Transcribed and edited by Jay Rogers
George Grant, PhD, DLit, is the director of the King’s Meadow Study Center, a regular columnist for both World and Table Talk magazines, the editorial director for Highland Books, and a teaching fellow at the Franklin Classical School. He is the author of some four dozen books in the areas of history, politics, biography, social issues and theology. He has studied political science at the University of Houston, theology at Midwestern Seminary, and literature and philosophy at Whitefield College and makes his home on a small farm in Tennessee with his wife, Karen, and their three children.
King’s Meadow Study Center
P.O. Box 1593
Franklin, TN 37065
*Question:*— Didn’t the Apostle Paul say that we are no longer under law but under grace? If so, then what is the use of the Law of God under the New Covenant?
George Grant: Christians have wrestled since the first century with the question of the two covenants, the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, the continuity between the two and where there may be discontinuity. Clearly, the Bible claims authority for every word, every “jot and tittle,” Jesus makes it clear that there is not one word of all of the Scriptures that has passed from authority or applicability in the life of the believer. So in that sense there is absolute continuity. The Apostle Paul wrote to his young disciple Timothy, “All of scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God might be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” There were no other Scriptures other than the Old Testament when the Apostle Paul wrote that. The Gospels had not yet been written. The letters were still in individual churches. The canon of the New Testament had not yet been assembled. The Apostle Paul clearly stated that the Old Testament is authoritative. In that sense there is no discontinuity.
In another sense, there is absolute discontinuity for we have a new and better covenant in Jesus Christ. The cross of Jesus Christ is the focal point upon which all of history turns. Through the cross we see both the New and Old Covenant in a totally new light. The Old Testament and its standards are by no means abrogated. Yet they are transformed by the grace and mercy of God. It works like this: The law of God is the tutor or schoolmaster that leads us to Jesus Christ. In Christ and by His grace and mercy alone we have the power to live before God righteously with the cloak of Christ’s perfection draped across our shoulders.
The Westminster Confession divides the Old Testament law up into the civil law, the moral law and the ceremonial law. We today do not sacrifice cows or lambs as payment for our sin, because we have had a greater and more perfect sacrifice in Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God. It is helpful to make these distinctions. At the same time, those laws are so intertwined that they are difficult to separate. Sometimes there are all three in a single sentence. You have to do some real exegetical gymnastics to get them all pried apart from one another.
Some of the Old Testament Law is easily applied to our time. Thou shalt not steal. There is no place in the New Testament that says that bestiality is a sin. Yet there is hardly a Christian who would not say that sexual relations with an animal is perverse and wicked and a denial off God’s standards of righteousness for the believer. We have to take the cross — the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ and bring that lens to all of the Law — moral, ceremonial and civil — and see the application of those things to our day. We cannot take a cafeteria style approach and start picking and choosing which parts of God’s Word we apply and which parts we do not.
*Question:*— Can we really legislate the biblical standards of morality on non-Christians? The non-Christian doesn’t even believe in the Bible, so how can we even talk about building a society based on the Law of God?
George Grant: When people say, “You Can’t Legislate Morality,” they are ignoring the very nature of legislation itself. Legislation is merely the codification and law of someone’s standard of morality. This is right and this is wrong. If you violate these standards, you will get in trouble. If you adhere to these standards you’ll be safe. The whole thing is a logical fallacy. If you can’t legislate morality, then you can’t legislate.
The Bible says: Thou shalt not steal. Whether we believe the Ten Commandments or not, in our culture we adhere to this absolute that taking someone else’s property is wrong. We didn’t come up with that idea ourselves. It is drawn out of the biblical standard that was the bulwark of our culture. The same thing is true with — Thou shalt not kill – it’s one of the Ten Commandments. It’s not something that the Supreme Court or the framers of the Constitution came up with.
Now there are those who say there are no moral absolutes. There are those humanists who say that man is the center of the universe. That man can decide all things. But that is not a workable philosophy. There always must be some absolute to which we adhere. We do it, whether we do it consciously or not in modern America even with all the assaults of the humanists. And when we stray from those standards it is inevitable that we get into trouble. It’s one of the reasons why there is so much confusion and disarray in our culture today. Nobody really knows what is right. Companies don’t know what standards to uphold in their hiring and firing practices. In the end if you don’t adhere to the Ten Commandments, you’re going to have a philosophy that is all over the map.
G.K Chesterton said: “If a man will not obey the Ten Commandments, he will be forced to obey the ten thousand commandments.” We live in a society with thousands of rules and regulations pouring in upon us, because we refuse to repair to that one simple straightforward standard, the standard God has given us in His law.
When the Founding Fathers drew on the biblical standard for absolutism in law, they made statements like, everyone of us has the God given right to life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. In humanist societies like Nazi Germany, there is nowhere to draw the line between what is and what is not human, what is and what is not an appropriate action for a government to take, what is and what is not proper retribution. You wind up with concentration camps, medical experiments, the destruction and genocide of whole people groups. Ultimately, without absolute standards, we are left at the mercy of the strong, the powerful and the perverse.
*Question:*— How did Christian philosophy influence our form of civil government?
George Grant: The words covenant, compact and constitution are all closely related terms. They are all derived from one another, covenant being the foundation, compact being the fruit, and then constitution being the declaration of covenant to a broader body. There is in the American Constitution the idea of democracy in the House of Representatives. The people were to gather together as they did in the day of Moses and appoint those who would represent them in groups of fifties, hundreds, thousands and so forth. The Senate is a covenantal body that was to be elected from out of the state legislatures. This is a type of oligarchy. The executive and judicial branches are a form of aristocracy or even monarchy derived from biblical precedents of the king and the heads of the families.
Episcopalian, Congregational and Presbyterian forms of government reflect the diversity of authorities of both the Old and the New Testaments and the Founding Fathers sought to mirror that rule. Congregational rule is a kind of democracy, a bottom up affirming of natural leadership from within the congregation. Episcopal forms of government are appointive, along the lines of a monarch. Presbyterian forms are representative. The Founding Fathers drew on all of these as they attempted to create constitutional standards for this country.
Reformational thought and Puritan thought has influenced our form of government and the nature of our culture in every way imaginable. The way in which we present our debates: the rules are ordered according to the standards of church councils and general assemblies. Robert’s Rules of Order emerged from Puritan ethics. The architecture of our public buildings and the invocation of prayer at the beginning and end of every session of our legislature are derived from Reformational and Puritan thought, life, culture and practice.
*Question:*— Were the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution drafted to uphold the moral laws of God — or were they Deistic humanist documents? If they were Christian documents, where have we gone so far off track?
George Grant: King George was appalled at the American Revolution, not because he saw that there were colonists who were rebelling against the rule of parliament, but because he saw the covenantal implications. He called it the “Presbyterian Parson’s Rebellion.” He saw it as a continuation of the Scottish rebellion against his father some twenty years prior in which the covenanters rose up and established certain standards against which the king could not act. In other words, they were saying that there is but one Christ and Savior who wears the crown of all authority over all the nations of the earth. There is but one King of kings and Lord of lords. The king of Great Britain didn’t much like that notion. He thought that he had a divine right to rule. The American Revolution was drawn from covenantal concepts that held the king in check and required action for justice when the king stepped beyond his bounds.
A number of the Founding Fathers were influenced by Enlightenment ideas – ideas that ultimately came to be known as Deism or Unitarianism. Many were free thinkers. Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson were examples of these men. They demonstrated the fruit of their free thought in their private lives. But in their public demeanor they were gloriously inconsistent. Benjamin Franklin was best known in the Constitutional Convention for calling for prayer that divine providence would guide all the proceedings of that great assembly. Thomas Jefferson read the Bible every day, even if he only read portions of it as he was wont to do.
The fact is that the Founding Fathers lived in an inescapably Christian culture. And though they were not perfect men and though they did not always have their theology buttoned up and sewn up tight, they were men who lived in the midst of a Christian culture and reflected that Christian culture in much of their thinking. Even the most profligate of the unbelievers, Franklin, was deeply engaged in the theological debates of the day. The great evangelist, George Whitefield, was one of Benjamin Franklin’s best friends and was constantly engaging Franklin in thinking through the implications of the Gospel. Deism was a seed thought that filtered into the proceedings and thinking of the Founding Fathers. But Christianity was the cultural backdrop, it was inescapable for them and the Christian capital that we have inherited 200 years later even this far away from them is evident.
The Founding Fathers wanted to have it both ways. They wanted all the fruit of Christianity without confessing its root. Ultimately, that sowed seeds that in many generations to come would bring about a bitter harvest. To be honest, we have to look at the Founding Fathers and see grave mistakes. The Constitution begins with startling words to come out of a Christian environment, “We the People,” rather than under God. They readily confessed their Enlightenment roots. There are problems with our Founding Fathers and with their thought. But they were not a contradistinction to the great Christian heritage of the west. They embraced and affirmed it, often times unconsciously, but nevertheless constantly in all that they did and all that they said and all that they passed on to us.
*Question:*— What about the idea that the government should be neutral and should recognize that we live in a democratic, pluralistic society?
George Grant: There is a very strong, powerful religious left in America. It is odd that people would bemoan and bewail the influence of prominent evangelicals in the market place of ideas. We never seem to hear complaints about the Rev. Jesse Jackson and others from a more liberal perspective. The fact is that people of faith have things to say in the public arena. To exclude one or another because of an ideological bias is absurd and ultimately undercuts the argument of liberalism and humanism.
All through the Scriptures we see that one of the first impulses of a flagrant sin manifested in a culture is to find a justification for it in the Church or among religious leaders. We see among the minor prophets, they were chided for not coming alongside the violators of the standards of justice and blessing them. Sinners are always looking for chaplains for their sin. So today, the advocates for abortion on demand, homosexual rights, for the transformation of our culture into a secular paradise, are always beckoning for the religious to come alongside and bless their efforts.
One of the great prophets of humanism at the beginning of this century was the science fiction writer H.G. Well who wrote a book called, The Future of The World, in which he portrayed the scientist as a priest of a new religion. There is one quote that Wells uses: “The philosopher kings of the new age of science will elicit from a people worship, and that worship will lead us to a utopia.” Here is a man of science using inherently religious language to try and bring about some type of societal reconstruction with the religion of humanism.
So many of the blessings that humanists enjoy are the fruit of the Christian faith. We would not have a free market economy and the prosperity we have today were it not for the biblical principles of economics practiced and adhered to in the early centuries and the founding of western civilization. Science, technology, medicine are the direct fruits of Christian principles applied. There were no hospitals in ancient world. This was the ministry of a local church in Caesarea. Non-ambulatory medical care grew out of the concern for the poor, afflicted, despised and rejected. So much of what we appreciate and enjoy in Western civilization, what the humanist takes for granted, is really the fruit of Christianity. Our art, music, literature and architecture are all the fruit of Christian principles. Even when humanists go on modern crusades – battles against in tolerance, battles to save the environment – each one of these grows out of a Christian concern for stewardship and justice. Even the hobbyhorses of the humanists and those who would despise Christianity in our day are derived directly out of Christian principles.
*Question:*— n a Christian republic based on biblical law, would non-Christian religions be banned or would they have as much freedom as they have now.
George Grant: Inevitably, cultures are an expression of the values of a people. The values are drawn out of traditions and habits and language of a people. A culture is a legacy of faith. You can’t get around that at all. Cultures that attempt to get around that are just cultures in transition from one faith to another. Culture is a manifestation of faith. G.K. Chesterton said, “A culture is the accumulation of ritual, traditions symbols and habits. Those things which grow out of a people’s perception of what matters most. In other words, a culture is a legacy of faith.”
Because culture is drawn out of the word cult, as T.S. Eliot says, the manifestations that we have in society, the way we relate to each other, the way we do business, the way we transact our regular rituals in community, are necessarily drawn from cult or from faith.
Religion is an inescapable concept. Everyone worships someone or something. When people start talking about some humanistic values, or putting man at the center of all things, they have turned the worship of God into a worship of self. As a result, they have propounded this notion that we are all gods and sovereign over our sphere of influence. History demonstrates that when man thinks he is in control, those are the times when society is the most out of control. Today, we have more consistently applied the religion of humanism than in any time in history and look at what it has wrought! What a societal mess it has made! Humanism is an utter and complete failure, precisely because man’s actions are so arbitrary and ultimately so cruel. Humanism is a failure because we have made a god out of a creature rather than the Creator.
*Question:*— But wouldn’t a Christian Republic run according to God’s Law become oppressive to non-Christians?
George Grant: When we start to pick and choose which Old Testament laws we will adhere to and which ones we won’t, we ultimately set ourselves up as judges over God and over all of history. If we start to pick and choose which parts of the Old Testament Law we like and which parts we think are judgmental and which parts are helpful, we have established man as the ultimate standard, the ultimate arbiter of all of law. That means we are ultimately vulnerable to whoever is in power, whoever has control, whoever is able to wield the most authority in the society. That puts us in a very vulnerable state.
I would much rather be judged by God than by a man who I do not know. I would much rather be judged by the merciful, loving Creator of heaven and earth than by an accumulation of men, however wise they may be, and no matter how educated they may be. The foolishness of Christians in our day to negate God’s law in favor of politics is absolutely frightening. What we are saying is that we would prefer man-made law over God. Didn’t we see enough of that with Hitler and the tyrants of the world?
In the history of the world, societies that adhere to biblical principles are always the most free — economically, socially, culturally, racially — if we want freedom, opt for the freedom giving, liberty giving standards of Almighty God. If on the other hand, you like the standard of Stalinism, Leninism, Nazism, or Maoism, then go ahead and walk down the path of the wisdom of the 51 percent, the wisdom that flows out of the barrel of a gun.