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ss triple helix - spring 2005,  A Biblical View of Law and Justice (Book Review)

A Biblical View of Law and Justice (Book Review)

A Biblical View of Law and Justice - David McIlroy - Paternoster 2004 - £17.99 Pb 238 pp - ISBN 1 84227 267 5

Christian doctors often rage at the laws which set the ethical pace of their profession. This book is an important inquiry into the legitimacy of that rage, and a lexicon of the words in which the rage can properly be articulated.

The Bible is full of laws. They sometimes seem to be at war with grace. McIlroy helps to broker a peace. God seems to like order: his first recorded act was to subdue chaos.

Although the Fall twisted things so that the originally ordained model of societal harmony has never been visible, he continued to want humans to live in a regulated way with one another and with himself. Laws for an Israelite theocracy are one thing; laws for a Kingdom which is not of this world are another. There is an apparent dissonance between what the Old and the New Testament say about the demands of the law in a civilized society. All this is the stuff of McIlroy's book. It is immaculately researched and highly readable. It is important reading not only for jaded lawyers, but also for anyone who takes the obligations of citizenship seriously.

I have some quibbles. Most of them boil down to saying that the book is too short. That necessarily means that mere assertion triumphs over argument. Sometimes, though, the unargued assertions become central pillars of later arguments, and those later arguments are unstable as a result. It is frustrating, too, that McIlroy does not grapple head on with some of the urgent contemporary questions which his thesis raises. Yes, we should, within limits, submit to rulers, but who, in a Britain whose policies are dictated to a significant extent by the US and the EU, is my ruler? The dissolution of the boundaries of nation states makes dubious the application of theologies designed for nation states. It would have been exciting, too, to see an able intellectual matador like McIlroy take firmly by the horns some of the dangerous historical bulls which stampede through any Christian philosophy of law.

Theocracies have historically been vile: secular states have generally done a good deal better. I think I know what McIlroy would say about this, but I would have liked to hear him say it. But this is unfair. It is criticising a book for not being the book that it does not purport to be. McIlroy has produced a fine work of biblical scholarship. It is a compliment to him that I want him to develop and apply his thesis further.

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