As a young stockbroker with E.F. Hutton, I had the privilege of hearing Sir John Templeton speak the day after the 1987 stock market crash on the morning squawk box call. He projected that the Dow Jones Industrial Index would rebound and reach 3,000 by 1990. His optimism and foresight proved to be true. Later as a philanthropist, he established the John Templeton Foundation which serves as a “philanthropic catalyst for discovery in areas engaging life’s biggest questions”. His son, John M. Templeton, Jr., M.D. is chairman and president of the foundation today and wrote the “Forward” to George Washington’s Sacred Fire, Dr. Peter Lillback’s exhaustive expose on George Washington’s faith.
Like most people, I seldom read the “Forward” to a book, preferring to get to the heart of the matter instead. I had read through Dr. Lillback’s book’s nearly 1200 pages once already, but was motivated to read it a second time. The “Forward” seemed worthy of my eye this time. While reading it over, I was impressed with the depth of Dr. Templeton’s insight and want to share it with you in a couple of blogs. Here is the first installment.
In many of America’s secondary schools and schools of higher education, history is considered irrelevant to the post-modern and multi-cultural world. Entire curricula on American history have been written with only passing reference to our founding fathers, including George Washington.
But this is not a sudden event. The roots of this historical revisionism go back to the early nineteen hundreds as many elite leaders and educators in America began, intentionally, to move in a direction away from America’s Christian heritage.
George Washington, the preeminent figure at the beginning of America as a new, independent nation, has been subjected to the reinterpretation of American history by numerous secular scholars. Motivated by a world view that rejects the foundational doctrine of George Washington’s world view – Divine Providence – these scholars have filtered out and misrepresented the extensive evidence of George Washington’s faith. As a result they have created a secular George Washington as a truncated figure from the heroic figure known by his contemporaries.
One cannot begin to understand the totality of George Washington and the faith which animated him unless one first explores the strong orthodox Christian upbringing which he experienced as a youngster. From his early years, he embraced a lifelong dedication to his Anglican faith. How he lived his faith was very much influenced by his passion for self-discipline, self-control, and rectitude. His personality caused him to avoid laying his heart on his sleeve.
Nevertheless, Washington’s comtemporaries clearly saw in him his strong Christian faith and his appeal to, and trust in, “Providence,” to which he regularly gave thanks, publicly and privately.
It was only many decades after his death that some historians began to interpret Washington’s values and beliefs, more from their own frame of reference, rather that by the extensive writings and utterances of Washington during his lifetime. Because some early American patriots, like Thomas Paine, were Deists, that is those who believed in a distant and remote Deity, many more recent historians have tried to label a number of the luminaries of the founding fathers of America as also being Deists. For example, it is often said today that Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin were Deists. Yet, each man in a variety of contexts spoke earnestly of their conviction as Theists – that God was both approachable by man and that God played an ever-active role in the affairs of man. Consider Thomas Jefferson’s declaration: “God who gave us life gave us liberty. And can the liberties of a nation be thought secure when we have removed our only firm basis, a conviction in the minds of the people that these liberties are the gift of God?” It is not surprising, therefore, that Thomas Jefferson and his fellow founders would have referred four times in the Declaration of Independence to a Creator God of Providence. Likewise, consider the statement ot Benjamin Franklin delivered at the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia in 1787: “I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth: that God governs in the affairs of man.”
In the case of George Washington, this book George Washington’s Sacred Fire documents with exhaustive detail and analysis that Washington was not only a Theist, as seen in his very frequent references to Providence, but that Washington was also an orthodox Trinitarian Christian. First, in regard to the impact of a Providential God, Washington later in his public life said: “It is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the Providence of Almighty God, to obey his will, to be grateful for his benefits, and humbly implore his protection and favor.” (Thanksgiving Proclamation, October 3, 1789)