Wednesday, July 10, 2013

"American Creation" Migrates to "Old Life" or Would George Whitefield Think George Washington Needed to be Converted?

That's the title to John Fea's post here. I too agree that whatever he was, George Washington was not a "born again Christian."

42 comments:

Tom Van Dyke said...

If you'd been a Congregationalist in 1770s New England, you'd know--perhaps even be seething--that the fellow next to you didn't believe Jesus was God.

But it took another 50 years to blow the church up over the issue. It's actually very interesting and I'm not surprised you never heard the tale---secularists like to say the Founders were all deists and they have useful allies among the orthodox who like to argue that the Founding wasn't Christian either because of the Trinity/Atonement issues.

It's sort of how Calvinist theologian J. Gresham Machen says of liberal Protestantism

We would not indeed obscure the difference which divides us from Rome. The gulf is indeed profound. But profound as it is, it seems almost trifling compared to the abyss which stands between us and many ministers of our own Church. The Church of Rome may represent a perversion of the Christian religion; but naturalistic liberalism is not Christianity at all.

Well, we get his point, and that of Presbyterian theologian RC Sproul when he says Roman Catholicism isn't "Christian" either.

But how could I sign something that confuses the gospel and obscures the very definition of who is and who is not a Christian? I have made this point again and again since the days of ECT...this new document practically assumes the victory of ECT in using the term “the gospel” in reference to that which Roman Catholics are said to “proclaim” (Phil. 1:27).

The Papists "proclaim" the gospel--the "scare quotes" meaning they don't proclaim the true gospel.

But those are theological distinctions, not socio-historical ones. They had the same wars back in the day--the clergy and theologians sowing most of the discord. But historically speaking, they all considered each other Christian enough for rock'n'roll.

And that's the point of this whole mess. It's more a 21st-century theological land grab than actual historical truth---he who controls the past controls the present.

wsforten said...

Just out of curiosity, Jon. What do you think are the best three or four arguments that Washington was not a Christian?

Jonathan Rowe said...

This is a brief position I wrote in the form of a book review on my case against a certain understanding of George Washington as a "Christian."

http://usreligion.blogspot.com/2010/05/george-washingtons-religion-founding.html

Jonathan Rowe said...

Also Bill, correct me if I am wrong, I think I remember you saying something like you did your own analysis of The Daily Sacrifice and concluded it was genuine.

The Daily Sacrifice was rejected as inauthentic, as not being in GW's hand, therefore I consider it a fraud and don't permit it to be introduced into "evidence."

On a personal note, I don't think you are permitted to do your own handwriting analysis and conclude otherwise. But I can't stop you from doing that. But if you come back at me with an assertion that the Daily Sacrifice is valid, you will just be talking to a wall.

If I am mistaken about what your position is on The Daily Sacrifice Prayer Journal, please forgive me.

http://www.aolnews.com/2011/02/22/opinion-was-george-washington-a-christian/

Tom Van Dyke said...

The Daily Sacrifice bit is a needless dead end. No argument rises or falls on it, so its mention here only serves to poison the well.

jimmiraybob said...

TVD - "... its mention here only serves to poison the well."

No, it goes to the veracity of scholarship.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Anonymous jimmiraybob said...
TVD - "... its mention here only serves to poison the well."

No, it goes to the veracity of scholarship.



See what I mean, Jon? It's all about "winning" and destroying the enemy's credibility, not searching for truth. Feh.

jimmiraybob said...

TVD - "See what I mean, Jon?"

And a hearty BWAA HA and, for emphasis and good measure, Ha. You are a card.

I could explain veracity of scholarship to you but I think you'd get more out of doing a bit of research on your own. Maybe Google has a good write up that won't be too taxing. We'll wait.

There ya go. See? It's not about winning. It's about...well, it's about veracity of scholarship. Or, from a conservative point of view, we might call it standards and accountability.

Now, stop bothering Jon. He's got more important things to do than refereeing the kids - like getting a grant out the door.



wsforten said...

That's an interesting review, Jon. I am curious as to what you think of Washington's letter to Burwell Bassett on August 28, 1762, in which he wrote:

Dear Sir: I was favoured with your Epistle wrote on a certain 25th of July when you ought to have been at Church, praying as becomes every good Christian Man who has as much to answer for as you have; strange it is that you will be so blind to truth that the enlightning sounds of the Gospel cannot reach your Ear, nor no Examples awaken you to a sense of Goodness; could you but behold with what religious zeal I hye me to Church on every Lords day, it would do your heart good, and fill it I hope with equal fervency;

Jonathan Rowe said...

He was making a joke.

jimmiraybob said...

jon- "He was making a joke."

Proper and enthusiastic eisegesis does not allow for such mundane possibilities. Harrumph and so on and so forth. :)

wsforten said...

Oh, I don't doubt that there is a great deal of humor in this letter. What I'm curious about is how you determine which parts are pure jest and which are light hearted truth.

Jonathan Rowe said...

I'm not sure if it's possible to parse which parts of the letter are pure jest and which parts are something else.

The jestful nature of the whole means we really can't take the entire thing or any part thereof as a serious statement of Washington's personal theology.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Bad play on that one, Bill.

http://www.gilderlehrman.org/history-by-era/religion-and-eighteenth-century-revivalism/resources/george-washington-attending-chur

http://candst.tripod.com/GeoWchurchchart.html

wsforten said...

Don't count me out yet, Tom. I'm just gathering info for another article.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Roll it, Bill, but I've scanned the Washington diaries meself for church attendance.

Jim Allison--the anti-Christian Nation dude we link there--always does clean work and I link to him with confidence. You [or I] might disagree 180 degrees with his conclusions, but his honesty and precision on the historical facts is reliable--admirable.

So go for it, bro. You're often amazing too in your depth of historical/theological digging.

But i think you should yield on this particular quote. based on my own extensive readings of GWash, I think Jon's right here, that he was joking about his diligence at attending church in that 1762 letter.

What is interesting is that in the first 2 years of his presidency, he wanted to set a public example of religiosity, and went to church/St. Paul's Chapel several times a week, and even went to church twice on Sunday several times. Really did.

Twice on Sunday???? True fact.

wsforten said...

Let me share something that I just uncovered today.

One of Jon's arguments against the claim that Washington was a Christian is that Washington referred to God as the Great Spirit in two of his communications with the Indians, and in one of those instances, Washington even crossed out a reference to God and inserted a reference to the Great Spirit in its place. This is argued as being contrary to the idea that Washington believed in the Christian God of the Bible. I have generally pointed out that Paul utilized this same methodology when he spoke of the Unknown God in his address on Mars Hill. I have now found additional support for the idea that a reference to the Great Spirit of the Indians could be a valid reference to the God of the Bible.

One of the leading 18th century authorities on the Indians of the North East was Louis Armand de Lahontan. In his book, New Voyages to North America, he explained who the Indians of that region were referring to when they spoke of the Great Spirit:

All the Savages are convinc'd that there must be a God, because they see nothing among Material Beings that subsists necessarily and by its own Nature. They prove the Existence of a Deity by the Frame of the Universe, which naturally leads us to a higher and Omnipotent Being, from whence it follows, say they, that Man was not made by chance, and that he's the Work of a Being superior in Wisdom and Knowledge, which they call the Great Spirit, or the Master of Life, and which they Adore in the most abstracted and spiritual manner. They deliver their Thoughts of him thus, without any satisfactory Definition. The Existence of God being inseparable from his Essence, it contains every thing, it appears in every thing, acts in every thing, and gives motion to every thing. In fine, all that you see, all that you can conceive, is this Divinity which subsists without Bounds or Limits, and without Body; and ought not to be represented under the Figure of an old Man, nor of any other thing, let it be never so fine or extensive. For this Reason they Adore him in every thing they see. Whe they see any thing that's fine or curious, especially when they look upon the Sun or Stars, they cry out, O Great Spirit, we discern thee in every thing. And in like manner when they reflect upon the meanest Trifles they acknowledge a Creator under the Name of the Great Spirit or Master of Life.

[http://books.google.com/books?id=6pfhAAAAMAAJ&pg=PA434]

This view of the Great Spirit is remarkably similar to the Christian God, and it would be natural for a Christian of that time period to associate the two.

Tom Van Dyke said...

One of Jon's arguments against the claim that Washington was a Christian is that

Bill, I think we need to take at least a half-step back from Washington-as-"Christian."

This view of the Great Spirit is remarkably similar to the Christian God, and it would be natural for a Christian of that time period to associate the two.

Actually, that best fits the Judeo-Christian God Jehovah, which is what I mean by back a "half-step." The foliage gets very thick as you get to Jesus, the church, the sacraments, dying for our sins, the Trinity, and the whole laundry list. There's no direct evidence of Washington's beliefs in his own words on these matters, and the indirect evidence is conflicting.

I think it's stupid to even go there. GWash is quite explicit in his theism and there's nothing I'm aware of in his direct writings that conflicts with his God--and America's--being one in the same as the God of the Bible.

"May the same wonder-working Deity, who long since delivered the Hebrews from their Egyptian oppressors, planted them in a promised land, whose providential agency has lately been conspicuous in establishing these United States as an independent nation, still continue to water them with the dews of heaven and make the inhabitants of every denomination participate in the temporal and spiritual blessings of that people whose God is Jehovah."

http://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/jsource/loc/washington.html


Jonathan Rowe said...

To clarify my position: I don't think there's adequate proof that Washington was an orthodox Trinitarian Christian; in fact I think the evidence properly casts doubt on the fact that GW believed in the Trinity and Atonement.

We know he was a theist for sure.

Mr. Fortenberry can define terms whatever ways he so chooses. And I'll admit, that under certain understandings, GW was a "Christian."

If the "Deist" Bolingbroke who just barely may qualify as a "Christian-Deist" qualifies as a "Christian" to Mr. Fortenberry, then GW probably could meet such a generous standard.

Though, given how little GW spoke on Jesus by name or example, it's hard to tell.

Tom Van Dyke said...

GWash mentions Jehovah specifically, the God of the Bible. This should not be glossed over, as it therefore gives the Bible a cosmic weight that deist Thomas Paine denied.

To focus on what GWash or anybody didn't believe rather than on what they did believe is to miss the forest for the trees.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Tom,

You know the response: I don't think I need to belabor the point: The same One True God that all good, rational men of all world religions worshipped. When speaking to that audience, call that God the name the people feel most comfortable with, etc. To the Jews, Jehovah. To the Natives, The Great Spirit, etc.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Tom,

You know the response: I don't think I need to belabor the point: The same One True God that all good, rational men of all world religions worshipped. When speaking to that audience, call that God the name the people feel most comfortable with, etc. To the Jews, Jehovah. To the Natives, The Great Spirit, etc.


You're not belaboring it as much as missing it. The God of the Bible introduces an added dimension--revelation--that "natural theology" doesn't have.

This is the key--essential--distinction.

Natural theology is a program of inquiry into the existence and attributes of God without referring or appealing to any divine revelation.

http://www.iep.utm.edu/theo-nat/

wsforten said...

Jon, you said, "Mr. Fortenberry can define terms whatever ways he so chooses," and I agree that this possibility is open to me. I am quite capable of providing any sort of definition. However, the definition by which I have chosen to measure whether or not an individual is a Christian is not just my own personal definition. On the contrary, I have presented a definition which is grounded in the teachings of the Bible and which was accepted by four of the five groups that Frazer supposedly consulted in order to obtain his definition.

The only group in Frazer's list that did not agree with my definition was the Catholic church, but that shouldn't be too surprising since the "official creed" of that church condemns everyone to Hell who dares to disagree with it including Frazer. All of the other groups expressed agreement with the definition that I provided. To demonstrate this, I provided quotes from the Augsburg Confession, The Thirty-nine Articles, The Philadelphia Confession and the Westminster Confession. I also went a step further than Frazer and demonstrated that my definition is embraced by the Standard Confession in addition to the others already listed. Thus, applying Frazer's own standard of querying the major denominations of the 18th century, I demonstrated that my definition is the proper historical definition by which to determine who is a Christian.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"On the contrary, I have presented a definition which is grounded in the teachings of the Bible"

Yes you provided a definition based on the Bible over which there are 27,000 sects of Protestants capable of providing their own competing definition, including Dr. Frazer who provided his definition based on the Bible here:

http://americancreation.blogspot.com/2013/01/standards-for-determining-christianity.html

"and which was accepted by four of the five groups that Frazer supposedly consulted in order to obtain his definition.

"The only group in Frazer's list that did not agree with my definition was the Catholic church, but that shouldn't be too surprising since the "official creed" of that church condemns everyone to Hell who dares to disagree with it including Frazer. All of the other groups expressed agreement with the definition that I provided."

This is simply not true.

I need not repeat the rest of your comment; but I submit, like everything here, it reflects your own peculiar interpretation of those creeds and not the authors' intent.

Last I remember, you claimed that you "demonstrated" St. Athanasius -- and the Athanasian Creed -- represented capital C Catholicism.

That would come as news to EVERY single one of Dr. Frazer's subgroups with the possible exception of the Baptists -- I'll admit I have to confirm this -- who officially accept the Athanasian creed.

If I understand your thesis, you claim that Arians can be "Christians" (Hell, you claim Bolingbroke as a Christian, which goes way beyond claiming Arians can be Christians).

You are simply fooling yourself if you think the creedally orthodox theologians behind those churches of the late 18th Century would accept these folks as Christians.

Yes there were some Christians in those churches who WOULD accept Arians, Socinians and deistically minded thinkers as "Christians" too and there is a name for them: Freethinkers. The orthodox theologians are not freethikers.

Benjamin Rush was a freethinker.

wsforten said...

You are simply mistaken. I have presented a definition that was accepted by four of the five groups in Frazer's list. Unfortunately, you have not bothered to read my presentation of that definition, and thus you are not aware of the fact that I documented their agreement with it. Perhaps it is you who is fooling yourself by thinking that you can know the contents of my booklet without actually reading it.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Nope. You are wrong; I read what you wrote about those groups at DG Hart's blog. It is a fact that with the possible exception of the Baptists (and perhaps they aren't even an exception) all of Frazer's groups incorporated the Athanasian creed into their doctrines and don't consider Athanasianism to be capital C Roman Catholicism.

wsforten said...

Ah, I had forgotten that I copied and pasted that particular section onto Hart's blog. In that case let me point out my claim that "Nowhere in any of these creeds is there to be found any other belief which is necessary for salvation." Can you point to any statement within the five creeds that I listed in which they state that an additional belief is required for salvation apart from the belief "that Christ suffered for him, and that his sins are remitted for Christ’s sake, who made satisfaction for our transgressions by his death"?

Jonathan Rowe said...

Every single one of those churches -- perhaps including the Baptists -- affirmed the Athanasian Creed which says:

"This is the catholic faith, which except a man believe faithfully he cannot be saved."

Jonathan Rowe said...

Likewise as Dr. Frazer noted the phrase "that Christ suffered for him, and that his sins are remitted for Christ’s sake, who made satisfaction for our transgressions by his death" is loaded with implications.

The orthodox figures from each of the late 18th Cen. American Churches he listed would and did argue that Christ had to be 2nd Person in a Triune Godhead in order to make a satisfaction.

You are reading your desired interpretation into those creeds.

wsforten said...

Okay, why don't we take this one creed at a time. I do not recall any mention of the Athanasian Creed in the Augsburg Confession, and the only reference to the Council of Nicea was an anecdotal account of the practice in the early church of taking the Lord's supper as a group rather than privately. Would you mind pointing out to me where the Augsburg Confession states that one must agree with the Nicen Creed in order to be a Christian?

Jonathan Rowe said...

Okay. You seem to want to tackle the Lutherans first. Please google "the Book of Concord" and see the evidence for the Lutheran incorporation of the Athanasian Creed contained therein.

wsforten said...

The Athanasian Creed is included in the Book of Concord, but it is not included in the Augsburg Confession. The Augsburg Confession was written specifically...

in order that, after the removal and correction of such things as have been treated and understood in a different manner in the writings on either side, these matters may be settled and brought back to one simple truth and Christian concord

According to this Confession, it contains:

the Confession of our preachers and of ourselves, showing what manner of doctrine from the Holy Scriptures and the pure Word of God has been up to this time set forth in our lands, dukedoms, dominions, and cities, and taught in our churches.

Therefore, it is only those parts of the Athanasian Creed which are included in the text of the Augsburg Confession which should be considered as components of the official doctrine of the Lutheran Church at that time. The portion of the Athanasian Creed which is somewhat restated in the Augsburg Confession is the claim that the doctrine of the Trinity is true. The portion missing from the Confession is that portion which states that one must believe in this doctrine in order to become a Christian. As far as I know, the only belief stated in the Augsburg Confession as being necessary in order to become a Christian is found in Aritcle IV:

Our churches further teach, that man cannot obtain forgiveness of sin, and be justified before God by his own strength, merits or works; but that he obtains the forgiveness of sins, and is justified before God, through grace, for Christ's sake, by faith; if he believes that Christ suffered for him, and that his sins are remitted for Christ's sake, who made satisfaction for our transgressions by his death. This faith God imputes to us as righteousness, as Paul says. (Rom. chap. iii. and iv.)

wsforten said...

In support of this, let me present the following excerpt from The Unaltered Augsburg Confession and The Three Chief Symbols of the Christian Church by Christian Heinrich Schott:

But since the time of Constantine the Great, from which time the Church was governed by emperors, universal (ecumenical) confessions, which were enforced throughout the empire, were formed by the bishops in their councils, in which the simple faith of the Christians was sadly tinctured with the views of an overstrained human reason, and with the subtle definitions of vain and caviling craftiness.

These symbols, thus decreed at these councils, were declared as universally binding and valid by the emperors, and whoever dared to dispute or gainsay them, was condemned as a heretic. In later times, when the western countries had become entirely subjected to the yoke of the Pope, the dictates of this despot were sufficient to make them binding, and even his simple resolutions were often viewed in the light of symbols!

Of the Ecumenical Symbols of the Church, the Reformers adopted these three: -- the Apostolical, the Nicene, and the Athanasian; not, as though they intended thereby to reject the other general Symbols of the Ancient Church, but, because in the Romish Church these three Symbols were held in high estimation; from the bosom of which they at the commencement of the Reformation had had no idea of separating themselves ... And afterwards, when the rupture became decided, they showed most clearly, by their adherence to these three Symbols, that it was not their intention to separate themselves and their followers from the communion of orthodox Christians, as the Papists falsely accused them, but that they desired to preserve the ancient true faith, to which in the first centuries the Church had adhered and which the Romish Church also venerated; proving most undoubtedly that they had merely commenced strife against the unscriptural doctrines and abuses which had in the course of time crept into the Church, and were therefore in nowise to be viewed as heretics.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Mr. Fortenberry,

I think you need therapy.

wsforten said...

Wow! A direct ad hominem! That's interesting.

Jonathan Rowe said...

No. It's a serious bit of advice.

Jonathan Rowe said...

You aren't playing straight; you are engaging in sophistry. And I don't think it's because you are dishonest. I think it's a neurosis that once you make a claim you need to twist things around to try to make things "fit." It's a form of egotistical self justifying obsessive compulsiveness.

But anyway, you didn't prove what you said you did. In fact, what you reproduced flat out contradicts what you are trying to claim.

The answer is right there in black and white in what you reproduced and I'll wait to see if you retract your claim and recognize where in what you reproduced contradicts your claim.

wsforten said...

Oh, I can see several things in my recent post that you might think are contradictory to my position, but I'm afraid that if I took the time to list all of them and demonstrate the error of viewing them in that light, too many people would complain about the length of the post without bothering to read it. Maybe you could just present your position, and then we can discuss it.

Jonathan Rowe said...

In short, you are already planning a sophistic response. I don't think you are interested in what's actually true about the history of Christianity and what these creeds said and mean.

I think I'll wait a week before responding to this particular point to see if you change your mind.

Maybe that will be good for your mental health. Or not. Maybe it will be like putting you in a round room and instructing you to urinate in the corner.

jimmiraybob said...

"Maybe it will be like putting you in a round room and instructing you to urinate in the corner."

Oy. Now we'll be getting an opus on why, if he were to water the wall, the very spot upon which he watered would in fact be the corner. Expect lots of selective cutting and pasting in support.

And, also too, Frazier is wrong.

Jonathan Rowe said...

JRB:

LOL.

jimmiraybob said...

I wish I'd gotten Dr. Frazer's name spelled right but apparently the snark made it through.

I went to the SHEAR (Society for Historians of the Early American Republic ) conference this weekend to attend some of the sessions and was between that and heading out to the pub. Haste makes bad spelling.

On a brighter note, got to hear Chris Beneke present and sat next to Jack Rakove. What a great week to be a history geek.