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Fea offers an even-handed primer on whether America was founded to be a Christian nation, as many evangelicals assert, or a secular state, as others contend. He approaches the title's question from a historical perspective, helping readers see past the emotional rhetoric of today to the recorded facts of our past. Readers on both sides of the issues will appreciate that th Fea offers an even-handed primer on whether America was founded to be a Christian nation, as many evangelicals assert, or a secular state, as others contend. He approaches the title's question from a historical perspective, helping readers see past the emotional rhetoric of today to the recorded facts of our past. Readers on both sides of the issues will appreciate that this book occupies a middle ground, noting the good points and the less-nuanced arguments of both sides and leading us always back to the primary sources that our shared American history comprises.


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Fea offers an even-handed primer on whether America was founded to be a Christian nation, as many evangelicals assert, or a secular state, as others contend. He approaches the title's question from a historical perspective, helping readers see past the emotional rhetoric of today to the recorded facts of our past. Readers on both sides of the issues will appreciate that th Fea offers an even-handed primer on whether America was founded to be a Christian nation, as many evangelicals assert, or a secular state, as others contend. He approaches the title's question from a historical perspective, helping readers see past the emotional rhetoric of today to the recorded facts of our past. Readers on both sides of the issues will appreciate that this book occupies a middle ground, noting the good points and the less-nuanced arguments of both sides and leading us always back to the primary sources that our shared American history comprises.

30 review for Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction

  1. 5 out of 5

    JR Smith

    This book presents a really interesting and balanced look at early American history. The author takes the question about whether America is a Christian nation and parses it out into smaller questions. First, what do you mean by America -- are you referring to the Puritan colonial period, the Revolutionary War period, the early national period? "America" meant something different in all three of those times, and the answer to the book's title question would change accordingly. And even more impor This book presents a really interesting and balanced look at early American history. The author takes the question about whether America is a Christian nation and parses it out into smaller questions. First, what do you mean by America -- are you referring to the Puritan colonial period, the Revolutionary War period, the early national period? "America" meant something different in all three of those times, and the answer to the book's title question would change accordingly. And even more importantly, what do you mean by "Christian"? Is that a Patrick Henry thing that today's evangelicals would recognize as being really Christ-centered, or a Jeffersonian Enlightened moralism that today's evangelical Christians would reject? My favorite part of the book is part 3, where the author goes founder by founder through the biggies -- Washington, Adams, Jefferson, etc. -- as well as some of the minor players like Samuel Adams to see where they each stood on the question of whether America was founded to be a Christian nation. Not only did they not all agree with each other, sometimes they didn't even agree with themselves; John Adams changed his opinion on the question pretty dramatically. A very good book that people ought to read before they go spouting off that America was or was not intended to be a Christian nation. I've recommended this to a lot of people.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Yibbie

    It’s a very well done history book. The author does a very good job of being an impartial chronicler and avoiding the temptation to editorialize on the subject. Every once in a while that frustrated me. I wanted him to draw a conclusion, to tie it all up nice and neat, and end all the argument around the subject. Now I’m thankful he didn’t. I can appreciate the need for more books like this. Facts are facts and it is refreshing to read a clear recounting of them without the author trying to use It’s a very well done history book. The author does a very good job of being an impartial chronicler and avoiding the temptation to editorialize on the subject. Every once in a while that frustrated me. I wanted him to draw a conclusion, to tie it all up nice and neat, and end all the argument around the subject. Now I’m thankful he didn’t. I can appreciate the need for more books like this. Facts are facts and it is refreshing to read a clear recounting of them without the author trying to use them for his own agenda. Fea does a good job of laying out the controversy in its historic and modern forms. He did that in the first section of the book. There you will find the most opinions, but they are not the authors. They are the opinions of those on both sides of the issue. Mostly he lays out the opinions of those who support the idea of America being founded as a Christian Nation as he is tracing that concept from the days of the Revolution to the present. The rest of the book is a close look at what the Founders said and did. Their writings that both support and undermine the idea that they were trying to found a uniquely Christian Nation were extensively quoted. The definitions of the words they used and ideas they espoused are explained as they would have understood them in their day. Their actions, again both private and public, are also held up for inspection. He doesn’t shy away from even their most controversial actions such as owning slaves or denying religious freedom to Catholics. That more than anything adds to the credibility of this book. He does point out how their beliefs and actions differ or even contradict Biblical or Evangelical Christianity. I appreciated that comparison. It’s very well done. Not preachy, but very clear. The conclusion isn’t included to resolve the conflict, but to end the book and supply a few more details about the whole controversy. He also calls out by name those he believes to be warping history for their own ends. The only thing it didn’t do, that I thought it might, is compare the claims of there being such a thing as a ‘Christian ‘nation to what the Bible says on the subject. It’s well worth reading. If you don’t know the underlying facts, all the opinions in the world don’t carry any weight. Thanks to NetGalley and Westminster Knox Press for the free copy to review.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Joel Wentz

    There are a few specific reasons I loved this book, and I absolutely think more evangelicals should read this. Here is what I loved: 1) Fea is incredibly balanced and even-handed. The one-sentence answer to the title of the book is, "Well, it's complicated." And that is certainly going to frustrate people who want a clear, black-and-white answer, but I find it remarkably refreshing and intellectually honest. He acknowledges the prominent place that a Christian framework for morality impacted the There are a few specific reasons I loved this book, and I absolutely think more evangelicals should read this. Here is what I loved: 1) Fea is incredibly balanced and even-handed. The one-sentence answer to the title of the book is, "Well, it's complicated." And that is certainly going to frustrate people who want a clear, black-and-white answer, but I find it remarkably refreshing and intellectually honest. He acknowledges the prominent place that a Christian framework for morality impacted the formation of the US and the writing of many of our key documents. He also acknowledges the moral failures and clearly unorthodox beliefs of many of the "founders," and the very un-Christian ethical practices of some of our country's founding institutions. In short, Fea isn't afraid to sit in the complicated gray areas of history, but the book is so much more helpful for that. 2) Fea intimately knows and understands the conservative-Evangelical mindset about America's so-called 'Christian roots' (think Falwell, Lahaye, Franklin Graham, etc.). The reader should know he is quite critical of this paradigm, but in a thoughtful way, and without portraying caricatures or straw-men. His one-chapter overview of how the "Christian Nation" historians revise history is alone worth the price of admission. 3) He strikes that difficult balance of being thoughtful, nuanced, academic, and also accessible. The book is actually easy to read, and he smartly includes a short primer on 'why' and 'how' to do history responsibly (something I wish more popular-level historical studies would do). 4) Lastly, Fea smartly includes profiles on the faith and beliefs of several key figures (Washington, Adams, Jefferson and Franklin). He dives into what we can glean from their personal writings, in an effort to capture a fulsome view of what they actually believed (or didn't believe). This was a crucial inclusion, as these individuals are so frequently used as cheap talking points for both sides, and the reality is that they cannot be neatly categorized. If you aren't afraid of diving into the 'fuzzy' gray areas of our country's history as it relates to Christian thought, then this book is a rich and rewarding read.

  4. 5 out of 5

    George P.

    John Fea, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction, rev. ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2016). Few questions in American politics generate as much controversy as the relationship between church and state. On one side are Christian nationalists who contend that the nation was founded on religious principles. On the other side are secularists who argue it was founded on Enlightenment principles. The controversy between them is evident, most obviously, in the John Fea, Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? A Historical Introduction, rev. ed. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox, 2016). Few questions in American politics generate as much controversy as the relationship between church and state. On one side are Christian nationalists who contend that the nation was founded on religious principles. On the other side are secularists who argue it was founded on Enlightenment principles. The controversy between them is evident, most obviously, in the seemingly endless First Amendment cases brought before our nation’s courts to determine whether that amendment’s “establishment” and/or “free exercise” clauses have been violated. But behind the evident legal controversy lies the latent historical controversy, in which the same contending parties dispute the facts and significance of the Founding Era. Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? by John Fea is an excellent introduction to that question and should be read by both Christian nationalists and secularists alike, for it corrects the historical errors both sides commit and draws a balanced portrait of the role religion did (and did not) play in the American Founding. In the Introduction to the book, Fea—an evangelical historian at Messiah College in Grantham, Pennsylvania—explains why the question the title of his book asks is so controversial, namely, because both sides to the controversy are seeking a “usable past” to buttress their side in contemporary political debates. Historians, he goes on to argue, should avoid such present-mindedness and seek to understand the past on its own, often complex terms. Fea then unfolds his argument in three parts: Part One examines the history of the idea of Christian nationalism from the ratification of the Constitution (1789) to the present day. Chapter 1 examines the dominance of evangelical Christianity in America from 1789 to the end of the Civil War. Chapter 2 surveys the different concepts of Christian nationalism at play in post-bellum society until the Scopes Monkey Trial (1925). Chapter 3 continues the story until 1980, focusing especially on how Christian nationalism affected mainline Protestantism, American Catholicism, Cold War religious unity, the Civil Rights Movement, and the emerging Religious Right. Chapter 4 looks closely at that last group, noting the resurgence of conservative, evangelical Christian nationalism since 1980. Part Two answers a question: “Was the American Revolution a Christian event?” Chapter 5 shows that both Virginia and Massachusetts colonies were explicitly, legally, and institutionally Christian communities with established churches, but that the nature of their establishments varied widely and their actual practice often fell well short of Christian ethical norms (as, for example, the practice of African slavery and ill treatment of the aboriginal populations). Chapter 6 argues that the intellectual underpinnings of and justifications for the American Revolution were based more on secular Enlightenment ideas than biblical principles. Chapter 7 extends this argument by showing how pro-revolution clergy often read those Enlightenment ideas into their preaching of the Bible, rather than deriving their preachments from biblical principles. Chapters 8, 9, and 10 examine the form of religion that influenced the Declaration of Independence, Articles of Confederation, and Constitution, respectively, and note the controversies over religious freedom that gripped the colonies during these years. The God of the Declaration (“nature’s God”) is ambivalent, capable of being recognized by both Christians and Enlightenment theists alike. (For an excellent study of the common theological ground between these two groups during the Founding, see God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution by Thomas S. Kidd.) The Articles of Confederation left the establishment or disestablishment of religion in state hands, with Massachusetts retaining its established Congregationalism (until 1833) and Virginia disestablishing its Anglicanism through the yeoman efforts of Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, against the contrary efforts of Christian nationalists such as Patrick Henry. Regarding the Constitution, Fea notes the irony that leading Christian nationalists—such as Patrick Henry, again—were anti-Federalists in the ratification debates precisely because the Constitution did not acknowledge the nation’s Christian heritage. And he concludes by discussing what Jefferson’s “wall of separation” did and did not mean at the time. Part Three investigates the religious beliefs of George Washington (Chapter 11), John Adams (Chapter 12), Thomas Jefferson (Chapter 13), Benjamin Franklin (Chapter 14), and John Witherspoon, John Jay, and Samuel Adams (Chapter 15). Of these, only the last three can be considered “orthodox” in Christian doctrine and practice. Fea describes Washington as a latitudinarian Anglican more interested in religion’s social utility than in Christian doctrine or practice. Adams is a “devout Unitarian,” Jefferson a “follower of Jesus” who separated the supernatural husk from the moral kernel of Jesus’ life and teaching, and Franklin as an “ambitious moralist.” They disagreed on doctrine but agreed on one thing: “religion was necessary in order to sustain and ordered and virtuous republic” (a point which Kidd also argues in God of Liberty). I highly recommend Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? to all readers, but especially to those interested in the debates surrounding the role of religion in our nation’s history and the contentious issues of church-state separation. It is clearly organized, well written, thorough in its research, and judicious in its conclusions. It will—or should!—complexify the simplistic historical interpretations of both Christian nationalists and their secularist opponents. Such complexification, I hope, will tamp down the fires of contention and lead to greater cooperation as both religious and secular Americans see their stake in our collaborative national experiment. The revised edition of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? features a new cover, corrects mistakes in the previous edition, updates the bibliographies at the end of each section, and includes an Epilogue that discusses new developments since the 2011 publication of the first edition. Otherwise, the text is the same as the first edition. _____ P.S. If you found my review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my Amazon.com review page. P.P.S. Check out my Influence Podcast with John Fea on the book. P.P.S. This review is cross-posted at InfluenceMagazine.com.

  5. 5 out of 5

    David

    This book tackles a debate that consistently goes on in our country. What debate? The title makes it obvious - was America founded as a Christian nation? If you listen to some evangelical Christians, especially those who are followers of David Barton, the answer is an unequivocal yes. Likewise, those on the other side respond with an equally unequivocal no. This reveals part of the problem and challenge - this historical debate plays out in contemporary politics. What happened then is used to pi This book tackles a debate that consistently goes on in our country. What debate? The title makes it obvious - was America founded as a Christian nation? If you listen to some evangelical Christians, especially those who are followers of David Barton, the answer is an unequivocal yes. Likewise, those on the other side respond with an equally unequivocal no. This reveals part of the problem and challenge - this historical debate plays out in contemporary politics. What happened then is used to pitch ideas on what ought to happen now. Sadly, people want to use and manipulate history to get their own point across. This is why John Fea's book is so important. It is a thorough, well-researched but also easy to read study of the history surrounding this question. Fea is a historian and spends an early chapter talking about what historians do. History is not just reporting what happened, as some think. Instead history is interested in causality, why things happened as they did. And history is incredibly complex. Further, historical evidence is not the same as legal evidence. Here Fea uses Barton as an example, as someone who says we ought to let the Founders speak in accordance with the legal rules of evidence. Fea points out the problem - lawyers are only interested in evidence as it builds their case (as is Barton and others like him). History does not work this way. One example of how it is different is simply that contexts change - words mean different things in different times and thus it is hard work to know what people meant when they spoke. Or at least, it is not as simple as just hearing their unedited words. Following this, the first part of the book is an overview of the history of Christian America, part two examines whether the American Revolution was a religious act, and part three examines specific Revolutionary era figures. So is America a Christian nation? Fea's answer is complex, like history. For example, in federal documents there is no endorsement of a religion, so some could answer no, America was not founded as a Christian nation. Yet when state constitutions are examined, many did have an official state religion, which could lead to a yes answer. In the end Fea does not really give an answer. When looking at the reasons for revolution given by the leaders of the revolution in the decade leading up to it, it is clear they were not driven by Christian values Yet ministers did use the Bible to support revolution. Of course, when their Biblical interpretation is examined it is seen to not rest on any sort of Christian tradition, instead it appears they bought into the ideas of the day, the idea of revolution, and built whatever biblical case they found around it. Perhaps what was most interesting was Fea's examination of various founders. Today these long-dead men are propped up to support one side (Washington was a Christian!) or another (Jefferson was a deist!). Fea shows their religions were more complex then that. For example, it is anachronistic to project our religion onto them. Washington was a lifelong, involved member of his church. But he was so in the context of his day, he was no 21st century conservative evangelical. Just as today, there were a wide variety of religions as there are a wide variety of people. Overall, this is a fantastic book and a must-read for any who want to enter the "was America founded as a Christian nation?" debate.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Tom

    Helpful, balanced analysis of the role of the Christian faith in the shaping and development of our nation. Fea cuts through the myths of both the right and the left: 1) That America was founded AS a Christian nation 2) That the Founders were mostly unorthodox deists who founded a secular society intended to be free from the influence of religion. Three clear sections of the book cover the basics of this complex question. 1) An overview of the "Christian America" question as it has been debated from Helpful, balanced analysis of the role of the Christian faith in the shaping and development of our nation. Fea cuts through the myths of both the right and the left: 1) That America was founded AS a Christian nation 2) That the Founders were mostly unorthodox deists who founded a secular society intended to be free from the influence of religion. Three clear sections of the book cover the basics of this complex question. 1) An overview of the "Christian America" question as it has been debated from Colonial through modern times 2) An analysis of our founding documents and common revolutionary era understandings of the role of Providence in the establishment of an independent America, and the role of religion in sustaining the new republic. 3) A closer analysis of the Christian orthodoxy (right belief) and orthopraxy (right practice) of Franklin, Washington, Adams, Jefferson, plus Jay/Witherspoon/Sam Adams. This is an accesible, dispassionate take on a hugely relevant question for our time.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Emily Ross

    Thank you to the publishers for providing an ARC of the book through NetGalley. I found this really interesting - it examines the myth that America was founded as a Christian nation. It does this by examining different questions; 1. What is America? This looks into different periods of American history where America means something different. 2. What does Christian mean? This looks at different states and different denominations. 3. Were the American founders Christians? This looks at different fo Thank you to the publishers for providing an ARC of the book through NetGalley. I found this really interesting - it examines the myth that America was founded as a Christian nation. It does this by examining different questions; 1. What is America? This looks into different periods of American history where America means something different. 2. What does Christian mean? This looks at different states and different denominations. 3. Were the American founders Christians? This looks at different founders, notably George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and John Adams but there are others. I found this book really interesting. I never knew that this was a major question in America, but it became obvious by the introduction. Fea was really good and dissects each part of the book.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Blaine Welgraven

    Readable, well-researched, and carefully organized, Fea's work would mesh nicely with a reading of Gregg Frazer's "The Religious Beliefs of America's Founders: Reason, Revelation, Revolution." The final section of Fea's work, entitled "The Religious Beliefs of the Founders", acts as a direct preview of what Frazer analyzes throughout the entirety of his work, i.e., that the "actual belief systems and approaches to belief" exemplified by the key founding fathers reflected a complex mix of shiftin Readable, well-researched, and carefully organized, Fea's work would mesh nicely with a reading of Gregg Frazer's "The Religious Beliefs of America's Founders: Reason, Revelation, Revolution." The final section of Fea's work, entitled "The Religious Beliefs of the Founders", acts as a direct preview of what Frazer analyzes throughout the entirety of his work, i.e., that the "actual belief systems and approaches to belief" exemplified by the key founding fathers reflected a complex mix of shifting theological views that had been shaped to support specific Enlightenment political philosophies. Taken together, Fea and Frazer's works will force you to lay aside your preconceived 21st century biases and think historically about complex men in a revolutionary age.

  9. 5 out of 5

    Lis Carey

    Whether or not America was founded as a "Christian nation" is a touchy political topic right now, and figures in other touchy political topics as well. John Fea gives us a very thorough and thoughtful discussion of the matter, and arrives at the conclusion most historians not involved in the political world would give: It's Complicated. In the first part of the book, Fea looks at the substantial body of evidence, going back to the early 19th century, that the idea of America as a Christian nation Whether or not America was founded as a "Christian nation" is a touchy political topic right now, and figures in other touchy political topics as well. John Fea gives us a very thorough and thoughtful discussion of the matter, and arrives at the conclusion most historians not involved in the political world would give: It's Complicated. In the first part of the book, Fea looks at the substantial body of evidence, going back to the early 19th century, that the idea of America as a Christian nation is not a new idea of the political far right. It didn't start in the 80s with Ronald Reagan any more than it started in the Noughties with George W. Bush. It is an idea that has been prominently presented by politicians of the right and, maybe surprising to many not old enough to remember the 60s, of the left, as well, persistently throughout our history. Fea presents examples from politicians, ministers, and activists of all stripes in demonstrating this. But that doesn't address the question of whether America was founded as a Christian nation, and Mr. Fea proceeds to address that question in the subsequent sections. The complications begin with the question itself. What do we mean by "founded"? What do we mean by "Christian nation"? What, even, do we mean by "America"? As John Fea explains and demonstrates quite clearly, these are all multiple choice questions. Was America "founded" in 1776, with the Declaration of Independence? In 1787, with the Constitutional Convention? In 1789, when the Constitution went into effect? Or are all those dates too late, and America was "founded" when the first colonies were founded? Even more complex is "Christian nation." Much of the history, with quotes and examples, offered by those who are deeply invested in the "Christian nation" idea are in fact deeply ahistorical -- taking quotes out of context, ignoring other statements by the same people, ignoring or not understanding what certain words, phrases, and expressions meant in the 18th century to the people who said and wrote them. In other cases, eloquent expressions of the Christian importance of the Revolution are clearly polemical in intent, and interpret the Biblical passages in question in ways directly opposite of how they had been used throughout Christian history and the history of the American colonies to that point, claiming them as support for Revolution when they had for nearly two millennia been understood as support for obeying lawfully constituted government even when its actions were deeply unjust. There are also determined efforts to ignore, deny, or argue away the fact that a number of critical figures in the the Revolution and the writing and adoption of the Constitution either weren't Christians at all, or were lukewarm, not at all devout Christians. Those who were, were nevertheless strongly influenced by Enlightenment thought and ideals that many who espouse the "Christian nation" position find reprehensible. It means ignoring the fact that the Declaration of Independence mentions God only a few times, in conventional and unspecific ways. It means ignoring the more important fact that the Declaration as conceived by its writers and signers was not intended as a founding document or a statement of core American beliefs at all, but as a foreign policy document, "a decent respect for the opinions of Mankind," aimed at justifying the Revolution to foreign governments in the hope of getting recognition and support. It means ignoring the fact that the Constitution doesn't mention God at all, and mentions religion only to exclude it as a test for office, and the First Amendment adds to that only the exclusion of any possibility of a national established church, and protection of the right of free expression of religion, with no qualifications on those rights at all. Does this mean John Fea is a firm adherent of the idea that America was not founded as a Christian nation? No. Those who categorically reject the idea that America was founded as a Christian nation are making their own historical errors and misrepresentations. Most of the Founders were Christians, and the overwhelming majority of the population of the American colonies were Christians. The Founders who were not Christians nevertheless believed that religion in some form was a necessary part of peaceful and orderly society, and had no quarrel with the fact that most of their compatriots were Christians. None of the Founders understood the Constitutional ban on religious tests for office, or the First Amendment ban on established churches, as applying to the states, most of which had both until well into the first half of the 19th century. It was important to many of the founding generation to justify the Revolution in Christian terms because Christianity was a basic, guiding moral framework for them. As I said at the beginning of this review, It's Complicated. This excellent book will allow no thoughtful reader the comfort of their own unexamined certainties. Highly recommended. I received a free electronic galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Angela

    So many thoughts about this book. I'm going to need to contemplate and come back for a more thoughtful review.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Lauren

    I have been intrigued by the questionable extent of America's Christian heritage for a few years now. I took a Christian America as a given as a young adult; I was probably almost "brainwashed" with the idea in the culture in which I grew up. And then I worked for a Christian publisher in its history department, which approached the founding of America with a Christian viewpoint. It was during those years when I first wondered if Christians could condone the rebellious and violent acts that were I have been intrigued by the questionable extent of America's Christian heritage for a few years now. I took a Christian America as a given as a young adult; I was probably almost "brainwashed" with the idea in the culture in which I grew up. And then I worked for a Christian publisher in its history department, which approached the founding of America with a Christian viewpoint. It was during those years when I first wondered if Christians could condone the rebellious and violent acts that were by nature a part of the Revolutionary war, and the conflict this question presented with the idea of a Christian nation and the hope of preserving its foundational, Christian ideals. These questions also form the basis of Fea's exploration of the historiography of a "Christian America," the Christian ideals (or lack thereof) in her founding documents, and the religious views of prominent American founders. Fea's straightforward, fair-minded approach to this charged subject helped me better think through my own opinions on the subject and cut through all of the rhetoric thrown around by those wanting to preserve a "Christian America" and by those on the other side of the debate, who would claim a secular state (or a justified move in that direction). After asking "Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?" Fea does not truly provide an answer. But as he explains in his introduction, historians should allow history to be messy, complex, grey--there is no real answer out there. Those who study the past and its people must approach it with understanding and compassion, seeking to look fairly at all of the evidence available. What readers CAN know after reading the book, however, is that by and large Americans of the founding era WERE Protestant with Judeo-Christian ideals and morals and did believe themselves to be citizens of a Christian nation. And--with that in mind, the idea of America as a Christian nation is nothing new--it has passed down from generation to generation. But the motivations behind the Revolution were not and cannot justifiably be called Christian. And America's founding documents are remarkably silent on God or religion. The case for a Christian founding cannot be made by examining our federal documents. (The case can be made that the federal government left all religious matters to the states--the early state constitutions are far more "religious.") Neither can the case be made by looking at the most prominent founders. Most of them were moral, religious men, but they were not orthodox Christians (in that they did not claim Jesus Christ as their hope of salvation). They extolled the values of religion and morality in maintaining a healthy republic, but advocates of "Christian founders" would have a hard time claiming them today if they approached these men with honesty. In sum, advocates of a Christian America must tread carefully when using the past to justify their political positions in the present. America does not have a clear Christian foundation. This book merits a second read for me. I do not agree with every word in it; for example, I believe one can look at events in history and point to the providence of God in allowing good to happen to Christian Americans (an idea I'm not sure Fea would espouse from the impressions I received while reading) without endorsing the idea that God intended america as a Christian nation. But overall, I wholeheartedly recommend this book to anyone looking for wisdom on the topic and who wants to discuss it intelligently.

  12. 5 out of 5

    David Santos

    Boy, talk about a history lesson. I learned more about Americas history in the past few hours than I did in those 12 years in school! This is a great book if you want to learn about the history of Christianity in the US of A. However, I wasn't looking for a history lesson, I was looking for the answer to the question "Was America Founded as a Christian nation?" The author near the end (in the conclusion) says that its not an answer that can be given a yes or a no. Fine, I'll answer it. Answer is Boy, talk about a history lesson. I learned more about Americas history in the past few hours than I did in those 12 years in school! This is a great book if you want to learn about the history of Christianity in the US of A. However, I wasn't looking for a history lesson, I was looking for the answer to the question "Was America Founded as a Christian nation?" The author near the end (in the conclusion) says that its not an answer that can be given a yes or a no. Fine, I'll answer it. Answer is no, but it was referred to as a Christian nation, because most citizens were believers (more or less the A.D.D. version of what I read) There were so many believers, that the first schoolbooks were Christian related! Yes Christian related. "American history schoolbooks confirm that authors used providential language to teach students how to be good citizens of a Christian nation.- Pg 9" There are many quotes from Presidents and other government officials from history mentioning God and a "Christian America". Abraham Lincoln even quoted the Bible in a speech. It's outstanding how much this country cared and focused on God! Now I need to read another book that answers the question: What the heck happened? On page 23 we see how things started to go bad. It bothers me even more after reading this book how un-believers react to Godly things. I posted an earlier blog about a girl suing a school for having a christian mural and there are other lawsuits that go unnoticed. I keep asking myself "Do these people not know what country they're in?" 6 of the 9 Patriotic songs mention God. While this country may not have been born Christian, it was raised Christian. Stop the complaining and get over it! Funny isn't it? We first had Creation possibly being taught in schools to now, whatever new "discovery" the non believers come up with being taught. Sad, how far this country has drifted. Anyways the book goes into great great detail of the history of the country, the Christian history. Even talks about the Jefferson Bible, oh that story got me upset, but anyways this is a great book for Christians. Its a long book (some 244 pages) but is a book I feel every christian should have, to know and understand the Christian history the US has. Good stuff.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Jay

    A controversial subject and title to be sure, yet Fea handles the subject with aplomb. Whereas many Americans are split into extreme "yes" or "no" camps, Fea starts with the premise "it's complicated". Fea examines what one might mean by "America" by "Christian" and by "Nation" as we understand it today, as it has been understood through American history, and as it might have been understood by the Founders. He then compares those ideas to both the words and deeds of the founders, comparing them A controversial subject and title to be sure, yet Fea handles the subject with aplomb. Whereas many Americans are split into extreme "yes" or "no" camps, Fea starts with the premise "it's complicated". Fea examines what one might mean by "America" by "Christian" and by "Nation" as we understand it today, as it has been understood through American history, and as it might have been understood by the Founders. He then compares those ideas to both the words and deeds of the founders, comparing them to "Christian standards" of both 2017 and 1776 (give or take a few years). He asks hard questions and gives some answers, though ultimately "it's complicated" wins the day. Our founders were neither the devout fundamentalist Christians many on the Right would have them be, nor were they the wholly the enlightened secularists many on the Left would hold up. Being men of their time and not of ours, they do not fit into our present societal molds. Fea urges us to be honest with history and with men, something to which we call all aspire. 

  14. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Wise

    Accessible introduction to the issues involved in answering the title question. This is the first book I would recommend to someone who is interested in exploring the influences of Christianity on America's founding.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Ethan

    The revised edition of a magisterial work discussing not only a historical but often political issue: the relationship between Christianity and the founding of America. The author stands in the midst of two traditions: he professes to follow Jesus, he works at a "Christian" institution of higher learning, but he also wishes to uphold strong, robust historical scholarship. The book is the attempt to stand between two opposing religious and cultural positions: on one side, the confidence that Ameri The revised edition of a magisterial work discussing not only a historical but often political issue: the relationship between Christianity and the founding of America. The author stands in the midst of two traditions: he professes to follow Jesus, he works at a "Christian" institution of higher learning, but he also wishes to uphold strong, robust historical scholarship. The book is the attempt to stand between two opposing religious and cultural positions: on one side, the confidence that America was founded as a specifically, uniquely, and exceptionally Christian nation, and on the other side, the confidence that America was essentially founded as a secular nation. He does so by first exploring the history of America and the idea of a "Christian nation"; he then explores the nation's origins, founding, and original documents to see if it was established as a "Christian nation," and he concludes by exploring the life stories of many prominent "Founding Fathers" to see if they were recognizably Christian / orthodox Christian in their lives and beliefs. In the end Fea shows that many did believe that America was a "Christian nation," and yet from the beginning the enterprise was never established for that specific reason, and Enlightenment ideals regarding freedom and liberty were as much in play, if not more so, than actual Biblical ideals in the founding of America. He persuasively shows that arguments about the Christian nature of the founding and its documents cannot be sustained. In terms of the Founders themselves he does well at showing how they can neither be upheld as a group of orthodox Christians nor as fully secularizing Deists, but often stood somewhere in-between. An essential read and corrective of so much misinformation out there. Also: don't trust David Barton on American history. **--galley received as part of early review program

  16. 5 out of 5

    Stephany Pepper

    This was an obviously biased book under the guise of an academic work. I had to read this for a class during my undergrad and could not stop rolling my eyes the entire time. It was misleading and manipulated evidence. Needless to say, I was not a fan.

  17. 4 out of 5

    Bryan Bridges

    Really enjoyed it. Only two minor nuisances. One is that the lack of Calvinist influence was discussed without even a consideration of the lesser magistrate doctrine. The other is that I wish Fea had included a section on James Madison when discussing the religious beliefs of the founders.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Tim Knight

    Excellent! Readable! History at its best!

  19. 4 out of 5

    Kristi Peterman

    I think everyone who reads this book will be surprised, no matter which side of the question you fall on. Everything you think you know is probably wrong. Great read!

  20. 4 out of 5

    Justin

    This is an excellent overview of the title question. Fea both complicates the issue and clarifies the work surrounding each component of it. The book's very readable but still full of nuance.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Nathan Suire

    John Fea provides a nuanced response to the "Christian Nationalists": History is complex. In other words, Fea rejects the "secular nationalist" idea that America was founded as a secular nation and that the founding fathers (sorry feminists) were complete enlightenment deists. Yet he also resists the idea that the main founding fathers were orthodox, traditional, evangelical Christians (although some were). Overall, he never really answers the question that his title askes and in his conclusion John Fea provides a nuanced response to the "Christian Nationalists": History is complex. In other words, Fea rejects the "secular nationalist" idea that America was founded as a secular nation and that the founding fathers (sorry feminists) were complete enlightenment deists. Yet he also resists the idea that the main founding fathers were orthodox, traditional, evangelical Christians (although some were). Overall, he never really answers the question that his title askes and in his conclusion he says that is intentional. His main goal is to show that this question is complex and depends on how you define your terms (like "Christian" and "nation"). Overall, it was a good book. But, be warned David Barton fans!

  22. 5 out of 5

    Scott Tsao

    As a student of history and a follower of Jesus Christ, I feel very blessed to come across this book as my first read in American history. The author took a 3-prong approach to answer this question: "Was America founded as a Christian nation?" Part one presents a historical survey of the idea that the US is a "Christian nation" in 4 stages: 1) Evangelical America, 1789-1865 2) Evangelicals, Liberals, and Christian America, 1865-1925 3) Christian America in a Modern Age, 1925-1980 4) History for the F As a student of history and a follower of Jesus Christ, I feel very blessed to come across this book as my first read in American history. The author took a 3-prong approach to answer this question: "Was America founded as a Christian nation?" Part one presents a historical survey of the idea that the US is a "Christian nation" in 4 stages: 1) Evangelical America, 1789-1865 2) Evangelicals, Liberals, and Christian America, 1865-1925 3) Christian America in a Modern Age, 1925-1980 4) History for the Faithful: The Contemporary Defenders of Christian America The rest of the book focuses on the age of the American Revolution to see if the advocates of Christian America--both past and present--have been right in their belief that the founders set out to create a nation that was distinctively Christian. Part two asks whether the Revolution can be understood as a Christian event by examining the relationships between Christianity and major milestones contributed to the founding of the US: 1) British Colonies 2) From Stamp Act to Continental Congress 3) Declaration of Independence 4) Articles of Confederation 5) US Constitution Part three deals with the specific religious beliefs of a few prominent founders: 1) George Washington 2) John Adams 3) Thomas Jefferson 4) Benjamin Franklin 5) John Witherspoon 6) John Jay 7) Samuel Adams Each of the three parts can stand alone and be read independently. In my case, I started with Part 3 because I was challenged by a friend's assertion that most of the founders were deists. Other than gaining a lot of deep insight into the historical facts about the US especially during the era of its founding, my major takeaway from this book can be summarized by these concluding remarks of the author: A word of encouragement: "If there was one universal idea that all the founders believed about the relationship between religion and the new nation, it was that religion was necessary in order to sustain an ordered and virtuous republic." A word of admonition: "In a sound-bite culture where public figures appeal to the past to score political points or advance a particular cultural agenda, it is my hope that his book might help Americans to think deeply about the role that Christianity played in the American founding. We owe it to ourselves to be informed citizens who can speak intelligently and thoughtfully about our nation's past." And I believe the author has done well in accomplishing his purpose for this book!

  23. 4 out of 5

    Robert Showers

    John Fea teaches history at Messiah University in Grantham, Pennsylvania, a private college that describes itself as “broadly evangelical”. That is a good description; the present book approaches the question from a “broadly evangelical” viewpoint and does it well. Prof. Fea begins by pointing out that if the question in the title were easy to answer, he would not have gotten a 250 page book out of it. Fea begins by describing five broad experiences of religion in the U.S.: mainline Protestant, e John Fea teaches history at Messiah University in Grantham, Pennsylvania, a private college that describes itself as “broadly evangelical”. That is a good description; the present book approaches the question from a “broadly evangelical” viewpoint and does it well. Prof. Fea begins by pointing out that if the question in the title were easy to answer, he would not have gotten a 250 page book out of it. Fea begins by describing five broad experiences of religion in the U.S.: mainline Protestant, evangelical Protestant, Roman Catholic/Orthodox, the Black experience, and non-Christians (especially Jews). So much of the Black experience transcends denomination, that this group becomes its own category. For the rest of the book, however, Fea concentrates on the first two groups (mainline and evangelical Protestants), giving the other groups short shrift. This is perhaps necessary for a survey of this size. Next, Fea describes how there is, and always has been, disagreement about every term in the question, Was America founded as a Christian nation. He concentrates on the disagreements about the words founded, Christian and nation. Within each group, there are and were three subgroups: the political leaders, the religious leaders and the rank and file members. Concentrating on the two Protestant categories, he shows how the clergy, the politicians and the average members had different views of religion and politics. Structurally, Fea first presents an overview of American history from the 18th century to the early 21st. Next he analyses the founding documents. Thirdly, he looks at influential founding figures of the American republic, from George Washington to Samuel Adams. Throughout the book, Fea seeks to understand Americans on their own terms, not judge them or compartmentalize them. As he looks at groups, institutions, movements and individuals, he examines their profession of faith, their doctrine and their behavior – once again, not in judgement, but for the sake of understanding. Not surprisingly, his answer to the title’s question is: It depends on who you ask! One can justly understand the United States as founded as a Christian nation, and one can justly understand the negative. The important thing, concludes Prof. Fea, is that you come to understand the concepts you are using. For this, I can highly recommend this book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Greg Bailey

    The idea of America as a Christian nation is so pervasivie (or at least has been in my experience) that I had to fight a mild temptation to regard this book as a polemic against the idea. But John Fea provides so much information in such a clear and direct way, with no glaring evidence of bias and with no major revisions of the facts I have gleaned elsewhere about the American Revolution and the founders, that I came away with nothing but respect for Fea and this work. In short, this book is an The idea of America as a Christian nation is so pervasivie (or at least has been in my experience) that I had to fight a mild temptation to regard this book as a polemic against the idea. But John Fea provides so much information in such a clear and direct way, with no glaring evidence of bias and with no major revisions of the facts I have gleaned elsewhere about the American Revolution and the founders, that I came away with nothing but respect for Fea and this work. In short, this book is an excellent treatment of a very complex subject. Fea begins with a very helpful short essay on thinking historically. He then explores the idea of America as a Christian nation, showing how it has been pervasive since the Revolution and has been held and defended by some rather unusual groups. Next he delves into the question of whether the Revolution was a Christian event. Finally, in what was for me the most helpful part of the book, he examines the lives and thought of several of the key founders to determine whether they were orthodox Christians. The answer: yes, there were true Christians among them, but most of the leading lights were essentially moralists. I'm grateful for the deeper understanding of this issue that Fea has given me (it helped my understanding of a blog post I read just this afternoon) and for the beautiful example of honest historical scholarship this book provides.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Milton Gonzalez

    Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? In his Historical Introduction, John Fea attempts to tackle this question as objectively as possible. While the question is never answered directly, Fea provides his readers with an introduction to historical events that relate to the establishment of the American republic and its relation to Christianity as a whole. Here, the reader is encouraged to make his/her own informed conclusion based on historical facts and objective reasoning. As a Christian a Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? In his Historical Introduction, John Fea attempts to tackle this question as objectively as possible. While the question is never answered directly, Fea provides his readers with an introduction to historical events that relate to the establishment of the American republic and its relation to Christianity as a whole. Here, the reader is encouraged to make his/her own informed conclusion based on historical facts and objective reasoning. As a Christian and American citizen, I purchased this book because I wanted to have a basic understanding of the subject matter. To this endeavor Fea did not disappoint. The book provides a general source of information enough to establish a knowledgeable foundation from which one can build upon. I would definitely recommend this book to anyone seeking a general and objective perspective on the religious culture of early America, its founding and the latter’s relation to Christianity.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Robert D. Cornwall

    This is one of those books that everyone really does need to read. John Fea has written a very accessible account of the role religion played in the founding of the nation. He makes clear that founding isn't the same thing as planting. Thus, we need to have a good discussion about when the nation began -- and that isn't something we're all in agreement upon. John's book takes a middle road between those who say that American was founded as a Christian nation (ala David Barton)and try to envision This is one of those books that everyone really does need to read. John Fea has written a very accessible account of the role religion played in the founding of the nation. He makes clear that founding isn't the same thing as planting. Thus, we need to have a good discussion about when the nation began -- and that isn't something we're all in agreement upon. John's book takes a middle road between those who say that American was founded as a Christian nation (ala David Barton)and try to envision the founders as all good orthodox evangelicals -- some were, some weren't, and those who suggest that the Founders intended to found a "secular state." That view imposes too much on the Founders, many of whom thought that religion needed to play some role in society, even if it wasn't an officially established one. John will step on lots of toes, but this is a book that needs to be read!

  27. 5 out of 5

    Al Gritten

    This book was a very even handed look at both sides of this question. It is very well documented with both source documents and related contextual information. The author does not attempt to answer the question. In fact, Fea suggests that the problem with this question is the question itself. He suggests that many who argue either side of the question are seeking to establish an agenda that requires a simple answer. The answers to the question are very complex. Fea does an outstanding job of res This book was a very even handed look at both sides of this question. It is very well documented with both source documents and related contextual information. The author does not attempt to answer the question. In fact, Fea suggests that the problem with this question is the question itself. He suggests that many who argue either side of the question are seeking to establish an agenda that requires a simple answer. The answers to the question are very complex. Fea does an outstanding job of research and documentation and explores the question from various perspectives, including, what was the purpose of the revolution, how is God included in early documentation and culture and finally exploring the faith beliefs of our founding fathers. Fea comes as close as any historian that I have read to exploring this question without bias and his book is very readable.

  28. 5 out of 5

    Bill Main

    I have set out to study the Constitution and its period especially in mind of currently and past amendment discussions. Upon doing so, I found that this particular topic needed clarification. I read this book at the same time as "Faiths of Our Founders" by David Holmes. By reading them both I hoped to get an idea of both sides of the topic. I got so much more. I had to put that particular study aside and read again "Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity" by Paul Barnett. This along with the h I have set out to study the Constitution and its period especially in mind of currently and past amendment discussions. Upon doing so, I found that this particular topic needed clarification. I read this book at the same time as "Faiths of Our Founders" by David Holmes. By reading them both I hoped to get an idea of both sides of the topic. I got so much more. I had to put that particular study aside and read again "Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity" by Paul Barnett. This along with the history sections in my study Bible refreshed in my mind the age and depths of Christian sects and human abuses in each. Back to finishing the founder study, found so much more than just beliefs, but their lifestyles and influences. It all matters when one comes to a view on the matter. I enjoyed the experience.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Jeff Culver

    Fea's book is essential for someone hoping to wade through the loaded question of America's Christian heritage. I expected a geneology that would reveal the term's fairly recent emergence, but interestingly, Fea chronicles how the idea of America as a Christian nation has been put to diverse and conflicting use for the last 2-300 years. Most strikingly, Fea brings to light how such rhetoric was used for oppression, particularly when "Christian nation" really meant, "Protestant" nation. His prefa Fea's book is essential for someone hoping to wade through the loaded question of America's Christian heritage. I expected a geneology that would reveal the term's fairly recent emergence, but interestingly, Fea chronicles how the idea of America as a Christian nation has been put to diverse and conflicting use for the last 2-300 years. Most strikingly, Fea brings to light how such rhetoric was used for oppression, particularly when "Christian nation" really meant, "Protestant" nation. His preface, distinguishing various senses of the question, "Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?" and his introduction on "How to Think Historically", which contrasts academic historical methodology with the approach of pseudo-historians like David Barton, are worth the price of the book.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Christian

    This book provides the introduction it advertises, laying out an overview of "Christian America" throughout time, examining the motives of the American Revolution, and profiling the beliefs and actions of several founding fathers. The resulting answer to the title question is the inevitable, but proper, yes and no. History is complex and historical figures and groups are never as black and white on issues as we demand them to be. Fea is respectful of both sides of the arguments and simply preven This book provides the introduction it advertises, laying out an overview of "Christian America" throughout time, examining the motives of the American Revolution, and profiling the beliefs and actions of several founding fathers. The resulting answer to the title question is the inevitable, but proper, yes and no. History is complex and historical figures and groups are never as black and white on issues as we demand them to be. Fea is respectful of both sides of the arguments and simply prevents the facts, providing the reader a foundation for further investigation and allowing them to form their own conclusions.

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