Monthly Archives: February 2020

Did America Have A Christian Founding? : A Review

The Aitken Bible, the “Bible of the American Revolution,” a vital artifact in the ongoing discussion as to the notion of America being founded as a “Christian nation.” Evangelical historian Mark David Hall’s Did America Have a Christian Founding?: Separately Modern Myth from Historical Truthcorrects some missteps made by secular-minded authors, who obfuscate the contribution of Christianity to America’s founding. But in his provocative analysis, does Hall overcorrect?

Any discussion about the religious thought of America’s Founding Fathers is fraught with controversy.

On one side are those, like the Cornell University authors of The Godless Constitution, Isaac Kramnick and R. Laurence Moore, who maintain that the Founding Fathers envisioned creating “an utterly secular state” unshackled from the intolerant bonds of religious thought. Such writers base their ideas on the assumption that the vast majority of Founding Fathers were hard-core Deists, or otherwise religious skeptics of some sort, who wished to completely separate the public aspect of civil and political life from privately held views, concerning matters of religion.

But such a thesis stands in the extreme, disregarding historical evidence showing, that while the U.S. Constitution decidedly did not endorse Christianity, in any explicit manner, the Founding Fathers all grew up in a world where the Christian faith was openly discussed, variously practiced, and celebrated by the vast majority of American colonists.  While the evangelical form of Christianity, as best expressed through the revival tradition of the First Great Awakening, made up perhaps only a minority of Americans, even the more nominal forms of Christianity demonstrated the pervasive influence of a Scripturally-formed worldview. I am reminded of the proposal set forward by the evangelical and noted Notre Dame historian, Mark Noll, that while no form of Christianity was explicitly set forth by the U.S. Constitution, nevertheless, Protestant Christianity functioned as the de facto national religion of the United States, in the founding era. Christian faith was simply in the air they breathed, and the water they drank, for the Founding Fathers.

Just as extreme, there are also those on the other side of the discussion, who propose a revisionist type of “Christian nationalism.” Selective quotes and facts, concerning the Founding Fathers, are used to read too much into the intent of those Founding Fathers, regarding their beliefs about religion, and their commitments to orthodox, evangelical Christian faith, in particular.

Among evangelical Christian audiences, the standout proponent of this “Christian nationalist” thesis is David Barton of Wall Builders, whom Time magazine named as one of the 25 most influential evangelical leaders, back in 2005. Barton, who is not an academically trained historian, and who does not support the principle of academic peer review, even among other evangelical Christian historians, has toured the country extensively for several decades, visiting churches with Powerpoint presentations directed at convincing Christians of his thesis, through the use of what might be characterized as “creative” citations of evidence to make his case.

For example, David Barton has claimed on numerous occasions that “[of the] 56 who signed the Declaration, 29 actually held seminary degrees … more than half of them held Bible school degrees.” One might draw from this and other claims by Barton, that perhaps the Founding Fathers were like New Testament apostles, wearing knee britches. However, a close examination of Barton’s claim reveals several misunderstandings that obscure the type of knowledge regarding American church history, that should be well-known among evangelical Christians, but that sadly remains often neglected in American churches.

In this example, Barton assumes that a “seminary” and “Bible school” degree during the colonial period meant the same thing as we would assume they mean today. However, what Barton does not tell his audience is that the ONLY type of colleges and schools in colonial America were such “seminar[ies]” and “Bible school[s].” In the 1770s, every single institution of higher learning in the American colonies was founded by churches, with the expressed purpose of training ministers for the spread of the Gospel. Over time, such institutions began to expand their educational vision to include the training of lawyers, and other professions, that were not primarily directed at clergy or missionary activity.

In other words, those 29 Founding Fathers represent the ONLY 29 who actually received a formal college level education, of any sort, though it is important to recognize that a number of Americans in the colonial period received the rough equivalent of a “home-school” education, through the use of private tutors or apprenticeships, instead of attending college.

In particular, most historians today recognize that John Witherspoon was the only Founding Father to have received the modern equivalent of a seminary-level education, for the purposes of Christian ministry.  Furthermore, the whole concept of a “Bible college” or “Bible school” is anachronistic, as such institutions do not appear on the American landscape until well into the 19th century, when higher education tended to stratify more aggressively into multiple, emerging disciplines.

Barton’s example also fails to recognize that a decline of Christian orthodoxy was already starting to take place among a few of the colonial American colleges. Accusations of heterodoxy at Harvard University, to take one example, led to the formation of Yale University as early as 1701. When Thomas Jefferson attended the College of William and Mary, in the 1760s, his primary tutor, William Small, was actively engaged in exposing Deistic philosophy to the young law student, despite the fact that William and Mary was originally founded to be an Anglican school, serving the Christian missionary interests of the Church of England.

In short, claims by those like David Barton, who wish to beef up the Christian orthodoxy of the American Founding Fathers, rely on a dubious reading of the historical data. Barton has had a history of making this and other claims, that have been addressed on Veracity (here, here, and here). To be as fair as possible, Barton does get a number of things right. But as repeated mistakes continue to mount and remain uncorrected over the years, Christians should learn to not to trust in Wallbuilders alone for drawing conclusions about the Founding Fathers. When Christians cite David Barton as their primary source for defending their views of American church and political history, they do so on a misleading and uninformed scholarship foundation.

Those Christians who aspire to treat history with the respect it deserves, as in the case of America’s Founding Fathers, would do well to follow the example set by Wheaton College’s Robert Tracey McKenzie, who has an excellent blog dedicated to correcting popular misconceptions about the Founding Fathers, and other regularly mishandled topics, often cited as being relevant to Christianity and American history. McKenzie illustrates that we must understand history within its proper historical context, and not indiscriminately pluck out certain historical facts to serve modern purposes. As McKenzie puts it, “The bottom line is simple: Know context, know meaning. No context, no meaning.” 

Nevertheless, there are reasons why populist activists like David Barton exist, as there are evangelical Christian scholars, who do follow peer-reviewed processes, who nevertheless make errors that have fueled the fire for inspiring Barton-type of revisionism. For example, Houghton College’s Meic Pearse, in his otherwise excellent historical survey The Age of Reason, a fine historical textbook that I consult frequently, states briefly that “the founding fathers were predominantly deists: Washington, Madison, Franklin, Jefferson. Yet none was overly dismissive of traditional religion” (p.330).

Leaving the latter, qualifying caveat aside, this might indeed be true about Franklin, Madison, or Jefferson, to various degrees, though certain scholars may differ. Yet to describe George Washington as “predominantly deist” goes beyond what the evidence surely indicates.

Scores of biographies have been written about George Washington, but his views concerning Christian faith remain an enigma. We clearly know that George Washington was a baptized, and dedicated church-going Anglican. Washington encouraged religious observances, and considered religion and morality as essentially intertwined.

However, certainly after the period of the Revolutionary War, George Washington never partook of Holy Communion. Historians remain baffled as to why he refrained from taking the Lord’s Supper, why he never was officially confirmed as a member of the Anglican church, and why he continued to resist efforts by Anglican clergy to rectify these issues, well into his Presidency. Washington was also a Mason, but it remains unclear as to how Masonic practices and ideas might have influenced his spiritual commitments. Therefore, to assert that George Washington was “predominantly deist” is a remarkable judgment to make, when this most important of America’s Founding Fathers remains essentially enigmatic for the vast majority of his biographers.

As a counter-weight to someone like Meic Pearse comes Mark David Hall, the author of Did America Have a Christian Founding?: Separating Modern Myth from Historical Truth.  Hall remains critical of those evangelical Christian historians, who make too much of the Deistic influences upon America’s Founding Fathers, but he does so in a responsible way, without falling into the heavily-flawed historical methods and practices followed by non-academic historians, such as David Barton.

Mark David Hall is a scholar at George Fox University, and is also affiliated with Emory and Baylor Universities. Promotion materials for Did America Have a Christian Founding? state that  “A distinguished professor debunks the assertion that America’s Founders were deists who desired the strict separation of church and state and instead shows that their political ideas were profoundly influenced by their Christian convictions.”

In the book, Hall effectively demonstrates that not all of the Founding Fathers of America, depending on who you include in that group, held to orthodox Christian convictions. Nevertheless, it is essential to understand that Christian ideas, formed by theological reflection on the Bible, deeply ingrained in colonial culture, served as the idealogical backdrop for framing America’s central documents, including the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

For example, many secular-minded people in our current day, regularly dismiss the Christian doctrine of original sin, as being insulting to human dignity, viewed as a particularly pessimistic way of looking at human nature. But Mark David Hall rightly shows that the Scripturally-saturated world of colonial American helped to form the ideological framework, in the design of the three branches of the federal government. The U.S. Constitution, with its emphasis on the separation of powers, through a checks-and-balances system, between the executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, is a perfect application of how the Christian doctrine of original sin informed the Founders’ view of how government should work. Because all humans are flawed creatures, due to the effects of Adam’s sin extending down throughout human history, you simply can not trust one person, or even one particular branch of government, to make all of the right decisions.

Practices, such as who has the ability to declare and engage in war, and institutions like the Electoral College, may seem antiquated and obscure in our day, but for the Founding Fathers, these practices and institutions were designed with a specifically Christian view of humanity in mind, even if not all of the Founding Fathers, as individuals, embraced every aspect of evangelical Christian orthodoxy.

Yet while Hall’s thesis is quite compelling, the ultimate success of it depends largely on how certain critical terms are defined.  Such as, what does it mean to be a “Deist? Were the Founding Fathers, or at least some of the most influential of them, profoundly Deist in their theological outlook, and if so, what type of impact did that have on the practices and institutions set forward by America’s core founding documents?

Merriam-Webster gives us a definition of “Deism” as “a movement or system of thought advocating natural religion, emphasizing morality, and in the 18th century denying the interference of the Creator with the laws of the universe.” Deism, in this sense, gives us an image of God as a divine clockmaker, who wound up the clock at the Creation of the world, but who simply let the clock alone to operate independently from hence going forward.

Yet in the hands of Mark David Hall, the notion of “Deism” is rather confused. Hall does attempt to set forward a definition of “Deism,” but he does so in such an amorphous manner, that it takes away from the strength of his work in Did America Have a Christian Founding?.  For as to how Hall defines and uses it, the concept of “Deism” rules out any notion of God’s providential care of the world. But such a radically skeptical concept of “Deism” assumes that God’s “providence” only describes God’s supernatural intervention in human affairs, whereas a number of Deists (though admittedly not all) considered the natural processes set up by God at Creation to be perfectly consistent with a notion of providence. In contrast to Hall, a “Deism” more broadly understood assumes that the only miracle God ever performed was Creation itself, but that this same Creator set up laws of nature, such that the non-miraculous activity of the world naturally moves in the direction of the Creator’s choosing.

Gregg Frazer, an historian at the Masters College, in Southern California, affiliated with well-known Pastor John MacArthur, identifies this flaw in Mark David Hall’s thesis, through an insightful review at the Gospel Coalition website. As Frazer frames it, what Mark David Hall does is dependent on a false dichotomy that pits “Christian vs. Deist” as the two options for how to describe the faith perspectives of the Founding Fathers, with the result of favoring the former over against the latter.

For example, while Mark David Hall admits that John Adams was not an orthodox Christian, who kept his Unitarian views to himself, for most of his public career, Hall at times gives the reader the impression that Adams was more historically orthodox with his Christianity than he actually was. For Hall, if Adams was not a full throated Deist, you could safely put him in the category of “Christian,” despite Adams’ rejection of the Trinity.

However, any rejection of the Trinity is incompatible with historically, orthodox Christianity, from this reviewer’s perspective. For an evangelical Christian such as myself, Mark David Hall’s use of such categories is at best confusing, if not sometimes downright misleading.

Frazer, on the other hand, suggests a middle alternative to the orthodox Christian and skeptical Deist categories suggested, most of the time, by Hall in Did America Have a Christian Founding?. For Gregg Frazer, the majority of Founding Fathers were theistic rationalists, a belief system that is neither fully Christian, in the historically, orthodox and evangelical sense, nor is it fully Deist, in the most skeptical sense. Unfortunately, Mark David Hall conflates Frazer’s concept of theistic rationalism with Deism itself, which is unhelpful to the reader.

The College of William and Mary’s David L. Holmes, in his The Faith of the Founding Fathers, aligns closely with Gregg Frazer’s categorizations, in contrast with Mark David Hall. Holmes proposes three groups of Founding Fathers, giving examples of each group:

  • Non-Christian Deists: Ethan Allen, Thomas Paine.
  • Practicing, Orthodox Christians:  Patrick Henry, John Jay, Elias Boudinot, John Witherspoon
  • “Christian Deists” (Those Influenced by Enlightenment Deism and Orthodox Christianity Along a Spectrum): George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, James Monroe

Professor Mark David Hall, author of Did America Have a Christian Founding?

Nevertheless, I learned from Mark David Hall that Roger Sherman, an often overlooked Founding Father, representing Connecticut, who participated in both the Continental Congress, with respect to signing the Declaration of Independence, and the framing of the U.S. Constitution, was a committed, Bible-believing Christian, whose understanding of Christianity directly inspired his thoughts as to what the American republic should look like. For example, Sherman’s theologically-minded convictions, informing by his Calvinist Puritan reading of the Bible, were directly linked to his vision of limited government, states’ rights, and the superior nature of the legislature, features that were embedded in America’s founding documents.

Mark David Hall intriguingly contends, that contrary to the majority scholarly opinion, the 1786 Virginia Statute of Religious Freedom, championed by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, was not as influential in the minds of those who framed the U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights, as is commonly supposed. Hall concludes from this that the call by Thomas Jefferson, for a restrictive type of “separation of church and state,” was not part of the consensus view of America’s Founding Fathers. So, while contemporary advocates for a more restrictive application of a “separation of church and state,” may appeal to leading, Deistically-leaning figures, like Jefferson and Madison, such an appeal is out of balance. This type of argument largely ignores the contribution of lesser known Founding Fathers, many of whom shared more orthodox Christian beliefs, than did Jefferson or Madison.

However, Hall’s claim needs to be tempered somewhat. For example, Hall asserts that Roger Williams, the 17th century founder of Rhode Island, was a “disorderly dissenter” (see Hall, Chapter 5) when he challenged the colony of Massachusetts’ leadership regarding the enforcement of the first table of the Mosaic Law, which required church attendance. Williams’ resistance to Massachusett’s attempts to legally require church attendance, eventually led to Williams’ view of “a type of wall of separation between the garden of the church and the wilderness of the world“(see Williams, The Bloody Tenent of Persecution), as a means of protecting the church from the needless and harmful interference of the state. But the most intolerable aspect of Williams’ dissent, towards the Massachusett’s authorities, were a result of private meetings in Williams’ own home, which could hardly be described as being “disorderly.

Scholars regularly debate the influence of Roger Williams, in the minds of American’s Founding Fathers, but it should be duly noted that the concept of a “separation between church and state” was originally articulated, not by the Deist-inspired reflections of a Thomas Jefferson, but rather by the radically Puritan and Calvinist mind of Roger Williams. It would have been immensely more helpful if Mark David Hall would have carefully presented this historical evidence to his readers.

Despite this and the noted difficulty with categorization in Did America Have a Christian Founding?, with respect to how “Deism” should be properly defined, Mark David Hall’s work in this area is a welcome conversation partner in the ongoing debate as to the nature of America’s founding, with respect to Christianity and the 18th century dialogue with Deism, through the growing influence of Enlightenment philosophy. Even if not all of the Founding Fathers were consciously aware of the specifically Christian notions that guided their efforts in setting forward the principles and institutions of the American republic, and if the large majority of these Founding Fathers were less than evangelically orthodox in embracing historic Christianity, the Christian Faith still played a profoundly major role in the founding of America.

How relevant is this notion of the “Christian founding” of America, for 21st century Americans? For Mark David Hall, his answer is refreshingly sensible. Despite what might be concluded about the “Christian founding” of America, the historical evidence indicates that the Founding Fathers did not intend to try to use the power of the state to endorse any particular religious expression. Instead, for Mark David Hall, the protections regarding religion freedom were meant to allow for the flourishing of religion, without the government getting in the way. It is consistent with the vision of the Founding Fathers that the government should never penalize the religious convictions of America’s citizens, even if such convictions might prove to be disagreeable to others who share different convictions.

These protections apply towards Christians, but they also apply towards non-believers as well. For example, Christians who believe that their faith teaches them that same-sex marriage is not within the plans and purposes of God, should not be required by the State to endorse same-sex weddings, as in recent government measures requiring Christian-owned businesses to perform services, that would conflict with a Christian’s deeply held beliefs. Such government intrusion would violate what the Founding Fathers envisioned, with respect to religious freedom. Likewise, practitioners of some Native American faith traditions use peyote in their worship rituals, and the government should not unduly restrict the usage of peyote, in such religious ceremonies. Such protections are not without limits, as the use of peyote is not a blank legalization of the drug, for any purpose. Peyote use must be limited to religious worship purposes. Mark David Hall finds historical precedent to support his conclusions, and should be worthy of serious consideration, by believer and non-believer alike.

Infinitely more helpful than the often erroneous musings and hair-pulling assertions of a David Barton, and providing a helpful balance against more secular minded scholars, Mark David Hall’s Did America Have a Christian Founding?, provides a relatively brief survey that should inform all readers of various backgrounds, as to a neglected perspective of the character of America’s founding. With gratitude, Mark David Hall leaves readers with such valuable and helpful insight.

 


Jonathan Edward’s Sinners in the Hands Of An Angry God

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758), pastor, theologian, philosopher, and …. “fire and brimstone” preacher

Most Americans know very little about Jonathan Edwards, except for the 18th century sermon he preached, “Sinners in the Hands Of An Angry God.” I remember reading it, as it was an assigned reading for an English class, back in my public high school.

Yes, it is a classic “fire and brimstone” sermon, filled with talk of God’s treatment of the unrepentant sinner, as though God is holding “a spider or some loathsome insect over the fire, [who] abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked.”

Wow. I remember thinking, as I finished reading that high school homework assignment, that this guy Edwards must have woken up on the wrong side of bed, the day he preached this tirade. What a sourpuss!!

But such a judgment of Edwards is not deserving, as a more balanced understanding of Edward’s life shows. Contrary to popular opinion, Jonathan Edwards only preached a handful of sermons, on the disturbing topic of hell, during his multi-decade preaching career. By far, most of the hundreds of sermons that Edwards preached were about the love and beauty of God. One of his favorite topics included speaking about the “sweetness” of God, a theme that he returned to, over and over again.

If you want to read a helpful introduction to Jonathan Edwards, that corrects a lot of the gross misunderstandings in popular culture about his life, I would highly recommend A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards, by George M. Marsden. A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards is not an abridgment of Marsden’s grand, academic biography, Jonathan Edwards: A Life (which is excellent, too, but a lot longer!). Rather, A Short Life of Jonathan Edwards is a fresh, revealing description of Edwards, showing him to be a profound advocate of the overwhelming love of God. Plus, it is short, at about 140 pages. I listened to A Short Life as an audiobook, in about 5 hours, and loved every minute of it.

What made “Sinners in the Hands Of An Angry God” so indelible in the American imagination was the effect this sermon had, during one particular Sunday morning, while filling in, for another preacher, at another church. Sometime prior to his famous preaching in Enfield, Connecticut, Jonathan Edwards had preached this sermon to his own congregation, where it had little impact on his flock of church-goers. Edwards was not known to be an exceptionally dynamic public speaker, as he was bookish, and noticeably shy. He rarely took his eye off of his sermon notes.

Justin Bieber he was not.

But when he was asked to step in that one particular Sunday, in the Enfield church, a wave of emotion took over the room, as he made his way through his prepared text. Despite Edwards’ un-theatrical delivery, wailing and weeping filled the assembled hall, as many were overcome by the weight over the grief of their own sin. The sounds of terror among the people became so great, Edwards had to cut his sermon short, and dismiss the crowd, preventing him from delivering a message of hope, that he had saved for the climax of his prepared text. Edwards’ sermon had sparked a revival, and many Connecticut colonists made professions of Christian faith, during the following weeks.

It was a profound moment, during the First Great Awakening in America, a phenomenon that shaped America as a nation.

Ralph Green is a re-enactor, who has delivered Jonathan Edwards’ most (in??)famous sermon, as a dramatic production. Below is a 45 minute recording of that sermon.


Patterns of Evidence: The Red Sea Miracle (A Review)

Filmmaker Tim Mahoney is a man on a mission, to find out the real history of the Exodus. Recently, I viewed a Fathom theatre event, showcasing his latest Patterns of Evidence film: The Red Sea Miracle. The Red Sea Miracle is part one of a two part set of films, the second to be scheduled for theatre release on May 5, 2020.

In general, The Red Sea Miracle was ambitious, even for a 2 1/2 hour movie, but the storyline held together better than his last film, The Moses Controversy, which explored the possibility of how Moses might have been able to write the first five books of the Bible. Like the original film, The Exodus, which considered the chronology of Moses, and the timing of Joshua’s conquest of Canaan, this first part of the third film series, The Red Sea Miracle, looked at yet another controversial question, regarding the historicity of the Exodus, namely where the crossing of the “Red Sea” might have taken place. Overall, I found the newest film quite fascinating and encouraging, despite a few noticeable drawbacks.

First, let us consider the good parts of the film. The Red Sea Miracle does a very good job at giving a helpful overview of the questions that archaeologists, Old Testament specialists, and other scholars are asking, when they try to determine where Moses might have led the Israelites across the “Red Sea.” The amount of data to work through, both biblically and archaeologically, is quite a lot, and numerous interpretation challenges remain. So for a 2 1/2 hour film, Tim Mahoney is to be commended for his honesty, his warmth, his sincerity, and his determination, in helping viewers understand the complex issues involved. He also produced a cinematically pleasing movie to look at, a highly professional piece of film making that helped me to focus on the topic being addressed.

Tim Mahoney also rightfully exposes viewers to a wide range of scholarship, in considering the question of where Moses might have parted the Red Sea. Anyone who has shown serious interest in Bible archaeology will know that the majority of archaeologists today are highly skeptical about the presence of Israelites in Egypt, much less who believe the traditional account of the Red Sea crossing. Mahoney interviews some of these scholars, but interestingly, he interviews one scholar, Manfred Bietak, one of today’s leading Austrian Egyptologists, who now believes that there is at least some evidence, that is consistent with the story of Israelites being slaves in ancient Egypt. When Mahoney interviewed Bietak, over a decade ago, for the first Patterns of Evidence film, The Exodus, it was Bietak’s skepticism regarding the historicity of the Exodus story, that first discouraged Tim Mahoney in his film making journey.

In addition to some skeptical scholars, Mahoney also interviews a wide range of evangelical Christian scholars, who hold various, and even conflicting views, as to where the Red Sea crossing might have occurred. Mahoney divides these scholars into two broadly-defined camps: those who favor the “Egyptian” view, and those who favor the “Hebrew” view. The “Egyptian” view, generally speaking, favors a crossing of the “Reed” Sea, through the shallow lake region, within a few dozen miles of Egypt, with perhaps as few as 20,000 or so Israelites. The “Hebrew” view favors a crossing at the Gulf of Aqaba, over 200 miles away from Egypt, on the eastern side of the Sinai peninsula, with over 2 million Israelites. The “Egyptian” view favors the traditional location of Mount Sinai, on the Sinai peninula, whereas the “Hebrew” view favors Mount Sinai being in Saudi Arabia.

I was surprised to discover, that unlike the two previous Mahoney films, Mahoney is now less enamored with the ideas proposed by Egyptologist David Rohl, who Mahoney tends to elevate highly in the first two films. David Rohl, who considers himself to be an atheist, is a genuine, peer-reviewed scholar, but his unconventional revision of Egyptian chronology has yet to gain significant support from his other historian and archaeologist colleagues, from within the scholarly guild. This is important, for a viewer of the first two films might be erroneously drawn to conclude that David Rohl’s proposals carry far greater weight, in academic circles, than is actually the case. One can not simply dismiss David Rohl’s ideas out of hand, but a lot more work needs to be done before Rohl’s proposals gain broader acceptance. Interestingly, I found it quite telling that David Rohl is highly skeptical of the “Hebrew,” Gulf of Aqaba crossing view. He tells Mahoney that he would need to see an actual chariot wheel dug up from the floor of the Gulf of Aqaba, before he would accept a “Red Sea” crossing, at that location.

I was also glad that Mahoney did not mention Ron Wyatt in the film, the late adventurer and fringe archaelogist, who made a big splash years ago by reportedly spotting such a chariot wheel on the bottom of the Gulf of Aqaba floor. The shenanigans of Ron Wyatt have brought a lot of Christian attempts at archaeology into ill-repute, making for an unnecessary stumbling block for some regarding the Gospel. Thankfully, Mahoney did his best to interview top, well-regarded scholars in the field instead.

Despite the film’s many strengths, there was one aspect that stuck out as a major criticism of The Red Sea Miracle. Mahoney clearly favors the “Hebrew” over and against the “Egyptian” view of the crossing. He believes that a shallow lake crossing, with a relatively smaller number of Israelites, is somehow less “miraculous” than a Gulf of Aqaba crossing.

This is really peculiar, as it assumes that the bigger the miracle, the more miraculous it would be, and therefore, the more Scripturally faithful it would be. I get the point that Tim Mahoney is trying to make, but it is not necessary to make such a point, in the interest of defending the Bible. Sure, if Moses took over 2 million Israelites across the Red Sea, Cecil B. DeMille-style, even somewhere relatively deep, like the Gulf of Aqaba, then God can do anything. Who are we to put limits upon God?

But a smaller event is still a miracle. To conclude that today’s shallow lake region near Egypt is unsuitable for a crossing, assumes that Pharoah’s army could not have drowned in only a “few feet of water.” Nevertheless, storm surges can still kill a lot of people, even in relatively shallow areas. Just consider how at least 6,000 died during the 1900 hurricane to hit Galveston, Texas, with an 8 to 12 foot storm surge.

Yet even if a more naturalistic explanation could be found for the Red Sea crossing, the timing of such an event, such as a large wind separating the waters, at just the right time, is still miracle enough, and thoroughly demonstrates the power of God. Did Moses simply get lucky that the sea parted, just when he got to the water’s edge? Or was this, too, evidence that points to the providence and power of God?

Consider the story of the Risen Jesus: If God really wanted to show a grand miracle of Resurrection, he could have Resurrected thousands upon thousands of people on Easter morning. That would have been a much more impressive miracle. But it was sufficient for God to demonstrate his overwhelming power and victory over sin and death, by Resurrecting the one God-Man, Jesus Christ. Does not God have the right to demonstrate his miraculous power, however God wishes to do so?

Unfortunately, Mahoney did not adequately address some of the weaknesses of the Gulf of Aqaba crossing proposal, that is rejected by a greater number of evangelical scholars. Alas, there is only so much you can do in such a long film, and still hold people’s attention, even with an intermission midway through the theatre showing. Dr. Michael Heiser, for example, notes that a Gulf of Aqaba crossing presents a number of problems when trying to reconcile certain chronological aspects of the journey through the Wilderness, such as where the Israelites obtained water from a rock. In other words, the issues are a lot more complex than most realize (which is partly why the controversy over the location of the Red Sea crossing continues to perplex even the best evangelical scholars).

To be fair, while Tim Mahoney still appears to favor what he calls a “Hebrew” view, he rightly acknowledges that different evangelical scholars hold some widely differing perspectives, in good faith, on this most interesting topic.

The last half hour of the film was a panel discussion, held at the Answers in Genesis Ark Encounter, in Kentucky, where some Christian leaders reflected on the film, including Truett McConnell University Old Testament scholar Jeremy Lyon, radio talk show host Janet Mefferd, Precepts founder Kay Arthur, and Answers in Genesis’ Ken Ham. What was interesting about this panel is that all four participants interviewed are all Young Earth Creationists. Yet perhaps the larger majority of scholars interviewed in The Red Sea Miracle do not hold a Young Earth Creationist interpretation of the Bible. Is this perhaps a sign of a rapprochement between advocates of Young Earth Creationism and Old Earth Creationism? It made me curious.

All in all, I enjoyed The Red Sea Miracle, despite what I detected to be noticeable flaws. The exact location of where the Israelites crossed the Red Sea is not a critical matter of faith, nor is the exact size of the Israelite nation as they crossed it. At the same time, considering these issues would help believers to gain a greater interest in studying Scripture, as well providing helpful conversation points, when engaging with skeptics. As a bottom line, I would tend to agree with Dr. Michael Heiser, “Although we can’t determine the precise location of the crossing, the various possibilities in no way rule out God’s providential intervention on behalf of his people.”

Keep an eye out for The Red Sea Miracle, Part 2, coming May 5th.


Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones on George Whitefield

Before Tom Hanks, Justin Bieber, or Taylor Swift, there was George Whitefield. In the 18th century, George Whitefield was the most well-known person in the American colonies. Whitefield was truly the first American celebrity.

Whitefield made 13 trips across the Atlantic Ocean, between England and America, to give preaching tours along the Eastern Seaboard, starting from 1739 until his death in 1770. At times, as many as 10,000 people would travel for miles, on foot or on horseback, to hear the evangelist share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  Though an Anglican minister, George Whitefield was known as an intinerant evangelist, preaching most of his messages in the open air. Along with John Wesley, the name of George Whitefield was synonymous with the First Great Awakening, in the English speaking world, one of the greatest periods of revival in world Christian history.

Dr. Martyn Lloyd-Jones was one of the most well-known British Bible teachers, during the 20th century, and a great admirer of George Whitefield. In the following documentary by the MLJ Trust, Dr. Lloyd-Jones tells the story of George Whitefield, in 14 minutes:


Sarah Osborn’s World #3

Our third installment blogging about Sarah Osborn’s world (previous postings #1 & #2).

Within a few years after experiencing her conversion to Christ, Sarah Osborn completed her set of diary entries that would serve as the basis for her published work. Harvard Divinity School religious historian, Catherine A. Brekus, weaves these diary entries into her biography of this remarkable woman: in Sarah Osborn’s World. Sarah Osborn continued to write other letters and other diaries, that Brekus also highlights in her research, giving us insight into the life of this 18th century, American, evangelical Christian woman.

Sarah Osborn lived an exceedingly difficult life. One of those difficulties was having to bury her one and only son. When her son, Samuel, was only twelve years old, he had been sent off to learn a trade, serving as an apprentice to a tailor, which was a typical way of providing an education for young boys at the time. However, Samuel contracted what was most probably tuberculosis. In an age before the development of contemporary medicine, Sarah Osborn held the hand of her pale and dying son, for several days. Unfortunately for Sarah, who had only a few years previously come to faith in Christ, she agonized over the spiritual state of her son, as he had never given his own testimony as to having a faith in Jesus. Continue reading


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