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Erik van Alten

War: an act of justice and a life of discipleship. Exploring the just war tradition




The just war tradition has received renewed interest in the last decade, even from prominent world leaders. However, this tradition is approached from a range of different perspectives, and it is quite easy to start following a secularized form of the just war tradition in which the different elements become like a checklist to be ticked off. A particular Christian perspective is required in which the justice of God becomes the guiding principle and which influences the whole of the Christian life of discipleship. The beauty of a specific Christian perspective on the just war is that it offers an overarching perspective, one not isolated to the field of war, but one touching the whole of life before the face of God.





On 10 December 2009 Barack Obama, president of the United States of America, delivered a lecture, entitled A just and lasting peace, in acceptance of the Nobel Peace Prize awarded to him.[1] Obama spends almost half of his lecture defending the occasional necessity of war in establishing and preserving peace, thereby implicitly reacting to the controversy that the decision of the Nobel Committee has generated in awarding the highest peace prize to a head of state who, just a week earlier, announced a surge of U.S. forces into Afghanistan. In his lecture the president is clearly struggling with the notion that the juxtaposition of these two events war in Afghanistan (and other places) ánd receiving the Nobel Peace Prize seems to involve a contradiction. His conclusion to this apparent contradiction is that the instruments of war do have a role to play in preserving the peace, although at the same time acknowledging that war at some level is also an expression of human folly.

In dwelling on the occasional necessity of war, Obama makes reference to the concept of a just war as a way to regulate the destructive power of war. The term itself, he says, suggests that war is justified only when certain conditions are met. He mentions the following conditions: if it is waged as a last resort or in self-defense; if the force used is proportional; and if, whenever possible, civilians are spared from violence. This is summarized a little further, when he says: Where force is necessary, we have a moral and strategic interest in binding ourselves to certain rules of conduct. Obama believes the United States of America, and himself as the Commander-in-Chief, to be a standard bearer in following these rules of conduct of war, and believes that this should remain so. And the ultimate purpose of this lofty position? Obama says that the United States of America has waged war according to these principles, not with the purpose of imposing their will on others, but out of enlightened self-interest because we seek a better future for our children and grandchildren, and we believe that their lives will be better if others children and grandchildren can live in freedom and prosperity.


With this summary of Obamas lecture, in which I hope to have done the presidents words justice, there is no need to show the practical application of this article on just war. After all, the president of the United States of America, the worlds sole military superpower (as Obama calls his country in this lecture), has said that he and his country wants to operate according to the principles of just war in preserving peace in this world. Coming from a man whose country is currently waging war on several fronts, and at the time of writing is considering arming Ukrainian forces for their war against Russian-backed rebels, this is justification in itself for exploring this topic.

However, in line with the nature of this journal and the conviction of the author, the topic of just war will be discussed from a Christian perspective[2], something the president made no mention of (not that anybody expected him to do so). This observation in itself shows that the just war tradition is no monolithic entity, but that it has been influenced by several different ideological, religious and political streams.[3] From a Christian perspective, however, the question can be posed whether it is even possible to speak about just war without taking the justice of the God of Scripture into account. And an additional question would be what the consequences are when the justice of God is left out of the discussion. Or is Erich Freiberger correct when he says that some have mistakenly held just war theory for an exclusively Christian enterprise, and that the theorys roots in Ciceros stoic universalism has permitted the renaissance thinker, Hugo Grotius, to purge it of this Christian bias and phrase it in a more inclusive way?[4]

This article will start with a short historical overview of the just war tradition. Thereafter the specific principles of the just war tradition will be discussed. Finally, and most importantly, an attempt will be made to formulate a distinctive Christian emphasis in this tradition.





The purpose of this paragraph is to provide a brief historical overview of the most important figures in the just war tradition[5] as well as the concepts they employed to describe their view on this issue. These concepts are still used in modern day just war thinking, as is partially evidenced in President Obamas Nobel lecture, and it will therefore be beneficial to get an impression of the roots of this thinking. This paragraph will also serve as necessary background when discussing a contemporary Christian perspective.


For as long as people have fought there has been some form of guidelines and limitations on how war was to be waged, but the first one to use the term just war was the classical thinker, Aristotle (384-322 BCE). With this he meant that war and the martial virtues were not an end in themselves, but rather that there was a higher purpose, like peace and prosperity, behind war.[6] Other classical thinkers also expressed some early thoughts on what would later become part of the just war tradition. For example, in Platos Republic Socrates proposes that the Greeks should limit their ravages of the land for the sake of future peace.[7] The Roman thinker Cicero (106-43 BCE) developed these notions further in his On the Republic. A just war, he says, is a war waged for the sake of defense or to correct injustices committed against a nation. Such a war must be declared and this can only be done as a last resort, giving the enemy all the opportunity to right wrongs done by them.[8] Furthermore, only soldiers are allowed to fight, and the intention should not be destruction but the restoration of peaceful relations.[9] Thus, already in the classical thought of Aristotle, Plato and Cicero elements can be found of what would later become important principles in the just war tradition: the principles of just cause, intention and proportionality.


The just war tradition came to greater fruition in the Christian reflection of thinkers like Ambrose and Augustine. Ambrose (340-97 CE) clearly imitated Cicero while also adding a deeply religious conviction.[10] In addition to Ciceros thoughts Ambrose was convinced that war was undertaken for reasons of faith, including limiting the spread of heresy and defending the faith against pagans.[11]

Ambroses protégé, Augustine of Hippo, is considered by many to be the father of the just war tradition. Important in his view of just war, though not systematized in one particular work but rather scattered throughout his oeuvre[12], is his understanding of a passage like Matthew 26 (Jesus rebuke of Peter for taking up the sword). Augustine deals with this passage not from the perspective of the sanctity of life, but from the perspective of authority: who has the legitimate authority to take life? Of course, for Augustine, God is sovereign over life and death. But in two cases God delegates this authority to humans: firstly, God shares the authority to those in the position of government, and secondly this authority is shared with human beings when God explicitly commands it. Thus, when one is properly authorized to kill, one is not taking up the sword, but one is, as it were, given the sword, either by explicit command or by the governing authorities.[13]

Underlying Augustines thinking is his view that just war is a form of love, as Christians are instructed to love their enemies, not only in everyday life but also in the extraordinary circumstances of war. This position has everything to do with his position on self-defense, something Augustine clearly considers to be wrong. Christians refusal to defend themselves individually when attacked has the purpose of setting an example to their attackers and bringing them to repentance and reformation, and restoring the peace. Similarly, although seemingly contradictory, the purpose of waging a just war is having the unjust enemy turn from his wicked ways, make amends, and rejoin the community of peace and justice. In this sense Augustine can call a just war a form of love, a kind harshness.[14] For Augustine this determines both the cause and the intention of the just war.


The medieval monk, Gratian (12th century), who collected the official legal pronouncements and rulings by the church from the preceding centuries and published them with his own commentary, is the next step in this historical overview. Gratian identifies three causes, which qualify as just causes: to repel an unjust attack underway, to recover that which has been unjustly taken, and to avenge prior injuries. He also considered defense of the faith from heretics and pagans under the heading of a just cause for war. In answer to the question to whom the authority belongs to wage a just war, Gratian states thereby following Augustine that just wars may only be waged by the explicit command of God or by Gods delegates, the public authorities.[15]

Is the church such an authority? Two factors made this question particularly pertinent. Firstly, at that time there was no single, stable political entity with a monopoly on armies and weapons. Princes, kings and popes all struggled for authority with regard to both secular and churchly affairs. Secondly, this was the time of the Crusades, and these religious wars inevitably gave rise to the question of the authority of the church. Seeing that Gratian includes the defense of the faith under just causes, it is no surprise that he approves of the church instigating persecution of heretics and wars for the defense of the church. An interesting aspect that arose during this time is the requirement for soldiers to do penance, even those fighting in a just war. It is likely that the expectation of penance was born of the recognition that the moral life is difficult. It would be even more so in the midst of battle, and thus it is probable that even a just warrior may be guilty of some vice that ought to be confessed and healed.


Two other medieval theologians worth mentioning are Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) and Francisco de Vitoria (1485-1546) not because they formulated anything particularly novel, but for the way they were able to pull the different strands of the just war tradition together in a coherent whole. Aquinas identifies three criteria for a just war: legitimate authority, just cause, and right intention, and he subsequently works them out in the line of Augustine.

Vitorias pulling together of the tradition gave rise to the elements of what would later be known under the headings of jus ad bellum and jus in bello. A few aspects are worth highlighting. Although he acknowledges the authority of princes and kings to wage war, the opinions of the wise and the reliable, as well as the masses (rather than the opinion of the few), are very important for the declaration of war. In terms of the just cause, Vitoria repeats the traditional elements of what qualifies as a just cause, namely, repelling active aggression, recovering that which has been unjustly taken, and punishment (understood primarily as restoring the moral order). Based on this he distinguishes between defensive wars (defending or recovering possessions) and offensive wars (undertaken to avenge losses). Furthermore, Vitoria was one of the first to state that wars could not be waged over religion. Unbelief could not be considered to be a ground for waging a just war, unless a nation refused to permit the preaching of the gospel or attacked the Christian faith. Another important element of Vitorias teaching is the concept of proportionality this entails weighing the benefits against the tremendous costs (material, financial, human, and otherwise) involved in even a just war. The principle of proportionality applies both to the decision to go to war, as well as in waging war. Finally, he also discusses the principles of waging war justly. Elements like the immunity of the innocent, proper treatment of enemy combatants (POWs), the moral equality of soldiers, and the seizing of goods in victory all pass the revue.[16]


A final important figure that needs our attention is Hugo Grotius (1583-1645). Grotius lived in a time when the churchs public authority had diminished significantly. This gave rise to the question: how is war restrained in a world where Christian convictions are not shared? This leads Grotius to articulate two related but clearly distinct standards of morality in war. On the one hand, there are the precepts of the natural law and the law of nations. On the other hand, there are the demands of the new law embodied in the gospel. The natural law or the law of nations function as a kind of moral minimum, embodying the minimum standards of justice in war by which everyone can be expected to abide. In contrast to this are the precepts of the gospel, which are more demanding and are applicable primarily to Christians.[17] Another important aspect of Grotius view on just war is his expansion of the principle of just cause to include the so-called preemptive strike. Grotius says that an injury not yet inflicted, which menaces either person or property can be considered to be a just cause for war.[18] Grotius view of the natural law, functioning as the moral minimum for a just war, was eventually taken over and developed into international law.[19]





Even though brief, the previous paragraph still allows us to distill the main principles of the just war tradition. The purpose of this chapter is to do just that. In addition some Scriptural and practical perspectives will be given, and some probing questions posed. This is done, however, with the expectation that the next paragraph will be read in conjunction with this one, as it provides an important perspective.

In the thinking about just war the distinction between jus ad bellum (just resort to war) and jus in bello (just conduct in war) has become quite common to help categorize the different characteristics of a just war. According to Erich Freiberger just war theorists have, from the start, asked the questions when it was appropriate to go to war (jus ad bellum) and how the war should be fought (jus in bello).[20] ODonovan, however, clearly differs when he says that jus ad bellum and jus in bello are modern, not traditional, distinctions.[21] Judging by the historical overview, it seems that, although the technical terms might not have been used until fairly recently, the questions when it was appropriate to go to war (jus ad bellum) and how the war should be fought (jus in bello) was certainly asked from a very early stage. The terms jus ad bellum and jus in bello could therefore serve as helpful categories.


3.1 Jus ad bellum

The following principles are generally accepted to fall under the category of jus ad bellum:

Competent authority: the decision to go to war can only be made by that person, or body of persons, generally recognized to possess the authority to make such a decision, in other words that person with no political superior. Throughout the tradition the principle has been upheld that individual Christians are not allowed to repay evil with evil (Mt. 5:38, 43, 1 Pet. 3:9, 13-18). Romans 12:19-21 is probably the clearest example of this principle. However, the good hermeneutical principle of reading Scripture in its context, immediately takes the reader to Romans 13:1-5 although individuals are not allowed to avenge, as this is Gods prerogative (Rom. 12:19), He does this through the legal government (Rom. 13:4). The government carries the sword not only for internal affairs (police), but also for war with external parties (army). The governments authority to declare and wage war necessarily begs the question as to the individual responsibility of those called upon to carry out the war. Is it the task of every individual to double-check the government? This question is further complicated by the fact that the government is often not at liberty to divulge all the facts available to them. It is, therefore, generally accepted that, unless there are clear reasons for not going to war, the responsibility lies with the competent authority and not with the individual.

Just cause: traditionally three causes have been considered just, namely defense against an armed attack, recovery of persons or property that have been wrongfully taken, or punishment of evil. When the legal authority has decided that a cause qualifies as a just cause for going to war, it must set forth the reasons that impel it to war in order to demonstrate that all other means for peaceful resolution have been exhausted (the principle of last resort). Such a declaration serves, among other things, as an occasion for national reflection as to whether all means truly have been exhausted. A last remark regarding just cause is in order here: since the time of Hugo Grotius the issue of a preemptive strike has caused quite a debate, one which still has not been satisfactorily answered.

Intention: this characteristic addresses the inward disposition and internal motivation of those deciding to go to war. Of course, this is a characteristic with serious limitations. The ability to measure a persons or governments intention is limited. However, external factors might serve as evidence of a good intention: whether peace negotiations have been pursued honestly, whether reasonable demands have been posed, whether it is clear that no territorial expansion will be pursued, and whether the desire for vengeance and intimidation is absent.

Last resort: not even those authorized to declare war are justified in doing so if there be any reasonable means to avoid it. This means that the prevailing circumstances must clearly indicate that no means short of war would be sufficient to obtain satisfaction for just grievances or wrongs against the state. Scripture also gives an indication of this principle when it demands from the Israelites that, when they march up to attack a city, they make its people an offer of peace. If they accept and open their gates, all the people in it shall be subject to forced labor and shall work for you. If they refuse to make peace and they engage you in battle, lay siege to that city (Deut. 20:10-12).

Reasonable probability of success / proportionality: a war that presents little or no hope of serving as a vehicle for obtaining satisfaction for just grievances is not morally justifiable. The moral good expected to result from the war must exceed the amount of evil expected naturally and unavoidably to be entailed by war. So, it is important for the government to weigh the positives and the negatives of a particular war. Jesus says in Luke 14:31-32: Suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace. The end of violence, avoidance of future violence and the establishing of peace must, therefore, be the ultimate purpose of war.



3.2 Jus in bello

The following principles are generally accepted to fall under the category of jus in bello:

Discrimination: combatants as well as persons and/or things directly and materially co-operating in the war, are the only acceptable objects of violent action. Wounded soldiers, prisoners of war, clergy, women and children and the aged are usually considered to be non-combatants and may not intentionally be attacked. This principle is reflected in Deuteronomy 25:17-18: Remember what the Amalekites did to you along the way when you came out of Egypt. When you were weary and worn out, they met you on your journey and cut off all who were lagging behind; they had no fear of God. Here the Amalekites are punished for not distinguishing between combatants and non-combatants. This principle was part of the just war tradition from the earliest times.

Proportionality: this is the principle of using minimum force, with the purpose of bringing the conflict to a just conclusion as quickly as possible. This has implication for the use of torture to obtain information, and this also limits the kind of weapons being used. The principle of proportionality also has an eye on the future, where even the conquered should have prospects on a peaceful future. This principle also underlies the Lords order in Deuteronomy 20:19: When you lay siege to a city for a long time, fighting against it to capture it, do not destroy its trees by putting an ax to them, because you can eat their fruit. Do not cut them down. Are the trees of the field people, that you should besiege them?


These are not the only possible principles, and in the history of the just war tradition different persons have come up with different lists of principles. Other jus ad bellum principles that have been mentioned in the past include public declaration, comparative justice and peace as the ultimate objective of war. Good faith has sometimes been added to the list of jus in bello principles. However, the discussion above serves as a good reflection of what has, through the centuries, been accepted to be the most important principles for a war to be considered as a just war.




However, as George Weigel in his reflection on President Obamas Nobel lecture points out, there is the very real danger that these principles become a kind of checklist, that they are being used as hurdles which any government or head of state has to overcome successfully in order to morally justify the resort to armed force.[22] In this particular use of the just war tradition the starting position is taken in a presumption against war (or a pacifist premise) and a prima facie duty to do no harm to others.[23] Only when the moral hurdles have been overcome, is the taking up of arms justified. Weigel sees this position propagated by the Roman Catholic bishops of the United States in their 1983 pastoral letter The Challenge of Peace and reflected in President Obamas lecture.[24] However, he points out that the classic just war tradition did not begin with a presumption against war. The latter position only came up during the late 1960s, but is not representative of either Augustines or Thomas Aquinas positions.[25] But where did the classic just war tradition begin?

According to Weigel the classic just war tradition began with a passion for justice. The just-war way of thinking begins somewhere else: with legitimate public authoritys moral obligation to defend the common good by defending the peace composed of justice, security and freedom.[26] It is the task of the just prince to secure justice, security and freedom for those for whom he accepts political responsibility. Armed force is one of the ways to accomplish this. This position has been very ably defended by Oliver ODonovan in his book The Just War Revisited[27], and it provides a helpful gateway for discussing a fresh Christian perspective.[28]


4.1 Just war justice as the basis for war

ODonovan starts his first chapter by asserting the evangelical rejection of, what he calls, antagonistic praxis and its associated virtues, where mortal combat is part of the building of a society and where military heroes capture the imagination of a people.[29] Against this praxis a counter-praxis was demanded, which does not allow for duellum[30] (the simple and unmediated difference of two opposites) anymore, but where the confrontation of the two would be overcome with the rule of the one God in his unified kingdom.[31] In ODonovans vision both parties are placed before the throne of God, the only place where justice can be found.

However, the question is raised what the shape of this counter-praxis should be? If the praxis is violence and war, should the counter-praxis be peace? Peace in itself, ODonovan says, is not enough as counter-praxis to violence. Rather, what is needed is winning peace out of opposition, the service of reconciliation.[32] On the one hand this can happen within the community of believers, where enemies forgive each other and become brothers and sisters in the Lord. But on the other hand it can also happen within the secular community where it takes the shape of judgment. ODonovan calls this government-as-judgment, a political act that may also be exercised in response to the crime of war. In summary he says:

The outcome of this act of judgment, when it is successful, is like the outcome of every other successful act of judgment: a law, which regulates relations between the parties and provides the measure for their future peace. The evangelical counter-praxis to war, then, amounts to this: armed conflict can and must be re-conceived as an extraordinary extension of ordinary acts of judgment; it can and must be subject to the limits and disciplines of ordinary acts of judgment. In the face of criminal war making, judgment may take effect through armed conflict, but only as armed conflict is conformed to the law-governed and law-generating shape of judgment.[33]

In light of these words ODonovan prefers not to speak about just wars but about how to enact just judgment even in the theatre of war. And seeing that judgment has only the same material means available to it as the crime, armed conflict is the means required, because armed conflict is the means by which the crime of war is practiced.[34] Whereas Christian pacifism limits an active counter-praxis to within the boundaries of the community of believers, considering endurance and martyrdom to be the passive counter-praxis required in the secular theatre, ODonovan considers suffering and martyrdom to be the point where the possibilities of true judgment run out within the conditions of the world.

the duties which confront us do not begin with martyrdom; they end with it, when we have gone as far as we are permitted to go, done as much as we are permitted to do. Martyrdom is not, in fact, a strategy for doing anything, but a testimony to Gods faithfulness when there is nothing left to do. Which is simply to say that we cannot describe the praxis of international judgment solely by pointing to the moment at which its possibilities run out.[35]

God in his common grace has given governments the possibility to act out their institutionalized judgment (as can be clearly seen from Romans 13). Ordinarily this authority does not extend to the international sphere. However, justice in war stands in relation to the exercise of domestic justice as an emergency operation, performed in a remote mountain-hut with a penknife, stands to the same surgery performed under clinical conditions in a hospital.[36] The emergency forces this action, and hopefully this will lead to measures that will govern the ordinary situations and take away the need for constant extraordinary means. It is as though the operation improvised in the mountain-hut were a catalyst for the foundation of a network of cottage hospitals in remote areas, capable of providing immediate emergency care on a regular basis.[37] The eventual purpose is peaceful interaction between nations, based on accepted international laws.

Of course this emergency praxis of judgment is vulnerable and provisional, and there might be a point when judgment needs to be suspended and suffering embraced. But until that moment comes, the normal functioning of justice in any state has an extraordinary extension and an international moral analogy, where the crime of war can be justly countered with war. Here we find in its sharpest and most paradoxical form the thought that love can sometimes smite, and even slay.


4.2 Just war discipleship for the Christian church

To this form of love the church does not only call the lawful authority, but she also practices it herself. The Christian community is called to exercise and look for justice and love towards the neighbor in day-to-day life as we do our work, serve the strangers and the poor, raise our families and interact with friends. This same kind of faithful discipleship, that Christians are supposed to display in times of peace, should be extended to time of war. This is not a rule-based checklist that does not extend to life during time of peace, as the just war tradition has become for many, but an all-pervading way of life.[38]


This way of life is rooted in the Christian community, the church, with norms and confessions based on Scripture. This proves the importance of Christian soldiers being supported pastorally and materially by the church to which they belong. They need the community of faith to understand the will of God for them in time of war, and they need the community to carry them in prayer. It is also within the community of faith where they ought to see the same kind of lifestyle in ordinary life as they are trying to practice in the extraordinary theatre of war. For the purpose of just war is, in its essence, no different from the purpose of the rest of the Christian life, and this is to take up our cross and follow Christ, love God and serve our neighbors. This means that the just war tradition, as much as it is a guide to governments and leaders in making decisions, is also a rule of life for Christians in the face of war.


Speaking about a rule of life does not necessarily put the focus on rules, but on the formation of character and virtues. Rules and laws are not unimportant, but the Christian focus is certainly broader. Especially in time of war, when lives are in danger and split-second decisions have to be made, more is needed than simply following the rules. The folly of war does not allow for rules for every situation. This problem is deepened by new kinds of warfare and more advanced weaponry. And from a Christian perspective it becomes even more complicated when one acknowledges the apostle Pauls struggle, as described in Romans 7, that sinful humans often do not follow the rules, even when they have been reborn and have the desire to follow those rules.

This is what makes virtue and character so important it helps a person not only to act justly and lovingly on certain occasions, but also to do so habitually and characteristically. This is what happens within the Christian community. Taught by the Spirit, through the Word, and with the rest of the community of faith as examples, the believers become people of character. They become the proof of Gods answer to Pauls prayer in Philippians 1:9-10: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ. This is what characterizes the Christian soldier participating in a just war they show a kind of wisdom and insight how to act in specific situations in order to acquire what is good and just. The Spirit forms character that knows how to act under pressure and in the fog of war where ethics seems to be far away, character that is needed to sustain ones commitment to moral rules in the midst of war.[39]


In this paragraph the just war tradition has been shown to be both a guide for governments in the sphere of international politics, and a formative tool for Christian character within the community of believers. It does not only serve Gods justice in politics, which it certainly does, but it also serves the Christian life.




It is always easier to talk or write about ethical issues in theory than to apply them to a particular situation. On the one hand, the concrete situation is always more complex than the theory, and on the other hand, applying them to a particular situation forces one to draw consequences not necessarily appreciated by all. This is all the more the case in the ethical question of war, where national feelings, trauma and personal grief have a significant influence. However, one should not shy away from applying Scriptural ethical directives to the concrete situation of life. When I do this, it will be brief and fully my own.

Living in Ukraine during the past year and a half, following the news, and getting to know the political and cultural intricacies of Slavic history, I am convinced that the Ukrainian people are (or: have been, if the Minsk II peace agreement comes to full effect) fighting a just war against the aggression of Russia. The unlawful occupation of Crimea as well as the subtle aggression in the east of Ukraine is asking for justice to be restored (just cause). Before the throne of God, which is founded on righteousness and justice (Ps. 97:2), the Ukrainian government, accepted by most Ukrainians to be the lawful government, is authorized and called to right the wrongs done to them by the Russian government. Whether this will ever happen is to be seen. At the moment of writing they are showing their intention and their desire to apply the principle of last resort by seemingly abiding by the decisions of the Minsk II peace agreement.

All this being said, the detrimental influence of both the Russian and Western media in this situation needs to be acknowledged by all. A lot is written about the Soviet-style propaganda of the Russian media and its similarity with George Orwells 1984. However, the Western (and Ukrainian) media may, in the end, prove to be just as biased and intent on a (different) form of brainwashing as their Russian counterparts. Christians should take a balanced view in all of this, praying for wisdom to discern truth from lie, distinguishing between reporting of the facts and propaganda.


A final word for the church in Ukraine: the church should strive to be a community of disciples, following Christ, loving God and serving their neighbor, even in a situation of war and even when this neighbor proves to be an enemy. More than ever the church should refrain from political preaching, but rather teaching their members how to live as true believers in this situation where economic pressure is mounting and the clouds of war are looming showing Gods justice for the poor, the widow and the fatherless. The call for justice of the souls under the altar (Rev. 6:9-10) should be reflected in the works of justice of the believers. The church should be a just war people, fighting the battle of all battles, even on the field of war.





Bell, D.M., Just war as Christian discipleship. Recentering the Tradition in the Church rather than

the State (Michigan: Brazos Press, 2009).

Douma, J., Gewapende vrede [Ethisch kommentaar 6] (Kampen: Kok, 1980).

Freiberger, E. Just War Theory and the Ethics of Drone Warfare, http://www.e-ir.info/2013/07/18/just-war-theory-and-the-ethics-of-drone-warfare/, visited on 17 February 2015.

Grotius, H, De Jure Belli ac Pacis Libri Tres (Buffalo: Hein, 1995), transl. by F.W. Kelsey.

Mattox, K.M., St Augustine and the theory of just war (London / New York: Continuum, 2006).

Obama, B.H. A just and lasting peace, http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2009/obama-lecture_en.html, visited on 17 February 2015.

ODonovon, O., The Just War Revisited (Cambridge / New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

Plato, Republic (New York: Hackett Publishing, 1992), transl. G.M.A. Grube.

Robinson, P. (ed.), Just War in Comparative Perspective (Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2003).

Von Clausewitz, C., On War (London: Wordsworth, 1997), transl. by J.J. Graham.

Weigel, G., The Just-War tradition. Obamas Oslo speech presumes too much about a centuries-old intellectual tradition, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/228786/just-war-tradition-george-weigel, visited on 3 March 2015.

[1] Information and quotations from this speech are taken from the official website of the Nobel Prize, Nobelprize.com, http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/2009/obama-lecture_en.html, visited on 17 February 2015. There are, however, no references to page numbers as the lecture itself is unnumbered.

[2] This article will not discuss the ethical question whether war is right or wrong, but will proceed from the premise that the Bible does not disapprove of war in itself; see for a broader discussion of this question Douma, J., Gewapende vrede [Ethisch kommentaar 6] (Kampen: Kok, 1980).

[3] See Robinson, P. (ed.), Just War in Comparative Perspective (Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2003).

[4] Freiberger, E., Just War Theory and the Ethics of Drone Warfare, http://www.e-ir.info/2013/07/18/just-war-theory-and-the-ethics-of-drone-warfare/, visited on 17 February 2015, 2/9.

[5] Due to space limitations this overview will necessarily be short, and only the most important figures will be mentioned and / or discussed.

[6] Bell, D.M., Just war as Christian discipleship. Re-centering the Tradition in the Church rather than the State (Michigan: Brazos Press, 2009), 25-26.

[7] Plato, Republic, transl. G.M.A. Grube (New York: Hackett Publishing, 1992), 470 a-b.

[8] Mattox, K.M., St. Augustine and the theory of just war (London / New York: Continuum, 2006), 17.

[9] Bell, D.M., Just war as Christian discipleship, 26.

[10] See for more on Ambroses position on just war, Mattox, K.M., St. Augustine and the theory of just war, 19-23.

[11] Bell, D.M., Just war as Christian discipleship, 27.

[12] Mattox, K.M., St Augustine and the theory of just war, 4-5.

[13] Bell, D.M., Just war as Christian discipleship, 29-30.

[14] Bell, D.M., Just war as Christian discipleship, 30-31.

[15] Bell, D.M., Just war as Christian discipleship, 41-43.

[16] Bell, D.M., Just war as Christian discipleship, 48-53.

[17] Bell, D.M., Just war as Christian discipleship, 55-57.

[18] Grotius, H, De Jure Belli ac Pacis Libri Tres (Buffalo: Hein, 1995), transl. by F.W. Kelsey, II.22.10.1.

[19] See Freiberger, E., Just War Theory and the Ethics of Drone Warfare, 2/9; see also Bell, D.M., Just war as Christian discipleship, 61-63.

[20] Freiberger, E., Just War Theory and the Ethics of Drone Warfare, 2/9.

[21] ODonovan, O., The Just War Revisited, 15.

[22] Weigel, G., The Just-War Tradition, http://www.nationalreview.com/article/228786/just-war-tradition-george-weigel, visited on 24 February 2015, 1-2. See also Bell, D.M., Just war as Christian discipleship, 74 & 78-79, where the author distinguishes between just war as Public Policy Checklist (PPC) and just war as Christian Discipleship (CD).

[23] See also Bell, D.M., Just war as Christian discipleship, 87-89.

[24] Weigel, G., The Just-War Tradition, 2 traces this position back to a Congregationalist moral theologian, James Gustafson, who sold the idea (namely, that the just war way of thinking begins with a prima facie moral duty to do no harm) to a Quaker moral theologian, James Childress. He then, in turn, sold the notion to J. Bryan Hehir, the Roman Catholic theologian who was the chief architect of The Challenge of Peace.

[25] Weigel, G., The Just-War Tradition, 1-2.

[26] Weigel, G., The Just-War Tradition, 2.

[27] ODonovan, O., The Just War Revisited (Cambridge / New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003).

[28] See also the discussion by Bell, D.M., Just war as Christian discipleship, 87-89.

[29] ODonovan, O., The Just War Revisited, 4-5.

[30] See, for example, the definition given by Carl von Clausewitz in his classic On War, where he says that war is nothing but a duel on an extensive scale. If we would conceive as a unit the countless number of duels which make up a war, we shall do so best by supposing to ourselves two wrestlers. Each strives by physical force to compel the other to submit to his will: each endeavors to throw his adversary, and thus render him incapable of further resistance. War therefore is an act of violence intended to compel our opponent to fulfill our will (5).

[31] ODonovan, O., The Just War Revisited, 2 & 5.

[32] ODonovan, O., The Just War Revisited, 5.

[33] ODonovan, O., The Just War Revisited, 6.

[34] ODonovan, O., The Just War Revisited, 6-7.

[35] ODonovan, O., The Just War Revisited, 10.

[36] ODonovan, O., The Just War Revisited, 18.

[37] ODonovan, O., The Just War Revisited, 19.

[38] Bell, D.M., Just war as Christian discipleship, 74.

[39] Bell, D.M., Just war as Christian discipleship, 86.

Erik van Alten

Ph.D. candidate, Kampen, (2010-); M.Div., Theological School of the Free Reformed Churches in South Africa, 2004; M.A. Biblical Languages, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa, 2005; M.Th., Reformed Theological University, Kampen, Netherlands, 2005. Pastor of the Free Reformed Church, Pretoria-Maranatha, South Africa, 2005-2013. Teacher / missionary for the Reformed Church of the Netherlands (Reformed mission in Ukraine), 2013-.


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