Between Babel and Beast

This book by Peter Leithart on the relationship between the Church and American Empire is brilliant. The entire volume is essentially an extended footnote to his much larger work “Defending Constantine” that was published a couple years ago. This “extended footnote” has 50 pages of endnotes in itself, creating a sort of footnote-ception. If you like scholarly notes, then this book is for you!

Leithart is at his strongest when, working within his stipulated definition of “empire”, he explores the nuances of the relationship between empire and the people of God in the Bible. He rightly draws out the complexity of the Bible’s treatment of imperial themes and squashes both the modern anti-imperial and older pro-imperial readings of Scripture. He also does a great job of pulling the pious mask off America’s Thucydidean motivations for war. Fear, honor and interest drive American foreign policy, but the whole project is veiled with quasi-religious rhetoric that is often cheered on by oblivious Christians with flags in their church sanctuaries.

Leithart is at his weakest when interpreting the Middle Ages and the Reformation. I wish he had been as nuanced in his treatment of history as he was in his treatment of theology and Scripture, but it is after all only a 150 page book. This is an important addition to scholarship about Church and Empire that needs to be widely read by pastors and church leaders throughout America.

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