Saturday, July 28, 2007

Book Review *Evangelicals in the Public Square*

Budziszewski, J. Evangelicals in the Public Square. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006. 218 pp.

Evangelicals have come out of political hiding. Whatever faults they may have, they have captured the minds and hearts of the majority of American Christians. Despite some shallow appeals to political action—for instance, the less promising elements of the Moral Majority—Evangelicals were forced to draw upon older intellectual streams, notably those of the Reformers. It is Budziszewski’s contention that for all the good Evangelicals have done in politics, they have harmed themselves by failing to draw from the natural law tradition (37). Budziszewski outlines four major thinkers as representative of the Evangelical political tradition: Carl F. Henry, Abraham Kuyper, Francis Schaeffer, and John Howard Yoder.

Budziszewski’s Analysis

Budziszewski launches into a 100 page essay dealing with the pros and cons of the Evangelical political tradition. He begins with Carl F. Henry. Henry’s notable achievement was sounding the trumpet for Evangelical engagement with his The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, uneasy because it had no voice to say to the world. Henry was quick to point out that the biblical message involves both personal regeneration and social transformation. Budziszewski, however, critiques Henry on the grounds that Henry’s system, while allowing for the possibility of general revelation, in practice denied it. With this downplaying of general revelation comes a denial of natural law. And if natural law is denied, on what grounds will Henry engage the secular man? Budziszewski objects that Henry’s call for Evangelical action amounts to little more than “evangelize.” Henry could appeal to the “shared conscience” but in the next breath said that conscience applied only to the regenerate (53-54).

Budziszewski then turns to Abraham Kuyper. Kuyper’s most notable concept—sphere sovereignty—led him to posit a “principled pluralism.” Kuyper argued that human reality is divided into God-ordained spheres: family, school, church, state. No one sphere has dominance and authority over the other. This is to protect the liberty and freedom of conscience of those within the spheres. So far, so good. Budziszewski, however, gives a telling critique of this move. Kuyper posits two principles concerning man’s relation to the state. 1) No citizen may be compelled to remain in a church he considers mistaken and 2) different churches must be granted legal standing (67). If Kuyper is speaking of “churches,” the point is granted. But if Kuyper is speaking of “religion,” then we must demur. After all, on what grounds would we prohibit Satanists from practicing their religion?

Next we move to Francis Schaeffer, with whom most Evangelicals will identify. It is hard to critique Schaeffer, given the man’s love for the lost and for culture. Budziszewski focuses much of his critique on Schaeffer’s political ethic expressed in A Christian Manifesto. Here Schaeffer, following Samuel Rutherford, argues that when Caesar goes beyond his authority Christians are to, in increasing levels of intensity and in this order: 1) protest in the public square, 2) flee to different lands, and finally 3) resist by armed force led by the lesser civil magistrate. Budziszewski critiques this along the lines that it presupposes a Constitutional government found in Western countries. Furthermore, given the American context, if Congress has refused to impeach the Supreme Court by legal means, what guarantees they will do so by armed means?

Finally, Budziszewski dialogues with John Howard Yoder, the Anabaptist theologian. Yoder argues for a church-centered political theory. Budziszewski is most critical here. Yoder doesn’t seem to answer the question of Romans 13, given his commitment to pacifism. Yoder wants to posit a good creation with good structures (as he should), but given Romans 13 and the fact that God commanded wars in the Old Testament, how can one then critique Just War Theory and the use of the sword? This is Budziszewski’s best analysis.

After this essay follows four rejoinders by four scholars. In my opinion, William Edgar of Westminster Seminary had the best essay (“Francis Schaeffer and the Public Square”). I do not think that Schaeffer had the strongest political ethic, but Edgar’s response is most enlightening. In short, he agrees with Budziszewski’s construction of Schaeffer. He defends Schaeffer on resistance saying that we need a vague resistance ethic, since not all cases are clear-cut. While this may appear to dodge the issue, it is actually wisdom. Edgar then focuses on Budziszewski’s contention that Evangelicals, particularly presuppositionalists, have downplayed natural law and general revelation. Edgar, a student of Cornelius Van Til, says this is the bedrock of the presuppositional apologetic. We can appeal to general revelation and the unbeliever’s use of it because we maintain that the unbeliever can only interpret it rightly through “the lens of Scripture.” Furthermore, general revelation doesn’t deliver what its advocates promise. Unbelievers distort the truth, not just special revelation (185).

Pros and Cons

This book, like most of Budziszewski’s work, was well-written and to the point. Budziszewski skillfully exploits holes in arguments. He has done us the favor of pointing out our weaknesses where we would miss them. He shows how we often take general revelation for granted. However, this does not necessarily conclude a natural law, as Edgar has pointed out. Sure, one can appropriate truths from general revelation. I think the problem, and Budziszewski implies this, is that Evangelicals have posited and either-or position on Scripture and natural law. Will this book convince you of natural law? No. Does it make a good case for natural law? While that is not the point of the book, it can encourage Evangelicals to see for themselves whether the same truths are found in general revelation that are found in special revelation.

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