When asked in different contexts what my position is in relation to Christianity, I say that I identify as a Christian communist. Perhaps this is a confession, perhaps not, but it is an indelible part of the tradition that has shaped me. Often my answer to the question is invoked when I am with people who would subscribe to the adage: Christianity is Christianity and communism is communism and never the twain shall meet. Thus, Christian communism is impossible, they think, an oxymoron. The discussions that ensue are lively and intriguing. This book is in many respects an effort at explaining this position, in light of some two millennia of a complex tradition of Christian communism. The study is a less a history per se than a series of case studies, some more theoretical and others more historical, but usually from an unexpected angle. More of that in what follows.
The idea for the book was first suggested many years ago by Dick Boer, who urged me to undertake a study of engagements with Marxism by Christian theologians. But that is a study only Dick could undertake. This book may be seen as my own response to Dick’s urging, keeping this form of communism at the centre, even if I approach the topic from a number of angles. Indeed, Dick and I have followed a path first taken by none other than Friedrich Engels and Kim Il Sung, from Reformed theology to communism, although neither of us would claim anywhere near the same stature as our forebears, nor indeed the need to give up one tradition for the sake of the other.
Others too have been witting and unwitting contributors. Given that the initial ideas were developed in a number of different contexts – although nearly all of it has either been rewritten or indeed written anew – I would like to thank Dick Horsley, Neil Elliott, Janelle Watson, Agon Hamza, Marion Maddox, Geoff Boucher, Matt Sharpe, Li Yazhi, Sun Xiuli, Yu Min, Lu Shaochen, Zhang Jing, Zang Fengyu, Zhang Shuangli, Zhu Yanming and Zhu Caihong – to name but a few. I also appreciate deeply the careful and detailed work of Warren Goldstein, one of the best editors on the planet and one of the most insightful. Each person has in their own way made suggestions, challenged me and encouraged me to develop my thoughts further. In all this, Christina Petterson and I continue our common project, to whatever unexpected part of the world it might take us.