Anarchy and Apocalypse: Essays on Faith, Violence and Theodicy

Ronald Osborne, Cascade, 2010

Reviewed by Vern Ratzlaff

        The victims of war are not only the soldiers, but women, children and the elderly, and the biblical record invites us to contemplate how violence affects the weakest members of society, and even the enemy.  It would have been significant if the Hebrew bible would have included descriptions of how Yahweh’s holy wars might have felt for a Philistine child.

        But violence was part of daily life in the first century.  The idea that Jews in Jesus’ day were primarily concerned with matters of dogmatic theology does not reflect cultural reality.  The pressing needs of most Jews of the period had to do with liberation from oppression, from debt, from Rome.

        Between Herod’s death and the first destruction of Jerusalem in 70CE, Israel ‘was convulsed by repeated religious revolts, by violent messianic movements, political assassinations, insurgency and counter-insurgency warfare’ (p 23).  The options tempting a poor but religiously devout Palestinian young man in the West Bank or Gaza Strip were the realities that confronted Jesus, a young Jewish carpenter.  The gospels suggest that Jesus was repeatedly tempted to embrace the agendas and tactics of several competing theological-political movements.

        The political significance of Jesus’ kingdom and values emerge in sharp relief from the Jewish options of Herodians and Sadducees, sectarian withdrawal (Essenes), political activists (Pharisees), zealots (violent revolution) (p 23-29).

        Jesus called not for a ‘spiritual kingdom somewhere up in the sky’ but on  earth, a new community centred on economic justice (the Jubilee year), equality of all within the community, non-violent enemy love: a fifth way of reflecting G-d’s options in society.  Osborne opts for an anarchy that refuses to maximize the state’s primacy; ‘we must restore the image of G-d in man by defending human life and continue to pray’ (p 155).

        A powerful treatment of the Jesus-way, drawing on the life stories of Garrison, Bonhoeffer and Ellen White as models.

Vern Ratzlaff is a pastor and professor of historical theology at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan, Canada.