Should Christians go to war? In one of my current seminary classes we have spent a good amount of time discussing the answer to this question. My teacher and textbooks have all leaned toward a view that is dubbed within theology as ‘Just war Theory’. The title gives you the general gist. But this is not supported by all Christians. I have on my bookshelf one book that has eight different theologians explaining their own viewpoint, a few of whom adopt a pacifist stance. One of those with the pacifist stance has been one of my favorite seminary teachers. So although I adopt a just war theology myself I can understand why pacifist christians take the approach they do. But in the end, I simply do not think their arguments hold up and in some recent conversations that I have had with some pacifist friends of mine it has made me realize pacifists often misunderstand the just war view.
Before giving a defense for just war theory I think it is important to more clearly define what just war theory is. Wayne Grudem does a fantastic job in his book, Politics According to the Bible, giving a short outline of what just war theory is.
Most people think that just war simply believes that the cause for the war must justified in that there is a morally right cause to go to war, perhaps defending the nation. But Grudem outlines another seven qualities that a just war must have as well as an additional four restrictions on how a just war must be conducted. In my opinion once someone sees all of these criteria it leaves little objection to going to war when it is needed. Grudem even lists Biblical verses for each criteria.
Requirements for a Just War.
- Just Cause: Is the overall reason or motivation for going to war just? Rev. 19:11
- Competent Authority: Has the war been declared not simply by a renegade band or a dictator but by a competent authority within the nation? Rom. 13:1
- Comparative Justice: it should be clear that the actions of the enemy are morally wrong, and the motives and actions of one’s own nation in going to war are, in comparison, morally right. Rom 13:3
- Right Intention: Is the purpose of going to war to protect justice and righteousness rather than simply to rob and pillage and destroy a nation? Prov. 21:2
- Last Resort: have all other reasonable means of resolving the conflict been exhausted? Matt 5:9; Rom 12:18
- Probability of Success: Is there a reasonable expectation that the war can be won? Luke 14:31.
- Proportionality of Projected Results: will the good results that come from a victory in a war be significantly greater than the harm and loss that will inevitably come with pursuing the war? Rom 12:21 with 13:14
- Right Spirit: Is the war undertaken with great reluctance and sorrow at the harm that will come rather than simply with a ‘delight in war’ as in Ps 68:30
And also, Grudem’s criteria for how the war must be conducted:
- Proportionality in the use of Force: no greater distraction should be caused than is needed to win the war. Deut. 20:10-12
- Discrimination between Combatants and Noncombatants: insofar is feasible in the successful pursuit of a war, is adequate care being taken to prevent harm to noncombatants? Deut. 20:13-14; 19-20
- Avoidance of Evil Means: will captured or defeated enemies be treated with justice and compassion, and are one’s own soldiers being treated justly in captivity? Ps. 34:14
- Good Faith: is there a genuine desire for restoration of peace and eventually living in harmony with the attacking nation? Matt 5:43-44; Rom 12:18.
As for justifying just war theory biblically I would say that the passages above bring a good starting point.
But what about where it says that we should turn the other check? Or what about the fact that Jesus never condones violence?
Turning the other check when someone wrongs you is a personal attack on you. Clearly in just war we are no longer talking about personal attack. As far as condoning violence can you give me a passage where Jesus condemns war outright? Can you list one time where Jesus tells a soldier that he needs to find a new carrier, which he clearly would if pacifism was true?
But how can going to war be loving to someone? I’ll present just one simple scenario. Say you have just met someone who was liberated from a concentration camp during WWII. While they were in the camp their mother and father were killed in front of them and they knew for a fact that the rest of their friends and family, as well as themself were going to be taken to the gas chamber soon had the camp been not liberated. How would you, as a pacifist, explain this Holocaust surviver that had you been able to make the call America would never have gone to war and saved them? How do you plan on explaining you would choose to do so because you felt that loving your neighbor meant not killing someone even if it saved the lives of others?
There is a big difference between murder and killing, the Bible seems pretty clear of that otherwise all the wars of the Old Testament would be God commanding Israel to break his law.
So there it is a quick snapshot of just war theory and why we believe in it.