Many of us have heard the argument that America needs to get back to its biblical (or Christian) roots which our founding fathers established. But it isn’t quite that simple. We have to ask this twofold question: what did our founding fathers think about the Bible and about Christianity? Noll, Hatch, and Marsden answer it in The Search for Christian America. Here are a few excerpts.
“It is difficult for modern Americans to recapture the religious spirit of the country’s great early leaders – George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and their colleagues. The difficulty arises because these brilliant leaders, surely the most capable generation of statesmen ever to appear in America, were at once genuinely religious but not specifically Christian. Virtually all of these great men had a profound belief in ‘the Supreme Judge of the world’ and in ‘the protection of Divine Providence,’ to use the words of the Declaration of Independence.”
“Yet only a few believed in the orthodox teachings of traditional Christianity – that, for example, Christ’s death atoned for sin, that the Bible was a unique revelation from God, or that the miracles recorded in Scripture actually happened. There were, to be sure, a few founding fathers who affirmed the cardinal tenents of orthodox Christianity [i.e. Witherspoon, Henry, and Jay]. …Most of the other great early leaders, however, did not share the Christian convictions of a Henry or Jay. The God of the founding fathers was a benevolent deity, not far removed from the God of eighteenth-century Deists or nineteenth century Unitarians.”
“The conclusion must be that nearly every important person in America’s early political history had extensive experience with Scripture, even if many of them did not hold to traditional beliefs about the Bible, or to the beliefs which Christianity traditionally had derived from Scripture” (pp. 74-76).
“[America’s founding fathers] knew a lot about ‘Christian’ nations. Most of the European wars of the preceding centuries had some ‘Christian’ motivations. The American founders also knew a lot about Protestant Bible commonwealths; these were a major part of their recent British heritage. So, while the founders appropriated secularized versions of some Puritan ideas about the dangers of monarchy, they purposely chose not to set up a Bible-based republic” (p. 137).
It isn’t so easy to simply “go back” to America’s biblical and Christian roots. The roots aren’t biblical in the historic Christian sense of the term, nor are they Christian in the biblical sense of the term. Further, trying to make America a Christian nation would go against the intentions of our founding fathers. You’ll have to get the book if you want to wrestle with this topic: The Search for Christian America (Helmers & Howard: Colorado Springs, 1989).