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Was America Founded As a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction
Westminster John Knox Press, 2011
304 pp., $30.00
The New Quest for Christian America
Was America founded as a Christian nation? To many, the answer is undoubtedly yes. The most aggressive proponent of this position, David Barton, president of WallBuilders, insists that America was and still is a Christian nation. With ease, Barton quotes a wide array of primary sources that seem to point to the obvious conclusion that America's founders originally intended to establish a Christian nation. In a Fox News interview on The Mike Huckabee Show, for instance, Barton claimed that "of the fifty-six" men who "signed the Declaration [of Independence], twenty-nine actually held seminary degrees" and "more than half of them held Bible school degrees." Barton uses these historical claims as evidence of America's Christian origins and then to justify policy positions on a variety of moral and political issues facing the United States.
The actual role that Christianity played in the nation's founding, however, is more complicated than Barton lets on. While graduates of colonial colleges often did enter the ministry and mandatory Bible courses were typically part of their curriculum, America's founders did not, in fact, attend seminaries or Bible colleges. The nation's first seminary, Andover, was not established until 1807, and Bible schools did not come into existence until the late 19th century. To many academic historians, Barton appears to be incredibly ill-informed or dissembling.
Since the emergence of the Religious Right in the 1970s, many conservative Christians have followed the late Francis Schaeffer's lead by invoking the faith of America's founders as evidence of the country's Christian beginnings. Conservative Christians have then used this belief to criticize the secularization of American culture. Schaeffer's conviction, however, also prompted a response from evangelical historians. In 1983, Mark A. Noll, Nathan Hatch, and George M. Marsden in The Search for Christian America offered a brief but critical assessment of America's religious origins. Over ...