For Religious Liberty

Why My Kids and Yours Need Religious Freedom

Editor’s Note: The following is a lightly edited version of Jonathan Leeman’s (9Marks, published by permission) opening argument in the Davenant Debate on Religious Liberty and the Common Good presented at Colorado Christan University on November 18th, 2022. We published Bradford Littlejohn’s (Davenant Institute) contribution to the debate yesterday.

My ostensible purpose for standing here is to present a defense for religious liberty. I’ve been invited as the Baptist after all. And if you’ve never attended a Baptist church, you should know that religious liberty is really the only thing we try to teach our kids in their Sunday school classes. Presbyterians teach their kids about the Bible’s glorious covenants. Lutherans teach their kids about the law and the gospel. Methodists are talking about sanctification and piety. Baptists, well, we got religious liberty.

Of course, a growing number of Christians wonder if religious liberty is really the best doctrine to be teaching in this morally chaotic and, frankly, neo-pagan age. In fact, couldn’t it be that this Baptist emphasis really is just classical liberalism talking, because we’ve been co-opted, and that it’s led to the rampant individualism and anti-authority-ism, that’s participated in creating our present moral chaos? Honestly, those are good questions to ask. I think in some cases, I assume the answers are “yes.”

For our purposes here, I don’t want to merely think through the matter as a theologian or theoretician. Instead, I want to place the conversation inside a pastoral framework. Meaning, let’s think about real people, at this moment in history, and put our theology into the service of that. 

Recently, I had breakfast with a friend whose 18-year-old nephew—let me call him “Sam”—committed suicide a few months back. Sam, who struggled with mental health issues, lost his way. Yet my friend also talked about the larger world of TikTok, and deconstruction, and questions about gender, and a whole culture telling Sam he was free to be whoever he wanted to be. Sam lacked the structures, the moorings, the fixed points of moral evaluation, to answer the question, “Who am I?” He couldn’t get a grip. So he took his life.  

It should make you angry—angry at all those cultural forces which have set themselves to destroying the good, the true, the beautiful, undermining and destroying 18-year-olds like Sam. Others, you know, turn to drugs, or shopping, or body cult, or a hundred other distractions. There’s nothing to live for.

My friend’s story hit home because my nephew is 19 and is trying to find his way. His sister is 17. My three older daughters are 16, 15, and 13. All of them have grown up with weekly church attendance, family worship, parental discipleship. But they’re facing the same world as Sam.

What do my daughters, and my niece and nephew, as they leave homes which have been shaped by the truths of Christianity, need? Most of all, they need Jesus. Both for the sake of this life and the next, they need Jesus. And so my wife and I pray and pray and pray, and then we’ll wait. 

But let me refine the question: what do these teenagers need and not need from societies larger structures, like church and state, so that they might know Jesus? I’m setting the conversation up this way, because I think it puts us in the right framework. Christians should approach every action, structure, and decision in life asking the question, how will this help me and my fellow Christians, and the world, better know Jesus? It should be our driving question in everything. Sam’s story, tragically, is over. But there are millions more Sams launching into the world. So what do my niece and nephew and my teenage daughters need and not need? Seven things.

1. They don’t need to be treated like children any longer, but like adults, and a state which seeks to implement the first table of the law treats them like children. 

The Magisterial Reformers may have believed the magistrate’s jurisdiction “extends to both tables of the law” and to protecting true worship because “no polity can be successfully established unless piety be its first care.” So argued John Calvin by appealing to the Davidic kings. And in one sense he’s right. People will not truly love their neighbors and refrain from murder, stealing, lying, and sexual deviancy if they don’t first love God. The second table depends on the first. Love of neighbor depends on love of God.

Therefore—the Magisterial Reformers reasoned—we should criminalize violations of the first table. 

It’s that “therefore” that I disagree with. There’s a difference between recognizing moral truths and realities and granting the state the authority to enforce them. A moral “is” does not equate to a governmental “ought.” So it’s true that laws against murder and stealing will only be fully obeyed among a people who worship no other gods—see heaven. Yet that doesn’t mean the nations of the world outside of ancient Israel, whether today or in the days of the Old Testament, have been authorized to wield the sword against first table infractions. 

Furthermore, how well did the Mosaic Covenant’s call to enforce the first table work for Israel? Did it, as Calvin says, establish piety as Israel’s first care? Don’t the lessons of Israel’s failure and exile teach the exact opposite? Isn’t the takeaway lesson that human beings can have God’s own law written on stone, God’s hand selected kings and priests, God’s own presence in the temple, and yet they still worship other gods and sacrifice their children to idols? If laws against blasphemy didn’t work for them, why do we think it will work for us? If the answer is, “Well, we have Holy Spirit-indwelled churches now,” then, yes, we do. But we don’t have a Holy-Spirit-indwelled nation. So why, again, would we expect first table enforcement to work any differently for our nation than for the Israelite nation? 

For as much as our doctrine of total depravity depends on Reformed theologians like Calvin, a Reformed Baptist like me would suggest he failed to apply that doctrine adequately to his political theology. The divinely-intended political theological lesson of Israel’s failure is that our hearts are so corrupt that the sword can do nothing—absolutely nothing—to change them, which is why Jesus refused Peter’s grab at a sword in the Garden of Gethsemane. Nothing other than the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit will yield obedience to the First Table of the law, so look for such obedience in your churches. Patrol those borders for First Table adherence. The church now possesses this priestly job, not the nation. To seek to enforce the First Table should necessarily lead to the death penalty and exile, because “None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God” (Rom. 3:11). Indeed, that’s why God exiled Israel. 

Second Table enforcement, however, is different. By God’s common grace, non-Christians really can be expected and made to keep aspects of it. We really can enforce laws against murder and stealing. Idolatry? Good luck. That’s one lesson of ancient Israel.  

Not only that, it’s true I require my children to attend church and endure family worship at home. But I’ve never criminalized or punished violations of the first table in my home. Can you imagine punishing your children for—all by itself— not loving God? 

The question I’d ask of the First Table-Enforcers today is, do they think that launching my children and theirs into a society that punishes First Table infractions, if only by making them second-class citizens, really helps them to know Jesus? Do they assume our children will respond well to that?

Suppose I had a rebellious child. Suppose she evidenced this rebellious nature from a young age, and it continues through her teenage years. What exactly do the First-Table enforcers think governmental laws will do that my home laws, combined as they are with love and personal knowledge and affirmation and affection, will accomplish? 

Magisterial Protestantism, and various forms of theonomy, and a certain variety of Christian nationalism, sometimes draw an analogy to the “Christian family.” They argue that, in the same way a so-called Christian parents establish structures, rules, and practices that are conducive to Christian belief, so can the state. Yet in so doing, they treat adults as children. They infantilize them. 

My point here is not, “That’s insulting. How dare you treat people like children!” The point is, adults aren’t children. They’re not wired like children, particularly children living in the homes of Christian parents. Recall how Jesus said we need the faith of a child? Therefore, we launch them from the home. We remove the strictures we placed on them. For one, we stop requiring them to attend church with us. In general, we should not expect such structures-conducive-to-belief, whatever those are, to work for adults like they do for children. It’s strange to me, therefore, that the First-Table enforcers want to extend the parental hand out of the home, down the street, and into all of life for the child that the parent has let go of. 

 And that brings me to a second point.

2. Our sons and daughters, launching into the world, don’t need false gods and false Christianities established in the public square

For every time you manage to get hold of the sword to prosecute your religion or your sect, seven other times someone else will get a hold of it to prosecute theirs against yours. Isaac Backus commented, “the same sword that Constantine drew against the heretics, Julian turned against the orthodox.”

One question those who call for the legal implementation of first table matters never answer is, how can you guarantee it’s your God or your version of Christianity, and not, say, Joe Biden’s Christianity, which is being established? And here’s where the whole comparison to the so-called  “Christian family” breaks down. What’s the starting point for what people call a “Christian family”? Christian parents. Great. Christian parents should implement Christian structures and expectations. Yet then folks make the quick analogy. “The government should do what Christian parents do.” Okay, but with Christian parents, you are, by definition, starting with the most important thing: Christians. With a government, you’re not. So how can you guarantee it? Because the whole theory of government propounded by First-Table establishers depends on it. 

Not only that, the Bible assigns parents with the broadest authority of any authority on earth. It’s effectively totalitarian, extending from learning to wipe your bottom to instructions on worship. Are you sure that you want to draw that analogy, and hand such a broad, totalitarian authority to the government? In Russia, you’ll get a Roman Orthodox church. You want that? In Italy, a Roman Catholic one. Do you want that? And never mind what you’ll get in the nations governed by other religions. 

No, I don’t want any of these things for my daughters in order for them to know Jesus, nor do I want the government treating them with the same authority as my own. 

3. They need the freedom to make their own decisions about who God is and whether or not they will follow him.

Friends, get into your heads any non-Christian you know. Can you really imagine trying to induce them toward Christianity with any type of threat? Any type of penalty? Any type of tax? Any type of second class citizenship? Can you imagine saying to that non-Christian you’re thinking of, “We’re going to fine you for not loving Jesus like we think you should?” Do you think that will work? 

If so, I question your understanding of psychology, not to mention the Holy Spirit, the new birth, and conversion. Again, do you do that even with your kids now? Is it law that Paul says will bring us to repentance? Or the kindness and the grace of God (see Rom. 2:4)? 

The kingdom of God will not be advanced by the sword. Peter wanted to pick up the sword in the Garden of Gethsemane. “We’re not going to build the kingdom that way,” said Jesus. You cannot point me to a single verse in the New Testament—there is not the slightest whiff in the New Testament—that we advance the kingdom of God by the sword. Isaac Backus again: “Our glorious Head [Jesus] made no use of secular force in the first setting up of the gospel church.” Jesus and the apostles didn’t need the sword to set up churches, which are the pathway to true righteousness and justice and love of neighbor.  Do we? 

To put this third point another way: enforcing the First Table operates by kingdom of man logic (triumph through power) rather than kingdom of God logic (triumph through weakness). What do our teenagers and non-Christian friends, what does the church itself, need to learn about Jesus? That with his first-coming, he foregrounded his work of priestly weakness and sacrifice. He does not foreground his work of kingly triumph until his second coming. That’s one of the things that changed from the old covenant to the new. Isaiah teaches that the Davidic King, who established the kingdom of Israel in strength, would turn out to be the suffering servant, who established the kingdom of God in weakness. And yet now, folk think we’re to do it like Israel did it? Did we miss how Christ said he would build his kingdom? By taking up our crosses and following him, wasn’t it? 

If our children need to be free to accept God on their own, they also need to be free to reject him, and (tragically) choose some other god.  

4. They need to be respected and honored as God-imagers. 

When my children leave the home, if they choose to abandon Christ, they still need to be respected and honored as equal God-imagers, and I’d point you to Genesis 9:5-6 and many other passages to prove the point. 

Again, I don’t want a theoretical conversation here. I want you to think about my daughters and my 19-year-old nephew, or your non-Christian friends and family members. Don’t you want their government and their employers and the world around them to honor and respect them as equal God imagers with all your Christian friends? Don’t you want them to know that you’re advocating for that? Or do you want them to hear you’re advocating taking away some of their political advantages or rights? That you’re trying to put yourself above them politically? Do you think that will help them to want to know Jesus?  

And part of treating them as equal God-imagers brings me to my fifth point:

5. They need a government that will protect them and provide all the necessary conditions for them to live fruitful human lives, fulfilling God’s Genesis 1:28 mandate.

Now if they’re not Christians, they won’t like any of that Bible-language, but they’ll appreciate… some of what you’re trying to provide nonetheless. 

Think of what God says to Noah in Genesis 9:1: “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.” And he repeats the command in verse 7: “And you, be fruitful and multiply, increase greatly on the earth and multiply in it.” 

Well, that’s tough to do, replies Noah, when the Cains keep killing the Abels. 

Very well, says the Lord. I’ll grant you a justice mechanism that will help you to fulfill these humanity-wide commands.  

And for your lifeblood I will require a reckoning: from every beast I will require it and from man. From his fellow man I will require a reckoning for the life of man.

Whoever sheds the blood of man,

by man shall his blood be shed,

for God made man in his own image. (vv. 5-6)

Governments would have existed in an unfallen world, if nothing else to tell us which side of the road to drive on. But in this text God authorizes human beings to use coercive force on one another for the express purpose of preserving life. It’s the basic covenantal authorization for all that governments do, much like Matthew 16, 18, and 28 provide for churches. We might even call Genesis 9:5-6 the Great Commission text for governments. 

Why does God give human beings the right to exercise coercive authority? Most expressly, to protect human life. This would seem to include not just punishing murder or anything harms human beings, but working within reason to prevent it.

Yet notice that the larger purpose of verses 5 and 6 serve to facilitate the mandate given in verses 1 and 7. Any of you who took hermeneutics in seminary remembers the “sandwich” structure, in which an author uses a bread-meat-bread device, telling us to interpret bread and meat together. So here. God authorizes governments to secure the basic conditions necessary for fulfilling the dominion mandate. Insofar as the dominion mandate begins with “Be fruitful and multiply,” government must seek to protect the basic structures of marriage and the family. They have no right from God to redefine what marriage and the family are, because such redefinitions invariably work to hinder the work of fruitfulness and dominion. 

Furthermore, one might envision a host of other factors that hinder the work of fruitfulness, dominion, and the basic God-imaging political equality required for fruitfulness and dominion. Entrenched cycles of poverty would hinder such work and put dominion at stake. That doesn’t mean the government must ensure every citizen possesses the same economic starting point. It does suggest that a basic economic safety net may serve the purposes of dominion—enough to stay alive, be fed, and get to work in the morning. As King Lemuel’s mother says to him, ““Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8–9). 

That said, governments can become unjust by overtaxing their populations: “By justice a king builds up the land, but he who exacts gifts [or taxes heavily] tears it down” (Prov. 29:4). Their job is not to fulfill the dominion mandate, but to facilitate it—to be the platform, not the performer. Too much taxation, to be sure, hinders the performers. 

When we turn to the New Testament, we encounter precisely this same limited jurisdictional mandate given to governments: secure the necessary conditions for fulfilling the dominion mandate. 

Jesus famously declares, “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and unto God what is God’s” (Matt. 22). To be sure, everything that belongs to Caesar also belongs to God. Caesar is made in God’s image, after all. But not everything that belongs to God belongs to Caesar. His jurisdiction is a limited one.

In Romans 13, Paul declares that God has instituted governments to reward the good and punish the bad (Rom. 13:1-7; see also 1 Peter 2:13-17). Does this mean governments must punish every conceivable bad and reward every conceivable good? Not unless we would ask governments to enact God’s own judgment which he reserves for the last day. To become perfectionistic totalitarians. Clearly, Paul has a subset of goods and bads in mind. What’s the subset? It’s what would meet with a pagan ruler’s approval and disapproval, namely, the kinds temporally-concerned matters that Paul mentions in his summary verse 7—paying “taxes” and “revenues” (Colin Kruse: “An indirect tax levied on goods and services, such as sales of land, houses, oil, and grass) and affording “respect” and “honor” to Roman officials. Also, Scripture uses Paul’s word for “good conduct” elsewhere for practical acts of mercy (e.g. Acts 9:36; 1 Tim. 2:10; 5:10). To argue for any broader set of goods or bads, such as doctrinal enforcement, is to argue from silence. And there’s hardly any suggestion here that Paul is correcting Caesar. It seems pretty  unlikely Paul would have asked Caesar to enforce the first table of the law, with the command to worship no other gods. 

Notice, also, I’m not saying the government’s jurisdiction changed with the new covenant. In fact, I believe the government’s jurisdiction has been the exact same since God established it with Noah. What changed under the Abrahamic and Mosaic Covenants, covenants given exclusively to God’s special people, are the people to whom he tied his name. Insofar as God tied his name to them, they required a priestly class to maintain their purity and obedience in all matters of life. Though kings and priests were separate figures in Israel, the power of the sword enforced the mandates of both, beginning with Moses, the high priest (Heb. 3:3), who slaughtered thousands for worshiping a golden cow.  

Yet to whom does this priestly work belong now? Does anything in the New Testament suggest or imply or insinuate that it belongs to the nations or their governments? Does the New Testament from beginning to end not suggest it belongs to Christians and their churches? Governments, on the other hand, have a limited and kingly job—to establish peace and order. Such authority belongs to the earliest kings of the nations in Genesis 10, to Pharaoh, to Nebuchadnezzar, to Pilate, to Biden. 

What do I want for my daughters and your sons launching into the world? A government that will protect them and treat them as equals, according to God’s rules of righteousness.

6. They need a government that will provide a platform for the work of the church

Genesis 9 comes before Genesis 12 and the call of Abraham for a reason. Government provides a stage on which God’s redemptive drama can play out.Paul, therefore, observes in Acts 17 that God determines the borders of nations and the dates of their duration so that people might seek Him (Acts 17:26–27). People need to be able to walk to church without getting mauled by marauders. They cannot get saved if they are dead. The work of government, in short, provides a platform for the work of the saints.

Did you catch that? States play a preservative role in and of themselves, but they exist to serve the larger redemptive purposes of salvation.

We don’t want a government that thinks it can offer redemption, but a government that views its work as a prerequisite of redemption for all its citizens. It builds the streets so that you can drive to church; protects the womb so that you can live and hear the gospel; insists on fair-lending and housing practices so that you can own a home and offer hospitality to non-Christians; works for education so that you can read and teach your children the Bible; protects marriage and the family by not redefining marriage and by kicking strip clubs out of the city so that husbands and wives can better model Christ’s love for the church; polices the streets so that you are free to assemble as churches unmolested and to make an honest living so that you can give money to the work of God. 

Which is to say, Christians have a redemptive interest in good government. Romans 13 calls governments servants; Psalm 2 calls them imposters. Most governments contain both. But some are better than others. Notice that two basic kinds of governments show up in the Bible: those that shelter God’s people, and those that destroy them. Abimelech sheltered; Pharoah destroyed. The Assyrians destroyed; the Babylonians and Persians, ultimately, sheltered. Pilate destroyed; Festus sheltered. And depending on how you read Revelation, the history of government will culminate in a beastly slaughter of saintly blood.

Yes, Jesus will build His church. No, the worst governments cannot stop the Holy Spirit. Yes, God often moves underground, undisclosed to governments. But bad governments, from a human standpoint, really do make the church’s work difficult. Christians should work for good governments.

What should we do?

(1) Pray. Paul urges us to pray for kings and all in high positions so that we may lead peaceful and quiet lives. “This is good” and “pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all people to be saved” (1 Tim. 2:3–4). We pray for our government so that the saints might live peaceful lives and people will get saved.

(2) Engage. We render to Caesar what is Caesar’s by paying taxes, yes, but in a democratic context, we also do this by voting, lobbying, lawyering, or running for office. Even in an empire, Paul, for the sake of the gospel, pulled the political levers he had. He invoked his citizenship and appealed to Caesar. Steward opportunities while you have them.

(3) Acknowledge God as an individual in the public square. As a Christian, for instance, we should warn politicians who do injustice. I appreciated John MacArthur challenging Governor Newsom over misusing the Bible to justify abortion. Christians working in government, too, should be willing, when it serves good purposes, to point to God. Psalm 2: Now therefore, O kings, be wise; be warned, O rulers of the earth. Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling. Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and you perish in the way.” Now, I’m not going to compel my fellow senators by the sword to acknowledge the Son. No, their punishment is left to the Son. “Kiss the Son, lest he be angry.”

What I’m less convinced does anything is placing such acknowledgements into our public documents—any more than I would place Jesus’s name into my mortgage papers with a non-Christian banker. In defense of Christian nationalism, a Canadian academic, looking at the moral chaos of Canada, recently wrote, “All I want is freedom to worship according to my conscience within a society that recognizes (as the preamble to the Canadian Charter of Freedoms puts it) “principles that recognize the supremacy of God and the rule of law.” It’s an interesting paragraph. I looked up the Canadian Charter of Freedoms, which is the bill of rights passed in 1982, that’s inside the Canadian Constitution. It really does call for principles that recognize the supremacy of God. So my response to the author is, “Well, it sounds like you got what you want! Would you say it’s helping Canada’s moral culture right now?” 

Think back to my friend’s son, Sam. Or to my daughters launching into the world. Is that what they need in the U.S. Constitution? An acknowledgement of the supremacy of God? Will that really make one whit of difference? I mean, do you understand how Christian regeneration and conversion work?

Most of all… 

7. They need healthy churches that point them to Jesus’ and Jesus’ people. 

They need churches that preach the gospel and make disciples. What’s the gospel? It’s the good news not that Jesus picked up the sword, but that he submitted his own neck to the sword of Rome and the wrath of God, paying the penalty we deserve, and rose from the grave, showing that he defeated the world, the flesh and the devil, so that all who turn from the sins and follow after him will have live and begin to walk in justice and righteousness. 

Our children and neighbors need churches filled with members who are building their lives on that message and who are now living distinctly like salt. They need churches that strive to live as a transformed nation before they try to transform the nation; that live as a redeemed culture before they try to redeem the culture. Churches that are a light on the hill. Churches that attend to their own poor so that they can commend caring for the poor to the nation. Churches that attend to their own race issues so they can speak with love and understanding about race to the nation, where little black boys and girls sit down with little white boys and girls, that are a light on the hill. Did Jesus call the nation a light on the hill or the church? 

Our sons and daughters, launching into the world, don’t need Joe Biden or Donald Trump saying, “This is the church with right doctrine, not that one,” and, “These people are its members.” They need churches that take especial care with guarding good doctrine, and guarding the membership boundaries of the church, meaning, they practice discipline, so that if that abusive or adulterating man insists on calling himself a Christian, he won’t get any help from us. We’re going to remove that affirmation as an act of discipline, because we don’t want our sons and daughters, now adults, to think for one second that Jesus is just like the world. We know that our evangelism and witness and the fame of Jesus’ name depend upon our corporate integrity and holiness and God-like love. Not only that, we’re not going to slap Jesus’ name down on any nation of this world because the New Testament never does, but instead build a “holy nation” out of people from every nation.  

What do my daughters and your sons need as they launch out into the world, a world which, apart from God’s grace, will consume and destroy them? The traditional Baptist answer is a free church in a free state. And I think that’s right, if I could qualify that by saying, a state, which, I hope, is governed by the principles of righteousness within its limited jurisdiction.

As we look at the state of our culture, I sincerely believe all the attention we’re giving to the sword is misplaced. I’m not saying we shouldn’t give some consideration to it. But, as a matter of proportion and emphasis, why aren’t our debates and Twitter wars not filled instead with arguments with the best approaches to church membership and evangelism and faithful preaching? 

Like, even if I’m dead wrong, and the First-Table enforcers are dead right, surely everyone would admit that the ability to enforce the First Table is decades if not centuries off—assuming that God gives revival. So why are we having this conversation now? Why not save it for several centuries? Why aren’t we working harder for revival now? That is, why not pour ourselves into conversations about building healthy churches and making disciples? Even if my theory of government is wrong, we need to know what time it is.  

My fear is that behind and beneath all these debates is an ongoing and misplaced confidence in the power of the sword to really change things. Folks have missed the lessons of Israel and the affirmations of the New Testament. It’s as if we want to render to Caesar everything that is God’s. 

Conclusion

So there you are, sending your 18 or 21 year old out into the world. And now, imagine, they’ve decisively turned away from Jesus. You think back to their tender prayers at age six. You think of them leading a Bible study in high school. And, oh my, you want that back. How desperately, you want to again see that tenderness toward God and his Word again; but now they’re rejecting him. They even despise him, and chastise you for what you believe. What do you do? 

You don’t insist. You don’t legislate with the power of the sword. At some level, you have to let go. You have to leave it to the Lord. You pray. You stand up for righteousness within your domain. “No, I cannot attend your same-sex wedding, but I do love you so much. If you cannot make your car payment, I’ll help.” You attend to their physical needs as you can and welcome their non-Christian children into your home and share the gospel with them. And then, you wait. The Lord will have his way. 

If this is what you do with your grown children who don’t love Jesus, why would you do something more forceful with those who are not your kids? Do you assume it will go better?

For any Christian pastors or trainers of pastors, I’d recommend that you hear the counsel of John Newton, indeed the very man whose ministry wonderfully inspired the work of William Wilberforce.

Dear friend, allow me to say, that excites both my wonder and concern, that a Christian minister such as yourself, should think it worth his while to attempt political reforms. When I look around the present state of the nation, such an attempt appears to me, to be no less vain and foolish, than it would be to paint the cabin—while the ship is sinking! Or to decorate the parlor—while the house is on fire.

My dear sir, my prayer to God for you is that He may induce you to employ the talents He has given you, in pointing out sin as the great cause and source of every existing evil; and to engage those who love and fear him, (instead of wasting time in political speculations, for which very few of them are competent) to sigh and cry for our abounding abominations, and to stand in the breach, by prayer, that God’s wrath may yet be averted, and our national mercies prolonged! This, I think, is true patriotism—the best way people in private life may serve their country.

No, that’s not a call for a separation from political engagement, or at least it shouldn’t be. It is a call to a right sense of proportion and emphasis. Because what do my daughters most need? To borrow and adapt a phrase of John Piper’s, my daughters need pastors and writers and Christians who care about all politics, but especially care about eternal politics.

*Image Credit: Unsplash  

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Jonathan Leeman

Jonathan Leeman is the editorial director of 9 Marks, the co-host of Pastor's Talk, an elder at Cheverly Baptist Church, and author of more than a dozen books including, "Political Church." He is a husband and father of four daughters.