The Early Church on Killing: A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment

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The Early Church on Killing: A Comprehensive Sourcebook on War, Abortion, and Capital Punishment edited by Ronald J. Sider Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, 2012. 216 pp. $27.99. ISBN 978-0-8010-3630-9.

PRESIDENT BARACK OBAMA, like so many of his predecessors, is a confessing Christian who believes that it is sometimes justifiable for the United States to go to war. A great majority of American Christians - Protestant and Catholic, clergy and laity - agrees with the president on this issue. And all of them together, whether they know it or not, stand opposed to the teachings of early church leaders.

Ronald J. Sider, professor of theology, holistic ministry, and public policy at Palmer Theological Seminary, has given us the definitive sourcebook of the early church's views on war, capital punishment, and abortion. Using early church texts, Roman writings, and archaeological data, Sider offers a two-part conclusion: 1) "every extant Christian statement on killing and war up until the time of Constantine says Christians must not kill, even in war"; and 2) "a growing number of Christians, especially in the late and early fourth centuries, acted contrary to that teaching" (p. 194). Although this conclusion is not altogether new, it has never been so carefully argued, sturdily buttressed, and comprehensively presented. A first-rate historian, Sider mines extant sources with remarkable precision and restraint, studiously avoiding the faulty generalizations of scholars who have suggested that just war thinking has deep roots in the early church. …