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Fall 2002 · Vol. 31 No. 2 · pp. 235–37 

Book Review

Surviving Terror: Hope and Justice in a World of Violence

ed. Victoria Lee Erickson and Michelle Lim Jones. Grand Rapids, MI: Brazos, 2002. 334 pages.

Reviewed by Vic Froese

No one should be surprised that books on terrorism should be swamping the marketplace: we still feel the shock waves of September 11, 2001. Publishers know that quickly releasing a book on a newsworthy event will dramatically improve its chances of success. But because they are put on the fast track, quality is often a casualty, and one cannot resist cynicism when such works hit the bookstore shelves.

Happily, the two books under review here escape the “potboiler” {236} tag. The essays edited by Erickson and Jones in Surviving Terror were all completed before the twin towers collapsed and are aimed at a smaller, academic audience. Where Was God on September 11? on the other hand, was motivated by the conviction that overwhelming support among American Christians for a military response to nine eleven required a book that presented nonviolent alternatives—and quickly. Anonymous donors, moreover, supported its publication.

Surviving Terror is a Festschrift for Korean theologian David Kwang-sun Suh. In his autobiographical essay, Suh shares his account of tragic personal losses and terrifying experiences in wartime Korea and his valiant struggle for democracy in later years. The remaining articles in this book vary widely in subject and even in their understanding of “terror.” Some use the term as a synonym for violence or oppression. Others adhere to its dictionary definition as “a state of intense fear.” Still others propose more elaborate definitions.

About a third of the writers are from East Asia, thus Thai, Japanese, and especially Korean issues figure more prominently than others. Other essays address terror and hope in Africa, the lingering effects of terror on post-Soviet Russians, prophetic protest in the conquest of Latin America, terror in Christian history, terror in American inner cities, and terror in the Bible itself. Readers expecting essays on Islamic extremism, however, will be disappointed: there are none. Six sermons are included (Part 4), among them one by Jürgen Moltmann on “the tortured Christ.” Jewish scholar Peter Ochs, the only non-Christian contributor, concludes the book with an appreciative reflection on Christian resistance to terror.

There is deep lament, bitter complaint, and stubborn Christian hope here. In some essays, however, it is unclear whether God functions merely as an eternal fount of “wishing that things would get better,” or as a source of spiritual power and truth, of wisdom for how to live—as individuals and communities—in ways consistent with the self-giving love of Christ. Most readers would be better served by borrowing this book than by purchasing it.

Where Was God is a kind of scrapbook of almost seventy essays, articles, letters, sermons, interviews, meditations, and prayers generated by the events of September 11. The terrorist attacks of that day represent a critical test case for religious pacifism. This collection emphatically, if not quite unreservedly, affirms nonresistance, enemy-love, and reconciliation. Future researchers into the responses of religious pacifists to September 11 will find important primary sources here (librarians, take note). {237}

As one would expect from Herald Press, the contributors are predominantly Anabaptists: pastors, professors, conference leaders, and writers. Catholic, Eastern Orthodox, Episcopalian, Presbyterian, Quaker, Baptist, and even Jewish traditions, however, are also represented. Many readers will recognize such names as Philip Yancey, Frederica Mathewes-Green, Donald W. Shriver Jr., Miroslav Volf, and kidnapping victim Terry Anderson.

The book’s title is misleading. Only seven brief entries directly address the question of theodicy. Eleven letters from Christians around the world are included, among them an anguished plea from Amber Amundson that national leaders find the courage to pursue nonviolent responses. (Amber’s 28-year-old husband, Craig Scott Amundson, died in the attack on the Pentagon.) The remaining essays explore Christ’s way of peace, the importance of forgiveness, the futility of using violence to achieve peace, the tensions between citizenship and faith, and the ways in which one might respond nonviolently to evil.

Mild second thoughts about pacifism are occasionally expressed. Miroslav Volf suggests that killing terrorists may be required if it is clear they will murder again (88). James Reimer warns against spouting “easy and often hypocritical answers, too easily using the religious jargon of peace and nonviolence” (124). Terry Anderson expresses genuine bewilderment at how to deal with terrorists whose only goal is to kill as many Americans as possible. More typical is Donald Kraybill’s confident “What Would Jesus Do?”—he would reject violence and retaliation. David Shenk’s article likewise boldly contrasts the peace of the crucified and risen Christ with the peace secured by Muhammad’s armies. John Paul Lederach offers an equally certain prescription for terror by “giving birth to the unexpected” (184).

These and other articles provide much food for thought. The combination of personal accounts of loss and biblical-theological reflection makes a strong case against reflexive responses to atrocious human evil and for “Jesus and the way of peace.” The book is ideally suited for discussion groups and adult Sunday school classes. The readings are concise and accessible, and discussion questions are included. Related books and web sites are listed as well. It is recommended for church and for academic libraries.

Vic Froese
Assoc. Librarian
Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, Manitoba

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