Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone
Posted: Thursday, February 4, 2010 1:56 pm
The Messenger, February 4, 2010
By JUSTIN WESTMORELAND
Special to The Messenger
How are Christians to live in modern America? Christianity is largely marginalized in the media and in academia. With enlightenment ideals, humanism, naturalistic evolutionary philosophies, hedonism and moral relativity framing the thoughts of many, Christians live in a free market of religious pluralism in which government is committed to neither establishing nor abolishing any one faith.
How then should Christians engage the culture? Should we retreat inside holy huddles? Should our youth be sheltered in their education from influences antagonistic to Christianity? Should Christians read books, watch movies and listen to music made by unbelievers? Should Christians establish exclusively Christian coffee shops, colleges and companies?
John Witherspoon (1723-94), whose family tree includes both the fireball Scottish reformer John Knox (known for Presbyterianism) and adorable thespian Reece Witherspoon (Elle Woods in “Legally Blonde” and June Carter Cash in “Walk the Line”), worked out a biblical view of Christian cultural engagement as he rubbed shoulders with pagans in the founding of this “One Republic, Under God.”
John Witherspoon was a reformed Christian minister in Scotland who came to America to serve as president of Princeton College in 1768. Because of his political convictions and perhaps his Scottish cultural disdain for the throne in England, he quickly became an integral part of the revolution. He is the second from the right on the front row seated facing the table in the famous painting of the signing of the Declaration of Independence.
Witherspoon was a builder, not of cathedrals, but of structured, ordered thinking and a life of service and sacrifice. In both church and society his example and theology left a legacy. From his work with students at Princeton came 37 judges (including three Supreme Court justices), 10 cabinet officers, 12 members of the Continental Congress, 28 U.S. senators and 49 United States congressmen, Vice President Aaron Burr and President James Madison. As for his influence on the church, when the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America met in 1789, 52 of the 188 delegates had studied under Witherspoon.
Rather than retreating from the world and hiding his “lamp under a bowl,” Witherspoon worked with deist and non-religious folk alike, winning over such notables as Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and John Adams. Rather than relying on grand programs or events to transform the culture, his Christ-like instincts caused Witherspoon to spend valuable time with younger people, listening to them and asking questions.
Witherspoon, unlike Jefferson and others, didn’t view Jesus as merely a man of virtue or an ethical teacher, but as having both full humanity and full divinity in His one person. When he preached in church, Witherspoon’s theology was rigidly orthodox, calling all to trust in the atonement of Jesus Christ which satisfies God’s wrath against sinners. He didn’t dumb down his theology in order to “reach” outsiders in his ministry. He also didn’t water down Christianity by confusing people in the public sphere into thinking that being a Christian meant being nice people who drink tea together inside a private commune. Witherspoon believed that Christians are “in the world, but not of the world.” They serve a King of Grace, the Almighty who stoops down to rescue rebellious sinners.
Theology led this man to properly live his faith as he tended his garden. He trusted that God will work through His church as it preaches and prays, while Monday-Saturday he built one of the finest secular universities in the world, served in Congress and sailed across the ocean in diplomacy. If only we believed that God will not lose any of His people to the world of competing gods, then we all could be of more use to Him. We could, like Witherspoon, boldly work alongside people outside of our bubbles. I don’t know many congressmen, powerful judges or presidents, but I do know that God created all men by His grace and for His glory. Learn from history — tend your garden, and love the children and outsiders in your world.
Editor’s note: Justin Westmoreland is campus minister for Reformed University Fellowship at the University of Tennessee at Martin. He, his wife Meredith, and their three children – Knox, Owen and Grace — attend Grace Community Church in Union City.
Soli Deo Gloria: For the Glory of God Alone