Guest / Limited Access /
President Clinton shocked many Christians last year when he started quoting from and recommending Yale Law School professor Stephen Carter's Culture of Disbelief. Carter's much-discussed book protests how secular academics, journalists, activists, and arts people are biased against anyone who takes a public position based on religious convictions, seeing them as "dangerous fanatics" who threaten the wall of separation between church and state.

Whether or not the President's comments will make it easier for Christians to express religious convictions in the public square, some Christians have been bravely doing just that for some time. But when they try to reflect on this experience and construct a "public theology" (that is, a systematic understanding of how to relate faith to public issues), they run into a problem. The history of American evangelicalism is littered with many theories of private morality but very few plans for public action explicitly and systematically grounded in Christian principles.

As historian Mark Noll has pointed out, American evangelicals have tended to act first and think later. It is no wonder that most of those doing public theology are outside evangelical circles. Yet one forebear of the evangelical tradition thought long and hard about the world outside the church, and his thinking on this subject is a rich resource for those trying to relate their faith to today's public issues.

Jonathan Edwards (1703-58) is widely recognized as the greatest theologian this continent has ever produced. As a key figure in the religious life of colonial America, Edwards was a multifaceted thinker whose total catalog of ideas is still being discovered.

Many evangelicals think of Edwards as a stern Puritan preacher ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Support Christian thought journalism. Donate to our nonprofit ministry today.
Tags:
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Current IssueChristians, Retreating Isn't a Failure of Nerve
Subscriber Access Only Christians, Retreating Isn't a Failure of Nerve
We need a tactical withdrawal to regroup the church for the days ahead.
RecommendedThe Real History of the Crusades
Subscriber Access Only
The Real History of the Crusades
A series of holy wars against Islam led by power-mad popes and fought by religious fanatics? Think again.
TrendingAll 240 Family Christian Stores Are Closing
All 240 Family Christian Stores Are Closing
More than 3,000 employees in 36 states will be laid off in the liquidation of one of the world’s largest Christian retailers.
Editor's PickMy Missionary Great-Grandfather Led Me to Christ
My Missionary Great-Grandfather Led Me to Christ
But only after I went to Japan in search of his life story.
Christianity Today
What Jonathan Edwards Can Teach Us About Politics
hide thisAccess The Archives

In the Archives

July 2001

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.