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Did America Have a Christian Founding?: Separating Modern Myth from Historical Truth Hardcover – October 29, 2019
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About the Author
Mark David Hall is the Herbert Hoover Distinguished Professor of Politics and Faculty Fellow in the William Penn Honors Program at George Fox University. He is also associated faculty at the Center for the Study of Law and Religion at Emory University and senior fellow at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion. He has written, edited, or co-edited a dozen books on religion and politics in America and is a nationally recognized expert on the religious freedom. He writes for the online publications Law & Liberty and Intercollegiate Studies Review and has appeared regularly on a number of radio shows, including Jerry Newcomb's Truth in Action, Tim Wildman's Today's Issues, and the Janet Mefferd Show.
- Publisher : Thomas Nelson (October 29, 2019)
- Language: : English
- Hardcover : 240 pages
- ISBN-10 : 1400211107
- ISBN-13 : 978-1400211104
- Item Weight : 13.7 ounces
- Dimensions : 6.15 x 0.9 x 9.3 inches
- Best Sellers Rank: #38,734 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- Customer Reviews:
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Hall offers revealing insights, including one about Thomas Jefferson’s famous metaphor. Some argue that the First Amendment was intended to wall off religion from the public square by relying upon Jefferson’s 1802 Danbury Baptist letter as authoritative interpretation of the country’s first freedom. But because Jefferson was in France from 1785 until late 1789, there’s a timeline problem. When other founders drafted the Bill of Rights, he wasn’t even there, so how could Jefferson fully understand or accurately convey what other founders struggled to enact? After he returned, ratification continued, but “there are no records of him participating in any of these debates or attempting to influence them.”
Though this book is “intended for the reading public,” I wouldn’t be surprised if after finishing it, some readers will want to know more on this timely, controversial subject and continue their own research.
Since 1975, the issue has been raised in a number of ways regarding the question of America's founding. Did America have a Christian founding? By founding, do we mean colonial America or the independent American Republic? What does it mean that America did or did not have a Christian founding? And, what difference does it make now?
I am guessing that I have read or heard over 100 full length books, essays, and lectures on the topic of Christianity and America. I even gave a few of those lectures and have written on it myself in my book. So, Mark David Hall's newest book Did America Have a Christian Founding?, published by Nelson Books, is a welcome guest to the discussion. But Dr. Hall is not a late arrival to the party. He has written and contributed to more than a dozen books on the relationship between religion and politics. These studies include a thorough study of Roger Sherman, who is often overlooked among the Founders and yet was a solid believer. This book, therefore, is not an author's exploration of new ground, but rather the scholarly contribution of one who has combed the sources repeatedly.
I will not at this time attempt a chapter by chapter survey of the book, but will instead focus just a bit on the opening chapter. The issue is Deism. I once heard someone say, "Whether history repeats itself is not clear, but historians repeat each other." Both specialized books and monographs and history textbooks assure us that by the time of the American War for Independence and the writing of the Constitution, Deism had supplanted Christianity as the prevailing religious and philosophical worldview. And, Franklin, Jefferson, Madison, Washington, and a few other key figures were all basically card-carrying Deists.
This whole contention is problematic. (I have long waited to use that stuffy word "problematic.") There was not a denomination or church group that adhered to the title Deist, but that is not the real issue. The language attributed to Deism and that attributed to Christianity is identical at points. I might say, "It is going to rain today." One might interpret that to mean that I believe that the falling of rain is not the direct intervention and providential control of weather by God, but is the acting of laws of nature that God created, but doesn't direct minutely. Should I say, "God is going to send rain today"? Nothing wrong with that. As James 4:15 points out, we ought to couch all of our language in terms that indicate God's present, active control.
I don't think James is giving us a directive so that we have to be this mechanical. But there should be an underlying presupposition, a worldview, a philosophy of life, that indicates and reinforces our conviction of God's presence. Yet, the Founders were not writing about an "it" or a force or laws of nature. They used terms like Providence, Governor of the Universe, Architect of the world, and so on. This language was no more denying orthodox Christianity than my saying "Jesus is Lord" denies the Trinity.
A few people of the time did prescribe to Deism. These included such men as Ethan Allen and Thomas Paine. Allen, best known now for his name being attached to furniture, played a minimal role (heroic though it was) in the war. Paine was a brilliant, quirky wordsmith with erratic tendencies. The "best known" Deists, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, were either the two worst Deistic hypocrites of all time or were personally inconsistent in their practice. R. J. Rushdoony demolished the myth of Franklin's and Jefferson's Deism for me when I read the first of This Independent Republic decades ago.
Dr. Hall begins each chapter with a list of quotations from prominent historians and sources that go against his theses. He provides more quotes and references in the ample endnotes to the book. Then, he begins systematically answering and refuting the claims. There are no strawmen here. The best and most reputable scholars only are allowed in the ring in these matches.
I highly recommend this book. If you are a history teacher or student, get it immediately. If you are a pastor, get it quickly. If you are a patriot, get it soon. If you cannot buy it right now, ask your personal Santa Claus for the book. Don't end 2019 without this work in your hands and on your shelf.
By "Christian founding" is meant that the founders were significantly INFLUENCED by Christian teachings. In 1776, almost every colonist, with the exception of a few thousand Jews, identified themselves as a Christian. However, America's founders drew from Christian convictions to create a constitutional order that benefits all Americans, not just Christians.
THE MYTH OF THE FOUNDERS' DEISM
"The Founding Fathers were at most deists -- they believed God created the world, then left it alone to run." (Gordon Wood)
This view is held by those who cite the religious views of eight Founders:
Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, Thomas Paine, Alexander Hamilton, and Ethan Allen.
It is true that not all the Founding Fathers were professing Christians. Deists do not believe in revelation from God. They also believe that God does not interfere in the affairs of people and nations. In Alan Wolfe's words, "God set the world in motion and then abstained from human affairs."
Only Ethan Allen believed this. All the others, even professed Deists, can be cited as believing in God's intervention.
BENJAMIN FRANKLIN (God intervenes)
He did admit he had "some doubts" about the divinity of Jesus of Nazareth. But in the Constitutional Convention of 1787, Franklin wrote, "In the beginning of the contest with Great Britain, when we were sensible of danger, we had daily prayer in this room for divine protection. Our prayers, Sir, were heard, and they were graciously answered...the longer I live, the more convincing proof I have of this truth -- that God governs the affairs of men." Franklin was the oldest member at this convention, and it was he who proposed to open each day with prayer.
ETHAN ALLEN (a public Deist who had no influence)
In 1784, the leader of the Green Mountain Boys in their victory at Fort Ticonderoga, published a book advocating deism: Reason-- The Only Oracle of Man. It sold fewer than 200 copies, and after this Allen played no role in American politics.
THOMAS PAINE (a public Deist who was denounced)
This professed deist published his famous, The Age of Reason, in 1794. It was denounced by Samuel Adams, John Adams, John Witherspoon, William Paterson, John Jay and Benjamin Rush. Charles Carroll condemned these "blasphemous writings against the Christian religion," and Zephaniah Swift called it an "attack on Christianity." Elias Boudinot and Patrick Henry wrote books to rebut it. When Paine returned to America, he was vilified for his book. With the exception of Thomas Jefferson and a few others, he was abandoned by all his friends. When he passed away in 1809, he had to be buried on a farm because even the tolerant Quakers refused to let him be interred in their church cemetery. Only six mourners came to his funeral.
THOMAS JEFFERSON (a private Deist who believed God intervenes)
Jefferson did reject core doctrines of Christianity such as the deity of Christ, His miracles, the atonement, His resurrection and the Trinity. However,...
Jefferson penned the now-famous phrase, "a wall of separation between Church & State." Yet two days later he worshiped in the U.S. Capitol, as he usually did, where he heard the great Baptist minister, John Leland, preach. As governor of Virginia, Jefferson issued a proclamation that encouraged "the good people of this commonwealth" to set apart a day for "public and solemn thanksgiving and prayer to Almighty God."
In 1776, Jefferson proposed the following as the new country's national seal: Pharaoh sitting in an open chariot, a crown on his head and sword in his hand, passing through the divided waters of the Red Sea in pursuit of the the Israelites, rays coming from a pillar of fire in the cloud, expressive of the divine presence and command, reaching to Moses who stands on the shore and extending his hand over the sea, causes it to overwhelm Pharaoh. Jefferson suggested the motto for the new United States of America: "Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God."
Jefferson closed his 2nd inaugural address by noting that he would need "the favor of that Being in whose hands we are, who led our forefathers, as Israel of old," and asked his listeners to "join with me in supplications, that He will so enlighten the minds of your servants, guide their councils, and prosper their measures, that whatsoever they do, shall result in your good, and shall secure to you the peace, friendship, and approbation of all nations."
Even though Jefferson may have believed in a vague, distant Deity, almost all of his fellow delegates who revised and approved the Declaration of Independence understood that "Nature's God," "Creator," and "Providence" referred to the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, a God who is active in the affairs of people and nations.
JOHN ADAMS (a private Congregationalist who believed God intervenes)
In 1816, he wrote, "The Ten Commandments and the Sermon on the Mount contain my religion."
He did write to his son that he rejected the divinity of Christ. "An incarnate God!!! An eternal, self-existent, omnipresent omniscient Author of this stupendous Universe suffering on a cross!!! My soul starts with horror, at the idea."
However, just before America declared independence, Adams wrote that "Religion and morality alone...can establish the principles upon which freedom can securely stand." In 1811 he wrote, "religion and virtue are the only Foundation of social felicity under all governments and in all combinations of human society," and in 1798 he wrote, "Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
In 1799, President Adams recommended a day to be observed throughout the United States of America "as a day of solemn humiliation, fasting, and prayer; that the citizens call to mind our numerous offenses against the Most High God, confess them before Him with the sincerest penitence, implore His pardoning mercy, through the Great Mediator and Redeemer [Christ], for our past transgressions, and that through the grace of His Holy Spirit we may be disposed and enabled to yield a more suitable obedience to His righteous requisitions in time to come; that He would interpose to arrest the progress of that impiety and licentiousness in principle and practice so offensive to Himself and so ruinous to mankind; that He would make us deeply sensible that 'righteousness exalteth a nation: but sin is a reproach to any people' [Prov 14:34]."
GEORGE WASHINGTON (God intervenes)
Washington's writings comprise ninety volumes, James Madison's fifty volumes, and Alexander Hamilton's twenty-seven volumes. Yet contemporary writers have not cited one single instance where these founders clearly rejected a basic tenet of orthodox Christianity or embraced deism.
In 1755, Washington wrote, "By the all-powerful dispensation of Providence, I have been protected beyond all human probability. I had 4 bullets through my coat, and two horses shot under me yet escaped unhurt although death was leveling my companions on every side of me."
Also in 1775, at Valley Forge, Washington encouraged his officers and soldiers to attend worship services.
"The Commander-in-chief directs that divine service be performed every Sunday at 11 o'clock in each brigade which has a chaplain. It is expected that officers of all rank will, by their attendance, set an example to their men. While we are duly performing the duty of good soldiers, we certainly ought not to be inattentive to the higher duties of religion. To the distinguished character of a Patriot, it should be our highest glory to add the more distinguished character of a Christian.
The signal instances of Providential goodness which we have experienced, and which have almost crowned our arms with complete success, demand from us the warmest returns of gratitude and piety to the Supreme Author of all good."
In 1783, when Washington resigned as commander-in-chief of the Continental Army, he concluded with an earnest prayer that God "would most graciously be pleased to dispose us all, to do justice, to love mercy, and to demean ourselves with that charity, humility, and pacific temper of mind, which were the characteristics of the Divine Author of our blessed religion, and without a humble imitation of whose example in these things, we can never hope to be a happy nation." Here Washington paraphrases Micah 6:8, and encourages his readers to follow the example of Jesus Christ.
Washington's 1789 Thanksgiving Proclamation clearly acknowledges God's intervention in early America.
"Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and to humbly implore His protection and favor...
I do recommend and assign Thursday the 26th day of November (1789) next to be devoted by the people of these states to the service of that great and glorious Being, who is the beneficent Author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be -- That we may them all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks -- for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to becoming a nation -- for the signal and manifold mercies, and the favorable interpositions of His Providence which we experience in the course and conclusion of the late war -- for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty, which we have since enjoyed -- for the peaceable and rational manner, in which we have been enables to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness."
ALEXANDER HAMILTON (God intervenes)
Shortly before his death, Hamilton wrote, "Arraign not the dispensations of Providence -- they must be founded in wisdom and goodness. And when they do not suit us, it must be because there is some fault in ourselves which deserves chastisement, or because there is a kind intent to correct in us some vice or failing,"
JAMES MADISON (God intervenes)
In 1785, Madison wrote, "we hold it for a fundamental and undeniable truth, that Religion or the duty which we owe to our Creator and the manner of discharging it, can be directed only by reason and conviction, not by force or violence. This right is in its nature an unalienable right...because what is here a right towards men is a duty towards the Creator. It is the duty of every man to render to the Creator such homage."
The RELIGION of the COLONISTS
The Reformed tradition (Calvinism) was "the religious heritage of three-fourths of the American people in 1776 (Sydney Ahlstrom).
In 1776, fifty-six percent of churches were in the Reformed tradition (Charles O. Paullin).
These two percentages (75 and 56) would not conflict if Reformed congregations were larger than non-Reformed.
Yale historian Harry Stout says that "the vast majority of colonists were Reformed or Calvinist."
Congregationalist ministers alone preached over 2,000 sermons each week. Sermons were published at 4 times the rate of political pamphlets.
This means that the eight Founders cited above did not represent the practicing religious views of most American colonists.
However, the following 20 founders were orthodox Christians:
Samuel Adams, Elias Boudinot, Eliphalet Dyer, Oliver Ellsworth, Matthew Griswold, John Hancock, Benjamin Huntington, Samuel Huntington, Thomas McKean, William Paterson, Tapping Reeve, Jesse Root, Roger Sherman, John Treadwell, Jonathan Trumbull, William Williams, James Wilson, John Witherspoon, Oliver Wolcott, and Robert Yates.
WHO INFLUENCED THE FOUNDERS?
In his exhaustive survey of American political literature published between 1760 and 1805, Donald S. Lutz found that 22% of the Founders' citations were from thinkers of the Enlightenment, whereas 34% of all citations were from the Bible. Only 2.9% of citations were to John Locke.
Ben Franklin even wrote: "It was not necessary in New England, where everybody reads the Bible, and is acquainted with Scripture phrases, that you should note the texts from which you took them." In other words, the colonists were so familiar with Scripture that when they heard the Bible quoted, they knew the chapter and verse where it came from.
Many teachers were Calvinists. Millions of children were taught to read with the Calvinist New-England Primer. More than two million copies were printed in the 18th century. Children learned the alphabet with a rhyme that began, "In Adam's fall, We sinned all."
During the time that John Witherspoon was President of Jersey College (now Princeton), the school produced 5 delegates to the Constitutional Convention, one U.S. President (Madison), a vice-President (Aaron Burr), 49 US representatives, 28 U.S. senators, 3 Supreme Court justices, 8 U.S. district judges, one secretary of state, 3 attorney generals, and 2 foreign ministers.
CHECKS and BALANCES
The Founders believed in what Lord Acton said, "Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." The Christian founders believed that government was a God-ordained institution, but even the best rulers are sinful (Romans 3:23). With this in mind, they ratified Article I, Section 8, of the Constitution which limited the powers of the Federal Government to negotiating treaties, declaring war, regulating commerce between the states, and such. In addition to limiting powers, they separated powers between the legislative, executive, and judicial branches. Each branch should be able to check the other. For example, the President (executive branch) may veto legislation he considers to be imprudent. Federal courts can void legislation that is unconstitutional or unjust.
ROGER SHERMAN and CONNECTICUT (Religious Liberties)
He is the only statesman to help draft and sign the Declaration and Resolves (1774), the Articles of Association (1774), the Declaration of Independence (1776), the Articles of Confederation (1777-78), and the U.S. Constitution (1787). He helped write the 1784 Connecticut State Code which supported the then widespread practice of Christianity by instructing town leaders to supply Bibles and other good books of practical godliness to families in need. It also required the passing of statutes reflecting Christian morality on such issues as adultery, divorce, drunkenness, fornication, gaming, and horse racing.
WILLIAM PENN and PENNSYLVANIA (Toward the extinction of slavery)
In 1780, the Pennsylvania legislators put the institution of slavery on the road to extinction when they reflected on God's deliverance from Great Britain.
"We are unavoidably led to a serious and grateful sense of the manifold blessings which we have undeservedly received from the hand of that Being from whom every good and perfect gift cometh (James 1:17). Impressed with these ideas, we conceive that it is our duty, and we rejoice that it is in our power to extend a portion of that freedom to others, which hath been extended to us; and a release from that state of thralldom [slavery] to which we ourselves were tyrannically doomed, and from which we have now every prospect of being delivered. It is not for us to inquire why, in the creation of mankind, the inhabitants of the several parts of the were distinguished by a difference in feature or complexion. It is sufficient to know that all are the work of an Almighty Hand."
RELIGOUS LIBERTY for ALL
The First Amendment says, "Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof..."
Although the original colonists were mostly Christians, immigrants came to America from diverse groups. A 1771 woodcut of the skyline of New York City shows groups of Presbyterians, Anglicans, Dutch Calvinists, Moravians, Jews, Quakers, Anabaptists, Catholics, Methodists, Lutherans, and others. This required civic authorities to negotiate laws encouraging different groups to get along. Concluding that religious persecution doesn't work, in 1675 William Penn wrote, "force makes hypocrites, 'tis persuasion only that makes converts."
Christians in public office believed that religion freedom actually allowed true religion to flourish. In 1776, the Presbyterians of Hanover County, Virginia wrote, "If mankind were left in the quiet possession of their unalienable religious privileges, Christianity, as in the days of the Apostles, would continue to prevail and flourish in the greatest purity, by its own native excellence, and under the all-disposing providence of God."
Supreme Court Justice James Iredell from North Carolina wrote it "would be happy if religion was permitted to take its own course, and maintain itself by the excellence of its own doctrines. The divine Author of our religion never wished for its support by world authority. Has He not said that the gates of hell shall not prevail against it [Matt 16:18]? It made much greater progress for itself, than when supported by the greatest authority on earth."