Thursday, June 16, 2016

The Faith of our Founding Fathers-If You Can Keep It

One of the things I really enjoyed by Eric Metaxas' newest book, If You Can  Keep It, is that he correctly portrayed the Founding Fathers. That is difficult to find in books, especially history text books. Most of what I learned about history was when I started homeschooling my kids by reading children's book about history that were written decades ago. (No, not text books. Real books about history.) Then I started visiting Colonial Williamsburg and learned even more. I'm so glad to see so much of this important information in Metaxas' book.

However one new concept I learned from his book, was of the Golden Triangle of Freedom, which looks at the qualities of how faith, virtue and freedom are interrelated. Separately I knew of each in the works of the Founding Fathers. But it was the the idea of how they are legs of a triangle (which he credits to Os Guinness) which was new and powerful to me. So If You Can Keep It is a great book for even those who think they've learned all the components of keeping our republic, because there might be some new ideas to consider to inspire us even more!

"...for many of the founders the idea of virtue and morality divorced from religion and faith was unthinkable." (If You Can Keep It, Metaxas, 60-61)


Contrary to popular opinion, our Founding Fathers had far more faith than is often credited to them. The problem is that many of us today try to define 18th century terms with 21st century definitions. For example, transportation and communication of the 18th century expand to entirely new meanings today.

The 18th century worldview pretty much "accepted the following propositions:
  • God exists and He created the world.
  • Men will give an account to God after they die. They will answer to God's justice. 
  • All men are impaired. They are not all that they can be.
  • Absolute moral truths exist. These truths are established by God and are recorded in the Bible (and maybe other places as well). These truths can and ought to be apprehended by men.
  • Jesus' words must be heeded. Jesus' behavior must be emulated.
  • Religion is good. Praying is good. Obeying the Ten Commandments is good. Reading the Bible is good." (The History of the United States: A Christian Perspective by Dr. Robert Spinney, 97)

"...a conservative, evangelical, Bible-believing Christian would certainly want to add additional items to this credo. For example, there is nothing here about the Lord Jesus Christ's exclusivity and His atoning death on the cross.
When we think in terms of a generic Christian worldview, even atheists agree that one can properly call America a Christian nation. " (Spinney, 97)

The Founding Fathers were, after all, the product of the Great Awakening. This was quite unifying to the colonies and Metaxas writes about this in his book.

I think we can all agree that few people today believe everything in the bullet statements above. However the majority of people in the 18th century did believe the above points.  When reading 18th century writings, it is quite obvious that our Founding Fathers had a completely different take on God from the 21st century.

"This is why deist Thomas Jefferson could work alongside evangelical Patrick Henry: despite significant religious differences, they also agreed on much. This is why none of the Founding Fathers wanted to remove Christian expression from public life. Even the deist Jefferson contributed money to Bible societies. Benjamin Franklin was a lukewarm deist who nonetheless thought with a Christian worldview; he reprimanded Thomas Paine (who was a bold deist who sometimes openly attacked religion) by saying, 'If men are wicked with religion, what would they be without it?'" (Spinney, 96) 

Benjamin Franklin

It's amazing that Benjamin Franklin, possibly the most secular of all the Founding Fathers, was the one to write so eloquently about God's sovereignty and the need to turn to Him in prayer in such an important matter as forming a new government.

At the beginning of our War for Independence we had daily prayers in this room for divine protection. Our prayers were heard, and they were graciously answered. Have we now forgotten this powerful Friend? Do we think we no longer need His assistance? I have lived a long time. And the longer I live, the more I am convinced that God governs in the affairs of man. If a sparrow cannot fall without His notice, can an empire rise without His aid? Without the Lord, we shall fare no better than the builders of Babel. We shall be divided by our little, local interest. We shall become a reproach in future ages. (Benjamin Franklin at Constitutional Convention, 1787)

 James Madison

I've met James Madison at Colonial Williamsburg. (The interpreters study, first of all, the actual writings of the people they interpret.) When Madison was asked about his extensive reading list, he said the most important book he read was The Bible.

"Writing of the Bereans in Acts 17 who 'searched the Scriptures daily, whether these things were so,' Madison scribbled, 'a noble example for all succeeding Christians to imitate and follow.'" (From Tynadale to Madison: How the Death of an English Martyr Led to the American Bill of Rights by Michael Farris, 311)

Thomas Jefferson

Regardless of  Jefferson's unorthodox and supposedly deist views on other matters of religion, it must be recognized that he grounded his arguments for religious liberty on the nature of the church, the relationship of an individual to God, and even Scripture. Madison was his confederate, and of course, was prone to discussions of political philosophy, but his ideas about religious liberty certainly did not arise from an atheistic, purely secularist, or even deistic context. (Farris, 333-334)

"I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just; that His justice cannot sleep forever." (Notes on the State of Virginia, Thomas Jefferson, 1781)  
John Adams

"As his family and friends knew, Adams was both a devout Christian and an independent thinker..." (John Adams, David McCullough, 19)

Witness John Adams. He called himself 'a church-going animal.' In his presidential inaugural address, he informed his countrymen that 'a decent respect for Christianity [was] among the best recommendations for public service.' He also said, 'Statesmen may plan and speculate for Liberty, but it is Religion and Morality alone which can establish the principles upon which Freedom can securely stand.' And he wrote, 'Suppose a nation in some distant land region should take the Bible for their only law book, and every member should regulate his conduct by the precepts there exhibited. Every member would be obliged in conscience to temperance, frugality, and industry; to justice, kindness, and charity towards his fellow men; and to piety, love, and reverence toward the Almighty God...What a Utopia, what a Paradise would this region be.' (Spinney, 96)

As secular as these men possibly were, as evidenced by other writings, there are these writings as well. If they were not fully Christian (and I am not the one to ultimately decide that), they obviously had a Christian worldview...something that isn't common today. In other words, the 18th century had a strong Christian worldview, whereas the 21st century has a strong secular worldview.

Metaxas likewise shares that despite some of the Founding Fathers being secular, they believed greater Christian views than the modern times often give them credit for.  Metaxas shares many other wonderful and inspiring quotes. These are true quotes. They were actually written by our Founding Fathers. Doesn't that make you feel good about having people who think like that at the helm of deciding government structure? I know it makes me feel good. And they did create the best that has ever been created. Now it's a matter of keeping it.

I have a few more Metaxas links for you tonight! Here is a link to a National Review interview. Here is a link to a podcast about his audio book! And here's a link to a sample of his audio book that he, himself, is reading. I listened to all of them today and enjoyed both. Metaxas has a great sense of humor. You never see it coming. I always learn more and gain greater insight by reading/listening to these.   

If You Can Keep It is available at your favorite bookstore, including Amazon! You can read more about it here, at Metaxas' website

*Note-The title of my blog post is nearly identical with the chapter of this topic in Dr. Spinney's book. I had my title days ago, I discovered Dr. Spinney's a few minutes ago. I'd love to claim that great minds think alike, but I doubt that my mind is quite so great as Dr. Spinney's!

*On that note, I might add that I wrote/organized/planned our own homeschool history curriculum. I titled the 1800-1825 years "If We Can Keep It." You can see that in my right sidebar, in the history category. This has become quite a theme and passion of mine, so I was quite excited when I found out about Eric Metaxas' book, If You Can Keep It. I highly recommend it!   

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