The debate over whether America is a “Christian nation” has been raging for decades. On the one hand you have those who claim the founders were deists, and that the ideals that sparked the American Revolution were as secular as those that drove the French Revolution.
From this perspective, our best bet would be to keep religious views out of the public square and maintain a radical separation of church and state.
On the other hand, some Christians paint most or all of the American founding fathers as evangelical Christians, who sensed a call from God to establish a Christian nation, a new “city on the hill.” Certainly, many founders did take their personal faith in Jesus Christ seriously; but others like Jefferson and Franklin certainly did not. In fact they expressed views that were far from orthodox.
So what’s the truth? I think my friend Os Guinness offers terrific clarity in his new book A Free People’s Suicide: Sustainable Freedom and the American Future. Friends, I simply cannot overstate how important this book is at this moment in our history.
In the book, Os points out that revolutions are not rare in the history of nations, nor is the pursuit of freedom. History tells plenty of stories about how freedom is won through revolution. But what made the American experiment unique is not that freedom was won, but that the founders provided a formula for how freedom could be sustained.
Sustaining freedom, according to Os, is incredibly rare because freedom is its own worst enemy. James Madison observed that, “Liberty may be endangered by the abuses of liberty as well as the abuses of power.” Think about it: The risk of freedom is that when freedom is achieved, it often leads to a sense of entitlement, justifying whatever lifestyle choices we want to enjoy. Unbridled license undermines liberty.
And as Chuck Colson often pointed out, the loss of virtue is the greatest threat to freedom.
The American founders, for the most part, shared the Judeo-Christian understanding of human nature, that man, the most creative and intelligent of creatures, is also fallible; he possesses an insatiable appetite for power. So the founders offered a recipe for sustaining freedom based on an accurate understanding of fallen human nature.
In A Free People’s Suicide, Os Guinness calls this recipe “The Golden Triangle of Freedom.” The critical thing we must understand, Guinness says, is that the three truths that make up this triangle — freedom, virtue and faith — are interdependent.
In other words, freedom requires virtue. Virtue requires faith. And faith requires freedom. If freedom, virtue or faith cease to be central to the American way of life, the most radical and effective experiment in self-government in the history of the world will fail.
That’s why we care so deeply about the HHS mandate, or the Chick-fil-A fiasco, because they reflect the cultural and political trend to push faith from the center of our public life.
Please take the arguments of this book by my friend Os Guinness seriously. And please get a copy of this book. We have it for you at our online bookstore. And whether you listen by radio or at BreakPoint.org, please do not miss BreakPoint this Week when I join my colleague John Stonestreet for an in-depth conversation with Os Guinness himself about his terrific new book A Free People’s Suicide.