This week I end my series on whether America is dying—and it is—and the cure for its death—the Church again proclaiming the sovereignty of God over all things and the depth of humanity’s depravity. Of course, that answer is an anathema to Enlightenment thinkers who espouse human autonomy and the sufficiency of human reason to solve our problems. However, why it’s the solution may also be unintelligible to many evangelicals. So for both camps, let me explain why I believe it’s the cure.
The other week I spoke of the sovereignty of God as applied during the Reformation from the sociological or anthropological side of life, us looking up vertically toward God from the ‘muck.’ But the sovereignty of God over His creation also changes the way we see things horizontally, the world around us.
How Does God ‘Relate’ to Society?
Here is where another break came in Christendom and even among Protestants: Do we relate to God directly or indirectly?
The former came to mean that all spheres of society—the individual, the family, private associations, and civil government—relate to and are directly accountable to God for how they function.
The latter meant those same spheres relate to God indirectly, either through the Church or through a king claiming “divine rights.” This is what gave birth to the struggle over who is in charge on earth—an ecclesiastical establishment or its titular head or the state.1
But when we understand the breadth of God’s sovereignty—that it applies to all things—and we believe that there is only one mediator between God and His creation—the incarnated second Person of the Triune God, Jesus the Messiah—then we don’t bifurcate the world into sacred and secular spheres, and the original and historic tension between “church and state” dissolves.2 Neither is “in charge” of mediating the relationship between God and the rest of the world; only the sovereign God is in charge and both church and state, along with the other spheres, are directly accountable to Him for how they carry out their respective God-given responsibilities.
How God’s Sovereignty Affects Our Interactions With Others
It is in this comprehensive, direct application of the sovereignty of God that we find what I last week called the most democratizing idea in history when it comes to how human beings understand and relate to one another. To me, it is beautiful. Abraham Kuyper, theologian and Prime Minister of the Netherlands in the early 1900s, put it more beautifully than I ever could:
[When] our entire human life [is placed] immediately before God, then it follows that all men or women, rich or poor, weak or strong, dull or talented, as creatures of God, and as lost sinners, have no claim whatsoever to lord over one another, and that we stand as equals before God, and consequently equal as man to man. Hence we cannot recognize any distinction among men, save such as has been imposed by God Himself, in that He gave one authority over the other, or enriched one with more talents than the other, in order that the man of more talents should serve the man with less, and in him serve his God. Hence [it] condemns not merely all open slavery and systems of caste, but also all covert slavery of woman and of the poor; it is opposed to all hierarchy among men; it tolerates no aristocracy save such as is able, either in person or in family, by the grace of God, to exhibit superiority of character or talent, and to show that it does not claim this superiority for self-aggrandizement or ambitious pride, but for the sake of spending it in the service of God. (emphasis mine)
Why We Reject the Harmony God Intended
There are probably few who would denounce such a beautiful picture of human understanding and interaction.
However, it describes a life that finds its focus and meaning in God, not in one’s circumstances, position, or power, and that God, because He is the Creator of and Sovereign over all things, insists for our own good that our lives and everything that our human lives produce—civil laws and policies, educational institutions, arts, entertainments, marriages, families, private associations—be as in accord with His creational and moral laws as possible on this side of eternity in order that this beautiful harmony can come to pass.
That, of course, is the rub. From the beginning, we have not wanted to bow the knee and submit to God in all things. We want to live, individually and corporately, by our own laws, at least in certain areas of our lives. We want the laws that we think will bring about the dignity and harmony for which our hearts long. That’s at the heart of the Enlightenment, but that’s not in accord with the true light of the world.
The true Light has come into the world, and the problem is that “men loved darkness rather than Light, because their deeds were evil” (John 3:19). All I can say is “Sovereign God, would You give us a new love, one by which we want to embrace the Light that will get the muck out of our eyes?”3
- “The real object of the First Amendment was not to countenance, much less to advance Mohammedanism, or Judaism, or infidelity, by prostrating Christianity, but to exclude all rivalry among Christian sects and to prevent any national ecclesiastical establishment.” Joseph Story, Commentaries on the Constitution of the United States (1833). (emphasis mine)
- As I told a new friend of mine the other day, we do not have a church-state issue in America anymore as it was that kind of “establishment” issue to which the First Amendment was directed. Our Founders never intended to prohibit religious beliefs from informing the value judgments by which we would frame our laws, and that’s why we also have the First Amendment’s free exercise clause and the ban on religious tests.
- While Jonah Goldberg in Suicide of the West submits that the principles of the Enlightenment led us out of the muck, the growing embrace of identity politics and socialism that he laments comes from the same poisonous root. “Radical egalitarianism,” a product of the individualism that grows out of human autonomy, “necessarily presses us toward collectivism because a powerful state is required to suppress the differences that freedom produces. That raises the sinister and seemingly paradoxical possibility that radical individualism is the handmaiden of collectivist tyranny. This individualism . . . attacks the authority of family, church, and private association. . . . The upshot is that these institutions, which stand between the state and the individual, are progressively weakened and their functions increasingly dictated or taken over by the state. The individual becomes less of a member of powerful private institutions and more a member of an unstructured mass that is vulnerable to the collectivist coercion of the state. Thus does radical individualism prepare the way for its opposite.” Robert H. Bork, Slouching Towards Gomorrah. That’s another reason why Enlightenment thinking is a dead end—it always vacillated between chaotic individualism and tyranny. (emphasis mine)
Read the series of commentaries responding to Jonah Goldberg’s Suicide of the West:
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006. Read David’s complete bio.
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