First Freedom: The Beginning and End of Religious Liberty edited by Jason Duesing, Thomas White, and Malcolm Yarnell III contends with the issue of the title: religious liberty. Religious liberty amongst people of faith, people of no faith, politicians, and everyone in between is no doubt a contentious topic. Stemming from locker rooms to bakeries, flower shops to universities, the arguments for or against religious liberty impact every area of life.
Coming from a conservative Christian perspective, First Freedom moves in three (3) parts. First, the historical perspective of religious liberty is covered. Chapters in this section take into consideration salvation and religious liberty, defense of religious liberty historically from the Anabaptists and English Baptists, and the beginning of American Political Theology. As a history major in undergraduate work, and one who enjoys Christian history, the historical perspective it so be given due attention. With the authors being of the Baptist tradition, it must also be noted Baptists have always sought and fought for religious liberty; both for themselves and for others. That is part of what it means to be Baptist.
The second part of the book gives the definition of religious liberty. The essence of what it is and how it pertains to Christianity. These chapters cover the secular attack against conservatives and religious liberty, religious liberty pertaining to the Christian and the public square, and religious liberty defined in Christian doctrine. There is much to be gleaned from this section. Learning the development of religious liberty provides us historical ground to build a doctrine of religious liberty and a pathway to engage the culture.
Finally, the third part of the book is contemporary challenges to religious liberty. One need not go far to read a news story or a social media post concerning someone or some institution being challenged on the front of religious liberty. Whether it is a pastor not performing a same-sex marriage or a private business refusing business due to convictions, there are many issues that face persons of faith regarding religious liberty.
Concluding the book, Duesing says the authors have endeavored to do three (3) things: provide “a historical account of how Christians have defended religious liberty”, present a “biblical and rational defense for the practice of religious liberty in the United States and abroad,” and finally, “reviewed present and future threats to religious liberty.” The title might indicate a worldly end of religious liberty, but, according to the authors, the true end of religious liberty is at the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ in all of His glory and power “when every knee shall bow and tongue confess He is Lord” (Phil. 2:11). I recommend this book in discussion of religious liberty within Baptist life, Christian life, or if you’re interested in learning more about religious liberty as a whole.