Roman Catholics at Plymouth Rock?

In the department of strange bedfellows comes George Weigel’s praise for the Museum of the Bible:

On September 29, 1952, the publication of the complete Revised Standard Version of the Bible was celebrated at the National Guard Armory in Washington, D.C., and the principal speaker was the U.S. Secretary of State, Dean Acheson. The son of the Episcopal bishop of Connecticut, Acheson movingly described the ways in which the King James Bible, which the new RSV was to supplant, had once shaped American culture and our national life:

In the earliest days in the Northeast, the Book was All. The settlers came here to live their own reading of it. It was the spiritual guide, the moral and legal code, the political system, the sustenance of life, whether that meant endurance of hardship, the endless struggle against nature, battle with enemies, or the inevitable processes of life and death. And it meant to those who cast the mold of this country something very specific and very clear. It meant that the purpose of man’s journey through this life was to learn and identify his life and effort with the purpose and will of God.

That biblical vision helped form the bedrock convictions of the American idea: that government stood under the judgment of divine and natural law; that government was limited in its reach into human affairs, especially the realm of conscience; that national greatness was measured by fidelity to the moral truths taught by revelation and inscribed in the world by a demanding yet merciful God; that only a virtuous people could be truly free.

Of course, the U.S. is a free country and anyone can assemble the past in ways consoling.

But does anyone else feel a certain discomfort with a Roman Catholic recommending the Bible without also mentioning the objections that sometimes Bishops registered against Bible readings in public schools without comment? The United States would not have as many parochial schools as it does if not for Bishops who worried about sending children to public schools where teachers read the Protestant version of the Bible.

Not to be missed is the odd relationship between the Bible and the founding. If the settlers who came to America and launched the tradition of Thanksgiving wanted a society with a biblical vision at its bedrock, don’t you also have to mention that those same Bible-only Christians were a tad jittery about including Roman Catholics in the nation that emerged from their colonial enterprises?

This may be why some Roman Catholic political theorists are uncomfortable with Roman Catholics getting comfortable with the founding.

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The Puritan Fetish

Why do Reformed Protestants think appealing to the Puritans settles it?

Why does Patrick Ramsey think John Ball’s view of justification is significant?

While denying the Roman Catholic doctrine that love is the life and soul of justifying faith, John Ball (1585-1640) strenuously affirmed that justifying faith cannot be without love. Faith and love are distinct graces which are “infused together” by the Holy Spirt at regeneration and “the exercise of faith and love be inseparably conjoined (Treatise of Faith, 45-46).” Where there is justifying faith there is love: “As light and heat in the Sun be inseparable, so is faith and love, being knit together in a sure bond by the Holy Ghost (pg. 38).

If faith and love are distinct yet inseparable, so it is sometimes argued, “then Faith alone doth not justify (pg. 56).” The presence of love at the moment of justification implies that it is along with faith a co-instrument of justification. Ball responded to this objection by appealing to a common turn of phrase regarding the role of faith in justification: faith alone justifies but the faith which justifies is not alone. Or as it stated in the Westminster Confession of Faith: “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, is the alone instrument of justification; yet is it not alone in the person justified, but is ever accompanied with all other saving graces, and is no dead faith, but worketh by love.”

And why does William Evans think the Puritans founded America (tell that to the Virginians)?

America was founded by Puritans. They viewed themselves as in covenant with God, as a new Israel. They thought that the covenant promises made to Israel applied quite literally to them. They thought that if Americans were obedient God would bless our land, just as he blessed ancient Israel. That’s why many American Christians love to quote 2 Chronicles 7:14: “if my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.” This is where American exceptionalism, our notion of America as a special, chosen nation originates from.

But if Evans is right about the amillennialism, why don’t we abandon the Puritans (who were a tad preoccupied with being a chosen people)?

The point should be clear to us now—with the coming of the Messiah, the notion of the “promised land” is christologically defined. The promise of “land” is fulfilled concretely in Christ, who rules over the world as God’s kingdom, and his people. A principle of redemptive history is that when God takes something away, he replaces it with something much, much better.

All this should be a warning to us not to identify the Promised Land with any particular nation, or particular piece of real estate. The covenant promises of God regarding land do not apply to America as a nation in covenant with God, or as some sort of new Israel. God’s plans are not going down the tube because of America’s present unfaithfulness. We know that ultimate individual and collective transformation are God’s work that will not be completed until Christ comes again, and that, while real (albeit provisional) successes are at times realized today, this eschatological horizon implies that the ministry of the church is not going to usher in the millennium.

More Burke, Less Locke

Ben Sasse addressed CPAC yesterday and Scott Clark has the video under the heading, “The Government Exists to Secure Natural Rights.”

I immediately wondered if this commits the federal government to granting amnesty to all the Mexicans living in America, legally or not. If everyone has rights naturally, and the U.S. government is committed to protecting those rights, how could it ever not protect the rights of anyone who winds up American soil?

Here‘s what Senator Sasse may have meant by that line:

Our founding moment is truly extraordinary. Our founders were making a claim about human dignity. Our founders were saying that everybody, everywhere—not just those who have been blessed to be born in this place—but everybody, everywhere is ordained with natural rights. Everyone everywhere is created in the image of God with natural rights, and government is just our shared project to secure those rights.

Again, everyone has rights by virtue of being human (sort of like the French Revolution’s Declaration of the Rights of Man — a universal, abstract ideal).

But another way of thinking about rights is to say they are protected by a constitutional arrangement and in order to receive such protection you need to be a member of a constitutional community. Here’s another statement from Senator Sasse:

People have been wrong about the nature of government and the nature of freedom, and we the people in America believe that our rights come to us via nature, and government is our project to secure them, so we the people give the government enumerated powers. We don’t ever wait for the government to give us an rights. We claim those by nature.

But what if the government has clearly enumerated powers and some of those mean that citizens enjoy the protection of that government. That protection is a form of liberty and rights. Citizens benefit from the government’s protection and the Constitution’s Bill of Rights. But non-citizens don’t. That seems elementary (but I’m only licensed to do history.)

What might Senator Sasse’s remarks have sounded like if he were a reader of American Conservative:

Sasse’s case for classical conservatism was actually a defense of classical liberalism. For the senator, America is an exceptional idea invented by the Founding and “ordained with natural rights”. This Lockean interpretation of the American Revolution is not how classical (or small-c) conservatives understand the Founding. Classical conservatives certainly believe in conserving the achievements of the Founding, but they also know America is not an idea. America is a culture and a nation composed of many regional and local communities. It is from these communities that a sense of self-government is developed and citizens who can underpin limited government are forged.

Sasse also described conservatism as a “set of policy preferences” directed towards the reduction of the size of government. Classical conservatism is not merely a checklist of anti-government policies, regardless of how virtuous those policies might be. It is a philosophical temperament which sees politics as the art of the possible, values prudential reform, and puts concrete institutions before abstract concepts.

Bringing Up the Rear

If Islam is going to develop into a religion of peace and tolerance, it doesn’t need either a Reformation or an Enlightenment, according to Daniel Philpott. Instead it needs a Vatican Council — preferable Vatican Council 2.0 since the first council was a tad militant and intolerant.

Here are the limitations of Protestantism and philosophy:

Protestant reformers enforced their orthodoxy with every bit the deadliness that Catholics employed. While England’s Queen Mary acquired the sobriquet “bloody” for her brutal restoration of Catholicism, her little sister Elizabeth was equally violent in reestablishing the Anglican Church.

The 18th century Enlightenment advanced individual religious freedom but was skeptical towards religion. The French Revolution, the Enlightenment’s political enactment, asserted the rights of man but severed the heads of men and women of faith.

Yes, lots of blood before 1800. But where’s the American exceptionalism? Where’s John Courtney Murray arguing for the Enlightenment tradition of natural law that shaped the founding of the United States? Maybe Philpott’s editor didn’t give him enough words to embrace the religious freedom that his bishops celebrate every fortnight for freedom:

Catholics must fight against forces seeking to remove the influence of religion from American culture, Archbishop William E. Lori of Baltimore told over 1,000 Catholics at a Mass beginning a 14-day campaign for religious freedom.

“In differing ways, both the Church’s teaching and our nation’s founding documents acknowledge that the Creator has endowed individuals with freedom of conscience,” said Archbishop Lori. “Such freedom goes to the heart of the dignity of the human person.”

The archbishop delivered the opening homily for the Fortnight for Freedom, the two-week period leading up to the Fourth of July that the bishops have dedicated as a time for prayer, education and advocacy for religious liberty.

That was 1776. But the real lesson of religious freedom, for Philpott, comes in 1965 (for the historically minded, notice the chronology and the Roman-centric w-w paradigm):

. . . western history contains a more promising pathway, ironically one found in the very religious body that the Reformation and the Enlightenment considered freedom’s greatest enemy: the Catholic Church.

It was in Second Vatican Council’s declaration, Dignitatis Humanae, on Dec. 7, 1965 — a date whose 50th anniversary is right around the corner — that the Church finally and authoritatively endorsed the human right to religious freedom.

While the Catholic Church’s road to religious freedom will not suit Islam in every respect, it shows how a religious community that for many centuries did not teach religious freedom could discover grounds for the principle that were rooted in its own teachings rather than in modern secularism.

Like Islam, Catholicism long predates the modern world. The period from which Dignitatis Humanae most dramatically departs is medieval Christendom, when the integrity of the Catholic faith was regarded as crucial for social order. Heresy was not merely a sin but an act of sedition.

Not the point of the post, but notice how this booster also notices what the rest of us without a dog in the fight of papal supremacy notice — namely, that Roman Catholicism changed from medieval to modern at the Second Vatican Council. Everyone sees this except for those who put their trust in ecclesiastical princes.

What is the point here, though, is how Rome is an example to Islam. Was it not the case that modern developments in Europe and North American finally forced bishops to open the church’s windows to modernity? In which case, it was not that the church embraced religious freedom on its own but “finally” — Philpott’s word — caught up to religious freedom in trails blazed by Americanists (and others). Of course, Protestantism did not usher in freedom of conscience. But Protestants did adjust much earlier than Rome. And Philpott gives Protestants no credit.

Instead, he thinks Muslims should look to Roman Catholics — who still celebrate the Battle of Lepanto.

Yup.

When Did Christian America End?

For some it happened recently. This blogger doesn’t refer to the Court’s ruling on same-sex marriage, but it’s hard not to think he has it in mind:

The 350-year marriage of Protestant Christian theology and American popular culture is over. Christianity, it may be sadly said, is no longer the preeminent social influence in American life. We Christians who dared to presume that America was ever all and only ours are, apart from some God-ordained awakening, unlikely to “get our country back.” We will live and work henceforth, as do most other Christians around the world, amidst a public square hostile to our beliefs.

The odd wrinkle to Christian readings of the American revolution is that the United Kingdom was a Christian nation. Presbyterians were the established church in Scotland. And King George was head of a church that claimed George Washington as a member (and he was an orthodox Christian, you know). Plus, it seems that King George III wasn’t all that bad a king.

What the United States did was to establish itself without a Christian church. Advocates of a Christian America may not like the language of the separation of church and state, but what the United States did in comparison to Europe and 1500 years of history (and even compared to France where Napolean eventually made Roman Catholicism the established church) was to create a nation without a state church (at the national level — hello) and that prohibited religious tests for holding office. That also meant the churches (except for Congregationalists in New England) had to pay as they went on the basis of their own creative schemes for finding parishioners and persuading them to give (till it hurts — I mean, tithe).

So even though American has been secular for a long time — as long as the U.S.A. has existed — the events of two weeks ago seem to be decisive for making Christians of all kinds abandon the United States as a blessed, favored, or welcome place.

No one except for Rusty Reno seems to recall that in 1996, a time when the Internet was just catching on, Christians were also worried about “The End of Democracy”:

The prospect of a purely political decision from the Court led me back to the famous First Things symposium published in November 1996: “The End of Democracy?” The occasion for that symposium was a federal circuit-court decision finding a right (subsequently overturned by the Supreme Court) to doctor-assisted suicide. The reasons given were identical to those used to justify America’s abortion regime. Richard John Neuhaus and the others who participated in the symposium were deeply concerned about the perverse way in which our constitutional system was turning liberty into an enemy of life.

No matter what the higher courts decided, physician-assisted suicide is still on the books in Oregon. And the number of Americans — since we are after the 14th Amendment now citizens not of the states but of the nation — dying with the help of doctors in Oregon is growing — from 16 in 1998 to 105 last year.

So what I wonder is whether Christian America ended in 1998. I also wonder why more Christians have not been outraged by a federal government that allows Oregon to persist in this law. Maybe secession is unconstitutional, but can’t the Union kick states out? And why single out same-sex marriage? Wasn’t Roe v. Wade worse?

Is it simply that the Internet now gives Americans more room to hyperventilate about Outrage Porn?

We Need a Religion that Unites

That was the dream of the founders. Ben Franklin stopped going to hear the Presbyterian pastor, Jedediah Andrews, because the printer believed Andrews’ turned his hearers not into good citizens but good Presbyterians:

Tho’ I seldom attended any public worship, I had still an opinion of its propriety, and of its utility when rightly conducted, and I regularly paid my annual subscription for the support of the only Presbyterian minister or meeting we had in Philadelphia. He used to visit me sometimes as a friend, and admonish me to attend his administrations, and I was now and then prevailed on to do so, once for five Sundays successively. Had he been in my opinion a good preacher, perhaps I might have continued, notwithstanding the occasion I had for the Sunday’s leisure in my course of study; but his discourses were chiefly either polemic arguments, or explications of the peculiar doctrines of our sect, and were all to me very dry, uninteresting, and unedifying, since not a single moral principle was inculcated or enforced, their aim seeming to be rather to make us Presbyterians than good citizens.

Serious Presbyterians (and other Protestants) may not have agreed with Franklin’s civil religion (though at the Revolution Presbyterians turned out in force for generic and patriotic devotion), but in today’s debates about the nation and its identity Franklin dominates. Consider a couple examples of how the word “Christian” obscures differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants who would have had very decidedly different estimates of each other and the nation in 1790.

James Conley, the Bishop of Lincoln, NE, thinks we need to return to the vision of the founders:

If the American experiment is to survive, it needs Christianity—and the influence of all religious believers. And if our legal system is to survive, it needs your influence. Our obligation is to work to restore a sense of the common good and a sense of the transcendent in American public discourse. If law continues to be an agent of self-interest, we will see more instances of religious persecution and family disintegration. On the other hand, if law helps us to identify, proclaim, and seek a common good, then we will have turned the tide and served the vision of the Founding Fathers.

But why would a bishop of the Roman Catholic Church ever be satisfied with the Christianity of a bunch of patriotic Presbyterians and skeptically Protestant statesmen? That seems a long way from what Rome taught then and now about the nature of Christianity.

Mark David Hall in similar fashion glosses differences between Roman Catholics and Protestants to talk about the influence of Christianity (could he mean Eastern Orthodoxy?) on the founding:

I believe that this is the most reasonable way to approach the question “Did America have a Christian Founding?” In doing so, it is important to note that nominal Christians might be influenced by Christian ideas, just as it is possible for an orthodox Christian to be influenced by non-Christian ideas. I believe that an excellent case can be made that Christianity had a profound influence on the Founders.

Before proceeding, I should emphasize that I am not arguing that Christianity was the only significant influence on America’s Founders or that it influenced each Founder in the exact same manner. Clearly there were a variety of different, but often overlapping, intellectual influences in the era. The Founders were also informed by the Anglo–American political–legal tradition and their own political experience, and like all humans, they were motivated to varying degrees by self, class, or state interests. My contention is merely that orthodox Christianity had a very significant influence on America’s Founders and that this influence is often overlooked by students of the American Founding.

But which Christianity? Doesn’t a historian have to do justice to the antagonism that has evaporated but that used to make Protestants and Roman Catholics suspicious (if only) of each other, and which led the papacy to condemn accommodations of Roman Catholicism to the American setting?

And so what always happens to biblical faith in the pairing of religion and public life continues to happen: Christianity loses its edge and becomes a generic, pious, inspirational goo. Even the Seventh-Day Adventists are worried about losing religious identity while gaining public clout.

One of the Seventh-day Adventist Church’s most famous sons, retired neurosurgeon Ben Carson, is seeking evangelical support for a likely 2016 presidential bid. But the global leader of his church worries that the thriving denomination is becoming too mainstream.

In 2014, for the 10th year in a row, more than 1 million people became Adventists, hitting a record 18.1 million members. Adventism is now the fifth-largest Christian communion worldwide, after Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, Anglicanism, and the Assemblies of God.

Meanwhile, Team Religion doesn’t seem to notice that religion divides believers from unbelievers (as well as serious believers from other serious and not-so-serious believers). You gotta serve somebodEE.

The American Jesus on the Un-American Calvin

Zach Hunt has read Calvin and he is disgusted. Here’s part of what he has to say to Calvin himself:

[Quotations from Calvin on predestination and human wickedness] are, as you demonstrate so well, the logical conclusions of your theology of divine sovereignty and, therefore, at the very heart of what you believe about God. Worse, this isn’t a case of you overstating without thinking through the conclusions. You’re clear that this sort of God who ordains genocide, murder, rape, children abuse, and every other conceivable horrendous act is the God you worship. . . .

The bigger issue I have, John, is that you have a tendency (cause I’ll be the first to admit they’re not all like this) to create incredibly arrogant and sometimes hateful followers who are just as cold, calculating, and callous in their theology and selective in their use of scripture as you are. Just like you, too many of your prominent followers today denounce their critics as heretics while praising God for a whole host of evil things that happen in the world from earthquakes and tornadoes to the marginalization, oppression, and destruction of people made in the image of God.

John, I don’t know how to say it any other way – you’ve got a bad habit of making disciples that aren’t very christlike in their love, mercy, compassion, and grace towards others.

This may or may not be a fair reading of Calvin, but it does do justice to those parts that are hard to square with modern notions about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And yet Americans continue to think that Calvinism bears some special and positive relationship to a political order committed to freedom, equality, and tolerance. In most narratives of American origins, the lines between John Winthrop’s Massachusetts and George Washington’s Philadelphia are smooth, straight, and easy to follow.

Could it be that Americans need to take a page from the Turks who seem to know that the caliph Suleyman the Great was not a forerunner of Ataturk? Consider, for instance, what ??? had to say about the current Turkish television sensation, “Magnificent Century”? Here is an interesting bit from Elif Batuman’s Feb. 17, 2014 piece on the series, “Ottomania: A Hit TV Show Reimagines Turkey’s Imperial Past.”

The debate over “Magnificent Century” touches on one of the key issues in Turkish politics: the question of national identity. Who were the Ottomans – enlightened cosmopolitans or decadent sociopaths? Who was Suleyman? Who are the Turks? For the first eighty years of the republic, national identity was defined largely by the figure of Kemal Ataturk, with his tailored suits, his commitment to scientific positivism and ballroom dancing, his devotion to an adopted daughter who became Turkey’s first female fighter pilot, and his emphatic rejection of all things Ottoman. Ataturk’s picture is on every denomination of Turkish currency, and hangs on the wall of every public building. It is a crime to insult his memory. . . .

The Ottoman revival has its roots in the Cold War, when the main political polarity in Turkey wasn’t Islamist versus secularist but pro-Communist versus anti-Communist. In Turkey, a NATO member and a U.S ally, widespread internal violence between leftist and rightist groups culminated in a military coup, in 1980. The new government addressed the threat of leftism by opening the Turkish market to global competition, and by promoting Islam as an ideological alternative to Communism. One result of these measure was the rise of a new class of observant Muslim businessmen – entrepreneurs who described themselves as “Islamic Calvinists,” characterized Muhammad as a merchant, and cited the Koran as an authority on limiting economic intervention by the government. Where Kemalism had its basis in economic isolationism and cultural Westernization, these businessmen wanted just the opposite: Western-style capitalism and a Turkish culture. In the Ottomans, they found the ready-made idea of a prosperous Muslim elite, trading on an equal footing with Europe but preferring halvah to profiteroles.

In some ways Turkish developments parable simultaneous U.S. history. During the Cold War, especially before 1965 when race, sex, gender, and war divided Americans, Calvinism and the Reformation became a bus stop on the modern ride from the Dark Ages to Enlightenment and the United States’ new order for the ages. In other words, religious roots became useful to both the Turks and Americans to justify national involvements. You can even compare the Religious Right to the Islamo-Calvinists – Americans who refashioned their religious and national heritages to concoct a national identity that made secular humanism illegitimate.

But unlike Turkey where the contrast between republican progress and religious past was always stark under Ataturk’s unruly eyebrows, in the United States the tension between the Puritans and the Founders was glossed or ignored. Americans, from Julia Ward Howe and Perry Miller to Rick Santorum, have rarely if ever been willing to acknowledge that Winthrop’s communitarian, religiously demanding, and exclusive Massachusetts was not what Ben Franklin, James Madison or even John Witherspoon had in mind for the United States (whether confederated or federated).

That dishonesty may be responsible for the secularist and atheistical reaction against the faith-based exceptionalism of the last four decades. It doesn’t make it pleasant or civil, but when you constantly hear about America’s Christian origins as a later iteration of the Puritans errand into the wilderness, you may want to push back.

At the very least, this dishonesty helps to explain why an HBO television series on Massachusetts Bay’s pastors’ wives will not becoming to Netflix soon. Not even the producers of Christian sentimental entertainment could turn those godly women into a series, say “Sectarians in the City,” where the distaff side of the Gospel Coalition could feel good about their small group Bible studies, enjoyment of sex, and cosmetic choices. Although, if someone could provoke the female allies to get their hubbies to read Anne Bradstreet, maybe the New Calvinists would stop being so d—d nice.

Independence Day After Glow

This is the first Independence Day in recent memory that fell on a Thursday, thus giving the week more of a Thanksgiving Day rhythm than the typical federal holiday pattern of a three-day weekend. Which is to say that life appears to be slow on Internet and the street.

So while we Yanks are still in an autonomous mood, here are a few more considerations about Calvinism and the American Revolution. Paul Helm offers a minor correction to the point made here that American colonial Calvinists were likely following John Locke more than John Calvin. His conclusion is sufficiently mild that Christian nationalists and 2kers might both claim Helm’s agreement:

Yet it can be argued that for all his personal conservatism, there were, in Calvin’s view of civil society, enough chinks and fissures through which a case for rebellion against civic injustice could be developed. Calvin himself was certainly not an advocate of rebellion. Far from it. But what of those who came after? That this is the road that some Calvinists trod can be seen from Quentin Skinner’s The Foundations of Modern Political Thought, Volume 2: The Age of Reformation.

Whatever Calvin taught, and however later Calvinists justified their politics, some scholars have actually looked at the citations of the American founders to see which authors they were reading and following. Almost thirty years ago, Donald Lutz came up with the following scorecard:

1. Montesquieu
8.3%
2. Blackstone
7.9
3. Locke
2.9
4. Hume
2.7
5. Plutarch
1.5
6. Beccaria
1.5
7. Trenchard & Gordon
1.4
8. Delolme
1.4
9. Pufendorf
1.3
10. Coke
1.3
11. Cicero
1.2
12. Hobbes
1.0

Everyone else on Lutz’s list of 36 “Most Cited Thinkers” comes in at less than one percent. For those curious, Calvin did not make the cut. (I have to admit that some of these names were obscure to me, hence the links. For the record, Delolme and Beccaria find no results at American Creation, while Trenchard & Gordon do. Our smart guy TVD is not responsible for the posts on T&G.)

Lutz also compares the Federalists and Anti-Federalists in their citations of groups of authors. The Federalists (Hamilton, Madison, Washington, Adams) cited Enlightenment figures 34% of the time, Whigs 23%, and Classical 33%. They did not cite the Bible.

In contrast, the Anti-Federalists (who? i.e., Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams, Luther Martin) cited the Bible 9% of the time, Enlightenment 38%, Whig 29%, and Classical 9%.

No smoking guns here, but maybe a few matters to ponder while smoking a stogie on the hammock.

Confusing Johns

This is Calvinism (mainly):

Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; yet he has authority, and it is his duty, to take order that unity and peace be preserved in the Church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordainances of God duly settled, administrated, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he has power to call synods, to be present at them and to provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God. (WCF 23.3)

This is Calvinism revised:

Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; or, in the least, interfere in matters of faith. Yet, as nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the church of our common Lord, without giving the preference to any denomination of Christians above the rest, in such a manner that all ecclesiastical persons whatever shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger. And, as Jesus Christ hath appointed a regular government and discipline in his church, no law of any commonwealth should interfere with, let, or hinder, the due exercise thereof, among the voluntary members of any denomination of Christians, according to their own profession and belief. It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual manner as that no person be suffered, either upon pretense of religion or of infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever: and to take order, that all religious and ecclesiastical assemblies be held without molestation or disturbance. (OPCCF, 23.3)

This is Calvinism on Locke:

Hall demonstrates that while the Declaration’s reference to “nature’s God,” its claim that government’s function is to protect citizens’ rights, and its assertion of a right to overthrow usurpatious rulers are consistent with Lockean thinking, they are also perfectly in keeping with John Calvin’s teaching on those subjects, which antedated Locke’s Second Treatise . . . (Kevin R. C. Gutzman’s review of Mark David Hall, Roger Sherman and the Creation of the American Republic, American Conservative, May/June, 2013)

And it gets worse for rights-affirming “Calvinists”:

. . . because the powers which God hath ordained, and the liberty which Christ hath purchased, are not intended by God to destroy, but mutually to uphold and preserve one another, they who, upon pretense of Christian liberty, shall oppose any lawful power, or the lawful exercise of it, whether it be civil or ecclesiastical, resist the ordinance of God. (OPCCF, 20.4)

The Noetic Effects of Regeneration and Christian America

us flag and bibleBelow are two clips with distinct views of religion in the American founding. One comes from a decidely Christian perspective, the other from a leading historian of the United States in the era of the Constitution — some might call it secular (I prefer learned).

How Religious Were the American Founders?

America's Christian Heritage

The issue worth raising here is not whether the U.S. is a Christian country. It is instead what role regeneration plays in the interpretation of history, specifically the history of American independence and nation building. Do Christians, by virtue of regeneration, have more insight into history, can they interpret documents and events better, than non-Christians? Or could it be that faith actually makes one predisposed to overlook contrary evidence?

My own view is that the clip by Gordon Wood is far more accurate in weighing all the evidence about the founders than the views of David Barton. What is particularly interesting is that Wood is very kind to Baptists and Methodists, and acknowledges the importance of revivalism and evangelicalism to the new nation. He is not hostile to religion.

But for many Christian culture warriors, such concessions are not good enough, and supposedly Wood has an axe to grind because he won’t go all the way and recognize the orthodoxy of such founders as George Washington.

Meanwhile, some may want to chalk up Wood’s ability as a historian to common grace. I myself prefer to attribute it to his own vast knowledge of the American founding and the amount of time he has spent reading the sources and subjecting his arguments to peers in the field. In other words, I think Wood is smart.

Did he get those smarts from God? I believe he did. But he also used them well. I am not sure that Christian apologists for a Christian nation use either their smarts or their illumination as well.