Christian thinking about involvement in human government was not born (or born again!) with the latest elections or with the founding of the Moral Majority in 1979. Greg Forster introduces the history of Christian political thought traced out in Western culture--a culture with a fragmented view of the proper relationship of government and religion....
|Title||:||The Contested Public Square: The Crisis of Christianity and Politics|
|Number of Pages||:||254 Pages|
|Status||:||Available For Download|
|Last checked||:||21 Minutes ago!|
The Contested Public Square: The Crisis of Christianity and Politics Reviews
Greg Forster's The Contested Public Square is a readable, informative, and engaging history of Christian political thought. Far from an academic treatise, Forster recognizes that the moral consensus which Western nations have shared for fifteen hundred years has come apart, leading to a political crisis. He believes that "the first step to finding an answer [to this crisis] is understanding the question. We are going to have to do a better job of understanding the real nature of the crisis. If we do achieve that insight, we still might not succeed; but if we do not even try to achieve it, we will have lost before we even begin. That is what has driven me to write this book" (249).Forster begins his work with the first centuries of the church, detours to take into account the influence of Greek philosophies, and then moves through Western history to the present. In the patristic era Christian apologists argued against state persecution of Christianity, but Christians had not real theology or philosophy of political involvement. Christian thinkers tended to argue against government and military participation because of the religious compromise it involved. But with the Christianization of the Roman Empire, Christians needed to develop a political theology. As in so many areas of theology, Augustine proved most influential (Forster points especially to book 19 of the City of God). Augustine first made use of the idea of natural law that developed into a political theory in the middle ages and persisted on to the time of Locke where it became a foundational element in his case for religious toleration and liberal democracy. Even in medieval Europe the seeds for Locke's approach existed in the belief that natural law, with its concern for temporal goods, provided the foundation for civil law whereas the Bible and the Church concerned itself with spiritual goods. Yet because a shared morality, based on a shared religion, is necessary for the temporal good of society, the state enforced religious uniformity in the middle ages. The Reformation shattered this uniformity. Because of the continued belief in the necessity of a shared religion, the Reformation set off a series of religious persecutions and wars. One attempt to settle the problem was to permit the prince to choose the religion of his nation. But in nations, such as England, where the religious positions of the monarchs shifted between Catholicism and Protestantism, religious conflict was only exacerbated. Enter John Locke. In his early years Locke favored strictly enforced religious conformity to ensure public tranquility. But on a diplomatic mission to Cleves, a city in Germany which, due to some strange political circumstances, allowed religious toleration, Locke's views were radically transformed. He saw that toleration had removed religion from the political equation and led to public tranquility among adherents to different religion. Public virtue was not threatened because natural law undergirded a shared morality despite religious differences. Locke's views led to the advent of religious toleration, even religious freedom, and liberal democracy. But in the twentieth century liberal democracy entered a crisis as political theorists denied the natural law foundations of Locke's position and sought to replace them with something else: tradition (Edmund Burke and conservatism) and the maximization of human happiness (John Stuart Mill and utilitarianism) being the chief alternatives discussed by Forster. As philosophical and religious diversity increases, shared morality is fragmenting. A shared religion, at least on some level does seem necessary for shared morality. And yet it is impossible at this juncture to return to a shared religion for each political community. Forster concludes, "All paths now lead to danger. If we wish to preserve religious freedom, we must somehow find a way to build social consensus around moral laws that politics requires without going back to dependence upon a shared religion." How is this to be done; is it even possible? Forster concludes, "I do not know the answer to this crisis" (249).The lack of an answer to this intractable problem does not eviscerate that value of Forster's work. He set about not to answer the question but to providing the necessary background to understand it. In this he succeeded admirably. My one complaint with the book is that there were various points where I desired greater documentation. That aside, I found this one of the most illuminating books that I have read.
Excellent overview of the development of Christian political thought and how it developed through the transition from the church's first 400 years living under persecution, through the era of Christendom, and on into a post-Christian environment. Attention is given to major influences on church-state relations/thought, including Greek philosophy, Augustine, Thomas Aquinas, John Locke, and more recently, the differing approaches of Niebuhr, Barth, and Lewis. The Reformation's impact on the role of the church in civil matters is given particular attention. I thought author Greg Forster did an excellent job of laying out 2,000+ years' worth of thinking, both secular and Christian, about the role of the church in society, and showing how the ideas were built on each other. He doesn't get into the specifics of current-day controversy about Christians' involvement in U.S. politics, which I think is actually a strength of the book. Instead, Forster focuses on underlying philosophies and historical developments that have shaped that controversy. Great resource.
This is an excellent introduction to the history of natural law political theory. Forster takes us from the early Christian fathers, to Augustine, Aquinas, Ockham, and Locke up to modern natural law theory. This is a fairly objective history of natural law, though he's clearly an advocate of natural law theory. This is a highly informative book for those not well read in the area, and is fairly accessible for the general reader. Forster forcefully advocates for natural law as the foundation of civil society. Yet, this view, seems to me sub-biblical, as it denies the authority of the Scriptures over the civil realm and leaves civil government to natural reason. The book is a great exposition of natural law theory, but has a deficient view of Scripture and the covenantal nature of God's law.
Book Opening: I’m opening this book with a political science graduate student here at FSU named Matt. Matt and I have talked about all sorts of different things in the past - from the Resurrection to the nature of evil to pornography to basic Christianity. He’s a great discussion partner to have for a book, and this is right up his alley - being about the development of the mixing of political and theological rhetoric.The introduction to the book makes it seem like it’s going to be a little like drinking water from a firehose. The author, Greg Foster, even says that every page is about a decade’s worth of historical development of theology and politics. He also makes a big deal about the concept of natural vs. revealed law, and it will be interesting to see where he takes that. Should be fun….it will also take me a while to read this because we normally read a chapter, discuss, read a chapter, discuss. So expect to see this on my reading list for a while.
Forster's review of religion's influence and participation in the political world is worth a read. The best parts were the discussions of natural law and how it takes an important role in development of state order.
A good intro-level text on Christian political thought, suitable for undergraduate use.