Writing about, reviewing, and discussing a book written by a friend who is also your boss is a no-win proposition. If you are too kind to the book you will be accused of being a suck up. If you are too harsh a demotion must be feared. And since you know that your boss friend is going to be reading it you can’t get away with thinking, “Well, maybe he just won’t notice.”
That’s why I am going to do some posts on my friend Steve Waldman’s new book Founding Faith: Providence, Politics, and the Birth of Religious Freedom in America.
First this note – buy the book. Please, please, please by the book. Buy it here. But it there. Buy it everywhere. The more copies that Steve sells from this post the more likely I am to keep my job. And today my nine-month-old son ate five jars of baby food for breakfast. That stuff is expensive. I need the work. BUY THE BOOK. Buy it for family members and the postman. Of course I am being objective. It is the greatest work of non fiction since… since… Steve Waldman’s last book, The Bill. I would not lie.
Ok, time to be serious.
It IS a great book. And, much to Steve’s surprise, one of the things that I like most about it is that it is a profoundly spiritual book… a profoundly Christian book.
I’ll write more about other parts of the book… and I actually hope to get John DiIulio here so that he and Steve can debate some of the historical and legal aspects of both of their books. But I want to focus on one particularly prophetic thing Steve notes towards the end of the book.
“One of the reasons that men such as Isaac Backus and John Leland, and ultimately, [James] Madison embraced separation of church and state was that they had supreme confidence that, in a free marketplace of ideas, their religion would win. …I can hear Backus shout: How tepid is your faith if you think it can be easily shaken without constant reinforcement by a government-run school! How ineffective must be the churches – and parents – if you rely on the public schools as the only way to keep your children away from depravity! Crutches are for the weak or ill. Backus and Leland would exhort: God does not need the support of government to triumph.
When Jefferson was preparing for a debate over the official church of Virginia, he made a simple notation about a common objection and the answer he would offer up in rebuttal:
Obj. Religion will decline if not supported
And. Gates of Hell shall not prevail…. [from Matthew 16:18]
“How is it,” Waldman asks, “that even Jefferson seemed to have more confidence in the power of Christianity to defeat the forces of evil than many modern Christians?”
Good question that. Particularly coming from a non-Christian.
The answer is that too many modern Christians do have a dim, dim view of the transformative power of their faith. Too many modern Christians – like me – do not really grasp the meaning of the resurrection, the meaning of the ascension, and the continuing power of Jesus to transform lives. We look to government and to politics and there, we are tempted to believe, we can usher in the kingdom by law rather than by love.
That is just one small, small takeaway from Waldman’s book… from Rev. Waldman’s book.
More to come.