According to a Newsweek study 70% of Americans don’t know that the Constitution is the supreme law of the land. Or that Susan B. Anthony fought for women’s rights – or that John Boehner is the Speaker of the House of Representatives! And that is a problem specifically because the freedoms we all enjoy as Americans are apt to be lost in this sea of ignorance. So I recommend that you put John Eidsmoe’s book, “Christianity and the Constitution: The Faith of Our Founding Fathers” on your reading list.Dr. Eidsmoe divides his study into three parts: the first is a study of the philosophical and theological roots of America’s founding followed by an examination of thirteen of the Founding Fathers and how those roots impacted their thinking. He concludes with an examination entitled, “The Constitution: Then and Now” which outlines the vast distance we have traveled since our founding.
The first surprise is that ideological father of America is not George Washington or Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin – but John Calvin! Eidsmoe shows fully “two-thirds of the colonial population had been trained in the school of Calvin.” And that fact underscored the very essence of Americanism. To begin with, the Calvinistic notion of the “total depravity” of man (based on Genesis 6:5 and 8:21) required the extensive system of “checks and balances” that are built into the DNA of the American government. Secondly, the notion Calvin promoted of the “priesthood of all believers” required everyone to be conversant in the biblical principles upon which this country was founded. And this required that everyone be able to read the Bible and hence to read generally. This produced the highest literacy rate in the then known world. Lastly, Eidsmoe shows how the Protestant doctrine of Sola Scriptura – the doctrine that the Word of God is the sole, infallible standard for faith and morals – produced an objectivity in the nature of law at the time. One of the master strokes of Eidsmoe’s work is his documenting of America’s departure from this idea of an objective standard of law into something that looks at the Constitution as a “living document”. That concept was foreign to the Founders precisely because of Calvin’s influence but has crept in to American life through the influence of other religions which hold that “objective truth” can be determined outside of God’s Word through the functioning of a human magisterium, quorum or other governing body.
I suspect that the respondents to the Newsweek survey are much less acquainted with the work of John Calvin than they were with that of the Founders. But I believe that recent history proves the worst fears of those Founders – that a government unchecked becomes tyrannical and that the best check against tyranny is an educated, Calvinistic society. Whatever your take on the matter, this book provides myriad insights into what gave the world the greatest government in history. And it is to be hoped that more than 30% of us would avail ourselves of that understanding.