Sunday, June 15, 2014

David Brat, Theological Conundrum

David Brat, the surprise Republican primary victor over House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, received a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. He has also stated that he had at one time wanted to teach systematic theology and ethics anddescribed his win as a God-given “miracle:” “God acted through the people on my behalf.”  
Based on this, it would be natural to wonder whether Brat intends to legislate his religious beliefs if elected—and more to the point, what those beliefs actually are.
Turns out that’s a tricky question. Since Brat has only recently come to national attention, the source material here is pretty thin, and as Candida Moss has pointed out, it’s characterized by deep intellectual incoherence. There’s his PhD dissertation from American University, of which the last chapter is a discussion of Protestantism and science in the nineteenth century. There’s his unpublished textbook on economics and philosophical ethics,The Philosophy of Economics: A History of Science, Method and Ethics.  And there is also the article he wrote in 2011 for the journal Interpretation, entitled “God and Advanced Mammon – Can Theological Types Handle Usury and Capitalism?”  
In that article, Brat defends usury against unnamed “theological types” who believe it un-Christian to charge interest on loans based on the historic proscription of usury. Here, curiously, Brat describes himself as an “orthodox Calvinist” and describes his theological tradition as “the Reformation,” even though his campaign site says that he attends a Roman Catholic Church.
His Curriculum Vitae  does little to shed light on the matter of his ecclesial home. Under “Affiliations” are listed four different congregations: St. Michael’s Catholic Church, Christ Church Episcopal, Third Presbyterian Church, and Shady Grove Methodist Church. (No dates or locations are given.) Brat’s interview with The National Review supports this picture of theological eclecticism, inasmuch as he cites John Calvin, Karl Barth, and Reinhold Niebuhr as influences.  
Lastly, we have his own words during the campaign, in which he bemoans the dearth of philosophical and theological celebrities. Via Mother Jones:
Who is [sic] our great moral teachers these days? Every generation has always had great theologians or philosophers by the century that you can name. Who do we got right now? [Audience: Jay-Z] Right. Right. [Audience: Beyoncé] Right. Beyoncé. When you can't name a serious philosopher, a national name, or a serious theologian, or a serious religious leader, at the national level, your culture's got a major problem. We got a major problem.
Read the rest here 

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