Art and War

We took the family out to London’s Imperial War Museum for an easter egg hunt, actually more of a war symbol hunt with a prize at the end. A really moving experience to be at the war museum. It triggered emotions that were strange to me. I wonder if thats because i am too young to remember any wars, except watching Desert Storm on CNN from a TV in Portland Oregon. War is always horrible to me and it triggers disgust and terror and I was surprised to find, among that disgust,  elements of beauty, innovation in fashion (camouflage), communal closeness, the thrill of a cunning strategy, the exhileration of VE day, the effort to conserve resources and give sacrificially to the war effort.

I wonder if my lack of war experience has made me emotionally immature in that area and has prevented me for understanding war and how it relates to theology and God.

I wonder if older people have the same experience i had when they enter an art museum and have their emotions assaulted with disgust and surprise and wonder and dont know how to navigate their experience.

Art and war. Older people seem to equate ministry with war and give it military terms. Younger people sometimes use the language of art to describe spiritual experiences and ministry projects. Interesting when the two come together.

Question? When did the church develop a theology of war. A book I read recently [The First Crusade by Thomas Asbridge] claimed it was during the First Crusade. Anyone know?


Andrew Jones launched his first internet space in 1997 and has been teaching on related issues for the past 20 years. He travels all the time but lives between Wellington, San Francisco and a hobbit home in Prague.


  • Liam says:

    hmmm….Andy these are some great thoughts.
    I also wonder whether the term War is used for two distinct concepts, the type of war experienced at WWII and War now, which is full of media coverage and much more distant in how it impacts the “home nations” economically and in day to day life. Much in the same way as “doing war” shifted with WWI with new technologies.
    All thought provoking stuff, thanks for posting on this, btw I will be up in Orkney in August, would be great to catch up if your around.

  • jonah says:

    Although I don’t have a precise answer, I’m almost positive that a Christian theology of war must have begun to be developed well before the 1st Crusade (1095 AD/CE). Constantine made Christianity the official religion of the Roman Empire in 313 AD/CE and I have a hard time believing that no one in the church began forming a theology of war during the ensuing 700+ years.
    I’m not sure that “when” a theology of war was developed is as important as “who” shaped the seminal works along the way. Obviously, any theological understanding of war from a historical Christian perspective has to include Augustine of Hippo’s “The City of God”.
    Info on Augustine here:
    and The City of God here:
    You can download a copy (and more than likely a poor english translation from the latin) here:
    Hope that’s helpful for the discussion.

  • jon says:

    Hi Andrew. Those are very interesting thoughts. I often want to entirely throw away the war metaphor in relation to anything spiritual as a backlash against misuse of it.. but this is not necessarily the best way of doing things. Good reminder.
    As for a theology of war, Augustine is credited with the ‘just war’ theory, that dictates when a war can be supported by Christians. Although that isn’t really a detailed ‘theology of war, it is the first time that a theologian sat down and told Christians when and how they should fight. Things like.. recapturing stolen things, defending the weak, times when war is the necessary evil, etc. Prior to Augustine, Christians generally were pacifists. Maybe because until Constantine (a few years before Augustine), they weren’t really allowed to fight in the Roman army anyway. But maybe they were on to something.

  • Truth Seeker says:

    Some of my best understanding of theology and the world we live in has come through the study of war(s), visiting museums, and talking with war vets (father being one). It is through the struggles and horrors of war that we come to see humanity for what it is, what it could be, where it is going, and where it has come from.
    As a Christian I understand war is a horrible thing, but it is necessary. But a proper understanding of war shows us that despite the best efforts of man, God is still in control!

  • sasa says:

    Hi Andrew,
    great thoughts!
    For most of the church history, the prevailing christian standpoint on war was shaped by Augustine´s 7 criteria of “just war”:
    “There must be just cause… and right intent…. The war must be waged only by a legitimate authority as a move of last resort, and there must be probability of success. Further, the means of waging war must be proportionate to the ends, and the war must distinguish combatants from noncombatants”
    (Hays, Richard B: The Moral Vision of the New Testament: A Contemporary Introduction to New Testament Ethics. New York: HarperCollins, 1996, p.344).
    Of course, there always were dissidents against the “just war” theory, most notably the Anabaptists and other followers of radical reformation.
    If you are interested, i can send you my short study on the topic, called “The Word and the Sword: The Use of the Bible in the Pacifist-Just War Debate”.
    Shalom, and take care,

  • andrew says:

    hi sasa. yes – please send it on. are you blogging yet?
    and look forward to seeing you in prague in July.

  • I believe the first reference to Just War Theory is in St. Augustine (The City of God, Book XIX).
    If you want information regarding the current debate on war from a largely US perspective, you might want to check out

  • jonah says:

    Readers’ reviews on of the book you were reading are telling.
    I wouldn’t use it as a gauge of historocity in this area. Also check the author on wikipedia (not that it is any more reliable, but does raise concerns about accuracy and scholarship), very interesting.

  • John Adams says:

    “i am too young to remember any wars”

    Andrew, surely you are aware of the war that the US and UK have been waging in Iraq over the last four years?

  • Philip says:

    I vaguely remember Christian ‘War theology’ being put into practice during the Roman wars with the Germanic tribes like the Huns etc, during the late 300’s? This is most likely to be completly wrong.

  • The Church in the early centuries was not “mostly pacifist.” Christian noninvolvement in war has usually been predicated on the belief that no human kingdom is of sufficient importance, and our energy should be spent only on godly things. This is similar to the Jehovah’s Witnesses view today. The Anabaptist traditions have developed a more pacifistic theology that has a coherence. Notably, it does not view nonviolence as a tactic that will accomplish God’s ends, but as a simple obedience that might have horrible consequences for the practicer. Pacifism as we think of it today, as a strategy to accomplish political ends, is quite recent in the church. It owes much of its thinking to nonchristians. In recent decades, the newer civil-disobedience style has penetrated the peace churches, rather muddying their tradition.

  • Mike O says:

    Andrew – I think it’s partly a generational thing. Generational relating tends to skip a generation – GI generation people relate well to Boomers. And both generations (in the US) experienced war – WWII and Vietnam. And, both generations “rose to the occasion”, the wars provided an opportunity for jobs and experiences far higher than peacetime provides. As a result, our careers and management strategies are shaped by war. And the wartime experience tends to magnify pragmatism, and squeeze out art.
    Silents and Gen-X’ers are generations who escaped war, and those generations are characterized by art. Art had the “soil” to flourish. The church in the US is dominated by Silents, and Gen-X’ers gravitate to them, more than Boomers and Millenials. Gen-X’ers are more “visual artsy” than Silents (who tend toward the poetic), but the overall art spirit is there.
    As an “old fossil”, going back and walking the soil that you fought on (or the places that were in your war college scenarios) brings up emotions. I actually interviewed for a job at a factory that I would have bombed, years before, and that was truly an emotional experience. (It’s an interesting, but complex, story, if you ever get to San Francisco, look me up and I’ll tell you it). I’ve written software to chase Russian subs, made some changes, and had my erstwhile enemy cuss me out! Years later we met, both knowing we had a job to do, and had respect for the opponent.
    War usually results in a disproportionate slice of society taking the brunt. Britain lost a huge part of their managerial and intellectual elite in WW I (and lost their place in the world economy and leadership to the US). Vietnam took a lot of American engineers out, probably delaying technology a decade or two.

  • Jed says:

    There definitely does seem to be a generation gap in terms of what the Christian life is likened to, but I guess it breaks down along political lines as well. I have to remind myself sometimes that the war metaphor *is* used biblically, new testament even, but it sure does grate against me to hear some of the contexts in which it is used today.
    My own perspective on war has undergone a great shift in the last two years — from a fairly unquestioning acceptance of the “just war” concept to a real struggle with the idea that it’s ok to kill the enemy Jesus tells me I am supposed to love. Not quite ready to apply the “pacifist” label to myself yet but I think that day may be coming.

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