book review: Christian Anarchism by Alexandre Christoyannopoulos

This week’s review is: Christian Anarchism: A Political Commentary on the Gospel
by Alexandre Christoyannopoulos.

Overall I really appreciated this book. Christoyannopoulos weaves together all of the different strands on christian anarchy to provide a picture of the thinking of the movement as a whole. No one has ever done that before and his contribution will be a great addition to the christian anarchist scholarship. Since much of the work can be hard to find, this survey (with meticulous footnotes) is very important.

He traces the thought through Leo Tolstory, Vernard Eller, and Jaques Ellul while also including the work of Dorothy Day and the Catholic Workers (which many books tend to ignore). There is also some recent scholarship from the Jesus radicals among others. The scope of this work is impressive.

My frustration with a lot of the conclusions drawn (both by this survey and by other christian anarchist writers) lies in a poor academic reading of many of the Gospel texts. These texts are read with a cursory exegesis and not in light of the empire. Whether that is because empire scholarship is relatively new or whether it’s because christian anarchists haven’t completely done their homework is unclear. This lack of exegesis leads to conclusions that don’t fit with the gospel texts. In this book, Christoyannopoulos’ conclusion tries to set up the way forward by christian anarchists but sets up a false dichotomy; either one is completely non-resistant (read non-engaged) with the political world, or one buys in to the state. My reading of the gospel texts is more of a both/and. One must resist the empire while also creating a new way of living in the shadow of the empire. You can’t just disengage, set up your own community and that’s it, you must also be prophetic about calling out the empire and working to upset it non-violently and always with Jesus’ teachings in mind.

It’s a delicate balance, one that requires humility and accountability. One that is about freedom for all people and service to all people instead of a life that seeks to overthrow and become the new power in charge.

I still recommend this book simply for it’s scope and attention to detail. I found it to be very readable (even though it is a doctoral dissertation!) and accessible even if you haven’t read a lot of the people featured in the book.