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Was America Founded As a Christian Nation? [Kindle Edition]

John Fea
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (33 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Fea offers an even-handed primer on whether America was founded to be a Christian nation, as many evangelicals assert, or a secular state, as others contend. He approaches the title's question from a historical perspective, helping readers see past the emotional rhetoric of today to the recorded facts of our past. Readers on both sides of the issues will appreciate that this book occupies a middle ground, noting the good points and the less-nuanced arguments of both sides and leading us always back to the primary sources that our shared American history comprises.

Editorial Reviews


"A remarkably useful guide for navigating the arguments about America's 'Christian' origins." Randall Balmer, Barnard College, author of God in the White House.

"Should be the last word for all who would claim America as a Christian nation. . . . Deserves to be widely read." Stanley Hauerwas, Duke Divinity School, coauthor of Resident Aliens (with Will Willimon) and The Peaceable Kingdom.

"Should be the last word for all who would claim America as a Christian nation. . . . Deserves to be widely read." Stanley Hauerwas, Duke Divinity School, coauthor of Resident Aliens (with Will Willimon) and The Peaceable Kingdom

"This is a timely book that will help make sense of one of the most important divides in American politics. John Fea offers a clear and balanced reinterpretation of how this debate has shaped American culture and society for more than 200 years." John Wigger, University of Missouri, author of American Saint and Taking Heaven by Storm

"Fea challenges his readers to think like historians, and presents them with the facts they need to weigh the evidence for themselves. Those who are ready to move past simplistic answers will be well served by this thought-provoking work." Mary V. Thompson, author of In the Hands of a Good Providence: Religion in the Life of George Washington

"John Fea has produced a carefully balanced and thought-provoking addition to the long-running debate about the role of religion in America's founding." Ira Stoll, author of Samuel Adams: A Life

"Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? explores this controversial question with remarkable objectivity and admirable scholarship. This is a book that every intelligent reader should have in his library." Thomas Fleming, author of The Intimate Lives of the Founding Fathers

"This is a book for Christians who want a credible account of how religion affected the settlement and founding of the United States." Richard Bushman, Emeritus, Columbia University, author of From Puritan to Yankee and The Refinement of America

"Informed, judicious, insightful, and genuinely delightful." Scot McKnight, North Park University; author of The Jesus Creed

"Well-researched and up-to-date, [this book] is full of timely wisdom on a topic far more complicated than many people think. If I could recommend but one source on the Christian America thesis, this would be it." Douglas A. Sweeney, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, author of The American Evangelical Story

About the Author

John Fea is Associate Professor of American History and Chair of the History Department at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania.

Product Details

  • File Size: 1698 KB
  • Print Length: 322 pages
  • Page Numbers Source ISBN: 0664235042
  • Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press (April 13, 2011)
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services, Inc.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004WDYKG6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #196,529 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
80 of 81 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Few questions in American politics generate as much controversy as the relationship between church and state. On one side are Christian nationalists who contend that the nation was founded on religious principles. On the other side are secularists who argue it was founded on Enlightenment principles. The controversy between them is evident, most obviously, in the seemingly endless First Amendment cases brought before our nation's courts to determine whether that amendment's "establishment" and/or "free exercise" clauses have been violated. But behind the evident legal controversy lies the latent historical controversy, in which the same contending parties dispute the facts and significance of the Founding Era.

Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? by John Fea is an excellent introduction to that question and should be read by both Christian nationalists and secularists alike, for it corrects the historical errors both sides commit and draws a balanced portrait of the role religion did (and did not) play in the American Founding.

In the Introduction to the book, Fea--an evangelical historian at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania--explains why the question the title of his book asks is so controversial, namely, because both sides to the controversy are seeking a "usable past" to buttress their side in contemporary political debates. Historians, he goes on to argue, should avoid such present-mindedness and seek to understand the past on its own, often complex terms.

Fea then unfolds his argument in three parts. Part One examines the history of the idea of Christian nationalism from the ratification of the Constitution (1789) to the present day. Chapter 1 examines the dominance of evangelical Christianity in America from 1789 to the end of the Civil War.
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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Past is Not Simpler Than the Present July 20, 2011
By wvano
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Since 1776, Americans have tended to sanctify the generation of the Revolution and deify the Founding Fathers, turning men of complex and sometimes conflicted consciences into plaster-of-paris saints, often painted in the theological and political colors of their beholders.

In Was America Founded as Christian Nation?, John Fea does not deny the considerable virtues and talents of those who founded our country, but he does expose their complexities. He largely succeeds in this task by describing the nontheological factors that led to independence, tracing the historical trajectory of American Christian nationalism, and providing brief religious biographies of Washington, Adams, Franklin, and others.

In a way, Fea does not answer the titular question. Demographically, the United States was undoubtedly a Christian nation at its birth, as it is today, but the relationship between the government and the pluralistic faiths of its citizens is not a simple one. The United States arose at a unique time in the history of modern liberalism, during a window of political common sense when even skeptical progressives like Jefferson staunchly believed in natural law. The result was a nation with a constitution that both expected its citizens to act in good conscience and that protected their errors of conscience in matters of religion from state retribution.

In a contemporary political climate in which partisans on all sides invoke the authority of the Founders with overconfident simplication, this well-written book may humble our rhetoric.
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21 of 23 people found the following review helpful
The bulk of this book is very well written, but Fea definitely has an evangelical Christian bias, leaving out the bulk of the arguments from Humanists on the subject. On page 100, we find, "The villain behind the view of separation of church and state currently peddled by liberal organizations and politicians is the 1947 Supreme Court." One would have to admit that the choice of words here isn't exactly something a neutral historian would choose. So, while the bulk of the book does offer some exceptional historical data on the subject, and is well-written, if you are looking for an unbiased treatment on the subject, this isn't it. Still a good read, however, and likely to surprise Christians reading it with some of the facts about the founding fathers in section 3.
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11 of 12 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a fine book which provides a historically accurate rendering of the nation's founding and does so with civil reflection on the errors of Christian nationalists (e.g., David Barton).

Fea, an evangelical historian, takes his vocation seriously without regard for what he calls a "usable past." He notes that many writers on the right and left seek support for present day ideologies in history. Rather, Fea points us to a better way -- see the Founders accurately, as real men who were flawed while they were brilliant.

I highly recommend this book for all audiences. The book can be appreciated by all audiences, historians and laymen alike. I recommend it for upper level high school students as well.
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25 of 31 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A great book on a thorny topic. May 5, 2011
This book is the best book that I have read on this topic. I would like to identify a few salient points, but almost every page contains some significant insight. The writing is excellent; the research is thorough; the analysis is keen, and the conclusions are informative and instructive. This book provides a vital service to our churches, if not our nation, by identifying and clarifying the issues that are central to determining whether or not the U.S. is, or ever was, a Christian nation.
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Most Recent Customer Reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
A must read for all Evangelicals who desire a balanced approach to a somewhat complex question.
Published 6 days ago by fierlessj316
5.0 out of 5 stars Five Stars
perfect packing
Published 1 month ago by kaspar
2.0 out of 5 stars Was disappointed
I was preparing to make a talk on the subject of the same title, but did not find the book very helpful.
Published 6 months ago by David Dale
5.0 out of 5 stars Refreshing and needed
First things first: I am biased on this subject. I graduated with a BA in early American History and for my final thesis paper I wrote on the very same subject of this book. Read more
Published 7 months ago by Mr. Twisted
4.0 out of 5 stars a balanced assessment
Fair and balanced assessment in a very emotional area. My son was required to read this for his US high school History course.
Published 11 months ago by ihill
5.0 out of 5 stars The answer that neither side wants!
Having read some of Dr. John Fea’s other works, particularly his online blog, The Way of Improvement Leads Home on [...] I can say that Dr. Read more
Published 12 months ago by gloine36
5.0 out of 5 stars Great
Received this book for a religions class I was taking. I have never been really fond of such books, but this one I thoroughly enjoyed and learned so much! Great Book
Published 14 months ago by Alicia Gross
5.0 out of 5 stars Thorough and Convincing
John Fea provides a very well researched and documented look at America's history of religion and government. Read more
Published 14 months ago by Harry S. Coverston
3.0 out of 5 stars An Okay Experience
It took 10 days for me to receive the book... I really needed this book for class and did not have one to use... Tracking was also not available by the wholesaler... Read more
Published 15 months ago by Peyton
5.0 out of 5 stars First Book in American History for a Christian
As a student of history and a follower of Jesus Christ, I feel very blessed to come across this book as my first read in American history. Read more
Published 16 months ago by Shou-Kuo S Tsao
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More About the Author

John Fea (Ph.D SUNY-Stony Brook) chairs the history department at Messiah College in Grantham, PA. His writing on early American history has appeared in a variety of scholarly and popular venues. He is the author of *The Way of Improvement Leads Home: Philip Vickers Fithian and the Rural Enlightenment in America* (University of Pennsylvania Press, 2008), *Confessing History: Explorations in Christian Faith and the Historian's Vocation* (Notre Dame University Press, 2010); and *Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction* (Westminster/John Knox Press, Feb. 2011). He is currently working on a book about a revolutionary-era "tea party" in the town of Greenwich, New Jersey and a book about Presbyterians in the American Revolution. He blogs daily at


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