April 11, 2003


The Dick Staub Interview: War Is Not a Necessary Evil: The author of When God Says War Is Right says early Christians weren't pacifists but looked at the entire Bible for advice on war. (Christianity Today, 04/01/2003)
"War is a dreadful thing," wrote C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity. "I can respect an honest pacifist, though I think he is entirely mistaken. What I cannot understand is this sort of semi-pacifism you get nowadays, which gives people the idea that though you have to fight, you ought to do it with a long face and as if you were ashamed of it."

This quote begins the recent book When God Says War Is Right (Waterbrook Press, 2002) by Dr. Darrell Cole, assistant professor of religion at Drew University.

Cole argues that war is not merely a "necessary evil." Instead, he writes, it's sometimes the right thing for a Christian to do.

[Q:] Why shouldn't we view war as a necessary evil?

[A:] There are no necessary evils in Christian morality. We sometimes have to take the lesser of two courses, but that doesn't make it evil. We should always abstain from evil, and we should follow Paul who said, explicitly, "Never do evil that good may come."

If you're entering into something with a long face or a troubled conscience, that's probably a good indication you shouldn't be doing it. We can't stoop to evil just to bring about a good consequence.

[Q:] Why do we have the impression that most early Christians were pacifists?

[A:] We've gotten that idea because a great many scholars early in the 19th century were basing their research on incomplete data. Those researchers were generally very much liberal humanists. They wanted to see Jesus, Jesus' followers, and the early church in their own way of life.

Research over the past 50 or 60 years has shown that the term pacifism, as we use it to mean that all bloodshed as inherently evil-simply did not exist in the early Christian community. Early Christians did not participate in war because the Roman soldiers distrusted them and because in order to be a Roman soldier you had to participate in pagan rites.

As soon as those two things fell apart, Christians started joining in droves. So by the time you get to Constantine, in the early 4th century, you've got whole Christian battalions.

[Q:] How did the early church view Jesus' teachings about war in the broader context of the entire Bible?

[A:] They said, "Look, we have to pay attention to the whole Bible." Their enemies were saying that you could just lop off the Old Testament. More than that, they argued that you could lop off pieces of the New Testament that didn't fit in with what you wanted.

The church fathers were very adamant. "No, we've got to pay attention to the whole Bible," they said. "We've got to pay attention to the whole New Testament, so we don't make up a religion out of one and two verses that are the gospels."

The early church said that God is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Jesus is a God of love and peace, but Jesus is also a God of wrath. We find out in the last book of the Bible that Jesus is leading the Lord of Hosts back into battle to defeat the enemies of God. Jesus is also read into the Old Testament, most particularly, as the divine figure who encourages Joshua before he battles against Jericho.

To sum this up quite quickly, the Old Testament God is generally characterized as one as being wrathful and vengeful, but he's also very merciful and very loving to his children. Jesus is usually characterized as being loving and merciful, but he is also very wrathful when the time comes.

Those who wish Christ to be a pacifist, willing to tolerate injustice rather than resort to violence, have some trouble explaining this:

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 11, 2003 10:39 AM
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