Book Review: War, Peace, and Christianity by Charles and Demy

War, Peace, and Christianity: Questions and Answers from a Just-War PerspectiveWar, Peace, and Christianity: Questions and Answers from a Just-War Perspective by J. Daryl Charles

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

In my circles people talk about just war all the time. But rarely was it defined or described. What is a just war? I bought this book hoping for two things: 1. It would give me the basic parameters of just war theory. 2. It would give a me a lot of footnotes that would point me to other sources. I got both of these in spades.

The authors use a question and answer format to describe what just war is, what it is not, some questions that still need answered, and the history of just war. They talk about just war in relation to philosophy/natural law, history, the statesman, the theologian, the combatant, and the individual.They rely heavily on Aquinas, Grotius, Vitoria, and Suarez. The also use a lot of O’Donovan and a current just war writer named James Turner Johnson. They address terrorism, nuclear war, humanitarian intervention, the UN, post war development of countries, non-lethal weapons, “turn the other cheek,” does war violate the command to not kill, did Jesus change our approach to war, is just war only a Christian idea or it can it be found in non-Christian sources, Bonhoeffer’s attempt on Hitler’s life, Ghandi’s pacifism, C.S. Lewis’ writings on war, supreme emergency, the early church on war, including Roland Bainton’s pacifistic reading of the church fathers, criteria for going to war, criteria within a war, private military contractors, ethical development of weapons, Romans 13, etc. etc. The great value of this book is how much ground it covers. You will not get an in depth chapter length discussion of terrorism and just war, but you will get some basic ideas on it. It is an excellent introduction to just war thought, though I doubt any reader will agree with all.

The only drawback I would note is there is a quite a bit of repetition. The reason would seem to be the nature of the book where the questions and answers in various sections overlap with questions and answers in other sections. There are other areas that I would have like more discussion on, such as what makes an authority legitimate, but the sources cited should give provide those if the reader wished to pursue them.

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Approximate Justice & Just War Theory

I have benefited from the book War, Peace, and ChristianityReading it has given me a better understanding of the terms that surround just-war theory, as well as numerous other sources to read.  I plan on quoting from the book in the coming days. Here the authors give their reasons for the authority of the state, which I generally agree with.

The state’s authority exists for the purpose of preserving and defending the rights of its members. Its authority is legitimate to the degree that it carries out this mandate. Just-war thinking arises out of certain fundamental convictions-for example that justice is due all human beings, that approximate (versus absolute or perfect) justice is discernible, and that this approximate justice is worth attaining and preserving. This mode of reasoning applies equally to domestic or international concerns.

This quote contains two key insights that I have gained from reading the book. First, we will rarely, if ever, get justice perfectly right. We use our reason, nature, conscience history, and as Christians God’s Word to guide us to an approximate justice or as a Christian would say, true, but imperfect justice. But while we may not be able to make things perfectly just we can make them more just. The failure to attain perfect justice does not make the pursuit of justice hopeless or waste. There is a post-modern mindset that says if we ever get it wrong we should not do it all, after all who really knows if a war is just or not? Innocent people are harmed when thinking like this becomes common.

Second, the idea summed up on the last line has been helpful for me.  The authors frequently compare the local police to international affairs. Their point is that the same principles apply in defeating a kidnapper that apply in freeing a state that has been occupied by a foreign country. It is more complicated on an international scale, but the principles do not change.  If I saw a man purposely burning down my neighbor’s house, I would call the authorities or stop him myself. I would not sit there and go, “Well that is none of my business.”  This is true on the international scale as well. That does not mean America should jump in to solve every possible problem. But there are some situations where America or some other stronger country coming in to help a smaller country is not just necessary it is morally obligatory.

Book Review: Men, Women, and Order in the Church by John Calvin

Men, Women, and Order in the ChurchMen, Women, and Order in the Church by John Calvin

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

I have found myself reading more and more of Calvin’s sermons. While the basic content is the same as his commentaries, the delivery is quite different. Since I am pastor, I enjoy how he preaches a text to the congregation.

This is book is three sermons Calvin delivered on I Corinthians 11:2-16. While there is some discussion of head coverings, that is minimal, more than likely because it was assumed to be right. But what these sermons are good for is a defense of order in the church and hierarchy in general. It is interesting how often Calvin jumps from the relationship of men and women to masters and slaves, rulers and subjects, and other types of hierarchical situations. He applies what he sees in I Corinthians 11 to other aspects of social order because he believe that God made the world hierarchical. Therefore, “This natural order did come about by chance; rather God reveals his will by it, and means to test our obedience to see if we will submit to him.” He sees order, that is social hierarchy, as essential to the church and society.

Calvin believes that women are made in the image of God just like men. “As for the image, it is certain that is pertains to all females as well as to all males.” Yet Calvin also believe that women were subservient to men “as a class.” He did not see this as denigrating women, but rather as following God’s appointed order and structure.

These three sermons are much more a defense of order and hierarchy than a defense of head coverings. And for that reason they should be read.

My Rating System
1 Star-Terrible book and dangerous. Burn it in the streets.

2 Stars-Really bad book, would not recommend, probably has some dangerous ideas in it or could just be so poorly written/researched that it is not worth reading. Few books I read are 1 or 2 stars because I am careful about what I read.

3 Stars-Either I disagree with it at too many points to recommend it or it is just not a good book on the subject or for the genre. Would not read it again, reference it, or recommend it. But it is not necessarily dangerous except as a time waster.

4 Stars-Solid book on the subject or for the genre. This does not mean I agree with everything in it. I would recommend this book to others and would probably read it again or reference it. Most books fall in this category because I try not to read books I don’t think will be good. There is a quite a variety here. 3.6 is pretty far from 4.5.

5 Stars-Excellent book. Classic in the genre or top of the line for the subject. I might also put a book in here that impacted me personally at the time I read it. I would highly recommend this book, even if I do not agree with all that it says. Few books fall in this category. Over time I have put less in this category.

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Opposed to Injustice, Not Force

The heart of just-war moral reasoning historically has been its opposition to-and, hence a basic presumption against, injustice and oppression. Recent reinterpretations of just-war thinking however, particularly in religious circles have tended instead to proceed on the presumption against war itself. This mutation-and indeed we are justified in describing this shift as a mutation-has led to what James Turner Johnson, perhaps the foremost contemporary authority on the just-war tradition, properly calls, “the broken tradition.” What Johnson is reiterating is simply that the mainstream of classic just-war moral reasoning historically has stood first and foremost against injustice and oppression, not force per se.  Charles and Demy in War, Peace, and Christianity.