Dr. John Fea is chair of the History Department at Messiah College in Pennsylvania. His interests range from early American history to modern-day politics. His books include, “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?”
Dr. John Fea visited Houston Baptist University and talked with Dr. Jerry Johnston, VP of Innovation and Strategic Marketing for HBU. The Messiah College professor discussed history and the historical dimensions of our current society, particularly related to the Christian faith foundation of our nation.
Johnston asks, “Was there a spiritual motivation, a freedom cause, that led to the inception of the United States of America?”
Referencing his book, “Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?” Fea says, “Part of the strength of the book is that I don’t settle for ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers. It’s very easy to manipulate the past. As a historian, I want to lay aside any kind of political agenda and see what the founders believed.”
Due to the Christian heritage of the American founders, they no doubt incorporated those beliefs into the new republic, Fea says. “Certain Founding Fathers believed in religious liberty – they believed that all human beings had dignity and worth,” he says. “They all had a common belief: republics only work with people who are virtuous. The way to virtue was through the Bible and the historic teachings of Christianity.”
When contemporary people look at the past, we should do so with an assumption that we have different contexts for understanding, Fea explains. “One of the things I like to tell my students is that the past is a foreign country; they do things differently there,” he says. “The heart of education in 17th-century New England was the Bible. Ministers would have been involved in bringing biblical literacy; the Founding Fathers came out of this tradition.”
It was the tenets of the Christian faith that made the new country so incredible. “I think America is very much an exceptional nation – the first nation built upon human rights believed to be from God,” Fea says.
Since our nation’s founding, Christian groups have sought to spread the Gospel and get the Bible into as many hands as possible. “The American Bible Society believed the Bible would not only transform individual lives, prepare people for eternity and help them to live lives pleasing to God, but they also believed this book was central to the mission of the United States,” Fea says.
The Bible continues to be taught in some public schools. “I think many people would like to see the Bible as a textbook,” Fea says. “It’s an important book that’s been a major, major influence on the Western world and beyond. It’s something that – it’s hard to learn about the United States of America without understanding the Bible. I can’t teach most of my general education survey classes without bringing up the Bible. It saturates political language – I think those who would argue for the Bible in public schools would say there must be some biblical literacy in order to understand our country’s past. And if history is going to contribute to making good citizens, you must have some biblical literacy.”
When it comes to reaching this generation, Fea says, “Christians are going to have to come up with a new way to engage – they no longer have a Christian consensus. I think Christians face a challenge today – we’re at a turning point when some new ways of thinking have to be developed.”
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