07 March 2005

Rogers' critique: a response

As promised, here is my response to James R. Rogers' brief review of my book. Three of his points would appear to call for some reply, which I shall try to keep as brief as the review itself.

First, liberalism is too diverse a phenomenon to be placed in what might be called a single worldview category, particularly one tarred with the label of idolatry.

To be sure, not every use of the adjective liberal necessarily implies an adherence to liberalism as an ideology. Even amongst ideological liberals, there can be no doubt that adherents claim to believe different things, especially with respect to practical policies. It is also true, finally, that real flesh and blood persons tend to mix and match from among the different ideologies somewhat eclectically. Yet for analytical purposes there is something to be said for treating ideologies in their "pure" forms. If I were writing the book again, I might emphasize the narrative structure of the worldviews underlying the ideologies, much as I did in my recent posts on John Locke's political philosophy. Such an approach might better illustrate the hazards of philosophical (and ultimately spiritual) eclecticism with respect to the ideologies.

There is much more that I could say on this point, of course, but I suspect that Rogers is simply averse to the notion that liberalism, which many Americans are inclined to identify indiscriminately with freedom per se, has deeper spiritual underpinnings and an internal logic which tends to move it in the direction of the leviathan state. But without a more detailed critique, I cannot say for certain whether this is the case.

Second, there is too little of Jesus Christ in my treatment.

My suspicion is that Rogers has been influenced in some fashion by Karl Barth. Barth was famously averse to the idea of a normative creation order and preferred to filter ethics -- and politics as well -- through christology. I did not see fit to spend a lot of time in a book about politics interacting with the great Swiss theologian, but as I was reading the relevant sections of his massive Church Dogmatics several years ago it struck me that Barth's ethics presupposed a normative understanding of creation even as he denied it. One could simply not come to the conclusions Barth came to on the basis of christology alone. Moreover, an emphasis on redemption without a solid grounding in creational limits and possibilities is likely to lead in an antinomian direction.

At the same time, although I am far from being a Barthian, my focus on the central biblical narrative of creation, fall and redemption in chapter 7 can only be understood within the context of the saving work of Jesus Christ. It is possible that Rogers' objection is not so much to a supposed lack of reference to Jesus Christ as to the notion that redemption in Jesus Christ is cosmic in scope and has concrete creational implications. But again I can only guess at this based on such brief comments.

Third, I have failed to flesh out the practical implications of my proposed christian democratic approach.

Although my initial instinct is to be charitable even to a critic, this third point is difficult to take seriously and would appear to come from either a fairly young scholar or someone in a more practically-oriented field or subfield. It is scarcely newsworthy that every book works within limits. The lack of a detailed legislative agenda flowing out of my proposed christian democratic approach simply means that the book represents an effort to lay theoretical foundations, which others may then proceed to flesh out. An author can hardly be faulted for not writing the book the reviewer wishes he had written.

However, as a matter of fact, much of this fleshing out has already been done and is currently being done by others, as Rogers himself could easily have discovered with a little more effort on his part. He would have done well to read some of the works listed in my bibliography to see how others in the neocalvinst tradition have drawn out policy implications. He might also have perused the website of the Center for Public Justice, whose on-going work my book is intended to support. Political Visions and Illusions was never intended to stand alone; it is rather part of a particular christian tradition of theory and practice. It is thus designed to complement the work of a number of people and organizations standing within this tradition.

More could be said, I suppose, but I think this is probably sufficient for now.

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