Is War Ever Justified?

Posted on July 16, 2013 at 11:21 am,

This is the latest in a series of posts critiquing Wayne Grudem’s book Politics According to the Bible. Today we’re looking at the start of chapter 11, which deals with Defence Policy. Grudem begins with a brief overview of Christian views on the issue of war. He doesn’t discuss the medieval view that Christians could wage holy wars (crusades) in the name of Christianity. This is probably because nobody holds such a view today. He does, however, discuss the two major views on the issue that are held today: Just War theory and Pacifism.


Pacifism is the view that war is always wrong, and a pacifist is somebody who refuses to fight. Grudem rejects this view. He begins by briefly dismissal one pacifist view that’s related to the idea that all government is demonic, which he dealt with back at the start of the book. He then goes on to discuss some of the other arguments that Christians should be pacifists. Whilst he dismisses them all, the case for pacifism is stronger than he believes.

Turn the other cheek

This argument is, basically, that Jesus’s commandment to turn the other cheek in Matthew 5:39 means that his followers cannot be involved (at least actively) in military combat. Grudem’s response is to say that Romans 13:4 commands government to “bear the sword”, implying that it is not always wrong for government to wage war. He also points out that, in Luke 22:36, Jesus told his followers to carry a sword. On the first point, it can be argued that the passage in Romans refers to crime and punishment, rather than war. On the second, it is worth noting that there is a lot of debate about how Jesus intended that sentence to be taken.

Love your Neighbour

This argument is that loving our neighbour is incompatible with waging war against them. Grudem responds by saying that loving our neighbour may mean waging war to protect them from aggressors. He also points out that this command was also found in Leviticus 19:18, and yet it did not prevent God from commanding Israel to wage war a number of times in the Old Testament.

Waging war means failing to trust God

Grudem begins his response to this one by saying that God has authorised governments to use deadly force against evil (Romans 13:1-4 again), and so that this argument is akin to trusting God to provide food whilst ignoring the command to work for a living. He mentions that Jim Wallis (in his book God’s Politics) has suggested that America’s military-focused approach to terrorism is based primarily on fear. Grudem rejects that, saying that it is possible to trust that God will use the military to protect us from terrorism. This response is more avoiding the specific charge than properly responding to it.

He also dismisses Wallis’s suggestion that things like a world court, international law, and global police forces would be more effective ways for nations to protect themselves. Grudem’s counter-arguments are that world government has never existed (although Wallis isn’t proposing anything more than tweaks to existing international institutions), that it would be anti-American because that’s how the world is currently made up (suggesting that – given the choice – Grudem would put national-self influence above the common good), and that it would require nations to give up their individual sovereignty (not realising that current international agreements, such at the World Trade Organisation, already require their members to surrender a lot of their national sovereignty).

Violence begets violence

This argument is that using force to deal with force is a viscous cycle -responding to military and terrorist attacks with force will simply lead to violent retaliation after violent retaliation. Grudem’s response sidesteps the charge. He firstly says that “violence” refers to two different things – the morally good use of force to stop evildoers, and the morally wrong use of force to attack innocent people. He then says that arguments along the lines of “we could have stopped Saddam Hussein by non-military means” are wishful thinking – amounting to “if things had happened differently, they would support my case”.

Grudem’s arguments do not acknowledge that wars are often morally ambiguous. Even in a relatively uncontroversial war like World War Two, you can find examples of force being used by the “good guys” to hurt innocents (e.g. Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki). He doesn’t acknowledge that there are many examples of the cycle of violence that pacifists talk about (Northern Ireland and Israel being perhaps the most well-known examples). It even happens to some degree with conventional wars – often in history, grievances from one war are part of the reason or justification for starting the next (e.g. World War One and World War Two).

Just War

Grudem puts forward a number of arguments why governments should, in some circumstances, use military force. He also outlines the historical view of what makes a war a “Just War” (i.e. one that is justified)

Bearing the sword

Grudem cites 1 Peter 2:14 and Romans 13:4, where God allows government to punish evildoers. The verse in Romans uses the phrase “bear the sword”. Grudem says that this principle must also apply to defending a nation against foreign armies who would kill, conquer, and subjugate a nation. He cites a number of examples in the Old Testament, where the nation of Israel had to do just that, and a couple of times where God commanded the war. He also points out that the sixth commandment in Exodus 20:13 (traditionally rendered as “thou shalt not kill”) would be better translated as “you shall not murder”, and so does not rule out fighting a war.

Just War Criteria

In pretty much the only part of the book where Grudem engages with historical theology (i.e. what Christians have believed throughout history), Grudem outlines the criteria that are often used to determine whether fighting a particular war is just or not. He borrows a passage from the essays in the back of the ESV study bible. I’ll just outline the points in a list.

Reasons for going to war

  1. Just cause (is the reason morally right – e.g. to defend a nation)
  2. Competent authority (essentially, has it been declared by the rightful government or not)
  3. Comparative justice (is it clear that your side is in the right and the enemy is in the wrong)
  4. Right intention (is the purpose to protect justice & righteousness, or to rob, pillage, and destroy)
  5. Last resort (have all reasonable alternatives been exhausted?)
  6. Probability of success (can the war be won?)
  7. Proportionality of projected results (will the good results of winning be better than the harm and loss caused by the fight?)
  8. Right spirit (is it undertaken with great reluctance and sorrow at the harm that will come, rather than with a delight in war?)

Conduct during a war

  1. Proportionality in the use of force (no greater destruction should be used than that necessary to win)
  2. Discrimination between combatants and non-combatants (are you doing the best to ensure that civilians and neutral parties are not being harmed?)
  3. Avoidance of evil means (are you treating prisoners of war with justice and compassion?)
  4. Good faith (are you genuinely seeking to restore the peace and eventually live in harmony with the attacking nation?)


Grudem obviously thinks that the Just War approach is far superior to Pacifism. Whilst I agree that there are too many times in the Bible where God approves of particular wars to say that Christians should be pacifists, I think that several of the arguments for pacifism are strong. My view is that Christian politicians should probably try to argue for pacifist approaches to most situations, whilst acknowledging that there can be such a thing as a Just War. If individual Christians are called upon to fight, it should be a matter of individual conscience.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By July Round-Up – Green Christian on July 30, 2013 at 11:35 am

    […] I posted my recent piece on whether Christians should be pacifists, I came across a discussion of pacifism in the early […]

  2. […] Afghanistan were just wars. We had a brief look at the criteria used to assess this situation in a Previous Post, so let’s just get down to how Grudem justifies […]

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