I Would Rather be Treated by a Smart Turk than an Untrained Christian

I Would Rather be Treated by a Smart Turk than an Untrained Christian December 7, 2018

Some dispute that Martin Luther ever said that he would rather be ruled by a wise Muslim than a foolish Christian, but apocryphal or not, it suggests an important insight in Luther’s theology that has implications for the way that Christians understand and live in the modern world. In the non-Lutheran part of the Protestant world, the desire to integrate faith and learning or to have a Christian worldview view of the world about all areas of earthly existence may lead some of these Reformed and Presbyterian believers to think that Christians have had and should continue to have a Christian view of medicine. Here is a recent example from students at the Presbyterian Church in America’s Covenant College:

An individualistic view of salvation is devoid of the important contributions of kingdom and resurrection theology—cornerstones of the Reformed tradition. The resurrected King Jesus, the righteous king who renders justice to the oppressed (Psalm 72), is reconciling all things to himself (Col 1:19-20). This redemption is cosmic. Christ will stand as preeminent Lord over all creation, with the Church as the primary instrument for the advancement of his Kingdom. The Gospel’s power is far broader than individual salvation—it’s about renewing creation to be the temple of God’s dwelling that it was always meant to be. Many lay believers forget that much of the goodness we take for granted in our governmental structures, marriage, education, medicine, business, scholarship, and the like, is directly related to past Christians proclaiming God’s kingdom far and wide. Hospitals, for instance, are the legacy of gospel-centered Christian stewardship (e.g., see Charles Rosenberg, The Care of Strangers: The Rise of America’s Hospital System; and for earlier Christian influence, see Gary Ferngren, Medicine and Healthcare in Early Christianity). Wilberforce and other evangelical abolitionists labored tirelessly to make the English slave trade illegal. American checks-and-balances style government had its inspiration from the Presbyterian understanding of total depravity. Literacy and liberal democracies grow in a more robust fashion in countries around the world which received proselytizing Protestant missionaries (e.g., see the Christianity Today article by Andrea Palpant Dilley, “The Surprising Discovery About Those Colonialist, Proselytizing Missionaries”). The renewal of the gospel is not limited to personal salvation, but extends into all creational structures.

There you see what happens to dissatisfaction with personal salvation and the “gospel”‘s extension into all walks of life. The statement doesn’t say, but the implication is that Christians by virtue of faith, regeneration, the Bible, trust in Christ, are somehow competent to conduct scientific investigations, perform medicine, and write laws and public policy simply by virtue of their faith. These writers may assume that to work in medicine or science you need to be trained in math, the hard sciences, and lots of other areas of study about which the Bible is explicitly silent. If these writers do believe that an M.D. is necessary to practice medicine, then we have the possibility referred to at the start, namely, that it is possible to be a doctor and not be a Christian. It is even conceivable that a specialist in oncology can be a non-believer and that a Christian would trust his health to someone who does not acknowledge Jesus Christ as her Lord and savior.

In which case, the idea of a comprehensive understanding of salvation that traces the influence of redemption (which is different from creation) to all positive developments in human society and culture is nonsense. Some Christians may, but very few do in life-threatening circumstances, check to see if the surgeon they need to make a sensitive adjustment to one’s stomach is a Christian or in which church he is a member. Modern people don’t look at professionals on the basis of a lawyer’s, physician’s, mechanic’s, plumber’s, or accountant’s faith. The question instead is competence and expertise.

Lo and behold, Lutherans better than many Protestants understand this feature of modern life, as Peter Meilaender, who teaches politics at Houghton College, recently explained (with the help of Michael Walzer):

The division of human life into separate spheres, governed by their own distinct principles, has been among the most important achievements of liberal modernity. The political theorist Michael Walzer has described this phenomenon nicely in an essay on “Liberalism and the Art of Separation”:

I suggest that we think of liberalism as a certain way of drawing the map of the social and political world. The old, preliberal map showed a largely undifferentiated land mass, with rivers and mountains, cities and towns, but no borders…. Society was conceived as an organic and integrated whole. It might be viewed under the aspect of religion, or politics, or economy, or family, but all these interpenetrated one another and constituted a single reality. Church and state, church-state and university, civil society and political community, dynasty and government, office and property, public life and private life, home and shop: each pair was, mysteriously or unmysteriously, two-in-one, inseparable. Confronting this world, liberal theorists preached and practiced an art of separation. They drew lines, marked off different realms, and created the sociopolitical map with which we are still familiar. The most famous line is the “wall” between church and state, but there are many others. Liberalism is a world of walls, and each one creates a new liberty. (Walzer 1984, 315)

Walzer rightly describes this “art of separation” as an extension or elaboration by analogy of that initial distinction between church and state—a distinction with which few Christians today will want to quarrel. It spawns others in turn. Just as that initial distinction creates religious liberty, for example, so too “the line that liberals drew between the old church-state (or state-church) and the universities creates academic freedom, leaving professors as free to profess as believers are to believe” (Walzer 1984, 315).

Walzer briefly sketches several more such separations or differentiations. The “separation of civil society and political community creates the sphere of economic competition and free enterprise, the market in commodities, labor, and capital” (Walzer 1984, 316). It is true, of course, that “market freedom entails certain risks for consumers,” but, as Walzer points out, “so does religious freedom” (Walzer 1984, 316). Similarly, the “abolition of dynastic government separates family and state” and in this way creates the possibility for people to pursue careers according to their talents, opening up the “sphere of office and then the freedom to compete for bureaucratic and professional place, to lay claim to a vocation, apply for an appointment, develop a specialty, and so on” (Walzer 1984, 316-17). Finally, Walzer writes, the same process, by separating “public and private life” (Walzer 1984, 317), enables new forms of domestic intimacy that are profoundly important to most of us. In the privacy of our homes we become free to pursue “a very wide range of interests and activities…: reading books, talking politics, keeping a journal, teaching what we know to our children, cultivating (or, for that matter, neglecting) our gardens” (Walzer 1984, 317). Raising our own chickens, we might add, or not raising them! “Our homes are our castles, and there we are free from official surveillance” (Walzer 1984, 317).

Meilander might also add, medicine and its many branches — for starters, Angiology, Cardiology, Endocrinology, Gastroenterology, Geriatrics, Hematology, Hepatology. It’s hard to think that Christianity deserves credit for those specialties.

So when I have a coronary, give me the best cardiologist (in my non-Christian health insurance system, of course) that Medicare will buy. Don’t send me someone who knows Christ is Lord of medicine.


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