By Robert Capehert
IN these years, it has become popular for social conservatives and evangelical Christians to decry the secular. But it might do some good to unpack what the term secular means.
Dr R. Scott Clark, Professor of Church History at Westminster Theological Seminary California, over at his website, Heidelblog, writes,
The adjective secular is derived from the Latin noun saeculum. It doesn’t mean “anti-theistic” or “atheistic” or “evil,” or wicked” or “devilish” as it has come to connote for so many American fundamentalists. The word “secular,” understood properly, simply means, “non-ecclesiastical.” If ecclesiastical = sacred, the “secular” realm simply describes that common life that all we image-bearers [Gen. 1:26; 28ff] live together.
Dr Clark offers a diagnosis of the problem arising from Christianity being used for political purposes by both the religious right and religious left, writing,
A pox on both the religious right and the religious left. Neither one understands the nature of civil society as a covenant of works. We do not need to appeal to “Christian America” to make our case. The founding documents are sufficient evidence.
Dr Clark goes on to enlist Martin Luther King, Jr. to illustrate how natural law was used (inconsistently one might add) in Dr King’s quest to call Americans back to what the Declaration of Independence made clear.
Dr Clark unpacks a historical Protestant idea of natural law, writing,
Whatever the case, the point here is to note that it wasn’t that long ago that someone [Dr King] was able to make credibly a natural law argument, grounded in the Decalogue, in order to make a persuasive case in the late modern period. His appeal [Dr King] was persuasive because the natural law is a truly common (notice I did not say neutral) truth because it is universally known because it is revealed by God and embedded in the fabric of creation.
Dr Clark ends, as usual, with a salient point about the otherworldly nature — and focus — of the Christian faith, in contrast to its current, and ugly, use for political gain by Republicans and Democrats…
This is a distinction that has been lost on both the religious right and the left who, in their monocovenantal politics, seem to be bent on making the civil order a covenant of grace and thence to achieve their utopia of Christian-Democratic Socialism or a Christian-Republican America.
One hopes the G.O.P. and the conservative movement in these years, acquires wiser, more prudent ideas about the nature and limits of the state — something Dr Clark, above, argues in favour of forcefully and convincingly.