Kristo Miettinen and I still are not seeing eye to eye on the "Christian Nation" issue. He left a particularly prickly comment in response to my last post which I in turn answered in the comments at American Creation. But there are a few things I'd like to answer on the front page. He writes:
First of all, you do realize, don't you, that for the historical question that we are discussing, it is not the opinion of "orthodox Christian theologians" that matters, but rather the standard appropriate for historians of Christianity....You aspire to be a historian (or at least to write a book on history), so it's time to stop playing silly games with sectarian definitions and start thinking like a historian. Except that as soon as you do, your position collapses. In order to defend the position you are wedded to, you have to cling to an unhistorical definition of "Christianity", and furthermore you have to pretend, against contrary evidence, that your opponents (like Barton) cling to that same unhistorical definition, when in fact they don't (for historical purposes).
Honestly, it seems he doesn't know David Barton very well; Barton gives history an utter political and theological reading. If there is one historian who does NOT try to separate the political and theological from history, it's David Barton. Note, I'll be fair to Barton and also remark that lots of leftist historians who occupy prestigious positions in the academy engage in the same politicized readings of history (the Howard Zinn types).
But more importantly for the sake of THIS discussion, Barton's primary target audiences do NOT separate the theological and political from the historical and I see no effort on Barton's behalf to "educate" them that when we discuss "who is a Christian?" for historical purposes, we necessarily mean anything different than what your pastor defines as "Christianity." Indeed, one day they are hearing assertions from their pastor like "Mormons are not Christian" and the Davinci Code peddles blasphemous "non-Christian" positions because it denied the Trinity. And the next day they hear David Barton preach that almost all of our Founders were "Christians" and America was founded on "Christian principles."
Here is an example of a typical David Barton promoter: Robert Jeffress, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, a megachurch whose national broadcast reaches millions. Here is a report from one of Jeffress' Baptists critics:
Robert Jeffress, Pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, preached a passionate sermon entitled "America is a Christian Nation" yesterday. The sermon was full of sound and fury signifying nothing except that the pastor is completely misguided regarding the meaning of the First Amendment to Constitution of the United States.
The source of Jeffress misguidance was cited early on in his sermon. He credits David Barton who spoke at his church not long ago.
Hmmm. Now lets see how Mr. Jeffress defines "Christianity." Here is an article on how Dr. Jeffress told Christians NOT to vote for Mitt Romney because he wasn't a "Christian" but a "Mormon."
A prominent Dallas minister told his congregation that if they wanted to elect a Christian to the White House, Republican Mitt Romney wasn't qualified.
Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of First Baptist Church of Dallas, said Mormonism is a false religion and that Mr. Romney was not a Christian.
"Mitt Romney is a Mormon, and don't let anybody tell you otherwise," Dr. Jeffress said in a sermon on Sept. 30. "Even though he talks about Jesus as his Lord and savior, he is not a Christian. Mormonism is not Christianity. Mormonism is a cult."
Now as I showed in my last post, the reason why orthodox Christians like Dr. Jeffress term Mormonism NOT Christianity (even though Mormons call themselves "Christian") is because it flunks the test for historic Christianity as set out in the Nicene and Apostles' creed. Does it stretch the imagination to conclude when Dr. Jeffress' hundreds of thousands of followers hear him preach "America was founded to be a Christian Nation" and "almost all of the Founders were Christian" that they understand "Christianity" to mean the strict orthodox Trinitarian standard that excludes Mormonism (and consequently excludes the "Christianity" of J. Adams, Jefferson, Franklin, Priestley, Price and the other non-Trinitarian Founding Fathers and philosophers who influenced them)?
Dr. Jeffress is just one megachurch that promotes Barton's work and the "Christian Nation" thesis in this manner. There are many others, notably the late D. James Kennedy's Coral Ridge Hour. When you start adding up the numbers that these megachurches reach you see how Barton -- a figure that the respected historical academy ignores or laughs off -- reaches millions and, from what I've heard, makes quite a nice living (probably from speaking fees), probably far more than the respected historians in the academy whom he accuses of being "revisionists" and who in turn laugh him off or ignore him.
The next point of Mr. Miettinen's with which I disagree is that somehow "historians" would necessarily conclude that his understanding of "Christianity" is the "proper" one. Note: I think his "broad" definition of "Christianity" is defensible on historical grounds; however it's nonetheless a matter of reasonable dispute on those grounds. Certainly many orthodox Trinitarian Christians who are also historians might feel like they'd have to "bite their tongue" if forced to concede that Mormons, Jehovah's Witnesses, Arians and Socinians were "Christians" for "historical" purposes, but not for their personal "theological" purposes.
But, it's not just "personal theology" that leads historians who happen to be orthodox Trinitarian Christians to define "Christianity" exclusively with orthodox Trinitarian doctrine. Take for instance, Dr. Gregg Frazer, who heads historical and political studies at The Master's College and has served as somewhat of a mentor on this issue for me. Though he personally is an orthodox Trinitarian Christian of the evangelical/fundamentalist bent, he bases his claim that for late 18th Century historical purposes, "Christianity" equates with orthodox Trinitarian doctrine on the fact that every single established Christian Church in late 18th Century America (save the Quakers) officially adhered to orthodox Trinitarian confessions and creeds. See page 10 of his PhD thesis from Claremont Graduate University.
And if it's so "obvious" that for "historical" purposes this understanding of "Christianity" is incorrect, then why did a dissertation committee consisting of very distinguished scholars, Drs. Joseph Bessette, Charles Kesler, and Ralph Rossum, of Claremont Graduate University grant Frazer his "Doctor of Philosophy" in political philosophy based on this thesis? Further, if this understanding of "historical Christianity" is incorrect why did Oxford University Press publish Dr. Gary Scott Smith's book "Faith and the Presidency: From George Washington to George W. Bush" which explicitly relies on Dr. Frazer's thesis and concludes the key American Founders were neither "Deists" nor "Christians" but "theistic rationalists." Now, Smith, like Frazer, is an evangelical and chairs the history department at Grove City College, an evangelical institution. But prominent secular historians have also endorsed Dr. Frazer's understanding of "theistic rationalism." For instance, Dr. Peter Henriques of George Mason University, "a member of both the editorial board for the George Washington Papers and of the Mount Vernon committee of George Washington Scholars." His book Realistic Visionary: A Portrait of George Washington (University of Virginia Press) likewise endorses Dr. Frazer's work and categorizes Washington's religious creed as "theistic rationalist" as opposed to "Deist" or "Christian."