Fortress Press

Law and Theology: Classic Questions and Contemporary Perspectives

Law and Theology

Classic Questions and Contemporary Perspectives

David W. Opderbeck (Author)


  • In stock

Law and Theology offers the definitive account of the relationship between law and theology in the Christian tradition. Drawing on diverse biblical texts and classic authors from the early church to contemporary voices from the modern period, David W. Opderbeck examines key legal questions and controversial case studies from an interdisciplinary perspective, breaking new ground for legal scholars and theologians alike. As a law professor, practicing attorney, and theologian, Opderbeck writes as an insider from both disciplines. This unique look brings fresh insight for both fields in a context where questions of theology and law are especially relevant--and increasingly urgent. Going beyond the culture wars, Opderbeck brings these real-world cases to life, examining the ins and outs of the most important legal questions facing American civic and religious life. Scholars and students of law and theology will find this book to be required reading in and outside the legal and theological classrooms.

  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781506434322
  • eBook ISBN 9781506434339
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 250
  • Publication Date November 5, 2019


An authoritative and accessible tour of natural law and positive law.

“This volume offers an authoritative and accessible tour of natural law and positive law from the garden of Eden to the latest machinations of the United States Supreme Court. David W. Opderbeck brings both theological discernment and legal acumen to bear on the weightier matters of the law, on the quotidian questions of legal practice, and on the current cultural battles over sexual liberty and religious liberty. Judicious, candid, briskly paced, and cogently argued, this book deserves a wide readership.”

John Witte Jr. | Emory University

The standard by which all other attempts to address law theologically will be judged.

“I know of no other book like this. Opderbeck develops a constructive theology of law that draws upon his deep knowledge of theology and the theory and practice of law. He offers substantive reflection on God’s being and attributes, superbly navigating the various controversies such reflection brings, for the purpose of constructing a theology of law that makes a significant contribution to moral and political theology. The breadth of knowledge is impressive. The masterful attempt to reconcile Christianity’s nonviolent ethics with law is a joy to observe. But this is only the first part of this splendid work. The second applies his theology of law in the US context, showing its relevance to the pharmaceutical industry, the lingering effects of slavery and racism, and much more. Opderbeck has set the standard by which all other attempts to address law theologically will be judged.”

D. Stephen Long | Southern Methodist University

Opderbeck is a wise and expert guide.

“Simultaneously lawyer, theologian, and law professor, David W. Opderbeck is a wise and expert guide into the fascinating nexus of theology and law. From Genesis to Revelation, Clement to Cone, natural law to positive law, Brown v. Board of Education to the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, usury to pharmaceutical product regulation, theory to praxis, Opderbeck covers immense ground and convincingly demonstrates along the way that a proper understanding of God’s mission can (and ought to) guide everything from how one lives and votes to how one litigates—even if one should—and why. The end is a vision of Christian life amid theology, law, and mission that is marked by patience and hope.”

Brent A. Strawn | Emory University

Opderbeck provides fresh insight into perennial questions.

“Any number of lawyer jokes suggest that lawyers need ethics or, indeed, the fear of God. David W. Opderbeck demonstrates, however, that Christian ethicists could use a lawyer too—not to litigate or defend them but to sharpen their own concepts and guide their work. In Law and Theology, Opderbeck brings his training in both fields together in a book that manages to be both broad and detailed yet always readable and perspicacious. By placing his treatment of natural law, positive law, and their distinction in the context of the biblical narrative and Christian intellectual tradition, Opderbeck provides fresh insight into perennial questions such as the relationship of church and state or the complications of Christian vocation in the world, while also addressing hot-button contemporary issues frankly and discerningly. His book promises to help many a reader hold out for sanity amid the rhetorical ravages of our theological polarization and culture wars.”

Gerald W. Schlabach | University of St. Thomas

An extraordinary tour de force.

“In this extraordinary tour de force, David W. Opderbeck tackles some of the most difficult questions at the heart of the interdisciplinary dialogue between theology and law. His nuanced and thoughtful discussion of classical theological sources and history illuminates the metaphysical foundations of debates about the most contested legal issues of our time. His extended argument for recognizing a more modest and limited role for positive law is a welcome salve for a body politic suffering from heated legal and cultural polarization.”

Amy Uelmen | Georgetown University Law Center

A fine choice for seminars on law and religion.

“David W. Opderbeck has given us a fascinating theology of law. His work is rooted in a sophisticated narrative approach to ancient scriptural texts and extends to the most pressing church-state issues of our time: controversies surrounding LGBTQ and abortion rights. Important for specialists, this book is also a fine choice for seminars on law and religion at both the graduate and undergraduate level.”

Cathleen Kaveny | Boston College

Calling out real distortions in political thought and action.

“With crystal clear text and an engaging style, David W. Opderbeck presents the entire history of Christian theology and law in very accessible ways without omitting its nuance and complexity. He addresses numerous current issues and ventures well beyond the familiar culture-war debates to present fresh topics for consideration. The book respects the enormous variety of theology and practice among Christians while at the same time calling out real distortions in political thought and action.”

Angela Carmella | Seton Hall University School of Law

David W. Opderbeck shows positivism’s limits and pragmatism’s shortcomings.

“David W. Opderbeck shows positivism’s limits and pragmatism’s shortcomings, not through a circle-the-wagons effort to thwart the premises of modern law, but by reclaiming premodern sources of Christian wisdom in an effort to delve more deeply into those premises. He pulls forward insights from Scripture and the Christian intellectual tradition, crafting a helpful lens through which to view some of our most deeply contested legal issues. Whether or not one agrees with all of his conclusions, the accessibility and relevance of his analysis underscores the importance of theology to legal discourse.”

Robert K. Vischer | University of St. Thomas School of Law

A full-orbed discussion of law in the Christian tradition.

“As a young professor, I remember hearing a Hebrew Bible professor discuss the laws of Israel as a constitution, concluding that thus the laws were not unlike contemporary laws. Since then, I have always tried to keep that larger constitutional perspective in reading what the Bible says about law as covenant obligation for Israel. However, few books have crossed my desk that seriously took up the discussion of how the Bible’s law emerges into or relates to contemporary law—natural, positive—and how Christians relate to laws of the land. David W. Opderbeck offers to Bible professors as well as to pastors and serious readers a full-orbed discussion of law in the Christian tradition. This book will generate much light and many discussions.”

Scot McKnight | Northern Seminary

Opderbeck calls on Christians to provide a faithful biblical witness.

“At a time when Christians seem uncertain which way to turn in legal and political culture, when neither of the major US political parties is a comfortable home for most Christians, Opderbeck finds substantial wisdom in the biblical narrative and in Christian history. He neither sounds the call to reign or to retreat that are popular among many Christians today, but calls on Christians to provide a faithful biblical witness. Not every Christian will agree with all of his conclusions, but he identifies the important issues facing Christians today and provides thoughtful analysis from both Scripture and church history. Opderbeck’s treatment of pre-Constantine Christian thinkers is fresh and may be of special help to Christians around the world who find themselves in a similar situation—facing marginalization, persecution, and even violence.”

Robert F. Cochran, Jr. | Pepperdine University School of Law

A learned guide for navigating the culture wars.

"David Operbeck has written a learned guide for navigating the culture wars. He uses scripture, the Christian intellectual tradition, and legal history to challenge the church to be faithful witnesses amid troubled times."

John Fea | Messiah College