2014: A Good Year for Baptist Theology

Book Review: Honey From the Lion by Doug Gay

1530373_10152172033911323_478623739_nDoug Gay, Honey from the Lion: Christianity and the Ethics of Nationalism (SCM, 2013)

With the deafening silence amongst Baptists on the question of Scottish independence, save the one lone voice of Stuart Blythe, crying out like a voice in the desert, that the church engage, Doug Gay's book is a welcome and timely contribution. Baptists please read!

Honey from the Lion is a work of political and practical theology. We need more of this type of work - that is theologically rigorous, but wanting to shape practice within church, academy and other political institutions. We need more of this type of work when big political questions are before us. Doug Gay's book is not an academic exercise, he genuinely cares about the decision before the Scottish peoples and wants especially Christians to think theologically about the choices before them.  

The book is written for a wide audience, but this is not a work in the 'popular' sense. Some effort will be needed as Gay engages with the multiple disciplines of history, bible, theology, contemporary politics and even some economics! 

The book argues for the possibility of a good nationalism against those who only have bad things to say about it (often amongst Christians). Before Scotland is the opportunity to shape a good nationalism, a nationalism that offers a society shaped by love and joy, freedom, justice and equality, and addresses issues of land and law and is both complex and peaceful (chapter 3). This kind of nationalism must renounce imperialism (a nationalism of domination), essentialism (a nationalism of biology) and absolutism (a nationalism that recognises it is under God). In a footnote, Gay says that his aim is 'not to suggest "baptizing" nationalism, but to ask what kind of nationalism, baptized people could support' (p.81n).

If the first half of the book sets out a theological account of 'better' nationalism, supported by an ecumenical political theology and the Christian idea of a society, the second half finds it focus in the Scottish question. Gay traces the history of Scotland from the beginnings of the United Kingdom to its present experience of devolution and then notes, as Scotland as held more power over its governing, what has worked well and not so well. The next chapter argues that now is the moment to 'call time' on the United Kingdom for four reasons: one, the persistent problem of England-dominating discourse; two, a political problem that English MPs dominate the UK parliament, and whilst devolution has reduced this democratic deficit, it still remains in particular areas and matters; three, a cultural problem that Scottish culture has been marginalised; and four, the problem of economics, in this most hotly contest of areas, Gay suggests that an economically independent Scotland, may not be a richer one, but could well be a more equal one. The final two chapters before the conclusion, see Gay's argument for what an independent Scotland might look like and the place of the monarchy and perhaps more importantly that of the church within a new Scottish constitution.

Gay makes a persuasive argument that independence may be the best thing for both Scotland and for what will be the rest of the United Kingdom. Scottish independence could pave the way for a renewal of politics. However we may feel or vote (if we're Scottish) on the question of independence, Doug Gay has provided a helpful book for the Christian to reflect theologically on how the church might engage with these issues and play a part what the decision may be. At the very least, Gay's book argues that the church cannot remain silent and must be involved, offering a distinctive Christian idea of society, albeit one with a post-Christendom voice.

I hope Gay's book is widely read by many, not least, Scottish (and may be even some English [and Welsh and Northern Irish]) Baptists. 


Craig Gardiner

Welsh Baptists might be reading it too ... although certainly one of them isn't phoning his Scottish family and friends telling them what to do ... sorry Mr Cameron.


Thanks for this review Andy. My copy of Doug's book arrived this week, and your review urges me to read it sooner rather than later. Cheers.

Doug Gay

Thanks for the generous and thoughtful review Andy - you may want to tweak the third renunciation as a non-idolatrous post Barmen nationalism under God is what I am advocating not renouncing! Very much looking forward to further conversations and dialogue around these themes.

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