Sunday, September 7, 2008

An Augustinian Democrat?

What does it mean to be an Augustinian Democrat? Since the term starts with Augustinian, I'll explain what that means and why I've chosen it as the modifier of democrat. To be Augustinian is to say something particular about at least two issues; first, about anthropology or the nature of the human condition, and second, it speaks a particular word about theology, or about who and what God is. To be Augustinian is to have a high regard for the 'awe'ful sovereignty of God, especially in His dealings with mankind. The human side of that equation concerns itself with understanding accurately what it means to be human in our current state. Saint Augustine understood humans to be magnificent creations in their original estate, yet subsequently fundamentally broken. As image bearers of God's own visage, we share moral qualities that elevate us to nearly god-like stature, yet because of our fall from innocence, we now inherit and perpetuate a sinful nature that is continually at odds, not only with God and His revealed will, but also with other humans, the rest of nature, and even ourselves. This diagnosis of our human predicament, both theologically and anthropolically, is, at first blush, a seemingly 'conservative' argument, and in once sense, of course, it is. This underlying anthropology is what lies behind many of my conclusions regarding public policy issues. Yet, this very anthropology, which is actually fundamentally theologically 'conservative' nonetheless leads me towards decisions that quite often appear to be 'liberal' or 'progressive' in the current cultural context. Part of the difficulty in describing these terms adequately is that even though the terminology may be the same, their meanings have changed substantially and may in fact mean something fundamentally different than what they did in different cultural contexts and what is now intended when used. To be 'conservative' theologically is something altogether different than to be conservative culturally or even ideologically. And even within these various domains of conservatism, the term means something different depending upon the time and place of its use. To be ideologically conservative in 1789 America (or England more so!) is something radically different than to be conservative in 2008 America. And of course, since we do live in present day America, even modern conservatism is a contested term, as to what content should adhere to being conservative, being fought out in various journals, blogs, and talk shows. For the sake of clarity, my 'conservatism' is theological more than cultural or ideological, and is born out of the Augustinian tradition exemplified by the Protestant reformers John Calvin and Martin Luther. If you look to their grid of theology and anthropology, you will see my starting point for how I reach my conclusions. Now, it should be added, that even they are fallible humans and are not deserving of uncritical obedience. Yet I believe that they got two key doctrines correct; God and man. The first consequence of this understanding was obviously on man's relationship with God. That's why I adhere so strongly to a reformational view on salvation. Because they got God and man right, they therefore understood much more clearly what was at stake in how we are to be right with God. It is in this area that I am the most conservative. I believe firmly that they got soteriology (salvation doctrine) right because they got anthropology (the doctrine of humankind) and theology (the doctrine fo God) right. The question now becomes, if these views of God and the human condition have impacted the view of salvation, could they impact other views as well? Here is where we enter the political domain. And it is here I hope to explicate what I mean by using the term 'democrat' and why I choose to use it. In the next post I hope to better explain that.

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