Chase and Jacobs Debate War and Peace

Violence_review_06012016Kenneth R. Chase and Alan Jacobs (Editors). 2003. Must Christianity Be Violent: Reflections on History, Practice, and Theology. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House Company (Brazos Press).

Review by Stephen W. Hiemstra

We live at a time when peace is illusive and violence is on everyone’s mind. Peace is illusive because modern media reports crimes and violence from every corner of the earth saturating the mindset of news followers. If real violence were not enough, simulated violence dominates book sales, films, and electronic games stimulating copycat crimes and potential secondary trauma [1] in the real world. Against this cultural obsession with violence, real acts of peace whether by individuals or presidents[2] are frequently deconstructed by critics to a point that makes ethical reflection difficult.

Taking seriously the need for ethical reflection, during March 15-17, 2000 the Center for Applied Christian Ethics[3] hosted a faculty conference at Wheaton College in Chicago, Illinois whose papers were collected and published into this book, Must Christianity Be Violent, edited by Kenneth R. Chase and Alan Jacobs.

In his introduction, Chase writes:

“At its most elementary level, Christianity celebrates peace. Jesus promises to give peace, he advocates forgiveness and mercy, he instructs his followers to be peacemakers and to love enemies, and he died so that we might have peace with God.” (9)

The early church clearly got Jesus’ message of peace and pacifism characterized Christ’s followers’ response to institutionalized war for four centuries after his death and resurrection. The “just war” doctrine, first articulated by Augustine (354-430 AD) and later expanded on by Aquinas (1225-1274 AD), and Calvin (1509-1564 AD), gave theological justification for Christian participation in war, but only in limited circumstances, such as war in self-defense (32).

Chase sees Christianity’s critics as focusing on two main points of contention: a pragmatic criticisms focused primarily on historical events (such as the Crusades, anti-Semitism in Europe, and support for slavery), and, and criticisms focused on problems inherent in Christian doctrine (such as aspects of exclusivism and divine judgment; 10-12).

In view of these criticisms, Chase and Jacobs divide the 13 essays in the book into three broad sections—history, practices, and theology, as follows:

Section one: Histories

  1. The First Crusade: Some Theological Historical Context by Joseph H. Lynch.
  2. Violence of the Conquistadores and Prophetic Indignation by Luis N. Rivera-Pagán.
  3. Is God Violent? Theological Options in the Antislavery Movement by Dan McKanan.
  4. Christians as Rescuers during the Holocaust by David P. Gushee.
  5. Have Christians Done More Harm than Good? by Mark A. Noll.
  6. Beyond Complicity: The Challenges for Christianity after the Holocaust by Victoria Barnett.

Section Two: Practices

  1. How Should We Then Teach American History? A Perspective of Constructive Nonviolence by James C. Juhnke.
  2. Christian Discourse and the Humility of Peace by Kenneth R. Chase.
  3. Jesus and Just Peacemaking Theory by Glen Stassen.

Section Three: Theologies

  1. Violence and the Atonement by Richard J. Mouw.
  2. Explaining Christian Nonviolence: Notes for a Conversation with John Milbank by Stanley Hauerwas.
  3. Violence: Double Passivity by John Milbank.
  4. Christian Peace: A Conversation between Stanley Hauerwas and John Milbank.

These 13 chapters were preceded by a preface and introduction and were followed by an afterword and lists of contributors and notes.

In reading through these many contributors and insights, it is clear that a summary is impractical because each essay is highly nuanced and contextual. Some insights, however, stand out as unique and can stand on their own in a short review. For example, David Gushee[4] in his essay, “Christians as Rescuers During the Holocaust”, summarized the religious motivations of Christian rescuers in these categories:

  • Those having a special religious kinship with Jews.
  • Those remembering the experience of religious persecution.
  • Those recognizing the incompatibility of Nazism with Christian faith.
  • Those honoring the dignity of human life.
  • Those with special Christian piety (72-77).

Gushee notes that Christian faith was neither necessary or sufficient motivation for rescuing Jews during the Holocaust; citing Nechama Tec, he observed that only a “certain kind of Christianity” felt compelled to intervene (77-78).

Another essay that stood out in my mind was James C. Juhnke’s “How Should We Then Teach American History?” which cited a number of historical accounts of alternatives, other than “triumphalism” or “radical criticism”, which he described as “constructive nonviolence” (108). Historical accounts of “triumphalism” basically chronicle the rise of “America’s rise to greatness” while accounts of “radical criticism” critique what this rise to greatness did to African American slaves, Native Americans, women, and other minorities (108); accounts of “constructive nonviolence” focus on honoring roads not taken that might have been successful had they been taken. Juhnke highlights these themes:

  • Honoring the survival and strength of Native American cultures, especially the peacemakers that made survival possible.
  • Honoring nonviolent alternatives proposed but rejected.[5]
  • Honoring the Antimilitary idealism of the founders, exhibited in the constitutional restraints.[6]
  • Honoring the human conscience against killing.
  • Honoring the role of voluntary communities.[7]
  • Honoring the opponents of total war (109-117).

Obviously much more could be said just about these topics in American history.

As someone deeply concerned about the future of America as well as our values and image in the world, I firmly believe that war should not be the first option or the only option considered when international conflicts arise. We need to know what other options can reasonably be considered because, as it is, the United States is increasingly in a perpetual state of war for lack of those options and the political will to consider them. As Christians, we should be willing to debate these issues openly and with an eye on how our options form our characters both as citizens and as Christians. Kenneth Chase and Alan Jacobs’s book, Must Christianity Be Violent?, is helpful resource in framing conversations about the issues of war and peace that we so desperately need to have.

[1] Secondary trauma occurs when an observer to trauma begins to experience the same (or related) symptoms as the trauma victim themselves. It is especially a problem when the observer has repeated exposures or catastrophic exposures to trauma, as might occur in a combat zone, plane crash, or bombing where multiple victims are affected. It is well-known among care-giving professionals, such as medical personnel and chaplains. See, for example:

[2] On May 27, 2016, President Obama became the first sitting president to visit Hiroshima in Japan, the site of the first atomic bomb attack by the United States on August 6, 1945, to advocate for the elimination of nuclear weapons (

[3] (@CACEWheaton)

[4] David Gushee, Righteous Gentiles of the Holocaust: Genocide and Moral Obligation, (Paragon House, 2003). (

[5] For example, Philadelphia agreed with Boston that they would not accept British tea during the pre-revolutionary war period. But instead of dumping the tea as was done in Boston (the Boston Tea Party), they sent the tea back to England (and paid the freight) thereby avoiding conflict (110).

[6] The prohibition against standing armies in the Constitution prevented early American elites from developing a “military industrial complex” as developed in the twentieth century (112).

[7] For example, the resistance to removing Indians from Georgia in the 1830s failed to prevent their removal but paved the way for abolition of slavery in the years that followed (115).

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Art by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Do you not know that in a race all the runners run,
but only one receives the prize?
So run that you may obtain it.
(1 Cor 9:24)


By Stephen W. Hiemstra

One of the oldest books on my bookshelf is L.E. Moore’s Elementary Aviation, which teaches pilots the rudiments of navigation, such as flying on instruments, meteorology, and radio navigation.  I studied this book with great interest in Junior High School because I wanted to attend the Air Force Academy and become a pilot. When I learned that my eyesight was not good enough to qualify for pilot’s training, I joined a Sea Explorer’s unit and set my sights on the Naval Academy. My interest in the academies continued into high school where I began running with the cross country team (1970) after learning that cadets were expected to be athletes and the military had physical training requirements.

My fascination with all things military was obvious to my friends. One friend in high school, having run into me at a scout camporee, nicknamed me “the General” and, when he learned that I had joined the Sea Explorers, he revised my nickname to be “the Admiral”. In keeping with my nickname, for two summers in a row, I worked as an aquatics instructor at Camp Ross, one of the six camps at Goshen Scout Camps, which meant that I learned to row, canoe, and sail well enough to teach others. In like manner, I also attended seamanship classes offered for Sea Explorers on Saturday mornings at the Navy Yard in Washington DC.

I am not sure exactly when my doubts about the wisdom of pursuing a career in the military began to seep in. My Dad, who had attended the reserved officer training corps (ROTC) and served in Korea, used to refer to the pilot’s job as being a kind of bus service in the sky. While he never really supported my goal of being a pilot nor my interest later in music, he also never really said what I should do—that was something I needed to sort out on my own.

My own doubts about the military began to surface in watching the evening news. Video clips from Vietnam dominated the evening news for years on end, but progress in ending the war seemed illusive. World War II lasted for five years and involved battles all over the world so why did this little “police action” in Vietnam take so long and involve no serious progress after years of effort? The explanations seemed inadequate while the nightmare of modern war began to seep in—it was hard to reconcile the carnage on the evening news with explanations given. Why the massacre at Mi Lai?[1] Why the summary execution of a Viet Cong prisoner?[2] The images on the news were shocking; provocative; un-American.

Containing communism was the explanation for the war that made political sense because we thought of communism as bad, even if what that meant was unclear. We had no idea, for example, that communism was officially atheistic and openly persecuted Christians, although we had a pretty good idea that communism was a thin veil over totalitarianism—a “dictatorship of the proletariat”. Defending South Vietnam from a communist takeover was therefore consistent with the Christian concept of a just war. However, the images of the war seen on the television news seemed inconsistent with that concept. To my eighteen year old eyes, indiscriminate bombing, routine use of napalm, and relocation of civilians appeared shocking; provocative; un-American.

Although my questions about the Vietnam War already colored my thinking in 1968 when I campaigned, like my parents, for Richard Nixon because of his plan to the end war, these questions did not affect my attitude about military service or the Naval Academy until around 1971, which was my junior year in high school. In high school, I read authors, like Thoreau and Faulkner, who inspired me to think for myself, but the disconnect between my Christian faith and my aspirations to become a military officer were also beginning to emerge. This disconnect came to a head on August 4, 1972 I wrote the following to my draft board:

I can not fight in a war because as a Christian my highest duty is to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. I believe that life is the sacred gift of God which is to be honored and respected by all men. I believe that every man has a constructive contribution to make to humanity and that each man has the right to fulfill this destiny. I believe there is a beauty in all life and that we should use love, concern, and non-violent methods to solve our conflicts. I believe all men are of one indivisible whole and that each man’s life is important to the life of the whole. I must live in peace to uphold my faith.

I wrote as a pacifist because I did not understand “just war” theory, which better reflected my true feelings. I was not opposed to a just war, but Vietnam did not appear to be a just war. Ironically, the highly principled image that I had of military officers was also inconsistent with the image of Vietnam that appeared on the evening news, but how do you write that in an application to your draft board?

My draft board responded my application and brief essay by classifying me as I-0, which exempted me from military service, but required that I take the usual military medical examination and that I find alternative service to perform, if and when my number was called. In the fall of 1972, I took my medical examination in Indianapolis where in a room filled with several hundred registrants I was the only one classified I-0 which was obvious because I was asked to stand up alone in front of everyone and, in front of everyone, they told me that I did not need to answer form questions about my affiliations.

During the fall, I  wrote to public interest research groups around the country inquiring about job prospects that might satisfy my alternative service requirement. One group in Baltimore, Maryland, responded to my inquiry, but none was ultimately needed because the Vietnam War was declared over on December 31, 1972. My draft number—13—was never called. Because numbers up to 153 had been called in the previous year, I took the war’s end as God’s gracious provision.




Faulkner, William. 2011. A Fable (Orig Pub 1955). New York: Vintage International.

Moore, L.E. 1943. Elementary Aviation. Boston: D.C. Heath and Company.

Thoreau, Henry David. 1965. Walden and Civil Disobedience. New York: Harper and Row Publishers (Harper Classic).

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Christian Civility—Learning to Live in the Divine Gaze

Mouw_01072016Richard J. Mouw.  2010.  Uncommon Decency:  Christian Civility in an Uncivil World. Downers Grove:  IVP Books.

Review  by Stephen W. Hiemstra

Our society has become much more diverse. Measured in terms of race, the number of non-Hispanic whites fell from roughly 84 percent in 1965 to 62 percent in 2015 [1].  Among children under the age of 20, the trend is even more pronounced. Stated in terms of perspectives, we are more likely today to meet someone with a different cultural background and point of view than at any time since the Second World War [2]. Consequently, Rodney King’s 1992 question: “Can we all get along?”  remains a serious question for everyone, but especially Christians who are supposed to model the love of Christ to those around them [3].

In his book, Uncommon Decency: Christian Civility in an Uncivil World, Christian ethicist Richard Mouw attempts to address Rodney King’s question. Mouw defines civility as: “public politeness” where “we display tact, moderation, refinement and good manners towards people who are different from us” (14). He further observes: “being civil is a way of becoming more like what God intends for us to be.” (15)  Importantly, he stresses that we do not have to approve of other people’s views (22) or to like them (24), but only to recognize their inherent right to express their views and to listen to them.

Mouw tells the story about a “crusty old Irish Catholic judge” whose days were filled with judging inner-city criminals. One day this judge had a what-would-Jesus-do (WWJD) moment just as he was about to give a tough sentence another street tough kid. He started to see this kid as a divine image bearer and in terms of his potential, not the person who he currently appeared to be (24-25).  Suddenly, this judge had a completely new attitude about his job and started having good conversation with these street kids. In Mouw’s words, the judge starting seeing “every human being a work of divine art” (26).

The story of the judge is essentially our story as we live day by day under the gaze of our ever-present God.  Mouw reminds us that: “God is always watching listening, some words are so offensive to God that they should never be uttered.” (46)  Two examples that Mouw offers are racist language (46) and a crusading mentality. Racist language is offensive to God because each of us in our diversity reflect the divine image.  A crusading mentality forgets God’s enduring love of the people whom he created. Mouw defines a crusader as: “people who think the cause they are fighting for is so important that they must use all means at their disposal to win.” (50). Using all or nothing rhetoric feeds this crusading attitude (53).

The term, divine gaze, is both novel and familiar. Mouw cites a familiar passage in Psalm 139 as an example of the divine gaze:

“Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!” (Ps 139:23-24)

This example of the divine gaze follows what appears to be the psalmist’s reminder to himself to hedge his own crusading spirit:

“Do I not hate those who hate you, O LORD? And do I not loathe those who rise up against you? I hate them with complete hatred; I count them my enemies.” (Ps 139:21-22)

Would that we were all so self-aware and God-aware!

Having had to confront the question of the Vietnam as a young man, I was intrigued by Mouw’s use of “just war” theory to develop guidelines for public discourse without incivility. These guidelines take the form of questions to consider in sorting through such discourse, including:

  1. Is my cause a just one?
  2. Am I sustained in my commitments by the wisdom of competent authorities?
  3. Are my motives proper?
  4. Is my move beyond mere civility a choice of last resort?
  5. Is success likely?
  6. Are the means I am employing proportionate to the good goals I want to promote? (142-46)

Mouw notes that Martin Luther’s stand against the Catholic church during the early days of the reformation was not an example of a lone crusade.  As a scholar and theologian, Luther was well-informed of short-comings of the church and sought advice from many mentors (143).  He further noted that Augustine, in arguing the case for a just war, was concerned that prisoners be treated humanely and that the rights of civilians be respected (146).  Augustine certainly was not just another apologist for a Roman war policy.

At the time of publication, Richard J. Mouw was president of Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California, professor of Christian Philosophy, and the author of many books. He is currently a Professor of Faith and Public Life at the seminary [4]  He writes in 14 chapters preceded by an introduction and followed by an epilogue and notes.

In view of the wide range of topics covered, a brief review is inadequate to survey all the topics covered. Nevertheless, Mouw’s Uncommon Decency is both accessible and a good read. I suspect, however, that more than one read is needed to absorb all that he has to offer.  While I believe that most Christians would benefit from studying this book and would hope that journalists would take an interest, I suspect that seminary students and pastors are the intended audience.


[1] Pew Research Center. 2015. “Modern Immigration Wave Brings 59 Million to U.S., Driving Population Growth and Change Through 2065.” Cited: 7 January 2015. Online:

[2] Is it any wonder that millennials and boomers differ so dramatically? For boomers, the world was entirely different; for millennials, this is the only world that they have ever known.



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