Tuesday, February 4, 2020

Hall Responds to Frazer's Defense

Mark David Hall has emailed me his response to Gregg Frazer's defense of his criticisms of Hall's new book, Did America Have a Christian Founding? Separating Modern Myth from Historical Truth. I reproduce it below:


On January 10, in the comment section of American Creation, I wrote that

I'm not going to debate the details of [Frazer’s] review. I stand by my observation that anyone who reads it will conclude that it is inaccurate and unfair. If anyone reads the book and finds part of his critique to be fair, please let me know.

But I will give one example. Gregg's review begins "Both sides of the ‘Christian America’ debate employ the same strategy: posit a world in which everyone is either a Christian or a deist...” Gregg clearly thinks I'm in the first camp, and he is lumping me in with popular Christian authors who overstate their cases. Yet in the introduction to my book I make it crystal clear that I am not arguing that America's founders were all pious, orthodox Christians. I explain that we simply don't have the evidence to support this proposition in many cases. Moreover, in my chapter critiquing the assertion that "most" or "many" of America's founders were deists, I clearly state that Adams, Franklin, and Jefferson were not orthodox Christians.

This objection led Gregg to write more than 11,000 additional words attacking my book (I’m not exaggerating, count them). My decision not to engage Frazer in a line-by-line debate about the details of his review or his additional attacks on my book is the best decision I have made this year.

Friends have encouraged me to say more, so I’ll expand upon my observation that Gregg misreads or misrepresents my book. As noted, he contends that I argue that all of America’s founders were Christians. Yet on pages xxi and xxii I write that:

1. virtually all of the founders identified themselves as Christians, but “these facts alone are not particularly useful. These men and women may have been bad Christians, they may have been Christians significantly influenced by non-Christian ideas, or they may even have been Christians self-consciously attempting to create a secular political order.”
2. it would be more interesting to show that they were all sincere Christians, “yet sincerity is difficult for the scholars, or anyone else, to judge. In most cases, the historical record gives us little with which to work.”
3. “we might mean that the Founders were orthodox Christians. In some cases—for example, Samuel Adams, Patrick Henry, John Jay, Roger Sherman, and John Witherspoon—there is abundant evidence that they embraced and articulated orthodox Christian ideas. But the lack of records makes it difficult to speak with confidence on this issue with respect to some founders. Nevertheless, because of the many misleading statements on the subject, I demonstrate there is no evidence to support the popular claim that many or most of the founders rejected orthodox Christianity or were deists.” [And the endnote to this paragraph reads “by ‘orthodox’ I mean that they adhered to fundamental Christian doctrines as articulated in the Apostles’ or Nicene Creeds.”]
4. I will not argue that they “acted like Christians in their public or private lives.”
5. I will argue that the founders were influenced by Christian ideas. In making this argument, it is “important to note that nominal Christians might be influenced by Christian ideas, just as it is possible for an orthodox Christian to be influenced by non-Christian ideas.”

I honestly do not understand how anyone could read these pages and conclude that I am arguing that all of America’s founders are Christians. Even if Gregg meant to say that I am arguing only that all of the “key” founders were Christians, I clearly acknowledge that Franklin, Jefferson, Adams, Paine, and Allen are not orthodox Christians. These men all would have identified themselves as some sort of Christian, but I’ve already noted that this fact is uninteresting (see #1 above).

After the introduction, I have a chapter demolishing the claim that most of America’s founders were deists. Ironically, Gregg agrees with this assessment. I move on to argue that the founders were influenced by Christian ideas when they created America’s constitutional order. I then have three chapters that Gregg calls “brilliant” on religious liberty/church-state relations. In none of these chapters do I argue or assume that all of America’s founders were Christians.

Gregg misrepresents my book from the first sentence of his review. If I were to respond to every one of his claims, I would literally have to rewrite the book as I do with pages xxi and xxii above. I simply don’t have the time to do this. Let me encourage everyone to read the book and decide for yourself if his criticism are accurate.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Clearly Gregg Frazer used his review of Mark David Hall's book to further his own "brand," that the Founding was driven by his "theistic rationalists."

Hall just got in Frazer's way.

Gregg Frazer didn't even get Mark David Hall's preface right before he launched into an attack, in service of his own agenda.

Bad show, Gregg. :-(

Frankly, Gregg's definition of "theistic rationalist" is far more amorphous and confusing than Mark David Hall's working definition of "Christian."

Neither is Frazer prepared to defend his definition/rejection of "Christian thought," which for Gregg seems to begin and end with John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion of 1536 and a fundamentalist reading of the King James Bible [1611].

Aquinas, the Schoolmen, Bellarmine, and especially his own Calvinists and their own Reformed Resistance Theory that overthrew two English kings [let alone John Locke as a Christian thinker who justified it]--500 years of Christian thought are lost on Gregg Frazer, who proceeds with his "brand" as though they never happened.

Thus there is really no common ground to be achieved with Gregg Frazer as a historian or on the political theology of the Founding. For him, "Christian thought" does not exist. He is useful only to fellow Protestant fundamentalists and to modern secular revisionists who find him handy as a truncheon against the work of historians such as Daniel Dreisbach and Mark David Hall.

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