Marriage, as a legal and cultural institution and as it has historically been known, is under attack in America. The purpose of this article is to address the legal definition of marriage and draw conclusions concerning how the Christian should respond to the attempts to modify the traditional and biblical definitions of this institution.
Law and Culture
I will begin with several general observations about law and culture.
First, every relatively coherent society reflects some belief system or world view which a critical mass of its individual members (or at least of its influential members) holds generally in common. Not everyone engages in systematic reflection on reality, life, and meaning, of course, but most still hold more or less similar conceptions about the nature of things upon which they base their thought and conduct: what is “true,” how to tell right from wrong, how things “ought” to be, and so on.
Second, such conceptions are matters of quasi-religious faith, adopted and held for reasons beyond strict logic and experience, the customary modes of legal proof. For example, even though no propositions are more fundamental to American law and culture than the notions that all men are created equal and have inalienable rights, some of the most brilliant minds in history never attempted to “prove” natural rights or the equality of man, much less define them with legal precision. The Founders simply asserted that they were “self-evident.”
Third, though such conceptions are not susceptible to legal “proof” in the ordinary sense, they nevertheless govern, or at least guide or inform, the approaches our legal system takes and the conclusions it reaches when confronted with broad social issues.
Fourth, societies change over time, more or less in concert with changes in the fundamental cultural conceptions that cohere and guide them. Competing perspectives emerge to challenge the dominant world views, and because law is a function of culture, as world views change, legal perspectives change with them, sometimes as effect, sometimes as cause.
Finally, I am not attempting a technical, academic exercise in either philosophy or jurisprudence. Instead, this is a general overview about Christian world view, how it was incorporated in early American judicial decisions about marriage, how that world view was replaced over time by a radically secular vision, and how legal perspectives on marriage changed accordingly.
Battle for the Mind
War of World Views
One of the best resources addressing “world view” in non-technical terms from a Christian perspective is Dr. Del Tacket’s DVD series The Truth Project. “Ontology” is the branch of philosophy that examines the nature of things, and Dr. Tackett boils down 2,500 years of it into a single statement, “Truth is what is real.” Obviously, there is a profound dispute in culture over what is real.
At the risk of being grossly overbroad and misleading, there is critical common ground between some strains of classical pagan, natural law philosophy, and Judeo-Christian theology. From Socrates to Plato to Augustine to Aquinas to C.S. Lewis, and countless others in between, if there exist such things as reason and ideas – if they are real – then there must be a kind of being, a kind of stuff, that is different than mere matter.
Admittedly, because man is not omniscient, reason alone is circular – “tautological.” Nevertheless, reason is self-evident, and we believe in reason because it is reasonable. It is more reasonable to conclude that something should follow from something than from nothing, that reason comes from reason rather than from non-reason, that life comes from life rather than from non-life, effect comes from cause, self-awareness from self-awareness rather than from non-awareness, sentience and foresight and choice from sentience and foresight and choice rather than from their absence, and so on.
In sum, it is more reasonable to conclude that we and the world around us are the result of some purposeful, incomprehensibly powerful and intelligent first being, than to conclude that we are the result of nothing at all. It is not reasonable to believe that, once upon a time, when there was no time, suddenly there was time. That over time nothing somehow became something, that something somehow blew itself up, and that after blowing itself up it somehow came miraculously alive, and that after becoming alive, again for no reason at all, it began breathing and reproducing and thinking, finally turning itself into movie stars, second basemen, and evolutionary biologists.
In contrast to the Christian view, it has become stylish to declare one’s self atheist or agnostic – a free thinker, master of your own fate, captain of your own soul, with no religious crutch, and guided by reason alone.
That all sounds quite grand, but the atheist and agnostic assert their dogma in much the same way as Christians. They insist that being consists of self-existent time and matter (the “time-space continuum”), that time and matter have somehow always existed, or somehow came into being ex nihilo nisi causa (“out of nothing, and without reason”), and that their present form – including you and me – is not the result of intelligent cause, but is merely the product of the big bang plus time – and nothing more.
Often called “secularism,” or “scientific naturalism,” this view is that nothing exists except what normal human beings can perceive by means of the physical senses, augmented by whatever observational tools we may invent. Ideas and self-awareness are nothing more than particularly sophisticated mechanical events; there is no ghost in the machine after all. Yahweh declares, “I AM, and that’s all”; the naturalist and secularist declare, “Matter (or energy) is, and that’s all.”
My characterizations of secularist and naturalist thought are not caricatures. To begin with, they are nothing new. Shortly before Christ, for example, the Roman philosopher and poet Lucretius wrote De Rerum Natura, “On the Nature of Things.” Advocating the view of the Greek philosopher Democritus 400 years earlier, Lucretius asserted that there is no Supreme Being, that being, even consciousness, is ultimately nothing but “atoms in the void,” operating according to physical “laws” somehow inherent in the atoms themselves.
Almost twenty-five hundred years after Democritus, Stephen Hawking, perhaps the world’s most acclaimed living cosmologist, reprises him in The Grand Design. He writes, “It was as if a coin 1 centimeter in diameter suddenly blew up to ten million times the width of the Milky Way.”He explains that if you go far enough back in time, the universe was a “singularity” – a “Planck size” speck measuring “a billion-trillion-trillionth of a centimeter.” He declares, “Because there is a law of gravity, the universe can and will create itself out of nothing.”
Hawking might protest that he is not reviving Democritus, but instead has identified gravity as the antecedent being from which time and matter followed. He observes correctly, “It is reasonable to ask who or what created the universe,” but concludes, “if the answer is God, then the question has merely been deflected to that of who created God.”
Concluding that a Planck size singularity is the first being and gravity its first cause does not avoid atomism, however; it just kicks the antecedent can a bit further back up the causal road. Being forced to ask “Who created God?” no more refutes God’s existence than being forced to ask “Who created singularity?” refutes the existence of Hawking’s “law of gravity” or his seminal speck.
Put differently, how is an incomprehensibly infinitesimal dot of dumb matter less a “deflection” than an incomprehensibly intelligent First Being? How is it less an act of faith to conclude that the irreducible “being” from which consciousness and intelligence and all else followed was uncreated law and matter, than to conclude that it was uncreated Consciousness and Intelligence? How is it more a blind leap to conclude that Being created being, than to make, as Hawking does, the absurd statement that the universe not only “create[d] itself,” it did so “out of nothing”?
As to Hawking’s declaration that the universe created itself because there is a law of gravity, how is it more rational to believe that intelligence results from the irreducible “being” of “gravity” than from an irreducible “Being” of “Intelligence”? In psychological terms, how is comfort in the certainty of mathematical “law,” in which all mysteries dwell, any more justified than comfort in the certainty of God, in Whom dwells all wisdom and knowledge, including mathematics? And as to the very idea of gravity creating matter, how is it “scientific,” much less “rational,” to stake everything on a non-material “law” that is somehow creating material different than itself? How could such a law even exist prior to the matter Hawking thinks it created? I suspect that by “law” Hawking means nothing more than “how things behave.” But if that is so, then how did law exist when nothing existed to behave, when there was nothing for law to inhere in or operate upon? In fact, how is it legitimate even to say “when” nothing existed? Hawking would say time is a different special dimension of the same basic stuff as everything else, but it is still something, so by his premises the phrase “when nothing existed” is a contradiction in terms. It is nonsense.
In the end, when Hawking claims that the “law” of gravity is the irreducible “being” from which all else follows, his naturalism is a philosophical assertion no less arbitrary than Yahweh’s “I AM,” and his atheism ends the same place as the village boor’s – proclaiming himself God.
Again, this is not caricature. Hawking posits an incomprehensibly large number of possible universes (10500). He declares that “mental concepts are the only reality we can know. . . . It follows that a well-constructed model creates a reality of its own.” Our universe is only “one of many,” each with its own history, which means that, “We create history by our observation, rather than history creating us.”
Hawking’s view is the same old naturalist paradox. In a truly Laputan fit (where is Jonathan Swift when we need him?) Hawking really does reduce man to a “well-constructed model.” He says, “One can define living beings as complex systems of limited size that are stable and that reproduced themselves.”We are “mere collections of fundamental particles of nature.” Human conduct is pre-determined by laws of science, and “free will” is just an “effective theory” necessitated by “our inability to do the calculations that would enable us to predict [human] actions.” Man is nothing but the biggest ant in a robotic anthill, nothing but a pre-determined finder of keys in an arbitrarily operating cosmic asylum.
Choice to Believe
As Hawking’s logical blind alleys demonstrate, the certainties of atheism and agnosticism break down as a matter of reason. An atheist knows that God does not exist. That, however, is a universal negative – something you cannot know, unless you are omniscient yourself, in which case you have made yourself god. This is what atheism is about – Hawking creating reality by his own observation, for instance. Further, a universal negative is tautology without modesty. How does a naturalist know that nothing exists but what he can see? Simple – he cannot see it.
An agnostic sounds more modest than an atheist. Instead of saying, God does not exist, he says only, “You cannot know whether God exists.” However, agnosticism is no less tautological than atheism, because that too is a universal negative. You cannot know that you cannot know unless, again, you are omniscient. How does an agnostic know for sure that he cannot know for sure? Again very simply – he knows it.
Thus, like Christianity or any other faith, atheism and agnosticism are decisions based on something less than and other than omniscience. They are choices. God has created us to choose. We cannot escape it. We can only hope to make as informed and reasonable a choice as possible, somehow enlightened, drawn and enabled by the Holy Spirit.
But choose we must. In Matt 6:24, Christ said that you will serve a master. Hate one, love the other. Hold to one, despise the other. In Rom 6:16, Paul says, “[T]o whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are, . . . of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness.”
Belief is a matter of how one chooses to think. 2 Cor 10:5 describes how Christians think: “Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ.” 2 Peter 2:19 describes how naturalists think: “While they promise them liberty, they themselves are the servants of corruption: for of whom a man is overcome, of the same is he brought in bondage.”
The question is not “whether” you will choose, the question is “which.” Man’s greatest act of worship is the free choice to love and serve God for no other reason than because of Who and What he is. That is what the book of Job is about. That is what Christ told Thomas: “Because thou hast seen me, thou hast believed: blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
Capture the Mind
Now think about that conflict of world views in relation to marriage. Let’s begin with a question. “Are you opposed to same-sex marriage?” This, of course, is a trick quick question. It assumes that there is such a thing as “same-sex” marriage – that marriage is not some pre-political or a-political reality between a man and a woman created by God or a reality existing in the world of ideas or in the nature of humankind or the nature of things in general. Instead, it is an instrumental legal construct – something that can be created, changed or revoked by law the same way we create or change or revoke speed limits or the legal drinking age.
In any debate, Rule 101 is always, “Capture the language.” If you repeat the terms “gay marriage” and “same-sex marriage” long enough, most people will never think about whether there can even be such a thing, much less whether marriage is anything except what some judge says it is. And once the working cultural assumption becomes that government creates marriage to begin with, the debate then is simply a question whether government should create for same-sex couples the same legal rights and privileges that it already created for opposite-sex couples.
That assumption – that government creates marriage – is an instance of the idea of legal positivism, the secularist and naturalist’s logical conclusion that law is not the mind of God or some set of first principles existing in the world of ideas or the nature of things. Rather, it is whatever those who make the law say it is.
Legal realism takes that proposition a step further – that law is made by whoever has power and is nothing more than what the powerful say it is. Justice Holmes once wrote in the Harvard Law Review, “I used to say when I was young, that truth was the majority vote of that nation that could lick all others.” To our question, “What is real, what is the nature of things,” realism answers that things are whatever the powerful say they are. Thomas Hobbes wrote about it in Leviathan, and George Orwell in 1984.
The Christian view is that reality includes the physical universe, but is not only that universe. Those who have not misspent their youth reading idealistic and solipsistic philosophy may not be aware that there have been very serious people who believe this world is not real, but is instead an illusion or perception of the mind. Christianity rejects that view out of hand as nonsense. “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
But Christianity assumes that reality also includes the super-natural or extra-natural. God and the Logos exist prior to and apart from creation and are knowable in an incomplete but still meaningful way. Put differently, Christianity asserts that Truth is Truth, regardless of what the powerful may say. Robert Bolt wrote about this in A Man for All Seasons, where Thomas More, talking specifically about marriage, refuses to concede that Henry VIII’s marriage to Katherine of Aragon is null and void, even though the king has the power to declare it so and to behead More for disagreeing. More says rhetorically, “Some men think the Earth is round, others think it flat; it is a matter capable of question. But if it is flat, will the King’s command make it round? And if it is round, will the King’s command flatten it?”
I once put it this way in a legislative hearing. “A law declaring that marriage is between one man and one woman does not deny equal protection to same-sex couples any more than a law declaring that 2 + 2 = 4 denies equal protection to 5 and 6.”
Christian View of Marriage
Marriage as a Divinely Created Institution
Genesis establishes the Judeo-Christian view of marriage. God said, “Let us make man in our image. . . . [M]ale and female created he them” (Gen 1:26). The man and woman were each blessed by the other. “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him an help meet [or ‘appropriate’] for him” (Gen 2:18). And having created them, God said, “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” (Gen 1:26-28).
Thus marriage between one man and one woman is inherent in human nature, created by God for two complementary and inseparable purposes: (1) the happiness of the man and woman who comprise it, and (2) the production of children as the natural consequence of its most intimate expression. Marriage is not created by the state. It is only recognized and regulated by the state, if at all, in a manner consistent with its nature.
In sociological terms, this is the “conjugal” view of marriage. In most cases actually, and in all cases symbolically, marriage is not just about gratification of the partners and fulfillment of their psychological and physical needs. It is, inherently, also about the perpetuation of the race – the procreation of children and the fulfillment of their happiness and psychological and physical needs.
Holy Trinity (U.S. 1892)
The conjugal understanding of marriage existed in early American law as part of a general Christian world view. In 1892, in Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, federal authorities acting under federal immigration law prohibited an American church from hiring a pastor from England. Writing for the Supreme Court, Justice Brewer cited dozens of state constitutions, statutes, and court decisions invoking the Bible, the Trinity, and Christianity, and described them as a “mass of organic utterances that this is a Christian nation. . . .” Justice Brewer, therefore, concluded that the Free Exercise Clause protected Christianity, and Congress could not prohibit a Catholic Church from hiring Cardinal Manning, an Episcopal Church from hiring Canon Farrar, or a Baptist church from hiring Charles Haddon Spurgeon.
19th Century Case Law
Given that the United States was a Christian nation, the Christian view of marriage and its inherent purposes were also legal givens. Following are samples of dozens of early state law cases which explicitly track the nature of marriage and its purposes given in Genesis 1 and 2.
In Overseers of Poor of Town of Newbury v. Overseers of Poor of Town of Brunswick (Vt. 1829), the court observed that marriage is “one of the natural rights of human nature, . . . ordained by the great Lawgiver of the universe.”
In Gentry v. Fry (Mo. 1835), the court stated, “Bacon defines [marriage] to be: ‘a compact between a man and a woman for the procreation and education of children.’ Rutherford declares it: ‘a contract between a man and a woman . . . for the purposes of their mutual happiness and of the production and education of children.’ It requires . . . masculine and feminine . . . a man and a woman. Two men cannot make it. Two women cannot – only one man and one woman . . . [for] their mutual happiness, and the production of children . . . the propagation of the human species, and the happiness of man.”
In Baker v. Baker (Cal. 1859), the court noted the same two purposes: “Again, the first purpose of matrimony, by the laws of nature and society, is procreation. . . . The second purpose of matrimony is the promotion of the happiness of the parties by the society of each other.”
The courts also recognized that marriage was essential to the existence of society. In Stevenson v. Gray (Ky. App. 1856), the court explained that marriage is founded in nature, is ordained to perpetuate the human race, and is “the foundation not only of all social order and refinement, but of the continued existence of society and of nations.”
In the late 19th Century, the Supreme Court rejected the Mormons’ argument that the Free Exercise Clause entitled them to practice polygamy. Reynolds v. United States (1878), like the Kentucky court earlier, discussed that monogamous marriage – between one man and one woman for life – was vital in maintaining a free society, and that polygamy leads to despotism in societies that tolerate it. In other words, monogamy requires self-restraint and self-discipline, but polygamy, by sanctioning the habits of mind that a man can have whatever he wants and has the power to get, leads to tyranny.
In Davis v. Beason (1890), the Court declared that polygamy was not protected under the Free Exercise Clause because “the general consent of the Christian world in modern times” recognized it as a crime.
REALITY AND MARRIAGE: SECULARIST VIEW
Positivist, Naturalist Construct
In contrast to the Christian view of man created in God’s image, the naturalist necessarily conceives of man as an accident of nature bent on his own survival and gratification. Marriage is created, not by God, but by the powerful, for their own ends, as they see fit.
In sociological terms, this is the “relationship” view, in contrast to the “conjugal” view. In the “relationship” view, marriage is an instrumental construct of positive law, created to meet the needs of the partners, in which production and education of children for perpetuation of the race is an incidental, not essential, purpose.
Disestablishing the Foundations
In the 20th century, the relationship view of marriage largely displaced the Christian view of marriage in the law, an inevitable consequence of disestablishing the general Christian worldview on which marriage is grounded. In law and culture, it is always the foundations, the presuppositions, which erode first. Traditions like marriage stagger on for a time out of inertia, but once the rationale is gone, traditions and habits eventually collapse, because in the end, mere tradition is never a sufficient justification for anything.
In Lynch v. Donnelly (U.S., 1984) the Court noted that the Establishment Clause prohibited a Rhode Island town from displaying a crèche by itself at Christmas, because that might show special endorsement of Christianity. It was permissible to include it in a larger display with a wide variety of holiday claptrap, because that would show it only as part of America’s history, without endorsing religion generally or Christianity in particular.
Even that was too much for J. Brennan, who described in dissent the disestablishment of Christianity from American law that had long since taken place. “By insisting that such a distinctively sectarian message is merely an unobjectionable part of our ‘religious heritage,’ . . . the Court takes a long step backwards to the days when Justice Brewer could arrogantly declare . . . that ‘this is a Christian nation.’”
The recent “Intelligent Design” case, Kitzmiller v. Dover Area School District (Md. Pa., 2005), is a striking illustration of how far the concomitant disestablishment of Christianity and the substitution of secularism and scientific naturalism in its place have gone.
It is readily apparent . . . that the only attribute of design that biological systems appear to share with human artifacts is their complex appearance, i.e. if it looks complex or designed, it must have been designed. This inference to design based upon the appearance of a “purposeful arrangement of parts” is a completely subjective proposition, determined in the eye of each beholder and his/her viewpoint concerning the complexity of a system.
In essence, the judge declared, as a matter of Constitutional law, that while the inference is obvious from mere appearance that a two-car garage or a slice of toast was made by someone for some reason, it is impermissible to infer from appearance that a turnip or a frog or a person – or anything else biological – was also made by anyone, for any reason at all. In fact, the judge noted that the Establishment Clause requires the courts and public education to assume that there is not “anyone,” that there is not a reason or design (even if it looks that way) and that it violates the Constitution for any government agent to teach young people that such inferences may be permissible or rational.
20th Century Supreme Court Case Law
As the general Christian perspective in law was dis-established, the Christian view of marriage fell, too.
In Griswold v. Connecticut (U.S. 1965), a married couple challenged a state statute prohibiting the sale of contraceptives. The Supreme Court held the statute unconstitutional. It speaks volumes that only half a century ago, such laws were still common. At one point in our history, the American people and their governments understood that the connection between gratification and children was so essential to marriage and culture that they made it illegal to sell the means to intentionally break that connection. The Supreme Court, however, concluding itself wiser than the people, discovered in the Bill of Rights an unwritten right of “privacy,” which included the right to separate gratification from procreation. Besides the actual legal effect, the Court’s holding had a powerful symbolic effect, communicating to the nation that gratification alone was a sufficient justification for breaking the inter-generational covenant of procreation on which culture is based. The Court would no longer allow government to prohibit the intentional severance of the natural connection between act and consequence, gratification and responsibility, comfort and commitment, present and future, love and children. This is not an article about birth control, but it is important to have some idea of historic Christian understanding that children are inseparable from the very idea of love and marriage.
In Eisenstadt v. Baird (U.S. 1972), the Court affirmed its holding in Griswold, except this time, the plaintiffs were not even married. Far beyond Griswold, the Court sent the message that marriage was not essential and that individual gratification was more important than any social purpose that requiring the commitment of marriage as a precondition of sexual gratification or having children might serve.
In Roe v. Wade (U.S. 1973), the Court held that “privacy” includes the right to abortion. Beyond Griswold and Eisenstadt, “privacy” now included not only the right to sever the natural connection between gratification and responsibility and act and consequence, but also the right to destroy the consequences and avoid responsibility for them when they occur.
In Planned Parenthood v. Casey (U.S. 1992), the Court finally arrived where it was headed all along – the complete substitution of world views. In declaring that the right of “privacy” trumped all but the most limited regulation of abortion, Justice Kennedy wrote that “liberty” protected by the 14th Amendment includes “the right to define one’s own concept of existence, of meaning, of the universe, and of the mystery of human life.” Essentially, the Court said that because every mother has the right to define existence, life, meaning, and the universe for herself, not only can the king declare that the earth is flat, everyone else can, too. There is no fixed truth about whether an unborn child is a person or deserves legal protection simply because of its nature as a human being. The child is whatever its mother decides. And it will live or die depending upon that decision.
Finally, in Romer v. Evans (U.S. 1996) and Lawrence v. Texas. (U.S. 2003), the Supreme Court effectively treated homosexual acts, by which children are impossible, as having equal legal status with heterosexual acts, by which children are, actually or symbolically, inseparably connected.
20th Century State Courts
State supreme courts have taken the Supreme Court hand-off and run it to the logical end zone. Accepting that the essence of marriage is personal gratification and fulfillment, not responsibility or children, Massachusetts, Iowa and New Jersey supreme courts, among others, have declared that same-sex relationships are the legal equivalent of opposite-sex relationships.
Those decisions break the inter-generational covenant. They turn on its head the inviolable understanding that children need both mothers and fathers, and that mothers and fathers, being more mature and disciplined, will subordinate their own indulgences for the good of their children. They subordinate the child’s needs for mother and father to the adults’ needs for gratification with someone of their own sex.
This is what the Rosie O’Donnell interview argued several years ago, when she said she would explain to her son that he did not have the kind of mommy that needed a daddy. He had the kind of mommy that needed another mommy. In the ultimate infantile role-reversal, the parent no longer sacrifices and subordinates her needs to those of her child out of her love for him; she demands that the child sacrifice and subordinate his needs to those of his mother, out of her love for herself.
In Wisconsin, we are presently litigating the meaning of marriage in the case Appling v. Doyle. Despite the Wisconsin Defense of Marriage Amendment, Gov. Doyle and the legislature later enacted legislation under which same-sex couples become domestic partners in exactly the same way that opposite-sex couples become spouses. They apply for licenses, take oaths, have their licenses signed by civil officers, and file them in county offices, which then send them to the state registrar of vital statistics for recording in the same data-base as marriage records.
Why do we care about that? Because when the state gives what we call the imprimatur of official approval, or “secular sanctification,” to same-sex relationships in exactly the same way it approves and sanctifies marriage, it communicates to the public, and educates society to believe, that there is nothing unique about marriage, and that there is no essential difference between the two kinds of relationships. For example, several Wisconsin public schools that use life-skills games in their curricula are now instructing students to pick same-sex students to role play as their life partners.
Christian Education and Culture
In closing, why is a trustee writing not just about the Bible, but about history and philosophy and apologetics and law and sociology and language and literature and a half dozen other subjects?
There has been a good deal of discussion over the years about what kind of school Maranatha really is, because besides the training in Bible and ministry characteristic of a traditional Bible college, we offer a strong program in the liberal arts and sciences.
Are we a Bible college, or are we a liberal arts college? The answer to that question is an emphatic “Yes.”
Several years ago, the board revised the college mission statement. It currently states: The mission of Maranatha Baptist Bible College is to develop leaders for ministry in the local church and the world “To the Praise of His Glory.”
We included the phrase “and the world” because instead of an insular fortress mentality of withdrawing from life, hunkering down in a religious bunker, treating the church like a support group and Bible study like a personal growth seminar, coping and surviving while we wait for the rapture to rescue us, we as a board hope to inculcate a mission mentality, one of going into the highways and byways, engaging individuals and culture where you find them, conducting the battle on the enemy’s turf. If you like academic metaphors, we seek a mentality that is enriched and empowered, not debilitated, by what Augustinian scholarship and the social sciences call the “inward turn.”
The arts and sciences do not detract from ministry; they are complementary and essential to it. The term “liberal arts” has become somewhat of a decapitated idiom, a spontaneous lexical twitch. But it has a history, an etymology. From Alcuin’s seminal enterprise for Charlemagne, the trivium and the quadrivium were formalized by classical scholars as those studies which were appropriate and necessary for free men. The original Latin expression literally meant, “Arts befitting a free man.” As originally conceived, the liberal arts encompassed all of life, preparing scholars for leadership in theology, philosophy, law, culture, politics, and commercial enterprise.
A few months ago Dr. Marty Marriott, President of Maranatha Baptist Bible College and Seminary, gave me a copy of Robert Marsden’s Reforming Fundamentalism, which is a history of Fuller Seminary written against the broader backdrop of 20th century evangelicalism and fundamentalism. Near the end, Marsden writes that in the 70’s and 80’s, the seminary was engaged in struggles to break with the past, including “the effort to free itself from the dominance of ‘the mind of excellence,’” an effort that “involved a reappraisal of the role of the clergy.”
Marsden explains that Fuller was originally organized on the “Princeton” model, following “the American Puritan and Calvinist tradition [in which] the preacher was expected to be an intellectual leader of the community as well as a spiritual leader. The assumption was that intellect was one key to cultural and hence spiritual influence.” In that tradition, seminaries were to be “theological graduate schools, fostering the general enterprise of intellectual leadership.” But by the 1980s, “the once-conspicuous theological emphases were now overshadowed by programs for practicality and service.”
What does that mean? Regardless of Marsden’s characterization of Fuller in particular, American higher Christian education has drifted pedagogically from its Puritan origins, de-emphasizing over time the academic model and institutional expectation of preparing pastors and graduates for intellectual leadership in culture, not just the church. It means that while Christian colleges and universities were losing confidence, backing away from cultural leadership, competing secular viewpoints were replacing Christianity in law, education, government, the military, business, entertainment, media, communications, political parties, library boards, museums, arts councils, publishing houses – every conceivable social institution that molds thought and directs culture, burying even the memory of a Christian culture, changing what “normal” even feels like.
Why are we concerned with culture? As dispensational, premillennial Baptists, we do not accept old Princeton’s covenant theology, the replacement theology from which it came, nor the reconstruction theology to which it led. Notwithstanding, from a theological basis founded in texts like Matt 13:33 and 1 Cor 7:21, we do agree with the proposition that higher Christian education is about “fostering that general enterprise of intellectual leadership.”
The more culture rejects Biblical structure, the more it dishonors God and destroys the people within it. As our culture eradicates the mores and even the memory of Christianity, the church becomes less and less a base camp for teaching and training and staging to reach the lost, and becomes more and more a spiritual and psychological triage unit.
It is not my place as a board member to tell administration, faculty, or even students how specifically to think or exactly what to do. It is, however, a Board function to establish an institutional vision, to authorize programs designed to achieve it, and to encourage you to reflect on that vision and act accordingly.
I encourage you to seriously consider Maranatha’s mission statement. Without diminishing one whit the primacy of the local church, when you come to that phrase, “and the world,” then lift up your eyes, because the fields are white with harvest – a harvest that, but for the mercy of God, seems soon to perish in a cultural collapse, the likes of which the world has never seen.
Think about our mission. Pray and act accordingly. To the Praise of His Glory.
This article is based on a chapel message given April 13, 2012 at Maranatha Baptist Bible College, by alumnus Dr. Michael Dean. Dean is an attorney who litigates in defense of Christian liberties and the vice-chairman of Maranatha’s Board of Trustees. At the time of the chapel message, he was part of a legal team litigating the definition of marriage in Wisconsin. The closing remarks regarding Maranatha’s mission also appeared in the Maranatha Advantage, http://more.mbbc.edu/advantage/.
For more information on this conflict, see Thomas Sowell, The Conflict of Visions: Ideological Origins of Political Struggles (New York: Basic Books, 2007).
Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow, The Grand Design (New York: Bantam, 2010), 129.
An interesting study is the relationship between polygamy and despotism from David to Solomon to Rehoboam.