Friday, June 3, 2011

Peter Marshall RIP

I didn't know he passed. His death wasn't well publicized. (John Fea, hat tip.) He was, like the late D. James Kennedy, a key figure in Christian Nationalist history revisionism.

Dr. Gregg Frazer, in his PhD thesis, was quite harsh on Peter Marshall's historical revisionism contained in "The Light and the Glory." Dr. Frazer wrote of that book:

It became the classic text of [the "Christian America"] camp. Its historiography is abominable; it is a collection of speculations, suppositions, personal musings, and "insights" with little or no proof or documentation for extraordinary claims. PhD thesis, p. 38.

I once debated a Christian Americanist who, without me knowing, maintained correspondence with Marshall. When he cited Marshall's book for authority, I cited Frazer. And he unilaterally sent to Marshall Dr. Frazer's criticisms of him (I want to note I didn't egg him on or encourage this). Understandably upset, Marshall emailed back an angry response which I didn't reproduce for civility's sake. Since he's dead, I'll reproduce it now.

I believe in, though I don't always live up to this ideal, respecting the privacy of the living and treating them civilly, that is not subjecting them to harsh criticism that may hurt their feelings. I try to avoid the personal ad hominem. Once folks are dead, they belong to history. And yeah, I understand they may have family and loved ones with feelings too. And that conflicts me somewhat. If they are long dead -- like the Founding Fathers -- they are totally fair game. But I feel now the time is right to report Marshall's response to Frazer's criticism.

This links to Peter Marshall's response after being emailed with the short quotation from Gregg Frazer criticizing him.

"Well, it’s nothing but an attack of flying garbage – no specific references, nothing but personal slams – typical of people who disagree with the ideas and conclusions, but have nothing with which to refute them. We stand by the historical accuracy of the book. You’ll be interested to know that there is a major revision of the book coming out early next year, published by Baker, who published the original edition. We added material (Roanoke, Jamestown is completely rewritten, added Samuel Adams, more on Patrick Henry, more on Washington’s Christian faith – and corrected a few minor historical errors: removed supposed Washington prayers (they were not in his handwriting), changed a few dates we had gotten wrong, added an appendix on Washington’s Christianity, and another on the Christianity of a number of Founding Fathers). Most importantly, we edited the entire book and focused our points more clearly, making it clear that we were not in any way promoting a “my country, right or wrong” philosophy. I’m not surprised this guy is a John MacArthur disciple. I’m not a fan of his – I have serious problems with some of his theology – he’s not nearly as Biblically orthodox as he thinks he is. And he’s always been wrong about the Founding Fathers – still maintains in the face of plenteous evidence to the contrary that they were all Deists, which is simply spouting the secularist baloney that he must have swallowed in college. But that’s neither here nor there. A major point for you to remember is that we are interested in what the truth is – if we had found that the Pilgrims were hypocrites, or the Founding Fathers were Deists, we would either have said so, or would not have written the book we did. As a historian, I reject totally any attempts to shoe-horn historical evidence to fit one’s thesis – that has no moral integrity whatsoever, and I refuse to ever indulge in it, despite Frazer’s ignorant accusations".

Update: Dr. Frazer responds:

Interesting. He clearly knew nothing about my work (e.g. claiming that I maintain that they were all deists), but felt free to criticize it – at least my criticisms were based on having read his book. He also, apparently, did not have much confidence in his ability to communicate, since he declared me to be in ignorance, despite having read his book. Amazingly, he was, in his view, in a position to attack my work without having read it – perhaps the ignorance label was misplaced? It is also interesting that, having blasted me for criticizing the historiography of the book, he proceeded to explain all of the changes that he found to be necessary in the new edition – including factual errors and the removal of supposed prayers of Washington which he was forced to admit were not genuine. Finally, his recourse to an ad hominem attack which was, as he admitted, “neither here nor there” is also telling. For the record, I am not a “John MacArthur disciple” – I am a disciple of Jesus Christ. While I am a member of his church and agree with him on all of the fundamental issues, I disagree with John on more than one issue and base my views on the Bible, not John.

I must agree that my little blurb in the dissertation gave “no specific references” – but my purpose was not to review his book, but merely to comment on its place in the literature of the Christian America movement. I do not agree that I made “personal slams” as I criticized the book and its historiography, but I can see how he would take it that way.


Tom Van Dyke said...

Well, as it stands,

It became the classic text of [the "Christian America"] camp. Its historiography is abominable; it is a collection of speculations, suppositions, personal musings, and "insights" with little or no proof or documentation for extraordinary claims. PhD thesis, p. 38.

rather is

"...nothing but an attack of flying garbage – no specific references, nothing but personal slams – typical of people who disagree with the ideas and conclusions, but have nothing with which to refute them."

Now I realize that Dr. Frazer has additional ammo, but Marshall didn't know that, and so responded to what was indeed a hand grenade and not a counterargument.

As for Frazer's theology---MacArthurism, for lack of a better term---as you know, David Barton opposes it too!

It also appears that Frazer's critique was of an earlier edition of Marshall & Manuel's book, and it seems to Marshall's credit they fixed some of their errors.

Finally, it must be said that works of "Providential history" like Marshall's are theology, not historical scholarship. However, to the believer in such things, that God exists and guided/guides America [and all of history], they believe they are writing fact. Reality.

And that's the rub. You can't ask someone who believes God is real to pretend He isn't. On the other hand, and I think Marshall would have conceded this, you can't ask someone who believes God isn't real to pretend he is.

My own POV is that Marshall, Frazer, MacArthur and the rest all belong on the theology rack, not the history one, for their starting point is not only the Bible, but that the Bible is true.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Re the update: Nice to hear from our old friend Gregg Frazer again.

However, Dr. Frazer---speaking to your formal, official scholarly self here---Peter Marshall's associating you with John MacArthur is not inappropriate if your political theology is identical. My understanding is that it is identical, if not informed by you yourself.

Dang, I make it a rule not to cite David Barton on history, but this is intramural evangelical theology, so

For those who came in late, this stuff has been churning on this blog for years. [Jonathan Rowe enjoys setting the fundies and evangelicals against each other. Mr. Rowe himself has no dog in these fights, as he is neither a fundamentalist or an evangelical.]

Barton and Marshall were "allies" and worked together on the Texas Schoolbook Massacre. As you can see in the above link, there is theological disagreement between Barton, et al. and MacArthur, et al. on interpreting the Bible [hence the Will of God] re the American Revolution.

As to "what is Christian," or what is God's Will, this remains above the pay grade of this author and this blog. In fact, this illustrates the controversy here

in high relief, the line between history and theology, between fact and opinion. For the non-theologian or the non-believer, the differences between Rev. Peter Marshall and Dr. Gregg Frazer [or between David Barton and John MacArthur] are of sociological interest only, differences in theological opinion.

I must add for the record that in my personal experience, I have never found Dr. Gregg Frazer in substantive [or any that I recall] error on the facts of history. This of course, cannot be said of Mr. Barton & the late Rev. Marshall, by their own admission.

Gregg Frazer said...

Briefly (I do not want to be dragged into a long, drawn-out argument):

I did not object to being "associated" with John MacArthur -- far from it. I objected to being labeled a "MacArthur disciple" as I am no man's disciple -- only a disciple of Jesus Christ.

Also, Tom, you again argue that the disagreement about Romans 13 and its relevance to arguments over revolution is strictly an "intramural" theology matter and not historically significant. Do you not recognize that theological disagreements can have very significant historical significance? Was there no historical significance to Martin Luther's arguments with the Pope?

18th-century Americans trying to decide whether or not to support the American Revolution were heavily influenced by what they heard in the pulpit -- and Romans 13 was at the center of that argument. That's why Jonathan Mayhew has been called "The Morning Gun of the Revolution." John Adams himself said that one looking for the arguments for the Revolution should read Mayhew's sermon. Did Adams not understand what has historical significance?

Gregg Frazer said...

Two other quick points:

My beef with Marshall was not theological, but a matter of historiography and historical fact.

While I appreciate you noting that you haven't found me to be in error historically, I am greatly disturbed by: "Marshall, Frazer, MacArthur and the rest all belong on the theology rack, not the history one, for their starting point is not only the Bible, but that the Bible is true."

You might want to tell that to the non-Christian George Mason Univ. professor who referred to me by name on CSPAN as a "good scholar" during discussion of another man's book on George Washington.

So, anyone who believes that the Bible is true is disqualified from knowing or 'doing' history? Why, exactly, is that the case? Does belief that the Bible is true disqualify one from being a good plumber or an opera singer or any other pursuit? Are there any other beliefs that one might hold which are disqualifiers? Does your belief that the Bible is not true disqualify you? Why not? -- it's a theological belief.

While I certainly believe that the Bible is true, it is not my "starting point" when doing historical research -- unless I'm researching something that the Bible says. The Bible does not say whether the American Founders were theistic rationalists or not or whether America was created as a Christian nation or not -- so the truth of the Bible is not my starting point in researching those questions.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Gregg, do you not argue that those who don't believe Romans 13 forbids revolution [and this includes those who embraced Calvinist "resistance theory"] are/were somehow less "Christian"?

Perhaps I have you wrong.

Gregg Frazer said...

No, I don't. I argue that SOME of those who didn't believe Romans 13 forbids revolution were not Christians -- but NOT BECAUSE of that belief. Romans 13 is NOT the Gospel or any part of the Gospel.

I argue that they (Mayhew & West, specifically) were already not Christians and, therefore, felt free to interject their Lockean liberal ideas into the passage in order to turn it on its head and to support revolution. They were not Christians, but not because of their view of Romans 13 -- rather, it's the other way around. They were already not Christians before they commented on Romans 13. Their Lockean liberalism caused them to seek out another "interpretation" of the passage -- their interpretation of the passage did not make them non-Christian.

I do not address the issue in order to prove that they werent' Christians, but rather to show how deeply they had imbibed their political theology.

I have some Christian friends and colleagues who hold that Romans 13 allows for revolution. That doesn't make them less Christian, it just makes them wrong on that issue -- IN MY OPINION. Christians do not agree on everything -- but they must agree on certain fundamentals (that list that you don't like).

Interpretation of Romans 13 is not a test of faith or of fellowship.

For the record, I don't think one can be more or less "Christian." Christianity is a relationship with Christ -- you either have it or you don't. There are no degrees. One can act in a more or less Christian fashion, but that doesn't make one more or less Christian.

Tom Van Dyke said...

You make a necessary link between unitarianism and non-Christianity, Gregg. This is a theological judgment.

The Disciples of Christ and other Stone-Campbell sects are squishy at best on Jesus' divinity. You go tell Rev. Bob Cornwall he's not Christian. On the neutral ground of socio-history, such sects are still Christian, even if non-normative.

I look at the "100 scriptural proofs" of Founding era unitarian Samuel Barrett that Jesus wasn't divine

and as a socio-historian, I'm unqualified to judge whether he's right or wrong. Only the theologian can judge, and theology has authority only among those who share yours.

I've done a lot of looking into this, since you make Jesus' divinity the "Christian" deal-breaker, and Lord knows Jonathan Rowe has pumped this argument often enough here.

Here's my analysis

and I'll depart with the words of Samuel Barrett himself [he was the first formally "unitarian" pastor in America. Bob Cornwall and Samuel Barrett are "Christian" enough for anyone without a dog in the fight: what you consider a deal-breaker is just a variance in doctrine to anyone without a dog in the fight.

"Unitarian Christians believe Jesus Christ to be the Son of God and the Saviour of men. They believe in the divinity of his mission and in the divinity of his doctrines. They believe that the Gospel which he proclaimed came from God; that the knowledge it imparts, the morality it enjoins, the spirit it breathes, the acceptance it provides, the promises it makes, the prospects it exhibits, the rewards it proposes, the punishments it threatens, all proceed from the Great Jehovah. But they do not believe that Jesus Christ is the Supreme God. They believe that, though exalted far above all other created intelligences, he is a being distinct from, inferior to, and dependent upon, the Father Almighty. For this belief they urge, among other reasons, the following arguments from the Scriptures."

See also my past post & comments, Gregg, for more on my argument on "the historian's hat."

Tom Van Dyke said...

In other words, Dr. Frazer---so as not to keep you: You [and Jon Rowe] have yet to establish a necessary connection between unitarianism and the American revolution.

There was not an ounce of daylight in the political theologies of John Adams [unitarian] and Samuel Adams [the Calvinist's Calvinist]. Your position must then call into question Sam's "Christianity."

Further, Mayhew and West [unitarians] were saying nothing you can't find in the British Calvinist "resistance theory" that executed one king and exiled another in the 1600s. We would have to question the "Christianity" of the Puritan Revolution as well. Where does it end?

In fact, Mayhew's famous sermon put a "canonization" of King Charles I in commemorating his death as an infringement of religious conscience, grabbing a religious justification for revolution beyond mere politics.

Why those of the episcopal clergy who are very high in the principles of ecclesiastical authority, continue to speak of this unhappy man, as a great SAINT and a MARTYR?

This sermon betrays not a whiff of unitarianism:

But it's quite in line with Calvinist "resistance theory." Should we exile that, too, our pool of "Christians" shrinks dramatically.

Gregg Frazer said...

As a HISTORIAN, (i.e. in my dissertation & book), I do NOT make a theological judgment re unitarianism vs. Christianity. I make a HISTORICAL observation of what the 18th-century Christian denominations/churches themselves HISTORICALLY said were the fundamental and non-negotiable doctrines of Christianity. It just happens that I personally agree with them, but that's irrelevant for my argument. We've been over this a dozen times.

If a historian reports on what Muslims say constitutes Islam, does that mean the historian has made a theological judgment regarding a particular element that they identify -- or is he merely reporting a HISTORICAL fact?

My book manuscript has been reviewed by THE leading scholar in early American political thought -- and he thinks I'm making a very important HISTORICAL point -- not a theological one. But then, he's read the book.

I'm also not saying that there weren't any unitarians during the Founding era -- obviously there were. Heretics and people who believe themselves to be Christians have always existed side-by-side with Christians; but that doesn't make them Christians. Jesus spoke to the issue Himself (Matt. 7:21-23; Luke 13:22-24).

As a HISTORIAN, I don't judge whether Barrett is right or wrong either -- but I can read and therefore I know that his view was not the view required of Christian churches in 18th-century America. That's a matter of HISTORICAL research, not theological judgment.

As a HISTORIAN, I do not make the deity of Christ a "deal-breaker" -- there's a list of ten "deal-breakers" as identified by those churches. As an individual I do -- but that's neither here nor there unless we're discussing it personally.

If someone is a unitarian and you think they'd be open to what I believe to be the truth, I'd be happy to tell him/her that they're not a Christian. As I've pointed out before, they do not worship the God of the Bible, Who is Triune. Either God is three persons or He's not -- you can't say "it can be either way" any more than we could say that about you or me. Reality is a sticky thing.

It is also difficult to understand how someone could be a disciple of Jesus and disavow Jesus' own testimony of Who He was/is. He claimed to be God so clearly that, on more than one occasion, the Jews tried to stone Him. It was crystal clear to them.

Gregg Frazer said...

If I've failed to make a necessary connection between unitarianism and the Revolution, it's probably because I have not attempted to do that. Nor did I say that unitarianism must be mentioned in every argument made by a unitarian (whether it's relevant to the particular argument or not) -- it strikes me as silly to expect that.

I do make a connection -- though not a "necessary" connection -- between theistic rationalism and the American Revolution. My evidence for that connection has been described by those who've actually read it as "overwhelming" and "impressive" and similar adjectives. Obviously, people came to support the revolution from various perspectives -- I don't see how that invalidates my argument that the key Founders came via theistic rationalism or that ministers used rationalistic thinking/arguments to get past the biblical and traditional barrier of Romans 13. That is, unless you're willing to claim that everyone came from what you call the Calvinist resistance theory -- is that your contention? If not, then you recognize that different paths led to support for revolution?

Did you not read my post? I thought I made it clear that one's position on revolution has nothing to do with whether one is a Christian or not, so it doesn't tell us one way or the other about whether the Puritan Revolution was "Christian." Again: I do not say that the American Revolution was "un-Christian" because its leaders believed in revolution -- in fact, as a HISTORIAN I don't say it was "un-Christian" at all. I speak to what the key Founders believed -- not the nature of the Revolution itself. As a HISTORIAN, I report that Calvin clearly said that revolution is unbiblical, but I don't make a personal judgment. What difference does my personal opinion make to people who've been dead for 200 years?

As an individual, I agree with Calvin that it violated God's law and was therefore, to the extent that an event can be "Christian" or not, "un-Christian"; but if you read my work, you'd know that I don't make that judgment in my treatment of HISTORY.

Since one's position on Romans 13 is NOT a determining factor regarding their salvation for anyone except (apparently) you, the "pool" of Christians has not shrunk at all from my side -- only from yours.

You keep fighting straw men -- but effectively.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Let's pls cool our jets, Gregg. You're either "too busy" for this and this blog or you're not. I have given great respect and deep study to your [and Jonathan Rowe's] argument. In fact, I've been told by one modern Unitarian-Universalist that I know more about his own church than he does. I've hit the books on this.

As a HISTORIAN, (i.e. in my dissertation & book), I do NOT make a theological judgment re unitarianism vs. Christianity. I make a HISTORICAL observation of what the 18th-century Christian denominations/churches themselves HISTORICALLY said were the fundamental and non-negotiable doctrines of Christianity.

Cool, Gregg. You don't need to YELL.

All I know is what Jonathan Rowe posts of yr thesis. I've requested a copy of it, unrequited.

Yes, your chart of what was normative Christianity at the time of the Founding is not disputed. I had referred you to my Noll post and its comments section, where I acknowledge that the HISTORIAN can definitely offer what is normative and what was not as fact, not opinion.

"Normative" is the proper historical approach, not "non-negotiable." The HISTORIAN can speak only of what was and is normative.

There are now 35,000 Protestant sects. Each one [or many, anyway] was formed on a difference in doctrine that was "non-negotiable," or else they wouldn't have started a new sect.

What is "non-negotiable" today, or even then? I submit that Trinitarians and unitarians sat side by side in the same pews and churches in the Founding era as historical fact. Tensely, yes.


[Knowing smile.]

But they didn't formally schism until the 1790s, and the spit didn't hit the fan until the 1810s. I can recount the history of it, but I'm sure you already know it.

Theologico-politically speaking, the political theology of John Adams and Samuel Adams was the same. John's unitarianism, the belief that Jesus is God, and Sam's Calvinism/Trinitarianism, had nothing to do with American history, and that's all the HISTORIAN need be concerned with. Their theological differences are footnotes, not the narrative.

I realize you're probably too busy with other things to waste your time here. And I want any of our readers to know that your scholarship is recognized as honest and impeccable by your peers.

I demur on this key point, Gregg. But our ground for mutual respect is that we have never questioned each other on our facts, only on their interpretation. What a rarity and relief, historically speaking.

Gregg Frazer said...

Sorry for the all-caps, Tom -- it's just that we've been over this so many times that I wanted emphasis and I can't use italics here. I apologize if I hurt your eardrums.

I don't agree with you that all or most Protestant sects separate over non-negotiables. They usually separate over things such as worship style, church governance, tradition, and/or added doctrines -- not on fundamental core doctrines. There are different denominations in my chart, but they all agreed on the fundamentals. Some of them would add things, but none would take any away.

I'm sure that unitarians and Trinitarians did sit together in pews -- that had nothing to do with whether or not they were Christians, however. Again, I call your attention to what Jesus said. Plenty of non-Christians sit in church pews today, too. Again, reality is ultimately unavoidable and wont' be open for debate or negotiation.

I don't agree with you on the Adamses, either -- and the key is not John's unitarianism, but rather his theistic rationalism -- which is something more than simple unitarianism.

Thank you for recognizing my desire to minimize time spent on the blog -- although I don't consider time here "wasted." I do have other priorities, though and I am, in fact, too busy to get caught up in a protracted struggle here -- so thanks for giving me an "out."

Hopefully, my book will be out next year and you can savage it (I mean review it [smile]) in full context and in light of the full argument & evidence.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I suppose you can get John Adams close enough to Jefferson, who was genuinely a "theistic rationalist," via their post-presidential correspondence. You invented the term, after all. Not Adams the public man, though, nor more than a handful of Founders, "key" or otherwise.

Heck, Ethan Allen's auto-hagiography had him demanding the British surrender in the name of Jehovah!

I look forward to your book. Our difference is the term "Christian," which you use in a definitive sense, and I submit can only be descriptive, esp in the light of the emergence of Protestantism, where doctrines [and their rejections] proliferate like flowers in the spring. ;-)

Gregg Frazer said...

Adams professed the same beliefs when he was a young man as he did in his post-presidential correspondence.

Adams acted the same as did Jefferson when he was a "public man."

At this point, we'll have to agree to disagree.

Tom Van Dyke said...

I look forward to your substantiation of that in your book, then. I maintain his thxgiving proclamation of 1798 was intended to be read exoterically as Trinitarian.

And if it was not, that would illustrate that the Trinity question was not significant to anyone but theologians. It does seem that whatever controversies existed along those lines are almost 100% initiated by clergy.

James Stripes said...

Geez. All these theological hairs. Marshall and Manuel's text, The Light and the Glory asks a simple question: Does God have a plan for America?. They seek an answer not in theology, but in ancient textbooks. Their answer is that many Americans in the nineteenth century believed that he does. Whatever else one might say, historical thinking is not evident in their book.

Tom Van Dyke said...

Their answer is that many Americans in the nineteenth century believed that he does.

They would be right about that, historically speaking. See GWash's first inaugural address, or this letter from Lincoln:

" If I had had my way, this war would never have been commenced; If I had been allowed my way this war would have been ended before this, but we find it still continues; and we must believe that He permits it for some wise purpose of his own, mysterious and unknown to us; and though with our limited understandings we may not be able to comprehend it, yet we cannot but believe, that he who made the world still governs it."