Recommended Reading on Resistance Theory and Political Theology

Some key volumes on political theology and the like:

Let me say at the outset that this is a very selective reading list. The truth is, there are tens of thousands of books out there on political thought and political philosophy. There would be tens of thousands of books on the relationship between Christianity and politics and culture. And there would also be many thousands of books on the Reformation.

My concern here is not to look at all these very broad topics, but to narrow them down as they relate to what is known as resistance theory. This has to do with how Christians see the role of the state, and if there are times when believers should resist the civil government. Such thinking especially came to the fore during the time of the various European reformations.

With nearly 80 articles in my series on this topic, it is obviously an area I have spent a lot of time on – certainly over the past few years, when it has become quite clear that Western governments seem to be moving into dangerous, tyrannical directions. Thus the Christian needs to know how to respond to all this.

There are so many aspects to these matters. Last July for example I penned a short series of articles on political theology and the like, looking at some specific issues:

billmuehlenberg.com/2021/07/07/jesus-politics-and-speaking-truth-to-power/ 
billmuehlenberg.com/2021/07/08/the-bible-and-politics/ 
billmuehlenberg.com/2021/07/10/political-theology-the-kingdom-of-god-and-the-kingdom-of-man/ 
billmuehlenberg.com/2021/07/11/political-theology-and-the-anti-imperialism-hermeneutic/

Let me begin by noting three authors that are quite influential here, even though none are conservative, evangelical Christians. As such, conservative, evangelical Christians (such as myself) will find various areas of disagreement. So I do not list them here because I fully concur with all their opinions and their leftist politics, but because they are important authors to be aware of nonetheless.

In the articles I featured above, I discussed some books written or edited by Richard Horsley. Here are three of them:

Paul and Empire (Trinity Press International, 1997)
Jesus and Empire (Fortress Press, 2002)
In the Shadow of Empire: Reclaiming the Bible as a History of Faithful Resistance (Westminster John Knox Press, 2008)

Mention can also be made of various books penned by Walter Brueggemann. The prolific Old Testament scholar often has much of value to say. At times he will offer more or less Marxist interpretations of Scripture, but for the most part he is concerned to keep his finger on the text. A few of his volumes to be aware of include these:

Truth Speaks To Power (Westminster John Knox Press, 2013)
Truth and Hope (Westminster John Knox Press, 2020)
Delivered Out of Empire (Westminster John Knox Press, 2021)

A third author also worth reading cautiously and selectively is Jewish political theorist Michael Walzer. Three of his many works to consider are these:

The Revolution of the Saints (Harvard, 1965, 1982)
Exodus and Revolution (Basic Books, 1985)
In God’s Shadow: Politics in the Hebrew Bible (Yale University Press, 2012)

As to the Reformation period where so much of resistance theory came to be developed, I already have posted recommended reading lists on it. But this would be a much more broad listing where theological and historical issues predominate, but portions at least of some of the books would also discuss political theology. See here: billmuehlenberg.com/2017/12/09/reformation-reader-guide/

Image of Slaying Leviathan: Limited Government and Resistance in the Christian Tradition
Slaying Leviathan: Limited Government and Resistance in the Christian Tradition by Sunshine, Glenn S. (Author) Amazon logo

And there are of course numerous books on political philosophy, political theology, and the issue of resistance theory. Here are just a handful of them that I have found to be useful. What is offered here is a bit of a mix. Some volumes are just straightforward works on political theology or books on church history. Others are fully devoted to matters like resistance theory in particular and related themes. And some go further afield, looking at modern resistance thinkers, including Bonhoeffer.

Moreover, even though I list the following titles here does not mean I agree with all that is said in each one. For example, the main theme of Lilla’s book is that modern political thought has sought to proceed by a rejection of divine revelation. Lilla supports that “Great Separation.” Many Christians will differ.

Baldwin, Alice, The New England Pulpit and the American Revolution: When American Pastors Preached Politics, Resisted Tyranny, and Founded a Nation on the Bible. American Vision, 2014.
Baskerville, Stephen, Not Peace But a Sword: The Political Theology of the English Revolution. Pickwick, 2018.
Bowler, Gerry, True Obedience: Tudor Protestants and Resistance to Tyranny. The Theodosian Press, 2018.
Coffey, John, Politics, Religion and the British Revolutions: The Mind of Samuel Rutherford. Cambridge University Press, 1997, 2002.
DeJonge, Michael, Bonhoeffer on Resistance: The Word Against the Wheel. OUP, 2018.
Kelly, Douglas, The Emergence of Liberty in the Modern World. P&R, 1992.
Lilla, Mark, The Stillborn God: Religion, Politics, and the Modern West. Knopf, 2007.
Mortimer, Sarah, Reformation, Resistance, and Reason of State (1517-1625). OUP, 2021.
O’Donovan, Oliver, The Desire of the Nations: Rediscovering the Roots of Political Theology. Cambridge University Press, 1996.
Phillips, Elizabeth, Political Theology. T&T Clark, 2012.
Rasmussen, Larry, Dietrich Bonhoeffer: Reality and Resistance. Westminster John Knox Press, 2005.
Schaeffer, Francis, A Christian Manifesto. Crossway, 1981.
Shah, Timothy Samuel and Allen Hertzke, eds., Christianity and Freedom, vol. 1: Historical Perspectives. Cambridge University Press, 2016.
Skinner, Quentin, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, vol. 2, The Age of Reformation. Cambridge University Press, 1978, 2013.
Steward, Gary, Justifying Revolution: The American Clergy’s Argument for Political Resistance, 1750-1776. OUP, 2021.
Strauss, Leo and Joseph Cropsey, eds., History of Political Philosophy, 2nd ed.. University of Chicago press, 1963, 1981.
Sunshine, Glenn, Slaying Leviathan: Limited Government and Resistance in the Christian Tradition. Canon Press, 2020.
Trewhella, Matthew, The Doctrine of the Lesser Magistrates. CreateSpace, 2013.
Whitford, David, Tyranny and Resistance: The Magdeburg Confession and the Lutheran Tradition. Concordia, 2001.
Witte, John, The Reformation of Rights: Law, Religion, and Human Rights in Early Modern Calvinism. Cambridge, 2007.
Wolterstorff, Nicholas, The Mighty and the Almighty: An Essay in Political Theology. Cambridge University Press, 2012.

I fully realise that those who are more or less in the know concerning these issues will complain, ‘Why was this and that important volume not included here?’ Yes, many more could have been presented. But I make no claim of being exhaustive here with this list. If anything it is a teaser to lead you on to further reading and study.

Just 30 books are mentioned here. But as to my personal recommendations, those wanting to begin studying these matters might run with Sunshine, Witte and Wolterstorff.

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2 Replies to “Recommended Reading on Resistance Theory and Political Theology”

  1. Solid list. I’d add:

    * Community State, and Church – Karl Barth
    * The Church and the War – Karl Barth
    * Preaching in Hitler’s Shadow – Dean Stroud
    * Jesus & Marx – Jacques Ellul
    * Sovereignty God, State and Self – Jean B. Elshtain
    * Augustine & the Limits of Politics – Jean B. Elshtain
    * CS Lewis’ Essay, Why I’m not a Pacifist.
    * Modern Fascism – Gene Veith
    * The President, the Pope, and the Prime Minister – John Sullivan
    * Discerning the Signs of the Times – Reinhold Niebhur
    * Christ or Hitler? – Christian Puritz
    * The End of Illusions – Joseph Loconte

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