. 1
( 12)


A Theology of Public Life

What has Washington to do with Jerusalem? In the raging
debates about the relationship between religion and
politics, no one has explored the religious bene¬ts and
challenges of public engagement for Christian believers “
until now. This ground-breaking book defends and details
Christian believers™ engagement in contemporary plural-
istic public life, not from the perspective of some neutral
˜˜public,™™ but from the particular perspective of Christian
faith, arguing that such engagement enriches both public
life and Christian citizens™ faith itself. As such it offers not
a ˜˜public theology,™™ but a ˜˜theology of public life,™™
analyzing the promise and perils of Christian public
engagement, and discussing the nature of civic commit-
ment and prophetic critique, and the relation of a loving
faith to a liberal politics of justice. Theologically rich,
philosophically rigorous, politically, historically and
sociologically informed, this book advances contemporary
discussion of ˜˜religion and public life™™ in fundamental

charles mathewes is Associate Professor of Religious
Studies, University of Virginia. His other publications
include Evil and the Augustinian Tradition (2001).
Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine

Edited by
Professor Daniel W. Hardy, University of Cambridge
Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine is an important series which aims
to engage critically with the traditional doctrines of Christianity, and at
the same time to locate and make sense of them within a secular context.
Without losing sight of the authority of scripture and the traditions of the
church, the books in this series subject pertinent dogmas and credal
statements to careful scrutiny, analysing them in light of the insights of
both church and society, and thereby practise theology in the fullest sense
of the word.

Titles published in the series
1. Self and Salvation: Being Transformed

2. Realist Christian Theology in a Postmodern Age

3. Trinity and Truth

4. Theology, Music and Time

5. The Bible, Theology, and Faith: A Study of Abraham and Jesus

6. Bound to Sin: Abuse, Holocaust and the Christian Doctrine of Sin

7. Church, World and the Christian Life: Practical-Prophetic Ecclesiology
8. Theology and the Dialogue of Religions

9. A Political Theology of Nature

10. Worship as Meaning: A Liturgical Theology
for Late Modernity

11. God, the Mind™s Desire: Reference, Reason and
Christian Thinking

12. The Creativity of God: World, Eucharist, Reason

13. Theology and the Drama of History

14. Prophecy and Discernment

15. Theology, Political Theory and Pluralism: Beyond
Tolerance and Difference

16. Christian Wisdom: Desiring God and Learning in Love

17. A Theology of Public Life

Forthcoming titles in the series
Remythologizing Theology: Divine Action and

Theology, Society and the Church
A Theology of Public Life

charles mathewes
University of Virginia
Cambridge, New York, Melbourne, Madrid, Cape Town, Singapore, São Paulo

Cambridge University Press
The Edinburgh Building, Cambridge CB2 8RU, UK
Published in the United States of America by Cambridge University Press, New York
Information on this title: www.cambridge.org/9780521832267

© Charles Mathewes 2007

This publication is in copyright. Subject to statutory exception and to the provision of
relevant collective licensing agreements, no reproduction of any part may take place
without the written permission of Cambridge University Press.
First published in print format 2007

eBook (NetLibrary)
ISBN-13 978-0-511-34236-3
ISBN-10 0-511-34236-5 eBook (NetLibrary)
ISBN-13 978-0-521-83226-7
ISBN-10 0-521-83226-8

Cambridge University Press has no responsibility for the persistence or accuracy of urls
for external or third-party internet websites referred to in this publication, and does not
guarantee that any content on such websites is, or will remain, accurate or appropriate.
This book is for my mother
Martha Thomas Mathewes
ix.30.1935 “ i.1.2006

She loves me like a rock
“ Paul Simon
Saeculum autem hoc eremus est
Augustine, sermo. 4.9.9

Acknowledgments x
List of abbreviations for works by St. Augustine xiv

Introduction: Life in the epilogue, during the world

A theology of engagement 29
Part I
Introduction to Part I 31
1 Life before God 43
2 Life in the world 74
3 Life together 105

Part II The liturgy of citizenship 143
Introduction to Part II 145
4 Faithful citizenship 169
5 Hopeful citizenship 214
6 Charitable citizenship 261
Conclusion: The republic of grace; or, the public
rami¬cations of heaven 308

List of references 322
Index 357


The tale grew in the telling. It began with re¬‚ection on a sermon,
given by Revd. Sam Portaro at Brent House at the University of
Chicago, on the oddities of the agenda of ˜˜putting Christ back into
Christmas™™ “ the upshot of which was that Christ would not get into
Christmas by some sort of willed politico-cultural imposition, but
rather by being found already there, in the vulgar and kitschy
desires that we various theological snobs sniff at. I have written this
always thinking of his last line: ˜˜That, after all, is how Christ got
into Christmas in the ¬rst place.™™ That sermon, hundreds more, and
the liturgies of which they were a part, shaped this book decisively;
and so I thank Revd. Portaro, Revd. Bruce Epperly, Revd. Jeffrey
Fishwick, Revd. Paula Kettlewell, and Revd. Jonathan Voorhees,
and the communities of Brent House at the University of Chicago,
St. Paul™s Charlottesville, and Christ Church Charlottesville, for
teaching me the way of Christ, albeit as awkwardly and abashedly as
Episcopalians do that sort of thing.
Numerous colleagues have read parts of this book and offered
useful advice; I especially thank Tal Brewer, John Bowlin, Luke
Bretherton, Patrick Deneen, Eric Gregory, Paul Grif¬ths, Eric
Jacobsen, Slavica Jakelic Derek Jeffreys, Kristen Deede Johnson,
Robin Lovin, Aristotle Papanikolaou, Chad Pecknold, Jon Schofer,
Kathleen Skerritt, Darlene Weaver, Jim Wetzel, William Werpe-
howski, Paul Wright, Diane M. Yeager, and Phil Ziegler. When I met
Oliver Davies, I recognized a sympathetic mind, with a kindred
theological attitude. Continued discussions with William Schweiker,
particularly throughout his Lilly-funded project on ˜˜Property,


Possession, and the Christian Faith,™™ gave me whatever instruction I
have on matters relating to religion and culture.
Several journals, and one publisher, were good enough to allow
me to reprint material that ¬rst appeared in their pages. I have
drawn on the following in this book: ˜˜On Using the World,™™ in
Having: Property, Possession, and Religious Discourse, ed. Charles Mathewes
and William Schweiker (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 2004);
˜˜Reconsidering the Role of Mainline Churches in Public Life,™™ in
Theology Today, 58.4 (January, 2002); ˜˜Faith, Hope, and Agony:
Christian Political Participation Beyond Liberalism,™™ in The Annual of
the Society of Christian Ethics, 21 (2001); ˜˜Augustinian Anthropology:
Interior intimo meo,™™ in Journal of Religious Ethics, 27.2 (June, 1999);
˜˜Pluralism, Otherness, and the Augustinian Tradition,™™ in Modern
Theology, 14.1 (January, 1998).
I have worked in the Department of Religious Studies at the
University of Virginia for the past nine years, and I have now lived
here in Charlottesville longer than I have lived anywhere else in my
life. Many graduate students helped me, especially Sarah Azaransky,
Brantley Craig, Willis Jenkins, Emily Gravett, Karen Guth, Paul
Macdonald, Jon Malesic, Angel Mendez, Mark Ryan, Keith Starken-
burg, Jeff Vogel, and Chad Wayner. My colleagues in the depart-
ment, particularly Jennifer Geddes, Asher Biemann, Larry Bouchard,
Jim Childress, Jamie Ferriera, Charles Marsh, Margaret Mohrmann,
Peter Ochs, and, during their time here, John Milbank, Gene Rogers
and Corey Walker deserve great thanks. My department Chair,
Harry Gamble, has been a welcome sage and supporter throughout.
In Spring 2003 an undergraduate research seminar was dedicated to
reading a draft of this book, and the students in that seminar “
Patricia Amberly, Peter Andres, Sarah Jobe, Sarah McKim, Cate Oli-
ver, and William Winters “ contributed materially to it. I also thank
Carl Trindle, Principle of Brown College at UVA, for sponsoring the
seminar “ and for much more.
A sabbatical at the Center for the Study of Religion at Princeton
University also shaped the book. Robert Wuthnow, R. Marie Grif¬th,
Anita Kline, Elliot Ratzman, Leora Batnitzky, Penny Edgell, Leigh
Schmidt, Jeff Stout, and Lisa Sideris all gave generously of their time
and attention. A seminar taught by Peter Brown and Neil McLynn
while I was at Princeton “ ˜˜Emperors and Bishops™™ “ greatly aided
my amateur understanding of late antiquity.
xii Acknowledgments

Sometime in my ¬rst month at Virginia I met James Davison
Hunter, who soon after introduced me to his brainchild, the Insti-
tute for Advanced Studies in Culture. Ever since, I have been an
underlaborer in the work of the Institute and its offspring, the
Center on Religion and Democracy. It is no exaggeration to say that
this book would not exist without the continual stimulation, pro-
vocation, and inspiration that this remarkable intellectual com-
munity has provided. I thank Joseph Davis, Justin Holcombe, Slavica
Jakelic, Steven Jones, John Owen, Edward Song, and the many oth-
ers who have argued and discussed with me the matters of this
book. In the summer of 2002, CORD sponsored a manuscript
workshop wherein my book and others were subjected to a week of
meticulous attention from my fellow participants Pamela Cochran,
Eric Gregory, Paul Lichterman, Ann Mongoven, and Brett Wilmot.
Shelley Reese Sawyer™s meticulous attention secured the work-
shop™s success, and I am grateful to her as well. But I especially
thank James Hunter for dedicating so much of his time and energy
to ensure that others could think and write and talk and simply
spend time living the life of the mind “ not in an undisciplined, but
in a supra-disciplined manner.
For their incessant patience, and gentle encouragement, never
rising to the (well-warranted) level of threats, the next-to-last thanks
must go to the good people at Cambridge University Press. I have
been fortunate to have editors who care about my work, and I thank
Kevin Taylor and Kate Brett for their long-suffering forbearance,
acumen, and prudence. I am also immensely grateful to Dan Hardy,
editor of the ˜˜Cambridge Studies in Christian Doctrine™™ series, for
his faith, hope, and charity as regards this work, and particularly in
his herculean labors in reading and re-reading its versions.
I thank all the above; but several people merit individual recog-
My friend Josh Yates has been a boon companion throughout my
time at Virginia. We arrived in Charlottesville the same semester,
and since then we have been unindicted intellectual co-con-
spirators, occasional running partners, and signi¬cant ¬nancial
underwriters of several local coffee shops. I am deeply grateful for
the patience and charity that he has always shown me, as well as for
his intelligence, generosity, and example.

My wife and colleague Jennifer Geddes remains my primary
conversation partner, my most insightful critic, and my love. Her
belief in this project, and in its author, carried them both through
when things looked bleakest “ and you, dear reader, owe her thanks
for saving you from a seventh chapter.
Our daughter Isabelle was born during the composition of this
book. Before she arrived, we never imagined working so hard, or
being so happy. She is an ever-present reminder both of this book™s
immediate urgency and of its ultimate unimportance; I am not sure
for which I am more grateful.
My mother, Martha Thomas Mathewes, has been with this book
since before it began and with its author for some time before that
as well. She is the person who ¬rst oriented me to the world, and
she has always been my guiding star. If this book expresses an
attitude, a way of living in the world, it is as much hers as anyone™s.
I hope she will approve.

Charlottesville, Virginia
January 6, 2006
Abbreviations for works by St. Augustine

ad Gal. expositio epistolae ad Galatas
conf. confessiones
contra acad. contra academicos
DCD de civitate Dei
DDC de doctrina Christiana
de mor. de moribus ecclesiae catholicae
de pat. de patientiae
de Trin. de Trinitate
DUC de utilitate credendi
DVR de vera religione
ennar. ennarationes in Psalmos
ep. epistulae
Gen. ad litt. de Genesi ad litteram
in Io. ep. in Iohannis epistulam tractatus
sermo. sermones

Introduction: Life in the epilogue,
during the world

A mirror for Christian citizens
What has Washington to do with Jerusalem? This book aims to
answer this question. It provides Christian believers with one way to
understand why and how they should participate in public life. It
does so by offering a broadly Augustinian ˜˜theology of public life,™™ a
picture of Christian life as it should be lived in public engagement.
The title foreshadows the argument. The book studies ˜˜public life,™™
not simply ˜˜politics.™™ ˜˜Public life™™ includes everything concerned with
the ˜˜public good™™ “ everything from patently political actions such as
voting, campaigning for a candidate, or running for of¬ce, to less
directly political activities such as serving on a school board or plan-
ning commission, volunteering in a soup kitchen, and speaking in a
civic forum, and to arguably non-political behaviors, such as simply
talking to one™s family, friends, co-workers, or strangers about public
matters of common concern.1 Furthermore, this study is undertaken as
a ˜˜theology of public life,™™ not a ˜˜public theology.™™ Typically, ˜˜public
theologies™™ are self-destructively accommodationist: they let the ˜˜lar-
ger™™ secular world™s self-understanding set the terms, and then ask
how religious faith contributes to the purposes of public life, so
understood. In contrast, a theology of public life de¬nes ˜˜the public™™
theologically, exploring its place in the created and fallen order and in
the economy of salvation.2 Hence, whereas public theologies take as

1. See Shapiro 1990: 276, and Stiltner 1999.
2. For an analogous contrast between a theology of nature and a natural theology,
see Schreiner 1995: 122.

2 A Theology of Public Life

their primary interlocutors non-believers skeptical of the civic
propriety of religious engagement in public life, this theology of public
life takes as its primary audience Christian believers unsure of the
religious fruitfulness of civic engagement; and it argues to them that
they can become better Christians, and their churches better Christian
communities, through understanding and participating in public life
as an ascetical process of spiritual formation.
Yet while Christians are its primary audience, all persons of good
will who are interested in public life can read it with pro¬t. Non-
Christians will ¬nd explications of (what should be) the rationale for
many of their Christian fellow citizens™ public engagement, so they
may use this book as a Baedeker, a dictionary to a language that
many of their interlocutors employ; and they may also ¬nd that the
book™s theological analysis illuminates the structures and patterns
that form (and deform) public life in advanced industrial societies.
Furthermore, readers in other traditions may ¬nd help of a different
sort; because the book offers an unapologetically particularistic
approach that speaks to public matters without assuming that all its
interlocutors share its local categories, they may ¬nd useful pro-
vocation, viable support, and a suggestive model for analogous
projects undertaken from within their own perspectives.
˜˜Unapologetically particularistic™™ is key: using the ¬rst-order
vernacular of Christian faith, it argues that Christians can and
should be involved in public life both richly as citizens “ working
for the common good while remaining open, conversationally and
otherwise, to those who do not share their views “ and thoroughly
as Christians “ in ways ascetically appropriate to, and invigorating of,
their spiritual formation, not least by opening their own convictions
to genuine transformation by that engagement.
Such a project involves two distinct undertakings. First, it entails a
theology of faithful Christian citizenship, which will unpack how the
basic dynamics of faithful Christian existence promote Christians™
engagement in public life during the world and inform their under-
standing of the shape and purpose of such life. Second, it offers an
ascetics of such citizenship, an analysis of how that citizenship should
be lived by Christians as a means of training them in their funda-
mental vocation as citizens of the kingdom of heaven, particularly
considering those forces “ material, structural, institutional, cultural,
and intellectual “ that mis-shape our engagement in public life today.
Introduction: Life in the epilogue

For many centuries there was a genre of political writing called
the ˜˜mirror for Christian princes,™™ wherein potentates could see
what they should be striving to emulate as ˜˜godly rulers.™™ This book
is a mirror for Christian citizens. In public engagement, Christian
believers do not seek simply to do the right thing; they also
undertake a properly ˜˜ascetical™™ engagement with the world.
Interpreting and endorsing that ascetical engagement is my ulti-
mate aim here “ a task captured in the phrase ˜˜during the world.™™
Explaining this will take some time.

Why (and which) believers need a dogmatics of
public life
The book builds upon previous debates on religion™s role in
public life, but does not contribute to it. It assumes that those
debates have by and large ended, and that what we may call the
accommodationists won, and the ˜˜public reason™™ advocates lost.
This was not supposed to happen. Once upon a time, the con-
sensus (or near-consensus, anyway) was that religion was declining,
increasingly marginalized, and in any event simply a mask for
ideological debates more properly about material interests. Hence,
most thinkers believed, religious convictions should be translated
into a more properly ˜˜public™™ vernacular before entering the public
sphere. A small minority “ a faithful remnant, if you will “ insisted
that public life should accommodate particularistic religious voices;
but they too were seen as relics, merely of antiquarian interest.
What a difference the last few decades have made. Each premise
of the ˜˜public reason™™ argument has proven false. Quite clearly,
religion is not, pace expectations, going away. Against predictions of
inevitable secularization “ and the concomitant marginalization of
religious believers, languages, and arguments “ sociologists, poli-
tical scientists, and historians have shown that in modernity reli-
gion can and does remain vital in both private and public life, even
as it changes its character.3 Furthermore, religion qua religion seems
often quite ˜˜functional™™ in modern societies. Given the substantial

3. See Asad 2003, Berger 1999, Casanova 1994, C. Smith 2003b. For a rival account
see Norris and Inglehart 2004. For a good discussion of the mesmeric power that
the ˜˜secularization frame™™ still has over the knowledge classes, from
government bureaucrats to academics to journalists, see Cox 2003.
4 A Theology of Public Life

changes “ some would say precipitous decline “ in both the quantity
and the quality of associational life, religious associations are
increasingly important on purely secular ˜˜civic™™ grounds; church
basements may just save us from bowling alone.4 Finally, religious
engagement is inescapable; much of our public life consists of
debates concerned with the proper boundaries of religion, the
˜˜political legibility™™ of religious believers™ concerns (Bivins 2003:
10).5 The sociology behind the heretofore dominant ˜˜public reason™™
argument about religion in public life has simply been wrong.
Furthermore, alongside the sociological evidence, philosophers
have argued convincingly that there are no good normative reasons
generically to constrain religious voices™ participation, qua religious,
in public life. They argue that such voices best contribute to public
life when left to determine for themselves “ on grounds determined
by their own particular, local conditions “ how precisely to frame
their arguments.6 Such philosophers see us entering an age of ˜˜post-
secular™™ public discourse, in which the unapologetically robust use
of patently particularistic languages will provide a genuine basis for
a real dialogical openness (Coles 1997: 8).
But so far these thinkers have made this case only partially, from
the perspective of the public sphere. Such civic arguments are
important, of course. But faithful citizens must be convinced to act
and speak in explicitly faithful ways. A theological case must be
made to encourage civic action by such believers; and no one has yet
tried to make it.
There are many believers who could be swayed by such argu-
ments. They seem invisible in recent discussions about religion
and public life, discussions that make much of divisions among
and within religious communities; but that is because of a meth-
odological mistake. The many recent taxonomies, in the United
States and outside it, of believers™ attitudes towards politics are too
¬nely grained: they underplay the fact that most believers are

4. See Elshtain 1995, Sandel 1996, Putnam 2000, Verba et al. 1995, Bivins 2003,
Casanova 1994, Hart 2001, Mahmood 2005, Mathewes 2002b, Macedo 2004 and
Gibson 2003. I thank Erik Owens for discussions on these matters.
5. See Hunter 1990, Layman 2001, and Uslander 2002.
6. See Placher 1989, Jackson 1997, Wolterstorff 1997, Eberle 2002, Thiemann 1996,
Connolly 1999, Perry 2003, Weithman 2002, Ochs and Levene 2002, and J. Stout
2004. For more social-scienti¬c arguments to this effect, see Post 2003 and
C. Smith 2003a.
Introduction: Life in the epilogue

more committed to their faith than to any political program
¬‚owing from their faith, that they recognize that asymmetry of
commitment, and are comfortable with it. These believers popu-
late crude categories like ˜˜religious right™™ and ˜˜religious left,™™
˜˜crunchy cons™™ and ˜˜progressive orthodox,™™ in considerable
numbers; in fact they make up the large majority of Christians “
Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Mainline Protestant or Evangelical
Protestant “ in the developed world (and beyond it) today.
But by sorting them into those groups, we miss what they all
fundamentally share “ namely, a common sense of the obscure
distance, and yet obscure connection, between their religious beliefs
with their civic lives. Such believers are unseduced by the sharper
(and false) clarity of right-wing religious ideologues, because they
seem too immediately tied to a concrete political program; nor
would they accept similarly rigid left-wing theologies, were any
on offer.7 Religious beliefs, they realize, do not typically translate
immediately and easily into political behavior, and anyone who
says otherwise, they suspect, is doing more salesmanship than
To some this suspicion looks like hesitancy, and the hesitancy
looks like it is anchored in tepid believing. And many of these
believers™ faith is all too frail. (More on that in a moment.) But the
frailty of their belief does not cause their political hesitancy. If
anything, the causality may go in the opposite direction: their
hesitancy may be partly to blame for the tepidity of their faith. For
they realize that there is some connection between their faith and
their civic lives. Many of them are deeply interested in ¬nding ways
to render intelligible to themselves and to their neighbors the
meaning and implications of their putative religious commitments.
But the only models for faithful engagement they see are much too

7. This is most pointedly so for Mainline Protestants; see Wuthnow 2002 and
Wuthnow 1997: 395: ˜˜the percentage of evangelicals who want mainline
Protestants to have more in¬‚uence is higher than the percentage of mainliners
who want mainline Protestants to have more in¬‚uence.™™ But it is also true for
Roman Catholics and Evangelicals; see Hollenbach 1997, C. Smith 1998 and
2000, Bramadat 2000, Noll 2002, G. Hughes 2003, and Steinfels 2004 (especially
the essays by Murnion, and Leege and Mueller). It may seem odd to group
Protestants and Catholics together, as well as mainliners and evangelicals, but it
is practically accurate; signi¬cant ecclesial, political, and even theological
differences no longer map onto denominational differences, but instead
transect the denominations. For more on this see Wuthnow 1988.
6 A Theology of Public Life

tightly tied to immanent political agendas, and so they hesitate to
engage their faith in civic life. Hence they judge that faithful
engagement means a quite tight connection between belief and
action, between faith and works; and from the works they can see,
they judge that the faith that funds them is not worthwhile.
Can these bones live? Less likely resurrections have occurred. For
such an event to occur, they need a better model of faith as a way of
life, and a better model of how that faith may guide public
engagement. That is what this book offers.
Still, their resurrection will not be an easy one. No resurrections
are. To be precise, any attempt to encourage these believers towards
richer engagement faces two large problems.
First, such believers are among the last adherents to the ˜˜public
reason™™ view. They assume that public religious action is inevitably
expressed in absolutist and intolerant fashion by the self-appointed
spokesmen of the religious right and (again, however rarely seen)
religious left. Because they ¬nd such action both civically impru-
dent and theologically impious, they think that religion should stay
out of public life.
It may be that some readers of this book share this worry. So the
following is directed as much at you as at such believers: no
necessary connection exists between the public use of thick reli-
gious discourse and intolerant intellectual, cultural, or theological
positions, or between ˜˜thin™™ modes of speech and open-minded and
conversational ones. After all, the most visible case of religious
believers accepting a Rawlsian etiquette of restraint in public life is
precisely in the super¬cially secular ˜˜family values™™ strategy of
quite conservative religious organizations; the 1960s United States
civil rights movement was saturated with overt religious rhetoric;
and anyway, the Roman Catholic Church™s statements “ some
apparently ˜˜liberal,™™ some ˜˜conservative,™™ and all expressed in a
largely undefensive, dialogical tone “ are often welcoming and stern
at the same time.8 Furthermore, and speaking of the USA in parti-
cular, evidence suggests that such believers™ hesitancy about expli-
citly religious engagement, out of concern for rising theologically
in¬‚ected intolerance, has actually amounted to a self-ful¬lling
prophecy. Their shunning of religious rhetoric in public has

8. See Hertzke 1988.
Introduction: Life in the epilogue

permitted, and perhaps encouraged, the rising prominence of more
strident and intolerant voices in public speech. It is not that there
was no religious discourse in public until the ˜˜religious right™™
introduced it; to the contrary, the ˜˜religious right™™ was quietist
from the 1920s until the 1970s, and its current activism was
provoked by concerns about the ˜˜loss of our culture™™ after the
successes of progressive movements, themselves typically saturated
with often strident and intolerant religious discourse, up to that
point. What has actually happened in the last few decades is that
those religious voices attuned to the complexity of religion in public
life have effectively ceded the rhetorical high ground of thick dis-
course to extremist and often reactionary (whether right-wing or
left-wing) voices. Culture, like nature, abhors a vacuum, and bad
theology drives out good.9
These voices™ self-imposed silence is much to be regretted, for
without them public life seems doomed to an ever sharper and
more damaging polarization. The changing religious demographics
of North America and Europe over the past several decades suggest
this. Some scholars have argued that immigration will transform
American religion into more pluralistic, eclectic, and tolerant forms
than any society before. Others, less sanguine, see immigration as
important, but not because it will make American religion more
diverse and eclectic; after all, the large majority of immigrants to
the USA are and will continue to be conservative Christians, from
Africa and Latin America “ hardly obvious candidates to revolution-
ize religion in the USA, at least in the way that the starry-eyed
prophets anticipate. Meanwhile, Europe faces the emergence of
ghettoized immigrant populations who have been excluded from
the national cultures into the public sphere, and the rise of reac-
tionary ethno-nationalisms (often with a religious patina) in
In short, believers™ alienation from civic-religious engagement
will end only when they stop reinforcing the extremists™ monopoly
on religious discourse by shunning such discourse, and instead take
it up again. Speaking civically, today we need to cultivate the public

9. See Hofrenning 1995, Apostolidis 2000, Harding 2000, Hart 2001, McCarraher
2000, R. L. Wood 2002, and Marsh 2005.
10. See Eck 2001 and Wolfe 1998 for the optimistic view; see Gardella 2003, Jenkins
2002, Nicholls 1989, and (implicitly) Noll 2002 for the more pessimistic one.
8 A Theology of Public Life

discourse of religious citizens, not further constrain it. Thoughtful
secularists and sincere believers can agree that we need, not less
religion in public, but more, of a richer kind “ for such believers
would be a welcome addition to civic discourse.
Any attempt to encourage such believers towards a richer reli-
gious engagement with civic life faces a second problem: these
believers are often, to be frank, lousy believers. Their grip on
Christian faith and life “ or rather, Christian faith and life™s grip on
them “ is often quite anemic, sadly con¬ned to a mere spirituality.
Many churches have become deeply co-opted by the therapeutic
ethos of the culture, leading to declining membership and looser
commitment even among those who remain. These churches, and
their believers, are perceived, not without reason, as collaborating
with these social trends, rather than offering any real resistance to
them. They are in deep need of reformation, of a new Great Awa-
kening “ indeed, of any awakening at all.11 Provoking these believ-
ers would have a powerful effect, not only on our common public
life, but also on their own religious belief; but in this case, the cause
of the improvement is indistinguishable with the improvement
Yet all is not lost. Despite the many correct criticisms that think-
ers from H. Richard Niebuhr to Stanley Hauerwas have leveled
against those believers™ ways of believing, we need not despise the
noise of their solemn assemblies. For latent in their religious con-
victions is a sense that their beliefs should shape the way they live
in this world. Even now they profess a deep commitment to justice,
genuine community, and respect for others, albeit emerging most of
the time in vague moral pieties “ what Nancy Ammerman calls
˜˜Golden Rule Christianity.™™ Furthermore, they have developed a
particularly rich ˜˜style™™ of civic participation, one built on a strat-
egy of stewardship and ˜˜bridging,™™ creating spaces in which the
events that constitute civil society “ the town meetings, small
groups, soup kitchens, and campaign rallies “ can happen. Latent
in their convictions are powerful motives for a style of
public engagement that is both theologically profound and civically

11. See Fowler et al. 1999, McGreevy 2003, C. Smith 2005, Wuthnow 1997 and
1998a, Witten 1993, Hout et al. 2001. In Europe, see Gill 1999.
Introduction: Life in the epilogue

constructive.12 Nor could this be easily changed, for it is wired into
their churches™ very being, and not just a bit of software in their
minds. It is part of their habitus, too deep-rooted and organic to be
painlessly or easily exchanged for another style of engagement.
Theologies of the latter sort “ often on offer by the received chur-
ches™ harshest critics today “ are hydroponic, unrooted in the lived
realities of these churches™ traditions. As such, such criticisms are
symptomatic of our consumer societies™ identity politics, which
offer little more than the bad faith of a too-easy particularism. Real
particularism is an achievement, the realization of a distinct char-
acter that can take a lifetime to develop; it cannot be simply pur-
chased and put on instantaneously, like a pair of pre-faded
stonewashed jeans, or a mass-produced ˜˜antique-looking™™ vase
from Pottery Barn. At least these churches™ style, in having a real
past, offers the possibility for a real, concrete, future particularism “
even if it too often fails to deliver on its promise.
Furthermore, while such critics attack the style, the style itself
is not the problem; the problem is the absence of a theological
rationale for it. These believers continue to volunteer and engage in
civic activities at rates higher than other citizens (and particularly
more than overt secularists and more rigid theocrats), but they lack
a theological rationale for their civic engagements “ an explanation
for why they, as Christians, and members of these churches, should
do this. They suffer from what Charles Taylor has called ˜˜the ethics
of inarticulacy™™: a way of life guided by moral convictions whose
articulation is blocked by its adherents™ incapacity to express their
metaphysical and theological background. And such activity must
be complemented by some rationale, if it would be an intentional
and organic part of a church™s life, and handed on to new genera-
tions of the faithful.13
Such a theological rationale should explain why such Christians
should care about public life, how they should be engaged in public
life, as Christians, and what they should expect to have happen to
them, as Christians, in that engagement. It would urge them toward
a thicker appropriation of their faiths, an appropriation that would

12. See Ammerman 1997, R. S. Warner 1994, and Theusen 2002. See also Wuthnow
on the importance of membership in more politically active congregations for
training in skills for civic engagement (1998b and 1999b).
13. See Taylor 1989 and C. Smith 2005.
10 A Theology of Public Life

energize and inform their public engagement. Instead of arguing for
the legitimacy of religion in public life, it would argue for the
legitimacy of public life in religion. It would not ask, ˜˜What does
God have to do with politics?™™ (see DiIulio and Dionne 2000), but
instead, ˜˜What does politics have to do with God?™™ It would be a
dogmatics of public life, which is what this book seeks to offer.

During the world: the dogmatics sketched
What will this dogmatics look like? First of all, it will not
propound a system but sketch a communal way of life. Christian life
is a life of inquiry into God, and the practices in which Christians
engage do not simply assist that inquiry, they embody it. A ˜˜theol-
ogy of public life™™ therefore includes a more concrete ascetical
spirituality and ecclesiology of public life, which are manifest in and
reinforced by a set of concrete practices, ˜˜spiritual™™ and other-
wise.14 Such a theology is well described as a normative ethno-
graphy of religious practices.
To do this we must confront the concrete challenges facing our
attempts at ascetical formation, especially the ¬‚uidity and increas-
ing marketization of our occupations, our relationships, and even
our identities. In confronting these challenges we ¬nd that the best
way to use them is to endure them “ to see them as inescapable facts
about our lives, realities which we experience most fundamentally
by suffering them. Endurance is the crux of this proposal; it
embodies the overall practice, the ascesis, that anchors this
˜˜theology of public life.™™

Enduring: an ascetical strategy
In talking about an asceticism based on an understanding of
life as endurance, I have used two terms that need some unpacking
before going further. Today ˜˜asceticism™™ suggests very thin, very
bearded, near-naked men doing strange things to their bodies. All of
those things can be part of an ascetic regimen. But none of them

14. See Greer 1986, Hadot 1995 and 2002, Charry 1997, Wuthnow 1998a and 2003,
Sedgwick 1999, and Volf and Bass 2002. For challenges to such a spirituality,
see Roof 1999, and M. F . Brown 1997.
Introduction: Life in the epilogue

gets to the heart of the matter. For all our interest in altering our
bodies today “ through physical exercise, surgery, even drugs “ we
are ignorant of the deep history of re¬‚ection on and practices of
asceticism, so that, as Gavin Flood puts it, ˜˜the residues of ascetic
practice in our culture have become mere technique™™ (Flood 2004: 1).
Proper asceticism is a matter of vulnerability more than toughness;
it is not so much about learning to grit one™s teeth and bear it, but
rather of learning to suffer in the right way, in order for the whole
person, body and spirit, properly to be able to bear the weight of its
ultimate destiny “ which in Christianity means able to bear the
weight of glory that is humanity™s eschatological destiny.15
˜˜Endurance™™ also needs some explanation. An ascetics of public
life, built on a program of ˜˜enduring,™™ uses engagement in public
life to discipline one™s dispositions. It does so by seeing that
engagement most fundamentally as a form of suffering, of reception.
Our lives in this world are more a matter of being acted upon than of
acting. Such endurance is not fundamentally inert; passivity and
activity are complexly intertwined therein, in a habituated recep-
tivity, an alert waiting. The very etymology of waiting gets at this
complexity; as Michael Raposa points out, the word wait ˜˜derives
from the verb to watch and is associated with wake™™ (1999: 195 n. 1).
This watchful waiting endurance is a positive mode of engagement
with the world and with God in and through the world “ an active,
anticipatory, and welcoming responsiveness “ organized through
the theological virtues of faith, hope, and charity.
Yet the virtues so understood are not so much positive moral
achievements as habits of resisting ˜˜making™™ anything out of our-
selves; this is why we can talk about moral agency without falling
into Pelagian presumptions of the necessity of moral heroism. Fur-
thermore, they are not static states or conditions, they are dynamic
and temporally organizing. They orient us most fundamentally to
the temporal structure of our being, and of being itself. They give us
our sense of timing, our ˜˜rhythm,™™ and thereby order our desires
and discipline our dispositions, teaching us to be properly vulner-
able to God™s grace, and especially the gift of Creation, given

15. See Asad 1993: 111“15, and Wimbush and Valantasis 1995, Charry 1997,
Harpham 1987, and Roberts 1998. See P. Brown 1995 and 1992 and Lawless 2000
for Augustine™s ascetical strategy, and DDC I.24.24-5 for Augustine™s account of
proper asceticism.
12 A Theology of Public Life

through the medium of time.16 To endure virtuously means that we,
as best we can, accept the gift that time most basically is. To imagine
our life in the world as a matter of endurance is to see this life as a
pilgrimage; it is to see oneself as a voyager, a viator in the world, in
history. Pilgrimages are activities, but traditionally they are under-
stood as a form of suffering, a way of traveling through the world
that renders one vulnerable to presence “ the presence of God, of
the world, of others, even of oneself “ in a new and self-altering
To be so ascetic “ to endure virtuously, to wait properly, to watch
wakefully, to undertake what Augustine calls the ˜˜pilgrimage of our
affections™™ (DDC i.17.16) that this endurance entails “ requires
training, a training in how to inhabit time, how to take time, how to
be patient. Anyone who has spent time around young children
knows that to be patient requires serious discipline. We are like
little children as regards this training, no matter how old we are.
The most fundamental subject matter of our training, and in a way
our most immediate tutor, is our desires: we must learn to desire
aright. Yet the disciplining of our dispositions is at least as much a
negative task as a positive one; at least as much about cultivating
appropriate dissatisfactions as it is about realizing certain accom-
plished states of character; at least as much about the disruption of
achievement by the recognition of our ongoing need for patience
and waiting as it is about the apocalyptic presumptions of moral
achievement. Our impatience is a general fact about the human
condition, no matter what era or culture we inhabit; but it is made
especially pointed for us by our contemporary consumer culture.
˜˜Consumer culture™™ is aptly named, for in it we are consumed with
(and by) the idea of immediate grati¬cation “ whether of one™s

16. For more on resisting the heroic and agonal temptations in the languages of
virtue and practice more generally, see S. Jones 2002: 57“70 and Coakley
17. See Augustine, de pat. My understanding of enduring parallels Coakley 2002a
and 2002b and de Certeau 1992, and has some similarities with Hauerwas 2002,
though as will become clear, I think that at times Hauerwas surrenders to the
temptations that the language of ˜˜enduring™™ means to resist. On waiting see
Vanstone 1983. On disciplinary practices, see Asad 1993: 134. On pilgrimage see
Dyas 2001, especially the distinction between ˜˜life-pilgrimage™™ and ˜˜place-
pilgrimage™™ (245“46), Constable 1976, for discussions of early Christian
theologians™ concerns regarding geographic pilgrimages, and Campo 2002; I
thank Jason Danner for discussions on this.
Introduction: Life in the epilogue

physical appetites, one™s intellectual habits, or one™s existential
identity.18 Our typically manic-depressive lifestyle renders such
pilgrimage almost unimaginable. In the face of an advertising
culture that screams at us that we can, indeed must, ˜˜have it all,™™
and have it all now, we have to learn to long, to long for the right “ and
in this life, impossible-to-˜˜acquire™™ “ ˜˜things.™™ We must be ˜˜trained
by our longings™™ to understand ourselves and others as beings whose
longings, their persistent lacks, are crucial to our being (Harrison
2000: 97). Indeed ˜˜the whole life of a good Christian is a holy long-
ing™™ (in Io. ep. 4.6), for we seek a goal unattainable in this world. We
must learn to feel and dislike our condition of distensio, our experi-
ence of being overstretched, extended in confusing and disquieting
ways. We must cultivate the right sorts of dissatisfactions “ attending
to the moments of dissatisfaction and, instead of dismissing them or
downplaying their signi¬cance, we should acknowledge them as
telling us something of the truth about our world, and our hopes for
full and permanent happiness within it. We should feel an appro-
priate measure of ˜˜restlessness,™™ a longing for something we know
we will not fully ¬nd here, and a refusal to accept the false idols that
we throw up for ourselves as distractions. We must learn to live
during the world, not ultimately to expect to like it “ in fact we must
learn to allow ourselves, by and large, not to like it, where ˜˜liking™™ it
means trying to ¬nd ourselves fully at home here.
This training is not easy, and has many pitfalls. We must not use it
to confabulate a false wistfulness or a metaphysical nostalgia. The
cultivation of dissatisfaction cannot be the cultivation of the snob,
trained to sneer at all they come across; it is not a preemptive
prophylactic against experience, but rather the implication of our
increasingly profound inhabitation of our experience of desire “ an
experience that, on this account, we normally do not let ourselves
fully feel. We should cultivate dissatisfactions with our dissatisfac-
tions. (A saint can be all sorts of things “ sad, angry, crabby, happy,
dumb, cantankerous, beati¬c “ but she or he cannot be complacent;
coming to appreciate the difference between being at peace and
being complacent is one of the most basic lessons saints can teach
us.) We need a constant dispositional dislodgement; we must keep

18. I have been much educated on consumerism by V. Miller 2004 and Campbell
14 A Theology of Public Life

our disenchantment perpetually in motion. We should learn to live,
as it were, in suspense, in resistance to closure. To borrow from
Nietzsche, we should avoid being stuck, even to ˜˜avoiding being
stuck™™ (which is precisely where most of Nietzsche™s contemporary
groupies fail to follow Nietzsche). With Augustine, again, we should
learn to live as mendicants, begging constantly for forgiveness
(sermo. 56.6.9), for in this life our justice lies in forgiveness of sins,
not perfection of virtue (DCD 19.27). To do this, in other words,
requires something more than skill; it requires grace.
This practice expresses, and re¬‚exively relies upon, profound
metaphysical and anthropological convictions. Metaphysically it
means that ˜˜the world,™™ insofar as it exists (or, better, claims to
exist) autonomously, is a deeply compromised and compromising
reality. And we also learn that the world is actually something
other, namely, God™s Creation.19 When Creation fell and became
˜˜the world,™™ it became less than what it once was, what it should be
and what it will be yet again; it lives on ˜˜borrowed time™™ (Cavan-
augh 1998: 228). And in inhabiting it so do we, who are the foremost
exemplars of what was once great about it, and of what has gone so
profoundly wrong with it. Anthropologically it af¬rms that the
human is, as Rowan Williams puts it, ˜˜a creature animated by
desire, whose characteristic marks are lack and hunger, who is
made to be this kind of creature by a central and unforgettable
absence, by lack and hunger™™ (1987: 69).20 Because of this, we must
be patient with our impatience; even as we recognize that this is not
the home of our longings, we must not silence our hopes for real
consummation, for a real realization of what we most deeply and
truly desire. We are not seeking, as perhaps in Stoicism, to extin-
guish our hopes, but rather just the opposite “ to learn to endure
their persistence, and their irresolution. We must feel these hopes™
full force and not seek to satiate them with the false consolations of
consumer culture, to acknowledge that their satisfaction is deferred

19. See Davies 2004
20. See sermo. 38.1“2. See also Peter Brown on the psychology of politics in 2000:
322“25, and Markus on ˜˜eschatological restlessness™™ in 1970: 170. On distensio,
see conf. 11.26 and the helpful discussion in O™Daly 1977, and Ricoeur 1984:
26“30. On pilgrimage in Augustine, see Claussen 1991 and Halliburton 1967.
For the role of the community see van Bavel 1991 and Cavadini 2004. This
insight extends behind Augustine, of course, even if he most fully develops it;
see Betz 2000.
Introduction: Life in the epilogue

to a time beyond the ages of this prefab world, and to give that
acknowledgment the weight it deserves.
Such a project “ built on cultivating a sense of our own incom-
pleteness, dissatisfactions, and even failures “ may seem dissatisfy-
ing. But that dissatisfaction is part of what it aims to treat. We
impatiently, apocalyptically expect solutions for our problems. But
such ˜˜solutions™™ are generally snake oil. And as Franz Rosenzweig
suggested, Christianity is best understood as providing a structure
to our passion and suffering, not a solution to it (1985: 376).21
To endure our life in this way is to be attentive and wakeful,
patient and long-suffering, to refuse to let the world have the last
word on what it means, and yet to refuse also to presume to know
what that last word will be. It is to live in the world, without
accepting its immanent self-presentation. It is to live eschatologi-
cally within the world “ to live during the world.

During the world
The phrase ˜˜during the world™™ may sound novel, but it is
quite old. It appeared as long ago as 1435, in the will of one Richard
Beauchamp, Earl of Warwick, who asked therein that a chapel be
built with money from his estate, and ˜˜that there be said every day,
during the Worlde . . . three masses™™ in the chapel (G. Holmes 1962:
180). And the idea behind it is older still. The struggle to grasp the
idea expressed by that phrase has been one of the primary tasks of
Christian thought from its beginnings. A whole cosmology is packed
into those three words, one suggesting a way of treating our earthly
condition as crucially contingent, at least in the sense that our lives™
signi¬cance is not absolutely determined by the immanent forces
that both press upon us and (seem to) sustain us. The language of
˜˜world™™ suggests that we, as the namers of ˜˜the world,™™ have an
ability to step back and see it as a whole, to gain something like a
perspicuous conceptual grasp on it. On this picture, we have some
sort of ability, however partial, to transcend the world; the ˜˜hor-
izon™™ of the world is not our absolute horizon, and does not ulti-
mately de¬ne us. Indeed, by naming it, we de¬ne it (van Fraasen

21. See Batnitzsky 2000 and Santner 2001.
16 A Theology of Public Life

2002: 5“25). Our immurement in the world is in some way then not
the whole story about us.
This capacity for transcendence is typically misunderstood. Many
recognize it, only to get caught on the horns of a dilemma. If we are
not absolutely in this world, how should we conceptualize our
relation to it? Some suggest that we are made not for this world, but
for some ˜˜other™™ one; for them we should struggle to understand
how to relate to this world while we are in it, but seek ultimately
that other world which is in some radical discontinuity with our
existence now. Others insist that this world is the only one there is,
and we should see our tendencies towards estrangement from it as
temptations to be resisted. The options are stark: either this world
or another. We are properly at home in this world, or we are
˜˜resident aliens.™™ But both options are inadequate. It is simply bad
faith to deny our world-transcendence, our recognition that the
material conditions of our material lives are not all there is to say
about us. Yet nor are we otherworldly, made for another place “ a
metaphysical Mars, perhaps “ and for some obscure reason trapped
in this one; the fantasy that we could be ˜˜altogether elsewhere,™™ in
a way that would be free of worldly engagements, makes our rela-
tion to the world altogether too accidental. Indeed, the temptation
to think of ourselves as otherworldly in this way does not speak
simply of our historical failures of imagination; that we experience
it as a temptation reveals that our condition as ˜˜worldly,™™ as
existing in an environment in which we remain in complex dia-
logical relation, reaches to the depths of our self-understanding.
What such positions seem to forget is our conditioning by time as
well as by space. We normally orient ourselves most primordially in
space. We live after the triumph of mathesis, the mathematical
spatialization of reality that was accomplished in early modernity.22
But such a conceptualization is super¬cial. It implies that the world
as we ¬nd it is a permanent and unalterable reality, in relation to
which we are ultimately de¬ned. This not only accepts our sinful
belief that the way the world is, is ˜˜the way the world really always
has been and will be™™; it may also delude us into thinking that there
is some place “ namely, ˜˜the church™™ “ in which we can stand that
is fundamentally uncontaminated by ˜˜worldliness.™™

22. See Pickstock 1997: 135“66.
Introduction: Life in the epilogue

Christians should be oriented not by Newton™s onto-theological
grid but rather the biblical-historical narratives, and they should
reconceive the world fundamentally temporally, as a duration.
Christians are not otherworldly, but most fundamentally ˜˜other-
temporalitied.™™ ˜˜The world™™ is more primordially an era than a
place.23 More fundamental than the question of where we live is the
question of when, and on this account we live in the ˜˜epilogue,™™ the
˜˜after-Word,™™ speaking Christologically (G. Steiner 1989: 93“4). We
are, in the most profound way, belated; everything important to our
fates “ our sin and our salvation “ has already occurred, or at least
(in the latter case) has been inaugurated, if not fully accomplished.
Our fate is secure, the victory is won; we are simply waiting for the
¬nal consummation. Given this condition as belated and yet wait-
ing, we must, through grace, begin to learn to live in a new way in
this passing age. We should understand the world as something we
fundamentally must endure “ not an absolute and unquestioned
˜˜given,™™ but rather a contingent con¬guration of reality that will
one day pass away.
This is what the phrase ˜˜during the world™™ is meant to bring
to the fore. It suggests a period, episode, or era “ a non-permanent
condition, but one inescapable, for now “ in which we ¬nd ourselves,
and which we must live through. By so picturing the world tempo-
rally, many of our most cherished escapist metaphors are immedi-
ately rendered defunct. We cannot stand ˜˜outside™™ or ˜˜against™™ the
world; we cannot fully participate in God™s condescension vis-a-vis
the world, because what the language “ God™s language “ of ˜˜the
world™™ condescends to is, in part, ourselves. Yet we know that this
condition is impermanent: we must live in time, but we cannot rest
content with(in) this dispensation as conclusive.24
So understood, ˜˜during the world™™ disabuses us of believing that
the world is what we make it. Not at all: we are more fundamentally
witnesses than ex nihilo agents. But we are not witnesses in the sense
of innocent bystanders, whether to a crime or a car wreck; we are
more like the audience in Greek tragedy, necessary for the play™s
realization, implicated in its truths, but not able to act to alter the

23. For a sociological deconstruction of ˜˜otherworldliness,™™ see McRoberts 2003.
24. For discussions of the import of temporality, see Rudenfeld 2001, Coles 1997,
D. Harvey 1990, G. Steiner 2001, and Baudrillard 1994. For a powerful
alternative to this account, see Jenson 2004.
18 A Theology of Public Life

basic story. Yet it is not a tragic story, though the interim often does
seem, at best, tragic. We live ˜˜in the middle,™™ and it is from the
middle that we have to begin. We must endure the present time and
stand fast into an indeterminate future. The fact that the world will
one day end, that it is not our ultimate frame of reference, does not
entail the apocalypse™s imminent arrival. Eschatology without
imminent apocalypse: that is the tensive structure of commitment
and longing that should shape human life here, during the world.25

An Augustinian worldliness
So we need a dogmatics of public life; and such a dogmatics
will be fundamentally ascetical; and such an ascetical dogmatics
will cultivate our ability to perceive our condition as one of living
˜˜during the world.™™ But why would we seek to ¬nd inspiration for
such a program in Augustine?
In an important way, the decision is simply pragmatic. Augustine™s
theological vision, vocabulary, and (to a lesser degree) attitude have
shaped the traditions of Western Christianity more profoundly than
any thinker other than St. Paul. To offer a theology of engagement
able to speak to the audience this book wants to reach, splintered
ecclesially and doctrinally in myriad ways, it is wise counsel to ¬nd a
common root for all of them. Augustine is that root.
But there is a deeper, principled decision. Not only is Augustine™s
thought more readily apprehensible by the book™s core audience;
his thought is also especially fruitful for thinking about public life
and ˜˜worldliness™™ more generally. This may be surprising, given
Augustine™s reputation as a metaphysical escapist and gloomy
worldly pessimist. Thus part of this book™s task is to explain why his
reputation is wrong; and so the book insinuates, and occasionally
explicitly urges, a particular revision of our understanding of the
Augustinian tradition of Christian thought. I should brie¬‚y sketch
this revision here.

25. For life ˜˜in the middle,™™ see Bonhoeffer 1997: 28. Von Balthasar™s contrast
between ˜˜epic™™ and ˜˜dramatic™™ modes of theology is relevant here as well; see
von Balthasar 1988a and Healey 2000. For more about the contrast between
˜˜eschatological™™ and ˜˜apocalyptic™™ modes of being, see the Introduction
to Part I.
Introduction: Life in the epilogue

By using the phrase ˜˜the Augustinian tradition,™™ I mean to draw
guidance from Augustine™s thought, without being trapped in the
historical cul-de-sac of debates about what Augustine ˜˜really
meant.™™ The diverse interpretations are importantly due to different
interpreters™ judgments regarding Augustine™s textual center of
gravity, which typically begin from de civitate Dei or the Confessions.26
In contrast, I argue that it is best to read Augustine as centered not
around those texts but instead around his sermons, scriptural
commentaries, and especially his one truly ˜˜gratuitous™™ work, de
Trinitate. These texts depict the self as an active agent within a
community in a continual process of conversion towards or away
from the divine Trinity, of which it is itself an image and which is
the soul™s true origin and end. Such a picture of Augustine™s thought
is becoming increasingly common now, as these more centrally
doctrinal writings have begun to receive the scholarly attention
they deserve.27
So understood, Augustine™s thought was developed by various
descendants, from Cistercians such as Bernard of Clairvaux and
Franciscans such as Bonaventure, and by the Reformed traditions,
from Calvin to Edwards (and in a different way Schleiermacher),
emphasizing the conversion of the affections as the fundamental
site of the workings of grace in the world. In the twentieth century
these themes were developed by the Niebuhrs and their intellectual
descendants such as Paul Ramsey and, more recently, Oliver
O™Donovan, Gilbert Meilaender, and Timothy Jackson.28 This tradi-
tion offers a vital theological approach to the convictions and
practices that shape Christian life.
This reading of the Augustinian tradition entails two things, one
consonant with and one con¬‚icting with current trends in theology

26. Methodologically see Mathewes 2001a, esp. Chapter 2; historically, see Dodaro
27. This view is encouraged by recent historical work on Augustine by scholars
such as Lewis Ayres, Michael Cameron, Robert Dodaro, Michael Fiedrowicz,
and Thomas Martin; it will become increasingly common as the impact of the
New City Press translations of the Augustine corpus into English make
palpable for readers the enormous iceberg-like mass of sermons and
commentaries heretofore kept from contemporary readers™ easy
appropriation. For a careful development of the importance of de Trin. for
Augustine™s ˜˜political™™ thought, see Dodaro 2004a: 147“81.
28. For a nice discussion of Niebuhr™s legacy, see Werpehowski 2002. For a good
analysis of Ramsey as not just Niebuhrian but Augustinian, see Davis 1991.
20 A Theology of Public Life

and ethics. First of all, it supports the popular emphasis on under-
standing moral life as a matter less of principles than of our
dynamic inhabitation of some set of moral virtues or dispositional
attunements. Augustine allows that one can be a Christian without
access to the Bible “ such were the desert fathers and mothers “ but
only if one™s life is already governed by the theological virtues of
faith, hope, and love. These virtues are not a super¬cial optional
interpretation of the Christian life for Augustine; they provide
something like a fundamental structure for understanding the
shape of human existence for him. This is so because of his
understanding of the human as a temporal creature; as all the vir-
tues are forms of caritas,29 perhaps caritas is the fundamental mode
of inhabiting time, and thereby the fundamental mode of created
being itself. In this way this project emphasizes the dispositional
and conversionist character of religious commitment.30
Second, the ˜˜political™™ Augustine here presented proposes an
unusual assessment of the nature of the signi¬cance of ˜˜worldly™™
political existence “ and through this, a surprising picture of the
signi¬cance of ˜˜worldly™™ existence tout court. One typical problem of
political developments of Augustine is that they start with his
political prescriptions and do not see the theological sources of
those prescriptions; because of this, they often misunderstand even
his political prescriptions. But in fact at its core Augustine™s thought
has no fundamentally political content at all, but is simply theo-
logical; and yet, precisely because Augustine™s political insights
have no ˜˜natural™™ home in some properly political region of his
thought, coming to appreciate Augustine™s ˜˜political™™ proposals,
such as they are, enables a deeper appreciation of the pro-creation
dynamism of his theology in general.31
Most concretely, many scholars attempt to impose a Procrustean
schema of ˜˜natural™™ and ˜˜supernatural™™ on his thought. For scholars

29. De mor. 15, 25, and Carney 1991: 33“34. For a speci¬cally political development
of this point, see ep. 155 and 138, and Dodaro 2004b.
30. See enchiridion for more, and Studer 1990. For more on the value of thinking
about the moral life fundamentally in terms of virtues, see Porter 1990: 100“22.
31. As Robert Dodaro argues, Augustine was always at pains in his correspondence
with secular authorities to note the connections between even the most
mundane matters and the new life to which God calls us. See Dodaro 2004a:
7“10, 196“212. Also see Kevin Hughes™s very insightful comments in 2005b:
Introduction: Life in the epilogue

committed to this framework, Augustine seems to deny any genuine
˜˜natural™™ goods in politics, which they take to reveal his deep
animus towards the conditions of our ˜˜worldly™™ life as a whole.32
On such readings it can appear that, in Quentin Skinner™s words,
˜˜Augustine™s view of political society had merely been ancillary to
an eschatology in which the life of the pilgrim on earth had been
seen as little more than a preparation for the life to come™™ (1978:
50). If this were true, it would present a deep challenge to any
attempt to argue for an Augustinian endorsement of public life. But
in fact it is not true. Augustine™s picture of the dynamics of divine
sovereignty and intimacy, captured in his understanding of grace
and love, happily stymies Procrustean categorizations such as
˜˜nature™™ and ˜˜supernature,™™ and offers a more nuanced view of
this-worldly life in general, and of public life in particular. August-
ine certainly diverges from Aristotle insofar as the bishop insists,
against the philosopher, that the human good does not climax in
the parochial community of the human polis, and insofar as he
af¬rms that a human life untouched by political sovereignty can
still be a ¬‚ourishing life. But Augustine is not so bleak as many have
taken him to be about the possible bene¬ts of worldly, communal,
and perhaps even genuinely public, life. He was fully appreciative of
the goods of worldly community and worldly things; his love for
music, for example, is deep and abiding. The life of the saints in
paradise, after all, is social and embodied, and the sociality and
embodiment mark not only their relation with God, but their rela-
tions with one another as well. Some scholars have recently begun
to realize this, but it remains an insight not yet fully digested.33
Augustinians can af¬rm that public life can be a way for humans to
come to participate in God. It can be understood ascetically, as a
means of purifying the soul for God: the ascesis of citizenship can be
understood as part of the ascesis of discipleship. This is a strongly
postlapsarian vision of politics, yet it avoids any collapse into des-
pair or anomie. Genuine goods can be pursued, and even partially
achieved, through public life, but they are not properly secular
political goods; no such goods exist.

32. See, e.g., Weithman 1992. For a broad survey of criticisms of Augustine™s
purported ˜˜otherworldliness,™™ see Kirk 1966: 133“37.
33. For evidence that Augustine thought of politics as a good, see Burnell 1992 and
von Heyking 2001.
22 A Theology of Public Life

More importantly still, Augustine™s potentially positive assess-
ment of public life is anchored in a deeper positive assessment of
worldliness than the received accounts allow. In fact, Augustine is in
many ways better positioned than Aquinas, conceptually speaking,
to make sense of Christian existence in the world; for unlike
Aquinas, Augustine was blessedly innocent of the conceptual
dichotomy of ˜˜nature™™ and ˜˜supernature™™ that burdened the
attempts of so many, including Aquinas, to interpret human exis-
tence. As God™s love is the source of all being, we all always parti-
cipate in God™s love; even Satan is held in existence by God™s love.
The split-level ˜˜nature™™ and ˜˜supernature™™ account, which neo-
Thomism found in Aquinas™s thought (whether or not it is actually
in Aquinas himself) has no purchase in Augustine™s. He could not
imagine that God™s gratuitous creative activity for the world could
be quarantined from any space of ˜˜sheer nature™™ in the saeculum.
This is why so many thinkers inspired by Augustine in the past
century found the language of ˜˜nature™™ and ˜˜supernature™™ so for-
eign to his thought, and tried to overcome its deleterious effects by
running the terms together “ so that Paul Ramsey argued for a ˜˜this-
worldly supernaturalism™™ and John Milbank demands that we
˜˜supernaturalize the natural™™ rather than ˜˜naturalize the super-
Augustine™s refusal to confabulate a nature“supernature distinc-
tion has many bene¬ts for his theology. Most generally, it means
that the conceptual structure Augustine employs implicitly under-
scores the continuity between our present ˜˜worldly™™ condition and
the greater life yet to come. More speci¬cally in political terms, it
re¬‚ects an ultimate overcoming of all boundaries, and a deep con-
ceptual resistance to positing ultimate limits “ based ¬nally on
conceptual resistance to any concept of an ultimate ˜˜outside™™ or
exteriority to the divine providential plan. Even Satan in hell serves
God. This reveals that Augustine is a profound critic of what we
might call ˜˜the mythology of the exterior™™ “ and suggests that that
mythology is, in some fundamental way, essentially a political
mythology. Augustine™s is not a ˜˜politics of limits,™™ at least not
ultimately; indeed, he is the greatest thinker of the idea that the

34. See Ramsey 1950: 132, and Milbank 1990b: 207. See also van Bavel 1987: 28,
TeSelle 1970, De Lubac 1969, and Burrell 2004: 208“9.
Introduction: Life in the epilogue

problems that vex politics do not ¬nally come from ˜˜outside™™ or
˜˜the other™™ or any sort of exteriority, but from inside “ from us
trying to escape, to get outside. Outside of what? Of God, ultimately.
But for Augustine there is no outside; there are no ultimate en-
emies; all we must do is learn to love ourselves, one another, and
God. In this way Augustine is the ultimate theorist and therapist of

A project like this one runs just off the grooves carved by
many previous texts in religion and politics. Hence it is likely to be
misread in several different ways. Here I want to resist several
misreadings of the book before readers settle comfortably into
First, this is not an apology for democracy. Tocqueville said,
˜˜Americans so completely confound Christianity with liberty that it
is almost impossible to induce them to think of one without the
other™™ (2004: 338). It is a wise warning. Democracy is not the ˜˜ideal™™
institutional state of Christian believers. Political life in the world
has no ˜˜ideal™™ state. It is too ad hoc a condition for that. Democracy
is not our divine destiny, and heaven is not a New England town
meeting. Christians have survived many different political struc-
tures during the world. Good Christians live as subjects of the tyr-
annical autocracies of East and Central Asia, in the oligarchic
kleptocracies of the Middle East, in the semi-democracies of Latin
America, even in the completely ˜˜stateless™™ conditions across much
of Africa. Public life can occur (imagine!) even where democracy is
not. (Consider the ˜˜antipolitics™™ of Eastern Europe in the last dec-
ades of the Cold War or the ˜˜street liturgies™™ by Roman Catholic
resisters in Chile under Pinochet.36) For most readers of this book,
democratic structures exist and should be defended, sustained, and
extended. But my goal is not to use faith to support our democratic
culture, but the reverse, and more “ to use our civic interactions
with one another to deepen faith.

35. See Phillips 2001a.
36. See Konrad 1984 and Cavanaugh 1998.
24 A Theology of Public Life

Second, while this book is unapologetically theologically framed
and ecclesially addressed, it is not ¬nally an expression of in-house
ressentiment. It is not an apocalyptic jeremiad against contemporary
public life or ˜˜modernity™™ in general. Modernity has led to much
confusion and vexation. But it has also offered immense goods. This
book talks about both. There are good reasons to worry about the drift
of public life in conditions of late modernity; but there are also rea-
sons for hope. Apocalyptic jeremiads of ritualized renunciation do
little to help anyone with anything, beyond offering the false comfort
of a Pharisaic purgation, which will need to be re-performed tomor-
row. They are a symptom of our problem, not a solution to it. So they
have always been, for the assumed purity that jeremiads entail is
always delusory. Christianity has always been a mongrel religion,
combining in new ways language from a variety of Hebrew discourses
with other, especially Hellenic and Roman, elements, so that even the
most ˜˜original™™ Christian speech-acts were impure and hybrid “ in
ways that mirror the metaphysical miscegenation of Chalcedonian
Christology. And in the opposite direction, no element of Christian
discourse is immune from misuse and abuse because of its ˜˜dis-
tinctively Christian™™ pedigree; heresy debates are often about the
right use of central terms of Christian discourse, not just about the
language on the ˜˜margins™™ of the vocabulary. Proper use of the lan-
guage stands or falls on its pragmatic validity, on what the language
does for us and (more importantly) to us. We should resist such fan-
tastic escapisms and face the fact that ours is a political world, and our
fate is to live out our lives as crucially public creatures. (Even mon-
astics are such, as was powerfully evidenced by the life of Thomas
Merton.) I say this as much for ecclesial reasons as for civic ones: bad
civic culture encourages an enervating servility and lassitude in its
inhabitants that hinders the development of proper Christian per-
sons. And good civic culture can become “ and has become from time
to time in the past “ a particularly palpable site of the Spirit™s presence
in this world. Christians should be interested in thinking about public
life, not just for their fates as citizens, but also for their fates as

37. Latent here is an appreciative critique of Stanley Hauerwas; see Mathewes
2000. For more, see Gill 1999, esp. 19. On the civic engagement of the early
churches, see Winter 1994.
Introduction: Life in the epilogue

This is not a matter of argument. Christianity just is a public
religion. It is not a mystery cult, nor is it fundamentally esoteric; it
lives in public. Vibrant Christian faith presses us outward towards
one another, not centrally in terms of ˜˜charity work,™™ doing nice
things for those less fortunate than ourselves “ though such good
deeds are praiseworthy and needed “ but as fellow citizens, and not
just of a worldly state, but as citizens of the kingdom of heaven. This
dynamism toward the other has historically been understood as
evangelization, and that certainly has a role to play in its future. But
it may perhaps be better manifest indirectly, in an unapologetic
confessional openness about one™s own motivations and rationale
for operating in the public sphere. In any event, Christians will not
know what ˜˜evangelism™™ might mean unless we think deeply about
Christianity™s missiological energies and how they should be best
inhabited today. It is not anywhere near an effective strategy just to
bury one™s head in the sand and simply ignore this aspect of the
faith. Vigorous Christian belief entails a serious commitment to
expressing the faith. Conversely, a lack of expressing the faith leads
to pallid believing. Christians cannot hide their lamp beneath a
bushel; real Christians will not do so, and are not doing so.38 But
how, during the world, should that lamp be displayed? What shall
Christians do now, in this weird after- and before-time? How can
believers inhabit Christianity™s ˜˜already™™ and ˜˜not yet™™? Is
humanity just marking time? Is it all, in John Courtney Murray™s
phrase, ˜˜just basket weaving™™ (Murray 1988)? How should we com-
port ourselves in this Epilogue, during the world?
Answering those questions is the point of this book. It does so in
two steps. Part I explicates a theology of engagement “ one which,
while implicit in many theologies today, has not before been
explicitly articulated. It explores how a certain picture of God and
God™s relation to the world plays out in understanding ourselves as
appropriating the divine energia, ˜˜energy™™ or ˜˜activity,™™ in our
behavior in the world. Central to this new account is a revitalized
and metaphysically vigorous picture of God™s simultaneous imman-
ence and transcendence: God™s free sovereignty over creation and

38. See O™Donovan 1996: 212“14, Rausch 2004, and Abraham 1989. My
understanding of evangelism and engagement is sympathetic with the deep
logic of Abraham™s understanding of evangelism as initiation. See also Stuckey
26 A Theology of Public Life

yet God™s intimate ongoing involvement in sustaining all creation in
being. Hence Part I attempts to offer a theological interpretation of
the world as a form of participation, through Christ, in the church,
in the divine perichoresis. This participation is distended by our fallen
condition and our temporality, but it is participation nonetheless.
And it is a participation necessarily mediated through the world,
through our condition as existing in God™s Creation. Creation is not
the ˜˜background™™ to our redemption, it plays an essential role
within it. The basic dynamics of this theological vision develop the
dual dynamics of the inside going outside, and the outside coming
within, to challenge our attempts to set up absolute boundaries
in the world, between inside and outside. We sinfully use these
boundaries (or try to use them) to separate ourselves “ from those
who are unclean, from our neighbors, and ultimately from God.
But this separation is impossible, and in every way we are more
eschatologically intimate with each and every other than we
˜˜naturally,™™ in our fallen state, imagine. The question this part
seeks to answer is simple: given this understanding of God and
God™s relation to Creation, how are we to understand our lives “
before God, within creation, and with others “ during the world?
Part II further develops Part I™s answer to this question, by
detailing how to understand and inhabit public life, civically and
ascetically, during the world, in a theology of citizenship. The
concept of ˜˜citizen™™ is the fundamental political category of mod-
ernity, the locus of political sovereignty, and thereby diverges from
much premodern (and modern, and some postmodern) political
theology by not fundamentally treating the political agent as a
subject, and not taking the basic political question to be the ques-
tion of proper obedience. The basic question is not one of the
character of proper obedience to political authority, but the char-
acter of proper participation in public life. Given this, citizenship is
usefully understood as a liturgy, not only as a communal activity
(the root meaning of leitourgia), but also because, by engaging in
apparently political activities, we are participating in properly
theological activities as well. Yet this is not an argument that
˜˜politics,™™ as we presently understand it, is a ˜˜proper sphere™™ of an
intended order of creation; rather, the dynamics and longings cap-
tured in political activities are ultimately ˜˜ordered™™ to God. Again,
this is an eschatologically in¬‚ected political theology: the liturgy we
Introduction: Life in the epilogue

participate in now will ¬nd its proper meaning only before the Lord
at the judgment day.
Yet our present participation in this liturgy can ¬t us for our parts
in that greater liturgy to come. Existence in this culture, or any
culture for that matter, will cultivate the soul; the only question is,

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