That Holy Anarchist

August 2, 2012Mark Van Steenwyk

Post image for That Holy Anarchist

I recently self published a book, That Holy Anarchist, based upon my recent series on Christian Anarchism (which, in turn, grew out of the primer Sarah Lynne and I shared at the Jesus Radicals conference in 2011. Because I’m one of the editors of Jesus Radicals (and because the book is self-published), we’re not running a review of the book. Reviews are beginning to pop up online; just search “that holy anarchist” and you may find some of them.

There are a number of books out that explore the intersection of Christianity and anarchism. All of them, as far as I can tell, were written by white men. I haven’t challenged that trend, unfortunately. In addition, most of the existing books are either academic, expensive, dense, or written for a context long passed. Nevertheless, everyone interested in exploring the anarchic implications of the way of Jesus should read them:

The Kingdom of God is Within You by Leo Tolstoy
Anarchy and Christianity by Jacues Ellul
Christian Anarchy by Vernard Eller
Christian Anarchism by Alexandre Christoyannopoulos
Anarchy and Apocalypse by Ronald Osborn
Dalit Theology and Christian Anarchism by Keith Hebden
Living on Hope While Living in Babylon by Tripp York

Of course there are other books with hugely anarchic implications that aren’t explicitly an exploration of Christianity and anarchism. I suspect that, for the most part, such books are more helpful for anarchistic Christians anyhow–anarchy is found in action. Anarchism is something we do, not a position we hold. The writings of Dorothy Day, John Howard Yoder, Dorothy Soelle, and William Stringfellow have been my primary instruction in the way of anarchism, even if none of these writers (besides Day) thought of themselves as anarchist. And don’t forget the great works of liberation; those writers of Latin American liberation, Black liberation, Feminist liberation, Womanist liberation, etc. show us that the oppressions that we must name and resist go beyond simply the “state.”

Our struggle isn’t against “the state,” it is against kyriarchy. As Elisabeth Schussler Fiorenza defines it, kyriarchy is ”a complex pyramidal system of intersecting multiplicative social structures of superordination and subordination, of ruling and oppression.” In other words, there are many intersecting structures of oppression; to focus on one is a mistake. Anarchism is traditionally focused on resisting the state. We, however, should name all those things that oppress and struggle against them in our shared liberation.

In a small way, this is what I’m hoping to do with the book. I attempt to trace what I call an “anarchic impulse” through scripture and our history and then suggest a way forward for us today that is not so much based upon a shared ideology, but shared practices. And these practices can be shared with all those who long for justice. Not just those who describe themselves and anarchist.

In the foreword, Ched Myers writes:

[That Holy Anarchist] emerges from a new generation of Christian dissenters who are properly disillusioned, but not despairing…I hope [its] overview of biblical “retribing politics,” modern anarchism, and the concluding proposal for “Christo-anarchism” will encourage and inspire younger activists (Christian, anarchist, or both) to move beyond sloganeering to a deeper, engaged conversation at this critical intersection of faith and politics.

My hope is that the book will do exactly that–to enter into an engaged conversation that takes us into new directions beyond the old impasses and lack of political imagination. My hope and prayer is that it will help spark creative expressions of the unkingdom of God in our midst.

Please read it and share it. And discuss it. Several study groups are beginning to pop up around North America. I have a modest amount of travel money at my disposal to come engage your group around the themes of the book–particularly the practical implications. If that interests you, contact me at markvans [at]

Currently, you can buy That Holy Anarchist at Barnes and Noble or Amazon (it is also becoming available elsewhere, so buy it local if you can).  It is also available for free as a pdf (though donations are always welcome). I’d appreciate your help getting it into local bookstores.

It isn’t copyrighted, so share it widely!

  • Canadarchist.

    Not copyrighted? A true anarchist – I love it.

    • FamiliaHumanitaria

      Lo quisiera en Español. A ver si podemos ayudar en la traducción.

  • R

    Mark, you mention donations are welcome. How do you want those donations to be made? To JR website or somewhere else. Thanks for your work.

    • markvans

      I’d prefer that donations go to Missio Dei (

  • DanO

    Hey Mark,

    I think I could probably gather together a decent sized group of folks interested in chatting with you in Southwestern Ontario if you’re interested in doing an international speaking circuit (plus it would give me a wonderful excuse to finally meet you). Let’s talk more via email.

    • markvans

      Sweet. I’ll be in touch, Dan.

  • Tommy Granger Estlund

    I just downloaded the pdf and forwarded it to my kindle. Thanks for getting it out there.

    • Mark Van Steenwyk

      You’re welcome; I hope you enjoy it!

  • Jakin-MM

    ¿Será traducido al castellano? Sería muy bueno poder difundirlo por España y Latinoamérica. Un saludo desde Andalucía.

    • markvans

      No se. I don’t know…though I think some folks are working on a translation.

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