Posted by: gcarkner | October 25, 2013

Oliver O’Donavan, Ethics and Political Theology

Oliver O'Donavan

Oliver O’Donovan (born 1945) FBA FRSE, Professor of Christian Ethics and Practical Theology at the School of Divinity, New College, Edinburgh (since 2006). He has also made significant contributions to political theology, both contemporary and historical. He is one of the most reputable scholars in his field.

Previously O’Donovan was Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology and Canon of Christ Church at the University of Oxford (1982–2006). Before that he taught at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford (1972–77) and at Wycliffe College, Toronto (1977–82). His doctoral thesis on the problem of self-love in St Augustine was completed under both Henry Chadwick at Oxford and Paul Ramsey at Princeton. He is a past President of the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics.

In 2001 he delivered the Stob Lectures at Calvin Theological Seminary, in 2007 he delivered the New College Lectures at New College, University of New South Wales, and in 2008 he delivered a lecture at Princeton Theological Seminary upon receiving the Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life.

O’Donovan is an ordained priest of the Church of England, and has been active in ecumenical dialogue as well as serving on the General Synod. He has been a Fellow of the British Academy since 2000 and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh since 2009. He has held distinguished visiting lectureships in the Universities of Durham and Cambridge, the Gregorian University in Rome, McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, St. Patricks College, Maynooth, the University of Hong Kong, and Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California. With scholar wife Joan Lockwood O’Donovan, he has jointly authored two books on the history of Christian political thought.

Major works

Resurrection and Moral Order (1986) This work provides a first attempt to defend the objectivity of Christian moral claims from the challenge of ‘anti-foundationalism‘ (pvii) which O’Donovan tends to refer to as ‘historicism‘. O’Donovan distinguishes himself from Alasdair MacIntyre by opposing neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics (p18) and by arguing that MacIntyre’s adoption of a more historical perspective cannot avoid ethical relativism (p221-222). O’Donovan’s alternative is to ground an ethic of obedience in a natural moral order. Importantly, however, a ‘true understanding’ of this moral order can only be achieved ‘in Christ‘ (p14-15 and 89).

The Desire of the Nations (1996).

The Ways of Judgment (2008).



  • Self, World, and Time: Volume 1: Ethics as Theology: An Induction (Eerdmans 2013) ISBN 0-8028-6921-0[6]
  • The Word in Small Boats: Sermons from Oxford (Eerdmans 2010) ISBN 0-8028-6453-8
  • A Conversation Waiting to Begin: The Churches and the Gay Controversy (SCM 2009) ISBN 0-334-04210-0
  • The Ways of Judgment (Eerdmans 2005) ISBN 0-8028-2920-1
  • The Just War Revisited (CUP 2003)
  • Common Objects of Love (Eerdmans 2002)
  • The Desire of the Nations (CUP 1996) ISBN 0-521-66516-7
  • Peace and Certainty (Eerdmans 1989)
  • Resurrection and Moral Order (IVP 1986, 2nd ed IVP/Eerdmans 1994)
  • On the Thirty-Nine Articles (Paternoster 1986 and SCM 2011)
  • Begotten or Made? (OUP 1984)
  • The Problem of Self-Love in Saint Augustine (Yale 1979) ISBN 0-300-02468-1


  • From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought edited with Joan Lockwood O’Donovan (Eerdmans 1999) ISBN 0-8028-4209-7

Essays and Articles

  • “Prayer and Morality in the Sermon on the Mount” Studies in Christian Ethics 22.1 (2009): 21-33.
  • “Judgment, Tradition and Reason: A Response” Political Theology 9.3 (2008): 395-414. This is from a Special Issue of Political Theology on The Ways of Judgment.
  • Bonds of Imperfection: Christian politics past and present, edited collection with Joan Lockwood O’Donovan (Eerdmans 2004) ISBN 0-8028-4975-X
  • A Royal Priesthood? A dialogue with Oliver O’Donovan ed. Craig Batholomew et al. (Paternoster 2002). O’Donovan provides a short response to every paper in this edited collection.
  • “The Natural Ethic” in Essays in Evangelical Social Ethics ed. David F. Wright (Paternoster, 1978) ISBN 0-85364-290-7

Research interests

  • Christian Moral Concepts
  • Christian Social & Political Thought
  • Contemporary Ethical Questions
  • St. Augustine’s Moral & Theological Thought

See other political philosophers who have a Christian base or outlook

Charles Taylor, A Secular Age.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, Until Justice and Peace Embrace.

Jim Wallis, The (Un)Common Good.

Ron Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger.

Jacques Ellul, The Ethics of Freedom.

Shane Claiborne, The Irresistible Revolution.

Richard Mouw, Uncommon Decency.

Gordon Carkner, The Great Escape from Nihilism

Miraslov Volf, Exclusion and Embrace; Flourishing: why we need religion in a globalized world.

Rowan Williams, The Truce of God.

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