Brief Reviews, VOLUME 2

Brief Review: EVANGELICALS AND EMPIRE [Vol. 2, #24]

A Brief Review of
Evangelicals and Empire:
Christian Alternatives to the Political Status Quo
.
Bruce Ellis Benson and Peter Goodwin Heltzel.

Paperback: Brazos Press, 2008.
Buy now: [ Amazon ]

Reviewed by Stephen Lawson.

Until recently, the argot of “American Empire” and “Paxamericana” have been reserved for those who express dissent against American economic and foreign policies. These radicals have relentlessly critiqued these policies arguing that America functions in the same monolithic ways that empires of the past (Roman, English, Spanish, etc.) have functioned.

Recently, however, these nomenclatures have become more common in op-ed pieces of major newspapers, on news networks, and on political blogs and websites. Defenders of American policies now declare unapologetically that America is an empire. They argue that that is a good thing, saying that America is a just and moral empire, an empire of freedom. As former President Bush said on the first anniversary of 9/11, “The ideal of America is the hope of all mankind.”

Evangelicals have played an important role in the formation of this American Empire. Over the past thirty years, this marginal group of conservative Christians have amassed significant political power and have deeply influenced the formation of the American Empire.

The work of Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri offers a piercing analysis of the rhetoric and reality behind the policies that have built the American Empire.  [1] Their erudite survey challenges the domination politics of all empires and offers the “liberatory politics” of the multitude as the alternative.

This book, Evangelicals and Empire: Alternatives to the Political Status Quo offers numerous essays by theologians that bring with the work of Hardt and Negri into conversation with Evangelicalism. On the one hand, the work of Hardt and Negri helps Evangelicals understand and critique their own hegemonies (“Constantinianism”). On the other hand, their work can help to provide a way forward for Evangelicals, a way that subverts the imperialistic ways of thinking and acting that created the current situation.

The book is composed of twenty-one essays divided equally into three sections. The first section, “Present,” elucidates how Evangelicalism currently fits into the American Empire. The second section, “Past,” offers historical perspectives on Evangelicalism in light of empire theory. The final section, “Future,” is comprised of essays that offer a way forward for both Evangelicalism and empire theory.

The debacle of the Bush administration has provoked many Evangelicals to reexaime their political allegiances. This necessary reflection offers the hope of an Evangelicalism “After Empire.” This important book helps to define the questions that this reflection needs to answer.

[1] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri, Empire (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2000); Michael Hardt and Antonion Negri, Multitude: War and Democracy in the Age of Empire (New York: Penguin, 2004).

C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com

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