Book Reviews -- By: Anonymous
SBJT 14:1 (Spring 2010) p. 74
Just War as Christian Discipleship: Recentering the Tradition in the Church rather than the State. By Daniel M. Bell, Jr. Grand Rapids: Brazos, 2009, 267 pp., $21.99 paper.
Back in the 1990s, Notre Dame philosophy professor Tom Morris wrote If Aristotle Ran General Motors: The New Soul of Business. Now, Methodist elder and Lutheran seminary professor Daniel Bell has given us what amounts to If Jesus Ran the Pentagon: The New Soul of War. And the results are surprising. We’re conditioned to think that Jesus would counsel non-violent love for all, but Bell will have none of that. Following Augustine, he is persuaded that true love entails some “harsh kindness” in the form of war making. And he has no patience for those who would deem all combat the “lesser of two evils.”
After reviewing the development of just war thinking, he draws a line between the secular/secularized approach, which he labels the Public Policy Checklist (PPC), and his own position, that of Christian Discipleship (CD). He argues that his take on the matter is truer to the classic thought of Augustine and Aquinas and that modernity has drained just-war thinking of its wisdom and virtue. In this connection, he turns conventional judgment on its head, claiming that the Thirty-Years’ War (1618-1648) was not a war of religion but a war of incipient irreligion as the old, consecrated thinking evaporated.
The book has much to commend it. It’s a fascinating thought experiment, and it’s clearly written. I may well use it as one of my texts in a future course on war and peace. It starts with a helpful survey of just war thought through the centuries and then, chapter by chapter, treats the seven main criteria common to the literature—legitimate authority, just cause, right intent, last resort, reasonable chance of success, discrimination, and proportionality.
In each instance, he takes pains to distinguish CD from PPC thinking, and his standards are generally gratifying and bracing, e.g., scrupulous attention to the well being of non-combatants. He is merciless toward those who pay mere lip service to the rules, but he stands against those who are so finicky that no war could ever qualify. He teaches a self-forgetful, sacrificial approach to military service and lifts up such virtues as hope, courage, temperance, and patience, showing that the character of the rule-follower is as crucial as the framing of the rules.
Yet, for all that, his application and execution are wanting. First, it would have been a better book had Bell spent less time denigrating the “Public Policy Checklist,” beginning with this snide label. He could well have given it due honor as a basic
SBJT 14:1 ...
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