It is quite fashionable to argue that religious belief has no place in the public square, particularly when the public square houses city councils, school boards, and state houses debating ostensible LGBT(Q) anti-discrimination measures.
Actually, it is usually the unpopular religious belief, or the religious belief with which the public square happens to disagree at the time, that finds no chair at the table. If it serves the public mood or helps pass legislation, religious belief becomes a favored guest. Customarily, though, we are led to believe that society is done a great favor when the religious voice is excluded, when the “fact” realm is kept safe from the “value” realm, when the public square is “naked” and apparently unashamed.
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The Gospel Coalition, Kevin DeYoung
April 8, 2016
One hallmark of open and free society is the ability to contribute to the marketplace of ideas, in open forum and reasonable discourse, without fear of reprisals, recriminations, or ridicule.
In certain categories of thought, however, it becomes increasingly difficult to get the proverbial word in, even edgewise.
Across the country school boards, city councils, and state houses are considering the best ways to protect from discrimination students and adults whose experience of gender does not readily coincide with their anatomy or with traditional expectations, those whose sexual identity is, in broad terms, “gender nonconforming.”
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Christians should understand government and culture in order to engage, understand, and influence it. Earlier I listed a few helpful secular resources for Christians. Here, I suggest resources from the Christian viewpoint on government and cultural issues.
One Nation Under God.
Of recent vintage, Ashford and Pappalardo give principles for engaging culture in the Kuypernian tradition. They discuss “sphere sovereignty” — recognizing that government and church have different roles and responsibilities — and “thick” and “thin” approaches to presenting the Christian worldview — when it’s appropriate to cite the Bible, for instance, and when to use persuasion that is less dependent on Scripture and more accessible to the non-Christian.
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If you’re like me, you didn’t pay much attention in high school civics class. My learning in earnest about government systems and civic life, particularly how they relate to the Christian life, began much later. But being an informed citizen requires much more than reading someone’s voter guide and watching the news. Here are a few things to help you be a more informed, voting citizen.
The Declaration of Independence & Constitution. One great feature of the United States’ foundational documents is that they are relatively short. Compared to the length of the annual Federal Register or even the Supreme Court’s ruling in a case of average significance, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution of the United States are positively light reading.
If you are interested in politics and government — in other words, if you are inclined to voice an opinion about politics and government — you really should know what our fundamental civic documents actually say.
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As John reports Jesus’ last hours with the disciples before his crucifixion, Jesus give the disciples a sort of user’s manual or disciple’s handbook with instructions about how to walk with him while they are physically without him.
In John 14, Jesus explains that we must look to our place and labor in our purpose as we live in his peace.
Knowing that we have a place, a home, a position is indispensable to our mental and spiritual health. So, Jesus, knowing our weak frame, encourages his disciples with the promise that he, himself, is preparing us a place in heaven, itself, where we will be with God, himself (14:1-3). Not only that, Jesus promises that though the world will not provide us peace, he will, and is, providing a peace much better.
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Grace moves to God upon a sense of duty; corrupt nature upon a sense of interest. Sincerity is encouraged by gracious returns, but is not melted away by God’s delay or refusal.
Whether you are new to the concept of apologetics (giving reasons for the Christian faith) or could use a refresher, R. C. Sproul’s book Defending Your Faith will answer both needs well. Sproul says,
In other words, apologetics can be used to show that Christianity is true and that all non-Christian worldviews are false. … Sadly, in our day many Christians argue that we ought not to be engaged in attempts to “prove” the truth claims of Christianity, that faith and proof are incompatible. … The church is up against not mere ignorance but biased enmity (Rom. 8:7). Only the Spirit can overcome this enmity, but the Spirit never asks people to believe what is absurd or irrational. … Proof is objective and persuasion is subjective. People who are hostile to certain ideas may have those ideas proven to them, but in their bias they refuse to be persuaded — even by the soundest of arguments. (pp 16-18)
Sproul teaches from the classical apologetic approach, which includes giving reasons for the existence of God, rather than starting with the presumption or assumption that God exists (“presuppositional apologetics). Sproul also includes in this treatment how we know — epistemology — and addresses the arguments against knowledge in philosophy.
After addressing the arguments for God’s existence, the criticisms of those arguments, and the arguments against God’s existence, Sproul addresses how we proceed from the notion of God to the notion of the God of the Bible.
Sproul gives good instruction here for how to establish the authority of the Bible without relying upon “circular reasoning.”
Worth reading for the adept or novice apologist.
In working on a list of good resources for thinking about government and the Christian’s involvement in it, I have been reviewing and in some cases, rereading, those resources.
I recently spent some time rereading Al Mohler’s Culture Shift, from 2008, and though it is likely to make the list of good resources, is worthy of its own entry.
Mohler, President of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, gives attention to the reasons why the Christian should continue to be involved with, and speak to, culture, despite its seemingly ineluctable shift away from the Christian worldview. Mohler also ably addresses the arguments against religious influence in the public square. Specific cultural issues are then discussed from the perspective of the Christian worldview. Mohler cautions the believer:
This is no time for America’s Christians to confuse the City of Man with the City of God. At the same time, we can never be counted faithful in the City of God if we neglect our duty in the City of Man.
Mohler points out the inability of a secular worldview to address matters of ultimate meaning, such as life, death, and sexuality as a significant reason for culture to permit, even seek, the viewpoint of the Christian. He also offers “ground rules” for discussion in the public square:
- A liberal democracy must allow all participants in the debate to speak and argue from whatever worldviews or convictions they possess.
- Citizens participating in public debate over law and public policy should declare the convictional basis for their arguments.
- A liberal democracy must accept limits on secular discourse even as it recognizes limits on religious discourse.
- A liberal democracy must acknowledge the commingling of religious and secular arguments, religious and secular motivations, and religious and secular outcomes.
- A liberal democracy must acknowledge and respect the rights of all citizens, including its self-consciously religious citizens.
It was eight years ago that Mohler strongly condemned the heavy-handed approach of the public schools to things religious, strongly urging Christian parents to develop an “exit strategy” from them. On this, as well as other matters, Mohler demonstrates his discernment and prescience.
Worth reading for a general, introductory view of how the Christian approaches the public square.
An advertising campaign for Walt Disney World from a few years ago capitalized on the popularity of professional football, asking the winning quarterback of the year’s biggest game “You’ve just won the Super Bowl: what are you going to do now?” to which he would gleefully respond “I’m going to Disney World!”
Should the same commercial interests be applied to the scene in John 20 and 21, it might go something like this, with considerably different effect:
“Peter, you’ve just seen and heard the risen Lord: what are you going to do now?”
“I’m going fishing!”
At this point, Jesus has died, risen from the dead, and appeared to his disciples with a commission.
Due to the proximity of this episode to the appearance of Jesus to the disciples, some say that this return to normal life represented an apostasy, or falling away, on the part of the disciples. But at this time, the Spirit had not fallen on them with power, as would happen at Pentecost. And Jesus had something else to teach them.
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