How often do you hear Christians stating that this is a Christian nation? Now, think how often you hear secularists arguing that this nation was founded on the principles of secularism! Are we actually getting anywhere regarding this debate? I submit that we are not.
B&H Academic has just published a new book, Christian America?, for the purpose of examining this issue from a variety of perspectives. There are a number of contributors defending various positions on the “Christianess” of our nation. The authors include: David Barton, Jonathan Sassi, William Henard, and Daryl Cornett. The views represented in this written debate range from America being a truly Christian nation (David Barton’s view) to the idea that the United States Constitution establishes this as a purely secular nation (Jonathan Sassi’s position). In between the remaining authors debate a variety of perspectives.
As someone undertaking a great deal of PhD research in this field (although not directly on this topic) I can say that what I found from these contributors was a mixed bag. While some essays were wonderful examples of top-tier scholarship, others suffered from poor interaction with primary sources. In the case of those advocating a strongly Christian interpretation of the founding of America, sources are quoted with the intent to demonstrate the level of Christian influence at our nation’s birth. The problem is that some of the individuals mentioned as representing Christianity at the time of the American Revolution were not Christians! They were anti-Trinitarians! Some even denied the deity of Jesus. Yet, these are quoted because of their ”Christian” sounding verbiage regarding the establishment of our nation. On the flip side, those advocating a more secular view of the revolutionary era are highly selective in their source selection, rarely quote from primary sources, and generally avoid the blatantly Christian affirmations of many of the Founding Fathers. In between these two approaches William Henard and Daryl Cornett present solid arguments for the role of Christianity in the birth of America without mythologizing the level of Christian influence.
In short, Christian America? is a fun-to-read resource on church and American history. I would highly recommend it but with one caveat: Look at the facts argued rather reading to bolster your previously held opinion. If this approach is taken, then I think Christian America? could be beneficial for all.