Friday, April 11, 2008

Jesus' Divinity & The Founding:

I covered this issue a little while ago in a post entitled John Adams would have loved the Davinci Code. In the following clip the late D. James Kennedy terms the DaVinci Code's assertion that Jesus never claimed to be God and that it was voted into reality in the Nicene Creed in 325 AD one of the most "pernicious" claims of the movie.

On historical grounds Kennedy and his scholars featured in the clip may well be right that there was an overwhelming consensus in the early Church that Jesus was God. However, America's key Founders like John Adams believed like the Davinci Code -- that Jesus was not God and that the Trinity was voted into being in the Council of Nicea in 325 AD. As John Adams put it:

"The Trinity was carried in a general council by one vote against a quaternity; the Virgin Mary lost an equality with the Father, Son, and Spirit only by a single suffrage."

-- John Adams to Benjamin Rush, June 12, 1812.


"An incarnate God!!! An eternal, self-existent, omnipresent omniscient Author of this stupendous Universe, suffering on a Cross!!! My Soul starts with horror, at the Idea, and it has stupified the Christian World. It has been the Source of almost all of the Corruptions of Christianity."

-- John Adams to John Quincy Adams, March 28, 1816.

"If I understand the Doctrine, it is, that if God the first second or third or all three together are united with or in a Man, the whole Animal becomes a God and his Mother is the Mother of God.

"It grieves me: it shocks me to write in this stile upon a subject the most adorable that any finite Intelligence can contemplate or embrace: but if ever Mankind are to be superior to the Brutes, sacerdotal Impostures must be exposed."

-- John Adams to Francis van der Kemp, October 23, 1816.

This unitarian heresy that rejected Jesus' full Godhood was believed in by not just J. Adams, but Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin, probably James Madison (he appealed to Samuel Clarke, a unitarian divine as his religious authority and George Ticknor, who founded the Boston Public Library, testified Madison told him he was a unitarian), and George Washington (to be fair, Washington seemed utterly agnostic on the creeds of orthodoxy). Likewise Founding era ministers key to getting the American populace on board in supporting the Revolutionary War -- Jonathan Mayhew, Charles Chauncy, Samuel West, Simeon Howard, Samuel Cooper, and many others -- were such theological unitarians. Finally, some of the most notable British divines and philosophers who influenced America's Founders were theological unitarians. They include John Milton, John Locke, Isaac Newton, and Samuel Clarke from the older "Whig" era and Richard Price and Joseph Priestley, Whig contemporaries of America's Founders. I have a working paper on the matter. Contact me if you want to read it or are interested in publishing it.

What's notable about the unitarian heresy is that orthodox Christians, not only of the Founding era, but also of today don't consider this "real Christianity," but a soul damning heresy or "infidelity" to real Christian principles.

The men of the Great Awakening like Jonathan Edwards and George Whitefield would not consider any of the above figures "real Christians," but rather thought them "Christless talkers" to use Whitefield's term (and Washington certainly was a "Christless talker" if ever there were one). The orthodox believe God is Triune and Christ needs to be part of the Godhead in order to make an infinite Atonement. America's key Founders and the enlightened New England ministers and British philosophers and divines they followed didn't believe this. So the question is whether the orthodox worshipped the same God that America's key Founders and the ministers and philosophers they followed worshipped. Arguably they did not. Indeed, the orthodox would assert they did not. Rather, it was the unitarians who tried to downplay orthodox doctrines and say tenets like original sin and the Trinity really ought not matter, that they all worshipped the same God. That "latitudinarian" logic, however, led many of them to believe that all good men of all religions -- including Judaism, Islam, Hinduism, pagan-Greco-Romanism and Native American spirituality -- worship the same "Providence." This theologically liberal heresy in Christian thought is I believe key to American political theology.

If the orthodox of today like the late D. James Kennedy truly appreciated what George Washington, John Adams, et al. really believed, they'd term it a false cult, just like they do Mormonism.


Ron said...

Nice work, Jon! I've posted some of this, and a link to the rest, at my "Faith of the Free" forum. Yes, I'd love to read that "paper" you mentioned!


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Jonathan said...

Thanks. I'll send it to you!

Michael said...

The "Da Vinci Code" asserts? Really? I picked up my copy in the Fiction section, myself.