“If our culture is to be transformed, it will happen from the bottom up – from ordinary believers practicing apologetics over the backyard fence or around the barbecue grill.”
Most of you are probably familiar with the phrase “separation of church and state.”
This idea was drafted into the Constitution in order to prevent the government from forcing any religious preference on any segment of the population. I would imagine the founding fathers envisioned various aspects of Christianity while penning this clause, but our society, as well as most developed countries, now encompass a plurality of religions as well as those with no religion at all. The Constitution demands that no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof be created. Sounds great, right?
As previously mentioned, one would envision the authors of the 1st amendment considering various preferences of the Christian faith. Many came to America seeking religious freedom, but it should be noted they were seeking freedom to practice Christianity. They weren’t fleeing England to become Buddhists, nor were they seeking a place to embrace atheism, although some of the founding fathers were Deists. Now I can’t speak for everyone, but the vast majority of those migrating to America held a similar world view. There were various churches and levels of devotion, but almost everyone shared a similar value system. This term is key in looking at what has become of separation of church and state, as well as our faith.
The inherent weakness in the separation of church and state becomes apparent when conflicting value systems compete for prominence. When the 1st amendment was drafted, the Christian world view was essentially the only prominent value system present. More specifically, I’m referring to the morality depicted in the Bible. Western law is based on the moral standard we see illustrated throughout scripture. For centuries this standard was more or less uncontested. Christianity was the heavyweight worldview champion. However, when a plurality of religious preferences and various worldviews were thrown into the mix, the uncontested champion saw new challengers.
When it comes down to it, it is quite absurd to submit government can be a completely objective moderator, allowing each religion or worldview to actively thrive. In the instance of a democracy, whichever worldview achieves the greatest support among constituents will ultimately influence policy. For example, if the majority of the populous subscribes to atheism, legislation is going to look quite different when juxtaposed with other hypothetical scenarios. Look at polarizing topics such as abortion or gay marriage. These issues arise when the government is “forced” mitigate worldview disputes. If you stuck with me this long, I promise I’ll get to the point.
For centuries the pendulum swung toward the Christian worldview. As our society becomes increasingly pluralistic, an unprecedented, quasi-compensatory shift is taking place. This shift notably took place in the latter portion of the 20th-century proceeding into the 21st. For the 1st time, the prominence of the Christian worldview was significantly challenged. This trend was something that had been brooding for a considerable amount of time. Philosophical and scientific ideas stemming from the Enlightenment onward formed a broad foundation from which the Christian worldview would be forced into a box. Now, don’t get me wrong. The Christian worldview is still preeminent in many regards. As a theist & Christian, I firmly believe Christianity will not be snuffed out. Idealistic atheists portend a not so distant future when all major religions will be viewed in a similar fashion as the Greek Pantheon; an outmoded fairy tale. They lived where? On Mt. Olympus? How silly. Similarly, they lump the one true God revealed in scripture as a whimsical myth. You may rightfully note there have always been those who object to Christianity. There will be dissenters until Jesus returns. Yes, that’s true. Jesus and the early church experienced terrible, direct persecution. But I would suggest there is a trend which is equally if not more frightening than direct persecution. Martyrs die for Jesus, while those led away from the Gospel die seemingly content in their old age. Which is more frightening in the scope of eternity? Francis Schaefer said, “I believe that pluralistic secularism, in the long run, is a more deadly poison than straightforward persecution” (emphasis added).
“Martyrs die for Jesus, while those led away from the Gospel die seemingly content in their old age.”
Pluralistic secularism is a big term with significant meaning. Let’s break it down. Secularism is the tendency to reject all forms of religious faith and worship. Pluralism can be defined in several ways, but in this case, it is viewed as a system which is not governed by any one religion or singular worldview, nor is any religion given preeminence. Stated in a straightforward manner, pluralism views all world views or systems of belief as being equally valid. That means Islam is equally valid, as is Buddhism, Hinduism, atheism, Christianity, etc. Pluralistic secularism is the movement responsible for forcing Christianity into a box. Don’t get your feathers ruffled. I’m not accusing anyone of shoving their faith in a box. I believe Christians have been subconsciously placing their faith in a box out of necessity. They feel the burden of persecution, persecution in a very different manner than is traditionally perceived. What does that mean? Well, think of schools. What is taught? Think of most major universities. What is taught? Unquestionably, humanism is the predominant factor influencing education. The scientific method is the undisputed workhorse when it comes to examining the world in which we live. Please, don’t feel in any way that I’m criticizing the scientific method because I’m not. My concern is that academia is reaching conclusions prior to posing hypotheses. Open inquiry is only permitted when it reaches conclusions in line with secularism. Here I will note that my intent is not to get into an apologetic regarding intelligent design. My point is to look at how this trend has cornered believers into compartmentalizing their faith.
“My concern is that academia is reaching conclusions prior to posing hypotheses. Open inquiry is only permitted when it reaches conclusions in line with secularism.”
With pluralistic secularism on the rise, many Christians unknowingly and unintentionally compartmentalize their faith. We do this as a defense mechanism. We do this because in many cases Christian leadership has failed to equip believers. Many Christians lack a fundamental understanding of their worldview. It’s not that theism is unreasonable. To the contrary! When the evidence is examined it is quite reasonable. It’s the prominence of dubious inquiry that has led to a dogmatic view of science. The very consideration that microbiology reveals design would not be tolerated at most universities. Why is that? If the evidence points toward a conclusion, why shouldn’t it be considered as a possibility? The scientific method is about transparency and following the evidence. The current scientific method, unfortunately, has qualifiers that demand humanistic conclusions. I digress. I recall going through the public education system and being enormously unprepared to face many of the hurdles thrown at me. In biology, I would consider how evolution was compatible with my faith. I love my parents to death, but they didn’t equip me to answer those questions. Unfortunately, many young people raised in the church jettison their faith at this juncture, noting the perceived but ultimately illusory incompatibility of science and faith. In my case, I devoured literature concerning the subject and reached my own conclusion. I felt that theism was not only reasonable but the best explanation of the world I lived in. I further had a personal relationship with Jesus that solidified the rational basis for my faith.
The beautiful thing about our faith is that it doesn’t need to be compartmentalized or placed in a box only to be removed on Sunday morning. It is something intensely personal, but it is also corporate. We are called to reform and shape culture. The church cannot hide from the twenty-first century like a turtle in its shell. In Luke 19:40, Jesus said the rocks would cry out and testify about him if the disciples remained silent. To me, this passage exhibits a duality of meaning, as the earth literally cries out and testifies to the glory of God. Creation screams design. The intricacies and complexity of life point to God. Our deep rooted and enigmatic sense of morality testifies of the creator. We don’t need to hide, we simply need to be prepared and we must set out to reform culture. I think some are afraid of rationalizing their faith. Perhaps this depersonalizes Jesus. Or, perhaps they are afraid of where this course may lead. In my experience, the rationality of theism accentuated the faith aspect of my relationship with Jesus. I believe the two complement one another. In fact, I would suggest it is a disservice to God to ignore the development of a comprehensive understanding of the created order. It by no means diminishes our faith to pursue a plenary understanding of God and the world in which we live. I further believe it is a disservice to God to abandon the public arena. We are called to influence culture, business, academics and public policy. In fact, we don’t really have a choice. Are we representing God if we attend church on Sunday only to abandon him the remainder of the week? Our testimony of God should proceed naturally and continually.
It’s time that we reclaim a noteworthy cultural identity. There are an abundance of brilliant individuals who agree that God should not be put in a box. Consider their work a tool chest to be utilized regularly. Not only does this pursuit bolster our faith and bring us closer to God, but it also prepares us to enter the marketplace of ideas. A comprehensive Christian identity is an effective aggregate of our relationship with Jesus and an intellectual framework attesting to the Christian worldview. Don’t put your faith in a box, because God is stunning and deserves to be at the forefront of everything we do.