Did the U.S. Supreme Court “Create” Nominal Christianity? What Can Be Done About It?

Dec 15, 2023 by David Fowler

Did the U.S. Supreme Court “Create” Nominal Christianity? What Can Be Done About It?
If you grew up around Christians, you may have heard of “nominal Christians.” I just realized the United States Supreme Court helped create them—pastors and lay persons alike. It established the jurisprudential climate that has helped transform Christianity. See if you agree and, if so, learn what you can do about it.
The decision I have in mind is Erie Railroad v. Tompkins from 1938. The specific controversy in the case was how a federal court should resolve a dispute at common law, but it is the Court’s new view of what law is that we need to understand. To appreciate the change that changed everything you need to know a bit about common law.
Erie Railroad Repudiates God and a Biblical Cosmology.
For centuries leading up to through the first hundred years or so under the U.S. Constitution, common law was considered unenacted law that was discovered, not made, by judges or legislatures.
Common law was law discovered through an historical process of providential societal maturation, its conclusions subject to confirmation, correction, or repudiation by revelation (the Bible). That unenacted law was applied to resolve a dispute before a judge and inform the decisions of legislators.
Common law was grounded in a cosmology predicated on a belief that God created all things, and He is distinct in essence or nature, or in His being, from all created things.
Because God is transcendent in relation to all that He created, Christians applying reason deduced that God had prescribed laws essential to each thing’s nature and purpose and laws pertaining to each thing’s relationship to all other things, and He had done so. And their deduction was affirmed and made certain by Scripture.
Thus, there is a law pertaining to the nature of human beings suitable to and directed toward the purpose for which they were created and their relationship to other created things.
In Erie Railroad, the Supreme Court said this conception of law rested on a “fallacy,” namely, “the assumption that there is ‘a transcendental body of law outside of any particular State but obligatory within it unless and until changed by statute.”
What Erie Railroad Means
Because transcendence in a biblical sense was banished from law, transcendent authority was reduced to us, and law became “immanentized,” meaning reduced to what we say law is. There was no longer any enduring and universal truth or meaning on which a judge’s decision or a legislature’s enactment was understood to rest. All laws were now human-made and what things had been called in the past could have no bearing on the meaning we might now want to give them.
In other words, the transcendence of the God revealed in the Bible no longer provides a predicate for what is true about law (or anything for that matter). And here is the underappreciated if not unappreciated result: jurists and legislators alike think God can no longer inform our understanding of what it means to be human and what humans are for. We now supply that; the truth is now in us and, thus, is subjective only.
What About Erie Railroad Leads to Nominal Christianity.
The Supreme Court’s decision, in philosophical terms, essentially embraced Aristotle’s idea that the truth about things is found in the things themselves. This is what philosophers call nominalism. If Christians operate consistent with this belief system, they are nominalists, and that’s what I mean by nominal Christians.
Now I will give you evidence of how Christians have embraced nominalism and become “nominal Christians.”
How Christians Demonstrate Their Nominalism
Strict reliance on the empirical sciences for what it means to be human or male and female is nominalism. Thus, when Christians oppose the application of drugs and surgeries to minors for “gender transition” purposes based strictly on medical science, they are operating as nominalists, not as Christians.
But what should we say when a Christian pastor, politician, or policy/legal advocate is unconcerned with the how the state defines the marital relationship so long as 1) a man and woman can still lawfully marry and 2) the couple whose marriage is solemnized is a man and a woman?
It seems to me that law has been immanentized, as in Erie Railroad, and they are essentially saying the truth, nature, and meaning of things is to be found only in the things themselves—the particular couple in front of the solemnizing authority, often a pastor.
In other words, while the truth of marital relationship is immanentized in the persons who form it—it is actualized in the persons who marry—its nature and meaning, if it is to have an objective nature or meaning that all persons everywhere must recognize, Christians must also care about the transcendent aspect of the marital relationship. Christians who don’t care about transcendence concede, as a practical matter, there can be no true, universal, objective meaning to the marital relationship (or even what it means to be human); embraces nominalism; and are “nominal Christian.”
The denial of the transcendent, in whatever form it is expressed—in opposing transgenderism or acquiescing to same-sex “marriage”—is a denial of the God of the Bible.
Until biblical transcendence is restored to civil law, all things must continue in their current direction, even if there are small pauses and periodic exceptions.
What Can Pastors and Christians Do?
Christians who realize transcendence must be restored to law to stay God’s judgment on the one hand and the discipline of His people on the other will need to support in January Senate Bill 1110/House Bill 1386, known as the Marital Contract Recording Act.
LGBTQ opponents of the bill understand the transcendent importance of the bill, even though “nominal Christians” are yet to grasp it.
The bill rests on the proposition that there is a transcendent truth about the marital relationship that civil government must acknowledge and enforce if its existence, assuming it is ever challenged by someone, is proved. Because of its transcendent nature and origin, this marital relationship can only be immanentized—made objectively real—by a man and woman. That is how marriage was understood at common law; it is what marriage is, and two people of the same sex can never prove the existence of this kind of marital relationship.
Opponents realize that if a marital relationship informed by the cosmology of the common law is valid, and if a man and woman can enter that relationship without first getting a permit from the state, their view of law, namely, that all law comes from the state and the state defines the truth about man, woman, and the marital relationship, will have been repudiated.
Tennessee’s legislative leaders rejected the bill two years ago. House leaders blamed its failure on the Senate, and the Senate’s leaders blamed it on the House.
I don’t know what will happen this year, but enough pastors and leaders of other Christian organizations know about the bill to provide the support that is needed for its passage this session if they want to.
The ball is in their court. I am praying pastors, denominational leaders, church elders and deacons, and other Christian organizations will engage legislators in support of the Act and have their congregations or constituencies engage them as well.
But if there is continued silence about what gives the marital relationship its meaning and whether state law should acknowledge that, it will appear to me that nominalism or, put another way, the atheistic worldview of Justice Holmes, will have won the day among Christians in Tennessee.

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