The Teachings of Modern Christianity on Law, Politics, and Human Nature - Vol. 1

By John Witte Jr.; Frank S. Alexander | Go to book overview

CHAPTER 24
Reflections on Christian Jurisprudence
and Political Philosophy

KENT GREENAWALT

THIS VOLUME ON how modern Christian writers have understood law, society, politics, and human nature is rich in substance and diversity. If one wonders what the Christian point of view toward government and law is, these accounts quickly dispel any notions of a single Christian perspective. Indeed, one could easily become bewildered by the disparities in what these thinkers address and in the answers they give to the questions they do address. For me, the most helpful way to approach these interpretive chapters is to identify central questions in political philosophy and the philosophy of law and to ask what standpoints our major contemporary figures take on them, recognizing that a subject to which one author devotes great attention may be barely mentioned by another. Once we can see clearly where our writers differ, we may be better able to decide where we stand ourselves.

What count as the central questions in distinctly Christian philosophizing about government and law overlap substantially with the questions posed in the now dominant tradition of secular philosophy and jurisprudence, but the variations matter. Christian theorists tend to reject certain popular secular approaches—social contract theory is a notable example. They regard as crucial questions about God and Jesus that secular theorists dismiss or put aside. And they implicitly treat as relatively trivial some conceptual puzzles over which secular theorists struggle.

As my remarks should already have made clear, the divide here is between theorists who write from distinctly Christian perspectives and those who do not. Among the ranks of secular theorists are many scholars who consider themselves Christians but who see value in trying to approach theoretical problems about politics and law in a way that does not depend on Christian or other religious premises. (I count much of my own work

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