Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Russell Moore on Kidd's Book on Franklin's Religion

Thomas Kidd's book on Ben Franklin's religion was one of Russell Moore's favorite books of 2017. Check out Moore's brief review here. A taste:
I’ve long said that the cultural Christianity around us often resembles the religion of Benjamin Franklin rather than that of his friend and contemporary George Whitefield. ...

... Kidd portrays a dying Franklin in a room with a painting of the Matthew 25 scene of Jesus dividing the sheep from the goats at his Judgment Seat: “What was going on in Franklin’s mind, as he gazed at God separating the saved and the damned? To the end, Franklin’s faith was enigmatic. It was clear that by the end of his life, he affirmed God’s Providence, and God’s future rewards and punishments. But after a lifetime of questions…doubts still lingered. He had sought to live by a code of Christian ethics. But had he fully lived up to them? The doctor believed that those who enter heaven must do so by their virtue. But he knew that the Calvinist questioners saw this as false hope. No one merited salvation by their goodness, they said. They thought Franklin was wrong. He thought they were wrong. And so, Franklin waited, with ragged breathing, eyes fixed on the painting.”


Tom Van Dyke said...

No one merited salvation by their goodness, they said. They thought Franklin was wrong.

I can never understand how they can ignore this passage directly to the contrary from Franklin himself [in a letter to Whitefield, at that!]:

You will see in this my notion of good works, that I am far from expecting to merit heaven by them. By heaven we understand a state of happiness, infinite in degree, and eternal in duration. I can do nothing to deserve such rewards. He that, for giving a draft of water to a thirsty person, should expect to be paid with a good plantation, would be modest in his demands, compared with those who think they deserve heaven for the little good they do on earth. Even the mixed, imperfect pleasures we enjoy in this world, are rather from God's goodness than our merit; how much more such happiness of heaven!

Jonathan Rowe said...

I confess I haven't read Kidd's book yet. But I doubt he ignores it. Frazer didn't and the conclusion is Franklin, if we had to pin his doctrine down, is that he believed in some combination of grace and works. Frazer goes so far as to say it's like the Catholics' view. (The Eastern Orthodox and some others have a similar view).

I would say this: The Catholics, Eastern Orthodox and others, unlike Franklin, are more committed to an exact position. I think Franklin's is more one that embraces mystery.

So Franklin's is more like some mysterious combination of grace and works.

Likewise in Franklin's letter to Whitefield, he doesn't mention Jesus's atonement at all as part of the equation. It's more like the "grace" that gets you into Heaven is due to the benevolence of the Father.

Jonathan Rowe said...

The entire letter to Whitefield is interesting. If I am not mistaken Whitefield didn't think Franklin was saved, rather that they practiced different religions and Franklin doesn't seem to disabuse the notion that they did in fact have different faiths.

Even when Franklin gets to Jesus in that letter I see Franklin as position Jesus as the greatest moral teacher and His role to make men more moral, with the ideal being perfection.

And he states that some rare few -- Franklin not being one of them -- were already moral enough such that they didn't need to hear Jesus message. See the bold face.

"Your great master thought much less of these outward appearances and professions, than many of his modern disciples. He preferred the doers of the word, to the mere hearers; the son that seemingly refused to obey his father, and yet performed his commands, to him that professed his readiness, but neglected the work; the heretical but charitable Samaritan, to the uncharitable though orthodox priest and sanctified Levite; and those who gave food to the hungry, drink to the thirsty, raiment to the naked, entertainment to the stranger, and relief to the sick, though they never heard of his name, he declares shall in the last day be ac- cepted; when those who cry Lord,! Lord ! who value themselves upon their faith, though great enough to perform miracles, but have neglected good works, shall be rejected. He professed, that he came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance; which implied his modest opinion, that there were some in his time so good, that they need not hear even him for improvement; but now-a-days we have scarce a little parson, that does not think it the duty of every man within his reach to sit under his petty ministrations; and that whoever omits them offends God."