Christian realism steers a course between the Anabaptist vision of the kingdom being achieved, more rather than less, in the church and the Constantinian vision of the kingdom joining hips with the State. Now, of course, there is a spectrum from one end to the other, but Realism is flat-out in the middle. And this view has now been ably articulated by John Stackhouse in his book Making the Best of It. We have sketched his preliminaries — the Niebuhrs, CS Lewis and Bonhoeffer. Today we begin sketching how he puts this all together.
Stackhouse’s answer is actually implicit in the central question of his book, that is, it is there if you know what you are looking for. His question is this: “Who are we, for Jesus Christ, today?”
So, what is his method? How do we answer a question like this?
Perhaps you could ask yourself a moral question about how you make decisons. So here’s a few:
What process do you go through in deciding which candidate you will vote for?
What process do you go through in deciding about abortion?
What process do you go through in deciding about war for the Christian?
How do you make your decisions?
First, the fundamental stance of the Christian is discipleship: attending to Jesus. This means knowing the revelation of Jesus Christ, a sense of who we are, and a sense of what Jesus calls us to be and do. The primary call is to increase in the knowledge and love of God and we need to believe God has provided all we need to do this. God’s will is “what is consonant with God’s overarching and ultimate purposes as working out in this particular situation” (167). And because of our fallen world, “we must see that it might well be the will of God for a Christian individual … not only to be limited in knowledge but actually mistaken — even about something important” (167). We should focus on God, then. Our epistemic confidence is in God himself and “not finally in any of the epistemic means he has provided to us” (168).
Second, there are four means to understanding how to make moral decisions in Christian realism: scripture, tradition, reason and experience. He calls this — not the Wesleyan quadrilateral but — “a Protestant (Christian) tetralectic.” Besides being a bad word and hard to say and all, his idea is exceptionally important:
If Scripture is primary, it is not that simple. His point: as a “dialectic” is the interaction of two things, so a “tetralectic” is the ongoing, mutual interaction of four things. And that is exactly how it works out, friends. “Our reading of Scripture is always in a tetralectic, a four-way conversation among these four resources” (173). Think about this very long and a few things happen, not the least of which is a little humility about our claims. And this tetralectic involves not just Scripture but our “interpretations” of Scripture (174).
But God “remains the Lord who grants us what he pleases in order to accomplish what he pleases: that is the Christian epistemic hope” (175).
And Stackhouse believes the Holy Spirit is at work in this tetralectic.