Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Mark David Hall: The Influence of the Reformed Tradition on the American Founding, Part III

By Mark David Hall

The Reformed Tradition in America

Protestantism’s progress began auspiciously in England when Henry VIII severed ties with Rome and created the Church of England in 1534. However, this institution remained too “popish” for many Calvinists, who became known as Puritans for their desire to completely purify this church. Some Puritans eventually gave up hope for reformation of the English church and, facing increasing persecution in their homeland, fled to Holland around 1608 and then to America in 1620. Before these Separatist Puritans aboard the Mayflower disembarked, they created a covenant that represents important aspects of early Puritan political thought. This agreement, known today as the Mayflower Compact, committed the people and the rulers to “the Glory of God, and the Advancement of the Christian Faith.” Its legitimacy stemmed from the consent of the 41 men heading households on the Mayflower, and it required rulers to govern justly.

The Mayflower compact is the most famous early civil covenant made in America, but it is not unique. As David A. Weir illustrates in his exhaustively researched book, Early New England: A Covenanted Society, hundreds of ecclesiastical and civil covenants were created whereby people joined together before the eyes of God to pursue different projects ultimately aimed at glorifying God. Each of these covenants reinforced the idea that governments are legitimate and binding because they were established by the consent of the governed. This view is reflected well by Henry Wolcott’s notes of a 1638 election sermon by one of Connecticut’s founders, Thomas Hooker:

Doctrine. I. That the choice of public magistrates belongs unto the people by God’s own allowance.

II. The privilege of election, which belongs to the people, therefore must not be exercised according to their humors, but according to the blessed will and law of God.

III. They who have the power to appoint officers and magistrates, it is in their power also to set the bounds and limitations of power and place unto which they call them.

Reasons. 1. Because the foundation of authority is laid, firstly, in the free consent of the people.”

Not only did the people consent to the original form of government; most men could participate in town meetings and freemen elected representatives to the colonial legislatures. Of course there was an expectation that citizens would elect and defer to godly, talented magistrates. John Winthrop famously lectured Massachusetts Bay’s General Court on this point in 1645, and thirty five years later Connecticut’s Samuel Willis reiterated the sentiment with a greater emphasis on class when he declared that “[t]he making of rulers of the lower sort of people will issue in contempt, let their opinion be what it will.” Such statements have led some scholars to overemphasize the importance of social class in the era, but others such as Joy and Robert Gilsdorf have persuasively argued that eighteenth century Connecticut citizens were more concerned with competence (and, I would add, godliness) than social standing or wealth. Moreover, the colonies, led by those in New England, clearly grew more democratic as the seventeenth century progressed.

Early Puritan societies are often described as theocracies, and their founders and leaders undoubtedly attempted to create thoroughly Christian social and political institutions. However, within these societies the institutions of church and state were kept separate and distinct. In early Massachusetts clergy could not hold political offices or otherwise serve in a civil capacity (this restriction was eventually lifted), and the Massachusetts Body of Liberties (1641) specifically banned European practices such as ecclesiastical courts and made it clear that ecclesiastical sanctions such as excommunication had no impact upon holding civil office. The state was to be a “nursing father” to the church (a phrase taken from Isaiah 49:23), by creating a society that encouraged true Christianity. Throughout New England (with the exception of Rhode Island) the Congregational church was supported financially through taxation, there were religious tests for office holders, and statutes required church attendance and punished vice. Protestant dissenters in the region were tolerated if they remained quiet and did not disturb the public order. However, vocal and disorderly dissenters such as the Quakers and perceived troublemakers such as Anne Hutchinson (1638) and Roger Williams (1636) were banned or exiled.

The Puritan conviction that rulers should promote true religion might suggest a powerful state, but this possibility was tempered by the belief that civil power should be strictly limited. Early legal codes enumerated rights and judicial procedures, including protection against double jeopardy, torture, and “inhumane Barbarous or cruell” bodily punishments. The power of the state also was constrained by what John Davenport called in 1669 “the Law of Nature” which is “God’s law.” Puritans believed that if rulers violate natural law, they may legitimately be resisted. A striking expression of this idea is found in a 1678 sermon by Massachusetts’s Samuel Nowell called “Abraham in Arms,” where he contended that the “Law of nature . . . teachth men self-preservation.” Moreover, he proclaimed that there “is such a thing as Liberty and Property given to us, both by the Laws of God & Men, when these are invaded, we may defend our selves.”

Like their descendents, Puritans were concerned with “liberty,” but it is critical to recognize that they never understood the concept to include the excessively individualistic idea that men and women are free to do anything except physically harm others. They distinguished between liberty and personal license. Puritans were primarily interested with freedom from sin, but they also understood liberty as the ability of a people to govern themselves and to do what God requires of them. They came closest to embracing modern notions of liberty was with respect to freedom of conscience, but even here religious actions judged by the community to be disruptive could still be restricted. As Barry Alan Shain has demonstrated, this constrained understanding of liberty remained dominant in America until well into the eighteenth century.

Few scholars question the influence of the Reformed tradition on the early Puritans, but some have argued it declined rapidly. Clearly the way New England colonists thought about society and politics changed in response to increased prosperity and events like the English Civil War, the Restoration, the Glorious Revolution (especially the rule of Governor Edmund Andros), the First Great Awakening, and the English victory in the French and Indian War. In spite of a variety of significant changes, both civic and ecclesiastical leaders in the Reformed tradition remained committed to the political principles discussed above, and many became even more convinced that America had a special role to play God’s advancing kingdom.


15. Daniel L. Dreisbach and Mark David Hall, eds., The Sacred Rights of Conscience: Selected Readings on Religious Liberty and Church-State Relations in the American Founding (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund Press, 2009), 86.

16. Weir, Early New England. See also Daniel J. Elazar, Covenant and Commonwealth: From Christian Separation through the Protestant Reformation (New Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 1996).

17. Perry Miller, ed., The American Puritans: Their Prose and Poetry (New York: Columbia University Press, 1956), 89; Alice M. Baldwin, The New England Clergy and the American Revolution (1928; reprint, New York: Frederick Ungar, 1965), 26-27; and Richard L. Bushman, From Puritan to Yankee: Character and the Social Order in Connecticut, 1690-1765 (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1967), 154-59.

18. John Winthrop, “Speech to the General Court,” (1645), in Miller, The American Puritans, 90-93; Bushman, From Puritan to Yankee, 12; Joy B. and Robert R. Gilsdorf, “Elites and Electorates: Some Plain Truths for Historians of Colonial America,” in Saints and Revolutionaries: Essays on Early American History, ed. David D. Hall, John M. Murrin, and Thad W. Tate (New York: W.W. Norton: 1984), 207-244; Robert E. Brown, Middle-Class Democracy and the Revolution in Massachusetts, 1691-1780 (Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1955); and Perry Miller, “Hooker and Connecticut Democracy,” in Errand Into the Wilderness (New York: Harper & Row, 1956), 16-47. J.S. Maloy argues persuasively that modern notions of democratic accountability can be traced to colonial New England, and that Calvinist ecclesiology encouraged the development of democratic political institutions and practices in The Colonial American Origins of Modern Democratic Thought (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008), esp. 86-170. See also Clark, Language of Liberty, 8.

19. Dreisbach and Hall, Sacred Rights of Conscience, 83-213; Edmund S. Morgan, Puritan Political Ideas, 1558-1794 (Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill, 1965), xiii-xlvii; T.H. Breen, The Character of the Good Ruler: A Study of Puritan Political Ideas in New England, 1630-1730 (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1970).

20. Massachusetts Body of Liberties, articles 42-46, in Bruce Frohnen, The American Republic (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund Press, 2002), 18.

21. John Davenport, “A Sermon Preach’d at The Election of the Governour” (Boston, 1670), 4. See generally Baldwin, New England Clergy, 13-21. Similarly, two years early Jonathan Mitchel declared in his election sermon that “the Law of Nature, is part of the Eternal Law of God.” Mitchel, “Nehemiah on the wall in troublesome times…” (Cambridge, 1671), 11. Note that in these examples (and numerous others could be given) indisputably orthodox clergy appealed to “the law of nature” as a source of authority. For discussion of natural rights and the Reformed tradition see Georg Jellinek, The Declaration of the Rights of Man and of Citizens: A Contribution to Modern Constitutional History, trans. Max Farrand (1901; reprint, Westport: Hyperion Press, 1979); Witte, Reformation of Rights; and Clark, The Language of Liberty, 93-125, esp. 113.

22. Samuel Nowell, “Abraham in Arms,” (Boston, 1678), 10-11. Some scholars consider any hint of a right of self-preservation to be evidence of the influence of Thomas Hobbes and/or John Locke. However, the right to protect oneself had long been a part of the natural law tradition, and it is clearly present in Reformed works written well before Hobbes’ Leviathan.

23. Shain, Myth of American Individualism, esp. 155-288. See also Witte, Reformation of Rights, 1-37, 277-319;

24. Arguments for and against the declension thesis include Perry Miller, The New England Mind: From Colony to Province (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1953), Edmund S. Morgan, “New England Puritanism: Another Approach,” William and May Quarterly 3rd ser. 18 (1966), and Cooper, Tenacious of Their Liberties, 133-150. Bushman’s From Puritan to Yankee is indispensible on this subject, but he overemphasizes the degree and scope of theological change in eighteenth-century Connecticut. See also Weir, Early New England, 227 and Breen, The Character of the Good Ruler, 240, on the persistence of covenant ideals in New England.

25. See, for instance, Thomas Kidd, The Protestant Interest: New England after Puritanism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2004) and Hatch, Sacred Cause of Liberty.

Quote of the day: Franklin on the need for moral education

"Educate your children to self-control, to the habit of holding passion and prejudice and evil tendencies subject to an upright and reasoning will, and you have done much to abolish misery from their future and crimes from society."

- Benjamin Franklin (1706-1790), American Founding Father.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Can of Worms that Most Evangelicals Seem to Want to Keep Closed

In the comments section of a recent post by Jon Rowe the following was stated by Gregg Frazer:

"First, there is a huge difference between using one's reason to try to figure out what the Bible says/means and using one's reason to determine that a portion of the Bible is not revelation at all because one doesn't like what it says. That's the difference between Christians and the theistic rationalists."

Here is my response:

"'Because one doesn't like what it says' is pure and unsupported conjecture Gregg. If this is the main difference and that is all you have for evidence I am not seeing it. They may not like what you think it says it does not mean they reject the Bible."

When we look at church councils and how things like the biblical canon and the trinity became "doctrine" this discussion becomes more complex than some let on. In other words, what gives a bunch of priests anymore right to determine what to put into the bible more than Jefferson or anyone else in theory? Yes, I know Jefferson discounted miracles as a pre-supposition and thus cut the bible apart based on that. I have no problem calling him a "theistic rationalist" or whatever. But with many of the others I do not see them going to this extreme.

I guess I am not seeing the difference between reasoned interpretation and using reason to discern what is genuine revelation or not in the sense of how the Bible was put together and what parts are genuine revelation.  It seems as if he is saying that one has to take the whole bible on faith or he is using reason to trump revelation. But it seems to me that all one really has faith in is that the men who put the canon together were not as corrupt as the ones who voted the trinity as church doctrine. It also seems to ignore that some parts like Paul's Epistles are possibly just his opinion and not revelation. Yes, I do know this opens up a huge can of worms that most Evangelicals seem to want to keep closed.

But I do not think we are going to get to the bottom of this "reason trumps revelation" debate unless we pry it open.

Theistic Rationalism: Is it a Theological or Historical Term? II

In the comments section of a recent post by Jon Rowe Dr. Gregg Frazer stated the following:

"So, my statement stands irrespective of Tom's claim that unitarians, who worshiped an entirely different god than did Christians, were Christians."

To which I responded:

"I see a lot of Calvinists state this but find it absurd. If they are worshipping the God of Exodus 34:5-7 then that is the God of the Bible. Do you maintain that Jews that had no concept of the Trinity were worshipping a different God? "

This is an interesting theological debate but it is just that: theological. Why does it come up at all in a conversation about the use of the term Theistic Rationalism?  I would have to propose because it is a theological and not a historical term. Not to mention one built on a rather extreme view of who is, and is not, worshipping the God of the Bible. 

Theistic Rationalism: Is it a Theological or Historical Term?

A recent post by Jon Rowe quoted Dr. Gregg Frazer as stating the following:

"[Eighth, Mr. Knapton accuses me of “unintended sophistry” in pointing out that the theistic rationalists did not believe that Jesus was God and he suggests that there was “a strain of Christian thought” which taught that Jesus was subordinate to God. Methinks the sophistry is one the other foot, however. Mr. Knapton refers, apparently, to the Arian or Socinian heresies, which the church had declared to be heresies — and not Christian doctrine — centuries before. On page 10 of my dissertation, I have a chart which outlines the basic core beliefs of the Christian denominations in 18th century America as expressed in their own creeds, confessions, and catechisms. Every Christian denomination in 18th century America affirmed the deity of Christ and the Trinity as basic core "Christian beliefs. Mr. Knapton’s suggestion might appeal to groups which came along later and who CLAIMED to be Christians, such as Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses; but it doesn’t stand up to 18th century scrutiny. There were, of course, those who denied the deity of Christ and the Trinity (including the theistic rationalists), but they were considered “infidels” by 18th-century Christians."

Tom Van Dyke responded in the comments section with the following:

"'Every Christian denomination in 18th century America affirmed the deity of Christ and the Trinity as basic core Christian beliefs.'

Except the Christian unitarians.

This goes in circles, because the dreaded "chart" is theological, not historical. A Jewish---or any impartial---observer would call them Christian---they accepted the Bible as Divine revelation, and Jesus as Messiah."

To which Dr. Frazer left the following:

"Re Tom's "except Christian unitarians" response to my "Every Christian denomination in 18th century America affirmed the deity of Christ and the Trinity as basic core Christian beliefs": there was no unitarian denomination in America until the 19th century. So, my statement stands irrespective of Tom's claim that unitarians, who worshiped an entirely different god than did Christians, were Christians. While there were individual unitarians (and a couple of unitarian churches) who claimed to be Christians, every Christian denomination affirmed the Trinity...
If you think, Tom, that the American protestant churches in the 18th century believed in the Trinity because it was Roman Catholic dogma, then you need to go back and read their views of the Roman church. They would be far more likely to reject a doctrine on the grounds that the Roman church taught it than they would be to accept it on that basis."

To which I responded:

"'"If you think, Tom, that the American protestant churches in the 18th century believed in the Trinity because it was Roman Catholic dogma, then you need to go back and read their views of the Roman church.'

That's not the charge Gregg. It is that the Protestants took a large part of Roman Catholic doctrine seemingly uncritically. This is not surprising considering that Luther was a monk. To be sure the real history of Constantine bullying people into excepting something they did not believe in has some bearing on things.
By narrowing the years of your study of orthodoxy you minimize legitimate Christian debate prior to the Reformation and give a false impression that any of this stuff was new and enlightenment thinking. If the whole view of Christian history is looked at we realize that almost none of this was new and that Christians argued for centuries about most of it.
In other words, if we use your years the Unitarians are some fringe sect. But if we open the discussion up to the full scope of Christian history we find that it was about half of Christianity that did not believe in the Trinity at the time and that they were silenced by secular emperor looking out for his own political interests."

I quoted this word for word to keep the integrity of the dialogue but would change "half of Christianity" in my last remark to "A significant enough segment in a huge empire that it made the emperor nervous enough to convene a convention to end the controversy by force."  In other words, a whole lot of people.  Many of whom were bishops and influential church leaders.  So I guess my question to Dr. Frazer is why he limits the years he studies to the ones at the time of the founding?  If we are discussing what is "Christian" it would seem only fair to open that discussion up to all of church history. Does it not? If we do then his position becomes theological not historical. 

I will not even get into the whole sordid affair of how Arians were voted into being "infidels" by Constantine that Frazer leaves out in his response to Mr. Knapton.

Mark David Hall: The Influence of the Reformed Tradition on the American Founding, Part II

By Mark David Hall

Reformed Political Theory

Reformed political theory is a branch of Christian political theory, so it is not surprising to find significant overlap between how Calvinists and other Christians view politics. General Christian propositions with implications for politics include the ideas that humans are created in the image of God, that men and women are sinful, and that God has established different institutions for various purposes: notably, the family, church, and state. Virtually all Christian political thinkers have recognized that civil authorities are ordained by God and that there is a biblical obligation to obey them, but that the obligation is not absolute. Although generalizations are always dangerous, it is fair to say that between Constantine and the Protestant Reformation most Christians who thought about politics assumed that monarchy was the ideal form of government, saw rulers as playing an important role in promoting the common good, and paid little attention to subjective individual rights. While they believed that Christians should refuse to obey an unjust law, virtually none of them contended that the people had a right to revolt against unjust rulers.

Reformed political theory broke in significant ways from previous Christian views. Of course Reformed thinkers borrowed from earlier thinkers, and the tradition developed over time. However, in the same way that scholars are comfortable speaking of a “liberal tradition” that includes John Locke, John Stuart Mill, John Rawls, and, according to numerous scholars, most of the founders, so too is it possible to speak of a Reformed tradition that includes John Calvin, John Knox, Samuel Rutherford, John Winthrop, and, I shall argue, many of America’s founders. Because some readers, even sophisticated students of American political theory, may be unfamiliar with this tradition, I offer a brief introduction to it below. Obviously a few pages on a tradition that spans centuries and involves a contentious and wordy people cannot do it justice, but it does allow me to introduce key themes that I believe have a significant impact on American political ideas.

The Protestant Reformation was a wide ranging movement opposed to perceived abuses by the Roman Catholic Church. It may be conveniently dated to 1517, when Martin Luther (1483-1546) nailed his Ninety-Five Theses to the Wittenberg castle church door. For our purposes, the work of John Calvin, whose followers comprise what is considered to be the Reformed tradition, is of particular interest. Calvin was born in France but lived most of his adult life in Geneva, Switzerland, which he helped govern between 1536-1538 and 1541-1564. In 1536 he published the first edition of his Institutes of the Christian Religion, a volume that he revised several times until his final 1559 edition. The work, along with his voluminous biblical commentaries, has proven enormously influential among his followers, who were represented most prominently in America by the Puritans.

Calvin’s work echoed the great battle cries of the Reformation such as sola fide and sola scriptura, and it reinforced the seminal notion of the priesthood of all believers. Reformers rejected the idea that the church and her priests were necessary intermediaries between common persons and God, and that the Church as an institution possessed the authority to speak for God. Individuals were told that they were responsible for their relationship with God, and that His will for them is most clearly revealed in the Holy Scriptures. This belief led to widespread male literacy and a commitment to translating and printing the Bible in the vernacular. These views and practices helped undermine existing hierarchies and paved the way for the growth of democracy. Although ecclesiastical structures varied, Reformed churches leaned heavily toward democratic forms of government, and nowhere was this more true than among Calvinists who immigrated to America. In some instances church members merely consented to be governed by elders, but among Congregationalists the people took a direct role in governing their churches.

Particularly significant within the Reformed tradition is the insistence that God is sovereign over all of creation. Reformers attempted to apply their faith to all elements of life, including things such as raising children, conducting business, and participating in politics. This “sanctification” of every part of life contributed to the tremendous economic and social development that marked most countries in which Protestants influenced by this tradition became a majority. From their earliest days in power, Calvinists were concerned with creating Christian political institutions and practices. Yet they were not theocrats, and they even expanded contemporary distinctions between church and state. Reformers believed that both institutions were divinely mandated and that the two should work closely together to create a Christian society. Because only God is sovereign, and because of their commitment to the doctrine of total depravity, they insisted that both ecclesiastical and civil authority be strictly limited. As well, Calvinist thinkers remained committed to the traditional Christian idea that governments should promote the common good.

Calvinist movements sprang up throughout Europe, and were particularly successful in Switzerland, Holland, Scotland, and England. In these and other countries—notably France, where the Huguenots were a persecuted minority—they faced hostile regimes. Although the Reformers initially advocated passive obedience, they rapidly developed a resistance ideology unlike anything ever seen on a widespread level in Christendom. Calvin, the most politically conservative of the Reformers, contended that in some cases inferior magistrates might resist an ungodly ruler. However, Reformers such as John Knox (1505-72), George Buchanan (1506-82), and Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661) of Scotland, Theodore Beza (1519-1605) of France and Switzerland, David Pareus (1548–1622) of Germany, Peter Martyr Vermigli (1499-1562) of Italy, and Christopher Goodman (1520-1603) and John Ponet (1516-1556) of England argued that inferior magistrates should resist unjust rulers, and even permitted or required citizens to do so.

Among the most famous pieces of resistance literature is Stephanus Junius Brutus’s Vindiciae, Contra Tyrannos (1579). Written by a Huguenot, probably Philippe du Plessis Mornay (1549-1623) or Hubert Languet (1518-1581), the Vindiciae contends that men originally exist in a state of natural liberty, and that “the natural law [ius Naturale] teaches us to preserve and protect our life and liberty – without which life is scarcely life at all –against all force and injustice.” Humans are “free by nature, impatient of servitude,” and they create governments to promote the common good. Legitimate rulers are established only by virtue of a twofold covenant (duplex foedus). The first of these, between God, king, and people, commits the people and ruler to obey God. If either the king or the people turn from God and so violate this covenant, it is void. The second covenant, which is between the ruler and the people, stipulates that the consent of the people is necessary for government to be legitimate. The people promise to obey the king as long as he rules justly. Rulers who are illegitimate, negligent, unjust or tyrannical break this covenant and forfeit their right to rule. When the people resist ungodly or unjust rulers, they are “procuring that which is their natural right [droit naturel].”

For Reformers, families, churches, and civil governments should be grounded in agreements between humans that are witnessed and enforced by God. Of course they did not invent covenants, but they significantly emphasized their use and significance; particularly with respect to civil and ecclesiastical authorities. Moreover, as represented well by Brutus’s first covenant, they believed that God makes covenants with peoples, much as He did with the ancient Jews. These covenanted people then have an important role to play in God’s plan to bring about His kingdom on earth. Failure to keep these covenants, clergy routinely warned in sermons known as jeremiads, would result in God’s punishment. The rights and responsibilities associated with such covenants would have an important influence in America.

One might object that nothing in the preceding section is distinctive to the Reformed tradition. Indeed, Quentin Skinner has argued that even works like Vindiciae are not “specifically Calvinist at all,” but that ideas contained in them were borrowed from Scholastic authors. As a matter of the genealogy of ideas this may be the case, but what is critical for the purposes of this essay is that these ideas were most extensively developed, defended, and applied within the Reformed tradition. Within a generation of Calvin virtually every Reformed civil and ecclesiastical leader was convinced that the Bible taught that governments should be limited, that they should be based on the consent of the governed, that rulers should promote the common good and the Christian faith, and that unjust or ungodly rulers should be resisted or even overthrown. Whether or not these ideas are inherently connected to Calvinism, the Reformed tradition became a major means by which they became a part of American political culture.


6. Kenneth A. Lockridge, Literacy in Colonial New England (New York: W.W. Norton & Co., 1974), 98. Lockridge calculates that 60% of males in New England were literate in 1660, and that this percentage rose to 85% by 1760 (13).

7. On New England churches and ecclesiology see especially James F. Cooper, Jr., Tenacious of Their Liberties: The Congregationalists in Colonial Massachusetts (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999) and David A. Weir, Early New England: A Covenanted Society (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2005).

8. Max Weber famously noted the connection between Protestantism and capitalism in The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, 3rd, ed. and trans., Stephen Kalberg (Los Angeles: Roxbury, 2002). Although his analysis is flawed in important ways, Weber deserves credit for noticing the significant impact Calvinism had on economic growth. See generally W. Stanford Reid, ed., John Calvin: His Influence in the Western World (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1982).

9. John Witte, Jr., The Reformation of Rights: Law, Religion, and Human Rights in Early Modern Calvinism (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), 1-80.

10. Quentin Skinner, The Foundations of Modern Political Thought: volume two: The Age of Reformation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), especially chapters 7-9; David W. Hall, Genevan Reformation and the American Founding, (Lanham: Lexington Books, 2003).

11. Stephanus Junius Brutus, Vindiciae, Contra Tyrannos, ed. George Garnett (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 149, 92, 37-40, 129-131; Skinner, Foundations of Modern Political Thought, 2: 329 (quoting Brutus).

12. The exact nature of these covenants was hotly contested among New England ministers. See Perry Miller, “From Covenant to the Revival” in Miller, Nature’s Nation (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966); Sacvan Bercovitch, The American Jeremiad (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1978); and Jonathan D. Sassi, A Republic of Righteousness: The Public Christianity of the Post-Revolutionary New England Clergy (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 19-83.

13. Skinner, Foundations of Modern Political Thought, 2: 321. But see Michael Walzer, Revolution of the Saints (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1965).

14. The extent to which later Calvinists were faithful to the teachings of John Calvin and/or the Bible is a question that goes beyond the scope of this essay.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Mark David Hall: The Influence of the Reformed Tradition on the American Founding, Part I

In an American Creation exclusive, Mark David Hall, Herbert Hoover Distinguished Professor Department of History and Politics George Fox University has given me permission to post excerpts of his paper that he will present to APSA in September and, after revision, will appear in a book he and Daniel Dreisbach are working on.

By Mark David Hall

In Original Meanings, Jack Rakove observes that the “larger intellectual world within which the Constitution is often located—the Enlightened world of Locke and Montesquieu, Hume and Blackstone, plain whigs and real whigs, common lawyers and Continental jurists—has been the subject of extensive analysis.” It is noteworthy that he does not mention religion in this context. Historians are better than political scientists and law professors at recognizing that faith mattered to many Americans in the founding era, but even they have a tendency to treat America’s founders as deists who embraced a rationalist approach to politics and who produced secular documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the First Amendment. In doing so they neglect the significant influence of Christianity, generally, and the Reformed tradition, more specifically, on many of America’s founders. “Reformed” in this context means “Calvinist” and refers to the intellectual tradition developed by John Calvin (1509-64) and his followers.

One reason Calvinism is neglected is that students of the founding often view the era through the eyes of Southern Anglican gentlemen: Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and George Washington, men born outside America: Alexander Hamilton and Thomas Paine, and the cosmopolitan Benjamin Franklin who lived most of the last thirty five years of his life in Europe. The only member of a Congregational or Presbyterian church among the famous founders is John Adams, but like a few of his fellow Congregationalists (primarily in and around Boston) he was moving rapidly toward Unitarianism. These men were brilliant and influential, but they are not representative of the many American leaders who were firmly rooted in the Reformed tradition.

Sydney Ahlstrom, in his magisterial history of religion in America, estimates that the Reformed tradition was “the religious heritage of three-fourths of the American people in 1776.” Similarly, Yale historian Harry Stout states that prior to the War for Independence “three out of four colonists were connected with Reformed denominations (mostly Congregational and Presbyterian).” These figures may be high—neither scholar explains or defends them—but a plethora of studies make it clear that Calvinist churches dominated New England and were well represented throughout the rest of the nation. Although some scholars have argued that few Americans attended these or other churches in the founding era, as we shall see this was not the case.

Not only were well over a majority of all Americans in the founding era associated with Calvinist churches, adherents to the tradition exercised significant influence through a variety of venues. New England was the intellectual and cultural center of America until well into the nineteenth century, and many pedagogues throughout the nation were members of Reformed faiths. For instance, James Madison was educated by the Scottish Presbyterian minister Donald Robertson (about whom he later said “all that I have been in life I owe largely to that man”) the Anglican rector Thomas Martin (a graduate of the College of New Jersey), and the Presbyterian minister John Witherspoon. Under President Witherspoon, the College of New Jersey produced “five delegates to the Constitutional Convention; one U.S. President (Madison); a vice president (the notorious Aaron Burr), forty-nine U.S. representatives; twenty-eight U.S. senators; three Supreme Court Justices; eight U.S. district judges; one secretary of state; three attorneys general; and two foreign ministers.” It is noteworthy that only two of the 178 students who studied under Witherspoon between 1769 and 1775 became Loyalists.

The primary purpose of this essay is to introduce readers to Reformed political tradition, show how the tradition manifested itself in colonial America (especially New England), and demonstrate that Calvinism was still a vibrant and influential force in late-eighteenth century America. I address the common view that the founders were heavily influenced by a secularized version of Lockean liberalism, and I conclude by suggesting ways that shifting our eyes from a handful of elites to a broader range of founders (emphasizing for the purposes of this essay members of Reformed congregations) might help us better understand key founding documents such as the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the First Amendment.


1. Essays of this nature are often written by partisans of a particular tradition. Although I am sympathetic to the Reformed tradition, I do not consider myself to be a Calvinist nor am I am member of a Reformed church.

2. Jack Rakove, Original Meanings: Politics and Ideas in the Making of the Constitution (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1997), 7, 18. The preface to Daniel L. Dreisbach, Mark David Hall, and Jeffry H. Morrison, eds., The Forgotten Founders on Religion and Public Life (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2009), xiii-xxi, provides numerous examples of scholars who describe the founders as deists dedicated to creating a secular commonwealth. Examples of books that recognize that religion mattered in the founding era include Alan Heimert, Religion and the American Mind: From the Great Awakening to the Revolution (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1966); Nathan O. Hatch, The Sacred Cause of Liberty: Republican Thought and the Millennium in Revolutionary New England (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1977); Patricia U. Bonomi, Under the Cope of Heaven: Religion, Society, and Politics in Colonial America (New York: Oxford University Press, 1986); J.C.D. Clark, The Language of Liberty, 1660-1832 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994); and Barry Alan Shain, The Myth of American Individualism: The Protestant Origins of American Political Thought (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1994). Yet even many of these books limit religion’s influence to the masses and portray “the founders” as being influenced by secular ideologies. I provide an extensive discussion of the relevant secondary literature in my book manuscript The Old Puritan and a New Nation: Roger Sherman and the Creation of the American Republic (under review). For reasons of space I keep this discussion to an absolute minimum in this essay.

3. Like Franklin, Jefferson and Adams lived for extended periods of time in Europe. Franklin was raised in the Reformed tradition but rejected it at an early age. For details on the religious views of these founders see Daniel L. Dreisbach, Mark David Hall, and Jeffry H. Morrison, eds., The Founders on God and Government (Lanham: Rowman & Littlefield, 2004) (containing essays on Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin) and Dreisbach, Hall, and Morrison, The Forgotten Founders on Religion and Public Life (containing essays on Paine and Hamilton)

4. Sydney E. Ahlstrom, A Religious History of the American People (Garden City: Doubleday, 1975), 1: 426; Harry S. Stout, “Preaching the Insurrection,” Christian History 15 (1996), 17. Presumably both figures are for white Americans. See also William Hutchison, Religious Pluralism in America (New Haven: Yale University Press, 2003), 21. According to Charles O. Paullin, 56% of churches in America in 1776 were in the Reformed tradition. Paullin, Atlas of the Historical Geography of the United States (Washington, D.C.: Carnegie Institution, 1932), 50. Roger Finke and Rodney Stark rely heavily on his study when they discuss denominations in the era in The Churching of America, 1776-1990: Winners and Losers in Our Religious Economy (New Brunswick: Rutgers University Press, 1992), 25. According to Edwin Gaustad and Philip Barlow, 63% of the churches in 1780 were in the Reformed tradition. Gaustad and Barlow, New Historical Atlas of Religion in America (New York: Oxford University Press, 2001), 8. The two estimates for 1776 (56% and 75%) are not necessarily contradictory if Reformed churches had larger congregations than non-Reformed churches. If one counts Anglicans as being in the Reformed tradition (a disputable but plausible assessment), then 75% of America’s churches in 1776 were Reformed. Although Lutherans are closely related to Calvinists on many theological matters, they are not usually considered to be a part of the Reformed tradition. Virtually all Baptists in this era adhered to Reformed theology.

5. Ralph Ketcham, James Madison: A Biography (Charlottesville: University Press of Virginia, 1971), 17-50; Jeffry H. Morrison, John Witherspoon and the Founding of the American Republic (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 2005), 4; Joseph S. Tiedemann, “Presbyterianism and the American Revolution in the Middle Colonies,” Church History 74 (June 2005), 339.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

Hamiltonian quote of the day: on the trick in governing well

"In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men the great difficulty lies in this: You must first enable the government to control the governed, and in the next place, oblige it to control itself."

- Alexander Hamilton (1755-1804), American Founding Father. 

Thomas Jefferson, James Wilson, Laws of Nature and Revelation

James Wilson wrote a great deal of what he thought about law, life, religion and philosophy in his public Works. Yet, perhaps because they were public lectures, he leaves some hard questions unanswered (he doesn't address orthodox religious doctrine at all, or whether he believes the Bible inerrant). He praises both "reason" and the "senses" on the one hand and revealed truth on the other as both necessary for determining the ultimate nature of reality. Accordingly, both, by in large, agree and should work together. But both streams have their limits.

In Volume I of Works, Wilson says such things as:

[H]ow shall we, in particular instances, learn the dictates of our duty, and make, with accuracy, the proper distinction between right and wrong; in other words, how shall we, in particular cases, discover the will of God? We discover it by our conscience, by our reason, and by the Holy Scriptures. The law of nature and the law of revelation are both divine: they flow, though in different channels, from the same adorable source. It is, indeed, preposterous to separate them from each other. The object of both is ― to discover the will of God ― and both are necessary for the accomplishment of that end.


Reason, say they, is the first rule of man, the first principle of morality, and the immediate cause of all primitive obligation. But man being necessarily dependent on his Creator, who has formed him with wisdom and design, and who, in creating him, has proposed some particular ends; the will of God is another rule of human actions, another principle of morality, obligation, and duty. On this distinction, the kinds of obligation, external and internal, are founded. These two principles must be united, in order to form a complete system of morality, really founded on the nature and state of man. As a rational being, he is subject to reason: as a creature of God, to his supreme will. Thus, reason and the divine will are perfectly reconciled, are naturally connected, and are strengthened by their junction.85


Reason and conscience can do much; but still they stand in need of support and assistance. They are useful and excellent monitors; but, at some times, their admonitions are not sufficiently clear; at other times, they are not sufficiently powerful; at all times, their influence is not sufficiently extensive. Great and sublime truths, indeed, would appear to a few; but the world, at large, would be dark and ignorant. The mass of mankind would resemble a chaos, in which a few sparks, that would diffuse a glimmering light, would serve only to show, in a more striking manner, the thick darkness with which they are surrounded. Their weakness is strengthened, their darkness is illuminated, their influence is enlarged by that heaven-descended science, which has brought life and immortality to light. In compassion to the imperfection of our internal powers, our all-gracious Creator, Preserver, and Ruler has been pleased to discover and enforce his laws, by a revelation given to us immediately and directly from himself. This revelation is contained in the holy scriptures. The moral precepts delivered in the sacred oracles form a part of the law of nature, are of the same origin, and of the same obligation, operating universally and perpetually.


But whoever expects to find, in [Scripture], particular directions for every moral doubt which arises, expects more than he will find. They generally presuppose a knowledge of the principles of morality; and are employed not so much in teaching new rules on this subject, as in enforcing the practice of those already known, by a greater certainty, and by new sanctions. They present the warmest recommendations and the strongest inducements in favour of virtue: they exhibit the most powerful dissuasives from vice. But the origin, the nature, and the extent of the several rights and duties they do not explain; nor do they specify in what instances one right or duty is entitled to preference over another. They are addressed to rational and moral agents, capable of previously knowing the rights of men, and the tendencies of actions; of approving what is good, and of disapproving what is evil.


These considerations show, that the scriptures support, confirm, and corroborate, but do not supercede the operations of reason and the moral sense. The information with regard to our duties and obligations, drawn from these different sources, ought not to run in unconnected and diminished channels: it should flow in one united stream, which, by its combined force and just direction, will impel us uniformly and effectually towards our greatest good.

From these passages in Works, I get the sense that Wilson believed in both reason and revelation. I don't get the sense that Wilson believed the Bible inerrant or infallible, but nonetheless believed large parts of the biblical canon are God speaking to man. In Gregg Frazer's PhD thesis, he views Wilson's quote -- "[t]his revelation is contained in the holy scriptures" -- as compatible with what he terms theistic rationalism, that "some" revelation is legitimate, but that the Bible is not inerrant or infallible.

Frazer reads "[t]his revelation is contained in the Holy Scriptures," as suggesting man's reason must examine the good book to see which parts of it "contain" genuine revelation. I think that's a fair reading of a somewhat broadly worded assertion.

And then we have the following from Wilson:

The law of nature is immutable; not by the effect of an arbitrary disposition, but because it has its foundation in the nature, constitution, and mutual relations of men and things. While these continue to be the same, it must continue to be the same also. This immutability of nature's laws has nothing in it repugnant to the supreme power of an all-perfect Being. Since he himself is the author of our constitution; he cannot but command or forbid such things as are necessarily agreeable or disagreeable to this very constitution. He is under the glorious necessity of not contradicting himself. This necessity, far from limiting or diminishing his perfections, adds to their external character, and points out their excellency.

Now that passage is compatible with the idea that the Bible is inspired in *some* sense. I don't see it as compatible with the idea of an inerrant, infallible Bible, talking snakes, 6-day creation, and so on.

In his letter to Peter Carr, August 10, 1787, Jefferson addresses the problems with an immutable law of nature on the one hand and the text of the Bible on the other:

Read the Bible, then as you would read Livy or Tacitus. The facts which are within the ordinary course of nature, you will believe on the authority of the writer, as you do those of the same kind in Livy & Tacitus. The testimony of the writer weighs in their favor, in one scale, and their not being against the laws of nature, does not weigh against them. But those facts in the Bible which contradict the laws of nature, must be examined with more care, and under a variety of faces. Here you must recur to the pretensions of the writer to inspiration from God. Examine upon what evidence his pretensions are founded, and whether that evidence is so strong, as that its falsehood would be more improbable than a change in the laws of nature, in the case he relates. For example, in the book of Joshua, we are told, the sun stood still several hours. Were we to read that fact in Livy or Tacitus, we should class it with their showers of blood, speaking of statues, beasts, &c. But it is said, that the writer of that book was inspired. Examine, therefore, candidly, what evidence there is of his having been inspired. The pretension is entitled to your inquiry, because millions believe it. On the other hand, you are astronomer enough to know how contrary it is to the law of nature that a body revolving on its axis, as the earth does, should have stopped, should not, by that sudden stoppage, have prostrated animals, trees, buildings, and should after a certain time gave resumed its revolution, & that without a second general prostration. Is this arrest of the earth's motion, or the evidence which affirms it, most within the law of probabilities? You will next read the New Testament. It is the history of a personage called Jesus. Keep in your eye the opposite pretensions: 1, of those who say he was begotten by God, born of a virgin, suspended & reversed the laws of nature at will, & ascended bodily into heaven; and 2, of those who say he was a man of illegitimate birth, of a benevolent heart, enthusiastic mind, who set out without pretensions to divinity, ended in believing them, and was punished capitally for sedition, by being gibbeted, according to the Roman law, which punished the first commission of that offence by whipping, & the second by exile, or death in fureĆ¢. See this law in the Digest Lib. 48. tit. 19. §. 28. 3. & Lipsius Lib 2. de cruce. cap. 2. These questions are examined in the books I have mentioned under the head of religion, & several others. They will assist you in your inquiries, but keep your reason firmly on the watch in reading them all.

Now, I understand many orthodox Trinitarian Christians have struggled to reconcile real science on the one hand and the biblical record on the other. They might not necessarily turn into Jeffersons, cutting out most of the Bible as false. But they do seem to embrace more metaphorical explanations, including, most notably, of the Adam and Eve story in Genesis. They don't believe that the Earth actually stood still for several hours or that Lot's wife actually turned into salt. They also accept Darwin's theory of evolution and attempt to reconcile it with the Bible. Those are the kinds of "rational Christians" who better reconcile what James Wilson wrote in Works with their faith. It seems to me those who take a more literal view of the Creation story -- young earth, 6 day creationists -- should be much less receptive to James Wilson's ditherings in Works.

Peter Lillback Interview Post-Glenn Beck

Dr. Lillback is interviewed by Stacy Harp, a fellow conservative evangelical who interviewed him four years ago after the book first came out.

One purpose of the interview is to answer criticisms. I've listened to the show; I'm not going to dissect it.

John Adams' Partially Inspired Bible

From his letter to Jefferson Nov. 15, 1813.

This is a very interesting letter. In the beginning Adams doubts we have the right version of the Ten Commandments. He states the Bible contains "error or amendment." Then he praises Jefferson's Bible where Jefferson cut out what he saw as error. Here is the larger context of the quote. I have emphasized Adams claiming his desire to make his own "Adams' Bible."

I admire your employment in selecting the philosophy and divinity of Jesus, and separating it from all mixtures. If I had eyes and nerves I would go through both Testaments and mark all that I understand. To examine the Mishna, Gemara, Cabbala, Jezirah, Sohar, Cosri and Talmud of the Hebrews would require the life of Methuselah, and after all his 969 years would be wasted to very little purpose. The daemon of hierarchical despotism has been at work both with the Mishna and Gemara. In 1238 a French Jew made a discovery to the Pope (Gregory 9th) of the heresies of the Talmud. The Pope sent thirty-five articles of error to the Archbishops of France, requiring them to seize the hooks of the Jews and burn all that contained any errors. He wrote in the same terms to the kings of France, England, Arragon, Castile, Leon, Navarre and Portugal. In consequence of this order, twenty cartloads of Hebrew books were burnt in France ; and how many times twenty cartloads were destroyed in the other kingdoms ? The Talmud of Babylon and that of Jerusalem were composed from 120 to 500 years after the destruction of Jerusalem.

If Lightfoot derived light from what escaped from Gregory's fury, in explaining many passages in the New Testament, by comparing the expressions of the Mishna with those of the Apostles and Evangelists, how many proofs of the corruptions of Christianity might we find in the passages burnt?

I do think, after reading Adams in great detail, his partially inspired Bible would be much thicker than Jefferson's. However, he still believed that the biblical canon contained more than a nominal amount of "error or amendment" that man's reason should edit.

Final Thoughts from Knapton and Frazer

Rich Knapton replied to Gregg Frazer and Frazer responded here. What I find strange about Knapton's argument: I understand the criticism that I or Dr. Frazer overly focus on certain "key founders," and I understand the criticism that Washington and Madison and some others didn't quite detail their creed specifically enough which ought to leave some doubt as to their orthodoxy or lack thereof. But Franklin, Jefferson and Adams, in no uncertain terms explained exactly what they believed. There is no doubt as to what Jefferson and Adams, writing in the early 19th Century believed because they went on at ponderous length detailing their creed. And they clearly disbelieved in the Trinity and believed God primarily revealed Himself through Nature, that the Bible was fallible and that man's reason thus supersedes revelation as the ultimate arbiter of truth. Knapton doesn't just deny Adams was such a "man of reason," but denies Jefferson was as well! As Dr. Frazer quotes Jefferson who clearly reveals himself to be such a man of reason:

"We must reduce our volume to the simple evangelists, select, even from them, the very words only of Jesus, paring off the amphiboligisms into which they have been led, by forgetting often, or not understanding, what had fallen from him, by giving their own misconceptions as his dicta, and expressing unintelligibly for other what they had not understood themselves. … I have performed this operation for my own use, by cutting verse by verse out of the printed book, and arranging the matter which is evidently his, and which is as easily distinguishable as diamonds in a dunghill.” He claimed that it was easy to make such determinations because “there is internal evidence that parts of it have proceeded from an extraordinary man; and that other parts are of the fabric of very inferior minds.” He abstracted “whatever has the stamp of the eloquence and fine imagination of Jesus.” He relied on the “style and spirit” of the writings to determine what was “genuine, and his own.” When he found “passages of fine imagination, correct morality, and of the most lovely benevolence,” he judged them to be legitimate words of Jesus.


It doesn't get any clearer than that and attempting to explain this away will only make the explainer look bad.

One other point needs to be noted. Orthodox Christianity believes itself to be the only valid path to God and other religions false. Jefferson, Adams and the other theistic rationalists didn't believe this, rather they thought, contra orthodox Christian teachings, all religions valid paths to God. That doesn't mean they thought all religions "equal." Appreciate the distinction: To the key founders the "end" of religion was virtue. As Franklin once put it if the "ends" (virtue) are met, the "means" (which religion you are) ultimately don't matter (because you still reach the top of the mountain even if you don't get there the quickest way), we could see how they could believe all religions valid. However, Franklin and the other key founders also stressed Jesus' moral teachings the best the world had seen. So if the "end" of religion is morality and if Jesus was the greatest moral teacher, then we could see how they would think Christianity "better" or "best" as compared to a number of other valid theologies (i.e., the quickest way up the mountain). Hence, most or all religions are valid, though they are not all necessarily equal.

And indeed when you look at the language Franklin, Adams, Jefferson, and Madison use when praising Christianity, they almost never suggests, as orthodox Christianity dictates, that Christianity is the only path to God, but invariably use comparative terms like "better" or "best" to describe Christianity. Mr. Knapton seems to recognize this when he writes:

9. Valid and equal. What I was doing was not changing his thought but, rather, providing an additional thought. Let me give an example. (man I feel like I’m teach grammar school) Thomas Jefferson may have thought that all moral codes to valid. However, he did not think they were all equal. He believed the Christian moral code to be superior to the others.

However, what he doesn't recognize is that this isn't orthodox Christianity. Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams might give Christianity an "A" as a religion, Judaism a "B+," and Islam and Native American Spirituality "Bs." An "A" is the best grade, but all of these grades pass. Orthodox Christianity, on the other hand, gives Christianity an A and all other religions Fs!

And a final note, I would add this syncretism that Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Franklin believed in is far more heterodox than the theological universalism that Benjamin Rush adopted later on in his life. Rush, a Trinitarian, following John Murray, became a Universalist believing all would be saved. But he remained a Trinitarian and otherwise orthodox in his theology. As I understand his creed, he still believed non-Christian theologies were false (and hence would "fail" them) but that all would be saved through the universality of Christ's atonement. The Bible discusses every knee eventually bowing for Christ. And ultimately, Murray, Rush, and the other Universalists so believed the Bible taught non-Christians ultimately would be saved by through Christ, even if, I suppose, their conversion happened after death.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Frazer Replies to Knapton II

This was Gregg's second response to Mr. Knapton:

I apologize, again, for responding tardily, but this is the first bloc of time I've had.

First of all, Mr. Knapton, my name is "Frazer."

Second, Mr. Knapton is the first person I've encountered who denies real significance and influence to deism in 18th-century America. In fact, the standard view among scholars is that most of the Founders -- including Jefferson, Franklin, and Washington -- were deists. I'm sure that Jonathan Edwards, who wrote about the danger of deism and John Leland, who wrote a two-volume work on deism in 1764 and Elihu Palmer, who wrote the "bible" of deism in 1801 would all be shocked. As would Peter Gay, Kerry Walters, E.Graham Waring, and other scholars who have written sizable works on its influence.

Third, if, as he says, Mr. Knapton's reference to Locke was not presented as proof to contradict my statement, then he offered no proof and my statement stands.

Fourth, I have not heard of “copy and past.” I have, however, heard of copy and paste -- but my dissertation is in WordPerfect format, so copy and paste will not work in this context.

Fifth, I, too, really dislike "cherry picking" and that is not what I did in presenting the quotes from Adams. The significance I gave to the quotes is precisely what the context demands, although Mr. Knapton's interpretation is quite creative. The point of the letter is to address the BASIS for the beliefs of the various groups. The portion left out in Mr. Knapton's transcription is very illuminating (and important). After identifying the BASIS for the beliefs of the first set of groups ("real or pretended revelation") , Adams addresses a belief of some Greeks [where Mr. Knapton simply puts "About the Greeks"]. There Adams says "On what prophecies they found their belief, I know not" [emphasis, again, on the BASIS for their beliefs]. He then identifies the BASIS for his belief and that of Jefferson IN COMPARISON TO that of the others and proclaims that he and Jefferson's "faith may be supposed by more rational arguments than ANY [my emphasis] of the former." The Christian belief which he mentioned [along with all of the others -- including the Greeks] is, of course, based on revelation. So, he is affirming that his belief places rationality above revelation (of various types -- including the Bible).

I did not launch into this discussion the first time because I thought the quotes clear enough to stand on their own.

Concerning the second quote: since Jonathan Rowe has commented (keenly) on Mr. Knapton's curious, but creative interpretation, I won't add anything except to wonder why one who purports to really dislike cherry picking left out the final sentence of the paragraph in his transcription. There, after saying nice things about the Bible and Christ, he says: "Where is to be found theology more orthodox, or philosophy more profound, than in the introduction to the Shasta [sic]?" The Shastra is a Hindu text! Also, he does not say that his philosophy is "derived from the Bible" -- he says that it "contains more" of his philosophy than all other books. And, in saying that he will further investigate the parts of the Bible which "seem not to be reconciled with his philosophy," he reveals that he does not accept them on the basis of being revelation, but must "investigate" them to see if they can be made to fit within his philosophy -- in other words, his reason trumps revelation.

Finally on this point, I have a PhD in political philosophy and my understanding of Locke was good enough to get me through PhD qualifying exams and several courses with nationally-recognized scholars. The fact that my "understanding" of Locke is different than that of Mr. Knapton perhaps says more about Mr. Knapton's "understanding" than mine.

Sixth, if Mr. Knapton was not suggesting that my term is illegitimate because it didn't exist at the time and was stating, instead, that the concept "simply has no foundation," then we have another case of Mr. Knapton simply declaring my arguments invalid without offering any proof for his claims. I have 440 pages of evidence from the Founders and 18th-century American preachers -- he has offered no evidence except thoughts of English empiricists, his creative interpretation of one of them [Locke], and his assurance that the American Founders believed everything that those British philosophers said. I'll take what the Founders actually said they believed over what Mr. Knapton simply claims they believed and I'll let the observant reader decide for him/her self.

Seventh, Jonathan addressed the "reason" question, so I won't bother except to remind Mr. Knapton and interested readers that there is a distinction between what I, as an evangelical Christian, believe and what the Founders believed. I place revelation above reason and I do not "want to use the term as a magic wand by which whatever you touch truth is revealed." The Founders used it as a basis for discovering and determining truth. If Mr. Knapton has a problem with that idea, he should take it up with the Founders -- not me.

Eighth, in my "vain-glorious rush for acceptance," I was using sarcasm. I apologize if it was not biting enough to be recognized.

Ninth, Mr. Knapton suggests that I need glasses because he says that he did not make a particular claim about what I had said. First, I have glasses already. Second, I referred to HIS comments about my statement in which he changed a key word in the point I made and replaced it with another word IN HIS COMMENTARY ON IT. A little "cut and paste" will show that he did what I said he did: my statement was: “Because virtually all religions promote morality, they believed that most religious traditions are valid and lead to the same God.” His commentary was: "However, they did not see all religious moral codes equal." So, I accused him of defeating a straw man argument because he attacked the idea that the Founders saw "all religious moral codes EQUAL [my emphasis]," but I did not make that argument. I made the argument that they believed that MOST religious traditions are VALID and lead to the same God [my emphases]. So, he changed MOST to ALL and VALID to EQUAL -- and, therefore, did not address my actual point, but rather one of his construction. I did not engage in "miss-quoting" -- or misquoting.

Tenth, contrary to Mr. Knapton's assertion, I do not assume for myself the right to decide who is a Christian and who is not. In fact, to avoid any such notion, I use the creeds, catechisms, and confessions ascribed to by the actual churches in America in the 18th century. As to Arianism, it was not declared heretical by the Catholic Church (in today's sense of the term), but by the ONLY church at the time (before the Protestant Reformation) -- a quite different church than that of the Middle Ages and one that has always been recognized as legitimate by Protestants. Furthermore, IN THE 18TH CENTURY (which is the period we're talking about), BOTH PROTESTANTS AND CATHOLICS CONSIDERED ARIANISM HERETICAL and recognized the Trinity and deity of Christ as A (not THE) central belief of Christianity.

Mr. Knapton then accuses me of saying that the Trinity is "the central tenant of the Christian faith." First, I said nothing about tenants (people who rent property), I talked about tenets (fundamental beliefs). Second, I did NOT say (again) what Mr. Knapton indicates that I said. I said that the Trinity is A central tenet -- I did not say that it is THE central tenet. For those who want to look it up, here's another "cut and paste": [most people can skip the following bracketed part]

[Eighth, Mr. Knapton accuses me of “unintended sophistry” in pointing out that the theistic rationalists did not believe that Jesus was God and he suggests that there was “a strain of Christian thought” which taught that Jesus was subordinate to God. Methinks the sophistry is one the other foot, however. Mr. Knapton refers, apparently, to the Arian or Socinian heresies, which the church had declared to be heresies — and not Christian doctrine — centuries before. On page 10 of my dissertation, I have a chart which outlines the basic core beliefs of the Christian denominations in 18th century America as expressed in their own creeds, confessions, and catechisms. Every Christian denomination in 18th century America affirmed the deity of Christ and the Trinity as basic core Christian beliefs. Mr. Knapton’s suggestion might appeal to groups which came along later and who CLAIMED to be Christians, such as Mormons or Jehovah’s Witnesses; but it doesn’t stand up to 18th century scrutiny. There were, of course, those who denied the deity of Christ and the Trinity (including the theistic rationalists), but they were considered “infidels” by 18th-century Christians.

If Mr. Knapton thinks that Christianity is “all about” Jesus being the savior of the world independent of His being God, then he and I have very different conceptions of what Christianity is “all about” — but, more importantly, he has a very different view than those we are discussing: 18th century American Christians.]

Note that I called the Trinity and the deity of Christ "basic core Christian beliefs" [plural], but did not in any way suggest or indicate that they were THE central beliefs -- but, rather, 2 of the 10.

Furthermore, I would not approach a Buddhist priest for a definition of Christianity -- apparently another difference between Mr. Knapton and myself. And Christians were called "Christians" because it means "little Christs," which is what Christians were recognized as aspiring to be -- followers of Christ (who, by the way, THEY understood to be God). Arianism didn't come along until the 4th century, so there was no reason to highlight the Trinity above other fundamental doctrines. Mr. Knapton's Christianity 101 course is quite different from my (an evangelical Christian) Christianity 101 and also quite different (and this is the point where this discussion is concerned) from the Christianity 101 course of 18th-century Americans.

Eleventh, Mr. Knapton then assured us again that deism and natural religion "died" in the "first half of the 18th-century" (no evidence, just his assurance) and that the idea that God PRIMARILY revealed Himself through nature died at the same time -- with no evidence to support such an astonishing claim -- just his affirmation.

Twelfth, regarding what Jefferson said about his approach to the Bible: I started to write a lengthy refutation of Mr. Knapton's argument on this point, but I'll just leave it to those who can read the earlier quotes from Jefferson making reason the sole judge with a fair and open mind and the following additional Jefferson quotes: "man, once surrendering his reason, has no remaining guard against absurdities the most monstrous," and "gullibility, which they call faith, takes the helm from the hand of reason, and the mind becomes a wreck" and "No one sees with greater pleasure than myself the progress of reason in its advances towards RATIONAL Christianity." [my emphasis]

FINALLY, Mr. Knapton sums things up by suggesting that we've "learned" 6 things, but they're not very revealing and suggest that we've wasted a lot of time -- if, indeed, that's all we've "learned."

#1 [deism not significant] is a mere assertion on his part for which he gives no evidence and which flies in the face of the views of 18th-century contemporaries and modern scholarship.

#2 [cherry-picking charge] has been demonstrated in this entry to be false.

#3 [concept of theistic rationalism didn't exist] is another of his assertions without evidence and is circular logic -- using as evidence what you're trying to prove.

#4 [reason not magic wand] is meant as a shot at me, but misses the mark because I don't believe it to begin with -- and is irrelevant to the discussion because no one believes or believed it the way it's written.

#5 [I'm not doctor of divinity] is quite true -- but entirely irrelevant and, to my knowledge, no one has claimed the contrary. So, we've "learned" something that no one had an interest in learning and that many already knew.

#6 [Jefferson's motivation/method] is Mr. Knapton's conclusion which he arrived at (apparently) by completely ignoring the extensive evidence presented from Jefferson's own words concerning the role of reason in determining and evaluating potential revelation. His "un-rationalistic" remark also indicates that Mr. Knapton is under the false impression that there is only one kind/type of rationalism -- a misconception which has been dealt with in previous threads of this discussion. One can't help but wonder how Jefferson came to a "belief" that John 1 was mistranslated, since no sect was teaching such a "belief" and since, according to his own account, he made that determination himself based on his own personal analysis and would have been offended if someone suggested it were merely a "belief" and not a result of rational processes.

I submit that only Mr. Knapton has "learned" his six lessons.

Knapton Responds to Frazer

I've highlighted parts of Richard Knapton's response to Gregg Frazer and included some commentary of mine below:

Ah yes, deism and natural religion. At the turn of the 18th-century a small group of thinkers, including the Earl of Shaftsbury, began writing about how natural philosophy (science) could be used to investigate the nature and workings of God. This was coined natural religion. Their approach was to replace Christianity with natural religion. It pretty much petered out around the middle of the 18th-century. It’s demise was helped out in no small measure by the writings of Joseph Butler and David Hume. Hume attacked the idea of using rational or empirical methods (science) to investigate religion.


Theistic rationalism is a term for which there is no conceptual correspondence in the time period Dr Fraser is writing. Along with the demise of deistic rationalism was rationalism itself. The empiricist (Locke, Berkely, Hume) had shown that truth cannot be discovered on the basis of reason alone. Information must first be established based on experiment and observation prior to the use of reason. The concept of theistic rationalism, which is supposed to have risen out of the ashes of deistic rationalism, has simply no foundation. Rationalism had lost out to empiricism.


This use of the term ‘reason’ is a bit sloppy. Let’s bring some rigor to the subject. I obtained my definition of reason from “A Dictionary of Philosophical Terms and Names” Reason: The intellectual ability to apprehend [understand] the truth cognitively, either immediately in intuition, or by means of a process of inference. Inference: The relationship that holds between the premises and the conclusion of a logical argument, or the process of drawing a conclusion from premises that support it deductively or inductively.

Thus reason is a process by which truth is revealed. Revelation is an event by which truth is revealed. You can oppose an event to another event. Or, you can oppose a process by another process. But you cannot oppose a processes to an event. They are not the same type of thing. Not can a process determine what is legitimate. Reasoning requires a first principle which can only be accepted as true. It cannot be rationally determined. Since reasoning is a dialectical process, one begins with a first principle and a comparison happens between it and opposing ideas with a view to resolving the opposition. What is critical here is first principles. With any process the quality of what goes in determines the quality of what comes out (garbage in – garbage out). Dr Fraser, on the other hand, seems to want to use the term as a magic wand by which whatever you touch truth is revealed.


1 Deism and natural religion died out around the middle of 18th century. Natural religion was a spent force.


3. “Theistic rationalism”, as a concept, doesn’t seem to exist in the second half of the 18th century. Also, it is not likely that “theistic rationalism” rose from the ashes of “deistic rationalism.”

4. Reason is not a magic wand that whatever it touches turns to the truth.

Knapton's major factual premises are, as an historical matter, wrong. Hume, an atheist, may well have "attacked the idea of using rational or empirical methods (science) to investigate religion." But the fact is Adams, Jefferson, Franklin and many other notable founders as well as many divines and philosophers of the age believed that man's reason discovers substantive truth including, and importantly religious truths. [Hume, in fact, attacked other ideas which America's founders held central, for instance Locke's notion of the state of nature, which was one of the most central tenets of America's founding thought].

Reason may well be a "process" and indeed, our modern minds may believe, after Hume, that reason needs first facts from which to proceed and can discover no substantive moral, religious or philosophical truths of its own. But America's key founders believed Nature (with a capital "N"), not the Bible, was the substance from which man's reason discovers moral, philosophical, and religious truth. Indeed, by looking to Nature, man's reason could discover substantive truth wholly UNAIDED by scripture. The Deists argued none of the Bible was inspired and man, using reason, could look to nature ONLY. Orthodox Christians believed that God primarily revealed Himself through scripture, and that whatever truths reason discovers on its own, revelation trumps reason. The theistic rationalists like Adams, Franklin, Jefferson and others believed God primarily revealed Himself through Nature, only partially inspired the Bible and as such reason was the ultimate arbiter for discovering substantive truth, including what is legitimate revelation from God.

There may well be epistemological "problems" with this theology. And indeed, I know that Dr. Frazer, as an orthodox evangelical Christian, doesn't personally agree with it. Let's not forget that first and foremost we are trying to determine what Jefferson, Franklin, and Adams believed, not whether they were right. Indeed, if one proceeds with a religious belief that, for instance, because America's founding was divinely inspired, the key founders had to have been real Christians and right on theological matters, one's understanding of the matter is likely to be clouded, especially if the facts don't neatly line up with one's preexisting beliefs.

Anyway, here is some of the evidence that at the very least Adams, Jefferson and Franklin believed God revealed Himself primarily through Nature, only partially inspired the Bible and thus man's reason supersedes revelation as the ultimate determiner of Truth.

To him who believes in the Existence and Attributes physical and moral of a God, there can be no obscurity or perplexity in defining the Law of Nature to be his wise benign and all powerful Will, discovered by Reason.

-- John Adams to Thomas Boylston Adams, March 19, 1794. Adams Papers (microfilm), reel 377, Library of Congress. Seen in James H. Hutson's, "The Founders on Religion," p. 132.

Writing in 1735, Ben Franklin made clear that "natural religion" -- what man discovers through reason -- was in fact the first revelation of God to man. And that revealed religion -- what's written in the Bible -- is secondary and functions to support the findings of reason.

Now that natural Religion, or that the Laws of our Nature oblige us to the highest Degrees of Love to God, and in consequence of this Love to our almighty Maker, to pay him all the Homage, Worship and Adoration we are capable of, and to do every thing we know he requires; and that the same Laws oblige us to the Love of Mankind, and in consequence of this Love, as well as of our Love to God, (because he requires these things of us) to do good Offices to, and promote the general Welfare and Happiness of our Fellow-creatures...What Hemphill means by the first Revelation which God made to us by the Light of Nature, is the Knowledge, and our Obligations to the Practice of the Laws of Morality, which are discoverable by the Light of Nature; or by reflecting upon the human Frame, and considering it's natural Propensities, Instincts, and Principles of Action, and the genuine Tendencies of them.

Notice how Franklin positions scripture as secondary revelation, with "reason" or "the light of nature" as the primary revelation God gave man:

Now, that to promote the Practice of the great Laws of Morality and Virtue both with Respect to God and Man, is the main End and Design of the christian Revelation has been already prov'd from the Revelation itself. And indeed as just now hinted at, it is obvious to the Reason of every thinking Person, that, if God almighty gives a Revelation at all, it must be for this End; nor is the Truth of the christian Revelation, or of any other that ever was made, to be defended upon any other Footing. But quitting these things; if the above Observations be true, then where lies the Absurdity of Hemphill's asserting,

Article I.

That Christianity, [as to it’s most essential and necessary Parts,] is plainly Nothing else, but a second Revelation of God’s Will founded upon the first Revelation, which God made to us by the Light of Nature.

Also note how Franklin terms his beliefs, "Christianity." As Dr. Frazer has noted, what he terms "theistic rationalism" often presented itself under the auspices of "Christianity." But key tenets of such belief system -- that Jesus wasn't God, that God primarily revealed Himself through Nature (discovered by man's reason) and secondarily through a partially inspired Bible, and that other non-Christian religions are valid -- arguably disqualifies it from the label "Christian."

As to the Bible being only partially inspired, Franklin made clear this is what he believed when he said,

that the[re are] several Things in the old Testament impossible to be given by divine Inspiration, such as the Approbation ascrib’d to the Angel of the Lord, of that abominably wicked and detestable Action of Jael the Wife of Heber the Kenite. If the rest of the Book were like that, I should rather suppose it given by Inspiration from another Quarter, and renounce the whole.

Many notable divines preached these principles from the pulpit during the founding era including Jonathan Mayhew, Samuel West, and Ebenezer Gay. I blogged about one of West's sermons, preached in 1776. West notes, by looking solely at Nature, reason discovers substantive God given rules and elevates those discoveries to the same level as the Bible.

Now, whatever right reason requires as necessary to be done is as much the will and law of God as though it were enjoined us by an immediate revelation from heaven, or commanded in the sacred Scriptures.

He then treads dangerously on denying the infallibility of the Bible and elevating reason over revelation:

A revelation, pretending to be from God, that contradicts any part of natural law, ought immediately to be rejected as an imposture; for the Deity cannot make a law contrary to the law of nature without acting contrary to himself,--a thing in the strictest sense impossible, for that which implies contradiction is not an object of the divine power.

Here we actually see West setting up one substantive system of rules -- those discovered from reason -- against another -- those contained in Bible. And he states, in the event of a conflict, reason trumps. This is important because West "discovers" a substantive right to revolt, not from the Bible (because one isn't contained therein) but, following Locke, from "reason" or the natural law.

West actually has to deal with those parts of scripture which seem to forbid a right to revolt, and he does so like a true cafeteria Christian, explaining away parts of the Bible he finds "inconvenient." On Romans 13, West ends up concluding "that the apostle Paul, instead of being a friend to tyranny and arbitrary government, turns out to be a strong advocate for the just rights of mankind...." Or in other words, Paul really meant we do have a right to revolt against the magistrate, the opposite of what he said. Do keep in mind that the ruler to whom Paul told believers to obey was not some "godly" ruler, but the pagan psychopath Nero. West addresses that point:

I know it is said that the magistrates were, at the time when the apostle wrote, heathens, and that Nero, that monster of tyranny, was then Emperor of Rome; that therefore the apostle, by enjoining submission to the powers that then were, does require unlimited obedience to be yielded to the worst of tyrants. Now, not to insist upon what has been often observed, viz., that this epistle was written most probably about the beginning of Nero's reign, at which time he was a very humane and merciful prince, did everything that was generous and benevolent to the public, and showed every act of mercy and tenderness to particulars, and therefore might at that time justly deserve the character of the minister of God for good to the people,-- I say, waiving this, we will suppose that this epistle was written after that Nero was become a monster of tyranny and wickedness; it will by no means follow from thence that the apostle meant to enjoin unlimited subjection to such an authority, or that he intended to affirm that such a cruel, despotic authority was the ordinance of God. The plain, obvious sense of his words, as we have already seen, forbids such a construction to be put upon them, for they plainly imply a strong abhorrence and disapprobation of such a character, and clearly prove that Nero, so far forth as he was a tyrant, could not be the minister of God, nor have a right to claim submission from the people; so that this ought, perhaps, rather to be viewed as a severe satire upon Nero, than as enjoining any submission to him.

The first point -- the epistle was written during the beginning of Nero's reign when he was "nicer," not towards the end when he was a tyrant -- strikes me as invoking hair splitting context to reach a desired result, not unlike the way some gay Christians and Jews, who claim the Bible really isn't against homosexuality, conclude things like the Bible permits gay men to have oral sex because that is not "lying with a man," or that even if they did "lie with mankind," and commit an "abomination," that term means "ritual impurity," and is more like eating shellfish or the mixing of fabrics.

The second point -- if Paul said this when Nero was indeed acting tyrannical, he must not have meant it! -- shows West's willingness to disregard scripture that disagrees with reason.

Finally, as noted, West, like America's founders and many other pro-revolutionary preachers followed Locke. And Mr. Knapton misunderstands Locke's teachings. Locke did indeed conclude that "reason" discovers substantive truth, including substantive religious truth. Indeed Locke based his entire substantive theory of "the state of nature" (which theory was both wholly extra-biblical, and key to American founding philosophy) on "the law of nature" which Locke equated with reason. In his Two Treatises, Locke informs “The State of Nature has a law of Nature to govern it, which obliges every one, and that law....”

Friday, June 25, 2010

Frazer Responds to Knapton:

Back in 2007, Gregg Frazer was involved in a debate with a reader named Richard Knapton, reproduced at the now defunct Positive Liberty blog. Since most viewers thru google would find their debate at a blog that no longer exists, I'm reproducing it here at American Creation (note: the debate still is viewable at, though that site was never meant to have as much traffic as my group blogs).

The debate is over whether the American Founders were "Christian" and the heart of the debate is how Christianity defines. One could predict Knapton disputes Frazer's orthodoxy Trinitarian definition of "Christianity." I think Knapton is on strong ground when he notes there was a strong "biblical unitarian" current that arguably merits the title "Christian." I think he is way off in seeming to endorse the idea that Thomas Jefferson and John Adams were "Christians" (though non-Trinitarians) who endorsed the idea of the biblical canon as infallible (though perhaps incomplete) and otherwise did not exalt reason over revelation. As I understand, it's clear in their 19th Cen. correspondence that both Jefferson and Adams saw the biblical canon errant or fallible and both exalted reason over revelation as the ultimate arbiter of truth.

With that, part I of our installment:

This is the first chance I've had to respond to Mr. Knapton. I apologize for entering "the fray" so late.

First, as Jonathan has pointed out, there was not room in my Claremont article -- which was, primarily, a book review of another man's work -- to present all of the evidence that Mr. Knapton says that I do not give. It is all there (in spades) in my 440-page dissertation, however. If he is really interested in the evidence, I encourage Mr. Knapton to read the dissertation.

Second, I define "natural religion" as: "a system of thought centered on the belief that reliable information about God and about what he wills is best discovered and understood by examining the evidence of nature and the laws of nature, which he established. While they were not synonymous, the primary expression of natural religion in the 18th century was deism." Surely Mr. Knapton does not deny that deism or natural religion so defined existed in the 18th century -- in the colonies.

Third, Mr. Knapton asserts that my statement: "Revelation was designed to complement reason" is "flat out incorrect." To prove his claim, he quotes from a man who never lived in America and who died seventy years before the period about which I am speaking. Mr. Knapton does not quote any American, much less any American Founder. Believe it or not, the American Founders did not subscribe to everything that Locke said and did not share his view of what counted as legitimate revelation from God.

If Mr. Knapton wants all of the dozens of examples I've given to support my claim, he can get my dissertation -- I certainly do not have the time or inclination to retype them all here. Hopefully, a couple of examples will suffice for those with an open mind. John Adams, in criticizing the belief of "hundreds of millions of Christians" in Christ's millennial kingdom, says: "All these hopes are founded on real or pretended revelation. ... Our faith [speaking to Jefferson] may be supposed by more rational arguments than any of the former." [Sep. 24, 1821 letter to TJ] Adams also said: "Philosophy, which is the result of reason, is the first, the original revelation of the Creator to his creature, man. When this revelation is clear and certain, by intuition or necessary inductions, no subsequent revelation, supported by prophecies or miracles, can supersede it." [Dec. 25, 1813 letter to TJ]

It couldn't get much clearer than that!

Fourth, Mr. Knapton suggests that I came up with the term "theistic rationalism" and that, therefore, it did not exist as a concept. This is a specious argument. When Calvin was alive, preaching, and writing, no one referred to his theology as "Calvinism," that is a term which was coined later to refer to his body of beliefs. "Amillennialism" was not used as a term in Augustine's day (it was coined hundreds of years later to describe the beliefs held by Augustine and others ) -- but no theologian or historian would deny that Augustine was amillennial. Examples abound because it is quite common for terms to be coined to sum up or represent movements and/or belief systems. That is what I've done and the fact that no one used the term does not change the fact that they held the beliefs. Without such terms, we would have to list all beliefs which are part of a system every time we tried to talk about the system!

Fifth, regarding the relationship between reason and revelation, Mr. Knapton is quite correct in pointing out that "from the time of Thomas Aquinas Christianity and reason had gone hand in hand." If Mr. Knapton had read my dissertation, he would have seen that I specifically discussed Aquinas and the emphasis on reason in Christianity. The difference between the Thomistic approach and that of the theistic rationalists, however, is what one does when reason and revelation point to different conclusions. For Aquinas, revelation trumps reason at such points; for the theistic rationalists, reason trumps revelation -- indeed, reason determines what counts as legitimate revelation from God.

As Daniel observed, Jefferson's emasculation of the Gospels is indeed a classic example of deciding what is not (to Jefferson's eyes) rational and physically removing it with scissors. Mr. Knapton suggests that Jefferson did not excise verses on the basis of apparent conflict with reason, but that he chose only to include the teachings of Jesus in his "version" of the Gospels. That is simply not true. "The Life and Morals of Jesus of Nazareth" [title is significant, too] begins with a historical account of SOME of the events surrounding the birth of Jesus (minus those which are supernatural/miraculous) -- Jesus did no teaching before being born or as an infant. It ends with the death and burial of Jesus (minus the supernatural/miraculous elements) -- Jesus did no teaching after dying or while He was being buried.

Furthermore -- and here's the critical part -- Jefferson also excised parts of the TEACHING of Jesus; namely, those passages in which Jesus clearly claimed to be God!!! If he was simply trying to faithfully present the teachings of Jesus without the surrounding material, why did he include some of the surrounding material and NOT include all of the teaching???

Finally (on this point), we don't have to speculate about what Jefferson intended to do -- he talked about it and explained his purpose and method. I invite Mr. Knapton to investigate what he said.

Sixth, Mr. Knapton quoted one paragraph of mine and noted that 90% of the colonial population would agree with that particular belief of the theistic rationalists. I want to thank him for confirming my point in that section. I was attempting to show that theistic rationalism was distinct from deism and that Protestant Christianity was one of the three contributing elements to it.

Seventh, Mr. Knapton quotes my statement that the theistic rationalists believed that "most religious traditions are valid and lead to the same God" and then observes that "they did not see all religious moral codes as equal." I did not say that they saw them all as EQUAL, I said that they saw them as VALID. So, he once again did a fine job of defeating a straw man argument.

Eighth, Mr. Knapton accuses me of "unintended sophistry" in pointing out that the theistic rationalists did not believe that Jesus was God and he suggests that there was "a strain of Christian thought" which taught that Jesus was subordinate to God. Methinks the sophistry is one the other foot, however. Mr. Knapton refers, apparently, to the Arian or Socinian heresies, which the church had declared to be heresies -- and not Christian doctrine -- centuries before. On page 10 of my dissertation, I have a chart which outlines the basic core beliefs of the Christian denominations in 18th century America as expressed in their own creeds, confessions, and catechisms. Every Christian denomination in 18th century America affirmed the deity of Christ and the Trinity as basic core Christian beliefs. Mr. Knapton's suggestion might appeal to groups which came along later and who CLAIMED to be Christians, such as Mormons or Jehovah's Witnesses; but it doesn't stand up to 18th century scrutiny. There were, of course, those who denied the deity of Christ and the Trinity (including the theistic rationalists), but they were considered "infidels" by 18th-century Christians.

If Mr. Knapton thinks that Christianity is "all about" Jesus being the savior of the world independent of His being God, then he and I have very different conceptions of what Christianity is "all about" -- but, more importantly, he has a very different view than those we are discussing: 18th century American Christians.

Ninth, Mr. Knapton again conveniently changed what I said by dropping a critical word when he pointed out that standard Christian thought believes that "God reveals himself through nature." What I said was that the theistic rationalists believed that "God PRIMARILY revealed himself through nature," which is, of course, entirely different!!! That is not "standard Christian thought," except, perhaps, in Mr. Knapton's version of Christianity. Standard Christian thought is that God PRIMARILY reveals Himself in Scripture (revelation) and secondarily through nature.

Tenth, again, I could retype numerous quotes illustrating the fact that the theistic rationalists believed that only some revelation is legitimate. For example, I refer, again, to the example of Jefferson's scissors, but also to his referring to the rest of the New Testament (other than the Gospels) as a "dunghill" (which was his favorite summation of them, repeated many times). Or his characterization of the non-Gospel authors as "pseudo-evangelists" who "pretended to inspiration." He told Miles King that "your reason alone" is competent to judge whether revelation is legitimate and that "our reason at last must ultimately decide, as it is the only oracle which God has given us to determine between what really comes from him and the phantasms of a disordered or deluded imagination." [Sep. 26, 1814 letter to King] Adams said of the biblical record of the Fall of man in Genesis that it "is either an allegory, or founded on uncertain tradition, that it is an hypothesis to account for the origin of evil, adopted by Moses, which by no means accounts for the facts." [Feb. 1814 letter to TJ]

The rest of Mr. Knapton's contribution is, apparently, criticism of Jonathan's arguments -- not mine -- so I will leave that to Jonathan to answer.

I urge Mr. Knapton to do me the courtesy of reading my dissertation containing my entire argument and the evidence for it before dismissing it and/or criticizing the lack of evidence found in a few paragraphs of a book review.