John Fea Has Some ‘Splainin’ to Do

John may think that the 2k growing in Presbyterian gardens is something he has never heard before, but I’m not so sure. This is from an interview John did with Jacques Berlinerblau for the book, Secularism on the Edge:

Fea: I’m a little skeptical about this whole-term secularism catching on within Christian churches, espeically of the evangelical variety. The Christian Right has done such an outstanding job of demonizing this word that any kind of alternative vision of secularism is going to raise red flags. If you want to lead a revitalization of secularism among the evangelical community, you will have a lot of work to do.

When I told some of my friends about this conference they said, “What are you going to a conference on secularism for?” If you read my work at The Way of Improvement Leads Home and elsewhere (or at least my work when I am not writing generally detached history, you will see that I make no bones about my faith. I am an evangelical. I can affirm everything that Barack Obama said at the Easter Prayer breakfast we discussed earlier. I might say that I have some problems with the president using that languate in his official capacity as the president, but the theology and the doctrine about the Resurrection — I believe that.

Berlinerblau: But you don’t shove it down my throat. You don’t want me to believe it — well, maybe you do want me to believe it. Do you?

Fea: Of course, I do, Jacques. My faith as an evangelical requires me to try to win you to Christ. My desire would be to evangelize you and have you become a believer.

Berlinerblau: Me?

Fea: Yes, but I don’t believe that the state or the government should be trying to evangelize you. Rather, I would love the opportunity to talk about my faith with you, perhaps in a series of conversations over coffee. . . . Evangelicals should not see the practice of sharing their faith with others as a political issue. It is something that should be done locally and individually as a manifestation of the church’s work in the world. . .

I think this is how evangelicals can embrace secularism. Evangelicals want to change the world; they want to be — as the Sermon on the Mount teaches — “salt and light.” They want to be a witness for what is good. They do not need politics to practice such a witness. We don’t need to have a Christian nation in order to live faithfully in the world. (pp. 31-32)

If this is how John looks at church-state, religion-politics relations, then why does he associate 2k with Robert Jeffress’ recent remarks but not see that he himself agrees with the Dallas pastor?

John’s agreement with Jeffress is evident when you consider, first, the way Mike Bergman critiqued Jeffress who compared the Baptist pastor’s views on immigration to those of a pro-choice advocate (a charitable construction – not):

The worldview of those who support abortion is flawed by utilitarianism. The difference between a fetus being something to be cherished or something to be destroyed is its usefulness to the woman carrying the child. Is the child wanted by the woman? Is the child not going to be an excessive burden upon the life of the woman? If the child is unwanted and/or deemed burdensome, then the child can be aborted upon demand.

It is ultimately the attitude: “You add no value to my life, and might even cost me more than I am willing to share, therefore I will not let you into my world.”

Rightly, conservative Christians in our culture have long said, “This is wrong! The child in the womb is valuable because it is a child. She deserves to be born into this world!”

Recently, President Trump referred to certain other countries using a far-from-flattering term when discussing immigration. Many have criticized his message, but some under the banner of “conservative Christianity” have supported it.

Bergman goes on to quote Jeffress:

“What a lot of people miss is, America is not a church where everyone should be welcomed regardless of race and background. I’m glad Trump understands the difference between a church and country. I support his views 100 percent, even though as a pastor I can’t use that language.”

If I understand Jeffress and Fea, both distinguish the U.S.A. from the church of Christ. Both recognize that the state and the church have different standards and tools. Jeffress talks about the difference between church and country, Fea between politics and evangelism.

So why does John conclude he’s never encountered anything like this version of 2k?

What is remarkable is that more Protestants did not see the problem, and that contemporary Protestants who advocate religion in pubilc schools do not understand the way in which their religion is abused when used for only its ethical norms while neglecting the centrality of its redemptive message. One plausible explanation for the disparity is that the believers who desire a common morality for public institutions like schools are actually better republicans than they are Christians. For the impulse behind public school morality stems much more from republican ideology about restraining liberty with virtue than it does from Christian teaching about a religious standard for ethical conduct. In fact, in both the Old and New Testaments, the ethical instructions given to Jews and Christians were for the believing communities themselves, not blueprints for public morality among the Chaldeans, Philistines, Romans or Greeks. To follow either the law of Moses or the teaching of Christ, a person first had to affiliate with the Jews and Christians respectively, by worshiping their God and renouncing all others. That American Protestants thought their exclusive faith could provide the moral standard for a republic conceived in religiously neutrality is one of the more surprising twists in the history of biblical religion. Not only was the misunderstanding of religious liberty in the United States glaring, but the distortion of the Christian religion was enormous. (A Secular Faith, 93)

Those who believe they have a Christian duty to condemn the immorality of the President, assume implicitly that Christian morality is the standard for American public life. And that imports Christian norms into a secular society and government.

John Fea apparently wants to embrace secularism and keep evangelism distinct from politics. When Robert Jeffress tries to apply that distinction to President Trump, John acts like he’s never seen or heard of this kind of separation before.

Why? Has Donald Trump made everyone crazy?


10 thoughts on “John Fea Has Some ‘Splainin’ to Do

  1. How can there be any point to discussing a question about Christian morality being the standard for non-Christians in this age, when those who profess to be Christians do not even agree about what Christian morality is? If some who are Christian are always careful to deny that their being opposed to abortion or same sex “marriage” has anything to do with redemption, how could they possibly disagree with the “distorted” praxis of Christians who want sabbath kept for the sake of creation (but not because of redemption)?

    Martin Luther—“If the faults of any magistrate must be tolerated, it is those of the secular, rather than the ecclesiastical authority; among other reasons, because the ecclesiastical authority, unlike the secular, does not come from God” (“Against Latomus,” LW 32, 146)

    Calvin–“If the magistrate is godly, the magistrate will not want to exempt himself from the common subjection of God’s children. It is by no means the least significant part of this for the magistrate to subject himself to the church, which judges according to God’s Word ” (Institutes, 4.11.13)

    Scott Clark–“It is not the magistrate’s duty to police every sort of violation of natural law and sin. For example, no one but theocrats want the state enforcing obedience to the first table of the law.”

    If some Christians deny that Christ Himself (though our creator) is a lawgiver for Christians, then of course these Christians would also deny that Christ is lawgiver for non-Christian creatures. Must we exempt non-Christians from all imperatives found in the new covenant in order to avoid being thought of as those who believe in redemptive universalism even for those never present when Christian clergy distribute the ordinary means of Christian grace? Even if we insist that Jesus is (when it comes to law) nothing but an exegete of the “moral ” stuff we have picked from Moses, why should others who live where we live be subject to any such revealed law?

    If it is not treason for non-Christians to kill other non-Christians, how could it wrong for Christians to kill Christians? Even Luther knew that Jesus was not Caesar and was never going to be Caesar. But Luther also knew that Caesar was now a Christian.

    What the old school has not learrned was that now all of us are Caesar, both Christians and non-Christians together.

    Taxing the poor to protect and increase the wealth of the Falwell business is our job. It’s not a job for Jesus. And if you don’t like it, you already got a vote like anybody else, because all sins are equal and rich people sin no more than poor people do


  2. Is it true that the only way to tell society the truth about the gospel is to keep the perfect laws and commands of Jesus out of our politics? As in, if OUR society is not preserved by what WE do or legislate, then there will be no society to tell the gospel?

    Machen—What then is the remedy for the threatened disruption of society and for the rapidly progressing decay of liberty?There is really only one remedy. It is the rediscovery of the law of God….We have to get rid of this notion that judges and juries exist only for the utilitarian purpose of the protection of society, and shall have to restore the notion that they exist for the purposes of justice. They are only very imperfect exponents of justice, it is true. There are vast departments of life with which they should have nothing whatever to do. They are exceeding their God-given function when they seek to enforce inward purity or purity of the individual life, since theirs is the business only of enforcing – and that in necessarily imperfect fashion – that part of righteousness which concerns the relations between man and man….Society will never be preserved by the vicious practice (followed by some judges) of making ‘examples’ of people is spasmodic and unjust fashion because such examples are thought to have a salutary effect
    -The Christian View of Man p. 193

    Scott Clark—The decalogue isn’t just Sinaitic, but rather it is a republication of the natural, creational law.

    Brandon Adams–What is the point in making a distinction between moral law and natural law and then saying the church is ruled by one and the state is ruled by the other?


  3. DGH, Trump may be the gift that keeps on giving to 2K advocates.
    And you should discuss updating A Secular Faith with your agent. A fine book, tightly argued, more timely than ever, deserving of a wider audience.


  4. Anything is better than individualism. Without mediating institutions, how could Jesus Christ have been crucified as a criminal?

    Is this why Stalin and Trump need the 2k defense against moralism?

    When Kropotkin’s daughter told Shaw that “the Russians would give the modern world back its lost soul,” Shaw did not scoff.

    Mencken–With George Bernard Shaw, we see the opposition between the old rules of conduct and the new schemes of happiness. (Damning Words, 48)


  5. Not sure about Stalin, but how is pointing out the issues with Fea’s argument a defense of Trump?


  6. DGH–Fea’s categories for evaluating Trump and evangelicals are chiefly moral. He leaves out the context of politics.

    Is the distinction between “politics” and “morality” something you learn in “social science”?

    Is the distinction between “shared facts” and “private values” also a deduction from “social science”?

    Is the study of history a “social science”?

    When you posture as a historian of politics instead of a moralist, does that have anything to do with you knowing that Jesus is coming back to earth again? Or does Christ’s Second Coming have nothing to about a politician’s posturing?

    Can we really narrow down the meaning of “hypocrisy” by suggesting our own neutrality when it comes to ” court evangelicals”? As in, since I am not evangelical or fundamentalist, I can’t be biased one way or the other?

    Historian Ben Sasse–“Elections are not only about the present moment. They are also about who we are as a people and who we want to be in the future”

    Historian D G Hart– “Do you really think the Bible teaches the just distribution of power? Does the Bible teach constitutional monarchy, bicameralism, federalism, checks and balances? Don’t we learn about some of these affairs by observation? Is Aristotle chopped liver?


  7. Before you accuse Fea of wanting (or expecting) Trump to act like Jesus, please explain a theology which says that Christians must agree to the legitimacy of Satan and other evils that God in His Providence has ordained. Why the moral outrage at moralistic historians but yet the need to still identify ourselves with the God-less politics of Trump or Obama or Stalin or PIlate? Why join with neighbors in the quest to overcome evil with evil?

    John 11: 47 So the chief priests and the Pharisees convened the Sanhedrin and said, “What are we going to do since this man does many signs? 48 If we let Him continue in this way, everyone will believe in Him! Then the Romans will come and remove both our place and our nation.” 49 One of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all! 50 You’re not considering that it is to your advantage that one man should die for the people rather than the whole nation perish.”

    God revealed Himself in law before there was any sin or grace.

    Batzig–, Van Til persuasively argues that natural and supernatural revelation were meant to be together from the beginning. Adam was to interpret the world around him–a world that revealed the God who made him–by means of the word of God–the God who spoke to him. It was Satan who sought to lead Adam to separate natural and supernatural revelation. The Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil was part of God’s natural revelation, but it was also the object of supernatural revelation. Satan told Adam that he could interpret the Tree apart from God’s word … Jesus created a body for Himself and brought natural and supernatural revelation back together.

    Lee Irons– A natural law theorist may not go out with the intention of making a naked appeal to Scripture. He may try appealing to various arguments that support his interpretation of natural law, keeping his biblical beliefs out of play to achieve maximum rhetorical effect. But since the ultimate epistemic basis for his interpretation of natural law is Scripture, at the end of the day this will come to light at some point in the argument and it will become evident that he is not really making a good-faith religiously-neutral appeal.


  8. McMark, because Peter and Paul both say “honor the emperor.” That’s not exactly, “identity with the God-less politics of Trump.” Nor it is outrage that Nero isn’t exactly righteous.


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