For Memorial Day

After listening to a couple videos by David Barton on the founding of America, I have a mixed response.

On the one hand, Barton does us a great service, reminding us of the pervasive influence and motivating force that Christianity had upon our founding fathers. He has gathered many quotations from these men, demonstrating that the Triune God of the Bible, not a generic and Deist god, was the Deity to whom they looked throughout the revolution. They saw (as do I) God’s providence at many points in the war, such as discovering Arnold’s treason or the weather at the Delaware River crossing. The most compelling evidence of Christian influence in the colonies is the requirements for civil office that some states had early on: faith in the Trinity and belief in the inspiration of Scripture. America’s founders for the most part did not use religion cynically to advance their cause. See Morris’ “The Christian Life and Character of the Civil Institutions of the United States,” published by American Vision for more on this. On this Memorial Day, we honor those who have risked and given their lives for our nation, which was colonized and founded largely with the intent of bring the Gospel of Christ to heathens, setting up a city on a hill for the nations, and preserving liberty against the onslaught of human tyranny.

On the other hand, Barton does some exaggerated or lop-sided reporting as well. To call America the first official Christian nation in history as Barton does is a bit much. What about Christian emperors of Rome? King Alfred? Bzyantium? Germany with Lutheran rulers? Puritan England and Scotland? The laws of most of these incorporated more of the Ten Commandments than our laws do. This assertion doesn’t work, unless you define Christian as having an American conception of liberty, which is self-justifying. This point was American exceptionalism (“we’re the best”) run amuck.

Also, Barton ignores Enlightenment and Deist thought which was just making inroads into the founders’ intellectual world at this time. There is no mention of Jefferson’s rejection of Christianity, only that “most” of the signers of the Declaration were Christians. War atrocity reporting was especially lop-sided. Barton appeals to the Americans’ intent to avoid such atrocities, while criticizing the British for what they actually did. But what did the Americans do, and what was the British stated intent? We never hear.

There is much good in Barton’s material worth seeing and recovering as a culture, and I applaud Barton for his work. As with almost anything, Wallbuilders is edifying and also has some potential pitfalls. (See Morris, above, and “The Theme is Freedom” by M. Stanton Evans for a similar perspective with less pitfalls, in my humble opinion.) While seeking to honor the religious heritage of our nation, which we should do, we can easily wind up with these unhelpful thoughts:

America is the best nation ever.”

While I'm grateful to God to live in this prosperous and free land, let’s appreciate our whole Christian heritage, which extends back well beyond 1776. See “Trial and Triumph” by Richard Hannula for more.

“My country, right or wrong.” If we cannot be self-critical personally or about our own nation, we cannot obey Matthew 7:1-5.

“God favors America now (or, we are His chosen nation, or God has a special place in His heart for America) because of how faithfully we were founded.”

No, that nation was Israel in Scripture, and God judged even them for their disobedience, which bears remarkable resemblance to America’s today. “Do not boast against the branches. But if you do boast, remember that you do not support the root, but the root supports you” – Romans 11:18.

“America is the world’s last, best hope.”

No, Jesus is. God does use earthly means to disciple the nations to His Son, and I believe He has done so through many American servicemen and missionaries throughout our history, and we honor for them for that especially today. But let us reserve ultimate glory, credit and honor for the One who sets up and tears down the nations at His pleasure. Soli Deo Gloria!

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