23 December 2017

Blogging Jamie Smith: An Occasional Series on "Awaiting the King" 4.0

(You can read my comments on chapters 1, 2, and 3 of "Awaiting the King: Reforming Public Theology" (AtK)  here, here, and here.)

In chapter four of AtK, "The Limits and Possibility of Pluralism: Reforming Reformed Public Theology," Smith begins with an astute (and absolutely correct) observation:
My concern is a blind spot in some [most? all?] influential Neocalvinist accounts of pluralism and political life that stems from a wider, more systemic tendency within Neocalvinism to devalue and displace the significance of the institutional church ...
Amen. Already I had a gnawing unease about this aspect of the version of Neocalvinism I received in my undergraduate days at Dordt College. But I wonder if this devaluing of the Church has its roots already in the theology and practice of the grandfather of Neocalvinism, Abraham Kuyper? Friend Ruben Alvarado certainly thinks so. (See my blog post here.)

Regardless of the genealogy of Neocalvinism's de-emphasis of the church as an institution, how does Smith see this as a problem in contemporary Neocalvinist public theology? Smith does a nice job of canvassing the version of pluralism put forth by Jonathan Chaplin, perhaps the most insightful of Neocalvinist political theorists, and finds it wanting. When all is said and done, Neocalvinist structural pluralism "ends up making a meta-argument for what I'm calling a kind of macroliberalism wherein a 'just' society is one in which different confessional communities are free to pursue their visions of the good." In short, Neocalvinist political theology is baptized Rawlsian liberalism.

Smith contrasts Neocalvinist pluralism with what he believes is more robust formulation by John Inazu in "Confident Pluralism: Surviving and Thriving through Deep Difference." FWIW, I'm not as confident about Inazu's version of pluralism as Smith.

In short, I found this chapter of AtK helpful in its critique of the prevailing Neocalvinist version of pluralism but I am less sanguine about Smith's alternative. Notwithstanding, Smith's lament over the loss of place for the institutional church in Neocalvinism, I didn't find his ecclesial turn adequate. To be sure, Smith does spend several pages on the church as the place of virtue formation and he reminds his readers of the centrality of the heavenly vision that should characterize the Christian's orientation toward the affairs of the world. Yet none of this addresses the place of the church as an institutional counterweight. I was hoping that Smith could articulate a way in which the church as institution functioned not only internally but also externally with respect to the world. There are, however, two-plus chapters to go ...

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