The Christian and American Law: Christianity's Impact on America's Founding Documents and Future Direction
By H. Wayne House, ed.
Reviewed by Dr. Dennis Swanson
10.2 (Fall 1999) : 303-304
The relationship between Christianity as a religion and the civil government of the United States is one of constant turmoil, high emotion, and seemingly endless litigation in the court system. In this book the editor (himself a professor of both theology and law) has brought together a series of essays by lawyers and theologians discussing some of the most pertinent issues in the current discussion. In the introduction House states that “the American experiment was built on the acceptance of law from two sources, both reflecting adherence to divine law. The first was the law of nature, generally known as natural law. The second was the law of Scripture” (9). He then points out, “[A]t the heart of America’s constitutional government lies a third source: the common law tradition” (ibid.). The articles arise from a series of lectures given at the 1993 National Association of Evangelicals meeting. The essays examine “the past influence of Christianity on the laws, determined ways in which Christians should relate to current laws, and proposed ways Christians might influence future law s” (11).
This book is not for the faint of heart. The reading is often ponderous, and those who have not waded through legal briefs and tightly wound argumentation may very w ell abandon the effort. However, that would be to their detriment as the various essays contain a wealth of well thought out and, for the most part, well articulated positions on the various issues of the Christian’s relationship to civil authorities. Herbert W. Titus’ introductory chapter, “God’s Revelation: Foundation for the Common Law,” is an excellent presentation of the place of Christian theology in relation to the formulation of America’s civil law. He convincingly demonstrates that “America’s founding fathers embraced a philosophy of law and government explicitly based on God’s revelation in nature and the Holy Scriptures” (41). Other noteworthy chapters are John Eidsmoe’s “Operation Josiah: Rediscovering the Biblical Roots of the American Constitutional Republic,” D. F. Kelly’s “The Religious Roots of Western Liberty: Cut Them or Renew Them?” and Edmund Clowny’s “The Kingdom, The Church, and the Gospel in an Age of Pluralism.”
A couple of the essays are disappointing. The chapter on “The Abiding Value of Biblical Law” is far too brief to cover the issues adequately, and the author’s use of “law” as it relates to the OT seems overly broad. The editor’s own chapter on civil disobedience will likely strike many as running headlong into Romans 13 and 1 Pet 2:13-17.
At the end of the book there is a “Summary Statement” signed by the participants in the conference and introduced in the book by Carl F. H. Henry.
This book is recommended as a balanced and thorough discussion of issues that currently are engaging many areas of theological, judicial, and legislative thought and action. It will be especially helpful to pastors and other church leaders who are thinking through these issues, as the call to political action by Christians becomes more fervent with the approaching national elections.