Book review: “Limits of Liberal Democracy: Religion and Politics at the End of Modernity,” Scott Moore, IVPress, 2009. -Part 1

I’ve just done a quick reading of this interesting book and want to share some thoughts with you. In general, my impression is that this is a good introduction to the book Moore really needs to write. It is essentially seven chapters of leading up to the final chapter, which delivers the message for which he has been preparing us but which in fact is too slim to carry the weight. Nonetheless I appreciate the idea he is putting forward. I just want to hear more.

Chapter One is an enticing Introduction and is well worth reading in its own right. Moore argues that the Enlightenment has offered us two basic political alternatives but that in the end they seem not to differ much from one another.One of the factors they seem to share is that our national laws are the most basic factors defining who we are as a people. That’s why, for example, the battles against abortion have so commonly been turned toward the call for new laws to overturn Roe v Wade. Surely, some think, law must be the answer.

Moore promises that he will show us a third way, a approach to ordering the polis without dependence on Washington to fix America. But between the introductory chapter  and the concluding chapter come way too much detail about a set of debates and arguments that took place in the mid 90s. They were centered, at least in Moore’s telling, around the journal First Things and the controversial appointment of a new kind of professor at Notre Dame. Remember all the fuss over those two? Neither do I, nor will many — I suspect — think they are worth six chapters in this book, though they do illustrate the problems that arise when we wrestle with questions of the appropriate relation between church and state.

Moore, finally reaching his conclusion, proffers the critique that the cardinal virtue in a people dependent up Enlightenment “autonomy of the individual” has become that of mere tolerance. In practice, tolerance tends to be indistinguishable from indifference and thus leads to what we can see in an increase in loneliness in our country. Instead, Moore says what we in the church need to be demonstrating not mere tolerance but hospitality, creating safe places and relationships both with our fellowships and out of the institutional church in the places where most people live and work.

He grounds this idea — though without working it out carefully — in the incarnation of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of John identifies Jesus Christ and says something about him that must have shocked first century readers. “John 1:1-4  In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people.” [Those familiar with Greek philosophy will recognize that here John is deliberately using their language about the “word,” the logos. I’ll not go into that here.]

Please don’t fail to read the second half of this review, which includes my response to the book.



About mthayes42

I am a retired pastor, interested in the Bible, cross-cultural ministries, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, and the current and past history of western civilization.
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