An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Tuesday, 10 March 2015

Power in Service by Willem Ouweneel - a review

Power in Service
An Introduction to Christian Political Thought
Willem J. Ouweneel
Jordan Station, ON: Paideia Press, 2014
Pbk, 146pp, £5.75

What is the Kingdom of God? This question opens the book by Ouweneel, the second volume in the Academic Introductions for Beginners series. This is an apposite question. Ouweneel develops the idea that politics cannot be separated from the kingdom of God. Likewise politics is also rooted in creation and grounded in creational ordinances - despite what Augustine thinks.

Drawing on a reformational approach Ouweneel ably shows, in this brief but brilliant book, that politics is an important area for Christian involvement. Humans are political agents, but since the fall all of life has been tainted with sin and that includes politics. But we can look forward to a fully redeemed politics when Christ returns.

Ouweneel utilises the kuyperian concept of sphere sovereignty to examine the relationship between the church and the state. Employing Dooyewerd’s analysis of institutions he sees the State as a juridicial institution that maintains public legal order. He stresses the importance of the separation of church and state but rightly affirms that this does not mean a separation between religion and society, as all of life is religious - all the way down. The role of the state is limited, it cannot play the role of a moralist but neither is it neutral.
He makes excellent use of the Vollenhoven's distinction between structure and direction to show how the fall has changed the direction but not the structure of the human heart. Ouweneel sees structure and direction as two polarities, as horizontal and vertical. 

He makes a very good point in noting that Christians often make the mistake of identifying the ‘world’ with ‘society’. Many Christians then avoid society thinking that in doing so they are avoiding the evil world. Hence, an avoidance of politics. Understanding the world as direction, and society as structure helps avoid such a non-biblical pietistic approach to society. Avoiding society taken to an extreme would be to withdraw into a monastery; but then that too is a society!

Also helpful is his discussion on being strangers and pilgrims. As he points out we cannot escape society and social institutions; no societal relationship is of itself evil, biblically there is no distinction between sacred and profane. 

Several of the key themes are then covered in a case study in the final chapter on Christian schools and religious and moral education imposed by the state.

Recent year have seen a significant number of helpful book on a Christian approach to politics - in particular David Koyzis’  Political Visions and illusions and James Skillen’s The Good of Politics. (See my list of resources for a Christian approach to politics.) This book is a helpful addition to those. It outlines clearly and accessibly what a reformational approach to politics looks like.

1. What is the kingdom of God?
2. Church and state apart
3. Offices and responsibilities
4. Theocracy
5. Strangers and pilgrims
6. The two kingdoms
7. Creation and re-creation
8. En route to the kingdom
9. The Christian school under attack


Rudi said...

Thanks for this review Steve. Can you add the contents? Also do you plan to review his psychology book?

Steve Bishop said...

Hi Rudi, I'll add the contents - good idea.
I've just started Searching the Soul and will post a review sometime.