Capital Commentary is the weekly current-affairs publication of CPJ, written to encourage the pursuit of public justice.

The Big Picture

William Edgar


August 8, 2013

By William Edgar

A quick glance at some of the headlines in the news leaves one rather breathless:

- The Muslim Brotherhood faces opposition from fellow Muslims
- Car bombs kill dozens in Iraq
- Interactive art show comes to Central Park
- Pope Francis says he won’t judge gay priests
- Bob Dylan is on tour with “Americanarama”
- Saks sells to Hudson Bay, owner of Lord & Taylor
- Progress is made in understanding eczema
- Rio de Janeiro prepares for the World Cup
- Legislation is pending to rein-in N.S.A. surveillance

And the list goes on. How can we begin to interact with all of these issues, made all the more vivid and urgent by constant media coverage, bringing them hourly on to our screens and apps?

The Center for Public Justice has been addressing these “headline” topics since its inception, but with a deliberate difference. Avoiding piecemeal responses based on gut reactions, or simplistic party lines on any one subject, CPJ depends on its founding principles to help citizens, policymakers, and government respond to the call to pursue justice for all.

First among these principles is the authority of Scripture. CPJ grounds its perspective in biblical revelation, particularly as understood in the Reformed Protestant tradition, while also drawing on insights from other Christian communions as appropriate. The Center also owes a good deal to the movement known loosely as Neo-Calvinism, spearheaded by figures such as Abraham Kuyper (1837-1920) and Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977), who helped interpret biblical revelation as it applies to a modern, pluralistic world. Among the basic principles they developed are (1) the Lordship of Christ over all things and not just the sacred realm, (2) sphere sovereignty, which is the idea that separate institutions such as the church, the government, the school, and the family are ruled by the one Lord Jesus Christ but with separate norms appropriate to their character, (3) common grace, which recognizes that divine wisdom can be imparted to those outside of the family of faith, and (4) Creation as an integrated whole, marred by sin, but not destroyed as Creation. Neo-Calvinists often appeal to the more biblically rooted theme of “creation-fall-redemption” that is free from the dualism that defines the way unbelief typically operates. That dualism separates reality into two competing spheres such “nature-grace” (the Medieval view), or “nature-freedom” (the modern view).

A host of more recent thinkers have helped clarify and refine the vision of these pioneers. James Skillen, the founder of the CPJ, has spoken and written extensively on the nature of Christian Democracy, offering biblical insights into the nature of government, the contours of citizenship, the pros and cons of welfare, and much more. Michael Goheen, Craig Bartholomew and others have helped move forward the discussion about worldviews, fundamental to Kuyper’s vision, recognizing not only the cognitive but the affective and even liturgical aspects of different worldviews. Stanley Carlson-Thies has developed a persuasive approach to religious freedom and is a strong advocate of the faith-based initiatives favored by the US government. Thinkers such as Richard A. Bear, Jr., Edward J. Larson, and Phillip E. Johnson have written in defense of school choice and in criticism of the claimed neutrality of public education. Timothy Sherratt, among others, has defended principled pluralism, a cherished political position of CPJ, which is the view of polity that allows space and freedom of expression for different views within the same society.

But how does one move from these lofty principles to granular issues? There isn’t a single set of applications, or even less a rulebook that squeezes every case into the same pattern. But beginning with the big picture of Christ’s Lordship, creation-fall-redemption, and the call for principled pluralism, we can painstakingly and thoughtfully come to decisions about Egyptian elections, post-American control in Iraq, government surveillance programs, or art in public places.

It is always worthwhile to periodically revisit the principles that animate CPJ’s work, and we should also mindfully reexamine them with a view to refining them and correcting any errors or excesses  There is no way that one advocacy group can possibly respond to every issue that appears in the headlines. Nor should it. Many of the most important issues of the day never make it to the headlines. Some of the most influential leaders and movements are effective precisely because they stay out of the limelight. But let us in every area, including public life, with the apostle Paul “strain forward to what lies ahead, pressing on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:13-14).

- William Edgar is Professor of Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia.

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Capital Commentary is a weekly current-affairs publication of the Center for Public Justice. Published since 1996, it is written to encourage the pursuit of justice. Commentaries do not necessarily represent an official position of the Center for Public Justice but are intended to help advance discussion. Articles, with attribution, may be republished according to our publishing guidelines.”