We hear a lot recently about Christians in America being persecuted. But most of that is an exaggeration. A coffee company which has never claimed to be based on and operated by Christian principles not having Christian symbols on its cups at Christmas time is hardly persecution. We also hear a lot about separation of church and state, or that in this age of political correctness and tolerance, that Christianity is the only religion which is not being tolerated. The First Amendment gets talked about a lot. Anyone can express their thoughts about Christianity and it's freedom of speech, but when a Christian dares express Christian belief or worldview, it seems to get labeled as a hate crime. All in all there is a lot of confusion about what the founding fathers had in mind; and we don't have a time machine, so we can't go back and ask them to explain themselves. Is this a "Christian nation"? Did they intend freedom of religion, or freedom from it? How involved should the Christina Church or any other religion be involved in setting policy at the state or federal level. How involved should government be in religious affairs. Can or should religious organizations be exempted from certain laws or rules, based on religious beliefs and practices? And those are just a few of the questions that everyday Americans, on both sides of the issues, are dealing with on a regular basis.
Are there answers that will satisfy everybody? Absolutely not. But scholars try to clarify the issues. They look at where the freedoms started and where we are now. And they look ahead to what the future holds. The second edition of First Freedom: The Beginning and End of Religious Liberty ( Jason G. Duesing, Thomas White, and Malcolm B. Yarnell III, B&H Academic, 2016) is a collection of essays by noted voices in the field, addressing the religious First Freedom, where it started, where it is, and where it's heading.
Duesing's essay on the beginning of religious liberty opens the book, and he opens his writing by addressing Thomas Jefferson's phrase "a wall of separation between church and state." Duesing writes, "And if Jefferson did not have a full grasp of his intended meaning, the subsequent generations have labored to supply it for him--but without unanimity." And we continue to see that lack of unanimity even, and especially today.
The book is divided into 3 parts, starting with a historical overview of American politics and religion. Next is "Religious Doctrine 101, covering Christian doctrine of Religious liberty, religious liberty and the gospel, and religious liberty in the Public Square. The final section addresses contemporary challenges to Religious Liberty.
Although Parts I and II give a lot of information, for the most part it's historical, and provides some of the necessary background for the challenges discussed in Part III. Challenges including the Sexual Revolution, Christian Universities, and international law, and what is happening in Majority-Muslim countries and how that might affect us here.
So is the End of Religious Freedom near? Is it already here? The book ends with an answer to that too. The end of Religious Freedom was foretold a couple of thousand years ago. Read the book of Revelation. Read Jesus' promises in the Gospels and in the Book of Acts. For the Christian there is hope. But beyond that there is the knowledge that one day religious liberty, religious freedom, freedom of religion and freedom from religion as we know them will all end. Scripture tells us that one day every knee will bow, and every tongue confess Jesus as Lord. For some of us that will be a happy, joyous day, for others, it will be the beginning of a new religious regime. Everyone will acknowledge the true religion, the One True God, and His rule will be supreme in the new creation, the New Jerusalem.
This is a book written by scholars and theologians--noted voices in their field. It is written for what I perceive to be a limited audience. That audience being Theologians, scholars, and a probably highly underrepresented population: Christian leaders. With the laity questioning what is happening to their church and their religion, with a generation of people growing up without church, light on religion, but heavy on opinions fueled by misinformation, leaders need this book.
My desire is that this information could be presented in a way that would make sense to the members of American congregations, those people who are questioning, but don't have the background or the patience to read scholarly works.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for my review.