As the lead article in this issue indicates there has been great confusion regarding the broad issue of God and politics, especially as it relates to the frequently heard church and state separation issue and the united states Constitutional position. on the one hand you have the secularists who want to exclude God from all public discourse, especially politics, and on the other hand you have some Christians who claim that America was founded on Christian principles; therefore, the church cannot be left out of the state or politics. Hunter Baker suggests both tend to over state their case.
Baker is clear that you cannot leave God out the political realm, which basically agrees with Calvin’s position that while the church and state have their separate realms–“Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.”– both are subject to God. Baker points out that Abraham Kuyper, the prime minister Calvinistic statesman, theologian, and politician, made an interesting point in debunking the idea of a secular and sacred dichotomy, that roman Catholicism was mainly responsible for promoting the idea of secularism. Baker does a good thing in showing that throughout history the question does the church control the state or king or does the state or king control the church has been debated. He points to Thomas Aquinas as the key figure in setting up the premise of a secular state.
Secularism, as used by the author, is simply an attempt to leave God out-the “ordering of a community without reference to God.” We have mentioned from time to time in Equip to Disciple how many of the founders and originators of the Constitutional standards were impacted by a Calvinistic theology and philosophy. In this case, as Baker points out, “To Calvin, the king held his power through the hand of God and it would be ridiculous for God not to care whether his chosen servant protected right worship and doctrine.” Growing out of that, the concept of church and state separation can actually be traced to John Calvin. A further concept set forth in this book is that it was the Christian influence among the founders that led to the adoption of the principle of religious pluralism in America. The state would not by coercion or any other means promote a single religion but would rather make a place where one could practice his religion with freedom. (Maybe that is why America has more religions and religious organization than any other country).
This is an important book. In fact having read other books by Mark Noll, Nathan Hatch, George Marsden, Harry stout and others on American history, this book may be one of the most strategic. However, as Baker points out, the solution to deal with this chaos and conflict is first to understand the difference between church and state separation (see the lead article in this issue) and God and state separation or the separation of religion and politics. Also because God is who he says he is, the sovereign God and king of his kingdom, we need to understand that you cannot leave God and religion out of politics or any area of life. This was never intended by the u. s. Constitution. Keeping God out of the public square, including politics, was never the intention of the founders, as our history bears out. They knew too much theology than to believe that you could do that.
The bottom line is that America is not a secular nation in that God can be left out. Impossible! America is a religious nation that allows for religious freedom to its citizens which means the right to talk about religion not only in the privacy of our lives, but in the public realm as well.
Baker has given us a book that should be read by every parent, teacher, church and state leader. His perspective is fair and balanced. As it is read, studied, and understood, it will serve a positive purpose in further informing and clarifying the understanding of Kingdom thinking, not a two kingdom concept as set forth by Luther, but a one kingdom concept with God over all things as Calvin, Kuyper, and others have maintained. Don’t bypass this book! There is so much good content, far beyond what this brief review allows.