Category Archives: evangelicals

Politics, anger and evangelical Christians

Politics for me is like driving by an automobile accident.  I really don’t want to look, but fighting the urge to do so is difficult.  Last century, I minored in political science while earning a journalism degree. I had looked forward to a career doing political coverage as a writer.  Blessedly, the direction of my life changed and as the years have gone by, I have developed a distaste for much of what passes itself off as politics these days. Politics is more about winning elections than creating policy.  Election coverage reminds of a halftime report during a college football game.

Still, because of the past connection, something catches my eye and I will look.  There was article recently online about some supposed coverup by the Obama administration. The article had a slant, but what news coverage doesn’t these days.  To read news well these days, you have to find a variety of sources, slide down the slant and see where you land.  That might be somewhere near the truth because journalism is more about advocacy than truth.  Take out the slant, read critically and look for the truth.

A discipline that I am trying to develop in reading news online is not to read the comments posted by readers, because that is where trolls come out to play. At the end of that particular article, there was one of the worse comments I have ever seen.  A reader mentioned the President and a noose in the same sentence.  It was tasteless and offensive. For one, you shouldn’t even joke about threatening the President, and I came away only hoping that it was a joke.  Also, the racist connotations of that statement are over the top.  And finally, the only person likely to take a comment like that seriously works for the Secret Service.

I hope that the person who made that comment would not claim to be a born again Christian.  I can only hope, because honestly, when it comes to politics, evangelicals are often guided too much by anger and not enough by a desire to glorify God and bring honor to Jesus Christ. I heard a believer once say that Christians need to get angrier and stand up for themselves.  I don’t think that the book of James encourages that teaching.

My dearly loved brothers, understand this: Everyone must be quick to hear, slow to speak, and slow to anger, for man’s anger does not accomplish God’s righteousness. (James 1:19-20, HCSB)

If we really want to bring about God’s righteousness is the world, we won’t do so by being angry.

Being Vigilant about Religious Freedom

I would rather not write about politics.  There was a time in my life that politics consumed me, even a time when I considered going into politics.  Thankfully, I did not, and in my writing, I have avoided the topic as much as I can.  However, I think that I must address one issue.

Recently, the President Obama’s administration ruled that religious organizations have to buy insurance for their employees that covers reproductive services including contraceptives if those employees work in an aspect of the organization that provides public services.  This is particularly odious to many Roman Catholics.  I am not a Roman Catholic.  I do not share their view that all contraceptives are sin.  However, I, too, find this ruling a problem on the basis that it violates the principle of religious freedom.  There has been a strong reaction by many religious groups and not only the Roman Catholic Church.

However, the administration and many on the left say this as overhyped.  After all, in their understanding, religious freedom is not being attacked.  A column that appears on the website of the Atlanta Journal Constitution written by Jay Bookman, reflected this view.  It is entitled, The overhyped controversy over contraceptives and the law.

Bookman’s column reads like a memo from the White House on how to answer objections to the ruling.  He begins by saying that places of worship are exempt. He writes:

As many of you know, churches that are members of the Southern Baptist Convention are not allowed to hire women as pastors. The Baptists base that practice on 1 Timothy 2:12, in which Paul writes that “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man.” The Catholic Church follows a similar practice, based on similar reasons. (Actually, it is more complex than that, but I will give him a break.  A column can only be so long.)

Ordinarily, it would be illegal under federal law to deny a woman a position of leadership or authority on the basis of gender. I think most Americans probably support those laws by now. However, because the selection of priests and ministers is so central to religious faith, and because those leaders perform an essentially religious rather than secular role, anti-bias laws don’t apply to such jobs. Doing so would clearly infringe on religious liberty, which is protected under the First Amendment.

So far, so good. He continues:

However, if a Baptist university denied tenure to an English professor solely because she was female, or if a Catholic hospital refused to hire a woman as its CEO, the exemption cited above would not apply. In both cases, the law has long held that the professor and CEO are performing a largely secular function in the secular world, so secular rules apply.

 Once again, I have no problems yet.  However, wait for the overreaching analogy.  Here it comes:

That is essentially the same logic used to develop proposed rules for health-care coverage, which by federal law require insurers to provide coverage for contraception.

Those rules do not apply to what is known as “a religious employer,” defined as an employer that “(1) Has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets.”

A church, mosque, synagogue or other house of worship would qualify for such an exemption. However, a church-run university, hospital, day-care center, etc. — entities that do not have the inculcation of religious values as its purpose, that do not primarily employ persons who share its religious tenets; and do not primarily serve persons who share its religious tenets — would not be exempt.

Those entities are performing a secular function, in the secular world, and employing in most cases people with a wide variety of religious beliefs. Therefore, the people working in those entities deserve the same degree of legal protection as their fellow Americans.

Now, that seems logical if you accept the premise by which he and the administration operate that says the religious precepts of an organization should have little or no bearing on what they do outside their places of worship.  Bookman has compared apples and oranges in the first part of his column.  There is a fundamental difference between a Southern Baptist affiliated church hiring a female pastor and a Baptist university hiring or promoting a female English professor.  One violates the religious conscience of the people sponsoring the organization: the other does not. The passage that he quotes deals with authority within the church and the teaching of the Bible, not an English class.  In other words, the law does not impinge upon the freedom of the faithful to practice their faith in the public sphere nor upon their understanding of Scriptures.
In the case of forcing Roman Catholic sponsored agencies to buy insurance that covers contraceptives, it does impinge upon that freedom.  Those agencies and other religious agencies are an outward expression of the religious beliefs and inner faith of the churches or other religious organizations that sponsor.  Bookman and the Administration are operating from a secular assumption that says religion is a private matter, confined to the place of worship and to the private life of individuals.  For many religious people, whether they be evangelicals, Roman Catholics or Muslims, religion is not just personal in practice.  It affects all aspects of life and must be expressed publicly through their lives and through the institutions they support.  To compartmentalize their lives between the secular and the spiritual is to be a hypocrite.  To deny their freedom to practice their faith and religious beliefs in the public realm is to deny their religious liberty and to violate the Constitution.  To require that they go against their conscience in the public realm is also violates that liberty.
That is the reason that the Administration’s ruling is a big deal to people of many faiths.  Though no one has suggested it, it may be part of the reason a social conservative Roman Catholic swept primaries and caucuses last night.  The ruling is seen as step toward a radical secularization of American society that will ostracize the religiously faithful and deny their religious freedom.  Contrary to the wishes of the left in this country, this issue will not diminish in importance as long as people of faith remain vigilant about religious liberty.
Here’s hoping that I never have to write about politics again.


Cause for Humility

My youngest daughter works hard to keep me humble.  Actually, she doesn’t work hard at it.  She seems to come about that ability naturally.

In the past year, I had a number of speaking engagements.  As we were waiting for one program to start, she commented about being bored.  I asked, “Are you still going to be bored when I start speaking?”  Without hesitation, she replied, “Yes.”

After speaking at one engagement, I realized that I could hear a recording in the coming week on the radio.  I said to my family, “I don’t suppose that I will.  I’m not sure I want to hear myself on the radio.”  Once again, my youngest daughter spoke up, “Yeah, especially since we’re heard it before.”

If I were to think more Biblically about myself, I wouldn’t need her help to be humble.  This time of year is a reminder of just how humble we should be.  Sadly, many Christians give the impression that we have it all together.  The message we seem to project to the world is if only they would be more like us, they would be ok.

The truth of the matter is Jesus came because we are not ok, and even more, there is no way that we can be ok without Him.  We are all born sinners with an inclination to sin and to rebel against God.  It isn’t just the big sins that society promotes but the “small” sins that we all commit that separate us from God and from being in a personal relationship with Him.  God didn’t create us to live separately from Him.  He created us to walk in the garden with Him, but through sin, we chose to walk on our own paths.

The only thing that separates a Christian from someone else is that we have realized that our own path isn’t nearly as good as the path God created us to walk on.  His path leads to eternal blessing.  Our path leads to hell.  The problem is that we are so caught in sin that we can’t find our way to His path.

Jesus is the way, the truth and the life.  He came and through His death and His resurrection He made the way for us to get to the path.  Through the  Holy Spirit,  God gives us to new life (being born again). He takes us off our path and places us on His path.  We realize our sin and our need for a Savior, and the Baby in the Manger becomes more than a pleasant thought.  His life in all of its glory in living and horror in dying and glory once again in rising becomes our source of hope and joy.

The problem is that when we get on His path, we sometimes forget that it was He who put us there.  We believe that we have it all together because of our own power and intelligence.  We become like the Corinthians in the New Testament.  Paul had to ask them, if they had received everything they had, why did they boast as if they didn’t?

We have no cause to boast of ourselves, only to boast of Him and to glorify Him.  My daughter shouldn’t have to give me cause to be humble.  Thinking about the Cross should be cause enough.

Our Motivation for Being Biblical Families

My wife and I recently attended a marriage conference where patriotism was mentioned as a reason for having a strong, Biblically based Christian family.  In reading a devotion for couples together, we found the same motivation mentioned.  The reasoning goes that by having strong Christian families we can make our nation great once again.  Personally, patriotism is a poor reason to have a family based on Biblical principles.

Would we apply the idea of patriotism as a reason to have such a family to all believers everywhere, even if they lived in a country that we think of as an “enemy”?  Biblical truth is truth for all people everywhere.  Patriotism as a motivation for Christian conduct reflects an American-centric Christianity that borders on idolatry.  Another reason that I disagree is that it that it elevates family above other areas of Christian obedience such as ministry to others and fellowship with other believers.  How many parents justify missing church with the need for family time?  This can also, at worst, be a form of idolatry and at best reflects a weak understanding of the doctrine of the church.

Finally, it represents a dethroning of Christ and His glory as the motivation of discipleship.  We are created to glorify God and to enjoy Him forever.  In Ephesians 4:25-32, Paul wrote a husband’s love for his wife should be the same as Christ love for the church.  I hope to obey the Bible in our Christian family not for the sake of my country but to testify of Jesus’ love for us.  As people see Christian families, our desire should be for them to see a reflection Christ and to be drawn to Him.  As Christian we should seek to be more than family-focused and patriotic.  We should be Kingdom focused, Christ glorifying and God centered families.  His glory is our motivation

Mark Richt, Tim Tebow and God

Mark Richt and Tim Tebow have much in common.  Both are admired by evangelical Christians. Both have had great success. And now, the ability of both is under question.  After a complete and total loss by the Georgia Bulldogs to Boise State, even fans who have been long loyal to Mark Richt are questioning if he can turn the team around.  Tim Tebow is struggling to adjust to being a NFL quarterback. Evangelicals enjoyed the success that the two men  have had and the platform it has given them for sharing their faith. However, as their careers have stumbled, how should we as Christians look at it?

Personally, I think both men could turn things around. With a win over South Carolina this weekend, the same sports columnist from the Atlanta Journal Constitution who wrote that it looks like the end for Richt will write how great a turnaround it is and how far the dawgs can go.  Sports columnists are not great at analysis, but they are pretty good at telling us which way the wind blows.  Tim Tebow could still adjust and make it in the NFL. So, I am not saying that they are washed up. But, they have hit what is more than a bump in the road.

For some evangelicals, this is too much with which to deal. Sports writers who have criticized Tebow often get angry letters from people talking about how good Tebow is, both morally and athletically.  He has a strong following that doesn’t want to see him fail or be criticized.

How we look at the success of failure of these two men says a great deal about our priorities and our understanding of how God works in the lives of believers. That leads me to some things that I want to say about how our faith and sports intersect.

The things I have to say may shock the very core of many of you.  Before you read further, I suggests that you sit down.  Are you ready? Sure about that? OK, here it is.  The success of your favorite team or athlete is not very important to God.  Your team is not the cosmic embodiment of good and their rival is not the embodiment of evil.  The New York Yankees are not demonic minions of Satan, and Steve Spurrier is not the antichrist.  God isn’t really paying more attention to the Dallas Cowboys, and I am pretty sure while He watches over all His saints, it doesn’t mean the New Orleans Saints have a privileged position.  The success or failure of your team is not near as important to God as what is revealed in your character when you respond to their success or failure.

Believers are not guaranteed success by God in sports.  If they succeed, He wants Mark Richt and Tim Tebow to glorify Him.  If they fail, He wants them to glorify Him.  The same applies to all Christians in all endeavors.  God is not obligated to make sure that Mark Richt remains the head coach at Georgia.  He is not obligated to see that Tebow gets playing time in the NFL.  They have to do the work to prove their capabilities, just like any of us.  Yet, we can have faith that whatever happens, God is shaping their character.

Through their success and failure, we also see how those outside our evangelical sub-culture view our faith.  While winning, they tolerate our faith, even admire it. In losing, they blast it or at best, misunderstand it.  The common criticism of Christian athletes is that they don’t care if they win or lose or how poorly they performed.  They will just say, “It was God’s will.”  I would like it if someone can actually point me to a Christian athlete that ever said anything like that.

However, what a Christian says or does in the face of defeat is often misconstrued.  If Tim Tebow says, “I’ve prayed about being a quarterback in the NFL, and I believe God is going to help me,” there will be some sportscaster somewhere who will construe it to mean that Tim Tebow thinks God wants him to be the starting quarterback no matter how poorly he plays.  If after a loss, Mark Richt doesn’t say something like, “It was the greatest tragedy since Pearl Harbor,” fans will think that he just doesn’t care.

And that brings me to my last point.  It could be that men who have been overseas, seen utter poverty, walked through orphanages in Eastern Europe, and worked in health clinics where good health care does not exist may have a better understanding of what tragedy is than the person who knows nothing unless he saw it on ESPN.  What appeals to me about Richt and Tebow is that in success or loss, they have modeled what godly men should be and have acted with godly priorities.  That is the lesson we as Christians can learn from sports.  Have fun, but keep things in their perspective.  Learn to succeed and fail in a way that honors and glorifies Him.

A couple of last words: Go Dawgs!

Being Teachable as a Sign of Christian Maturity

In recent weeks, John MacArthur on his blog has given correction and advice to the Young, Restless and Reformed. (here, here, here and here)  The response is interesting.  Some have encouraged the YRRs to listen the advice, but many YRRs have responded negatively.  If you read through the comments on the Grace to You blog, you get a taste of the conversation.

My intention in writing is not to enter the discussion. After all, I no longer fit the young modifier, and I would really like to get more rest.  I do lean toward the Reformed side of things, but doubt that I would be considered a card-carrying member by those in the movement.  Rather than enter that discussion, I want to talk about a spiritual issue related to that.  How do we receive correction, advice and instruction?  How do we listen to those with whom we may disagree but who have something important to say to us?  In other words, how do we become teachable?

These are not issues confined to the YRRs.  We all struggle with these issues. While I would say, based on personal experience, that young adults struggle with this more, I have known some older ones that aren’t very receptive to the teaching, advice and correction of others either.  My own progress toward maturity has included going from defending myself against the slightest criticism to politely saying thank you while fuming inside to learning to take time to hear what the Lord is saying to me through the criticism or correction.  Often, I still slip into defensive mode.

At the heart of this defensiveness usually is not righteous indignation against injustice suffered.  Rather the heart of it is sin.  I get defensive because I feel insecure about what I am doing.  I don’t like my weaknesses being pointed out and I don’t want to feel shame.  I get defensive because I am full of pride.  I really don’t like being told I’m wrong, because I think I am right or mostly right.  I get defensive because I simply don’t like other people teaching me, advising me and correcting me.  They don’t have my credentials or my knowledge, and after all, they are always against me or just don’t understand me.  Besides, their theology and politics probably aren’t right, either.

In the center of every reaction above is me.  It is all about me.  I am protecting myself.  I am being self-defensive and selfish.  What is worse: I am dooming myself to failure and immaturity if I allow this to become the character of my life.  A key to success in any endeavor is to be teachable:  to learn to accept criticism and instruction, to apply it, and to grow.  An athlete who doesn’t listen to his coach will ride the bench.  A student who doesn’t learn from the professor will fail the class.  A business person who doesn’t take advice will go out of business.  A politician who doesn’t listen to the people will become a member of Congress, which is either the exception to the rule or its own worse punishment.  A Christian who fails to learn and to receive correction from others will stagnate in immaturity and not achieve the purpose for which God has called him or her heavenward in Christ Jesus.

So, how do we learn to be teachable?  How do I learn from others to grow in maturity as a follower of Christ?

Of first importance is to walk near to God (James 4:8).  By truly applying myself to be in prayer and in the Bible, and not just going through the motions of spiritual discipline, I am close enough to God to recognize when He is correcting me through others.  By knowing the Word of God, I know when what others say is in line with Scripture, and I know that I need to pay attention.  By being near to God, I recognize His voice.

I also must crucify myself daily (Luke 9:23 and Galatians 5:24)  Since self is the center of my rebellion and defensive, I must get self out of the way so that I can receive truth from others.  By crucifying the flesh, I mortify those sinful responses that I make to others.

I must learn to listen and be slow to speak (James 1:19-20).  The temptation is to respond and to defend one’s self.  The best response comes after understanding what the other person has said, and often that response turns out to be, “You’re right.” I must learn to receive anything that is true according to God’s Word and that helps me grow more holy and more able to glorify God.

Hopefully, this is helpful to many of you.  Perhaps, soon, I will write on how to become someone who can speak into the lives of others.

Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? Part 3

Many Christian nationalist believe that it is important to prove that America is a Christian nation.  If not, they fear evangelical Christians will be intimidated into abandoning the public square and losing their influence as salt and light in the world.  For that reason, the type of historical analysis that John Fea did in Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? could be seen as threatening.  However, I see much to encourage evangelical Christians to be involved in shaping the culture around them.

One is that from Fea’s book, we see that evangelical Christianity has always been an influence upon American society.  The perspective of many that evangelicals are some new phenomenon with a desire to take over the reigns of political power has no basis in historical fact.  Until the 1920s conservative evangelicals were a prominent part of society and public discourse.  It was only after the Scopes trial and losing the battle for mainline denominations that we who are conservative evangelicals went underground.  While underground, we focused on evangelism and education, both to which evangelicals should give more attention now.  In so doing, we laid the groundwork for re-entering the public square.  However, that is the place we should have always been.

From history, we know that we have a place on the public square.  There we should stand for justice and righteousness.  We should challenge society to be more conformed to the Christian ethical standards of love and self sacrifice for common good that the founders believed essential for the success of a republic form of government.  We should live by those values because those are the actions modeled by He who gave His life for us to save us from our sins.

But we must also realize that there are others on the public square as well.  Like us, they have always been there in one form or another.   Our task is not to only convince them of our political views or our social values, but above all else to proclaim to them the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.   They may not play fair by our rules, but we must never play by their rules.  We must not distort history or engage in personal attacks.  We must proclaim truth with clarity and live truth with joy.

As we stand on the public square, we must stand not upon economic or political ideologies but upon God’s Word.  If we do this, we will not always side with Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals.  Consistency with God’s Word will be inconsistent with the standards of those who take all of their cues from the world around them.

And with that, I want to make one last point.  Was America founded as a Christian nation?  In reality, I don’t think that the answer should matter to us as evangelical believers.  The type of conduct that I mention above does not depend on where we were born or of what country we are a part.  It is not about being a citizen of the United States. It is about being a citizen of the Kingdom of God.  And as citizens of His kingdom, we are fellow citizens with people in places like North Korea, China, Iran and Saudi Arabia.  Their earthly citizenship is not in countries that could in be called Christian, yet they live as followers of Christ according to the same standards by which American Christians must live.  No matter where we live, we are called upon to believe the gospel, live out the gospel and make disciples.  That is our duty as citizens of God’s kingdom, and really, it doesn’t matter if America is Christian nation or not. We must obey the Word of God.

Perhaps, the more appropriate question is, “Is America a Christian nation?”  I believe that the answer is that if it was, it isn’t now.  We are post-Christian or rapidly moving that way.  Evangelical Christians can fight against it blindly, or understand it and respond in a Christ-like and Biblical manner.  In some cases, that means we will seek to change society. In other cases, our only option will be to explain why we hold to a different standard. But always, we must proclaim that which is of first importance “…that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to Scripture.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4).

Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? Part 2

As mentioned in my last post about the book, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?,  John Fea summarized the themes of Christian nationalist as follows:

  1. “God is sovereign over history. God has acted providentially to shape the course of human affairs, and he has a special destiny for the United States that can be accurately discerned and explained by historians.”
  2. “The seventeenth-century settlement of the American colonies should be interpreted in light of the eighteenth-century American Revolution.”
  3. “Most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the framers of the U.S. Constitution were men of deep Christian faith.”
  4. “The Constitution of the United States is a Christian document, rooted in biblical and theological truth.”
  5. “Historical revisionism, especially as it relates to school textbooks, is irresponsible and dangerous.  Revisionists, they argue, have removed Christianity from the stories of the nation’s past taught to Children in public schools.”  This has resulted in very negative results morally and politically for the country.

Fea spent a great part of the book dealing with the first idea above.  He summarized and commented on observations of several Christian nationalist such as Peter Marshal, D. James Kennedy, David Barton and others.  Later in the book, Fea dealt with many ways in which he thought they failed to recognize that history is complex.  Fea questioned their point on the grounds of how they limit the scope of what is meant as Christian to evangelical Protestant. Later in the book where he wrote on the religious views of the framers, I understood where he was going with the point.  Theologically, I question the idea of God’s dealing with a nation being confined exclusively to the United States.  God is indeed sovereign over history and over nations.  He oversaw the rise and fall of ancient empires, and He oversees the rise and fall of modern ones as well.  America has been and is exceptional in many ways, both in terms of politics and religion.  However, I do not see a Biblical reason to see the United States as being more exceptional to God’s plan than any other nation.

Fea pointed out that the original attempts at colonization at Jamestown and Plymouth were genuinely attempts to create Christian societies.  He questioned how successful they were win terms of orthopraxy due to slavery and intolerance of religious dissenters.  However, I think that here he may be guilty of taking modern assumptions into the past.  While modern Christians rightly believe such practices to be wrong, they were not inconsistent with prominent Christian practices in the past.  It could be that in their personal evaluations, the colonists were successful at creating Christian societies, more so at Plymouth than at Jamestown.  However, that is beyond the scope of Fea’s main point.

Fea’s main point is that it is a mistake for Christian nationalists to tie the founding of the colonies with the founding of the United States.  The original colonists did not set out to establish a new nation.  They set out to establish colonies of Britain.  150 years passed between the founding of the colonies and the American Revolution, and the founding documents of the United States are very different from the founding documents of the colonies.  The motivations of the Revolution were about economic and political rights.  Religion does not figure into revolutionary motivations.

The founding documents of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution are sparse in their references to God.  The references to God in the Declaration of Independence are vague.  They would be accepted by evangelicals, deists, or any number of people who have some concept of God.  The Constitution’s one reference to God has no spiritual significance whatsoever.  There is not religious test for public office in the Constitution.  However, once again, Fea pointed out that this is not case closed against the idea of America being founded as a Christian nation.  The founding documents of the original States were filled with references to God and to being Christian states.  Some established certain denominations as state churches and most contained some religious test for public office.  To the extent that the States saw themselves as nations (and that was a strong sense) all, except perhaps Virginia, could be seen as Christian nations.  However, each state eventually brought itself voluntarily in line with the Constitution in the area of freedom of religion.  So, we can see a change over time.

Fea pointed out that the phrase “a wall of separation between church and state” is not found in any of the founding documents.  It is in a letter by Thomas Jefferson to Baptists in Connecticut trying to get the preference for Congregational churches prescribed in that state’s constitution removed.  Jefferson supported them in this, but it is clear from Jefferson’s other letters and writings that he never presumed that the national constitution would override state constitutions in this matter.  In other words, based on original intent, the wall of separation today is much higher than the original framers intended.  In other words, to the framers, there would never be any question about a governor’s call to prayer or prayer in a local public school being constitutional or not.  Both would be as long as the state’s constitutions did not prohibit them.  However, the 14th amendment has been used by the courts to override the local laws in these matters.

Fea also wrote about the religious views of the founders.  To describe them as Deists is a mistake.  They believed that God was active in the world.  However, to describe them all as devote, orthodox, evangelical Christians is a mistake as well.  Washington, Jefferson and John Adams were not orthodox in their beliefs.  Washington was anti-sectarian and had a religion where he tried to offend no one.  Jefferson believed in the ethical teachings of Jesus and tried to practice those.  He rejected the diety of Christ and the miracle accounts in Scripture.  Adams was Unitarian in his understanding of the nature of God, but committed to the ethical teachings of Jesus.  Of all of the founders, John Jay most fits the bill of Christian nationalists.  One thing that it appears that many of the founders agreed upon was that the ethics of Christianity was needed for the Republic to be successful.

Fea concluded his book with the following observations:

  1. He suggested that “those who believe that the United States is a Christian nation have a good chunk of history on their side.”
  2. “…it would be difficult to suggest, based upon the formal responses to British taxation…that the leaders of the American Revolution were driven by overtly Christian values.”
  3. “…the founders are an eclectic religious group.”

He concluded the book by writing “…it is my hope that this book might help Americans think deeply about the role that Christianity played in the American founding.  We owe it to ourselves to be informed citizens who can speak intelligently about thoughtfully about our nation’s past.”

Fea’s book is strong in exploring the complexities of history.  As he wrote in his conclusion, history and the things that our founders wrote and said do not fit neatly into our sound-bite culture.  A simple yes or no does not adequately answer the question raised by the book.  The answer is very complex.

One weakness is that though Fea pointed out that those who believe America was not founded a Christian nation were guilty of abusing history also, he did not address any of their fallacies.  It would be interesting to read his thoughts on them as well.  Another weakness is that if you look at Fea’s website (see link in the first post), you will get the feeling that he is holding back some of his passion in this book.  He is not preaching to the liberal choir.  He clearly wants to influence conservative evangelicals, and he was very careful to write in such a way as not to turn them off before the end of the book.

Another weakness is that Fea does not address the last Christian nationalist theme that he listed: historical revisionist cutting out Christianity from American history.  I believe to some extent that he may see “revisionism” as a correction, but I also sense that he believes that it has been taken too far with political agendas driving revisionist to make the same errors in historical study that Christian nationalist make. I think that he does see a decline in the nation’s morality particularly in civility, but that he believes an honest study of history will produce the humility needed to correct it.  I would rather for him to have expressed his view clearly than to have to piece his view together.

I would recommend this book to anyone interested in the history of religion in the United States.  I also recommend it to my fellow conservative evangelicals.  It would be good to recognize the complexities of history rather than fear them or ignore them.  In part 3, I will expand on what Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? implies for those who are serious about being both citizens of a country and being followers of Christ.

Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? Part 1

In the next three posts, I will review and interact with the book, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation by John Fea.  While there has been a great deal of buzz about the book, not much has been said about the author.  Fea is an associate professor of American History at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania, where is also Chair of the History Department.  Messiah College states on its website that it is nonsectarian but “…highlights the specific emphases of the Anabaptist, Pietistic and Wesleyan traditions.”  Those who are familiar with those traditions recognize that they emphasize private piety, separation of church and state and in more recent history, social justice.  Anabaptists believe strongly in the separation of church and state and are pacifist.  They strongly oppose government coercion by force.  It would be interesting to know how much these views shape Fea’s perspective; however, those views are not obvious in his book.

Fea did not make his purpose clear in the book until the concluding chapter.  He intended to show that the answer to the question in the title is much more nuanced than those debating the issue on left and right tend to understand.  As you will see in my summary and interaction with the book, I think that he in large part succeeded in his intent.  Those on either side of the issue wishing to discredit the other by using this book will have a hard time, not that it will stop anyone from trying.  Fea’s main concern as a historian is that we approach the study of history correctly which means that we do not read our current cultural wars back into it.

Fea outlined how we should study history in the introduction by discussing things that historians must do—the five Cs.

  • They must “… see change over time.”
  • They must “…interpret the past in context.”
  • They “…are always interested in causality.”
  • They “…are concerned with contingency.”
  • They “…realize that the past is complex.”

Fea believes that many people involved in the debate over Christian origins of the nation ignore these principles.  While he accused both sides in his book of violating them, he seems more disturbed by Christian nationalist such as David Barton than those on the other side.  Barton uses facts as a lawyer would.  He tries to overwhelm the opposing viewpoint with evidence.  Fea does not believe that Barton is doing proper historical study.

To illustrate how complex the issue is, in Chapter 1, Fea began with the 1797 Treaty of Tripoli to end interference of American shipping by the Barbary pirates.  Article 11 of the treaty says, “The government of the United States is not in any sense founded on the Christian religion.”

This may look like case closed, but according to Fea, it is not.  While no one in America appears to have debated the wording of the treaty, the press during the conflict spoke in very different terms.  They portrayed it as a conflict between Christians and Muslims.  Tales of American sailors being forced to become Muslims were common.   By media reports and the writings of citizens, it seemed clear that the American public saw itself as a Christian nation. As I read the narrative that Fea wrote, it struck me how eerily familiar it sounded with the political establishment saying that America was not a Christian nation while much of the public had a very different understanding.  To clarify what a Christian nation means, Fea also attempted to define Christianity in terms of orthodoxy (basic doctrines that Christian denominations such as the trinity, belief in the Bible, sin and conversion) and orthopraxy (right practice of Christ’s teachings.)

Fea outlined the history of the idea of America as a Christian nation.  I am not summarizing it in its entirety other than to highlight a couple of points.  Both conservative evangelicals and liberal Protestants have had versions of America as a Christian nation.  While many liberal Protestants act as if they have never put forth the idea, history shows that they have.  In my opinion, the Religious Left is still putting forth its ideas of what America as a Christian nation should be according to their understanding of Christianity.  Conservative evangelicals dropped off the radar from the 1920s-1970s, but they have always been a part of the debate in some way.  During their exile from the public square, they focused on evangelism and education, thus unintentionally preparing themselves for a return to the public square.

According to Fea, Americans between the time of the framing of the Constitution and the Civil War understood themselves as a Christian nation.  Fea wrote that America became the most evangelical country on the face of the earth.  Most early histories of the United States described it in terms of being a Christian nation.  Many biographers reframed the lives of the founders to make them sound like orthodox, evangelical Christians.  During the Civil War, both sides of the conflict framed their sides as carrying on the idea of America’s Christian heritage.  After the Civil War, evangelicals and liberals divided in their views of what America as a Christian nation meant, but both continued to speak of America as a Christian nation.  Liberals dominated the public square after 1925 until around 1980 when evangelicals returned.  Fea also briefly described the Roman Catholic view of America as a Christian nation.  From Fea’s book, one can see that there have been different versions of the idea of America as a Christian nation.   However, the prominent assumption of the American public appears to have been that it was Christian.  In fact, in 1885, in the case of Church of the Holy Trinity v. United States, the Supreme Court formally declared that the United States is a Christian nation.  Fea concluded this section about this court ruling, “While the United States should never be perceived of a “Christian nation” in any formal or official sense, it was certainly a “Christian nation” in terms of culture and history.”

In  Chapter Four, Fea discussed the modern proponents of the idea of America as a Christian nation characterized mostly as being social conservative, evangelical protestants.  He suggested that they have five central themes that he used as an outline for much of the rest of the book.

  1. “God is sovereign over history. God has acted providentially to shape the course of human affairs, and he has a special destiny for the United States that can be accurately discerned and explained by historians.”
  2. “The seventeenth-century settlement of the American colonies should be interpreted in light of the eighteenth-century American Revolution.”
  3. “Most of the signers of the Declaration of Independence and the framers of the U.S. Constitution were men of deep Christian faith.”
  4. “The Constitution of the United States is a Christian document, rooted in biblical and theological truth.”
  5. “Historical revisionism, especially as it relates to school textbooks, is irresponsible and dangerous.  Revisionists, they argue, have removed Christianity from the stories of the nation’s past taught to Children in public schools.”

In part two, I will review the section of the book where Fea deals with these themes.  Part 2 will appear on Monday.  Part 3 will appear on Wednesday.

Postmodern and Evangelical?

Recently, while reading book reviews, I came across one that described a book as being unhelpful in enabling the reviewer to reconcile being postmodern with being an evangelical Christian.  The reviewer believed that she could be both.  While I grant that a postmodern worldview can influence a believer, I believe that as that believer matures in his walk with Christ that he will find the two worldviews are incompatible.

Postmodernism is based on the premise that in the world there are different narratives that explain existence and purpose for life. Postmodernist believe that there exists metanarratives meant to explain these, but that no one metanarrative  can explain everything.  It is up to each person to find their own narrative, and no one can say that anyone else’s narrative is wrong.  There are no absolutes by which we can make such judgements.

Such a view is incompatible with the gospel.  The gospel is a metanarrative that explains all of life and its purpose.  God created the world and everything in it for His glory.  Humanity is in rebellion to God through sin against Him.  Even if a person desires to overcome their sin and come to God, he or she cannot.  Instead, God takes the initiative to save.  He is just and cannot simply overlook our rebellion, but because He is also love, He makes a way for us to come to Him.  While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.  He is the way, the truth and the life.  No one comes to God except through Jesus.  This is God’s narrative, His story.  It explains our existence, our purpose and our needs.

Because the gospel is exclusive, it cannot fit in a postmodernist’s worldview.  The postmodernist will struggle with the exclusive claims of Christ found in Scripture.  Either, a postmodernist must conform his worldview to the gospel or conform the gospel to his worldview.  Tragically, many are choosing to conform the gospel to postmodernism by accepting universalism.  Postmodernist who claim to be evangelicals have done well to question conservative evangelicals about the inconsistencies between our faith and our practice in terms of treatment of the poor and God’s creation.  However, they are mistaken when they accept a different set of inconsistencies by claiming to follow Jesus without holding firmly to the exclusive claims of the gospel of which He is the center.