Well, since Francis Beckwith has visited us at Vanguard Church (see that previous post) with a gracious comment, I figure it is probably time for me to give my two cents on what troubles me about his article (though I must be crazy to do so; Beckwith is an accomplished philosopher and conservative political specialist). Thanks, Francis, for taking the time to comment both here and at Friend of Kuyper; I hope this post is taken as a Christian critique in love and not with any malice.
In this post, I will be citing his original article that appeared on The American Spectator web page. I encourage you to have the original article up alongside this critique.
Here’s my main critique of Francis Beckwith’s article: He charges a group he calls the “liberal-secular chattering class” with not being able to understand hypocrisy because they have a deeply flawed understanding of the human condition. In doing so, Beckwith proves to not truly believe in natural law and common grace, and thus he cuts off his ability to reach out to liberal-secularists with an apologetic that can be fruitful.
First, what is “Natural Law?” Natural law says that since all human beings are created in the “Image of God,” they have the innate ability to receive “General Revelation” through God’s “Common Grace.” God has set in place certain “Orders for Creation” and he is active in sustaining those orders. God’s “Common Grace” preserves these orders, rebuking us when we do not keep them and leading us to the greater grace that saves. The interior witness of God’s common grace is the “Conscience,” which all humans have (this explains why all humanity has the innate ability to seek justice and to right wrongs, whether they do it righteously or not). The requirements of Common Grace are found in Natural Law, which is confirmed and illuminated by the Christian Scriptures. Many evangelicals have not embraced the historic Christian tradition of natural law.
Beckwith mentions Natural Law twice in his article while all the while denying its ability to do what it is supposed to do.
Beckwith starts out by saying,
“In the tragic case of Pastor Ted Haggard, an ever-expanding number of liberal writers and bloggers are cheerfully celebrating the fall of this man.”
I agree that it is indeed ugly when people “cheerfully celebrate” someone’s fall. But the fact remains that since they are doing so (as ugly as it is), we have evidence that they have an innate ability to spot hypocrisy.
Beckwith then goes to the ultimate source for defining hypocrisy and how to react to it, Jesus Christ:
“One does not find Jesus finding satisfaction or joy in the failure of others.”
Amen to that!
“Remember that for Jesus, hypocrisy was a vice found in the hearts of those who thought they were spiritually and morally superior to others.”
Again, I agree (as the passage from Matthew 7 so clearly teaches). But the question is this: Is not Ted Haggard the very epitome of this? In the now-famous clip from Jesus Camp, he pokes fun of those who live secret homosexual lives. And yet, he is the one who has been allegedly doing this very same thing. The words of Jesus seem very appropriate in this case: “Stop judging, that you may not be judged. For as you judge, so will you be judged, and the measure with which you measure will be measured out to you” (Matt 7:1-2).
I think that what really seems uncouth or not epitomizing a Christian attitude in Beckwith’s article is how he uses the fall of Ted Haggard and the liberals’ correctly calling it “hypocrisy” as an opportunity to rail against the liberals. Instead of taking the time to agree with anyone who would identify Haggard as a hypocrite, he goes after a group that he calls the “liberal-secular chattering class” (without identifying who this “class” is). Pejorative name-calling simply does not help the cause when we are trying to make a case in the public sphere. I am always frustrated when a Christian resorts to this tactic rather than trying to create an authentic public apologetic. Maybe if he identified the “liberal-secular chattering class,” I could agree with him, since they must be some very small minority that should be blasted in this way. However, I do not know very many people in secular society who rightly call Haggard a hypocrite that would not, on one level or another, embrace the idea that humanity is deeply flawed. There certainly are those outside the Christian worldview that seek solutions to this deep flaw in ways other than the grace of God (i.e., education or social reform or the like), but their very attempts at social reform is evidence that they believe, at some level, that humanity is not what it is supposed to be.
Now to my main critique of Beckwith’s article. In his rant against the “liberal-secularists,” he states that it's not clear “what a typical liberal-secularist could appeal in order to condemn hypocrisy.” And, “How does the liberal-secularist find warrant for his moral judgment that hypocrisy is wrong? I do not know.”
Well, Francis, you should know! You identified it in your article! It is called “Natural Law.” You seem to think that the secularist has to know that he understands right from wrong due to the grace of God in order for their discernment to have any credibility. But that is not the case. It does not matter what the secularist “appeals to,” it is simply the case that God gives all humans the innate ability to identify hypocrisy.
As J. Budziszewski writes (in his recent book, Evangelicals in the Public Square),
“What the Christian natural law tradition teaches us is what nonbelievers, in fragmentary fashion, already know—whether or not they know that they know it, whether or not they think they know it, and even if they would rather not know it. Viewed this way, the art of cultural apologetic is less a matter of laying foundations than of digging up and repairing them, less a matter of talking people into truths they do not yet know than of dredging up what they do know but have not acknowledged. In the words of the apostle Paul, a law is written on the heart. In fallen humans, it is far easier to suppress than we might wish, but it altogether impossible to erase” (p. 37)
It does not matter whether or not a person knows the source of their moral discernment. from the Christian perspective, it is from the common grace of God.
Beckwith correctly points out the inconsistencies of the secularist’s worldview, but that does not negate the fact that, theologically, we understand that if anybody understands right from wrong, it is by the common grace of God. We must remember that everyone is inconsistent in their thinking this side of glory. The Fall has had effects on the noetic abilities in all of humanity. Every one of us cannot know for certain that we are thinking correctly (in an absolute sense) about anything. But praise to God, who, in his Common Grace, breaks through the noetic affects of the Fall so that we can know some things rightly.
“It seems, then, that the liberal-secularist's worldview is bereft of resources by which he may condemn hypocrisy as morally wrong.”
It may seem that way to Beckwith, since he does not embrace the concepts of Natural Law and Common Grace, but it does not seem that way to me.
Beckwith then wraps with saying,
“Perhaps by finding fault in Jesus' pretended followers, the liberal-secularist thinks he can mollify his nagging doubt that Jesus may have indeed been right that we live in a moral universe? Perhaps.”
Well, yes, perhaps. But just as likely an explanation is that the “liberal-secularist” has an innate ability to know a hypocrite when he sees one. He is able to identify that when a religious leader preaches against something and then is caught doing that exact same thing, he is a fraud.
If Christians cannot admit that people can spot hypocrisy or if Christians believe that nonbelievers have no basis for determining right from wrong, then we have no ability to have a cultural apologetic. Our common ground is lost. Instead of attacking the "liberal-secularists," perhaps Christians should agree with them on this count...
...and begin to build bridges through the common ground that exists so that the Christian worldview can begin to have a positive influence in society.
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