What is it Good For?
I was seven when I first saw war. It was 1995, and NATO had recently entered Bosnia, joining a conflict marked by incredibly brazen war crimes, including ethnic cleansing and brutal mass rape.
As the conflict raged on that September, I watched from the safety of my living room in DC’s posh suburbs. All I could see of the war — indeed, all most of America could see — was whatever news-media outlets relayed to us from the front. So the night-vision footage that CNN talking heads analyzed over and over again didn’t really feel like war; it might as well have been a green-and-black fireworks show that was taking place “somewhere else.”
I’ll chalk it up in part to my age, but I don’t think my detachment was unique. My distance from the violence left me unshaken by war’s gruesome realities and perversions. The Gospel should snap us out of this placidity and demand that we recognize the way war deforms the soul, even when it is happening halfway around the world.
We look ahead, of course, to a new heaven and a new earth in which all Creation is freed of such ills. But if we resign ourselves either to a purely apocalyptic eschatology (waiting idly for God to act because the world is so wracked by sin) or to a purely realized eschatology (not expecting God to ever act because it’s all up to us), we cheapen the Gospel. Instead, Christians should hope constantly for God’s return to, as NT Wright says, “put things to rights,” all the while living into the Kingdom and anticipating life under the final reign of Jesus. The Cross and the Resurrection call Christians out of passive hope into active, missional hope.
This means living in such a way as to bear witness to the world as it will be — that is, living as a people that loves peace as much as God does. We ought to consider Isaiah 2 and take seriously what it means to hope actively for a world in which the nations will beat their swords into plowshares and spears into pruning hooks and tanks into tractors. What does it mean to live faithfully to Jesus’ proclamation of a new and perpetual Jubilee in a world as yet unredeemed?
It’s not a simple question to answer, and so we tackle one particular aspect of it — war and what Christians ought to think of it — in this issue. We’re particularly pleased to feature Professors Stanley Hauerwas and Glen Stassen in this issue. Stassen, of Fuller Theological Seminary, applies his “Just Peacemaking” theory to terrorism to ask what Christians can actively do to seek peace (p. 8). And Hauerwas, one of the world’s sharpest and most provocative theologians, examines the ties between American civil religion and war (p. 24). Join us as we think critically and Christianly about war and the lordship of Jesus Christ.