Celebrating Robert Cochran and the Future of “Embodied” Christian Legal Scholarship
UVA Law Faculty Affiliations
The occasion for this Article is a festschrift for Professor Robert (“Bob”) Cochran. I celebrate Bob’s significant scholarly contributions to the maturing of Christian Legal Scholarship. He applied a Christian perspective to legal issues, hosted conferences, mentored Christian Legal Scholars, and edited books of essays featuring Christian perspectives on law. Bob’s work in this area had a huge influence on the flourishing of Christian Legal Scholarship.
This Article considers the future of Christian Legal Scholarship. It enters an ongoing conversation (disagreement) between law Professors David Skeel and David Caudill. In a 2008 article, Skeel defined Christian Legal Scholarship so narrowly that it eliminated hundreds of articles that Caudill would have included in the genre. In part, Skeel and Caudill were talking past each other: Skeel failed to find examples of Christian Legal Scholarship in “elite” law reviews, while Caudill cited articles from a broader literature. But the debate is also about what “counts” as Christian Legal Scholarship. Skeel’s narrow definition might be correct if the only goal of Christian Legal Scholarship is to persuade a secular audience by presenting a comprehensive descriptive or normative critique of law. Another important goal, however, is to educate and challenge a serious, but receptive religious audience and explore smaller segments of an evolving Christian perspective on law. Such scholarship may not satisfy Skeel’s narrow definition, but it is no less Christian Legal Scholarship.
In this Article, I propose a more capacious definition that includes what I call “embodied” Christian Legal Scholarship. The ultimate goal of Christian Legal Scholarship, like all human work, is foundationally eschatological: God desires and intends a “new creation,” a final, cosmic transformation of the created order. The assurance of new creation provides the normative principles that guide Christians in determining the meaning and purpose of human work. This eschatological focus means that believers are called to pursue the biblical goals of “justice” and “shalom” because these are the marks of the new creation, the world as it is designed and destined to be. The ultimate purpose of Christian Legal Scholarship, then, is to promote human flourishing by moving the law, legal practice and legal institutions to embody the values of the intended new creation. This includes “embodied” Christian Legal Scholarship, scholarship that manifests and pursues redemptive values in nonreligious language. I believe Christian scholars should continue to write articles from an explicitly Christian perspective. But we should also pursue scholarship that embodies the values of justice and shalom but is framed in secular terms. Importantly, this is not about establishing Christianity. It is about joining with our colleagues — religious or not — to seek values that promote human flourishing.