Continuing discussion.

EPS Blog

This is the blog area for the Evangelical Philosophical Society and its journal, Philosophia Christi.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011

Thinking about the Relationship between Centralization and Civil Society: An Interview with John Bolt

How we understand the “centralization” of political power in relationship to the health of a “civil society” is one of the most historically significant topics that a citizen could consider in his or her society. There is some fruitful philosophical work to be done on the nature of civic society, power, centralization, and the importance of a social order that is humanly suited for flourishing.

In my Acton University faculty interview with Professor John Bolt, he helps us understand some of the more salient issues in this discussion and how Christians have and can continue to contribute to this important area. The social vision of Abraham Kuyper and Alexis de Tocqueville are also discussed.

Dr. John Bolt is Professor of Systematic Theology, Calvin Theological Seminary. For John, the task of the systematic theologian is to pay attention to the big picture of the Christian faith, to summarize the grand truths of scripture in a coherent way, and listen closely to the voices of important theologians throughout church history. John's goal is to communicate to students the vision of the Christian faith from a Reformed perspective. John is the author of A Free Church, A Holy Nation: Abraham Kuyper's American Public Theology. He is also the editor of the four volume English edition of Herman Bavinck's Reformed Dogmatics.

Here is an excerpt from our interview:

How does the strength/weakness of a civil society relate to the strength/weakness of centralized power? How do these “dynamics” interrelate?
They are perfectly mutual and symbionic in a pathological way.  Education and cultural critic Neil Postman uses an ecological metaphor to describe this. Responding to Dewey’s dictum that “the teacher always is the true prophet of God and the usherer in of the true kingdom of God,” Postman points to problems created for social ecology when the school takes over the functions of the family, the church and synagogue, etc.  He puts it this way: “The more one social institution encroaches upon the functions of the other, the more it weakens it. “  When the state feels an obligation to feed children as well as teach them the multiplication tables in its schools, signs them up for the latest social, environmental, or political cause as part of their homework,  the state usurps the function and authority of the home and religious community.  
You are the author of the celebrated book, A Free Church, A Holy Nation: Abraham’s Kuyper’s American Public Theology (Eerdmans, 2001). Among the many interesting things in this book, you put Kuyper’s views on poverty, wealth, power, pluralism, etc., in “dialogue” with the thought of Alexis de Tocqueville, Lord Acton, Pope Leo XII, Walter Rauschenbusch, and Jonathan Edwards. Can you give us a preview of what you have found to be so resourceful about Kuyper’s work on the centralization of power and the importance of a civil society?
In the course of working on that book I truly “discovered” Alexis de Tocqueville.  What I discovered is that Abraham Kuyper in one of his very first political addresses quoted Tocqueville more than anyone else.   The two men (along with Lord Acton) shared an anxiety about tyranny, about the tendency of the state to aggrandize power unto itself.  And both realized that the real antidote to state tyranny is a healthy civil society.  Kuyper put it in terms of “spheres of society” that have their own integrity, do not derive their authority from the state but directly from God, and are ultimately responsible to God.  Parents have a right to say “no”  when the state usurps their religious authority as parents.
You can read the full-text of this interview by clicking here.

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