The Jesus of America’s Founding Fathers

 I cannot recommend this book enough: Stephen Nichols, Jesus: Made in America (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008).  Seriously, I couldn’t set this thing down.  In it, Nichols simply discusses how American evangelicals (broadly speaking) have viewed Jesus.  He starts in the Puritan era, walks through the frontier, Victorian New England, the social gospel, music, Hollywood, business and ends with the current political Jesus (Jesus was the younger Bush’s favorite philosopher, after all!).  This book is like a visit to the dentist – you know it ain’t gonna be pretty, but you need to know what’s wrong so it can be fixed.  What’s wrong?  Americans have refashioned Jesus more often and worse than the German liberals did 100 years ago.

In chapter 2, Nichols shows what Franklin, Jefferson, Paine, and Washington thought about Jesus.  To summarize, Nichols shows how they liked Jesus for morals and ethical examples, but wanted nothing to do with Jesus the eternal Son of God who died on a cross to redeem broken sinners.  Nichols also describes how Jefferson was the precursor to the religious climate today: it is fine to follow Jesus, as long as you separate him from the state and keep him tucked away all privately in your heart.  It is ok to close your eyes and walk with him while the dew is still on the roses, but you can’t lift your eyes and pray to him as the Creator, Savior, Lord, and Almighty Ruler who is coming again to judge the living and the dead.

Here’s Nichols’ own words.

“The Jesus of America’s founders compares to Jesus throughout the rest of America’s history like a prelude to a symphony: we hear in brief the melodies and motifs to come.  Jesus is a fine purveyor of morality and virtue.  He is humble and meek, industrious and honest.  The Gospels are a fine companion for life, especially for the young who are making their way in the world.  Both Jesus and the Gospels are indispensible to both public welfare and private devotion and piety.  Jesus is needed in life, to be sure, but he is also needed at death, where he welcomes departed saints into heaven’s bosom.  But he is less than divine.  He is amiable and loving, but not judge” (p. 72-2).

I’ll post more on this later; for now I’ll go back to cringing at the “Washington’s Prayer at Valley Forge” painting I saw the other day.   Since he rejected the deity of Christ, well,  he surely is not a model for Christian prayer.  I wonder if that painting is in the Patriot’s Study Bible…

shane lems

sunnyside wa

4 thoughts on “The Jesus of America’s Founding Fathers”

  1. Amazing! I didn’t know there was such a book out there. Thanks SO much for getting the word out- am going to go pick up several copies, one for myself and several for all of my Patriot Reconstructionist, Kingdom Now, Dominionist, Republican God Bless America, friends. I’m supposing they will think it’s part of the communist conspiracy plot to destroy America. Again- thanks much

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