Thursday, March 15, 2007

Christian Perspectives on War

What should Christians think about war? There are few more culturally relevant discussions for our nation today as we're faced with increasing public opposition to the war in Iraq.

It's been a topic I've wanted to address for some time now but Ted Gossard blogging at Jesus Community has beat me to it and done a fine job spurring discussion on the topic. Ted has been running a series entitled Christians and War where he considers whether it is appropriate for a Christian to participate in war. Others like Craver have picked up on his discussion and joined in with a different view.

I've been intrigued about this topic ever since listening to Dr. D.A. Carson's audio sermon on Just War. It's rather long with a separate Q&A session but very worthwhile if you're interested in learning more about the topic. In it, he outlines the basic principles of Just War Theory.

1. The only just cause for going to war is defense against violent aggression.

2. The only just intention is to restore a just peace— to friend and foe alike.

3. Military force must be the last resort after negotiations and other efforts have been tried and have failed.

4. The decision to engage in such a just war must be made by the highest governmental authority.

5. The war must be for limited ends (principally to repel aggression and redress injustice).

6. The means of a just war must be limited by proportionality to the offense.

7. There must be no intentional and direct attack on noncombatants.

8. War should not be prolonged where there is no reasonable hope of success within these limits.

Dr. Carson believes that a distinctly Christian perspective on the Just War must include the governing principle of love. He maintains that it is love that compels us to enter into military conflict. In his book, Love in Hard Places, he writes the following:

“When just, war can be a form of love. Where an enemy is perpetuating its horrible holocaust, is it not an act of love that intervenes, even militarily, to prevent that holocaust if a nation has the power to do so? And is not restraint in such cases a display, not of loving pacifism, but of lack of love— of the unwillingness to sacrifice anything for the sake of others?"

While I agree with Dr. Carson's view, the challenge in all of this is the subjective analysis of what constitutes a just war. The guiding principles of Just War theory are helpful but wars have been entered into with justice in mind that do not meet the criteria. For instance, the American Revolutionary War against the British Empire leading to the formation of the United States of America was waged on far less than what is implied in the Just War theory. Think about that for a minute.

This is a topic in which many orthodox Christians may have differing views but it's helpful to consider them all if we are to come a better understanding.

Is war ever justified from a Christian perspective?
What do you think of the criteria for a just war?

Does it offer appropriate guidance for a Christian?
Where does Christian love fit in?


Ted Gossard said...

Andre, I appreciate this post. And the "just war" stance, presented here, as well.

In this case I'm not sure Jerusalem and Athens (or Rome) have much in common. I think we need to be pointing to an entirely different way. Which we know won't be fulfilled until Jesus returns. But is to begin, in us, now.

But maybe we do need to speak to this. Though for one who takes a Christian pacifist stance, such as myself, it does seem strange to try to promote a "just war" ethic. At the same time, pacifists can talk about what either does or doesn't line up with the Christian "just war" ethic. Even if we ourselves can't line up with that theory.

Great post. And I hope others join in. And give some help here. Thanks too, for the kind words.

L.L. Barkat said...

Not that this answers the question, but I think more could be done in preventing the catalysts for war. Often, there is injustice before revolution. Why not work for justice before having to quell a revolution that cries for it? (the Palestinian example can work well here)

andre said...


I wanted to present the basic principles of Just War theory because much has been justified in the name of Just War, yet many Christians are not familiar with some of its guiding principles. Just War theory isn't biblical truth so we need to hold it lightly. However, I think Augustine was among its early proponents.

andre said...


Yes, I think what I take away from point #3 is that military action is a last resort...we should exercise all other means of conflict resolution ranging from mediation to non-violent action.

That said, your point is very valid and a great one. If we concern ourselves with thinking and acting justly before the injustices become a catalyst for war, we preempt the violent conflict.

Craver Vii said...

You asked, ”Where does Christian love fit in?”

Is it Christian love to allow unjust oppressors to reign with terror? Is it Christian love to turn the cheek (not my own, but) of those who are under my care/stewardship? I believe that Kings and fathers (stewards) are going to be held accountable for whether they protect those under their care. That is not license for cruelty, by any means! I might be permitted under certain circumstances to kill a wolf, but never permitted to torture it.

On “doing justice,” I found
>a brief letter
on the internet from a chaplain concerning the Micah Mandate and the “warrior’s code.”

andre said...


Thanks for sharing the perspective of loving our neighbor by willing to use force.

Where I struggle in in the practice of this principle - how does it work in a fallen world with injustices everywhere?

There are significant pockets of cruelty and injustice all over the world - Sudan, N. Korea, etc... does that mean we wage war with all these nations? Is that even right?

I also wonder what is the standard for injustice? A dictator conducting systematic genocide...or a raging civil war between tribes...or a ruler oppressing his people with limiting resources, opposing with violent means any threat to his rule. Are all worthy of launching military action? If we take an aggressive stand, won't we end up being the bullies. The idea that "we're the good guys and we're here to liberate you" just strikes me at times to be naive.

Not being critical of your view - these are just some of the issues I wrestle with and I wonder what you (or others) think?

Ted Gossard said...

Andre, This reminds me of a post from John Frye's blog I read today, in reviewing a book by N.T. Wright on evil:

Some good thoughts there, related to this discussion.

andre said...


Thanks for the link to John Frye's blog and his review of NT Wright's book on evil and the justice of God.

As I understand Frye's review, NT Wright states in the book at our response to 9/11 was "immature and naive"? Those are tough words to digest even for someone like me who didn't agree with our basis for our entire response in Iraq. After 9/11, the support for war was overwhelming - I think that speaks to how angry and shocked the entire nation was at the time. To a great degree the response is understandable.

I.M. Small said...


Heads filled with some mishmash
They voted for
"Preemption," ever rash,
Horrendous war.

How often did the Christ
Preempt? Aw, Jesus,
The Gospel nor sufficed,
And it displeases

Them to no end to hear
They crucify
Daily their Lord, but we´re
To testify:

This war was wrong, wrong, wrong
As it begun,
So-called these Christians strong
Ought to be hung!