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John Piper:

cleveland-001-public-squareGod himself is the foundation for our commitment to a pluralistic democratic order—not because pluralism is his ultimate ideal, but because in a fallen world, legal coercion will not produce the kingdom of God. Christians agree to make room for non-Christian faiths (including naturalistic, materialistic faiths), not because commitment to God’s supremacy is unimportant, but because it must be voluntary, or it is worthless. 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). The fact that God establishes his kingdom through the supernatural miracle of faith, not firearms, means that Christians in this age will not endorse coercive governments—Christian or secular.

This is why we resist the coercive secularization implied in some laws that repress Christian activity in public places. It is not that we want to establish Christianity as the law of the land. That is intrinsically impossible, because of the spiritual nature of the kingdom. It is rather because repression of free exercise of religion and persuasion is as wrong against Christians as it is against secularists. We believe this tolerance is rooted in the very nature of the gospel of Christ. In one sense, tolerance is pragmatic: freedom and democracy seem to be the best political order humans have conceived. But for Christians it is not purely pragmatic: the spiritual, relational nature of God’s kingdom is the ground of our endorsement of pluralism, until Christ comes with rights and authority that we do not have.

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6 thoughts on “The God-Centered Ground for Making Room for Atheism in the Public Square”

  1. Doug Lundin says:

    Maybe I misunderstand, but it seems to me that the presupposition hidden in Rev. Piper’s article is that religion is private. Christians can believe what they want, atheists are free to believe what they want. But what happens when the atheist wants to live it out? Shall we simply acquiesce to abortion on demand, euthanasia, Same Sex marriage, transgenderism, Government welfare, compulsory government education, ad infinitum? Beliefs have consequences if they are real beliefs and not preferences. ONLY a Christian nation can be tolerant. Only a Christian government will be limited. So I think Rev. Piper unwittingly plays into the privatization of religion of the left. I respectfully disagree.

    1. Casey says:

      I don’t think that is Piper’s point at all. See the quote, “This is why we resist the coercive secularization implied in some laws that repress Christian activity in public places.” He is not saying we can’t fight for justice or worship in public ways – he is saying we must not think coerce unbelievers in their consciences regarding religious belief. That doesn’t mean there aren’t legal or policy issues we might disagree with secularists on and fight over.

  2. Doug says:

    The Lord emphatically commanded Israel to have no other gods before Him, and gave laws specifically to punish contrary expressions such as sorcery, witchcraft, or foreign god worship. Paul tells us, 1 Corinthians 10:11 “Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come.” Yet Piper says,

    “…repression of free exercise of religion and persuasion is as wrong against Christians as it is against secularists.”

    I would suggest Piper’s thought in this matter originated from Enlightenment philosophy, not Holy Writ.

    Also, Piper says,

    “…the spiritual, relational nature of God’s kingdom is the ground of our endorsement of pluralism, until Christ comes with rights and authority that we do not have.”

    Coercion is the function of government. Government has been given this authority by God. The threat of punishment, according to Romans 13, is meant to coerce persons intent on evil-doing to resist inflicting harm upon others. This can include restraining harmful actions that touch matters of religion. It may be un-American, but it is not un-Biblical. As Paul said, 1 Timothy 1:8-9 “But we know that the Law is good, if one uses it lawfully, realizing the fact that law is not made for a righteous person, but for those who are lawless and rebellious, for the ungodly and sinners, for the unholy and profane, for those who kill their fathers or mothers, for murderers.” Notice Paul included the religious categories “ungodly and sinners” and “unholy and profane.”

    The law cannot produce faith, but it can prevent contagion. We must not be so arrogant as to think that all the Christian governments of times past were so ignorant.

    1. The law was given to Israel, a covenant people. The NT continuity of this is the church, those who profess to be God’s covenanted people. We search in vain in OT and NT for a mandate to impose this law on a non-covenanted people. In fact, even the new covenant people are not in relationship to it as a covenant, though in fulfilment many of its principles find an application; adulterers are not put to death but put out of the church. I realise, of course, such an answer will not convince theonomists, however, I believe it expresses rudimentarily the salvation history theology of the Bible.

  3. Philmonomer says:

    God himself is the foundation for our commitment to a pluralistic democratic order—not because pluralism is his ultimate ideal, but because in a fallen world, legal coercion will not produce the kingdom of God.

    Does Piper believe that God may bring His wrath down on our country for its immorality (think Same Sex Marriage and abortion and other such things)? If the answer is yes (as I think it may be), then we should NOT have a pluralistic, democratic society, as that society may pass a lot of laws–behave in such a manner–that is incompatible with God’s desire for how humans are to live/behave.

    In this regard, we need legal coercion, not to produce the Kingdom, but to avoid destruction.

    1. Casey says:

      Legal coercion for matters of justice – yes (like abortion). But he is saying there is no justice in legally coercing/restraining the religious beliefs of people or their lack of them.

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Justin Taylor, PhD


Justin Taylor is executive vice president of book publishing and book publisher for Crossway and blogs at Between Two Worlds. You can follow him on Twitter.

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