Rough Transcript

Tooley: Hello this is Mark Tooley, editor of Providence: AJournal of Christianity & American Foreign Policy, with an insightful conversation today with three great minds on the state of political theology and American evangelicalism today. Our conversation partners are our own Marc LiVecche, editor of Providence himself, now teaching at a military-associated school in Annapolis, Maryland. Daniel Strand, another Providence contributor, teaching at another military-related school in Alabama, which he’s free to describe if he’d like to. And then finally, Jonathan Leeman with the 9Marks organization here in the Washington, DC area, and himself the author of a very distinguished work on political theology. So, I’m going to start with Jonathan. Where are we today in terms of the state of political theology for American evangelicals? The waters seem choppy and troubled, but what is your assessment, Jonathan? 

Leeman: Yeah, sure. I mean, here we are a few weeks after the events of January 6, and I think a lot of people are reeling from that, and I’m trying to understand that. Christian nationalism has been a hot topic of late. I think a lot of us have been talking about that in some version or other for decades. Nonetheless, it’s sort of on everybody’s radar screen. I think if you look at events like that, or a larger thing of the Trump era, or things like Black Lives Matter and how that’s divided many Christians in certain respects, I think these are all more symptoms of what’s going on in political theology generally. For me the larger issues at play are questions of what is the place of liberalism, what is the relationship between sort of classical liberalism, whether it’s classical or even more contemporary Rawlsian forms, and Christianity. 

Once upon a time, these things were partners. And we’re at a place now, however, where I think that question is up for grabs. So, on the one hand, you have people like Patrick Deneen and others who are saying, “Hey, look. A lot of this stuff that you see going on right now, all of this is a consequence of the fact that liberalism hasn’t failed, but succeeded.” He’s not the only one saying that. I’ve said that in one form or another. Others have been saying that as well. See, some people are kind of responding to the conversation that way, and then you have other people who are saying, “No, we need to start to double down on some of these conversations about classical liberalism.” I think David French would be one prominent example, but I have other friends who are saying, “No, we just have to stick with that and provide a kind of neutral space where people can come and debate different worldviews. That’s what we need to do.” So, that’s the question. I think that’s the big question, is the relationship between classical liberalism and Christianity, which, in certain respects worked, one could argue for the founders, still going to work today? Or do we have to move on to something different? Is there a way we can get the best of both, stick with my Christian convictions and answer elements of classical liberal institutions and so forth? I’ve been talking long enough, but just in a nutshell, I think a lot of the things that we’re seeing ongoing right now and in the disputes within Christianity among Christians, Black lives matter or not, reparations or not, that’s one conversation. What’s the place of Christian nationalism? Should pastors be endorsing political candidates or not? What’s the role of Christians in the Democratic Party and the Republican Party? All of these more surface-level urgent questions have underneath them these deeper issues that we’re still working through.

Tooley: Jonathan, in terms of American Christianity’s seeming, at least parts of its, rejection of liberalism. For Roman Catholicism, we have conservative friends who were going into integralism. It’s not clear whether there’s any equivalent intellectual response among evangelicals. I guess the activist response, the extreme activist response, would be the events of January 6, but is there an intellectual equivalent to integralism among evangelicals? 

Leeman: Well, that’s funny you should ask. There is. I would say there’s a burgeoning movement of theonomists, Christian theonomists. It’s still more isolated pockets you get out of kind of Doug Wilson’s crowd in Idaho, you know it’s funny, recently, I think the folks in California, John MacArthur has been critiquing Christian freedom of late, not entirely clear what he means by that. But you see large concerns about the way culture is going, so I think a lot of people on the right, the conservative political right, are feeling like we’ve lost the cultural war. And the response to that, now I’m talking about evangelical churches right now especially, the response to that is to sort of grab onto sometimes more thoughtful, sometimes less thoughtful, whether versions of theonomy or something else that doesn’t quite have a name but very much is leaning again into the culture war. So, it’s just, a friend recently sent me a tweet pointing to a sermon by David Barton, who is kind of one of these God and country types, and I watched, kind of skimmed through the hour-long sermon, “running into the roar,” he said. “We gotta fight now to kind of reclaim our stakes.” 

Another friend of mine is writing a book called Be Strong and Courageous, interesting title, he takes that language from Joshua about going into the land of Israel. Be strong and courageous, not applying it to the Church, which is what I would do, right. Israel’s pointing towards the church. Israel’s not pointing towards America. But he’s taking that language “be strong and courageous” and pointing to America and how we as saints need to encounter. Okay, well right there it’s not like a full-on thought through integralism, but it’s going to commit those same kinds of risks, committing those same kinds of mistakes in which America is taking on the role of Israel, as opposed to the Church taking on the role of Israel. And that is its own kind of, again, not articulate but nonetheless functional integralism. So, yeah, I think it’s having a Protestant evangelical sense to it in one form or another. 

Tooley: Marc LiVecche, do you see growing illiberalism among American Protestants, conservative Protestants and evangelicals? And, if so, from your perspective, what is a just Christian realist response?

LiVecche: Sure. I mean, I think there’s certainly at least the possibility of that, right. The growing tendency toward that. I think Jonathan laid it out well. I suspect a lot of it comes from this fear that at its best thinking, that maybe the classical liberal never thought that this was a Christian nation, but it was certainly a nation with a whole lot of Christians, and they had a place in the public square. I think there’s increasing, and I don’t think entirely wrong-minded, although it goes to crazy extremes, there is an increasing fear that Christians are being increasingly pushed out of the public square. And there’s going to be push back. Can Christians exist in a liberal society where maybe many feel that one side isn’t playing by classical liberal rules? And if Christians continue to play by those classical Christian rules of embrace of pluralism, and I’m not saying we’ve done as well all the time, but if we play by those rules in embracing pluralism and a warmth toward various perspectives and the other side isn’t, that is a little bit like entering what we think is a flag football game, but really it’s a cage match. So, I think that’s a fear. I think in some ways the more extreme on the other side has given evangelical Christians reason to believe that those fears are legitimate.

You see the same conversation happening, there was a fascinating conversation at the Naval Academy happening last week between two Johns, John Ikenberry and John  Mearsheimer, where John Ikenberry was articulating an argument for a continuation of the liberal international order and Mearsheimer, unsurprisingly, saying, “well, no.” But Mearsheimer had some very interesting things to say about liberal international order that I think resonate with even a look at classical liberalism more domestically, where he said in order for a classical liberal or a liberal international order to work, then he thinks we haven’t had a liberal international order for most of human history. We might have had one in 1990 and then it ended at about 2016, he thinks that was it. And he says part of the reason for that is in order to have a liberal order, you have to have a hegemon. You have to have somebody that exercises some degree of polarity and then they can step back from that power and be warm and generous to minority groups. And if you don’t have that hegemon, then you’re just going to have all these various factions and they’re going to vie for power. I don’t know how true that is, but there’s a part of that that I kind of think sort of resonates. And do we have anything like a hegemonic worldview in the United States now? Arguably, it was Hebraic. Even if people weren’t Jewish or Christian, they breathed sort of a Judeo-Christian air. Do we still? And if we don’t then is there anybody, any one group, any one perspective, that can step back from its power and say, “Now let’s get along and here are the terms that we can all do this.” We can create this neutral public space, but if we don’t have that, in Mearsheimer’s terms, it’s just a bunch of factions vying for control.

Tooley: And Dan Strand, what are your thoughts? Are evangelicals prematurely despairing of American liberal democracy? 

Strand: I don’t know. I think I resonate with both sides of this debate, and I find myself agreeing and disagreeing with both sides. I read the integralists, I have spent a lot of time with Catholics, Catholic traditionalists, who, even if they’re not full-on integralists, if you read the Catholic social encyclical tradition, it’s not democracy friendly. They had to rework it, right. John Courtney Murray and American Catholics had to kind of figure out a way, but if you read Pope Leo XIII, Americanism is used in a disparaging way. So, and I think there’s a lot of, I found myself nodding a lot. I read a lot of Alasdair MacIntyre, I read a lot of communitarian type philosophy, and I think even something like Charles Taylor, who probably fancies himself some sort of liberal in a way, still finds there’s very deep inconsistencies and there’s deep pathologies that run through at least the ideology portion of it. And so, I appreciate the criticisms. I tend to go along with Niebuhr in thinking that democracy, given the state of human nature and so forth, is probably the best offer in terms of governing projects. And I tend to, I mean, catch me on a different day I’ll take one side or the other. I do think if we’re talking about American evangelicals, though, is there a lot of serious thinking within the Christian political theological tradition going on right now? No. There are some people, like I mean, I think Jonathan is wrestling. You see some other people doing some wrestling. That is, in my mind, it’s the exception. There’s no Oliver O’Donovan in the United States right now, John Milbanks, or any of the other continentals. The funny thing is, you have some of the most serious kind of political theology thinking being done in countries that have secularized or quite secularized. The United States, which still has a pretty lively and robust religious community, in terms of politics is, I mean, the most that at least where I see the energy right now maybe is just the Twitter world on issues of race.

My problem with this is you have a lot of sort of younger evangelicalism, people say, “wow, they’re being sensitive to these issues,” that we’ve missed the boat on it. I mean, I think that there’s some merit to that. But it tends to be so issue-oriented, and maybe this is just the sort of activist issue orientation of American evangelicalism, but it’s not being framed in larger sort of political theological tradition. It’s not being connected to the hundreds. The Catholics do it because they have a tradition, and here’s the strength and weakness of American Protestantism, which is an unruly affair and is pretty averse to tradition, to thinking through a tradition. We don’t have an authoritative body of social teachings. I mean, that’s not a panacea, because you ask any Catholic and they’ll tell you most of people in the pews don’t even care about it. But, nonetheless, at least they have a sort of ongoing conversation where some of the features are fixed. And if I’m thinking to myself what would I want amongst American Protestants and evangelicalism, it would be: return! I mean Hugo Grotius for Pete’s sake is one of the most influential thinkers in all of western history, and I don’t know if any, and specifically areligious and influential founder of the international law tradition, and are American Protestants actually reading this guy? You can go on down the list of influential figures. There are, I mean, Jonathan has read a lot of, and I’m sure Marc, other evangelicals have, but we are a small minority. And so, I don’t know. I guess in the end, I’m quite skeptical. Unless, I mean, discovering the American tradition is one thing, but being able to link that up with sort of broader Christian tradition I think is the other, and I don’t see a lot of stuff happening on that score. Sorry. 

Leeman: Mark, can I offer an analogy?

Tooley: Yes.

Leeman: Just kind of building up what both of these brothers have said. I spend all day talking to pastors and missionaries in my kind of day job as it works, and you guys might be familiar with the name of Lesslie Newbigin, he’s a mission’s writer, and his story is that he goes off to India for a number of years, 20-30 years I don’t know, as a missionary, and comes back to England in the 1960s, and he looks around and he’s like, “Oh my goodness, the world has changed. Christendom is over, and we need to reconsider what the Church’s posture is toward the West, towards Britain, towards the West.” And it’s at that point more and more Christians broadly, and eventually evangelical specifically, started using this idea of being missional, right. “We’re missionaries right here because the West is not Christian the way it was. We need to change our mindset.” I think what’s going on in political theology in some ways is very similar. We’re looking around and we’re like wait a second, okay, this is not Jerusalem, this is more like Babylon. Okay, so what’s our posture now, and did our liberalism get us here? Was that part of what went wrong? There’s some good stuff in liberalism I want to hold on to. But other stuff… So, to use Marc LiVecche’spoint, it’s like the hegemon or the amount of force has changed. It used to be kind of a broadly Protestant, Anglo-Protestant, worldview is predominant. Well, I’m looking around and I’m back from India and it sure doesn’t feel that way now. It seems like there’s another hegemon, at least a battle for extra money in a pretty significant way. And so, that raises all of these kinds of questions, and a lot of us feel precisely what I think Daniel was just saying, which is I like that, but I also like that and I’m not sure how to put it all together. And I think there are resources for us around the globe from brothers and sisters in Christ. What are our brothers and sisters in Christ in China saying? They can’t work in government. They can’t get a job at the university. What’s their posture? Persistent. What about Christians in Iraq? I think there are other resources that we can grab onto, yeah.

Tooley: Jonathan, do you think American contemporary evangelicalism is basically reaching the end of its shelf life as a major cultural force and transitioning to something else, or is it premature to say that? 

Leeman: Yeah, that’s a tough question. I’m honestly not sure. The events of recent months have sort of raised, recent years and months especially, have raised this question in my mind. I am a theologian, and so I want to define evangelical theologically. I want to ground it in the idea of the evangelists, the good news of Jesus Christ. He came to live the life that we’re to live, died a death that we should die, paying the penalty for sin for all who repent and believe, and follow after him. That’s the evangelist. You believe that hey man, you’re with me, you’re an evangelical right? That we can describe it a little bit more sociologically than some have done, but we also understand that evangelical is in some sense a political, cultural movement. A sociological phenomenon. And we see our friends at the New York Times and Washington Post viewing evangelical kind of through those lenses, even though some of us who are Christians want to continue to insist on the theological definition. Thomas Kidd has done great work trying to extricate these two things. Tim Keller has written a little bit about this in shorter form. So, has the movement reached the end of its shelf life? Well, in some ways, Mark, I don’t care. What I care about is the Gospel. What I care about is churches preaching the gospel and learning to love one another and be embassies of righteousness and justice for the Kingdom of heaven so the nations would see that we’re salt and light. So long as we’re doing that, then I’m good, whether or not we as a political movement come or go. One, I’m not sure there is a political movement. I see lots of tribes of evangelicals. I see many streams. So long as there is a model that we call “evangelical,” that’s not my main concern. My main concern is the gospel of Jesus Christ. 

Tooley: Daniel, you’ve written for Providence about Christian nationalism. As America becomes demographically less Christian, how does one sustain Christian nationalism? Should it be sustained? You offer a more thoughtful alternative to the youthful caricatures of Christian nationalism, but what are your thoughts? 

Strand: Yeah, it seems like such a terminological thing that people are so averse to the word nationalism, and I think at least among academics that’s because the word nationalism is largely a pejorative in academic circles. So, use the word nationalism and we’re talking about Europe 1930, mainly Nazis, evocations of Naziism. It also refers back to, you know, white nationalism or Jim Crow, that’s the way it gets used sometimes. And evangelical, at least some folks have highlighted that. So, the term itself, I don’t know if it can be rescued, it seems largely like it’s just a negative term. Call it patriotism or whatever. I do think that at least the spirit behind the idea of Christians having a theological understanding of the role of the state, and in the theological purposes of politics and law and society, is very important. But It just seems, I think the critics of Christian nationalism are criticizing a slice, I don’t know how big the slice is, I’m fairly skeptical of the sociological studies I’ve read that put it upwards of sort of 70 to 80% of American evangelicals are “Christian nationalists.” I just I don’t buy it. I do not buy that. I do think there’s a slice of actual church-going, I’ve enjoyed locals who have some sort of set of Orthodox pleas, I think there’s a lot of heterodox cultural Christianity going on here. In the end, the critics give you a strong and I think serious criticism, but I don’t not hear any sort of positive, this is where I get back to my sort of hobbyhorse, what’s the alternative.

It’s just that they don’t, there’s not a sort of theological alternative that they’re offering. I think they it tends to be a little bit more progressive in orientation, social justice, which is okay, I mean, if you say pick your issue, and you can talk about it, but how does this relate to a broader sort of Christian political theology? I don’t hear it. Catholics offer something coherent, and they can give you a pretty straightforward answer. Different Protestants who are more or less thoughtful could give you an answer, but from actual church bodies, from actual church leaders, I think the project, at least the images by my articles, saying that if we can call it nation, call it whatever you want, the idea of citizenship within the republican tradition of which the United States is drawing apart, this is a transatlantic political tradition of Dutch, British, this whole movement of sort of neo-republicanism that happens, has deep theological roots to it. The idea of citizenship has deep theological roots. And the idea of the law, you name it, most of these ideas have deep roots. This is why when you read someone like Oliver O’Donovan, you see, I mean, O’Donovan says the liberal tradition just is an outgrowth of Christianity. It’s one political tradition, it’s not the only one, but he says it is a Christian nation and those in the West can defend it respectably.

And I think that’s true, but not until we capture something of a sort of deeper essence and find a way to marry it with a deeper set of theological convictions and concepts. And I don’t see that. I don’t see it right now. I think there’s a lot of work to be done, and I would love it if Protestants were able to come together on some level across denominations and recapture some of that, and also listen to I think Jonathan’s point about the universal church having a lot to teach us. Absolutely every time that I’ve been overseas, I’ve been humbled and convicted by talking with Christians in other contexts and seeing how they managed, most oftentimes in positions where they’re minorities, managed to do a lot of constructive good. And so, I’m all for that as well. 

Tooley: Marc LiVecche, if all of American evangelicalism were to join a Zoom call with you to get guidance on political theology, what would be your talking points in terms of how to restabilize ourselves for the future? 

LiVecche: Good question. Yeah, I mean, riffing on both what I think Jonathan and Daniel have said, I would certainly try to make a place to begin with for a kind of nationalism, heavily qualified. And not even deigning to ascribe or subscribe to any of the particular views that are out there. But I think Daniel is right. I think there’s a conversation that has to be had there. If you call it nationalism and we call it patriotism. That used to be my distinction, patriotism was a healthy thing, nationalism negative. Entomologically you can’t really justify that, they both more or less mean place of native birth. You can throw jingoism out as the bad thing, but depending on which dictionary you look in, jingoism is either an extreme form of patriotism or an extreme form of nationalism. So, that doesn’t get as far. But I think what people are recognizing who are taking a nationalistic stand is one, I think it’s sort of self-defense. It’s like they’re defending their mother. They’re tired of one side saying that, in this case, America has been a force for evil in the world undiluted and not a force for good, so they push against that. Some of it is natural, we should have affection for our homeland. And I say that as an American, probably not everybody ought to have affection for their homeland. If I was raised in apartheid South Africa, that would be a more difficult question. There would be aspects that I’d want to say I can embrace, there would be aspects I would have to completely disassociate from.

So, I think some of its push back, I think we need to be able to say we can have, it’s okay to have, special obligations. It’s okay to have special affection. Jesus was born into a particular tribe. He was born as a particular kind of person, presumably had a particular kind of set of affections for his homeland, and yet he came to save the world, right. So, it doesn’t have to be a binary between some sort of universalism and some sort of particularism. Those are false binaries. So, I’d make a place for a healthy kind of nationalism and to say there is a healthy kind of self-interest. So, I’d make a place for that. I would begin to ask how our moral theology ought to shape our, or how our theology shapes our moral theology and shapes our ethics. I think we get a lot of terminology wrong. One of my hobby horses is the question of Christian love and how does Christian love manifest in the world. I think Christians are increasingly uncomfortable with the difficult distinctions that have to be made when you try to live out your faith in the world. It’s very complicated, what does to love someone mean so often, I think we think it means we would never make somebody uncomfortable, and so we end up avoiding hard truths, and that gets us into all sorts of complicated problems where we take the other side. And we think the hard truth just has to be thrown at somebody and diluted, and without some charity, and that’s crazy too.

So, and I’d push it back to the basics. What is the Gospel? How does that manifest in public life? I would urge everybody to remember the old Johnny Cash song, “we can’t be so heavenly minded, we’re no earthly good.” The Gospel ain’t Gospel unless it is spread, but how can you spread it where you’ve got your head?” We’ve got to be both. Daniel knows all about the Augustinian distinction between two cities. There are two kingdoms, and one is above the other. But meanwhile, we live in Babylon and we’re citizens here, and we should care about it, and we should love our neighbor. And loving our neighbor means that we have to have some concern for our neighborhood as well. And it has all sorts of uncomfortable requirements, government and potentially the use of force, and all sorts of things like that. So, that’s a very fragmented answer to your very precise question, but that’s some of what I would say to my participants.

Tooley: Jonathan, much of what is described as Christian nationalism seems to be kind of a hodgepodge of nativist folk religion. People who are in fact spiritual and often in churches and certainly reading their Bibles, but there’s no catechesis there. And they’re reading their Bible and they’re reading extremist websites and just throw it all together in odd brew, but what are your thoughts?

Leeman: I think people tend to mean one of two things by Christian nationalism, best I can tell reading through Twitter and the articles that go along with it just the last few weeks. The kind of non-Christian perspective that you’re going to get, again from say mainstream media, is that “Christian nationalism” is any Christian trying to bring Christian influence in the public square. So, italics Christian, non-italics nationalism, right. And “Oh that’s bad! Don’t bring your Christianity in the public square.” I think that’s how non-Christians and a few Christians tend to view it. A different view of it is italics now on nationalism. Christian nationalism. Meaning emphasis on the nation. Meaning God has a plan for the nation. Redemptive history and national history coming together. This is a Nouveau secular order, you can see that on your dollar bill, America is the new Israel and kind of manifest destiny ideas where God is working out his plans for history through America in some sense. That’d be an extreme version of it, but it’s one version of that or another. In other words, that’s a wrong view of Christianity, right. That’s like, “Hey Christians, no, no, no, no, no, God’s plan is through the Church, not through the nation.” Yes, he has a place to do with nations, yes. Yes, these nations, but his plan of redemption is going to occur through the Church going into all nations. And that’s more of a Christian air than a non-Christian air that would lead to something like Christian nationalism, a wrong emphasis or wrong view of the relationship between the Church and the nation. Now insofar as we’re not following Biblical prescriptions on these kinds of things, yeah, I think all kinds of other clutter gets thrown into it. Certainly, in the media we see people who are representing any number of things speaking for Christianity, partnering with Christianity.

Honestly, I don’t know how big of a problem is that, but I do think some form of syncretism is inevitable in any Christian tradition that begins to look to the world for its marching orders and adopts a political agenda, bring heaven to earth now, you are necessarily going to start looking around and seeing what other partners and landscape you can find to bring heaven to earth now, which is what Christian nationalism is. Kind of a version of at least the second version. And so, yeah, that’s where you get all sorts of syncretic temptations and possibilities. Again, I don’t know how big of a problem this is. We’ve all seen the photos of horn guy in the Capitol, but is this really a rampant problem? I honestly don’t know. Nonetheless, I do think Christian nationalism is something that we need to understand better, and I think there are different versions on depending on who you’re talking to. Was it a different bad guy? Is the bad guy Christians, bringing their stuff in the public square, or is the bad guy Christians not really understanding their Bibles and misunderstanding the relationship between the Church of the nation?

Tooley: Daniel, we’ve discussed the problems in American evangelical political theology, but I think we’re agreed there are some bright lights and some rising impressive thinkers who bear watching. Besides the bright lights who are part of this conversation today, who else is out there who we should be looking to?

Strand: In terms of contemporary conversation, I don’t know, at least in America. Is there some sort of guiding sort of political theology voice at the moment?

Tooley: Any particular individuals, thinkers, writers? 

Leeman: Do you like this book, Daniel? 

Strand: Yeah, VanDrunen. Yeah, I think David VanDrunen is a very positive sign. There you go, yeah, Yuval Levin. Yuval is a conservative writer, interesting and important. If I’m thinking about political theology per se, VanDrunen probably is maybe the one name that I would encourage people. I don’t necessarily go along with the whole natural law project that he’s undertaking, but I think it’s encouraging. There we go, yeah. Josh Mitchell. I mean my hobby horse, as always, is I actually think we need to stop looking around at our contemporary scene and actually start looking backwards. I think Americans are too caught up in the moment, always looking for the next great thing around the horizon, the next big stuff. I think cult of personality is an issue and American evangelicals get attached to personalities. And I just want, not only do I want Biblical literacy, I want people, I want evangelical Protestants, to get over their version, to read in Catholic theology. I still think Catholics are wrong in many respects. Reformation was right, but, nevertheless, that was the church for 1500 years, and there’s a lot there. I mean, the Golden Age of Christian political theology, you could argue, is probably the 12th century to the 16th century. Honestly, you just have an efflorescence of writing, and I know Marc this is right up your alley as well, but I think there’s a lot of things that we could do. So, I’m not saying this is the magical panacea, but I want, at least want churches and want theologians and I want leaders to be more connected to our historic long tradition and to learn from it, and then take it and apply it. And traditions transform, so I’m not an antiquarian that thinks we’re going to reinstate sort of the integral division of the world and I’m sure I really want that, but I still think there’s a lot there to learn.

So, if I’m going to talk to a young evangelical, I’m going to say yes, read Niebuhr. Yes, read VanDrunen. But actually, go back and read, you need to read Calvin and Luther. You need to Grotius. You need to go back and read Catholic school of theology. You need to read Aquinas. You need to read some Canon law, I think. That is our tradition. Protestants need to say. I feel like they don’t say that. They think that Christianity started, you know, in the 16th century, and I think that is not okay. They need to go back and read Augustine, near and dear to my heart. You need to read Patristics. You need to read, and so that won’t magically solve the problem, but I think it will ground us more. I think it will keep us from kind of going into these extremes, being sort of caught by the latest ideas, and I think when you see young Christians kind of chasing after the latest buzzwords, going woke, going whatever, becoming like Trumpist, or I think a lot of that is being sort of just caught on the waves of culture and not being anchored to something longer. And so, that’s what I would counsel my young evangelical friends.

Tooley: What about your fellow PCAer Tim Keller? 

Strand: Yeah, you can’t speak a bad word about Tim. Tim does no wrong in most people’s eyes. I mean, Tim, he’s intelligent guy. He’s probably one of the most kind of smart and polymath type people. He’s just read so broadly and is just an impressive overall person and pastor. When it comes to social justice stuff, I’m actually kind of a little disappointed. His writing on social justice, he cites very contemporary philosophers. And maybe this just gets back to, when he talks about political issues, so he’ll talk about Charles Taylor, who’s one of his favorites. So, I get what he does that. But Alasdair MacIntyre, Robert Nozick, I mean, these are political philosophers from the ‘70s and ‘80s. We can dig deeper than that. I think Christians can dig deeper. Not to say we can’t learn. I mean, I read Taylor. I think Taylor is phenomenal. But we have to have a little more confidence in our own tradition to not sort of always be looking, I’m not saying that’s what Keller is doing. But what he does so well in other areas, I feel like maybe he’s a little bit more kind of symptomatic of the evangelical mind when it comes to political issues, which is tend to be pretty contemporary, tend to think that the most interesting things to be said are being said right now or maybe 10 years ago, and I think that just discounts what the Church has learned, debated, discussed, and put pen to paper thousands and thousands of years ago. 

Tooley: Marc LiVecche, whom should we be looking to dead or alive right now for sound guidance? 

LiVecche: Yeah, I mean, I think both the flurry of books that went up, I don’t know if all the viewers could see that, I think the comments that Dan has about going back to the basics, going all the way back, I think all of that is sound. What comes to mind listening to Dan is by going deep, I mean Elshtain, who was one of those names that should be read, but Elshtain would have said, Jean Bethke Elshtain for those who don’t know shorthand, but Jean would have said that we’ve come deracinated, right. We’ve uprooted ourselves from our traditions. There is no tradition. To speak of a tradition requires the experienced hands to be handing on to those inexperienced hands. The customs and the habits that are embodied in that tradition. Going all the way back hopefully would ground us in certain indispensable things. When I was a young struggling agnostic, kind of not sure what I was, what I was getting from my friends was information about how to get into heaven, and very few people, some key ones, did, and I’m eternally, literally, grateful to them for it, but very few people ever moved beyond “this is how you get into heaven” to try to explain to me why on God’s green earth do I want to get into heaven in the first place. About building in us that capacity not just to know what all I do to be good, but like why do I want to be good, giving us a love for the good, in Christianity has become very often a set of rules, ethics. And moral theology has become a series of proof-texting instead of the attitude like how do I shape myself, how can I be shaped into becoming a son of God? Somebody who bears the characteristics of the divine. And when that kind of character and moral formation happens, then I think a lot of other things begin more easily to fall into place. It just becomes easier to be an other-centered person who self-donates. When you recognize what goodness is and why goodness is worth having.

So, I would go back. I would steep myself in the tradition, root myself in that, and then moving forward. The individual minds that help people understand what that tradition looks like, I think Gene is great. I think Nigel Biggar in England is a key thinker who understands how the tradition pushes things forward. Nigel is all about, he’ll look at the Just War tradition and ask, “How does the Just War tradition promote human flourishing?” It’s about purpose ends, how does this help us be that which we were created to be? That’s what I want to say. I’m not terribly interested, even if I’m teaching my midshipmen, I don’t want to just teach them what’s the right thing to do in a given situation. I want them to be morally form so that they’re the kinds of people who can go into various situations and figure out what is the right thing to do through moral reasoning, and moral deliberation, and all the heavy lifting that goes into moving as a responsible person in this world. The bad news there is that that’s not an easy lift, and that’s a lot of work, and that’s a lot of dedication, and people need to spend the time to do those things. You’re not going to get it from just walking down the street. You’re going to have to do a lot of reading, to do a lot of talking, etc. 

Tooley: Jonathan, you were holding up a few books, including one from our Providence contributor Josh Mitchell. If you’re giving counsel to someone who wants to do political theology well, what should they be reading these days?

Leeman: Can I give the Sunday school answer?

Tooley: Yes.

Leeman: Read the Bible. I agree with everything these brothers said. Let me make sure we say what we shouldn’t take for granted, and read the Bible. I think we are undernourished. Christians are undernourished in their understanding of the scriptures and how to read the Bible politically. I think you need to understand, I think you need to do your covenant in I think your Biblical theology. That is to say, you need to understand the relationship between the different covenants. What’s the creation covenant? What’s the Noahic Covenant? What are the Abrahamic, Mosaic, New covenants? What’s the relationship between these things? Who has got authorizing to do what? What is the authorized state, what is the authorized state to do, what is the authorized church to do? That’s different and separate. Authorization is given to the state. Okay, what about families? What authority does the family have? And my answer to these questions is all going to depend on how I put the whole Bible together. How I understand Israel, again, in relation to the Church. How I understand the Noahic Covenant. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed, for man was made in God’s image.” That’s going to all humanity. What authority is going on there? I need to ask an answer to these kinds of questions, I think, in order to have a vigorous understanding of what is state. What is this authority with the church? What is it, starting with the family, what is its authority? And I think a lot of people today use the language of separation of church and state, and we’re all trying to negotiate that we really have no idea what the church is, or what authority this church should have. And if you don’t know what authority this church should have or what this church is, how do you define the relationship between church and state? Church becomes just kind of this vague term for “my Christianity.”

Well, my Christianity is not the same thing as my church and its authority. And configure the relations between church and state, I got to be able to answer these kinds of more fundamental questions about the distinction between these different institutions. And behind that, what’s the relationship of the covenant in the Bible, which means I got to know how to read my Bible right, so that when I get to the kind of everybody’s favorite proof-texts like “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s. Render unto God what is God’s.” Or Romans 13, “For he is God’s servant, appointed for your good to punish evil or the good.” First Peter, same sort of thing. So, when I get to those proof texts, I’m not just kind of importing my worldview into that, my classical liberal or my post-liberal worldview into those texts, rather I’m reading this text within the narrative of all of scripture and covenants whole storyline of all the scriptures. And I’m faithfully okay once I have that Biblical foundation of Biblical starting point, and then I want to step in the conversation with the tradition of contemporary authors and so forth. And I can have a conversation with them from my Biblical perspective, right. So, I’d like to see a little bit more, again, affirming everything those brothers just said, I also want to see, in addition to that a greater Biblical literacy, for the young believer, the Sunday school attender, the old man and woman sitting in the pews, the pastor, certainly for the pastor. What authority does the church have, pastor? What authorities, can you answer that, pastor? If you can’t answer that, how is your congregation going to do that? And then, how are they going to engage in the public square meaningfully, intelligently if their own pastor can’t define what the state is and what the Church is? This is kind of my expectation to church leaders out there. And you need a Bible study. I bet a number of people watching this have led a Bible study or what are called a Sunday school class. What is justice? What is justice according to scripture? Forget social justice for a second, just put that aside. What does the Bible say justice is? Then you can step in and have a conversation with social justice in kind of like okay, well, I understand from scripture it’s this or it’s not, that can go from there. So, more Biblical literacy, that’s what I really want to see among the younger generation rising up. 

Tooley: Jonathan Leeman, Marc LiVecche, Daniel Strand, thank you so much for a very insightful conversation.