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God, Nimrod, and the World: Exploring Christian Perspectives on Sport Hunting

Bracy V. Hill, II, and John B. White, God, Nimrod, and the World: Exploring Christian Perspectives on Sport Hunting (Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 2017), ix-431 pages with index.

In our urban-dominated landscape, hunting, particularly sport hunting, has increasingly been viewed as a remnant of a barbaric era that is no longer needed and should be abolished. Clearly there is a cultural divide between hunters and anti-hunters. Hill and White sought to deepen their understanding of this intellectual and ideological divide and investigated how Christians have understood and understand their faith in regards to sport hunting. As Hill clearly says, “… this collection of essays was to provide a window into the different perspectives held historically by Christians in relation to sport hunting and to hear new voices on the debate. … The secondary goal was to encourage its readers to thoughtfully consider the various perspectives, many times not set in clear apposition, and the merits (and weaknesses) of each” (p.411). In brief, the book clearly accomplishes its goals.

Before delving into the text, readers should know that I was a contributor to this volume. My article, “Dominion Over Animals: Taking the Scriptural Witness and Worldview Seriously” (pp.33-348) summarizes my dissertation published in Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations, Wipf and Stock, 2009. My engagement with the specific contributions made by my fellow contributors to this volume occurred only after the book was published.

The editors did a superb job providing readers with an overall perspective on the topic. Their writing not only helped prepare readers to grasp the major themes and controversies, but their summaries of the articles enhanced reader pre-understanding and thus apprehension of the material. Heuristically, the book (both sections 1 and 2) stand as a model for educational best practice. I would note, however, that Hill’s contention that Christianity was a syncretistic religion (p.23) reflects a modernistic comparative religions bias and not the testimony handed down by Christ’s apostles.

The articles are organized into two major sections. Section One takes a descriptive approach to the debate over recreational hunting. Articles focus on historical attitudes and perspectives held by Christians over the centuries, starting with the biblical text and culminating with interviews of contemporary Christian hunters. The articles show how Christians argued both for and against sport hunting. Articles often described prevalent views by the way “Nimrod” of Genesis was portrayed in the literature. Interestingly, when hunting was in vogue, Nimrod was portrayed as a neutral or valuable character. When hunting was not in vogue, Nimrod became a term of derision and symbol of moral turpitude.

A model for educational best practice.

Three articles in Section 1 deserve particular attention. The first is Kenneth Bass’ “From Author to Audience, Source to Target: Tracking Hunting in the Metaphorical Language of the Bible”. He smartly investigated the way hunting/trapping was used in biblical metaphors to determine the worldview that grounded the use of those metaphors. He makes a strong case that hunting/trapping were common practices in Biblical Israel and that the negative elements of hunting/trapping focused on the distress portion. He contended that to focus only on the part of the frame that was negative (i.e. killing) does not require interpreting the entire frame (i.e. hunting/trapping) as negative. Unsurprisingly, I think Bass is correct especially given that YHWH is portrayed as a hunter (p.40).

The second article entitled, “A Dying Legacy?: A Century of Hunting in the Stories of Texas Families”, Hill provides a sort of meta-analysis of the interviews contained in the following chapter. He keenly identifies key themes, concepts and sociological factors that impact one’s adoption (or lack) of hunting. If one wishes to have a quick, but not simplistic, look at the cultural-historical issues embedded in the hunting experience, this article is must reading. Though it focuses on the American, albeit Texas, experience, I suspect that the categories and insights will be useful elsewhere in the United States if not the world. The third article is actually a collection of interviews. These interviews are valuable for providing a more granular look at the motivations behind the desire to hunt as told by various hunters who claim a Christian heritage.

Section Two contains articles addressing the ethical or prescriptive views on hunting. Authors from both sides of the debate use a variety of rationales to support their position for or against the morality of hunting. Unsurprisingly, the majority of the emphasis focused on the justification (or lack thereof) for the killing of animals for “fun”.

Two articles that attempted to use Christian theology to condemn hunting (Killing and the Kingdom: A Case against Sport Hunting” by Shawn Graves and “Muscular Christianity and Sport Hunting: Missing the Target?” by John B. White were quite disappointing. Both ostensibly tried to use Christian teaching to condemn hunting but neither dealt with the concrete realities and teaching of the Biblical text. Their arguments reminded me of Supreme Court justices that attempt to argue that capital punishment violates the U.S. Constitution’s cruel and unusual punishments clause even though the authors of the Constitution clearly supported the death penalty. Any rational reading of the constitution clearly reveals that the authors were only referring to cruel execution methods such as Drawing and Quartering, etc., not to a condemnation of execution in general. Grave’s approach tended to avoid Scripture entirely choosing instead to rely on the vague notion of not causing harm. White’s article, on the other hand, argued that God’s intention was for humans to not kill animals. It never occurred to these scholars to even consider the ontological status of animals. If they did, the anti-hunting authors would perhaps understand that harm to an animal is categorically different (morally speaking) than harm to a person. (I suspect they would both grant that fact but apparently, they did not consider the full impact of that view). If God grants humans permission to kill His property, who are we to say that somehow violates God’s will? Neither of them considered how Christ was quite comfortable killing animals, sometimes for no apparent reason other than to demonstrate he could (e.g., miracle of the fishes). Dismissing this by saying that Jesus was God (though true) does not resolve the problem because Jesus was also the perfect human who provided an example of a sinless life before God.

Regrettably, Christian anti-hunters continue to commit two key mistakes that I have repeatedly pointed out over the years. First, they have either an inability or unwillingness to read literature that disagrees with their perspective. Not every scholarly article is found in top tier (often liberal) journals. Second, they are unwilling to consider the whole testimony of Scripture. Instead, Christian anti-hunters find a generic passage, such as “reconciling all things” and then use that generic principle to truck in every idea that fits their narrative even when specific passages counter those ideas. By rejecting or perhaps ignoring the principle of the general rule is constrained by the specific, they allow themselves to fly off into fanciful arguments without sufficient grounding in the Word of God.

A worthwhile read for those interested in analysis of the ethics and culture of recreational hunting.

Despite these criticisms of the anti-hunting proponents, the book is a worthwhile read for those interested in analysis of the ethics and culture of recreational hunting. The editors are to be commended for providing both sides of the debate ample space to argue. Their willingness to have both sides properly represented exhibited elements of proper scholarship. Those looking for non-biblical arguments condemning and defending hunting should make reading this book a high priority as it will provide a good introduction to those types of arguments. It would be great if the editors decided to publish a second edition where authors of the first edition could rebut each other’s arguments as I believe that would take the content to a higher level.

Overall, this book provides an important contribution to the topic of sport hunting that is scholarly, yet accessible to college-level readers.

Reviewed by Stephen M. Vantassel

 

Publisher’s page: https://www.mupress.org/God-Nimrod-and-the-World-Exploring-Christian-Perspectives-on-Sport-Hunting-P952.aspx

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Category: In Depth, Spring 2021

About the Author: Stephen M. Vantassel, Ph.D. theology (Trinity Theological Seminary), M.A.T.S. Old Testament (Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary), B.S. Biblical Studies (Gordon College), is a Tutor of Theology at King’s Evangelical Divinity School in Broadstairs, U.K. and Assistant Editor for the Evangelical Review of Theology and Politics. His dissertation was published in expanded form in Dominion over Wildlife? An Environmental-Theology of Human-Wildlife Relations (Wipf and Stock, 2009), explains how biblical teaching on the use of animals provides a rubric for how God wants humanity to use the earth. He lives in Montana with his wife Donna. He regularly posts articles at kingsdivinity.academia.edu/StephenMVantassel.

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