Workshop 5A plurality

Prof. Dr. Ad de Bruijne – Neo-Calvinism and Neo-Anabaptism: Christian Public Ambitions at the Crossroads.

The present context of ‘Post-Christendom’ has evoked a revival of the genre ‘political theology’ in Western societies. Interestingly, not only theologians but also philosophers display a renewed interest in the transcendent nature of both political communities and political authority. Especially intriguing is the fact that some (non-religious) postmodern philosophers (Kahn) and some ‘Neo-Anabaptist’ political theologians concur with respect to their critical stances towards liberal democracy and a citizens’ participation in it.

This movement within contemporary political theology presents a challenge to the worldwide community of reformed and evangelical Christians. The ‘Neo-Anabaptist’ stance  (Hauerwas) meets growing sympathy among them. Of course, this challenge regards those sections of the reformed and evangelical worlds that have always been prepared to bear public responsibilities and to engage the political sphere. However, it also refers to those reformed and evangelical traditions that used to concentrate on spiritual life while keeping distance to the worldly domain. Today, the latter are increasingly changing their position. In Western societies, this is motivated by growing concerns about the diminishing influence of the Christian tradition, as well as by more holistic conceptions of the kingdom of God. In non-Western societies, missionary successes now result in Christians discovering unexpected possibilities to exert public influence and to even change society.

Both these Western and non-Western Christians increasingly seek inspiration from the Neo-Calvinist tradition, especially from Abraham Kuyper. This implies that many reformed and evangelical Christians now find themselves at the crossroads between their classic or newly found Neo-Calvinist sympathies and the present resurgence of political theology, especially as represented by the ‘Neo-Anabaptists’ and the challenge they present. Therefore, it would be important to continue and deepen the theological dialogue between both that some have already initiated.

This paper proceeds with this dialogue, arguing that especially Abraham Kuyper’s version of Neo-Calvinism sometimes comes close to ‘Neo-Anabaptism’, since he expresses surprisingly positive evaluations of traditional Anabaptist views while at the same time contemporary ‘Neo-Anabaptists’ express ambitions that come close to Kuyper’s version of Neo-Calvinism. When interpreted on their own account, and not from foreign schemes like Richard Niebuhr’s influential typology, ‘Neo-Anabaptists’ should not be judged as advocating a withdrawal from society, but, to the contrary, as aspiring to serve and influence society but in a different manner. In particular, Kuyper’s and Neo- Anabaptists’ concurring visions on God’s Kingdom and its relation to the present world deserve attention.

Through this dialogue, a more flexible version of Neo-Calvinist public theology can be developed, in which both the consequences of a Christian worldview and the resulting public ambitions and strategies will vary, depending on the diverse contexts in which contemporary world Christianity today finds itself.

Literature (besides Abraham Kuyper’s and Stanley Hauerwas’ oeuvres)

Paul Kahn, Political Theology: Four New Chapters on the Concept of Sovereignty, New York, 2012.

Elizabeth Phillips, Political theology: A guide for the perplexed, London, 2013.

Nicholas Wolterstorff, The Mighty and the Almighty, Cambridge, 2012.

James Davison Hunter, To Change the World, Oxford 2010.

Dorothea Bertschmann, Bowing before Christ – nodding to the state? Reading Paul politically with Oliver O’Donovan and John Howard Yoder, London, 2014.

Prof. Dr. Andreas J. Beck – Natural Theology and the Epistemic Status of Christian Beliefs in Pluralistic Societies

This paper contributes to the conference theme “Christianity and the Future of our Societies” by arguing that (1) the epistemic status of basic Christian beliefs can be significantly high, even in pluralistic societies, and that (2) natural theology, as understood within the context of fides quaerens intellectum, is helpful to strengthen this argument. Regarding the first point, I argue along the lines of Alvin Plantinga that basic theistic beliefs can be rationally justified, as he has shown in his earlier works, and that basic Christian beliefs can even have the epistemic status of knowledge, as he has shown in his Warrant-Trilogy where he developed an externalist epistemological approach which depends on the epistemic possibility of the so called (extended) Aquinas/Calvin (A/C) model (or a similar model). Moreover, Iargue that the plurality of religious convictions does not constitute a defeater for this approach.

Regarding the second point, I first try to show that neither the sensus divinitatis of the A/C model nor the noetic effects of sin exclude natural theology and that in fact the Reformed tradition did advance natural theology. In addition to the evidence provided by Michael Sudduth, I refer to Gisbertus Voetius who developed a particularly helpful model of natural theology which can be best understood within the context of fides quaerens intellectum. Second, I argue that the objections of  Andrew Moore to natural theology do not do justice to such a model. Third, I discuss the proposal of Ralf-Thomas Klein that Plantinga’s extended A/C model can be further extended by admitting arguments from natural theology. Following Klein, I argue that such an extension makes most sense if the A/C model is transformed to a framework in terms of (a version of) foundherentism, thereby taking into account that beliefs may receive warrant partly from other beliefs. To conclude, I evaluate in which sense the project of natural theology within the Christian context of fides quaerens intellectum might be of use for the future of our societies.

Key bibliographic sources

Klein, Ralf-Thomas. Können christliche Glaubensüberzeugungen Wissen sein? Der Beitrag Alvin Plantingas zur Bestimmung des epistemischen Status von christlichen Glaubensüberzeugungen.Forschungen zur systematischen und ökumenischen Theologie 136. Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012.

Moore, Andrew. “Should Christians do Natural Theology?” Scottish Journal of Theology 63, no. 2 (2010): 127–46.

Plantinga, Alvin. Warranted Christian Belief. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Ridder, Jeroen de. “Religious Exclusivism Unlimited.” Religious Studies 47, no. 4 (2011): 449–63.

Sudduth, Michael. The Reformed Objection to Natural Theology. Ashgate Philosophy of Religion Series. Farnham: Ashgate, 2009.

Prof. Dr. Bradley Green – “As Good as it Gets? The Benedict Option in Conversation with the Reformation”

As Christians discuss our role within our current cultural milieu, one recent option of note (at least in the United States) is the so-called “Benedict Option.”  Rod Dreher and other proponents of this “option” contend that Christians should think explicitly in terms of Christian faithfulness and that there appears to be the need for some sort of intentional separation from the larger, more dominant, culture—at least for a time.  Given that the dominant culture, at least in the US, appears to be increasing in its hostility toward traditional Christianity, some suggest it is perhaps time for Christians to walk away from the so-called “culture war.”  Dreher suggests that it may be necessary for Christians to become “Benedictines,” and to form separate, intentional Christian communities, and to concentrate on the passing on of the historic Christian faith.  In short, the Christians should concentrate on the preservation and transmission of the faith, and not—for the present—think in terms of engaging or transforming culture.  What happens after that, or in addition to that, is a separate question.

This paper suggests that something like the “Benedict Option” may have some value in our day.  At the same time, the conversation surrounding the “Benedict Option” is often discussed in terms which do not reap the insights of historic Protestant and Reformational insights.  Dreher himself has embraced Eastern Orthodoxy, and other key interlocutors tend to be Roman Catholic.  This paper suggests that (1) the best insights of the “Benedict Option” can be retained, and (2) the weaker and less fully-formed aspects of the “Benedict Option” can indeed be corrected and/or improved or strengthened, through attention to key Reformation insights.

In particular, the best of the Protestant and Reformed tradition could bring the following key insights to a more robust and fruitful understanding of, and critique of, the “Benedict Option”:

(1) First, rather than thinking of “culture” as something out there, there are instead numerous and overlapping cultures, of different sizes and forms: family, church, state, etc.  All of these cultures are legitimate, real, and good, and—in their own unique ways—are called to be and act in a proper relation to the God of Holy Scripture.

(2) Second, all law is rooted in certain convictions which are ultimately religious at their core.  Thus, Reformed thinking—at its best—has always understood that law cannot be neutral nor value-free.  Hence, all social orders will be—ultimately—religious at their core.

(3) Third, there is a key eschatological framework that is key: God is sovereignly ruling His world, and will indeed accomplish His purposes.  One acts faithfully in the present, one can plan and hope and work for what is good and right and just, and know that God in his sovereign rule will accomplish His purposes in His own timing.  One engages in varied cultural activities, realizing that one does not ultimately know God’s own timetable or plan.

Bibliography

Dreher, Rod. “Benedict Option.” In The American Conservative. December 12, 2013.

Hanby, Michael. “The Civic Project of American Christianity: How the Public Significance of Christianity is Changing.” In First Things (February 2015). (with responses from Rod Dreher and George Weigel in the same issue).

Leithart, Peter J. Defending Constantine: The Twilight of Empire and the Dawn of Christendom (Downers Grove, IL:  InterVarsity Press, 2010).

MacIntyre, Alasdair. After Virtue: A Study in Moral Theory, 3rd edition (South Bend, IN:  University of Notre Dame Press, 2007).

Dooyeweerd, Herman. In The Twilight of Western Culture (Grand Rapids, MI:  Paideia Press/Reformational Publishing Project, 2012).