Matthew R. Perry

D.A. Carson on the “American Experiment in Democracy”

In America, History on April 4, 2009 at 7:26 pm

Moe Bergeron publishes through Christway Media D.A. Carson’s devotional, “The Love of God” via e-mail (with Dr. Carson’s permission) that gives devotionals based on the McCheyne Bible Reading Plan.  Given my enormous love for the gospel and (at a distant second) American History, I found myself attracted to his devotional today. 

AT THE BEGINNING OF THE AMERICAN EXPERIMENT in democracy, the Founding Fathers adopted several stances, accepted by few today, that were deeply indebted to the JudeoChristian heritage.  This is not to say that the Founding Fathers were all Christians.  Many weren’t; they were vague deists.  But among these biblical assumptions was the belief that human beings are not naturally good and have potential for enormous evil.

     For that reason, when the Fathers constructed their political system, they never appealed to “the wisdom of the American people” or similar slogans common today.  Frankly, they were a little nervous about giving too much power to the masses.  That is why there was no direct election of the president:  there was an intervening “college.”  Only (white) men with a stake in the country could vote.  Even then, the branches of government were to be limited by a system of checks and balances, because for the Fathers, populist demagoguery was as frightening as absolute monarchy (as we saw in another connection on January 20).

     Certainly one of the great advantages of almost any system of genuine democracy (genuine in this context presupposes a viable opposition, freedom of the press, and largely uncorrupted voting) is that it provides the masses with the power to turf out leaders who disillusion us.  In that sense, democracy still works:  government must be by the consent of the governed.  Yet the primitive heritage has so dissipated today that politicians from all sides appeal to the wisdom of the people.  Manipulated by the media, voting their pocketbooks, supporting sectional interests or monofocal issues, voters in America and other Western democracies do not show very great signs of transcendent wisdom.  Worse, we labor under the delusion (indeed, we foster the delusion) that somehow things will be all right provided lots of people vote.  Our system of government is our new Tower of Babel:  it is supposed to make us impregnable.  The Soviet empire totters; other nations crumble into the dust, Balkanized, destroyed by civil war, tribal genocide, grinding poverty, endemic corruption, Marxist or some other ideology.  Not us.  We belong to a democracy, “rule by the people.”

     Not for a moment should we depreciate the relative good of living in a country with a relatively high level of income, a stable government, and some accountability.  But such blessings do not guarantee righteousness.  “The LORD reigns forever; he has established his throne for judgment.  He will judge the world in righteousness; he will govern the peoples with justice” (Ps. 9:78).

     Hear the voice of Scripture:  “Arise, O LORD, let not man triumph; let the nations be judged in your presence.  Strike them with terror, O LORD; let the nations know they are but men” (Ps. 9:19-20).

Copyright 2008 D.A. Carson

On behalf of Dr. D.A. Carson,
Maurice "Moe" Bergeron
List Manager
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