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60America’s Two Foundingshttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2007/12/002-americas-two-foundings
Sat, 01 Dec 2007 00:00:00 -0500 Contrasting judgments often arise from studying the Niagara of words that justified the American War for Independence”together with all the words that circulated anxiously during the parlous years under the Confederation Congress”which rose to a great flood in the period 1787 to 1790 in debate over the new Constitution, and which continued to flow during the administrations of George Washington, John Adams, and Thomas Jefferson in controversies over executive power, national economic duties, national security with respect to aliens and the seditious, the shape of federal judicial authority, and much more.
Contemporary separationists find, not surprisingly, that the strongest tendencies from the founding were separationist: However much the founders relied on religion for private purposes, they intended American politics to take place in a sphere insulated from direct religious influence. Contemporary accommodationists, of course, find just the reverse: However deeply committed the founders were to the separation of churches from the institutions of government, they thought it was imperative that religion inform all public matters up to the line prohibiting formal institutional connections between church and state.
For both sides in modern political debates, much seems to depend on the exegesis of such documents as the fast and thanksgiving proclamations of the Continental Congress; Madison’s Memorial and Remonstrance against the Virginia plan for multiple church establishments; Jefferson’s Statute for Religious Freedom in Virginia; Madison’s notes from the Constitutional Convention, the
, and state debates over ratification of the Constitution; Washington’s extensive consideration of religion in his farewell address; the obscure treaty with Tripoli that denied any special religious character for the new United States; and other landmark statements from this early history.
Such serious study of the period from 1774 to 1800 is hardly pointless, wrongheaded, or misguided. And yet, for the purpose of clarifying contemporary debates over religion and public life, we must recognize that both religion and politics experienced
in the United States.
The first took place in those intensely studied years after Lexington and Concord. But the second founding came later”in the first half of the nineteenth century, for religion, and in the tumultuous events of 1861 to 1876, for politics. Certainly the first foundings did influence what came later, especially by providing a republican vocabulary for talking about American public life and by establishing Christianized republicanism as one widely accepted way of uniting religious and political concerns. Yet the second foundings were different. They established the specific conditions, circumstances, and points of tension out of which contemporary realities for religion and politics have emerged. We cannot grasp religious and political interactions today without recognizing both of America’s foundings.
The case for treating the Civil War and Reconstruction as the second political founding of the modern United States has been made frequently. In this perspective, the decisive event”and every bit as pivotal as the break with Britain in the 1770s”was the unequivocal triumph of national authority over local authorities through the Union victory in the Civil War. While the Confederacy defended its cause by calling it the Second American Revolution, the South was in fact contending for the political equipoise that had been achieved in the first American Revolution.
That equipoise entailed a genuine national government, but a government whose power was tightly limited both by the wide scope guaranteed to the states in the Constitution and by the persistent uncertainty over the question whether states that had joined the Union by their free action could withdraw from the Union by their free action. The real Second American Revolution was carried out by the Union armies in decisively exerting national power over local authority and by decisively answering the presenting question about the states’ freedom of action.
With the Union victory, legislative compromises on the question of national versus state power, which had been painfully hammered out in 1820, 1850, and 1854, were all superseded. In addition, a trajectory of judicial interpretation was overturned that had climaxed in the
case of 1857, which nullified congressional efforts to restrain the states in exercising the local authority spelled out for them in the Constitution.
The constitutional counterpart of Union military victory was the passage of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments. Explicit national power was asserted to end slavery, which had been implicitly guaranteed by the Constitution of 1789; explicit national power was asserted to guarantee the rights of all citizens, which also dramatically expanded the writ of federal authority over against state prerogatives long sanctioned by usage and judicial interpretation; and explicit national power was asserted to guarantee the right to vote, which right had heretofore been under the control of the states.
What came next was not, of course, the Great Society, the Voting Rights Act, or even the New Deal. Antebellum habits of local authority and the deeply ingrained republican jealousy of national government long survived the great expansion of federal power demonstrated by military victory and inscribed by amendment into the Constitution.
In particular, pervasive racism made a mockery of the postbellum constitutional amendments. A general retreat from the activist reform-mindedness of the antebellum period also meant that, when the nation’s great surge of industrialization took place in the 1870s, the scope for national action that had been won in the war and enacted in the amendments was not immediately exploited. Small-government principles and republican fears of overarching national authority, which reflected the legacy of the first founding period, were enough to ensure that local racism, both North and South, would continue largely unchecked and that the expansion of business would develop almost as if the Civil War had not occurred and the postbellum Constitutional amendments had not been passed.
Yet, even as the histories of race and business unfolded under the Jeffersonian, laissez-faire legacies of the first founding, a growing number of developments showed that a new public world had indeed been created at the second political founding. These developments included the unprecedented expansion of the United States as an imperial power at the end of the nineteenth century and the national mobilization for World War I that followed soon thereafter”and against which there was no effective opposition. In the constitutional realm, even if the courts refused to act to restrain race discrimination or curb business giantism, much else was moving the other way. Constitutional amendments to allow for a federal income tax, to mandate female suffrage, to standardize the election of senators, and to prohibit the sale of alcohol”all followed the path of expanded federal authority that the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments had opened.
In other words, the Civil War and Reconstruction did not blot out the effects of the first founding, nor did the second founding instantly create the United States as we have known it for the past seventy-five years. Still, the great national events since the 1930s unfolded from national actions, constitutional principles, and contested moral-legal problems that date from the Civil War and Reconstruction.
The New Deal, for example, can be seen as Franklin Roosevelt’s effort to do by the expansion of federal power over the economy what Abraham Lincoln had done by the expansion of federal power over historic states’ rights. The Second World War”as also the Korean, Vietnamese, and Gulf Wars”illustrated the nation’s instinctive turn to military action as the way to defend political principles while pursuing international policy. As such, they can be seen as modern reenactments of the Civil War (but not as reenactments of the defensive War of 1812 or the expansionist Mexican War). The Civil Rights revolution of the 1950s and 1960s, which at the time and since has been called the Second Reconstruction, may have been inspired by the words of the Declaration of Independence, but it was carried out as a delayed implementation of the Fourteen and Fifteenth Amendments. And the modern clash of principles concerning the use of governmental power”as seen, for example, in Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush, on the one side, and Franklin Roosevelt and Lyndon Baines Johnson, on the other”represents an ongoing argument over how and in what ways, rather than whether, to put to use the great reality of federal power.
Such modern events and debates do not reprise the Federalist-Antifederalist arguments of 1790, when the very existence of a federal government was at issue. But they do reprise the debates of 1865 to 1876, when the pressing issue was how to use the national authority that had so recently demonstrated its power with such irrefutable authority. The events of the mid-nineteenth century so fundamentally altered the shape of American politics, and so redirected its trajectory, that they have become the lens through which all subsequent interpreters look back to the first founding.
The difference in religion, between America’s first and second foundings, is just as significant as the difference in politics. During the 1780s and 1790s, religion in the new United States existed in a state of confusing transition. The colonies’ one total religious system, New England Puritanism, survived only in fragments, its integrative force destroyed by the pietism of revival and the secularization of the revolution. The main colonial alternative to Puritanism”established Anglicanism in the South”was even more thoroughly discredited through its association with the repudiated rule of the British king and parliament. In general, the War for Independence and the confusing years immediately after the war seriously disoriented or discredited the churches that had been the main bearers of religion in the colonial era.
To be sure, local religious revivals promoted by evangelical Protestants were taking place at many locations throughout the 1770s and 1780s, but these revivals were at work on frontiers, among African Americans, as a result of Methodist itineration, and in response to Baptist lay preaching”in every case, that is, far from the new country’s geographical or social centers of power.
From this shaky situation there followed an explosion of religion, especially of evangelical Protestant religion. No other period of American history has ever witnessed such a dramatic rise in religious adherence as took place from 1800 to 1860. In no other period did main religious habits break so directly with what had gone before. In no other period has there been such a radical upsetting of the main assumptions about how to organize and practice religious faith.
Expectations in the early years of national history, and from some of the wisest Americans of the founding period, highlight how different the new American religion was. During the early days of the Continental Congress, the Baptist leader Isaac Backus came to Philadelphia to complain about the hypocrisy of Massachusetts in protesting against enslavement by Parliament when Massachusetts itself was persecuting Baptists and other Protestant dissenters. In response, John Adams told him that the Massachusetts establishment of religion was, in fact, very light; moreover, in Adams’ view, it was more likely that the sun would not rise than it was for Massachusetts ever to give up the establishment of religion. Only a little later, such notable Founding Fathers as John Jay, Patrick Henry, and John Witherspoon all campaigned for a dispersed establishment whereby tax money would be collected by state governments and then distributed to all the churches that petitioned for a share.
Other expectations of what religion would look like in the new republic included the prediction welcomed by Thomas Jefferson, but decried as a catastrophe by Jefferson’s religious opponents, that the United States would come to favor the rational, enlightened, and ameliorative faith of Unitarianism. As late as 1820, Jefferson wrote a young friend that he expected some form of Unitarianism to be the dominant religion in the United States. That prospect, which so encouraged Jefferson, was anathema to his foes, but many of them thought it just might happen, as testified by the religious militancy of their fierce opposition to Jefferson in the presidential campaign of 1800.
For their part, many leaders of the Congregational and Presbyterian denominations expressed the confidence that some form of established or quasi-established Calvinist faith would exert preeminent religious influence over the new republic. They were not entirely wrong, especially since American higher education continued to be conducted as primarily a Presbyterian or Congregational enterprise until well past the mid-nineteenth century. But the idea that the nation as a whole would be docilely led by the Presbyterian Princeton of John Witherspoon and Samuel Stanhope Smith, the Congregationalist Yale of Ezra Stiles and Timothy Dwight, or the pastor-leaders of Union College and the many other colleges founded more or less as Reformed Protestant academies”that idea was a fantasy.
The American believers during the first founding who formulated the fewest explicit plans for the religious future of the United States were those who were consumed by the religious present. Methodists under the leadership of Francis Asbury, Baptists under the leadership (then as now) of no one person in particular, and Disciples (or Christians of the Christian Church) responding to the appeals of Thomas Campbell and Barton Stone were busy from the 1780s, and became even busier after the turn of the new century. But they were busy in pursuit of specifically religious tasks. Their concern was to preach the gospel, seek the salvation of souls, organize small groups and congregations, impress the need for discipline on families, recruit young men (and a few young women) willing to exhaust their lives as itinerants, and publish as much effective devotional literature as they could to inspire their loosely bound networks.
For some Baptists and the Methodists, especially so long as Asbury was alive, politics nearly did not exist. For other Baptists and the followers of Campbell and Stone, the Christian message was thoroughly mixed with a republican ideology jealous for liberty and hyper-alert to the corruptions of power. In the latter case, these plebeian believers did express a political hope for the nation, but it was a negative hope that the United States could remain free of the toils of plutocracy that had so bedeviled Europe.
In general, for Methodists, Baptists, and the many smaller varieties of Protestant sectarianism, there were few specific predictions about the religious future of the United States. The sectarians were simply too busy. Their eyes were fixed too steadily on the battle for souls now and on the glorious prospects of millennial dawn. Yet the path of the American future was being created much more by these sectarians who were not involved in the project of defining an American future than by the representatives of the colonies’ main churches who went on record predicting how their inherited forms of established Protestantism, or some variation of those forms, would guide the way through the nineteenth century.
In other words, what actually developed in the religious history of the United States was something much different from what almost anyone could have predicted as late as 1795 or even 1800. Yes, there would be a formal separation of the institutions of church and state so far as the nation was concerned, as specified by the First Amendment. And, yes, the states would eventually follow this national pattern, though in several cases not for several decades.
Moreover, the early United States could not entirely divest itself of the habits of Christendom, even as patriots of all kinds denounced the institutions, mental habits, and traditions of Christendom as among the most corrupt and most corrupting legacies of the benighted European past. So it was that an American national government, which was a product of revulsion against entanglements of religious power and political power, for decades made the House of Representatives in Washington available for public services of Christian worship; so it was that Thomas Jefferson, who wanted to see a wall of separation between church and state, did not oppose government-sponsored chaplains in Congress and the military; so it was that fear of Catholicism as an inherently corrupting exercise of religious power remained a primary factor in republican ideology; and so it was that when tax-supported education began almost no Protestants scrupled at mandated readings from the King James Bible, which seemed to be more a foundation of civilization itself than the prop of any one specific Christian denomination.
Still, it was clear that the shape of religion in the new United States was going to be different from the shape of religion as it had existed in any other major center of Western civilization. Amazingly, public religious life in the United States came to follow the non-course laid out by the Methodists, Baptists, and Christians rather than the well-defined course foreseen by religious leaders who anticipated for the United States a modified form of traditional church-state establishment or an American form of the eighteenth century’s religion of reason or a continuation through informal means of the dominance exerted formally by the traditional churches.
The American religion that flourished so luxuriantly in the first sixty years of the nineteenth century was
: It had internalized the fear of unchecked authority and the commitment to private virtue that drove the ideology of the first political founding. But it was also
: The virtue that the United States’ energetic itinerants promoted was not classical manliness but humility in Christ. The religion that came to prevail was more
than formal. It did not trust in ascribed authority or inherited bureaucracies but rather in achieved authority and ad hoc networking. It was
or democratic, championing the ability of any white man to assume leadership in any religious assembly. And it was
, speaking of the Scriptures as a supreme authority that trumped or even revoked all other religious authorities.
Above all, the religion that came to prevail so vigorously in the nineteenth-century United States was voluntaristic. Voluntarism was a mind-set keyed to innovative leadership, proactive public advocacy, and entrepreneurial goal setting. Voluntarism also became an extraordinarily influential practice that began with church organization and then mushroomed to inspire local and national mobilization on behalf of myriad social and political causes. Voluntarism also became a foundation for the strength, and weakness, of American society as a whole. Local civilization would be built as local groups and individuals enlisted to address local needs. Not government, not an inherited church, not the dictates of big business, but enterprising connections”forged voluntarily”built American civilization in the decades before the Civil War.
But mention of the Civil War highlights also the great weakness of American voluntaristic civilization, since in the clash of principle and interests that led to the war there was no authority able to deflect the antagonistic energy generated by the Northern and Southern civil societies that emerged in the early history of the United States.
A few small-scale voluntary societies had been formed in the United States before the turn of the nineteenth century, but as self-created vehicles for preaching the Christian message, distributing Christian literature, encouraging Christian civilization, and networking philanthropic activity; the voluntary society didn’t come into its own until after about 1810. Many of the new societies were formed within denominations, and a few were organized outside evangelical boundaries, like the American Unitarian Association of 1825. But the most important were founded by interdenominational networks of evangelicals for evangelical purposes. The best-funded and most dynamic societies”the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (1810), the American Bible Society (1816), and the American Education Society (1816)”were rivaled only by the Methodist Church in their shaping effects on national culture.
To the intimidating challenges posed by disestablishment and the vigorous competition of a rapidly expanding market economy, the combination of antiformalist denominational mobilization, revival, and the voluntary society offered a compelling response. Observers at the time took note of the innovation. Rufus Anderson, an early organizer of the American missions movement, wrote in 1837: The Protestant form of association”free, open, responsible, embracing all classes, both sexes, all ages, the masses of the people”is peculiar to modern times, and almost to our age. Later historians, especially Andrew Walls, have described in more detail the immense impact on Western Christianity and the transformation of world Christianity which (through its special focus in the missionary society) it [the voluntary association] helped to effect.
Voluntary agencies transformed the shape of American religion in the first half of the nineteenth century. A period of tumultuous, energetic, contentious innovation first reversed the downward slide of Protestantism and then began, as an almost inevitable process, to shape all of American society by the standards of evangelical religion. Most remarkably, evangelicals even conquered the South, where an honor-driven culture of manly self-assertion had presented a far less propitious field for labor than regions to the North where the Puritan leaven survived.
Between 1790 and 1860, the United States population increased eight-fold; the number of Baptist churches increased fourteen-fold; the number of Methodist churches twenty-eight-fold, and the number of Disciples or Restorationist churches cannot be figured as a percentage, since there were none of these churches in 1790 and more than two thousand in 1860. Significantly, the growth in the number of Catholic churches”only a handful in 1790”was even faster: nearly forty-fold over this same seventy-year period. But even Catholicism developed, in the United States, under the energetic force of evangelical expansion.
This expansion of voluntaristic, modestly sectarian, democratic, and republican forms of Christianity constituted the second founding of American religion. While not as free from the effects of historic European Christendom as many Americans thought, the dominant religious faith in the United States at mid-century was neither an expression of European Christendom nor a fulfillment of what the United States’ leading public figures of the 1770s had predicted.
In turn, the antebellum period’s dynamic voluntary evangelicalism established an enduring template for the nation. Later religious movements would move well beyond the boundaries of evangelical Protestant belief and practice. But religions that have flourished in the United States have done so by adopting, to at least some degree, many of the free-form, populist, and voluntaristic traits that evangelical Protestants pioneered.
Politics after the Civil War moved in an orbit different from the orbit of politics in the late eighteenth century. And the most influential religious pattern in the United States was solidified in the first half of the nineteenth century rather than in the founding era of the late eighteenth century. Once both these facts are recognized, it is possible to understand what often goes wrong when we attempt to adjudicate contemporary situations with resources drawn from the revolutionary and constitutional eras. A great deal of contingent history succeeded that first founding, and this history has led to political and religious realities far different from what existed in the last decades of the eighteenth century.
The historical situation can be restated this way: For the religious-political principles hammered out in the era of the revolutionary and constitutional periods, the main business was to protect the new nation from the excesses, abuses, corruptions, and intrinsic failures of European Christendom. But for the realities in place after the second foundings of religion and politics, the main business has been to establish religious-political guidelines that recognize the political authority of federal power in a nation where religion has flourished and exerted broad social influences as a voluntary force. The principles of the first foundings looked backward to a European past, but the realities of the second foundings define issues, problems, and situations created by the ongoing American present.
All this leads to several suggestions about the contemporary assessment of the tangled issues of religion and politics. First: Many of the most important issues of contemporary religion and politics simply cannot be resolved by referring to principles and precedents of the first founding. Since the principle of the separation of church and state as defined in that era was focused on correcting problems of European Christendom, problems that have arisen in the wake of the United States’ second foundings often cannot be solved by reference to the first founding.
Second, contenders on all sides of current religious-political issues need to restrain their appeals to history. Instead, appeals to precedents and principles of the first founding should always be put in the context of an awareness of how the history of the United States actually developed. Treatments of the constitutional era as establishing either a Christian republic or a thoroughly secular modern state are especially damaging, since they make it harder, rather than easier, to resolve contemporary problems in accordance with main historical developments since the constitutional era.
Third, no one gains anything by complaining about the federal government as such or the exercise of national authority as such. Since the era of Lincoln, Sherman, and Grant”and the era of the Thirteenth, Fourteenth, and Fifteenth Amendments”a large, powerful, and potentially active federal government has simply become a fact of American life.
Fourth, a strong argument can be made from American history that, without a large and active federal government, the United States’ greatest moral problems could never have been resolved. I regard the first of these problems as slavery and the second as the pervasive racial discrimination that long survived the formal end of slavery. For these two intractable political problems, which were also pressing moral problems, there was no solution without the exercise of active federal power, first in the Civil War and then in the civil-rights laws and judicial decisions of the 1950s and 1960s. Whatever evil consequences came from the expansion of federal authority because of the Civil War and its expansion to enforce civil rights, great good was also the result.
Fifth, for reasons articulated strongly in the first foundings of religion and politics, and continuing as important principles in the second foundings, worries about unchecked national government are not whimsical. Reasons for wanting to check governmental power are, in American history, intimately intertwined with the commitment to religious and social voluntarism that has always done so much to define the most positive features of American civil society.
Sixth, since the strength of religion in American history has been its voluntary organization, religious organizations would be well advised to guard carefully their voluntary character while they carry out their religious and social missions. With the prospect of government assistance to faith-based organizations in view, churches and other religious bodies would be wise to adopt the advice of A.B. Simpson, which he offered to his Christian and Missionary Alliance denomination when it faced the question of speaking in tongues. Simpson’s advice was to seek not, forbid not. The strength of America’s voluntary religious heritage is not imperiled by a small measure of government funding, but it will be imperiled if religious groups insist on that funding and come to rely on that funding for their existence. Religion in America flourished when it was most acutely aware of corruption from state entanglement; it has always exerted its most beneficial public effects in the shape of the NGO.
Seventh, as the modern civil-rights movement suggests, religious interventions in American public life are most effective when they are directed at principles developed in the nation’s second foundings. The call of energetic voluntary organizations to implement what already existed in the post-Civil War constitutional amendments was a call that, eventually, had to be heard. Similar appeals have the prospect of similar compelling power.
Eighth, for causes that cannot be securely grounded in the first or second foundings, the course must be to realize that religious interventions should be advocated through public arguments that rely more on moral persuasion, on appeals to long-term self-interest, and on the other well-tried means of democratic polity than on well-intentioned but historically uninformed appeals to the past.
This list of suggestions derived from acknowledging that the nation’s two foundings may not include the most important consequences. Yet efforts to resolve the nation’s current problem of the intersection of religion and politics will not advance far without thorough understanding of the nation’s second foundings in religion and politics as well as that of the first.
The Evangelical Mind Todayhttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2004/10/the-evangelical-mind-today
Fri, 01 Oct 2004 00:00:00 -0400 Ten years after the publication of
The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind
, I remain largely unrepentant about the books historical arguments, its assessment of evangelical strengths and weaknesses, and its indictment of evangelical intellectual efforts, though I have changed my mind on a few matters. Some readers have rightly pointed out that what I described as a singularly evangelical problem is certainly related to the general intellectual difficulties of an advertisement-driven, image-preoccupied, television-saturated, frenetically hustling consumer society, and that the reason evangelicals suffer from intellectual weakness is that American culture as a whole suffers from intellectual weakness. Another helpful criticism is that the book lumps together fundamentalists, Pentecostals, and holiness advocates as culprits in the stagnation of evangelical thinking and that it ignores certain mitigating circumstances and worthy exceptions that one could cite from each of these sub-traditions.
Yet on the whole,
The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind
still seems to me correct in its descriptions and evaluations. What is true throughout the Christian world is true for American Christians: we who are in pietistic, generically evangelical, Baptist, fundamentalist, Restorationist, holiness, “Bible church,” megachurch, or Pentecostal traditions face special difficulties when putting the mind to use. Taken together, American evangelicals display many virtues and do many things well, but built-in barriers to careful and constructive thinking remain substantial.
These barriers include an immediatism that insists on action, decision, and even perfection
, a populism that confuses winning supporters with mastering actually existing situations, an anti-traditionalism that privileges ones own current judgments on biblical, theological, and ethical issues (however hastily formed) over insight from the past (however hard won and carefully stated), and a nearly gnostic dualism that rushes to spiritualize all manner of bodily, terrestrial, physical, and material realities (despite the origin and providential maintenance of these realities in God). In addition, we evangelicals as a rule still prefer to put our money into programs offering immediate results, whether evangelistic or humanitarian, instead of into institutions promoting intellectual development over the long term.
These evangelical habits continue to hamper evangelical thinking. We remain inordinately susceptible to enervating apocalyptic speculation, and we produce and consume oceans of bathetic End Times literature while sponsoring only a trickle of serious geopolitical analysis. We are consistently drawn to so-called “American Christianities””occasionally of the left, more often of the right”that subordinate principled reasoning rooted in the gospel to partisanship in which opponents are demonized and deficiencies in our friends are excused. (Defense of the right to life remains the shining exception to that generalization about politics.) Capitulation to disembodied ideals of spirituality incapacitates our struggling band of novelists and poets. And far too many of us still make the intellectually suicidal mistake of thinking that promoting “creation science” is the best way to resist naturalistic philosophies of science. When it comes to the life of the mind, in other words, we evangelicals continue to have our problems.
That being said, it must also be noted that were I to attempt such a book as
The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind
today, it would have a different tone”more hopeful than despairing, more attuned to possibilities than to problems, more concerned with theological resources than theological deficiencies. The major reason for this alteration in perspective is itself theological; a secondary reason is that many developments on the ground now also seem auspicious. The theology, though vastly more important and deserving of extensive exposition, I will treat succinctly below. The signs of life on the ground I will explore at somewhat greater length. Foundational theology and proliferating portents, taken together, make me more hopeful now about Christian thinking by evangelicals than I was a decade ago. And, for reasons that should become apparent, I do mean to say “Christian thinking by evangelicals” rather than “evangelical thinking” as such.
Theological reasons to hope for better things from evangelical intellectual effort spring from the resources of classical trinitarian Christianity. Even if those resources are unused or abused, they continue to exist as a powerful latent force wherever individuals or groups look in faith to God as loving Father, redeeming Savior, and sustaining Spirit. Various forms of evangelical Christianity are, in fact, burgeoning around the world; the evangelical proportion of the practicing Christian population in North America continues to expand; where there is evangelical life there is hope for evangelical learning.
The intrinsic reason for that hope lies in the biblical message that evangelicals identify as the bedrock of our faith. Because evangelicals tend to disregard tradition, we are liable to miss the rich contributions that other strands of faithful believers have made to interpreting and applying the multitudinous biblical words that are so potent for the life of the mind. But this can change. If evangelicals are the ones who insist most aggressively that they believe in
, and if evangelicals are the ones who assert most vigorously the transforming work of Jesus Christ, then it is reasonable to hope that what the Scriptures teach about the origin of creation in Christ, the sustaining of all things in Christ, and the dignity of all creation in Christ”about, in other words, the subjects of learning”will be a spur for evangelicals to a deeper and richer intellectual life: “He is before all things, and in him all things hold together” (Colossians 1:15-17).
For evangelicals (as for other Christians) the greatest hope for learning in any age lies not primarily in heightened activity, nor in better funding, nor in sounder strategizing”though all of these exertions have an important role to play. Rather, the great hope for Christian learning lies in the Christian faith itself, which in the end means in Jesus Christ. Thus, if evangelicals are the people of the gospel we claim to be, our intellectual rescue is close at hand.
But how will evangelicals pursue goals defined by phrases like “first-rate Christian scholarship” or “the Christian use of the mind,” when these phrases sound like a call to backsliding for some in the churches and like a simple oxymoron for many in the broader world? For a Christian in the evangelical tradition, the only enduring answer must come from considering Jesus Christ as sustaining the world and all that is in it. In the light of Christ, we can undertake a whole-hearted, unabashed, and unembarrassed effort to understand this world. In a mind fixed on him, there is intrinsic hope for the development of intellectual seriousness, intellectual integrity, and intellectual gravity.
If there is hope for intellectual life in the theology that evangelicals profess to believe, so also can encouragement be found in several concrete developments of recent decades. Without denying that well-entrenched obstacles continue to frustrate an honorable use of the mind, it is still possible to identify substantial signs of progress. How those developments should be ranked in importance differs depending on place and circumstance, but together they make for an impressive list.
The first source of hope I would point to is the increasing engagement between evangelicals and Roman Catholics that has contributed dramatically to improved evangelical use of the mind. As more and more communication takes place between these once-warring camps, mutual enlightenment on many matters, including scholarship, is the result. So rapidly has the situation changed from the cold war that existed into the 1960s, that it is now barely conceivable that either Catholics or evangelicals could once have thought that either could get along without help from the other. The exchange between these traditions is probably more important to Catholics for reasons other than intellectual, but the life of the mind is where evangelicals benefit most. While evangelicals offer Catholics eagerness, commitment, and an ability to negotiate in a culture of intellectual consumerism, Catholics offer evangelicals a sense of tradition and centuries of reflection on the bearing of sacramentality on all existence.
Whenever evangelicals in recent years have been moved to admonish themselves and other evangelicals for weaknesses in ecclesiology, tradition, the intellectual life, sacraments, theology of culture, aesthetics, philosophical theology, or historical consciousness, the result has almost always been selective appreciation for elements of the Catholic tradition. Whatever Protestants may think of individual proposals, methods, or conclusions proceeding from any individual Catholic thinker, the growing evangelical willingness to pay respectful attention to the words and deeds of a whole host of Catholic intellectuals, beginning with Pope John Paul II, makes an important contribution to better intellectual effort.
The intellectual harvests that evangelicals now reap from better relations with Catholics are well illustrated by personnel and programs at the University of Notre Dame. Although it is not the only place in the country where first-rate intellectuals from both Protestant and Catholic traditions have been recruited to labor together to Christian learning, it is the place where that recruitment has been most successful. Naturally, the kind of Christian learning on offer”even the definition of what Christian learning means”differs considerably from scholar to scholar at Notre Dame. But for a Catholic university to offer graduate students and the wider reading public (whether Catholic, evangelical, or other) a lineup of Appleby, Cunningham, McGreevy, MacIntyre, McMullen, Marsden, Plantinga, Turner, and many more is really something”something for learning itself, but also something for illustrating how evangelicals have benefited from entering intellectual space founded, funded, and fueled by Roman Catholics.
Notre Dame has also been the home of the Pew Programs in evangelical (or Christian) Scholarship, a series of projects (now winding down) that represent a focused effort to spur evangelicals to better Christian thinking. These ventures have provided research fellowships for college and university professors, scholarships for graduate students, and seminars of various sorts for Christian academics at different stages of their careers. Scores of students from evangelical colleges have been guided toward graduate education, dozens of evangelical graduate students have been funded in leading doctoral programs, and many scholars have been assisted in finishing major writing projects. The Pew initiatives at Notre Dame have made evangelicals better scholars and also have leveraged evangelical connections to improve Christian learning in general.
Consideration of evangelical-Catholic cooperation at Notre Dame leads naturally to consideration of a second source of hope for improved evangelical thinking”the ongoing renascence of Christian philosophy. Beginning with a few intrepid Calvinists and independent evangelicals, and stimulated by a large dose of modern neo-Thomism, for several decades Christian philosophers in the United States have been engaged in full-scale, first-order investigation at the highest level. Evangelicals do not dominate this Christian philosophical resurgence, but they have been key participants at every stage. For evangelical graduate students and young professionals, philosophy has become the one academic discipline where strong networks devoted to both intellectual rigor and Christian integrity exist in all regions of the country and for almost every level of higher education.
Results of this resurgence are visible in the quality of work being produced. Philosophers and theologians attuned to modern philosophy provide an unusually high proportion of the serious orthodox theology on offer in the English-speaking world.
Faith and Philosophy
, the journal of the Society of Christian Philosophers, which is now in its twenty-first year, offers further testimony, with its regular publication of articles and reviews of great intellectual depth, with thirty-eight stellar practitioners on its editorial committee, and with sixteen institutions (including Catholic, evangelical, and mainline Protestant) offering support. For evangelicals, the continuing strength of the Christian philosophy project has provided stimulus, encouragement, models, graduate school mentors, practice in intra-Christian diversity, and much more. Other academic disciplines”including history, the visual arts, economics, political science, sociology, music, and the physical sciences”enjoy active Christian networks, but none has reached as high or mixed as many Christian traditions as has Christian philosophy. No other academic network has contributed so directly to the strengthening of evangelical minds.
Evangelical colleges and universities offer a third venue where hope can be glimpsed. Because of how evangelicalism developed in the United States, evangelical institutions of higher learning have often functioned as sectarian enclaves; they have regularly sought purity in isolation rather than public engagement; and they have often been too tightly bound to the rise and fall of their charismatic leaders. These features have not been harmful for all Christian purposes, but for intellectual life they have been restricting. Over the last half-century, however, more institutions of evangelical higher learning”colleges, universities, seminaries, and even Bible schools”have seasoned their sectarian certitudes with commitment to “mere Christianity”; more have expanded goals beyond the socialization of their own groups rising generation; more have begun to promote the academic life as a legitimate Christian vocation; more are coming to understand that there can be no good teaching without good scholarship.
Evangelical higher education has been given a special boost in recent years by remarkable developments at Baylor University and by less comprehensive but still bold initiatives at Calvin College. As is well known, Baylors characteristically Texan announcement that by the year 2012 it would dramatically improve the academic quality of its university and demonstrably raise the Christian salience of its academic programs has met serious internal resistance. A predictable alliance of theological liberals and nervous naysayers has protested, but Baylors leaders have forged ahead. Whether Baylor will reach its ambitious goals remains uncertain, but no one should doubt that its efforts constitute the most far-reaching and most important institutional attempt in many decades to do the proper thing for the life of the evangelical mind.
Calvin Colleges special contribution to that same end has been its stimulating summer seminars, organized for faculty and graduate students in a wide variety of fields. These seminars, in place for more than a decade now, provide instant networking for often-isolated Christian scholars and for colleagues who, though not Christian themselves, want to engage with those who are. They offer opportunities for scholars from different Christian traditions to address important intellectual questions at the level of a research university, for the duration of a summer term and then through follow-up activities. The Calvin seminars are perhaps most intriguing as an experiment testing whether a college committed to solid undergraduate instruction can also foster serious research without taking on the whole of what has usually characterized Americas comprehensive universities.
In addition, a host of evangelical colleges”and also quasi-evangelical and evangelical-friendly institutions”have started new programs, added faculty, set up institutes, sponsored conferences, raised money for research professorships, and otherwise taken steps to improve their intellectual quality. Many of these institutions are members of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, which from its office in Washington, D.C., has worked hard to strengthen its members intellectual efforts. Evangelical higher education in North America remains a fragmented enterprise, both nourished and impeded by the sectarian character of American religion. But increasingly these schools are becoming more responsible in sponsoring serious intellectual effort.
A fourth area in which hopeful signs are visible is the domain of science. In the past, warfare over evolutionary theory may have been necessary”especially to protect students from crude philosophical naturalism masquerading as empirical science”but it was regrettable insofar as it transformed questions requiring measured and learned investigation into public arguments favoring simplistic demagoguery by theists and secularists alike. Strife over “creation science” continues to simmer, exacting a high cost in both serious study of nature and serious learning from Scripture, yet several positive influences are evident. Without claiming mastery of the recondite issues involved, I can say I am heartened by the consistent quality of intra-evangelical debate in forums such as the American Scientific Affiliations
Perspectives on Science and Christian Faith
. I am also encouraged by the boldness and clarity with which evangelicals such as Denis Lamoureux and Keith B. Miller spell out why they are evolutionists and why they hold evolutionary theory to be compatible with traditional Christian orthodoxy. It is also heartening that promoters of the intelligent-design theory, such as William Dembski and Jonathan Wells, are trying to raise questions about the Christian stake in science to the levels of metaphysical and teleological debate, where they should have been all along.
A fifth reason for thinking more hopefully about evangelical intellectual life is the multiplying Christian presence in the nations pluralistic universities, where far more students of evangelical persuasion receive their higher education than at the evangelical colleges and universities. One sign of that presence is a larger roster of identifiably Christian faculty in the lead ranks of their disciplines. Even though (or, perhaps, because) these visibly believing faculty take up their tasks in many different, not always compatible, ways, their very existence is a sign of hope. To compare the situation just three or four decades ago to the situation today is to see a change for the better. Then there was only a small handful of leading scholars willing to identify themselves as believers; now it is possible to name a long list in many fields. Evangelicals who read and study with such intellectuals are provided with models and mentors.
Other signs of hope at the pluralistic universities are modest but significant. Local churches and individual denominations maintain Christian study centers at many universities, and some of them are effective. Self-standing centers at the University of Virginia, Michigan State University, the University of Illinois, the University of Minnesota, and elsewhere offer encouragement by moving closer to the British and Canadian pattern, where identifiably Christian units are embedded in the broader university. The Veritas Forums that annually convene on many campuses bring further connections and encouragement to wide audiences that include many evangelicals.
At pluralistic colleges and universities, campus ministries of many sorts also encourage evangelical spiritual life. Especially with its major commitment to its graduate and faculty ministry, InterVarsity Christian Fellowship offers reason for hope. By providing Christian nurture and networks for evangelical students and teachers who might otherwise feel isolated as believing scholars, the grad-faculty IVCF may be doing as much in its low-key way to improve evangelical intellectual life as any other ongoing national program.
A sixth arena where favorable developments in recent years have helped evangelicals toward greater intellectual responsibility is the world of publishing. Serious periodicals such as
Books & Culture
provide meaningful Christian engagement with significant issues of contemporary life. Whether such journals do so from explicitly evangelical angles or from the perspective of other believing traditions, their net effect is to demonstrate how essential it is for communities of faith to think their way through the modern world rather than just reacting to it.
The number of serious books that can be identified as Christian, near-Christian, or Christian-friendly also continues to increase. Presses such as Eerdmans, Baker, and InterVarsity Press were midwives at the birth of postwar evangelicalism, and they have continued to make Herculean efforts. They have now been joined by many other religious, commercial, and university presses willing to publish books written by evangelicals or treating seriously the subjects that most concern evangelicals.
Beyond question, evangelical intellectual life is being strengthened by developments in these six areas. Yet when assessing the current situation, realism is also required, as well as precision about what is actually taking place. We are indeed witnessing some advances by evangelicals in Christian intellectual life, but these improvements do not point toward the development of a distinctly evangelical mind. Common, generic evangelicalism and the activistic denominations that make up evangelicalism do not possess theologies full enough, traditions of intellectual practice strong enough, or conceptions of the world deep enough to sustain a full-scale intellectual revival.
Without strong theological traditions, most evangelicals lack a critical element required for making intellectual activity both self-confident and properly humble, both critical and committed. In order to advance responsible Christian learning, the vitality of commitment must be stabilized by the ballast of tradition. Tradition without life might be barely Christian, but life without tradition is barely coherent.
Part of what makes it possible for a particular stream of Christianity to support vigorous intellectual life is simply the passage of time: an older movement obviously has had more opportunities to broaden out into fruitful scholarship. But another part is a self-conscious commitment to learn from the teaching and experience of past believing generations. The current dilemma for Christian learning in North America could be broadly described as follows. On the one side, Pentecostals, Southern Baptists, members of Holiness movements, seeker-sensitive churches, dispensationalists, Adventists, African-American congregations, radical Wesleyans, and lowest-common-denominator evangelicals have great spiritual energy, but they flounder in putting the mind to use for Christ. On the other side, Lutherans, Catholics, Anglo-Catholics, the Reformed, and the Eastern Orthodox enjoy incredibly rich traditions that include sterling examples of Christian thought, but they often display a comatose spirituality.
This picture is, of course, a generalization. Yet think how natural it sounds to talk of Pentecostal Signs and Wonders, intense holiness spirituality, vigorous seeker-sensitive evangelism, a dispensationalist devotion to Scripture, and Baptist missionary zeal. It seems equally self-evident that we can speak of such things as an estimable tradition of Lutheran sacred music, art history pursued from a Kuyperian Reformed perspective, profound social theory from Catholics, and a solid trajectory of Anglo-Catholic
. But try to shift and mix the categories and hear how unexpected some of the combinations sound: Kuyperian Reformed Signs and Wonders? Vigorous Catholic evangelism? An Anglo-Catholic devotion to Scripture? Intense Lutheran spirituality? Or, to run it the other way: Art history pursued from a Baptist perspective? A solid trajectory of seeker-sensitive
? Profound social theory from the holiness movement?
Active Christian life of the sort that defines evangelicalism is a prerequisite for responsible Christian learning. But unless that activity is given shape, it will remain ineffective. The older Christian traditions provide depth, because they are rooted in classical Christian doctrine, and they offer breadth, because they have nurtured outstanding examples of faithful Christian thinking. There is, in other words, no neo-Thomist personalism without centuries of God-honoring moral casuistry; no J. S. Bach without Luthers theologies of the Incarnation and the Cross; no Dorothy L. Sayers without Anglo-Catholic sacramentalism; no Flannery OConnor without a Catholic theology of redemption; and no contemporary revival of Christian philosophy among American evangelicals without the legacy of Kuyperian Calvinism.
Evangelicals of several types are beginning to learn the lessons taught by such exemplars. As they do so, many are becoming more serious Christian thinkers. To embrace the energy of American evangelicalism, but also to move beyond the eccentricities of American evangelicalism into the spacious domains of self-critical, patient, rooted, and productive Christian tradition, remains the great challenge for the evangelical mind.
Mark Noll, Professor of History at Wheaton College, is the author most recently of
Americas God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln
(Oxford University Press).
]]>John Winthrop: America’s Forgotten Founding FatherWilliam Bradford’s Books: Of Plimmoth Plantation and the Printed Wordhttps://www.firstthings.com/article/2004/02/john-winthrop-americas-forgotten-founding-fatherwilliam-bradfords-books-of-plimmoth-plantation-and-the-printed-word
Sun, 01 Feb 2004 00:00:00 -0500 John Winthrop was forty-two years old when in 1630 he joined the Puritans who left England in order to create a godly commonwealth in the new world. Behind him lay a modest life of gentlemanly accomplishment in the Suffolk countryside. Ahead lay the wilderness, but also the vision of an entire social order organized for fellowship with God and with Gods people. For most of the remaining nineteen years of his life, Winthrop served as the governor of Massachusetts Bay; for all of those years he was the heart and soul of the enterprise.
When Winthrop and the first substantial body of Puritans arrived in North America, a smaller colony to the south of Massachusetts Bay had already been in place for a decade. The Plymouth settlement, with more modest goals and a more modest sense of itself, was the outpost of a separatist Puritan movement. Unlike the Massachusetts Puritans, who always claimed to be only reforming the established Church of England, the Plymouth separatists had given up on official Anglicanism. In search of free space in which to pursue their less comprehensive vision of what the Lord desired, these separatists in 1608 had departed for the greater tolerance found in the Netherlands. But after watching their children take on Dutch ways, they looked farther afield for a place where they might be left alone. After contracting with London merchants for transport and supplies, about forty of the separatists (with sixty others to fill up the ship) embarked on the Mayflower for an ill-defined North American destination.
They arrived at Cape Cod Bay in November, and before the first winter was past about half of their tiny band, including the governor, John Carver, had succumbed to cold or disease. As the new leader for their struggling venture, the colonists chose a farmer-weaver, William Bradford, who in 1621 was thirty-one years old. Until his own death in 1657, Bradford would serve nearly continuously as governor of this colony. For many of these years he occupied his scant leisure hours in writing a history of the settlement. Perhaps even more than Winthrop for Massachusetts, William Bradford for Plymouth was the one necessary person.
The nearly simultaneous publication of two solid books on Winthrop and Bradford”Francis J. Bremers
John Winthrop: Americas Forgotten Founding Father
and Douglas Andersons
William Bradfords Books:
Of Plimmoth Plantation
and the Printed Word
”offers an unusual opportunity to reconsider the leaders who more than any others insured that their settlements would not fail. Bremers comprehensive biography of John Winthrop rests on prodigious research in both English and American sources and is a fitting climax to a productive academic career. Douglas Andersons volume is a substantial analysis of the form and content of Bradfords history of Plymouth studied against the eras reading practices, publishing conventions, and scriptural interpretations.
In different ways, these books describe leaders of rare quality. But were Winthrop and Bradford more than just effective colonists? Were they, in fact, American founding fathers, as the claim made for Winthrop in Bremers subtitle suggests? The question of what Bradford and Winthrop offer the American polity
depends on what they were
First, however, it must be noted that authors who write on Winthrop and Bradford know that they face daunting competition. For Winthrop, a short study by Edmund S. Morgan,
The Puritan Dilemma
, published more than forty years ago, remains a model. Morgan could not deal comprehensively with all particulars of Winthrop research, but he wrote with unusual wisdom and grace (the central Puritan dilemma [was] the problem of doing right in a world that does wrong; and of Winthrops death in 1649, On March 26 he reached what in life he had never sought, a separation from his sinful fellow men). The result is an intimidating standard.
For Bradford, the competition is provided by published versions of his own manuscript. That work was known to early Massachusetts historians, but then was lost during the American Revolution, only to be discovered during the early 1850s in the library of the Bishop of London. A published edition soon followed, and then in 1952 Samuel Eliot Morison brought out a version entitled
Of Plymouth Plantation
, which has been read with much appreciation, primarily because of how clearly it presents Bradfords extraordinary combination of personal qualities”matter-of-fact, pious, humble, observant, wise, magnanimous, and persistent.
Competition duly appreciated, Bremer and Anderson have nonetheless succeeded in their own efforts. Bremer in particular has rendered an especially useful service for the more than two-thirds of Winthrops life spent in England. Most important, Bremer shows how clearly the type of society Winthrop tried to build in Puritan Massachusetts was modeled on what he had experienced in Puritan Suffolk. Winthrops grandfather, a successful cloth maker in London, had purchased monastic lands northeast of London, on the far side of the Stour River, when Henry VIII secularized Englands monasteries as part of his break from Rome. Winthrops father had become a substantial country gentleman, while retaining legal and business connections in London, and this was the path followed by his son.
Most of all, John was pointed toward the reform of the Anglican church and the pursuit of godliness through his familys extended Puritan connections. Puritan, then as now, was an ill-defined word that covered many kinds of reformers, a fact that became obvious in Massachusetts when those who had united in opposing King Charles I strained against each other in efforts to get reform right in New England. In Suffolks Stour River Valley there flourished a steady and determined, but also moderate, variety of Puritanism, one marked by eager cooperation between magistrates and ministers, a basic confidence in the precedents of English common law, and an expectation that God-given charity could effectively shape a godly society. In other words, as Bremer shows in great detail, Winthrops Massachusetts mirrored one of the most thoroughly, but also one of the most humanely, Puritan regions of England.
Along the way Bremer multiplies reasons for regarding Winthrop with great respect. People who still take their cues from such misguided authorities as H. L. Mencken and Vernon Louis Parrington and think of the Puritans as desiccated killjoys just dont get it. Or at least they have never tried to get John Winthrop. When in his last decade he was impoverished by the chicanery of his steward, Winthrop went on without complaint in much humbler circumstances than he had known in either England or the Bay. During the trying days of early settlement, he gave away corn and other food with no thought of repayment. In handling the disputes of which daily life in Massachusetts was full, he was unfailingly humble, flexible, lenient, charitable, and fair. What he proclaimed about Christian Charity in a famous sermon preached as the Puritans set off to New England (and often quoted out of context to invoke an exceptionalist American city on a hill), he exemplified year after year in his faithful service to the colony.
The Winthrop of Bremers biography is not markedly different from the figure portrayed in Edmund Morgans landmark volume. Only we have more Winthrop here, more insight into the rock from which he was hewn, more reasons to admire his wisdom in directing Massachusetts Bay, and more opportunity to reflect on Puritanism at its best.
Douglas Andersons treatment of William Bradford is concerned with a narrower set of questions, but it too serves its purposes well. The manuscript that Anderson presents as
Of Plimmoth Plantation
(with spelling following Bradfords own usage) was the fruit of a life given over to words as well as deeds. Bradford was not among his eras educated elite, but he shared with many other separatists a lifelong devotion to the Bible and an intense engagement with theological literature. Anderson shows well how works like John Foxes
Book of Martyrs
outlined a literary path for earnest lay Puritans such as Bradford to follow. According to Foxe, God hath opened the presse to preach, or in Andersons paraphrase, Books are opened, presses print, and preachers preach. For reformers like Foxe and Bradford these various activities were easily amalgamated. And so Anderson interprets
Of Plimmoth Plantation
as a book intended for edifying instruction, and as a work that developed from the preaching and reading of Scripture, particularly the Geneva Bible. By making sense of Bradfords manuscript, Anderson brings Bradford himself closer.
But should Winthrop and Bradford be considered American founding fathers, especially since they presided over societies that were mostly pre-republican, pre-democratic, pre-egalitarian, and by modern standards not pluralistic at all? To be sure, Puritan fear of arbitrary government did anticipate later republican fears of unchecked political power. Puritan insistence upon predestination and election did create a certain democracy of sanctity, since divine grace stood as near to the lowliest peasant as to the loftiest lord. Plymouth also featured equal opportunity, equal access, and equal treatment under the law in rare measure for the seventeenth century. And by allowing Rhode Island to exist as unregulated free space, the Puritan colonies acknowledged, if they did not approve, the existence of an unusually bold experiment in freedom.
Yet in their main efforts, the colonies led by Winthrop and Bradford resisted what have become American commonplaces. The Puritan distrust of unchecked authority was Augustinian and grew out of suspicion of human nature; it was not humanistically republican and oriented toward the potential of human self-creation. As for democracy, Winthrop boldly asserted during one of many public standoffs on how to run Massachusetts what most of his respected peers also believed: the liberty that Massachusetts sought was the freedom to do that only which is good, just, and honest. It was a freedom maintained and exercised in a way of subjection to authority. With respect to egalitarianism, no one in the Puritan world held that personal rights were more important than the orderly godliness of the community as a whole. And pluralism? The whole purpose of braving the perils of the deep and of the American wilderness was to build a unitary society for people of like mind. If you dissented from the will of such a community, you could in fact exercise a negative freedom, but only to take off for Rhode Island.
From another angle, however, both Massachusetts Bay and Plymouth eventually succeeded in large part because they mastered the art of self-government. What now is described as civil society was taking shape remarkably in these Puritan colonies. Winthrops dislike for carefully codified legal systems grew from his belief that Gods rule of His people could lead them to social harmony, but only if the godly got to work in voluntarily attending to their own problems. The driving force behind the Plymouth colony was Bradfords similar trust in Gods sovereign rule, linked with confidence in the godly themselves to do what was needed for a healthy society to emerge. In these terms, the Puritan colonies remain relevant to the American present, at least to the degree that self-government remains important in America.
Once we have glimpsed a connection between ideals of self-government promoted in seventeenth-century New England and the twenty-first-century United States, however, a further question of great moment arises. Does the relative success that the Puritans achieved in self-government require or depend on their self-consciously religious (or with greater historical accuracy, self-consciously
) convictions? That is the kind of thought-provoking question that must be addressed in order to decide whether John Win-throp and William Bradford should be considered American founding fathers. It is a question now made much more approachable because of the estimable labors of Douglas Anderson and Francis Bremer.
, Professor of History at Wheaton College, is the author most recently of
Americas God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln
(Oxford University Press).