I think he makes a reasonable case for his position that America had a "Christian" founding. And I think it deserves popular success along with Drs. John Fea's and Gregg Frazer's books on the matter.But here are also some issues I have with the analysis. I largely agree with Dr. Gregg Frazer's comments about the "Lutz et al." study. In short, the Lutz study has been purported to show the Bible's dominant relative influence on the American founding. Dr. Hall plays up this theme. But if you scratch beneath the surface, there is more to the story.
The study also shows the profound influence of John Locke and Enlightenment rationalism on the American founding.
So what's going on here? This analysis can be difficult. It's indisputable that different ideologies -- including 1. the Bible/Protestant Christianity, 2. English common law, 3. Whig ideology, 4. Ancient Greco-Romanism, and 5. Enlightenment rationalism -- had some kind of meaningful impact on the ideology of the American founding.
Respected scholars of varying perspectives would not dispute this, but rather tend to argue over which vision prevailed in the synthesis. The problem is further compounded by the fact that we disagree over which box to put a particular important thinker or prevailing celebrated notion like the natural right to religious liberty. Certain key thinkers like John Locke, who posited these celebrated prevailing notions, arguably fit into more than one box.
I don't think, indeed, that you can downplay the influence of Locke or Montesquieu, who are generally regarded as part of the moderate Enlightenment. True, Locke was arguably more influential during the period of America's revolution against Great Britain and war for independence (where citations to the Bible were also very important, in political sermons that oft-were synthesized with Lockean understandings of state of nature/social contract and rights. These Lockean ideas affected how properly to understand the Bible's Romans 13. This was the key text in the Bible that arguably stood in the way of a right to rebel against tyrannical government).
Locke was less influential during the framing of the US Constitution. However, that doesn't mean the Bible took over. To the contrary, from the Lutz study, when it came to the writing of the US Constitution:
“The Bible’s prominence disappears” and “the Federalists’ inclination to Enlightenment rationalism is most evident here in their failure to consider the Bible relevant.” And: “The debate surrounding the adoption of the Constitution was fought out mainly in the context of Montesquieu, Blackstone, the English Whigs, and major writers of the Enlightenment.”I think it's important here to note that just as there are many variations of "Christianity," so too are there of "Enlightenment." The more moderate Scotch Anglo Enlightenment was key to the America's founding thought. The French Revolution was influenced by the American Revolution and many of the same ideological principles, but went further in a radical direction with Enlightenment thinkers like Rousseau who wasn't influential in America.
I think Dr. Hall also gets James Madison only 1/2 right. Hall cites among other things Madison's Federalist 55 on human nature:
As there is a degree of depravity in mankind which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so also there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence.This does illustrate that the James Madison, writing as Publius, who defended the US Constitution rejected the more radical Enlightenment notion of the "perfectibility of man." But contrary to Hall's assertion it does not make Madison's sentiment into the T of John Calvin's TULIP. T standing for "Total Depravity." Rather, it seems Madison thought man's nature somewhat or partially depraved.
But I also note that not all "orthodox Christians" of the founding era or today are Calvinists. Every letter of Calvin's TULIP is disputed by orthodox Protestants back then and today. Though Hall claims the "Christianity" of America's founding as not only "orthodox" but also "reformed." This perhaps is a bridge too far. I write more on this below.
Hall's discussion of George Washington is relevant here too. Just as the definition of "deism" is disputed (and noted in Hall's nifty book) so too is "Christianity." Hall's thesis is that Christianity influenced the American founding in a very meaningful way and I don't dispute this; but I think a lot of it depends on the definition of "Christianity."
The more narrow the definition according to "orthodox" standards, the less "Christian" the American founding appears to be. George Washington, for instance, has been claimed as "Christian" (and other things). In some broader latitudinarian sense; he clearly was. If to be a virtuous person means you are a Christian, then I think Washington would clearly pass this test.
Like many scholars, I doubt Washington believed in Christian orthodoxy, and not all of the quotations that are offered to support Washington's "Christianity" necessarily mean that he was orthodox. John Marshall, who Hall cites as follows, noted Washington was a "sincere believer in the Christian faith, and a truly devout man."
It's not clear what Marshall meant by "Christianity." Marshall himself, for most of his life, was a unitarian in the Anglican-Episcopalian Church, who, like Washington avoided communion in that church. Likewise, Jared Sparks has notably defended Washington's "Christianity." But Sparks too was unitarian.
Marshall and Unitarian Joseph Story defended the "Christian" foundations of the United States to one Jaspar Adams in 1833, which Hall cites in his book, "Christianity and religion are identified. It would be strange, indeed, if with such a people, our institutions did not presuppose Christianity." (Quoting Marshall.)
I stress the unitarianism of these figures because you have to wonder what the "Christianity" whose foundation they were defending meant, whether it described George Washington's creed or the entire nation. If it means Jesus' profound moral teachings, and the wisdom contained in the Bible, then the argument for Christianity's influence on the American founding appears quite strong. If on the other hand, it meant the orthodox standards contained in creeds of the Churches, it's a harder sell.
As I noted above I think Hall perhaps boxes himself in by asserting the Christianity of the American founding as chiefly "reformed." It's true that most of the population of the time can be connected to a church with an orthodox creed that is in some way part of the "reformed" tradition. But by the middle of the 18th century Congregational Churches who fit that description had notable unitarian preachers.
The "Christianity" of the American founding was diverse and the political theology was latitudinarian and non-sectarian. I think it's a probable truth that the majority of the American population then were "orthodox Christians" but I wouldn't push it much further.