In the summer of 2007 I visited our nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., to promote my new book, A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test. I combined my time of apologetics ministry with some vacation time, and so my wife, Joan, and my son, Michael, joined me on the trip.
As a passionate student of American history (with part of my undergraduate studies coming in that field), Washington, D.C., is one of my favorite places to visit in the entire world. From our hotel window, I could see the Pentagon, the Lincoln Memorial, the Washington Monument, and the U.S. Capitol. While it is difficult for me to pick a favorite site to visit in that majestic and historical city, there is no place quite like Arlington National Cemetery. This incredible military memorial and cemetery rests just on the other side of the Potomac River in Virginia.
Upon arriving at the hallowed resting place of some of America’s most celebrated war heroes, I felt electricity run through my body. More than 300,000 white headstones stood before us. Joan, Michael, and I felt honored to visit the graves of such American military greats as George Marshall, Omar Bradley, and Audie Murphy. We also paid our respects at the eternal flame that stands at the burial site of President John F. Kennedy. We took turns reading from parts of Kennedy’s Inaugural Address that adorns the wall near the memorial. It is estimated that more than 200 million people have visited that solemn site.
Touring one of America’s most important cemeteries reminded me of the words of one of Christianity’s great apologists, St. Augustine (354 - 430 A.D.). Almost sixteen centuries ago, Augustine wrote that Christians are simultaneously citizens of two cities (or two kingdoms). He called these two allegiances The City of God and The City of Man.
The City of God is a reference to the believer’s relationship to Christ’s eternal kingdom. That unending city was inaugurated on Earth at Christ’s first coming and will come in fullness at Christ’s glorious second coming (Matthew 25:31-32). My citizenship in that eternal city is established by God’s immeasurable grace, through faith in Christ, and only because of the doing and dying of the Son of God on the cross (Ephesians 2:8-9). In the City of God, Christ is the Lord (King or Ruler) to the exclusion of all others (Acts 2:21).
However, for me and my family, Arlington National Cemetery symbolized the City of Man. My temporal citizenship in this world is as a member of the United States of America. As a providential resident of this country, I have precious rights to enjoy and important responsibilities to discharge (Romans 13:1-7). I agree with Augustine that I am simultaneously a citizen of two cities with the important responsibility of properly distinguishing between them (rejecting both theocracy and absolutism) and carrying out my God-ordained duties in both domains.
Defining the proper relationship between God and country, as well as church and state, has proved controversial throughout Christian church history. However, Augustine’s two cities metaphor may be the best model proposed to date (see pages 84-85 in A World of Difference)
In a year of controversial political campaigns and heavy partisanship, it is easy to become jaded, if not cynical, about politics and government. Yet a visit to Arlington National Cemetery is a great reminder that freedom is not free. The treasured rights that many Americans routinely take for granted were purchased with the precious blood of brave soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines. Their graves are a powerful reminder both of the brevity of life and the debt we owe to those patriots who laid down their lives for our freedom. They are our fellow citizens in the common City of Man.
In part two of this series I will set forth more theological and apologetic reflections from my time at Arlington National Cemetery.
For more on the historic Christian worldview, see my new book A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.