For part two of the book lists for my fall courses at Boyce College, we are turning to one of my favorite classes to teach: Religion in the Public Square. This is a required course for most majors at our college and one that I am deeply grateful to see as part of our core curriculum given the centrality of the public aspects of faith and the perennial questions of social order in the Christian life. The goal of this class can be summed up by saying that our desire is to equip students to see how their faith is integral to every aspect of public life, including questions of church/state relations, social ethics, public policy, and so much more.
As our course catalog notes, “This course is designed to introduce students to key issues in the interface between religion and political thought, such as the nature of government, the historical role of politics, and the relationship between religion and political issues. It will give special attention to the relationship between church and state and the crisis of moral authority in American society.” Given the fundamental philosophical questions being asked today such as “what does it mean to be human?” and “what is justice?,” students will walk away with a full orbed understanding of and exposure to the social aspects of Christian philosophy and ethics as well as how those concepts relate to everyday life. This class is fun because we have such a wide array of majors ranging from business, pastoral ministry, missions, and teacher education. I always walk away being reminded that we cannot silo off our faith and that our world and life view drives everything that we do whether in the home, classroom, office, or public square.
As I noted last week, each of my courses requires a Scripture journal which we use to quiet and prepare our hearts for the day. I have found this practice helpful in resetting our minds and hearts given that all of us have a thousand different things vying for our attention, including family pressures, challenges at work, unrelenting breaking news, social media updates, and so much more. For this particular course, we will focus on 1-2 Peter which contains one of the classic passages about how Christians are to relate to those in authority (2:13-17).
Be subject for the Lord’s sake to every human institution, whether it be to the emperor as supreme, or to governors as sent by him to punish those who do evil and to praise those who do good. For this is the will of God, that by doing good you should put to silence the ignorance of foolish people. Live as people who are free, not using your freedom as a cover-up for evil, but living as servants of God. Honor everyone. Love the brotherhood. Fear God. Honor the emperor.
I like to frame this course by first exploring concepts like the myth of neutrality, our contemporary understandings of the public square, and laying out the relationship between personal and social ethics in the Christian life. Then we cover major topics like the nature of law, justice, rights, dignity, and more before walking through modern political thought and how it shapes our conception of the public square today. We spend a number of weeks walking through social ethics including the nature of religious freedom in Baptist social thought. Finally, we conclude discussing technology and the public square and how these tools are shaping every aspect of our lives.
Below are the texts we will read together this fall: (*major portions of these will be read)
- ESV Scripture Journal: 1-2 Peter and Jude. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2019.
- *Cohen, Mitchell. Princeton Readings in Political Thought: Essential Texts Since Plato. 2nd ed. Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2018.
- *Thomas Aquinas. On Law, Morality, and Politics. Edited by William P. Baumgarth. Translated by Richard J. Regan. 2nd ed. Indianapolis: Hackett Pub, 2002.
- Leeman, Jonathan. How the Nations Rage: Rethinking Faith and Politics in a Divided Age. Nashville: Nelson Books, 2018.
- *Thacker, Jason, ed. The Digital Public Square: Christian Ethics in a Technological Society. Nashville: B&H Academic, 2023.
- *Wilken, Robert Louis. Liberty in the Things of God: The Christian Origins of Religious Freedom. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2019.
If you or someone you know is interested in taking a class like this, make sure to check out the programs and offerings we have at Boyce College in Louisville, Kentucky. Learn more and apply now at boycecollege.com.
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