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Reconsidering Christianity as a Support for Secular Law: A Final Reply to Professor Calhoun


Wayne R. Barnes


February 22, 2019

This symposium has revolved around Professor Calhoun’s article, which posits that it is completely legitimate, in proposing laws and public policies, to argue for them in the public square based on overtly religious principles. In my initial response, I took issue with his argument that no reasons justify barring faith-based arguments from the public square argument. In fact, I do find reasons justifying the prohibition of “faith-based,” or Christian, arguments in the public square—and, in fact, I find such reasons within Christianity itself. This is because what is being publicly communicated in Christian political argumentation is that if citizens comply with certain laws being proposed (i.e., they behave in the legally-argued way), it will cohere with Christian principles, and thereby gain them favor with God. Or, more simply, “if I do these things, it will please God.” This “works-based” favor with God is a completely incorrect view of orthodox Christian doctrine, which subscribes to salvation by faith alone. Christian-based political argumentation runs counter to the Christian gospel, because it gets itself tangled up into law, or works, as something that can be done in order to gain greater favor with God. It is, in fact, at odds with the Gospel. Professor Calhoun, in his reply to my article, has availed himself of this opportunity to demonstrate why his views on overt Christian political advocacy have changed since first holding a position similarly to mine over twenty-five years ago, and that he now believes Christian theology poses no problem to the advocacy he promotes. His first argument is that such advocacy will be seen not as promising eternal favor with God, but merely the staving off of immediate calamity or judgment from God in this life; I question whether this is how such advocacy will be perceived, but caution that this message, too, is quite probably wrong, as well. His second argument is that laws make man conscious of sin and can indeed bring one to faith in God; I point out that the scriptures on consciousness of sin are referencing the Mosaic law handed down directly by God through Moses, not secular laws passed by secular states. His third argument is that God actually decrees good works or behavior by Christians as part of a missional plan to reach unbelievers for the faith; however, I point out that what is sought from the unbelievers is not the replication of the observed works (as is the case with decreed secular law), but rather an encouragement to come to genuine faith in God. I conclude by remaining convinced that overt Christian political argumentation, in Christian terms, is more harmful than beneficial.