Good Books

Another Good Booklet

Regular readers of BTW will know of my enthusiasm for the Grove Biblical Series. Grove Booklets are 20-28 pages long, and aim to address questions of biblical interpretation in an informed but readable way, with one eye on the question of contemporary relevance. That is certainly true of the most recent booklet in the series, The Problem of War in the Old Testament, by Philip Jenson, of Trinity College, Bristol (UK). The biblical texts relating to war have long raised problems for Christians, who have wondered how to reconcile the OT description of God as a 'man of war' (Ex. 15:3) with the NT statement that God is love (1 John 4:16). Many would regard most of the OT teaching on this topic as indefensible, pointing to examples from later history of the use of texts like Deut. 7 to justify wars of genocide. Yet we must beware, argues Jenson, of a superficial response: if we believe that entire Bible is God's Word we cannot ignore this part of the biblical testimony to God (which is in fact more extensive than those who want a 'sanitized' Bible might admit).

The OT presents war from a variety of perspectives, which Jenson explores by examining a range of texts.

  • The account of the crossing of the Red Sea (Ex. 14-15) describes a battle in which God alone wins the victory, bringing judgment on an unjust oppressor; yet this narrative is not universally applicable (contrary to some liberation theologies), for God clearly does not always respond to unjust regimes in this way.

  • The rules for military engagement as set out in Deut. 20 make clear that even when Israel finds it necessary to fight wars, war is not to become an overriding priority in the nation's life. Thus a recently married man can be exempted from military in order to fulfil family  responsibilities (vv. 5-9). 'Total war', in which there is indiscriminate destruction of the environment, is also ruled out (vv. 19-20).

  • The Ban, as implemented in Jos. 6-7, Jos. 11, 1 Sam. 15, seems incredibly harsh. Yet these texts have a sense of the uniqueness of Israel's God and of the seriousness of idolatry which has largely vanished from the contemporary church: 'There is a war out there for the ears and minds of our children, and the tragedy is that the church hardly seems aware of the reasons why it is facing defeat-compromise, a love of tolerance, a lack of confidence in the gospel' (pp. 14-15). However, though the Bible speaks of such battles, fought on God's behalf, and at God's command, war and death are not the most fundamental truths about God. That is why the symbolism of the tabernacle and temple symbolism clearly links God's presence with life, and why David, the king who fought many battles, was not an appropriate person to build the temple. War will not continue forever in God's world.

  • The account of David's contest with Goliath (1 Sam 17) suggests the thought that warfare has changed greatly since David's day, when battles were face-to-face and hand-to-hand. The ability to use technology to fight wars at a distance has introduced further moral complexities to the discussion.

  • Finally, Jeremiah 21 gives an example of God's power turned against Israel. The Babylonians are besieging Judah because of the injustice of her kings, and Judah is commanded to stop fighting, to submit to Babylon or face judgment.

War, then, takes various forms in the OT, and we should do justice to the full range of its teaching. How are we to assess the total biblical witness to war? With the coming of Christ, God's people are no longer a single nation with land and boundaries which need to be defended. A spiritualising approach to war passages is therefore possible, and indeed warranted by some NT texts (Eph. 6:10ff). But until Christ returns wars may sometimes have to be fought in this fallen world, and the OT texts give guidelines which are still applicable to contemporary wars: What are the motives for war? What are appropriate rules of engagement? How to wage war in a way that shows respect for the environment?

'A biblical ethic of war will seek to apply and relate the multiple perspectives on war that are evident in both Old and New Testaments. Furthermore it will seek to analyse as fully as possible the complex character of any particular war. The difficulties of the task should not be underestimated. But this prophetic task is required of those who confess the God of the Bible as one who is sovereign over the nations and the righteous judge of all that takes place, both in war and in peace' (p. 27).

It may well be that this month will see the beginning of war in Iraq. You may well appreciate a survey of the OT texts relating to war which is alert to the inherent problems in the issue addressed. If so, this booklet is for you.
(Reviewed by Dr Philip Satterthwaite)

Last Wednesday we were pleased to welcome to Chapel Lau Pak Soon and his wife Mui Hoon. Pak Soon is a graduate of Singapore Bible College, and he and Mui Hoon work in Cambodia. Pak Soon is involved in various Bible teaching and training ministries, and Mui Hoon helps to run a Christian home for disabled children. One of these children was also with them in chapel.

Pak Soon spoke from 1 Timothy 6:6-8, particularly on the words 'godliness with contentment is great gain'. He noted that Cambodia is not a country marked by contentment. War has had a big impact, and there is high unemployment. Students are constantly trying to better themselves and improve their chances of finding a job. These days Cambodia is an open country, and foreigners are welcome, but visitors often find that locals want to get to know them in order to practice English or Chinese, or to get help in finding a better job. This sense of striving to 'get ahead' can affect the churches: talented local Christians can easily be persuaded by offers of overseas training which may lead to a better-paid job, but the result is that vital manpower is removed from the Cambodian church. After a very difficult history in the past few decades, the Cambodian church is more numerous than ever before, but there is the danger of being 'a mile wide and an inch deep'. Cambodian Christians need sound teaching. They also need leaders who will model godliness and contentment, and thus help them to find a distinctively Christian lifestyle.

Student's Prayer:
Now as I lay me down to rest,
A pile of books upon my chest.
If I should die before I wake,
It's one less test I have to take!

1. TERM 2 COURSES. Register Now!

  • Critical Analysis, Research & Writing (commencing Mar 27, Thur)

  • The World At Your Doorstep (commencing Apr 4, Fri)

  • The Educational Ministry of the Church (commencing Apr 8, Tue)

  • Communication Skills for Speakers & Church Leaders (commencing Apr 16, Wed)

2.  Fund-raising project. Handmade 3-D craft cards by Mrs Esther Quek are on sale at the Library counter! These cards can be used for any occasions (Mother's Day is coming round the corner). Prices range from $3 for one card to special value bundle of 3's for $6. Looking forward to your support in this fund-raising project.

3.  Rev Ng Seng Chuan will be preaching at the Church of the Good Shepherd (Anglican) on 23rd Mar, 4pm,  on 'Jesus and the Man Born Blind' (John 9:1-12).

A Blessed Birthday to ...

Prof Lim Kian Guan 10/3
Ms Yap Foon Lyn 10/3
Mr Daniel Liu Ping Hang 10/3
Mr Matthew Yap Kian Hua 14/3
Pastor Vincent Lun 15/3
Ms Bessie Ng Hua Cheng 16/3
Mr Paul Yap 16/3

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This page is updated on 12 Mar 2003 by Leong Kok Weng
    Mar 2003