Sunday, January 28, 2007


When Bishops, a generation after Hobbes's death, almost naturally spoke the language of the state of nature, contract and rights, it was clear that he had defeated the ecclesiastical authorities, who were no longer able to understand themselves as they once had.

-- Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind, pp. 141-42

Jay Rogers, the Christian Reconstructionist from my previous posts, and I have been cordially exchanging emails. His info seems to confirm what I already knew: except for Gary North, all of the other major figures in that movement argue that "theonomy" is completely in line with Founding principles and they otherwise swallow hard the "Christian America" thesis.

I find this ironic because I always considered CRs to be the most "literal" of the fundamentalists who argue for the "purest" reading of the Bible, even willing to defend those "scary" verses that other evangelicals argue are no longer relevant in today's day and age. (And yes, I know I have conservative evangelical and Catholic readers who think the CRs' reading of the Bible to be unsound).

As I've learned in the email exchange, their embrace of the "Christian Nation" thesis arguably has diluted the "purity" of their reading of the Bible. Mark Noll, the premier evangelical scholar once noted, similar to the above quotation by Bloom, "In 1700 religion had been an 'exporter' of ideas and behavior patterns to American society; by 1800 it was an 'importer.'" Reconstructionists and Christian America advocates argue that even men of the Enlightenment like Jefferson and Franklin were influenced by the "Biblical worldview." And while that is true to some qualified extent, the converse, suggested by Bloom and Noll, is likewise true: that even "men of the Bible" -- the orthodox Christians -- were influenced by "Enlightenment" ideas.

Contra the claim that it was the "Great Awakening" that sparked off the American Revolution, the leading clergy preaching "patriotic" sermons -- Mayhew, Chauncey, Gay, and West -- were theological opponents of Edwards and his Great Awakening. Arguably, as theological unitarians, they weren't "Christians" at all. By 1776 unitarianism, universalism, and Arminianism were already firmly entrenched in the New England Clergy. And Calvin's influence had begun to wane. These "enlightened" preachers, like our key Founders, elevated man's reason over revelation and otherwise took a cafeteria approach to the Bible, especially when they argued, contra Romans 13, for a right to revolt.

One orthodox Christian committed to defending the notion that a right to revolt is "Biblical" told me that even if Mayhew et al. weren't "Biblical" in their unitarianism, their sermons on the right to revolt were (hence, Mayhew and company were "Biblical" in their worldview). I argued, again, we could view the issue conversely. Calvinism and Christian orthodoxy, though on the wane in New England by 1776, certainly weren't dead. And some/many notable patriotic Whig preachers were traditional orthodox Christians and Calvinists. Ezra Stiles comes to mind. Samuel Langdon (I'm still reading up on him) was also a notable patriotic preacher and I think an orthodox Christian. Yet, Stiles and Langdon likewise "imported" Enlightenment philosophy not only into their patriotic preaching but into their readings of the Bible itself.

Mr. Rogers, while attempting to argue that the Founders modeled our government on Biblical principles, seems to endorse wholesale the contents of Samuel Langdon's sermon entitled THE REPUBLIC OF THE ISRAELITES AN EXAMPLE TO THE AMERICAN STATES. From the title alone we should see a problem with the soundness of Langdon's sermon as the Ancient Israelites did not have a Republic. This sermon, while sounding very nice, constitutes a mythic account of the Ancient Iraelites, not at all supported by the text of the Bible. In short, even orthodox Christians could, like the unitarians whose specialty was an unorthodox/cafeteria biblical hermeneutic, play "fast and loose" with biblical texts to fit their Whig-republican propaganda. Nothing in the Bible suggests that the Israelites as "a people" consented to the Kings or elders that God unilaterally put in charge to rule over them. Though, this is exactly what patriotic preachers like Langdon argued.

As I noted to Mr. Rogers, of course, in a nation with many orthodox Christians and where the Bible was important, and given the natural religious impulse in man, the revolutionaries would argue that God/the Bible was on their side. The anti-revolutionary Tories also had preachers on their side and without question their "literal" interpretation of the Bible was as sound if not sounder than the Whig/republican interpretation.

Arguably, this importing of "a-Biblical" Enlightenment philosophy into the Bible constituted an "abuse" of the Bible. And one would think that Christians devoted to a "pure" reading of the Bible would reject it.

1 comment:

Jim Babka said...

Jon, you wrote, Nothing in the Bible suggests that the Israelites as "a people" consented to the Kings or elders that God unilaterally put in charge to rule over them.

That's incorrect. See I Samuel 8, a libertarian favorite -- one of the selections featured by David Boaz (of Cato) in his book, "Libertarianism: A Primer."