Christian Attitudes to War, Peace, and Revolution

I’ve been working on a really interesting read lately called Christian Attitudes to War, Peace and Revolution by John Howard Yoder. As the description on the page I just linked said, Yoder is one of the leading theologians on just war theory and pacifism. It looks like a very academic book, and it is in terms of its content, but not really in its style. It’s a very easy read. You would probably want to know some general Christian theology terms, but nothing really that deep isn’t explained well within the book, and similar for general eras of history of the past 2000 years, but nothing you wouldn’t know by the end of high school. Generally speaking, anybody who is interested could read this book, not just Masters students such as myself.

He himself tends toward the Anabaptist view, as a Mennonite who taught at a Mennonite university, but I think the thing that I am loving the most about this book so far is how well he explains the genuine logic behind a lot of different positions. Some of those are peace positions: other than the most prominent Anabaptists, there was also the early church, much of the medieval church, the Quakers, many Liberal Protestants, etc. While they all end up supporting the peace position, there are a variety of different reasons why they came to that conclusion.

He also provided a great look at the development of the counter-position, just war theory, from its development soon after Constantine up to the Protestant Reformation. Another thing that I found very cool is that the medieval church did mostly use Just War Theory the way it was intended, as a check against war. It wasn’t really until the Reformation that Just War Theory started being seen as a mandate, encouraging Christians to fight a war if it could be argued as just. It isn’t hard to imagine how that quickly moved into a lot of wars being claimed as just, such as Iraq (I’d claim it isn’t, even by Just War Theory, but I’m sure some readers will disagree). And at that point Just War Theory isn’t a check against war, it is a motivation for war. I think I had somewhat assumed that Just War Theory had always been abused, so that was an interesting revelation to me that this was not really so until the Reformation. He also throws in a couple of chapters on non-Christian pacifism, specifically humanism and medieval Judaism, which were also very interesting to see how others came to the peace position outside of the Christian framework.

So I’ll continue reading this book, but I also return to classes soon, so I imagine it might be a while before I finish. In the meantime, I wanted to post this up as a recommendation to those who are wrestling with this question.

Ryan Robinson

It is easiest to identify Ryan as both theologian and tech guy. By day, Ryan is a Technical Consultant work with PeaceWorks Technology Solutions. There, he works on websites, CRMs, and SharePoint implementations. Along with blogging here, Ryan is a founding member of the MennoNerds blogging network and a contributor to the book A Living Alternative.