"Christian Faith and Modern Democracy: God and Politics in the Fallen World" by Robert Kraynak

Peter J. Richards
Tuesday, May 15th 2007
Sep/Oct 2003

In this provocative and engaging work, based on his lectures at Loyola of Chicago, Robert Kraynak challenges the "end of history" thesis famously articulated by Francis Fukuyama-that is, the idea that liberal democracy in the West finally and permanently resolves the thorny and ancient question, Who should rule? Arguing from within the Augustinian framework of "limited government under God," Kraynak responds, Not so fast. In doing so, he challenges Christians in particular to examine deep-seated presuppositions about the nature of politics and life in the "city of man."

Both Protestant and Roman Catholic Christians, Kraynak believes, have too easily succumbed to the allure of an admittedly dynamic combination-modern Western liberal democracy and the program of international human rights-confusing them with the imperative demands of Holy Scripture. The problem is that liberal democratic institutions and human rights ideals dovetail with traditional orthodox Christian teaching only through a modicum of Procrustean manipulation. The assertion of rights does not necessarily lead to godly character-indeed, in its strident insistence on individual autonomy, it is just as likely to produce the opposite. As for democracy, as T. S. Eliot warned in the 1930s, "the term does not contain enough positive content to stand alone against the forces that you dislike-it can easily be transformed by them."

To be sure, liberal democracy has nourished itself on the spiritual deposit provided by the heritage of biblical Christianity in the West, and thus can be said to require it as a kind of moral ballast. But this is a far cry from saying that Christian teaching requires democratic political arrangements. As Kraynak demonstrates, the churches of the West have allowed a modernist counterfeit, rooted in Kant's teaching on the autonomous human will, to reshape the biblical conception of humanity made in God's image. At the very least, this confusion of Enlightenment categories and Christian verities poses grave dangers to the integrity of Christian witness. To the extent that Christian concerns for the city of man allow the church to be co-opted by a political party or social activism, the body of Christ loses its salty distinctiveness, its transcendent orientation to its true home, the eternal city of God.

As an antidote to the leveling spirit of autonomous "democratized Christianity" Kraynak argues for a return to a more modest "politics of prudence." Here he has in mind a constitutionalism that recognizes the intransigence of human sin and that acknowledges real limits to politics in a fallen world. Certain details of Kraynak's argument will raise objections from Protestants because his Roman Catholicism inevitably shapes the argument. But Kraynak's essential contribution is one that American Protestants especially would benefit from hearing. His concluding words echo with the prudential wisdom of Augustine and the reformers: "Living with the tensions of dual citizenship is a more difficult task than assuming an inevitable convergence of Christian faith and modern democratic life, but it is the only honest course for the pilgrims of the earthly city."

Tuesday, May 15th 2007

“Modern Reformation has championed confessional Reformation theology in an anti-confessional and anti-theological age.”

Picture of J. Ligon Duncan, IIIJ. Ligon Duncan, IIISenior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
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