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The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology [Paperback]

By Oliver O'Donovan (Author)
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Item description for The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology by Oliver O'Donovan...

This book by Oliver O'Donovan is a work of systematic Christian political thought, combining Biblical interpretation, historical discussion of the Western political and theological tradition, theoretical construction and critical engagement with contemporary views. It argues for an alternative to political theology, one that is more politically constructive than the dominant models of the past generation.

Publishers Description
Political theology as we know it today reacts against the attempt to insulate theology from political theory which has generally characterised the modern era. This text considers the intellectual parentage of the idealist historicism of the 19th century, which the author claims is still entrammelled in the suspicions and inhibitions from which it has wanted to break free. The author contends that to pass beyond suspicion and totalized criticism of politics and to achieve a positive reconstruction of political thought, theology must reach back behind the modern tradition, achieving a fuller, less selective reading of the Scriptures and learning from an older politico-theological discourse which flourished in the patristic, medieval and Reformation periods. Central to that discourse was a series of questions about authority, generated by Jesus proclamation of the Kingdom of God.

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Item Specifications...

Studio: Cambridge University Press
Pages   320
Est. Packaging Dimensions:   Length: 8.96" Width: 6" Height: 0.68"
Weight:   0.96 lbs.
Binding  Softcover
Release Date   Mar 2, 2005
Publisher   Cambridge University Press
ISBN  0521665167  
ISBN13  9780521665162  

Availability  76 units.
Availability accurate as of Oct 26, 2016 09:42.
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More About Oliver O'Donovan

Register your artisan biography and upload your photo! Oliver O'Donovanis a fellow of the British Academy and professor emeritus of Christian ethics and practical theology at the University of Edinburgh. His other books includeThe Desire of the Nations, The Ways of Judgment, andResurrection and Moral Order."

Oliver O'Donovan has an academic affiliation as follows - University of Oxford Oxford University University of Oxford University.

Oliver O'Donovan has published or released items in the following series...
  1. Bampton Lectures
  2. Current Issues in Theology

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Product Categories

1Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Politics > General
2Books > Subjects > Nonfiction > Politics
3Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Reference > Bible > General
4Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Christianity > Theology > General
6Books > Subjects > Religion & Spirituality > Religious Studies > Church & State

Christian Product Categories
Books > Theology > Theology & Doctrine > General

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Reviews - What do customers think about The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology?

Magisterially done (no pun intended)  Feb 22, 2007
Oliver O'Donovan (hereafter OO) meticulously sets forth the case for the Rule of Christ in contemporary society. Unlike modern-day authors who like a vague notion of "kingship" because it sounds like something Jesus might have said, OO develops a thorough biblical theology of "God's rule" and then applies it to tough situations.

1. Kingship is mediated through "judgment," "Law-keeping/giving," and "salvation." To "judge is to bring the already-present distinction between the righteous and unrighteous to light. The third point of reference, salvation, leads to the theme of "possession." "Political authority arises where power, the execution of right and the perpetuation of tradition are assured together in one coordinated agency" (46).
2. The individual is the lonely one who prophecies against the chosen people for the sake of the chosen people. He is commonly called to suffer for the sake of bringing wisdom to the community. He is the one who speaks both for Yahweh against the community and for the community in its anguish under Yahweh's blows. Ultimately, this is the servant of Isaiah 53. The individual in general, however, is the one who applies the mediated rule of Yahweh in specific applications.
3. Jesus' works of power were victories over and judgments against the demonic realm. He also proclaimed the coming judgment of Israel, which would ultimately redefine what it meant to be "Israel" and "Abraham's seed." In short, Jesus demonstrated power, judgment, and continuity in Israel.
4. The Kingdom of God is brought into sharp relief when it confronts the powers of this world. The Kingdom of God enhances our knowledge of "community." The Church is a model to the State of how God rules a community.
5. The Church is a political society. It is to find the nations (in mission) and to be the New World Order for the Kingdom of God. Its political character is discerned by faith (166).
6. "The Church represents God's kingdom by living under its rule and welcoming the world to its rule" (174). O'Donovan's strongest point is his discussion of "martyrology." Martyrdom is the focal point of a struggle between Christ and Society, with the powers inevitably bound to lose (179). We suffer for the sake and salvation of the world. As the church we are a glad community who rejoices in the receiving back of the created order.
7. Society and rulers--society is to be transformed while rulers disappear. OO defines Christendom as a Christian secular political order. The Church is to witness to the Kingdom of God and Christendom is the response to that witness. Christendom is the only way to legitimately maintain the two kingdoms doctrine. Christendom separates the priest-role from the king-role.

This book is written on the advanced level. It sometimes makes for slow reading. OO's best sections were on the church and Christendom. Why is Christendom such a radical idea? Surely if rulers get converted the will...well...maybe live and rule like....converted Christians! Seriously, this book gives hope for the Christian future and a challenge against naievete. A few flaws with the book: I would like to see these ideas put into a more concrete form. Secondly, the last chapter had too much information in it. I lost track of the argument.

Aside from the difficult read, this book is masterfully done.
Real political theology   May 5, 2006
`The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the roots of Political Theology'. O'Donovan sets out to rediscover what it means to say that `God is king'. God does not leave us to the tender mercy of our leaders and politicians. He is their ruler so they are responsible to him. When they do not rule us well we can appeal over their heads to God - we can pray to him - and he will dismiss them. Theology that is obedient to God must be done in the face of those political authorities, and often against their resistance. Christians have to name those illegitimate entities, centres of authority and modes of personhood that exercise a hidden power over us.

O'Donovan thinks that until, let us say, four hundred years ago, it was well enough understood that God is a ruler. Now it seems less obvious, with the result that modern people don't know how to give or take authority. They don't know how to tell one another what to do, or how to be told what to do. Moderns are driven by resentment - though it is difficult for them to say who they resent, who can be blamed for the way things are. They don't know what to do with other people, because they define themselves in opposition to other people. They tend to assume that being free, means being free from other people, not having anyone to tell you what to do.

Imagine it like this. Modern political thinkers are a group of college students. They go on strike against college authorities and stage a sit-in. To their consternation the college authorities join in, with the result that there are no authorities, no one to meet their demands. Nonetheless everyone declares that rules are an imposition, that no one can teach them anything, that we don't need exams because it is unfair to say that one student is better than another. Who wouldn't enjoy a strike, at least on the first day? But we know that in any protest movement, after the initial spontaneity, there comes one crisis after another - who is going to get the coffee, who is going to clean up, and using what for money? No one is responsible for anyone else. We follow whoever shouts loudest - but we do not manage to stick with what we agreed, but regularly reverse our collective resolutions. This is the environment O'Donovan believes is represented by modernity. I rob you, but if you take me to court I protest that the court has no right to try me or punish me. By what right do you intend to make me suffer any punishment against my consent? So then, it is a matter of my interpretation of my rights against your interpretation of your rights. When I play too rough, who is going to protect you from me?

O'Donovan says it though it may be a good thing to resist authority it may also be a good thing to suffer it. He shows that for hundreds of years Christians have shown how to suffer authority, and how to oppose illegitimate authority. They have something to measure authority against, and they know how to accept and suffer authority, good and bad. They show virtues and courage - they learned it, from previous generations of Christians, and from Christ. Without such virtue and patience and suffering you can never become one of the grown ups, you cannot be free of your own unfocussed resentments.

O'Donovan shown us how the modern distinction between the religious and the secular and political came into being. He has found two things. The first is that there is no necessary distinction between the two - theology is politics, because Christians confess that God is lord, he has real political authority over us. The second is that this distinction was itself the creation of Christian theology - the distinction between Church and state, and between `religious' and `secular', was intended to assert the prophetic responsibility of the Church to keep the leaders to the task of the formation of their people. So O'Donovan says that there is no such thing as secularisation as such, apart from this Christian prophetic office. O'Donovan provides a history of the West which is not a history of increasing secularisation. Modern political thought is the continuation of a pagan politics and a theory about nature that claims that man is master of himself, who feels no obligation to acknowledge the authority of any other, and who has therefore the greatest problem coming to terms with other people. The otherness of other people - that is the perennial problem, the one that systematic theology must cope with, in the future, as in the past. This political theology, willing to read back deep into the medieval tradition, has produced some much more political theology than the liberation theology that was the exciting thing thirty years ago. For the future of theology, O'Donovan stands for learning from the rich resources of Christian doctrine.
A specifically Christian political Theology  Mar 31, 2000
In this important work, Oliver O'Donovan provides a political theology which does not require one to leave one's Christian identity at the door. It is a valuable contribution to a thriving conversation. For another important "theological" approach to political life, see William Cavanugh's "Torture and Eucharist."

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