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What: This adult Sunday School class will study leading Christian thinkers on the Christian obligation toward our government from the early church through contemporary times. The class will be discussion oriented and will require advanced reading.
When: This class is currently in session from Sunday, March 4, 2018 until June 16, 2018, and meets at the standard Sunday School time of 9:15am. If you are interested, please feel free to join us at any point in the schedule.
Class Outline and Readings
The follow is the current class outline along with links to the readings. Missing readings will be filled in as they are scanned. The schedule may flex to better serve the discussion or as other schedule changes arise. Please be generous with your Sunday School teachers as we attempt to anticipate and publish changes!
(3/4) Introduction: Class overview and expectations
- Westminster Confession (PDF) Chapter XXIII: Of The Civil Magistrate
- For reference consider the American Revisions to the Westminster Confession of Faith
(3/11) Biblical Foundations
- Old Testament:
- New Testament:
- Biblical examples: Joseph, Daniel, Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego, Esther
A few notes concerning the PDF: depending on the reader, the page will either be a count from the beginning of the document or the page number as labeled; footnotes to each letter are available at the end of the PDF in the Notes to the text section; Biographical notes give, well, biographical notes about authors, recipients, and individuals referenced in the letter; and finally, background material is available in the document found through the given Contents.
- Letter 100, Augustine to Donatus
- PDF page 188 (labeled page 134)
- First Line: “Augustine greets in the Lord Donatus, his distinguished lord, and deservedly honoured and outstandingly praiseworthy son.”
- Letter 133, Augustine to Marcellinus
- PDF page 115 (labeled page 61)
- First Line: “Augustine the bishop greets in the Lord his distinguished and deservably notable lord and beloved son Marcellinus”
- Letter 139, Augustine to Marcellinus
- PDF page 120 (labeled page 66)
- First Line: “Augustine in the Lord greets Marcellinus, his deservedly notable lord and dearly beloved and much missed son.
- Letters 152, 153, 154, 155, Macedonius and Augustine
- PDF page 124 (labeled page 70) through page 153 (labeled page 99)
- First Line: “Macedonius to Augustine, his deservedly revered and uniquely cherished father.”
(3/25) Thomas Aquinas
All of the readings are available in Aquinas: Political Writings.
A few notes concerning the PDF: depending on the reader, the page will either be a count from the beginning of the document or the page number as labeled. A brief account of the life of Aquinas is found in the Introduction, along with other introductory material.
If you are looking for a quick overview of the life and thought of Aquinas, the Wikipedia page is here.
- De regimine principum
- PDF page 49 (labeled page 5) through page 89 (labeled page 45)
- Read Chapters 1-7, 9, 13, and 15-16 (Skip Chapters 8, 10-12, and 14)
(4/1) Easter, no class
(4/8) Martin Luther
(4/15) John Calvin
- Institutes of the Christian Religion, Book IV, Chapter XX, Civil Government. Pp. 1485-1521 (Focus on Section 22 and following; Sections 17-21 may be skipped).
(4/22) Scholarly Overviews
- John C. Bennett, Christians and the State, Chapter IV, pp. 36-43.
- John Howard Yoder, The Christian Witness to the State, Chapter 7.
(4/29) Missions Conference, no class.
(5/6) James Madison
(5/13) Mother’s Day, no class
(5/20) American Merging of Political and Theological Thought
- Mark Noll, America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln, “Christian Republicanism“, pp. 73-92 (Focus on pp. 73-87).
(5/27) Abraham Kuyper
- Lectures on Calvinism, “Calvinism and Politics“, pp. 65-96 (Focus on 65-72, 77-96).
(6/3) Dietrich Bonhoeffer
- The Cost of Discipleship, “Memoir,” pp. 13-33.
- A Testament to Freedom, “The Church and the Jewish Question,” pp. 130-34.
(6/10) Martin Luther King, Jr.
(6/17) Stanley Hauerwas (or Conclusion)
- “A Christian Critique of Christian America,” from The Hauerwas Reader.
Role of the State:
1. What is the role of the state?
2. Why has the state been established?
3. What are its purposes and obligations?
4. What limits are placed on the state?
5. What are the state’s obligations toward the church?
6. What are the state’s obligations toward the individual Christian?
7. How do we determine whether the state is performing its duty and role?
Role of the Church:
1. What is the role of the church?
2. What are its purposes and obligations?
3. What limits are placed on the church?
4. What are the church’s obligations towards the state? When the state fulfills its purpose and role? When it does not?
Role of the Individual Christian:
1. What is the role of the individual Christian? What are our individual purposes and obligations?
2. What are the individual Christian’s obligations toward the state? Are these different from the church?
3. What are the duties and role of an individual Christian within government? Without?
Context of the Reading:
1. What is the basis for the argument or assumptions the author is making about church/state relations? Is it based in scripture? A pragmatic argument? Efficiency or effectiveness? Order of creation? As an example, consider Aquinas. It appears that his line of argument is rooted in logical and pragmatic arguments rather than derived from Scripture.
2. What is motivating the author to take the asserted position?
3. Why is the author addressing these particular issues?
4. What experiences are informing the position taken by the author?
Summary of Purpose
The purpose of this class is to introduce participants to leading Christian thinkers on the relationship between the church and the state, or government, on a local, national, and global level. The class will begin with an exploration of some of the seminal Biblical texts on the issue, as well as the Westminster Confession of Faith, as the binding distillation of these issues on our church body. It will then explore the writings of leading thinkers on the subject from the church fathers, through the reformation, and culminating with contemporary thinkers. It will also introduce the participants to some of the seminal writings that informed the balance struck by our current national government on church and state issues. The class will be discussion oriented and will require advanced preparation in the form of readings related to the subject. Although the class will not offer firm conclusions outside of the Biblical text and the Westminster Confession, the intent is that participants will come away with a better sense of their own obligations toward the state and a better understanding of the roles and responsibilities of the state and the church in service to God.