Acton Institute Powerblog

Sacred/Secular Strife in the Public Square

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The battle over public displays of the 10 Commandments indicates to me just how much ground Christians have given up in recent years. Radical secularists have attacked any and all public expressions of Christian faith, most often by means of the “T” word (theocracy) and appeals to the “wall of separation.” What Samuel Gregg calls “doctrinaire secularism” is winning.

It has gotten to the point that identifiably or uniquely Christian expressions have been all but expunged from, or at best have become impediments to, public life. So evangelical and other concerned Christians have been reduced to squabbling over generically theistic or broadly religuous symbols. How far the mighty have fallen.

This is essentially a rearguard action. The emphasis placed on the phrase “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, perhaps the most representative instance of a generic civil religion, speaks well to this. In the fight over the Decalogue some Christian leaders have attempted to emphasize the historic and legal importance of the code, rather than its explicitly religious nature, in the attempt to keep a place for public religious expression.

The radial secularists have been so successful in their campaign that orthodox and traditional Christianity (“Jesus is Lord”) is no longer a real target or threat. They’ve moved on to mop-up maneuvers, targeting the last bastion of public religious expression: the generic God of American civil religion.

Jordan J. Ballor Jordan J. Ballor (Dr. theol., University of Zurich; Ph.D., Calvin Theological Seminary) is a senior research fellow and director of publishing at the Acton Institute for the Study of Religion & Liberty. He is also a postdoctoral researcher in theology and economics at the VU University Amsterdam as part of the "What Good Markets Are Good For" project. He is author of Get Your Hands Dirty: Essays on Christian Social Thought (and Action) (Wipf & Stock, 2013), Covenant, Causality, and Law: A Study in the Theology of Wolfgang Musculus (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2012) and Ecumenical Babel: Confusing Economic Ideology and the Church's Social Witness (Christian's Library Press, 2010), as well as editor of numerous works, including Abraham Kuyper Collected Works in Public Theology. Jordan is also associate director of the Junius Institute for Digital Reformation Research at Calvin Theological Seminary.

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