Ways of Judgment (O’Donovan)

Note: I read this book 14 years ago. I found the review in my archives. I wish I still had the book so I could review some of his arguments.

Oliver O’Donovan (hereafter OO) argues that the authority of government resides in the act of judgment (3-4). The thrones of the world are subordinated to the task of witnessing to the New Jerusalem. This is commonly, if sometimes misleadingly, called “Christendom.” I do not think OO intends to promote Christendom.

Judgment is an act of moral discrimination that establishes a new public context. Furthermore, judgment must be public in character. Private individuals (e.g., vigilantes) can never speak for the whole. Given the above definition of judgment, we can define punishment as “judgment enacted on the person, property, or liberty of the condemned party” (107).

OO’s discussions of judgment and punishment, always in a communal context, necessarily lead to discussions of international judgment. OO ultimately challenges our idols of democracy and the “liberal rights” tradition. We eventually see that all political orders are failing (and fading) and in their dimming light we see the rise of a more lasting–eternal–order of international judgment: the kingdom of God.

This is tangential to his larger argument, but the claim that all political orders are fading should strengthen the Christian’s conviction that he is a pilgrim.

Pros: As always, OO is judicious and balanced, writing from the mountaintops and not troubled with petty disputes. His use of Scripture, while sparse at times, is always timely and refreshing.

Cons: Much of this book will not make sense unless the reader is familiar with OO’s other two works, *Desire of the Nations* and *Resurrection and Moral Order,* both of them demanding (but rewarding!) reads. OO can be dense and the reader is tempted to shout, “Just get to the point!” Perhaps. Either way, it does make for slow reading. I had to read this book twice.


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