Can We Affirm the Declaration of Independence with Non-Christians?

Greg Forster | July 8, 2016


Joe Carter is right: Christians should affirm the declarations of the Declaration of Independence when it comes to human rights and freedoms, without letting the document define our theology or buying into the myth of a Christian founding. But that point only raises a deeper question: Is the Declaration right that “these truths” are “self-evident,” such that all rational people—we and our non-Christian neighbors—can affirm them together? Or is special divine revelation the only “self-evident” truth, as much modern evangelical thinking presupposes?

The stakes in this question are high. If basic human rights really are self-evident, as the Declaration declares, there’s hope for religious freedom. But what then becomes of the necessity of Christ’s revelation? On the other hand, if only biblical revelation is truly self-evident, how is peace with our neighbors possible?

One way or another, much evangelical thinking about revelation will have to be reformed.

What Is ‘Self-Evident’?

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First, we need to ask what the Declaration means by saying humanity’s natural rights and freedoms are “self-evident.” It doesn’t mean they can be deduced by some long, abstract chain of reasoning, starting from intuitive first principles and detached from tradition or moral experience.

Nothing in the Founders’ writings suggests they thought politics could be an exercise in…


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