Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Critique of an Essay on C. S. Lewis' Just War View

I love C. S. Lewis. In many ways, he has been a mentor to me throughout my Christian life. From the time I first read Mere Christianity to now as I am reading the Chronicles of Narnia series to my children, his teachings have helped to shape my faith. That is why it is particularly troubling to me when I read his thoughts on war and peace. I recently found an essay on Lewis' view of Just War, and opposition to pacifism, on the website of Touchtone Magazine—which is apparently a Christian journal. I'd like to spend a little time and space here dissecting parts of this essay in the hopes of exposing critical errors in its conclusion.

The argument the author makes is amazingly naive. For example, he writes, "Human beings cannot be expected to survive in a political system meant for angels, nor is there any biblical warrant for them to attempt such a system." By this he is referring to pacifism, but it is entirely unclear where he is pulling the idea that peace is an angelic ideal, not a human one.

At one point he examines what he calls the "failure of pacifism" from several points of view: facts, intuition, reasoning, and authority. Take a look at some of his points.

"Intuition provides a stronger case for pacifism. We seem to feel very strongly that love and helping are good, while hate and harming are bad. What this intuition fails to tell us, however, is how we are to love and help the innocent who are being treated unjustly by the wicked without using force on the wicked. So intuition in this case leads us astray because it does not see (not immediately at least) what reason sees: that you can love and use force at the same time."

First, the author is supposed to be demonstrating the failure of pacifism under the criterion of "intuition." How does he do so? He states upfront that intuition seems to support pacifism. Then, he goes on to abandon intuition altogether and judge intuition's conclusion by reason. How does this demonstrate pacifism's failure using intuition as a criterion? It doesn't. If anything, this demonstrates pacifism victory on the grounds of intuition, and reason's failure to support our intuition. If our reason goes against our intuition, this author directs readers to jettison their intuition entirely. However, it could just as easily be argued that the author's "reason" or "logic" is just as much an "intuition," since the instinct that killing is not love certainly has a "logical" and "reasonable" grounding.

"Authority, too, is against the pacifist. Every human society has said that some wars are good and that every citizen benefits from some wars (most obviously, wars of self-defense). The Christian tradition since the fourth century has declared that some wars are good.

Yes, opinion was divided in the first two centuries, but not nearly as much as popular opinion would have us believe. The first Christians were held in suspicion by the Roman authorities, and, to make matters worse, participation in the Roman army meant engaging in pagan rites such as emperor-worship. But we find little evidence of the earliest Christians rejecting military service on account of a moral aversion to bloodshed. Most of the early church fathers who speak on the subject of just war speak with approval.

In fact, the 'pros' clearly have it over the 'cons.' Clement of Alexandria, Origen (who was unique in limiting Christian support to prayer for the troops to succeed), Eusebius, Basil, Ambrose, Chrysostom, and Augustine all admit to the goodness and usefulness of just wars. Only Tertullian can be listed on the pacifist side. The great early Reformers, such as Tyndale, Luther, and Calvin, were all proponents of the just war. Only the radical reformers rejected the notion of a just war."

Second, the author scrutinizes pacifism under the criterion of "authority." Of course, what the author means by authority is unclear. Apparently, he appeals to history as authority rather than Scripture. Not a single verse is cited. And even the author's use of Church Fathers is amateurish at best. The fact that he begins his case for the Church's support of war with a statement that starts this support in the "fourth century" and only claims "some" wars are good, does not make a strong case. The obvious questions this statement begs are: What about the preceding centuries, closer to the time of Christ? And, if all wars have not been good, which wars were not good? The author does not answer the second question, and misrepresents the facts to address the first. He claims that there is a lack of evidence in support of Christian nonviolence before the fourth century, and that more early church fathers supported a concept of just war than were opposed. In fact, he counts Origen as a supporter of war because he taught that we should pray for soldiers. However, he erroneously adds that Origen taught we should pray for soldiers' victory in battle. In contrast, Origen argues that if, as Celsus hypothetically pondered, all Romans were Christians, then war would be unnecessary because through prayer God would destroy Rome's enemies.

"We say that if two of us agree upon earth concerning anything that they shall ask, they shall receive it from the heavenly Father of the righteous... For they will pray to the Word, who said of old to the Hebrews when they were pursued by the Egyptians: ‘The Lord shall fight for you, and ye shall be silent’; and, praying with all concord, they will be able to overthrow far more enemies who pursue them than those whom the prayers of Moses—when he cried to God—and of those with him overthrew...But if, according to Celsus’ supposition, all the Romans were to be persuaded, they will by praying overcome their enemies; or (rather) they will not make war at all, being guarded by the Divine Power, which promised to save five whole cities for the sake of fifty righteous. For the men of God are the salt that preserves the early order of the world; the earthly things hold together (only) as long as the salt is not corrupted."
- Against Celsus, 8.70

Furthermore, the author claims that opinions differ on the early church's stance toward war before Constantine. However, the only detractor from the overwhelming consensus is himself. Cadoux writes,

"The early Christians took Jesus at his word, and understood his inculcations of gentleness and non-resistence in their literal sense. The closely identified their religion with peace; they strongly condemned war for the bloodshed which it involved; they appropriated to themselves the Old Testament prophesy which foretold the transformation of the weapons of war into the implements of agriculture; they declared that it was their policy to return good for evil and to conquer evil with good."
- John C. Cadoux, The Early Christian Attitude to War: A Contribution to the History of Christian Ethics, 245.

Finally, the authors' implementation of reason as a demonstration of pacifism's failure is perhaps the most disturbing. His reasoning proceeds thusly:

1) Pacifists take Jesus' nonviolence teachings at "face value."
2) This is clearly a mistake because we don't take other teachings of Jesus literally (e.g. selling all our possessions to give to the poor, and not burying family members.)
3) Thankfully, Paul and Peter show us that what Jesus meant was not to exact vengeance.

He writes,

"Reason is clearly against the pacifist on all fronts, except, perhaps, one: the teaching of Jesus that one should “turn the other cheek” (Matt. 5:39). Lewis readily admits that it is hard to deal with people who base their entire theology on a few verses—this in itself seems to go against reason—but he does have a response. If we are going to take all of Jesus’ commands at face value, then pacifists should also sell all their goods and give them to the poor. They should also quit burying their loved ones (“leave the dead to bury the dead,” Matt. 8:22).

Fortunately, we have the Apostle Paul to help us here. When Jesus tells us to turn our cheeks when struck, he means that we should not retaliate out of vengeance. We leave vengeance to God, who works his vengeance on the evildoer through the State’s use of the sword. Christians are called upon to support the State, which has been ordained by God just for the purpose of using the sword to establish and maintain justice (Rom. 12–13). This better accords with the rest of the New Testament—not to mention the Old Testament, where God commands killing on quite a number of occasions! Pacifist logic leads us to say that Paul, Peter, and the writer of Hebrews (who, in the eleventh chapter, commends to Christians as people worthy of imitation those Old Testament warriors who waged war for justice) all misunderstood the teachings of Jesus."

The author's hermeneutics are pathetic. Placing the saying "let the dead bury their own dead" in the same category as "love your enemies" is intellectually dishonest. Jesus clearly mourns the death of Lazerus, to the point of shedding tears for him—knowing full well that he would be raised to life. Furthermore, it is clear from the context that Jesus' hyperbole was meant to emphasize the urgency and unrelenting resolve discipleship and Kingdom citizenship demand. It is comparable to Christ's hyperbolic teaching to cut off offending body parts. Christ's command to love our enemies is not at all hyperbolic. God loves his enemies. Godliness requires that we act in accordance with the divine nature.

It is also important to note that Romans 12 contains stark examples of Paul's full acceptance of Christ's nonviolent ethic. This includes the command to "Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse" (v.14) as well as "If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone." (v.18) If we are commanded to bless our enemies and live at peace with them as far as it depends on us, then we have no justification for violence. This sets the stage for Paul's comments about living under worldly governments. We must never think that ours is a role in society of exacting judgment. Rather, ours is a role of peace, reflecting the Kingdom of God where swords will be beaten into plows.


  1. I don't know if I messed up posting or if my comment somehow got removed but I'll state it again. I was confused reading your reaction thinking it was aimed at what C.S. Lewis had to say about the above. A lot of T.C.'s points were against things C.S. never said or implied so it was odd to read them as rebuttals. Then I realized at the end that this is a critique of Darrel Cole and an essay he wrote about "Why I am Not a Pacifist" by C.S. Lewis. Is it helpful to write a review or a review? T.C. clearly states he read the Lewis piece. Why not attempt to refute that; especially when the points against the opinion are focused on things Lewis never did/said? If this somehow becomes a second post than please forgive me listing it twice.

  2. I meant to write "review OF a review"

  3. "The author's hermeneutics are pathetic. Placing the saying "let the dead bury their own dead" in the same category as "love your enemies" is intellectually dishonest. Jesus clearly mourns the death of Lazerus, to the point of shedding tears for him—knowing full well that he would be raised to life"

    This is exactly Darrell Cole's point. Jesus said, "Let the dead bury the dead" but obviously had intentions outside of what it explicitly says, evidenced by his mourning of Lazarus' death. The hearer would understand Jesus' words beyond face value. This is the very point Darrell is making. Couple that with your strong language "pathetic" in regards to his hermeneutics and being "intellectually dishonest" we really see how dangerous your misunderstandings here are. They've led you to besmirch a man.

  4. Quick disclaimer: I realize you use the idea of hyperbolic speech (which it most certainly is) to decide why one should be accepted into this and why the other, but before this validates your above judgment you must realize it isn't the single example offered to support this point. If you are correct you will have merely removed one egg from the writer's basket of examples. Referring back to Lewis' piece, we find that this point is not dependent on a purely hyperbolic issue.

  5. Hi jackelliot79,

    We don't get much feedback on this blog, so thanks! In response to your comments, I'd first like to say that you raise a perfectly valid question when you ask, "Is it helpful to write a review [of] a review?" I think the answer is both yes and no. I did not here review Lewis' essay—this is true. However, I acknowledge that Lewis' essay is worthy of direct critique. Therefore, I will write a review of his essay and post it here to the Tanks to Tractors blog. Nevertheless, a critique an essay's review could be just as useful. As long as one is interacting with the arguments directly featured in the piece being critiqued, the criticism stand or fall on their own merit.

    For example, I criticize the reviewer for claiming that Jesus' teaching of enemy love is hyperbolic. Whether or not the reviewer's argument accurately reflects Lewis' original argument is irrelevant to the critique. I address the reviewer's argument directly.

    Speaking of which, you write,

    "Jesus said, 'Let the dead bury the dead' but obviously had intentions outside of what it explicitly says, evidenced by his mourning of Lazarus' death. The hearer would understand Jesus' words beyond face value. This is the very point Darrell is making."

    If enemy love is hyperbolic, and Jesus had intentions outside of what he explicitly says, why does he live out his own teaching? Does not Jesus demonstrate love of his enemies? Does not God demonstrate love of his enemies by giving we rebellious human beings his grace and reconciliation? (Rom. 5.8-10) The early church demonstrated this love of enemies for nearly 300 years. When did the early church practice self-amputation of sinful body parts? Was Paul being hyperbolic when he teaches the church to bless those who persecute them? (Rom. 12.14) Was he being hyperbolic when he quotes the Hebrew Bible saying, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink"? (Rom. 12.20a) Or was he simply relaying the Christ's teaching?

  6. As for your last paragraph in the above comment concerning enemy love being hyperbolic, I don't think that Darrel was implying it was hyperbolic. He was just suggesting that the hearer wouldn't need the statement spoken explicitly. He would be able to "implicitly" draw out what Christ was saying. Lewis does a much better job on this topic as he is forming the argument that Cole references. Jesus does indeed 'love His enemies". I would say that your notion of "loving enemies" is over simplified and you have to overlook a great amount of scripture in order to hold it. The proverbs speak often about the need for correction and how correcting a person shows you love them. Proverbs 27:6 and the such. This states a case that all force isn't considered violent or unloving just like me slapping a mosquito on your back isn't the same as me slapping your back to do your harm. Same action, different reasons. I believe Christian Pacifists have an extremely over-simplified view of love in this area. I've heard it said that they would never kill a person because that person needs to be given more time in case they might receive the gospel. Couldn't that argument also be driven in favor of the person being attacked/possibly murdered? What if they don't know Christ yet. Shouldn't they be given more time? Really, the is more emphasis on the pacifists need when it comes to marrying the concepts of "love your neighbor as yourself" and "love your enemy". Sometimes you can't do both. I would state not only does the enemy in the beating grandma scenario willfully forfeit their place in the line of love but in fact putting a stop to their actions is love.

  7. The above comment is actually the end to my response. It didn't all fit in one comment so I wrote it into two. Now that first one wont fit into one so I'll need two more. Sorry about that. This one here should come first, the next one second, and the one above this which starts "as for your last paragraph" should be read last. I'm sorry for the jumbled mess I've left here but I'm certain you'll be able to find your way through. Here goes:
    I don't know what is going on. I can't seem to get my comment to post. This is my third try. Sorry if the error is just on my computer and that I've actually posted this three times. The following comment should be before the above one that starts, "As for your last...". Sorry about that. Here's the beginning:
    I realize posting four comments makes one look quite aggressive. I'm not claiming you all think I'm aggressive, but I certainly wish I had managed to get the above condensed down into two comments as the 2nd and 4th ones are connected to the ones before them. My intentions here are good although I am seemingly playing the role of the challenger.

  8. Hi jackelliot79,

    Thanks for the continued comments. We don't mind their amount. Keep them coming! Btw, I borrowed Weight of Glory from the library and am writing a thorough critique of it now. I'll post it as soon as I am finished.

    Regarding enemy-love, I disagree with you, of course. You certainly cannot equate proverbs about discipline of children to the teachings of Christ. Here's why: Jesus Christ is the definitive revelation of God. Of himself he said, "If you have seen me you have seen the Father." He is the "image of the invisible God" (Col. 1.5) and the "exact representation of [God's] being" (Heb. 1.3). His teaching is final, greater, and more authoritative than all preceding teaching. (Heb. 1.1-2) Where biblical revelation seems to conflict with the teachings of Christ, the teachings of Christ trump them all! Remember when Jesus said, "You have heard [quotes the law] ... but I say [speaks authoritatively as God in the flesh]"?

    Whether you want to call is "hyperbolic" or anything else, if we approve of killing those who would seek to kill us, do violence to those who would do violence to us, we dismiss Jesus' teaching and we cease to be "Christian." For how else can one be thought of as "Christian" while rejecting Christ's teachings?

    The apostolic writings and early church history both confirm that they followed Jesus' teachings and did not dismiss them. Therefore, "authority" is on the side of the pacifist.

  9. I just realized that I still haven't successfully included the fullness of my initial response. This is the end to what I tried to post earlier in two more segments. Then I will reply to your most previous post. I am the worst at this stuff it seems. Here goes comment 2 and 3:
    I walked away from writing the besmirched comment and asked myself if it was too strong or out of line. Then I realized I had my vision reversed. The original piece was the challenger. It challenged Darrel Cole and did so on a stage he never agreed to perform.

  10. He was writing a review of an essay that he most certainly believed all of his audience had been through. This is where I think it fails to be helpful writing a review of a review. In reality, you were writing a critique of a review. This would be like reviewing a movie after seeing the trailer. Darrel isn't reciting the original essay verbatim, he is touching on it, so when you claim his hermeneutics are pathetic, or that he is naive, or that he is being intellectually dishonest, I do find the term besmirch fitting.

  11. I am not stating it to start a fight nor do I believe I have. I appreciate your response, T.C. and the newer post and I look forward to seeing your reaction to Lewis' work. I am, however, a bit concerned to read you quoting someone else calling it "criminally weak". It doesn't leave me feeling you'll have the most open mind as you go through it.

  12. So those last few should be read as if they were connected to my initial reply to your original reply. I am not helping the cause here but I don't understand why I can't get longer comments to post. Please understand the amount of comments I am about to lay down here as I attempt to avoid creating any more out or order confusion.

  13. As for your most recent reply, I am not equating proverbs of child rearing with Jesus' teachings. I am merely showing you that you are wrong when you assume that all force is sin. You claim that Biblical authority is on your side in regards to this but that is completely incorrect. The Bible is loaded with uses of force that are very openly supported and initiated by God from the Old Testament and New.

  14. There shouldn't be a need to bring up the plethora of examples from the Old Testament. From the new you have John the Baptist's response to the soldiers. He said be satisfied with your wages and do no violence to people. He didn't say to get a new job because it isn't a Christians role to be in that profession. As for the "do no violence", I would contend that this supports my stance that violence is the misuse of force not just any use of force. You have Jesus praising the Centurion. You have Jesus clearing out the temples. I've heard it said that Jesus cast out the animals but that is wrong if you read Mark 11. "Jesus...began to cast out them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves; and would not suffer that any man should carry any vessel through the temple". Sounds like Jesus had no problem using force.

  15. We know of Paul's comments in Romans 13 and Peter's comments of punishing evildoers in I Peter 2:14. How can you overlook all this and claim that the authority is on your side? You base all this on a presupposition and when it comes time to defend the premise that all force is sin you just refer to "Christ's teachings" but never really go beyond that. It's circular reasoning.

  16. This comment has been removed by the author.

  17. jackelliot79,

    While I appreciate your continued dialog, you are plainly incorrect, and in what little space I'm permitted here, I will demonstrate several of your many errors.

    1) As I stated previously, it is not entirely unhelpful to address the error of a reviewer's work, regardless of whether or not one addresses the work reviewed. The arguments either stand on their own merit or they fail. Either Cole makes correct statements and argues rationally or his facts are incorrect and his arguments fall flat. His hermeneutics *are* pathetic on the grounds I describe in the above post. If you are concerned that I have been too harsh with Mr. Cole, that is another matter entirely. But since he clearly applies a double-standard to Jesus' teachings where they require a pacifist interpretation is hermeneutic is selective, arbitrary, and therefore should be exposed as eisogesis. As I acknowledged previously, Lewis' essay is worthy of direct critique and I will post it soon. Now that I have read it, I can tell you its argumentation is unfortunately as deficient as Cole's, if not moreso.

    2) I have claimed nowhere that "all force is sin." Therefore, all of your arguments to the contrary are pointless. This is known as a Man-of-Straw. Violence and force are not synonyms. Violence is force that is intent to harm. Not all force is harmful, nor intentional. Therefore, Christian nonviolence does not necessarily reject "force."

  18. 3) Referencing John the Baptist's counsel to the soldiers only further supports the Christian nonviolence stance. "Do no violence" is fairly straightforward, is it not? Do you know of a way a soldier can carry out his duties in war without employing violence? Nor do I. Furthermore, Jesus' praise of the Centurion proves exactly nothing. To claim that by not commanding him to leave his position, he must then approve of it, is at best an argument from silence. Jesus also praises the faith of a prostitute without commanding her to stop prostituting. Would you apply the same logic to her field? I don't suspect you would. Moreover, we have no record of Jesus commanding Simon the Zealot to abandon his zealotry. Would you then conclude Jesus approves not only of soldiering but of violence revolt? If so, you will be hard pressed to reconcile that stance with Romans 13, won't you?

  19. 4) The temple-clearing is most assuredly *not* support for any Christian position I know of. Would you care to elaborate? If, for example, you are here claiming Jesus violently whipped human beings because they were greedy, what theology then does this lead you to accept? Should we not be bursting into churches that preach a "Prosperity Gospel" with our own homemade weapons? When was the last time you cleansed your church? Or, perhaps, you think this interpretation supports Just War theory. I would be enthralled to hear that argument. As a matter of fact, John Howard Yoder, through clear and scholarly exegesis refutes even the possibility that the verse in question could refer to Jesus whipping humans. The Greek grammar actually excludes that possibility. Yet, it never ceases to amaze me how some Christians believe the same Jesus who healed his injured arrester and prayed for those crucifying him also whipped greedy people. That's a complex Jesus indeed.
    5) Using Romans 13 and Peter 2 as support for opposition to Christian nonviolence are not sufficient. Both describe the actions of governing civil authorities, not followers of Christ. In stark contrast to the justice of the world, Paul instructs Christians to "bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse." He goes on to quote the Hebrew Bible saying, "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink…" (Rom. 12.14, 20). As for Peter, he refers us to Jesus' unjust suffering, non-retaliation, and non-threatening as our example to follow. Are we to follow Jesus' example, or not? Call me crazy, but I'm going to say "follow Jesus' example."

    Here's some homework for you brother. Look into some solid biblical exegesis of New Testament ethics. Read John Howard Yoder's _The Politics of Jesus_.

    Grace and peace!

  20. You're arguing semantics here. When I say all force isn't violent I am attempting to differentiate between that force that I deem fitting and you deem sin. I have to admit, if I cannot even get you to concede that it was in a poor taste to critique Cole's review prior to reading Lewis' essay than I find there to be little hope for honest dialogue with you. I also strongly dislike when you write things such as "nor do I" after asking me a question. It is smug to answer for me in that fashion. I do indeed know a way that a soldier can do his work without being violent. It is actually the very thing you keep kicking against. He can perform the duties of protection and justice in a fashion deemed fitting. He can avoid harassing people and scaring them into offering bribes.

  21. Also, I am not creating a straw man. If Christian nonviolence doesn't necessarily reject force than would it be ok for me to punch someone in the face if it were the only means of protecting someone in need? Please don't offer an answer that explains why the question is faulty. A yes or no will not only suffice but cut through a lot of confusion I may have on your stance. I had the impression your answer would be no but now it sounds as if you may already be in agreement with me. You've got to realize that you are taking Christ's commandment to "love your enemy" and tagging your own qualifications to it. You're argument doesn't really go to deeply beyond simple sentences like that.

  22. jackelliot79,

    I don't concede that my arguments are necessarily semantical, but neither should you underestimate the importance of semantics in theology, interpretation, and exegesis. Force and violence are not identical concepts therefore they cannot be used interchangeably. Without such distinction, accurate reasoning is impossible.

    No, I do not concede that it was "in poor taste" to critique Cole's view before reading Lewis' essay. Each work must stand on its own if they are true. Cole's arguments failed on their own, with or without Lewis' help.

    Regarding soldiers, I must say your logic is convoluted. If the Baptist forbids them from even shaking down people for money, how can they be permitted to injure them much less kill them? You might think it smug to answer that question, and perhaps it is, but the obviousness of truth remains whether you like it or dislike it. In fact, if I held your stance—that violence and killing are perfectly permissible Christian activities—I wouldn't like the obviousness of the truth either. I'd find it very annoying.

    If involvement in the military, to provide protection and justice, are perfectly Christian activities, I'm sure you wouldn't mind supplying some Scripture that substantiates that claim. In Romans 13, Paul describes the judgment of magistrates on evil-doers as God's wrath (v.4). In the very same context, Paul explicitly prohibits Christians from participation in such wrath (12.17-21). "Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord." (v.19) Paul goes on to say, "ON THE CONTRARY, 'If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.' Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good." (v.20-21, emphasis added) Christians are expressly forbidden from the very activities you claim can be carried out in a "fashion deemed fitting."

    Regarding your last comment, I will not supply any answers to hypotheticals. If the biblical concept of love is so vague to you that you are unable to extrapolate it's implications on particular scenarios, then no amount of answers will satisfy your unending questions. Jesus is our hermeneutical principle. "This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters." (I Jn. 3.16) "But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom. 5.8) If the activity you seek to justify does not look like Jesus Christ dying on the cross for his enemies, then it is sin.

    Grace and peace!

  23. Well, I'm a bit late to the party. I would add that the author's appeal to authority misses the ultimate authority and the sovereignty of God.
    This may be of interest to some: