence is admitted into the life of a Christian, the simple truth of the gospel is lost in the details. In its place the much frowned upon legalism of the Pharisees and Sadducees is called to mind—a veritable, unending argument that sounds like, “It’s okay here, but not here.”


After entirely too many viewings of Top Gun as a child, I served as an officer and pilot in the United States Air Force for eight years. During those eight years, for a variety of reasons, I strayed from the Christianity I fervently possessed as a child. I am not sure of my “calling” as of today, but I am sure that my service gives me—unqualified for certain—respect in the minds of Christians and non-Christians alike. Taken together, I see War in the Bible’s practical use in my ministry as providing an academic grounding to my own convictions that peace must be on the forefront of the Christian’s mind and heart. Every believer must resolve the tension for themselves, but I am confident that the public’s high valuation of my experiences can be used to at least challenge the prevailing notion that war (killing people and breaking things) for Christ is biblical. And every day spent peaceably considering such things is another day without violence.


[1] Hess, Richard S. and Elmer Martens eds. War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-first Century. Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2008

[2] Ibid., 19.

[3] Ibid., 20.

[4] Ibid., 21-32.

[5] Ibid., 24.

[6] Ibid., 25.

[7] Ibid., 28.

[8] Ibid., 32.

[9] Ibid., 33.

[10] Ibid., 40.

[11] Ibid., 40.

[12] Ibid., 51.

[13] Ibid., 55.

[14] Ibid., 56.

[15] Ibid., 62.

[16] Ibid., 63.

[17] Ibid., 67.

[18] Ibid., 70.

[19] Ibid., 79.

[20] Ibid., 93.

[21] Ibid., 113.

[22] Ibid., 122.

[23] Ibid., 127.

[24] Ibid., 12, 3.



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