Theology, Politics, and Apologetics: Pt. 2

In my previous post, I considered the issue of framing a Christian political theory within a particular theology which in turn might provide a ground for the project of Christian apologetics. The worry which I highlighted was that, unless there can be found some basis on which to ground a Christian political theology, there would be trouble in securing a basis for the possibility of Christian apologetics. Roughly speaking, without some universal common ground for politics, there would be no common ground for apologetics.

Raymond Plant, in his work Politics, Theology and History, considers several broad approaches within Christian theology which deals with this issue of grounding. As Plant argues, the approach of narrative theology, as discussed in my previous post, insists that in principle no such common ground could be found given the ‘tradition-bound’ nature of different moral communities – that is, since different communities (whether religious or otherwise) are based on different narratives and traditions, there cannot be true dialogues across these communities.

Another major approach that Plant considers is that of natural law. Drawing on Aquinas as the paradigmatic natural law theorist, Plant writes: ‘Since the natural law is discernible by reason as well as revelation’, it may well form the basis of a ‘general theory of political morality and political theology’ (pp. 149-50). Among the objections to natural law theory, Plant considers ‘two well-known modern philosophical critiques’: (1) the fact/value dichotomy – that ‘no statements containing normative principles can be derived from factual statements’; and (2) the naturalistic fallacy – that there exists ‘a logical gap between the identification that x is a natural end of human life and the claim that x is good’ (pp. 156-57). I will consider responses to these standard critiques to see whether the approach of a natural law theory may serve as a basis for a Christian political theology in a plural society and for the enterprise of Christian apologetics.

First, the fact/value critique suggests that factual statements – e.g., ‘Human persons naturally desire to associate with others and know the truth about God.’ – do not imply value statements – e.g., ‘Human persons have a moral right to practice religion’. Some natural law theorists such as Henry Veatch have argued that there exists certain normative values which are ‘built into’ human nature. (See Veatch’s ‘Natural Law and the Is-Ought Question’, esp. p. 258.) The problem with such a proposal, however, is that it begs the question of which values are ‘built into’ human nature and which are not, a question which seems to depend on varying conceptions of the human person. For this reason, as Plant argues, the natural law approach, while offering rich resources from which to base a broad approach to constructing common ground, is in the final analysis ultimately inadequate to ground a Christian political theology within liberal society. As for the naturalistic fallacy, like the fact/value critique, it questions the fundamental connection between what is a natural end of human life (e.g., survival, sexual reproduction, social relations) with what is good for human life.

For a failure to address both the fact/value critique and the naturalistic fallacy, it seems that a natural law approach to a Christian political theology is found wanting. In my third and final post in this series, I will propose what I consider to be a more helpful way of forging both a Christian political theology and a basis for Christian apologetics.

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