This year’s Wheaton Theology Conference hosted a wealth of excellent speakers. Among them was Peter Leithart. Leithart spoke on the theme of violence in the scriptures, providing an excellent overview of this concept to inform current debates within political theology. Setting the stage for his presentation, he began with an overview of many of the unsettling biblical texts which appear to portray God as a God of violence. At the same time, he highlighted the tension between a God who hates violence but appears, at times, to employ violent means in accomplishing his purposes. While Leithart did not endeavor to tackle the seemingly impossible task of alleviating this tension, he put forward some observations towards this end. Through a quick overview of key texts, Leithart defined the nature of violence according to scripture. He pointed out that violence does not consist merely of acts of physical nature, but also includes injustice and economic oppression against the vulnerable in society. Violence defined, according to scripture, is “an unjust and sinful use of force.” As such, this is what the Bible denounces. He also offered what the Bible does not count as violence, which includes the intense rhetoric of prophetic speech, the exercise of power, or physical punishment used as discipline. For Leithart, defining violence in biblical terms is key in the debate over whether the Bible presents a God who condones violence for political means. Ending his presentation, Leithart presents Jesus as the one who fights Yahweh’s war on violence by coming as a servant who endures attack. United with him, the church is to mirror their own war with violence in the same way: by enduring suffering and attack. Leithart’s penetrating question towards the end of his presentation summarizes his stance: “Have we become the violent ones and so have set ourselves in opposition to the God who hates violence?” This is, indeed, a question that all must grapple with in this critical debate within political theology.
The audio and video of the conference can be found here.