Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Ways of Judgment

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

The Ways of Judgment

Article excerpt

The Ways of Judgment. By Oliver O'Donovan. The Bampton Lectures, 2003. Grand Rapids, Mich.: William B. Eerdinans Publishing Company, 2005. xv + 330 pp. $35.00 (cloth).

Ten years after Oliver O'Donovan s seminal book. The Desire of the Nations. revived scholarly conversation about the "political theology" of Christendom, he has written an eloquent and insightful sequel worthy of its predecessor. Grounded in scriptural sources and theological insights, but focused on fundamental topics of political thought (including authority, legitimacy, representation, justice, freedom, and equality). The Ways of Judgment is equal parts theology and political theory. The book is structured around three truths of political life as O'Donovan understands it: first, political society is ordained by God to make normative judgments about what ought or ought not to be done; second, society exercises that judgment through institutions whose legitimacy and efficiency are called into question by human sinfulness; and third, the concept of judgment itself-the paradigmatic political act-is radically challenged by Christ's "counter-political" invocation to "judge not" (p. 233, Matt. 7:1). O'Donovan's thesis is that the coherence of political conceptions as such) (not merely the concept of Christendom, for example) "depends in important and surprising ways upon faith expressed in the creeds" (p. xiv). The goal of this book (and its predecessor) is to make this link explicit, thereby enlightening readers as to the true nature of political authority and obligation.

As the paradigmatic act of political life, O'Donovan defines judgment as "an act of moral discrimination that pronounces upon a preceding act or existing state of affairs to establish a new social context" (p. 7). Its retrospective or reactive element-judgment can only be rendered with regard to prior acts-is an important element of the argument for limited government that he threads through the book. The "reactive principle" of judgment, for example, resists the totalizing impulse to legally permit or prohibit all acts, or to constantly reevaluate judgments so that everyone is always vulnerable to the loss of freedom. …

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