ARGUMENTS ABOUT WHETHER law in the Western nations has foundations in Christian teaching are frequent and intense in our time. For example, the teachings of the Ten Commandments, scriptural law shared by Jews and Christians alike, were brought to “premodern,” colonial, America largely by Christians from European nations where they long had decisive influence. That influence is called into question in societies called secular and pluralistic, and defenders of the tradition try to counter them.
Arguments about whether politics in Europe or America should be influencing and be influenced by Christian teaching keep armies of professors, lawyers, politicians, and advocates of “church-state separation” or “faith-based interaction” busy as they divide communities.
Arguments about whether societies can endure if they have no strong rooting in a particular religious tradition and whether Western societies can prosper if few in them are responsible to the Christian impulses that for centuries animated them, run through debates about personal morality, popular and high culture, the nurture of children, education, and other zones of life about which millions care.
And arguments about whether Christian teaching on human nature takes this or that character, inclining individuals and societies toward good or evil or toward all the mixtures of the two, preoccupy theologians and ethicists and have a bearing on intimate zones of life, including counseling, therapies, and personal conduct.
It is one thing to argue the general case that Christian teaching does or should inform these four areas of human life. It is another to shift from the “whether” question about applying the teaching to the “what” and “why” and “how” questions.
This book is one of the most ambitious attempts yet made to recognize some of the main elements of significant traditions within Christianity as