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Was America Founded As a Christian Nation? by [Fea, John]
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Was America Founded As a Christian Nation? Kindle Edition

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Length: 322 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Editorial Reviews

Review

“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 Professor of American History and Chair of the History Department at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. He is a leading interpreter of American religious history and identity and has written for such media outlets as the Washington Post, Sojourners, Patheos.com, RealClearPolitics.com, and more. He blogs at www.TheWayofImprovement.com.


Product Details

  • File Size: 2083 KB
  • Print Length: 322 pages
  • Publisher: Westminster John Knox Press (April 13, 2011)
  • Publication Date: April 13, 2011
  • Sold by: Amazon Digital Services LLC
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B004WDYKG6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Lending: Not Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #309,537 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By George P. Wood TOP 1000 REVIEWERVINE VOICE on September 8, 2011
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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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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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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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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A nice review of the controversy in three main parts: What the "Christian Nation" idea has looked like throughout American history (including reference to today's main combatants); religious influence/justification during the Revolutionary period; and reviews of the founders' beliefs.

He's fairly blunt (maybe plainspoken is a better word) with his conclusions, but is still able to get the full point across. For example: Jefferson was not a Christian in any orthodox sense (not believing in Jesus's divinity), but neither was he an "orthodox" deist (believing in the ongoing hand of Providence). His conclusions are equivocal without being wishy-washy.

This is an introduction to the topic, a starting point. If you're looking for an exhaustive explanation of the founders' views, you'll have to go elsewhere. A handful of founders are reviewed in detail, and by "detail" I mean 10-20 pages each. But it never pretends to be anything different.

I picked up this book because it was mentioned in an article (on a liberal site) about David Barton. I was intrigued because it described Fea as a Christian critic of Barton, particularly Barton's partisan approach to history. I can confirm that Fea seems to be "doing history" the right way, without any obvious ax to grind.
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