@TheIRD, Bonhoeffer and War

Over on the IRD’s blog, Juicy EcumenismKeith Pavlischek writes about his thoughts on pacifism while reading Eric Metaxas’ biography of Dietrich BonhoefferBonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy. Pavlischek writes,

Moreover, Metaxas tells us that Bonhoeffer and many in the German military high command were expecting that the coming invasion of Czechoslovakia would enable a military coup against Hitler. According to Metaxas, “Bonhoeffer knew a coup was imminent.” But that assumed Czech and European military resistance to the aggression. And then came Chamberlain, the “peaceful” annexation of the Sudetenland and…”peace in our time” and all that. (p. 312)

Which is something for our pacifist friends to think about.


Another passage worth pondering has Metaxas relating Bonhoeffer’s views in mid-October 1939 immediately following the Nazi invasion of Poland:

And what Bonhoeffer now knew would make him feel more alone than ever because many in the church and ecumenical world were expending great energies toward ending the war. But Bonhoeffer was not. He now believed that the principal goal was to remove Hitler from power. Only afterward could Germany negotiate for peace. Knowing what he knew, any peace with Hitler was no better than war. But he couldn’t say such things, even in ecumenical circles.
 (p. 350)

Again, something for our pacifist friends to think about.

The problem with Pavlischek’s comments is he relies on the words of Eric Metaxas, and not Bonhoeffer. Let us turn to the words of Bonhoeffer. In his discussion on the Sermon on the Mount in Discipleship, Bonhoeffer writes,

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.” Jesus’ followers are called to peace. When Jesus called them, they found their peace. Now they are not only to have peace, but they are to make peace. To do this they renounce violence and strife. Those things never help the cause of Christ. Christ’s kingdom is the real of peace, and those in Christ’s community greet each other with a greeting of peace. Jesus’ disciples maintain peace by choosing to suffer instead of causing other to suffer. They preserve community when others destroy it. They renounce self-assertion and are silent in the face of hatred and injustice. That is how they overcome evil with good. That is how they are makers of divine peace in a world of hatred and war. But their peace will never be greater than when they encounter evil people in peace and are willing to suffer from them. Peacemakers will bear the cross with their Lord, for peace was made at the cross. Because they are drawn into Christ’s work of peace and called to the work of the Son of God, they themselves will be called children of God. (Discipleship, 108)

The other thing that Pavlischeck seems to miss is Bonhoeffer’s response to his participation in the Abwehr plot to assassinate Hitler. As the editors of the English Edition to Discipleship write,

Bonhoeffer’s advocacy for the restoration of peace, forbearance, and Christian community in Nazi Germany that he weaves into the text of Discipleship was both daunting and unpopular. Yet he was not, as history and statements from his Ethics have shown, uncompromising about using violence to prevent the greater evil of war and genocide. But even in the matter of political conspiracy, he associated the well-intentioned acts of violence against the evil government of Adolf Hitler with sin, guilt, and the need for repentance. (Discipleship, 15)

Just something for Keith Pavlischeck to think about!

29 thoughts on “@TheIRD, Bonhoeffer and War

  1. Thanks for your comments on my brief reflection on Barth and Bonhoeffer. I have a couple questions.
    You say that “the problem” with my post is that I rely on the words of Metaxas. Why is that a “problem?” It would seem to be a “problem” only if Metaxas is wrong or seriously distorting Bonhoeffer’s position, at least on this point. Is he wrong or seriously misleading, in your view? If so, how so?

    Metaxas says that at this time Bonhoeffer (and Barth) clearly believed a “peace with Hitler” was worse than war. Metaxas’ narrative clearly demonstrates that he consistently preferred a military defeat of Hitler to a “peace” that would leave the regime in place. Do you contest this interpretation?

    You will note that Bonhoeffer’s position necessarily entails the support of MILITARY RESISTANCE against the Nazi military aggression. That is to say, Bonhoeffer was not “anti-war, or, as I said in my post he was “anti-anti-war” You can’t say on the one hand that you are (1) anti-war and (2) you support war against Nazi aggression. Hence, it seems to me that Bonhoeffer was not “anti-war,” per se, and he believed in the use of military force in a just cause. Am I wrong, here?

    All this suggests that we need a complex understanding of what “peace” means and entails, and at the very least “peace” can’t simply mean the “absence of war.” It would also mean that war is, at times, morally preferable to “peace.” Do you agree with Bonhoeffer that war is at times morally preferable to peace?

    I note that you quote a commentary on Bonhoeffer’s Discipleship. Should that be treated as a “problem” as well? The authors clearly state that Bonhoeffer was “not uncompromising about using violence to prevent the greater evil of war and genocide.” That is an interesting turn of phrase because it says Bonhoeffer was really “compromising about using violence to prevent the greater evil of war and genocide.” Do you agree with Bonhoeffer on this? Do you believe we should be “compromising” when it comes to using violence?

    If we should be “compromising” about using violence, one would think that you should lay out the conditions under which the use of lethal force would be morally permissible. What would they be? Would those conditions look a little bit like the jus ad bellum and jus in bello? Can a true anti-war pacifist really advocate the use of “violence” when the going gets tough (genocide?).
    Again, thanks for your comments on my post.

    • Greetings Keith,

      Thanks for visiting us and taking the time to expound upon your post for a conversation.

      I think that Metaxas is to eager to use Bonhoeffer for conservative evangelical ends. DB fits no where in that system, or the liberalism of left wing seminaries. What Bonhoeffer argues in ETHICS is that first, we must realize that we do not know right from wrong, and as such, we don’t know how to behave. This is why we need revelation, or Christ as our ethical norm. Now, the IRD’s interpretation of the Just War Theory has been argued in recent months, “What about Hitler?” Hitler This, Hitler that! Hitler has became the guiding ethical principle for those wishing to make war/defend the making of war. This by itself is problematic. Christ should be our question first, and then our human situations next. That reason why I doubt the IRD’s faithfulness to the Just War Tradition is because of the lack of discussion of the Just War Criteria put out by historical Just War Christians. NT Wright is a Just War Christian, and he opposed the War in Iraq on Just War grounds. So not every opponent of a war is a pacifist in the first place. IRD has missed the point of Just War all together, on one hand, that the JWT is a Christian theological tool to limit war. This is exactly why John Howard Yoder (a pacifist) wanted more Christians who to be faithful to the JWT, because it sought to limit warfare by us as sinful human beings. Contrary to what IRD has been writing, Yoder and company are for the Just War Theory, for Christians who are not pacifist. At the same time, the IRD has gotten the Just War Theory right, in that the Just War Theory has traditionally allowed for empire building and occupation, as a means of “justice.” Of course, this is NOT a limit on war, and means really unlimited war with bad consequences long term, both morally and financially. It is something that Ron Paul, a conservative libertarian and Just War Christian has started to criticize. The IRD would do well to maybe listen to Ron Paul in the area of foreign policy.

      • I really don’t have a clue as to how to respond to a charge that the IRD believes that Hitler is the ethical norm for these questions. Don’t you think that is a bit uncharitable to suggest that your fellow Christian believers at IRD start with “Hitler” as an ethical norm? Really? I must say that if you are interested in constructive dialogue on issues of just war and pacifism it is hard to take you seriously when you level that kind of charge.

        Also, nobody I know at IRD claims that everyone who opposes a war is a pacifist. I suspect that all our friends at IRD oppose the war the Sudan is waging against South Sudan, and none of them are pacifists. I could give other examples. So, it is just false to say that everyone at IRD believes that everyone who opposes a war is pacifist. This is what we call a “strawman.” Maybe what you really meant to say is that IRD believes that SOME of those who oppose a war are pacifists. If so, then I agree.

        I will be getting to just war theory in future posts at IRD. I assure you I am quite well versed in just war literature from John Ford, to Elizabeth Anscombe, to Paul Ramsey, to Oliver O’Donovan to James Turner Johnson to George Weigel, to Darrell Cole and I’ve written a little myself. I’m also very well-versed in contemporary pacifist literature from Yoder (whose exegesis of Rom 13 in Politics of Jesus was obsolete thirty years ago and it is even worse now) to Hauerwas (and his ubiquitous disciples) to Hays.

        In any case, I’m sure your readers will notice that you didn’t even attempt to answer the questions I put to you. I asked you, for instance, whether Metaxas was wrong to say that Bonhoeffer believed that war was preferable to a peace made with Hitler given what he knew about the Nazi regime. I make no claim to be an expert on Bonhoeffer (it has been a long time since I read Ethics and Discipleship and his other stuff) but that statement seems entirely congruent with his beliefs and activities at the time and later.

        But I’m less interested in the narrower question of Bonhoeffer interpretation than the broader point that war is or can be preferable to a lousy peace (or appeasement). It makes perfect sense to me that Bonhoeffer (and Barth) believed this to be the case. It is certainly a central belief for those of us who hold to the Christian just war tradition. What i want to know from YOU (no need for an extended discourse on Yoder) is whether YOU believe that war can be preferable to a lousy peace or appeasement of a great evil. I’m looking for YOU to tell me what YOU believe Christ REQUIRES of Christians. You seem to have objected to my post because I called attention to the fact that Barth and Bonhoeffer believed this (or, if you want to quibble, that Metaxas believed Bonhoeffer believed this). I want to know what YOU believe (and not what you believe just warriors should believe.) I want to know whether you think that Bonhoeffer was wrong to believe this (if he believed it) or whether just warriors (like me) are wrong to believe it.

        Finally, I am quite aware that pacifists who believe that Christian just war theorists are wrong try to argue the counter-factual (e.g., “I do not believe in just war, but were it the case that I was a Christian just warrior then….fill in the blank”). I am very familiar with all that. But the relevant question is whether what these pacifists tell about the just war tradition is accurate. That is, is the just war position they urge upon us an accurate biblical-exegetical, theological, historical description of the tradition? I think we have very strong evidence over the past few decades that their descriptions are NOT accurate and that their descriptions of the JWT actually distort (and often caricature) the tradition (both the jus ad bellum and the jus in bello) in any number of ways. I’ll be discussing this in future posts.

        in the meantime, I offered up several questions, in my response (above) and in this post. I’m be interested in having you take a stab at answering them.

    • Keith,

      Let me start with Eric Metaxas. Several Bonhoeffer scholars have serious issues with his biography of Bonhoeffer. Victoria J. Barnett, Clifford Green, and Nancy Lukens, just to name a few, have serious issues with Metaxas’ treatment of Bonhoeffer. (The author’s names are linked to their respective reviews.)

      Yes, by 1943, Bonhoeffer did not believe that peace was attainable while Hitler was still in power. But I think your statement, “You can’t say on the one hand that you are (1) anti-war and (2) you support war against Nazi aggression. Hence, it seems to me that Bonhoeffer was not “anti-war,” per se, and he believed in the use of military force in a just cause.” is an over simplification. Bonhoeffer was strongly influenced Jean Lasserre at Union Seminary. And when he first joined the Abwehr he did not believe Hitler should be assassinated. I think Hauerwas has it correct when he commented in an Homiletics Online interview, “I have no doubt, however, that Bonhoeffer thought clearly that what they were going to have to do was sin. It was sin —.” That seems consistent with my reading of Bonhoeffer, especially in Ethics. If Discipleship is otherworldly, then Ethics reflects the reality of Bonhoeffer’s struggle.

      I agree that peace is more than the absence of war. But as to whether war is ever morally preferable to peace, I would have to strongly disagree. Peace, true peace, is only attainable through Christ.

      As to my quoting the editors of the English edition of Discipleship, I do not see it as problematic because I did not rely solely on a secondary source. I used a secondary source to further support the claims made in the primary source.

      As to your final questions, let me first state that I am not a pacifist, nor am I a firm proponent of the just war tradition, although I have been very influenced by the tradition. My view of the just war tradition has been influenced by Dan M. Bell and Glen Stassen. Since I studied under Bell, I will use his language; are we talking about the just war tradition as Christian discipleship? If not, then we should consider tossing the whole tradition out the window as it become the secularized just war as public policy, a public policy check list that has no force behind it. That’s a round about way to say I don’t know if true anti-war pacifist can really advocate the use of “violence” when the going gets tough as I am not one. At the same time, I am not a true just warrior because while Christians talk about the just war tradition, they rarely mean the just war tradition as Christian discipleship. I personally would say while war is never the morally preferable response, there are times that it may be the lesser evil.

      • CRAIG–It really doesn’t help to clarify much. You tell me that I have “oversimplified” matters by saying ““You can’t say on the one hand that you are (1) anti-war and (2) you support war against Nazi aggression. Hence, it seems to me that Bonhoeffer was not “anti-war,” per se, and he believed in the use of military force in a just cause.” well, it isn’t an oversimplification. It actually sets forth the problem. The choice is forced. You can’t say that you are opposed to all war and then turn around and carve out an exception just because, well, just because you don’t have the courage of your anti-war convictions when the going gets tough.

        Also, in response to my question as to whether war is morally preferable to any sort of “peace” you seem to say, at first glance, that you don’t believe any war can be ever justified because no war can be morally preferable to peace. That would clearly mean that you believe, for example, that Czech military resistance to a Nazi invasion would be unjust and immoral and that a Christian “ethicist” must believe that it would be morally preferable to allow the Nazi’s to conquer Czechoslovakia. It would also be unjust and immoral for England and France to lend military support to the invaded nation.

        What is perfectly clear is that Bonhoeffer and Barth clearly believed that a Czech military defense of the country against invasion would be a just war. Barth is perfectly clear on that much. But it is equally clear that you disagree with them. You believe that were the Czechs to wage war against a Nazi invasion they would be acting unjustly and wrongly if they decided to fight. And you believe, contrary to Barth and Bonhoeffer, that it would be wrong and unjust (hence an unjust war) if England and France were to come to their defense. Many readers might wonder what kind of a topsy turvy moral theology would lead one to conclude that a Czech (and allied) military defense of their country against invasion by the Nazis would be labeled “unjust” but that is what seems to be your position. If not, please explain.

        I say that this is what you SEEM to say, because a careful reader will note that you are equivocating with the term “peace.” In setting up the ideal of “true peace” as “only available in Christ” (and setting that over against “war”) you are describing a “peace” that is eschatological (and perhaps can be termed utopian)–it is not available completely and fully this side of the coming eschaton. But that is NEVER the peace sought by the Just War Tradition. The peace by the JWT is a limited peace. The “peace” that a just warrior seeks in even the most justly waged war is not the “peace” of the eschatological kingdom but the limited peace Augustine described as the tranquilitas ordinis. You seem to be suggesting that if war does not usher in the eschatological peace then it is necessarily unjust. This is very strange indeed.

        Finally, you tell us all that you are not a pacifist. I’m honestly surprised by that. So, perhaps you can tell me as a Christian ethicist and theologian, why you think pacifism is wrong. That is, tell us all why you find pacifism to be theologically mistaken,Biblically unwarranted and morally deficient. Why, for example, do you reject the pacifism of John Howard Yoder, or the Schleitheim confession, or the Catholic Worker house that I mentioned in my first IRD column? In short, why do you reject pacifism?

      • Ok, this is the third time I’ve had to rewrite this comment because of situations out of my control so I’m sure somewhere along the way something will be left out, but at this point, I’m just glad that I was able to get something put together.


        What you seem to be saying is that pacifism equals anti-war. Last I checked, pacifism and anti-war are different in that pacifism opposes all war where as anti-war supporters may support national self defense. And if Bonhoeffer’s position regarding the “Czech military defense of the country against invasion would be a just war” is as clear as you say it is, why is it I can find no reference in Bonhoeffer’s works. There is nothing in volume 15 of the English Works (which deals with the years 1937-1940) regarding Bonhoeffer’s thoughts on the German invasion of Czechoslovakia. Please share your reference.

        Augustine made the distinction between the just peace of God and the unjust peace of sinful humanity. (See Augustine’s City of God 19.12) So I do not think the peace of God equals eschatological peace, but any peace we make, even limited peace, is subject to our sinful nature.

        As for your comments on pacifism, I think you are conflating my disagreement with some of the pieces of pacifism with a mistaken belief that I think pacifism is wrong…I don’t. My views on the matter are currently in flux and have been for the past year. As Rod stated, I am not fully in the just war camp. I do find the just peacemaking paradigm as put forward by Glen Stassen to be compelling. But, as the authors write in the Introduction to Just Peacemaking: The New Paradigm for the Ethics of Peace and War, “Just peacemaking won’t always prevent wars, so everyone needs either pacifism to say their participation is never justified, or just war theory to judge whether a particular war is justified.” (9)

        And for future reference, I would greatly appreciate it if you would quit triangulating me into your conversation with Rod. Quite frankly, it’s starting to piss me off!

      • Craig–as i stated from the start, my references were to the Metaxas biography and I gave page references. Now, if you believe that what Metaxas said about Bonhoeffer’s attitude to Czech (and French military resistance) is false, I am happy to concede the point for the sake of argument. I have absolutely no interest in getting into petty squabbles related to Bonhoeffer exegesis. I do confess that what Metaxas says about Bonhoeffer’s attitude to military resistance to Nazi agression rings true (and it is indisputable, that Barth thought that way.) and seems entirely consistent with what Bonhoeffer thought of the Nazi regime and of Nazi aggression and the larger narrative.

        But the larger point is not historical but normative, and has everything to do with this discussion. Barth (and let’s assume Bonhoeffer for the sake of argument) believed that Czech (and French and British) military opposition to Nazi-German aggression was morally preferable to appeasement or to surrender. The normative question is whether Barth (and assuming Bonhoeffer believed this too) were right and what the implications are for “pacifism” and just war.

        Now, you seem to want to split some hairs and want to define “pacifism” as a belief that all wars are wrong (which would include a Czech and allied defense against Nazi invasion) but that those who merely claim to be “anti-war” are not really as “anti-war” as the pacifists because they think some wars are permissible, as in the case of a “defensive war,” against an unjust aggressor. I tend to use the terms synonymously, but, hey, its your blog you can define “anti-war” any way you want (although I confess to finding your definition a bit odd because as you define it the position should be defined as quasi-almost-not-really anti-war).

        Be that as it may, can we at least agree that IF Metaxas is right that Bonhoeffer supported (with Barth) a Czech (and allied) military response to a German-Nazi invasion, that would make him NOT a pacifist (by YOUR definition). I suppose it could also mean that he is also, BY YOUR DEFINITION, “anti-war.” Unless, in addition to supporting a Czech military defense against Nazi aggression against their own country, he also believe that another country that was allied with the Czech’s could also intervene. In which case, according you YOUR definition of “anti-war” Bonhoeffer could not be labeled “anti-war” either. I guess. As I say, you can define “anti-war” any way you wish.

        Now, you say:
        “As for your comments on pacifism, I think you are conflating my disagreement with some of the pieces of pacifism with a mistaken belief that I think pacifism is wrong…I don’t. My views on the matter are currently in flux and have been for the past year. As Rod stated, I am not fully in the just war camp.”
        OK, but this is pretty muddled, don’t you think. You say that you don’t think pacifism is wrong, but then you say you views are in “flux.” But if your views are in “flux” then how can you say with such confidence that you don’t believe pacifism is wrong. if they are really in flux then you must believe that it is possible that pacifism is wrong. If you believe pacifism is not wrong, why don’t just claim to be a pacifist and quit equivocating. SOMETHING must be holding you back. What is it?

        You tell me that you find the “just peacemaking” paradigm to be compelling. I don’t. But that raises the question, what does the “just peacemaking” paradigm find deficient in pacifism Biblically, theologically, historically that requires a new paradigm to “move beyond” it. The just peacemaking gurus keep telling us that this is a “third way” that is “beyond” just war and pacifism. I keep asking why they have such a desire to reject pacifism in favor of this new paradigm and I never get a coherent answer. Since you find this new “paradigm” so “compelling” maybe you can tell me what exactly it is about pacifism (the pacifism of Yoder perhaps, or any other favorite Christian pacifist of the past couple of decades) that is wrong and needs “transcended.”

        Oh, yeah, I don’t want to piss you off (as you say), but I have another question. You claim to have studied the Just War tradition. Tell us, please, what you make of Rod’s description of the tradition is a matter of “situational ethics.” Is that a fair and intelligent description of the tradition that is rooted in Augustine, Aquinas, Calvin, Paul Ramsey and so forth. Is that what you learned of the tradition from your teacher, Daniel Bell (if I recall correctly that it was you, not Rod, who claimed him as your teacher on these matters).

      • Unfortunately for you, I own a copy of Metaxas’ bio of Bonhoeffer and not surprising, after checking the endnotes, Bonhoeffer is not cited at all. Meaning, Metaxas is playing the part of the omniscient narrator. So your whole argument is based on a secondary source with no links back to the primary, in this particular instance. That seems to be a little academically dishonest, in my not so humble opinion.

        And, I would absolutely agree with Rod that the just war tradition has turned into situational ethics. It’s the reason I started the move away. I would also add that the just war tradition has been infused with relativism.

      • CRAIG—So, you ARE a pacifist? well, why didn’t you say so in the first place. no need to be embarrassed or ashamed to admit it.

        Are you really prepared to say that Bonhoeffer believed that a Czech military response to a Nazi invasion would be unjust and unjustified? Really? He was radically opposed to Barth on that point? I do find that astonishing, given the extensive quotes that Metaxas gives regarding service in the GERMAN army.

        Regardless, as I said I am less interested in quibbles over Bohhoeffer exegesis than I am with what YOU believe, as a pacifist. So, the basic normative question remains; DO YOU think that Czech and allied) military resistance to Hitler would have been unjust and immoral? Or are you willing to compromise your pacifism at this point. Be bold now, don’t be ashamed of your pacifism. Follow it to where it logically leads. Does it lead to a conviction that a Czech military response to Nazi aggression would be unjust?

        For some reason you seem either unwilling or unable to engage on that issue. Please help me understand your position.

      • Craig–has your mentor Professor Bell also succumbed to relativism too? Would that be true of Anscombe and Ramsey, too. James Turner Johnson and C.S. Lewis? Was Aquinas defense of just war “relativistic” too?

        I confess to finding the charge rather bizarre since “relativistic” is not exactly what leaps to mind when you think of these moral theologians and defenders of just war. I’ve personally been called many things, a moral absolutist, theologically narrow-minded, and a conservative, but NEVER a relativist. But you are obviously a thoughtful well-read theologian who can peer into the heart of Christian just war theorists and see through all that talk about intrinsically evil acts all those criticisms of relativism to the evil of relativism and “situational ethics’ that lurk beneath our defense of the jus ad bellum and jus in bello.

        So, I would love to hear you out on this. This could be fun!

      • Except that I never called you a relativist. I said the tradition has been infused with relativism. If I wanted to call you a relativist, I would do so. Please read what I write and not what you assume I mean. I pretty much say what I mean and don’t usually play little subtext games.

      • Craig–Ok. . You reject just war theory because (now you tell me) only some just war advocates are really relativists, although you are charitable in clarifying to me that I am not among those just war thinkers who are not relativists. Whew, glad we got that cleared up. Sorry for the misunderstanding. Can’t imagine where I got that idea.

        I confess to finding it odd that one would reject the Christian just war tradition because a few modern theologians or other Christians got it wrong. Maybe that’s what threw me off. I have this crazy idea that the responsible thing to do would be to correct those who have embraced a “relativistic” version of the JWT and embrace (and endorse) those who got it right. You know that don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater stuff. But that’s just me, I suppose

        But it is is not to much to ask, I think, why you (unlike your friend Rod) reject pacifism? You seem to have a little theological education under your belt, so It shouldn’t be that hard to articulate in a paragraph or two why you reject pacifism. You do have a well-grounded, reasoned out position, I assume. You aren’t just basing you anti-pacifism purely on emotions or you “feelings,” I would guess. I assume you take the Bible seriously, as well as the teachings of the great theologians of the church on the issue. What anti-pacifist arguments do you find compelling such that you reject pacifism?

      • I’ll just kill two birds with one stone here:

        Why I’m not a pacifist: Romans 13 clearly gives the power of the sword to nation and I have not heard a compelling argument (and I’ve heard many) how Romans 13 supports pacifism. I would also say the reality of living in a sinful, broken world means that there will be conflict and strife.

        Reasons why I’m not fully in the just war tradition: Peter is told to put his sword away and Christ’s statement, “All those who use the sword will die by the sword.” (Matthew 26:52) There is also the Sermon on the Mount, “Happy are people who make peace, because they will be called God’s children.” (Matthew 5:9) And then there is the practical reason; the criteria in the just war tradition are subjective and (usually) applied after the fact. Let’s face it, you and I can apply the same criteria to any war or military action and come up with two different conclusions. And if the just war tradition really has any teeth, failing to meet even one of the criteria for either jus ad bellum or jus in bello should make the war unjust; something very few just warriors are willing to do, in my experience.

        Since I’ve eliminated the either/or false dichotomy, there must be some viable third option

      • Craig–while you are in the mood to be hurling around charges of relativism and “situation ethics”, I might invite you to take a look at the lengthy quotation on pp.425-6 of the Metaxas biography. He has a lengthy quotation involving a long discussion of whether a young Lt (adjutant to Stauffenberg) should kill Hitler if he had the chance. We get a good description of Bonhoffer’, s views here. They go around and around for hours.

        Now, it seems to me that Bonhoeffer neither gives the go-ahead nor does he forbid it. He says it is a personal decision. Now, I wonder, after carefully reading that passage, could you not accuse Bonhoeffer of being a “relativist” or embracing “situational ethics.” He seems to be saying that the morality of the decision to use lethal force against a tyrant is “relative”–relative to what I’m not sure, but relative to something. And the ethics of killing a tyrant like Hitler seems to depend on the “situation.”
        So, are as willing to accuse Bonhoeffer of being a “relativist” and an advocate of “situation ethics” as you are modern just war advocates.

  2. @Keith,

    Hey Keith, I think you misunderstood what I was trying to say about Hitler as ethical norm. You could insert any dictator, Saddaam Hussein, Quaddaffi, and the results would be the same. Let me put it this way, and the IRD is not the only party guilty of this, even “liberal” bloggers like Rachel Held Evans is, since she as a “bad pacifist” was in support of the Libyan invasion. The IRD’s and many Christians who (I believe) have only advanced half, or part of the Just War Theory have a situational ethic when it comes to war. The “Big Dictator” circumstance is the one always abstractly proposed, one that’s always theoretical, and hardly concrete or given any historical context. For example, would there be a rise of Hitler without World War I or the Treaty of Versailles which was unjust? I have my doubts, but hindsight is 20/20 like they say, however historical particularity is important when discussing these issues.

    So, I am being charitable in this discussion, I just was not articulate in saying that modern JWT Christians are more situational ethicists than anything I hope that clears that up.

    As for your question, you aimed your questions at Craig, and not to me. Craig is the author of this post. But I will answer anyhow, for the sake of conversation. If by lousy peace, you mean appeasement, well, appeasement must be historically considered, and if you are referencing the events prior to World War II, I would say that the Treaty of Versailles was based on lies, and false truths, and as a pacifist, and a close reader of Bonhoeffer, one cannot have peace without truth, they go hand in hand. So, I think that the idea of lousy peace is one based on falsehood, like it was all Germany’s fault for World War I, which was untrue, and because of that lie, Germany suffered economically for it, and out of that suffering came anger, and racism, and then the Nazis. Yes, there can be lousy peace because human beings are sinners, and we lie and cheat. But it is the mission of Christians to first and foremost to bring Truth to the public square, and make honesty and integrity essential, and not as superfluous things. This is consistent with Bonhoeffer, et. al. Now, as to whether war is to be preferred to lousy peace, in the context of events like WW2, I would say they are two sides of the same coin, lies and deceit lead to violence, wars are built up on both.

    Hope that helps

  3. RodTRDH– No, it doesn’t help.

    By saying that modern just war theorists are more “situational ethicists” than anything, I think you display a remarkable lack of knowledge of the best modern just war theorists. Paul Ramsey can be accused of being a “situational ethicist?” I think Stanley Hauerwas would find it laughable that his old friend and mentor would be called a “situational ethicist.” Oliver O’Donovan a “situational ethicist” –laughable. Darrell Cole–you’re kidding, right? (I leave for future discussion whether Bohnhoeffer was a “situational ethicist”).

    I think you need to do a little homework.

    But then, you could really mean something as mundane and obvious that the just war tradition as a tradition of statecraft actually has to be applied in the real world (and not just the semiinary seminar room)– that is in real world situation in which statesmen, including Christian statesmen, Christian soldiers, and Christian citizens must apply that teaching and traditions to contemporary situations. Which is true, of course, but rather obvious and is not really a serious criticism of JWT.

    • Keith,

      No, Keith, I did not mention any of those teachers by name. I am discussing in more general/contemporary terms, that modern Christian propoenent of war, like your (the IRD’s, and others’) arguments. You still haven’t proved that Just War Theorists aren’t guided ethically by the situations.

      As for “But then, you could really mean something as mundane and obvious that the just war tradition as a tradition of statecraft actually has to be applied in the real world” no, that would be you wanting to read into things again. I meant what I said. Just War Theorists and neoconservatives today are doing situational ethics in the name of “realism.”

      • Rod, OF COURSE just war theorists are guided by the situations, in large measure. How else are you going to render judgment as to whether a particular situation comports with the criteria of the jus ad bellum than through an examination of the situation at hand. The just war tradition, as you know because surely your seminary professors have exposed you to Paul Ramsey, is part and parcel of a Christian view of statecraft. As such, it has to take into consideration “the situation” as you call it. So, good God, man, what are you talking about?

        This does not mean that this taking into account the contemporary situation makes just warriors advocates of “situational ethics”–the charge is preposterous. One MUST take into consideration whether a particular action is proportional (in the jus ad bellum sense), will lead to a tranquilitas ordinis, meets the classical criteria of just cause and so forth. The deontological criteria (how is THAT “situational ethics!) of the JWT (just cause, right intent, legitimate authority) must be applied to a particular situation and con-joined with the politically prudential criteria of proportionality, last resort, and so forth.

        You tell me that you are not referring to any JW theorist in particular but to some vague un-defined notion of JWT. I’m sorry but that is just a tad too convenient, and quite frankly, is academically irresponsible, as it allows you to construct a strawman without engaging the most serious Christian just war thinkers.

        Oh, and I really love that phrase describing me as a “modern Christian proponent of war”– wouldn’t a more charitable way to put that be “as a modern Christian proponent of the just war tradition as articulated by theological luminaries like Augustine, Calvin, Ramsey, Johnson, etc.? Would a fair and nonprejudicial description of my position be that I am an advocate of JUST wars”? Why would you find THAT objectionable, apart from you being a pacifist who rejects all war?

        I take it that unlike your friend Craig, you are willing to describe yourself as a “pacifist.” Can you tell me why Craig is wrong to reject pacifism? On the other hand, you may agree with Craig and confess that you aren’t a pacifist either. Would that make you an “advocate of war” in some situations?

      • Rod–with all due respect you really are embarrassing yourself in suggesting that anything I said or anything suggested by the great luminaries of the JWT have anything to do with the sophistries of “situational ethics.” In fact, it makes me wonder if you really know what you are talking about. You need to do some fundamental homework.

        In fact, it would seem to me that if anyone could be charged with “situational ethics” it would be someone who claimed to be a pacifist, claimed that the use of lethal force was always, without exception an intrinsically evil act, and yet–when the going gets tough–decides to abandon his convictions and advocate or employ lethal force.

        Which brings us back to the disagreement between you and your friend the quasi-pacifist not-quite-just-war friend CRAIG. It would seem to me that since he is not willing (according to you) to embrace pacifism, but also not willing to embrace the JWT, he would be ripe for the charge of advocating a “situational ethic” So, are you really accusing Craig of embracing a “situational ethic?”
        Feel free to chat among yourselves.

  4. Hey Keith,

    I want to thank you for proving my point correct, that Just War Theory is situational ethics.

    “OF COURSE just war theorists are guided by the situations, in large measure. How else are you going to render judgment as to whether a particular situation comports with the criteria of the jus ad bellum than through an examination of the situation at hand. The just war tradition, as you know because surely your seminary professors have exposed you to Paul Ramsey, is part and parcel of a Christian view of statecraft.”

    Applauds.I could not have said it better. Why is this a problem? It’s the problem the same way conservatives levy criticism against situational ethics when it comes to talking about same sex marriage and abortion. JWT, the pro-choice lobby, and SSM lobby all have that in common, that they are situational ethics, where the context IS THE determining factor in people’s moral choices.

    I don’t know why you want me to name drop as you have. I am not writing a scholarly post, well, at least not here. But if you insist, I go with Daniel Bell jr. Lisa Sowle Cahill, and Augustine when I refer to my theological critique of JWT.

    Keith, you are right, I should be more politically correct. Yes, You are a JWT proponent.

    As for Craig rejecting pacifism, I don’t know why he has, but I do know this. It was my theological criticism of JWT that convinced Craig partially to leave the JWT tradition. I have been a pacifist for as long as I have been baptized by immersion, and that would be since I was 8 years old. I became to believe and argue more fully for the consistent life ethic when I was in college, and when I was introduced to the work of Joseph Cardinal Bernardin.

  5. Keith,


    When have I ever renounced my pacifism? I agree with you and the IRD’s criticism of pseudo-pacifism! Oh geesh! You have made a mockery of yourself and the Institute for Religious Democracy!

    • Rod–I didn’t say that YOU rejected your pacifism. If you read my last post carefully, I said that CRAIG has not fully fully embraced pacifism. In that he disagrees with YOU.

      YOU WROTE THIS: “As for Craig rejecting pacifism, I don’t know why he has, but I do know this. It was my theological criticism of JWT that convinced Craig partially to leave the JWT tradition.”

      After having said that about Craig you then say: ” I agree with you and the IRD’s criticism of pseudo-pacifism!”

      Very well. Now tell me why you think CRAIG’s semi-pacifism, or pseudo-pacifism, or partial pacifism is wrong. (Or maybe Craig can explain why he doesn’t have the courage of your pacifist convictions?) And along the way perhaps you can tell us all whether you would also like to tar him with broad brush of “situation ethics.” Is CRAIG guilty of situational ethics as well?

      And don’t you think that “Hahahaha” bit is a little juvenile? Oh, it is the Institute for Religion and Democracy.

      • Keith,

        What? I can’t laugh? Laughing is juvenile? Is God juvenile when Psalms say that He laughs on high?

        I find your comments laughable. And if you recall the early 2000’s, the Religious Democracy commentary is actually supposed to be a reference to a concept that George W Bush and another world leader came up with the same year.

        As for Craig, I think I have tarred him for situational ethics, thats why he’s no longer JWT!

  6. Pingback: Yeah… hey @theird about that Christian pacifist thing… | Unsettled Christianity

  7. Pingback: Ben Witherington on Jesus and Pacifism | TheoNerd

  8. Pingback: @TheIRD, @BlueCollarTodd and The Just War Tradition | TheoNerd

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