Church, Kingdom, and Secularity
I ended the last chapter by arguing that it is part of the Church's mission in the contemporary world to assist liberal secular societies to tell their “better story.” In this chapter, I would like to consider the implications of this task for the Church itself and its own identity. How can this task of encouraging liberal society's better story be at the same time an expression of the Church's own identity? To what extent will the Church find its own concerns within the concerns of the liberal secular world, so that support for the best ideals of liberal modernity will also be an expression of its own mission? In this relationship, the Church runs the risk of identifying its own mission and goals with the aspirations and best principles of liberal secular civilization; there is also the equally grave temptation for the Church to conceive its own distinctiveness in a way that renders it less able to live in solidarity with all human beings.
The relationship of the Church to secular moral ideals is profoundly contested in contemporary theology and in the contemporary experience of Christians. Two fundamental concerns loom large: If the Church is committed to supporting and encouraging the dissemination of universal ideals of freedom, justice, and dignity, why does it insist on its own uniqueness and the uniqueness of the Gospel it proclaims? Does not this very insistence inhibit the development of a universal moral consciousness based on mutual respect? From a very different perspective, many point to the malign story of liberal societies and contend that secular modernity is so fundamentally degraded by the libido dominandi and its offspring that it is essentially alien