Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Intro to Biblical History Class Info

Introduction to Biblical History
From Abraham to the Church

John Daniel Holloway, III
(804) 908-4535

Course description: This course is designed to be an overview of the history of the people of God, from Abraham’s call to the church’s mission. We will go through the biblical narratives of Israel’s pre-slavery period, their slavery and exodus, their acquisition of the promised land, the development of the monarchy, the separation into two kingdoms, the exile, the return from exile, and then through the second temple period into the time of Jesus, and finally to the church. The objective is for the students to learn the major events of the biblical history, grasping the overarching narrative therein. I aim at being informative in providing a solid understanding of the history of God and his people as revealed in Holy Scripture.

John Daniel’s qualifications: I have a B.A. in Biblical and Theological Studies from Regent University. I am currently enrolled part-time at Regent’s School of Divinity, working towards my M.A. and am looking forward to doctoral work. I have done a significant amount of study in and out of the classroom, including presenting papers at various conferences. Finally, I have a passion for teaching and a passion for the Bible.

Contact me for Location and Time info

Books required: A Bible, preferably NASB, ESV, NRSV, or NIV. No other text is required. However, research papers will have to include outside sources (which can be provided by the teacher if need be).

Cost of class: $100 per semester. That being said, if you are interested in the class but do not have the funds, please contact me directly as a scholarship might be available. You may also audit certain lectures free of charge.

Course level: I am developing the class to be geared towards Junior-Senior high school students. Adults are also encouraged to sign up. I am open to accepting younger students as their proficiency allows. Just contact me and we may be able to work something out.

Assignments: There will be two research papers per semester, 3-6 pages each (all of which will be submitted via email). There may be quizzes now and then, but they would be on the lighter side as their purpose would only be to make sure everyone is getting the key points. The course will include a mid-term and a final exam, but, again, only for the purpose of making sure everyone has the key points of the class, and so they too won’t be all that elaborate. I aim for this class to be a lighter load than other classes. I want it to be an enjoyable experience in which the students can learn and cherish the stories of the Bible.

Amount of weekly reading: Several Bible chapters

If you want to sign up or if you have questions, just email me.

Tuesday, July 1, 2014

Why We Shouldn't Celebrate Independence Day

Last year I didn't celebrate Independence Day because I was travelling. Flying on the 4th of July is cheaper because fewer people want to fly on a holiday.

As it turns out, I'm not celebrating it this year either because I'm travelling again, this time with my wife Debbie to Vienna. While I didn't plan either of these trips this way on purpose, I am somewhat glad I am not celebrating Independence Day.

Why? Because America is not quite a nation of independence. Not yet at least. I'll give you three examples.

1) Human trafficking

Not only is human trafficking a huge problem in the United States and one that receives too little attention, but so much of our daily lives depends upon slave labor. From our electronics to our food to our clothes, we are dependent upon slave labor for a multitude of the commodities we consume.

So, someone shopping at Saks Fifth Avenue finds a note from a desperate Chinese slave in a shoe (see story here).

So, Charoen Pokphand Foods in Thailand uses slave labor to produce shrimp that they then sell to Costco and Walmart (see story here).

I could list story after story. A country whose consumption of commodities depends upon the work of slaves is not a country of independence. We must make serious steps toward the regulation of companies in this area if we are going to call ourselves a free country.

Furthermore, a country that does little to bring justice to the thousands and thousands of slaves oppressed throughout the United States should not call itself a leader of freedom.

2) An Unjust Justice System

Did you know there are places all over the country in which all you have to do to get arrested is to be a minority in a poor neighborhood?

You might have read that and thought, "Ok, seriously? There's got to be more to the stories you're referring to."

Sure, except the "more to the story" actually makes them worse. Read Matt Taibbi's The Divide and see the dozens of examples he provides of poor minorities being arrested for things like "obstructing pedestrian traffic" (a.k.a. walking/standing on the sidewalk).

Life in America for such communities is in no way free, because they are frequently being arrested for absolutely nothing, spending nights in jail or forced to pay fees they can't afford or even simply taken on a people-fishing van ride with the cops for a few hours as the cops pick up a dozen minorities--maybe a few of which are actually criminals--and then are thrown back out on the street, all while being completely innocent.

And this isn't just a few cases. This is life for thousands. And it goes on while white collar criminals neck-deep in all kinds of crime--from fraud, insider trading and money laundering to even things like supporting drug cartel--roam free. (Again, read The Divide).

A country in which this goes on for years and years without any sign of reform should not be called a free country.

3) Taxation without Representation

This last one is not quite realized in our country yet. That is to say, we haven't quite arrived at the "taxation without representation" stage, but in the last few decades we have made significant steps in that direction, and so it warrants mentioning.

Court cases like Buckley v. Valeo and Citizens United v. FEC have made it possible for corporations to support political candidates with unlimited sums of money, essentially telling American corporations that our elections are for sale and if they want to pour millions into politics to have their interests represented, they can do it all they want.

Bribing politicians and manipulating the system is not only fine, but all too common.

And so we have lobbyists who get a paycheck from corporations to be big players in politics, establishing relationships with politicians, and even writing and regulating legislature. Corporations are paying lobbyists to make sure our laws come out in their favor!

With such goings-on, our nation is becoming a plutocracy, in which the wealthiest citizens rule. While I don't think this will result in a transformation of America from a democratic republic to some kind of dictatorship, I do think it will mean we will live in a country where our influence in the government (i.e. voting) is utterly illusory and the real decisions are being made by the rich. 99% of the country will not have representation.

We are already seeing this on a small scale, and if we don't make significant changes, we will only see it get worse.

"Taxation without representation is tyranny," and it's why we started this country in the first place!


I'm not exactly saying don't celebrate Independence Day on the 4th. Celebrate it with an understanding that we have a long way to go before we can be properly considered a nation of independence, and we need to commit to making the changes necessary to bring about that independence.

The signing of the declaration of independence was not a once-and-for-all event that deemed America a nation forever free. A vision of independence was affirmed over America that day, maybe even prophesied, but it was also established as a goal, a goal that has not yet been fully realized.

Let's celebrate Independence Day by remembering our commitment to the vision of freedom and by making our own declaration of pursuing independence.

"But let justice roll down like waters, righteousness like an ever-flowing stream!" (Amos 5:24)

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Book Review: The Nonviolent Messiah by Simon J. Joseph

Joseph, Simon J.  The Nonviolent Messiah: Jesus, Q, and the Enochic Tradition. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2014. pp.xi-352. ISBN 978-1-4514-7219-6. ★★★★☆

In The Nonviolent Messiah, Simon Joseph makes the case that the nonviolent teaching of Jesus is authentic and should be used as a criterion for determining inauthentic Jesus traditions. His book is a fabulous resource for New Testament/Historical Jesus studies, providing huge chunks of footnotes on each page and 83 pages of bibliography!

In Part 1, Joseph provides a helpful introduction to Jesus and Q studies, including a dialogue with the criteria for authenticity. Following this discussion is a chapter on Jesus' nonviolence, which stands as an exceptional overview of the arguments.

The next chapter deals with divine violence in the Hebrew Bible. His contribution is surface-level as he responds to the different approaches to OT divine violence in typical fashion. He concludes the chapter saying we cannot simply contrast the God of the OT with Jesus, for to do so "undermines the fact that Jesus was Jewish. The historical Jesus' critiques of Jewish individuals, traditions, and institutions were complex Jewish critiques within Judaism."(1) However, he contradicts himself later. He says in chapter 10: "The historical Jesus directly challenges the Jewish biblical tradition of war and violence. Q 6:27-35 introduces a vision of God as loving toward all, undermining traditions in which God is violent and vengeful toward his chosen 'enemies.'"(2) I absolutely agree, but he just told me in chapter 3 that to take this approach would be "not only simplistic and potentially supersessonistic" but also ignorant of Jesus' Judaism!(3)

The final chapter chapter of the section discusses the eschatalogical teaching of Jesus. Joseph finds a contradiction between Jesus' inclusivism/theology of God's love for all and the apocalyptic warnings of judgment and separation. However, I did not find in his treatment an engagement with exactly how this is a contradiction. He merely presents both strands of teaching and expects the reader to see them as contradictory. It seems to be assumed that Jesus' inclusivism and theology of God's love for all necessitates universalism, so that any kind of end times judgment is incompatible. I find this to be flawed. Joseph would do well to engage theological works on eschatalogical judgment, particularly those dealing with free will.

Part 2, on Christology, is quite informative and intriguing. Joseph convincingly shows that Jesus was understood as a messianic new Adam who was pre-existent, and that the New Testament draws significantly from the Enochic material. Compelling and informative though it is, it is difficult to determine exactly how all of it is relevant to the discussion of Jesus as a Nonviolent Messiah. Even the final conclusion of the book seems to lack a central focus, as it begins talking about Jesus' nonviolence and then veers off into how Jesus was understood in the first century.

The final section of Joseph's book wraps up the preceding sections while offering more insights. He contrasts the exclusive Son of God title for Jesus and the inclusive message that following Jesus will result in becoming children of God. The authentic Jesus, Joseph posits, taught that those who love their enemies become children of God--"a radical universal Jewish vision within first-century Palestinian Judaism."(4) Any conflicting portrayals of Jesus should be deemed inauthentic (although, he says this without really explaining why the nonviolent Jesus is historically preferable).(5)

All things considered, The Nonviolent Messiah is a fantastic resource for students or scholars of NT/Historical Jesus studies, not just for the ideas offered, but also for the tons of sources cited. Its technical nature, along with its challenging suggestions, makes it a work which would not appeal to a wide audience. That said, I recommend it to all who are interested.

While insightful from cover to cover, in the end Joseph is, in my opinion, just too sure of his conclusions. Assurance is a luxury I doubt historical Jesus scholars can actually have. Furthermore, he falls prey to either-or thinking, lacking nuance and a respect for the possibility of both-and truth. He wants a consistent Jesus, but as Thomas Merton wondered, "Is reality the same as consistency?" He added: "A god who is fitted into our world scheme in order to make it serious and consistent is not God."(6) Jesus has proven to be the same way. When those around him thought they could figure him out, box him in, systematize him, predict him--he always surprised them. Maybe Jesus was the most subversive person who ever lived, and we can't make him consistent because he will always strike at our concepts of him and our truth claims.

(1) Joseph, 70.
(2) Ibid., 216.
(3) Ibid., 70.
(4) Ibid, 225.
(5) See Ibid., 230.
(6) Thomas Merton, Raids on the Unspeakable (New York: New Directions, 1964), 31.

Monday, May 19, 2014

How a Pacifist Can Celebrate Memorial Day | Guest Post by Carrie Dedrick

Let’s get something out in the open: I’m a pacifist.

I’m a member of the Church of the Brethren, a denomination established over 300 years ago that believes in pacifism, simple living and fellowship. Our sister denominations, the other “peace churches” are Mennonite and Quaker.

I also love my country.

I’m the daughter of an Air Force veteran, and my cousin just finished his active duty. My parents fly a flag at their house and the 4th of July is one of my favorite holidays; I’m the all-American girl.

It’s conflicting.

That’s not entirely true. Most of the time, the love of my country does not conflict with my faith at all. I am a writer by profession, and write news pieces that cover persecution and violation of human rights every day.

I often give thanks that I live in a country where I am free to express my faith and dress how I like without fearing harassment or abuse and pray for those who suffer at the hands of their governments. My writing keeps me aware of the dire situations that people live in all over the globe.

But then Memorial Day comes along.

It’s confusing.

While I am a proud American and deeply appreciate those who serve our country to protect the freedoms we enjoy, I don’t believe in violence at all.

Killing another person seems unnatural, something that no one should ever be able to go through with. It doesn’t make sense that killing people, often known as “peacekeeping forces” will cease violence as many presidents have claimed. How could that work?

When one person kills another, the other side retaliates. That retaliation will lead to another attack. It never happens that after two sides kill, the violence stops. Both sides want to have the last word, so to speak. The murders does not stop until someone waves the white flag in surrender.

Why not wave that white flag at the first sign of violence? But that flag should represent peace, not surrender.

Matthew 5:44 tells us to love our enemies and pray for those who persecute us.


Yes, love.

What would happen if warring parties ceased fire for a moment to consider their similarities? God made us all different; we are certainly allowed to have different viewpoints and ideas. But what about our human needs for food and water, and a desire to be loved and cared for? To the the similarities, one must look beyond the surface.

There are ways to come to an agreement without fighting. That’s why we were given mouths to speak. Our words can speak the universal language of love and friendship, if we are only willing to use them.

Though it will go against our sinful natures to let an act of hate go unchallenged, that is what our Lord asks of us. Actually, it says in Matthew 5:41-42 to go even beyond acceptance, and offer the person who offends an act of kindness in response. “If anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, let him have your coat also. Whoever forces you to go one mile, go two.”

God is telling us to lead our lives in that way. We should strive to walk a separate path than the rest of the world. The path of hatred and anger is the one of least resistance, but do not fall victim to the ease of that path. It is much more difficult to treat others with different opinions with kindness and acceptance, the path we are called to take.

Do not forget that God made those people, just as he made you.

With those feelings of being called to live differently, Memorial Day is difficult.

As I mentioned earlier, I am grateful that the United States has thousands of people who are willing to sacrifice so much to serve. Military men and women can be away from their families for months; they miss seeing milestones like birthdays or a child’s first steps. And they give all this up for me. For you. For the safety and freedom of complete strangers.

But I cannot shake the feeling that there is a better way.

1 Peter 3:11 says, “He [man] must turn from evil and do good; he must seek peace and pursue it.”

I wish our military could use that scripture to inspire a different method for keeping our freedom. Peace will not come from force.

On Memorial Day, I will thank God for our troops, especially the men and women who have laid down their lives for our nation. We have the freedom to say what we want to say and follow any religion we choose; those military members believed in those rights so strongly, they put their lives on the line and ultimately died to protect them.

But then, I will pray for peace. I will pray for the Lord to shed light upon our dark world.

There are so many stories of people who are suffering at the hands of those who do not know the enduring love of God. I will pray for the victims, but I will also pray for the people who are viewed as monsters in society...the captors of the Nigerian schoolgirls, the Boko Haram, the prison guards who abused American pastor Saeed Abedini, the Sudanese officials who are forcing Meriam Ibrahim to renounce her faith or die, and so many more.

I pray that God will reveal himself to those troubled souls, so they might accept his invitation of love and forgiveness.

This Memorial Day, I implore you to live by the second commandment. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Take a moment to pray for someone aside from friends and family and say a heartfelt prayer for someone who has offended you.

For Jesus made himself clear speaking to his disciples in Matthew 25:40: I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.

Violence will not cease if we do nothing at all. But peace can prevail with the love of God in our hearts and Jesus as our example.

I wish you all a safe and happy Memorial Day.

Carrie Dedrick is a graduate of Bridgewater College, holding degrees in English and Communication Studies. She currently writes for ChristianHeadlines.com. When Carrie is not writing she enjoys running, biking, and cuddling with her two adopted pomeranians. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

Book Review: "David's Truth in Israel's Imagination & Memory" by Walter Brueggemann

Brueggemann, Walter. David's Truth in Israel's Imagination & Memory. Grand Rapids: Fortress Press, 1985. pp.9-128. ISBN 0-8006-1865-3. ★★★★★

In David’s Truth, Walter Brueggemann tells us up front that he is not concerned with reconstructing the historical David, but rather engages in an exposition of the received David, the David of the biblical narrative: “I do not inquire about facticity, not what happened, but what is claimed, what is asserted here about reality.” (p.14) This distinction runs through most of his work, and is one of the reasons I am so fond of Brueggemann. A reconstruction of Israel’s history is doomed to be inconclusive, as there is so little off of which to make conclusions. Brueggemann sets aside such concerns and moves into how to understand the narrative, in this case how to understand David in the narrative. In doing so, he goes over four different portrayals of the “truth” of David in the biblical narrative: “the trustful truth of the tribe,” “the painful truth of the man,” “the sure truth of the state,” and “the hopeful truth of the assembly.”

When David enters the biblical narrative, he is described with an innocent and uncritical faith in his future. This is the trustful truth of the tribe. It is a celebration of David as the pious chosen one, over against the wicked and rejected Saul. Brueggemann says this trust is naïve in its positivism, but necessary in its hope, as “it tells, generation after generation, that the marginal ones can become the legitimate holders of power. . . . David is a model for the last becoming first.” (p.23)

As we get deeper into the story, we encounter a different voice, one of the painful truth of the man, which is not as unsuspecting as that of the tribe. This perspective pays acute attention to the humanness of David, in his experience of pain, as well as his iniquity. It is an honest portrayal of David the man and his inner experience, one in which death is his constant company, either with David as the sufferer or as the agent.

With literature of kingship, it is never surprising to find political propaganda, which the Davidic narrative suspiciously resembles at times. Brueggemann calls it the sure truth of the state. Whereas the tribe is uncritical because of a naïve hope directed toward David, the state is uncritical because of self-confidence and self-service. These portions of the story were “carefully handled and shaped and managed to serve political interests.” (p.70) This is where we find the Lord declaring over David, “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever” (2 Sam. 7:16). Brueggemann describes it well: “There is, so it is claimed, no circumstance that will cause Yahweh to pull away from David and David’s family . . . [and] there is no way David will permit Yahweh to renege or escape [the promise].” (pp.77, 81)

Yahweh’s promise of “foreverness” over the Davidic dynasty is transformed in the hopeful truth of the assembly. Here, Brueggemann says, an exilic community takes the narrative of David and transforms it into a messianic hope: “this David is an imagined David who is a project of God’s will for the future.” (p.89) Like that of the tribe, this is a thoroughly positive portrayal of David, but it is not uncritical and naïve. Here, David is reimagined to represent “the whole people of Israel who now share in the promise.” (p.96)

Brueggemann’s treatment of the narrative of David is at different points insightful, powerful, challenging, and entertaining. He is a fantastic storyteller. In his storytelling, he makes the author of the narrative a character in the story, even if it sometimes becomes a Brueggemannian construct which lacks (perhaps on purpose) a revealed connection to authorial intent—but that’s one of the things that makes Brueggemann’s postmodern reading of texts so interesting.

Another strong facet of Brueggemann’s postmodern reading is his keen awareness of theological/ideological diversity in Hebrew Bible texts, the lack of which, he says, “tends to turn the Bible into a closed, ideological statement.” (p.98) His categories for understanding the narrative of David are quite helpful, and it is no surprise to me that this work is widely acclaimed.

In his introduction, Brueggemann says, “We may look for ‘the truth’ and find only David. Or we may seek for David and be surprised at meeting the truth.” (p.16) It is a profound statement which rings true. Trusting, innocent readers may search the Davidic narrative in the hopes of hearing from God, and be caught off guard by the humanness of the man and of the narrative. On the other hand, jaded, cynical readers may search it expecting to find humanness, and find amidst it the Word of God. Likewise, I think we may read Brueggemann’s book looking for truth and find only Brueggemann, or we may read it expecting Brueggemann but finding the truth.

Book Review: "Holy War in the Bible," Edited by Heath Thomas, Jeremy Evans and Paul Copan

Thomas, Heath A., Jeremy Evans and Paul Copan. Holy War in the Bible: Christian Morality and an Old Testament Problem. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2013. pp.9-352. ISBN 978-0-8308-3995-7. ★★★★★

There are 13 contributions in this collection of essays on divine war in the Old Testament, providing a solid, comprehensive treatment of this difficult and important topic. While I could write a review of all 13 contributions individually, such a task would not only be incredibly time-consuming, but perhaps also completely uninteresting to you. Thus, I am forced to summarize each contribution and respond briefly.

Douglas Earl's first contribution, "Joshua and the Crusades," suggests that the book of Joshua has not been used in church history as a proof text for crusading, despite the claims of those like Roland Bainton.(1) He goes through a host of pro-crusade literature, showing that the book of Joshua is almost never used as support for the crusades, while other ancient Hebrew texts are. He says this is due in large part to the popular allegorical reading of the war passages presented by Origen.(2) While this is interesting, one wonders what exactly it contributes to the discussion. After all, while Joshua wasn't really used to support the crusades, Earl did find use of passages from Exodus, Deuteronomy, Judges, Samuel, Kings, Psalms, Ecclesiastes, Habakkuk, and Haggai in support of crusading.(3) Given this, I can't help but ask, "So what?" Furthermore, that Joshua wasn't used to support crusades doesn't make any less horrendous the war activity in the book of Joshua.

Stephen Chapman's chapter, "Martial Memory, Peaceable Vision," is helpful and well-informed. He makes a good case for the rejection of the term "holy war" to describe the OT's war narratives, opting instead to use terms like "divine war" or "Yahweh war" (most of the contributors to the collection express agreement). About the war material itself, he emphasizes that the wars were not enacted "out of vengeance, rage or ethnic hated but self-protection."(4) While he recognizes that this take away all the horror, it does show that the purpose of the war material was not "to glorify vengeful slaughter . . . but to confess God as the sole source of Israel's deliverance."(5) Furthermore, he says that the OT does not suggest war is ever holy, but only that God "is willing to participate in what is profane and wicked in order to bring about what is good." War, he says, "is always evil."(6) Ultimately, the Bible moves toward peace and a rejection of war, and so Christians should do the same. While Chapman's treatment of the topic is helpful, he doesn't quite solve the theological problem at hand. He seems to imply that God sometimes wills evil. A good and holy God cannot will evil, even if it is supposedly for the purpose of a greater good.

Heath Thomas approaches the topic differently in his contribution, "A Neglected Witness to 'Holy War' in the Writings." Essentially, he says that we have in Lamentations an example of the people of God contending God's warrior activity, providing us with a model for a faith that wrestles with God, a faith that refuses to positivistically accept divine violence, but autonomously questions and challenges God, though not without reverence and a commitment to return to trust and praise. While I applaud Thomas' comments on lament, I don't think what we have in Lamentations can be properly described as wrestling with the warrior activity of God. He says Lamentation provides "a radically different response to the issue of YHWH war as one finds, say, in Deuteronomy or Joshua."(7) Well, sure, but this is because war in Lamentations is against Israel and not her enemies. It is easy to be anti-war and upset by God's actions when the war God wages is against your own people! Had God been fighting for Israel, I highly doubt the author of Lamentations would have been so negative.

While Timothy Gombis, in his contribution "The Rhetoric of Divine Warfare in Ephesians," does not contribute much to a response of the theological problem of divine war in the Bible, he nevertheless provides a fantastic study of warfare in Ephesians. He highlights the counter-imperial, subversive nature of Paul's teaching, which describes a war that is fought through self-sacrifice and becoming a justice-seeking community. He says, "The church's warfare involves resisting [imperial] influences, transforming corrupted practices and replacing them with life-giving patterns of conduct that draw upon and radiate the resurrection power of God. The church's warfare, then, involves purposefully growing into communities that become more faithful corporate embodiments of Jesus on earth."(8) To that, and to the rest of his overview of Ephesians, I give a wholehearted "Amen!"

Alan Bandy's contribution deals with "Vengeance, Wrath and Warfare as Images of Divine Justice in John's Apocaylpse." The title provides a pretty good summary of the argument in his chapter: in Revelation the implementation of justice is manifested in vengeance, wrath and warfare. I have mixed feelings about Bandy's treatment. He highlights well that God's "vengeance" and "wrath" in Revelation really just mean the wicked will reap what they sow, and do not imply excessive or retaliatory action. Furthermore, he shows that "the way to victory for believers [in Revelation] is the way of the Lamb via martyrdom," so that Christian warfare is a.k.a. self-sacrifice.(9) However, when he gets to the section "The Returning Warrior King and Judge," his respect for nuance and rich understanding of John's imagery almost go completely out the window, as he offers a face-value reading of Jesus' return, here understood as a very violent war. What happened to victory via martyrdom? While his footnotes show that he has read several Revelation scholars that offer nonviolent readings of Rev. 19, he not only shares none of their insights, but he does not even dialogue with their arguments. That being said, it is otherwise a good discussion of justice in Revelation.

"Compassion and Wrath as Motivations for Divine Warfare," by David Lamb, is another essay the title of which provides the summary of the argument. Lamb does not deal with the morality of God's warrior activity in the Bible, but merely the motivation for such action, which he says is rooted in God's compassion and a strict commitment to justice. Because of this, Lamb says, God's warriorship should actually be praised. While Lamb's analysis of compassion and wrath in the Bible is insightful, his response to the war material in the Bible is positivistic and amounts to an insufficient response to the problem.

Douglas Earl returns for a second contribution with "Holy War and חרם," which contributes more to the discussion than his first. He makes a strong case for a symbolic (as opposed to a literal/historical) understanding of the herem passages of the Hebrew Bible (see here, my review of Niditch's book on war in the Hebrew Bible, for a discussion of herem). While he essentially suggests the same thing Jerome Creach does in his book Violence in Scripture (see my review, here), I was much more convinced by Earl. Space does not permit me to go over his argument, so I am forced to merely say that it is quite compelling. Though I still think the OT contains some theology that Jesus would have us shed, Earl's treatment of the subject has left me with a lot to ponder.

Daniel Heimbach provided my least favorite contribution in this collection: "Crusade in the Old Testament and Today." After a long discussion comparing just war and crusades, he states that a crusade cannot be considered as morally wrong in itself, because for God, "allowing no surrender, showing no mercy and sparing no one, [can be] entirely justified." Furthermore, God "owes no explanation for anything that he does." He evaluates us "and we have no standing to evaluate him."(10) It seems to me that Heimbach isn't all that familiar with the OT if that is his conclusion. Jeremiah, to use one example of many, evaluated God and accused him of betraying and violating him (see Jer. 20, and my discussion, here). Fortunately for Christian ethics, Heimbach says crusades can only be justified if they are initiated by God and led by God in a way that could be verified.(11) Still left is the immense theological problem posed by the crusading activity of God in the OT, a problem Heimbach flippantly and unfairly dismisses.

Insight returns with Paul Copan and Matthew Flannagan's contribution, "The Ethics of 'Holy War' for Christian Morality and Theology," which analyses the OT literature in comparison with other ancient Near Eastern literature and concludes that the battle stories are hyperbolic in nature. Thus, for example, the author of Joshua didn't really mean to suggest that the Israelites literally "left no survivors" (10:28, 30, 34, 37, 39, 40), but was merely utilizing a typical ANE hyperbolic literary device. They convincingly show this based on examples from ANE literature, as well as the biblical narrative, which often seems to contradict itself as Israelites often encounter survivors of peoples they supposedly destroyed completely. While this doesn't solve the theological problem of a violent God, it successfully makes the war material not as bad as it seems...but it's still pretty bad.

Glen Stassen (R.I.P.) also contributed to this collection, with a chapter entitled, "The Prophets' Call for Peacemaking Practices." I have to say, I was a little disappointed by his essay. I am an advocate for Stassen's Just Peacemaking initiative and an admirer of him and his work, but this chapter was a little underwhelming. It's really more of an overview of Norman Gottwald's book All the Kingdoms of the Earth.(12) Don't get me wrong, I love Gottwald, and Stassen provides some grade A quotes, but the title of the chapter is a little misleading, as it is mostly an overview of the prophetic vision of justice and peace over against imperial systems; it is not so much about peacemaking practices. I was disappointed because peacemaking practices are what Stassen usually offers so well. For this reason, I would suggest the reader supplement Stassen's contribution here with his contribution to War in the Bible & Terrorism in the 21st Century,(13) or his book Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace.(14) And please do! His assertion that regardless of whether you're a just war theorist or a pacifist, Jesus has called us to seek peace--and that despite popular opinion there are practical ways governments can seek peace--is urgently needed.

Robert Stewart brings the discussion into new territory with his, "'Holy War,' Divine Action and the New Atheism." He responds primarily to Richard Dawkins, suggesting that OT holy war is not an argument against belief in God. While he does this convincingly, he does not sufficiently dispel OT holy war as an argument against biblical inerrancy. He asks, "is it the case that God, who created all other living beings, does not have the right to take back the life that he has given?"(15) God may have the right to take back the life that he has given, but that does not mean that to do such a thing is loving and morally right. I have the right to kill someone who attacks me and threatens my life, but that does not mean killing someone in self-defense is loving and morally right (in fact, I would say it's not). Furthermore, taking back life is not the only problem, nor is it all God is said to have done in the OT. Violence on the part of God is the problem. For example, God is depicted as responsible for mass rape in Num. 31:18, Deut. 20:14, and 2 Sam 12:11. While his discussion is humble and fair, Stewart's insistence on biblical inerrancy is its weakness.

Murray Rae's contribution, "The Unholy Notion of 'Holy War'," is, unsurprisingly, one of my favorites. In his first section, he talks about the pacifism of the early church, providing several quotes from early church fathers, and then discusses the reasons for the church's widespread change of heart (Constantine's "conversion," the rise of the Holy Roman Empire, and Augustine's influence). The second section deals with objections to pacifism from Reinhold Niebuhr and Karl Barth, who essentially said that pacifism is unrealistic because every once in a while coercion is necessary. He responds to them in the third section by appealing to the teaching and example of Jesus, whose self-sacrifice and resurrection provide the model for Christian ethics. Jesus, he says, "refused the temptation of political or armed power and accepted that it would cost him his life." Furthermore, this example "is to be followed not because a more satisfactory outcome is thereby assured [in human history] but because it is not our will but God's that should be done." Thus, to think in terms of war being sometimes necessary is to think in strictly human terms, which amounts to "the abandonment of Christian ethics."(16) On divine war in the Bible, Rae says, "Christians must take more seriously" the new commandment which Jesus introduced which is "more stringent than the old," and in which "war waged with the implements of violence and destruction is always a failure . . . [and] can never be holy."(17) Altogether, I found this to be one of the strongest and most compelling contributions.

The final contribution is "'Holy War' and the New Atheism" by Stephen Williams. Approaching new atheism from a different angle than that of Stewart, Williams highlights several problems with New Atheist thinking, which is guilty of the same kinds of errors as those of Christian fundamentalism; namely, they are based on straw men, sweeping generalizations, caricatures, and simplistic literal readings of Scripture. One example is the New Atheist reading of the "holy war" passages in Scripture, which Williams says are pre-Christian.(18) A nuanced reading, he says, would "seek to understanding the ways of God in the Old Testament," utterly defined by pathos and which respond to violence with grief.(19) So at the very least, divine war was an accommodation that God made with sorrow for the sake of preserving Israel in order for Jesus to penetrate our violent world with his message of peace. While he is often insightful, Williams' line of thinking is sometimes hard to follow and his chapter lacks focus. His assertion at the end that New Atheism is a "holy war" against religion is odd and I couldn't help but feel like I missed the point.

The afterward, written by Jeremy Evans and Heath Thomas and entitled "Old Testament 'Holy War' and Christian Morality: Where do we go from here?" seeks to wrap things up by providing what needs to be considered in future discussions of this pressing issue: 1) we shouldn't confuse an "is" with an "ought" in Scripture, meaning we shouldn't see all the violence in the Bible as divinely ordained, but should distinguish what is divine violence from what is not; 2) we need to distinguish between objective and absolute commands, meaning we should set apart commands that were for a specific time, situation, and people and not for all followers of God; 3) we need to pay attention to the vital role of Scripture (see here for a recent blog in which I posit that the issue of divine violence is primarily an issue of the authority of Scripture). While I agree with all of these, their discussion of them includes conservative assumptions that do not apply to progressive Christians, including certain contributors to this collection. For example, they say at one point "God indeed commanded 'holy war'," which begs the question, "What about the many Christians who don't believe he did?"

Overall, Holy War in the Bible is perhaps the best introduction to the topic of divine war in the Bible that one could read. It would have been even better if they included a chapter on war in Revelation (the one on wrath and vengeance doesn't quite cover it), and if they included a contribution from a more liberal perspective. Notwithstanding, I highly recommend it, as it offers several differing viewpoints, all of which are presented with sophistication. It also includes a tremendous bibliography, and each chapter has a ton of footnotes with other great sources to check out. For the thoughtful Christian, for the student or teacher of the Bible, for the Pastor, for whoever interested in this topic, get this book. It's probably the best place to start.

(1) See Roland H. Bainton, Christian Attitudes Toward War and Peace: A Historical Survey and Critical Re-evaluation (Nashville: Abingdon, 1960).
(2) See Earl, "Joshua and the Crusades," 39.
(3) See Ibid., 29-34. 
(4) Chapman, "Martial Memory, Peaceable Vision," 57.
(5) Ibid., 63.
(6) Ibid., 65.
(7) Thomas, "A Neglected Witness to 'Holy War' in the Writings," 82. Holy war is put in quotes throughout the book, because several contributors note the invalidity of the phrase for referring to the Bible's war material. One wonders why they didn't just call the book "Divine War in the Bible" or something else, so that all the contributors didn't have to put "holy way" in quotes all the time.
(8) Gombis, "The Rhetoric of Divine Warfare in Ephesians," 100. Emphasis his.
(9) Bandy, "Vengeance, Wrath and Warfare as Images of Divine Justice in John's Apocaylpse," 114.
(10) Heimbach, "Crusade in the Old Testament and Today," 190.
(11) See Ibid., 196.
(12) Norman Gottwald, All the Kingdoms of the Earth: Israelite Prophecy and International Relations in the Ancient Near east (New York: Harper & Row, 1964).
(13) Glen H. Stassen, "Just Peacemaking Reduces Terrorism between Palestine and Israel," in War in the Bible & Terrorism in the 21st Century, eds. Richard S. Hess and Elmer A. Martens (Winona Lake: Eisenbrauns, 2008), 127-148.
(14) Glen H. Stassen, Just Peacemaking: Transforming Initiatives for Justice and Peace (Lousville: Westminster John KNox Press, 1992).
(15) Stewart, "'Holy War,' Divine Action and the New Atheism," 273. Emphasis his.
(16) Rae, "The Unholy Notion of 'Holy War'," 306.
(17) Ibid., 310-311.
(18) Williams, "'Holy War' and the New Atheism," 323.
(19) Ibid., 324.