Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Going Public: Christian Responsibility in a Divided America

Academic journal article Anglican Theological Review

Going Public: Christian Responsibility in a Divided America

Article excerpt

By Lawrence E. Adams. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Brazos Press, 2002. 192 pp. $18.99 (paper).

In this book, Lawrence E. Adams sets out to address two questions. The first asks whether in twenty-first century America any public philosophy is capable of providing citizens with a sense of the public good and encouraging the sustenance of a common civic life. The second question explores the extent to which Christian beliefs and institutions may contribute to public ethics, especially considering the hostility many Christians sense between their convictions and the values of the dominant culture. Although it offers exhaustive evidence to support a negative answer to the first question, Going Public never gets around to offering a substantial response to the second.

Throughout Going Public, Adams suggests that a comprehensive public ethic for contemporary America is an impossible task. In the first part of the book, he summarizes the historical precedent for such an effort, the changing cultural landscape that makes a coherent public philosophy so difficult in contemporary America, and survey data that appears to confirm his portrait of a populace that is too inundated, conflicted, and confused by postmodern fragmentation and pluralism to provide much hope that a public ethic will be endorsed or sustained. The results of these surveys especially provide the meat of this book, though whether Adams has successfully made the connection between observations of widespread popular disagreement and the impossibility of a common public philosophy is debatable.

The second part of the book promises to take up the question of Christian responsibility in fragmented America, and Adams begins this section with a quick review of contemporary theologians wrestling with the construction or rejection of a "public theology." Eventually Adams sides with philosophers and theologians of a more communitarian bent who confirm his skepticism that any comprehensive public ethic is possible in twenty-first century America. …

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