As a reserve army chaplain, I am interested in both the history and the nature of military chaplaincy. That is why I was looking forward to reading The Sword of the Lord: Military Chaplains from the First to the Twenty-First Century, edited by Doris L. Bergen.
This book looks at military chaplaincy from Roman times and throughout history. In many ways, the chaplaincy described in those early years has almost nothing to do with chaplaincy in a modern sense. They were little more than priests praying for the army’s victory. Even as it developed into Roman Catholic priests providing last rites for dying soldiers, it still lacked the caring for the troops that is the main role of modern chaplaincy.
While all the chapters were interesting, there were some that stood out. I found the chapter on the American Civil War fascinating as you have similar chaplains on both sides doing the same sorts of things. Of course there is the chapter on Canadians in the First World War by Duff Crerar, who instructed me on the history of chaplaincy during my own basic training. There was a very interesting chapter on German chaplains during the Second World War and how chaplaincy failed in that context. Some American chaplains failed as well during the Vietnam War. I found all of the chapters to be informing and helpful in my own growth as an army chaplain.
I was a bit surprised by the last section of the book. It was written by a pacifist who did not agree with military chaplaincy. He felt that participating in military chaplaincy compromised Christian values. While he did try to see something good in military chaplaincy, I found that it was an unfortunate way to conclude an overall good book on chaplaincy.
If you are a military chaplain or interested in learning about this unique form of ministry, this would be a very good resource.