I’m not going to make excuses for not touching the blog for the last couple of weeks, but if (a)you’re interested in seeing what I’ve been working on — research/writing-wise — and (b) if you find the nexus of ethics and nuclear strategy interesting, please do check out the conversation that’s been happening over at First Thoughts over the last number of days. 

Joe Carter of Evangelical Outpost fame (presently the web editor at First Things and the co-author of How to Argue Like Jesus) graciously allowed me to guest-post on Evangelicals, Nuclear Abolitionism and the Two Futures Project.  Joe followed up himself with a post on jus en bello and nuclear weapons and, this morning, Tyler Wigg-Stevenson–the founder and director of the Two Futures Project–posted his own well-argued rejoinder

As you’ll see from my initial post, I don’t agree with many of Wigg-Stevenson positions, but it’s been an all-around gentle and civil conversation and I’ve found Wigg-Stevenson to be an absolutely delightful and careful interlocutor.  I invite all Withered Grass readers to go to the Two Futures Project, read the material closely, and carefully think through what Wigg-Stevenson has to say.


For the past few weeks, I’ve been compiling material on  “just policing” and “just peacemaking” theory while I wait to hear if my paper proposal for the upcoming 5th Annual Conference on the Ethics of National Security Intelligence at Georgetown University has been accepted.  The primary theorist of “just policing,” Gerald W. Schlabach — who labels himself a Mennonite Catholic (that is, a former Mennonite who became Catholic) — has a book coming out with Brazos Press in April entitled  Unlearning Protestantism: Sustaining Christian Community in an Unstable Age, which, Schlabach indicates, is meant to look at what he says is the “‘Protestant dilemma’ in ecclesiology, [that is,] how to build lasting Christian community in a world of individualism and transience”

Schabach is also the founder of Bridgefolk, which is:

a movement of sacramentally-minded Mennonites and peace-minded Roman Catholics who come together to celebrate each other’s traditions, explore each other’s practices, and honor each other’s contribution to the mission of Christ’s Church. Together we seek better ways to embody a commitment to both traditions. We seek to make Anabaptist-Mennonite practices of discipleship, peaceableness, and lay participation more accessible to Roman Catholics, and to bring the spiritual, liturgical, and sacramental practices of the Catholic tradition to Anabaptists.

InterVarsity Press has just announced the publication date for the fourth book in its series with Duke Divinity School’s Center for Reconciliation.  Christopher Heuertz, the international executive director of Word Made Flesh and the author of Simple Spirituality: Learning to See God in a Broken World (InterVarsity Press, June 2008), has teamed up with Asbury Seminary professor Christine Pohl for Friendship at the Margins.  The book, scheduled for release in April 2010, examines the role of friendship in mission and suggests that “unlikely friendships” may indeed constitute “the center of an alternative paradigm for mission.”   Again, for more on the InterVarsity-Duke series, see here.

Emmanuel Katongole, the co-director of Duke Divinity School’s Center for Reconciliation, will be speaking at Eastern Mennonite University on 10 November on transitional justice and forgiveness in the context of Central African political conflict.   Additional details on the talk (“Sacrificing Justice: Violence, Radical Forgiveness and the Future of Nation-State Politics in Africa”) can be found here.  For more on Duke Divinity School’s Center for Reconciliation and its book series with InterVarsity Press, see my post from mid-July.

In mid-November, the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) will be holding its annual conference in New Orleans.   Last month, while looking over the second revision of the draft program of this year’s conference, I put together my top 10 “Hmmm. I wonder how that presentation is going to turn out” list and posted it over at Boar’s Head Tavern, my other blogging community.   There are a couple of presentations that fit directly with the theme here at Withered Grass, so I thought I’d share it here as well. 

1.  Phil Congdon (New Braunfels Bible Church, an Evangelical Free congregation in Texas) will be presenting on “John Piper’s Diminished Doctrine of Justification and Assurance.”   I assume Congdon will be touching on the ongoing Piper – N.T. Wright debate over justification.

2.  Francis Beckwith on same-sex marriage and “justificatory liberalism”   This is a subject that Beckwith previewed at First Things in December 2008.

3.  One side of the ring – Joseph Cumming; the other side, Al Mohler and John Piper.  The referee: JP Moreland.  The issue: Muslim-Christian dialogue, evangelicals and “A Common Word

4.  Anthony B. Bradley wins the prize for most-over-the-top paper title so far: “Puritanism: A Theological Tradition of Anti-Blackness, Racism and Social Injustice”

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On the shelf next to my computer desk, I have within my reach two “must-have” overview texts on military-strategic thought: the 3rd edition of Michael Handel’s Masters of War: Classical Strategic Thought (Frank Cass, 2001); and an older, pre-1986 version of Peter Paret’s Makers of Modern Strategy: From Machiavelli to the Nuclear Age.  Paret’s co-translated version of the “Bible” of strategy — Clausewitz’s On War — is also a key text for the strategist-in-training.  

Looking over the latest offerings from Princeton University Press, I note that Peter Paret is at it once again.  Paret, professor emeritus of European History at Princeton’s Institute for Advanced Study, turned last year’s Lees Knowles Lectures at Cambridge into a full book:  The Cognitive Challenge of War: Prussia 1806.  Looking at the Franco-Prussian conflict, Paret provides (from the available excerpt) a very readable outline of how the changing character — vs. nature — of war precipitated new theorizing by Clausewitz and Jomini.   Reiterating one of Clausewitz’s main points, Paret relates the following in his opening salvo —

The components of war—mobilization of human resources, discipline, weapons, tactics, strategy, and much else, the issues they raise, and the problems they pose—are timeless. But the forms they take and the social context that does much to shape them are always changing. (page 1, emphasis added)

As we all consider the back-and-forth over General McChrystal’s 66-page Commander’s Initial Assessment (30 August 2009) regarding the need for ISAF to adopt a more explicitly COIN-oriented strategy in Afghanistan, let us keep clearly in mind Clausewitz’s (and Paret’s) cautionary words about the unchanging, timeless components of warfare and the need to adapt to war’s chameleon-like, ever-changing forms.

By now, you’ve probably noticed that I like to talk about books. 

Due to family and work schedules, I can’t read as much as I’d like to right now, yet books and reading have always been a key part of my life.  One of the absolute joys of teaching national security and politics courses to graduate students and undergraduates was the opportunity it gave me to highlight authors and converse about “meaty” books.  It was also my goal (and fervent hope) as a professor to provoke a passion in my students for reading and the art of critical argumentation.  To help them improve their reading and arguing, I would regularly assign two books: Mortimer Adler’s How to Read a Book, and Wayne Booth, et. al., The Craft of Research.

Adler’s book on reading has recently been getting some well-deserved press in the Reformed blogosphere.  Since January, Justin Taylor’s Between Two Worlds has put out six posts highlighting How to Read a Book (including a summary of Adler’s stages of analytical reading).  Just yesterday, Justin quoted from Peter Kreeft’s book on Socratic logic.  In the excerpt, Kreeft, a professor of philosophy at Boston College, sings Adler’s praises, particularly his three-part division of apprehending, judging and reasoning. I wholeheartedly agree with Justin, Tony and Peter. Adler’s work is invaluable for Christians of all stripes and sizes — whether they be students, full-time Christian workers, or lay members in a church.

At the same time, I also think that the Reformed blogosphere is giving out some very mixed messages when it comes to critical analysis and argumentation.

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In 2004, Richard Bourne — who is currently a Senior Lecturer in Theology at the University of Cumbria (UK) — submitted his Ph.D. thesis at the University of Exeter (UK) on John Howard Yoder’s theological politics.  Over the past four years, he has added to his original research and, as stated in the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise for Leeds Trinity and All Saints, he has been working to “place radical Christian, political and social thought in dialogue with various strands of contemporary political theory and moral philosophy; and to elaborate a vision of Christian social criticism as public, realist and transformative.”  The fruit of this labor, Seek the Peace of the City: Christian Political Criticism as Public, Realist and Transformative, is scheduled for release by Wipf and Stock Publishers next month.  According to the book’s description, Bourne compares Yoder’s “theological realism” to the theological politics of the likes of Stanley Hauerwas, John Milbank, Karl Barth and Dietrich Bonhoeffer.  Indeed, here’s what Stanley Hauerwas has to say about Bourne’s work —

Imaginatively drawing on a wide range of theological literature, social, and political theory, Bourne, in a manner unlike anyone else, helps us see how the work of John Howard Yoder provides a constructive politics for Christians in our day. Only someone completely at home in Yoder’s work could have written such a lucid and helpful book. Bourne, hopefully, has made John Howard Yoder indispensable for work in political theology.”—Stanley Hauerwas, Duke University

In June 2008, my alma mater, the University of Reading’s School of Politics and International Relations, won a sizable award for the study of “the Liberal Way of War.”  For the next five years, scholars from four of the university’s departments are collaborating to explore the following questions — How do liberal states fight wars, and how do wars change or alter their internal composition?  In short, how do liberal states wage war without losing their “soul”?  Using Hadrian’s Wall as an analogy for the traditional division between one’s own political community and the world outside, this is how the anticipated exploration of the “liberal way of war” was described in the proposal to the award’s sponsor — the Leverhulme Programme/Trust:

…In liberal societies – societies that understand their social and political arrangements as limited by, and instrumental to, the ‘liberty’ of individuals – ‘security’ and ‘liberty’ are virtually certain to come into collision. Warfare on any scale is almost certain to involve a heightened degree of coercion as well as fairly extensive interference with rights to privacy and property. The difficulties for liberals are still greater when it is reasonable to suspect that there are dangerous enemies within – in other words, when there are grounds for treating the free members of the community as if they were external enemies.

These are not, however, novel difficulties, and there are well-known intellectual moves that go some way towards resolving them, conveniently summarised in the two ancient tags salus populi suprema lex esto (let the safety of the people be the highest law) and inter arma silent leges (amid arms the laws are silent). But neither of these slogans is any real threat to what we have called the Hadrian’s Wall image. The former presupposes the moral significance of membership of a particular ‘people’. The latter claims that there are times and places in which those values are inapplicable; even if the places are within a given community’s borders, it has deemed them, in effect, to be external.

The principal objective of our proposed research is to acquire a better understanding of an essentially conceptual shift that undermines the Hadrian’s Wall model. Though liberals of course aspire to treat all human beings equally, they have in general recognised a fairly firm distinction between their home societies and places (as it were, beyond the Wall) where liberal values have yet to be respected; a universalising value system has nonetheless accepted that there are areas beyond its practical control. But universalising liberalism is being replaced by a variant that is universalist, that is, that presupposes the existence of an established worldwide rights-based order. On this view, the liberal state’s duty in Rwanda and Iraq is simply to uphold the same arrangements that prevail in North America and Western Europe. Moreover, in its efforts to uphold them, it must itself be held to the high standards that it maintains that it is fighting for.

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