Well, is it or not?

I’ve been meaning to post this for a while, at least for myself to reference in the future. It’s from Wayne Grudem’s book, Politics – According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture, pages 64-65.


IS THE UNITED STATES A CHRISTIAN NATION?

(1) Is Christian teaching the primary religious system that influenced the founding of the United States? Yes, it is.


(2) Were the majority of the Founding Fathers of the United States Christians who generally believed in the truth of the Bible? Yes, they were.


(3) Is Christianity (of various sorts) the largest religion in the United States? Yes, it is.


(4) Did Christian beliefs provide the intellectual background that led to many of the cultural values still held by Americans today? (These would include things such as respect for the individual, protection of individual rights, respect for personal freedom, the value of hard work, the need for a strong national defense, the need to show care for the poor and weak, the value of generosity, the value of giving aid to other nations, and respect for the rule of law.) Yes, Christian beliefs have provided much of the intellectual background for many of these and other cultural values.


(5) Was there a Supreme Court decision at one time that affirmed that the United States is a Christian nation? Yes, there was, but that wasn’t the issue that was under dispute in the case. It was in an 1892 decision, Church of the Holy Trinity v. the United States, 143 US 457 (1892). The ruling established that a church had the right to hire a minister from a foreign nation (England), and thus the church was not in violation of an 1885 law that had prohibited hiring “foreigners and aliens … to perform labor in the United States.” The court’s argument was that there was so much evidence showing the dominant “Christian” character of this nation that Congress could not have intended to prohibit churches from hiring Christian ministers from other countries. It seems to me that here the Supreme Court was arguing that the United States is a “Christian nation” according to meanings (3) and (4) above. There is a long history of significant Christian influence on the United States.


(6) Are a majority of people in the United States Bible-believing, evangelical, born-again Christians? No, I do not think they are. Estimates range from 18 to 42% of the US population who are evangelical Christians, and I suspect a number around 20% is probably more nearly correct. In a 2005 poll, Gallup, after doing a survey designed to find how many Americans had true evangelical beliefs, came up with a figure of 22%. In addition, there are many conservative Roman Catholics who take the Bible plus the official teachings of the Catholic Church as a guide for life, and a significant number of them have a personal trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. But even if these groups are added together, it does not constitute a majority of people in the United States.


(7) Is belief in Christian values the dominant perspective promoted by the United States government, the media, and universities in the United States today? No, it is not.


(8) Does the United States government promote Christianity as the national religion? No, it does not.


(9) Does a person have to profess Christian faith in order to become a US citizen or to have equal rights under the law in the United States? No, certainly not. This has never been true. In fact, the Constitution itself explicitly prohibits any religious test for public office:

No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States (Article VI, section 3).

In conclusion, how can we answer the question, “Is the United States a Christian nation?” It all depends on what someone means by “a Christian nation.” In five possible meanings, the answer is yes. In four other possible meanings, the answer is no. Because there are that many possible meanings in people’s minds (and possibly more that I have not thought of), I do not think the question is very helpful in current political conversations. It just leads to arguments, misunderstanding, and confusion.

The Red-Blooded Trivium

I gave the following talk at the end of February for the Information Night at Evangel Classical School. If you’d prefer to watch the talk instead of read it, I won’t be offended.


Stop AnemiaHow would you describe most modern education? A lot of parents and professionals (and employers) agree that there is a crisis, but there is little agreement on the cause or the cure. So many students graduate from high school with pale interests, foggy thinking, and sickly convictions. If they could stand up, they wouldn’t know where to stand. They have educational anemia.

I recently had the opportunity to learn about anemia, its causes, symptoms, and treatments. Due to a yet-to-be-identified source of internal bleeding, I hemorrhaged too much blood to sit up, let alone stand or walk around. Every time I tried to get vertical my blood pressure dropped and my heart rate doubled trying to compensate for the loss in volume and decrease in red blood cells.

That’s anemia: a deficiency in red blood cells or hemoglobin in the blood. The red blood cells carry oxygen to the body parts and, if the body doesn’t get oxygen, it shuts down. My body gave up, including my brain.

As I said, I couldn’t stay upright, I had almost no energy, I processed questions as quick as a cement truck, and, as my oldest daughter described, I was “as white as a new pair of tights.” Peaked, numb, and weak, like the typical college freshman.

To treat anemia, first you need to stop the bleeding. I’d say the biggest cause of educational bleeding is teachers telling, or acting like, none of it really matters. If everything in the universe came from nothing and moves with no personal purpose, then it doesn’t matter. At ECS we believe that Jesus is Lord, that by Him all things were created, that He’s invested and interested in it all. He gave it to us as a gift, to receive with thanks, to study, and to use for good as a reflection of Him. Nothing is neutral, nothing is useless. There’s a bigger reason to be at school than standardized testing.

Once the bleeding stops, though, there’s still more required to return to health. I’ve learned that in order to replenish red blood cells, the body needs iron. But the body doesn’t doesn’t provide it’s own, it must get it from the outside. There is a breathtaking variety of iron sources: beef, chicken, turkey, shellfish, broccoli, sweet peas, tomatoes, lima beans, potatoes, green beans, leafy greens, beets, and cabbage. There’s no reason just to swallow a pill.

To make educational blood cells we need the iron facts. Think of iron like grammar, the building blocks of learning. Grammar is the first stage of the Trivium and takes place during the early grades. Students are taught math facts, English jingles, characters of history, scientific data, Latin chants, and Bible stories. It doesn’t have to be bland or stale. We feed it to them in songs and sound-offs, reenactments, toga days, and coloring pages.

Boredom is not neutral–it is the fertilizing principal of unloveliness. (Robert Capon, The Supper of the Lamb)

It takes a lot of work to take in all God has given us to enjoy and use. It’s work, it can be fun, but it certainly isn’t boring. We’re feeding students with the loveliness of God in His world and work.

Around the transition to Junior High comes the transition to the second stage, the Dialectic or Logic stage. We might say this is when the red blood cells are formed and readied to carry the load of oxygen. The Logic stage includes formal logic, how to mind one’s Ps and Qs, how to distinguish donkeys and elephants. (Imagine how helpful this would be to a voting populace.) We encourage them to investigate apparent contradictions and difficulties. We expose them to different opinions and train them to love the true, the honorable, the just, the pure, the lovely, and the excellent.

Then the final stage of the Trivium is the Rhetoric stage. They take the facts, fit them together, and present them with persuasion. Though they’ve already been writing by this time, now they are polishing papers as well as unscripted presentations. They are ready to stand, ready to take a stand, ready to run. But unlike the empty bombast of so many cultural talking heads, our students talk with lifeblood.

So we get students to soak up truth, sort out arguments, and speak with heart, stamina, and backbone. They stand upright in a bent culture. It takes a lot of work to treat educational anemia. They are not just ready for more learning, they are ready to bear God’s image in their generation. They’re not just surviving on Doritos and Mountain Dew, they have a life.

This Election Is a Disaster (so far)

I already tweeted a link to this, but “Two Kinds of Voting, Two Kinds of Disruption, and Two Kinds of Unrighteousness” should be read in its entirety. Here’s just one of many fantastic points:

the act of voting is also a civic duty that tells people what we think America means, what we want to teach our kids about moral leadership, what face we want America to present to the world, and what sort of candidates we want more of in coming years.

Senator Sasse is dangerously close to getting my write-in vote whether he wants it or not.

Strong “Ewww” Reflexes

Maybe the only threat more grave to our souls than unrighteousness is self-righteousness. Both make us enemies of God, the former by honest rebellion and the latter by dishonest resistance.

If our consciences are working, either by the Spirit or common grace, then the last section of Genesis 19 turns our stomachs. But we need it to turn them in such a way that we appreciate God’s mercy more than we appreciate that we are not like Lot and his daughters.

The girls exaggerated their misfortune, premeditated their manipulation, and dishonored their father in more ways than one. For Lot’s part, it’s almost as if he enjoyed the opportunity to get drunk in his self-pity and forget everything he lost. The sons of this incestuous perversion, Moab and Ben-ammi, were the fruit of selfishness, weakness, and unbelief. Thank goodness Lot’s plot line is over.

Until we get to Ruth, the Moabites. This Moabites married Boaz, the great-grandfather of King David. This Moabite woman is in the genealogy of Jesus. She’s mentioned by name in Matthew 1, the first chapter of the good news of the New Testament.

The point is “Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15), and not just the “good” sinners. He really identifies with the ungodly, on the cross, and even in His family tree. Our invitation to the Table of communion depends on His mercy, not because we sinned in “natural” ways or have strong “ewww” reflexes.

If we want to compare, let us compare correctly. We compare ourselves with God’s standard, not to others. So we eat and drink and boast, not that we are not like other men, but that God is merciful to us, sinners. He knows what we’re capable of and He is glad to have us here because of Christ’s death and resurrection, and that is amazing.

The Life Behind

One of Jesus’ primary teachings is about losing and keeping. Anyone who tries to keep his life will lose it, but anyone who loses his life because of following Christ will keep it. This isn’t about leadership style, it’s about eternal life, and it has application in every relationship you can think of. It also isn’t one strategy for success “God’s way.” It is the only way to salvation.

All four Gospel writers cover this teaching. That doesn’t give it more authority—God only needs to say something once, but the repetition does highlight that it’s a big deal, especially for hard heads. Luke put it in his Gospel twice (9:24; 17:33), and the second time he included the part when Jesus named a name of someone who lost big.

Warning about the possibility of judgment coming when least expected, Jesus said:

Remember Lot’s wife. Whoever seeks to preserve his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life will keep it. (Luke 17:32–33)

Moses didn’t mention much about Mrs. Lot in Genesis 19. Presumably she was a Sodomite, a native of Sodom, since Lot was single in the previous chapters. Even if she wasn’t from the city, she wanted to stay there. Lot was slow to leave, she was slower, she was “behind him” on their way out of town (Genesis 19:26). And though one of the angels told them not to look back, she did and became a pillar of salt.

Jesus wasn’t saying that those who look back and long to keep their life will become a salt statue, but they will still lose. Don’t fall for the allurements of the world, and don’t try to take it all with you. The life ahead is not just better, the life behind is not life at all.

The Forgotten Planet

Here’s a short story I told the students for the ECS year-end assembly.


On the day before the very first summer break, the planets talked about their plans for the next three months. There were eight planets in the class, and their names were: Sol, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Luna, Mercury, and Venus. (Uranus, Neptune, and Pluto weren’t old enough for school yet, though they had finished Kinder Prep and were enrolled for the Fall.) If you were counting, you may be wondering about the one planet still unnamed. Her name was Amy, and this is the sad story about why no one knows about Amy anymore.

In another classroom down the hall, some of the stars were taking about getting away from the city and out into the woods where there was a lot more space. Next to them, many of the moons moaned about being assigned a planet to follow around and longed to be off on their own. Most of them were still too young to understand the gravity of the situation. A few meteors hoped to form a rock band.

Back in room 1543 almost all of the planets were excited to take their turn telling about their future intentions. All of them, that is, except Amy.

Sol went first. He was always trying to outshine the others. He said, “Every morning I’m planning to get up and run. I mapped a course that only the strongest can enjoy. Once I finish my run, I’ve got my eye on some little seeds that need a tutor. They need to be knee-high by the 4th of July, and I can help them as long as the clouds don’t get in my way. I’ve also been invited to a bunch of pool parties, family reunions, and camping trips. It’s going to be busy. I just hope I don’t burn out.”

Amy could not have been less impressed. She never appreciated that Sol acted like the universe revolved around him.

Mars raised his hand next. “I’m planning to play a lot of golf. I just got a new set of woods and irons, and I’m dying to try them out. My teammates and I, Phobos and Deimos, have been having some astronomical battles, so it should be fun.”

Amy thought to herself, “What a waste! Playing games all day? He might as well sit around and eat candy bars, too.”

Big Jupiter laughed like friendly thunder. “This summer is shaping up like a prince for me. I’m going to organize a canned food drive, and every Thursday we’re going to make a huge dinner for the homeless. Not everyone has great fortune like we do, so it’s good for us to give something back, you know?”

“Why would you give your stuff or your time to others?” Amy asked. Jupiter laughed again and said, “At least I won’t be too celestial minded to be any earthly good.”

Saturn said sadly, “There is never enough time. By the time I’ve penciled out my to-do list, summer break will be done. The whole thing is going to be a disaster. All you other planets will run rings around me. I really need to give some thought to this before it makes me sick.”

“What an Eeyore,” thought Amy.

Luna had been reflecting on all the previous plans, especially from Sol. She new she’d go mad if she didn’t work and make some money, and was looking forward to her graveyard shift job at the lake. She did wonder if it would mess up her cycle, but the silver lining was that she’d have plenty of time to hang with her friends at high tide.

Mercury said that he had a lot of people he wanted to write to, and might even start his own novel. He also hoped to study at least one new language. “And don’t forget about reading bingo; keeping track of all the books will be fun.”

Venus, who was one of the older planets in the class, said she was planning to surf a couple online dating sites. Some of the other planets laughed. Of course Jupiter did, and his face turned a little red.

There was only one more to go, and all the planets spun to look at Amy. She was thinking that she thought every other planet was stupid. She was thinking that she just wanted class to be over. She was thinking that thinking was hard. She was thinking…meh.

The teacher asked the question again in case Amy had forgot. “What are your plans for the summer? Are you going anywhere special? Doing anything in particular?”

And Amy said, “No.” (She would have said, “Huh?” if she had been a junior high planet, but she wasn’t.)

The teacher asked again. “There’s really nothing that you want to do?”

Amy said, “Why would I? This is supposed to be summer break, not summer “bust-my-behind.” This is time for vacation, not vocation. I have the rest of my life to work. My only aim is to do as little as possible.”

And this is why you’ve never heard of Amy. She lost her way that first summer break and never made it back to school. Every planet doesn’t need to follow the same course, but an aimless summer is out of place on our planet. Consider how to expand your sphere of influence, and model your plans around those who are determined to do great things. Don’t be like Amy.

No Undiscovered Lurking-places

On God’s call to Abram (Genesis 12:1) to leave and seek what he could not see:

[I]t is not to be supposed, that God takes a cruel pleasure in the trouble of his servants; but he thus tries all their affections, that he may not leave any lurking-places undiscovered in their hearts.

—John Calvin, Commentary on the First Book of Moses Called Genesis