Thursday, August 29, 2013

Dreisbach Reviews Frazer

Daniel Dreisbach reviews Gregg Frazer's book in the Journal of American Studies. Read it here. A taste:
Frazer's thesis is not new. Other scholars have expressed a need for a more nuanced accounting for the religious beliefs of the founders than simply a bimodal taxonomy of Christianity and deism, especially one that recognizes a hybrid system that drew on both Christianity and Enlightenment rationalism. Frazer acknowledges that scholars before him have coined and defined a variety of terms intended to describe this middle ground between orthodox Christianity and deism, using terms like providential deism, Enlightened Christianity, theological rationalism, Christian rationalism, and rationalist Christianity. Frazer provides a sophisticated description of theistic rationalism and argues that other terms fail to capture adequately the belief system of the major founders. 
Frazer gives little allowance that the influential founders were anything other than theistic rationalists. He is dismissive of evidence or interpretations that challenge his thesis. Neglected in the study, for example, is the devout Congregationalist Roger Sherman, who by most measures deserves to be studied alongside the consequential founders that Frazer does profile. ...

44 comments:

Michael Heath said...

I think Dr. Frazer takes his theistic rationalist label too far when he uses it to segregate Christians, deists, and theistic rationalists into discrete groups. Dreisbach's helped me better understand my disagreement with Frazer.

Deism as it practiced back in the day, along with the theistic rationalism demonstrated by some of the key framers wasn't all about, or even predominately about what they believed. Instead deism also defines the process deists and theistic rationalists were using to come to some of their conclusions where theistic rationalism categorizes those thinking like deists who used human reason to conclude a providential god existed. And for these men, Christianity provided an avenue to have a relationship with this god they rationalized using their reason while steeped in the dogma of their ancestors.

When I read these framers’ writings, I find the excitement wasn't what they claimed to conclude which I think Frazer focuses on too much. Orthodox Christianity focuses on their commitment to revealed truth already found that’s unchanging. But most deists and theistic rationalists were intellectually humble in their beliefs though of course we observe exceptions, e.g., John Adams sure wasn’t. In terms of religion, these deistic-like thinkers did become animated from two perspectives.

One was the recognition we have an inalienable right to exercise our freedom of conscience. This emergent realization was a monumental moment in the age of enlightenment. They celebrated their shedding the shackles of holy dogma and blind fealty to claims of divine revelation by those in their in-group. This abandonment was supplanted by something else.

They read voluminously and explored reality dependent almost wholly on human reason. Unfortunately for them, the emergent King Evidence was still mostly in the shadows. So we also observe so many of these freethinkers came back to some of the core beliefs of their ancestors’ faith, e.g., God as the ultimate architect. But these conclusions came not from the perspective of their fathers’ presuppositions, but instead from rationalism where evidence of the time was of little help.

We know that a popular characteristic of evangelicals and fundamentalists is their assertion they know the Truth. For them, faith is paramount where their faith leads to beliefs that are Truth. So I think I now understand the perspective Dr. Frazer comes from that has long had me thinking he takes his distinct categorization of deism, Christianity, and theistic rationalism too far.

As an evangelical, Frazer’s seeking to categorize beliefs as if they’re the end-all. He focuses far too much on defining people by their beliefs while missing the boat on what’s really changed here, not the varying beliefs of those in the 18th and early-19th century in terms of the public square but instead a competing process to arrive at conclusions. Deistic-like thinking and theistic rationalists, while excited about exploring objective truth, distinguished themselves from orthodox Christians not based on what they believed but instead how they arrived at what they believed.

So from this perspective, I find Dr. Frazer is wildly wrong in how he separates deists from Christians from theist rationalists. In Jefferson and Franklin I think the answer is that they were all three. Deistic-like thinking took them down a path that had them arguing for an intervening providential god, while Christianity inspired them to admire the god of their understanding and provided a societal context to act out a relationship with this intervening god. They did self-identify as Christians. One can make a compelling argument both are Christians; while simultaneously finding that these key framers thought like deists while remaining theists even after processing their premises with deistic-like thinking.

wsforten said...

You are mistaken on several counts, Mike. Let me begin by suggesting that you may want to read my critique of Frazer's theistic rationalist label. I pointed out that by applying his standard, Frazer himself is a theistic rationalist. Let me also suggest that you consider my article on The Conversion of Benjamin Franklin. I documented Franklin's rejection of Deism as a teenager and his conversion to Christianity at the age of 29.

More significantly, however, I would like to point out that you are very much mistaken to claim that the freedom of conscience was a product of the Enlightenment. America's religious freedom was the product of Baptist theology. According to John Bancroft, "Freedom of conscience, unlimited freedom of mind, was from the first the trophy of the Baptists." Nearly every historian who has written on the distinctives of the Baptists recognizes the separation of church and state one of their core doctrines, and Baptist writings which have survived burnings include expositions of this doctrine which predate the Enlightenment by more than a century.

For example, Balthasar Hubmaier published a tract in 1524 with the catchy title of Concerning Heretics and Those Who Burn Them. In that tract, he wrote:

Those who are such one should overcome with holy knowledge, not angrily but softly.

...

If they will not be taught by strong proofs or evangelic reasons, then let them be, and leave them to rage and be mad.

...

This is the will of Christ who said, "Let both grow together till the harvest, lest while ye gather up the tares ye root up also the wheat with them" (Matt. 13:29). "For there must also be heresies among you, that they that are approved may be made manifest among you" (1 Cor. 11:19).

...

A Turk or a heretic is not convinced by our act, either with the sword or with fire, but only with patience and prayer; and so we should await with patience the judgment of God.

...

Now it is clear to everyone, even the blind, that a law to burn heretics is an invention of the devil.


You should also read the 1612 book A Short Declaration of the Mystery of Iniquity by Thomas Helwys.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Ben Franklin converted from something closer to strict Deism to the hybrid religion (Christian-Deism/theistic rationalism/unitarianism or whatever you want to term it).

This accords with Michael Health's thesis that the terms deism/Christianity/theistic rationalism do not refer to mutually exclusive concepts.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"I pointed out that by applying his standard, Frazer himself is a theistic rationalist."

This is crazy. According to Frazer's "standard," the late 18th Cen. Christians were so because they passed a 10 point lowest common denominator test, each point of which he personally believes in.

What distinguishes the different Christians sects BEYOND the 10 points is that they ADDED additional points. For instance strict Calvinists add among other things 5 points known as TULIP. Frazer believes in four of those points -- TUIP. Frazer also adds the "born again" point, meaning you have to be "born again" in order to be a "real Christian."

Frazer's theistic rationalists believed in between one and a handful of those points and rejected or otherwise didn't evidence belief in core Christian tenets like the Trinity and Incarnation.

How you make Frazer into a "theistic rationalist" by his own standards is sophistic nonsense to say the least.

wsforten said...

I applied Frazer's own method to his beliefs. If the result is sophistry, then perhaps his thesis is itself sophistry.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Or perhaps the problem is you and your analysis.

wsforten said...

Very true. I could certainly be wrong in my conclusion that Frazer is a theistic rationalist. Would b we so kind as to demonstrate where I might have made such an error?

Jonathan Rowe said...

I already did in my comment timed and dated August 30, 2013 at 10:57 AM.

Tom Van Dyke said...

This accords with Michael Health's thesis that the terms deism/Christianity/theistic rationalism do not refer to mutually exclusive concepts.

Then these are descriptive terms, not definitions. One can be a Christian theistic rationalist or a Jewish theistic rationalist or a Christian deist or a Hindu deist or any number of combinations that dissolve the whole discussion into unintelligibility.

How wonderfully modern.
____________________________________
वदन्ति एकम् सत्, विप्राः बहुधा वदन्ति

Ekam sat vipra bahudha vadanti

They say All is one, theologians call it by many names.
Rig Veda 1.164:46

wsforten said...

Okay, Jon, for sake of clarity, let me copy and paste the section of my critique in which I demonstrated that Frazer is a Theistic Rationalist. Could you please point out where I have erred in this section?

Furthermore, Mr. Frazer condemns the key founding fathers as Theistic Rationalists because they dared to use human reason to determine which passages of Scripture are really the inspired Word of God, and yet he is just as guilty of this charge as they are. Mr. Frazer is not a Catholic, and it is apparent from his sermons, that he does not use a Catholic Bible. I think that it is safe to say, then, that he does not accept the books of the Apocrypha as being inspired by God. But how did he come to this conclusion? There is no passage of Scripture which states that the Apocryphal books are uninspired. The only way that Mr. Frazer could come to such a conclusion would be for him to either use his own human reason or to rely on the reasoning of others. Thus Mr. Frazer is guilty of relying on reason to determine which passages of Scripture are really the inspired Word of God.

But this elevation of reason above revelation becomes even more insidious when we consider that Mr. Frazer relies on human reason to determine the validity of individual portions of the Bible that he personally accepts as God’s Word. For example, Augustine of Hippo records that in his time there was a dispute over the ages of the men before the flood. It seems that the Hebrew copies of the Scripture disagreed with the Greek and Latin copies on the age at which the men before the flood begat their first recorded sons. Augustine described the discrepancy in this manner:

“For the very first man, Adam, before he begot his son Seth, is in our manuscripts found to have lived 230 years, but in the Hebrew manuscripts 130. But after he begot Seth, our copies read that he lived 700 years, while the Hebrew give 800. And thus, when the two periods are taken together, the sum agrees. And so throughout the succeeding generations, the period before the father begets a son is always made shorter by 100 years in the Hebrew, but the period after his son is begotten is longer by 100 years in the Hebrew than in our copies. And thus, taking the two periods together, the result is the same in both.”[58]

Mr. Frazer claims that his own Christianity depends on his acceptance of the entire Bible as the inspired and authoritative Word of God. This places him in the unenviable position of having to decide which of these two groups of manuscripts represents the true Bible. If he chooses incorrectly, then he is in danger of losing his Christianity, for he will have ceased to accept the real Bible as God’s inspired Word. Fortunately, for Mr. Frazer, Augustine recorded a solution to this discrepancy and revealed to us that the Hebrew copies are correct. Here is his conclusion:

wsforten said...

“In this case, in which during so many consecutive generations 100 years are added in one manuscript where they are not reckoned in the other, and then, after the birth of the son and successor, the years which were wanting are added, it is obvious that the copyist who contrived this arrangement designed to insinuate that the antediluvians lived an excessive number of years only because each year was excessively brief, and that he tried to draw the attention to this fact by his statement of their age of puberty at which they became able to beget children. For, lest the incredulous might stumble at the difficulty of so long a lifetime, he insinuated that 100 of their years equalled but ten of ours; and this insinuation he conveyed by adding 100 years whenever he found the age below 160 years or thereabouts, deducting these years again from the period after the son's birth, that the total might harmonize. By this means he intended to ascribe the generation of offspring to a fit age, without diminishing the total sum of years ascribed to the lifetime of the individuals. And the very fact that in the sixth generation he departed from this uniform practice, inclines us all the rather to believe that when the circumstance we have referred to required his alterations, he made them; seeing that when this circumstance did not exist, he made no alteration. For in the same generation he found in the Hebrew manuscript, that Jared lived before he begot Enoch 162 years, which, according to the short year computation, is sixteen years and somewhat less than two months, an age capable of procreation; and therefore it was not necessary to add 100 short years, and so make the age twenty-six years of the usual length; and of course it was not necessary to deduct, after the son's birth, years which he had not added before it. And thus it comes to pass that in this instance there is no variation between the two manuscripts.”[59]

By providing this explanation, Augustine did Mr. Frazer a great service. He relieved him of the difficult task of determining which of these texts must be believed to be the Word of God in order for him to be a Christian. In doing so, however, Augustine placed Mr. Frazer into a quandary of a different sort, for he did not rely on any revelation from God to tell him which copy of the Bible was correct. Augustine and all those who agree with him are forced to rely on human reasoning alone to determine what is and what is not the Word of God. This, according to Mr. Frazer, marks Augustine, Mr. Frazer himself and nearly every Christian that has ever lived as Theistic Rationalists.

Additionally, lest anyone think that the above examples are inconclusive, let me point out further that Mr. Frazer uses a Bible which either adds to or subtracts from the ending of the Gospel of Mark depending on which Greek text it is compared to. Some of the texts end chapter sixteen of Mark’s Gospel with verse eight, others extend it to verse twenty and still others include an additional statement at the end of verse twenty. There is no passage of Scripture which informs us of which ending is correct. Therefore, Mr. Frazer has no hope of solving this discrepancy without being guilty of using his own reason to decide what is and what is not the true, inspired and authoritative Word of God. Regardless of where he decides that the Gospel of Mark should end, he will still be guilty of elevating human reason above revelation.

In a sermon presented at the Master’s College, Mr. Frazer made the following statement about the founding fathers:

“These guys had the audacity to decide which parts of the Bible were revelation from God and which weren't on the basis of their own reason.”[60]

wsforten said...

We have now seen several examples of Mr. Frazer exhibiting this same audacity. Thus, if measured by his own standards, Mr. Frazer would be considered a Theistic Rationalist and not a Christian. Fortunately, God does not judge us according to Mr. Frazer’s standards but rather according to the teachings of His Word which assures us that the gospel is the only thing necessary to be believed in order for someone to be a Christian.


________________

[58] Dods, Marcus, The Works of Aurelius Augustine vol II, (Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1871), 65. [http://books.google.com/books?id=--owAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA65]

[59] Ibid., 71-72 [http://books.google.com/books?id=--owAQAAMAAJ&pg=PA71]

[60] Frazer, Gregg, Seminar 3: The Religious Beliefs of America's Founders - Reasons, Revelation, Revolution (Santa Clarita, CA, The Master’s College, January 18, 2013) [http://www2.masters.edu/pulpit/files/2013/Truth-and-Life-13/20130118-GreggFrazer-mp3]

wsforten said...

I am also interested in how you know that "Ben Franklin converted from something closer to strict Deism to the hybrid religion." Can you provide documentation to support this claim?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Fortenberry:

"Mr. Frazer is not a Catholic, and it is apparent from his sermons, that he does not use a Catholic Bible. I think that it is safe to say, then, that he does not accept the books of the Apocrypha as being inspired by God. But how did he come to this conclusion? There is no passage of Scripture which states that the Apocryphal books are uninspired. The only way that Mr. Frazer could come to such a conclusion would be for him to either use his own human reason or to rely on the reasoning of others."

Bill opens up the very important, and perhaps trumping, question, that what Gregg Frazer calls "theistic rationalism" is also what can be called "Protestantism."

There are numerous sects of Protestantism that reject Roman Catholic/"mainstream" Protestant doctrine that still lay claim to being Christianity.

If Frazer must insist that unitarianism, universalism, and minimalist [non-credal] sects like those in the Second Great Awakening's Stone-Campbell "Restoration" movement

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Restoration_Movement

aren't "Christian," it's far more difficult to deny that they fit most workable definitions of "Protestant," which starts with the Bible being the Word of God.

"Theism" can apply to the Abrahamic religions and even Hinduism. Which makes "Protestant" a sharper description of the American milieu than the mushy "theistic rationalist," which even though Gregg insists contains an underlying sense of "Protestant," that's not apparent to the casual or uninformed reader--making this term more confusing, not less.

Instead of lumping people together under clumsy umbrella terms, let us just call them what they are: For example, calling Unitarians "non-Trinitarian" Christians is completely accurate both as a description and as a definition.

"Theistic rationalist" fogs up the matter rather than bringing clarity. Feh.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Mr. Fortenberry, this is sophistry. You are trying to set loophole traps for Dr. Frazer. I'm not playing this game.

wsforten said...

Sophistry is the use of a logical argument that is correct in form or appearance but actually invalid. The form of argument which I have employed is that of reductio ad absurdum. I have reduced Frazer's argument in regards to the inspiration of Scripture to the following syllogism:

1. Relying on human reason to determine which portions of the Bible are inspired is a mark of theistic rationalism.
2. The key founders relied on human reason to determine which portions of the Bible were inspired.
3. Therefore, the key founders were theistic rationalists.

I have shown this argument to be absurd by turning it around and applying it to Frazer himself:

1. Relying on human reason to determine which portions of the Bible are inspired is a mark of theistic rationalism.
2. Gregg Frazer relies on human reason to determine which portions of the Bible were inspired.
3. Therefore, Gregg Frazer is a theistic rationalist.

Can you point out to me how this argument is correct in form but invalid in actuality?

Jonathan Rowe said...

I don't even owe you this answer as I know you will find it unsatisfactory. But I know that it IS an answer and it's one that I will stand by regardless of how you reply. So here it goes:

Frazer's late 18th Cen. Christians and Frazer himself believe every single word of the biblical canon was written by the Holy Spirit and that the ecclesiastical authorities of the early church who selected the canon were likewise so inspired.

The theistic rationalists, on the other hand, thought such canon was "fit" for human reason -- which they viewed as God's greatest gift to man -- to scrutinize and determine which parts were valid.

wsforten said...

You are mistaken. Frazer rejects the Apocrypha as part of the Canon of Scripture, and he uses a Bible translation which rejects the last eight verses of Mark along with the Johanine Comma and several other portions of Scripture. Frazer only believes every single word of the biblical canon if those words agree with his reasoning just like the founders that he said were not Christians

Jonathan Rowe said...

Did the early church fathers who selected the canon believe in the Apocrypha?

Do you? Why or why not?

Tom Van Dyke said...

Frazer only believes every single word of the biblical canon if those words agree with his reasoning just like the founders that he said were not Christians

St. Thomas More's Catholic argument vs. early Protestant William Tyndale.

http://edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com/2011/11/famous-thomas-more-william-tyndale.html

Fascinating stuff. "Protestantism" accounts for a lot of what Frazer calls "rationalism."

Jonathan Rowe said...

Frazer agrees that Protestant Christianity is an element of theistic rationalism. It loses it's "Christian" status when it starts messing with the non-negotiables.

Tom Van Dyke said...

"Protestant theistic rationalism" would probably suit me, but burying the "Protestant" part makes no sense.

The Reformation put all things on the table, for instance the Trinity in the case of Michael Servetus and eventually the "unitarians." And the Founding era was at the same time that different translations and Biblical documents were turning up, throwing the "philology" of the scriptural texts into upheaval. Add in Luther and Tyndale's translations into German and English respectively, and the Reformation's rejection of the Roman Church's "magisterial" authority to determine the Bible's translation and interpretation, and "Protestant" takes on a much bigger impact and meaning than today's Presbyterian church sitting happily down the street from the Catholic one.

wsforten said...

As I pointed out to you in a previous discussion, Jon, there was not a single group of church fathers that can be pointed to in order to say, "These are the men who chose the canon of Scripture." If you have any evidence to the contrary, perhaps you could provide it.

As for the Apocrypha, my critique included the following statement from Bishop Sarum's book An Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England:

It were easy to carry this much further down, and to shew that these books were never by any express definition received into the Canon, till it was done at Trent; and that in all the ages of the Church, even after they came to be much esteemed, there were divers writers, and those generally the most learned of their time, who denied them to be a part of the Canon.

I do not personally believe that the Apocrypha is part of the Scriptures, but that is inconsequential to the discussion since I am only making the claim that Frazer's definition of Christianity requires him to justify his rejection of the Apocrypha without relying on human reason. This is especially necessary since he specifically cited the Council of Trent as being one of the Christian creeds on which his definition is founded, and the Council of Trent declared that no one who rejected the Apocrypha could be a Christian.

Here is the relevant section from my critique:

wsforten said...

Another of the doctrines which Mr. Frazer claims no one can deny and still be a Christian is the doctrine of the inspiration of the Scriptures. In this category, however, Mr. Frazer’s inclusion of the Catholic church should have caused him to exclude every other group of Christians, for none of the other groups agreed with the Catholic church in regards to the inspiration of Scripture. The Council of Trent decreed that:

Seeing clearly that this truth and discipline are contained in the written books, and the unwritten traditions which, received by the Apostles from the mouth of Christ himself, or from the Apostles themselves, the Holy Ghost dictating, have come down even unto us, transmitted as it were from hand to hand; (the Synod) following the examples of the orthodox Fathers, receives and venerates with an equal affection of piety, and reverence, all the books both of the Old and of the New Testament – seeing that one God is the author of both – as also the said traditions, as well those appertaining to faith as to morals, as having been dictated, either by Christ's own word of mouth, or by the Holy Ghost, and preserved in the Catholic Church by a continuous succession. And it has thought it meet that a list of the sacred books be inserted in this decree, lest a doubt may arise in any one's mind, which are the books that are received by this Synod. They are as set down here below: of the Old Testament: the five books of Moses, to wit, Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy; Josue, Judges, Ruth, four books of Kings, two of Paralipomenon, the first book of Esdras, and the second which is entitled Nehemias; Tobias, Judith, Esther, Job, the Davidical Psalter, consisting of a hundred and fifty psalms; the Proverbs, Ecclesiastes, the Canticle of Canticles, Wisdom, Ecclesiasticus, Isaias, Jeremias, with Baruch; Ezechiel, Daniel; the twelve minor prophets, to wit, Osee, Joel, Amos, Abdias, Jonas, Micheas, Nahum, Habacuc, Sophonias, Aggaeus, Zacharias, Malachias; two books of the Machabees, the first and the second. Of the New Testament: the four Gospels, according to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John; the Acts of the Apostles written by Luke the Evangelist; fourteen epistles of Paul the apostle, (one) to the Romans, two to the Corinthians, (one) to the Galatians, to the Ephesians, to the Philippians, to the Colossians, two to the Thessalonians, two to Timothy, (one) to Titus, to Philemon, to the Hebrews; two of Peter the apostle, three of John the apostle, one of the apostle James, one of Jude the apostle, and the Apocalypse of John the apostle. But if any one receive not, as sacred and canonical, the said books entire with all their parts, as they have been used to be read in the Catholic Church, and as they are contained in the old Latin vulgate edition; and knowingly and deliberately contemn the traditions aforesaid; let him be anathema.[23]

It is clear from this declaration that the Catholic canon of Scripture included the books of the Apocrypha which the other groups of Christians rejected. None of the other churches recognized these books as Scripture. The Philadelphia Confession, for example, stated that:

The books commonly called Apocrypha, not being of divine inspiration, are no part of the canon (or rule) of the Scripture, and therefore are of no authority to the church of God, nor to be any otherwise approved, or made use of than other human writings.[24]

And in An Exposition of the Thirty-nine Articles of the Church of England, the Bishop of Sarum wrote:

It were easy to carry this much further down, and to shew that these books were never by any express definition received into the Canon, till it was done at Trent; and that in all the ages of the Church, even after they came to be much esteemed, there were divers writers, and those generally the most learned of their time, who denied them to be a part of the Canon.[25]

wsforten said...

Throughout his book, Mr. Frazer condemns several men as non-Christians for denying that the entire Bible is the inspired Word of God. As Mr. Frazer admits, each of these men believed that God did give a written revelation to men. They simply did not accept the entire canon of Scripture as a divine inspiration, and for this, they receive his condemnation. Now, however, it is apparent that several of the groups of Christians in Mr. Frazer’s list also deny that the entire canon, that is, the Catholic canon of Scripture is divinely inspired. According to the Council of Trent, that single difference is enough to deny the Christianity of those other groups. Mr. Frazer seems to agree with this conclusion everywhere else in his book, and he should have remained consistent and denied the Christianity of all the Baptist and Protestant churches.

Mr. Frazer’s error in this point becomes even more significant when we consider what he said about Christians just before he presented his list of ten doctrines. In direct contradiction to the above decree from the Council of Trent, Mr. Frazer wrote:

Christians believed that the whole Bible was divinely inspired, was God’s special revelation of Himself, and was the only infallible authority in all matters that it treated.[26]

When we compare Mr. Frazer’s claim that Christians believe the Bible to be the only infallible revelation from God with the statement from the Council of Trent that the traditions of the church are an additional revelation that is equal to the Scriptures, then we can only conclude that Mr. Frazer is here denying the Christianity of the Catholic church as well. If the Baptist and Protestant churches are not Christian because they do not accept the entire Catholic canon of Scripture, and if the Catholic church is not Christian because it accepts the traditions of the church as equal to the Scriptures, then I submit that Mr. Frazer would have a very difficult time identifying a single Christian church that has existed at any time in the entire history of mankind


[23] Waterworth, J., The Cannons and Decrees of the Sacred and Ecumenical Council of Trent (London: C. Dolman, 1848) ., 18-19 [http://books.google.com/books?id=mTGD-xEkmB8C&pg=PA18]

[24] The Philadelphia Association, Confession of Faith (Philadelphia: The Tract Depository, 1829), 12-13 [http://books.google.com/books?id=jqc9AAAAYAAJ&pg=PA12]

[25] Burnet, Gilbert, Bishop of Sarum, An Exposition of the XXXIX Articles of the Church of England (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1805), 119 [http://books.google.com/books?id=2CUBAAAAQAAJ&pg=PA119]

[26] Frazer, Gregg L., The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2012), 18.

wsforten said...

I don't recall Frazer claiming that Protestant Christianity is an element of theistic rationalism. It seems to me that such a claim would contradict his inclusion of three of his five Christian creeds.

Jonathan Rowe said...

Mr. F.,

You are more interested in sophistry than truth. For all of your twisting and turning, all you need see to cut through it all is that Dr. Frazer's definition is a lowest common denominator consensus, while the straw man definition of Christianity you attack is erroneously premised on a highest common denominator agreement irelfor which Frazer never argued. Frazer's definition stands.

Jonathan Rowe said...

All of the books of the canon were finalized by the time of Athanasius and the Nicene creed. If you think as you noted before that said church was the Roman Catholic Church, you might as well credit the RCC with selecting the canon. And whether you believe in the apocrypha is relevant in the sense that it tells us how you tell what is valid revelation according to your understanding.

wsforten said...

I realize that Frazer is giving a lowest common denominator. According to his book, anyone who relies on human reasoning to determine what is and what is not Scripture fails to meet that lowest common denominator. I have given three examples of Frazer himself relying on human reasoning to determine what is and is not Scripture. Therefore, Frazer fails to meet his own lowest common denominator and must be a theistic rationalist instead of a Christian. There is nothing sophistic about it.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Swedenborgians reject the Nicene Creed. You can call them not-Christian, but it's also stupid to call them anything else.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_New_Church

Jonathan Rowe said...

My point was your problem was solved if we view the Apocrypha as not part of the lowest common denominator.

wsforten said...

Frazer's rejection of the Apocrypha is just one of several examples of his reliance on human reason to determine what is and what is not part of the Bible. I also referenced his reliance on the reasoning of Augustine in regards to determining whether the Hebrew text of Genesis is correct or the Greek text, and I pointed out his reliance on human reasoning to determine the correct ending of the Gospel of Mark. I also briefly mentioned the Johanine Comma, but there are literally dozens of other passages (including disputes over entire books of the Bible such as II Peter and James) that could be cited as examples of Frazer relying on human reasoning to determine what is and what is not the true content of Scripture. Nevertheless, the Apocrypha is particularly relevant to the discussion of Frazer's book because Frazer himself cites the Council of Trent (which canonized the Apocrypha) as one of the creeds by which the Christianity of the founders should be measured.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Frazer's book because Frazer himself cites the Council of Trent (which canonized the Apocrypha) as one of the creeds by which the Christianity of the founders should be measured."

I don't think you understand the concept of a lowest common denominator. Yes, Trent is included along with 39 Articles of the Anglican Church. It's ONLY those doctrines of those creeds that AGREE with one another that get added to the LCD.

The Apocrypha is not part of the LCD. TULIP is not part of the LCD. The distinctly Anglican dogma of the 39 articles and book of common prayer are not part of the LCD.

The Nicene and Athanasian dogma IS part of the LCD because that's the common ground those creeds share.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"Therefore, Frazer fails to meet his own lowest common denominator and must be a theistic rationalist instead of a Christian."

That's a non-sequitur. Frazer never said if you flunk one element of the 10 point test that you are a "theistic rationalist." Frazer would not, as far as I can tell, term Benjamin Rush a theistic rationalist because he denied one of the tenets --> eternal damnation.

Whether he would consider Rush a "Christian" I don't think he answered. I would term Rush a "Christian-universalist."

wsforten said...

Actually, Frazer did say that very thing. Here is an excerpt from my critique in which I quote him saying as much on two separate occasions:

Mr. Frazer repeatedly states in his book that the ten doctrines which he listed are the measure of whether any individual should be considered a Christian or an infidel. Those who accepted these ten doctrines are referred to as Christians, and those who reject any one of the ten are themselves rejected as heathens. According to Mr. Frazer’s book:

These definitions are designed more to identify who was not a deist or Christian than to identify who was. Although some deists might add certain beliefs or attitudes to this definition, all would concur that one who disagreed with certain fundamentals was something other than a deist … For the purpose of this study, Christianity as a belief system will be defined by the standards of eighteenth-century America. It refers, then, to a set of beliefs officially espoused by all of the major Christian sects in America in the 1700s. Those who held these beliefs were considered to be Christians, and those who did not were considered to be ‘infidels’ … A Calvinist might add doctrines to the definition that an Anglican or Baptist would not, but none of them would subtract any of these. Again, the definition is designed to identify who was not a Christian or who would not be considered Christian by any of the denominations.[29]

In an interview with Albert Mohler, Mr. Frazer stated:

What I argue is that these are the fundamental core elements of deism just as the ten doctrines that you rattled off are the core doctrines, the fundamental doctrines, of Christianity. Whereas some Christians might add some things to the list of ten and some deists might add some things to the two or three elements of deism, everybody would agree who was a deist that if you don’t believe those fundamental things, you’re not a deist. And everybody would agree in the Christian community that if you don’t believe those fundamental things, you’re not a Christian.[30]

This concept that no one can be a Christian who questions a single one of the ten doctrines in Mr. Frazer’s list is the cornerstone of his work. After laying this cornerstone in the first twenty pages, he then proceeds to build on it by declaring that various individuals are not Christians solely because they dared to either question or deny some point on this list. His entire claim that the patriotic preachers and the key founding fathers were not Christians rests solely on their supposed non-conformity to his list of ten fundamental doctrines. The only problem is that Mr. Frazer’s list is completely wrong.

Mr. Frazer claims to have derived his list from a comparison of the official creeds of five different groups of Christians. If we were to study those creeds, we would find that they do, in fact, make mention of the ten doctrines which Mr. Frazer has listed. What we would not find, however, is agreement within those creeds that these ten doctrines must be believed in order for someone to be a Christian. Only one of the creeds listed by Mr. Frazer agrees with his claim that no one can be a Christian who questions or denies a single doctrine from his list, and that is the creed of the Catholic church. All of the other creeds give unanimous voice to a very different definition of Christianity.



[29] Frazer, Gregg L., The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders (Lawrence: University of Kansas Press, 2012), 15-18.

[30] Thinking in Public, “What Did America’s Founders Really Believe? A Conversation with Historian Gregg Frazer,” Albert Mohler and Gregg Frazer, September 10, 2012, transcript, http://www.albertmohler.com/2012/09/10/what-did-america%E2%80%99s-founders-really-believe-a-conversation-with-historian-gregg-frazer-transcript (accessed February 06, 2013)

wsforten said...

Frazer's exact statement regarding this particular lowest common denominator is:

Christians believed that the whole Bible was divinely sinspired, was God's special revelation of Himself, and was the only infallible authority in all matters that it treated. (emphasis mine)

Additionally, throughout his book, Frazer repeatedly condemned individuals as non-Christians because they relied on human reasoning to determine which portions of the Bible were part of that whole, inspired and authoritative Word of God. He said this of the Earl of Shaftesbury on page 24, of Conyers Middleton on page 26, of Joseph Priestley on page 30, of John Adams on page 110, of Thomas Jefferson in pages 135-140, of Benjamin Franklin in pages 140-141, and of James Wilson in pages 186-187. It is abundantly clear from Frazer's own statements that he considered the use of human reason to determine what is and what is not part of the Bible to be a sure sign of theistic rationalism.

Jonathan Rowe said...

"All of the other creeds give unanimous voice to a very different definition of Christianity."

No they don't. This is just your peculiar understanding of those creeds.

wsforten said...

Yes. They do. Would you like for me to quote them?

Jonathan Rowe said...

I've seen your quotes. And it's not them, it's YOU and YOUR peculiar interpretation.

wsforten said...

I suppose that's possible. Could you point out to me exactly where the other creeds referenced by Frazer state that one must believe Frazer's list of ten doctrines in order to be a Christian?

Joe Winpisinger said...

Michael Heath stated:

"One was the recognition we have an inalienable right to exercise our freedom of conscience"

I am not sure why this is considered "Enlightenment Thinking". The Canonists spoke about a "Zone of Autonomy" where man was free to choose how to live out his life apart from the things that the Bible clearly stated to do or not to do.

Not exactly relativism but no where near dogmatism.

I am impressed that you gave Dreishbach a read. David Barton and his ilk are the low hanging fruit in the Christian intellectual world in regards to religion and the founding. Dreisback is a real scholar.

Joe Winpisinger said...

John,

WS has one of the best points against Frazer I have seen. I challenged him on the same thing a while back. Mr. Forsten does it with much more clear and compelling examples.

Even the most devout literalist Christian has to admit that they have to apply reason to the Bible in order to interpret it.

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