Word as talisman – on the utopianism of the Jubilee Centre by James Williams

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“I have heard several people say, for example, that the work of the Jubilee Centre is ‘utopian’.”

In this enjoyably well-written paper, James Williams questions why people might use such a word and to what end. He looks at historical and recent views of ‘perfect societies’ and considers both the writers’ motivations and their solutions. Some considered that the answer was to create separate societies by withdrawing (such as the Anabaptists or the more recent Branch Davidians) or by seeking their vision in the New World. Others wished to reform existing but corrupt polities. Was Milton right, he asks, when he criticised such efforts as a distraction from real world social reform?

This paper compares broad political ideas where right criticises left for being utopian and vice versa. James Williams, as he highlights Karl Popper’s critique of Marxism, enjoys the irony that Marxism itself was prompted in response to what Marx and Engels described as ‘utopian socialism’.

So, is the work of Jubilee Centre ‘utopian’? James Williams reviews the practical outcomes of much of Jubilee Centre’s work (and that of its associated charities) and also what he calls the more theoretical publication output and observes:
“The reliance of the Jubilee Centre on modern applications of Old Testament Law is central to its whole endeavour…… [T]heir approach to the Law sees it as a paradigm, not a blueprint. This rules out the (‘utopian’?) extreme position of theonomists, or Reconstructionists, who wish to implement the Law as statute today. By looking at institutional norms and relationships within Israelite society the Jubilee Centre also avoids the (‘utopian’?) sole reliance on ‘Kingdom Ethics’ (beloved of the Christian Left) as a guide to the activity of unbelievers and secular governments.”

He continues:
“for [Jubilee Centre’s] mandate rests on their belief that the Bible does speak to the ordering of societies and that Christians should heed that and work to improve the flawed structures around them and to ameliorate the effects of sin.”

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Category: Reports and Articles

March, 2013

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