Brantley Craig and Jacob Goodson

This issue of The Journal of Scriptural Reasoning is the fruit of the work done by John Kelsay, Rumee Ahmed, and Martin Kavka for a panel discussion on “War,” sponsored by the Scriptural Reasoning group, at the 2007 meeting of the American Academy of Religion in San Diego. We have titled it “Reason, Scripture, and War” because we hope that it offers a glimpse for how moral reasoning can be transformed through careful study of scripture. What follows are not, in fact, essays “about war.” They are, rather, essays that take us through the process of moral reasoning informed by scripture-in other words, essays about reasoning about war. How does the study of scripture shape the way Muslims, Christians, and Jews should-and do-think about warfare? Are those who study scripture assured of finding clear answers about the theory and practice of warfare in it? What should we do when we do not find such answers? How should we seek such answers in the first place?

War suggests itself as a “test case” for such questions about scriptural reasoning not just for the timeliness of the topic, but because questions of war and peace have troubled faithful reasoners from all three Abrahamic traditions for centuries. The questions surrounding warfare-issues of justice, of the power or right to take life, of how to treat the other, the neighbor, and the enemy-strike at the heart of our faiths. These issues also lurk in the background of all encounters between people of the three faiths, whether those encounters take place on the street, on the battlefield, or around a study table. Inherent in the promise of scriptural reasoning is the hope for peace-that we can reason, even about conflict, together, peaceably. And so we explore here, perhaps, some of the limits of such reasoning together: can we truly read and reason our way to peace if we cannot honestly reason together about war?

As scriptural reasoners, our contention is that it is in careful study of scripture (and perhaps only there) that fruitful and good questions concerning war and peace arise, and not necessarily the other way around. We should beware those times and places where our assumptions and preconceptions about war and peace shape the scriptural texts themselves. For example, Reinhold Niebuhr’s “Christian realism” has determined and shaped the way that many Protestants read the Sermon on the Mount. They therefore think that peace is merely “an impossible possibility,” not because of the words of the Sermon itself but rather because of the conception of “Christian realism” they bring to those words. It is with this hope and this danger in mind that we come together to read and reason about war and peace, for as we read with others-and as others read our readings (as our contributors do for one another)-preconceptions are challenged and new questions are addressed to both text and readers. Reading with others, in other words, keeps us honest-honest to ourselves, and honest to the texts.

At the heart of this issue is a conversation among Kelsay, Ahmed, and Kavka concerning three key scripture passages: Qur’an 4:75, Qur’an 8:1 & 41, and Deuteronomy 20:5-8. Though these three essays might best be understood as a kind of “conversation,” we want to highlight some features of them individually here. First, Kelsay – who has published two books on war in Islam [1] – offers ways to understand how the verses from the Qur’an play a role in Islamic discussions concerning fighting and war. Ahmed enters the conversation by focusing on only one of these verses, arguing that there are at least two different ways to read this verse: what he calls “particular” and “universal.” Third, Kavka enters the conversation with a discussion on Deuteronomy 20:5-8. He contrasts this passage with Kelsay’s discussion on the Qur’anic passages for the purposes of displaying “the limits of collectivity” found within the Deuteronomy passages.

The “Reflective Responses” come from Omar Ha-Redeye, Randi Rashkover, and Peter Dula – all of whom were in the same group at a three-day Scriptural Reasoning Education training session at the University of Virginia this past summer. We invited these three contributors to respond because of their familiarity and participation in scriptural reasoning, and because none of them were a part of the AAR panel discussion on war. Therefore, we asked them to provide reflections specifically on the role of reason and scripture within this conversation on war rather than on “war” itself. Ha-Redeye offers a broader understanding of the role of Qur’anic interpretation for thinking about war and also a brief discussion on the practice of scriptural reasoning within Muslim ways of reading and reasoning. Rashkover provides a very thorough response to the ins-and-outs of this conversation and brings in other passages as a way to talk to and with Kavka’s article. Dula makes explicit the difference the method of scriptural reasoning makes for both reading scripture and thinking about questions concerning war. What he finds interesting in the conversation is more the ways that Ahmed and Kelsay read these scriptural passages, and less any attempt to construct some kind of clear and distinct scriptural “theory” for just war.

The “Postscript” comes as the result of a conversation with Stanley Hauerwas. Hauerwas is a Christian theologian who has written more about war and peace than any other living Christian theologian. His interest in scriptural reasoning is the result of his deep friendship with one of the founders of SR: Peter Ochs. Though this conversation is short, Hauerwas sounds some alarms concerning the method and practice of SR for talking and thinking about war. It serves as a wonderful conclusion to this issue because it only raises a whole host of questions that are neither asked nor answered in the issue itself. Therefore, we hope that this issue on “Reason, Scripture, and War” serves as an introduction for further inquiries into the possibility of discussing war and peace within the context of scriptural reasoning. It is not meant as the last word (or even, surely, the last journal issue!) on how we read and reason about war. It is, rather, a way of starting a conversation not just about what our three traditions think about war, but how we think about it, and about how we might, together, help each other think more clearly, and peaceably.


[1] Islam and War: A Study in Comparative Ethics, (Louisville, KY: WJK Press, 1993) & Arguing the Just War in Islam, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2007).