Because Ideas Have Consequences

The Role of the Biblical Faith in British Culture

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Recently addressing the ISIS threat and British Muslims becoming radicalized, David Cameron made a startling statement that Christians should be more evangelistic.1 Cameron’s statement acknowledges the fact that culture is what Dr. Glenn Sunshine describes as “the downstream of worldviews.” The role of the Church – the people of God – in society is to serve the nation as a light and a guide in national morals and principles. Engaging the culture with the message of the gospel in turn fosters what Margaret Thatcher described the moral impetus necessary for democracy to work.

French philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville wrote: “The safeguard of morality is religion, and morality is the best security of law as well as the surest pledge of freedom.”2 American statesman Daniel Webster concurs: «Our ancestors established their system of government on morality and religious sentiment. Moral habits, they believed, cannot safely be entrusted on any other foundation than religious principle, not any government secure which is not supported by moral habits…. Whatever makes men good Christians makes them good citizens.»3

Rather than remaining in the confines of the Church, Christians are entrusted with the sacred calling to compassionately bring to light of God into all spheres – business, government, art, music, science, and education – for the benefit of humanity and for the glory of God. This is the cultural mandate of the church in society. In his classic work City of God, Augustine emphasized that Christians advanced the kingdom of God in public arenas through the witness of their words and lives. As Christians, we are Christ’s body, His ambassadors on Earth to serve as a light and witness to Him in all spheres and professions.

Alister McGrath, describing the influence of the Italian Renaissance on the Church in Europe, elaborates on this cultural mandate: “Humanity was mandated by God to change the social and physical world. This new vision of humanity as God’s agent for changing the world empowered many who felt called to transform society.”4

Charles Colson, in his acceptance speech for the Templeton Prize for Religion, described the historical impact of the Christian faith in Western culture:

“This muscular faith has motivated excellence in art and discovery in science. It has under girded an ethic of work and an ethic of service. It has tempered freedom with internal restraint, so our laws could be permissive while our society was not. Christian conviction inspires public virtue, the moral impulse to do good. It has sent legions into battle against disease, oppression, and bigotry. It ended the slave trade, built hospitals and orphanages, and tamed the brutality of mental wards and prisons.”5

Yet the onslaught of secularism has bred an environment where the Christian faith is considered off-limits in the public arena. This policy is detrimental to culture as it deprives society from benefit of moral guidance. It is the Biblical faith which provides the moral authority to the traditional Western concepts that all people are created in the image of God. This imago Dei presupposition is what drives European assumptions on human rights and rule of law. The Biblical values of personal responsibility, hard work, abiding by the law, and caring for others are indeed the natural prerequisites to just and civil societies.

The withdrawal of the Christian faith from European culture can only result in the rise of the tyranny of the fittest and open the door to all manner of injustice. Lord Melborne, who opposed Wilberforce’s efforts to abolish slavery, criticized the “imposition” of Christian values in the public realm, lamenting: “Things have come to a pretty pass when religion is allowed to invade public life.”6

However Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote: “If there is no God, then everything is permissible.”7 Dostoyevsky properly understood that if there is no God, the logical consequences are that there is no basis for morality, law, and human rights. In such a scenario, law is determined by power, money, or influence. The result will be lawlessness, corruption, and injustice. This ultimately results in discontent, civil unrest, as well as economic stagnation.

In his inaugural speech founding Amsterdam Free University, Dutch Prime Minister Abraham Kuyper boldly proclaimed: “There is not one square inch in the whole domain of human existence over which Christ who is sovereign does not cry out ‘Mine!”8 Indeed it is the mission of the body of Christ to compassionately serve as a light and witness in all professions and spheres of influence.

It is the message of the Judeo-Christian faith which provides the moral basis for the protection of rights and property for people of every race, ethnicity and religion. The permeation of these virtues in culture fosters an atmosphere for human flourishing. Where people live in freedom, they can employ their talents, dream, innovate, and raise their families in a safe and just society which cares for those in need. The preservation of these values is critical for the future of Britain as well as all of Western civilization.

Winston Churchill stated: «The movement for European Unity must be a positive force, deriving its strength from our sense of common spiritual values. It is a dynamic expression of democratic faith based upon moral conceptions and inspired by a sense of mission».9 These common spiritual values and moral conceptions were indeed informed by the values of the Biblical faith. So yes Mr. Cameron, may Christians become more evangelical! The continuation and success of British and European culture is dependent upon these values which undergird Western civilization.

 

1 Steven Swinford. “David Cameron says Christians should be ‘more evangelical’”, in The Telegraph, April 16, 2014.

2 Alexis de Tocqueville, The Republic of the United States of America and Its Political Institutions, Review and Examined, Henry Reeves, trans. (Garden City, NY: A. S. Barnes & Co., 1851), Vol. I, p. 44.

3 Daniel Webster. The Works of Daniel Webster, Vol. I, p. 44. In David Barton, The Myth of Separation. (Aledo, TX: Wallbuilder Press, 1992), 249.

4 Alistair McGrath. Christianity’s Dangerous Idea: The Protestant Revolution—A History from the Sixteenth Century to the Twenty-First. (New York: HarperOne, 2007), 30.

5 Charles Colson. “The Enduring Revolution.” The Templeton Address, University of Chicago, 1993. In Chuck Colson Speaks. (Ulrichsville, OH: Promise Press, 2000), 15.

6 Charles Colson. God and Government. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan. 2007), 112.

7 Charles Colson and Nancy Pearcey. How Now Shall We Live? (Wheaton: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc, 1999), 452.

8 As quoted in Kent A. Van Til, “Abraham Kuyper and Michael Walzer: The Justice of the Spheres.” Calvin Theological Journal 40 (2005): 267-289.

9 Winston Churchill, as quoted by Margaret Thatcher in speech to British Chamber of Commerce in The Hague. December 6, 1976.

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