Ethics of War



A Book Analysis
Presented to
Dr. Russell D. Moore
The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary


Holmes, Arthur F. ed. War and Christian Ethics 2nd Ed. Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 1975. 399 pp. $27.99.


“I am sorry.” As we were standing on the devastated highway in Kuwait in March of 1991, I fought back tears as I began to connect with an expatriate who had returned from the United States to help his country rebuild. In August 1990, Saddam Hussein’s Republican Guard invaded Kuwait over a generations long dispute of the sovereignty of this small nation. The devastation left by the American military after pushing the Iraqi army deep back into their own country was overwhelming. This young Kuwaiti national and I met on the now famous Highway of Death, a stretch of highway leading from Kuwait into Basra. The destructive power of the U.S. military was obvious here. It was as if the destruction was created for destruction sake. In other words, “We have the power, let’s use it.” The young man stood on this highway overlooking the carnage with sorrow in his eyes. He had returned to Kuwait to help rebuild and now he saw how much work there was to be done. The devastation of his country was highlighted here on this highway. As an American soldier, I felt somehow responsible for the emotions this man was going through. We were both overwhelmed by the sorrow around us, but from different perspectives. Mine because I felt partly responsible, him because this was his home. The guilt I felt was because of the power my country possessed to do anything she desired militarily. No one in the world could stand up to us and people died because of the military I belonged. Although I never actually killed anyone on the battlefield, I was surrounded by War’s devastation and that was enough. I was as close to the horrors of War as any Christian would want to be.

This compilation of Christian thinkers from across the centuries gives a thorough overview of ethical responses from every possible scenario of war. War is not pleasant. It is nasty. It is the result of humanity not being able to resolve their differences any other way. It is the last resort of any disagreement, when competing sides cannot resolve their conflict. But too often War can also be the first course of action taken by those seeking control. If the strength to conquer a people is present, often times too many evil men (and women…Bloody Mary) have taken the route of war for the sake of selfish gain.

Luther and the Christian Response to War

Martin Luther followed the just war theory where certain war is necessary but is never celebrated. The Christian response to war is not to celebrate the destruction, but rather to weep over it. Luther’s thesis on the role of the Christian soldier rests in the motivation of that soldier’s duties. If the soldier approaches his duty with honor and dignity, striving to serve those in authority for the glory of God, then his actions in War are justifiable. Even though the destruction, the killing, the stabbing, the shooting are most definitely horrible, these actions are part of War and are unspeakable. The Christian cannot every take pleasure in these things and most definitely will struggle emotionally over these acts. Yet he is serving well when he does his best all the while avoiding evil pleasure in war (142).

Romans 13:1 says that God gives governing authorities their power. All human authority is from God. Although men can distort that authority for selfishness, they inevitably fail in their attempts to wage unjustifiable war. The Christian ethic on war follows Romans 13:4 where Paul teaches that governing authorities are God’s servant for good. Those who do wrong will face the sword of those in authority. This verse states that the sword is not born in vain and God’s servant carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer. It is very clear that war is for the purpose of putting down evil. There are times when war is justified and the justification must focus on punishing evil.

Luther gleans this position from these verses as he seeks to justify the role of the Christian soldier. The Christian who fights is God’s servant if that fight is good. All he does, whether it be working in a factory or carrying a weapon should be done to the best of his ability in order to glorify God. God’s assigned caretakers of the sword always overtake those who take up the sword unnecessarily. Those who would fight unnecessarily are like a physician who amputates a limb for the reason that he can do it not in order to save the entire body. Punishment finds the one who uses force for the sake of selfish power. They can never escape God’s judgment and wrath. Luther apparently feels this way about the peasants’ revolt of his day. The peasants were unjustified in taking up the sword and were defeated. Luther sees this as God’s judgment on the whole affair. “In the end God’s justice finds them and strikes, as happened to the peasants in the revolt” (144).

Governing authorities are the ones who wage war, not the soldier. He is simply performing an honorable duty that must be done. It does not mean that the soldier takes joy in war. On the contrary, it is the soldier who most wants to avoid war, because it is the soldier who experiences firsthand the horrors of it. This is a good place to be, especially for the Christian. Justified War is war nonetheless and it should end quickly rather than slowly. There is not joy in war. But war is a duty to God to crush evil. However, it should always be remembered that this duty comes from God and should be treated with the proper respect.


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