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Roger Olson: Reinhold Niebuhr and Stanley Hauerwas: Can Their Approaches to Christian Political Ethics be Bridged?

Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,” says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”

Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

Let everyone be subject to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God. Consequently, whoever rebels against the authority is rebelling against what God has instituted, and those who do so will bring judgment on themselves … For the one in authority is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for rulers do not bear the sword for no reason. They are God’s servants, agents of wrath to bring punishment on the wrongdoer. Therefore, it is necessary to submit to the authorities, not only because of possible punishment but also as a matter of conscience (Romans 12:17-13:2, 13:4-5).

Ultimately, though Olson is a great teacher and wonderful blogger, his quest to bridge the Niebuhr – Hauerwas divide is futile. It is an attempt to connect a theology that incorporates the fullness of Scripture and understands the present tragic dilemmas that man must live with, with a system that seems Christian but is ultimately unbiblical.

Reviewed by William L. De Arteaga



[1] Reinhold Niebuhr, Moral Man and Immoral Society: A Study of Ethics and Politics, (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1932). It is still in print, but also available online as a free PDF download. [Preview]

[2] Hauerwas has written many books, but a quick way to understand his theology it is by accessing an anthology of his works, The Hauerwas Reader, editors John Berkman and Michael Cartwright (Durham: Duke University Press, 2001). His single most important work on Christian pacifism and non-violence is Resident Aliens: Life in the Christian Colony (Nashville: Abingdon, 1989).

[3] Contemporary scholarly example: Barrie Wilson, How Jesus Became Christian (NY: St. Martin’s Press, 2008).

[4] Scot McKnight “Jesus vs. Paul” Christianity Today. Posted Dec 3, 2010.

[5] For a brilliant and readily accessible explanation of these difficult issues, see the recent article in First Things by James R. Rogers “Death Penalties and the Divine” Posted, March 28, 2017.


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Category: Living the Faith, Spring 2017

About the Author: William L. De Arteaga, Ph.D., is known internationally as a Christian historian and expert on revivals and the rebirth and renewal of the Christian healing movement. His major works include Quenching the Spirit: Discover the Real Spirit Behind the Charismatic Controversy (Creation House, 1992, 1996), Forgotten Power: The Significance of the Lord’s Supper in Revival (Zondervan, 2002), Agnes Sanford and Her Companions: The Assault on Cessationism and the Coming of the Charismatic Renewal (Wipf & Stock, 2015), and The Public Prayer Station: Taking Healing Prayer to the Streets and Evangelizing the Nones (Emeth Press, 2018). Bill pastored two Hispanic Anglican congregations in the Marietta, Georgia area, and is semi-retired. He continues in his healing, teaching and writing ministry and is the state chaplain of the Order of St. Luke, encouraging the ministry of healing in all Christian denominations. Facebook

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