At Theology of Law we seek to equip and encourage Christians in law in a way that helps them flourish in their vocation as they follow Jesus. One of the ways we do that is through the various articles you will find here. These articles cover a wide range of topics, from the big picture questions about the relationship between law and justice, to specific applications and contemporary concerns.


'Why Does Iain McGilchrist Matter?' Review of The Matter with Things


In this in-depth review, David McIlroy  distills Iain McGilchrist’s opus, The Matter with Things, outlining 11 core features of McGilchrist’s worldview and engaging it critically and constructively from an orthodox Christian perspective.

‘The narratives of modernity and the Christian story’ (2019)


The narratives of modernity are mistaken reactions to how things appear to be or misdirections of genuine longings of the human heart. Their power and their plausibility derive from the fact that they pull us toward something that we think we want, by overstating its power to give meaning and significance to our lives.

These narratives include the narrative of reason, the narrative of equality, the myths of evolution and progress, the narrative of self-actualisation, and the claim “all you need is love”. The Christian story differs from but nonetheless fulfils the desires expressed in the narratives of modernity: it assures us that the world is ordered and knowable, that all human beings are equal in dignity, that God’s good purposes for the world will ultimately be achieved, that human lives can be fulfilled and that we are loved.

‘Forming a Christian Mind: the Law’ (2013)


The integration of Christian faith with the study and practice of law requires attention to the biblical meta-narrative, the big story of how God has dealt with humankind. This big story begins with creation, the fall and common grace. It then looks at the remainder of the Old Testament, taking account of the Torah (the Law of Moses), the history of Israel and the message of the prophets. In the New Testament, the story continues with the redemption won by Jesus Christ, the mission of the Church, and ends with the Final Judgment and the new creation. This talk seeks to explore how this meta-narrative can inform a Christian approach to thinking about human rights.

‘Infinite Choice: freeing ourselves from a cultural icon’ (2013) 22(3) Cambridge Papers


Our culture understands choice to be the means by which we express our freedom and individuality but sees choice as a range of consumer options. We are constantly compelled to choose, yet the unexpected result is that the things we choose have no value in themselves. God’s choices have significance, involve commitments, are made relationally, and carry a cost which God himself bears. A faithful response to God’s choices will make us aware that our choices matter, that to choose well is to commit to things, that our choices affect those around us, and that the cost of our choices is one we are prepared to shoulder.

‘Honour and Shame’ (2005) 14(2) Cambridge Papers


Contemporary Western society suppresses the concepts of honour and shame, although they re-surface in its media in a theatre of the grotesque. Honour reinforces good behaviour through appeals to a shared morality, while shame penalises bad behaviour through disgrace and exposure. The Bible offers a different social vision, in which honour is respected through discretion, and where shame and disgrace can be dealt with through confession, reconciliation and restoration into the community.

systematic and biblical theology

‘What’s at stake in natural law?’ (2008) 89 New Blackfriars 508-521


Something like natural law is required if Christians are to say that Jesus Christ is as relevant to human beings of every age and in every place that we have ever existed as a race. There must be something stable about the human condition which means that we are all alike in need of a Saviour. That something is the fact that we are created to love God and to love our neighbour. This much is revealed to all humankind. For the Apostle Paul and Thomas Aquinas the natural law was not given as an alternative method of salvation but rather to explain the justice of God’s judgment and the utter gratuity of divine grace. Similarly, natural theology is not an assertion that faith in Christ is optional but rather that all human beings are culpable if they do not recognise that there is a god who created them and rewards those who seek God. Natural theology is the minimum content of faith where Christ has not been proclaimed; it is no substitute for explicit faith in Christ when He has been revealed.

Note: This is the accepted version of the following article ‘What’s at stake in natural law?’ (2008) 89 New Blackfriars 508-521, which has been published in final form here. (This article may be used for non-commercial purposes in accordance with the Wiley Self-Archiving Policy).

‘The Theology of Law of Professor Sir Norman Anderson’ (2009) 163 Law & Justice 110-126.


Norman Anderson was Professor of Oriental Laws at SOAS in the University of London and one of the leading evangelical figures of the twentieth century.  Through a large number of books and talks he gave an account of the need for Christians to be involved in the legal and moral issues of his time as well as contrasting the Christian understanding of God’s love and God’s law with that of other religions.  This article explores the theology of law which Anderson developed, looking both at his published works and also at his unpublished talks.

‘The Law of Love’ (2008) 17(2) Cambridge Papers


The Bible is clear that to love God involves seeking to be obedient to God. Being God’s people involves seeking to make wise decisions about the way in which God wants us to live. Jesus commands his followers to love God and our neighbours. In working out what that means, followers of Jesus need to take into account what God has revealed in the Torah about what it means to love him and to love another, as fulfilled, interpreted and modelled by Jesus. The Holy Spirit is given to us to enable us to grow in love. In order to make wise decisions we need to have internalised God’s law and to meditate on it with the help of the Spirit. In heaven, doing what God wants will be second nature. Till then, reflection on God’s law is an indispensable part of discerning what it means in practice to love God and to love our neighbour.

‘Towards a Relational and Trinitarian Theology of Atonement’ (2008) 80 Evangelical Quarterly 13-32


Precisely because the doctrine of the Trinity was explored by the Church in order to make sense of the atoning death of God incarnate, a proper understanding of the Trinity provides indispensable illumination of the reasons why Christ died. Relationships are fundamental to both our understanding of sin and our understanding of God. Responsibilities are fundamental to relationships, and inherent in our relationship with God our Creator is the obligation to obey his commands. Our disobedience to his commands therefore not only has the character of law-breaking but also amounts to a rejection of a relationship with him. From a relational perspective, the doctrines of the Incarnation and the Trinity make sense of a model of penal substitutionary atonement, because through them we can understand the death of Christ as the death of the representative Man who alone lived in perfect relationship with God and also the death of the self-substituting God who exhausts in himself the curse which he pronounced over our disobedience.

‘A Trinitarian Reading of Aquinas’s Treatise on Law’ (2007) 84 Angelicum 277-292


The thought of St Thomas Aquinas is fundamentally misrepresented if he is presented as an exponent of natural law conceived of as a universally applicable moral system self-evident to all human beings irrespective of whether they believe in God or not. Aquinas’s doctrine of natural law forms a small part of his treatise on law and grace which runs from questions 90 to 114 in the Prima Secundae of his Summa Theologiae. Aquinas’s treatise on law expounds a trinitarian theology of law, that is to say, Aquinas’s account of law is driven by his understanding of the work of the Son and the Spirit in the economy of salvation.

Aquinas’s account of natural law must be seen as an account of a realm of given reality and rules which have stability and normativity precisely because they have been created by God. The good gifts of God to humankind in creation are ordered to the Son, through whom they were given, and who dignified them through His Incarnation.

Key to Aquinas’s account is his conception of the Spirit as the New Law, working in Christians to guide them and empower them to obey God. This work of the Spirit culminates in the eschatological glorification of human beings, when the need for external constraints is eliminated as human beings enjoy perfect communion with the Father, in the Son, by the Spirit.

‘The Trinity, Politics and the Law’ (2005) 10(1) Whitefield Briefing


This paper seeks to sketch the outlines of how a renewed attention to the doctrine of the Trinity has the potential to illuminate and to guide Christian thinking about politics and law. Understanding the Old Testament as the story of the failure of law to make people just, the work of the Son is to rescue people from the consequences of their law-making and the work of the Spirit is to bring about the change of heart without which justice is impossible.

In terms of politics and law, a biblically faithful doctrine of the Trinity would suggest that political and law-making authority should be used to preserve the good gifts given by God the Father in creation, would be concerned to promote justice and mercy which are key concerns of God, and would leave space for the work of His Holy Spirit to transform people’s lives in the light of the good news of the death and resurrection of God the Son.

‘The Holy Spirit and the Law’ (2003) 3 Justice Reflections JR14


This essay explores the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Torah (the Mosaic Law). It argues that, in the light of Christ’s work, it is possible to see that the Holy Spirit inspired the Mosaic Law; that he interprets the Law; and that he impels and empowers obedience to the Law. For Christians, ethical decisions are not to made on the basis of slavish obedience to an external written code, but in line with internal guidance given by the Holy Spirit, illuminated and informed by a study of the teaching of Christ and the apostles, and a consideration of the moral principles to be derived from the Mosaic Law.  When enlivened and interpreted by the Holy Spirit, the Torah remains a valuable guide to moral action.

‘The Relevance of the Old Testament Law: Part One’ (2002) 148 Law & Justice 21-36


There are two opposite errors with regard to the Torah. One is to treat each and every part of it as applicable today in each and every detail. The other is to treat each and every part of it as equally irrelevant, right up to the commandments against theft, adultery, murder and the worship of idols. In this, the first part of a two-part essay, McIlroy seeks to explore the relevance of the Torah for Christians today. This part looks at what Christ’s fulfilment of the Torah means for the sacrificial, civil and moral aspects of the Torah. It argues that the Two Great Commandments, the Ten Commandments, and even other aspects of the Torah remain pertinent to Christian thinking, but must always be interpreted in the light of Jesus Christ.

‘The Relevance of the Old Testament Law: Part Two’ (2003) 150 Law & Justice 21-37


This second part of a two-part essay looks at whether the Torah has any relevance to secular society today.  It examines the relationship between the Torah and the natural law, and concludes that while Christians should not seek to lift rules directly from the Torah, they should work to bring their societies closer to the shalom which the provisions of the Torah seek to promote. The justification for this is that the same God who created the world, and who revealed Himself to Abraham and to Moses, is also the one who has fully disclosed Himself in the nature of Jesus Christ, His Son.


‘Christianity and Judgment’, forthcoming as Chapter 60 in John Witte, Jr. and Rafael Domingo, eds., Oxford Handbook on Christianity and Law (Oxford University Press, 2023)


Judgments are acts of evaluation, distinguishing between right and wrong. A good judgment is a moment of truth, disclosing how the affected parties deserve to be treated. The Bible is full of divine judgments but also full of examples of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Christianity teaches that God has authorized human authorities to issue such judgments as are necessary to maintain social peace. Indeed, Christianity makes judgment the justification for, and central activity of, rulers.

Judgments are pronouncements on existing actions and states of affairs. Christianity recognizes that retribution is a natural response to wrongdoing, but urges rulers to seek restoration wherever possible. From the time of Augustine onward, many church leaders have urged rulers to be as merciful as they can be, consistent with maintaining public order and confidence. Good judgments vindicate and condemn in appropriate measure, defend social order, and so open up possibilities for human flourishing.

Christian teaching warns against the dangers of vindictiveness, bias, and hypocrisy in judgments. Because rulers are fallen human beings, and because the Last Judgment has not yet happened, there are limits on the judgments that rulers may pass. Christian teaching and practice stresses that rulers should pronounce judgment only on issues where the public good is at stake. Moreover, rulers should be mindful of the possibility of errors in their judgments. Human judgments are provisional, limited, and fallible acts, authorized by the need to protect against violence, resolve disputes, and open up space for flourishing and forgiveness.

‘Shire Justice: What hobbits can teach us about shalom’ in A. and C. Kingston Smith (eds.) Carnival Kingdom; Biblical Justice for Global Communities (Wide Margin, 2013) 23-41


Reading J.R.R. Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings gives us a picture of another world, near enough to our own for it to inspire us to think against about how we order our lives in the twenty first century. The justice embodied in the way of life lived by the hobbits in the Shire is akin to the biblical idea of shalom, something that every society needs if it is to flourish.

‘The Justice Quest’ (2014) JR 250 Justice Reflections


The Hebrew Bible has much to say about what needs to happen in order for justice to be done.  Attention must be paid to the plight of the poor and the vulnerable because they are especially exposed to the risk of injustice.  The powerful must be held to account.  Bribery must be eliminated from our legal systems and corruption must be challenged.  The law must be made available to people in ways which they can understand, the courts must be accessible and decisions must be made without unreasonable delay.  There must be those who are willing to speak as advocates for those whose voice will not otherwise be heard.  These needs exist in every place around the world.  Justice is a goal which must be constantly pursued.

‘The Mission of Justice’ (2011) 28 Transformation 182-94


This paper explores some of the biblical material, renewed attention to which has contributed to the rise in Christian commitment to the mission of justice. In particular, it looks at the ways in which that imperative has been articulated by evangelicals. The Old Testament prophets denounce injustice and this finds its echo in the book of James and in Revelation. Jesus was Justice Incarnate and calls His followers to demonstrate justice. Whilst there is continuing debate about whether action for justice is best understood as integrated with, inseparable from or even part of evangelism, there is growing agreement that the Great Commission cannot be fulfilled without obedience to the Great Commandments, and that may involve using law as an instrument to achieve justice.

‘The Practical Implications of a Relational Approach to Justice’, Paper presented at Post-Graduate Conference on ‘Concepts of Justice and Law in Christianity, Judaism and Islam: theoreticians and practitioners engage in dialogue’, University of Manchester, 16th January 2008


Christians have understood the link between the Old Testament, with its seeming emphasis on law, and the New Testament, with its seeming emphasis on grace, in a number of different ways.  The most persuasive reading, however, understands the Old Testament to record the history of the failure and inadequacy of God-given law to achieve true justice and the necessity for the work of the Son and the Spirit to form a holy people for God. 

On this reading, Christianity is to be understood as teaching that justice must be internalised.  Law which is expressed as rules governing external behaviour has therefore a limited role to play in the pursuit of justice.  Legal rights and obligations create a framework of expectations within which justice may be pursued. 

Christianity also claims that God is relational; it dares to call God Father.  Obedience to God’s rules is an aspect of relationship to God. Relationships may therefore be understood as having a certain ontological priority over law, over rules.

Hence Christianity offers an explanation of justice in terms of relationships, which is consistent with the development of emerging forms of dispute resolution, such as restorative justice in the criminal sphere and mediation and conciliation in the area of civil disputes.

‘Oliver O’Donovan and the Tradition of Christian Thought regarding the Death Penalty’ (2006) 156 Law & Justice 37-47


Every generation is prone to assuming that its understanding of the Christian message and of the theological meaning and direction provided by the Bible is superior to that of all others.  That temptation is multiplied when the tradition of Christian theological reflection is ignored or misunderstood. O’Donovan has constantly sought to elongate the collective memory of contemporary Christians with regards to what the Church has thought before on important subjects. This essay seeks to explore O’Donovan’s exposition of how the Christian tradition has thought about the death penalty, and its place within a theology of government, justice and punishment.    

‘Why do evangelicals have nothing to say about justice?’ (2005) 22 Anvil 101-103


This article poses the issue of where evangelicals are in our perceptions and actions on justice. David McIlroy suggests that our recent history has left evangelicals with a black hole in our biblical study and our theology. A fear of the social gospel, premillennialism and dispensationalism, and the quietism of the church in the face of the moral revolution in the 1960s have left evangelicals with nothing to say in the public arena. Those who do speak, risk using the Bible as a source of “proof-texts” to justify positions already reached on other grounds. Renewed attention to the Bible’s big story, and in particular to the Old Testament, will provide evangelicals with the resources to re-build a systematic theology of justice such as inspired the great evangelical social reformers of the past, like William Wilberforce and Lord Shaftesbury.

‘A Prophetic Vision of Justice’ (2004) 7 Engage 4-5


There are common themes in the writings of the prophets. All are agreed that God hates oppression. He is angered by the powerful throwing their weight around, abusing their power and influence. God is angry when the rights of the powerless are not protected, when there is no-one to plead their case or to help them enforce their entitlements. Abuse of power and unequal access to justice anger him. He is furious when money, when economics, is given priority over people, when things matter more than individuals, when oppression takes the place of compassion. The prophets grasped these truths and looked forward to the day when God would come and establish his justice on the earth.

‘Justice and Belonging’ (2004) 24 The Extra Mile 7-13


Above the Old Bailey stands the figure of a woman, holding a set of scales.  She represents the archetype of British justice, weighing and balancing.  The biblical view of justice is different in nature – it is fundamentally relational, about just behaviour towards those to whom we have obligations and who have expectations of us. Human beings, made in the image of God, for relationship with God and relationship with one another, are beings of inherent dignity and value, who should be free to labour and love.  These are the good gifts of God to us both as individuals and as part of the human race.  Justice is the exercise of power and authority in order to preserve and protect the good gifts of God, given as His common grace for all to enjoy in this lifetime whether or not they acknowledge God’s claim to their life. 

‘God & Justice’ (2002) 115 Graya 24-35


The classical formulation of justice is that to be found in Justinian’s Digest “Give to each what is due to him”.  The problem with this formula is that without an independent account of what is due to people it can be used to justify the most inhuman treatment of people; indeed in its German translation, Jedem das seine, it was the motto above the gates of the Buchenwald concentration camp. The vital content for the formulation – give to each what is due to him – is that what is due to people is what God has given to them. The creation narratives in the book of Genesis show that God has given human beings life, dignity, liberty, the capacity to form meaningful relationships and the ability to enjoy rewarding work and rest.


'Politics, Prayer, and Priorities.'


The sermon explores the intersection of Christian faith and politics, emphasizing the importance of adhering to biblical principles when engaging with political issues. It highlights Jesus’ teachings on the separation of His kingdom from earthly politics, the necessity of praying for political leaders, and the role of government in maintaining justice. The sermon also encourages Christians to prioritize candidates and policies that protect religious freedom and support the vulnerable in society.

‘Law as the Calling of Human Nature: the Theology of Law of David W. Opderbeck’, Law & Justice, No. 189, 2022.


David Opderbeck presents a wide-ranging Christian vision for law, rooted in Scripture, reason, and tradition, in his books ‘Law and Theology: Classic Questions and Contemporary Perspectives’ (2019) and ‘Law, Theology, and Neuroscience’ (2021). Opderbeck defends a classical account of the objective moral order of natural law, which calls us to live in relationships of love with God and with other people. He claims that a key feature of this order is that human beings are free to respond (or not) to God’s law and have the capacity to make and to respond freely to positive laws. The natural law should inform the content of positive law, to the extent that doing so is consented to by the governed. Positive law is always a pragmatic approximation to natural law, containing and controlling injustice, providing some measure of peace, and helping to create the conditions for freedom, equality, and human flourishing. Opderbeck applies this impressive theoretical framework to the pressing questions of the day, offering an anti-integralist reading of law as a relative instrument that ought to be guided by prudence and pragmatism in the search of a tolerable peace.

‘What would St Augustine of Hippo say about law today?’ (2020)


Augustine insisted that there is an objective morality (a natural law) to which all human activity (including all law-making activity) is answerable. He argued that any system of justice is, in the end, a system for promoting and protecting certain common objects of love within a society. He regarded legal systems as having only limited authority and only limited ability to promote virtue. Augustine’s killer question: “What’s the difference between a kingdom and a band of robbers?” exposes the need for every legal system to be challenged in the name of truth and on behalf of those whose voices are treated as worthless. These big claims continue to provide resources for a critical natural law theory today.

‘The Relationship between Law, Justice and Power’, University of Prishtina, Kosovo, 14 November 2019


Power is needed to control society. The powerful often use law, or at least the semblance of law, as a means of exercising their control. This is because: (1) using soldiers and police to enforce obedience is expensive and, beyond a certain point, unstable and (2) people are more likely to obey a rule if they understand its purpose and even more likely to obey a rule if they think that it is just.

Therefore, rulers have an incentive to present their rule as being of benefit to their subjects (even if their aim is only to create a false consciousness in their subjects).

To use law effectively, rulers must make an appeal to justice. This involves three key claims:

The claim of authority: The law has been determined by those with the right to do so.

The claim of substantive justice: The law that has been determined is morally correct, so that it would either be right, or at least not wrong, to obey it.

The claim of allegiance: The law is of benefit to those who are subject to its rules because those rules will be followed by all to whom they apply.

‘Natural Law and Critical Theory’ (2019)


Although at first glance natural law theory and critical theory appear to be opposed, in fact critical theory and natural law theory need one another. Critical theory needs to be based on an assertion that the status quo is, objectively, wrong. To be coherent, a critical theory must assert that, even though its advocates are writing from a particular perspective and may only see part of the truth, it is wrong for what they have exposed to be disregarded. Too many natural law theorists (including Bentham) have jumped too quickly from the premises that the basic principles of law and morality are accessible to reason to the conclusion that they have provided the definitive account of them. Critical theories remind natural law that our situatedness and unconscious biases mean that any theoristʼs account of natural law can be no more than an adumbration, in need of revision in response to voices not yet heard.

‘How is the Rule of Law a Limit on Power?’, (2016) 29 Studies in Christian Ethics 34-50


A commitment to the rule of law is a commitment to the governance of a society through the use of general or generalizable rules which are binding on both the subjects and the rulers.  By giving due notice of the rules and of any changes to them, those who are subject to the law are protected from violence and enabled to act as agents.  This is the essential contribution the rule of law makes to important human goods including freedom.  Such an understanding of the rule of law illuminates why the law-like character of God and the revelation of God’s law make human free will meaningful and a relationship of love between God and human beings possible.  A commitment to the rule of law also means that those exercising power have to offer justifications to explain why the rules are binding, which opens up space for debate about whether the rules are just.

‘When is a Regime not a Legal System?’ (2013) Ratio Juris 65-84


Robert Alexy defines law as including a claim to moral correctness and demonstrating social efficacy. This paper argues that law’s social efficacy is not merely an observable fact but is undergirded by moral commitments by rulers that it is possible for their subjects to follow the rules, that the rulers and others will also follow the rules, that subjects will be protected from violence if they act in accordance with the rules, and that subjects will be entitled to legal redress if others act violently towards them otherwise than in accordance with the rules. Alexy is correct in his conclusion that a system of norms that is not by and large socially efficacious is not a valid legal system, but wrong insofar as he follows legal positivism in distinguishing this aspect of law’s validity from law’s claim to moral correctness.

The definitive version is available at

‘Theology and Legal Theory’ in Brittain and Murphy (eds.) Theology, University, Humanities: Initium Sapientiae Timor Domini (Wipf and Stock, 2011) 127-49


John Milbank’s audacious book Theology and Social Theory challenged us to think of theology as social theory, critiquing secular social theories and exposing the ontologies of violence, the assumptions of original discord, which lie at their heart. Could a parallel volume on Theology and Legal Theory be written and, if so, what would it say? Theology reduced to legal theory is not Christian theology; it is no longer an enquiry into the nature of the Christian God. But both the narrative of Scripture and the theological questions raised within it force reflection on the relationship between Christianity and law.

Christian theology asserts that human law is ultimately grounded on Jesus Christ, and on Him alone. Unlike Moses and Mohamed, Jesus did not give a new set of laws to society, instead he released the Holy Spirit who acts as a power within human beings enabling them to act justly. The foundation of law is theological, but legal theory has a legitimate, dependent discourse about how law functions which is proper to it.

‘Idols and Grace: Re-envisioning political liberalism as political limitism’ (2010) 11 Political Theology 205-225


This paper looks at the work of Oliver O’Donovan and John Milbank.  It argues that what they have in common is an Augustinian analysis of the dominant version of political liberalism which recognizes it as idolatrous. Nonetheless, because of the parasitic nature of evil, idolatrous human politics may be sustained by God’s grace as God gives people time to respond to God and to re-order their disordered loves in relation to Godself, the supreme good. The express recognition of this function of politics enables the advocacy of political limitism, a re-thinking of political liberalism in the light of eternity, which recognizes that politics has only a limited role to play in securing human goods and that the earthly polis is not the most important society.

human rights

‘Catholic and Protestant approaches to Human Rights’ (2017) 179 Law & Justice 135-158


Both the Catholic Church and the major Protestant churches endorse the idea of human rights.  There are, however, significant Catholic and Protestant thinkers who argue that it is a mistake to regard human rights as a fundamental feature of the moral order. John Finnis has argued, from a Catholic perspective, that human rights are nonetheless a part of a Christian understanding of the common good, while Nicholas Wolterstorff has defended, from a Reformed perspective, the primacy of human rights as a means of giving voice to the victims of injustice.  It is philosophical, rather than theological, differences which animate the current debate among Western Christian theorists.

‘Human Rights Theory: Fit for Purpose, Fundamentally Flawed or Reformable?’ (2014) 173 Law & Justice 21-36


For all the achievements of the human rights movement, persistent questions remain about the theoretical basis for human rights.  Human rights theory attempts to solve three problems: the problem of religious disagreement, the problem of how to identify common values and the problem of holding governments to account.  Joan Lockwood O’Donovan argues that the ability of human rights theory to address those problems effectively is undermined by the predominant concept of rights.  This concept of rights as ‘things which belong to individuals’ gives rise to or reinforces trends towards individualism, possessiveness and litigiousness.  Nicholas Wolterstorff offers a reformed account which understands human rights as a form of normative social relation.  This essay contends that, in addition, responsibilities need to be given priority over rights and that there needs to be renewed deliberation about the common good in order to overcome the problems which human rights theory seeks to confront.

‘The Problem of Human Rights’ (2014) 19 Ethics in Brief


Many of the atrocities of the twentieth century were perpetrated by people who believed that their victims were not human beings, or at least not human beings who mattered. The theory of human rights seeks to combat such thinking, by establishing the rights of all human beings on a universal basis. Despite that laudable foundation, it has become a commonplace that human rights have gone too far. Why has this happened? Are human rights still part of the solution to injustice or have they become part of the problem?

‘Christian Understandings of Human Rights’, Swansea University (2013)


The history of human rights is largely forgotten. Christians who are unaware of the decisive contribution Christianity made to the development of human rights are prone to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Secularists who deny the Christian contribution lack the foundations for the universal claims human rights makes. The link between Christianity and human rights needs to be acknowledged on both sides as a matter of urgency.

‘The Use of the Bible by Christian Human Rights Organisations’ (2010) 11 Political Theology 473-485


This paper explores the use made of the Bible by two Christian human rights organizations: Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) and International Justice Mission (IJM), identifying the particular parts of Scripture appealed to, the hermeneutic adopted, and asks whether there are other resources in the Bible which they could use to inspire and inform their work. CSW with its focus on the persecuted Church most naturally draws its inspiration from the New Testament, especially the Epistles; whilst IJM whose work principally addresses other forms of injustice such as slavery, forced prostitution, expropriation of land and exploitation of workers, makes greater appeal to the Old Testament. The biblical framework for IJM’s work could be strengthened by a more sustained attention to Jesus’ ministry as a model of human rights intervention and advocacy, by reflection on the significance of the Exodus as indicative of God’s purposes for those who are oppressed, and by consideration of the book of James as an important bridge between the concerns of the prophets in the Old Testament and the mission of the Church in the New. CSW needs to integrate its commendable emphasis on Jesus’ mission as exemplary for Christian human rights action with a holistic reading of the Bible and in particular with a greater exploration of the spiritual and practical importance of the Church as the Body of Christ.

law in literature

'Law and Other Fairy-tales'


“Make-believe” is not just for children. Law, banking, and money are all social practices which are partially constituted by beliefs. Many fairy-tales socialise children by teaching the superiority of civilisation over chaos (Red Riding Hood), by warning of the importance of keeping promises (the Lambton Worm), and by insisting on the need to follow the commands of those in authority (Peter Rabbit). In so doing, they foster the virtues and temperament of law-abiding citizens, without which the make-believe of law cannot be sustained. Some fairy-tales, however, teach that there are circumstances in which civilisation is a cruel joke (The Emperor’s New Clothes), that promises given under duress are not binding (Rumpelstiltskin), and that laws ought not to be obeyed if they are seriously unjust (Bluebeard).

law and morality

'Mere Legality – C.S. Lewis on the necessary connection between Natural Law and the Rule of Law'


In three lectures published as The Abolition of Man, C.S. Lewis presents philosophical arguments in favour of natural law in order to counter what he regarded as dangerous subjectivist approaches to ethics. Lewis then illustrated the contrasting worldviews of natural law and subjectivism in his novel That Hideous Strength. Lewis’s decision to do so is consistent with his claim that the natural law has to be discovered through desire and imagination rather than irrefutable logic.

Lewis also addressed law expressly in “The Humanitarian Theory of Punishment”, in which he argued that punishment is only morally justified if and to the extent that the criminal deserves it. Once people are not punished because and only up to the extent that they deserve to be, they become patients who can be subjected to indefinite and indeterminate treatment or re-education regardless of whether they have committed any crime.

The ideas of objective morality, natural law, and personal responsibility are essential assumptions in Lewis’s other work. Lewis contends that they are indispensable to the rule of law, and to the protection of personal freedom and dignity. Lewis did not develop a comprehensive legal theory, but he did set out the essentials of mere legality.

‘The Need for an Objective Basis for Morality if Law is going to be more than a Battle of Interests’, Balkan Institute for Faith and Culture, Skopje, North Macedonia, 14 November 2019


Legal positivism says that law is nothing more than rules made by the powerful. Natural law theory says that law is fundamentally linked to justice. Laws are rules directed towards the common good of a community. Legal positivists are correct that there is no necessary connection between law as such and any particular morality, but wrong to deny that there is any connection between law as such and morality as such. Legal systems always appeal to some conception of justice but, as Augustine showed, such a conception can be merely the justice internal to a band of robbers. Natural law theory challenges false claims of moral justification (whether deliberate lies, self-delusions or otherwise wrong). If natural law theory is right, there is an objective morality against which to measure claims of moral justification. If natural law theory is wrong, victors’ justice is the only justice there is.

‘Why can't we stop pretending law has anything to do with justice?: A Critical Theory of Natural Law’, the 12th Richard O’Sullivan Lecture (2019)


Law and justice cannot be divorced and yet remain forever at a distance from one another. Although the legal positivists regarded natural law theories as giving too great a reverence to law’s claims, Augustine of Hippo used the idea of natural law to offer a sharp critique of the legal systems of his day. Such a natural law theory can expose where the justifications for laws and legal systems fail in their own terms, where they do not take account of the injustice to those not treated as their subjects, and where they offer false visions of reality.

‘Do our courts have no morals?’ KLICE Comment, December 2013


The death of the enforcement of morality in family law has been greatly exaggerated. Nonetheless there has been a significant shift in judicial attitudes.  At the turn of the twentieth century, judges in family law could use language which suggested that if something was immoral that was sufficient to make it illegal. At the beginning of the twenty-first century, the family courts tend to permit people to choose how to live their lives unless there is sufficient reason to intervene.

Christians should affirm the recognition that in a tolerant society, it is only the intolerable that must be excluded. The pressing question is whether Christians will be committed and permitted to continue to participate in re-forging the common moral agreement which is necessary if laws are to be effective in regulating society.

‘Does law need a moral basis?’ in N. Spencer (ed.) Religion and Law (London: Theos, 2012) 153-61


Contemporary law in Britain can appear technical and obscure, far removed from any discernable connection with morality. It is, however, one thing to say that law is not identical to morality, and quite another to deny that there is any relationship at all between law and morality.

Law needs a moral basis but this does not mean simply equating law with morality. What it does mean is that we need to restart a public debate about not just what is right but also about the common good for our society. It means disavowing the idea that law is merely a neutral umpire between differing individual conceptions of the good. It means affirming the idea that law should be the reflection of substantive, shared moral commitments, not merely a technical instrument for the promotion of particular interests within society.

‘Secular Law: Is it all Possible?’ (2012) 169 Law & Justice 19-35


The question: is secular law possible? is a provocative question in twenty-first century Britain, a country where most people still identify themselves as Christians but are ambivalent at best about the interventions of the churches into politics. However, in order to address this question it is important to understand the different meanings which might be given to “secular”. Whilst a total separation of religion and politics is not only impossible but dangerous, Christian doctrine has been a key contributor to the idea of secular law itself.

banking and economics

‘Why Can’t We Take Economic Crime Seriously?’ (2019) 84 Working Notes 4-9


Economic crime is “a defining vice of the neoliberal age”. “The victims of these crimes could be the little old lady who agrees to part with her savings in a telephone scam, the person who is persuaded to transfer their pension into an offshore development scheme, or the business forced to appoint a fraudulent turnaround consultant who proceeds to strip its assets. Each of these types of economic crime raises its own issues.” This article focuses on the reasons why all too often, the most blatant and large-scale frauds go unpunished.

‘Time for a Financial Reformation’? (2017)


The Global Financial Crisis ought to have been a wake-up call. Instead, it has largely been an opportunity missed. It is not, however, impossible to take the steps which are required to transform the financial services industry into one which lives up to its name. This paper seeks to remind us that the shape of banks and the nature of banking are not fixed, that there is an alternative to the domination of our financial system by a few large banks focused on short-term profits. Banking was different in the past and it could be once again.

‘What would Jesus say about banking today?’, Seminar for Spurgeon’s College (December 2017)


This paper explores the nexus of personal sin, institutional corruption and structural failings in the financial system which triggered a decade of austerity and a bailout at taxpayers’ expense. It represents a case study, an example of theological reflection on a complex problem where understanding the times and knowing what is to be done (1 Chronicles 12:32) requires detailed analysis but also the ability to challenge the secular paradigms of the day.

‘From Captain Mainwaring to Gordon Gekko: Why Bankers need to be a law unto themselves’ Crucible (January 2017)


What do you think of when you think of a banker?  For a generation growing up in the 1970s, it was Captain Mainwaring, portrayed by Arthur Lowe in the sitcom Dad’s Army. In the 1980s, it was the corporate raider Gordon Gekko, played by Michael Douglas in the film Wall Street. Those two fictional characters represented very different visions of who bankers were and what the purpose of banking is.

Captain Mainwaring, though not very intelligent, was thoroughly embedded in his community and served it to the best of his ability both in his job and in volunteering for the Home Guard. Gordon Gekko was driven by greed, self-centred and narcissistic, supremely confident in his own ability to “beat the market” and with no regard for the consequences for anyone else. This essay explores how the ideal banker changed and what can be done to promote a more healthy role model for the future.

‘What effect does regulation have on the culture of banks?’ in Kim Østergaard, Jacob Lyngsie and Bent Ole Gram Mortensen (eds.) Law and Economics: An Anthology (Copenhagen, Jurist- og Økonomforbundets Forlag, 2016) 65-87


The changes in UK financial services regulation from 2001 contributed to a limited extent to adverse developments in the culture in UK banks but the major reasons for movement away from a concern for the interests of customers to the generation of short term profitability at all costs came from elsewhere.  The introduction of the new Senior Managers Regime by the UK regulators is unlikely to be sufficient, in itself, to see positive changes in the culture in UK banks given the importance of middle managers in large banks in determining what banks actually value and reward.

‘Christian Finance?’ (2011)


Debt is a spiritual issue and one which is pressing in our culture. Christians need to practise self-control in their use of money, learning to save and to live simple lifestyles. Christians need to demonstrate generosity and to be prepared to offer interest-free loans to another. Christians need to practise fellowship in financial matters, sharing with one another and offering those in need alternatives to the money-lenders. Christians should be committed to mutual growth, supporting micro-credit initiatives which provide start-up capital to small businesses. These would be key steps towards honouring God with our finances, both individually and collectively.

‘Mediaeval Commercial Canon Law’ (1997) 132/3 Law & Justice 9-21


In the Middle Ages, the scope of canon law included commercial life. The Church’s teaching about the immorality of usury (lending money at interest) and of charging more than the just price for goods and services was reflected in sophisticated rules and proscriptions. Those principles represent moderate and workable guidelines for good commercial behaviour, capable of application in today’s world as they were in their own time.

church and state

‘An overview of the role of government in classical Christian political thought’ in J. Chaplin and N. Spencer (eds.) God and Government (London: SPCK, 2009) 81-107.


The awareness that the era of a close-knit relationship between church and state prevailing during the ‘Christendom’ period is over sometimes leads to the mistaken conclusion that the Christian thinkers who lived at that time have nothing to say to us in twenty-first century Britain.  This is a serious misjudgment. Although they made mistakes from which we ought to learn, great thinkers such as Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin and Barth, at their best, offer us invaluable insight and perspective for dealing with contemporary political problems.

More than 1500 years of Christian reflection on the role of government centres around four key principles recurring throughout classical Christian political thought: (1) government is accountable to God; (2) government’s role is limited; (3) government exists for the public good; (4) the task of government is the wise execution of just judgment. Of those four principles, the first two are foundational (and their biblical and theological foundations were addressed in previous chapters), while the last two set out a framework for understanding the task and the purpose of government.

‘How does Christianity regard English law?’ (2013) 170 Law and Justice


Fifty years ago it was still possible for Richard O’Sullivan to describe English law as the practical application of Christian philosophy and ethics. Today, both Christianity in England and English law are complex, diverse and fragmented phenomena. The attitude English Christians have towards English law can be synthesist, conversionist, social justice, separatist or principled pluralist in orientation. There is therefore a range of Christian positions on questions such as the criminal law, access to justice, welfare provision, family law, human rights, life issues and sexual morality. Nonetheless, English Christians share a common thankfulness for the lack of corruption in the English legal system and for the stability of British political structures and public order. However, many have anxieties that successive governments are losing a proper sense of the limitations of their powers. If Richard O’Sullivan were writing today he would be concerned that, step by step, the political classes in Westminster may blunder into legislating away the freedoms which the reasonable Englishman and woman have enjoyed thanks to Christianity’s influence on English laws and law-makers. It is to be hoped that in the century to come Christianity will continue to influence English law so that justice is available for all, the poor and the weak are protected, civil society is fostered and freedom of faith and conscience is respected.

‘Locke and Rawls on Religious Toleration and Public Reason’ (2013) Oxford Journal of Law and Religion 1-24


Locke’s arguments for toleration are seen to be of little value today because of their explicitly Christian formulation.  They appear to fail Rawls’s test of public reason.  This essay explores both the importance of reason within Locke’s thought and the influence of Locke’s Christian presuppositions even on Rawls’s own position.  It demonstrates how Locke’s commitment to reason as the method for arriving at truth on religious questions shapes both his arguments for the reasonableness of Christianity and his defence of toleration.  Building on his Christian belief that human beings are free and equal, Locke puts forward religious arguments as public reason.  Against this context, Rawls’s idea of public reason is shown to depend on an a priori commitment to the view that the existence of God can make no difference to our moral reasoning, to concede that the content of public reason is variable over time and space, and to depend itself on the very belief that human beings are free and equal which liberalism has inherited from Christianity.

‘The Christian heritage in English law’, for ‘Big Voice London’, Legal Heritage Track, BPP Law School, Holborn, London, 8th March 2012


Some of the most important values which shape the British legal system are Christian values.  A lot of the legislation which protects children from exploitation and provides for their education has its origin in the work of the Earl of Shaftesbury; many of the basic rights we enjoy when accused of a crime come from the story in Genesis chapter 3 about God, a man, a woman and a snake; and our very belief that government is accountable to the people and that power is limited comes from Thomas Becket, an archbishop who stood up to the king who established the common law and paid for it with his life.

‘The Right Reason for Caesar to confess Christ as Lord: Oliver O’Donovan and arguments for the Christian state’, (2010) 11 Political Theology 473-485


The ostensible arguments advanced by Oliver O’Donovan for a confessionally Christian constitutional order are not persuasive, even in the terms of his own scheme, because they presuppose that such a confession may be required as a representative act.  Within his theory lies, however, the assumption that confessing Christ is fundamental to all right decision-making, including the political.  This renders the confession of Christ not merely a possibility for legitimate governments but rather essential to just political judgments.  If O’Donovan’s ostensible arguments prove too little, the underlying logic of his position claims too much. O’Donovan is mistaken in his assumption that political judgments must be placed within the same comprehensive moral vision as personal decisions.  Because political judgments bear only an indirect relationship to absolute right they may be rightly made without the express confession of Christ in the constitutional order.

‘Tolkien’s Theology of Power’ (2006)


J.R.R. Tolkien, the Christian writer of The Lord of the Rings, had several significant, but nuanced, things to say about the use and abuse of political authority. In particular, his writings contain the messages that political authority ought only to do those things which are necessary; that rulers are always subject to the temptations of pride and domination; and that the most important things in the world are not necessarily achieved by power-politics.

‘Subsidiarity and Sphere Sovereignty: Christian Reflections on the Size, Shape and Scope of Government’ (2003) 45 Journal of Church & State 739-64


The Catholic idea of subsidiarity and the Neo-Calvinist idea of sphere sovereignty share a concern about limiting the power of big government. While sphere sovereignty claims to give a substantive account of the rightful location of power; subsidiarity operates as a procedural principle, to be weighed against other principles in determining at what level power should properly be exercised. A broader view of the role of subsidiarity combined with the idea of sphere sovereignty would distribute power away from central governments, re-empowering local authorities and other institutions within society.

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