Darrow Miller and Friends

The American Experiment: Ten Key Principles

God has a big agenda for the world. His intention is to see people in personal relationship with him through the salvation secured by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. He has also called the saved to be transforming agents in society. God’s special revelation, together with general revelation, human reason and reality, enables us to discern truth and apply it to the ordering of free and just societies.

The United States is one imperfect example of applying biblical truth in establishing a nation. As a model, the American experiment is far from flawless. Its founders were imperfect in their understanding and application of the principles they built on. Many who affirmed that “all men are created equal” owned slaves. Yet flawed people creating an imperfect experiment set a new standard for freedom and civil governance. The founders of the American experiment of liberty embraced eight key principles.

1. Individuality

Every human being is made in God’s image, endowed with dignity and honor, equal before God and equal before the law. God has given each individual a unique combination of skills and abilities to advance His kingdom. Each individual has a distinctive and equally important contribution to God’s purpose.

The United States’ concept of individuality opposes the uniformity of Japan, communist China, and Islamic nations. It also contrasts with societies that ground an individual’s value in caste, wealth, gender, or race. Tragically, postmodern, politically correct America is abandoning this principle and instead adopting the egalitarian view that everyone is the same and people are interchangeable.

To be made in the image of God is to receive inalienable rights, they “may not be transferred.” They are granted by God—not, as statists would argue, by government. Imbued in the human frame, they cannot be confiscated by government.

Rights demand responsibility. Every freedom has its corresponding responsibility; freedom without moral responsibility leads to license. Without responsibility, society deteriorates into anarchy leading to tyranny.

The concept of human rights was born from the Bible, not from Greece or Rome, not from Mao, Hitler, or Stalin. Secularism produces euthanasia, embryonic stem-cell research, and abortion on demand—all of which deny basic human rights.

2. Family

family a key principle of the American experimentThe family, the first institution established by God, is the building block of nations. Marriage is a sacred institution based on a lifetime covenant relationship between a man, a woman, and God. The strength of the family determines the strength of the nation: free societies require virtuous citizens, and the first lessons of virtue and citizenship are taught and modeled in the home.

Early citizens of the American experiment saw love more as a frame of mind to nurture than an emotion to fall in and out of. Family worship was critical for spiritual and moral formation. The father led worship: singing hymns, praying, and reading the scriptures. The virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 was emulated. Women were strong in character and convictions and managed their households as co-equals with their husbands. Education happened primarily in the home, where future citizens learned self-governance for a free society. Parents also helped their children discover their vocations. Every child had a part in advancing the kingdom. When they discovered that call, children were blessed to pursue it.

What a contrast to the modern redefinition of marriage and the family! In some countries the state has even usurped parents’ responsibilities for educating and rearing their children.

3. Education

Wise citizens practice discipline, or self-governance. Such citizens are the product of religious education, which provides moral vision, metaphysical capital (the infrastructure of the mind), and virtue.

Moral and religious education based on God’s revelation builds intelligent, virtuous citizens capable of governing themselves, their families, and their nation. Citizens whoeducation a key principle of the American experiment learn morals and ethics are able to master themselves and acquire knowledge and skills to master the world; they can confront individual and institutional sinfulness, thus establishing free societies.

Contrast today’s Western education system, based on atheistic premises, which prepares people for work and consumption. Knowledge and technical skills take precedence over understanding and wisdom. Schools train people for passive acceptance of cultural relativism, political correctness, and tolerance. The modern intellect gives little thought to wisdom or virtue.

4. Community

Human beings, like their triune Creator, are to be in relationship. Individuals cannot thrive apart from community, yet the community does not supplant the individual.

People in community freely work together for the benefit of all. Some years ago a tornado ripped through Amish country in the Midwest. Within a year the Amish had worked together to rebuild their homes and barns. Their non-Amish neighbors were still waiting for government assistance.

Many people in today’s modern world have replaced a sense of unity with an individualistic entitlement mentality. French historian, political thinker, and cultural observer Alexis de Tocqueville was struck by his observation of unity in the American experiment:

Americans of all ages, all conditions … constantly form associations. They have not only commercial and manufacturing associations … but associations of a thousand other kinds … Wherever, at the head of some new undertaking, you see the government of France, or a man of rank in England, in the United States you will be sure to find an association.

America’s voluntary associations come in a variety of dimensions: religion (churches and synagogues), service (Lions Club, Rotary Club), youth (Boy Scouts, Girl Scouts, 4H), and work (labor unions, professional associations). These voluntary associations form a core of relationships neither governmental nor personal. Historically, these associations cultivated virtue and morals. Functioning organically, they provided voluntary solutions to community problems without state intervention, which is so often more bureaucratic, more expensive, and less effective.

5. Separation of church and state

The concept of separation of church and state is derived from the Bible. When the Pharisees questioned Jesus about paying taxes, he responded, “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (Matt. 22:21).separation of church and state a key principle of the American experiment

America’s founders embraced Martin Luther’s “two kingdoms” concept, church and state as separate and essential entities. The First Amendment reads, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Separation of church and state leads to freedom of religion. Atheism leads to a political philosophy and a policy of freedom from religion, completely removing religious belief from the public square and the marketplace. Freedom of religion (ironically derived from the non-pluralistic foundation of Judeo-Christian theism) means freedom to be a Jew, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, or atheist.

Separation of church and state stands in stark contrast to tyranny, whether religious authority controlling the state (as in Iran under the ayatollahs) or secular tyranny controlling religion (as in communist countries and, increasingly, in democracies).

6. Human Sinfulness

A society which denies human depravity can never be free. The humanist concept of the perfectibility of human nature underlies socialism and communism. Laws must reckon with the reality of sin rather than embrace the false notion of human perfectibility, for “power tends to corrupt and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

Recognizing that the tyranny of a majority is little better than the tyranny of one, the launchers of the American experiment designed a constitutional republic, ensuring the protection of the rights of the minority. American citizens elect representatives to speak for them in the various government bodies. These representatives are held accountable by frequent elections that terminate or reinstate their authority. The founders also created checks and balances to diffuse power: a legislative branch writes laws, an executive branch administers laws, and a judicial branch interprets laws. A free press was empowered to expose corruption, injustice, and lawbreaking. When a nation has no such safeguards in place, those in power—corruptible human beings—often become tyrants, hoarding power and resources and seeking to take away the rights of the citizens.

  • Darrow Miller

to be continued

This DM&F Classic blog post is excerpted from the book Emancipating the World. For the entire text go here.

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Darrow is co-founder of the Disciple Nations Alliance and a featured author and teacher. For over 30 years, Darrow has been a popular conference speaker on topics that include Christianity and culture, apologetics, worldview, poverty, and the dignity of women. From 1981 to 2007 Darrow served with Food for the Hungry International (now FH association), and from 1994 as Vice President. Before joining FH, Darrow spent three years on staff at L’Abri Fellowship in Switzerland where he was discipled by Francis Schaeffer. He also served as a student pastor at Northern Arizona University and two years as a pastor of Sherman Street Fellowship in urban Denver, CO. In addition to earning his Master’s degree in Adult Education from Arizona State University, Darrow pursued graduate studies in philosophy, theology, Christian apologetics, biblical studies, and missions in the United States, Israel, and Switzerland. Darrow has authored numerous studies, articles, Bible studies and books, including Discipling Nations: The Power of Truth to Transform Culture (YWAM Publishing, 1998), Nurturing the Nations: Reclaiming the Dignity of Women for Building Healthy Cultures (InterVarsity Press, 2008), LifeWork: A Biblical Theology for What You Do Every Day (YWAM, 2009), Rethinking Social Justice: Restoring Biblical Compassion (YWAM, 2015), and more. These resources along with links to free e-books, podcasts, online training programs and more can be found at Disciple Nations Alliance (https://disciplenations.org).