Read Part 1.
How shall we defend the OT commands to “Holy War,” which in some ways seem to resemble the Islamic calls to Jihad? To begin with, we must ensure that our underlying interpretive framework is biblical. As one writer has observed, “The life situation and presuppositions of the reader profoundly affect the way in which the text is interpreted.”11 Therefore, let’s establish the context and nature of God’s commands. Then, we can offer several arguments to justify these commands.
The context of the command is a sinful world under God’s curse (Gen 3:8ff). If we remember this fact, then the real question is not, “Why would God exterminate the Canaanites?” but rather “Why has God withheld judgment from so many other sinful nations?” Furthermore, God’s promise to redeem the world necessitates the destruction and removal of evil (Gen 3:15; Matt. 6:10; 2 Pet 3:13). Thus, “Holy war and the description of God as warrior need to be evaluated in the context of God’s redemptive efforts on behalf of a fallen world.”12
Since the 9/11 attack on twin towers, many Christians have been quick to contrast the violent tactics of Islamic Jihad with the gentler tendencies of Christian evangelism. For example, in an article entitled, “Christian or Muslim: What’s the difference?” Lutheran scholar Alvin Schmidt has argued,
Jihad is totally contrary to what Christ taught when he told Peter to put away his sword, or when he told individuals to turn the other cheek. Unlike Muslims, Christians have no command to advance their religion by killing unbelievers. Quite the opposite.1
The problem with Dr. Schmidt’s article is the same problem that characterizes the arguments of other Christian apologists. It’s not what they say. It’s what they leave unsaid. They’re quick to point out many NT passages that portray the gentleness of Christian evangelism. But they often fail to acknowledge several Old Testament passages in which God commands the Israelites to use violence against entire populations of people in an effort to get control of the land of Canaan. Allow me to cite a few examples:
"The Christian answer to the question “What does it mean to be human?” is different from the answer you get from atheistic naturalism, or from Eastern pantheism, or from the postmodern philosophy currently characterizing life here in the West." - Breakpoint
"What if we Christians want to influence public life, public policies? Then we have to search for and find middle axioms. These are ethical principles that have something in common with our Christian worldview but do not require full blooded and authentic Christian faith—to see their rightness. But this is not really 'public theology.'" - Roger Olson