Five Years After 9/11 – What Christians Have NOT Learned

What have Christians learned from 9/11? I fear that we have not learned much. And there are a lot of lessons to be learned (feel free to add your own). While the nation may have reasons to defend itself and engage in war, Christians must understand some things that we have not yet grasped.

What Christians still need to learn:

1. We need to trust not in military might but rather in God.

In the wake of the trauma of 9/11, many Christians unquestionably backed a military response, trusting that it will bring us security in a world that has spun out of our control. The shock of 9/11 should have taught us that we are as vulnerable as the rest of the world, and instead of depending on our own military strength, we should have been humbled and forced to trust in God.

“Woe to those who go down to Egypt for help,
who rely on horses,
who trust in the multitude of their chariots
and in the great strength of their horsemen,
but do not look to the Holy One of Israel,
or seek help from the Lord.”
Isaiah 31:1, see Psalm 20:7)

“It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in man.
It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in princes.”
Psalm 118:8-9)

2. Because of Christ, the “Christian Nation” is a trans-national, supra-national entity; and due to war, the Christian witness in Muslim nations has been devastated.

The Religious Right has perpetuated the myth that America is a Christian nation, that therefore our international policies somehow have the imprimatur of God. However, we must learn that there is no parallel between ancient Israel and the United States (or any other modern nation)—we cannot presume that anything we do as a nation has the direct guidance or blessing of God. We seem to care little about how many missionaries in Muslim nations have had their ministries devastated by war. Christian evangelism is the proclamation to the world of the Prince of Peace, and here is a nation calling itself “Christian” fighting a destructive and questionable war, appearing to care very little about civilian deaths and casualties. Christians and Muslims have a long and ugly history (remember the Crusades and the Serbs in Kosovo!), and the current war on terror is not helping this history.

“How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those
who bring good news,
who proclaim peace,
who bring good tidings,
who proclaim salvation,
who say to Zion, ‘Your God reigns!’”
Isaiah 52:7)

3. Christians need to confess our idolatry.

As the outflow from numbers 1 & 2, we Christians need to confess that we have placed our faith in idols: be it our nation, our government, our president, or our military might. When Christians too readily fly the American flag of nationalism without questioning their nation’s righteousness in its actions, when we presume that our leaders would not sin in their power, when we sacrifice our discernment over to the government’s decision-making, when we seek to fulfill our need for retribution, we are participating in idolatry.

“We must obey God rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)

4. We must rid our thinking of a dualistic attitude to following Christ’s nonviolent model.

Too many Christians seem to think that if they personally turn the other cheek and carry someone’s pack a second mile, they are fulfilling Jesus’ command to not retaliate violence with violence. They think that the Republic that represents them does not have to reflect their individual convictions—that there is a different ethic for governments than the people in that government. However, a consistent Christian ethic would demand that the government that represents us needs to actually represent us! Even if we interpret Romans 13 as giving Rome the use of the sword for the sake of justice and raising taxes, we must admit that the United States is not Rome—our government is elected and is meant to represent us and our values. It’s amazing to me when Christians who want to pass laws banning gay marriage, displaying the Ten Commandments in courtrooms, forcing prayer into public classrooms, and overturning Roe v. Wade do not want a government that seeks to find loving and nonviolent ways to find peace. Nowhere does Jesus or the Old Testament create a dualistic view that separates out individual ethics from the rest of life. Jesus is Lord of all or he is not Lord at all.

“Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)

5. Whether you are a Christian Pacifist or a supporter of Christian Just War Theory, you must first and foremost acknowledge that Christ came to bring peace.

It seems that often those who seek to justify a war go to “Just War Theory” to do so. But this theory is meant to not justify a war but to find out if a war is “just” or “righteous.” There are specific rules to Just War Theory, and ALL the rules must be met for a war to be just. If a leader is going to say that a war is “just,” he or she has the burden of proof. The presumption of Just War is that we do not want to do violence but that we do want justice in the world. And sometimes in an evil world, war is the only way to arrive at justice. But the overriding principle in our debates about war must be this: Christ wants peace. Period. Anyone advocating for war must prove that war is the only (that’s ONLY!) way to a lasting peace.

When Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem on a donkey, he showed that he was the fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah:
Rejoice greatly, O Daughter of Zion!
Shout, Daughter of Jerusalem!
See, your king comes to you,
righteous and having salvation,
gentle and riding on a donkey,
on a colt, the foal of a donkey.
I will take away the chariots from Ephraim
and the war-horses from Jerusalem,
and the battle bow will be broken.
He will proclaim peace to the nations.
His rule will extend from sea to sea
and from the River to the ends of the earth.
Zechariah 9:9-10)

6. Before pointing out the evils of our enemies, we must confess our own.

It is difficult for us, when we are so convinced of our own righteousness and so convinced of the evil of our nations’ enemies, to pull the logs out of our own eyes when it comes to international relations—how economics, oil, ideologies, fears, and prejudices have given rise to rationalizations for our actions as a nation. If there is to be a lasting peace, we Christians need to confess to the international world that we have sinned when we defended the use of torture, the deaths of tens of thousands of civilians, and an ideology of "if you're not with us, you’re against us." Until we repent of our nationalism and honestly decide to love our enemies, we are continuing in sin.

“How can you say to your brother, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' when all the time there is a plank in your own eye?” (Matthew 7:4).

7. We must realize that peace (shalom) is not just the absence of war; peace and justice cannot be separated.

All Christians should be praying for peace (at least as much as we "pray for our troops"). While many Christians on the left have wholeheartedly renounced the war on terror as being contrary to Jesus’ call to be peacemakers, we must remember that in order to make “peace” in an evil world, we may have to use some dreadful means. We may have to take down a Hitler to stop a Holocaust (which we did), or go in and stop a Rwandan Genocide (which we didn't). Peace cannot be found merely by protesting war. We must remember that peace cannot be had without also seeking justice. As there can be no peace while criminals run rampant in our streets, there can be no peace while terrorists can threaten nations. Christians must not sever peace from justice, and we must seek both in an attempt to bring into our violent world the eschatological peace promised in the Messiah.

Justice will dwell in the desert
and righteousness live in the fertile field.
The fruit of righteousness will be peace;
the effect of righteousness will be quietness and confidence forever.
My people will live in peaceful dwelling places,
in secure homes,
in undisturbed places of rest.
Isaiah 32:16-18).

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Anonymous said...

Brilliant post, Bob. I wish that every American Christian would read it. I thought you had been quiet lately, but obviously you were working up a storm.

Here is one more for your list.

We need to learn how to love our enemies.

If we loved our enemies we would not give them labels that dehumanize them. We always fight our wars against huns, nips and gooks. Now it is terrists. I presume the labels make it easier to hate them.

If we loved our enemies we would try to understand what motivates them. Calling them “mad” is a cope out. Calling them religious nutters does not help (many people would put that label on us).

If we loved our enemies, we would try to understand what motivates an educated young man, with all of life before him, to kill himself for his cause (I am dedicated to our cause, but I am not sure that I am willing to die for it). We might find that he sees the world differently from the way that we see it. We might even start wondering why he sees it that way. Who knows were that would lead.

It might even lead to more love, and peace.

More Here.

Blessings and Thanks.

Ted Gossard said...

I applaud what you're saying here.

What I fear is that good Christians I know have blinders on, not purposefully, in my mind, but due to bad theology or theological thinking.

I could be wrong on this, but it seems to me that for many of us evangelicals, Jesus' words in "the Sermon on the Mount" really don't mean all that much in our everyday lives, or at crunch time.

I do struggle a bit with carrying Jesus' words to his disciples over to nations, even for us who elect our officials. But you do raise a very good point: that we should be concerned about an overuse or wrong use of military means, as much as abortion, etc.


Nancy said...

You make excellent points. Thank you for all the thought you obviously put into this. I agree with anonymous that every American Christian would benefit from reading this. I will post a link on my page....not that I get much traffic, but maybe someone who does read it will pass it along.

Anonymous said...

Good stuff Bob!

Though you might have linked to the lessons I wrote about at the anti-manichaeist just to help outta brotha.


The Bose said...

Amen, Bob, Amen.

Anonymous said...

What happened to your 8th point?


Bob Robinson said...


I'll repost it sometime in the future. I don't want it to distract from the seven I make at this post.

Anonymous said...

Here is another important question.

Why did God allow 9/11, if America is a godly nation? Why did he allow the planes to hit the business centre and military centre of the nation? Al Qa’ida’s plan could easily have gone wrong, but it did not. Why?

In Luke 12:55-56, Jesus rebuked the Jews, because they could read the weather signs, but they could not discern the times in which they were living. His comments must have aroused their curiosity. Luke 13:1-5 records their questions about two events that had happened recently. In the first, some Galileans had been killed by Pilate and their blood mingled with Roman sacrifice. In the second, eighteen people had been killed when the tower of Siloam had fallen on them. Jesus said that the sins of the people killed in these tragedies were no worse than those of other Galileans, or other people living in Jerusalem, but he said that unless they repented, they would all perish.

The city of Jerusalem was placing itself under a curse by hardening its heart against the Messiah of God. The two events they asked about were signs of the judgement that would come, if they did not change their attitude. This is what did happen. The Jews crucified Jesus and in A.D 70, the Roman army besieged Jerusalem, smashed down its walls and slaughtered those who survived.

The principle is that God sometimes gives a warning by allowing unusual events that are typical of a larger scale judgement which will come if the people do not turn back to God.

Has anyone wondered if 9/11 was a warning event for the people of the United States? Is God warning of a business collapse and military defeat for the United States, if there is not change of direction. Who is reading the weather signs?


Anonymous said...

Your fourth point on dualism warrants a lot more thought. In military disputes, nations often get into an escalating tit for tat of violence, that blows small problems up into crises. Thes situations might be resoved quicker, if one nation did not retaliate but turned the other cheek.


David said...

What does it mean to obey God?

How could obediance to God be objectively evaluated? Can it be objectively evaluated?

Some discussion on this point would be of interest - perhaps as another topic.

From an interested atheist.

Bob Robinson said...

I certainly would not presume that the 9/11 attacks were meant as such a warning, but that would be more fitting for a Christian to say than the statement that Jerry Falwell said on Pat Robertson's 700 Club.

"I really believe that the pagans, and the abortionists, and the feminists, and the gays and the lesbians who are actively trying to make that an alternative lifestyle, the ACLU, People For the American Way -- all of them who have tried to secularize America -- I point the finger in their face and say "you helped this happen."

Bob Robinson said...


I think you raise some very significant questions. Christians seem a bit too confident in their ability to objectively evaluate what it means to obey God.

We have the Scriptures as our guide, but far too often we read what we want into those words rather than allowing those words to read into our lives.

I start with Jesus - What was he really trying to say to us about obeying God? If he was the very incarnation of God, then his words and his actions are the ultimate objective evaluation of obeying God.

Some of us, however, have a long way to go in our authentically seeking to follow our Lord.

The good news is that we are not a finished product; we are all still in the process of transformation... none of us have arrived yet. The bad news is that far too many of us Christians are not living as if this were the case, living as if we have already arrived (and anyone looking at us can see that this is obviously not the case!).

But please be patient with us - there can always be mid-course adjustments!

Anonymous said...

christians will never learn, because they are blind lost sheep that will be lead to the slaughterhouse. I dont mean to be a fundy pagan, but Paganism is where your rights end and mine begin. Im aware of the witchtrials, the holocaust, and the numerous christian serial killers on the news, no amount of excuses will make me believe that they were anything but true christians(TM). you can excuse them all you like, but Ive heard it a million times and it makes me roll my eyes everytime. christians stole from the Pagans and Jews alike. Im just a Pagan, because monotheism and polytheism are natural enemies.