The Bible is both the most conservative and the most subversive of books. Throughout the centuries, it has been repeatedly cited both to prop up the established regime and to proclaim a totally different, rival source of authority – the individual conscience rather than the dictates of the state. As Nick Spencer shows in this engaging and stimulating new book, it has provided texts for the divine right of kings and Milton’s democratic republicanism, for Malthusian political economy and the egalitarianism of the Chartists. Spencer’s argument pivots on the rival claims of freedom and order. In practice, it would seem, the political uses of biblical precepts mean that anything goes.
Spencer, based in the theological think-tank Theos, aims to reduce all this to coherence with an extended historical analysis of the influence of the Bible in English (rather than British) political history. He succeeds in doing so. His tone is moderate and non-dogmatic, unlike that of most of