On the 4th of July churches all across the United States of America will celebrate freedom.  Unfortunately, it is hard to differentiate the religious from the political rhetoric when it comes to this topic.  The typical Evangelical Sunday-fare goes something like this, “God made us to be free… America is freedom… America is God’s country… Oh, and Jesus wants us to be free from sin…”  That about covers it except some churches skip the part about Jesus and opt for a congregational sing-along  of “America the Beautiful.”

The problem is that “freedom” has shifted the focus of our faith celebration away from grace.

Francis Schaeffer traces the roots of this philosophical shift during the late 18th and 19th centuries… a critical time in the founding of our nation.

After the Renaissance-Reformation period the next crucial stage was reached at the time of Rousseau (1712-78) and of Kant (1724-1804), although there were of course many others in the intervening period who could well be studied.

By the time we come to Kant and Rousseau, the sense of the autonomous is fully developed. So we find now that the problem was formulated differently. This shift in the wording of the formulation shows, by itself, the development of the problem. Whereas previously men had spoken of nature and grace, by the eighteenth century there was no idea of grace — the word did not fit any longer. Rationalism was now well-developed and entrenched, and there was no concept of revelation in any area. Consequently the problem was now defined, not in terms of “nature and grace,” but of “nature and freedom”

This is a titanic change, expressing a secularized situation. Nature has totally devoured grace, and what is left in its place “upstairs” is the word “freedom.”…

In the above diagram, freedom and nature are both now autonomous. The individual’s freedom is seen not only as freedom without the need of redemption, but as absolute freedom.

The fight to retain freedom is carried on by Rousseau to an extreme. He and those who follow him express in their literature and art a casting aside of civilization as that which is restraining man’s freedom. This is the birth of the Bohemian ideal. These thinkers feel the pressure “downstairs” of man as a machine. Naturalistic science becomes a very heavy weight — an enemy. Freedom is beginning to be lost. So these men, who are not really modem men as yet — and so have not accepted the fact that they are only machines — begin to hate science. They long for freedom even if the freedom makes no sense, and thus autonomous freedom and the autonomous machine stand facing each other.

Francis A. Schaeffer, The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer : A Christian Worldview. (Westchester, Ill.: Crossway Books, 1996).

This concept of absolute freedom for the individual (and nation) shaped America’s Founders and sowed the seeds for the American Revolution. The desire for unbridled  freedom undergirds our modern American culture and, in the Church at large, has replaced any meaningful belief in the superseding power of Divine-grace. Few churches offer ‘more than cake’ when it comes to teaching the fundamental difference between America’s version of freedom and YHWH’s grace.  We have allowed the culture to idealize freedom and instead of offering God’s alternative of grace, the Church has simply chosen to offer a spiritualized freedom (freedom + Jesus).

The masses long for freedom, yet economic chaos and global war have proven politicians to be false prophets of a false hope.  The Church is in decline because She has compromised grace and offers nothing more significant than Jesus eating apple pie and saluting the Red, White and Blue.  The Church has unwittingly fostered the rise of freedom and demise of grace.

This 4th of July, my prayer is that we, the people of God, set aside our dalliance with freedom and return to our love of grace.

Dr. J.R. Miller is a Professor of Applied Theology and Leadership & Dean of Online Learning at Southern California Seminary. Outside work, he is a church planter. Dr. Miller has a diverse educational background and authored multiple books on church history, biblical theology, and Leadership. Joe and his wife Suzanne enjoy the sun and surf with their 3 sons in San Diego, CA.

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