This year’s Women in the Church Lecture Series guest speaker was Dr. Daniel Dreisbach, who spoke on the Bible’s influence in forming the beliefs of America’s founders and early American politics. The WIC lecture series is an annual event made possible by the PCA’s Women in the Church under the oversight of the PCA’s Christian Education and Publication sector, which exists to further the PCA’s commitment to creating disciples and teaching and training Christian leaders.
Dr. Dreisbach studied as a Rhodes Scholar to receive his DPhil in politics from Oxford University. He is currently a professor in the school of public affairs at American University in Washington D.C., where he has worked since 1991, and teaches classes such as “American Legal Culture,” “Issues in Civil Justice,” and “The Constitution and Criminal Procedure.” In addition to teaching, Dreisbach works on the editorial board of the journal Politics and Religion, and has written and edited numerous books covering topics ranging from American constitutional law to the lives of Thomas Jefferson and America’s founding fathers.
Dr. Dreisbach spoke in chapel on Thursday and Friday in addition to teaching the WIC class Thursday and Friday evening and Saturday morning, with the lectures open to the public and functioning as a one-credit class for students, including Freshman recipients of the Maclellan scholarship.
Mac Scholar Hannah Rae Lloyd, who was required to take the WIC class, said that a big focus of the class was the Bible’s influence in the language and ideas of America’s founders, and learning more about that gave her a better perspective on what they were trying to communicate through the writing of those documents. “We talked about how the Bible influenced literacy and culture in America. The class made me think about things I had thought about before and ask questions about things I had taken for granted,” Hannah said. “I have to write an essay on how it relates to us today called ‘the perils in quoting from or alluding to the Bible in political rhetoric.’ We started a discussion outside of class about whether or not we would support the founders’ use of Romans 13 as reason to overthrow a tyrannical ruler. Was that actually Biblical?”
An important point to note is that Dreisbach’s expertise is largely in history and the study of early American thought, not on application for American citizens today. However, Thursday’s chapel, which centered on the question posed in Micah 6:8, “What does God require of us?” explored how the phrase “seek justice, love mercy, walk humbly with your God” was influential in the political literature of America’s founding—and is still frequently cited by American Christians today.
Friday’s chapel, titled “Under Our Own Vine and Fig Tree: Micah 4:4 and the Creation of an American Metaphor for Liberty,” further explored the use of the Bible in the political discourse on America’s founding at the end of the 18th century, using George Washington’s writings as a case study on the use of the motif.
Although Dr. Dreisbach’s chapel talks and class lectures were academic analyses of the Bible as it relates to early American politics, the frequency of Biblical language and metaphor in the thoughts and writings of America’s founders certainly inspire questions about the relationship of the Bible to politics in America, from before its founding until now.