Glenn Beck has recently raved about a book on the faith of George Washington, helping to propel the book to #1 on Amazon for six days in a row. MediaMatters, which is funded by George Soros, accuses this book of being “revisionist history.” But just who is rewriting history?
The book in question is near and dear to my heart, because I co-wrote it. The chief author of George Washington’s Sacred Fire is Dr. Peter Lillback, president of Westminster Theological Seminary, who researched the subject for some 20 years before we met. We began to collaborate in late 2004, and finished the book in the early summer of 2006. The late Dr. D. James Kennedy launched the book through his television and radio outreach, Coral Ridge Ministries, where I have worked for 25 years now.
George Washington’s Sacred Fire is not revisionist history. It’s a rebuttal to revisionist history—all 1200 pages of it (700 pages of text with 500 pages of appendices and endnotes).
The goal of the book is to set the record straight about George Washington’s faith. Since the early 1960s, many scholars have essentially called our first president a deist—someone who believed that there was a God, but that He was far removed from the daily affairs of men and was not a prayer-answering God.
However, an honest look at the facts of history shows that George Washington was a devout eighteenth century Anglican. He believed the basics of that orthodox, Trinitarian faith, including the substitutionary death of Jesus Christ on behalf of sinners and His bodily resurrection from the dead.
From what we can tell, he had an exemplary private prayer life, he read the Scriptures regularly, and he habitually used the 1662 Book of Common Prayer from the Church of England. This was a very orthodox book—more theologically sound than the average book available in a Christian bookstore today.
We believe that modern skeptics have read into Washington their own unbelief. They have remade Washington into their own image—even though:
- He was clearly an avid Bible reader. His public and private and public writings overflow with scriptural phrases and concepts. (We have an appendix in the book with dozens and dozens of biblical phrases culled from Washington’s own works. It is as if you cut the man, he bled scripture).
- He was a committed churchman, attending regularly when it was convenient and inconvenient; he not only attended service, but he diligently served the church, primarily in his youth, as a lay leader; throughout his life, he generously donated money and material goods for the well-being of the church.
- He was very quiet about his faith, attempting to practice his Christianity without public flourish, as Jesus commended us in the Sermon on the Mount—pray in private. There are numerous accounts—too numerous to be dismissed—of people happening upon Washington in earnest, private prayer. His motto was Deeds, not words.
- He repeatedly encouraged piety, public and private; he insisted on chaplains for the military and legislature; he often promoted “religion and morality” and recognized these as essential for our national happiness. (When he referred to religion, in his day—when 99.8% of the population professed to be Christian—he was referring to Christianity, regardless of the particular denomination.)
- He shunned excessive power, even though a lesser man would have seized it; he did not fight the King of England in order to become a new king, even though men wanted to make him that after he won the war. In this regard, Washington is a model Christian servant-statesman.
These and many other indicators show that revisionists have been misreading George Washington and ignoring the true nature of his spirituality. By so doing, they have presented a very truncated picture of Washington the man.
Washington said that America will only be happy if we imitate “the divine author of our blessed religion.” This is a direct reference to Jesus Christ. This was not an obscure letter; it is the climax of a critical farewell letter the Commander-in-Chief wrote to the governors of all the states at the end of the Revolutionary War. It is known as the Circular to the States, from June 1783. Furthermore, Washington writes about the need to be a good Christian—using the word “Christian”—in several different letters and communiqués.
Because America began on a Christian base, people of all faiths (or no faith) are welcome here. That’s not true of other worldviews, including secular fundamentalism. But to the founders, like Washington, freedom of conscience was paramount.
We have hundreds of pages of documentation of these things—much of it from George Washington himself.
In 1779, he was asked by the Delaware Indian chiefs his advice on how they could better train their sons. He wrote them: “You do well to wish to learn our arts and ways of life, and above all, the religion of Jesus Christ.”
In light of these kinds of facts, just who is revising history here? Glenn Beck or George Soros?
By Jerry Newcombe, co-author of George Washington’s Sacred Fire
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