The Pangea Blog
Kurt Willems' Blog at Patheos
Amen! Would love to hear where he went next with that.
I would love to hear Tom unpack that theory a little further, and not for the reasons a lot of people might guess. If I hear him correctly, it sounds like the desire to separate church and state was part of the problem, in that it lead to the hyper-compartmentalization of faith as basically “no earthly good.” While I follow his logic, it seems to me that it fails to take into account that the desire of the 18th-century American revolutionaries, to divide church and state, is a direct result of the previous unholy alliance of those two in England specifically, but all across Western Europe.
While the cure may have been as bad as–or even worse than–the disease, the abuse of faith by Machiavellian rulers that preceded (frankly going at least back to Constantine) was not a superior environment IMO.
Dr. Wright does an excellent job of unpacking Darwin’s context, but his introduction of the church/state question (reminiscent of what he does in his latest How God Became King) is more historically questionable. I understand what he’s getting at: The utter segregation of religious and “secular” life basic to American culture grew in Deist soil, and it is an open question whether absent Deism the federalist system might have evolved at all. But is it really true that a stronger union between the political and religious realms automatically guards against an “escapist” faith? I’ve done a little reading in the history and theology of the tenth through thirteenth centuries — the zenith of papal power in Western Europe. The piety of the time (especially the eschatology — check out what Thomas and Bonaventura have to say about the future of the nonhuman creation) could fairly be described as “escapist.” This notion that we had a rich “Gospel culture” before the Reformation that somehow was radically attenuated by a “Justification worldview” etc. — I think there is more caricature than reality in it.
I most certainly would not want to speak for Tom. However, if I may, I’d offer up that Tom would rely on an incarnational perspective that would permeate the church-state relationship. In fact, I think it was in his “Romans in a Week” series where he pointed out that the Judeo-Christian response to both Epicurean and Stoic philosophies was creational-monotheism. That is, it wasn’t “god way out there” nor was it a “god permeates everything here.” It was the one and only God owns everything because he is the creator and is intimately involved with every detail of his creation–he wants to see himself in his creation.
I think what that ends up meaning is that the relationship between church and state is not hierarchical where one is somehow over the other. But, that both, in their respective roles and responsibilities–working together–seek to put on display who God is. They serve the poor (not with handouts–aka American Democratic party–not with fostering the productivity of the those who build larger barns–aka American Republican party). Such serving is very difficult to define; however, I think Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert in “When Helping Hurts.” explain this in a way that Tom would echo. Obviously, he would expand on it and a number of other initiatives he is known to elucidate.
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