Political Worship: Ethics for Christian Citizens

Article excerpt

Political Worship: Ethics for Christian Citizens. By Bernd Wannenwetsch. Translated by Margaret Kohl. Oxford Studies in Theological Ethics. Oxford and New York: Oxford University Press, 2004. xiv + 402 pp. £79.00 / $145.00 (cloth).

The central issue of Political Worship is the importance of the church, and especially the place of worship, for informing the practice of Christian ethics. This is not a new concern and has been a topic of serious consideration for at least the better part of the last century. It has had a prominent place in the work of theologians as divergent as Archbishop William Temple and Stanley Hauerwas.

However, Wannenwetsch does not wish to raise the issue of worship as a "foundation" for ethics in terms of something to be taught, believed, and done. Rather, an "ethic springing from worship" is a matter of being, which "integrates the different aspects of living" (p. 3). The aim is to propose an ethic that goes beyond the current labels of liberalism and communitarianism. Worship, then, is the place where ethical perception is acquired as practical knowledge.

The question of what is meant by "political worship" can only be inferred from the text; in no place is a succinct definition given. Instead, the author intends to speak to the way "talk about the political is transformed by the experience of worship" (p. 25), and how this has been true of the Christian community throughout its history. How, exactly, this transformation is effected, and the results that should follow, are far from clear. The purpose seems to be to remind Christians of their task to secure the political virtues of (provisional) peace and order, and thus the political arena becomes a locus of worship, understood as the service of God. …