Greg Garrett, an English professor at Baylor and a fellow columnist at Patheos, was gracious enough to devote one of his columns to Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction. The column includes a short overview of the book and an interview with yours truly. Here is a taste:
Was American Founded as a Christian Nation? It’s one of the questions ricocheting around our national discourse, and it has strong proponents of both “no” and “yes.” Those who argue that we should do X because we are a Christian nation are assuming an answer. Those who argue that we have no responsibility to do X—or must not do X—because we are not a Christian nation are likewise assuming an answer.
But as Professor John Fea explores American history in his fine new book Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?, his intent is to complicate this dualist debate by doing his job as a historian. The question, he says, cannot be simply answered, and has to take into account not just a handful of Founding Fathers, or the language that is or isn’t present in formational documents. It has to consider state constitutions, and popular sentiments, and the very fact that even the characters in American history about whom we know the most—George Washington, for example—are almost perfectly opaque to us when we try to determine what they believed and what that belief impelled them to do.
Professor Fea, who teaches American history and is chair of the History Department at Messiah College, argues that most of the time when people try to argue from history, they are making simplistic and even mistaken assumptions about what history is good for. “The past,” he writes, “can be messy, complicated, and not easily summarized in a neatly constructed paragraph or two” (xxv). Historians don’t work like polemicists do, a useful reminder. Instead of entering history with a preconceived purpose, as many of us do when we attempt to argue from history, historians note change, context, causality, contingency, complexity.
Read the rest here. I am particularly proud of this line:
The passion of the historian for history radiates out from this book, and whichever side of the question on which you may believe yourself to be, you will find much in the book to challenge, stimulate, and engage you.
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