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The Importance of the Penultimate: Reformed Social Thought and the Contemporary Critiques of the Liberal Society

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Abstract

I argue that the predominant approach to social thought among Reformed thinkers of the past century—what might be termed generally Kuyperian or neo-Calvinist—anticipated the contemporary critiques of the liberal society in many respects and offers considerable intellectual support for this critique, though equivocally. I also argue, however, and here is the twist that may be unexpected, that an older Reformation and post-Reformation era Reformed approach to social issues, from which twentieth-century Reformed social thought has in significant ways turned aside, may offer a rather distinct theological response to the critique of liberalism. This older approach, which appealed to categories such as natural law and the two-kingdoms doctrine, was not itself utilized at the time to defend a liberal society—such a claim would be anachronistic. What it does do is offer an intriguing and largely forgotten alternative to the current terms of debate over liberalism and its trappings; it provides a tempered and indirect theological defense of the liberal society. It does not dictate liberalism as the Christian social theory but gives many reasons to appreciate it.

David VanDrunen, "The Importance of the Penultimate: Reformed Social Thought and the Contemporary Critiques of the Liberal Society," Journal of Markets & Morality 9, no. 2 (Fall 2006): 219-249


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