Lament (Thomas Oden)

Oden, Thomas. Lament.

This isn’t so much Oden’s official memoir or autobiography.  Rather, it is the beginning of autobiography, for it seems this story must be told more than once.  He is documented his leaving of the liberal (or as he calls it, “liberated”) mindset.  This leads him to ask the question if the mainline seminaries can be reformed.

His narrative is structured around three feasts: Sophia, a Mass, and a charismatic eucharist.  In the first one a feminist polytheist came to Drew Seminary and preached a message on Divine Sophia. Oden knew he would have been communing with demons had he attended Eucharist afterwards, so he left.  The second one was a Roman Catholic Mass that he chose not to participate in.  The last one was when he accidentally found himself in a Chinese Holiness church in New York.

Oden writes this as he is leaving liberalism (or those whom he facetiously calls “liberated”).  It reads like a memo from the battle lines.  It’s depressing but he is moving in the right direction.  He has a good discussion of modernity, postmodernity, and how the classical/patristic position can address these problems.

Those whom we call “postmoderns” are simply hyper or ultramoderns.  They haven’t challenged the key assumptions (Note: whenever someone calls himself postmodern, ask him to deconstruct human rights and democracy).  Therefore, in Oden’s case postmodern simply means “after” modernity.


Outline of O’Donovan’s Desire of the Nations

With the current discussion of Christian nationalism, and the apparent lack of biblical exegesis in Stephen Wolfe’s book, it seemed appropriate to provide a clear model of real political theology from Oliver O’Donovan’s Desire of the Nations.

The Revelation of God’s Kingship (36-41)

Isaiah 33:22:   Yhwh is our king; Yhwh is our judge; Yhwh is our lawgiver.  He will save us.”  

Ideas are connected.  Kingship implies judgment, lawgiving, and salvation.  


The early Hebrews saw this element in the Psalms.   While it included salvation from sin, the term is often used to show God’s victories of his people’s enemies.   

What is the purpose of these victories? (Ps. 13:5; 85:7).   They show God’s hesed, his enduring commitment to those in his covenant.  Hesed often stands in parallel to the Hebrew word for faithfulness (Psalm 98.3).  

These victories also show God’s tsedeq, righteousness.  In the Psalms God’s righteousness is a public thing.   When he shows his right hand and holy arm, the nations will know (98.2). This is an important point in later Israelite history.   You are an Israelite living in Babylon.   While you are the chosen people of God, you have been publicly shamed by a pagan power (and presumably, so has your God).  Therefore, when God acts to show his righteousness, it must be public:  Is. 45.5; 46.13;51.5-8;56.1;61.10; 62.1).


The Hebrew root words relating to God’s righteousness often appear in connection with his shpt, judgment.  

This illustrates the problem with ancient Israel’s existence.  They were God’s chosen people yet they often worshipped idols.  If it is true that God vindicates his name among the pagans because he is a just God, how much more true will he vindicate his name among his people?  

What do we mean by the words “judgment” and “justice?”  The Hebrew word for “judgment” is mishpat.  When it is used in the Bible it is seen as a judicial performance.  When true “judgment” is present it is not a state of affairs but an activity that is carried out.  

The prophet Amos calls for mishpat to roll on like a river.  Isaiah says that the citizens of Jerusalem should seek mishpat by giving judgment in the cause of the fatherless and widow (1:17).  Isaiah even goes on to say that Zion will even be redeemed by mishpat (1:26ff).  

The judgments of Yahweh have lasting validity because all of his acts have lasting validity.  

This leads into what the Israelites believed about…


If you look at the Old Testament law code, it is strange.   But maybe it shouldn’t be.   For us Westerners there is a sharp distinction between history and law.    This was not so for the Hebrew.  For Israel “history” is the telling of God’s acts to future generations.  Law was the telling of his judgments (mishpatim). 

Psalm 119 is a case in point.  There are several terms of importance.   Testimony and decree. Interestingly enough, other Psalmists use the words in connection with a word we have just seen:  judgment.  See Psalm 81:4-5.  

When the kingdom of Judah had its reforming moments, it is evident that “testimony” and “law” were in the foreground.  2 Kgs 22:8-13.  Jer. 26:1ff.  In both cases we see that “law” is simply more than a “code.”  It is attesting that God will live out his judgments in Israel’s history. 

Look at how Psalm 96:10 unfolds:  the nations are to be told that Yhwh is king, that he established the world on firm foundations, and that he will judge the peoples with equity. 

Without the consciousness of something possessed and handed on, there could never be a political theology, since it could never be clear how the judgments of God could give order and sustain a community (48ff).  

In other words, something needs to be possessed and handed down.  This traditional possession was not always identified with “The Law.”  Originally, the existence of Israel was mediated through the Land.  Possessing the land was a matter of observing the order of life which was established by Yahweh’s judgments (Psalm 37:29ff).  

Land = material cause of Yahweh’s Kingly Rule

judgments = formal cause of Yahweh’s Kingly Rule

Victories = efficient cause of Yahweh’s Kingly Rule

Mediators of Yahweh’s Rule

Yahweh’s authority is image-less, like Yahweh himself.   However, Yahweh is immediately present in conquest, judgment, and law.  Israel still had a problem in its history:  it could never consolidate.  It had land, judgment, and victories (though never absolutely), but it had no stable means of passing it down.  Even acknowledging the sacred writer’s criticism of monarchy (1 Sam. 8), it must be acknowledged that monarchy exercised a stabilizing influence when contrasted with the Judges period.  Most importantly, monarchy allowed the passing down of the tradition (Land, Judgments, Victories).  

Dual Authority

Two cities; two rules.  Israel and Babylon side by side.  

The foreign sword, exile gives Israel a chance to separate from idolatrous connections (84).

Empire is necessarily unstable

The fulfilling of time

Jesus’s words of God’s reign were confirmed by power.  The point: instruction runs parallel to authority (Mark 1:22, 27: Luke:  4:36).  

The previous duality is transformed: The Two Cities (Babylon/Jerusalem) were indicative of Israel’s alienation.  They were soon to be replaced by the Two Eras (93).  Israel previously owed its existence (30-49) through Yahweh’s victories, Judgments, and gift of Land.  This is transformed in Jesus’s ministry

  1. Works of Power;  demonstration of God’s rule.  Their function was to draw attention to his preaching.   
  2. Jesus proclaimed the coming judgment of Israel:  Matt 8:11; this judgment creates new situations and new conditions.
  3. Jesus, Israel, and the Law:
    1. Sabbath:  The law is reinterpreted so man could fully realize God’s welfare for him.
    2. Disciples:  Forming a new community.  Authority has been refashioned on how God models his own authority.
    3. Fulfilling the law:  Law is treated as a kind of promise.  It anticipates a righteousness for which the faithful hungered.  

Triumph of the Kingdom pp. 120-157

The Representative (120)

Jesus proclaimed Kingdom; apostolic church did not.  This is no accident.  The latter proclaimed/illustrated what happens when the Kingdom came in conflict with principalities.

Progressive mediations: “God’s rule was discerned through the judicial tasks of angels and kings in all the nations; it was discerned in special covenant through the vocation of the Davidide line.   But now the last layer of the veil is drawn back”(124).

In Ezekiel we see the immediate disclosure of Yahweh’s rule in the Davidic line (Ez. 34:1-31).

OO’s critique of classic republicanism:  127.

Representation and Authority:  our life under Christ’s resurrection is service to righteousness (129).  Resurrection establishes authority of new life (NB: Note the important connection between resurrection and reigning).  

Representation of Israel → Representation of human race:  OO rejects “replacement theology” (131).  Jesus is Israel’s identity.  Servant passages in Isaiah.  Israel’s public tradition (Romans 9:1-4) is continuous.   

Moments of the Representative Act (133)

  1. Advent:  Jesus mediates kingdom in his personal being.  Fulfills all God intended (Isaiah 42).
  2. Passion:    judgment has two acts:  separation of innocent and guilty; and affirmation of the innocent.  Both are seen in cross/resurrection:  Christ is set in opposition to guilty Israel and vindicated before Israel.  Pilate’s irony:  “The answer to his (Pilate) question is that his own authority, which he tries to assert by threatening, is also dependent on a source.  Is that source Caesar, or is it God?  The question is left open for the moment, but the answer will come:  because it depends on Caesar, it depends on God, since Caesar is destined to fulfill the role God designed for him…(continuing 141).
  3. Restoration of Christ:  judges Israel’s sin and reaffirms Israel’s new identity in Christ.
  4. Exaltation:  royal imagery (Ps. 2:1).  Power put forth, judgment effected, gift of communal identity.  

Subjection of the Nations

To what extent is secular authority compatible with the Christ-mission?  

Romans 13:1ff; government’s purpose is judgment.  To this degree is secular authority compatible with the Christ-mission:  it has the role of judgment.  Mishpt.  This reflects the New Christian situation.  

Secular authorities do not mediate the rule of God (rule = judgment, victory, law); they merely mediate his judgment (151).  Their victories and such are rendered irrelevant by Christ’s victory.  

The church has no distinct social presence:  its witnesses call back to the Holy City.  Interestingly in Revelation 18ff we see a converging of Israel, the Eschatological Church, and the Antichrist Empire.

The Authorisation of the Church 

The dual authority assumes a distinct form. OO is somewhat confusing on this identity.  He says he isn’t defending Christendom, but its hard to see otherwise.  

  1. OO asserts the church is a political society.  At the very least this means that the church is an independent society (161).  It is authorised by Pentecost.
    1. The church prolongs the ancient faithfulness of Israel, not replaces it. 
  2. Its essential nature as a governed society is hidden, to be discerned by faith.  This helps protect us from claims that such-and-so a church government is the essence of the bride of Christ.  OO rebuts Ignatius on p. 168ff.  Ministerial orders are derived, not posited.  They are disclosed from heaven.  
  3. The relation of the church to Christ is a recapitulation of the Christ-event (171).  The church’s sacraments authenticate its ministry, not the other way around.  

Moments of Recapitulation

The Christ-event is the structuring principle for all ecclesiology.  

  1. In response to the Advent, the church is a gathering community.   (Some thoughts on unity form 176-177).  The unity inheres in the confession of Jesus as God’s Son.  This is only possible by the Holy Spirit (177).   [NB:  Unity is a spiritual thing, not a material or tangible thing.  Therefore, Protestants should not be embarrassed by supposed “fractures”] 
  2. The church is a suffering community. 
  3. It is a glad community (181).  A Delight in what God has done in Christ.
    1. Moral life of the church:  vindication of God’s rule in Christ’s resurrection.  
    2. Keeping of the Lord’s day:  Ground of all moral principles in the church (Barth).   OO tries to steer a mediating path between the Patristic denial of the Lord’s Day = Sabbath (radical newness) and the Reformation identifying the two (conservative sameness).  
  1. It is a prophetic community.  The church is authorised to deploy the powers of the kingdom of God.  These powers are displayed through speech.
    1. The presence of prophecy directs us to the charism.  
    2. To prophecy: to speak a word from God to the church in the here and now.  OO denies that it is merely synonymous with preaching.

Our narrative of the church is the inner logic of the sequence of the kingdom of God (191).  

The Obedience of Rulers

Christendom: The Doctrine of the Two

OO:  society and rulers have different destinies:  the former is to be transformed, shaped in conformity to God’s purpose; the latter to disappear, renouncing their sovereignty in the face of his (193).  Nice statement, but Revelation speaks of kings being healed by the New Jerusalem.

Contrary to critics, OO is not advocating Christendom.  He is merely noting it is a historical response to Christ’s witness (195).

OO offers good reading of Constantine and the interpretations that followed.  Per Eusebius, Constantine filled the place of the Parousia (which seems to echo Moltmann’s contention that the church ceased being premillennial because it became Constantinian).  

Redefining the Boundary

Church contrasted the roles of emperor and bishop as a transition from old age to new (199). This is best exemplified in Ambrose of Milan.  

Two Rules

Gelasius deconstructed Augustine:  he translated the duality from the level of society (two loves made two cities) to the level of government (two there are by whom this world is ruled; 203).  

Problem arose: who inherited the kingly aspect of Christ’s ministry, emperor or bishop?  

Supremacy of Spiritual Authority

soul of Christendom is church.  body is king.  Soul superior to Body.   highly neo-platonic (205). 

The Authority of Word Alone

What does spiritual authority mean?  property meant power; power meant jurisdiction; jurisdiction meant authority, and authority meant a proper role for the church’s shaping society (207).  Franciscans rejected this line of thought.

Marsilius of Padua offered a good, even eschatological perspective:  since Christ’s judgment is still future, it is impossible to represent it now by any single icon of political government (208).

Restoring the Balance


Mission or Coercion

The doctrine of the Two was best seen as a doctrine of two ages (211).  

State forms outer circle; church inner circle; kingdom the center.  The Church reminds the state and the state bears witness to Christ’s rule (per Barth, OO, 213).  

Antichrist: the convergence in one subject of claims to earthly political rule and heavenly soteriological mediation (214ff).  

Martyrdom is the witness of an alternative Lord. 

OO is at pains to say that a Christian state need not be a coercive state.  Logically, he is correct.   

Christendom and the Liberal Tradition

OO gently rebuts Chesterton’s Catholic neo-Medievalism.  OO notes that the sources of modernity lie within the Christendom tradition and not simply Protestantism (228).  

Until Justice and Peace Embrace (Wolterstorff)

Wolterstorff, Nicholas. Until Justice and Peace Embrace. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

This book was one of the last, true “Neo-Calvinist” manifestos and was written when Nicholas Wolterstorff was more of a neo-Calvinist than he is today. It champions the Calvinist Reformation as a “world-formative” Christianity (3). Indeed, Wolterstorff sees two types of Christianity: avertive and formative (5).

Wolterstorff defines justice:

P1: The enjoyment of one’s rights.

The early part of this book is more of a sociological essay, which, while interesting, will not be of immediate interest to the usual readers of Eerdmans publishing. However, Wolterstorff does advance several charged theses: namely, that societies also need to be redeemed. Further, if they are to be redeemed, one must also see where they are structurally flawed (or directed).

Discussion of Rights

Right to protection
Right to freedom
Right to participate in government
Right to sustenance

Classic Liberalism: do your own thing but do not interfere, positively or negatively, with your neighbor.

Sustenance Rights are basic rights–they are necessary for life (82).

Wolterstorff defines “right” as a “morally legitimate claim [to]…the actual enjoyment of a good that is socially guaranteed against ordinary, serious, and remedial threats (82).
a. A right places an obligation on others, a responsibility–and that is necessary to what it means to be human.
b. A right is the claim to the actual enjoyment of the good in question.
c. It is socially guaranteed.
d. This means that rights always involve social structures.

*Shalom as Delight-in-Justice/Beauty*

The medievals were correct that beatitudo is necessary. Yet this isn’t quite Shalom. Justice never enters the picture in the medievals’ discussions. Shalom incorporates our delight in the physical. This also means Liturgy. Looking back at Deuteronomy, we find three themes in liturgy:

*Take Heed

The book ends with suggestions to what Wolterstorff would later title his “Ethics of Belief.” As a whole his book is quite fine and occasionally inspiring. He does include a fine critique of liberation theology. Some of the sociological discussions, however, are quite technical.

Criticism and Observation

Let’s take one of his “basic rights,” sustenance. Who is to guarantee “sustenance?” He really doesn’t say, but one fears he has a candidate in mind: The Government. Okay, that raises some other questions: How does the Government determine how much sustenance one needs? By what rationality? These questions really can’t be answered, and it’s probably a good thing Wolterstorff didn’t broach them.

The Concept of the Political (Carl Schmitt)

Schmitt, Carl. The Concept of the Political. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. [reprint 2007].

In what concrete apparatus does political authority lie? Answers could be God or natural law or the social contract?  That might be true in an ultimate sense, but power is always mediated.  To phrase it another way: who is the actual sovereign? 

Carl Schmitt begins on rather innocuous grounds: the state cannot be simply equated with the political. In other words, society cannot be equated with the political. What, then, is the political? It begins “with the distinction between friend and enemy” (Schmitt 26). To be sure, as Schmitt notes, this is a criterion, not an exhaustive definition.  (Schmitt is using ‘enemy’ in a terminological sense, not in a moral sense of ‘bad guy’.) The enemy is one who intends to negate your way of life. To ward off confusion, Schmitt says it is a public, not a private enemy. Indeed, the enemy in this sense “need not be hated personally” (29).

Jesus’s comments do not contradict this.  He is speaking of private enemies.  As Schmitt notes, “Never in the thousand-year struggle between Christians and Moslems did it occur to surrender rather than defend Europe out of love toward the Saracens or Turks” (29).

The contrast between friend and enemy is most stark in the context of war.  There contrast becomes absolute and internal tensions within the political structure become relativised (e.g., as a patriot I dislike moderates, but in the face of an existential external threat, I put that dislike aside).  Indeed, “War is the existential negation of the enemy” (33). A world without war would be a world without the friend-enemy distinction: it would be a world without politics.

We can now tentatively define the political as an entity which is able to escalate the friend-enemy distinction to war. It is any community “that possesses, even if only negatively, the capacity of promoting that decisive step” (37).

Subordinate societies within the political certainly exist.  These are Burke’s “little platoons” or “free associations.” They are necessary to health of the state.  Schmitt’s reiterates his point, though, with stark clarity: “the political entity is by its very nature the decisive entity, regardless of the sources from which it derives [its power]. It exists or does not exist. If it exists, it is the supreme, that is, in the decisive case, the authoritative entity” (43-44). We might recoil at his conclusion, but it remains true that the political, not the church or the guild, is able to use the sword.

I think at this point Schmitt is still at the level of theory, for there are examples in European history where entities other than the state had the power to wage war.  Theoretically, he is correct.  

Any group that has the power to make this distinction and does not do so ceases to exist.  As Schmitt notes, if a group within the political chooses not to engage in the friend-enemy distinction, it in fact joins the enemy. “Only a weak people will disappear” (53).

Interestingly enough, we can apply Schmitt’s insights against globalism.  If the political presupposes an enemy, it means another political entity, another state, must exist.  “As long as a state exists, there will always ben in the world more than one state. A world state which embraces the entire globe and all of humanity cannot exist” (53). The enemies will not cease to exist.  The world-state will simply transfer the category to a group of whom it deems “deplorables.”

The Contradiction of Liberalism

Liberalism seeks to protect individual rights and liberty.  It does so by hindering the state’s control. While noble, this also means liberalism cannot really accommodate the existential nature of the political as mentioned above.  If war arises, the political can demand that you sacrifice your life.  Classical liberalism says it can’t make that demand.  It is here that Schmitt gives his famous rule of the exception, the rule that fundamentally kills liberalism: “An individualism in which anyone other than the free individual himself were to decide upon the substance and dimension of his freedom would be only an empty phrase” (71).

This doesn’t mean liberal societies cease to exist.  They undergo a transformation. “A politically united people becomes…a culturally interested public.”  “Government and power turn into propaganda and mass manipulation, and at the economic pole, control” (72).


This isn’t as shocking as it appears. Politics is about negating the other.  I want my political candidate to win.  That means I want the other to lose.  Completely.  Democrats want Republicans to lose.  Republicans want patriotic Republicans to lose, and so on. Of course, at this point it hasn’t yet come to war.  Actually, that’s’ not true.  The Democratic Party has numerous paramilitary groups burning cities.

I’m not sure I would build a political worldview on Schmitt’s thinking.  Questions like pursuing the Good and virtue are not relevant for him.  He doesn’t dismiss them, to be sure, but they have no meaning on the friend-enemy distinction.  Nonetheless, he writes with bracing clarity and forces the reader to grapple with hard issues.

Note on Hegel: all spirit is present spirit.  Hegel is also the first to bring the nature of the bourgeois forward: “The bourgeois is an individual who does not want to leave the apolitical riskless private sphere” (Schmitt 62).  The enemy, for Hegel, is “negated otherness.”

Lament for a Nation (Grant)

Grant, George.  Lament for a Nation: The Defeat of Canadian Nationalism. Montreal, Canada: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 1965 [reprint] 2007.

I can’t vouch for how accurate Grant’s summary of Canadian nationalism (more on that term later) is.  As Americans, we don’t know much about Canada.  Before we should begin we should clear up what we mean by “nationalism.”  Nationalism doesn’t mean “my country is great and everyone else is stupid,” nor does it mean use the American military to invade (and then invite) the world.  That is Neo-Conservatism, and it is the enemy of nationalism.  Nationalism means that linguistic, geo-political entities are real and have a real right to exist.  If we reject this view, then the nation will then be subject to other forces, such as the United Nations, international corporations, or Communist China (or all three, as controlled by Communist China). 

Grant’s argument is that Canadian Prime Minister John Diefenbaker formally and culturally lost Canada around 1963, as non-liberals in Canada couldn’t give a good reason to deny Kennedy’s demand to place nuclear warheads on Canadian soil (the implication, among other things, is that if you can’t make your own military decisions, you really aren’t a sovereign country).

Moreover, Canada found itself involved in the Michigan-Ohio manufacturing economy.  This meant that Canada had to agree to economic decisions made that would primarily benefit those states.  That is another implication:  if you can’t make your own economic decisions, are you really a sovereign country?

The bottom line is that by the end of the decade, corporations, and not the average citizen, were in charge of the country.  (This is basically America today.) Of course, someone could counter: 1) wasn’t it necessary to oppose Soviet threats?  That’s a good point and one not easily brushed aside.  We should all fight to the death against Communism.  I’m not sure exactly how Canadian nationalists can answer that question.  

2) Doesn’t increased integration into the American economy lead to a higher standard of living for Canadians?  Maybe.  I really can’t answer that question, except to defer it to a later discussion of virtue and liberalism.

3) Isn’t this inevitable?  Probably.  Grant hints as much, hence the “Lament” in his title.

The book pivots at Chapter Five. Grant shifts from discussing Diefenbaker to the nature of techno-liberalism, and here is where he shines.  His thesis is “This state will be achieved by means of modern science–a science that leads to the conquest of nature” (Grant 52).  Marx, unlike Democratic Socialists today, knew that scarcity was a real phenomenon.  He simply believed that technology would end it.  That, of course, didn’t turn out.  Liberals, also, believe in technology, but more along the lines of mastering nature.  That might not seem to follow, but consider: the essence of liberalism is to reject any conception of the Good that imposes limits on human freedom” (55).  Technology will help man overcome the built-in limits that threaten his freedom.  In other words, it is “the faith that can understand progress as an extension into the unlimited possibility of the future” (56).

Does this mean society will be socialist or capitalist?  The larger point is not that the elites think one system is better than the other.  Rather, they have seen that capitalism better facilitates technological expansion.  And by capitalism, we mean late capitalism.  As Grant notes, early capitalism was full of moral and Puritan restraints.  Later capitalism as manifested by the Playboy culture, is not

All of this, of course, is a far cry from earlier conceptions of the good and serves to illustrate Grant’s contrast between post-Lockean liberalism and older Toryism.  Earlier liberals, such as the American founders, did believe in a “Good” of sorts, but it was a good for all practical purposes to safeguard the individual, not the individual safeguarding the Common Good. This means that American conservatives, no matter how well-intentioned, in wanting to get back to the Founding, can never rise above the limitations of John Locke.

The alternative to Locke, as Grant notes, is the organic, hierarchical society of Richard Hooker.  I say Grant “notes” this point; he never really develops it.  The various writers of the forewords to this book, however, do develop it.  I say “various writers.”  This book has close to 80 pages of introduction.  I kid you not.  

Andrew Potter notes that liberalism, whether that of Madison or Roe v. Wade, lets “Freedom” close off “any public conception of the Good” (Potter xxv).  Goods are not values, and values are private.  Remember, I as the individual am ultimately committed to my freedom.  External focus on the Good might hinder might freedom.

By contrast, those following in the line of Hooker see society as an organic unity, “in which each part is responsible for the welfare of the whole” (xxxi).  To use a modern application: the anti-masker during Covid is legitimately expressing his freedom.  Liberals have attacked the idea of a transcendent Good for decades, and now they want to arbitrarily apply it.  Of course, the student of Hooker should wear the mask, but he only has a good argument if he subsumes it to the common good.

Potter offers another way to look at it.  Aristotle’s ethics looked for a positive theory of human excellence.  Locke only sought a negative view of what was evil (xl).  If the state of nature is one of inevitable death, then the government has only one goal: securing my life, liberty, and property. It might be nice if I wanted to help someone, but that is utterly irrelevant.  Grant doesn’t fully develop the point, but this might be one of the reasons American conservatism has always been anemic.

As a whole, the book is well-written.  I can’t attest to the historical conclusions, but his analysis of modern liberalism is on point.

Bonds of Imperfection (O’Donovan)

O’Donovans, Oliver and Joan Lockwood. Bonds of Imperfection: Christian Politics Past and Present.  Eerdmans, 2007.


I’ve read this book more than any other book over the past eleven years.  Each essays is a Master’s course in social ethics.  With all the combined essays, you will know more about ethics than the average seminary graduate. This post is going to be very long, but given the contents, that is unavoidable.

The most important essay, and the one from which most others spring, is Oliver O’Donovan’s essay on Augustine’s City of God 19.4.  O’Donovan is in the very dangerous waters of whether the City of Man constitutes a true res publica.  And if it doesn’t, and if the Church does, does this mean that the Church is actually the only true political society?  If so, we aren’t that far from Yoder.  But I don’t think O’Donovan takes it in that direction.

Some background terms:  A thing’s end is its perfection.  The summum bonum is that object for which other objects are sought, but which is sought only for itself.  

  • each city has its own end.
  • Augustine is not saying that the two cities get along together by having a common use of means towards different ends.  The connective phrase ita etiam connects chapter 16 with the first line of chapter 17:  the comparison is between the earthly city and the earthly household

Consensus of Wills

But what of the obvious fact that the Two Cities do seem to “get along” from time to time?  For one, we note that members of the heavenly city use the earthly as a means to an end; whereas the earthly city sees itself as an end.  There is no tertium quid between the two cities, no neutral space. The agreement can only be on a surface level of means, and only that.

Ius and Iustitia

Augustine notes that “ius” flows from the source of iustitia (19.21).  There can be no iustitia common to the two cities because the earthly city does not deal or participate in the forgiveness of sins (Ep. 140.72; Spirit and the Letter 32.56).  Iustitia, nonetheless, is not at the forefront of Augustine’s concerns.  

If a state does display some virtues but it relates to some object other than God, then it is disorder (19.14-16).  This insight allows Augustine to say that there is some relative order and good in a state, but gives him the space to critique the State. (Interestingly, Augustine has no vision for political programs; sorry, Reconstructionists).  

O’Donovan then outlines a pyramid of ascending orders of peace in the universe (rerum omnium).  I will number them but I can’t reproduce the pyramidal scheme here. The numbers aren’t of greater importance to lesser, or vice-versa.  Rather, beginning with (1) it is a continual movement outward.

(10) ?

(9)  peace of the heavenly city

(8) peace of the city

(7) peace of the household (19.14-16)

(6) pax hominum (Peace of Rome? or basic Peace between men)

(5) peace with God

(4) Body-soul union

(3) rational soul

(2) irrational passions

(1) Body

The relation between peace and order is one of definition.  The peace of any household is the tranquility of order.

Household (Domus)

It is an ordered harmony of giving and receiving commands.  Unlike the City, though, the commands are not given from a desire to dominate, but from compassionate acceptance of responsibility. Augustine does not try to “transform” society.  It is impossible to read Book 19 or the whole City of God that way.  Rather, he “transvalues” society’s structures (O’Donovan 68).  

The Proprietary Subject and the Crisis of Liberal Rights

Key point:  The possession of rights is always proprietorship; all natural rights (for the West) originate in property rights (Joan Lockwood O’Donovan, 75).   This originated with Pope John XXIII (1329 AD).  He saw man as created with full lordship and ownership as possession (dominum).  His point was to discredit Fransiscan theologians who insisted on radical poverty.

This is the rights culture that would spring full-bloom in the modern world.  The problem it created was how to have community if the above take on rights is true.

Patristic Foundations of Non-Proprietary Community

The fathers thought men should share as an imitation of God’s sharing his goodness with us.Augustine’s AchievementAugustine distinguished between two objective rights:  (a) divine right, by which all things belong to the righteous, and (b) human right, in which is the jurisdiction of earthly kings (79, quoting Epistle 93).

  • Justice for Augustine is a rightly-ordered love seen in the body politic, which would mean men loving the highest and truest good, God, for God’s sake.
  • Therefore, the bonum commune is a sharing in a rightly-ordered love (City of God, BK 19.21).
  • Because this sharing is spiritual, it is common and inclusive.  Thus we have a republic in the truest sense of the word:  res publica, public things.
  • Conversely, a disordered love in the soul is the privatization of the good.
  • Therefore, a disordered love will see the destruction of community.

O’Donovan comments,It is the regulated interaction of private spheres of degenerate freedom, secured by the protection of property and enhanced by the provision of material benefits at the hands of unscrupulous tyrants (80).

Fransiscan Poverty: The Evangelical Theology of Non-Possession

  • Renouncing property right means that the viator is not a self-possessor, but rather is possessed by Christ and receives his powers (85).

Wyclif’s Ecclesiological Revolution

Irony: Wyclif’s reform program actually owed a great deal to Pope John XXIII’s reflections.

  • Non-proprietary posession belonged not only to Adam’s original state, but all the way forward to the episcopolate today: this should be seen in the church militant (88).
  • Divine lordship (dominum):  per Wyclif’s predecessor, Fitzralph, God is the primary possessor and enjoyer of creation.  Therefore, his giving of creation to Adam is a communication and sharing of himself, rather than a transfer of Lordship (89).
  • For the church, for Wyclif, this is God’s gift of himself as the love of Christ and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (2 Corinthians 13).
  • Therefore, all of the “justified,” who coexist with Christ’s love, share (communicant) in this lordship directly from Christ.
  • Therefore, just dominion involves rightly-ordered love towards these communicable goods, which in turn depends on true knowledge of them available in Christ.

Medieval Theories on Usury

medieval economics: A Christo-centric ethic of perfection that drew heavily upon the Stoic-Platonist tradition.  

  • drew upon the Patristic vision of polarity of opposing loves of spiritual and earthly riches, “viewed avarice as the root of all evil,” property right as morally tainted (Lockwood O’Donovan, 99).  
  • Not fully Aristotelian, though.  The Patristic vision viewed community primarily in terms of a common participation in invisible goods and a charitable sharing of divisible goods by its members.  

Canonical Development of the Usury Prohibition

The church recognized two intrinsic titles to interest (indemnity) on loans in the case of delayed repayment:  the title of damages sustained and that of profit foregone. Further, contracts are distinguished from loans.

  • The locatio: a rental contract on a piece of property
  • The societas: partnership where profit and risk were shared
  • The Census:  sale or purchase for life of a rent-charge (the return varied on the productivity)

The church in fact gave moral license to limited opportunities for investment and credit that favored the welfare of the poor but did not serve an expanding commercial economy (101-102).  However, as contracts became more complex over time, it was really hard to not engage in some form of usury.

The Earlier Medieval Treatments of Usury

God’s original will for human community:  

  • its members make common use of the goods of creation to relieve material want (104).  
  • air, sun, rain, sea, seasons (divinely created as koinonia, unable to be monopolized; cf. modern American government attacking those who store rainwater)
  • Gratian argues this did not mean private ownership and amassing wealth.  It’s hard to see how this squares with Proverbs injunction that a godly man leaves an inheritance.  And if the wealth is to be distributed by the church, it’s hard to see how the church can make any claim to poverty and non-possessorship.

The usurer sells time:  time originally belongs to God, and secondarily belongs to all creatures.  Thus, to sell time is to injure all. Further, time is a koinon, indivisibly shared by all creatures.  

Roman contract of loan (mutuum):  a fungible good is transferred from owner to borrower. Ownership is transferred because the borrower is not expected to repay the exact same item.  The borrower assumes the risk of loss and is bound to repay it. Thefore, Lockwood O’Donovan argues, “The medieval theologians and canonists could argue, in the first place, that the usurer charges the debtor for what the debtor already owns” (107).

The Thomistic Treatment of Usury

Commutative justice (ST 2a2ae. 78)

Usury sins against justice in the exchange, a violation against equality in the exchange

Thomas does presuppose property right

  • sterility of money theory
    • Money is a means of measuring equivalence in an exchange.  It can only establish equivalence if it is formally equal to the thing itself in exchange (
    • the usurer inflicts on the needy borrower a moral violence of making him repay more than he was lent.
    • Thomas also argues that human industry, not money is the cause of profit.
  • to charge separately for a thing

Problems with Barth’s Political Ethics

For Ramsey, God accepts Christ’s regnant new humanity.  For Barth, God rejects the old humanity.  This seems to mean that God also rejects extra-ecclesial orders as such.  When Barth comes to war as such, he does not interact with Just War reasoning but simply lists the evils of the Second World War.

Ramsey can point to “monuments of grace” in such a horror, even to legitimate uses of State force.  Barth can only suggest a delaying action (CD III/4, p. 456).  As a result, notes O’Donovan, Barth “ends up precisely in the place he intended to bypass, in a politics that can only be viewed soberly and not with evangelical faith or hope” (O’Donovan 264).

A Way Forward With Ramsey

Ramsey has what Barth needs: a way to bridge the gap between homo politicus which is redeemed in Christ and homo politicus that is in need of redemption. We are back with the distinction between esse and bene esse.  The latter terms also suggests something along the lines of goal or end. Ramsey is speaking of true political activity.

Is Barth an Apollinarian?

Ramsey offers a model in which political power is both used appropriately and judged:  the Incarnation, homo assumptus.  This means that Christ takes on the fallen order, including homo politicus.  There is no radical “Other” realm to which Christ has no access.  As O’Donovan notes, “Only so can the homo politicus that is redeemed be the same homo politicus that was in need of redemption” (266).

Barth will not grant this.  But in not granting it, he is partitioning off a section of man’s redemption.  To be fair, Barth resists this temptation in Christology but not in politics.

Who is Ramsey’s “Liberal?”

A liberal for Ramsey is one who splits politics and military doctrine.

Liberalism for O’Donovan: the inadequacy of every human attempt to render justice.  A magistrate’s power should be limited.    Therefore, power is suspect but necessary (270).

What does Ramsey mean by Just War and International Politics?  So, O’Donovan: “The international sphere was a constitutional vacuum, but by no means a moral or political vacuum” 271). Ramsey suspects there is a continuum that links violent with nonviolent resistance. Indeed, is not democracy justum bellum (Ramsey, War and the Christian Conscience, 126)?  Jesus never said to resist evil by ballot boxes.

Zizek: Living in the End Times

Zizek organizes each chapter along the famous psychological responses to a crisis: denial, anger, bargaining, acceptance, and depression. In between each chapter is an interlude which applies the current insights to numerous cultural phenomena. This review won’t analyze each chapter if only because it is hard to follow Zizek’s argument at times: he has some excellent thoughts which he is incapable of extending for more than a few pages. Secondly, I don’t understand what he is saying in a lot of places.


Premise: the global capitalist system* is about to fall because, in good Hegelian fashion, it is predicated on the contradiction(s) of Liberalism. There is a contradiction between market liberalism and political liberalism. The market liberals of today want family values, less government, and maintain the traditions of society (at least in America’s case). However, we must face the cultural contradiction of capitalism: the progress of capitalism, which necessitates a consumer culture, undermines the values which render capitalism possible (pp. 35-37).

Second contradiction: there is in liberalism a tension between private freedoms and the public mechanisms which control society. This is more obvious in the case of left-wing democrats. They want a society that allows individual freedoms, yet end up encroaching on individual freedoms in the name of tolerance, multiculturalism, etc.

The contradictions of liberalism demonstrate why Hegel was such a brilliant observer of the problems of modernity (even if we demur with his conclusions). Zizek writes,

traditionally, each form of liberalism necessarily appears as the opposite of the other: liberal multiculturalist advocates of tolerance as a rule resist economic liberalism and try to protect the individual from unencumbered market forces, while market liberals as a rule advocate family values, and so on. We thus get the double paradox of the traditional Rightist supporting the market economy while rejecting the culture and mores that economy engenders, and his counterpoint, the Leftist, resisting the market while enthusiastically supporting the culture it engenders (p. 37).

This is Hegelian deconstruction of a false ideology at its best: demonstrate something is false by exposing the contradiction upon which it is built. However, like Hegel, Zizek shows that the advocate of liberalism cannot escape his plight because one Liberal cannot fully reject the “other” liberal. I suppose this is what Hegel meant in the “identify of identity and difference.”

Of course, I temper my praise somewhat. Most of Zizek’s theological conclusions, as well as morality, are suspect elsewhere.

If the First Act demonstrated the failure of capitalism and liberal democracy (praise be to thee, O Christ!),Act Three evaluates the problems in the many forms of Marxism. Ultimately, he examines the value-theory debate from many different Hegelian perspectives, offering an interesting take of Substance as that which is already lost but in whose loss reconciliation is possible.

His take on the Hegelian “Substance” as loss-in-giving reminds the Christian reader of the long-neglected doctrine of Kenosis. Following, he offers his own way out of the socialist-capitalist dilemma: a basic income society which gives away everything except the capitalist machine (236). This is interesting, but it doesn’t fully get away from the problem of the welfare mom staying home to watch Oprah while still getting full benefits. I am not convinced Zizek has gotten away from the standard market rebuttal: you get more of what you subsidize (laziness).


Zizek analyzes a lot of moments in the past fifty years that outwardly look like triumphs for socialism and Leftism (’68, the Obama presidency, etc.), but ended up strengthening the liberal-capitalist status quo. Zizek’s question in this chapter is how to overthrow the current system in a way that utilizes all of the anger of the “proletariat” without resorting to the violence that is so common to Leftism.

Similar to his critique of social liberalism in the first chapter, he is aware of potential problems in his analysis: does not Leftism negate many (all?) of our freedoms? Zizek mentions Sarah Palin’s “death-panel” objections to Obamacare. While I demur at Palin as much as the next person, Zizek mentioned but never answered Palin’s challenge: given limited resources (and hyper-incompetency) by the State that will necessarily follow Obamacare, which means that there will be limitations to these benefits, the government then will have to decide. Leftists might not like this reductio, but they still have to answer it.

The larger point is that Zizek makes a distinction between formal freedoms and actual freedoms: formal freedom is the freedom to choose within a set of coordinates while actual freedom is freedom on the more normal sense of the word (358). Zizek wants to negate the latter. We have freedom to choose between various sets of government-sponsored solutions. He does have a response to Palin: Obamacare can work because look at Scandinavia. Here’s why that is an inappropriate analogy: Scandinavian countries have good diets, a highly-literate populace, a homogenous population, and a strong work-force—qualities that are severely lacking in America.

Will it Work?

Will Zizek’s appeal to embrace a modified form of Communism that seeks to utilizes the passions of the Left without the violence of the Left? True, Occupy Wall-Street has since taken place, but the police and security have had little trouble dealing with the unwashed hippies who are just standing around. It does not seem like Zizek’s Leftism can be accomplished without violence. At this point, obviously, I am in full disagreement with Zizek.


The book is quite interesting and we should welcome is penetrating analysis of liberalism and capitalism. The book does suffer from a wandering argument and the conclusion either doesn’t go far enough or it goes too far.

*I’m willing to entertain the idea what we call capitalism today is not what Adam Smith had in mind

Dugin notes, 4th Political Theory

I have my questions about his larger project, but his analyses of modernity and postmodernism are simply too good to ignore.

Birth of a Concept

  1. Three Ideologies
    1. Liberalism: the individual is the normative subject (this includes both free market capitalism and the Democratic Party.  I am using “liberal” in a non-perjorative sense).
    2. Fascism: race or nation is normative subject
    3. Communism: Class
      The second and third options failed, leaving liberalism in charge.  Without any alternatives, liberalism is the norm.
    4. 4th political theory: Dasein is the acting subject.  We will explain more on this later.
  2. Postmodernism
    1. Global Market Society
      1. Globalism
      2. Technology
    2. Kingdom of Antichrist
  3. Heidegger and the Event
    1. The ancient greeks confused the nuances between pure being (Seyn) and a being (Seinende).
    2. Nihilism and the event
      1. The “Nothing” is the flip side of being and paradoxically reminds one of Being’s existence.
      2. Event: the sudden return of being.

Dasein as Actor

  1. What is the nature of freedom?
    1. Classical Liberals defined freedom as “freedom from.”  There should be no ties on an individual’s will.  
      1. It is these individuals, acting alone but taken as a whole, who form the circle of liberal action.
      2. Lacking a telos by definition, liberalism is hard-pressed to explain what we have freedom for.
    2. All political theories have an acting subject.
  2. Dasein as subject.
    1. Dasein is a way to overcome the subject-object duality.  It is inzwichen, the “between.”
  3. Hidden Racisms
    1. Is “progress” racist? Maybe.  Progressive societies have an implicit judgment that other societies, who do not hold such views, are inferior.
    2. The only true human rights are those enshrined by global capitalism, democracy, individualism.
  4. Ethnos: A community of language
    1. Racist societies, whether Nazis or American neo-liberals, reduce society to a concept like race, blood, market.
    2. A better reduction, if reduction it is, is language.
      1. Language allows for an “accommodating landscape” (Gumilev).  It is the matrix of a “Life-world” (Husserl).
      2. Ethnicities generate the criteria by which they are judged (Dugin 48).
    3. The village-state is an alternative to the metropolis.

Critique of the Monotonic Process

Liberal ideology is necessarily evolutionary.  The concept of progress takes one from barbarism to technologism and the more refined way of life of the markets.

Monotonic process: the idea of constant growth, accumulation, steady progress by only one specific indicator (60).  In other words, in a system only one value (x) grows.  Only one thing (or a small group of things) accumulates.  Applied to either machines or biological life, this is death.  

The Gift

In traditional societies surplus was always sacrificed or given away. Thus, festivals.

Nietzsche: if there is growth in life, the movement towards logos, then the balance of the nocturnal Dionysian world exists as well (65). 

Modern political options have all seen progress and time in a linear fashion.  Even more so, because of time there must naturally be progress. By contrast, Dugin suggests that

T1: Time is a social phenomenon with its structures arising from social paradigms (68).

By this he wants to safeguard the idea that there can be “interruptions” and reversals in the flow of time.  History does not simply teach the march of capitalism upon earth (borrowing and adapting Hegel’s phrase).

Nevertheless, and perhaps unaware, Dugin remains close to the linear view.  He does note that time is “historical” (70) and from that draws a very important, Heideggerian conclusion:  it cannot be objective.

Why not? The acting subject, the historical observer (whom we will call “Dasein,” but this is true also of the individual in liberalism) is finite.  He doesn’t have a god’s-eye view on history.

Of course, that’s not to say it can’t be real or reliable per the observer, but we don’t have the Enlightenment’s dream of a god’s-eye application of reason to reality.

Global Transition and its enemies

  1. What is the New World Order?
    1. It is a “universalism of free market economics, political democracy, and the ideology of human rights” (71).
    2. From the American point of view: a strong imperial core with the periphery divided and fragmented.
      1. Creation of multilateral unipolarity.
      2. Promotion of accelerated globalism and swift de-sovereignisation of nation states in favor of a global United States.
    3. Global democracy is a self-generating virus (Stephen Mann).
  2. The World Order from a non-American point of view

Conservatism and Postmodernity

Paradoxes of Freedom

  1. Liberal freedom in action is the freedom to choose TV stations.
    1. If I am “free,” am I free to say no?  Can I say “no” to freedom?
    2. Liberalism cannot allow this, which means there is no alternative to it.
  2. Df. conservatism = repudiation of the logic of history.  True conservatism means that history isn’t necessarily moving towards a moment of universal global markets.
    1. Fundamental Conservatism: Traditionalism (86ff).
      1. Opposes “time.”  Specifically, it does not accept the argument that progress is necessarily good.
    2. Status quo conservatism: liberal conservatism.
      1. It is liberal in that it says yes to modernity, “but at each stage it attempts to step on the breaks” (91).
    3. Left Wing Conservatism (Social Conservatism)
    4. Eurasianism: an umbrella of subordinate conservatisms
      1. There is no single historical process.  
      2. Every nation has its own historical model and moves in its own rhythm. 

Transformation of the Left in the twenty first century

  1. The Leftist Philosophy in Crisis: three varieties
    1. Old Left: 
      1. Orthodox Marxists.
        1. Stuck in concepts anchored in the Industrial Revolution.  Really couldn’t adapt to hyper-technological ages.
        2. Fundamentally wrong about historical dialectic.
      2. Social Democracy: 
        1. Income tax, government in the private sector, free medicine; traditional “liberal” mores.
        2. Social Justice + Market expansion
    2. Left Nationalists
    3. New Left: anti-globalism, postmodern, post-human
      1. Utilized Marxist analysis of ideology as “false consciousness” to explain society, philosophy, economy.
      2. Bourgeois society is a result of superstructures.

Ontology of the Future

  1. Three ecstasies of time (Heidegger).  Normally, we would say that the future “lacks the most being.”
    1. Immediacy (there is/there is not)
    2. Documentary (there was/there was not)
    3. Probabilistic (there will be/there will be not)
  2. Perception and Being: Kant denied that by mere perception we have access to the thing-in-itself.
    1. Therefore, if the being of the present is put in doubt, then all three moments become ontologically unproveable.
    2. From the perspective of pure reason, the future is the phenomenon, and hence, it is (157). 
    3. Kant puts time nearer to the subject and space nearer to the object.
      1. Therefore, time is subject-ive.  
      2. It is the transcendental subject that installs time in the perception of the object.
    4. Time is like music (Husserl); the resonance lingers.
      1. The future is continuous in the present.
      2. The future is the tail-end of the present.
    5. Consciousness
      1. That which is beneath the level that the nature of time is perceived.
      2. In the present consciousness perceives itself and nothing else.
    6. Short circuit:  perception of pure being as the presence of the subjectivity of consciousness. Transcendental subjectivity (158).
      1. Causes all kinds of dualities to be born.
      2. The creation of time stops this trauma.
      3. “Intentionality and logical judgments are all rooted in this evasion of the perception of pain of the void whereby consciousness becomes aware of itself” (158).
        1. Pure presence of the same is unbearable.
        2. Time constitutes consciousness running from the unbearable confrontation with itself.
    7. Initial Conclusions
      1. Time precedes the object.
      2. The world is created by time (or time through God)
        1. Time’s manifestation is as self-aware subjectivity.
        2. The future is predefined by the structure of the subject.
      3. Organizing time: circular, traditional, material.
    8. Society and Time
      1. Every society is a separate act of consciousness in temporal and rational horizons.
        1. Every society has its own history.
        2. Thus, time is rooted in geography.
        3. Thus, globalization, in canceling out traditional differences, erases time.
          1. Therefore, with no time, the “short circuit would grow exponentially without the possibility of being dissipated.
          2. Cataclysm.

Hegel and Modern Society (Charles Taylor)

Taylor claims this isn’t merely a summation of his earlier tome on Hegel. That’s not really true. A number of pages are lifted but I think he succeeds in succinctly tying Hegel’s ontology to Hegel’s politics and showing the latter’s relevance for the modern age.

Hegel’s Ontology

Hegel sought to synthesize the Romantic desire for freedom and expression with the Rationalist desire for Reason. The Romantics saw Enlightenment science severing man’s unity. Man can only be self-conscious when he abstracts himself from the world. But when he does that, he severs himself from the organic unity of life. Reason and Life are thus opposites. But they are opposites which can’t exist without the other.

This leads us to Geist (God, sort of) as the Embodied Subject. A rational subject must be embodied because their must be an opposite pole in which it may flourish. Hegel rejects both Christian theism (God independent of the world) and naturalism (God as not absolute). Self-positing: God eternally creates the conditions of his existence. Hegel is not so much arguing for an existent reality, but for the conditions that Geist be.

What is the Dialectic?

we start with the most elementary notion of what consciousness is, “to show that this cannot stand up, that it is riven with inner contradiction and must give way to a higher one, which is also in turn shown to be contradictory” (55).

Politics as Alienation Overcome

Modern society has seen the proliferation of Romantic views of life along with the rationalization and bureaucratization of collective structures and an exploitive stance toward nature (71). The adequate form of Spirit (remember, Spirit must be embodied) is social. Man has to be part of something larger than himself, since man cannot exist by himself.

alienation: this happens whenever the public existence no longer has meaning for me: e.g., the perceived futility of voting; nominal religious belief in Church-States. Individuals then strike out on their own to define their individuality. They then (ironically) come together as a new social unit.

Negative freedom would require that the whole outcome be decided by me. Yet, the whole outcome is a social one, so it cannot be decided by me alone. Thus, negative freedom is impossible.

The Modern Dilemma

Here is why modern liberal society is doomed: radical participation in civic structures is only possible if there is a ground of agreement, or underlying common purpose (Augustine’s common objects of love). Democracy and participation cannot create this; they merely presuppose it. The demand for absolute freedom by itself is empty.
Modern ideology and equality leads to homogenization [Taylor isn’t always clear on what he means by homogenization] of society. It is an acid drip on traditional structures, yet it cannot replace them.

Hegel and Marx

This is where Charles Taylor, using Hegel’s analysis, cuts Marxism to the bone. The Soviet view sees the proletarian party as “engineers of building in conformity with the laws of history…[combining] two opposed pictures of the human predicament. It shows us man, on one hand, imposing his will on the course of history…On the other hand dialectical materialism sets out the laws which govern man and history with an iron necessity” (151). “The laws of history cannot be the basis of social engineering and reveal the inevitable trend of events” (152).

Analysis and Conclusion

A Christian cannot accept Hegel’s ontology. It echoes pantheism and is openly process theology. Hegel’s analysis of epistemology on lower levels is sometimes interesting. Hegel’s insights on politics (if not his conclusions!) are occasionally brilliant.

The concepts of social alienation are more pronounced today than ever before. Hegel was spot on. His critique of Negative Freedom of the French Revolution applies equally to Marxism (and its body count) and the Cultural Leninism of today’s America

Change of Heart (Thomas Oden)

Image result for change of heart thomas oden

Autobiographies written by those who lived through the Great Depression have a certain feel to them.  Extra points if you were in the Dust Bowl. Methodist theologian and patristics scholar Thomas Oden describes his life growing up in a poor farming community in Oklahoma to become a radical activist towards ending up as a respected Patristics scholar.  

As a liberal professor he read the New Testament not around the central themes of Incarnation and Resurrection, but around man’s guilt, anxiety, and freedom.  He was a Bultmannian. Fun fact: In the 60s Oden was a devotee of Saul Alinsky, who influenced Obama and Hillary Clinton. 

I was surprised at how much psychotherapy dominated liberal Protestant thought.  Carl Roger’s “unconditional acceptance” became God’s “unconditional love” with Tillich’s “accepting our acceptance.”

His chapter on the 60s made it seem like he personally knew every major American existentialist theologian.  And then there were the hippies. And Oden was always writing about the “next big movement,” all the while slowly abandoning liberalism.

The 1970s were a U-Turn.  It was when Oden met the Jewish conservative Will Herberg that he became a true theologian.  Herberg told him he was a fake because he was a know-it-all pundit who had never read the real Tradition.

Nemesius of Emesa corrected Oden’s psychology as he described the body-soul interface.

The 1980s.  He had open-heart surgery and nearly died on the table.  He describes his soul feeling peace and light. He describes “being bathed in a world of glorious light–stunning, radiant light of a different source than I had ever seen.  The light seemed to be not the light from the operation room ceiling, but from somewhere far beyond.”

Classic pastoral care:  meant caring for the health of the inner life of the person. 

He tells how he visited Cuba and the poverty there.  American democrats today would be shocked to learn “that was real socialism.”

Oden has a thrilling section on Early African Christianity.  He tells of his travels in Africa, meeting with Coptic and Ethiopian leaders, sub-Saharan leaders struggling with Mugabe, how the World Council of Churches loved Mugabe, and such.

Odens ends the book with a reflection on his own spiritual formation, the Office of the Hours, etc.


Oden knew all of the mainstream figures in mainline Protestantism.  His book reads as a “Who’s Who?” 

He tells the neat story of how the Ancient Christian Commentary series (ACCS) came about.  As someone who has been reading the church fathers on a weekly, if not daily basis for the past 12 years, my own experience with this series is mixed.  I get the idea that we need to move beyond the extreme criticism. Yeah, that’s useless to the life of the church. Yet on the other hand, the Spirit has continued to work in lexical studies.  Our knowledge of Hebrew is so much better. That’s not arrogant. We know more about the Hebrew language now than we did 1500 years ago.  

Where the ACCS is valuable, though, is in spiritual formation.  That’s probably closer to what the Fathers intended, anyway.