Is Neutrality Anti-Religious?

The insightful Bruce Froehnen offers a standard brief against neutrality:

The lie of a neutral public square, in which we can debate important issues on the basis of “public reason,” is at its heart an anti-religious lie. It rests on the notion that we can set aside our faith and discuss important issues on the basis of reason alone. But faith and reason are not distinct categories of thought and action. Faith and reason are intimately bound up with one another and with a more generalized approach to the world—the imagination. Historically, the vast majority of people have seen the world as intrinsically moral, that is as made up of structures and choices that have intrinsic moral importance. Ethics is central to life, on this view, and is bound up with our general approach to both daily and life-changing issues such as whom to marry and what to demand of government, community, local association, family, neighbor, and self. This conception of life is intrinsically religious, for it rests on recognition of a natural order to our being that makes sense, has moral importance, and calls us to virtue, despite our own failings and limitations. It is a vision that has been under attack for more than two centuries, however, as a seemingly secular vision rooted in human emotions and impulses has sought dominance. This latter view, often termed the “idyllic” imagination and ascribed to Rousseau, sees the intrinsic goals of life as bound up with self-expression and self-actualization. It blames the injustices of life on social structures deemed oppressive or unjust and sees duty as something to be imposed on other people and especially on institutions.

But where would Froehnen put Calvinists who have a distinctly different estimate of humans’ moral potential? Is it possible for Protestants who affirm the following to have a place in Froehnen’s dressed public square:

Q. 25. Wherein consisteth the sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell?
A. The sinfulness of that estate whereinto man fell, consisteth in the guilt of Adam’s first sin, the want of that righteousness wherein he was created, and the corruption of his nature, whereby he is utterly indisposed, disabled, and made opposite unto all that is spiritually good, and wholly inclined to all evil, and that continually; which is commonly called original sin, and from which do proceed all actual transgressions.

Q. 26. How is original sin conveyed from our first parents unto their posterity?
A. Original sin is conveyed from our first parents unto their posterity by natural generation, so as all that proceed from them in that way are conceived and born in sin.

Q. 27. What misery did the fall bring upon mankind?
A. The fall brought upon mankind the loss of communion with God, his displeasure and curse; so as we are by nature children of wrath, bond slaves to Satan, and justly liable to all punishments in this world, and that which is to come.

Such an understanding of human nature post-fall certainly qualifies Froehnen’s sense that ethics are “central to life” or that we all share an understanding of existence that “calls us to virtue.” If neutrality is deceptive, so too is an ethical public square if it leads people to think they can be good “naturally,” apart from grace. And if Froehnen wants to claim that goodness only proceeds from grace, then what does he do in the public square he envisions with people who don’t have grace? Do they need to leave? Or does he expand his understanding of grace — as so many western Christians have done while holding the keys of the establishment — to include everyone as a recipient in some sense of grace? (Say hello to Pope Francis praying with Hindus and Buddhists.)

So maybe a “neutral” public square is not so bad after all. It doesn’t mean having to cut and paste Christian orthodoxy in order to include non-Christians in a common ethical endeavor. Let the civil realm be the civil realm, and the church the church.

If Only Kuyperians Were As Reasonable as Godfrey

Over at Confessional Outhouse, RubeRad (what’s up with those names?) has a quotation from Bob Godfrey’s address at the Westminster California conference on Christ and culture. Here it is:

As is often true in the history of the church, we [Kuyperians and 2K-ers] may not all perfectly agree what the Bible says, but I think we’re all agreed with the principle…The Bible is authoritative in everything that it says, about everything that it talks about. But I think we are also all agreed that the Bible, while authoritative in everything that it talks about, is not exhaustive in everything it talks about. The Bible tells us some things about history, but it doesn’t tell us everything about history. I believe it tell us some things about geology, but I don’t think it tells us everything about geology. I would suggest that it’s really only in three areas that we can say … it also speaks comprehensively, or completely, or exhaustively; we as Reformed Christians are committed to the proposition that that everything we need to know about doctrine and salvation is told to us completely in the Bible. … Secondly, we would say that the Bible is exhaustive in what it teaches us about worship. … And thirdly, the Bible tells us all we need to know about the Church and its government. … But I think we can probably agree as well, whatever our approach to Christ and culture, that the Bible does not speak exhaustively about politics. It says a lot of things about politics, it says a lot of things that are relevant to politics, but I don’t think any of us would want to argue that the Bible tells us absolutely everything we need to know about politics. Does the Bible even indisputably teach us whether we ought to have a democracy, or an aristocracy, or a monarchy? John Calvin says it doesn’t. … I don’t think anybody … would want to argue that every aspect of a platform proposed for a civil election could be derived from the Bible; I don’t think anyone would argue that. … So the Bible is authoritative in all that it says, but it doesn’t say everything about anything except salvation, worship, and church government.

I for one do not know a single advocate of two kingdom theology who would not affirm this. And the good thing about this statement is that it keeps first things first — doctrine, worship, and polity — while allowing for differences on other matters because the Bible itself does not pin down those other areas of human endeavor.

What is odd about RubeRad’s post is that he follows up Godfrey’s quotation with one from John Frame, that RubeRad regards as compatible:

Christians sometimes say that Scripture is sufficient for religion, or preaching, or theology, but not for auto repairs, plumbing, animal husbandry, dentistry, and so forth. And of course many argue that it is not sufficient for science, philosophy, or even ethics. That is to miss an important point. Certainly Scripture contains more specific information relevant to theology than to dentistry. But sufficiency in the present context is not sufficiency of specific information but sufficiency of divine words. Scripture contains divine words sufficient for all of life. It has all the divine words that the plumber needs, and all the divine words that the theologian needs. So it is just as sufficient for plumbing as it is for theology. And in that sense it is sufficient for science and ethics as well.

This strikes me as the typical Frame theological method of taking an inch and turning it into a mile. So people will agree with the idea that divine words are sufficient, some divine words apply to plumbing, and — voila — the Bible becomes as sufficient for plumbing as for theology. Hello!??! Do plumbers really need to study the Bible to plumb the way that theologians do to understand God and his revelation? As Fred Willard’s character in Waiting for Guffman said, “I don’t think sooooo.”

Either way, if more Reformed folks would follow Godfrey’s counsel than Frame’s logic, we might actually find that two-kingdom theology is not radical and that Kuyperian rhetoric is often bloated. Can we get a little reason around here?