A friend sent me a link to this article by Professor Jay Green at Covenant College. I commend it to your attention; he offers some helpful commentary, and I’ll be using his terminology throughout this post.
Prof. Green’s taxonomy certainly improves on the right-left continuum he’s proposing to replace, but it leaves out an important element: liberal order absolutely depends on Christian values enacted in the public square. This is not a political hypothesis; it is a simple historical fact. The liberal order Green so values as an Emancipatory Minimalist did not spring whole from the head of Zeus, nor was it among the gifts of the Romans. It is the result of a very long, very Christian obedience in the same direction, and it would be instructive to see him classify some historical figures according to his taxonomy. To my eye, Green the Emancipatory Minimalist stands on the shoulders of Boniface, Ambrose, Luther, and Kuyper the Civilizational Maximalists. More, he relies on the thought of folks like William Penn and Roger Williams who defended religious liberty on Christian principles: historical figures who could afford to be Emancipatory Minimalists precisely because they were Civilizational Maximalists, as it were (which I think exposes the key weakness in his taxonomy.)
When he speaks of Emancipatory Minimalists believing “the liberal order is what gives space for the exercise of religious freedom,” he gets it exactly backwards. It was the exercise of Christian freedom and the Christian defense of freedom—over Caesar’s frequent and strenuous objections—that gave us the liberal order. In this article, Prof. Green treats the liberal order as something that’s just there, feet firmly planted in midair, rather than a structure that rests on a particular foundation. When he speaks of Emancipatory Minimalists accepting pluralism as a permanent fixture in the culture, he misses two important facts.
First, the pluralism he so values is not sustainable, as present events demonstrate. The younger generation of practitioners in fields as diverse as medicine, law, psychotherapy, education, and news media (and all the way down to high school debate) are not simply failing to uphold liberal ideals; they actively reject them as inimical to their own subchristian concepts of class identity, equity, and justice. Some god will be the god of the system, and if we will not have Yahweh, we will have some pretender. We’ve been living off the accrued capital of Christendom for some time, but in the end, pluralism is polytheism. Those other gods are demons, and inviting the demons into a coalition government with Yahweh was exactly what Israel stumbled into time and again. Didn’t work then; can’t work now.
Second, he forgets that he knows the end of the Story. Pluralism is not a permanent fixture; when the assembled throng gathers before the throne on the last day, we will have a magnificent diversity of tribe, tongue, and nation, but not of religion. Pluralism will be a thing of the past, and good riddance. Heaven is not a pluralistic place. “Thy Kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven” is not a prayer for enduring pluralism.