Article Review of D. G. Hart’s “Church Not State” Part I

At the link below Dr. D. G. Hart seeks to establish his vision of a common square without Christianity in the name of Christianity.

In this article Hart seeks to designate his view as “the conservative view,” but as the this review unfolds it is hoped that it will be clearly seen that Dr. Hart’s views, if they are Christian, are of the anabaptist variety, and that they are Libertarian and definitely not Conservative.

Dr. Hart opens his article and his first problematic presupposition is laid bare in the first and second paragraph when he suggests that it is possible for religion to be excluded from the public square. Hart writes, “Religion was honored in the public square—and incorporated into politics.” This is significant because Hart is going to argue in his article that religion should not be honored in the public square, or conversely that religion is most honored when it is excluded from the public square. Hart desires for the public square to remain naked in terms of religion. This problematic presupposition shows up again in Dr. Hart’s second paragraph when he writes, The loss of religion’s formerly privileged place…. Note again that Hart assumes that it is possible for religion to ever not have a privileged place in the public square.

Of course the problem with this is that religion in the public square is a inescapable concept. Dr. Hart repeatedly misses the fact that it is never a question of whether or not the public square will be shaped and formed by religion but only a question of which religion will influence the public square. Even were it possible to strip the public square of the influence of religion that stripping of the public square of the influence of religion would come about from the influence of the religion that states no religion should influence the public square. Thus Dr. Hart’s opening presupposition about religion and the public square is seen to be an absurdity. Religion’s privileged place in the public square remains, even if it is not the Christian religion’s privileged place.

I’m fairly confident that Dr. Hart would say that he wrote this article as a Historian and not a Theologian and yet Dr. Hart’s article is laden with (bad) theological assumptions. Hart’s appeal to history is read through his Anabaptist theological glasses. I only offer this observation because another of Dr. Hart’s methodological problems is that he assumes that he can cordon his history from theology. Dr. Hart would have us believe that his history is not theologically conditioned and yet his whole article screams of Anabaptist theological premises.

In Dr. Hart’s third paragraph we find this statement,

“Over the last 30 years, born-again Protestants have overwhelmingly backed Republican candidates in the belief that for religion to matter, it must influence not only what people do when they gather for worship but also what they do every other day of the week.”

People should not miss this sentence because implicit in this statement is Dr. Hart’s argument that Christianity (that is the religion, after all, that Hart is referencing) doesn’t need to influence what born-again Protestants do every other day of the week. For Dr. Hart Christianity is something that should influence born-again Protestants in the Redemptive realm but it should not influence them in the common realm, or, to try and put it more charitably for Dr. Hart, Christianity is not a religion that finds its credibility in influencing the public realm. In Dr. Hart’s fifth paragraph we find that theme referred to again when he laments about “conservatives (having) identified with arguments for the worldly relevance of faith…” Here again Dr. Hart is going to stump for a conservatism that explicitly eschews relevance of the Christian faith in the world. How can anyone take this position of Dr. Hart to be Conservative, let alone Christian?

Dr. Hart then tries to convince us that the “truly conservative position is to contend for faith’s own inherent merits, quite apart from any benediction from the civil government,” and Professor Hart worries for that his advocacy for this putatively sui generis “conservative position” is to risk his “sounding liberal—or even worse, secular.” Actually, strictly speaking it sounds Anabaptist.

We find Dr. Hart’s position here paralleling nicely the Reformed Anabaptist John Piper writings. Dr. Piper agrees with Dr. Hart when he writes,

We express a passion for the supremacy of God…

5) by making clear that God himself is the foundation for our commitment to a pluralistic democratic order… Christians agree to make room for non-Christian faiths (including naturalistic, materialistic faiths)… We have a God-centered ground for making room for atheism. “If my kingship were of this world, my servants would fight” (John 18:36)….

I quite agree with Dr. Hart that the Christian faith has it’s own inherent merits and it is precisely because of those inherent merits that the Christian faith pronounces benediction or cursing on the civil government that pronounces benedictions or curses upon the Christian faith. Dr. Hart’s problem here, once again, is that he presupposes that the common realm is, can be, and even should be, neutral.

In part I of this critical review of Dr. Hart’s opinion piece we have found that Dr. Hart’s position is plagued by irrational presuppositions that argue for the neutrality of the public square faith, the irrelevance of the Christian faith for the public square, and the fact that the Christian faith should not influence the public square. We have seen that Dr. Hart’s reasoning parallel’s Dr. John Pipers reasoning on the same subject thus showing the truth that “politics do indeed make strange bedfellows,” and we have begun to suggest that Dr. Hart is more than flirting with a Anabaptist theology that is informing his social order theory. We will see more of that as we continue this critical review.

Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

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