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War: Four Christian views

Clouse, R.G. (1981). War: Four Christian views. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press.

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During "Desert Storm" (January-March 1991), numerous opinions were observed among young people about the U.S. and its coalition's attack on Iraq to free Kuwait and smash Saddam Hussein's expansive threat:

  • Pacifism. "I do not believe in any kind of war."
  • Political dissent. "I do not think the process which has led to this war was adequate and acceptable."
  • Guardian of world order. "Saddam has gone too far. There is no other power to stop him. America has the might, the right, and responsibility to intervene."
  • Rambo revenge. "He's a madman; let's go and kick a-- and, if we need to, make Baghdad a parking lot."

Should Christians ever go to war? If so, under what conditions? If not, why not? These questions have been disputed for centuries. Here are four modern expressions of four classical views.

  • Biblical nonresistance. Christians may participate in war only as noncombatants. Presented by Herman A. Hoyt, formerly of Grace Theological Seminary, "Biblical nonresistance holds that Christians have a responsibility to the government (Romans 12: 1-7)...submitting themselves to every law that does not ask them to do anything contrary to the higher law of God (Acts 4:17-20; Acts 5:28-29). Taking human life is clearly prohibited by the law of God (Exodus 20:13)...Christians are free to serve their country in the army or under civilian direction in anything that is noncombatants..." (p. 48)
  • Christian pacifism. Christians are to have nothing whatsoever to do with war. Presented by Myron S. Augsburger, formerly of Eastern Mennonite College, "There are at least three other views of war held by the modern Christian church. One is that war is the lesser of two evils, and we cannot avoid it as an option. Another is that we turn to war only as a last resort. And another is that the Christian should be able to move beyond hate and kill in love. (Christian pacifism holds that) New Testament nonresistance is the claim of Christ upon his disciples as an expression of the reality of his kingdom...From an evangelical perspective it may be said that wherever a Christian participates in war he has abdicated his responsibility to the greater calling of missions and evangelism." (pp. 90, 92)
  • Just war. Christians may fight in a defensive war. Presented by Arthur F. Holmes of Wheaton College, "In the Mosaic Law as a whole, capital punishment was allowable for at least ten different crimes, and killing in self-defense was not a criminal offense. 'Thou shalt not kill' cannot therefore be taken as to rule out all killing, let alone war. The key passage is rather Romans 13:1-7. Here the right to use arms is accorded to the civil authorities inasmuch as they are divinely commissioned to restrain and punish evildoers (1 Peter 2: 13-14)...(overall) the Biblical picture is as follows: (1) The use of force in resisting and punishing violence is entrusted to governments. (2) Believers in both Old and New Testaments are involved in governmental uses of force. (3) Such uses of force are to be drastically limited to what is necessary in securing peace and justice. (4) Vengeance is thereby ruled out, along with all aggression; love and mercy must temper justice." (pp. 122-124)
  • Preventive war. Christians may engage in war to stop attack or correct outrageous injustice. Presented by Harold O.J. Brown of Trinity Divinity School, "The most common case in which war is found to be justifiable is that of a defensive war against an unprovoked act of aggression, provided of course, that the defense has some chance of succeeding and that the means chosen are proportionate to the end to be achieved...we can define a crusade as a war that is begun not in response to a present act of aggression, but as the attempt to set right a past act...If self- defense is legitimate at all, then it must be legitimate to anticipate a deadly or crippling first blow...Francis Bacon: 'There is no question, but a just fear of an immanent danger, though no blow be given, is a lawful cause of war.' " (pp. 153, 155, 161) These viewpoints provide a basis for interesting discussions; it does not provide adequate basis for a real understanding of the above positions.




  1. Do you think it is ever right for a country to go to war?
  2. Would you be willing to serve as a combatant in your country's military services? Would you register as a conscientious objector? Would you be willing to render alternative service for your country?
  3. How would you advise your younger brother or sister, or your son or daughter, about military service?
  4. Can you think of any circumstances in which it could be right for a country to initiate the use of nuclear weapons? If your country asked you to push the red button which would unleash nuclear destruction, could you do it?
  5. There are two sets of four positions listed above. In each set, with which position do you have most in common? About which position(s) above do you have strong disagreements or questions? Explain.



  1. It is sad that people of faith disagree on this, yet another critical issue. Therefore, there are aspects of each position that probably need keen attention. This means that people need to increase tolerance and ability in listening to contrary opinions. Skills of critical thinking also need honing.
  2. Young people are more directly affected by wars than are any other part of the population. Understandably, they have questions about its morality and common sense. They also think about death.
  3. The church and youth ministry must show its relevance in its ability to apply the faith to matters such as war, peace, justice, and forgiveness.

Dean Borgman cCYS