Category Archives: Religion

The Cost of Mere, Dull Existence

I am reading Radical by David Platt again as a part of my morning reading and devotion time.  I finished the first chapter this morning.  In that chapter, he wrote a section about the cost of non-discipleship.  I think it could accurately be called the cost of mere, dull existence.

Honestly, I don’t know how one could live with the monotony of working toward goals of a bigger house, a nicer car and career promotion, only to reach those goals and make new goals that involve a bigger house, a nicer car and a career promotion. I can’t imagine the disappointment of stepping into eternity and looking about to see that none of those accomplishments came with me after I died.

Living for God with eternity in mind is so much more exciting.  For us it has meant living in different places in different parts of the world.  When I am in the USA, some react to our lifestyle by expressing regret that we have lost out on so much.  But we would have never have gained what we have by living merely for ourselves in the American rat race for bigger and better.  And what we have isn’t measured materially.  There is a certain happiness and adventure found simply in travel and being exposed to other cultures, but when God and His glory is the focus of doing it, the happiness becomes joy and the life of adventure becomes a life of meaning.

Not every follower of Jesus can or should do what we do.  Doing what we do is not a requirement for eternal significance. As long as the glory of God is the focus of your life, you can find joy and meaning in whatever place God has placed you.  And if you are a Christian and that joy and meaning is still missing, there are some things that you can do, and really, they aren’t very radical or at least shouldn’t be. One is be an active part a church that teaches the Bible as God’s Word and focuses on the needs of the world and not just the felt needs of the people nearby.  A church that is truly global in its concern to spread God’s glory will be local in that concern as well.  Second, truly get into God’s Word and learn how to read it and to study it to find God’s meaning behind it.  There are many resources out there to help you learn to do that.  Third, be a person of prayer, and disciplined prayer at that. If you pray only when the urge hits or ‘the Spirit leads’, you are likely not to have the urge and not to take time the hear the Spirit leading.  And finally, read books such as Radical by David Platt, Desiring God by John Piper and Heaven by Randy Alcorn to help you see further down the road and to encourage you to live with God’s glory and eternity in mind.

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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.

The Christmas Child and the Man on the Cross

I have made a strange discovery this Advent season.  I can hear more Christmas music on NPR that I can on many Christian radio stations with a lot less talk. Perhaps, I shouldn’t  judge, but it is frustrating to turn on the radio hoping to hear music that praises God and instead hear endless banter and people calling to share about the worse gift they ever got for Christmas or some other mundane topic.  When that happens, I just move down the dial, if that is what it is still called, to an NPR station and hear classical renditions of some beautiful Christmas music.

It is not that NPR doesn’t have talk between the songs as well, but at least it isn’t about getting a head massager.  And here is what listening to NPR during the Christmas season confirms as I hear the songs and the stories that people have who conduct, compose arrangements and perform the songs.  People like the idea of Christmas in the distorted sense they have understood it.  They like this whole idea of a child being a source of hope and of peace and good will.  They just miss some key words.

The angels sang to the shepherds, “Glory to God in the highest heaven and peace on earth to people He favors!” (Luke 2:14)

The song implies that there are people whom God favors and people whom He doesn’t favor.  And that favor is based not upon our having warm, fuzzy feelings around a manger scene.  It is about the work that the child in the manger did as a grown man upon the Cross.  Our peace depends upon His grace, His favor resting upon us.

Yet, the view of Jesus on the cross doesn’t bring about feelings that a warm fire, a glass of hot cocoa and The Little Drummer Boy playing in the background can.  What for many believers is a demonstration of God so loving the world is the most offensive thing to others.  What stirs our hearts with wonder at God’s grace stirs others with disgust.  They call it cosmic child abuse and human sacrifice to appease an angry God ignoring the fact that it was God incarnate sacrificing Himself for us.  It is offensive because it reminds us of how horrible our sin really is.  It reminds us that God’s love is a result of grace and not something to which we are entitled.    It reminds us that we cannot save ourselves, but that we need a Savior.

Looking for Men Who Set the Church Ablaze

I read a tweet from someone at a college football game this weekend.  It described a man who had spilled beer on the people in front of him and was staggering down the aisle.  The tweet said, “He smelled of beer, sweat and lifelong bachelorhood.”

It is wrong to lump all single men in this generality, but the truth is that too many men, single and married, are failing to be men in the way the Bible describes.  They are the type of irresponsible men that this tweet was about.  Biblical manhood is not defined by our culture.  One part of our culture defines men as either a weak, ignorant side-kicks to smart women or beer-drinking brawlers.  Biblical manhood is very different.  A Biblical is Christ-like. He is strong, but humble.  He is gentle and meek, yet bold in standing against wrong.  He is a servant seeking to meet the needs of others rather than demanding that others serve him.

E.M. Bounds in the last chapter of his book, Power through Prayer, described men who could set the church ablaze.  Such men need six qualities according to Bounds.

  1. Capacity for faith
  2. The ability to pray
  3. The power of thorough consecration
  4. The ability of self littleness
  5. An absolute losing of one’s self in God’s glory
  6. An insatiable yearning and seeking after all the fullness of God

Fear is…

…a failure to trust God. There are two fears that paralyze disciples. One is a fear of the future and the other is a fear of people. In this post, I want to talk about fear regarding the future. Another word for such fear is worry. I must confess that I used to be a chronic worrier. If I wasn’t worrying, I worried that I had forgotten something. Why are worry and fear wrong?

Fear believes that God either is not good or is not in control. Faith is the cure to fear and worry. Even when the worse is happening, we need not fear, but rather we need to have faith. Peter wrote in his first epistle, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith–more precious that gold that perishes though it is tested by fire–may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6-7) Dealing with tough circumstances with faith instead of worry or fear is an act of worship that results in Jesus being glorified. When we look past the circumstance to see God’s loving hand shaping our lives to be more like Christ or bringing a greater good for more people, we glorify our Lord.

So no matter what we face or will face, we must choose faith over fear.

College Football as a Religious Experience

(Author’s note: The following is meant to be humorous.  As I write about the South’s great religions of Christianity and College Football, I realize that I run the risk of being misunderstood.  Please, chill out and enjoy.)

Ok, I must confess.  I am bored out of my mind with sports right now.  It is that lull time when Baseball division races haven’t heated up that much and college football season hasn’t started.  While I like baseball, I would say that like many southerners I have a nearly unhealthy attachment to college football.   In what little remains of the Bible Belt and in significant parts of its former territory, high school and college football are forms of religion.  What’s more, like the Israelites of old, people have a way of mixing their worship of idols with their worship of the one true God.  On Sunday morning, don’t be surprised if you go to church in Athens and see someone in a red and black suit with a Georgia Bulldog tie.  The gold and purple suits in Baton Rouge, however, are a bit shocking to the senses, yet not surprising considering the religious fervor.

So, it is not surprising that I ran across this on Amazon.com.  That’s right:  it’s a devotional book for the die-hard Georgia fan.  But don’t worry, if you are not a Georgia fan.  The same author has written similar devotions for Auburn, Alabama, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas, Clemson, NC State, Florida, Florida State, LSU, Duke, North Carolina, Texas A&M, Virginia, Virginia Tech and even, Georgia Tech.  Outside of the South (of which I hold the membership of Texas questionable), there is one written for Penn State.  The same author also has written a devotional book for NASCAR fans.

I must acknowledge that I have never read any of these devotions.  I haven’t even read part of one.  My devotional reading is limited to the Bible and maybe another book that I read after prayer in the mornings such as Practicing the Presence of God, The Mortification of Sin by John Owen, and E.M. Bounds’ Works on Prayer.  It appears that these sports devotional books consist of some pieces of trivia about athletics at the schools.  I am sure some of these lend themselves to thoughts of God and Christ, but I would suspect that some need a major Jesus juke to get to the spiritual end zone.

Being a somewhat occasionally sarcastic individual, I couldn’t help but think that such books for college football fans needed subtitles.  So, here is my list:

Devotions for Alabama Fans: Nick Saban Will Have No gods Before Him
Devotions for Auburn Fans: Confession Is Good for The Soul
Devotions for Tennessee Fans: Prayers that Overcome the Demon of Lane Kiffin
Devotion’s for Georgia Tech Fans: Life’s M-Train
Devotions for Georgia Fans: Overcoming Life’s Disappointments
Devotions for North Carolina Fans: Cheaters Never Win and We’re Proof
Devotions for Ohio State Fans: I Wouldn’t Stand Close to Jim Tressel if I Were You
Devotions for Florida Fans: The Glory Hath Departed—Life after Tebow

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.