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Nigel Biggar: In Defence of War

Nigel Biggar, In Defence of War (Oxford University Press, 2013), 384 pages, ISBN 9780199672615.

Dr. Biggar is Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology at Oxford University. Although too young to remember WWII, his childhood memories were filled with stories from relatives and neighbors of the “good war” that England fought to prevent the unspeakable evils of Nazi world domination. His approach to the moral issues of war is that of Augustine’s “just war” tradition.

For the sake of full disclosure, I have been solidly behind the Augustinian “just war” theory since childhood, before I knew the term. Like Dr. Biggar, I grew up in the 1950s, in awe of our veterans, assured that the war against Nazism was indeed honorable and justified. I also accepted that the wars against Communisms were “just wars.” I joined the Army during the Vietnam War and served in the 101st Airmobile Division in a civil affairs unit. Although the Vietnam War ended in defeat, I have always considered it an honorable part of the war against communism. In this regard I am in kinship with Dr. Biggar’s assault on “Christian pacifism,” including the many critics of the Vietnam War.

William De Arteaga with children in Vietnam.

Dr. Biggar’s book consists of an introduction, seven chapters and a brief concluding section. The chapters originated from various articles and lectures the author has given over the past decades. The introduction is subtitled “Against wishful thinking,” and together with chapter one, “Against Christian pacifism” counters the opinion, widely popular in university settings, that pacifism is the default setting for the Christian. Biggar deals with various Christian authors who are pacifists and systematically counters their arguments. Among Christian pacifist theologian examined are Richard Hays, John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas. Hauerwas is given particularly severe criticism, as his views on war are short on scriptural analysis and heavy with his left wing political assumptions.

Biggar concludes this section:

Each of the pacifists under consideration assumes that violence is all of one piece. They do not distinguish violence that is well motivated, rightly intentioned, and proportionate from that which is not. Nor do they distinguish anger from vengeance and hatred. …
When our conceptually indiscriminate Christian pacifists turn to the New Testament and read that Jesus repudiated some kinds of anger and violence, they assume that he must have repudiated all kinds …

Such an understanding of Jesus’ social ethics stand prima facie in contradiction of Paul’s affirmation of the divine authorization of sword bearing in the 13th Chapter of his Epistle to the Romans (p. 59).

Chapter two is entitled, “Love in War.” It records stories of soldiers acting with righteousness and kindness in war situation. A moral soldier can “…regard their enemies with respect, solidarity, and even compassion – all of which are forms of love” (p. 91).

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Category: Fall 2015, Living the Faith

About the Author: William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major works include Quenching the Spirit: Discover the Real Spirit Behind the Charismatic Controversy (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015), and The Public Prayer Station: Taking Healing Prayer to the Streets and Evangelizing the Nones (Emeth Press, 2018). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He continues in his healing, teaching and writing ministry and is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations. Facebook

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