Christian Legal Theory

54 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2003


This paper is a review of a fine book of essays called Christian Perspectives on Legal Thought (Yale University Press 2001). The book points to an important gap between a society that includes tens of millions of people for whom Christianity defines reality, and a legal academic world where Christians are few, and most of those few are closeted.

That gap sounds large. Yet most of the essays in Christian Perspectives make it seem surprisingly small: By and large, the authors take moderate positions that would find substantial support in secular law reviews. They may be right: Christianity has less to say about law and legal thought than even its adherents might suppose, and much of what it does have to say is surprisingly conventional. But Christianity is also a deeply subversive faith, and it has some subversive implications for how we think about law. In this review, I focus on two such implications. The first goes to how our legal system treats the poor. The second bears on what may be the defining feature of contemporary American legal thought: its arrogance. Notice the implication that is not on this list: moralism, the view that immoral behavior ought to be legally prohibited. That view turns out to be thoroughly inconsistent with Christianity. It follows that injecting Christian perspectives into legal theory might actually make legal theory more tolerant not, as is widely feared, less so.

The review concludes by considering a different kind of Christian perspective: not how Christianity casts light on the law, but how the law might cast light on Christianity.

Suggested Citation

Stuntz, William J., Christian Legal Theory. Available at SSRN: or

William J. Stuntz (Contact Author)

Harvard Law School ( email )

1575 Massachusetts
Hauser 406
Cambridge, MA 02138
United States

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