Christian just war tradition from ERLC of SBC

In this series on the Christian just war tradition we’ll examine the three main areas of just war theory: 1. jus ad bellum (the moral requirement for going to war), 2. jus in bello (the moral requirements for waging war), and 3.  jus post bellum (moral requirements after warfare is concluded).

  1. jus ad bellum the moral requirement for going to war

There are six criteria that must be satisfied before entering war can be considered just:

  1. Just Cause – There must be a just and proper reason for going to war. Some of the justifiable reasons include self-defense, protecting the innocent (e.g., preventing genocide), restoring human rights wrongly denied, and assisting an ally in their self-defense.
  2. Proportionate Cause – The good of going to war must outweigh the destruction and death that will be caused by warfare. In other words, going to war must prevent more evil and suffering than it is expected to cause.
  3. Right Intention – Our reasons and motives for engaging in warfare must noble and in line with the ethic of Christian love. We can go to war to right a wrong or restore a just peace but not to restore our “national pride” or to seek revenge against an enemy.
  4. Right Authority – War can only be authorized by a legitimate governing authority. This means it has to be a governing authority we would recognize as fitting the criteria of Romans 13. But it also means that the proper governing authority has actual sovereign authorization to engage in war. For example, the President of the United States has the proper authority to initiate warfare against Canada while the governor of North Dakota does not.
  5. Reasonable Chance of Success – The initiation of warfare brings violence, pain, and suffering. This cost is only worth paying if it will, as we noted, outweigh the destruction and death that will be caused by warfare. If there is no reasonable chance of success in warfare there can be no reasonable chance of using warfare to restore a just peace.
  6. Last Resort – Engaging in warfare must be the last reasonable and workable option for addressing problems. Any peaceful alternatives, such as diplomacy or non-violent political pressure, must first be exhausted before going to war.

All of these criteria must be met before a nation can be justified in going to war.

For source click here.


  1. jus in bello the moral requirements for waging war

Historically, Christian thinkers have proposed two primary criteria for just execution of war, discrimination and proportionality.

Discrimination – The criterion of discrimination includes two key components, “innocence” and “deliberate attack.” The first rule of just warfare is that we do not target or kill the innocent. In this context, the term innocence refers to whether individuals are able cause direct harm—whether willingly or reluctantly—either to us or to our military forces that are engaged in just warfare. Such people are considered “noncombatants” and are immune from attack because the meet the qualification of innocence.

The second component of discrimination is “deliberate attack.” While the innocent may be harmed because of our engaging in warfare, it must not be our intention. In their book, The Just War Tradition: Ethics in Modern Warfare, Charles Guthrie and Michael Quinlan outline three key provisos to meet this standard:

(1) The death of innocents must genuinely not be part of the real purpose of the combat operation, or positively necessary to fulfill the legitimate military objective. It must, in other words, be an unwelcome side effect rather than an intentional targeting.

(2) We must do all that we reasonably can, consistent with not gravely endangering the legitimate military purpose, to minimize the risks of noncombatants to a minimum.

(3) The likely harm to noncombatants must not be out of proportion to the expected military benefit.

Proportionality – The criterion of proportionality in waging warfare is similar to the criterion of “proportionate cause” in deciding to go to war: The good of going to war must outweigh the destruction and death that will be caused by warfare. In other words, going to war must prevent more evil and suffering than it is expected to cause.

For source click here.

  1. jus ad bellum the moral requirement for going to war

Proportionality and Publicity: The peace settlement should be both measured and reasonable, as well as publicly proclaimed.

Rights Vindication: The settlement should secure those basic rights whose violation triggered the justified war. The relevant rights include human rights to life and liberty and community entitlements to territory and sovereignty.

Discrimination: Distinction needs to be made between the leaders, the soldiers, and the civilians in the country one is negotiating with. Civilians are entitled to reasonable immunity from punitive postwar measures.

Compensation: Financial restitution may be mandated, subject to both proportionality and discrimination.

Punishment: Soldiers and political leaders from all sides should face fair and public international trials for war crimes.

Rehabilitation: Reforming of decrepit institutions in an aggressor regime.

For source click here.

Henry Luke 10/5/2017


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One Response to Christian just war tradition from ERLC of SBC

  1. Pingback: Relating to others | My Personal Journey by Henry Luke

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