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Was America Founded as a Christian Nation?: A Historical Introduction

3.99  ·  Rating Details ·  148 Ratings  ·  29 Reviews
Fea offers an even-handed primer on whether America was founded to be a Christian nation, as many evangelicals assert, or a secular state, as others contend. He approaches the title's question from a historical perspective, helping readers see past the emotional rhetoric of today to the recorded facts of our past. Readers on both sides of the issues will appreciate that ...more
Paperback, 287 pages
Published February 16th 2011 by Westminster John Knox Press (first published November 4th 2010)
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Community Reviews

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JR Smith
Feb 16, 2012 JR Smith rated it it was amazing
This book presents a really interesting and balanced look at early American history. The author takes the question about whether America is a Christian nation and parses it out into smaller questions. First, what do you mean by America -- are you referring to the Puritan colonial period, the Revolutionary War period, the early national period? "America" meant something different in all three of those times, and the answer to the book's title question would change accordingly. And even more ...more
Helpful, balanced analysis of the role of the Christian faith in the shaping and development of our nation. Fea cuts through the myths of both the right and the left:
1) That America was founded AS a Christian nation
2) That the Founders were mostly unorthodox deists who founded a secular society intended to be free from the influence of religion.

Three clear sections of the book cover the basics of this complex question.
1) An overview of the "Christian America" question as it has been debated from
Best book I've found on the topic . . .

. . . but with its limitations. The author is as objective as can be in a genre in which everyone has an axe to grind. My only criticism would be in how he defines "Christian." What does it mean to say a person is (a) Christian? What does it mean to say a nation is Christian? What does all of that mean for then and what does that mean for now? Seems to me that sort of reflection is necessary in a book like this. The author seems heavy on orthodoxy as the me
Lis Carey
Nov 13, 2011 Lis Carey rated it it was amazing
Shelves: non-fiction, history
Whether or not America was founded as a "Christian nation" is a touchy political topic right now, and figures in other touchy political topics as well. John Fea gives us a very thorough and thoughtful discussion of the matter, and arrives at the conclusion most historians not involved in the political world would give: It's Complicated.

In the first part of the book, Fea looks at the substantial body of evidence, going back to the early 19th century, that the idea of America as a Christian nation
Dec 17, 2013 David rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
This book tackles a debate that consistently goes on in our country. What debate? The title makes it obvious - was America founded as a Christian nation? If you listen to some evangelical Christians, especially those who are followers of David Barton, the answer is an unequivocal yes. Likewise, those on the other side respond with an equally unequivocal no.

This reveals part of the problem and challenge - this historical debate plays out in contemporary politics. What happened then is used to pi
David Santos
Jan 19, 2012 David Santos rated it it was amazing
Boy, talk about a history lesson. I learned more about Americas history in the past few hours than I did in those 12 years in school! This is a great book if you want to learn about the history of Christianity in the US of A. However, I wasn't looking for a history lesson, I was looking for the answer to the question "Was America Founded as a Christian nation?" The author near the end (in the conclusion) says that its not an answer that can be given a yes or a no. Fine, I'll answer it. Answer is ...more
Andrew Wise
Jun 08, 2012 Andrew Wise rated it it was amazing
Accessible introduction to the issues involved in answering the title question. This is the first book I would recommend to someone who is interested in exploring the influences of Christianity on America's founding.
Apr 15, 2015 Lauren rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
I have been intrigued by the questionable extent of America's Christian heritage for a few years now. I took a Christian America as a given as a young adult; I was probably almost "brainwashed" with the idea in the culture in which I grew up. And then I worked for a Christian publisher in its history department, which approached the founding of America with a Christian viewpoint. It was during those years when I first wondered if Christians could condone the rebellious and violent acts that were ...more
Scott Tsao
Aug 24, 2013 Scott Tsao rated it it was amazing
As a student of history and a follower of Jesus Christ, I feel very blessed to come across this book as my first read in American history. The author took a 3-prong approach to answer this question: "Was America founded as a Christian nation?"

Part one presents a historical survey of the idea that the US is a "Christian nation" in 4 stages:
1) Evangelical America, 1789-1865
2) Evangelicals, Liberals, and Christian America, 1865-1925
3) Christian America in a Modern Age, 1925-1980
4) History for the F
Greg Bailey
Dec 30, 2015 Greg Bailey rated it really liked it
The idea of America as a Christian nation is so pervasivie (or at least has been in my experience) that I had to fight a mild temptation to regard this book as a polemic against the idea. But John Fea provides so much information in such a clear and direct way, with no glaring evidence of bias and with no major revisions of the facts I have gleaned elsewhere about the American Revolution and the founders, that I came away with nothing but respect for Fea and this work. In short, this book is an ...more
Robert D. Cornwall
May 22, 2011 Robert D. Cornwall rated it it was amazing
This is one of those books that everyone really does need to read. John Fea has written a very accessible account of the role religion played in the founding of the nation. He makes clear that founding isn't the same thing as planting. Thus, we need to have a good discussion about when the nation began -- and that isn't something we're all in agreement upon.

John's book takes a middle road between those who say that American was founded as a Christian nation (ala David Barton)and try to envision
Al Gritten
Dec 22, 2012 Al Gritten rated it liked it
This book was a very even handed look at both sides of this question. It is very well documented with both source documents and related contextual information. The author does not attempt to answer the question. In fact, Fea suggests that the problem with this question is the question itself. He suggests that many who argue either side of the question are seeking to establish an agenda that requires a simple answer. The answers to the question are very complex. Fea does an outstanding job of ...more
Bill Main
Apr 01, 2015 Bill Main rated it really liked it
I have set out to study the Constitution and its period especially in mind of currently and past amendment discussions. Upon doing so, I found that this particular topic needed clarification. I read this book at the same time as "Faiths of Our Founders" by David Holmes. By reading them both I hoped to get an idea of both sides of the topic. I got so much more. I had to put that particular study aside and read again "Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity" by Paul Barnett. This along with the ...more
Jeff Culver
Aug 11, 2012 Jeff Culver rated it really liked it
Fea's book is essential for someone hoping to wade through the loaded question of America's Christian heritage. I expected a geneology that would reveal the term's fairly recent emergence, but interestingly, Fea chronicles how the idea of America as a Christian nation has been put to diverse and conflicting use for the last 2-300 years. Most strikingly, Fea brings to light how such rhetoric was used for oppression, particularly when "Christian nation" really meant, "Protestant" nation. His ...more
Nov 24, 2015 Christian rated it it was amazing
This book provides the introduction it advertises, laying out an overview of "Christian America" throughout time, examining the motives of the American Revolution, and profiling the beliefs and actions of several founding fathers. The resulting answer to the title question is the inevitable, but proper, yes and no. History is complex and historical figures and groups are never as black and white on issues as we demand them to be. Fea is respectful of both sides of the arguments and simply ...more
Mar 19, 2016 Christopher rated it really liked it
This is the first truly historical approach I have seen taken on this subject. Though, like all historians, the writer still has a bias, he seems more than willing to accept the points where history contradicts his bias. Most things that I have read or heard on this subject have not been histories but arguments, with people trying to prove their point one way or another on this subject. Such arguments are not helpful. Everyone interested in an accurate look at this question should read this ...more
Catherine Martin
Jul 27, 2016 Catherine Martin rated it it was amazing
There has developed a lot of controversy about whether or not America is a "Christian Nation", and, if so, what that means for us in the 21st century. I found Fea's book to be a welcome addition to the conversation. His answer to the question in the title of the book is, "Well, kind of." In his book, he evaluates the religious practices of the colonies from their settlement up through the revolution. He then evaluates the religious beliefs and practices of many of the important Founders. It's a ...more
Aug 06, 2011 Keith added it
An excellent critique of the history of Christianity in America and the 'faith' of its founders. Fea gives a very balanced history which shows how Christian 'faith' indeed had a major influence in the original colonies and lives of the founders, while at the same time putting an end to the myths that the founders were "Christian" in the way many would like to believe.

Both critics and advocates of a "Christian America" will be more adequately informed on the real history of the country and its f
Apr 01, 2013 Gerry rated it liked it
The short answer to the title question: no.

The long answer to the title question: no, not really.

The book centers on various attempts throughout American history to ascribe religious meaning to the Constitution and the machinations of the states to found their constitutions and laws on biblical principles. As time has demonstrated, though, those laws are eventually struck down as being unconstitutional because--wait for it--America is not a Christian nation.

A little dry at times, like history it
Tom Mackie
Oct 23, 2012 Tom Mackie rated it really liked it
A tough look at the founders and their individual faiths. It became more clear that the leadership of the Revolution was politically Christian not orthodox. Christianity was valuable as a means to grow a healthy republic not as a non-political faith in Christ. Fea demonstrates the exaggerated position used by the political right to claim Christian origins of America for partisan goals. This is part of a series of works that have been recently published on this theme.
Jon D
Nov 12, 2013 Jon D rated it really liked it
A solid and judicious work, but somewhat oddly organized, concluding with a set of chapters describing in fairly broad terms the religious beliefs of several of the leading political figures of the Constitutional period but not really proceeding from the preceding discussion. Informative, though...
Jul 11, 2011 Brad rated it really liked it
AWESOME book! I know Dr. Fea and can attest to his historical integrity. This is a fantastic book for anyone who is interesting in American religious history. If you've ever heard friends or family proclaim the United States to be a "Christian Nation" but have wondered if that was true or just exactly what that meant, this is the book for you.
Dec 17, 2012 Alan rated it really liked it
This is an excellent discussion of the nature and purposes of history for the non-historian like myself, disguised as a series of short essays on the American Revolution, the Founding Fathers, and the framing of the Constitution. By the way, the answer to his title question is, unsurprisingly, both 'Yes' and 'No'.
Moses Operandi
Mar 31, 2012 Moses Operandi rated it it was ok
Shelves: didn-t-finish
I didn't finish this book, and it hopefully wasn't because I'm a lazy bum.

The author's writing style was evenhanded in the extreme. This is generally seen as a good thing, but I like an author to lead me to a conclusion, whether I agree with it or not, so that I can feel like I'm getting somewhere.
Luke Stoltzfoos
Jan 06, 2016 Luke Stoltzfoos rated it really liked it
Though I am still not sure I think the question matters at this point in our history, I thought it was a really good read - and I loved the author's voice and character. A good book to have to read for a history class. :)
Timothy Maples
May 24, 2012 Timothy Maples rated it really liked it
An excellent balanced view of the topic. Mr. Fea avoids the errors of the far-right "America is the new Israel" crowd while not succumbing to the securalist "All the founders were atheists or Deists" meme. Highly recommended.
chris tierney
Feb 25, 2015 chris tierney rated it really liked it
Shelves: library, nonfiction
A thorough, fair, highly readable introduction to the historical facts behind the debate of the title. This should be required reading for every politically engaged US citizen.
Stephanie rated it really liked it
Jan 03, 2014
Stephanie rated it really liked it
Aug 04, 2011
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John Fea (PhD, State University of New York at Stony Brook) is associate professor of American history and chair of the history department at Messiah College in Mechanicsburg, Pennsylvania. He is the author of Was America Founded as a Christian Nation? and writes a popular daily blog, The Way of Improvement Leads Home.
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“Writing in 1855, church historian Philip Schaff quoted an Austrian writer who observed, “The United States are by far the most religious and Christian country in the world . . . because religion is there most free.” 0 likes
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