Are ‘We’ Ready to Pass William Barr’s Test?
Oct 18, 2019 by David Fowler
According to Barr, this was the test: “whether citizens in such a free society could maintain the moral discipline and virtue necessary for the survival of free institutions.”
Barr correctly posited that the Founder’s insisted that such discipline and virtue could not be maintained absent religiously informed values. But that is a belief from history, and the question today is whether we still believe that to be true.
Out With the Old, In with the New
The answer, on the whole, is a resounding, “No.”
I trust I need not give much evidence for it, but if you insist on some, just check out this week’s news: Beto O’Rourke’s comments about church tax exemptions, Elizabeth Warren’s statements about those who don’t believe in same-sex marriage, and the advertisement run by the Freedom From Religion Foundation during the just-completed Democratic Presidential Debate.
Will ‘We’ Pass the Test?
Will “we” pass the test? The term “we” here could mean either the people of the United States in general or the United States as we think of it, a world power and materially prosperous.
In either case, my answer is, “No, I don’t think so.” If pressed for my reason, honesty would require me to say, “Because, as things stand today, I don’t think God will allow America to continue as a world power and prosper materially.”
Why would I say such an un-American thing like that?
I say that because I don’t think God cares one whit about the power of our nation vis-à-vis that of others or about our prosperity, except to the extent that He chooses to use it to reveal His inestimable glory and, in doing so, bring others into an eternal relationship with Him. This encompasses the whole of the purpose of creation in the first place.
God loves what He created, and He has told us that He intends to accomplish by that creation what He intended. He will not allow other things to supplant both Him and His supreme glory or the joy and wonder He created human beings to enjoy in relation to Him by making them in His image. We were created to find our joy and fulfillment in all that constitutes the glory of God.
Contrary to what many would surmise about a God focused on His glory, ala Oprah Winfrey, this is not self-adulation and glory-hogging.
Think about it: For One whose very being is the root and fountain of all glory—for who, or even what, might we imagine more glorious than an infinite being whose knowledge, wisdom, power, and love is infinite and unsearchable?—to be willing to share it and to let others experience it and be able to reflect it is such a condescending expression of love that it is hard to fathom.
Sadly, we don’t understand that by finding our joy and fulfillment in anything other than God we demean ourselves and God. I’ve always loved this statement by C.S. Lewis in The Weight of Glory:
[I]f we consider the unblushing promises of reward and the staggering nature of the rewards promised in the Gospels, it would seem that Our Lord finds our desires, not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased. 1
Are ‘We,’ including Christians, Fooling Ourselves?But, sometimes in the course of history, people mistake power and prosperity and the lack of thunderbolts from on high as evidence that all is well and conclude either that the “New Covenant God of love” is no longer concerned with what the Puritans called “piety” or that there must not even be a God when, actually, continued power and prosperity when we’ve turned from God’s glory to glory in other things may be a sign of God’s kindness—that we’re not consumed immediately—and His judgment (Romans 2:3–5).
When we pray, “My will be done, not Thine,” God may say, “Okay.” But then He adds what He told Jeremiah to tell His own people, “Your own wickedness will correct you, and your apostasies will reprove you; know therefore and see that it is evil and bitter for you to forsake the LORD your God” (Jeremiah 2:19, NASB).
The God-scoffers will, as scoffers do, scoff at this. But those who profess to be Christian better pay attention, too.
My Journey to Putting Politics in Perspective
Jesus said to His disciples that He intended to build a church (Matthew 16:18), meaning a people, not an institutional complex.
Instead of a big building (and even satellite buildings) filled with people, God has always wanted a people whose fulfillment and pleasure was found in glorifying the God who made them and reflecting that glory as His image-makers. God, who never changes, will have that, even if it means the United States as we know it collapses.
This shouldn't be scary for those who already have a taste of that glory and know that ahead of them is an indescribable fullness of glorious joy and pleasure in the presence of the God who made them (Psalm 16:11). For them, America’s power and prosperity is, as the Apostle Paul put it, but “dung” in comparison (Philippians 3:8, KJV).
I’ve been in what a friend calls the “evangelical industrial complex” since I was a baby, but to be perfectly honest, I’ve just begun over the last two years or so to develop a taste for that and it increasingly makes me want to spit out a lot of what I’ve been fed about what being a Christian “is” if it doesn’t point to and lead me into a greater “knowledge of the glory of God [that is to be seen] in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6, NKJV) and if such doesn't leave others wanting the same. A strong statement, but true.
I’ve spent twenty-five years telling myself that I was trying to preserve America and the American way of life “for the glory of God” only to realize that the glory of God is not to be confused with America and the American way of life.
If the America and American way of life I seek to preserve does not point to and reflect the glory of God, then I’ve missed the mark. Preserving America and a certain way of life can be very selfish and not God-centered at all.
The ‘Other Quote’ that Got My Attention and Sobered Me
This last thought leads me to the remark I read earlier this week about the intersection of a free society and Christianity. It was made in 1879 by the soon-to-be Prime Minister of the Netherlands, Abraham Kuyper:
That is what I call a free private sector! The modern evangelical industrial complex would bewail it, and I get it. My first thought was allowing that could not be for the glory of God! But then his next statement really slayed me:
Associations of like-minded people, too, should be left free. . . . Even if a church of atheists should want to establish itself, it would have to be tolerated. No special protection, but neither prevention or repression. What shoots up and is able to grow should be allowed to grow.
Indeed, as the writer of Hebrews said, the world is “not worthy” of such Believers (Hebrews 11:38). Such persons are not worthy in the world’s eyes because they don’t value the things the world values, and such persons are worthy in God’s eyes because they value God more than what the world values.
Leave it to Christian believers, if need be to Christian martyrs, to have the honor of demonstrating the intrinsic emptiness of non-Christian spiritual life.2
The ‘we,’ then, that must pass the test Barr proposed is not the people of America in general, but we who call ourselves Christians.
Are we ready? More importantly, am I ready?
1. C. S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory,” The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses. Ed. W. Hooper. (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1996), 25-26.
2. Harry Van Dyke, translator and ed. Guidance for Christian Engagement in Government: A Translation of Abraham Kuyper’s Our Program (Grand Rapids: Christian’s Library Press, 2013), 65. Kuyper’s Our Program was first published in 1879.
David Fowler served in the Tennessee state Senate for 12 years before joining FACT as President in 2006.