Christianity, the Friend of Liberalism

Jordan Ballor | October 5, 2016

The Scottish theologian John Baillie (1886–1960) once observed that “the great shadow on the conscience of the modern West is the shadow of the cross.” By this, he meant to point out that the reality of Christ’s life, death, and resurrection throws into doubt the independence and autonomy of modernity. Something greater than modern thought ever dreamed of overshadows its existence, calls it to account, and convicts it of unrighteousness. If we understand modernity to be marked by man’s attempt to free himself from the constraints of the divine, it must be judged a failure, and an inevitable one at that.

For Larry Siedentop—emeritus fellow at Keble College in Oxford—the cross of Christ is the foundation (though not the conviction) of the conscience in the modern West. Modernity is best understood not as a futile project to dethrone God, but as a complex of beliefs, institutions, and norms that uphold the dignity and worth of the individual created in God’s image. Siedentop’s Inventing the Individual: The Origins of Western Liberalism (2014) surveys historical periods from ancient Greece to the late Middle Ages in Europe before concluding with a call to better appreciate the religious—and specifically Christian—background of the modern, secular, liberal order.

Paul and the Papal Revolution 

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