The Public/Private Distinction: An Indispensable Heuristic Tool For Evangelicals -- By: Ronald M. Rothenberg

Journal: Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society
Volume: JETS 60:4 (Dec 2017)
Article: The Public/Private Distinction: An Indispensable Heuristic Tool For Evangelicals
Author: Ronald M. Rothenberg


The Public/Private Distinction:
An Indispensable Heuristic Tool
For Evangelicals

Ronald M. Rothenberg*

* Ronald M. Rothenberg is an independent researcher residing at 123 Dewey Ave., Unit G, San Gabriel, CA, 91776. He may be contacted at rmrothenberg@outlook.com.

Abstract: The public/private distinction has long been an indispensable heuristic tool for evangelicals because of its basis in Scripture, use as a biblical hermeneutic principle, and inescapable instrument for shaping ethical discussion. However, the distinction has moved recently from being a tool for framing contentious debates to the target of criticism. The thesis of this article is that the public/private distinction is an indispensable heuristic tool for evangelicals. Despite the inherent limitations and use in secular ethical arguments of the public/private distinction, the scriptural evidence, history of biblical interpretation, and systematic theological tradition all indicate that the distinction is an indispensable heuristic tool for evangelical interpretative, theological, and ethical reflection.

Key words: theology, ethics, applied ethics, public/private distinction, contemporary issues, hermeneutics

The public/private distinction has been called “one of the ‘great dichotomies’” of Western civilization.1 Moreover, the dichotomy has been labeled a “central organizing principle” for understanding social thought and life.2 Additionally, the dualism has been used as a heuristic tool in social, political, public policy, and ethical debates for centuries, primarily in western societies.3 For instance, various authors, both secular and evangelical, note the role of the public/private distinction through the so-called “right to privacy” in abortion, bioethics, euthanasia, homosexuality, and the nature of marriage and/or apply the distinction to pacifism, capital punishment, and other issues.4 The distinction has long been an indispensable

heuristic tool for evangelicals because of its basis in Scripture, use as a biblical hermeneutic principle, and inescapable instrument for shaping ethical discussion. However, recently the distinction has moved from being a tool for framing contentious debates to the target of criticism.

Not only is the distinction extremely important, particularly for applied ethics, but it is also highly controversial. Part of the controversy over the distinction is ho...

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