A Review of War, Peace, and Christianity. By J. Daryl Charles and Timothy Demy.

Crossway, 2010. (Available in Australia at Koorong Books)

There have been a number of important treatments of the issue of war and peace coming from the evangelical community over the past few decades. Back in 1975 Arthur Holmes edited a volume looking at various voices in the debate, War and Christian Ethics.

In 1978 Peter Craigie examined The Problem of War in the Old Testament, while in 1981 Robert Clouse edited the debate book, War: Four Christian Views. Robert Morey wrote When is it Right to Fight? in 1985, and in 2002 Darrell Cole defended just war theory in When God Says War is Right.

J. Daryl Charles had already written on this topic in 2005 with his Between Pacifism and Jihad. Now he teams up with military ethicist Timothy Demy to offer the most complete and thorough defense of just war theory yet written from an evangelical Christian perspective.

At 400 pages it covers all the bases, looking at philosophical issues, historical issues, political issues and theological issues. The authors remind us of what a rich tradition just war thinking springs from, going back to both ancient Hebrew thinking as well as Greek and Roman thought.

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Natural law theory was melded with Christian thinkers such as Ambrose, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Grotius, Suarez and Vitoria. Thus the concept that some wars can be declared to be just, and can be fought justly, comes from a very long and distinguished line of thinkers.

Just war theory has had two major components: jus ad bellum (justice in going to war), and jus in bello (justice in war). Together they contain around seven elements, with things such as a just cause, a just intent, and a last resort in the first, and proportionate means and non-combatant immunity in the second.

Of course theory and reality do not always nicely mesh, and the authors look at the various objections raised and/or difficulties encountered. In a number of meaty chapters they raise numerous questions and objections to traditional just war thinking, and offer substantive replies.

For example, consider the objection that all war is inherently unjust and immoral. But in a fallen world evil needs to be kept in check at all sorts of levels. Thus we recognise the just use of force by the police, the courts, and so on, to maintain justice and deter evil. The authors remind us that peace is incompatible with a tolerance of evil, and that sometimes the most loving thing that can be done is to use force to restore a just peace.

Dozens of these sorts of questions are carefully dealt with by the authors. But Christians will especially be concerned about theological, biblical and ecclesiastical concerns. So let’s focus on a few of those commonly held objections. For example, what about Jesus and the Sermon on the Mount?

The authors rightly remind us that Jesus in Matt. 5:38-42 is dealing with how individual believers should deal with personal injury. Jesus is not dealing here with standards of public justice. He certainly believes that there is a place for restitution as the story of Zacchaeus (Luke 19) makes clear.

Public justice which includes resisting evil is a timeless moral principle. Jesus is not undermining what Paul clearly teaches in Romans 13 for example, about the role of the state in punishing evil-doers. While the individual believer can turn the cheek at personal offence, he is under moral obligation to protect the innocent and see justice maintained in the public arena, primarily by means of the state.

Or what about the charge that Christians are called to be peacemakers, and warfare is diametrically opposed to this? Yes in Matt. 5:9 we are told that peacemakers are blessed, but just what is a peacemaker? As with the other beatitudes, it is clearly more of an inner disposition and orientation than an outward action or behaviour.

Peace in the Bible is seen in the context of right relationships, or just relationships. Where there is injustice there can be no real peace. Justice and charity are not opposites but stand or fall together. Justice has to do with the right ordering of society.

Augustine spoke of this as tranquillitas ordinis. Thus there can be both a just peace as well as an unjust peace. The biblical goal is the former. Peace without justice is not what the biblical concept of shalom entails. Until Christ returns, there will be no final and perfect peace, and the use of force to maintain justice will always be called for.

Until the eschaton, there can be no guarantee of a world free of strife and war. As Luther quipped, if in the present life the lion is to lie with the lamb, then we will always need to keep replacing the lamb. While we are to strive for peace now, we must not be utopian about it, and we must not pursue peace at the expense of justice.

Finally, consider the objection that we should just let God deal with evil, and not take these matters into our own hands. But that ignores the main reason why God ordained the institution of the state – to administer justice in the here and now.

The truth is, we are citizens of two kingdoms, and we have responsibilities in the earthly kingdom which God has assigned to us. We cannot abdicate our responsibilities here. As the authors state, “To resist violent aggression and gross injustice is an expression of responsible politics and social ethics, and it is consonant with biblical teaching.”

I have only begun to touch the surface of this very helpful volume. Probably most of the queries and concerns the thinking Christian may have on the issue of war and peace are handily covered here in a fashion that is intellectually satisfying as well as biblical faithful.

All up over 100 hard questions, objections and vital considerations are addressed in this well-written, well-reasoned, and well-documented volume. For anyone wanting to learn more about just war thinking and how it stacks up to the biblical data, this is a superb volume and should be your first port of call on this highly contentious and controversial topic.

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