Subscribe to Christianity Today
Glory! Glory! His Truth Is Marching On
"The Almighty has His own purposes." Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural, quoted approvingly by Steven Keillor in this challenging and wide-ranging book, provides salutary food for thought for Christian historians as well as for statesmen. At a period of extensive Christian influence in public life, the opposing armies in the Civil War had read the same Bible and prayed to the same God, but there had been no easy victories, and the nation had inflicted upon itself a terrible and fratricidal slaughter.
It is the great merit of Keillor's overview of American history that he neither ducks hard questions nor reiterates comforting myths, while at the same time he argues tenaciously for the validity of a Christian vision of the past, in which God is neither absent nor capricious. His analysis extends over five centuries, from the 1490s to the 1990s, from Columbus to Clinton, and is informed by the prospect of Christ's return as the "one sure, final, unchangeable event." His account is undergirded by familiarity with the historical scholarly literature and a clear and consistently expressed theological position. He provides a robust defense of Christianity against the argument that it is invalidated by its negative historical record; he argues that oppression, patriarchalism, slavery, civil war, and rampant capitalism occurred in America in spite of Christianity rather than because of it.
According to Keillor, the early settlement of the Americas occurred at a time when European Christianity had become dangerously corrupted and attenuated. Even though the Reformation was to address these problems, it could not remove them. Colonizers and traders might bring the Christian gospel, but the majority of them were themselves in rebellion against God. The failure to adhere to divine standards of justice was apparent initially in the dispossession of native peoples, and was subsequently compounded by the acquisitive capitalist dynamic inherent in the slave trade and the development of ...