A Theological Review
of “Lesson 10 - The American Experiment: Stepping Stones”
by Focus on the Family’s “The Truth Project”
by Greg M. Johnson
The Christian view is that man lived in paradise until Adam upset relationship with God thousands of years ago. In the Christian view, the solution is Christ’s work on cross to restore humans’ relationship with God. Individuals remaining in unrepentant sin is dangerous because of Hell. What is necessary for humans is faith in Christ, or “a broken and contrite spirit.”
A view prevalent in certain Christian circles today, and in my opinion offered by the movie, sets up an entirely different narrative of the Fall. It is that USA enjoyed God’s blessings until secularists upset the relationship with God sometime in mid 1800’s. In this view, the solution is humans’ work to restore the country’s relationship with God. Country remaining in state of non-God-honoring is physically dangerous to the nation because God may remove the lampstand of Revelations 2 from the country. What very bad for humans is to “hate America.”
Problem: The speaker repeated a theme that “Without religion and morality, it is impossible to have liberty.” In the early days of the United States, we had a lot of religious fervor, but very little liberty. Thomas Jefferson put the word “God” on some public documents, but believed in a religion where it was okay to have sex with your slaves. George Washington put the word “God” on some public documents, but believed in a religion where it was okay to leave the babies of your slaves naked in winter. If religion were a requirement for liberty, then either: A) these men’s religion is apostate (in a far worse way than Arnold Schwarzenegger’s is), or B) the premise the “religion helps liberty” is false. I object to the films’ premise that the Founding Fathers were of my religion. They are not. I shake their religion from my shoes.
Problem: the speaker referred to the cycle of obedience, rebellion, punishment, repentance, and restoration for OT Israel and said that America was in the rebellion stage. His references to when things started to go wrong were in the mid-1800’s. I on the other hand cannot imagine a greater stage of rebellion than slaveholding. Is it okay for me to believe that the 1700’s were the worst part of rebellion rather than America’s “Eden?” God’s name was on the lips but our hearts were far from him. Undoing physical slavery was the principal work of God for his people in the OT. There is always sin, and I find his reference to 1700’s America as the “good old days” to be unbiblical.
Problem: the movie complained that “Jurisprudence” is now viewed as something that can evolve rather than being based on God’s word. Was our system of laws ever based on God’s word, per se, or one sect in one time’s understanding of it. I note that we went from Dred Scott (1857) to Brown vs. Board of Education (1954), which is a great thing. We went from saying it is okay for the government to keep different races in different schools to an “evolved’ (if you will) state where we don’t say that. As another example, in the year I was born, interracial marriage was illegal in the state I grew up in. The country’s understanding of interracial marriage has “evolved”: God be praised!
Problem: The movie set as a good thing from the old days, that there were Christian religious oaths as a test for holding office. I say, our country has aways been more like the towns of Paul’s epistles than OT Israel. Muslims, Jews, nonbelievers, and radically different flavors of Christianity exist. Is it workable in our society? Is it an outrage to God that the religious tests are gone? Luther said he’d rather be ruled by a wise pagan than a foolish Christian.
Problem: Revelations 2 is talking about a church. The speaker applied it to a country. This is very bad.
Problem: a boy at the beginning said that America was the “light of the world.” I confess someone Else to be. (One should neither teach children to say that, nor should one be a Unitarian Universalist preacher-- another speaker at the beginning of the film).
Agreements: Biblical Christianity is under attack. (First, I must add, it is under attack by this film). Secondly, it is under attack by an intelligentsia that is more dangerous than anything by the ACLU. If you listen to the broadcast media of scientific associations (Scientific American to IEEE Spectrum), you will hear educated people say that “religion mandates violence.” You will hear a cartoony distorted view of Christianity that is probably not actually taught or held to by many people: there is no Cross in this cartoon view, only a Hell, and a Hell that is arbitrarily dished out to basically good people. In one science podcast I used to subscribe to, a man claimed that someone shouldn’t be allowed a job in science if they believed in God.
1) Christ’s work on the Cross
2) Our repentance
3) A witnessing that has folks (or finds) folks in a state of “broken and contrite spirit” long before hell and the need to change where they are going is mentioned.
4) Apologetics work that points out to society that the moral and religious absurdities of 1700’s America and my own life are neither faithful to nor required by the bible, and only shows the need for Christ.
5) Good works, in proper context. (I like the way that Catholics call them “Works of Mercy”).
6) Honoring God in the public square, in a peaceable way that involves risk-taking with our own bodies, not in ways that involve fighting through the government over the right to put a symbol on a piece of land or “airtime” in a secular event.
Links to Original Material:
Outline of Lesson 10:
Truth Project Lessons: