Thursday, November 16, 2006

O'Donovan on the church's role in society

An effective church with an effective ministry, in holding out the word of life, than which there is no other human good within the world or outside it, will render assistance to the political functions in societry by forwarding the social good which they exist to defend. But that is to take the very longest view of the relationship. In holding out the word of life, an effective church with an effective ministry issues the call "Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!" And so in the short, the medium, and even the penultimate term the presence of the church in political society can be a disturbing factor, as those who first thought Christianity worth persecuting understood quite well. It presents a counter-political moment in social existence; it restrains the thirst for judgment; it points beyond the boundaries of political identity; it undermines received traditions of representation; it utters truths that question unchallenged public doctrines. It does all these things because it represents God's kingdom, before which the authorities and powers of this world must cast down their crowns, never to pick them up again.

- Oliver O'Donovan, Ways of Judgment, 292.

11 comments:

byron said...

I've just noticed this over at faith and theology. I'll have to chase up the journal sometime soon (not today, not today...).

Anonymous said...

Three cheers for someone with an exciting view of the church. Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray! Hip hip hooray!

Seriously, I'm often depressed by how boring church is in the US right now. We can't be getting it right if the government doesn't see us as a threat - far from it they court our vote.

Brian Hamilton said...

I'm also eager to get to the essay posted over at Faith and Theology. O'Donovan's sympathetic account of Christendom is so compelling (even for this Mennonite!) precisely because of passages like this, where he articulates such a beautiful vision of the church's eschatological and prophetic proclamation. For once, Christendom doesn't mean that the church gives up its calling to be saints and heralds of the new age.

Matthew said...

Thanks for that quote byron, eloquently expressed!

byron said...

Brian - yes, I'm thoroughly convinced that whatever else O'Donovan might be, he is no cutter of corners: exegetically, historically or theologically.

I just wish I had a chance to have a look at that article earlier, especially since I have an exam on Social Ethics today. Ah well...

byron said...

Oh, and it's important to note that I don't think O'Donovan is straightforwardly a direct advocate of 'Christendom'. He says that the chapter on Christendom in Desire of the Nations was an afterthought in which he was putting forward a primarily historical argument for why many features of the political thought of some strands of early modern liberalism had been profoundly influenced by the gospel, such that a number of institutions and assumptions still alive today (or dying today through being reinterpreted) are the echoes of the gospel's impact upon Western European thought. He does not think we live in Christendom any longer, nor does he advocate any forced attempt to return there.

jeltzz said...

Byron, if you access that critique of O'Donovan through the college system, you should be able to download a full-text (or at least I did).

byron said...

Thanks Seumas - though when I follow the links I only get the option of seeing the full text if I pay. Do I need to be on a college server?

jeltzz said...

ah, yes. that is what I meant.

michael jensen said...

if your are really nice, I could send it to you?

byron said...

:-)

That would be luverly! (Of course, I can always go into college to read it, but since the exam was last Friday and there's another coming this Thursday, I don't think I'll make it before then).