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Bruce's "Christian Nation" letters to the Chronicle

Hello everyone, I apologize for being absent for such a long time. We have been spending time with family the past week or so, and I've not been on the Net much. Michael, appreciate your note about your critique of MacArthur and you starting the prayer forum. Ryan, your comments about Hamas/Gaza/Israel are the right kinds of things to be asking. There is much blame to go around on both sides of the Middle East conflict.

You guys asked about my recent letter published in the Chronicle. The Chronicle website only keeps daily editions online for a week at a time, so the December letter to the editor is already down (and I don't have a copy of it on my computer). But a follow-up letter was also published on January 1, and is copied below.

I will not be able to join you guys this Thursday, but hopefully next week. May God grant all of us Grace this new year, and guide us in the living out of truth in our actions, and the embodying of grace and love to all whom God places in our paths.


Blake Dunlop’s (Dec. 28 letter, “U.S. is indeed a Christian nation”) assertion that America was founded as a Christian nation does not square with historical fact. Christians of the late 18th century would be astonished that contemporary Christians believe our nation was founded as a Christian nation.

Yes, theocracies existed at the colonial state level prior to the American Revolution (and persecuted Baptists, Quakers, and non-Christians). However, at the insistence of Baptists, Deists, and many others, our founding fathers rejected theocracy and chose a secular government structure. Yes, some states continued to collect taxes for churches into the early 19th century, because some Christians yet yearned for some degree of theocracy. And yes, people of all manner (not just Christians) in the late 18th and 19th centuries spoke to the vague notion of “providence.” John Jay’s reference to “providence” is akin to the deism of most of our founding fathers, as is the formal offering of prayer to a distant universal force or supreme being.

Baptist leader John Leland declared, in 1794, that the state has no reason to care whether “a man worships one God, three Gods, 20 Gods, or no God.” Baptists as a whole helped ensure that America’s founding principles, in terms of religion, were religious liberty, separation of church and state, and pluralism.

In short, America, like most other nations throughout history, has always been a nation of religious persons (as Tyler Mills in a Dec. 29 letter, “Why try so hard to downplay religion?”, correctly notes). But unlike all other nations prior to the late 18th century, America is a secular nation that believes the best way to honor religious faith — and lack of faith — is to separate church (and mosque and synagogue) from state.


Thanks for sharing this Bruce! I have always held to the common belief that our country was founded as a Christian nation. In the last couple months I have had to rethink this and I now believe I am fully on board here with what you are saying.

A while back you may recall that I went to the Kings and Covenants Conference in Helena and I was going to post a review here on the blog. I have been dragging my feet on this for this very issue that you write about. At the conference the main speaker went on and on for hours providing evidence that our country was indeed founded as a Christian nation. He had lots of great stories and it was rather interesting, don't get me wrong. Tim Martin also made a phenomenal presentation of his "God's Garden" talk but he had to water it down for most of the audience. Nevertheless, my point here is that I think the main speaker (his name escapes me) misses the point in my mind. He wants to hammer home the point that our country had very strong Christian origins... my question is, "so what?" What difference does it make 200 years later when you can look around and obviously see that the supposed traditions our founding fathers had are very uncommon? In light of this realization I think the time of arguing whether or not we were founded as a Christian nation is a mute point. This needs to be a time of rediscovery and rethinking where we went wrong as a nation and with the Christian values that we may or may not have espoused to at our country's inception. I realize that history is important and I thank you for helping to set the record straight. My grief is with the ones that continue this argument of our Godly heritage while not stopping to rethink how we got to where we are today. Sadly, I feel that the ones that hold to this argument will decline to do any rethinking and instead will use the declining Christian ethic in our nation as evidence that the end is near and contently wait for the rapture. This same person is also most likely a Christian Zionist, of whom I have already typified. It is clear to me now from talking with you and reading your material and others that a theocracy is not what we want in America. I found this website after a brief search with loads of info:

Thanks Bruce, I look forward to our next visit.

Bruce, would you agree with the assessment of terminology on the website that I posted? Go to the "introduction" page and it discusses the correct use of terms like dominionism, Christian Reconstructionism, dominion theology, etc. Understanding the difference in these terms is new to me so I would like to get it right before I make a wrongful hasty generalization.

Hi Bruce,

It's great to hear from you again! I didn't get a chance to see the original letter to the Bozeman Chronicle, but it sounds like it has led to an interesting discussion.

Since Ryan brought up the term "theocracy," I'd like to add a thought on the subject of theocracy in general. The term "theocracy" literally means "rule by God." With that in mind, no human government can ever claim to be a true "theocracy"; at best, a theocratic state can only rule through the application of religious laws and regulations, as is the case in contemporary "theocracies" like Iran. Of course, such application depends heavily on human interpretation, as can be readily seen in the differences between the Shiite and Sunni Islamic sects, with members of both sects often vying for political authority in parts of the middle-east. All "theocracies," then, ultimately boil down to the supremacy of one party's opinion of what God has to say on any given subject, rather than representing the actual rule of God in human affairs.

In that sense, then, there is only one true theocracy (and here I use the term in a positive and literal sense) - the reign of God in the lives of His people. God's Kingdom is not to be found in any human institution. In Philippians 3:19-20, Paul warns us not to set our minds on "earthly things," because our "citizenship is in heaven."

Now, I certainly believe that the gospel is able to transform societies, as men and women come to live under God's reign, and that reign begins to have an impact (through those living under it) on societal institutions. But, to a certain extent, I agree with Ryan, in that the debate concerning America's Christian heritage, or lack thereof, is ultimately secondary to the work of God in the lives of His people -a work that is ultimately without borders.

Yes, I want to see Christian values have a transformative impact on American society, not only in relation to 'traditional' evangelical issues like abortion and gay marriage, but also in relation to issues that evangelicals have too often been silent on, like poverty, the environment, and peaceful relations with our international neighbors. But, I recognize that, from a Christian viewpoint, societal change is not to be found in the establishment of a secular governing order or the election of a particular political party, but in the life-changing impact of the gospel of Christ.

Pastor Bleise of First Lutheran Church had a diagram that he showed to me on a number of occasions to illustrate the contrast between the workings of God and the workings of the devil. In the diagram, the devil's activities were shown to work from the flesh inward to the spirit. In other words, external temptations (like that delicious looking fruit on the forbidden tree) catch the eye and excite the senses, and when the flesh gives in to those temptations, there is a spiritual consequence. In contrast, the diagram showed God's activities working from the spirit outwards to the flesh. That is to say, God's work begins within our hearts, and as we are regenerated and brought to conform to the image of the Son, the change that takes place within us spills outwards and impacts our lifestyle, relationships, and activities.

I think we can broaden the point made in that diagram out a bit to contrast the two means of societal transformation. In our group, we've been looking at the contrasts between the world and the Kingdom of Christ. The world's way of changing society is enforce change from without, through laws and governmental ordinances. By contrast, the gospel transforms society by working from the inside out, as God's love spills over from the renewed soul and results in right relationships at all levels of life.

It is no accident that Christ listed the two "greatest commandments" in this order: first, love God with all your heart, and second, love your neighbor as yourself. When individuals' lives are transformed by the gospel and they come into right relationship with God, that divine relationship inevitably overflows into daily life, resulting in right relation to one's neighbor and a willingness to address the problems of society with God's love.

Have a good week, Bruce! I look forward to seeing you when you get back!


Ryan, the theocracywatch site is an excellent resource; the article exploring the relationship between dominionism/theocracy/Christian Reconstruction/theonomy is a good breakdown of the working relationships of these terms.

Michael, you're correct that true theocracy (rule by God, literally) is technically impossible, because it always has to boil down to rule by certain persons who view themselves as God's spokesperson/voice/appointed ruler.

That all nations/regimes of the western world (and most American colonies) prior to the formation of the Unites States of America were theocracies, demonstrates the tendency of powerful humans to want to ascend to the throne of God on earth, and of "commoners" willing to let deity-disillusioned individuals rule over their lives in return for offering something of national value (assurances of God's blessings? societal stability? cultural purity? cleansing of sins? racial purity? doctrinal purity? etc).

Here are some thoughts from my buddy Jake who sent me this through email after reading this post. Jake and I went to MSU together and he has been a great mentor and friend over the years. Great points, Jake! You should have just posted these thoughts on the blog directly, we encourage participation in our discussions!

"As for the founding nation issue here are a couple comments. I think the motivation of the people who founded the US is important to try to understand. With that said it should not be the absolute basis on which we define how we should proceed today. They were trying to design a government ruled by social ethics. Albeit the standards of social ethics have changed through generations, which is why the topic is so hard to come Does anybody think we should have slavery just because it was the modus operandi 150 years ago? One on the most important inherent rights this nation was founded on is religous freedom. I think that the socially ethical governing that encompasses the right to your beliefs can only come from a secular government. A secular government that comes from people with ideals. These people are created in a country like ours because they are able to learn from each other. Debate and competition breeds enlightenment and knowledge. A secular government doesn't mean you can't have strong religious beliefs. Those beliefs can be used as a moral code to help lead. A secular government allows for checks and balances on that moral code. Using the old Taliban Afghanistan as an example: As a religious government shouldn't have moral ethics lead to a different outcome, or did the loss of debate and competition brought by secularism cause a short sightedness with no recovery? These are small notes on a very huge and diverse topic.

From a natural resource perspective knowing how this nation was founded is critical to understanding the sociology of management directions, settlement patterens, agriculture production, and many other things that are a major force in our country. Thomas Jefferson's deist ideals and christian platonic ethics background lead to manifest destiny and the basis on which our existence in the western US is founded."

I have been reading through Phillys Tickle's book, "The Great Emergence," lately and I think it is a book that I would love for all you guys and gals to get a copy of so we can discuss it. This conversation at this post relates to the "sola scriptua, scriptura sola" (only scripure, scripture only) debate and I'd like to share an excerpt that stuck in my brain when Jake mentioned slavery being the modus operandi 150 years ago. Also, Jake mentioned that, "debate and competition breeds enlightenment and knowledge" which helps built Tickle's point here:

"The first such blow to Luther's resolution of the authority question came in this country with the Civil War and the years preceding it. While the Bible does not order up slavery as a practice to be followed by the faithful, it certainly does acknowledge it as an institution. And while it does not sanction slavery, it likewise nowhere condemns it. We do ourselves and our understanding of our forebears a great disservice if we do not acknowledge the fact that on the very basis of this biblical ambivalence, thousands and thousands of godly and devout Christians fought for the practice of slavery as being biblically permitted and accepted. No one presumably is naive enough to think that the War Between the States did not have huge cultural and economic factors at work in every heated debate that preceded the outbreak of war. It is equally naive and redactionist, however, to ignore the fact that America's Protestant churches almost all split in two, violently and on theological grounds, over the issue of scriptural teachings about slavery. Those agonized cries on both sides of the divide have to be remembered now for what they were: the fearsome cries of those for whom the undergirding of "scripture only and only scripture" had been, if not ripped asunder, then most certainly set atilt."

To riff off Ryan's friend Jake's comments, Baptists historically championed uncoerced and voluntary religion, separate from government, within a secular government structure, declaring that faith best thrives in a free marketplace of ideas. Today, however, many Christians claim that faith is diminished in a free marketplace of ideas.

Faith best contributes to society and culture when detached from government. Government best preserves genuine faith by maintaining a hands-off approach.

Conversely, religion that marries itself to power structures is a compromised and dangerous faith. And government that mandates religion is the enemy of genuine faith and ensurer of religious persecution.

Today's faith-based initiatives, the shoveling of tax dollars to religious organizations (even if for seemingly good reasons), are a ticking time bomb.

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