Tripp York, 'Living on Hope While Living in Babylon: The Christian Anarchists of the 20th Century'

IssueDecember 2009 - January 2010
Review by Keith Hebden

Tripp York has tried to remove the academic discourse from his dusted-off master’s essay to turn it into a readable book. This means the book is now short enough to read in one sitting, but limits both the breadth of discovery and the ability to argue a point.

However, York’s definition of Christian anarchism is carefully explained and argued and as good as any one might read from Vernard Eller (a member of the Church of the Brethren and author of Christian Anarchy: Jesus’ Primacy Over the Powers (1987)) or Jacques Ellul (French resistance fighter and philosopher, and author of Anarchy and Christianity (1991)).

When he doesn’t over-edit the theory it is strong, and the stories York tells are sympathetic and engaging. Few Christians deal explicitly with the anarchist classics so it is refreshing to read York’s treatment of Proudhon’s theory of property in relation to the Catholic Worker movement. York consistently argues for the existence of a relationship between racism and the exploitative violence of the state.

Influenced by Stanley Hauerwas (named “America’s Best Theologian” by Time magazine in 2001), York aims to persuade the reader that rather than lobbying, protesting, or violently removing the state, that by living countercultural lives, we bring about the state’s opposite.

York upturns the idea that Christian anarchists are rebels, arguing that since the kingdom of this world is not normative, but God’s kingdom is, it is this world – the empire – that revolts and rebels against Christian anarchists who conform to the natural grain of the universe.

Although the book is subtitled “The Christian Anarchists of the Twentieth Century” it is not so exhaustive. York neither covers a comprehensive list of Christian anarchists nor is he limited by them. His comparison of Martin Luther King Jr’s and Malcolm X’s politics is helpful and clear, yet neither were Christian anarchists.

The story of the Koinonia Community (a lay Christian community with social and humanitarian projects in Kenya, Zambia and Sudan) is inspiring in part, but is mostly a story of successful free-market economics. Meanwhile Tolstoy, Ellul, and Eller barely get a mention.

Some of this book would be a helpful introduction to Christian anarchism and a few key personalities. Howev
er, because of its brevity, it might leave the reader more confused than enlightened.
If only Lutterworth Press had given York twice as many pages!

Topics: Anarchism, Religion
See more of: Review