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

Mar 29, 2011

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.

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

  • G’day Bill,

    Goodonya again for your wide reading and directing our attention to this book.

    I registered as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam War, but as it turned out, didn’t have to defend my views in court, which was necessary to obtain exemption. However, my reasons for objection, that the Vietnam War was unjust, but not all wars are unjust, would not have been accepted as grounds for exemption. In other words, back then, the concept that some wars are just and some are unjust was not recognised. It was all or nothing. The government did not recognise a individual’s right to consicientious objection to a particular war.

    Andrew Campbell

  • Thanks Andrew

    Yes back in my radical secular lefty days I too protested the Vietnam War, and I too wanted to claim CO status. But back then I thought all wars were immoral and unjust. Fortunately my thinking and moral reasoning have improved markedly since then.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • As a child of the war years, born 1939, I can honestly say that from personal experience in London that the first 20 years after 1945 were the best. Greed was curtailed to a large degree, The pound was tied to the amount of Gold the UK held. Therefore wealth was a little constrained. If people then had the fortunes they have now there wouldn’t have been enough left for the rest of the population. A good and effective brake on greed until the currency was floated and the gold exchange became irrelevant. There was only one car in our street until 1955, But London transport was excellent, usually on time frequent and well connected. People talked freely to each other on the bus or tram. Fitter people stood up for a pregnant woman to sit. Only one bread winner generally meant a happier family and less must have commercialisation. No commercial TV telling us what the next must have will be. no one continually used obscenities in the back of the bus/cinema or pub. Elders were respected and apprentices didn’t get full pay until they could do the job. Yes the women didn’t get equal pay for equal work and that was wrong but it all helped to bring down chivalry and respect because most ladies rarely had to pay for a night out with the boyfriend and that was just as much a struggle for me but it was expected. Doors were opened for women and courtesy was the norm as was respect. Maybe some will not agree with this but it was a way of life that was good and only really achieved after WW11 when good people finally got to realise what they meant to each other.

    Dennis Newland

  • The key to the issue seems to be the discernment of just verses unjust wars and that must no doubt be according to the Word of God. I am not trying to “amerika bash” here, but I am concerned about how America can tolerate regimes like that in Libya for more than 40 years with a blind eye to his hum rights abuses probably to protect their interests and then, when internal opposition becomes strong enough, they say things like “he has lost his right to govern” or some such thing. This has been repeated in recent history time and time again from the Iraq vs Iran war to both Iraq wars. I have no doubt they were just wars, just wondering if the timing was God’s or if it suited America’s opportunism. As I said, i have no problem with America per say, just not sure how long God’s blessing can remain on a nation that fights wars more for their own benefit, rather than for God’s righteousness.
    Ursula Bennett

  • Thanks Ursula

    But the truth is every nation on the planet fights wars for their own benefit. As to not intervening earlier in any number of rogue states, if the US did, of course it would be accused of all the usual baloney by the left: aggressive, militaristic, and so on. Then if it doesn’t intervene, it is accused of not caring, being without ethical concerns, and so on. The US loses either way. It will never please its many critics.

    If militarism is wrong, so too is isolationism. There are all sorts of tyrannies and rogue states that deserve to be put out of their misery, but deciding which, if any, should be targeted is no easy matter to decide. But all these sorts of complex issues are quite carefully and biblically assessed and discussed in this helpful book.

    Bill Muehlenberg, CultureWatch

  • “The US loses either way. It will never please its many critics”…unfortunately this is so true. The media et al has done its work well in forming this prevalent world view.
    It’s fashionable to criticize the US. France has fought some extremely unjust wars in Africa with terrible atrocities going on, the British could have been accused of unjust warfare in the Faulklands…and there are others such as Russia in Afghanistan.
    There may have been unjust wars fought by the US and there certainly are those fought by many other nations. If we are going to point the finger at the US, it’s helpful to remember that 6 million dead Jews in Germany last century may well have been a much larger number, not to mention the continent of Europe and more under the control of a madman had the US not intervened. It’s incredible to me how quickly this current generation has forgotten that when we are barely a generation removed from a person like Hitler.
    That memory loss doesn’t bode well for our corporate vigilance against a repetition of history. As a wise man once said, ‘evil flourishes when good men do nothing’.
    Dee Graf

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