Friday, October 01, 2010

Two Starkly Different Views of Christianity and Government

This sermon and this sermon don't precisely overlap. The speakers are not pursuing the same objectives; nevertheless, I believe they demonstrate two starkly different views, preached just two days apart, of 1) Christian citizenship in this world's nation-states, and 2) the authorities that lead to those distinct convictions. I don't expect that the speakers themselves would disagree with that assessment. (Of course, that's not to imply they disagree on everything. Obviously, they both affirm that Christianity influenced our nation's founders, for example.)

Here's a crucial portion of the first sermon:
Listen to me carefully, O Southern Baptist church. On Capitol Hill. This is one of the problems with referring to any country as a Christian nation. Just because the principles of Christianity clearly influenced our nations founders (and they did) and some of they themselves were evangelical Christians (I think Sam Adams was) and even if the Supreme Court has recognized the long history of significant Christian influence in our nation (and they have in decisions), that does not mean that most Americans are Christians, or that a Christian worldview dominates our public culture or our government today, or that one needs to be a Christian to be an American citizen.

Friends, Augustine understood these complexities far better when he wrote in his book, The City of God, about how we as Christians find ourselves simultaneously being citizens of two cities—the City of Man and the City of God—at the same time, citizens of both. The legal establishment of Christianity in many nations—centuries after the Apostles—reflected an already-distorted understanding of the gospel, and led to terrible confusions as the Church wielded the sword in religious wars and inquisitions. [repeated in original for emphasis] . . .

And friends, I've got to tell you, I think we're tempted to similar confusions today. [A portion of a riff on the misuse of Chronicles 7:14 is omitted here.] I think Christians' identification of their land, whatever it is, with "Israel" in 2 Chronicles 7:14 is very well intended, but it is confusing. There are no specific promises in the Bible like that for any nation-state in the world today. Though, it is true, we should always repent, and God may, in his mercy, bless our land.

The second sermon lacks a similar, lengthy expression of a pivotal thesis. (I'd highly encourage you to listen to the whole thing to get a clear sense of the overall message.) But this statement illustrates a bit of the contrast, and serves as a useful expression of some basic assumptions:
[T]here's a common blessing out there for people that will follow—nations that will follow—God's laws, God's principles. God's moral law, when it's exalted, certainly brings the blessing of God on a nation and on an individual. And so do not discount the fact that God has raised up America and blessed America because we have been a—yes—a nation founded upon his principles, upon Christian principles.
Another direct contrast is the first speaker's clear emphasis on the fundamentally international nature of Christianity, versus the second speaker's incredulity that young people would question saluting the American flag in church. You may also note the juxtaposition of a dispensationalist who expresses affirmation for the application to the United States of OT promises made to Israel, with the non-dispensationalist who finds that application confusing.

The above quotes are merely brief samples. Maybe 2-3 minutes out of a combined 100+ minutes of preaching. I'm not at all interested in the comments becoming an argument over whether those two sound bites fully display a fundamental contrast. I am arguing that the two sermons do precisely that. So in the comments, please refrain from debating whether my thesis is correct until you've listened to both sermons in full. Feel free to engage in other forms of discussion as you wish.


Jon Askonas said...

Besides the second speaker's decidedly simplistic understanding of American politics, I would argue that these two sermons don't fundamentally disagree, because they aren't two sermons. Pastor Dever's sermon focuses on how Christians ought to live with government and what the political philosophy of the Bible is. The second message is in fact a political speech, and not a exegetical sermon. America's hope is the Gospel, not constitutionalized, but evangelized. The second speaker mistakes the extent to which America has ever been a Christian nation; I think Dever would argue that there are no such things as Christian nations, only Christians to the nations. Christians' ultimate allegiance is to God. The principles which the second speaker identified (limited government, 2nd amendment rights, free market capitalism, etc.) are neither uniquely Christian nor wholly agreed upon within Christianity. For example, there are those who argue that the government's responsibility to ensure justice extends to distributive justice and the care of the poor. Whether you agree or not, it's a legitimate Christian concern. And I especially don't understand how 2nd amendment rights are especially Christian, given the promise that our King will turn swords into plowshares. Dever's message has little to do with our political structure and everything to do with the role of the church in America. Dever is concerned that messages like this reinforce a belief that American Christianity is, has, or must be some sort of guardian for founding principles. In addition, the second The preacher makes a serious anachronistic error to state that the ultimate authority of the government always resides in the people. Social Contract theory follows Christianity by about 1600 years. God ordains governing authorities and he is the ultimate authority behind them, and it is to Him that we are ultimately responsible. I suppose I see the problem in the closing speech of the second preacher. He says that the "enemy knows where it is at." The problem with a Christianity which ascribes so much weight to political participation seems to be on partially of vocabulary. Those whom the preacher identifies are not the enemy. They are the lost.

Ben said...


Briefly, I think both speakers intended for their audiences to think of their messages as sermons. The Maranatha sermon took place in a Bible college chapel, and the speaker interacted briefly with a biblical text. Maybe even a few. I would guess that he thought of the rest as an extended application of that text, obviously drawing heavily on history and political philosophy as an authority.

I realize that's not the sort of sermon we're accustomed to in our churches, but not all would share your church's approach to preaching. Unfortunately.

Anonymous said...

Well said Jon.

After listening to both of these, I sure wish the first was the one that came from my alma mater. It is pretty discouraging to know that that is at least some the of "preaching" that guys being trained for ministry are being exposed to and influenced by there.