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The Gospel and Public Life: Get the Audio of a Conversation with Oliver O'Donovan

October 21st, 2013 | 3 min read

By Matthew Lee Anderson

I'm grateful that Ken Myers has posted the audio of the conversation we had two weeks ago in Washington D.C. with Oliver O'Donovan.  You need to register with Ken's site to get it, which is free and not burdensome, but you should register for his site and sign up for his email newsletter anyway. And while I'm at it, you really should consider some of the offerings at Christian's Library Press, one of the evening's other sponsors, for reasons I'll explain below.

O'Donovan event--FinalAs to the event itself, it's hard to consider it anything other than a considerable success, thanks in large part to the volunteer work of Chuck Colson and the good folks of RenewDC.  We had an overly full room, which was encouraging.  If you were there and didn't get a seat, I am sorry.  It was  difficult to know how many people would turn out for this sort of thing, as O'Donovan's not exactly a household name, nor are Ken and I.  I suspect we were aided considerably by the government shutdown, as life in DC was definitely a good deal less busy than normal.

I left the evening, though, awed by not simply the depth of Professor O'Donovan's wisdom but by how thoroughly Christian he is in his thinking.  Walter Hooper has famously described C.S. Lewis as the most "thoroughly converted man" he knows.  That phrase kept coming to mind as I listened to O'Donovan.  Even while wandering down forgotten halls and exploring overlooked crannies, it seemed as though we were never more than a step away from speaking of Christ's death and resurrection.  He has a mind that is saturated by Scripture; it pervades his way of speaking and of thinking, yet without sounding cliched or reductionist.

It is no shame, I think, to say that I have never felt my words to be so weightless, so insubstantial and empty as when they were juxtaposed with Professor O'Donovan's.  The only stance that fit was one of inquiry, as whatever substance I had to offer simply wouldn't rate next to his.  You might say that the whole thing induced a genuine crisis of confidence in me--but it is a crisis of the best sort, a crisis that moves me to want to return to forgotten books and rediscover hidden treasures, that I might too someday have a thing worth saying in this world.

And so, Christian's Library Press.  These are the sorts of offerings that we need familiarity with, besides a deeper intimacy with the rhythms and logic of Scripture:  Abraham Kuyper, Johannes Althusius, Herman Bavink.  Or if we are not Reformed, the equivalents in the Wesleyan tradition.  Or other books by the dead, whose voices linger on in pages that are only rarely read.  If we wish to go beyond the shallows, we must at some point do the hard, slow, plodding reading of books from eras that do not fit our own.

But start by listening to the conversation with Professor O'Donovan.  He has all the marks of real wisdom in a world where counterfeits claim all the attention.

Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is an Associate Professor of Ethics and Theology in Baylor University's Honors College. He has a D.Phil. in Christian Ethics from Oxford University, and is a Perpetual Member of Biola University's Torrey Honors College. In 2005, he founded Mere Orthodoxy.