Thoughts on Non-Western Liberalism
My friend Tracy Johnson passed along Paul Miller’s 2018 article “Non-‘Western’ Liberalism and the Resilience of the Liberal International Order”. Miller takes Donald Trump’s 2017 speech in Warsaw on the nature of liberalism’s relationship to Western civilization as his jumping off point. Miller argues that liberalism could have developed anywhere in the world, not just the West, and that the nature, origins, and failures of global liberalism and democracy demonstrate that liberalism does not need the civilizational features of the West (i.e., Christendom and its legacy) in order to flourish. It was a good read, and provoked a few thoughts from me. In no particular order,
1. Miller is working in the area of political science, not philosophy. Political science can be a helpful discipline (I did my undergraduate degree in it) to understand the quantifiable effects of policies, but it cannot determine whether policies are good. The good is a philosophical question; science, including political science, can only measure effects. But even the nature of the measuring rod used (e.g. the different ways Freedom House and the Center for Systemic Peace try to measure [quantify] freedom [qualitative]) is philosophically charged. Political science often makes the same mistake of the other sciences in thinking that the manner of measurement and the object being measured are objective and accessible, rather than subjective. This was one of the frequent critiques of Miller’s 2022 The Religion of American Greatness: What’s Wrong with Christian Nationalism. Miller in this article makes the same assumption: that the measure of freedom in a country is the same thing as its degree of liberality…
Are Evangelicals Presbyterian?
My four-point defining feature of confessionalists, in distinction from evangelicals and pietists, is that they are
- Church oriented, grounded in the Anglican, Lutheran, Presbyterian, or Reformed traditions arising from the Protestant Reformation in the 16th-17th centuries.
- Church forms matter and are central for spiritual life, especially liturgical and doctrinal formulations, along with polity.
- Spiritual practice orbits the public worship of the church, with emphasis on preaching, the sacraments, and prayer.
- Ordinary life in the world is good and welcome.
In Reformed and Evangelical Across Four Centuries: The Presbyterian Story in America (2022), historians from four different American Presbyterian churches wrote on the subject of the intersection between Presbyterians and evangelicals…
Gardening in the Negative World
Alan Jacobs has argued that parts of American culture and history have always been hostile to certain orthodox Christian beliefs. In this case, he points to the hostility shown to those who spoke out against racism, Jim Crow, and segregation. He is rejecting the premise of Aaron Renn’s Three Worlds Evangelicalism model: there never was truly a positive world and the negative world of today is not uniquely negative. Point taken. However, there are two key differences between the abolitionist and integrationist movements and our current situation. The first is that the church, particularly the Black church, was challenging an historically embedded establishment. Currently, the cultural establishment has shifted while the church has not…
Evangelicalism and Pietism versus Confessionalism
British historian David Bebbington famously provided his four-point sociological taxonomy of evangelicalism in 1989. While the edges and applications have been debated on and off, the framework of the Bebbington Quadraleteral still proves useful. Evangelicalism is characterized by,
- Biblicism: a particular regard for the Bible (e.g. all essential spiritual truth is to be found in its pages).
- Crucicentrism: a focus on the atoning work of Christ on the cross.
- Conversionism: the belief that human beings need to be converted.
- Activism: the belief that the gospel needs to be expressed in effort.
Wheaton professor Timothy Larsen similarly provided a five-point definition in his introduction to the 2007 Cambridge Companion to Evangelical Theology…
Individualism and Virtue in Education
George F. Will’s op-ed this morning in the Washington Post is fantastic.
“[Kay Hymowitz] says America’s middle class demands K-12 education that cultivates and celebrates each child’s individuality. Yet the middle class also expects schools to instill this class’s values — accountability, diligence, civility, self-control — ‘that are often in direct tension with students’ autonomy and individuality’…
‘In other cultures, both East and West,’ Hymowitz writes, “parents prize manners and ritualized courtesies over the child’s self-expression. The French teach their two-year-olds to say “bonjour, madame“ or “monsieur” in every encounter.’ Such ritualized greetings strike Americans as artificial and a worrying sign of an overly programmed child.’
They are artificial. As is civilization.”