Friday, December 19, 2014

Barclay: Spirit Trumps Revelation

One thing that irked folks about Gregg Frazer's thesis on the political theology of the "key Founders" (which he termed "theistic rationalism" but for which others have competing terms) is it overstates the Enlightenment's reliance on "reason" as the be all and end all of "truth."

The phrase that most bothers is "reason trumps revelation" -- what Dr. Frazer's thesis claims America was founded on by virtue of its political theology. As it were, America's key Founders, unlike the strict deists, may have believed, in principle, in God revealing to man. But all such revelations were subject to the metaphorical if not literal razor (in Jefferson's case) of "reason"  to decide which revelations were true. Thus, the "Bible" as a canon, was "fit" to be "edited" according to this standard.

Well, a few, if not key but profoundly "notable" Founders held to a different sort of radical tendency, one given to us by the Quakers: a radicalism of the spirit.

Examine, if you will, An Apology for the True Christian Divinity by Robert Barclay first published in 1678. This work does not, as per the Enlightenment spirit of the age, set up man's individual reason to "test" the Bible for truth and error (with reason, of course, being the final arbiter). Rather it sets up the individual believer's sense of "Spirit" within him or her as the final arbiter of truth.

From Barclay's THE THIRD PROPOSITION, Concerning the Scriptures:
Nevertheless, because [the Scriptures] are only a declaration of the fountain, and not the fountain itself, therefore they are not to be esteemed the principal ground of all Truth and knowledge, nor yet the adequate primary rule of faith and manners. Yet because they give a true and faithful testimony of the first foundation, they are and may be esteemed a secondary rule, subordinate to the Spirit, from which they have all their excellency and certainty: for as by the inward testimony of the Spirit we do alone truly know them, so they testify, that the Spirit is that Guide by which the saints are led into all Truth; therefore, according to the Scriptures, the Spirit is the first and principal leader.a Seeing then that we do therefore receive and believe the Scriptures because they proceeded from the Spirit, for the very same reason is the Spirit more originally and principally the rule, according to that received maxim in the schools, Propter quod unumquodque est tale, illud ipsum est magis tale: That for which a thing is such, that thing itself is more such.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Why Quakers Don't Take Communion

That's the title of the embedded video below.

One thing the Founding Fathers didn't like about Quakers was their reluctance to take up arms against the British.

Other than that the Quakers represented a sort of "reductio ad absurdum" of Protestantism -- a "Protestantism on steroids" as my friend Mark David Hall has termed it -- that America's Founders really dug.

The Quakers didn't take communion because they didn't believe in sacraments. Hell, they didn't believe in ministers. The notion of priesthood of the believer was taken to its ultimate logical conclusion by having no minister or "pastor" preaching or dictating to the flock.

Though one distinctive thing on the Quakers to keep in mind regarding their place in the Enlightenment: Their honoring of and placing the "Spirit" as central to their faith made them more mystical and less "rationalistic" in the ideal.


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sandefur At The Constitution Center

After roughly 10 years of interacting online with my blogfather Timothy Sandefur I finally got to meet him in person yesterday when he spoke at The Constitution Center. The video is here. If you watch it carefully enough, you can see me in the front row.

Mr. Sandefur’s book, The Conscience of the Constitution: The Declaration of Independence and the Right to Liberty, was the subject of the discussion.

This was a wonderful debate about first principles, the notion of what has been termed "liberal democracy." Small d "democracy" means majority rules. Small l "liberal" means certain rights that are antecedent to majority rule.

Majority rules? Sometimes yes; sometimes no. How do we best protect liberty rights, when the majority might wish, via the democratic process, to put limits on such?

It's not always easy to draw the line. Sandefur's theory seeks to validate the primacy of liberty against the democrats of both the Left and the Right.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

PBS NEWSHOUR: "Dec. 14, 1799: The excruciating final hours of President George Washington"

By Dr. Howard Markel. Check it out here. A taste:
And even more intriguing is a long letter about Washington’s last illness, written by Col. Tobias [sic] as the events unfolded.
The president's chief aide Col. Tobias Lear wrote a 12-page account of Washington's demise. Photo from the Clements Library at the University of MichiganThe president’s chief aide Col. Tobias Lear wrote a 12-page account of Washington’s demise. Photo from the Clements Library at the University of Michigan
This 12-page letter is a treasured document at the William Clements Library at the University of Michigan. Another handwritten copy of these notes repose in the University of Virginia Library.

Friday, December 05, 2014

Throckmorton: "The David Barton Cover Up: More on Gregg Frazer’s Critique of David Barton’s America’s Godly Heritage"

Check it out here. A taste:
This is a case where Barton cites the study improperly, and then fails to cite all of the relevant sections of the study. Barton’s main argument is that the founders used the Bible as a foundation for our form of government. However, Lutz and Hyneman demonstrate that the Federalist defenders of the Constitution did not refer to the Bible once in their writings.  On page 194 of the study, Lutz charts the analysis of the citations in the Federalist and Antifederalist papers.

Tuesday, December 02, 2014

Brayton: "Gregg Frazer Eviscerates David Barton"

Check it out here. A taste:
And while I [Ed Brayton] have my disagreements with [Gregg Frazer] on the scope and nature of the religion clauses of the First Amendment, I agree with him in his assessment of the utter dishonesty of David Barton. Warren Throckmorton has, with Frazer’s permission, published a long review of Barton’s America’s Deadly [sic?] Heritage.

Let us begin with monumental unsupported assumptions presented as fact. The video begins with the claim that 52 of the 55 delegates at the Constitutional Convention were “orthodox, evangelical Christians.” Barton does not supply any source or basis for this astounding claim, but I strongly suspect that the source is M.E. Bradford’s A Worthy Company. It is, to my knowledge, the only “study” that attempts such a determination and that produces 52 as a result. The extent of Bradford’s evidence is simply a list of the denominational affiliations of the 55 delegates. Mere affiliation with a denomination is, of course, no evidence whatever of “orthodox, evangelical” Christianity. This is particularly true since, in order to get to 52, one must include the two Roman Catholics. If mere denominational affiliation is proof of orthodox Christianity, one must also wonder why Barton is concerned today, since 86% of today’s Congress is affiliated with Protestant or Catholic denominations (compared with just 75% of the national population). Today’s Congress is apparently more “Christian” than the American public.

A second monumental assumption is the claim that George Washington’s “miraculous” delivery in battle demonstrates God’s special hand on him. The original source for this story is Mason Locke (Parson) Weems’s embarrassing hagiography of Washington. To present one of Weems’s stories as fact reflects very poorly on Barton’s historiography. But even if one were to take this story as fact, one cannot assume without revelation that an event such as this indicates a special relationship with God. Hitler “miraculously” survived an attempt on his life, too – and claimed that God had spared him to finish his “ordained” work…
....

Monday, December 01, 2014

Throckmorton: "The Great Confrontation of 2012: David Barton and the Evangelical Historians"

Check it out here. A taste:
After Jay Richards read my book with Michael Coulter, Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third Presidenthe asked ten Christian historians to read both The Jefferson Lies, and then our book. Richards wanted to get expert opinions on the facts in each book. He also asked Gregg Frazer to review Barton’s DVD, America’s Godly Heritage (which is still for sale on Barton’s website).

With Frazer’s permission, the complete review of America’s Godly Heritage is now available here.
More to come on this topic later. Note: If Mr. Barton feels he is being treated unfairly or otherwise not given a voice, I will post his stuff to the front page of American Creation without my commentary or editing. Though others will be free to chime in.