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The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology

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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 domina 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.


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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 domina 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.

30 review for The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology

  1. 4 out of 5

    Paul D. Miller

    O'Donovan is a terrible writer but a brilliant thinker. If I understand his main argument, I think he's basically right. Someone should rewrite this book in English. O'Donovan is a terrible writer but a brilliant thinker. If I understand his main argument, I think he's basically right. Someone should rewrite this book in English.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Michael DeBusk

    Oliver O’Donovan puts forward an account of political theology grounded on the reign of God as revealed in the history of Israel and in Christ. His approach contrasts with political theologies constructed on more narrow bases, such as a single narrative or a few select verses of Scripture. From the foundation of a reign of God, O’Donovan conceives of secular authority as fulfilling a modest function between the times of Christ’s first and second advents, exercising judgment even as it heeds the Oliver O’Donovan puts forward an account of political theology grounded on the reign of God as revealed in the history of Israel and in Christ. His approach contrasts with political theologies constructed on more narrow bases, such as a single narrative or a few select verses of Scripture. From the foundation of a reign of God, O’Donovan conceives of secular authority as fulfilling a modest function between the times of Christ’s first and second advents, exercising judgment even as it heeds the prophetic voice of the church. Along the way, O’Donovan defends the Christendom “idea” (if not fully Christendom itself) as the attempt of the church to fulfill its mission by establishing a pattern for receiving obedient secular rulers into its ranks. O’Donovan’s writing is tough sledding, especially in the early chapters, but reading becomes easier once the reader understands what the author is up to and well worth the effort.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jacob Aitken

    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. Exposition: 1. Kingship is mediated through "judgment," "Law-keeping/giving," and "salvation." To "judge is to bring the already-present distinction between the righteous 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. Exposition: 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. Thoughts: 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.

  4. 4 out of 5

    Sean Wilson

    O’Donovan argues carefully for a form of Christendom—not in the form of the papacy or Holy Roman Empire of old, but of each nation taking notice of God’s saving work in history through Christ and his church, then recognising and submitting themselves to his rule. Broadly, O’Donovan takes Christendom to be an outcome of the church’s mission which the church is not at liberty not to pursue. It is not, as it is often described by secularists and some Christians alike, as a sort of cynical power grab O’Donovan argues carefully for a form of Christendom—not in the form of the papacy or Holy Roman Empire of old, but of each nation taking notice of God’s saving work in history through Christ and his church, then recognising and submitting themselves to his rule. Broadly, O’Donovan takes Christendom to be an outcome of the church’s mission which the church is not at liberty not to pursue. It is not, as it is often described by secularists and some Christians alike, as a sort of cynical power grab. Discipling the nations, remarkably, might result in the nations being discipled. The church as described here is explicitly and unashamedly ruled by another king, even Jesus (another dangerous idea), and is not simply a service agency that “assures existing authorities that they will not be disturbed by it, since it does not lay claim to the same ground they occupy” [p 162]. A church that is doing what it ought will genuinely be disruptive to society and the political order as it testifies to Christ’s rule in its words, sacraments and life together. Like the older fish in David Foster Wallace’s vignette, O’Donovan is keenly aware of the modern liberal democracy water that we are swimming in, and is able to consider it critically. Despite some troubling takes on the historicity of various scriptural events, this really is a potent challenge to the hands-in-our-pockets, dragging-our-feet relationship that the contemporary church tends to have towards public political matters. Scripture really has a lot to say to us on these matters if we will give it due attention.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Raully

    The best theology book I've read in years. O'Donovan re-presents here the grand tradition of Protestant political thought in coherent and persuasive form. Highly recommended. The best theology book I've read in years. O'Donovan re-presents here the grand tradition of Protestant political thought in coherent and persuasive form. Highly recommended.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Roland Clark

    In The Desire of the Nations Oliver O’Donovan lays out a careful and considered political theology based in some of the most erudite Biblical exegesis I have ever read. There is no way to do justice to this magnificent and somewhat overwhelming book in a short review, so I will restrict myself to discussing a few of O’Donovan’s major themes. O’Donovan begins by asking what the Old Testament writers meant when they said that ‘Yhwh reigns’. ‘The cry Yhwh malak carried with it three kinds of associ In The Desire of the Nations Oliver O’Donovan lays out a careful and considered political theology based in some of the most erudite Biblical exegesis I have ever read. There is no way to do justice to this magnificent and somewhat overwhelming book in a short review, so I will restrict myself to discussing a few of O’Donovan’s major themes. O’Donovan begins by asking what the Old Testament writers meant when they said that ‘Yhwh reigns’. ‘The cry Yhwh malak carried with it three kinds of association’, he writes. ‘In the first place it offered a geophysical reassurance about the stability of the natural order; in the second place, it offered a reassurance about the international political order, that the God of Israel was in control of the restless turbulence of the nations and their tutelary deities and could safeguard his people; in the third place, it was associated with the ordering of Israel’s own social existence by justice and law, ensuring the protection of the oppressed and vulnerable’. Yhwh rules because He gives Israel victory, because He judges the righteous and the unrighteous, and because He gives Israel the land as its possession. Exactly what this means for us in the twenty-first century isn’t entirely clear, and although O’Donovan does try to draw out some abstract conclusions about the nature of political power it is to his credit that he doesn’t let them overwhelm his exegesis. Read my full review here: https://wordsbecamebooks.com/2017/03/...

  7. 4 out of 5

    Walker Trimble

    A comprehensive history of Christian political ideas that starts with Biblical Israel and concludes with modernity. It is a highly important book that leads to few conclusions. Before his remarkable treatment of St John of Patmos’ political theology, the ODonovan’s style is a study in vagueness. One suspects that he sought not to overcommit to the tribal theology of Israel and its continuation into early Christianity. However his chapters on the formation of the church in contrast to the state i A comprehensive history of Christian political ideas that starts with Biblical Israel and concludes with modernity. It is a highly important book that leads to few conclusions. Before his remarkable treatment of St John of Patmos’ political theology, the ODonovan’s style is a study in vagueness. One suspects that he sought not to overcommit to the tribal theology of Israel and its continuation into early Christianity. However his chapters on the formation of the church in contrast to the state in the fourth and fifth centuries are superb. He ends with the largely Calvinist view that “the most Christian government is that which knows it is secular”, that knows that the kingdom is already at hand and its only ruler is not me, but Christ. Interestingly, this Anglican theologian places the post-Christian age as beginning with the Declaration of Independence. The prohibition of a state Church means that the ecclesial does not nourish the secular. Thought there there is little to offer Orthodox seekers of a political theology, there is much to offer theology readers in general.

  8. 5 out of 5

    The Wanderer

    My gosh, this was confusing. Even reading it IN A CLASS and having done a presentation on it (and receiving feedback from other students that of all the presentations, they "learned the most" from ours) I am pretty much at a loss with regards to what question it's trying to answer, and therefore, what answer it gives. It was something about the tension between God and government. I have it on good authority that this is a brilliant work of genius, but it went over my head. My gosh, this was confusing. Even reading it IN A CLASS and having done a presentation on it (and receiving feedback from other students that of all the presentations, they "learned the most" from ours) I am pretty much at a loss with regards to what question it's trying to answer, and therefore, what answer it gives. It was something about the tension between God and government. I have it on good authority that this is a brilliant work of genius, but it went over my head.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Anthony Locke

    Very challenging and thought provoking book. Still need to process everything O' Donavan suggests in the book. I thought his effort to build a political theology from the ground up using the OT Scriptures and the resurrection was largely successful. I know there are some gems that I've missed, since James K. A. Smith reviews this book in part in his book Awaiting the King. Not an easy read, but worth while! Very challenging and thought provoking book. Still need to process everything O' Donavan suggests in the book. I thought his effort to build a political theology from the ground up using the OT Scriptures and the resurrection was largely successful. I know there are some gems that I've missed, since James K. A. Smith reviews this book in part in his book Awaiting the King. Not an easy read, but worth while!

  10. 4 out of 5

    Jameson Cunningham

    Let someone like James K.A. Smith rewrite this book to make it palatable to the lay reader and it'd be fantastic. Let someone like James K.A. Smith rewrite this book to make it palatable to the lay reader and it'd be fantastic.

  11. 5 out of 5

    cindy

    Read "The triumph of the Kingdom" for Modern Doctrine. Read "The triumph of the Kingdom" for Modern Doctrine.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Brooks Robinson

    Profound.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Dr. Z

    Lots to disagree with, but profoundly insightful and even moving in places. Not the first place to go for political theology, but an important contribution.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Jonathan

    I have very mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, O'Donovan is clearly brilliant, and I underlined an extraordinary amount of good lines which I will surely return to many times. But the book was also incredibly difficult to follow. The biggest problem was the lack of any overarching structure to the book. Perhaps it was simply above my level, but even compared to other very complex works, this one utterly failed to connect one thought to the next, much less one chapter to the next. I I have very mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, O'Donovan is clearly brilliant, and I underlined an extraordinary amount of good lines which I will surely return to many times. But the book was also incredibly difficult to follow. The biggest problem was the lack of any overarching structure to the book. Perhaps it was simply above my level, but even compared to other very complex works, this one utterly failed to connect one thought to the next, much less one chapter to the next. I do not think I could clearly state the main point(s) of this work without considerable re-reading, and even then I'm not sure if I could. A strange form contributed to this lack of cohesion. O'Donovan switches back and forth between his main text and what at first the reader may think are long block quotes. In reality, these passages are not quotes but rather lengthy asides or (in effect) huge footnotes in the text, which themselves can go on for several pages and rival the main text in length throughout the book. Sometimes these sections are just as important as the main text, but not always. Why anyone would choose to write in this fashion is beyond me, and it is a huge hindrance to any sense of continuity in O'Donovan's ideas. So 3 stars for depth and insight but downgraded due to unreadability. Should O'Donovan collaborate with someone who can more clearly express ideas and tie them all together, I would suspect his books would have a much greater impact.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Thomas

    A sort of City of God for the modern era. Difficult (as always), deeply scriptural in a way that attempts to take in the whole scope of scripture as a narrative, Christological, and by turns inspiring, frustrating, intriguing, generative (as always). I certainly don't agree with everything O'Donovan suggests in this book - but he recovers and defines an argument worth having (profitably read in combination with the reader in political theology he edited with his wife). A sort of City of God for the modern era. Difficult (as always), deeply scriptural in a way that attempts to take in the whole scope of scripture as a narrative, Christological, and by turns inspiring, frustrating, intriguing, generative (as always). I certainly don't agree with everything O'Donovan suggests in this book - but he recovers and defines an argument worth having (profitably read in combination with the reader in political theology he edited with his wife).

  16. 4 out of 5

    Ian

    Amazing and thought-provoking book, though pretty challenging for me too. This book has paragraphs that, ideally, would be entire books in their own right, and then maybe I would understand them better. But there are some really indispensable thoughts here as well.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Brittany Petruzzi

    Stirring political theology.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Philip

    Mentioned in Living at the Crossroads, by Michael W. Goheen and Graig G. Bartholomew.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Jeremy

  20. 4 out of 5

    Gemma

  21. 5 out of 5

    Tae-Eun

  22. 4 out of 5

    Michael

  23. 5 out of 5

    Mike

  24. 4 out of 5

    Heather Denigan

  25. 5 out of 5

    Nate Schultz

  26. 4 out of 5

    Christiana Nakhla

  27. 4 out of 5

    T

  28. 4 out of 5

    Flynn Evans

  29. 5 out of 5

    Worth Norman Jr

  30. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

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