Last year, Aaron Renn posed a question on X: “Who are America’s leading Protestant intellectuals?” The answers were, for the most part, unsatisfying, with a few key exceptions. My own list would be quite different than those proffered by most, and there are some young up-and-comers (Samuel James and Jake Meador, for example) that I suspect will make their mark in the years ahead. I hope that a layman’s version of Joseph Minich’s recent book Bulwarks of Unbelief: Atheism and Divine Absence in a Secular Age will be published, too, just as Carl Trueman followed The Rise and Triumph of the Modern Self with Strange New World.
Any list of leading Protestant intellectuals must also include Andrew T. Walker. Walker is associate dean in the school of theology and associate professor of Christian ethics and public theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, as well as the director of the Carl F.H. Henry Institute for Evangelical Engagement and managing editor of WORLD Opinions. He writes invaluable commentary for Public Discourse, National Review, First Things, and American Reformer, among other outlets. His 2022 book God and the Transgender Debate: What Does the Bible Actually Say about Gender Identity? is an important contribution to a key cultural debate.
Walker’s upcoming Faithful Reason: Natural Law Ethics for God’s Glory and Our Good (B&H Academic, 2024) is an ambitious corrective to Protestantism’s drift away from the theology of the Reformers and their spiritual descendants. Walker kindly agreed to an interview on his work in the church and in the public square with The European Conservative.
What do you see as the primary goal of your work in communicating to lay Christians?
Playing on offense. Western Christians know by now that the views they hold are in the growing minority. My response to that is, well, “Who cares?” Modern secular morality is bankrupt, barbaric, and brittle. It is deeply irrational. Where it isn’t, it is borrowing from Christianity. Secular morality has no satisfying answers to humanity’s deepest questions. It is a cesspool of relativism, therapeutism, and hyper-individualism (my next book, if picked up by a publisher, is going to be on the failures of secularism). If that is the case, then Christians should be willing to confront secularism head-on. That shapes a large portion of my teaching and writing ministry.
Chiefly, I want Christians to understand the intelligible reasons for the ethical convictions we hold and to understand that those reasons are more satisfying and life-and-culture-sustaining than rival secular counterfeits. I have no pretenses for ‘taking America back for Christ’ in some God-and-country sense; no, we need to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ amid the ruins of secularism. I really believe there has never been a better time to be authentically Christian than right now, especially in the West. Frankly, there is something exhilarating about resisting secular progressivism. Furthermore, the growing ranks of ‘red-pilled’ ex-liberals is showcasing how secularism’s attempts to transgress the outer boundaries of the natural law is impossible. Christians need to be there when reality snaps back and people find themselves burned out and dejected from bottoming out on secularism.
Much of your recent work involves analyzing how American Christians can respond to our post-Christian moment in practical ways. What are some of the key temptations Christians face during this cultural moment that you believe must be avoided?
Despair is the greatest temptation. Despair is incompatible with joy and gratitude. The older I get in my Christian faith, the more I am convinced that joy and gratitude are the wellsprings for Christian holiness and Christian witness. Paul likens cultural despair and rebellion in Romans 1 as a failure of gratitude. Gratitude accepts limits and orients. Despair gives birth to apathy and bitterness. Spiritual and political enemies of Christianity want nothing more [than] for Christians to not only lose tactically but to surrender their hope.
I think we also need to be ever constantly vigilant and crucifying respectability in the eyes of the world. The sin of respectability is merely updated language for what the Apostle Paul calls “man-pleasing” (Gal. 1:10). All it does is turn you into a ventriloquist dummy who only mouths the talking points of what those who hate Christ expect you to say to remain in their good graces.
Much has been written in the past decade on how Christians should react to an increasingly hostile culture, from Rod Dreher’s ‘Benedict Option’ and Douglas Wilson’s ‘Christian Nationalism’ (and the Catholic version, integralism) to Aaron Renn’s practical advice on navigating a ‘Negative World.’ What, in your view, should the Christian approach to this emerging landscape be? Are you sympathetic to any of these views?
There are elements of truth in each of the above approaches you’ve mentioned. Depending on how it is defined, I’ve been critical of ‘Christian nationalism’ not because I’m opposed to nations exhibiting Christian values (I very much want that), but because of a theological concern of the gospel playing chaplain to worldly politics. In my theological worldview, the government is a poor disciple and an even worse pastor or priest.
To be brief, since the question lends itself to a book-length answer, my general approach for Christianity and culture reduces down to an ecclesiocentric vision that Carl F.H. Henry once wrote: “The Church is also to declare the criteria by which nations will ultimately be judged, and the divine standards to which man and society must conform if civilization is to endure.” In my view, we are not promised total victory in this age (though victories are possible); in the meantime, we should be adamant in stating the truth publicly, if only to rebut those who utter lies about human nature, the human person, and the true grounds for the common good’s realization. The task of the Christian in this age is to remind Babylon that it actually belongs to God and is not its own sovereign.
Your new book, Faithful Reason: Natural Law Ethics for God’s Glory and Our Good, deals with an area of theology largely (or almost entirely) ignored or forgotten by Protestants. For centuries, natural law ethics were considered part of the collective Christian inheritance, while many Protestants today appear to assume that this is the purview of Catholics. What should Protestants understand about natural law as part of our Reformed heritage?
The loss of natural law in Reformed circles is a 20th-century phenomenon. To return to the natural law (as we must) is to return to one of the most ancient fields for Christian moral thinking. It is to our great shame that Protestants abandoned the natural law due to the influence of figures like Karl Barth, who I think is vastly overrated and who helped midwife theological liberalism into 20th-century vernacular. To go deep into Protestant history is to cease being Barthian and voluntarist in one’s ethics. Moreover, I would urge Protestants to go and read their Protestant sources. They will be shocked to learn, for example, how much figures like Calvin, or Hemmingsen, or Junius sound positively Thomistic in their ethics.