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September 21, 2001


DALLAS (SMU) -- Southern Methodist University Press and the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility have published a second edition of ethicist Joseph L. Allen’s 1991 book, War: A Primer for Christians.

The new edition came out in February 2001, months in advance of the terrorist attacks on New York City and Washington, D.C. When it was first published, however, another war loomed on the horizon, the Gulf War. The new edition has an afterword that identifies some of the major changes in the international situation in the past decade and their bearing on moral issues about war, in particular the end of the Cold War and increased ethnic conflicts.

In the preface to the book, Allen, professor emeritus of ethics at SMU’s Perkins School of Theology, said there are many resources to understand the Christian approach to war -- the Bible, pronouncements of various church bodies and works by moral theologians -- but Christians still need a basic introduction to these ideas explained in a critical fashion.

"The central objective here is to encourage thoughtful reflection and response and capacity for open discussion by Christians of all convictions about the troubling and persistent problem of war," Allen said.

War: A Primer for Christians costs $5.95 and is available at the SMU Bookstore. It also may be ordered by calling 1-800-826-8911 or by e-mail at If ordering the book, please allow for additional costs of shipping, handling and tax.

The 72-page book explains in an easy-to-read style the major Christian perspectives on war: the Just-War theory, the concept of a Holy War or crusade, and the pacifist renunciation of violence. War: A Primer for Christians describes how these approaches to war are expressed in the Christian tradition, the convictions and logic out of which they arose, and their strengths and weaknesses, advantages and dangers.

"His book will prime the pump for further discussion and debate as to when wars are just and how a nation might keep the means employed under restraints,"said William F. May, the Cary M. Maguire professor emeritus of ethics at SMU.

Allen says the book is useful for generating discussions in many group settings, including churches, classrooms and family living rooms, to name a few. Allen taught at SMU for more than 40 years before retiring in 1998. He is highly regarded as a community leader and a teacher whose academic specialty is Christian ethics. Once a pacifist, Allen says his approach to war changed after studying the writings of several theologians, some of whom he quotes in his book.

"I came to believe that I could better express through a Just-War approach the same basic convictions that had earlier led me to be a pacifist," Allen said. "Since then I have continued to interpret and respond to war from the standpoint of the Just-War tradition."