Friday, June 6, 2008

Peter Lillback on George Washington's Faith

Given our ongoing discussions concerning George Washington's faith, I thought I'd offer up this YouTube video, which features Peter Lillback. This video is apparently an excerpt from a Christian documentary.

As has been conceded in previous articles, Lillback conclusively demonstrates that George Washington was NOT a Deist. Does that mean that Washington was an orthodox Christian?

Take a look at the video...


Brad Hart said...

I absolutely agree with Lillback's assessment - which is in agreement with everyone on this blog - that Washington was very far from being a true Deist. It is also a historical fact that the man prayed on a regular basis.

Where I believe Lillback goes wrong is to assume that because Washington was not a Deist, he must therefore be an orthodox Christian. In this video, Lillback mentions the biblical references that Washington regularly quoted - these references can be found in Appendix 2 of his book, "Sacred Fire." The problem with this claim, however, is the fact that EVERY SINGLE one of the references that Lillback sites are very Unitarian. Not once does Washington refer to biblical scripture that proclaims Jesus as the savior of mankind, light of the world, etc. Instead, the scriptures that Washington quoted -and Lillback has sited - are phrases like "Promised land," "Providence," "Lord of Hosts," "Searcher of Human hearts," "Creator," and "Common Parent."

This was an interesting video. I enjoyed what the researcher/curator of Mt. Vernon had to say. Her research - in my opinion - is spot on. She claims that Washington could not be a true Deist, since he believed in a God that intervened in the affairs of mankind. She also points out that Washington used the term "Providence" to describe his belief in God, which is a perfect example of his Unitarian leanings.

Brad Hart said...

Another point I want to make centers on the first comment that Lillback makes:

"Deists often claim that Washington was not a Christian, but the burden of proof is on them to explain why this man would always be in church, why the churches we was a part of were entirely orthodox..."

Lillback is quick to mention that Washington regularly attended an orthodox church, but he never mentions the fact that Washington also avoided communion and confirmation. For an "orthodox" believer, common sense dictates that these holy rituals would likely be embraced by an orthodox believer.

This is where Lillback goes wrong. While I am in complete agreement with him when he mentions that Deism does not fit Washington's beliefs, I cannot understand how he can draw the conclusion that Washington was "strictly" an orthodox Christian.

Jonathan said...

I have to agree with Brad that Lillback tries to argue away (unconvincingly in my opinion) the phenomenon that orthodox Churches of the Founding era (especially Anglicans/Episcopalians in Virginia!) had members who were theists and saw religion as a social duty but didn't believe in the orthodox tenets in which the church believed. They tended to be the ones who got up and walked out during communion time.

Brian Tubbs said...

I would say that there are churches TODAY who are attended by folks who don't agree with all the doctrinal tenets of said churches.

HOWEVER...I think the burden of proof is on those who say GW was NOT a Christian. In other words, we mustn't ASSUME that GW didn't share in the doctrinal tenets of Anglicanism, because others didn't. That's not a fair assumption, nor can we simply extrapolate from his refusal to take Communion (esp since there ARE reports that he DID take Communion).

Jonathan said...


I don't think things have changed much in the last 200 and some odd years on the issue of nominal Christians who don't believe in what their church preaches and regenerate Christians who do.

Jefferson said something like Joseph Priestley told him if all of England candidly examined their creed they'd concluded that almost everyone was a "unitarian" without really knowing it. I think what he/they meant was most "unthinking" or nominal Christians believe in God and some of what their church preaches, but really don't buy into orthodoxy which can be quite complicated and sophisticated and requires a lot of faith to believe in its mysteries.

John Derbyshire said something recently describing his own nominal Anglicanism which is "the lazy Christian mind is reflexively Deist."

Jonathan said...

That researcher, btw, is Mary Thompson and she wrote forwards to both Lillback's and the Novaks' book. And, rumor has it, she has one of her own in the works on this very matter.

I think if you let her talk more she'd argue GW was a Christian. She's the one who first posited the idea that GW avoided communion because of political disagreements he had with the Anglican Church over the war.

Brian Tubbs said...

As a pastor, I can definitely attest to the "lazy Christian mind" syndrome in many of today's churches.

I would say that most of the people you describe as "nominal Christians" aren't so much "reflexively Deist." Instead, I think they're basically playing a version of Pascal's Wager - better to profess belief in Christ and be right than to deny Christ and be wrong.