Are the Roots of Modern Liberalism Christian?

There is some excellent discussion going on (you will need to scroll down a bit) over at The Immanent Frame on Nicholas Wolterstoff’s new book, Justice: Rights and Wrongs.

I have yet to read Wolterstorff’s book, but from what I can glean from this discussion and other reviews, he is arguing that the roots of justice and rights are not to be found in Greek or Roman civilization, the Renaissance or the Enlightenment, but in the Bible and the early church fathers.

Much of Wolterstorff’s argument is based on the scholarly work of political scientists John Witte Jr. and Brian Tierney, whose recent books are on my reading list as I work on my current project on Christian America.

I found the posts by John Schmalzbauer and James K.A. Smith especially interesting. Schmalzbauer discusses the ways that evangelicals have struggled to adopt “rights talk”:

…evangelicals regard “rights talk” as an alien language with little connection to Biblical faith. Raised in the evangelical subculture, I have experienced this attitude firsthand. During my undergraduate years at Wheaton College, one of my professors presented the class with a startling claim: human rights are a product of modern political thought and cannot be found in the Bible. At the time, I wondered how he could square this statement with the dozens of Bible verses proclaiming the rights of the poor. In Justice: Rights and Wrongs, Yale University philosopher Nicholas Wolterstorff offers a devastating critique of the historical narrative employed by my professor.

Smith claims that Wolterstorff is promoting a “Whig Calvinism”–a Reformed version of the neo-conservative Catholicism associated with the late Richard John Neuhaus and his First Things gang. He concludes: “Wolterstorff…has unwittingly been assimilated to regnant paradigms in liberal political thought and is now “baptizing” them with a theological story.”

The posts by Schmalzbauer, Smith, and others are worth checking out in their entirety. I should also add the Wolterstorff responds to his critics.

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