Every Monday in Citizenship Confusion, Alan Noble discusses how we confuse our heavenly citizenship with citizenship to the state, culture, and the world.

Last week, The New Yorker published an article by Ryan Lizza which revealed the “exotic influences on [Michele Bachmann’s] thinking.” One of those influences was Frances Schaeffer and another was Nancy Pearcey, a student of Schaeffer’s. While I am no fan of Bachmann politically, it is fairly obvious that this New Yorker article is a “hack job.”

Joe Carter, over at First Things, calls attention to the number of the articles journalistic flaws. Barry Hankins, a top Schaeffer scholar, focused on Lizza’s profound misrepresentation of Schaeffer in the article. But perhaps the most interesting response comes from one of Bachmann’s “exotic influences,” Nancy Pearcey:

“Lizza writes as though anyone who applies Christianity to all of life is a dangerous extremist.” There are only a few passages in the New Yorker article which might imply this view of Christianity, but in an NPR interview, Lizza seems to clarify the danger of Christianity as taught by Schaeffer and Pearcey (among others) by pointing out its “key thing”: “[Nancy Pearcey’s book] is in line with the Schaeffer-ite view of taking your Christian faith and making sure that it permeates all parts of your life. The key thing here is Christians should not just be go-to-church-on-Sunday Christians. Their religion should permeate all aspects of life.”

There is an important point here that Christians must take note of: secularism can only tolerate Christianity if it is a private faith, a consumer preference similar to supporting a local sports team. Because religion is irrational, so the argument goes, it cannot be allowed in public discourse. When it comes to politics, citizens must be rational and secular. How can we have a liberal democracy if citizens are voting based on what “God” tells them privately? Christianity is fine as long as it remains in church (the space of irrationality), but once it comes into the marketplace or the courts or the White House, it is dangerous.

Pearcey is right to challenge this logic, and Christians should follow her in identifying and opposing this secular ideology of private faith. Indeed, a significant part of my column has been devoted to exposing this ideology which logically leads to viewing the State as the final and absolute authority. We have a higher authority, and our Faith cannot help but be worked out in all areas of our lives, including the voting booth.

While this is an important point for Christians, I would like to encourage us to take a step further by realizing how important it is for us to defend the rights of people of other faiths to exercise their religion freely in all areas of their lives, including politics. If we challenge the rights of Mormons to hold office, or Muslims to wear religious clothing in public, apply for conscientious objector status, or to build mosques, then it is likely that we are also challenging our own rights (and obligations, I would add) to extend the Lordship of Christ over every aspect of our lives.


  1. Thanks, Alan. You have put this well, summarized the discussion, and offered great links. And, you’ve underscored the need for “justice for all” and religious pluralism in the public square. Not everyone who is critical of the secuarlist’s “naked public square” necessarily says what you’ve helpfully said at the end. Thanks!

  2. I’ve been thinking on this piece for awhile now. And my general conclusion is that it’s not as much a hack job as some folks have been suggesting. For the sake of typing out the same thing again, here’s a snippet of what I just posted in a FB discussion about the same piece:

    I’m certainly open to the idea that secularism will always have a hard time with the idea of a faith that permeates all of life — along with the general idea of a Christian world-life view. But Pearcy and Schaeffer aren’t the only ones that Bachmann has been reading. She cites plenty of straight-up dominionists, which is at the extreme end of a spectrum. After thinking on it, I think it’s less that Lizza doesn’t understand or mischaracterizes Schaeffer — it’s that dominionists and theonomists have been misunderstanding and misrepresenting his work for decades. And those people are the ones that have influenced Bachmann, unquestionably.

    Generally speaking, I sincerely believe Bachmann’s heart is in the right place and she’s an earnest believer, but she’s dead wrong about what we should now DO in light of what Schaeffer taught (as have been legions of people in the days since How Shall We Then Live.) It’s not about legislating morality or otherwise using (and trusting in) the State to make our culture “better” (superficially, I’d say.) And I think the article highlighted this quite well, though somewhat bluntly.

  3. Steve,

    That’s a helpful nuance, although I still think the article does misrepresent Schaeffer and has other journalistic failings.

  4. Let me put it this way – while I am no fan of Bachmann and don’t believe she is qualified for the office of President, her faith would appear to be much more genuine and deep than say Sarah Palin’s. Bachmann didn’t quit her elected office to make more money and she hasn’t used her children’s hijinks in their private lives to propel her own public ambitions (let’s hope she never does). While I can debate her interpretations of biblical doctrine, I can honestly say her heart and faith are in the right place and she is trying to live that out in her life. I wouldn’t vote for her but I certainly respect her as a Christian.

    However – the campaign trail often acts as a crucible to reveal the finer truths of a candidates stated positions. So I pray that she will stand up to the test – if only to ensure the name of Christ isn’t sullied.

    Thank you as well for highlighting the need for Christians to respect the right of other faiths being practiced publicly. It’s a nuance that is lost most of the time when discussing secularism. Usually it devolves into the usual “America is an exceptional Christian nation” route which obliterates the entire point of living for Christ and for the State.

  5. Whoops I meant to say:

    “….which obliterates the entire point of living for Christ and NOT for the State.”

  6. Thanks Alan… I’m listening to Deuteronomy and it is amazing how easily we can forget our spiritually Jewish roots and how their lives were WEIRD and required careful and sometimes meticulous attention to detail. Praise God for the grace and liberty, but I can use the reminder that Christ’s deity, humanity, creative work, death, Resurrection and more demand that our liberty not be wasted, instead we are liberated to worship God in a million new options that were not prior available.

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