A Christian Nation? Schaeffer Weighs In

Every once in a while a kerfuffle bubbles up about whether or not the United States was founded as a Christian nation. The question can take many forms. Were the Founding Fathers personally committed Christians? Did they expect the Bible or parts of it to be the bedrock of the country? Was Christianity intended to be the unofficial established religion of the land?



such questions are raised in the context of justifying calls to reinsert Christian customs or values back into the public culture. Since the country was founded on such a basis, so the argument goes, we should return to these founding principles.

I was rereading a book by twentieth-century apologist Francis Schaeffer the other day, and I think he got it just right over forty years ago.

If one were to ask whether Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Jefferson personally were Christians, the answer, as best we can judge from what they said, is no. Nonetheless, they produced something that had some sort of Christian framework because they were producing it out of a Christian consensus of Samuel Rutherford’s Lex Rex.* Thus from a Christian framework Jefferson and Franklin were able to write that men have certain inalienable rights, a notion derived from a specifically Christian world view.

In essence, Jefferson, Franklin and most of the other Founders used ideas built on a Christian foundation to frame a country and a political system, not to promote Christianity.

What is interesting about Schaeffer’s point is that he makes it in a book that’s not about politics at all. It is in Art and the Bible that Schaeffer explains how artists might not have personal Christian convictions but nonetheless do their work out of a Christian consensus. To illustrate how this might happen, he makes his comparison to Jefferson and Franklin.


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two millennia Christianity has influenced great artists, great political thinkers, great scientists, great humanitarians, great business people, great inventors, great educators. They fought slavery, reduced poverty, cured diseases, increased literacy, made amazing discoveries. Sometimes they were Christians and worked toward Christian purposes. Sometimes not. Schaeffer knew that. Now we do too.

*A seventheenth-century book by a Scottish Presbyterian minister published with the subtitle The Law Is King that emphasized the importance of covenant and which influenced John Locke’s political theory.

Author: Andy Le Peau

I've been an editor and writer for over forty years. I am passionate about ideas and how we can express them clearly, beautifully, and persuasively. I love reading good books, talking about them, and recommending them. I thoroughly enjoy my family who help me continue on the path of a lifelong learner.

3 thoughts on “A Christian Nation? Schaeffer Weighs In”

  1. This is a topic that came up frequently during my quarter century as a military chaplain. Thank for you for a very concise and accurate response to this persistent question.

  2. Schaeffer’s response seems so reasonable and self-evident. It seems like we should have known it already.

  3. What I most appreciated about Schaeffer’s post WWII European perspective of Christianity in relation to the secular in the arts, sciences, humanities, religions, governments, etc. is that, like Niebuhr’s earlier anatomy of Christ and Culture, such a perspective provides each of us with a flexibility and pluralism in obeying our Lord’s injunction to live within the secular world to bear witness to Christ and to the truth as best we can. Such a mindset focuses on the inclusive rather than the exclusive where it can. If Jefferson and Franklin, even Adams, had been more Evangelical than Deist or Reformed, perhaps the resources and advantages that Christians presently possess in witness to the gospel, in seeking the truth, and in feeding the poor would be less possible and effective.

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