What Is The Cost Of Bringing Christianity To Bear On Public Life?

The lesson for the religious right should be obvious. The effort to bring religious values to bear on public life is similar to what Protestant modernists did seventy years ago when they advocated prayer and Bible reading in public schools, Prohibition, and a rating system for Hollywood’s movies. And like the Protestant establishment during the middle decades of the twentieth century, today’s advocates of public religion could presumably add greater dignity and decency to American society. But at what cost? What will happen to the non-evangelical citizens of the United States if they do not comply with evangelicalism’s moral code? Even more important, what will happen to faith once delivered to the saints that evangelicals are so eager to share? As difficult as it may be to find a common ethical platform for public life without the foundation of revealed religion, the difficulties on the other side are just as great, if not greater. To be sure, the desire to make Christianity relevant for public life does not automatically force someone to deny the virgin birth or the resurrection of Christ. Neither is it immediately obvious, however, what these articles of belief have to do with limited government, free markets, or family values. And so, a comprehensive biblical program for American society and politics turns out to be little more than the second table of the Ten Commandments, the ones having to do with love of neighbor. Loving neighbors is a good thing. But historic Christianity involves much more. The irony is that by reducing Christianity to its ethical teaching the religious right and its defenders could be making one of the greatest concessions to modern secular life imaginable. For that reason it may be better to scrap altogether the project of public or civil religion. In the case of Anglo-American Protestantism, such efforts have not worked out well either for the republic or for the churches.

D. G. Hart, “Mainstream Protestantism, ‘Conservative’ Religion, and Civil Society,” The Journal of Policy History (2001)


Heidelberg Reformation Association
1637 E. Valley Parkway #391
Escondido CA 92027
The HRA is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization

    Post authored by:

  • Heidelblog
    Author Image

    The Heidelblog has been in publication since 2007. It is devoted to recovering the Reformed confession and to helping others discover Reformed theology, piety, and practice.

    More by Heidelblog ›

Subscribe to the Heidelblog today!


  1. Reductionism rarely causes no problems. It often acts as a wolf that bolsters human autonomy while wearing sheep’s clothing.

    The issue isn’t whether the Church should have an influence on public life and cultural values, it is how the Church should provide such an influence and on which issues.

  2. So… Does WSCal view the original Westminster Confession (before the revision of the section on civil government) as unbiblical?

  3. Bradley, why single out WSC? Don’t the vast majority of confessional Reformed/Presbyterian churches worldwide consider the unrevised portions unbiblical?

    • Revising the common confession on some point or another is only a true judgment of “unbiblical” against a former expression, if another statement is inserted which contradicts the previous statement, whether explicit or implicit.

      In the case of the Westminster Standards, a new public statement of faith on this question was approved as a replacement, because it was more fitting (in saying less) a statement for the church to confess.

      It is then left to the personal–as opposed to the corporate–conscience (which in secondary things is left non-binding in ecclesiastical court), to decide whether he believes the older statement is fully conformable to the biblical ethic or not. If he does or doesn’t, as office bearer is only bound to defend as the church’s position so much as all have consented to stand together and confess.

    • Daniel, I was curious to see what kind of response I would get. I think there are some postmill profs at WSC. I very well may be wrong about that though. A lot of postmill people seem to have a very politicized understanding of Christianity.

      In hindsight… Guys, I apologize for singling out WSC. I meant no harm, but it was unwise for me to do that.

  4. Pretty much only the American churches have made revisions to WCF 23, and that only includes the mainline Presbyterian denomination and its children the OPC/PCA. While the ARP has made changes to WCF 23 in its particular wording the “spirit” of the 1646 WCF 23 lives on.

    • Pastor Glaser,
      I was not aware that the “spirit” of the 1646 WCF 23 lives on in the ARP… Thanks for pointing that out! I guess I get hung up on how the ARP (like the PCUSA) changed “Psalms” to include “Hymns & Spiritual Songs” as a means to justify using non-canonical songs in worship (it is a shame that the “spirit” of the 1646 lives on in ch 23 of the WCF but not in other areas). The last time I was at an ARP it looked far more “Anglican” than “Presbyterian.” For this reason, I don’t mind being a member of the Free Church of Scotland (continuing). More than the “spirit” of the 1646 “lives on” in the FCC, if you know what I mean!

Comments are closed.