Common tropes concerning the pluralistic and multicultural nature of Western culture and liberalism have proven shaky due to the growing awareness and reception of Islam in Western nations. Despite claims to neutrality and objectivity, Western secularism, of course, has particular commitments concerning the nature of religion and its place within society. Such claims involve the ideas that religion ought to be kept private, personal, and aesthetic, rather than public, pervasive, and deeply seated. Nowhere is this seen more clearly than in its reception of Islam—a religion that sees the integral connections between faith-commitments and public life. A clash has inevitably ensued, and the allegedly multicultural and open-minded claims of secularism, Matthew Kaemingk demonstrates, have failed to deliver on its promises. Kaemingk’s book is a timely project, especially in the current political climate. It argues a provocative thesis: that Christianity can offer a third way between muscular liberalism and theocratic ambition: Christianity provides the resources for a deep pluralism precisely because it stands on a biblical world-view that presents a sacrificed Saviour. That is, though Christians are opposed to directional pluralism (that a diversity of world-views exists which lead rational agents away from Christ), they must embrace cultural and structural pluralism, and in fact see these diverse expressions of life as a normative good. This leads them to take for granted that, in this present age and order, a plurality of faith-commitments and cultures will abide, and that it is a Christian’s task to preserve juridical pluralism, according to which the government’s role is to protect the ‘legal rights and freedoms of different cultures, religions, associations, and ideologies from undue harassment and harm’ (p. 18). Kaemingk argues that the popular impulse which calls one to downplay religious claims in the public sphere in order to produce greater peace has only produced a secular hegemony that seems bent on eradicating real pluriformity, and strips genuine pluralism of the foundations it needs. In fact, it is precisely because Christians are committed to the exclusive lordship of Christ that they can embrace deep pluralism: ‘Demanding that the Christian pluralist assume a posture of ambivalence toward Christ will rob her pluralism of its foundation, inspiration, and strength. Reducing Jesus to one moral teacher among many, the carpenter from Nazareth might inspire the pluralist to love her friends—but never her enemies’ (p. 19). More, Kaemingk seeks to explore this argument not from the venue of philosophical exploration, but through a case study of Islam’s reception in the Netherlands, while applying distinctly neo-Calvinistic resources to the tumultuous political climate in the United States. The book, then, is split into four parts: the first explores directly how a rather violent clash has occurred between liberal and Islamic world-views in the Netherlands. The second part retrieves Abraham Kuyper’s critique of uniformity and construction of plurality, based on his theological vision of Christ’s lordship and the Christian’s public vocation. The third expands on Kuyper’s vision by fleshing it out with other christological realities, such as his servanthood and priesthood, through the reflections of Herman Bavinck, Klaas Schilder, and Hans Boersma. It also provides particular examples of how Christians ought to live this out in practice through the ritual practices of worship. The final part draws from these insights and applies them to American Christianity and culture. Kuyper’s incisive (and rarely drawn) insights concerning the temptation towards hegemony (which is present in both secular and religious world-views) and commitment to plurality hinge on the claim that Christ alone can bring about ideological unity. No state or political power can claim sovereignty or the right to control the philosophical bent of the spheres of society because no sphere can have directional neutrality. Because of sin, no unity can be expected and so no unity can be forced. Liberalism, too, was no exception: it is one faith among many—it has a particular understanding of life’s purpose and meaning, and these views impact on how one might run schools, hospitals, galleries, and so on. To enforce moral and ideological unity is to exercise a right and power that belongs only to God. Because this is the case, Christians should orient themselves to the present order of common grace and prevent the overreaching tendencies of the government while limiting the Christian’s reach, too, over non-Christian organizations. While the government should ensure, say, that funding would reach social services well and that these social services would provide basic resources (e.g. that schools teach math and reading), it is not the state’s job to dictate to society’s organizational structures their world-views or ideologies. Refreshing, here, is the emphasis on the common-grace approach as distinct from a natural-law epistemology and ethics (pp. 107, 146–54). A common-grace approach is distinct from appeals to natural law because the entrance of sin has problematized access to the creational ordinances. Common grace might allow for formal agreements, but such agreements cannot be guaranteed, demanded, or expected. Agreements rest on antithetical ideological foundations, and common-grace agreements are momentary, and thus never ultimately stable, resting also on the providential work of the Holy Spirit. No appeal to nature can be non-problematically expected or secured to be fruitful for public reasoning, and, moreover, a naked appeal to nature is unfaithful to revelation’s construal of the present redemptive-historical age and fallen humanity’s absolute dependence upon grace. The third section fills in the lack of emphasis in Kuyper concerning other facts of Christ’s person and work. While Kuyper focused primarily on Christ as the sovereign Lord, Herman Bavinck emphasizes the whole Christ for the whole life. Kaemingk then draws from Schilder’s picture of Christ as the slave-lord and naked king. Following the whole Christ means treating Muslims within a specifically christological frame and viewing them as creatures in God’s image, worthy of service and imbued with dignity. Following the works of pragmatic philosophers who argue that habits and communal practices nurture hospitality and social cohesion in a manner that merely intellectual arguments cannot, Kaemingk then points to the liturgical movements of ecclesial worship that should inform the Christian’s welcoming of the foreigner. The Gospel’s acceptance is enacted by the church in action towards others, and worship forms the Christian for humility, lament, death, and service. The call, then, is not for mere political activism but hospitality as ‘a way of life’ (p. 237). This book’s brief final section closes with reflections on the American situation and Muslim immigration there, calling Christians to reject the right–left political binary, to create deep plurality, find Muslim co-belligerents, deconstruct Christian nationalism, and so on. This book is broad in scope and impressive in execution. It draws from a neglected tradition that ought to be recognized as perhaps the most fecund, pliable, and theologically grounded for today’s public and intellectual climate. While one might quibble with certain minor sections here and there (for example, is it right to agree with Wolterstorff’s characterization of Kuyper as a postmodernist born out of season [p. 97]? Was not Kuyper simply giving a denser account of biblical themes that anticipated the emphases of postmodernity, which remedied the ailments of modernity? Does the emphasis on the Sabbath day as nourishment for the work of the coming week eclipse its creation of a real hunger for the new creation to come, where Christians will finally be home [pp. 209–10]? Does the emphasis on liturgical formation and bodily action eclipse the transformation that occurs by beholding the glory of God [2 Cor. 3:18]?), such questions are far outweighed by the book’s weight and usefulness. One has often asked how neo-Calvinism’s high ideals might be applied concretely and publicly, and one can still ask what that might look like when Christianity is the minority in a majority Islamic nation (like Indonesia). However, for those looking for an incisive and urgent neo-Calvinist example, look no further: tolle lege. © The Author(s) 2018. Published by Oxford University Press. All rights reserved. For permissions, please email: firstname.lastname@example.org This article is published and distributed under the terms of the Oxford University Press, Standard Journals Publication Model (https://academic.oup.com/journals/pages/about_us/legal/notices)
Journal of Theological Studies – Oxford University Press
Published: Apr 26, 2018
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