Three Responses to “Hopeful Realism”

Jul 31, 2022 by

by Jordan Ballor, Bradford Littlejohn and Andrew Walker, Public Discourse:

The evangelical embrace of natural law must continue to mature, and “hopeful realism” is a meaningful step forward in this respect. However, a postliberal would be quick to detect some slippage in the authors’ statements about the most important common political good that must guide any functional society: its religious vision. Additionally, one area for further development in their proposal is a more explicit basis for how their proposal is “evangelical.”

Last week, Jesse Covington, Bryan McGraw, and Micah Watson wrote a Long Read that mapped out a framework for how evangelicals should engage public life. “Hopeful realism,” as they termed it, seeks to situate evangelical politics in the Augustinian natural law tradition while remaining mindful of the twenty-first century’s challenges and circumstances.

In today’s essay, three Protestant thinkers critically engage with the Hopeful Realism arguments…

…One area for further development in their proposal is a more explicit basis for how their proposal is “evangelical.” Here I see two options to move forward: To recognize both a theory of evangelical enactment and evangelical origin.

In the quote above, Augustine sets forth a positive vision for why Christians should seek to exert influence within a society. This vision can guide us to an understanding of evangelical enactment. As Augustine says, we should not seek power or influence for power or influence’s own sake. But because Christians have knowledge about the world and its attendant goods, one way we can tell the truth is to see the positive good that can come from Christians’ using the levers of influence for the benefit of all. A Christian political ethic would not seek its own hegemonic dominance or privilege, but would seek to expose and point to the ultimate good using penultimate means. A justly ordered political society open to God’s created order is more apt to be redeemed.

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