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Fall 2002 · Vol. 31 No. 2 · pp. 233–34 

Book Review

The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God

Lee Griffith. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002. 399 pages.

Reviewed by John Derksen

This timely analysis of modern global terrorism, written before the events of September 11, 2001, is an eloquent protest against all forms of terrorism. The book is also a call to Christians to live out a nonviolent alternative way, that of Jesus Christ. Its author, Lee Griffith, is a Church of the Brethren teacher and social activist. Each of the book’s five chapters offers a dialogue between current events, church history, and biblical perspectives. Terrorism, says Griffith, “is the intentional effort to generate fear through violence or the threat of violence and the further effort to harness these fears in pursuit of some goal” (6). In essence, and from God’s point of view, nonstate terrorism and state counterterrorism are the same.

Key to the use of terror is “ethical dualism” in which protagonists portray the conflict as one of good versus evil and demonize their opponents. The consequences are disastrous. The demons created, such as “allies” turned enemies and the military-industrial complex, take on a life of their own beyond our control. Further, we ourselves become demonized when we miss the “image of God in our sisters and brothers” (100). On making concessions to terrorists, the refusal to talk is the greatest concession, for it produces more violence and death as well as restrictions on human rights.

In the biblical view, our hope to end terror lies not in empire, nor in violence, but in God, whose terror is very different. God’s terror heaps “burning coals of love” on enemies (184). Jesus renounced the dehumanization that feeds terrorism. For him evil methods never led to good ends; he lived the “end time,” the reign of God, in the present. In the book of Revelation, it is not the empire’s violence but the resurrection of the slaughtered lamb that ends earthly terror. Only a nonviolent “way of being in the world interrupts the cycle of terror and counterterror” (251).

The War on Terrorism and the Terror of God contributes both to the literature on terrorism and to Christian theological reflection. Strongest is Griffith’s thorough and nuanced definition of terrorism, which judges state counterterrorism and terrorism equally. His greatest theological contribution is the insistence that the sovereign God cannot be identified with any power, and God’s terror can never be equated with human violence. His most innovative idea concerns eschatological terror for those who insist on hate and violence: they will endure God’s burning love. Concluding proposals to stop “the international selling, trading and {234} gifting of arms” (233), to close down the CIA (238), and to “climb down the social ladder” and reduce the world’s rich-poor gap (247-48), show the truly countercultural nature of Griffith’s perspective.

Although in places Griffith nearly misses his point with overly long examples, he writes with fluency, occasional wit, and passion. Scholars, church leaders, and thoughtful lay readers will appreciate this book.

John Duerksen
Asst. Prof. of Conflict Resolution Studies
Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, Manitoba

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