7 Feb 2007

Alexander Campbell & N. T. Wright on Peace and a "United Nations"

Author: Bobby Valentine | Filed under: Alexander Campbell, Christian hope, Contemporary Ethics, N.T. Wright, Restoration History, War -Peace

I came across an article today (thanks to Frank Bellizzi) by renowed NT scholar and theologian Nicholas Thomas Wright. The short piece was published in the Washington Post. Wright articulates his belief that at times police action is necessary yet offers his analysis that the Iraq War has never fit the criteria of the Just War Ethic (and most wars have NOT passed muster on this point). Near the end of his short piece Wright makes the suggestion that a strong court of appeal (the UN) is what is necessary to help solve world problems. Wright knows that some will “scoff” at the suggestion. You can access the piece here:


As I read through the article I remembered another distinguished reformer and theologian calling for much the same thing. Only this reformer thrived in the 19th century, his name was Alexander Campbell. Campbell formulated is thoughts in the aftermath of what he viewed as naked aggression on the part of the United States in its invasion of Mexico in 1848. Just for the curious I recommend reading Campbell’s Address On War (1848) though it is longer than Wright’s. Note the similarity in the proposal at the end. You can access the piece here:

Address on War

Imagine Alexander Campbell and N.T. Wright in convergence – on a great many things actually. It could give cause for pause.

Bobby Valentine

21 Responses to “Alexander Campbell & N. T. Wright on Peace and a "United Nations"”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Bobby, ran across your blog today linked from another blog. I am curious, did you attend International Bible College? If you did, I would like to hear from you. 🙂

    Raymond Perkins

  2. Ben Overby Says:


    Thanks for the links. I continue to pray that your new home, new ministry, new phase of the journey is flooded with God’s grace.

    Both Wright and Campbell aren’t really suggesting anything other than the ancient Augustinian Just War model. Where Wright thinks the UN could be helpful, Campbell recognizes the need to affect “popular opinion.” I tend to agree with both. I had very heated discussions about this while at Ft. Benning. Whenever I questioned the justice of the war, anger was always the response. There was never any room for a rational discussion. IMO Campbell’s most stinging comment is, “The pulpit, too, must lend its aid in cherishing the delusion. There is not infrequently heard a eulogium on some fallen hero, some church service for the mighty dead, thus desecrating the religion of the Prince of Peace by causing it to minister as the handmaid of war.”

    It stings because I think it’s true and at the same time I recognize my own complacency. In those moments described above by Campbell the complexities of the whole issue converge.

    If public opinion needs to be changed (and it does), then we need to find the motivation to deal with the topic especially when we we’re not at war. Everybody has an opinion when bullets start flying, but the issues are so emotionally charged that truth is the first casualty. We have to effect this subject when we are at peace, or there will be no peace, and little chance to be heard during war (a nasty cycle).


  3. Matt Says:

    Good call

  4. Messianic Gentile Says:

    Amen, Ben.

  5. Frank Bellizzi Says:


    Thanks for the link to Campbell. I’ll go read.

  6. Josh Says:

    Great Article.

    I have a big ethical dilemma going on with the war in Iraq. At first I was for it, but now I’m not. Maybe having a child during these years has changed my perspective. I think many are in the same boat with me on this. At one point in time, they were for the war, but now they are not.

    The question I have to ask myself is: “Am I not for this war, because of the cost or because it was never justified to begin with?”

    How can my opinions on these things change so dramatically?

  7. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Thanks for the interaction and reading my blog.

    Raymond, yes I did go to IBC/Heritage Christian University as they call themselves now.

    Ben, I could not agree with you more that conversations on these matters are hard to conduct calmly and rationally. Emotions … and even “patriotism” run deep and powerfully. I would nuance your reading of Campbell slightly into one of pacifism. Campbell was opposed to Christians engaging in warfare. Wright does seem to hold to some version of the Just War Ethic though he freely admits that “most wars” never meet the criteria of the Just War. I agree with that assessment. What I find so interesting was Campbell calls for an international court of appeal or tribunal to arbitrate national disputes. Indeed AC was a man before his time. Further public opinion needs changing desperately … that includes the public in the Body of Christ in America. But that is as I see it.

    Frank I interact with Campbell’s essay in Kingdom Come (ch.9). There has recently been a book length study of Campbell’s Pacifism by a Disciples scholar but I cannot locate it at the moment (still trying to find everything!!). I recommend downloading AC’s Address and marking it up.

    Josh I have always opposed the war in Iraq. This is a matter of historical record. Both on Berean Spirit and Grace Centered Magazine there were discussions prior to the invasion. I share Wright’s concern that we have created this mess so we do have some sort of moral responsibility to helping solving it. I just have not decided what that obligation is yet.

    How can we become a people of the Prince of Peace?

    Bobby Valentine

  8. Royce Ogle Says:

    “Near the end of his short piece Wright makes the suggestion that a strong court of appeal (the UN) is what is necessary to help solve world problems. Wright knows that some will “scoff” at the suggestion.”

    Strong court of appeal? Is Wright referring to that assembly of spineless wonders who have done nothing but talk, pass meaningless resolutions, and waste money for many decades?

    “Scoff” is not the right word for rejecting such a foolish idea.

    I am easily confused, so help me out guys and gals. We who claim Christ are to help the down trodden, clothe the naked, and feed the hungry. If I see a person about to take the life of another am I to be passive? Or, should I risk my own life to save a life?

    What if there are thousands of lives? Are people of good will to just ignore the slaughter of people? Never will I be convinced of such insanity.

    For many of our liberal friends, talking about injustice is the same as actually doing something about it. That is not forward thinking, it is not being socially progressive, nor is it being Christ like. It is hypocrisy.

    Royce Ogle

  9. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Royce, beloved brother, I appreciate your quoting me. But I think reading both Wright and Campbell to be a greater good on this point.

    I do not wish to be guilty of hypocrisy so I ask you to pray that this is not true of me … or Wright.

    But my hypocrisy, nor Wright’s, really alters the truth of what either he or Campbell propose.

    Many blessings upon you. I will seek first the kingdom … with you.

    Bobby Valentine

  10. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Just one more slight but important clarification brothers. It is a grave misunderstanding to equate “pacifism” with “passive.” They are not synonyms.

    Bobby Valentine

  11. Ben Overby Says:


    You noted, “What if there are thousands of lives? Are people of good will to just ignore the slaughter of people? Never will I be convinced of such insanity.”

    If I follow your logic it seems you think the USA should step into every situation today with force where ruthless dictators are oppressing people. Is Bush, by your definition, “hypocritical” for refusing to immediately invade Iran or North Korea or any other country where thugs are in charge? Just curious about consistency.

    The answer to the world’s ills is gospel not democracy. In order for the gospel to flourish we need peace. Restraining and containing threats, influencing them with world pressure, is a far better approach than attempting to change the government of each and every petty dicatorship throughout the globe. In my opinion, the US would do the world a great favor if it would lend its influence toward the support of something like the UN, helping to clean it up, and seeking justice with something other than an M-16 or a noose.

    BTW, there are injustices happening in our country all the time. How many innocent humans will be slaughtered today in abortions? But, I think you’d prefer to talk about that injustice than to take a violent approach? Am I right? Are we being consistent? We can’t legislate or threaten morality. According to Paul we are supposed to destroy every argument and lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive, etc. Would Paul appear to be more UN oriented or B-1B oriented?

  12. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Yes, democracy is not the answer. Unpopular as that may sound. The United States has rarely (historically) been interested in democracy either. We have been interested in an ideological way to oppose either the Soviet Union or some other perceived threat. To oppose those threats the USA has established and supported some fairly brutal totalitarian regimes.

    Indeed many of the problems in the middle east come from the USA (oh I know how unpopular that is). A little historical memory about the rise and rule of the Shah of Iran and the Ayatollah would we good for Americans. The Taliban in Afganistan were largely created by the United States … and supported because we needed a “stable” government there for the pipeline that goes from Russia to the Indian Ocean … what concern did we ever show for human rights at that time.

    Where were we for Rhwanda? The brutal slaughter of hundreds of thousands of people and the USA never did a &*^% thing. Why? It was not in our ECONOMIC interest.

    But forget that we are thinking of Iraq. According to the JUST WAR tradition in Christian ethics … a tradition that says it is OK (permissible) for a Christian to engage in war under SOME circumstances does not and cannot sanction the war in Iraq. Iraq fails on every criteria. Those criteria are:

    1) War must be declared by a legitimate authority not the work of a single “man” … Iraq fails

    2) War is a response to outside aggression (invasion) … Iraq fails

    3) War is entered only with the right “intention.” That is the restoration of peace. I, for one, never saw that as a motive for invading Iraq.

    All three (and in some cases there are five criteria for the Just War ethic but these are basically Augustine’s and Thomas Aquinas version) of these criteria have to be met … Iraq fails on all counts.

    This statement does not reflect on the sense of duty and honor of any individual soldier. But war is usually not the fault of the individual soldier. It is the fault of politicians.

    Bobby Valentine

  13. cwinwc Says:

    Hi Bobby.
    This is an interesting discussion. I would postulate two differences between our current “War on Terror” and some of the other conflicts (Rwanda for example) that we have avoided and perhaps wrongly so are:

    1. We were attacked on our home soil. The 9/11 attacks were an act of war just as the sneak attack on Pearl Harbor was. The difference is that today’s enemy isn’t a single country or people but rather a mutation of a major world religion, Islam.

    2. This goes with #1 – Unlike WW2 in which a single man (Adolph Hitler) who was bent on world domination was being followed by a country of misguided people, we are now in a war with radical Islam. The people who are our sworn enemies follow a “god” with the intent, not of world domination but rather irradiation of the western world along with the western religions of Christianity and Judaism.

    I would highly recommend you view the video from Glenn Beck’s Show, “The Obsession.” The parallels between our country just before WW2 and now are disturbing.

    As a Christian I feel the tension between loving my fellow man and then knowing that there are times when my country may call (I’m too old now) me to defend our way of life. In this case the cause is not just for freedom but for “life” itself.

    Thanks for the chance to share my though

  14. Josh Says:

    Yeah, I hate the words Just War. It has a spiritual connotation. Justified by whom? God? The Bush Administration? Is Bush claiming to act on behalf of God? That’s a dangerous dilemma.

  15. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Josh the phrase “Just War” comes from the ethical tradition that begins with Augustine. Bush did not start this lingo. Indeed I know of no Just War ethicist that side with Bush on the invasion of Iraq.

    Google “Shaun Casey” a leading ethicist and his critique of the war from a Just War perspective.

    Bobby Valentine

  16. Royce Ogle Says:

    I appreciate your passion guys. I know you hate the Iraq war and I join you in that. I have never liked any conflict where humans die. That being said, if you will scan the Old Testament and take a look at world history, war is inevitable at times. And, there have been times when God clearly was deeply involved. This is a fact that can’t be denied.

    For the record, I have been a harsh critic of the President and the Republicans on many fronts, including the war in Iraq. What makes my blood rush is first the disrespect for the office of President and the white hot hatred of President Bush. No liberal critic gives him any slack, never considers the events of 9/11 and their impact.

    And, even more aggravating is that NONE of his critics and haters have ANY plan to protect the United States better than what we now have under his leadership, have no better plan for ending a horrible war in Iraq except to wave the white flag, and yet claim moral superiority because they believe they are superior.

    When one Democrat comes out of the wood work who has a viable plan to honorably leave Iraq and leave it secure, has a plan to make America safer than we are now, and a plan to keep a robust economy robust, I will gladly vote for him, or her.

    I meant nothing personal Bobby when I used the term “hypocrisy”. My context was talking and doing nothing. Since an election is approaching, Democrats are flooding into New Orleans saying how concerned they are about the lack of recovery and the resulting poverty. The truth is they have proven by their votes that they don’t give a hoot about the poor in South Louisiana, they just want votes. In fact, beginning with Lyndon Johnson, Democrats and other liberals created the poverty and high crime in N.O. and other large urban centers.

    Ben, Bobby, you are both dear brothers whom I love and for whom I have deep respect. But when the suicide bombers are on Broadway instead of Bagdad, and when 30,000 of our kinsmen die instead of 3,000 there will be fewer people opposed to deadly force than there is today.

    Royce Ogle

  17. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Royce I do appreciate you sharing and joining in the dialogue. Again I would like to encourage you (here at the beginning) to read through Wright AND Campbell for yourself. I think they yave something to contribute to our present discussion.

    I agree that some folks have accused GWB of everything under the sun … from hurricans to conspiracy for 9/11. I think such things are absurd. For the record!

    I have great respect for the one who is president … that is as true of Bill Clinton as GWB. I strongly disagree with both on a number of points.

    For the record I think GWB has had the most robust “Africa” policy of any president in US history and no one ever pays attention to this. I commend him for it. I think we could do MUCH more.

    But I claim the right (like Jeremiah) to say that “our” wars are not necessarily Just. There are alternatives to war to bring about a just society. But, and this is MY opinion, the US (under both Republican and Democratic leadership) has often stood in the way of such things because it carries serious ECONOMIC implications for American corporations.

    It may be true that Nancy Pelosi does not give a rip about the poor but I would wager that Rush Limbaugh does not either. I have no affiliation with either party because I think they are both self-serving to the point of idolatry. Thus I could care less what party controls the house or the congress … what I do care about is biblical justice. And I get my idea of what that means from Amos, Isaiah, James and Moses and many places in between.

    But those issues take us far afield from the post at hand. I submit once again that the Iraq War does not and has never met the criteria of what the Christian tradition has said was a “Just War.” I say that with no disrespect to a single soldier, sailor, or air man. Their loyalty is simply taken advantage of by power hungry politicians … and I do include Bush in that.

    Bobby Valentine

  18. Anonymous Says:

    If we are not willing to be involved in the political arena should we criticize the political system? Power is part of the political system but to judge decisions of war based on desires for power is simplistic and unfair. The Iraq war is part of the general war on terrorism and radical Muslim activities. The war itself will likely protect this nation for decades in the future, for certainly any nation will pause before supporting a cause to attack us again. Is protection justice? No, but it is also not a grab for power (unless power is survival). The Iraq was is about fear and responsibility of leaders to protect this nation. We can disagree about our leaders decisions, and challenge their motives when we have negative proof of such. But I do not believe one soldier’s life has been lost because our leaders have a desire for power. The Bush family is a military family, and I have to believe those roots cause them to make decisions based on the love of their country, not political reasons. War should always be challenged and debated, and soldiers are honored when we seek true answers to the cause there lives were given for.

  19. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    I am glad you have come by and commented. Wish you would have left your name.

    I however do not believe that the Iraq war has protected us from much of anything. I again affirm that it fails event the basic criteria of a Just War.

    Bobby Valentine

  20. Alan Says:

    Let us make sure we understand that Iraq was not responsible for 9/11. Sadam Hussein did not support Osama bin Ladin nor did Osama bin Ladin support Sadam Hussein. Iraq was invaded because neocons wanted a military presence in the Middle East for the power over resources. Over the decades the US has supported by various means including military arms to Iraq, Iran, and Osama bin Ladin. To equate the war on terrorism (whatever that is) with Iraq is wrong. Deadly wrong.

    A Vietnam Vet

  21. Stoned-Campbell Disciple Says:

    Alan I truly appreciate your contribution to this discussion. You are correct about American Foreign policy in the Middle East. As I pointed out earlier one thing Americans need is a good memory. The USA placed the Taliban in power in Afganistan. The USA gave Saddam Hussien millions of dollars in weaponry when it served our purpose. The USA has supported and continues to support one of the most repressive regimes in the world in Saudi Arabia … all of this sounds mighty “liberal” to some folks yet it is all still VERY true.

    Bobby Valentine

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