RELEVANT’s Burning Issues: War

Posted on April 27, 2008


The May_June 2008 edition of Relevant Magazine posted 7 burning issues: Injustice, Homosexuality, Faith, Politics, Culture, Consumerism, and War.

WAR: How Should We Respond?

1. Jim Wallis – Followers of the Prince of Peace should be the hardest to convince to go to war, never the easiest…The real problem here is the cultural captivity of the Church in America. Most American Christians are Americans first and Christians second. National identity trumps commitment to Jesus time and time again…Jesus calls peacemakers “blessed” and demands His followers love their enemies. This means Christians must have a strong presumption against war. These aren’t nice ideas; they are discipleship mandates.

2. N.T. Wright – Over the last 10 years, we have seen on both sides of the Atlantic … a kind of naive optimism that if only we can do a bit of sensible, redemptive violence like dropping bombs on a few people here and there, then we can actually rid the world of evil…That seems to me extraordinarily lacking in historical awareness, theological substance and just sheer human wisdom. You must have a Christian vision, which has to have its feet on the ground, but at the same time we need to address some of the sharp edges of our present questions with our political eyes and ears open.

3. Brian McLaren – We need to move to higher ground, and move from binary yes-no questions like, Are you for or against pacifism? to questions that force people to think more deeply. Questions such as: Knowing that America is the richest and most powerful nation in history, what special concerns should we have about how our nation uses its power? What does Jesus say about power and how it should be used? Would we like to give [our children] a world where our nation has gone to war and killed thousands or millions of Muslims in an effort to increase our own security?..All of this is very important because it forces us to go back and read the Bible in fresh ways. The Bible will challenge us if we read it outside the conceptual cages in which we’ve domesticated it.

4. Nancy Ortberg – I think individual responses and national responses can be different…How do we as a Church become communities in our nation that really advocate for peace? I don’t see a lot of churches doing things that make me think, or give me a lot of hope that the church could be a force for peace in the country. How do we engage our nation in understanding what peaceful reactions and peaceful responses are?

5. Steve Brown – I’m attracted to pacifism, and that is primarily because of Jesus. However, I do not believe in moral equivalency…Now, when one gets into the specifics of which war to fight, how to go about obtaining justice, what kind of force should be used and how in particular one should protect the innocent, the way gets kind of muddy. I sometimes fear that Christians (both pacifist Christians and “kill the enemy for Jesus” Christians) have never taken the time to go through the complexity.

6. Shane Claiborne – It’s unmistakable to me, when I look at the cross, what love looks like when it stares you in the face and says, “Forgive them, for they don’t know what they are doing.” Now the Sermon on the Mount may not look like the best way to lead the biggest superpower in the world and the biggest military — maybe that should tell us something.

7. Cindy Jacobs – This seems to pose the question of whether or not we should be pacifists as Christians. Sometimes one has to go to war to make peace. Ask the veterans of World War II when they battled against the evil tide of Hitler’s regime. The Bible clearly states there is a time for war and a time for peace.

8. Chuck Colson – I don’t have any difficulty reconciling Jesus’ message of peace in a nation in which Christians — informed by the just war tradition — support the use of force against radical Islamofascism. I don’t know any Christian who is against peace. But even a cursory examination of human history tells us that the human condition is bent toward evil, that war has been tragically the more common condition than peace. We live in a fallen world, which is why Augustine first formulated what is known as the “just war doctrine.” Thomas Aquinas was perhaps the most articulate on this when he included the just ward doctrine under the section in summa Theologica on love. He considered it a supreme act of charity to give one’s life in defense of innocent civilians. I agree with Aquinas. [1]


I think Steve Brown hit the nail on the head. Very, very few have actually done the hard work to work through the vast complexities of war, and the implied issues of justice. It’s not just a matter of Biblical accuracy, Christological pacifism, or personal experiences and stories (as each contributes to above). War will always be a double-edged sword that cuts both ways, for good, and for evil. And while Christians ought to be the last to support a war, we should be the first to fight for justice. We must also recognize that conflict and violence are very distinct from each other, and the connotations of pacifism may not suffice in our world today.

I think that’s why so many above are hesitant to take a strong stance with pacifism, pro or con. Much like McLaren, those kind of binary questions do not help us move forward intelligently into the complex issues that surround war.

Helping us, then, to read the Bible more accurately, I’ve decided that my next post will be a review of Walter Wink’s book Jesus and Non-Violence: A Third Way. For Christians, what Jesus teaches on about “turning the other cheek” is central and vital to the message of Christianity to the issues of conflict, violence, and peace. I pray you pick up a copy (very small <100 pages), and allow your mind to be transformed by the renewing of your reading of Jesus in light of Wink’s insights.

[1] A few “just war doctrine” websites: A Google search, Catholic Answers, Wikipedia,, and the Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy.