A CRITICAL CHRISTIAN VIEW
by James W. Skillen
In this first post I want to introduce some very basic elements of a Christian critical approach to questions of political wisdom and philosophy.
Key questions on political community
A very obvious first point is that Christians should always start with the assumption that human relationships and institutions are subject to God’s creational norms and purposes for human life and exist now (whether people recognize it or not) in relation to the risen and ascended Messiah and Lord, Jesus who holds all authority in heaven and on earth (Matt. 28:18).
What is political life all about and how does it relate to other kinds of human responsibility that are not political? Reformational philosophy must inquire into the distinctive institutional identity of a “political community.” I prefer this phrase in part because it opens the window on the relationship of governments and citizens (or mere subjects). A political community is not a family, a business, a faith community, or a school. Careful philosophical reflection requires that we distinguish what we are analyzing.
One of the key contributions Dooyeweerd made to my thinking was in showing that the political community (which he generally referred to as “state”) is a public-legal institutional community. While it is true, he argued, that every human organization and institution functions legally (and also morally, economically, socially, and in other ways), the political community has a public-legal identity. The way I like to put it is that parents in a family need to do justice to their children as do teachers to students in a school and employers to employees in an enterprise. But a family, or a school, or a business enterprise does not exist to do justice. Each has a distinctive identity that is qualified by a function different from the legal or juridical. As part of a critical Christian approach to political life, then, we need to ask what kind of public-legal institutional communities exist and how do they function in relation to other kinds of human relationships and organizations. And this question leads to others: what basis do we have for judging that a political community is more or less just? What are the characteristics of better, healthier, more just polity?