Monday, August 14, 2006

"The Faiths of the Founding Father's"--- David L. Holmes' new book

It is a matter of no little contention whenever the subject of the principles on which our nation was founded comes up. Equally contentious is the issue of what faith or faiths our founding fathers (and mothers) actually embraced. Into this briar's nest comes a very readable compact guide to the latter subject in particular, which is well worth reading and comes highly recommended by Philip Jenkins and others. The title 'The Faiths (plural) of our Founding Fathers' (Oxford: 2006) hints already at the direction the author will pursue.

David Holmes is professor of religious studies at the College of William and Mary, which not incidentally or accidentally was also the college attended by many of the founding fathers, particularly the Virginians such as Jefferson (also Madison and Monroe). Holmes knows well the history of his college, including its reputation for being a center of Deism at the formative period in the 18th century when the Revolution was brewing. It was here that people like Jefferson became exposed not only to the thinking of English Deists such as Lord Herbert (sadly the brother of the olrthodox Anglican minister and poet George Herbert), Joseph Priestley and others, but also to the radical critique of Christianity by Voltaire, and the empiricism of John Locke and others.

What emerges from Holmes careful research is that George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson were all strongly influenced by Deistic thought (Jefferson and Adams in particular objecting to the idea of the Trinity, and in general the concept of divine revelation, preferring instead the idea that nature and reason revealed the character of God). In addition there was the syncretistic influence of Free Masonry with its pan-religious approach (involving a bit of Judaism, a bit of Christianity, a bit of Egyptian religion and more) which seems to have had a marked impact especially on Washington.

Holmes carefully documents how these founding fathers avoided getting confirmed in the 'state' church of Virginia (which was the Episcopal Church, unlike in most of New England where Congregationalism was the state church), and did not take the Lord's Supper in these churches by design. In this way they showed their objection to 'priestcraft' and what they took to be the corruption of the originally pure faith of Jesus which was not Trinitarian and did not involve the worship of Jesus. This did not make these men either secular humanists or 'free thinkers' in the broad sense. Our country was certainly not founded by secular humanists. Not even Thomas Paine deserves that anachronistic label. It was however founded by people whose religious beliefs ranged from non-Christian Deism to more Christian Deism, to, in the case of people like Samuel Adams, John Jay and Patrick Henry, orthodox Christianity.

More tellingly, none of the first five presidents would appear to have been orthodox Christians in any modern sense of the term. Indeed most modern Evangelicals would think of them as like either contemporary nominal or very liberal episcopalians (cf. Bishop Spong), if not actual heretics (e.g. in the case of Jefferson who rejected the virgin birth, the bodily resurrection of Jesus the Trinity, the inspiration and authority of the Bible as revealed religion and so on).

As Holmes points out however, better things can be said of some of the wives of the first Presidents who were much more orthodox and church attending than there husbands (e.g. Martha Washington for example). Holmes convincingly explains the reason for this difference between the Presidents and some of their First Ladies: 1) the women were not allowed to go to college, and so were not subject to the skepticism of Deistic professors; 2) the women could not join organizations like the Masons which encouraged a more pan-religious and Deistic approach to things; 3) the women were charged with educating their children with the tools at hand, the primary tool of course being the Bible. There are other reasons but these make good sense, as the spiritual nurture of the children had been left in their hands. It was the women who arranged the baptisms, weddings and the rest. The more things change, the more things stay the same.

Perhaps the most interesting though not necessarily orthodox of the first ladies was Dolly Madison, who grew up Dolly Payne in the Quaker community at Guilford College in Greensboro N.C., but left her plain ways behind when she became the hostesss with the mostess as the First Lady. Holmes has a good way of summarizing a myriad of relevant data, and sifting through the evidence for the relevant material. As he says, it is sometimes difficult to know the religious stand of some of founding fathers and mothers because they were not demonstrative on the subject, because especially in high church Episcopal circles the reaction to wearing your religious heart on your sleeve and being evangelistic was about the same as the reaction of the Anglican Church in England to warm hearted Methodist piety during the same period. It was in 'bad taste' and 'too individualistic and enthusiastic' as the common complaints went.

An especially interesting feature of this boook is that Holmes does discuss, in one of the latter chapters, orthodox Christians like Samuel Adams (yes the one whose daddy started the Boston Ale company which has a modern successor of the same name), John Jay and others. This is insightful because we are able to notice how they interacted with Washington, Adams and Jefferson and how different in their piety they were from these Presidents. This sort of comparative analysis is very helpful and makes the orthodox Christians stick out like a sore thumb.

The upshot of all this is of course that America's leadership at its inception was religiously pluralistic (in a Judeo-Christian kind of way; not like modern world religions kind of pluralism). In short there is no encouragement here either for the secular humanist theory of America's origins or for that matter for the 'our first leaders were mostly orthodox Christians' theory either. Sorry Timothy La Haye, and other Evangelical revisionist historians, but you need fact check as bad as Dan Brown did.

There is also in this book a very fine review as an Epilogue of the faith of the Presidents from Ford through W. It also is illuminating. What is most illuminating is that by any normal measuring stick, the one's most obviously pietistic and church attending were the Democrats, not the Republicans, make of that what you will. What is equally telling is that they were all Protestants of one sort or another, with George Bush senior being the most high church (Episcopalian).

One will find out some unsettling things about Washington, Adams, and Jefferson especially in this book. For example, Washington's own pastor and the chaplain of the Continental Congress, Bishop White states plainly in 1832: "I do not believe that any degree of recollection will bring to my mind any fact which would prove General Washington to have been a believer in the Christian revelation" (pp. 162-63). He ought to have known the truth about this, and Bishop White was countering here early attempts at putting a halo over the head of St. George by writing hagiographic bibliographies in the early 19th century.

Holmes' summary is helpful: "Deists and orthodox Christians alike composed the revolutionary generation. Whatever their private beliefs, most maintained formal affiliations with Christian denominations. In the spirit of the times, some questioned doctrines that they believed could not be reconciled with human reason (e.g. especially Adams and Jefferson, and of course Thomas Paine). As a result they rejected such Christian teachings as the Trinity, the virgin birth, the resurrection, and the divinity of Jesus. Yet orthodox Christians participated at every stage of building the nation, and many of the founder's wives and daughters displayed an orthodox Christian commitment." (p. 163).


Here are some questions for thought as a result of reading this book: 1) Is there anything in the Bible that suggests that democracy rather than rule by a king or a emperor, or perhaps a theocracy, is most favored by God? I don't think there is. There is of course plenty in the NT about freedom from sin and freedom to serve God, but that can transpire under various sorts of polities. There is also plenty in the Bible in general about justice, and respect of persons, loving neighbor and the like. But again all these practices can exist under varied forms of governments; 2) Is there anything in the Bible that supports modern notions about nation states, particularly about God blessing or especially favoring not ethnic groups (e.g. Jews) or religious groups (those in Christ), but certain nation states? I must admit I can't find it in there. As Paul says, Christians have and are part of a politeuma, a constituting government that is from above. This stands in contradistiction in Paul's mind to things like countries or humanly constructed empires (see Philippians). 3) Is there anything in the Bible that warrants an open rebellion against a legitimate governing authority simply because there was taxation without representation? This is just the opposite of what Romans 13 would seem to suggest. Paul tells Christians in Rome to pay taxes to the tyrant Nero! By comparison to Nero, King George of Hanover looked like good King George. And of course 'representation' in the colonial sense was very different from the plebs and the patricians in Rome during the Empire. 4) If you ask where the founding notions about freedom, democracy, pure reason, common sense, congresses, no taxation without representation, the electing of leaders come from in America, they seem to have as much or more to do with the spirit of the Enlightenment which was the Zeitgeist of that age (read John Locke who so impressed Wesley on certain points), than it has to do with the spirit or tenor or teachings of the Bible. This is of course a hard truth for patriotic, flag waving, freedom loving Americans to swallow, and I am one of them. But it does raise this question. Is it our Biblical absolutes or our cultural principles, however good, which have most shaped and continue to shape our nation and shaped its governing documents in the first place (e.g Declaration of Independence and Constitution and the Bill of Rights)? I am not sure personally how to answer that question in a full way. Think on these things.

56 comments:

Layman said...

Professor,

Have you read The Origins of American Constitutionalism,

I did not take any of his classes while I was studying at the University of Houston, but he had an excellent reputation in the polisci department. The book is the result of exhaustive research into the founding documents, in which Lutz included state constitutions, as well as all of the political treatises and discourses of the time. Lutz documented citations to sources among the political writings from before the revolutionary war past the acceptance of the U.S. Constitution.

Lutz finds, for example, that "Saint Paul is cited about as frequently as Montesquieu and Blackstone, the two most-cited secular authors, and Deuteronomoy is cited almost as twice as often as all of Locke's writings put together." Lutz, op. cit., page 140. "As one might expect, the authors referred most frequently to the sections about covenants and God's promises to Israel, as well as similar passages in Josuha, I and II Samuel, I and II Kings, and Matthew's Gospel." Id.

Citation of the Bible in political discource reached its peak during the Revolutionary War years, but was also still quite high during the adoption of the Constitution, falling from a high of 44% in the 1770s to 34% in the 1780s. On the other hand, citations of Enlightenment writings rose from 18% in the 1770s to 21% in the 1780s.

We might disagree with their exegesis, but the overwhelming influence of the Bible during this period should not be dismissed out of hand.

Layman said...

Not sure why that got cut off. But The Origins of American Constitutionalism was written by Professor Donald S. Lutz, of the University of Houston.

My apologies.

Brett Royal said...

I read John Adams biography by David McCullough a little over a year ago. It is interesting that he is referred to as a deist. I sure didn't get that from what I read. I came away very impressed with the man and his beliefs.
A lot of the book is devoted to Jefferson and his beliefs, and he would definitely be classified as a deist. I seem to recall Adams had a lot of trouble with Jefferson and his religious beliefs, but it's been a while since I read it. I'm interested now to go back and read parts of it again.

BAB said...

Thank you for posting this. I got crucified (not literally) around 4th of July for asking many of the same questions. To layman, I wouldn't deny that the Bible was referenced regulary, but the true origins of their ideas is the question at hand.
Brett Royal, pick up a copy of the letters between Jefferson and Adams. You can see where they disagree, and where they are in complete agreement (e.g. anti-Athanasian Christianity).

I think it is also important to ask - as Dr. Witherington did - whether the revolution was a biblically justifiable action.

Dr. Witherington, one of the questions that naturally follows from this, and I would love your opinion, is how should we as Christians think about, feel about, and even celebrate our country (i.e. the question of patriotism)?

Layman said...

bab,

It was not just referenced regularly, it was referenced more than anything else. By far. IMO, it was a great tempering force in the revolution and constitutional convention times. We avoided a war and a government founded entirely on enlightenment principles, as is more the case with the French Revolution.

If the Revolution was not justified, should we resubmit to the Crown of England? If it is true that "there is no authority except that which God has established” then is not the United Statse government so established?

Peter Kirk said...

Layman, you might want to ask our Sovereign Lady Queen Elizabeth if she would want your submission! I'm sure our British parliament, especially our current Prime Minister, would be prepared to negotiate proper terms to legalise your rebellion, as was done with Rhodesia/Zimbabwe in the 1970s I think. Or maybe we have already done this in fact.

Ben asked, "Is there anything in the Bible that supports modern notions about nation states, particularly about God blessing or especially favoring not ethnic groups (e.g. Jews) or religious groups (those in Christ), but certain nation states? I must admit I can't find it in there." Perhaps he should look at Deuteronomy 32:8-9 and Acts 17:26-27. These verses are at least commonly quoted as "support[ing] modern notions about nation states". That exegesis may well be debatable, but you need to explain why you have not taken this understanding of these verses.

Ben Witherington said...

First of all layman, you are right that there was an attempt to provide Biblical justification for the revolution on several grounds and a lot of Bible citations were thrown around--- including the idea that America was the new chosen people of God!!! This however does not demonstrate: 1) that the Bible was being properly used in all this usage, nor 2) does it mean that all of the major building block ideas were Biblical to start with. Some of the ideas were well grounded in the Bible, some were unBiblical.

Peter, I am happy to deal with those texts. Firstly, I would stress that it is entirely anachronistic to talk about nation states in Biblical times. The modern notion didn't really exist then. Secondly, you will notice the reference in Deut. 32.8 to races. The term translated nation here is simply a synonym for people-- ethnic people group. It has nothing to do with modern ideas of sovereign nation states that are made up of diverse ethnic groups. Thirdly, Acts 17.26-27 similar to the text of Deut. refers to the fact that all the people groups go back to Adam. There is in addition the notion that God set some limits to these things. The exegesis of these two verses is in fact difficult. Is he talking about zones in the earth, geographical boundaries, or what? The term 'ethnos' here can be translated either race or nation here and the idea is that God wanted the whole earth filled with human beings of various racial or ethnic groups. Even if we translated the term ethnos as nation in the Acts passage, it does not mean what we use the term to mean.

And as for Babs read Is. 40. 15-17--- "surely the nations are like a drop in the bucket; they are regarded as dust in the scales.... Before God all nations are as nothing; they are regarded by him as worthless and less than nothing." The point of this text is that nations can not be compared to God when it comes to the issue of personal loyalty.

More relevant to our discussion is exactly what Peter tells Cornelius he has learned: "I now know how true it is that God does not show favoritism but accepts those from every nation who fear him and do what is right." (Acts 10.34-35).

Why not celebrate whatever things that are good to celebrate about our nation as it now is, on July 4th?

Blessings,

Ben

Andy Rowell said...

Ben,
Just wanted to say thanks for the book review. I have forwarded the link to a couple of people. Book reviews or even less formal blog book reviews are very helpful for those of us who want to be well-read but can't read everything. Just wanted to say thanks.

andy

Andy Rowell
Taylor University
Department of Biblical Studies and Christian Ministry
Blog: Church Leadership Conversations

Layman said...

"Or maybe we have already done this in fact."

Well, I would say that the Second Treaty of Paris would fit the bill.

Professor,

I would certainly agree that the revolutionary justification was a mix of biblical and other sources. And that some of the biblical grounds were more persuasive than others. But I give them credit for thinking that they even had to justify to God, as well as other nations, why they were breaking with the mother country.

As I noted in an old Fourth of July blog post, Thomas Jefferson's initial draft of the Declaration of Independence left out most of the religious language we find in our present, official versions. Obviously a result of his diest tendencies.

So what happened? The drafting committee, which included Benjamin Franklin, demanded that the rights be "endowed by their creator." The full Congress demanded that the Declaration include an appeal "to the Supreme Judge of the World for the rectitude of our intentions," and that the United States was undertaking the task of liberty with a "firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence."

Jefferson's draft was not completely secular, as it did include a reference to "the laws of nature and of nature's God."

Ben Witherington said...

And Layman, as Holmes makes clear in detail, all of that language you are referring to was Deist buzz language for the watchmaker God they believed in. This was language deliberately avoiding using language that referred to the Trinity or to the grace of Christ. This was language that made a Deist like Franklin perfectly happy, and made an orthodox Christian like Samuel Adams hoping mad!!! Calling God Providence is not in the Bible, calling God the Grand Architect is the cliche language of Masonry, calling God 'nature's God' is a phrase that comes right out of the Deist's own literature. And calling God the Supreme judge was also typical of the way Deists talked about God. Totally missing is more Biblical language like the Lord, the Heavenly Father etc. The God of Deism is not the Biblical God anymore than the God of Jehovah Witnesses is.

Blessings,

Ben

Ben Witherington said...

Andy.... you are most welcome. That's one of the reasons I do book and movie and CD reviews.

Blessings,

Ben

Layman said...

Professor,

If your point is that the founders were not members of the religious right, I don't think you'll find much dispute here. But Americans of the time were heavily influenced by Christianty and the Bible and appealed to such as grounds for revolution--as you admit. That is not simply The Enlightenment Act II. While many of America's elites were not "evangelicals" they were much more religiously inclined than their European counterparts. The French Revolution was not full of appeals to rights endowed by the creator or appeals to the Supreme Judge of the Universe. In America, the revolutionary fervor was shared among more deistically inclined and among the traditionally devout. This synthensis is what has come to be called Judeo-Christian and what was previously called the Civic Religion.

You yourself just said that many colonists viewed America as God's new chosen. Was that the Enlightenment talking? Was the Revolutionary cry "No King but Jesus" simply the enlightenment talking?

True, many of the Founders were Deists. But American Deism of the time was itself greatly influenced by Christianity. It was a much closer cousin than its European counterpart. And many Americans actively involved in the Revolution and in the Constitutional Convention were more devout, traditional Christians, not to mention the voters and soldiers who actually carried on the war and ratified the constitution.

Shawna Renee said...

Dr. Witherington I've linked to your reviews of this book and the Terrorist on my website: Shawna R. B. Atteberry.

Camassia said...

Going down your study questions, I think my answer to 1) would be that democracy is not endorsed by the Bible but it is to some extent the logical conclusion of the biblical demystification of the state. In the biblical era, many rulers actually claimed to be gods, which the Jews were among the first to absolutely reject. In the Christian era this idea clung on as the "divine right of kings," but I think that once you've presented the model for humiliating the rulers (as happens over and over in the Bible), people are only going to buy that for so long.

My answers to 2) and 3) would be no, for the reasons you state. As to 4), I sometimes wonder if we draw to sharp a dichotomy between Christianity and the Enlightenment. I mean, obviously there are conflicts between them, but it's not like the Enlightenment came from Mars -- it emerged from a Christian culture. In particular, those of us in low-church denominations like Quaker, Baptist and Anabaptist have to consider how much the precepts of our own movements -- egalitarianism, separation of church and state, private conscience, and so on -- wound up being adopted and used for frankly un-Christian purposes.

On a related note, I'd be interested to know if you're familiar with Rodney Stark's new book arguing that the "rule of reason" actually goes way back in Christianity and caused it to prevail. He wrote a summary of it in the Chronicle of Higher Ed a while ago, which is no longer available online, but I excerpted from it here.

Percival said...

A most interesting post. We have tried to find home-schooling materials for American history that don’t smell like propaganda. It is definitely a difficult search. All of them that I have seen have made the American Revolution a pious Christian affair with all the founding fathers on their knees asking for (and getting) guidance from Providence.
On another related topic, how about the whole notion of “human rights”? How is that Christian? The Bible seems to speak of human obligations, but rights?
But then again, like the abolition of slavery, are not some of the principles of democracy (and free enterprise) implied by the golden rule? Just more food for thought or fuel for discussion.

Grumpy Old Man said...

Dr W, this is a courageous post for one who is both a loyal American and believing Christian. It's not just the same old cant, but a coming to grips with history and the text in an honest way, as I point out here.

There are more questions. How, for example, did abolitionism emerge from certain forms of Christianity, when both the OT and NT appear to accept slavery, albeit with limits?

If the anointing of kings was a grudging concession by God, through Samuel, to human weakness, is the abolition of royalty a return to a better order of things?

Et cetera, et cetera and so forth.

Ben Witherington said...

Alrighty then. Now we are having a good conversation. Layman I hear what you are saying, but my real question is whether in fact the essence of the spirit behind and driving the American revolution was Christian. I gather that you think the answer is yes. I am not so sanguine that that is the case. King George was not, for example, suppressing anybodies religion in America. He was also not some tyrant dragging numerous American citizens off and having them executed on no cause. Almost all kingdoms of that and all previous empires expected to get revenue out of a colony country which it supplied and protected. The issue of representation is frankly a notion I can't find in the Bible, and in regard to 'human' or even 'civic' rights maybe this is an extention of the idea of each of us being created in the image of God and deserving to be treated with respect, but their is much more in the Bible about our human responsibilities. There is no emphasis on human rights.

Abolitionism emerged from quite specific Biblical texts--- namely a close reading of Philemon and a text like Gal. 3.28-- there are no slaves in Christ.

Blessings,

Ben

Bob Robinson said...

Thank you for the review!

It is amazing to me that Christians are so guilty of revisionist history. LaHaye and the like need to repent of their perpetuation of the myth that the Founding Fathers were evangelical Christians. Noll, Hatch, and Marsden have proved unequivocally that they certainly were not!

Michael W. Kruse said...

"I sometimes wonder if we draw to sharp a dichotomy between Christianity and the Enlightenment. I mean, obviously there are conflicts between them, but it's not like the Enlightenment came from Mars -- it emerged from a Christian culture."

Well said Camassia.

I don't think we can say that America is a Christian nation in the sense many conservative Christians want to claim today. However, I do think it is true that you could not have had America, or something close to it, without Christianity.

Camassia mentioned Rodney Stark's "Victory of Reason." Stark points out unique qualities of Christianity. For instance, Judaism and Islam are mostly backward looking. You look back to the words written by Moses and Mohammad and conform yourself to their teaching. Jesus never wrote anything down. We therefore have to rely on various witnesses and REASON our way to many truths and their ethical implications.

Christianity also talks of the Kingdom being in the present and completed in the future. Our attention moves from the past to the future. Stark says the Jews had the idea of "processing" through time until a messiah came. Christians are "progressing" through time. There are other themes like human beings created in the image of God and therefore having special value and rights inherent in them.

Stark's thesis (and I think it is a compelling one) is that concepts like linear time, progress, future orientation, reason, individual rights, etc., were born out of Christianity. I think it is mostly in this broad cultural sense that we can talk about America being a Christian nation, less so in an Evangelical Christian theological sense.

Ben Witherington said...

I obviously need to look at Stark's book, but this thesis makes some sense.

Ian said...

Strictly speaking, to be an American and a Christian is to be yoked to two masters.

Though there may be Judeo-Christian roots to some of the ideas of America, they aren't exclusively religious, and the allegiance to Constitution and Nation is the apex of "the American religion."

It seems to me that when we become too enthralled with the Pauline sense of order, with its regimented gifts or offices or Roman legalism, it is easy to allow the trancendency of the liberty of direct relations with the Almighty to be diminished.

The American faith appears very much the same, embracing political/rhetorical debate and dischord over social mores as an easier target while ignoring the more exaulted aspects of the American Republic and Constitutional democracy.

I see churches in America of all kinds, yet uniformly they are most anxious to partake in the polity of men to satisfy their various needs, rather than to partake - as a corporate body - with spirit in anything more than name. (It is difficult for me to view a mega-church as anything but egotism on the part of parishoner and pastor alike.)

There is no such crisis of faith in the church of American patriotism, in no small part because the aim of Americanism is lower and in part because it is essentially an ethic of independence.

These two ethics - selflessness and independence - aren't just at odds with one another, they are part of complex ethical systems that have numerous divergent elements. To be faithful as a Christian brings you into conflict with being faithful as an American, and if it isn't, I'd question the strength of one or both faiths.

DLW said...

I summarized chapt 3 of "The Ideological Origins of the American Revolutions", 'power and liberty:A theory of Politics' and posted it on the internet years ago when I was teaching a course in political science for Economics majors.

I would say that the ideology reflects a notion of human sinfulness based on both Scripture and reflections on recent History. The general underlying concern of the colonialists was that the balance between monarchy, aristocracy and democracy in England was getting upset and so their revolution was set up to restore this balance to preserve liberty as they feared that England would go the way of much of Europe.

The issue was the notion that the people affected by legislation need to have some voice in the legislative process. One could argue that this really is nothing more than something that follows from the command to love our neighbors as ourselves, as applied to how we work out the rules that will govern us and adjudicate our inevitable conflicts.

What concerns me is how the American Revolution has been spun. Our autonomy was not won so much by our ability to use force, but rather by our ability to get sympathy in England and elsewhere and the fact that England had bigger fish to fry elsewhere. We would never have gotten freedom if we had had gold, the past's equivalent of oil wealth...

dlw

BAB said...

To whom do we pledge our allegiance? Given our past, and confusing mix of Christianity and Enlightment thought, I come back to the fact that I am first a citizen of Heaven, which means (1) my allegiance is pledged to a king, (2)I seek to live his dream and values, and (3) it may at times bring me in tension with my earthly citizenship.

DLW said...

Looks like I forgot the link to the text on the ideology of the American Revolution.

dlw

P- Ray said...

Thanks Dr. Witherington for this and other things you have written here and everywhere. Greatly appreciated.

For what its worth:

Publishers description (Providence Forum Press) of a new book by Peter A. Lillback entitled: Sacred Fire

"George Washington, the uniquely venerated Founding Father of our nation, valiant warrior of the American Revolution and devoted family man has been the subject of countless writings by scholars and storytellers alike.What sets George Washington’s Sacred Fire apart from all previous literary works on this man for the ages, is the exhaustive fifteen years of Dr. Peter Lillback’s research, revealing a world icon driven by the highest of ideals, not the least of which was his genuine Christian faith.

A vast number of books on George Washington are characterized by anecdotal recountings and factually unsubstantiated conclusions that,up to now,few have strived to correct by painting an accurate, meticulously detailed portrait. American history bookshelves are replete with volumes on George Washington, penned by living men forcing dead men to perform tricks of the writers’ choosing. Only do George Washington’s own writings, journals, letters, manuscripts, and those of his closest family and confidants reveal the truth of this awe-inspiring role model for all generations.

Growing up in a single parent household, George was faced with similar circumstances and challenges as many throughout history and indeed today. Yet, Dr. Lillback draws on primary source research to paint a picture of a man, who, faced with these challenges and circumstances, ultimately drew upon his persistent qualities of character— honesty, justice, equity, perseverance, piety, forgiveness, humility, and servant leadership, to become one of the most revered figures in world history. Major General Nathanael Greene, writing of his commander in chief, declared, “I hope we shall be taught to copy his example, and to prefer the love of liberty, in this time of public danger, to all the soft pleasures of domestic life.” These are values and determination that are widely absent in today’s society.

Where a nation begins distinctly determines the course it treads. George Washington set the cornerstone for what would become one of the most prosperous, free nations in the history of civilization.“Of all the dispositions and habits which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports,”he said in his farewell address. Through this book, Dr. Lillback, assisted by Jerry Newcombe, will reveal to the reader a newly inspirational image of General and President George Washington."

The farewell quote of Washington above, I do not find to be the least bit "inspirational," but it is revealing.

Andy Rowell said...

Ben,
Sorry this is totally unrelated to this post but I thought you would want to know:
Blogger is getting new features:

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Kevin Rosero said...

Professor, thanks for your interesting post, which has produced a fascinating conversation in its own right.

In regard to your Question #3 about Biblical support for a revolution against taxation without representation, what would you make of 1 Samuel 8:14-18?

He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your menservants and maidservants and the best of your cattle [b] and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, and the LORD will not answer you in that day."

The idea of representation is not expressed here, but the selfishness of the king is. The passage could be taken as an implication that any king has an obligation to be fair to his subjects, but as a warning that Israel's king(s) might not, or won't, meet the obligation.

A king who was fair to his subjects might do so by listening to representatives of the people (and the prophets sometimes served as voices of the people who challenged the kings to be fair and just).

Ben Witherington said...

The text from 1 Sam. 8 is interesting, not least because it of course does make clear that a king is supposed to be fair and just to his subjects, but the concept of representation in the modern sense is lacking here. By representation I mean persons chosen or elected who can actually help determine their own and their people's future. Not only are the 'representatives' mentioned in the Bible not elected by any open vote, they also have no power to make legislation which can change a people's life. All they can do is propose policy to a sovereign king or another authority. They can propose, but only the king can dispose such matters. Again, this is nothing like the democratic notion of representative 'of the people, by the people, and for the people.'

One final point. Since America is certainly not God's chosen nation in any Biblical sense of the phrase, those strictures and policies applied to Israel in the OT in regard to governance probably should not be applied to us, except in so far as we are looking for character descriptions for those who want to run for an office of some kind.

Ralph Hitchens said...

Political thinking was in its infancy when the Old Testament was written, and the New Testament authors reflected Jesus' preoccupation with eschatology as opposed to politics. (One can stretch the interpretation of "render unto Caesar..." far beyond what the Lord might have intended.) That said, there is a great deal of evidence in the OT demonstrating the tendency of monarchies toward tyranny and injustice, even when we're talking about a great king such as David. The overarching message of the Bible is that if mankind conformed to God's will, all would be well. As mankind (represented by Israel) persistently refused to do so, the only answer was "more God," in the form of a saviour. When this proved insufficient, thinkers like Locke stepped up to the plate to insist that mankind self-organize to prevent tyranny -- saying, in effect, that God would not involve Himself in human affairs above the personal level. This seems to have been clear in the minds of our Founding Fathers, and remains so today.

Sam L Carr said...

Thanks for that very interesting review. I guess we should only expect that the Founding Fathers had a variety of views on religion as they did on politics, philosophy, community, jurisprudence... The revisionists do need to do their homework before sticking everyone into today's blender.

Isaac said...

Greg Boyd's book "Myth of a Christian Nation" is a fairly good contribution to this discussion. He makes the point that we may want to think that the US is a christian nation, but no matter what the founding principles were, it was born out of violence and has lived in violence. Even if it was founded as a christian nation (which he disputes), it has never been one in practice.

Scott said...

Have you read 1776?

DLW said...

Ben, might I suggest that certain free-church heritage presuppositions are showing? Ie, part of the issue here is the desire for the Bible to settle once and for all what sort of governance we shd have for ourselves, when it really provides critical precedents whose implications need to be worked out?

You wrote:The text from 1 Sam. 8 is interesting, not least because it of course does make clear that a king is supposed to be fair and just to his subjects, but the concept of representation in the modern sense is lacking here. By representation I mean persons chosen or elected who can actually help determine their own and their people's future. Not only are the 'representatives' mentioned in the Bible not elected by any open vote, they also have no power to make legislation which can change a people's life. All they can do is propose policy to a sovereign king or another authority. They can propose, but only the king can dispose such matters.

Yes, but a Godly King is also shown as one who listens to prophecy of the past and present! Willis J Beecher's "Prophets and Promise" points out that prophets who deliver a word from God could be from any part of society back then, unlike priests. This sets an egalitarian precedent that is important for democracy. Democracy also permits ideas to percolate from any part of society and behooves for all to undertake the discipline to discern what is ultimately best for us. As such, changes to a system that restricted the importance of the King or removed the king are not without scriptural precedents that could be cited in favor of the action. It doesn't prescribe it, but it doesn't prohibit it and it certainly supports it. It doesn't prohibit it, inasmuch as Romans 13 does not deal with matters of legal change but rather Christian's conditional submission to existing rulers and their laws and need to avoid rebellion.

Ben:Again, this is nothing like the democratic notion of representative 'of the people, by the people, and for the people.'

dlw: The principle of "no taxation without representation", guaranteeing people some voice in legal changes that affect their well-beings, does fit with loving one's neighbor when we take into account our inevitably bounded altruisms and fallibilism in acting on the behalf of others.

Ben:One final point. Since America is certainly not God's chosen nation in any Biblical sense of the phrase, those strictures and policies applied to Israel in the OT in regard to governance probably should not be applied to us, except in so far as we are looking for character descriptions for those who want to run for an office of some kind.

I agree. But the issue really is not whether America is a Christian Nation or New Israel, but rather the importance of Christianity for our governance as a country. Contra Boyd, one can argue, in accord with the work done by non-Christian economic historian Robert Fogel in "The Fourth Great Awakening", that revivals in Christianity(and "secular or non-Christian" variants that arose later) have historically played a critical role in the ongoing reform of our governance.

dlw

Ben Witherington said...

Hi DLW:

I am not from the free church tradition at all. Have been a high church Methodist/Anglican for my whole life. I don't really think you can get a democratic polity out of 'love thy neighbor as thyself' and the only egalitarianism I find in the Bible is in Christ (Gal. 3.28) not prescribed or proscribed by a governmental policy or structure.

Blessings,

Ben

Jack said...

Several times the "taxation without representation" issue has been brought up as the impetus for revolution, but is that really the case? There was the Sedition Act, the Alien Act, the Tea Act and other similar laws passed, along with the the Boston "Massacre", revolutionary pamplets (Common Sense by Thom. Paine) and other things which incited the colonists. Additionally, these founding fathers were businessmen who were getting shafted by the British Parliment and King after suspension of the "salutary neglect" of the previous 60 years or so. By the time of war for independence, American colonists had, by then, created a collective identity separate from England since they were ruling themselves to a large degree.

As with most wars, it was simply about territory and economies. The Constitution never even mentions God in the Preamble, the 3 Sections or in Amendments.

We are to be in this world, not of this world. Frankly, I find it disheartening to see candidates throw around their religion as some sort of leverage to simply make more money. We of the Christian faith have but one ruler and He "is a jealous God".

Rainsborough said...

Consider the document that emerged from Philadelphia in 1787, the one that created our republic.

In the preamble, the purposes of the new state are laid out. All six are secular.

The document doesn't mention God.

It does mention religion--to say that there shall be no religious test of office.

Then came the First Amendment, which mentions religion again. It forbids the federal government from establishing any religion, and from interefering in any individual's exercise of their religion.

The result has been that no state church got fat and lazy and declined, as in Europe. Instead, each church had to compete for parishoners, with no governmental boost to their efforts. Religion has flourished here as in no other wealthy country.

Ben Witherington said...

Mr. R.: Thanks for the additional stuff on 1787. One of the main points of Holme's book is that indeed we did have state churches if by state church we mean those that are supported by tax revenues in various colonies. The state supported churches were Episcopal in the mid and southern atlantic states, and Congegational in New England with the exception of one step.

Ben

DLW said...

Ben, I did not say that more proportional representation was in the Bible. I said that when the calling to love our neighbor as ourselves is coupled with the experience of how we persist in being at best boundedly altruistic, the implication is the duty to guarantee them and us more voice in the decisions that affect our lives.

As such, the "no taxation without representation" slogan behind the USAmerican revolution was quite consistent with Christian teaching, though it had been adopted by many non-Christians. As a Methodist/Anglican, the fact it doesn't simply follow from scripture shd not be a problem for you, like it would for someone more rooted in a tradition in the free-church heritage.
dlw

DLW said...

Jack brings up the economic issues to purportedly refute that the revolution was about "no taxation without representation", but the answer one can give is "so what?"
Yes, Economics played a role in the decision to seek autonomy. Isn't Economics part of our well-being and part of what it means to love our neighbor as ourselves?

This doesn't mean that it was a "secular" rebellion. It didn't seek to throw off authority, it wanted more local authority that would be more in accord with the mixed form of gov't that had composed England's constitution in the past(see my earlier link). The revolution was about legal change of authority, not the throwing off of authority and Romans 13 does not deal with change of authority or law, neither of which were options that the early Christians had. One can submit to an existing authority, while at the same time seeking to change who is in authority or the law. It involved some violence, but that's besides the point, as it was not the violence that permitted the colonies to acheive their independence.

Likewise, contrary to what Rainsborough seems to imply, it doesn't matter that the Constitution does not mention God. Its language stands in contrast with the way God-speak was used to rationalize the existing powers in Europe. But it presumed that we need rules to govern our conflicts and that the nature of those rules will need to be reworked out over time, as shown by its intentional use of vague language. But what matters more than the letter of the Constitution, much of which reflected economic compromises between existing interests, is the willingness of the people to accept and live by the rules even when it was not in their interest to do so, and that willingness is inextricably intertwined with the faiths/belief systems of the people.

As such, it does not matter so much what the faiths of the Founding Father's were, more important would have been what would have taken place if there had not been the Great Awakenings and Revivals in the US not long after our independence. It also matters a great deal about the pessimism and individualism that later emerged after the Civil War, with our nation seriously divided with the problem of race seriously unattended.

The point isn't the specific faiths of the FFathers, but how the dynamics in USChristianity affected the US's development. The Religious Right's problem more often isn't their Christianity or their breaking of the separation of Church and State, but how they raise up traditional specific cultural forms of USChristianity as Dogma. They do engage in revisionist history, but that pales in comparison to how they violate the command given in Mark 7:7.
dlw

yuckabuck said...

A real interesting question:

What should have been the proper Christian response to the American Revolution?

I think that since the colonists were already practically independent (as was mentioned by jack, above), that a kind of pacifistic neutrality would have been the right stance, as opposed to either joining the patriots or torries. Obviously Wesley, who was based in the England, supported the crown. But I don't think that woulid have been the correct stance for a Christian living in the colonies. I hope I would have been an "anti-war" believer in that instance, calling on both sides to settle their differences peacefully.

On a side note, Norman Geisler, in his book Christian Ethics, called the American Revolution unjustified in his chapter on "just wars."

On Stark- The Victory of Reason was interesting, but Stark did not really go into all the Christian theology that he points to as inspiring modern science and economics. I found his earlier two book series (One True God/ For the Glory of God) much more enlightening on the Christian teaching through the centuries that he refers to in Victory of Reason.

DLW said...

My apologies for the "spam", I'd like to have seen a "generous orthopraxy" for right political conduct among Christians during the revolution.

One can serve in defense of one's country, thereby using violence, and the issue was fundamentally one of legal change so that the colonies would have the autonomy to defend themselves and determine their own policies apart from Great Britain.

As a Pietist who is no longer part of the free church heritage, I believe in the need to make fallible leaps of judgment as Christians in our partipation in legal changes and the need for us to keep our differences in such judgements from undermining our collective witness to others and that is why we need a generous orthopraxy for Christian political involvement.

dlw

Camassia said...

DLW, I think "love your neighbor as yourself" only goes in that direction if you assume that loving your neighbor means giving your neighbor what s/he wants. That has not, however, always been the operating assumption, especially in light of the concept that people are fallen and many of our desires will lead to our own destruction. It also assumes that the greatest happiness of the body politic as a whole comes from the aggregate of happy individuals, which is also not an assumption that all societies have shared. In the past (and today in much of the world), individual happiness has been taken to flow from a well-ordered society. Such ideas have also been abused, of course, but I don't think all those Christian monarchies existed simply because they ignored Jesus' commandment.

It's also worth noting that the language of the Declaration of Independence essentially replaces the divine right of kings to rule with a divine right of people to rule. The idea of anybody having a divine right to rule has biblical problems, imho. Moreover, saying that violently protecting economic interests somehow follows the teachings of Jesus has to deal with all of Jesus' sayings against wealth and attachment to money. Again, it's the distinction between what we want and what's actually good for us.

ktismatics said...

You mention John Locke, whose influence on the founding fathers was profound. In his Second Treatise Locke makes the case for the free individual's right to life, liberty and property, and to enter freely into social contracts with others. Locke's argument is based explicitly on the Bible; specifically, on Genesis 3: "The Lord God sent him out from the garden of Eden, to cultivate the ground from which he was taken." Locke takes Adam's departure into the wilderness as the starting-point for the individual man's freedom from tyranny of man.

The fact that the founding fathers treated Locke's argument seriously speaks to the persistent Christian influence on America's leaders. By contrast, Locke had no influence on the democratic revolution in France, where the Church was closely allied with the king and the aristocracy and so was regarded as the enemy.

Jeff Downs said...

The following book maybe of interest to you and your readers George Washington’s Sacred Fire. Peter A. Lillback with Jerry Newcombe (Providence Forum Press, 2006; ISBN#: 097860525X).

"George Washington - the Founding Father of our Nation – has been the subject of great confusion and debate about his faith, leading to the misconception that he was a deist. The purpose of George Washington’s Sacred Fire is to prove definitively that George Washington was indeed a devout, practicing Christian"

More...

DLW said...

Camassia:DLW, I think "love your neighbor as yourself" only goes in that direction if you assume that loving your neighbor means giving your neighbor what s/he wants.

dlw: Hmm, I don't see giving our neighbors some voice in the rule-making process that affects them as the same as giving them what they want.

Obviously, they can abuse that voice in a completely self-interested way, but so long as we all are boundedly altruistic and definitely fallible in discerning what folks truly "need" as opposed to what they want, then allowing for proportional representation is a critical part of loving our neighbor.

Of course, we shd never simply stop there. It truly matters what habits of political deliberation and action that people have. It's too easy for people to rely on rules of thumb that are too easy to manipulate. Witness how Richard Nixon manipulated the US Economy so that it wd be doing well enough during the time of his reelection campaign to win him a 2nd term, with things going to pot shortly thereafter.

To press for more proportional gov't is consistent with loving our neighbors as ourselves, but it doesn't remove the need for us to change hearts and therein our own and other's habits.

C:That has not, however, always been the operating assumption, especially in light of the concept that people are fallen and many of our desires will lead to our own destruction.

If you read the link I made to the ideology of the American Revolution, it spoke of the need for the right balance of monarchy/aristocracy/democracy.

Let's not kid ourselves, we don't have anywhere near a pure democracy in the US and that's a good thing. Plutocracy/$peech underlies the stability of property rights that makes critical long-term investments feasible.

As for how folks use their "freedoms", it's up to their local community to hold them accountable for not self-destructing in that respect. This potential does not in anyway subvert my argument above.

It also assumes that the greatest happiness of the body politic as a whole comes from the aggregate of happy individuals, which is also not an assumption that all societies have shared.

Nope, you're presuming that because my position is a consequentialist one that it is utilitarian. I am simply saying that given our pervasive bounded altruism that we can best love our neighbors as ourselves by the dictum, "no taxation without representation", or providing them some voice wrt the decisions that affect their well-being as they and their communities see it.

In the past (and today in much of the world), individual happiness has been taken to flow from a well-ordered society. Such ideas have also been abused, of course, but I don't think all those Christian monarchies existed simply because they ignored Jesus' commandment.

In the past, in Europe, they have tended to focus too much on soteriology and not enough on missiology. Missiology is fundamentally about fostering cultural changes and invariably upsets "well-ordered societies". They also have seriously failed to follow the communication strategies of Jesus.

It's also worth noting that the language of the Declaration of Independence essentially replaces the divine right of kings to rule with a divine right of people to rule. The idea of anybody having a divine right to rule has biblical problems, imho.

According to "the politics of Jesus" delineated in "Discipleship as Political Responsibility" by Yoder, the State is needed to use sinful means to constrain sinful behavior. What matters here is not "divine right" language but its speech-act effect re:the means of change in who is in political authority. The point is that the use of more representational means to determine who is in authority by no means implies that God does not ultimately underlying the process and whoever is selected ultimately deserves our submission.

Moreover, saying that violently protecting economic interests somehow follows the teachings of Jesus has to deal with all of Jesus' sayings against wealth and attachment to money. Again, it's the distinction between what we want and what's actually good for us.

You need to realize that the use or threat of use of force underlies all property rights. Property rights are neither natural nor divinely given but rather are social artefacts that are always somewhat under reconsideration in the gov't. The issue is not whether the sword of the state is wielded but on whose behalf is it wielded to provide stability for them.

Your distinction unfortunately supports "enlightened despotism".

dlw

Camassia said...

Well, my distinction could support enlightened despotism, but that doesn't make it any less based in Christian doctrine. That's my point: you could call on one or another strand of Christian doctrine to support a lot of different forms of government, but you can also call upon Christian doctrine to refute them. Every government has to balance out various interests, but I don't see what was so sacred about the particular balance that the founding fathers worked out that made it especially Christian or worth a rebellion over.

Your reference to Yoder is curious since "The Politics of Jesus," while not weighing in on the American Revolution per se, seems to me to undercut any Christian justification for it. It is true that God may be working through governments that were founded even in rebellion, but that doesn't make the rebellion itself any less of a sin. Yoder particularly picked apart the reading of Romans 13 as "conditional" submission that many of the colonists seemed to use to justify throwing off the king. Are you just not buying Yoder's argument on those points, or are you reading him differently than I am?

As to property rights, yes they carry the threat of violence, and I assume that's one reason Jesus didn't think much of them -- if someone steals your cloak give him your shirt, sell everything and give to the poor, etc. That's why I have trouble seeing your interpretation of "love your neighbor" as being particularly Christian. All societies need some ethic of neighborliness and the common good in order to function, so probably most people would be on board with doing whatever they see as necessary for the general welfare. But that's quite a different thing from the wild-n-crazy love that Jesus espoused and demonstrated, which led himself and a number of his followers into persecution and death. The kind that refused violence against the oppressor, even when it was morally justified.

DLW said...

C:Well, my distinction could support enlightened despotism, but that doesn't make it any less based in Christian doctrine.

It may make it less biblical and more likely an apologetical defense of Constantinized Christianity.

That's my point: you could call on one or another strand of Christian doctrine to support a lot of different forms of government, but you can also call upon Christian doctrine to refute them.

There have historically been doctrines/beliefs held by Christians to support a wide variety of forms of gov't. That doesn't per se make the doctrines "Christian".

That we are at best boundedly altruistic and fallible in the discernment of what others truly need are pretty easy to defend based on extensive experience and the witness of Christian history.

Every government has to balance out various interests, but I don't see what was so sacred about the particular balance that the founding fathers worked out that made it especially Christian or worth a rebellion over.

It's not the particular balance that matters but the principle that a balance(with some democracy/proportionality) was needed to protect freedom against the tendency for power to tenaciously grow beyond its proper boundaries.

Once again, while the FFs may not have been Christians, this concern for the abuse of authority and the deliberation on lessons from history, reflect a concern for themselves and their neighbors that stems ultimately from Christianity. It was not a rebellion against authority but rather a change in the specific composition of authority deigned to ensure that it was not abused.

Your reference to Yoder is curious since "The Politics of Jesus," while not weighing in on the American Revolution per se, seems to me to undercut any Christian justification for it.

Jesus rejected the way of the Zealot as the means to capture the state. The American revolutionaries used some violence to seek greater local autonomy for themselves, but their success was not ultimately due to their use of violence. Other factors were far more significant. And they were

The issue with Yoder is, "is the state irreparably pagan and can Christians serve in it, assisting in the way the Sword of the State is wielded?" I say no and yes, with qualifications. We are in the stage Daniel spoke of in Daniel 2, where there is a divided kingdom that is an unstable mixture of clay and iron(democracy and aristocracy/monarchy). Yes, Christians can show love in altering the manner in which the sword is wielded, but there is always risk in doing so and we do so fallibly.

It is true that God may be working through governments that were founded even in rebellion, but that doesn't make the rebellion itself any less of a sin.

Rebellion did not found the US. The shared ideology was more important and their ability to win support from others in England and France.

Yoder particularly picked apart the reading of Romans 13 as "conditional" submission that many of the colonists seemed to use to justify throwing off the king. Are you just not buying Yoder's argument on those points, or are you reading him differently than I am?

I don't see submission to authority as what was at stake, but rather a change in authority and the manner in which changes in authority are to be made. I don't see Romans 13 as dealing with Christian participation in matters of legal change or changes in who is in authority. Obviously, the scope for Xtn participation in changes was considerably different in NT times than later. Romans 13 does not set out what Xtn participation ought to be like.

C:As to property rights, yes they carry the threat of violence, and I assume that's one reason Jesus didn't think much of them -- if someone steals your cloak give him your shirt, sell everything and give to the poor, etc.

I would say that he relativized them as being of scarcely any import compared with one's salvation and one's witness to others. That doesn't mean that the stability associated with property rights is not a key part of why we shd render unto Caesar what is due to Caesar...

Property rights facilitate decentralization in decision-making. It checks the scope of tyranny or bounds the potential for the sword of the state to be abused.

That's why I have trouble seeing your interpretation of "love your neighbor" as being particularly Christian. All societies need some ethic of neighborliness and the common good in order to function, so probably most people would be on board with doing whatever they see as necessary for the general welfare.

I don't know what you mean by "particularly Christian". It's not like other societies were never influenced by Judaism(particularly post-exilic Judaism), as recent work on the history of Greek philosophy suggests as a strong possibility, particularly through Pythagoras.

They may agree on received notions of the "common good", but the key here is to be agents of cultural change. To Act to ensure "no taxation without representation" is to be an agent of change, giving one's neighbors more voice in what legal changes affect them.

But that's quite a different thing from the wild-n-crazy love that Jesus espoused and demonstrated, which led himself and a number of his followers into persecution and death.

Really, I think MLKjr would disagree.

The kind that refused violence against the oppressor, even when it was morally justified.

Jesus never denied the need for the state to use the threat of violence to institute order. As such, when an order is being altered, it always follows that the potential legit violence of the state is being redirected, as well. In the case of the American revolution that included colonialists using violence against foreign intruders on their vestigial country.

The danger has been for us USChristians to perceive the new order that we belong to as the end or the means rather than a means for the renewal and propagation of Christianity. The issue is not whether we have been a Christian country, but the impact of biblical Christianity on us in the past, present and future...

dlw

DLW said...

clarification: I wrote, "I don't see Romans 13 as dealing with Christian participation in matters of legal change or changes in who is in authority."

That shd be "dealing exhaustively with Christian participation". There are more ethical ways to engage in warfare and for the Colonialists facing the British Army, it really was risking their lives on behalf of others above all else.

I think what the Sons of Liberty did was clearly wrong, but that the British gov't overreacted.

The Boston Tea Party was an act of violence against the property of British Merchants, but so was the way Great Britain awarded their merchants a monopoly on tea to Massachussetts.

As stated earlier, property rights are about violence or its threat. Does party A have the right to impose harms/duties on party B or does party B have the right to impose harms/duties on party A. What matters here is that both A and B have some voice in the gov't as a means to ensure a chance their interests will be protected so that they will honor the outcome worked out.

After the Tea Party, Great Britain had severe recourse with the Intolerable Acts against the damage to their property unlike the colonialists. This is what led to the first continental congress and the decision to seek autonomy. This then led to Revere's famous ride and the battle of Lexington and Concord. Our rebellion was a defense of our leaders. For the sake of liberty, including the freedom of religion, we believed it was worth standing up against and declaring our independence from the most powerful gov't of our world.

This was not rebellion, this was a change in allegiance, one that rejected the Constantinized Christianity of Europe and how it abused Xty as an opiate.

dlw

Ben Witherington said...

Hi Jeff:

I am afraid the book you are referring to published by Providence is a bad case of special pleading. George Washington, as his own pastor, bishop, and others make clear was certainly not like modern Evangelical Christians. It is revisionist history to say otherwise. Read Holmes book. What is even more troubling are Washington's connections with the Masons.

Blessings,

Ben

DLW said...

There is a british article that reviews the issue of whether the USAmerican Revolution was inevitable. It generally confirms John Adams' view that what made it inevitable was the ideology of the colonialists that was formed for years prior to the war began. My point would be that this ideology was also influenced by the revival in Christianity that took place earlier in the US, even though it was not limited to Orthodox Christians.

Having said that, I don't think the tradition of violent resistance in Boston was terribly Christian, but protesting need not be violent, of course.

Here's the meat of why it became inevitable that independence would happen.
The fundamental difference between the British and the rebellious Americans concerned political authority. Prior to the Stamp Act crisis British authority, rarely asserted, rested on ties of loyalty, affection and tradition, not force. In the wake of the Stamp Act, Parliament repeatedly asserted its sovereignty and was compelled by American resistance to back down. Each time that this occurred the foundation for British rule in America eroded a little bit more. ...[T]he colonists [who]remained loyal to the crown once the war broke out... switched allegiances to the rebels when they experienced or learned of the heavy-handed tactics employed by the British army in America. Had the British managed to 'win' the military conflict they would have had to resort to a degree of force antithetical to their ultimate objective - the reestablishment of British authority in the colonies.


The article concludes that the Brits did learn from their experience with US Colonies and their management of their empire improved as a result.

Long and short: political authority based on violence alone is ineffective. The conflict was about a change in authority, not a rebellion against authority. The colonialists' shared belief that Britain was in danger of reverting to the tyranny present throughout most of Europe led them to hold with sufficient solidarity for their independence for the sake of preserving liberty.

Is that Xtn? I can tell you that there wouldn't have been Swedish Baptists(my heritage) fostering greater democracy in Gov't, Industry and Churches in their country without the generous support of American Baptists. Political freedoms are key for improved economic freedoms that matter for study of the Bible and missions work of a variety of sorts...
dlw

Metaphysician said...

Dr. Witherington, this section is really troubling me… What's the main point?

Heb 6:4 For in the case of those who have once been enlightened and have tasted of the heavenly gift and have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, Heb 6:5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come, Heb 6:6 and then have fallen away, it is impossible to renew them again to repentance, since they again crucify to themselves the Son of God and put Him to open shame.

Thank you

Jonathan said...

Great post Ben.

Holmes's book is a great resource and I encourage others to get it as well. It captures that accurate "middle ground" that is often lost in this debate between the secular left and the religious right.

I also encourage anyone interested in this issue -- and in continuing the conversation -- to check out my blog(s), as this is one issue in which I specialize.

I've got lots of great connections to primary sources as well.

Jonathan said...

"My point would be that this ideology was also influenced by the revival in Christianity that took place earlier in the US, even though it was not limited to Orthodox Christians."

I don't know how meaningful that "revival" is in relation to the "ideology" in question. Some of the most vocal and effective ministers pushing for revolution in Mass. -- Jonathan Mayhew and Charles Chauncy, for instance -- were outspoken opponents of "The Great Awakening."

Pastor Dave said...

While it is unwise to define the architects of America's government as Christian in the sense that an evangelical may be comfortable with- it is equally wrong to define Deism with the modern implications. Jefferson - for instance wanted the federal government to fund the evangelization of the Indians- hardly a deist notion by 21 st century standards!

And while Washington was not obsessive in his observance of the Sabbath he did observe the sabbath, attend church regularly, he was god-parent to 8 children, he prayed from the book of common prayer, and when he was sworn in he knelt and kissed the bible.

We must be careful to see with both eyes the founding fathers and not read their behavior through a modern filter. I recommend Michale Novaks WASHINGTON"S GOD as a balance.

Charles said...

Seems like Candidate Obama and George Washington had at least one thing in common...both seemed to have had difficulty with their Pastors!

Wildroot

DLW said...

I'm a little bit saddened that Dr. BW3 decided not to respond again to my string of comments, but I understand that that is his prerogative and that Camassia was taking up the baton.

dlw