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Does the Bible Teach That Women Should Never Wear Braided Hair or Jewelry?

Hairstyling among Rome’s cultural elite, during the mid-1st century.

Many readers of the Bible are puzzled, or even embarrassed, by a statement made by the Apostle Paul in 1 Timothy, that suggests that women should never wear braided hair, or jewelry. But is this flat prohibition against the wearing of braided hair or jewelry something that the Bible actually proscribes? Let us take a closer look, reading Scripture in context.

In 1 Timothy 2:8-10 we read:

I desire then that in every place the men should pray, lifting holy hands without anger or quarreling; likewise also that women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel, with modesty and self-control, not with braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire, but with what is proper for women who profess godliness—with good works.” (ESV).

A similar passage comes from the words of Peter, at 1 Peter 3:3-4. At first glance, the negative, specific references to “braided hair” and “gold or pearls” would appear that the Apostles Paul and Peter sound like legalists at best, or even, misogynists at worst!

When we read puzzling passages like this, it is important to look at what the whole of Scripture teaches on the matter, and not focus on one or two isolated verses. Since both Paul and Peter were Jewish, and looked to their Hebrew Scriptures, as their written authority, it might help to look at what the Old Testament has to say about the wearing of jewelry, etc.

There are occasions when the Old Testament takes a negative view towards the wearing of jewelry, but such instances are within the context of accenting a woman’s sexual attractiveness for the purposes of manipulation, as when the wicked queen Jezebel “painted her eyes and adorned her head,” when Jehu came to confront her of her sin (2 Kings 9:30).

However, the Old Testament does not dismiss the wearing of jewelry outright:

Like a gold ring or an ornament of gold
    is a wise reprover to a listening ear.
 (Proverbs 25:12 ESV).

Here in Proverbs, jewelry has a positive value, being directly compared to the situation when someone gives wise counsel or correction to someone else, and that someone else receives such counsel or correction willingly.

When the Song of Solomon extolls the beauty of a woman, such beauty is positively related to the value of jewelry:

How beautiful are your feet in sandals,
    O noble daughter!
Your rounded thighs are like jewels,
    the work of a master hand.
 (Song of Solomon 7:1 ESV).

As Jews, both Paul and Peter would have taken similar views towards the wearing of jewelry. They would have accepted the modest display of jewelry as perfectly acceptable, but would find the extravagant display of jewelry to be inappropriate and inconsistent with the godly behavior of a Christian woman.

Focusing on the 1 Timothy passage, carefully notice how the Apostle Paul specifically finds a modest level of jewelry wearing to be wholly appropriate: “women should adorn themselves in respectable apparel.” Rather, Paul is contending against the flaunting of a woman’s beauty, by the excessive use of make up and jewelry, as this would distract others from seeing the real, inward beauty of a Christian woman, her “godliness.”

It is important not to confuse the principle of modesty, with respect to jewelry wearing, with the specific cultural application in Paul’s first century, Roman empire context. For example, some might be troubled by Paul’s restriction regarding the wearing of “braided hair.” So, does Paul really have some type of weird hangup regarding “braided hair?”

Again, a careful reading of the text shows that it is the combination of “braided hair and gold or pearls or costly attire,” not “braided hair” by itself. The inclusion of “costly attire” should be evidence that there is a big difference between a modest set of ear rings, versus showing up at church with a $25,000 necklace, combined with some over-the-top hairstyling.

New Testament scholar Steven Baugh notes that by the mid-first-century, “women’s hairstyles had developed into elaborate curls, braids, high wigs, pins, and hair ornaments that were quickly copied by the well-to-do throughout the empire.” The historical evidence shows that wealthy women were following the same fashionable trends of the Roman cultural elite, as a means of flaunting their wealth. Paul would have been consistently applying the Scriptural principle of modest dress, by condemning such flaunting of wealth, in Timothy’s church in Ephesus. The flaunting of wealth inevitably shames those believers, who do not possess great wealth, the type of messaging that the Apostle Paul strongly sought to discourage. Baugh concludes: “Today, it is the equivalent of warning Christians away from imitating styles set by promiscuous pop singers or actresses. How one dresses can convey rebellious or ungodly messages whether intended or not.1

Remember this, too: The focus should be on how we ourselves understand what makes someone beautiful. This is not an excuse to cast a condescending eye on others.

Far from being a psychologically prudish hangup, on the part of the Apostle Paul, Paul’s instructions to Timothy, advocating the modesty of women’s external appearance, is a specific application of a timeless Scripture principle. Should Christians today be embarrassed by what Scripture says here? Absolutely not. While a 21st century Christian might apply the principle differently, according to the fashions of our day, the principle remains the same. The Bible consistently seeks to accentuate the inward beauty of a believer, while warning against the display of external extravagance, designed to shame others or to be inappropriately sexually provocative.2

Notes:

1. Steven Baugh, “A Foreign World: Ephesus in the First Century,” p. 54-55, in Women and the Church, 3rd Edition

2. For more detail, please consult chapter 36, of David A. Croteau, Urban Legends of the New Testament: 40 Common Misconceptions, on “Women Should Not Wear Jewelry,” p. 210-214.. 


Christians and the Coronavirus: Lessons From Church History

What did Martin Luther and Charles Spurgeon have in common? Both Christian leaders dealt with the challenge of plagues and pestilence, in their day. Luther, the 16th century German Reformer, and his wife, Kate, ministered to the sick when the Black Death descended upon their city of Wittenberg. Spurgeon, one of England’s finest preachers of the 19th century, was a 20-year-old young pastor, when a cholera epidemic swept through London.

The mortality rate for COVID-19 is high, but the rate was even far worse for the Black Death (up to 1 out of 4 people died) and London’s cholera (around 5.5 percent).

I recently read a great article by UK author Glen Scrivener, that briefly chronicles these and several other examples of how Christians faced plagues, pestilence, and pandemics in the past. Today’s coronavirus pandemic is new to many of us, but we have much to learn from believers who lived before us, who can show us examples of how followers of Jesus sought to love others, in difficult and scary times, and how the church was able to survive such challenges.

Along those same lines, I also read a great article by C.S. Lewis, whereby you can substitute the word “atomic bomb” with “coronavirus” and gain some of the Oxford don’s encouraging insight. Below is a video podcast featuring Glen Scrivener expanding upon the themes in his article.


Who Are the 144,000? — A Case Study in Understanding the Book of Revelation

From a 12th century commentary on Revelation 7, by Saint John of Lorvao, Portugal, depicting the 144,000. The variety of existing interpretations that attempt to decipher the 144,000 are legion. Which is the “correct one?”

Have you ever tried to read the Book of Revelation, and wondered to yourself, “Huh? What is this all about?

Despite its early reception in many quarters, Revelation was one of the last books to be accepted into the New Testament canon of Scripture. Eastern Orthodox Christians, even today, do not publicly read Revelation in their worship services. The early church fathers were reticent about Revelation, not because they did not value it, but because they were concerned that overly-enthusiastic, misguided readers might misuse it, and read all sorts of crazy stuff into it.

History has proven this reticence to be 100% correct. Remember Family Radio’s Harold Camping? Or David Koresh in Waco, Texas? All of the crazies have looked to Revelation, believing that they, and they alone, have figured out the true message of this book. Yet, they were all 100% wrong.

Still, Revelation simply fascinates people.

I once had a friend in college who supposedly “knew” all about Revelation, what the bowls and trumpets all mean, and those spooky, multi-headed beasts. My friend knew very little about what the rest of the Bible talked about, such as the basics about sin, our need for a Savior, and what it means to have a personal relationship with Jesus. But he sure knew all about the Antichrist!

It seems like there are two kinds of people in the world when it comes to the Book of Revelation. First, you have folks, who are simply curious about understanding Revelation. Most folks are at least mildly interested, but more than a few are sort of like my college friend, simply obsessed with all things “End Times.” Many of them watch late night cable TV channels devoted to figuring out “Last Days” prophecies, reading New York Times bestsellers all claiming to reveal the “true secrets” about Bible prophecy, while others love to go to various, church-sponsored Revelation seminars. It is fine to take an initial interest in these things, I suppose, but only if it gets people to read the rest of the Bible.

The second group are those who just get really fed up with all things “End Times,” or at least the cacophony of voices that surround the discussion. They are bothered by the fact that there seems to be endless theories as to how to interpret the Book of Revelation. Even the great Protestant Reformer, Martin Luther, observed that “everyone thinks of the book whatever his spirit imparts.” For Luther, at one point, he went so far as saying that Revelation is “neither apostolic nor prophetic, for Christ is neither taught nor recognized in it.” Nevertheless, despite discouraging its use, Luther recognized that the church historically did view Revelation as part of the New Testament canon, so he did include it in his 16th century translation of the Bible into German.

So that is where we are at: Some feel absolutely compelled to defend their own pet theory about Revelation, and demonizing others, while others simply just want to skip that book of the Bible all together! Well, that is all quite understandable, but both of those attitudes, too, are wrong-headed.

In this “deep-dive” blog post, I want to do a case study in Revelation, by explaining why this book is so difficult to understand, just by examining one, short passage, comparing different approaches, and then draw some positive lessons from the study of Revelation. The bottom line: We should not neglect the Book of Revelation, but neither should we cling too tightly to a particular interpretive tradition of the book. But before I start, I must issue this disclaimer: If you are new to Revelation, I would strongly encourage you to stop reading this blog post, and then click through to first read my introductory post on the Book of Revelation from a few years ago here on Veracity. Otherwise, this will get too confusing way too fast. 

So, who are the 144,000 spoken of in Revelation 7:1-8? Let us walk through this very intriguing question. This is not a short blog post, so you may want to pour yourself a beverage before we move on. Continue reading


Will Jesus Reign for 1000 Years after His Second Coming?

Clarence Larkin, popular dispensationalist Bible teacher of the early 20th century, produced this chart explaining the millennium.

Clarence Larkin, popular dispensationalist Bible teacher of the early 20th century, produced this chart explaining the millennium (credit: clarencelarkin.charts). Click on it to expand.

We have an old joke in our church told by our late pastor emeritus, Dick Woodward. Someone once asked him about his views concerning the Second Coming of Jesus. Was he was a premillennialist, an amillennialist, or a postmillennialist? Dick’s response was that he was a pan-millennialist. When asked, “What is a pan-millennialist?,” Dick replied that it is all going to “pan out” in the end.

The point that Dick was trying to make is that Christians differ on their views regarding the millennium, but they are all united on one important truth:  Jesus is coming back!

Interestingly enough, I find that a lot of people these days do not get the pan-millennialist joke. The main reason it escapes them is that they are not familiar with all of these different ideas about the “millennium” and the whole “pre,” “a,” and “post” bit. Sadly, a lot of churches today do not do such a great job explaining Bible doctrine to their people, so I thought it might be good to do a little Bible study on the subject of the millennium.

Continue reading


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.

 


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