Sunday, July 24, 2016

"Historians Against Trump" vs. Dart-Throwing Monkeys

“The facts are really not at all like fish on the fishmonger’s slab. They are like fish swimming about in a vast and sometimes inaccessible ocean; and what the historian catches will depend partly on chance but mainly on what part of the ocean he chooses to fish in and what tackle he chooses to use – these two factors being of course determined by the kind of fish he wants to catch. By and large, the historian will get the kind of facts he wants.”--E. H. Carr


You may have heard from our friend John Fea about a group of academics calling themselves "Historians Against Trump."  Philosopher Stanley Fish took to The New York Times to question the validity of such an enterprise in an essay called "Professors, Stop Opining About Trump." and I think historian/historiographer E.C. Carr would quite agree.

From the liner notes:

Historiography consists partly of the study of historians and partly of the study of historical method, the study of the study of history. Many eminent historians have turned their hand to it, reflecting on the nature of the work they undertake and its relationship both to the reader and to the past. Carr was a well-known authority on the history of Soviet Russia, with which he was in ideological sympathy. Invited to deliver the 1961 George Macaulay Trevelyan lectures, Carr chose as his theme the question ‘What is History?’ and sought to undermine the idea, then very much current, that historians enjoy a sort of objectivity and authority over the history they study. At one point he pictured the past as a long procession of people and events, twisting and turning so that different ages might look at each other with greater or lesser clarity.

He warned, however, against the idea that the historian was in any sort of commanding position, like a general taking the salute; instead the historian is in the procession with everyone else, commenting on events as they appear from there, with no detachment from them nor, of course, any idea of what events might lie in the future.

In short, historians are entitled to their opinion, but it's not necessarily any better than normal people's. And although some individuals are quite brilliant in forecasting the future, social psychologist Phillip Tetlock's famous study proved that when grouped together [say, as "Historians Against Trump"], experts' predictions were worse than those of dart-throwing monkeys!

In the end, there's really no difference between a consensus and a mob; the wise individual speaks only for himself.


Saturday, July 23, 2016

Beck & Metaxas Made a Huge Mistake

Throwing their hat in with David Barton. And others should learn from their example. This is why I feature the criticisms on my blogs. 

Yet again John Fea and Warren Throckmorton have posts criticizing Eric Metaxas' new book, but this time connecting him to, you guessed it, David Barton. From Fea's:
  1.  Metaxas’s view of Winthrop’s use of the phrase “city on a hill” IS taken out of context.  I encourage you to take David Barton’s advice and read the original source– “A Modell on Christian Charity.”  You should also read Hillsdale College professor David Gamble’s  In Search of the City on a Hill: The Making and Unmaking of an American Myth. And don’t forget the post by Tracy McKenzie, chair of the history department at evangelical Wheaton College. 
  2.  I am sure I have addressed this before, but it needs to be said again.  For years Barton has been telling the ordinary evangelicals who follow him that he is right about American history because he owns a lot of documents.  He claims that he reads the original documents and suggests that professional historians do not.  This is a completely absurd claim.  ALL professional historians read and interpret primary sources.  This is what we do.  Doing history–especially the history of political ideas– has very little to do with whether or not someone one can hold an original document in their hands.  For example, if Barton had a copy of the Declaration of Independence would he be in a better position to interpret the ideas in the document than someone who was merely reading the Declaration of Independence online or in a textbook?  I have never been to Wallbuilders or seen David Barton’s collection of documents, but I am pretty certain that most of the documents he possesses are easily accessible for historians in online and print collections.  Unless one is writing a history about these books, letter, and manuscripts as physical objects or pieces of material culture (which is not how Barton uses the documents–he peddles in ideas), the fact that Barton owns these documents ... does not make his interpretations of history any more right or wrong.
Yes, Barton's point that he "has" the documents is snake oil worse than the Afrocentric claim that Western Civilization "stole" documents and therefore the ideas from Africa, to the exclusion of Africa having those ideas.  As though cultures steal from one another like people steal cars (where the original possessor no longer has the actual object itself and its benefits).

In the modern age, almost any historical document a party physically owns can be viewed in some kind of copy. The same isn't true of antiquity.

While Fea and Throckmorton may be (?) Left leaning, I don't see either of them as hard Left. And another critic, Dr. Gregg Frazer is not a man of the Left in any sense. Likewise a number of other prominent Right leaning Christian intellectuals have criticized Barton.

I am a libertarian and will be voting for Gary Johnson this term. I don't consider myself either a man of the Left or the Right. And this may surprise some folks: I actually like both Glenn Beck and Eric Metaxas. Beck is going to be voting for Gary Johnson just like I am. Beck is not a scholar. He is an entertaining media presence. But when he picks scholars to endorse, he should pick good ones.

Metaxas has more intellectual credibility than Beck. And likewise he should throw his hat in with scholars with more credibility than David Barton. (And arguably, because of his intellectual background, should know better than Beck).

Friday, July 22, 2016

Sandefur: "The Greeks and The Founding Fathers" Part III

Check out Timothy Sandefur's post here. A taste:
Yesterday, I delivered (live) the third and final talk in my three-part series for the Politismos Museum of Greek History on the influence of the Greeks on America's Founding Fathers. If you missed it, hold on--they'll be posting the finished video in a while. But if you'd rather listen to them, you can download all three talks in mp3 format here: ...

Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Fea & Throckmorton on Metaxas Blowing Off Criticisms

Check out Drs. John Fea and Warren Throckmorton on Eric Metaxas' disregard for criticisms of his new book. This is a link to the audio-clip of Metaxas. A taste of Metaxas' words:
There are errors in my book and people have written ESSAYS–I’m not even kidding.  People have attacked my book so much. This never happened to me before. They take a sentence that I could just change that sentence and everything would be okay.  They have written ESSAYS about this sentence.  I said something about freedom in our early days, implying that it was universal, which of course it was not (we had a lot of problems with religious freedom) ....

Monday, July 18, 2016

Is Rebellion in America's Blood?

A passage in Dr. Gregg Frazer's very thoughtful piece arguing that the American Revolution was not a just war brought something to mind. Below is the passage from pages 12-13 of the PDF. Again I added paragraph breaks but did not reproduce Frazer's added emphasis:

The French Revolution's Legacy of Persecution

Though the result of legitimate grievances over the corruption and abuse within the French monarchy and aristocracy, the uprising known as the French Revolution failed to achieve the success of its American predecessor. Instead, it descended into bloodthirsty hatred, chaos, and ultimately dictatorship. It also ushered in a disturbing episode of persecution against people of faith...


Do you agree with Mr. Zmirak's article?

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Frazer on the AR as a Just War with a Focus on Lesser Magistrates

Last year we noted Dr. Gregg Frazer's article in The Journal of Military Ethics on whether the American Revolution was a just war. We didn't get to analyze the article in depth because although it was initially downloadable, it was soon put behind a paywall. It looks like it's now free to the public again (but you never know how these journals and their algorithms will behave).

Even though Frazer argues the American Revolution was not a just war, other points of view are also represented there (so check that out too).

I want to focus on a particular part of Frazer's article. In his book, he discusses at length Romans 13's prohibition on rebellion and John Calvin's writings on lesser magistrates being able to lawfully restrain tyrannical rulers. But he subsequently received criticism that his book did not adequately deal with the Calvinistic line of thought on interposition from figures like Samuel Rutherford's "Lex Rex"  and the anonymous "Vindiciae, contra Tyrannos."

Frazer answers such criticism beginning on page 15 of the PDF. I am going to reproduce a section that starts on page 16: [I added paragraph breaks but didn't reproduce all of the emphasis added.]
Some readers might expect a discussion of appeals to the so-called ‘lesser magistrate’ or ‘interposition’ argument attributed to Calvin; that view says that lesser magistrates are similarly endowed by God with authority, that they may rebel against a higher magistrate (the King), and that the common people may then choose whether to support the higher or the lower magistrate. Such a discussion is not relevant, however, because neither Calvin nor the patriot preachers made such an argument. In my own study of dozens of the patriot sermons between 1750 and 1780, I could not find any that employed this argument (see Frazer 2012:69–106); and James Byrd (2013) makes no reference to it in his comprehensive look at the patriot sermons, either. Calvin himself did not make the ‘lesser magistrate’ argument; it was developed later by some of his disciples and their work had a degree of influence in Reformed circles.

There is not space here to fully demonstrate that Calvin would not have approved of it, but the distinction between Calvin’s statements and the ‘lesser magistrate’ notion can be briefly explained. Calvin does not say anything about ‘lesser’ magistrates in general, but addresses a particular type of magistrate (‘populares’) with legal authority to restrain the higher magistrate. The term ‘populares’ is ‘a term quite different in connotation from “inferior” or “lesser”’ (Skinner 1978: II: 230–234). The emphasis is not on the magistrate’s inferior or lesser position, but on the reason for its existence–its function in the political system. There are lesser magistrates in every political system, but Calvin specifies that his scheme only applies if this particular type of magistrate exists within a given political system. In those circumstances, Calvin urges the special ‘popular’ magistrates to act ‘in accordance with their duty’ to exercise lawful, systemic authority to veto or block executive actions (Institutes, IV: 20: XXXI, in Höpfl 1991: 82).

An American parallel would be the power of Congress to impeach and remove a president. But there is no mention or implication or hint of rebellion or revolution or extra-constitutional action or of people choosing sides between magistrates in Calvin’s scheme. Calvin stresses that ‘the punishment of unbridled tyranny is the Lord’s vengeance’ (Institutes, IV: 20: XXVI in Höpfl 1991: 82, emphasis added), but that the people ‘are not to imagine that it is we ourselves who have been called upon to inflict it’ (Institutes, IV: 20: XXVI in Höpfl 1991 :82). He further admonishes the people that ‘all that has been assigned to us is to obey and suffer’ (Institutes, IV: 20: XXVI in Höpfl 1991: 82).

The notion of suffering is lost in the many interpretations of Calvin that promote rebellion. He actually provides three specific historical examples to try to ensure that his position would not be misunderstood– but to no avail. 2 Calvin did not cite examples of revolutions to overthrow tyrants; he cited offices and officers given legal authority within their regimes to restrain the ‘licentiousness and frenzy of kings’ (Institutes, IV: 20: XXXI, in Höpfl 1991:82–83). Although some scholars and commentators interpret Calvin in such a way as to make him support rebellion or revolution by lesser magistrates, one must add to or change Calvin’s words in order to produce that result.

For those literate in political theory, one place that the ‘lesser magistrate’ argument could be found was in Vindiciae, contra Tyrannos, an anonymous sixteenth-century Huguenot essay. At least one of the Revolutionary leaders, John Adams, read it and called it influential. Vindiciae makes the King the creature of the people, makes the people the proper judge of the King, and presents the lesser magistrate option as a cure for tyranny (O’Donovan & O’Donovan1999: 714–722). Some of the patriots found the arguments of the Vindiciae useful.

The primary theoretical source for preachers and for politicians seeking to justify the Revolution was, of course, John Locke’s Second Treatise of Government. Locke similarly makes the King the creature of the people and makes the people the judge of the King, but his solution to the King’s tyranny was even more attractive and valuable for the American revolutionaries because it allowed them to deny that they were revolutionaries. Locke famously argues that whoever uses force without right violates the social contract and becomes a ‘rebel’ to the community; if the King is a tyrant using unlawful force, he becomes a rebel and the people who seek to depose him are merely defending themselves (Second Treatise of Government, par. 226–243, in Locke 1988: 398–428). This scheme allows one to engage in revolution, but not suffer the label ‘revolutionary’.

The American people were fed Lockean thought and were heavily influenced by it because the patriot ministers preached it from the pulpits (Frazer 2012: 85–106). Jonathan Mayhew was particularly important in converting to the Revolutionary cause congregations raised on Calvin’s and the Bible’s teaching concerning submission and non-resistance. Mayhew (1750) turned the teaching of Romans 13 on its head and made it into an argument for revolution in his ‘Discourse Concerning Unlimited Submission and Non-Resistance to the Higher Powers’. It was invaluable in convincing people raised in Calvinism to support rebellion. This sermon was so influential that it has been described as the ‘morning gun of the Revolution’ (Thornton 1860: 43). John Adams said that if anyone wants to understand ‘the principles and feelings which produced the Revolution, they ought to study ... Dr. Mayhew’s sermon’ (letter to William Tudor, 5 April 1818, in Adams 1856: 301); and he further remarked that it was ‘read by everybody’ (letter to H. Niles, 13 February 1818, in Adams 1856: 288). Subsequent preachers such as Samuel West followed Mayhew’s lead and Locke’s principles infiltrated the populace via the Revolutionary pulpit.

It has been established that the American leaders at the time the war began (and even after) were, by their own admission, under the authority of Great Britain and were English subjects. Consequently, they were not sovereign authorities, they had a superior, and they were not properly authorized in their charters or anywhere else in British law to declare war. Locke provided a theoretical justification dependent on a fictitious base (state of nature and social contract). If Locke’s theory is correct – and if the British government was in fact tyrannical – then the American people had the right to create a new legislature with authority to use force to defend them. The American Revolution fails the ‘just war’ test by the first standard unless one considers revolutionaries to be legitimate authorities.
My thoughts: Frazer does make an important concession that John Adams, among others, was influenced by "Vindiciae, contra Tyrannos," but still argues -- correctly as far as I can tell -- it was Locke who was much more important.

Elsewhere we have observed there is no connection we are aware of between Locke on the one hand and Samuel Rutherford and the other Calvinist "resisters" on the other. Frazer also points out the sermons with which he is familiar cited Locke and not the Calvinist resisters.

A problem exists in that era in that they didn't tend to credit their sources like academics do today. We know Thomas Jefferson cribbed parts of Locke's 2nd Treatise when writing the Declaration of Independence; but he doesn't cite him.

So one could argue, in the absence of a citation like "as Mr. Locke argues" or "in Lex Rex ...," where the ideas came from is debatable. Daniel Dreisbach noted to me, off the record, Jonathan Mayhew doesn't cite or name his influences in his sermon, so it's debatable where he got the ideas from.

Locke and the Calvinist resisters, though they had similar ideas, still had meaningful differences both conceptually and linguistically. If you hear a preacher talking about "state of nature" and "contract and rights," it's Locke, not the Calvinist resisters. The most famous Presbyterian American Revolutionary was John Witherspoon. And I know that he was influenced by Locke as he used the aforementioned Lockean terms.

Was he influenced by the Calvinist resisters? Where is the evidence? Can we find it here in Dr. Jeffrey Morrison's piece on the man? What about the other Presbyterian and Calvinist preachers in America? Did they cite the Calvinist resisters?

Saturday, July 16, 2016

Eric Metaxas in his own words: "If You Can Keep It"

From The Daily Caller:

“Our constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.” New York Times bestselling author Eric Metaxas recalls these timeless words of John Adams in his new book If You Can Keep It, in order “to urge today’s Americans to remember the ordered liberty at the heart of the American idea.”
Metaxas
Metaxas phoned in to the Matt Lewis & The News podcast this week to discuss the virtues and mores that America has forgotten, and the secret to self-government.

If You Can Keep It implores us to remember the value and fragility of the American system, and the moral virtue that the founders understood as necessary for successful self-government and the preservation of liberty.

Friday, July 15, 2016

Throckmorton: "Eric Metaxas Says His History of Religious Liberty Has Been Misrepresented"

Check it out here. A taste:
I’d like to know how his position has been misrepresented. Please, Mr. Metaxas enlighten us with passages from your book.  John Fea from Messiah College, Tracy McKenzie from Wheaton College and Greg Frazer from The Master’s College all represented you via passages from your book. Here are the passages we relied on.

Fea: "My Review Series on Metaxas’s 'If You Can Keep It': A Wrap-Up"

Check it out here. A taste:
Unfortunately, Metaxas does a very poor job of using American history to answer these questions. He manipulates the past to make it serve his political agenda. His entire argument is based on a weak and faulty intellectual foundation. He searches for continuity between Colonial America and the present that, for the most part, doesn’t exist. “If You Can Keep It” is an example of how not to use the past to make an argument in the present.

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

Fea: "Review of Eric Metaxas, 'If You Can Keep It: Part 6"

From Dr. Fea here. A taste:
It is worth noting that Metaxas has made the common mistake of taking Winthrop’s words, which were addressed to the inhabitants of one British-American colony, and applying them to the United States writ-large.  Winthrop, of course, was not applying his “city upon a hill” metaphor to the already-existing colonies of Virginia, Plymouth, and the Dutch colony of New Netherland (which became New York thirty-four years later).  Yet these colonies and several others–colonies in which the “city upon a hill” metaphor was not part of their founding ideal–would also be part of the United States of America in 1776.  Metaxas is in good company here.  John F. Kennedy and Ronald Reagan, both fans of the “city upon a hill” metaphor, also made this mistake. (More on Reagan below).

Monday, July 11, 2016

Fea: "Review of Eric Metaxas, 'If You Can Keep It': Part 5"

From Dr. John Fea here. A taste:
.. The reason why so many historians tread lightly when connecting the evangelicalism of the Great Awakening to the American Revolution is because there is limited concrete evidence that the founding fathers, or the people for that matter, were specifically drawing upon evangelicalism as they articulated their political resistance to England.

Metaxas is basically trying to argue for the evangelical origins of the American Revolution. The New Birth, he suggests, melted away all other forms of identity–ethnic identities, local political identities, religious identities–into a unique and exceptional “American” identity.  He offers a Whig interpretation of the American Revolution on steroids.  It fails to explain the persistence of ethnic identity in the decades following the Revolution.  It fails to explain the states-rights and local orientation of the Articles of Confederation.  It fails to explain denominationalism as it developed in the decades between the Revolution and the Civil War.  And it highly exaggerates the influence of Whitefield, evangelicalism, and the Great Awakening on colonial life.  Metaxas fails to realize that religious belief was not particularly strong at the time of the American Revolution.

Finally, let’s remember that the First Great Awakening was a transatlantic spiritual movement.  Whatever unity among evangelicals that Whitefield helped to create was not unique to the British-American colonies.  Whitefield preached the same gospel message in England, Wales, and Scotland.  The people in the British-American colonies who embraced the New Birth saw themselves as part of a movement that was transatlantic in nature.  In other words, the Great Awakening made the religious and cultural relationship between Great Britain and the American colonies stronger, not weaker.
Yeah it's fairly ridiculous to single Whitefield out and try to credit him as Metaxas does. One thing America was at the time of the Revolution and Founding was diverse in a sectarian sense. The kind of Christianity that Whitefield preached by no means spoke for the viable theologies at that time in America in general and those that drove the Revolution in particular.

It did not predominate. 

Indeed, arguably the direct enemies of Whitefield's theological movement drove the revolutionary sentiment more so than Whitefield's faith did. Revs. Jonathan Mayhew and Charles Chauncy were not orthodox evangelical types. They were proto-unitarian and universalist and quite theologically liberal for their time, which was the era of "classical liberalism."

I'm not in the business of saying who is a "real Christian." I do know that sectarian division often leads to finger pointing of the lines of "I'm a Christian and you are not."

So even conceding that Mayhew and Chauncy are "Christians" as they identified (though with questionable orthodoxy), there was as much difference, if not more so, between their faiths and Whitefield's than as between Billy Graham's and Bishop Fulton Sheen's.

I use the latter two for a particular reason. The sectarian diversity and consequent religious liberty that the American Founders worked hard to establish permitted us to live in an age where Graham and Sheen in their heyday of the 1950s could vie for the role of "America's Popular Preacher" of their age.

Yes, Whitefield was popular. Ben Franklin liked him; they were friends. But when they spoke to one another, they talked like they believed in two different theologies. How to define Franklin's personal creed is debatable. If he can be called a "Christian," his creed was much closer to Mayhew's or Chauncy's than to Whitefield's. Though, Franklin was arguably less identifiably Christian than Mayhew or Chauncy.

Saturday, July 9, 2016

Fea: "Review of Eric Metaxas, 'If You Can Keep It': Part 4"

From Dr. John Fea, here. A taste:
As my students of colonial America are well aware, the so-called “13 Colonies” were very British at the time of the American Revolution.  In fact, much of what the colonists had learned about liberty and freedom stemmed from the fact that they were British subjects. Ironically, it was the British who taught the colonists how to rebel.  The British were the most liberty-loving people in the eighteenth-century world and they were proud of it. Their monarch was held in check by the people through Parliament, making them unlike nearly all other nation-states.  From the perspective of many of the founding fathers, the American Revolution was the correct and consistent application of British liberty to the imperial crisis over taxation.

But in order for Metaxas’s argument about American exceptionalism to work (we will discuss this in a later post), he must make a clear contrast between England and their rebellious colonies. For example, on p.19-20 Metaxas claims, in reference to the United States, that “back in 1776 and in the decades after, this nation was all alone” in embodying the idea of liberty and its “uniqueness at that time can hardly be overstated.”

On p. 9 Metaxas suggests that the role of “the people” in monarchical government would be “nonexistent.”  This may have been the case for France, Russia, or some other eighteenth-century European country, but it was definitely not true for England. Though the colonists portrayed the English government as tyrannical, it is way over-the-top to compare the eighteenth-century English monarchy to a “strongman dictator” like Saddam Hussein (p.18).

Throckmorton's Daily Caller Article on Metaxas' New Book

From the good Dr. Warren Throckmorton here. A taste:
An error which permeates the book is Metaxas’ claim that the Pilgrims and Puritans advocated religious freedom for all. Just one example represents many such statements: He writes, “Since the Pilgrims came to our shores in 1620, religious freedom and religious tolerance have been the single most important principle of American life.” He claims that the principle of religious freedom, so important for most of the founders, was derived from the example of the Pilgrims and Puritans. This is false. 

Quakers and Catholics and other dissenters were banished or imprisoned in Massachusetts during that era. Some were killed for their dissent from orthodoxy. Roger Williams who Metaxas also cites was banished from Massachusetts and founded Rhode Island as an alternative bastion of religious toleration. Despite these facts, Metaxas upholds the Pilgrims and Puritans as worthy of emulation.  

What makes a book like this troubling is that Metaxas writes so well he lulls the reader into complacency. Readers who don’t know their history can’t evaluate what they don’t know. After reading the book, they feel confident but are ill equipped to defend the important principles of liberty. Metaxas has a much higher responsibility to get the facts right and should take responsibility for these errors by publicly correcting them.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Endorsement of Eric Metaxas' Work

My sites are going to be featuring much critical commentary of Eric Metaxas' new book. His work is not entirely without merit. In fact, I think his show Socrates in the City is quite good and something I enthusiastically endorse.

I've embedded below my favorite episode featuring the legendary Dick Cavett.

Fea: "Review of Eric Metaxas, 'If You Can Keep It': Part 3"

Check it out here.
On p. 72, Metaxas praises Roger Williams as a champion of religious liberty.  This is correct.  Indeed, Rhode Island, the colony Williams helped found, was a place where religious freedom flourished.  Yet later in the book, Metaxas sings the praises of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and John Winthrop’s “City on a Hill” as a model of American exceptionalism (more on that in a later post).  In the process, he completely ignores the fact that Williams was thrown out of Massachusetts Bay largely because of religious differences with the government. (So were a bunch of other people, including Anne Hutchinson).  So much for religious freedom. Metaxas can’t have it both ways.

In fact, there were only a few places in British-America where religious freedom “was paramount.”  The colonies of Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and parts of New York celebrated religious freedom.

In New England, the colonies of Massachusetts Bay, Plymouth (before its merger with Massachusetts in 1691), and Connecticut all had state churches in which Congregationalism was the “established” religion.  In some cases, these established churches were “manifestly monstrous and destructive to individual freedom.” Mary Dyer, for example, was one of four Quakers executed for their faith by the champions of John Winthrop’s “City on a Hill.”

Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Throckmorton vs. Metaxas: Physician, Heal Thyself

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?

The recent publication of pop theologian Eric Metaxas's "If You Can Keep It" has brought out the axes from the usual anti-"Christian Nation"suspects, including psychology teacher Dr. Warren Throckmorton of Grove City College, co-author of a self-published e-book called Getting Jefferson Right, a highly effective takedown of amateur historian David Barton's inept Jefferson Lies, which tried to make TJ some sort of orthodox Christian.


Metaxas

As is the custom of many self-appointed watchdogs and guardians of the truth, although Throckmorton is correct that Metaxas may leave the impression that Ben Franklin's plea for prayer at the Constitutional Convention was adopted, he isn't happy to stop there. He wants the blood of his ideological enemy.

"Clearly, Metaxas wants us to believe that God was involved in the Constitution. If you believe in providence, you believe God is involved with every government (read Augustine). However, in his book, Metaxas flirts with the idea that America has a special relationship with God, in the sense of being a chosen people like Israel was chosen. From If You Can Keep It: 
Why is it too much for us to suppose — as Franklin, Washington, Adams, and so many others did — that the finger of the Almighty might indeed have been involved?"

Why, Doctor Throckmorton? Because on the very next page, Metaxas quotes James Madison: 


"The real wonder (of the success of the Constitutional Convention) is that so many difficulties should have been surmounted, and surmounted with a unanimity almost as unprecedented as it must have been unexpected. It is impossible for any man of candor to reflect on this circumstance without partaking of the astonishment. It is impossible for the man of pious reflection not to perceive in it a finger of that Almighty hand which has been so frequently and signally extended to our relief in the critical stages of the revolution." [Federalist 37] 


In a breathtaking huff and puff of superciliousness, Throckmorton concludes, "May God help us not to create myths and instead tell the whole story,"

Indeed, sir, indeed.  Unfortunately, when the axman seeks out only the weakest trees, he invariably misses the whole forest.

Fea: "Review of Eric Metaxas, 'If You Can Keep It': Part 2

From Dr. John Fea. Check it out here. A taste:
First, the founders did believe that religious people made good citizens because they knew how to sacrifice their own interests for something greater, namely their god. But the founders did not believe that religion, or particularly Christianity, was the only source of virtue.  Metaxas is wrong when he says that “virtue and morality divorced from religion was unthinkable” to the founders (p.60).  Most of the founders, including John Witherspoon, the evangelical Presbyterian clergyman who was the only minister who signed the Declaration of Independence, believed that virtue could stem from the conscience or the “moral sense.”  Granted, many of them–whether Christian, Deist, or something in-between–believed that the conscience or moral sense was instilled in human beings by God, but they did not believe that a religious experience, the practice of a a specific faith, or the imbibing of particular religious doctrines was necessary to live a virtuous life. 

....

On p.66. Metaxas states that the “religion” that the founders thought was inseparable to a virtuous republic was not the religion of the “clockmaker God of Deist imagination,” but the religion of the Bible. (He quotes the Massachusetts statesman Daniel Webster on the importance of the Bible in creating citizens). Metaxas implies that “Deism” was not a religion that the founders thought could contribute to a virtuous republic because it did not adhere to the teachings of the Bible. But while Deists did not believe that the Bible was inspired, they did believe that the ethical teachings of the Bible could serve as a guide–one of several–to a virtuous life.  In other words, Deism was certainly one of the so-called “religious” beliefs that the founders believed could contribute to the greater good of the republic.
Three thoughts from me:

1. Yes it's true that America's Founders thought that non-religious people could live the life of virtue necessary to sustain a republic, but thought such people tended to be rare; thus a "religious" citizenry would be preferred to a non-religious one.

2. Yes it's true that when America's Founders invoked "religion" necessary to sustain republics, they didn't necessarily mean "Christianity" of any kind (orthodox, unorthodox, deistic). Rather they believed a generally deistic or theistic minimum of the existence of a divine Providence and future state of rewards and punishments necessary. Hence the generic monotheism of America' Declaration of Independence.

Such could be found in Judaism, Islam, the various sects of "Christianity" (orthodox or not), pagan religions like Hinduism and Greco-Romanism and even non-Christian cold Deism (an absentee landlord God could, theoretically, so perfectly and tightly wind up His natural law clock, embedded in the release of which would reward virtue and punish vice both in this world and beyond).

3. Even though virtually all religions, Christian and non, were "valid" in this sense, Christianity still had the comparative advantage of containing Jesus' explicit moral teachings which were like shortcuts ordinary people who didn't have as George Washington put it, "the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure," to a perfected morality, the only thing about "religion" which civil republics were to be concerned. (Post John Locke government would no longer be in the business of "soulcraft," or caring about which religions could save men's souls.) 

Throckmorton: "Eric Metaxas, You Know the Constitutional Convention Didn’t Have Daily Prayers, Right?"

From Dr. Warren Throckmorton. A taste:
The problem with Metaxas’ narrative is that no formal prayers were offered. He makes it seem like the Convention acted favorably on Franklin’s motion which led to “compromises on all issues struck.” Not so. ...

In short order, two motions hit the floor. Franklin moved for daily prayers with a second by Roger Sherman. Then Edmund Randolph suggested a sermon followed by prayers. Franklin seconded that motion. Neither motion was voted on and the Convention adjourned. In fact, Franklin later noted that “The Convention, except three or four persons, thought Prayers unnecessary.” I am sure many of the founders took God seriously, but this story isn’t a good one to offer as evidence.

If the Convention though prayers unnecessary, then what is Metaxas referring to?

TGC: Frazer on Metaxas' Latest

I missed this when it came out last month. From Dr. Gregg Frazer. A taste:
One of the more egregious historical errors is the claim that the “very first settlers on American shores” came “precisely” to gain religious freedom, along with the equally false claim that “in America the idea of religious freedom was paramount,” and that there was “a complete tolerance of all denominations and religions” from the beginning (34–35).

The first settlers to the American shores (that would become the United States) settled at Jamestown in 1607 and came seeking profits, not prophets. Like many on the Christian Right, Metaxas skips Jamestown altogether. He says: “Since the Pilgrims came to our shores in 1620, religious freedom and religious tolerance have been the single most important principle of American life” (70). The Pilgrims and Puritans did come seeking religious freedom, but only for themselves. They didn’t value or allow religious freedom for others.

In fact, the Rhode Island colony was founded by dissidents forced out of Massachusetts Bay because of religious nonconformity. Far from guaranteeing “complete tolerance,” all the way through the Founding era non-Christian religious groups and some Christian denominations were discriminated against in most of the colonies/states, and even persecuted in some. That persecution was, for example, what motivated James Madison and Thomas Jefferson to push for religious tolerance legislation.

Metaxas seems to make the common error of determining religious belief by denominational affiliation. He declares John Adams to have been “a committed and theologically orthodox Christian” (56). But Adams vehemently rejected the deity of Christ, the atonement, the Trinity, and eternal punishment in hell. Adams said that placing all religion “in grace, and its offspring, faith” is “anti-Christianity.” He believed the best source for “orthodox” theology was the Hindu Shastra, that philosophy was at least equivalent in authority to the Bible, and that pagans who became “virtuous” went to heaven. Adams outrageously said he wouldn’t believe in the Trinity even if God himself told him on Mt. Sinai that it was true.

Having decided that Plymouth was the first colony, Metaxas (like many on the Christian Right) proceeds as if the Pilgrims and Puritans founded America rather than simply Massachusetts (189). It’s worth mentioning that roughly 150 years passed between Plymouth and the founding of the United States. He proceeds as if John Winthrop’s “city on a hill” pronouncement was meant for—and applies to—all of America for all time and not simply to the colony the Puritans were establishing in pursuit of God’s will (234). It’s important to note that seven of the twelve other colonies were not founded for religious reasons. ... Similarly, because he approves of its guarantee of religious freedom, Metaxas claims that the charter of Rhode Island speaks for all of America (72). This is particularly ironic since the Rhode Island colony was founded by castoffs seeking the religious freedom denied them by the Puritans.