Arguing Out of Bounds: Christian Eloquence and the End of Johannine Liberalism

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


I describe the state of the debate about religious reasons in public, at least how that debate appears from within theology. I begin by identifying the historical roots of this debate in classical and contemporary liberalism, especially in John Rawls’ notion of public reason. I will argue that we have reason to reject Rawls’ restrictions on public discourse and, furthermore, a consensus is now forming to this effect. The inadequacies of this position are well-captured in an exchange between the philosophers Richard Rorty and Nicholas Wolterstorff, where Rorty begins by advocating Rawlsian public reason but then abandons it. I conclude by arguing that although public discourse should not be guided by neutral principles, this does not mean it should be unguided by anything at all. One place that Christians in particular might look for guidance is classical and Christian rhetoric, in which public speech is a moral practice. As such, some contributions are better or worse than others. That is, they excel in rhetorical excellence; what Christian rhetoricians called eloquence.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationReligion in a Liberal State
EditorsGavin D'Costa, Malcolm Evans, Tariq Modood, Julian Rivers
PublisherCambridge University Press
Number of pages25
ISBN (Print)978-1-107-65007-7
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • public reason
  • Rawls
  • Rorty
  • Wolterstorff
  • eloquence
  • Cicero
  • rhetoric
  • Raymond Plant
  • secularization


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