Tag Archives: american church history

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

The Trial of Anne Hutchinson

Anne Hutchinson was a Puritan. She and her husband, William, left England in the 1630s, to follow their pastor, John Cotton, to New England, to help establish what Governor John Winthrop called “a city upon a hill.”

The visionaries of the Massachusetts Bay Colony were hoping to build a Christian community, an embodiment of the true church, that would call the Church of England, back in their homeland, to return to the pattern as revealed and described in the pages of the New Testament. New England would become a beacon of light, living out a biblically grounded establishment of Christendom, that all the world could see. Through the combined efforts of both church and state, God would be glorified, as his people sought to be obedient. But by admitting Anne Hutchinson into their midst, the Puritan fathers of New England faced a severe challenge, more than what they bargained for.

Anne Hutchinson on Trial

Mrs. Hutchinson, a midwife, who herself bore 15 children, became well-known in the Massachusetts Puritan community, offering assistance particularly with her skills in handling pregnancy and parenting. But she became dismayed by some of the preaching in the Boston churches.

Anne Hutchinson formed a meeting in her home, designed to help other women in the colony process what was preached about the previous Sunday. Her command of Scripture was impressive, as she had vigorously studied and memorized Scripture, since she was a young girl. Her father, yet another Puritan clergyman back in England, had been put on trial for heresy, for criticizing his Anglican superiors, for their overly Roman Catholic-like, traditionalist errors. Anne Hutchinson shared her father’s disdain for the lax practices of the Church of England, and sought to ground her theology with  a comprehensive knowledge of the Bible.

Word soon got out that Anne Hutchinson disproved of what she thought was a covenant of works, being taught by some of Boston’s preachers. Like most Puritans, Anne Hutchinson believed that Adam was under a covenant of works, whereby Adam was required to satisfy the demands of divine law and human order. But she also believed that after Adam’s sin, a new covenant of grace was promised by God, and given to humans by faith, through the finished work of Jesus Christ’s death on the Cross.

According to Ephesians 2:8-10, the works performed by a Christian were to be considered as a fruit, or byproduct, of God’s free act of grace, given to the believer. But whereas most Puritan preachers insisted that such works were merely a means of giving evidence of God’s grace at work, of giving assurance that one is indeed a member of God’s elect, Anne Hutchinson was not convinced that Boston’s preachers understood this correctly. The colony’s rules, enforced by the magistrate of the state, requiring everyone to attend church every week, only reinforced her view that Massachusetts had fallen into legalism. She was convinced that Boston’s preaching establishment had lapsed back into Roman Catholic-like thinking, sneaking human works back in, as a condition of one’s salvation.

Curious men began to appear at the Bible studies in Anne Hutchinson’s home, and the civil authorities became alarmed by the dissension caused by her teachings. Her sharpest critics accused her of “antinomianism,” of teaching against God’s purpose for the law and morality. Charges were drafted by Governor John Winthrop and other governing authorities, and Mrs. Hutchinson was brought up for trial.

When challenged by her accusers, Anne Hutchinson responded back, inquiring why the biblical model for dealing with such cases, according to Matthew 18:15-18, had not been followed. Why had she not been confronted in private, before being brought before a public trial?

When charged with violating 1 Timothy 2:12, that a woman was forbidden from teaching or exercising authority over a man, and thus requiring that woman to remain quiet, Anne Hutchinson shot back by quoting from Titus 2:3-5, that the older women were encouraged by Paul to teach the younger women. Her meetings were designed for women, and not for men. The men that came to Anne Hutchinson’s meetings came of their own free will, and not by any encouragement made by her.

The Puritan fathers of Massachusetts had met their match in Anne Hutchinson, and the authorities feared a breakdown in church conformity, perceiving a threat to the unity of the colony. But when pressed further by the authorities, as to why she felt she was confident that her understanding was correct, as opposed to the majority of Boston’s ministers, Anne Hutchinson stepped on a theological landmine.

She replied with a question to her accusers: “How did Abraham know that it was God that bid him offer his son, being a breach of the Sixth Commandment?” When her interlocutors answered by admitting that Abraham had heard “an immediate voice,” she too claimed that God had given her “an immediate revelation.”

A direct revelation from God? Was this what Anne Hutchinson was claiming? Did this not go beyond the authority of Sacred Scripture? Would this not threaten to undo the social cohesion of the “city upon a hill?”

Anne Hutchinson was now trapped, by her own theological rigor. Even John Cotton, her beloved pastor, whom she adored, and followed to New England, turned against her. She was forced to recant and repent of her theological errors. But the Massachusetts authorities were not convinced that Anne Hutchinson had truly repented, believing that she was lying. As a result, Anne Hutchinson was banished from the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Anne Hutchinson and her husband were forced to flee from Boston. After a stay for several years in Rhode Island, her husband died. The remaining Hutchinson family then settled in New York. A few years later, a wave of anti-colonist fervor arose from among nearby Native Americans. Anne Hutchinson pledged to put her trust in God, and refused to leave. Tragically, a massacre by these Indians led to her death. Five of her children were scalped to death, along with Anne Hutchinson. Then her home was burned down. Back in Boston, critics of Anne Hutchinson looked upon her death, and the others in her family, as a sign of judgment by God, against her heretical opinions.

Though often thought of today in secular history as a prototypical “feminist,” and even a type of free-thinker, Anne Hutchinson was far from being an egalitarian of any sort, and surely not a radical. She firmly remained committed to affirming the principle of men, and men only, serving in the position of being elders and/or overseers in the local church. But such spiritual authority would only be respected if such leaders were truly submitted to the teachings of God’s Word.

Though much of the 17th century’s, Puritan theological context remains unfamiliar to many Christians now, it might be fair to say that Anne Hutchinson’s theology aligns well with the contemporary “Free Grace Movement,” that rejects the so-called concept of “Lordship Salvation.” Advocates of “Lordship Salvation” contend that you can not accept Jesus as your Savior, without also accepting Jesus as your Lord. In other words, you either accept Jesus as both Lord and Savior, or you have failed to accept the true Gospel. Reminiscent of Anne Hutchinson, advocates of “Free Grace” today believe that “Lordship Salvation” is somehow smuggling a salvation by works theology into salvation. However, “Lordship Salvation” critics of the “Free Grace Movement” maintain that this approach diminishes the Gospel, by failing to call others to repentance from their sins.

So, did Anne Hutchinson truly fall within this theological error? No matter how one answers this question, the testimony of history shows that such theological disputes can be very difficult to resolve amicably, when the interests of the church become deeply intertwined with the interests of the state.

This blog post was inspired by reading John M. Barry’s, Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul, chapter 21 (p. 243ff), where Barry discusses the story of Anne Hutchinson, a key figure during the early American Puritan era.



David Barton’s “Creative” Re-Interpretation of the Founding Fathers

I had a great Fourth of July weekend. How about you?

On the 4th itself, I spent a great afternoon with Christian friends, complete with hotdogs, hamburgers, corn hole games, and watermelon seed spitting contests, and we even gathered for a moment of prayer, with a young man, who is serving his first year as a United States Marine, defending a country that we Americans love so dear. The fireworks got rained out, but that was okay. It was a great day to remember the freedoms that all Americans share. At the top of the list, as a Christian, I am most grateful to live in a country that values the freedom of religion, that allows me to worship freely, and celebrate the life we believers have in Christ, without fear of government interference or reprisals. Amen!

It is a freedom that Americans, of all worldview backgrounds, should never take for granted. I do wonder if it was as hot as it was back in the summer of 1776, when the Founding Fathers met together, as compared to the Virginia heat of the past weekend!

So, I was intrigued to learn that David Barton, of Wallbuilders, a popular Christian speaker, who goes around to various churches, to talk about America’s Founding Fathers, was recently interviewed by popular conservative talk show host, Ben Shapiro.

Let me say something right up front about David Barton. I admire his enthusiasm for American history and his concerns about how so many people have forgotten about the Christian roots of American society. He is an excellent communicator, and I do hope that his excitement in learning about history will become contagious, for the next generation.

Barton has had a number of critics on the secular left. Books with titles like The Godless Constitution have prompted many to dismiss the Christian heritage of the United States, and in many ways, David Barton has been right to try to correct that misunderstanding of history.

However, David Barton has proven to be a controversial figure. In 2012, Barton’s book The Jefferson Lies was pulled from publication, by his Christian publisher, due to criticism from other evangelical Christian historians and other leading scholars, regarding certain misrepresentations of history. As Jay Richards put it, Barton’s books and videos are full of “embarrassing factual errors, suspiciously selective quotes, and highly misleading claims.”  The Museum of the Bible has had to correct years of misinformation propagated by David Barton, surrounding the so-called Aitken Bible. David Barton has issued confusing statements about whether or not Mormons can hold orthodox beliefs about Christianity, prompting a Christian radio outlet to cancel Barton’s radio show in 2011. In 2016, David Barton made the claim that he had an “earned doctorate,” only to retract that claim a day later, when he was challenged by at least one other scholar, with an earned PhD.

Nevertheless, David Barton must have some type of teflon coating, as he still manages to bounce back from the controversies. He was able to find another Christian publisher to republish his book on Jefferson. Popular Christian actor Kirk Cameron made a movie that featured an interview with David Barton, without addressing any controversy. Even one of my (otherwise) favorite Christian authors, Eric Metaxas, featured David Barton in a book Metaxas wrote, a few years ago, without mentioning Barton’s troubles.

Like Lazarus, David Barton manages to rise again.

It is enough to drive conscientious, but otherwise less entertaining, evangelical Christian historians and scholars bananas. Because David Barton has no doctoral training in history, he is not part of any peer-reviewing, scholarly community, that can double-check his work. Why Christian leaders still promote Barton, while simultaneously failing to encourage him to submit to peer-review, and thereby correct some of his errors, is baffling.

I actually enjoyed meeting David Barton, when he came to my church to speak, about 14 years ago. We had a pleasant conversation, and I got the sense that he is a sincere man, with a desire to serve God and honor our nation’s Christian heritage. But two weeks of fact checking his presentation, and finding glaring errors, made me rather leery of what he is doing. I just wish he would fess up to making such mistakes and correct them, instead of dismissing all of his critics as secular, left-leaning liberals.

This is hard to quantify. But if I had to ballpark it, roughly about 80% of what David Barton says is reliable. The other 20% is pure bunk.  The Gospel Coalition has a very helpful blog post covering some of David Barton’s problems in detail, with a fantastic interview with prominent evangelical historians, George Marsden and Mark Noll, to help set the record straight, regarding The Search for Christian America.

The strange thing about this is that most Christians would never knowingly tolerate reading or listening to someone, who got 4 out of 5 things right. Christians are supposed to be people committed to the TRUTH, more than anything else. Right? How would you know what 80% to trust, and what 20% to distrust? But hey, that is apparently the world we live in today.

So, in the interest of setting the record straight yet again, here are some reflections on Ben Shapiro’s interview with David Barton: first, from Warren Throckmorton, the author of Getting Jefferson Right: Fact Checking Claims about Our Third President, and then secondly, a running commentary of the Shapiro interview by Messiah College historian, John Fea, the author of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? Revised Edition: A Historical Introduction.

Last count, there were over 120,000 views of David Barton on Shapiro’s show on YouTube. So, we somehow have to get the word out to at least 120,000 people that maybe there is more to the stories that David Barton is telling.

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