Reflections of a Broken Man

On Just War: Part II – Alternatives by StephenMac

** Currently listening to So Long, So Long – DBC**

Why a moral just war theory? Why not? What are the alternatives?

1. Alternative approaches to war

As mentioned last post, just war theory in one sense sits between two moral extremes – realism and pacifism. Realism is a political science term that has at it’s centre the idea of realpolitik or political prudence. In layman’s terms, whatever gets the job done goes. Realism’s central aim is the preservation and survival of the state, and it will do whatever it needs to to maintain that survival: in a word, prudence. In contrast to just war theory, realism holds that the political and the moral are completely different spheres of thought, and therefore should not overlap. While realism is aware of the “moral significance of political action”, it does not believe that morality should limit action, especially when the state’s survival is at stake. As such, realism will advocate a dual morality: a morality of the individual, and a morality of the state. The individual can say that murder is wrong at a personal level, but this should not filter into the state level, or at least in the same way.

At the other extreme is pacifism. Pacifism argues that all war is inherently immoral, and therefore cannot and should not be fought. Realistically, a majority of pacifist thought comes from a Christian standpoint, based most usually on Jesus’ command to turn the other cheek. There are two main types: deontological and consequential. Deontological pacifism argues “that there are no situations, real or imaginary, in which resort to war would be the lesser evil” (Bellamy, Just Wars: 279-280). In other words, war involves killing, and killing is inherently wrong, therefore war is inherently wrong. As such, they advocate “passive non-resistance” and alternatives to war. It is important to note that modern Christian deontological pacifists have become somewhat more consequentialist. Rather than war is “inherently wrong”, they argue that there are situations which could theoretically exist in which war may be permissible, yet “the moral constraints on war are interpreted in such a way as to make it highly unlikely that any war would meet the criteria” (Bellamy, Just Wars: 294). More recently, the Christian perspective has moved in this direction, with the US Catholic Bishops (The Challenge of Peace), and the Anglican Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams (The Just War Revisited) both advocating a “presumption against war” or a “presumption against violence”, which argues that the Christian scriptures argue first for a peaceful settlement of disputes, and in “exceptional cases” some use of force is permitted (determined by the principles of just war theory).

Consequential pacifists would argue that it’s not war per se that’s wrong, but rather it’s modern form. They would argue that war is theoretically possible, but modern warfare involves the killing of innocents, and the killing of innocents is wrong, therefore modern warfare is wrong. In difference to deontological pacifists, it’s not that killing is wrong, but the killing of innocents is wrong, and modern warfare inherently involves these innocents. If the nature of warfare were to change, then war would be morally possible, whereas the deontological pacifist would say that war itself is wrong, and can never meet the criteria of being moral.


On Just War: Part I – Starting Points by StephenMac

**Currently listening to: This is a Low – Blur… I so love the Glastonbury version of this…**

It’s been a while since I’ve posted anything, so I thought I might return to my roots… I overheard a 4th year convo on Just War, and remembered that this is what brought me to college in the first place. Two years on, we’ll see if anything has changed much.

What is Just War Theory?

Just War Theory in short is a normative (what should be) and prescriptive (what should be done) approach to the study of conflict. It is a moral approach (not legalistic, as will be argued later) that makes judgements on what should be and what should be done on the basis of what is right and what is wrong. Quite simply, it is a framework for the moral fighting of war. It is not really a theory in the literal sense, rather, it is a practical framework: a set of principles that provide governments and individual soldiers alike a moral and ethical structure for the waging and limitation of war (O’Donovan** – Just War Revisited, p. 6).

Why is it needed?

This moral framework seeks to limit war. It begins with a pessimistic view of human nature, and therefore assumes that war will happen. As such, just war theory as Jean Bethke Elshtain describes it, is a “tragic necessity“. The state of affairs of Micah 4:3 is eschatological, and so we need to find a way to limit war.

There are two approaches to war in political science: Realism argues that if war is the natural state of affairs, then war should be fought without any restraint to ensure victory (prudence). Pacifism argues that war is inherently immoral, and therefore should not be fought at all. There is a problem: realism’s ‘amorality’ fails to allow for restraint, while pacifism’s extreme morality fails to provide any way forward for the moral conduct of war. Realism therefore descends into immorality, while pacifism risks “inadvertently conceding a free hand to those who support the war to execute it free of moral restraints” (BellamyIs the War on Terror Just?, p. 281). Just War Theory attempts to straddle the two, realising the need to conduct war, while demanding that there be moral limits.

A Moral Framework?

There are a couple of principles that are necessary to provide a foundation for a moral Just War Theory (as opposed to a legalistic one):

The first principle is the importance and worth of the individual. Just War insists on the limiting of violence and suffering. Why? Because the individual has worth, and that their suffering is undesirable if not completely wrong. In this regard, accounts of war in terms of prudence (realism) do not sufficiently explain why there is such an emphasis on limiting war’s effects. Where does the individual gain his worth from, and why is life respected? The Christian worldview provides such a perspective: individuals, men and women, are created in the image of God. It is a description of the way that God made humanity, in the likeness of his character. Anything that harms that creation, like suffering and death, therefore tarnishes the image of God, and is therefore inherently evil (wrong).

Similarly, the importance of the individual means that any account of political science must portray, even in part, the agency of individuals in the international realm. In this way, accounts of war that focus purely on the state neglect the role of the individual. From the outset, just war theory has placed the individual in a position of responsibility, be it the leaders (the prince or the prime minister) or the soldier. The responsibility and accountability of the individual is an assumption that remains at the heart of just war theory, and underpins many of the principles that it espouses. Why is this so? Amongst other things, theologian John Stott explains that God created humanity with the ability to be rational and moral (Stott – Issues Facing Christians Today, p. 62). How else would they be able to both understand and respond to God’s commands? The implication is that if humanity is both rational and moral, then it is also responsible and accountable. Humans are free to make decisions as they will, and as such, are subject to moral praise and blame. While “the Fall” (the break in the perfect relationship with God and the corruption of sin upon the world) may diminish humanity’s capacity to be perfectly moral or rational, this does not mean that it is not responsible or accountable. Responsibility and accountability may be diminished, but not completely denied. Rather, it is in the context of the Fall that Elshtain makes the comment that war is “tragically necessary” – in a world that is corrupted by sin, the oft-quoted idea of ‘beating swords into plowshares’ is eschatological and not of this age, and conflict is something that will continue to be.



On “The Defense of the Faith” – Part II: Christian Theology by StephenMac

**Currently listening to Never Take Friendship Personal – Anberlin. I finally brought all my CDs from home in to college, but still can’t go past the favs…**

OK, poor start to the series. I labelled the first post “Part I”, but van Til labels it a mere introduction. Hence, “Part II” is actually chapter 1… go figure.

van Til argues that to understand his apologetics, you must understand “the structure of his thought”… which is the Reformed system of doctrine. And so we begin with the six points of reformed Doctrine:

  1. Doctrine of God
  2. Doctrine of Man
  3. Doctrine of Christ
  4. Doctrine of Salvation
  5. Doctrine of Church
  6. Doctrine of Last Things (eschatology… but Last Thingy sounds better)

**Switch in music… Lost in the Sounds of Separation – Underoath… was planning on podcasts with Earng and Gardner, but too difficult to listen and type at the same time**

I think what has struck me is that to be involved in apologetics, you need to know what you are defending. And as van Til points out, we are defending “Christian-theism as a unit”. What this means is that if you are doing walk-up, you must speak of the Christian God, and not god in general. To an atheist, you must speak to him of the Christian God. van Til’s point is that you can’t defend Christianity (the historical religion) apart from Christian theism (which involves philosophical discussion).

This Christian theism is known as “doctrine”. And van Til argues that to speak of doctrine, you must speak in the language of philosophy. Yet this language is not divorced from the Bible (it is not an appeal to reason or experience), but is deeply Defense_of_the_Faithgrounded in it. Therefore, this system of truth, this Christian theism, this doctrine is what Christianity is founded upon, and it is this that we present, and it is this that we defend.

This feels esoteric at the moment. But, think about when you do walk-up. What questions do you ask, and what points do you defend? What words, or concepts, or worldviews do you present. If you are talking to an atheist, you cannot use theistic arguments to first convince them of the existence of God, then move to the reformed view of salvation. No, your first and only argument is the reformed view of the existence of God, and the the reformed view of salvation: our first and only apologetic must be the reformed Christian apologetic, which van Til points out is in opposition to Romanist and Arminian apologetics.

This I still feel somewhat uneasy with, if only for the labels. To defend a reformed or evangelical doctrine (which I do in practice) is fine, but to label it that means that I am automatically emphasising a division in Christianity. That division does truly exist (doesn’t mean I have to like it though).

Second, I think we need to be conscious about our reformed evangelical faith. We are not merely Christian, but Reformed Evangelical Christians, bound to the Scriptures, but influenced by those who have gone before us like Luther, like Calvin, and like van Til. And so as we do our evangelism, our teaching, our encouraging and growing, we hold  must hold that we are doing this in the Reformed Tradition. Sure, “tradition” is a pejorative word that the reformers held against the Romanists, yet it is what we hold to be true.

Thirdly and finally, van Til argues,

it is shown first that it is the Reformed Faith, not some common denominator “core” of Christianity, that must be defended. (p. 43)

What does this mean for its authority? Sure, van Til argues that this Reformed Faith is biblically based, but is it infallible or inerrant (despite the problems of those terms). I hold the Bible is unswervingly and always true, my yardstick for any question of “truth”. But can I say the same about the “Reformed Faith”? I hold it to be true, but is that a mere mortals interpretation? Or does it too have the same authority? My guess is probably not, but it’s the best we got so far… “but I could be wrong…


On “the Defense of the Faith” – Part I: An Introduction by StephenMac

**Currently listening to Champagne from a Paper Cup – Death Cab for Cutie**

So I thought it time that I blog something productive. I’m currently reading The Defense of the Faith by Cornelius van Til. This series will hopefully become a summary and reflection on the ideas that are raised by van Til.

The first thing to note is that this book is a polemic. As the title suggests, it is a defensive response by van Til to critics of his work. However, it was both eye-opening and interesting to read that what van Til is defending is the “reformed” faith, and not the faith in general. So often in today’s apologetics, and evangelism, we think of bringing people to faith in Christ, but usually in general “Christianity” terms. When we chat about Christ, we may speak in reformed terms, but rarely are we conscious of it. I have never considered myself as “reformed” (by this, I mean that I am never consciously thinking of myself by that label, though I am wholeheartedly reformed in my theology), but van Til’s book raises the point that the reformed faith is what we should stand up for. For example, when we evangelise, we evangelise people into the reformed faith, and not some other form of the Christian faith. How often are we conscious of this?

Second idea in the first chapter is that van Til is very conscious of using secular philosophical terms and redefining them. We’ll discuss this further next time, but I was interested to see that most of the criticism that was levelled against van Til was because he describes himself as doing reformed faith apologetics, or for using secular philosophical terms with Christian meanings.

It is with these two themes in mind that van Til writes. Part II discusses the “reformed” theology, and how this forms the basis for apologetics.


Life in a world without religion by StephenMac
August 19, 2008, 9:45 pm
Filed under: Reflections | Tags: , , , , , ,

I was lucky enough this evening to hear the IQ2 Debate on the question”The world would be better off without religion”. For those who like spoilers, here are the results:

    • Before the debate: 55% for, 11% undecided, 34% against
    • After the debate: 54% for, 10% undecided, 36% against

Praise be to God for that 2% swing! I am reminded that numerically, that is a very small number, but to God, that is at least one person who is moving towards Him, that is at least one person whom He died for acknowledging in part His existence. This should fill us with joy!

Obviously, the debate concluded that the motion was passed, yet I think it is fair to take even a small victory in that.

But, and there is always a reservation, there are a number of things that struck me.question-mark Firstly, praise God for Dr. John Lennox, the only Christian speaker, and though I’m biased, the most convincing speaker. He spoke the truth faithfully, did not resort to cheap shots unlike SMH columnist Richard Ackland (who was nothing but offensive and rude in his comments, and rightly chastised by negative speaker Prof. Suzanne Rutland who pulled him up for his offensive comments. It was disappointing to hear the audience response of laughter and cheering as he made his “jokes” at the expense of the disabled and mentally ill – which he equated with those who were religious), but humbly reminded the audience that there must be a difference between what is written (and what God expects of His people) and the horrific events that are perpetrated in the name of Christ. As a Northern Irishman, he probably knows that better than most.

Secondly, it was disappointing for the debate to remain purely academic. There was only minor, and often weak, references to religion being personal. Even John Dickson, who asked a question during question time, merely reminded the audience of the debate rules – that to make the win the debate, the affirmative side had to prove that religion has done more harm than good. This, while true, still makes the debate academic, and not personal. Prof. Rutland made the saddening comment that she didn’t care which religion you belong to – that is a product of your social upbringing – but faith and belief in a higher something is what is needed. This was the sum total of the personal aspect of religion. There was a comment from the house by a gentleman, a very strong Christian by the sound of it, who made the unfortunate mistake of making his comments at the top of his voice, practically shouting at the audience that he and everyone else in the room, was going to die and be judged, and that he was glad he had a Saviour to save him. True, but not very sensitive… (but should the message be watered down? No, but I don’t think his approach was very helpful). Perhaps I shouldn’t be so judgemental, but I was genuinely shocked and embarrassed by his rant… This I need to figure out better how to deal with.

Thirdly, it was disappointing that the negative were split in their position. There was a “spiritual agnostic” (Professor Ian Plimer, Emeritus Professor of Earth Sciences at the University of Melbourne and Professor of Mining Geology at the University of Adelaide), an “academic Jew” (Prof. Suzanne Rutland, Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Hebrew, Biblical & Jewish Studies at the University of Sydney and the main lecturer in the program of Jewish Civilisation, Thought and Cultures, who advocated a “religion as a blankie” approach) and a Christian (Dr. John Lennox). Such a divided team against a united atheistic team meant that the argument had to remain on “religion” in general, even though the atheists were taking swipes at the “Judeo-Christian” God.

I found the overall debate quite disappointing, filled with nothing but high level theoretical or scientific “proofs”, or sweeping generic statements, or simple insults or rhetoric (both of which are empty). Is this were religion stands today? Is this all that people think of it? I read the “Your Say” section of the SMH on the issue: so much of the atheism in the world is caused by those who do evil in the name of Christ. And people therefore conclude – how can a loving God exist in a universe filled with such evil? How can God exist when I do not experience his presence? The condemnation of us as Christians is worth noting. On Sunday, I preached on the topic relationships, and how Philippians 2:14-16 pleads with us, that our relationships may stand out, shining like stars in the universe, as we hold out the word of life. Imagine (a theme continually raised in the debate) if the world experienced Christians who had attitudes like that of Christ Jesus:

6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
and became obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

How many atheists would still hold to the claim that they do not experience God’s presence, in light of the body of Christ living as it should, shining like stars, holding out the word of life to them?

Praise God for that 2%, who heard the word of life God spoke through Dr. Lennox and others, for the conversations that will take place as a result, and for the marvelous work of Christ that made it all possible.