Christian Realism and the Presence of Christ

March 12th, 2008 / 2 Comments

I was listening to a lecture from the University of Notre Dame’s Center for Ethics and Culture archives and was drawn to several comments by Enda McDonagh concerning the problem of using original sin as justification for ‘just war.’

We’re not living in an unredeemed world, we’re living in a redeemed world, that’s the whole point of our faith in Jesus Christ. So if we live in a redeemed world then it’s very proper for us to struggle…because we have the redeeming presence of Christ.

…the turning point is the death and resurrection of Christ. We live in a redeemed world. We’re never going to fully realize it, but what we’re called to…is to overcome.

It strikes me that the position McDonagh is critiquing is also a common underlying assumption among many of this blog’s dissenters.

Christian Realism

Christian Realism assumes that, because the nature of sin cannot be completely overcome until Christ’s return we are allowed certain compromises so that we can achieve a not-yet-complete justice in order to foreshadow the complete justice which is possible only on Christ’s return. This is often articulated as a civic responsibility to “fix the world” while we are “still here on earth.”

The Reality of Christ’s Presence

What McDonagh’s comment suggests, and what I sympathize with, is that because of the resurrection, Christ is actively present and working in the world. Though we are still confronted by sin, our calling is to live and act as witnesses to the present work of Christ who alone is able to overcome sin.

Also present in the panel was Stanley Hauerwas who argues quite succinctly that,

If Christ is fully present in the body and blood of the Eucharist, God’s peace is fully present. …our failure, is not embodying that.

The lecture includes:

Defending Just War Theory: Three Views

  • Gilbert Meilaender, Valparaiso University
  • James Toner, United States Air Force Academy
  • Russell Hittinger, University of Tulsa

Abolitionism: A Christian Response to War?

  • Stanley Hauerwas, Duke University
  • Enda McDonagh, St. Patrick’s University, Maynooth
  • Michael Baxter, C.S.C., University of Notre Dame

(By the way, though I disagree with some of the Air Force Academy speaker’s arguments for Just War, I highly commend the U.S. Air Force for being the only military branch with an ethics department)

While the aforementioned arguments primarily relate to the topic of Just War, I think the underlying assumptions of Christian Realism vs. the Presence of Christ are inherent in the arguments for a number of other issues including abortion, euthanasia, politics, social justice, and even church planting.

What do you think? Are we called to just actions that, while imperfect, allude to the true justice that is possible only after Christ returns, or are we called to witness to what Christ is already doing, even at the risk of appearing less effective?

Comments (2)

  1. Aaron / March 12, 2008 /

    I wrote a really long response . . . . :) But, basically it comes down to the fact that I think this is a false dichotomy. We are to take action for Justice because God tells us to. We are not to compromise or self-justify sinful actions because of a certain party affiliation (this doesn’t mean we don’t vote). We are not to justify war because of any religious reasons. We are not to “fix the world”. . we are to obey Christ and be about his purposes in the middle of flawed programs/systems/government/families.

    I don’t think this is an either/or.


  2. Scott Lenger / March 15, 2008 /

    Thanks Aaron. When writing this post I initially wrestled with the possibility that this was a false dichotomy. However, I believe that when properly understood Christian witness is a faithfulness practiced through very committed and very real action.

    I think the dichotomy is not action vs. inaction but if (and how) we as sinful creatures are truly capable of determining which of our actions are just?

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Hi, my name is Scott and I design websites. You can see some of them by visiting my portfolio. When I have the time (which is seldom these days) I like to blog about Christianity, especially theology/ethics. If you want to know more you can read my about page or follow me on Twitter.


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