I have a dream today!
I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, and every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight; “and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed and all flesh shall see it together.”
The greatest moment of American public life in the 20th century—and one of the finest examples of public speech in history—contains a quote from Isaiah. Yes. One of the greatest speeches ever made, in one of the greatest political communities our fair planet has ever seen, was lifted straight from the pages of a book that is thousands of years old and written in the Middle East. And the speech contains not just one quote. This great example of goodness and power is shot through with quotes and references to Scripture. It is a speech in which Scripture is the foundation, the wellspring of the great dream that changed American life and helped to overcome its original sin.
King’s speech is powerful not only because it quotes Scripture, but because it weaves a living word into the life—the public life—of a community of people, and does so with nuance and prophetic power. To use Augustine’s language, it brings the City of God—where “justice rolls like a river, and righteousness like a never ending stream“—into the very centre of that dark and awful city we call the City of Man.
Why then, if this is unarguably true, do we still find some who suggest that Scripture should be off limits for public speech?
Perhaps this is true because we have not thought deeply about how, when, where, and why one might use Scripture in public debates. Perhaps it’s because, somehow and for some reason unbeknownst to us, God has considered it an exercise in fruitful longsuffering of his children for our world to be plagued with the the likes of Jack Van Impe.
How might we cultivate a Christian community in which we find many more Martin Luther King Jrs, and fewer Van Impes?
If this is something that you have asked yourself, I hope I can be so bold as to recommend that you subscribe to Comment magazine in time to receive our fall print edition. Our edition, entitled “The Word of God in the City of Man” is intended as a continuation of that wonderful jewel of speech given by Martin Luther King Jr. so many years ago. Featuring wonderful articles by Richard Mouw, Lynn Cohick, Al Wolters, Makoto Fujimura, Jean Vanier, and Marilynne Robinson (to name a few), this edition seeks to find ways in which we can fruitfully use, rather than abuse, Scripture in public life.
Our guest editor Peter Leithart notes that Scripture “addresses the whole—our minds, but also our passions, imaginations, loves, and desires.” If you’d like to read more about how it does this, I recommend you subscribe to Comment today.