David Brainerd, God, and the Founders: Choice Reviews

Paul Harvey

Someone pointed me to this book some time ago, but I've never had a chance to take a look at it. Some of you here will be interested, however, so I'm posting the short Choice review below of Vincent Phillip Muñoz, God and the Founders.

Muñoz, Vincent Phillip. God and the founders: Madison, Washington, and Jefferson. Cambridge, 2009. 242p index; ISBN 9780521515153, $85.00; ISBN 9780521735797 pbk, $24.99. Reviewed in 2010jul CHOICE.
Muñoz (Notre Dame) argues that Supreme Court decisions on religion that have cited the Founding Fathers have ignored the complexity of their views. First, he carefully analyzes the writings and political actions on religion of Madison, Washington, and Jefferson, chosen because of their important roles in establishing and defending religious liberty and separation of church and state. Madison favored nonrecognition of religion by the state, Washington advocated supporting religion insofar as it served to inculcate personal morality and civic virtue, and Jefferson sought freedom of opinion but also wanted to weaken the clergy's power and to foster a rational religion undermining orthodox Christianity. Muñoz then uses the Founders' positions to analyze post-1940 Court rulings on establishment and free-exercise cases, providing a chart to illustrate how individual justices voted. Finally, he shows the weaknesses in the Founders' perspectives and in recent jurisprudence and offers as a doctrine with many advantages a modified Madisonian "No legal privileges, no legal penalties." This is an important book; it is well researched and intelligently argued and has important public policy implications. This reviewer's two reservations are that Virginians do not represent all the Founding Fathers, and "profundity" as a test may not represent the politics of religious liberty. Summing Up: Highly recommended. Especially law schools/theological seminaries; upper-level undergraduates through researchers/faculty. -- J. W. Frost, emeritus, Swarthmore College

Another review of interest from Choice here: John Grigg, The Lives of David Brainerd: The Making of an American Evangelical Icon. Some more extensive commentary on this work may be found here.

Grigg, John A. The lives of David Brainerd: the making of an American evangelical icon. Oxford, 2009. 276p bibl index afp; ISBN 9780195372373, $65.00. Reviewed in 2010jul CHOICE.
David Brainerd (1718-1747) lived a short, inspirational life, emerging from establishment origins in Connecticut through the tempest of the Great Awakening to a brief but personally transforming career as a missionary to the Lenape Indians in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. Thereafter, Brainerd's life became a malleable example for evangelical writers from Jonathan Edwards and John Wesley to Richard Hasler and Ranelda Hunsicker to render Brainerd as a Calvinist, an Armenian, a self-sacrificial missionary, and a Jesus person. Historian Grigg (Univ. of Nebraska-Omaha) now offers both a sound analysis of these posthumous protean and contradictory depictions and a convincing depiction of the real life of Brainerd in historical context. Caught in the maelstrom of the Great Awakening, Brainerd was expelled from Yale and subsequently employed by the Society in Scotland for Propagating Christian Knowledge, where his success at converting Delaware Indians became the source of his fame. Grigg's Brainerd embodies the persevering saint who came to view converted Lenape as siblings among God's redeemed, while unregenerate whites recalled for him the allegedly unconverted established clergy from his student days at Yale. Grigg's exemplary study permits a fuller understanding of the history of 18th-century evangelicalism and revivalism. Summing Up: Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. -- E. R. Crowther, Adams State College


Demosthenes said…
I'll have to check out that book. I am currently writing a series on; Is the USA a Christian nation?(http://GoToP2.blogspot.com/2010/06/is-usa-christian-nation.html) and that might provide not only insight but additional references. Thanks