Religion and Republic

I want to continue the discussion I started last Tuesday on the subject of religion and republic. However, in light of the events of yesterday with the death of Usama Bin Ladin it seems appropriate to steer my thoughts in the direction of that event.

It seems safe to say that the Christian response to Bin Ladin’s death has been varied. Some have – indiscriminately, in my opinion – celebrated the death of Bin Ladin. Others, quoting various Old Testament texts, make remarks along the lines of “I’m glad the threat is gone, but I don’t know that I can rejoice in his death”. Like most issues political in nature, this can quickly polarize. I hope my words will bring some clarity rather than aiding extremism.

Last night I was reading portion’s of George Eldon Ladd’s book The Presence of the Future (1974). After exploring and reflecting upon biblical eschatology he makes a concluding remark that I found helpful in this discussion. He writes, ” the reign of God in the lives of his people must be concerned with the total man and with the conquest of evil in whatever form it manifests itself.”[1] As members of the Kingdom of God Christians understand the work done to resist evil in this world. Additionally, Ladd is saying that Christians ought to be people who oppose evil in all of its present forms.

American citizens who happen to be Christians can be thankful that the U.S. Government is one that is concerned with opposing evil. However, the response of Christians to the work of the state can, often, become far too cozy. Mark Noll argues this convincingly in his well-known book The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (1994). Carl Trueman reminds Christians that “the gospel cannot and must not be identified with partisan political posturing.”[2] The faulty thinking of earlier generations of evangelicals is still alive and well in modern fundamentalism and evangelicalism. The ideas of republicanism and Christianity seemed very similar. Thus, these earlier generations concluded, the Republic has the same goals and values as the Church. This, in part, is the reason for so many Christians crying out against secularism in matters of the state because, in their eyes, America is a “Christian nation”. I am convinced that such similarity does not equal complementarity. Just because the republic “looks” and “sounds” Christian in principle does not mean that it is.

This is not to say that Christians should not be concerned with matters of state. So Francis Beckwith,

“Today, citizenship, especially in liberal democracies, carries with it a greater array of rights and responsibilities than the apostle Paul ever had. Thus, if St. Paul saw nothing tawdry or un-Christian about employing his Roman citizenship, and the rights and powers that accompanied it, in order to protect the gospel and to remedy a wrong, then Christians ought to take their own citizenship just as seriously when the proper time and circumstance requires them to avail themselves of its powers.”[3]

Christians should use their American citizenship for good purposes. However, this does not mean that the goals of the state are the goals of the church and vice versa.

All that was just said is prefatory for the following remarks. As an American citizen I can find comfort in knowing that the state is one that exercises its God-given authority to judge those who do evil in the world (Romans 13). As a Christian, however, I do find sadness in the death of Bin Ladin. The sadness comes from the fact that he has died in unrepentance. I cannot accept the idea that any Christian can fully rejoice in the death of any person. The thought of any person now facing the eternal wrath of God in Hell is heart-breaking. A greater justice would have been served if Bin Ladin had been converted to Christ. That would be news worthy of rejoicing.

These are subjects worthy of Christian reflection. I hope that these thoughts will prove valuable contributions to Christian conversation on matters of religion and republic.

[1] George Eldon Ladd The Presence of the Future. (Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdman’s Publishing Co., 1974), 304.
[2] Carl Trueman Republocrat. (Philipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2010), xx.
[3]  Francis J. Beckwith. Politics for Christians: Statecraft as Soulcraft. (Downer’s Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2010), 75.
Posted in Bible, Politics, Theology

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