By Dr. Marshall Foster
The power elite in America today give little heed to the spiritual temperature of our nation when addressing the state of our nation. To listen to their claims of what they have done through government, it would appear that our future rests on great secular leaders who can organize and inspire the masses. But for those willing to hear, the theological state of our nation is of far more lasting importance than the secular analysis of those in the spotlight.
When the founders of mighty nations are discussed, many different names come to mind. Alexander the Great, Caesar, William Wallace, or Charlemagne, perhaps. Or maybe Oliver Cromwell, Napoleon, or George Washington. Conquerors and generals, politicians and potentates would seem to take center stage when nations rise to greatness. But, in truth, the most powerful historical figures in the flowering of the world’s freest and richest nations have been Christian theologians and missionaries.
Matthew Henry, the premier Bible commentator of America’s colonial era stated it clearly: “The mighty heroes of the world … conquered nations for themselves and made them miserable; the apostles conquered them for Christ and made them happy.” To the student of Christian history the above observation is not a surprise. But to a generation largely unaware of any significant, culturally relevant theologians this truth is difficult to believe.
The fact is that the nation transforming power of theology has been pervasive throughout history. For example, who brought hope and order out of a collapsing Roman Empire? The answer is the great theologian, Augustine of Hippo. And who united Ireland in the fifth century, making it a Christian nation? It was Saint Patrick who brought truth and Christian civilization to this heathen horde. Who gave the semi-pagan Angles and Saxons their unifying identity as Englishmen? The quiet scholar, the Venerable Bede, forged their united Christian identity as a people. Who virtually created the nation of Germany and developed her modern language through his Bible translation? The reformer and theologian, Martin Luther, has that distinction. Who was the forgotten founder and guiding inspiration of the leading free and prosperous governments of the world? This nation builder was the theologian, John Calvin. Who freed Scotland from popish tyranny and clannish barbarism? The theologian and preacher, John Knox, united his people under Christ. Who was the theological bulwark of the English Civil War and Oliver Cromwell’s constant mentor? The foremost Puritan theologian, John Owen, aggressively applied his great mind to give the people of England the biblical rationale for resistance to tyranny and a heart for liberty. Who was considered the greatest intellect in colonial America and the one who unified the people’s thinking, setting the stage for independence? The theologian and leader of the Great Awakening, Jonathan Edwards, was that individual.
The truth is that the study of God as revealed in the Bible and the application of this study to people and cultures is the determining factor in the rise and fall of nations. Politicians and military leaders enter the scene late with their parts already orchestrated by the theologians that have come before, setting the worldview of the people and their leaders.
If the theology of a people is strong, biblical and central to life as it was in early America, then tyrants are restrained. In contrast, if a people’s theology is weak, in other words if their view of God is distorted, then they become easily misled and eventually enslaved.
As Americans contemplate the State of the Union at this time, it is vital to focus on the two hundred year decline in our nation’s theology. Spiritual perspective is pivotal when analyzing a nation’s history because a people’s theology (study of God) determines their view of man, which determines their view of government, the sanctity of life, and so on.
Marshall Foster is the founder of The Mayflower Institute.