24 March 2010

Book: Post-Christian Protestant Political Theology in John Howard Yoder and Oliver O'Donovan

Paul G. Doerksen, "Beyond Suspicion: Post-Christian Protestant Political Theology in John Howard Yoder and Oliver O'Donovan" (Wipf and Stock, January 2010), with a foreword by P. Travis Kroeker (McMaster University):


Publisher's description: "The modern era includes a two-fold tradition of radical suspicion – the suspicion that politicians corrupt morality, and that politics is corrupted by theology. However, such a view has been challenged in recent theological thought which seeks to move beyond such suspicion to recover a constructive role for political theology. By pursuing a critical comparison of the political theologies of John Howard Yoder and Oliver O'Donovan, the present work shows how post-Christendom Protestant political theology has attempted to move beyond suspicion without putting forward some hidden attempt to reassert a contemporary version of Christendom. O'Donovan's political theology, written from within the British Anglican tradition, is a bold project in which he attempts to push back the horizons of commonplace secularist politics and open it up theologically, a move that he believes will offer crucial resources for thinking about justice and the common good.

"A related response is presented by Yoder, who, as an American Mennonite, represents Anabaptism. From this more marginal ecclesial location, Yoder's thought stands both as a challenge to regnant liberal notions of the relation of church and state, and as an important interlocutor for O'Donovan's political theology. Yoder argues that political theology entails a particular kind of focus on the church, where the very shape of the church in the world is a public witness for the world, and not first of all a withdrawal from the world. The critical comparison brings to view areas of significant convergence and divergence in understandings of the Hebrew Scriptures as well as the New Testament. O'Donovan and Yoder's respective interpretations of Christendom are also fundamentally divergent, as are their views on the legitimacy of the use of force by government, clearly seen in O'Donovan's support of Just War Tradition and Yoder's promotion of Messianic Pacifism."

Endorsements: "I often observe if there is any alternative to Yoder it is Oliver O'Donovan. So we are in Doerksen's debt for putting Yoder and O'Donovan in conversation. His careful exposition of these thinkers helps us better see the challenges before the church in the world in which we find ourselves." (Stanley Hauerwas, Duke University)

"This study of O'Donovan and Yoder demonstrates more common ground between them than one might have suspected. Doerksen provides a fair and balanced treatment of the Reformed and Anabaptist theo-political traditions in the two persons of two of those traditions' strongest proponents. It deserves careful reading by anyone interested in social ethics done from outside the dominant traditions of political theology." (Craig A. Carter, Tyndale University College)

"In this fine, critical analysis of two very different theological ethicists [...,] Paul Doerksen rescues 'political theology' from its ideological distortion on the right (fascism), on the left (socialism), and in the centre (liberalism), grounding theo-political ethics squarely in scripture and the church as alternative political community. This is an important contribution to the growing literature in politics and theology, one in which political thought and action are grounded in sound biblical theology." (A. James Reimer, University of Waterloo/Conrad Grebel University College)

Paul G. Doerksen is Department Head-Biblical Studies at the Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute, Winnipeg. This book is based on his doctoral dissertation at McMaster University.

The book was apparently published previously by Paternoster Press in 2009.

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