Reading the Bible After 9/11
I've found many insights this past year reading John Calvin, a Reformation theologian and Bible scholar with whom I expected to disagree continuously. Like other Reformation theologians, he was seeking a new way to follow Jesus faithfully, and in his concern for the interplay between human redemption and human behavior, he previewed many problems of our modern world. I return again and again to The Institutes of Christian Religion, and think you might find this work rich and challenging as well.
For my 9/11 book, I've also been reading more recent Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant theologians (and secular philosophers) on war, violence, and society. H. Richard Niebuhr's Radical Monotheism and Western Culture makes a nice counterpoint to the Christian realism of his brother Reinhold Niebuhr's The Irony of American History. John Yoder's life-work of Christian pacifism, especially Nonviolence: A Brief History joins the books of Stanley Hauerwas in arguing for a peaceful response to conflicts. Rowan Williams' Writing in the Dust: After September 11 is a small but beautifully-written and argued reflection on Christian responses to violence. And Jean Bethke Elshtain's Just War against Terror is the work of a Christian philosopher who, like Reinhold Niebuhr, suggests that the use of power to protect the helpless and to roll back evil is a faithful response.
Like the works we considered last week, the theological and philosophical texts I've mentioned here are in tension with each other, and perhaps with some or all of your beliefs. They come from different religious traditions, different time periods, and different political contexts. But reading and considering these and other works-even when I don't change my mind-has made me, I think, a more faithful interpreter of the Christian tradition, and a more thoughtful expounder of what I do believe.
Like all of you, I am still walking through the forest of our post-9/11 life. And experience suggests that reading widely and walking with an open mind is the only way to avoid seeing the same old bears everywhere.
Greg Garrett is the author of works of fiction, criticism, and theology, including Faithful Citizenship from Patheos Press. He is Professor of English at Baylor University, and a licensed lay preacher in the Episcopal Church.