To get me started, I'd like to respond to comments Jonathan posted in reply to a column I wrote recently for the Acton Institute, "Christianity and the History of Freedom." (Scroll down to view Jonathan's comments.)
"Christ came to set captives free, the scriptures say."I agree with the gist of this objection, as well as with the content of the citation from Robert Kraynak that follows it. My excuse is that of the op-ed writer: I couldn't say everything in 700 words and so had to limit my discussion of this point to an admittedly inadequate mention of "internal" freedom.
Arguably your contextual use of this scripture distorts its meaning pretty significantly. This has nothing to do with political liberty or abolishing chattel slavery; rather it means freedom from sin or sin's consequences (however you want to put it). One can be both a chattel slave and "free" in Christ at the same time.
With that said, I don't agree that Christ's liberation from sin and death has "nothing to do" with other connotations of liberty, such as slavery and political freedom. Christ's life and teaching had many ramifications, including the gradual working out of freedom in political, economic, and social spheres. If not, then it is hard to explain, for example, the teachings of recent popes that slavery and political oppression violate the gospel message. One would have to argue that these teachings are illegitimate developments of the Christian moral tradition, lifted instead from some other secular or religious source. Some so argue, but I don't buy it.
A complementary way of understanding the issue is provided by a Reformed colleague, Jordan Ballor:
To put it overly simply, the Reformed tradition in particular points to texts precisely like the one you cite, and others (e.g. "if the Son sets you free, you shall be free indeed," John 8:36), in the immediate context of questions on free choice (liberum arbitrium), and define it in such a way that by what we might call "conversion" or "regeneration" the faculty of the will is renewed so that it becomes able not to sin, or to do "Christian" good. A clear external result of what might be called a purely "inner" freedom is that the external yoke of the civil law need not necessarily be so strict or punitive as it would otherwise with a populace made up wholly of the unregenerate...clearing the way for a political ethic that takes into account a religiously and morally formed populace that can be freed from certain aspects of external constraint.Jon wrote:
I'm one of those people who argues that the Constitution and Declaration are not for the most part based on "Christian principles" and it is indeed the case that not all of the Founders were Christians and the God they invoked arguably was not the Biblical God. As you can see, I'm pretty skeptical of the "Christian America" claim and have done a pretty thorough job (after, of course, more distinguished scholars) debunking Protestant fundamentalists who make this claim and am interested in engaging Catholic scholars as well.The term "Christian America" is indeed problematic, though it can be accurate if understood in a certain way. I will no doubt have the chance to expand on my views of this point in the future, so I'll leave it at that for now.
Unquestionably the founders were a diverse group, some of whose views were certainly heterodox with respect to traditional Christian doctrine. The key point to make about the Founding is that all such events, spanning years and encompassing millions of people, can legitimately mean various things to various people. Anti-Catholicism was a powerful impetus to the Revolution for many patriots, but I doubt that it is what motivated Charles Carroll.
I attended the premiere of the Acton Institute's "A Birth of Freedom" in DC and was one of the first question askers (I noted how the American and French Revolutions were thought of at the time as parallel ideological events).It is true that some observers in America and elsewhere, such as Thomas Jefferson, viewed the two revolutions as "parallel ideological events." But other perceptive observers, such as Edmund Burke, did not. The interpretation of both revolutions was contentious at the time and has remained so ever since.
Again, thank you for the opportunity; I look forward to continuing the conversation.