In Christians, the State, and War: An Ancient Tradition for the Modern World, Gordon Heath argues that the pre-Constantinian Christian testimony regarding the state’s just use of violence was remarkably uniform and that it was arguably a catholic, or universal, tradition. More specifically, that tradition had five interrelated and intertwined constitutive areas of consensus that can best be understood as parts of one collective tradition. Heath further argues that those five related areas of an early church tradition shaped all subsequent theological developments on views of the state, its use of violence, and the conditions of Christian participation in said violence. Whereas the sorry and sordid instances in the church’s history related to violence were times when the church drifted from those convictions of consensus, the cases when Christians had a more stellar record of responding to the horrors of the world were times when they lived up to them. Consequently, the way forward today is for Christians to forgo beginning with the just war-pacifist debate, and, instead, to begin by letting their views on war and peace be shaped by that ancient tradition.
Gordon L. Heath, FRHistS, is professor of Christian History as well as Centenary Chair in World Christianity at McMaster Divinity College in Hamilton, Ontario.
2. The Formation of an Early Church Tradition
3. An Ancient Tradition, the State, and the Sword
4. An Ancient Tradition and Loyalty to Jesus
5. An Ancient Tradition and the Value of Human Life
6. An Ancient Tradition and Fallen Creation
7. An Ancient Tradition and Engaging the State
8. Embracing the Best, Avoiding the Worst: Living an Ancient Tradition Today
This monograph is a helpful exercise in ressourcement. Prof Heath first identifies a five-fold pattern of thought from the Ancient Church with regard to the state at war. With this tradition established as a foundation for judicious reflection, Prof Heath then skillfully probes the way it can help us moderns think about the subject of war, which sadly, to paraphrase Christ, "is always with us" in this world. An extremely valuable contribution to a much-written-about subject!
In a world with increasing instances of ever more destructive state-sponsored violence, Gordon Heath's effort to define and promote an ancient consensus from the early church on "Christians, the State, and War" deserves a wide readership. In particular, he has shown that heated debates on whether believers should support pacifism or just war doctrines miss essential Christian teachings on the nature of the state, the lordship of Christ, and the value of human persons. The result is a study particularly rich in historical insight and persuasive theological guidance.
Heath takes readers on a journey through the centuries, raising questions that are as pertinent now as in the past about the use of violence by the state. He proves to be a trustworthy guide: a historian with a theologically astute mind who adeptly presents complex ideas in clear prose. The scope of the project is ambitious and his proposition is bold: a five-point consensus in ancient Christianity about how to approach issues of war and peace. The framework he offers clears a path for rich discussion of Christian responsibility in a perilous world.
In this thoughtful and balanced narrative, Gordon Heath provides an informed, readable, and thought-provoking presentation of the centuries-old debate regarding war, peace, and Christianity in the West. Looking to the early history of Christianity, Heath studies five foundational areas of consensus between pacifism and what developed as the just war tradition. He also shows the influence of that consensus on subsequent theological developments of the state and its use of violence. In a balanced and thoughtful narrative, Heath offers information and insight for any person interested in war and Christian spirituality.
Gordon Heath provides a clear and extremely helpful way of discussing issues of war and peace that can lead us out of our current situation where we are polarized between pacifist and just war positions. In Christians, the State and War, Heath invites us to move beyond these binary positions and instead consider the common heritage of the Christian church. In a clear and enlightening exploration of five positions the early church held in common, this book will stimulate important conversations regardless of how we might define ourselves or our tradition.
Gord Heath surfaces a truth that has been hiding in plain sight: Pacifist or not, all Christians agreed in the church’s earliest centuries that while the state rightly uses the sword to pursue justice, justice is also the bar to which the church must hold the state. This book reminds all that political advocacy for a more just state is a common Christian calling. Presenting competing views with empathy and balance, and a unifying political take-away, this work would be an excellent choice for undergraduate and seminary courses, and for adult study groups.