This page provides a range of key resources on the ethics of war, particularly in relation to just war and pacifist approaches. Most, but not all, of these are available online (some though requiring a subscription to be accessed).
The initial section points to some helpful introductory and widely reprinted pieces found in dictionaries and readers. There follows a selection of resources particularly focussed on Scripture and then on the Christian tradition.
The contemporary ethical discussions are divided broadly into those within the just war tradition, the debate between this and pacifism, and those who more identified as pacifist in their approach.Last Updated on 2 March, 2021 by Andrew Goddard
Dictionary Articles & Readers
The following dictionary articles help to provide a general orientation to the issues:
- IVP Dictionary articles on “Pacifism” (644-7), “Violence” (875-9) and “War” (885-8)
- SCM Dictionary articles on “Pacifism” (446-8) and “Just War” (328-9).
- Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics articles on
- “Force, Use of” by Mark Douglas (309)
- “Holy War” by Stephen B. Chapman (369-70)
- “Just-Peacemaking Theory” by Glen Stassen (442-5). Excellent summary of this approach by key thinker.
- “Just-War Theory” by Gary M. Simpson (445-9)
- “Pacifism” by Charles Gutenson (573-5)
- “Peace” by Willard M. Swartley (583-6). Major survey by leading expert
- “Violence” by Mark Douglas (809-10)
- “War” by Mark Douglas (824-7)
- Dictionary for Theological Interpretation of the Bible article on Violence by Hans Boerma (834-7)
- The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Modern Christian Thought articles on “Just War” (287-9) and “War & Peace” (652-7)
- Reichberg, Syse & Begby (eds), The Ethics of War: Classic and Contemporary Readings is an excellent large reader which presents a wide range of authors from across the centuries, including many Christian thinkers.
- See articles listed above in Dictionary of Scripture and Ethics and also OT scholar Tremper Longman’s article “Warfare” in New Dictionary of Biblical Theology.
- Articles in Evangelical Quarterly April 1985 (Vol LVII No 2)
- OT Perspectives by F. Derek Kidner (pp. 99-113).
- NT Perspectives by I. Howard Marshall (pp. 115-32, sadly not online)
- Biblical-Theological Perspectives on War & Peace by George Carey (pp. 163-78)
- On war in the Old Testament:
- Philip Jenson’s Grove Biblical booklet on The Problem of War in the Old Testament (with short online summary from Ian Paul)
- John A. Wood, “War in the Old Testament”, Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University
- Richard Hess, “War in the Hebrew Bible: An Overview” in Richard Hess and Elmer A. Martens (eds), War in the Bible and Terrorism in the Twenty-First Century (Eisenbrauns, 2008)
- Rodd, Cyril S. – Glimpses of a Strange Land, chpt 15 (survey of texts and readings).
- Ingrid E. Lilly, “What About War and Violence in the Old Testament?” in Tripp York and Andy Alexis-Baker(eds), A Faith Not Worth Fighting For (Cascade Books, 2012)
- On war in the New Testament:
- Richard Hays, The Moral Vision of the New Testament, Chpt 14 “Violence in Defence of Justice” (pp. 317-46) covers biblical material in some detail from a pacifist perspective. Worth reading whole chapter but helpful summary overview provided here by Trevin Wax.
- The chapter led to an extensive debate between Hays and Nigel Biggar which is a very helpful guide to the issues both biblically and ethically.
- Stassen & Gushee, Kingdom Ethics, chpt 7 (‘Just War, Nonviolence and Just Peacemaking’), pp. 149-74 (see also other chpts esp chpt 8).
- Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld’s Killing Enmity: Violence and The New Testament offers a pacifist reading and the first two chapters are online
- An extensive bibliography of material relating to the New Testament and War is online here.
- On the early church and to what extent it was pacifist there is ongoing debate:
- Ronald J. Sider, “The Early Church on War and Killing” leading to a critical response by just war defender, J. Daryl Charles which is a summary of his longer “Pacifists, Patriots, or Both?: Second Thoughts on Pre-Constantinian Early Christian Attitudes to Solidiering and War”
- Jennifer Otto, “Were the Early Christians Pacifists?”
- Gill, Textbook of Christian Ethics Section 3 gives key readings from Augustine, Aquinas and Luther with comments. Helpful to read all 3 writers but if you look at just one then Aquinas best [pp. 277-88 or links below]
- Evangelical Quarterly April 1985 – “War in a Church-Historical Perspective” by David F. Wright (pp. 133-61) offers a helpful overview of church history.
- Endre Begby, Gregory Reichberg and Henrik Sysegive a survey of the general history in “The Ethics of War Part I: Historical Trends”, Philosophy Compass 7/5 (2012), pp. 316-327.
- On Augustine a helpful overview is provided by John Langan, “The Elements of St Augustine’s Just War Theory”, The Journal of Religious Ethics, Vol. 12, No. 1 (Spring, 1984), pp. 19-38
- On Aquinas the key text is his discussion of whether it is always sinful to wage war in Summa 2/2, Q40 a1. Basic guide to reading the Summa may be helpful.
- Background to just war thinking prior to Aquinas (including Augustine) is set out by Rory Cox in “Historical Just War Theory up to Thomas Aquinas” from the Oxford Handbook of the Ethics of War
- Gregory Reichberg discusses his major recent study Thomas Aquinas on War and Peace in this podcast (available at other podcast providers). Many of his writings on war are available from this webpage.
- On Luther a helpful introduction with extracts can be read online as chapter 2 (pp. 9-29) of the recent The Reformers on War, Peace, and Justice by Timothy J. Demy, Mark J. Larson and J. Daryl Charles
Modern Just War Thinking
A helpful overview of contemporary, mainly philosophical, approaches is provided by Endre Begby, Gregory Reichberg and Henrik Sysein “The Ethics of War Part II: Contemporary Authors and Issues”, Philosophy Compass 7/5 (2012), pp. 328-47.
The introduction to the Oxford Handbook of the Ethics of War – “The Ethics of War” (PDF) by Helen Frowe and Seth Lazar provides an overview of the book and thus of some of the issues and debates within contemporary ethics of war. Seth Lazar has also written the online Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy article on war (and other articles listed on Academia). Helen Frowe’s contribution to the Handbook is on “The Just War Framework” and she too has other articles on Academia.
“Contemporary just war doctrine: a critical comparison of theological and philosophical proposals” is a recent Oxford thesis by Therese Feiler which looks at 3 Christian and 2 non-Christian recent accounts.
In relation to recent and contemporary Christian writers looking at one (or more) of the following writers will give a sense of the current Christian arguments broadly in favour of just war:
- Paul Ramsey, writing in the 1960s and 1970s, is the father figure of recent Christian just war thinking certainly in Protestant circles
- A good way into his thinking is his early book War & Christian Conscience: How Shall Modern War Be Conducted Justly esp chs 2-4.
- An excellent recent introduction to his thought is provided by James Turner Johnson in “Paul Ramsey and the Recovery of the Just War Idea”. Johnson had earlier written “Just War in the Thought of Paul Ramsey”
- Chapter 2 of the thesis above by Feiler offers an account and evaluation of Ramsey’s work.
- James Turner Johnson himself has written a number of important studies including:
- “Can force be used justly?”, 2001 Kuyper Lecture
- “The Just War Idea: The State of the Question” a 2006 article providing overview of historical development and contemporary issues.
- On contemporary Roman Catholic teaching
- Joseph Capizzi’s lecture “Catholic Teaching & Just War” (video) explores the nature of Catholic teaching and the just war tradition.
- Reichberg, Gregory M. (2012) “Discontinuity in Catholic Just War Teaching? From Aquinas to the Contemporary Popes”, Nova et vetera 10(4): 1073–1097 offers an examination of the relation of classical and contemporary Catholic accounts and the argument that there is a move from the presumption against injustice to a presumption against war.
- Oliver O’Donovan, Anglican moral theologian
- In Pursuit of a Christian View of War, Grove Booklet is an early, short discussion
- His fullest is his Just War Revisited (especially the lengthy opening four-part chapter). A sense of his central argument can be gained from this full review of the book by Jon Gunnemann
- Chapter 3 of the thesis above by Feiler offers an account and evaluation of his work.
- Nigel Biggar, O’Donovan’s successor as Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford, is the most recent strong advocate.
- He sets out his case fully in his book In Defence of War (OUP, 2013) the second important chapter of which is on “Love In War” (on which you can hear him speak here with reference to this handout).
- This later article by him, also entitled “In Defence of War”, summarises the book’s main arguments and explores four controversial issues it raises
- Philip Powell offers a helpful overview of the book and some critiques in his Ethics in Brief review article.
- His later “In Defence of Just War: Christian Tradition, Controversies and Cases” explores further some of the issues
- These short videos of interviews with him will provide you with a sense of his main arguments. Longer video presentations by him are online here and here (with Clare Short)
- “Just War? The Ethics Of Military Intervention In The 21st Century” a 35 minute talk to Christians in Parliament.
- Talks on the Christian Just War tradition and the application of its thinking to World War One given to the Armed Forces Christian Union.
- One of his most contentious claims is a defence of the Iraq war – “After Iraq: When To Go To War” explores issues (video of lecture here) about going to war post-Iraq and he sought to defend later intervention in Syria which he also debated with a leader of the Stop the War coalition.
- J. Daryl Charles is a US-based writer of more popular material supporting just war thinking.
- Helpful book length studies by him include
- Between Pacifism & Jihad: Just War and Christian Tradition (a talk with same title sketching the just war tradition can be read here)
- The Just War Tradition: An Introduction (with David D. Corey),
- War, Peace, and Christianity: Questions and Answers from a Just-War Perspective (with Timothy J. Demy)
- The opening chapter of his most recent edited volume (America and the Just War Tradition) – “The Just War Tradition and America’s Wars” – offers a helpful overview of the tradition and a discussion of it in relation to American history. It can be read online at Google Books.
- You can watch a recent lecture on just war by him here.
- Helpful book length studies by him include
- Other helpful sources providing an overview include:
- Andrew Goddard – When Is War Justified?, Grove Booklet or Pocket Guide to Ethical Issues, chpt 6 (pp. 97-111)
- Daniel Bell – Just War as Christian Discipleship, the heart of the argument can be watched in this lecture or read in this short booklet and a helpful critical review from a pacifist perspective is here.
- Charles Reed – Just War?, especially chpt 3, pp 32-61.
- Darrell Cole, Good Wars in First Things Oct 2001, pp27-31.
- Thomas Kennedy, “Can War be Just ?” in Boulton et.al. From Christ to the World, pp436-42.
Just War vs Pacifism Debates
A debate between just war defender Nigel Biggar and pacifist Mennonite Thomas R. Yoder Neufeld entitled “Who Would Jesus Shoot?” (audio) gives a good sense of the argument between these two traditions.
A discussion between Nigel Biggar and Stanley Hauerwas – two of the leading theological voices on either side of the debate.
““It’s Just War”: Should Christians Fight” – video of a two hour debate between two defenders of pacifism and two advocates of just war thinking.
See also the exchanges between Nigel Biggar and Richard Hays described above in the biblical section.
Two of the best books setting out the debate are
Oliver R. Barclay, ed., Pacifism and War (When Christians Disagree) (Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press, 1984) which offers short clear statements of positions and responses from evangelical writers. See especially Holmes on just war (pp 17-37) and Kreider and Swartley & Kreider on pacifism (pp 38-67).
David L. Clough and Brian Stiltner, Faith and Force: A Christian Debate About War (Washington D.C.: Georgetown University Press, 2007). The introduction is online at Academia. Clough has also written “Understanding Pacifisms: A Typology” (2007).
Modern Christian Pacifism & Peacemaking
The two most significant writers here in recent years have been John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas. In terms of their approach to NT ethics they are both discussed and critiqued in Richard Hays – The Moral Vision of the New Testament, pp. 239-66.
A flavour of at each of them can be gained from the selections below.
- The Politics of Jesus [esp chpts 4 & 5 on Jesus and peace] is his most famous work while his Nevertheless maps out different forms of religious pacifism
- “Can There Be A Just War?” and “Just War Tradition: Is It Credible?” are two short articles engaging with the just war tradition while “How many ways are there to think morally about war?” is a longer mapping of different approaches.
- “What Would You Do If…?” explores the standard anti-pacifist argument
- “Toward Realistic Pacifism: John Howard Yoder and the Theory and Practice of Nonviolent Peacemaking” by David Cortright offers an overview of some of Yoder’s relevant work.
- “Unjust Lies, Just Wars? A Christian Pacifist Conversation with Augustine” by Alain Epp Weaver places Yoder in dialogue with Augustine to defend Yoder’s pacifism.
- Further resources from Yoder including on non-violence, pacifism and war can be found online through this page and the Yoder Digital Library and online Yoder Reading Room.
- The Peaceable Kingdom is the main overview of his thinking and it is very difficult to select out specific sections but esp pp 111-5, 121-51.
- War and The American Difference is perhaps his most sustained discussion of war and the introduction giving an overview and the first 3 chapters on America and War are online here.
- ““I’m a pacifist because I’m a violent son of a bitch” A profile of Stanley Hauerwas” offers a short introduction based on an interview with Hauerwas.
- Another helpful overview provided by a 2014 interview is “The Vulnerability that Makes Peace Possible: An Interview with Stanley Hauerwas”
- “The End of Just War: Why Christian Realism Requires NonViolence” (ABC Religion and Ethics, 2016)
- “Pacifism: Some Philosophical Considerations” in Faith and Philosophy: Journal of the Society of Christian Philosophers, 1985 (2:2).
- “Man of War: Why C S Lewis was not a Pacifist” – “I am a pacifist. Lewis was anything but a pacifist. I want to show that his arguments against pacifism are inadequate, but I also that he provides imaginative resources for Christians to imagine a very different form of Christian nonviolence, a form unknown to Lewis, with which I hope he might have had some sympathy”.
- “September 11th, 2001: A Pacifist Response” in The South Atlantic Quarterly, Volume 101, Number 2, Spring 2002, pp. 425-433.
- “Sacrificing the Sacrifices of War” in Journal of Religion, Conflict and Peace, Fall 2007. You can listen to a talk of the same title here.
Other recent Christian theologians whose work focusses on the ethics of peace and non-violence include:
- Ted Grimsrud and Christian Early offer a helpful short overview of “Christian Pacifism in Brief” and Grimsrud’s website includes a number of resources on pacifism including the text of his planned book “Pacifism with Justice: The Biblical and Theological Case”.
- Lisa Sowle Cahill in books such as Blessed Are the Peacemakers: Pacifism, Just War, and Peacebuilding (Fortress, 2019) and Love Your Enemies: Discipleship, Pacifism, and Just War Theory (Fortress, 1994).
- A sense of her approach is gained from her article 2016 Commonweal article “A Church for Peace? Why Just War Theory Isn’t Enough”
- Her account of her own journey is given in this short two-page testimony.
- Glen Stassen developed an appoach of Just Peace-Making (see dictionary article at start of reading list).
- This short video introduces the idea while this short video looks at the failures of just war and pacifism
- A summary of its ten principles is set out in “Just Peacemaking: Ten Practices for Abolishing War” and other resources are on the Fuller Seminary Just Peacemaking page.
- The rooting of it in the Sermon on the Mount is set out by Stassen in his “Transforming Initiatives of Just Peacemaking Based on the Triadic Structure of the Sermon on the Mount”
- Eric A. Seibert a biblical scholar who has previously written on violence in Scripture has recently published Disarming the Church: Why Christians Must Forsake Violence to Follow Jesus (Cascade Books, Wipf and Stock, 2018). You can hear him talking about its argument here and read a critical review by Randal Rauser which also sets out the book’s argument here.
- In 2004, a number of US theologians issued a confessional statement – Confessing Christ in A World of Violence which is worth reading.