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March 18, 2008



I have posted my thoughts on my blog.

Most interesting to me were:

Augustine's dualism and

Augustine's just war theory as an apology for Christianity.

Derek Rishmawy

I'm going to insert a point here that I hope will be unnecessary but that has been nagging me in many recent discussion on Christian ethics in both Christian and non-Christian circles and it is my annoyance with a tendency to separate the "teachings of Jesus" out from the rest of the Canon and prioritizing the "red letters" over and against the rest of it. Or, sometimes just ignoring the fact that there are other normative ethical teachings in Scripture, that as Christians, we believe are just as inspired by the Spirit of Jesus as those we have recorded. I mean, in a way, its all the "teachings of Jesus." So, we have to take the "red-letter" statements in the Gospels along with the rest of the Canon which might provide counterbalances and clarifiers on the red-letters.

Also, on Augustine: Umm, I think you draw a false dichotomy between "a good Roman citizen" and "a good disciple of Jesus" in a way that seems to tilt the two necessarily against each other. Also, historically, its actually innaccurate to paint Augustine as some un-critical jingoist. Augustine was highly and quite clearly critical of state authority at various places, particularly in his "City of God." He actually has very long discussions about just and unjust governments and even the limitations of the just ones. So, just a matter of historical fact you portrayal of him is incorrect. The way I read the quote about executing the will of God or those of a just government does not have Augustine blindly baptizing all government action as good and just. Also, one can see in it a knowledge of Paul talking about God's establishment of governments to rule and keep order and about their "not bearing the sword in vain" and so forth. There's also the very extensive passages in the OT that describe God's ordering his people to make war against idolatrous nations without much equivocation. (I know, New Testament, Old Testament, Redemptive history, etc., but still, its there.) There's also the point that Augustine does not only base his defense of just wars on his dualistic anthropology but also on a Christian imperative to love one's neighbor and his reasoning that that might require that one fight in a just war against an aggressor. I say this in response to your contention that his reasoning is based "fundamentally on a philosophical stand-point" about government. It actually can be seen to be a theological standpoint about justice, authority and love.

He might have been wrong, but I don't think its for the reasons that you're listing.

Derek Rishmawy

There are a few grammatical errors in my post. I wanted to acknowledge that. I felt dumb once I read them. :)


Thanks for the corrective. I completely understand the "canon within a canon" idea in regards to the teachings of Jesus [which is not what I was arguing for]. The issue is twofold. First, does it not seem at least curious that Augustine does not appear to make an sustained argument from the scriptures for what is a radical departure from the consensus Christian view that is pre-Constantinian. [Brimlow does a nice job of comparing and contrasting Tertullian's thoughts alongside Augustine's.]

The larger question is this - why did Augustine feel it necessary to propose a "just war theory" to begin with? What Brimlow, as well as others, perceives is that Augustine is quite possibly justifying the ways of the Roman Empire, addressing a conflict between the historic view of the early Christian church on the issue of violence and the utilization of violence of the Roman Empire and Pax Romana. To make things more difficult, caught in the middle is the issue of Christianity being the official state religion.

I believe that Constantine, although often demonized, also has some culpability. It was Constantine who had a "vision" of Christ commanding him to take the sign of the cross into battle. Could Augustine's outlook have been influenced by the marriage of religion and state? This is the basis for the pondering of whether Augustine saw "just war theory" more through the eyes of Roman citizen, making a justification of sorts.

I am still looking for a plausible explanation of how just war theory complements what Jesus said and did in regards to the use of violence. [Which leads to another puzzling question - if God is unchanging, how do we account for the tension between pronouncements in the Hebrew Bible and the teachings of Jesus in the New Testament? Still wrestling with that one...]


if you haven't picked up shane claiborne's new book yet then i would recommend it. he goes into constantine and "the fall of the church" as well.

also, greg boyd told me that this book is a great read so i will take both of your words for it.

Derek Rishmawy

Yeah, with Constantine and the rise of the State Church a lot of things change. No doubt much evil came with the establishment of the Church. It has often been lamented throughout Christian history. And yet I think we also ought not ignore the good that also came because to be honest, its effects were not all bad. But yes, there is no doubt that Augustine's theology was a wrestling with the new situation in the Christian story. That's actually one interesting point to be kept in mind about the first 300 years of the Church. Before then, nobody had to deal with the possibility of an Emperor, charged with the task of defending his people against violent, foreign enemies and keeping peace within the Empire, who also owed allegiance to Christ. And that's the thing: Christians had not been in this situation before and so they had to creatively deal with the issues of being in positions of political responsibility, positions which carry with them the challenges of reconciling their responsibility to protect their citizens from harm as in accordance with God's ordained purpose for Government and their witness for Christ.

I would argue that its not so much a justification as an attempt to work out the ramifications of the new situation Christians found themselves in.

As for changes between OT and NT, I attribute whatever "changes" there are in attitude to the new situation historically and the new stage in God's execution of his Redemptive plan in Christ. New Covenant type stuff. I pretty much reject the kind of "progressive growth in knowledge" type answers that go along with some kind of Open Theism or its parent theology, Process Theism. I don't really think, "God got it wrong for a while and then learned his lesson and changed his approach" is a very good answer. I don't think that's what you were referring to, but I've seen that kind of answer floated around. I think its quite frankly blasphemous and dangerous. I will however work with some kind of "progress" in terms of God educating us however. Something like "Well, God worked with our societies where they were at and moved us up as we grew in understanding and civility." The thing with that though is that different civilizations and societies are at different stages so the applicability of universal norms would break down on certain issues. Also, humans in each age have the same potential for evil and degradation. That's why I would lean more strongly towards some kind of positional change in the Redemptive plan answer when explaining whatever "changes" there actually were.


I haven't got my copy back yet so haven't read through this again, but my reaction to this post? MIke's comment about wrestling with the idea that God is unchanging and yet the tension between the (God-sponsored?) violence in the Hebrew Bible and Jesus' teaching in the NT is one that stumps me every time. I cant help but read books like Joshua and think 'genocide', which leaves me with major issues! How does an unchanging God order genocide in one book and then let his Son die instead of us in another?

I found it interesting to note that to be a Christian was to be pacifist in the first two centuries before Constantine. Jon mentioned Jesus For President, which I read last week, and it deals with this issue too. It's interesting to me how Claiborne contrasted it with flags in churches now. It seems to me like once Christianity became 'institutionalised' within our cultures, we slowly stop being different, whether it be through pacifism or something else. The church is supposed to be set apart, supposed to not consider itself 'one of the nations' (Numbers 23:9)... did we lose our distinctiveness when we acquiesced to the empire and became involved in the military?

Again, I need to actually go and read this chapter once I get my copy back, but there's some initial thoughts.

Derek Rishmawy

Emma, you make a good point about Christian distinctiveness and particularity. Christians are to be a particular people, set apart for good works and the praises of God. But, umm, just to be a little more accurate, the text in Numbers, I'm pretty sure, is dealing with Israel, as a nation. The point is for the Israelites not to consider themselves, just one of the nations, but to remember their particularity, their set-apartness to the Lord. (Which in the Old Testament included making war on idolatrous nations interestingly enough. I must admit, I myself am very troubled at times though, when I read the OT.)


I still say Augustine's dualism in regard to war flirts with gnosticism on some level.

Derek Rishmawy

Augustine was heavily influenced by the Platonists. That being said he was a strong Christian and had a well-developed theology of Creation. He actually takes pains to refute Manicheism and point out the deficiencies in his former Platonism. (See his Confessions and City of God, not to mention his Commentary on Genesis.)

He might be flirting with Gnosticism but no more than the rest of the Patristic theologians at that point. We must remember, Augustine was a man of his times. Also, we too ought to remember that we are men and women of our times, who also too often are unwittingly influenced by the dominant or currently fashionable philosophical and cultural movements. (Say, the recent anti-war sentiments and the revival of pacifistic theologies in the academia. Or the recent trends in philosophy towards naming violence as the root or outcome of all evil. That isn't too say they're wrong, just to note that we too, in the 21st century have our own philosophical and political baggage to deal with that might be affecting our theological judgment.)


Derek, thanks for the clarification. I know that text from Numbers referred to Israel as a nation, however I would argue that due to Jesus death and resurrection we, who claim to follow Jesus, are now grafted into the nation of Israel. Therefore I would consider that text to apply to me too, that I am called to be peculiar and to be set apart. But thanks for the clarification!

Derek Rishmawy

Yes! You're absolutely right! We are ingrafted in! (Just a note: I get extra happy when I see people referencing Romans. I just love that book.)

I guess what we're really struggling with here in this discussion is how and in what way does that continuity and reapplication apply to those of us, this side of the Cross. Cause, I mean, again, if we were just going by what it meant to be a particular people in the OT, it meant that we fought God's wars and not our own. Pacifism wasn't a part of that particularity, but the Temple system and circumcision were. But for us who no longer need the temple and are circumcised in heart rather than the flesh, is Pacifism or non-violence now a part of it? I dunno.

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