O'Donovan held the post of Professor of Christian Ethics and Practical Theology at the School of Divinity, New College, Edinburgh, (2006-2013) and was an associate director of the Centre for Theology and Public Issues. Previously O'Donovan was Regius Professor of Moral and Pastoral Theology and Canon of Christ Church at the University of Oxford (1982–2006). Before that he taught at Wycliffe Hall, Oxford (1972–77) and at Wycliffe College, Toronto (1977–82). His doctoral thesis on the problem of self-love in St Augustine was completed under both Henry Chadwick at Oxford and Paul Ramsey at Princeton. He is a past President of the Society for the Study of Christian Ethics.
In 2001 he delivered the Stob Lectures at Calvin Theological Seminary, in 2007 he delivered the New College Lectures at New College, University of New South Wales, and in 2008 he delivered a lecture at Princeton Theological Seminary upon receiving the Abraham Kuyper Prize for Excellence in Reformed Theology and Public Life.
O'Donovan is an ordained priest of the Church of England, and has been active in ecumenical dialogue as well as serving on the General Synod. He has been a Fellow of the British Academy since 2000 and a Fellow of the Royal Society of Edinburgh since 2009. He has held distinguished visiting lectureships in the Universities of Durham and Cambridge, the Gregorian University in Rome, McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario, St. Patricks College, Maynooth, the University of Hong Kong, and Fuller Theological Seminary, Pasadena, California.
In 1978 he married Joan Lockwood O'Donovan. They have jointly authored two books on the history of Christian political thought, and have two sons, Matthew and Paul.
Resurrection and Moral Order (1986) This work provides a first attempt to defend the objectivity of Christian moral claims from the challenge of 'anti-foundationalism' (pvii) which O'Donovan tends to refer to as 'historicism'. O'Donovan distinguishes himself from Alasdair MacIntyre by opposing neo-Aristotelian virtue ethics (p18) and by arguing that MacIntyre's adoption of a more historical perspective cannot avoid ethical relativism (p221-222). O'Donovan's alternative is to ground an ethic of obedience in a natural moral order. Importantly, however, a 'true understanding' of this moral order can only be achieved 'in Christ' (p14-15 and 89).
The Desire of the Nations (1996).
The Ways of Judgment (2008).
- Self, World, and Time: Volume 1: Ethics as Theology: An Induction (Eerdmans 2013) ISBN 0-8028-6921-1
- The Word in Small Boats: Sermons from Oxford (Eerdmans 2010) ISBN 0-8028-6453-8
- A Conversation Waiting to Begin: The Churches and the Gay Controversy (SCM 2009) ISBN 0-334-04210-0
- Church in crisis: The gay controversy and the Anglican Communion. (Eugene, Or: Cascade Books. 2008) ISBN 1556358970
- The Ways of Judgment (Eerdmans 2005) ISBN 0-8028-2920-1
- The Just War Revisited (CUP 2003) ISBN 0-5215-3899-8
- Common Objects of Love (Eerdmans 2002) ISBN 0-8028-6349-3
- The Desire of the Nations (CUP 1996) ISBN 0-521-66516-7
- New Dictionary of Christian Ethics & Pastoral Theology (co-edited) (IVP Academic, 1995) ISBN 0-8308-1408-6
- Peace and Certainty (Eerdmans 1989) ISBN 0-8028-0414-4
- Resurrection and Moral Order (IVP 1986, 2nd ed IVP/Eerdmans 1994) ISBN 0-8028-0692-9
- On the Thirty-Nine Articles (Paternoster 1986 and SCM 2011) ISBN 0-3340-4398-0
- Begotten or Made? (OUP 1984) ISBN 0-1982-6678-2
- Principles in the public realm: The dilemma of Christian moral witness. (Oxford 1984) [Oxfordshire: Clarendon Press.] ISBN 0-19-951539-5
- The Problem of Self-Love in Saint Augustine (Yale 1979) ISBN 0-300-02468-1
- Transsexualism and the Christian Marriage. (Bramcote: Grove Books. 1982) ISBN 0907536336
- Marriage and permanence. (Bramcote: Grove Books. 1978) ISBN 0905422473
- In pursuit of a Christian view of war. (Bramcote: Grove Books. 1977) ISBN 090542204X
- Measure for measure: Justice in punishment and the sentence of death. (Bramcote: Grove Books. 1977) ISBN 0905422228
- The Christian and the unborn child. (Bramcote, Notts: Grove Books. 1975) ISBN 1851740228
- From Irenaeus to Grotius: A Sourcebook in Christian Political Thought edited with Joan Lockwood O'Donovan (Eerdmans 1999) ISBN 0-8028-4209-7
Essays and Articles
- "Prayer and Morality in the Sermon on the Mount" Studies in Christian Ethics 22.1 (2009): 21–33.
- "Judgment, Tradition and Reason: A Response" Political Theology 9.3 (2008): 395–414. This is from a Special Issue of Political Theology on The Ways of Judgment.
- Bonds of Imperfection: Christian politics past and present, edited collection with Joan Lockwood O'Donovan (Eerdmans 2004) ISBN 0-8028-4975-X
- A Royal Priesthood? A dialogue with Oliver O'Donovan ed. Craig Batholomew et al. (Paternoster 2002). O'Donovan provides a short response to every paper in this edited collection.
- "Government as Judgment", First Things: A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life, April 1999, p.36(1)
- "How Can Theology Be Moral?" Journal of Religious Ethics 17, no. 2 (Fall 1989), 81–94.
- "The Natural Ethic" in Essays in Evangelical Social Ethics ed. David F. Wright (Paternoster, 1978) ISBN 0-85364-290-7
- Christian Moral Concepts
- Christian Social & Political Thought
- Contemporary Ethical Questions
- St. Augustine's Moral & Theological Thought
- "Edinburgh University Divinity School: Prof. Oliver O'Donovan". University of Edinburgh. Retrieved 27 February 2010.
- "Past Stob Lectures". Calvin Theological Seminary. Retrieved 14 October 2008.
- "New College Lectures". New College, Sydney. Retrieved 14 February 2010.
- "Awards and Prizes". Princeton Theological Seminary.
- "2 March 2009 Press Release". Royal Society of Edinburgh. Retrieved 14 February 2010.