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Jan 04

A Secular Faith?

Dr. Darryl Hart, prolific historian of religion in America and former professor of church history at Westminster Seminary in California, has just published what sounds like a fascinating book: A Secular Faith:  Why Christianity Favors the Separation of Church and State

Terry Eastland,publisher of The Weekly Standard, recently penned this excellent review (only subscribers can read it all) of Hart’s book.   Based on his review: 

Hart amplifies Jesus’ statement "My Kingdom is not of this world" by noting that Christianity is "essentially a spiritual and eternal faith, one occupied with a world to come rather than the passing and temporal affairs of this world." Whereas theonomic, Old Testament Israel completely fused politics and religion, and whereas the Holy Roman Empire approximated such an arrangement by granting the church authority into every sphere of life, Protestant Christianity (over time) led to the diminishing of the church’s jurisdiction, hence it had a "secularizing" influence.

Hart would not deny that Christ has authority over every realm of life. Rather, he would affirm that Christ’s Lordship is manifested in one way in the case of the world, and in another way in the case of the church. In the former, Christ rules by means of providence and common grace. In the latter, Christ rules by means of covenantal love, the means of grace, and special revelation (the Bible).

When Christ told his disciples to render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s, He was acknowledging the distinct jurisdiction of each institution (God’s sovereign Lordship notwithstanding). Interestingly, when Christ made this statement, there was a picture of Caesar’s head on the coin, not "in God we trust." Hart observes that "if Christianity is a religion less concerned with statecraft than soulcraft, Christian attempts to place the United States ‘under God’ are unnecessary and may actually be a departure from the original teachings of Christ." (Hart contrasts this church-state understanding with that of Islam, citing the work of Bernard Lewis.)

Eastland does cite a few "loose ends" with the book. His primary concern is that Hart is apparently less than specific as to how individual believers could/should incorporate Christian principles, such as people being created in the image of God, into their political involvement. Hart acknowledges that there are implications, say Eastland, but does not spell them out.

Nevertheless, Eastland’s review is overwhelmingly positive.  His conclusion: 

"Hart’s achievement is to recover for our time the Augustinian perspective in which history is the story of two cities during the seclorum of the church–the City of Man and the City of God. Hart rightly warns against conflating the two, reminding those Christians in America who read his book that ‘the church is to be a Christian as opposed to an American institution."

Hart’s new book strikes me as provocative and worthy of serious consideration.  It seems particularly timely as we will probably hear a lot about faith in politics over the next year as a sincere Mormon (a former bishop, in fact) makes a serious run at the Presidency

I have started the book, and hope to be able to post a review of it soon.

For a sample of Hart’s incisive writing, here is an insightful essay he penned related to the doctrine of vocation

About the author

Alex Chediak

Alex Chediak is an author, speaker, and an associate professor of engineering and physics at California Baptist University. Alex has been involved in campus ministries and mentoring students for many years. He has published numerous articles in Boundless, an online magazine for young adult Christians, and he is the author of 5 Paths to the Love of Your Life and With One Voice. Alex has an MS and PhD in engineering from University of California–Berkeley. Originally from the Chicago area, Alex and his wife, Marni, and their three children now reside in Riverside, California. He maintains a blog at www.alexchediak.com.