by Tom Van Dyke
My blogbrother Jonathan Rowe offers this interesting proposition:
The bottom line [in] America's Founding political theology is a Unitarian theology of works, not an orthodox theology of grace.
The more I think on this proposition, the less agreeable it becomes. But thank you, Jon, for offering the proposition. We should discuss everything.
There is no doubt that virtually all the Founding Fathers, including Thomas Jefferson his own anti-orthodox-religion self, believed in "the firm reliance on the protection of divine providence," the aid of God's hand to win the American Revolution.
What I notice in the Founding literature is a near-total lack of self-congratulation over winning the Revolutionary War [the "works" of men] and the near-universal giving thanks to Divine Providence.
Because when we [some of us, anyway] routinely use the phrase "by the grace of God," we're referring to Divine Providence, are we not?
We might fairly say that after man is given God's grace, God expects him to something good with it, per the Bible [Matthew 25:14-30].
The Founders believed America was the result of Divine Providence, as George Washington---a notorious "unorthodox Christian," if a "Christian" at all---noted in his First Inaugural Address.
But further, Washington "prayed" [and "prayed" is not too
strong a word---he uses the word "supplication" and expresses a desire that "His benediction may consecrate"] America going forward with the continuing hand of Divine Providence and guidance. If that is not "grace," I don't know what is.
" [I]t would be peculiarly improper to omit in this first official act my fervent supplications to that Almighty Being who rules over the universe, who presides in the councils of nations, and whose providential aids can supply every human defect, that His benediction may consecrate to the liberties and happiness of the people of the United States a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes, and may enable every instrument employed in its administration to execute with success the functions allotted to his charge. In tendering this homage to the Great Author of every public and private good, I assure myself that it expresses your sentiments not less than my own, nor those of my fellow-citizens at large less than either. No people can be bound to acknowledge and adore the Invisible Hand which conducts the affairs of men more than those of the United States. Every step by which they have advanced to the character of an independent nation seems to have been distinguished by some token of providential agency; and in the important revolution just accomplished in the system of their united government the tranquil deliberations and voluntary consent of so many distinct communities from which the event has resulted can not be compared with the means by which most governments have been established without some return of pious gratitude, along with an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem to presage. These reflections, arising out of the present crisis, have forced themselves too strongly on my mind to be suppressed. You will join with me, I trust, in thinking that there are none under the influence of which the proceedings of a new and free government can more auspiciously commence."
Not only was America won and founded on God's grace---Divine Providence---but Washington begs for its commencement under the same Divine Hand. That's the Big Picture. But we must read Washington carefully on this point---
"a Government instituted by themselves for these essential purposes..."
Man---America---is supposed to do something right and proper with God's grace. Man---America---institutes his government, not God. By all accounts, the American Constitution is the work of man, not God, even if enabled by God's grace.
That would still be the God-centric vision of liberty---it's man, not God, who gets his way in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. God pulls, but man pushes. But I digress into orthodox theology...
We the living, in this 21st century, the modern age, think sentiments like George Washington's are outmoded and quaint. "Pious gratitude." How laughable. The continuation of Divine Providence smiling on America? Washington places his faith---or at least his hope in it---"an humble anticipation of the future blessings which the past seem[s] to presage..."
Contra The Founders, our 21st Century message seems to be this:
Thanks for the leg up on the Founding of America and all, God, but You can sit back now. We don't need Your grace anymore, we've got a Constitution. Man will take it from here.
God help us. [optional]