03 March 2014

Compromise: James K.A. Smith Nails It Again

While I've previously raised some questions about Jamie Smith's liturgical perspective on higher education, he's been spot on when addressing the dangers of simple-minded one-kingdom transformationalism. One-Kingdom transformationists see the job of Christians in the public square to be to bring the will of God to bear on affairs of society and justice. The problem--even apart from the concerns of secularists--is that transformationists don't agree. Many might just as well identify themselves as libertarians while as many or perhaps more simply baptize a social democratic view of the role of the state.

Go to the latest issue of Cardus to read Smith's editorial "Faithful Compromise." Smith begins with an astute observation:
Too many Christians who are newly convinced about the implications of the Gospel for society—on either left or right—act as if we are the ones who need to secure the kingdom. If the advent of justice really depended on us, then I can imagine why we could never entertain compromise: it would all rest on our shoulders, hinge on our decisions, depend on our commitment.
Thankfully we aren't in charge!

I've addressed whether the truth revealed by God in the Word and world have implications for some slices of public life. Anyone interested in my conclusions can read The Law of Contracts: A Place to Start (quite short), Looking for Bedrock: Accounting for Human Rights in Classical Liberalism, Modern Secularism, and the Christian Tradition, or The Puritan Revolution and the Law of Contracts. Given an orthodox Christian eschatology--that only with the return of Christ in glory and judgment can we expect the world's wrongs to be righted--we needn't tie ourselves in knots to find the one and true answer to all of life's persistent questions.

What one won't read in what I've written is an identification of what I believe is the best answer to a variety of legal problems with the conclusion that mine is the one and only correct answer. In short, while my approach to Christian legal theory can rule out a large number of solutions as illegitimate, it can't narrow down the permissible options to a unique legitimate alternative. Within the range of possible choices, compromise is the operative term.

As Smith correctly concludes (with some quotes from Oliver O'Donovan):
Rooted in our uncompromising [primary] commitment to Christ, we nonetheless have to act, and we act always and only in situations. ... "It is an old and damaging confusion," O'Donovan points out, "to suppose that compromise in this secondary [situational] sense implies compromise in the primary sense." Thus "every moral decision will be a decision between faithfulness and compromise."

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