Friday, June 11, 2010

No, Mr. Beck, John Adams Did Not Think Governments Must be Administered by the Holy Ghost:

Chris Rodda on Barton's claim, picked up by Beck here (Update: And here).

One paragraph of Rodda's I want to focus on:

On Beck's show, Barton also incorporated his other lie about this letter, claiming that this was the letter that magically reunited Jefferson and Adams, who had been on the outs since Jefferson got elected president in 1800. Why does Barton do this? Because it allows him to combine two completely unrelated parts of Adams's letter into a claim that it was really God, working through his "prophet" Benjamin Rush, who restored the friendship between Adams and Jefferson.


This kind of sentiment might speak to Mormons, like Glenn Beck. But, traditional "orthodox" Christianity has no authentic position on whose side God was on during the American Founding. The outcome doesn't prove anything. Yes, according to orthodox Christian belief, God wills all outcomes, the good and the bad, Stalin, Hilter and Mao, along with America.

One could try to reason the God of the Bible would be on the more "Christian" or "Judeo-Christian" side (i.e., God would favor the Christian West verses the Godless Communists). But the American Founding involved two "Christian" sides fighting one another. And there's really no settled answer as to which side was more "biblical." There were "orthodox" and nominal, deistic and unitarian minded "Christians" on both sides. Whether America even had the "biblical" permission to do what it did on a Romans 13 basis has been hotly disputed by Christians of good faith on both sides (no need to rehash that here).

And so I've heard that many contemporary evangelicals and "orthodox" Christians of non-American descent are utterly puzzled by the attempts of certain American evangelicals and other "orthodox Christians" to seemingly incorporate the historical events of the American Founding into orthodox Christian theology.

The context of the letter, in addition to Barton's inadequacies that Ms. Rodda outlined, doesn't bode well for orthodox Christians who wish to view the founding as "godly." We have, "prophets," supposedly, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Rush? Adams and Jefferson, especially at this point in their lives, bitterly rejected and mocked the Trinity and cognate orthodox doctrines. And Rush, though a Trinitarian, was a liberal Universalist who believed everyone would be saved eventually.

Yet, Mormonism, because of when and where it was founded, unlike orthodox Christianity, does teach the American Founding as some kind of divinely inspired event, and the Founding Fathers as quasi-prophets. And the unitarianism of Jefferson and Adams and universalism of Rush is no big deal to the non-orthodox Trinitarian Mormons.

In short, with all of this Glenn Beck stuff, Barton may be doing Mormonism a favor, but he does no favors for the orthodox Christianity in which he purports to believe.

30 comments:

King of Ireland said...

Minor but important point:

This:

"Yes, according to orthodox Christian belief, God wills all outcomes, the good and the bad, Stalin, Hilter and Mao, along with America"

Should be change to:

"Yes, according to some streams of orthodox belief like Calvinism, God wills all outcomes, the good and the bad, Stalin, Hitler and Mao, along with America."

King of Ireland said...

"Whether America even had the "biblical" permission to do what it did on a Romans 13 basis has been hotly disputed by Christians of good faith on both sides (no need to rehash that here)."

Well put Jon.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Heh. Thanks.

King of Ireland said...

Jon,

I am also not sure what you point has to do with the quote from Rodda you produced. The point of the post is that some believed that God intervened in the Revolution on both sides of the orthodox community. The quote is about God intervening through Rush to re-unite two men.

One has little to do with the other. I do not get the connection. Though I do agree with most of your overall point.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Well my reading of "Christian America" ala Barton, Marshall, et al. is that America is an almost chosen nation. And, as it were, the FFs were quasi-prophets. And God certainly would choose only regenerate Saints to be his prophets for His almost chosen nation. That's why Lillback is so desperate to prove GW was not only, "not a Deist," but also an "orthodox Trinitarian Christian."

Then if GW was a Trinitarian, but not an evangelical, there is "hope" for GW as a "real Christian." But if he didn't believe in the Trinity, he wasn't a "Christian." And if he were not a "Christian" -- not "one of them" ("one of us") -- then what kind of modern day Moses or "Christian statesman," would he be to them?

I may be wrong; but I suspect this is what is going on in the minds of the "Christian America" types. Sometimes they are so explicit. Sometimes not.

Lillback, even though he concedes GW was not an evangelical in his book, has nonetheless said to a crowd of "take back America" evangelical types that GW was "one of us."

That's why the Trinity/orthodoxy matters. If GW believed in the Trinity, then maybe he was "one of them" (even though many evangelicals require more than just "orthodox" belief but evangelicalism, being "born again" to be one of "them").

But if GW didn't even believe in the Trinity and cognate orthodox doctrine, then he wasn't "one of them."

That's why this finely tuned passage in Paul Boller's GW & Religion kills Peter Lillback. I think it sent him into a tizzy trying to rebut it, why he ended up writing 1200 pages of much redundant prose:

"[I]f to believe in the divinity and resurrection of Christ and his atonement for the sins of man and to participate in the sacrament of the Lord's Supper are requisites for the Christian faith, then Washington, on the evidence which we have examined, can hardly be considered a Christian, except in the most nominal sense."

Note you can believe in an active personal God, think yourself a "Christian," think Jesus the Messiah (hence NOT be a "Deist") and not believe in one word of Paul Boller's orthodox test for "Christian." That describes Jefferson. And aside from believing in the Resurrection, it also describes J. Adams and Priestley (who believed Jesus Messiah, but disbelieved original sin, trinity, incarnation, atonement, and believed Jesus' Resurrection the Father doing for the most MORAL man what he will one day do for all good men, perhaps ALL men).

Boller after claiming GW was "broadly speaking" a "Deist" in that same passage goes on to say that GW may qualify as a "Christian" according to some broad understanding of the concept, but "if to believe...."

Brad Hart said...

This kind of sentiment might speak to Mormons, like Glenn Beck.

Oh yeah! Lots of my fellow Mormons have gobbled this story up for the very reasons you mention.

Yet, Mormonism, because of when and where it was founded, unlike orthodox Christianity, does teach the American Founding as some kind of divinely inspired event, and the Founding Fathers as quasi-prophets.

Funny you should mention that, Jon. I am actually working on a post that explains Mormon "Christian Nationalism" using the Book of Mormon and various early Mormon prophets. And for the record, you are 100% right on this.

Tom Van Dyke said...

No, Mr. Beck, John Adams Did Not Think Governments Must be Administered by the Holy Ghost:

---This is Barton's dumbest and most dumbfounding boner. Adams was being sarcastic.

And, as it were, the FFs were quasi-prophets.

---I don't get that atall.

Lillback, even though he concedes GW was not an evangelical in his book

---In all the rebuttals, I never got that.


That's why the Trinity/orthodoxy matters


---That hasn't been proved. How would America be different if the concept of Trinity didn't exist?

The point of the post is that some believed that God intervened in the Revolution on both sides of the orthodox community.

---Washington's inaugural address certainly credits Providence.

"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..."


The quote is about God intervening through Rush to re-unite two men.


---I don't know how Barton handles the issue, but as I recall, Rush said the idea to reunite them came in a dream, and iirc, thought the dream had divine origin.

King of Ireland said...

"Well my reading of "Christian America" ala Barton, Marshall, et al. is that America is an almost chosen nation. And, as it were, the FFs were quasi-prophets. And God certainly would choose only regenerate Saints to be his prophets for His almost chosen nation. That's why Lillback is so desperate to prove GW was not only, "not a Deist," but also an "orthodox Trinitarian Christian."

I am not sure if they go this far. There are a lot of stretches in this statement. It is hard to pin them down. I think the best book, as far as trying to understand their goals, is "Liberating the Nations" by Providence Foundation.
I, for reasons I am sure you know by now, cannot endorse all that they say, but there are many things that them and someone like me can have an intelligent conversation about and find some common ground.

I think it is when everyone yells theocrat that muddies the waters. There really is a whole lot of difference from these guys and theocrats. Again I think by now you can tell areas that them and I part company on and I do not really support much of what they do.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"Well my reading of "Christian America" ala Barton, Marshall, et al. is that America is an almost chosen nation.

"His almost chosen people" is Lincoln, BTW.

http://showcase.netins.net/web/creative/lincoln/speeches/trenton1.htm

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom,

If you get into Lillback's book, his thesis is GW was an "orthodox Trinitarian Christian," of the "low church latitudinarian Anglican" bent. But that he was not an "evangelical." He explicitly says this. But at other times he claims GW had a "Calvinist" streak (and indeed claims a Calvinist current in the "low Church" Anglican movement) and sometimes displayed evangelistic zeal.

He does a bit of dancing here. "Orthodox Trinitarianism" is his minimum for GW's "Christianity."

The fact that Jesus is not mentioned at all in GW's private letters, though, I think forces Lillback to concede GW was not an "evangelical."

Jonathan Rowe said...

"How would America be different if the concept of Trinity didn't exist?"

Tom: We are dealing with folks who believe the Christian God is a Trinity. Your question might as well read: How would America be different if the concept of the Christian God didn't exist?

Tom Van Dyke said...



Tom: We are dealing with folks who believe the Christian God is a Trinity. Your question might as well read: How would America be different if the concept of the Christian God didn't exist?


Quite different. The understanding of the Judeo-Christian God of Providence is in no way comparable in importance to the theology of the Trinity. Or if it is, you need to show how.



As you know, I really have no disagreement with you [or Henriques] on GWash except to say that if Lillback goes too far, others go too far in the other direction.

The lack of explicit declarations of orthodox Christianity makes me lean against; however, he was also a private man and certainly no preacher and therefore he mumness may have another explanation.

I noticed when you were writing on this in 2007, you said you could't find his "smoking gun" quote

I inclose you a copy of Mr. Cary's last Acct. currt. against me, which upon my honr and the faith of a Christian is a true one


It's here.

As for the rest of this, my interest has been mostly in epistemological clarity: I haven't found the rebuttals very convincing either, each side basically claiming the uncertainty about Washington for its side, and indeed, Lillback makes more of an affirmative case.

[Just speaking epistemologically-formally here, not on the merits or that Lillback's conclusions are justified by the evidence.]

This seems to be Lillback's case in a nutshell. Did Washington have a pocket prayer book? Stuff like that's interesting and relevant to me, not what Washington thought of the Trinity in his private heart of hearts.

I would mention that Washington's use of "Lord" several times in my view carries a uniquely Judeo-Christian sense.

Again, my interest is far more in Washington himself than Lillback.


But this is getting all over the map. I couldn't get a clarity from the posts you linked. Basically, I agree Adams was not selling the Holy Ghost running the government. I do believe I'm right about Rush believing the dream came from God, but pls do check me on that since I'm working from memory.

I think it's a complete mistake for Barton [or anybody] to quote from Adams' or Jefferson's post-presidential writings except as academic amusement. The nation had moved on; they were out of the game.

In fact, the next generation was already at war with Jefferson's legacy. Nice piece [as usual] from Jim Allison:

http://candst.tripod.com/joestor3.htm

T. Greer said...

Says TVD:

And, as it were, the FFs were quasi-prophets.

---I don't get that atall.


I think JR exaggerates this point a bit, but the general idea is correct.

As most of you guys are probably aware, the founding claim of Mormonism is that it is the restoration of the early Christian church. Of course, for a church to be restored there must have been a falling away, and Mormons posit that this falling away happened shortly after the death of the Apostles, c. 200 AD. This "Great Apostasy" lasted up until the time of Joseph Smith. However, it was not as if Joseph Smith walked onto the scene and everything changed overnight - the stage was prepared for him. In particular, the establishment of a country that institutionalized religious liberty was a necessary prerequisite to the restoration of the true Gospel. Thus when the average Americans Mormon reads the letter where Washington declares that the "hand of providence" has determined the course of the revolution, or Publius's remark that the finger of God can be seen in the successful completion of the constitutional convention, the automatic conclusion is that the founders recognized they were tools of God, destined to bring about the conditions necessary for the greatest event of human history after the ascension of Christ - the restoration of the true gospel of the God, as embodied by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints.

Of course, the founders are not the only folks to get this treatment. The protestant revolution, the translation of the Bible out of Latin, and the discovery of the Americas by Columbus are all seen by Mormons as divinely inspired events whose ultimate culmination was the establishment of the LDS church.

So are they seen as 'quasi-prophets'? Reading articles like this it is easy to see how such a generalization can be made. I think it goes on step too far, however - for the Mormon prophethood is a call of authority, not inspiration. Any man or woman can be inspired. The founders were simply inspired on the most important scale man can be.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I am aware of the "honr and the faith of a Christian" letter; Lillback cites it over and over again and tries to make the most of it.

I mention it in my Amazon Review when I wrote:

Though Washington didn't, as far as we know, identify as a "Deist," Lillback can marshal only one letter, to Robert Stewart, April 27, 1763, where Washington claims to have been a "Christian."

More often, he talked of Christians in the third person, as though he weren't part of that group. The following statement of Washington's, to Marquis De LaFayette, August 15, 1787, is typical: "I am disposed to indulge the professors of Christianity in the church, that road to Heaven, which to them shall seem the most direct, plainest, easiest, and least liable to exception."

Or, to Edward Newenham, October 20, 1792: "I was in hopes, that the enlightened and liberal policy, which has marked the present age, would at least have reconciled Christians of every denomination so far, that we should never again see THEIR religious disputes carried to such a pitch as to endanger the peace of Society." (Emphasis mine.)


Here is what I said in my latest comment on the discussion that broke out at the review:

[GW] may have, like Jefferson and J. Adams, thought himself a "Christian" while disbelieving in doctrines of orthodoxy like original sin, trinity, incarnation, atonement, eternal damnation, etc. What I get from GW is that he didn't seem to attach a strong sense of identity to the self label "Christian," though he did evidence *some* sense of it.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Mr. Greer, JW didn't seem to be speaking of Mormons here:

Well my reading of "Christian America" ala Barton, Marshall, et al. is that America is an almost chosen nation. And, as it were, the FFs were quasi-prophets.

As for what Mormons believe, I defer to others, especially our genuine Mormons here in attendance and other interested parties like yourself.

_______________

Ah, JR, I ran across one of your 2007 pieces on Lillback, where you said you hadn't authenticated the quote.

Still it would have been fair for you to quote it in your recent review, since you did quote the countervailing evidence.

As for the Lafayette quote, I held the same opinion, but per GWash's use of "I am disposed to indulge the professors of Christianity in the church," in the church gives me pause.

But surely even the most benign reading of the quote indicates a lack for the entire doctrinal bill of goods.

However, not enough to lump Washington in with Adams and Jefferson, especially Jefferson. That's a reach of the type to which you yourself strenuously object.

Indeed, as for the Newham letter, "THEIR" could easily be read as a reference to sects and sectarian strife, not Christianity itself.

Again, clarity is the issue here. I tend to agree with you on GWash on the whole, with the proviso that IMO, he didn't think much about doctrine atall. If that's a "rationalist," well, I'd choose a different term for his indifference.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I lumped GW in w/ TJ and JA mainly in the sense that they believed what they did and still considered themselves "Christians." In fact, I see them as attaching more of a sense of "Christian identity" than I do w/ GW.

What I want to avoid is the non-sequitur, 1) GW called himself a Christian; 2) Christians believe XYZ (i.e., orthodox) doctrine, 3) therefore GW believed XYZ (orthodox) doctrine.

What Jefferson shows is that one can consider oneself a "Christian" -- indeed consider Jesus a "Savior" as TJ on at least one occasion (I think more) did (and remember, we only have ONE occasion of GW calling himself a "Christian") -- but disbelieve in not only the Trinity, but also the Resurrection. At least Adams and Priestley believed in that.

Jonathan Rowe said...

The thing w/ Mormonism and almost chosen or divinely inspired is, whatever we think of the faith, it teaches as a matter of authentic doctrine that the Founding was divinely inspired and the American Founders were proto-Mormons.

Orthodox Christianity DOES NOT teach this; hence it's more inappropriate for orthodox Christians (which btw Lincoln was NOT ONE when he termed America an "almost chosen" nation) than it is for Mormons to hold to this.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Now, you (Tom) say(s) I can't rope GW in w/ TJ or JA and I'd concede this with a caveat. B/c GW was so mum (unlike TJ and JA) I can't claim he believed in any lowest common denominator they may have had between them. However -- the caveat -- that doesn't give "the orthodox" any more rope to rope in GW to their side.

Because of the absence of his words on the matter, GW could have been more orthodox than John Adams or, just as easily, less orthodox and identifiably "Christian" than TJ. TJ's Jesus was a "Savior." Perhaps GW didn't even think of Jesus as a "Savior."

Tom Van Dyke said...


What I want to avoid is the non-sequitur, 1) GW called himself a Christian; 2) Christians believe XYZ (i.e., orthodox) doctrine, 3) therefore GW believed XYZ (orthodox) doctrine.


I understand, and agree completely. Faulty method, which I gather Lillback uses. You're quite right to nail him on such a bogus hermeneutic.


Because of the absence of his words on the matter, GW could have been more orthodox than John Adams or, just as easily, less orthodox and identifiably "Christian" than TJ. TJ's Jesus was a "Savior." Perhaps GW didn't even think of Jesus as a "Savior."


True. We don't know. I'm interested in Jefferson's context in using "Savior," if you have it. Certainly doesn't sound like him, or at least "Savior" as "Messiah" as even the unitarian Christians used it. [Suggesting a cosmologic role for Jesus beyond merely being a wise man, even if the wisest.]

Also interested in Lillback's assertion on Washington's "pocket" prayer book. If true, that does tell us something meaningful about him. I can't imagine Jefferson carrying one, nor ever saying or writing "upon my honr and the faith of a Christian." That just doesn't fit with him either.

Pinky said...

.
I don't know.
.
Been doing a lot of thinking about objective reality lately and what it means. I've come to think our ability to be objective about anything is how whatever it is touches on any ideology under the sway of which we might be held.
.
So, Barton may be completely incapable of being objective about American history--completely. And so might all the others that are held in tow by the same ideology that guides his thinking.
.
There is ONE truth about American History when it comes to the principles that are the paving stones of the Founding. There are not several and they don't depend on one perception or another; but, they depend on objective truths.
.
When a person is incapable of objectivity, it cannot be expected that they will be able to relate the truth even to their own understanding.
.
That's what I think about Glenn Beck and Barton--mancurian candidates brought in to destroy truth?
.
Post modern perceptions of different truths to the contrary.
.
:<)
.

Mark said...

Not entirely sure how relevant this all is to the discussion, but living in St. George, Utah, I've been fascinated by this story of the FF's visiting the St. George temple and having their "work" done.

Might say something about Mormons and their beliefs about the founding.

http://www.theologyweb.com/campus/showthread.php?t=20340

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom,

IN the next day or two, I'll reread Lillback's section and then confirm in the primary sources the story w/ the pocket prayer book.

This is NOT, some folks might think, the debunked Daily Sacrifice Prayers that were supposedly in GW's hand (hence his "words"). But rather a standard Anglican Prayer Book that GW kept with him. From the top of my head Lillback reproduces some letter where GW orders a pocket sized one for carrying around.

King of Ireland said...

"Your question might as well read: How would America be different if the concept of the Christian God didn't exist?"

This is a leap Jon. For some modern evangelicals this may be the case but most that I knew, some very harsh ones, would readily admit that Jesus only sects of today were mistaken but brothers in Christ. Again, I was around one of the biggest legalist streams you can find that would condemn other Christians to hell in a second over doctrinal issues.

The main idea about Jesus is that he came and died for forgiveness of sins. Aquinas, Hooker, and Locke all believed this. Like I said, I think that even Jefferson believed this at its most basic level.

bpabbott said...

Re: "The main idea about Jesus is that he came and died for forgiveness of sins. Aquinas, Hooker, and Locke all believed this."

Did each of them make such a personal proclamation of belief?

Jonathan Rowe said...

Aquinas and Hooker were orthodox. Locke's test for a "Christian" was that you believe Jesus "Messiah." That very generous test got Locke accused of being a Socinian, which was an executable offense at his time.

I don't think Jefferson OR Locke believed Jesus died to ATONE for the sins of man. Locke's a slippery character. But the Socinian idea is Jesus saved man thru his (not His) perfect moral example. And his Father did for him (resurrected him) as an example of what He will one day do for all good men, perhaps all men.

Locke may well have believed in this as opposed to the traditional notion of "Atonement."

As an outsider, one is likely to conclude, this, like Mormonism, a variant of Christian theology. But the "orthodox" don't consider this notion "real Christianity," but something else.

Tom Van Dyke said...

For every church is orthodox to itself; to others, erroneous or heretical."---Locke, A Letter Concerning Toleration

This became the American political theology, accepted by even the very orthodox Samuel Adams. Further, that tolerance of these errors or heresies was a Christian principle.

Now, the noisy and quarrelsome clergymen didn't live by this, but their concern was theological [and a bit financial]: Come to my church, not that other guy's.

But that's clergymen, whom the Americans were quite sick of on the whole. Always stirring up trouble and enmity.


As for Jefferson, I don't see evidence he believed either the Bible or Jesus came directly from God. But Jefferson's feelings on theology are so vastly overplayed. He serves best as an example of the extremes of prevailing political toleration for error and heresy.

As for Locke, he calls Jesus "Saviour." Does this only refer to bring the Word to man? Perhaps. But this is a big deal, as it privileges "revelation" as divine truth.



But the clear revelation he brought with him, dissipated this darkness;
made the one invisible true God known to the world:
and that with such evidence and energy,
that polytheism and idolatry hath no where been able to withstand it.

But wherever the preaching of the truth he delivered, and the light of the gospel hath come, those mists have been dispelled.
And, in effect, we, see that since Our Saviour's time, the belief of one God has prevailed and spread itself over the face of the earth. For even to the light that the Messiah brought into the world with him, we must ascribe the owning, and profession of one God, which the Mahometan religion hath derived and borrowed from it.

So that, in this sense, it is certainly and manifestly true of Our Saviour, what St. John says of him, I John iii. 8, "For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that he might destroy the works of the devil." This light the world needed, and this light it received from him: that there is but "one God", and he "eternal, invisible;" nor like to any visible objects, nor to be represented by them....

King of Ireland said...

"I don't think Jefferson OR Locke believed Jesus died to ATONE for the sins of man."

Like Tom said, Jefferson is a hard one to pin down. But Locke is clear. Read his commentary on Romans.

Jon,

This is what I am talking about with all these statements that people make about Locke and theology in general. Is is based on crap. They obviously did not bother to read the stuff from Locke that did not fit with there theories.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"I don't think Jefferson OR Locke believed Jesus died to ATONE for the sins of man."

Again, for the record, I think it's clear Jefferson didn't believe Jesus died for our sins, etc., and there's no evidence anywhere that Locke did either.

[The "universalists" like Benjamin Rush largely did, however, if I recall that movement correctly. All men would eventually go to heaven because Jesus died for all men, the Atonement.]

I see no evidence Jefferson believed that Jesus or the scriptures speak a direct divine truth ["revelation"].

Locke explicitly says the Gospel comes directly from God, however, as did the unitarian [non-Trinitarian] Christians of the Founding and especially post-Founding eras, when unitarian Christianity really got rolling.

Just to update the scorecard...

King of Ireland said...

"Again, for the record, I think it's clear Jefferson didn't believe Jesus died for our sins, etc., and there's no evidence anywhere that Locke did either."

Locke's Notes on Romans 3:24 is quoted in Jon's post on Locke further up. You can comment up there.

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