Saturday, October 17, 2015

Christian Just War Theology

My review of this important work first appeared in Pneuma Review. Pastors and lay leaders who have  veterans and armed services personnel in their congregations should be aware, and or buy this work.

Biggar, Nigel. In Defense of War. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2013. $30

Dr. Biggar is Regis Professor of moral and pastoral theology at Oxford University.  Although too young to remember WWII, his childhood memories were filled with stories from relatives and neighbors of the “good war” that England fought to prevent the unspeakable evils of Nazi world domination. His approach to the moral issues of war is that of the Christian Augustine “just war” tradition.
(Full disclosure: I have been solidly behind the Augustine “just war” theory since childhood, before I knew the term. Like Dr. Biggar, I grew up in the 1950s, in awe of our veterans, and with the assurance that the war against Nazism was indeed honorable and justified. I also accepted that the wars against Communisms were “just wars.” I joined the Army during the Vietnam war and served in the 101st  Airmobile Div. in a civil affairs unite.  Although the Vietnam War ended in defeat, I have always considered it an honorable part of the war against communism. In this regard I am in kingship with Dr. Bigger assault on “Christian pacifism,” including the many critics of the Vietnam War.)

Author on civil affairs duty just south of Hue (1969)

Dr. Biggar’s book consists of an introduction, seven chapters and a brief concluding section. The chapters originated from various articles and lectures the author has given over the past decades. The introduction is subtitled “Against wishful thinking,” and together with chapter one, “Against Christian pacifism” counters the opinion, widely popular in university settings, that pacifism is the default setting for the “Christian.” Biggar deals with various Christian authors who are pacifists and systematically counters their argumentations. Among Christian pacifist theologian examined are Richard Hays, John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas.  Hauerwas is given particularly severe criticism, as his views on war are short on scriptural analysis and heavy with his left wing political assumptions.

Biggar concludes;
“Each of the pacifists under consideration assumes that violence is all of one piece. They do not distinguish violence that is well motivated, rightly intentioned, and proportionate from that which is not.. Nor do they distinguish anger from vengeance and hatred….
When our conceptionaly indiscriminate Christian pacifists turn to the New Testament and reads that Jesus repudiated some kinds of anger and violence, they assume that he must have repudiated all kinds… Such an understanding of Jesus’ social ethics stand prima facie in contradiction of Paul’s affirmation of the divine authorization of sword bearing in the 13th Chapter of his Epistle to the Romans." (p. 59)
Chapter two is entitled, “Love in War.” It records stories of soldiers acting with righteousness and kindness in war situation.  A moral soldier can “...regard their enemies with respect, solidarity, and even compassion – all of which are forms of love.”  (P. 91) Chapter three is entitled “The principal of double effect.”  In it the author argues (here in contradiction to St. Augustine) that it is possible for the just war soldier not to primarily desire the death and destruction of his enemies, although that is often necessary. That is. the taking of prisoners and disarming of the aggressive nation can be a primary goal. We can think of WWII, were indeed many German soldiers were killed. However, especially in the last weeks of the war, it became a case of mostly rounding up and disarming  prisoners – who gladly surrendered to American forces rather than be taken by the Soviet Army.
Chapter 4 is entitled “Proportionality,” and is subtitled “Lessons from the Somme and the First World War.”  Bigger goes against the consensus view that World War I was a useless war, stumbled into by incompetent diplomacy and economic rivalry. Using the latest and voluminous research available, Bigger shows that indeed Germany was the prime culprit in initiating the war. For the German High Command, beginning a war soon was a priority, as Imperial Russia was rapidly industrializing, and in alliance with France, would be a serious threat to Germany’s plans for the domination of Europe.  Further, German nationalism, the cult of Bismarck, and racial contempt for the Slavic peoples of the East was already a major factor in German thinking.

The most surprising element of Biggar’s analysis is his judgement that the 1916 Battle of the Somme, which was enormously costly to the British, but was also costly to the Germans, but saved the French Army form collapse during their Battle of Verdun. Thus, the Battle of the Somme ultimately blocked the domination of Europe by a proto-Nazi Germany. I found this chapter the most fascinating of the book, and Biggar’s mastery of the materials pertaining to the War particularly impressive.

To the contrary, Biggar’s next chapter, “Against legal positivism and liberal individualism” is important but far less engrossing.  Biggar makes the technical point that just war status should not be granted automatically to a nation defending its borders, as a certain nation states can be horrendously tyrannical and indeed are worthy to be invaded.  An example of this was the Pol-Pak regime of Cambodian which was mercifully put to an end by the invading Vietnamese Army.

The next chapter is “On not always giving the devil benefit of law: legality, morality and Kosovo.” Biggar concludes that the NATO armed intervention to save the Muslims from genocide in Kosovo was a form of a just war. However, according to current international law, it was an illegal intrusion into a nation’s internal affairs. For Biggar, “natural law” (a concept still active among Roman Catholic theologians) trumps current international law, and morality trumps legality.

Chapter 7, “Constructing Judgments,” will be for many the most problematic in Biggar’s book. It is a careful and logical analysis of the Gulf War and Invasion of Iraq in 2003. Using the multiple criteria of just war theory Biggar concludes that the invasion was justified. This is counter intuitive to the prevailing opinion, and I will not even attempt to recapitulate Biggar’s argumentation here, and only say that it is sound. I am in sympathy with Biggar in his disentangling the highly charged rhetoric about the war, and how it went wrong, with the ultimate moral issues. My evaluation of the Vietnam War is similar, it was a just war ineptly waged and ended

In his concluding section Bigger’s words themselves do a masterful work in summarizing his case for  a just war, and against  pacifism.
               "What reason might we have, then, to choose just war over not-war [pacifism]? One reason is this: that human experience teaches that wickedness, unpunished, tends to wax. Sometimes, of course, wrongdoers are so shamed by defenseless innocence that they renounce their wrongdoing. But history suggests at most this is rare, and at least cannot be relied on. It is highly doubtful, it seems to me, that Ghandi would have embarrassed and softened Hitler, Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot, the Interahamwe, [Rwanda genocide] Ratko Mladic, or Saddam Hussein. Violent domination can be a powerful addiction, and judging not only by SS fanatics but also by civilian policeman who committed mass murder in Poland and the USSR as members of the Einsatzgruppen, human beings are quite capable of hardening themselves against compassion. Their wickedness is excited, not sickened, by impunity. …That is why effective retribution [war] is so important." (pp. 330-331).
I will offer one general criticism to this masterful exposition of Christian just war theory. It is that some of the chapters are overly academic and should have been re-written with less cross argumentation to other scholar’s opinions. Stanly Jackie, the late and celebrated Jesuit theologian, Gifford lectures and winner of the Templeton Award, is a model for this. His principal life work was elucidating the relationship between Christianity and the rise science. He multiple works showed that the a philosophical assumptions of the Bible: the world created by one God and man’s mind a reflection of God’s, allowed science to be birthed in Western Europe in the late Middle Ages. True science as a system of acquiring and testing knowledge did not arise in Ancient Greece nor in China in spite of their superior math and technology. Jaki presented his findings in some works that were philosophically and technically demanding, and other works that were simplified and accessible to the layperson. You can access some of Fr. Jaki's books HERE

I would love to see a rewriting of In Defense of War work on a layman friendly level. 
As is, In Defense of War is a work I commend to pastors, especially those who labor in university settings and to those Christians who serve in the military, and who are often unaware of the rich heritage of the Christian just war theology.

You may purchase the Bigger work HERE


The noted Pentecostal scholar Dr. Jon Ruthven wrote a very positive review of my book, Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal. You can access it HERE.

The book may be purchased on Amazon, either print or inexpensive Kindle HERE 

Just released is my first book of  plays. Pentecostal (and Anglican) Plays (and Postscripts). It includes two plays and their postscripts.

The play, “One Day at St. John’s” depicts what everyday life can be like in a church that practices the gifts of the Spirit and the healing/exorcism ministry as normal. Among the events that occur in the course of the play are the healing of a waitress who was scalded with hot coffee, an exorcism (led by a layman) and the “laying of a ghost” to rest.

Pentecostal (and Anglican) Plays (and Postscripts) can be purchased HERE at Amazon.

The second play, “Joseph ben Jacob,” explores Joseph, husband of Mary, as the dream interpreter, master carpenter, and father of Mary’s other children. It helps explain why Joseph was able to discern correctly his dream about Mary’s first-born.

The postscripts examine the controversial aspects of the plays and focus on two false early gospels which distorted the meaning of the true Gospels. The “Proto-Gospel of James” claimed that Mary was “every virgin” and never had other children, and the “Gospel of Nicodemus” cancelled the true meaning of Jesus’ “descent into Hell” and his ministry there as described in 1 Peter 3 & 4

Watching God Work: The Stuff of Miracles by [DeArteaga, Carolyn Koontz]

My wife has written a funny and inspiring story of how she transited from a cessionist and Baptist to a Spirit-filled Believer. The book has many stories of our three decades of ministry together.  It may be purchased HERE.