Politics After Christendom
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Politics After Christendom reflects on the status and responsibilities of Christians in their contemporary pluralistic political communities, presenting a biblical-theological model of political engagement and exploring themes such as race, religious liberty, justice, authority, and civil resistance.
For more than a millennium, beginning in the early Middle Ages, most Western Christians lived in societies that sought to be comprehensively Christian–ecclesiastically, economically, legally, and politically. That is to say, most Western Christians lived in Christendom. But in a gradual process beginning a few hundred years ago, Christendom weakened and finally crumbled. Today, most Christians in the world live in pluralistic political communities. And Christians themselves have very different opinions about what to make of the demise of Christendom and how to understand their status and responsibilities in a post-Christendom world.
Politics After Christendom argues that Scripture leaves Christians well-equipped for living in a world such as this. Scripture gives no indication that Christians should strive to establish some version of Christendom. Instead, it prepares them to live in societies that are indifferent or hostile to Christianity, societies in which believers must live faithful lives as sojourners and exiles. Politics After Christendom explains what Scripture teaches about political community and about Christians’ responsibilities within their own communities.
As it pursues this task, Politics After Christendom makes use of several important theological ideas that Christian thinkers have developed over the centuries. These ideas include Augustine’s Two-Cities concept, the Reformation Two-Kingdoms category, natural law, and a theology of the biblical covenants. Politics After Christendom brings these ideas together in a distinctive way to present a model for Christian political engagement. In doing so, it interacts with many important thinkers, including older theologians (e.g., Augustine, Aquinas, and Calvin), recent secular political theorists (e.g., Rawls, Hayek, and Dworkin), contemporary political-theologians (e.g., Hauerwas, O’Donovan, and Wolterstorff), and contemporary Christian cultural commentators (e.g., MacIntyre, Hunter, and Dreher).
Part 1 presents a political theology through a careful study of the biblical story, giving special attention to the covenants God has established with his creation and how these covenants inform a proper view of political community. Part 1 argues that civil governments are legitimate but penultimate, and common but not neutral. It concludes that Christians should understand themselves as sojourners and exiles in their political communities. They ought to pursue justice, peace, and excellence in these communities, but remember that these communities are temporary and thus not confuse them with the everlasting kingdom of the Lord Jesus Christ. Christians’ ultimate citizenship is in this new-creation kingdom.
Part 2 reflects on how the political theology developed in Part 1 provides Christians with a framework for thinking about perennial issues of political and legal theory. Part 2 does not set out a detailed public policy or promote a particular political ideology. Rather, it suggests how Christians might think about important social issues in a wise and theologically sound way, so that they might be better equipped to respond well to the specific controversies they face today. These issues include race, religious liberty, family, economics, justice, rights, authority, and civil resistance. After considering these matters, Part 2 concludes by reflecting on the classical liberal and conservative traditions, as well as recent challenges to them by nationalist and progressivist movements.
This volume is a brilliant capstone to David VanDrunen’s project on Reformed political and legal teachings. It again features probing exegesis of biblical teachings and their reception history; creative retrieval and recon-struction of natural law theories, Two Kingdoms ontologies, and covenantal theology; and a bracing engagement with enduring questions of authority and liberty, justice and mercy, custom and community, rights and resistance. This volume and its prequels have earned VanDrunen a place high on the honor roll of law and religion scholarship and of Reformed political theology.–JOHN WITTE JR., director of the Center for the Study of Law and Religion, Emory University
Idolatry leaves us empty, and politics is no exception. Christians have good reason to be discouraged: we’ve placed too much hope in the powers of this world, and we have neglected love of neighbor and maintenance of peace as two of the primary goals of politics. Into this muddled context, David VanDrunen presents a timely and compelling theological vision for political community. Appealing to Scripture and acknowledging a crucial role for prudence and good judgment, VanDrunen outlines a much-needed path forward for Christian conviction and integrity in political life.–BEN SASSE, United States senator from Nebraska
In Politics after Christendom, David VanDrunen develops a political theology worthy of his most august predecessors in the Two Kingdoms tradition in Reformed theology. VanDrunen’s great innovation is to place the insights of this tradition into the context of God’s covenant with Noah. After making his case for a Noahic perspective, VanDrunen applies it to a wide range of political concerns, including justice and rights, religious freedom, the role of the family, and authority and resistance. Beautifully and clearly written, Politics after Christendom will be a touchstone even for those of us who are not fully persuaded by the Two Kingdoms perspective.–DAVID SKEEL, S. Samuel Arsht Professor of Corporate Law, University of Pennsylvania Carey Law School
In this pioneering and provocative work, David VanDrunen brings to impressive completion his longstanding project of retrieving neglected themes in classic Reformed political theology–‘natural law,’ ‘Two Kingdoms,’ and the ‘Noahic covenant’–and deploying them for our pluralistic ‘post-Christendom’ context. It is the most substantial biblical and theological case for what the author calls a ‘conservative liberalism’ to have appeared in many years, and future debates about Reformed political theology will not be able to bypass it. Even those unpersuaded by some of the book’s core theological and political judgments will be enriched by the author’s erudition and argumentative vigour and in turn challenged to come up better arguments for their own positions.–JONATHAN CHAPLIN, independent researcher and writer, member of Cambridge University Divinity Faculty
Two problems bedevil nearly every Christian political theology, whether you encounter it in an academic’s tome or a nonacademic’s water-cooler opinions. First, Christians too often begin with ideological or partisan foundations. Second, they build on those foundations with a favorite biblical prooftext, often one meant for ancient Israel or the church but wrongly applied to nation-states and their governments. Therefore, it’s difficult to overstate the importance of building our political theology on the whole Bible’s covenantal structure, with specific attention given to the Noahic covenant. Whether you count yourself a Two Kingdoms theologian or not (I don’t), every political theologian needs to follow VanDrunen precisely here. To put it simply, I believe that VanDrunen’s emphasis on the Noahic covenant is the way forward for Christian political theology. Other books offer helpful emphases or counterpoints, but Politics after Christendom offers the starting point for anyone who wants to lay a foundation on the Bible. It just moved into pole position for my top recommendation in the field.–JONATHAN LEEMAN, author of Political Church and How the Nations Rage
At last, a biblically grounded, credible alternative to the eschatology-driven messianisms that have dominated political theology for a very long time. Taking his cue from the Noahic covenant, VanDrunen builds a political vision that is universal and pluralist, legitimating a common, provisional polity in which families can be a blessing and commerce can thrive.
VanDrunen engages the significant thinkers from Augustine to Yoder, but his treatment is far more than theoretical; it is concrete, practical, and contemporary–a political theology for the fallen world as it really is rather than for the world the philosophers wish it to be. This clear and thoughtful work is a game changer.
–JOHN BOLT, Jean and Kenneth Baker Professor of Systematic Theology emeritus, Calvin Theological Seminary
Few people are experts on Scripture, Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, or Calvin. David VanDrunen is an expert on all five. His wisdom is on full display in Politics after Christendom: Political Theology in a Fractured World. In the current challenging cultural moment for Christians, he gives a thoughtful argument for a Two Kingdoms/Two Covenants approach. It deserves careful consideration alongside the Benedict/separatist and conversionist options of recent years. VanDrunen’s treatment of the Noahic covenant as the key to understanding a Christian’s (and everyone’s) relationship with the state is unique, thoughtful, and challenging.–ROBERT F. COCHRAN JR., Louis D. Brandeis Professor of Law at Pepperdine University, coeditor, Agape, Justice, and Law
Politics after Christendom is an extraordinary achievement, one that will be a defining work of political theology for a generation. David VanDrunen’s analysis of the Noahic covenant, its application to contemporary society, and its perennial dilemmas concerning rights, justice, pluralism, and religious liberty demonstrates that Protestant Christians understand that these issues are not unique to liberal democracy but pertain to the order of creation. Advocating for a broad framework rather than rigid prescriptions for society, VanDrunen argues lucidly that society is constrained by a politics of creation that every political community, regardless of geography or culture, finds itself living within. Politics after Christendom helps explain and resolve the intractable disputes of human societies. The exhausted trope that Protestants lack a clear, coherent, compelling, and translatable political theology can be put to rest with the publication of this volume.–ANDREW T. WALKER, associate professor of Christian ethics, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, executive director, Carl F. H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement