The question how to discover truly biblical political concepts is a crucial one as we try to live in the world. One group of thinkers who have tackled it is the Liberation Theology school of thought. They are mainly from the “Global South” (Asia, Africa, and especially South America) and are working to apply the Bible to the problems of poverty and inequality that those they care about have experienced. One of the theologians from this group, Gustavo Gutiérrez, has floated a couple of potential answers.

The first, “knowledge one from action,” essentially claims that “ideas that seem to be working” are true. In other words, if a concept seems to be useful in the fight against injustice and human misery, it’s true. But this can’t be right: without some other basis for truth we won’t even be able to define injustice, much less assert how things are “supposed to be.”

The second is “knowledge won from suffering” – the notion that ideas that show sympathy and solidarity with the oppressed are therefore true. But this can’t be right either. It very quickly becomes an embrace of romantic idealism: a perpetual call to revolution with nothing positive to offer on the other side.

The third option Gutiérrez offers is “knowledge gained in obedience” – gaining truth in the course of obedience to God’s revealed Word (the Bible). This, Gutiérrez and O’Donovan both believe, is the only way through.

So in order to find true ideas about politics, we should turn to the Bible. That’s a pretty big statement. If we are going to narrow our investigation, what should we focus on? In O’Donovan’s view the goal must be finding a biblical account of authority. And he proposes to do this by “developing [an understanding of] the reign of God,” (19).


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