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David A. Skeel, Jr.

What's Law Got to Do with It?

Recovering a lost heritage.

Like other Americans, Christians have called for legal solutions to every conceivable question, from abortion and gay marriage, to Terri Schiavo and end-of-life questions, to gambling and corporate responsibility. Law isn't so pervasive in other developed countries, but the American perspective seems to be spreading. If asked to identify the objective of all this law, Christians and Christian lawmakers often say "promoting morality." But can or should secular law enforce every moral obligation? What might a more rigorous Christian perspective on faith, morals, and law look like?

Legal scholarship, the most obvious place to turn for reflections on these issues, is just beginning to address them in earnest. In 2001, Michael McConnell (then a law professor, now a federal appellate judge) and several others published Christian Perspectives on Legal Thought, a collection of essays by 28 legal scholars. The essays range from historical studies of classical liberal theory and marriage law, to Calvinist or Anabaptist or Catholic perspectives on particular legal issues, together with a great deal of shop-talk: Christian assessments of legal academia and the various movements that have dominated secular legal scholarship in recent years. A few of the essays are excellent, and Christian Perspectives is a pathbreaking experiment in possible Christian approaches. But the essays do not develop any particular thesis or set of theses.

The Teachings of Modern Christianity on Law, Politics & Human Nature, a massive two-volume set edited by John Witte and Frank Alexander, takes a different and more unified tack. For the principal volume, Witte and Alexander selected twenty figures from the three major Christian traditions—seven Catholic, eight Protestant, and five Orthodox—and commissioned essays exploring the legacy of each. (The second volume lets the twenty speak for themselves, providing a medley of excerpts culled from their writings.) The essays—which treat thinkers ...

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