David Barton posted an article in May 2009 on Romans 13 and rebellion. I think I can take credit for the online chatter that led to Barton's article. Barton's article makes some good and interesting points, but also a few major errors.
As we read the article and think about the issue I think we should keep in mind saying the Declaration of Independence was done on behalf of "Christian principles," is not unlike saying the Civil War was fought on behalf of "Christian principles." Both sides in both wars were predominately demographically professing "Christians." And both sides could quote the Bible and traditions in Christianity for their respective positions. Even today many "Christian Nationalists" are neo-Confederates (unlike Barton).
Barton starts out by quoting some of today's orthodox evangelical leaders who reject the Christian Nation thesis by holding to the traditional view of Romans 13.
First John MacArthur:
People have mistakenly linked democracy and political freedom to Christianity. That’s why many contemporary evangelicals believe the American Revolution was completely justified, both politically and scripturally. They follow the arguments of the Declaration of Independence, which declares that life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness are Divinely endowed rights. . . . But such a position is contrary to the clear teachings and commands of Romans 13:1-7. So the United States was actually born out of a violation of New Testament principles, and any blessings God has bestowed on America have come in spite of that disobedience by the Founding Fathers. 1
Next, Oklahoma church leader Albert Soto:
The Colonists’ act of rebellion flies in the face of [Romans 13:1,2]. Did they overlook this verse? No, these were not men ignorant of Scripture. In fact, they used Scripture to support their cause in the most devious of ways. The deception that prevailed during this period of history was immense. God and Scripture was the vehicle of mobilization that unified the cause, gave it credence, and allowed the Deist leaders at the top to move the masses toward rebellion. Scripture was the Forefathers’ most useful tool of propaganda. 2
And then Dr. Daryl Cornett of Mid-America Theological Seminary:
Deistic and Unitarian tendencies in regards to religion. . . . were of such strength that even orthodox Christians were swept up into rebellion against their governing authorities. . . . Those Christians who supported physical resistance against the tyranny of Britain generally turned to Enlightenment rhetoric for validation, propped up by poor exegesis and application of the Bible.
Barton accurately notes "the topic of civil disobedience and resistance to governing authorities had been a subject of serious theological inquiries for centuries before the Enlightenment." But he mistakenly claims for his side a number of pre-Enlightenment theologians who addressed the issue of Romans 13 and rebellion:
This was especially true during the Reformation, when the subject was directly addressed by theologians such as Frenchman John Calvin, 4 German Martin Luther, 5 Swiss Reformation leader Huldreich Zwingli, 6 and numerous others. 7
The Quakers and Anglicans adopted the position set forth by King James I (and subsequently embraced by Dr. Cornett, Rev. MacArthur, and others of today’s critics), but the Presbyterians, Lutherans, Baptists, Congregationalists, and most other denominations of that day adopted the theological viewpoint presented by Luther, Calvin, Zwingli, Rutherford, Poynet, Mornay, Languet, Johnson, and other theologians across the centuries.
While I can't speak for all of the above named figures (many of them who did indeed argue that men had a right to resist tyranny or the "licentiousness of kings" based on some "living" arguably warped notion of Calvin's interposition) a number of the figures, most notably Calvin himself and Luther were squarely on the other side and held NO right to rebellion against tyrants. Calvin and Luther, were they alive, and applying their understanding of Romans 13 would have sided with the British.
Barton also elides the fact that, though there was a pre-Enlightenment tradition of resisting civil magistrates (ala Rutherford), it was in fact Enlightenment sources (many of them deists and unitarian) that most influenced the American Revolution. Indeed Barton is unaware that Jonathan Mayhew was a unitarian Enlightenment preacher!
Reflective of the Founding Father’s belief that they were not rebelling against God or resisting ordained government but only tyranny was the fact that the first national motto proposed for America in August 1776 was “Rebellion to tyrants is obedience to God” 17 – a summation of the famous 1750 sermon 18 preached by the Rev. Dr. Jonathan Mayhew (a principle figure in the Great Awakening).
Mayhew was actually a principle theological ENEMY of Jonathan Edwards' "Great Awakening."
There's a lot more to Barton's article, which perhaps I or others will get to later.