Just War as Christian Discipleship

Recentering the Tradition in the Church rather than the State

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"An important project. . . . Bell's framework breathes fresh life into discussions of just war. The book is conceptually robust such that it should be read by scholars and advanced students; it is also accessible to beginning students and a general readership in the churches."--Brian Stiltner, Studies in Christian Ethics
This provocative and timely primer on the just war tradition connects just war to the concrete practices and challenges of the Christian life. Daniel Bell explains that the point is not simply to know the just war tradition but to live it even in the face of the tremendous stresses and difficulties associated with war.

Just War as Christian Discipleship recovers contexts and specifics of the just war tradition that have been widely forgotten. Instead of seeing the tradition as a checklist to complete that justifies a proposed or ongoing war, Bell looks back to the aspects of the tradition that were about forming, supporting, and holding accountable Christians as just warriors. He shows how just war practice, if it is to be understood as a faithful form of Christian discipleship, must be rooted in and shaped by the fundamental convictions and confessions of the faith. The book includes a foreword by an Army chaplain who has served two tours in Iraq and study questions for group use.


"Bell has written a book that I wish I'd had during my deployments. Just War as Christian Discipleship addresses the just war tradition in a way that not only adds to our knowledge of the historical roots of the tradition but also contributes to the Christian soldier's desire to embody the principles as lifestyle. . . . If the Christian community will take seriously Bell's call for a discipleship that embraces the just war tradition, we can all feel more confident that our nation will strive to maintain the moral high ground in its military endeavors and beyond."--Chaplain Lt. Col. Scott A. Sterling (from the foreword)

"By reframing just war as a discipline of Christian discipleship, Bell has breathed new life into the discussion surrounding this important topic. He has done so, moreover, in a manner that makes this book accessible to those well versed in the debates as well as those who are confronting these issues for the first time. We are in his debt."--Stanley Hauerwas, Gilbert T. Rowe Professor of Theological Ethics, Duke Divinity School

"Bell's Just War as Christian Discipleship demands a lot of us. It requires us to submit to a rigorous examination of ourselves, our church, and our nation in exploring how we might act justly before, during, and after war. It offers no excuses for those of us whof either avoid any responsibility to ever use force or attempt to rationalize virtually every use of force. Bell advocates for just war as an extraordinarily difficult set of practices grounded in particular Christian theological and ecclesiological presuppositions. In this sense, the book is a prophetic critique of some secular versions of the just war tradition. Even more so, it is a prophetic critique of churches and church leaders for our failure to form communities capable of dealing with the real challenges of just war. Bell also calls for much more consultation between Christian churches and military personnel than is typical so that the churches can be more responsible in their pronouncements and military personnel can hear the churches' claims based upon a Christian understanding of the moral tradition of just war. I commend this book for study by bishops, clergy, and laity as an introduction to a dimension of Christian discipleship that is usually neglected because of our preoccupation with the institutional life of the church."--Tim W. Whitaker, Florida Area Resident Bishop, The United Methodist Church

"This groundbreaking book synthesizes the writing style and substance of just war ethicists Paul Ramsey and Oliver O'Donovan with that of pacifist ethicists John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas, resulting in a constructive account of just war that is embedded and embodied in the life and practices of the Christian church. Although the just war tradition has been around a long time, there is, surprisingly, no other book like this one. It should be required reading for anyone interested in ethics and just war, especially for Christians in the pulpits and in the pews, in the classrooms and in the barracks. Bell's Just War as Christian Discipleship will become a standard resource for helping Christians who espouse the just war tradition to adhere to it in a way that, as John Howard Yoder would put it, is honest and has teeth."--Tobias Winright, assistant professor of Christian ethics and director of Ethics Across the Curriculum, Saint Louis University

"There are many books on the just war tradition. Most of them treat it as a means of helping Christians judge the justice of the wars waged by their states, or worse, as a crutch for those who make decisions about going to war. Bell's book is different and better. He depicts the just war tradition as a demanding discipline of the church, and in doing so he shows that this tradition can be a mode of enemy-love--a more demanding mode than pacifism in some ways. I know of no other book like this; it is essential reading for Christians in our bloody and violence-ridden times."--Paul J. Griffiths, Warren Chair of Catholic Theology, Duke Divinity School

"Dan Bell's new book is important, accessible, and astonishing. He asks hard questions about the use of the just war tradition and instead of leaving that burden of conscience on soldiers, chaplains, or political leaders, he puts it where it belongs: on the whole Christian community. The book is a rich introduction to the just war tradition, a thought-provoking look at current military realities, and a clarion call for all Christians to grow in faithfulness to the One who told them to love their enemies."--Kelly S. Johnson, associate professor of religious studies, University of Dayton

"In the midst of wars and rumors of wars, Dan Bell provides a provocative and insightful look at the just war tradition, removing it from the arena of simple public policy and allowing Christians to wrestle with how to follow Jesus faithfully into the fray. Pastors, congregations, adult forums, and reading groups will certainly benefit from this book."--Brian O. Bennett, pastor, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Morgantown, West Virginia

"By engaging Bell's Just War as Christian Discipleship, readers can fully arm themselves for the discussion and debate that rages around just war theory. With laser-sharp precision, this tightly argued, historically aware, and carefully documented work offers a penetrating analysis of the ethical reasons for Christians to engage (or not engage) in violent conflict. A chief merit of this book is its critical comparison of nonreligious uses of just war theory with distinctively Christian approaches to armed combat based on a cruciform commitment to theological concerns. Whether one agrees or disagrees with Bell, all who discuss just war theory should be informed by his trenchant study."--Donald Musser, professor of religious studies, Stetson University

"Daniel Bell's thorough and convincing work is not for the faint of heart or the weak of spirit. With definitive research and critical interpretation, Bell leads readers through the history of Christian thought on war to the truth that Christians must leave behind 'self-absorption, apathy, fear, and indifference' in order to embrace the call and demand to live justly all aspects of life as followers of Christ. Bell asks, 'How much are we willing to risk in order to follow Christ in loving our enemies?' We cannot answer glibly, for our very lives will be the answer."--Brenda Lynn Kneece, executive minister, South Carolina Christian Action Council

The Author

  1. Daniel M. Bell Jr.

    Daniel M. Bell Jr.

    Daniel M. Bell Jr. (PhD, Duke University) is professor of theological ethics at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary in Columbia, South Carolina. He is an ordained elder in the United Methodist Church and the author of Just War as Christian Discipleship...

    Continue reading about Daniel M. Bell Jr.


"Very, very important, and a major contribution to an age-old conversation about the ethics of war. . . . I have seen conversations about the just war theory, or about Christian nonviolence, grow shallow and mean, so we need good and fair thinkers, since most people haven't thought all that deeply (let alone read widely) on this urgent matter. This conversational work is deep and thoughtful, bringing together the voices of pacifists such as John Howard Yoder with the more standard views of the just war tradition, finding some new common ground and drawing insights from all. . . . Very highly recommended."-- Byron Borger, heartsandmindsbooks.com

"Just War as Christian Discipleship is a fine introduction to the Just War tradition, written for the non-specialist who is interested in learning both the history and current use of the tradition. . . . More than simply recounting the various strands of Just War thinking, Bell offers a thorough re-thinking of the Just War tradition's most recent form. . . . Each chapter concludes with an exploration of the way the Just War tradition challenges the Church. These sections help the reader to see how seemingly abstract discussions of criteria directly connect to the life of the Church."--Jake Wilson, Ekklesia Project enewsletter

"[Bell] treats his chosen topic fairly and well. . . . [This book] is meant by Bell to be read widely by Christian pastors and lay leaders. At bottom, the book is an urgent call for Christians to learn their own church's just war tradition, most particularly pastors charged with forming their congregations into just war people. Every pastor faced with leading a parish through times filled with wars and rumors of wars--and what pastor is not?--would do well to read it."--Jordan Hylden, Living Church

"Because most church talk about just war is lip service to a poorly understood, regularly incomplete, and inconsistently applied checklist, we need Bell's brilliant book. It is equal parts clear exposition, intellectual heft, and relevant example."--Christian Century

"Bell has commenced an important project. . . . Bell's framework breathes fresh life into discussions of just war. The book is conceptually robust such that it should be read by scholars and advanced students; it is also accessible to beginning students and a general readership in the churches. All readers will look forward to future work from Bell that develops the ethical and ecclesiological applications of just war as Christian discipleship. The intriguing foreword to the book penned by US Army chaplain Lt. Col. Scott A. Sterling suggests the promise of projects that gather more voices from soldiers and chaplains who are wrestling faithfully with ethical and theological questions in their military service."--Brian Stiltner, Studies in Christian Ethics

"[An] intriguing treatment of just war as Christian discipleship. . . . Bell has rendered Christians an important service in this book. For perhaps the first time, Christians have been presented with an honest and unflinching account of the demanding and disciplined reflection and discernment required if the just war tradition is to function in the way in which Christians, at their best, believe it should. One can only hope that those Christian churches that consider themselves part of the just war tradition would make this required reading and begin to discern together what it might actually mean--and look like--to embody this tradition as a form of faithful discipleship. In addition, Bell has given us a powerful argument for why Niebuhrian realist accounts of just war, and the public policy approaches they inform and engender, are worlds away from a just war tradition rooted in faithful discipleship to Jesus Christ."--Philip D. Kenneson, Reviews in Religion and Theology

"Offers readers a fresh and comprehensive overview of the complex theory of just war. . . . The book offers useful insights to Christians and non-Christians alike. . . . Daniel Bell provides readers rich insight into one of the most critical topics of our time. Just War as Christian Discipleship invites readers to embrace the principles of the just war in more than just an academic or legal way, but rather as a guide to help Christians fulfill their obligations as both believer and citizen. I can therefore recommend this book to anyone with interest in the just war tradition."--Louis V. Iasiello, OFM, Modern Theology

"It's high time for the Church to think intentionally about the Christian response to violence, defense, and war. Bell's work offers a unique contribution, setting the historic Just War tradition squarely within theological categories."--Winn Collier, Religious Herald

"Daniel Bell Jr. does a great service for the church, the academy, and civic discourse about war in this book. . . . A creative and important contribution to the contemporary discussion of Just War."--Timothy Beach-Verhey, Interpretation

"I have found [this book] particularly helpful in defining a Christian position on [the morality of Christian participation in military service]. . . . Unlike books that defend a theory concerning the use of violence against other Christian alternatives, Bell focuses on the ways in which Just War theory and practice, when worked out as a form of Christian discipleship (CD), differs from Just War theory that approaches the issue with a public policy check list (PPC). Whereas the latter approach often views war as a necessary evil, Bell explains why, when, and how the use of military force can be an act of Christian love in pursuit of justice. . . . I am unaware of another book that so astutely details the challenges faced by the church as a people committed to living in love that seeks the common good of all its neighbors, striving for peace through justice for everyone."--Terrance L. Tiessen, Thoughts Theological blog