Occasionally, we’d like to highlight a significant book that we’ve recently read. For our American users, here’s a book worth picking up, and here’s the review to go with it: For about a week, I had been working through Barack Obama’s book, The Audacity of Hope on audiobook. Six hours of Barack Obama. Imagine the difference between reading a book written by Barack Obama and then reading one written by an author from a staunchly conservative, faith-based perspective and worldview. For illustration, consider the difference in taste between a cherry popsicle and a pickle. Both are usually cold, smooth, and crunchy. The difference in taste, however, is significant.
For the illustration, it doesn’t matter whose book is the pickle and whose is the popsicle. The point is, reading Obama’s book only served to highlight the distinctive nature of Rod Gragg’s book, Forged in Faith: How Faith Shaped the Birth of a Nation. The distinctive feature of Founded in Faith is its thesis. Rod Gragg’s thesis is that America was built upon on the Christian faith, the essential elements of which were nearly unanimously espoused and defended by its founders. The author asserts and defends that behind each founding father and behind each political pen was the influence a faith-filled home or the affect of some notable religious figure.
The measure of a book’s success is found in how well the book proves its thesis. How does Gragg do? Not too bad. That is, as long as you understand what he means by “forged in faith.” Lest you think that each founding father was an ardent evangel, a bold proclaimer of biblical truth, and a staunch defender of orthodoxy, think again. After all, the Continental Congress had its fair share of skeptics, scoffers, and dissenters. It wasn’t a Sunday School class at a Baptist Church. It was a political machine, plotting the nascency of the United States of America.
Gragg’s point is not to defend Ben Franklin’s deism, or Thomas Jefferson’s dubious higher criticism of the Bible. Rather, Gragg observes that the intellectual milieu of American history pre-1776, and therefore the presuppositional stance of the founders was predominately Judeo-Christian. To put it simpler, America was forged in faith—pretty much. Gragg’s story is a tapestry of epic battles, personal journeys, individual relationships, and poignant journal entries from early Americans. Along the way, even the skeptical reader can assent to Gragg’s thesis, proven through quotation, narration, circumstantial evidence, and the occasional bit of authorial conjecture.
Points of Commendation:
- Gragg does a decent job exonerating the puritans from the stereotypical dour-and-depressed perception that is held by many people today. Although Gragg’s defense tends toward the cliché, it is nonetheless a helpful reminder as he discusses the formative role of this important religious group in American history.
- If there’s one thing that Gragg has done a lot of, it’s homework. And reading. And lots of quotations from the original sources. A major source of his authority is his linebacker-like assemblage of quotations from the founders themselves.
- Appropriately, the lion’s share of Gragg’s discussion is of religion. He traces the lives of prominent religious people, and explains the impact that they had upon the founding fathers. He also sketches the ebb and flow of religious movements in American history.
Points of Question:
- Gragg is a masterful historian. As such, I’m sure he has no questions as to the chronology of early America. Readers who are les masterful historians than Gragg may, however, be confused by the way that he tends to merrily hop backward and forward in the timeline, without due warning. The book is not meant to be a narrative history, but nonetheless, a more straightforward progression through America’s history would have made the discussion easier to follow.
- It’s one thing to force a false plot upon historic events where the plot isn’t a historical reality. That’s called historical dishonesty. It’s quite another thing to have a true historical plot in history, but not incorporate that into your book on history. That’s called boring. While Gragg hasn’t quite managed to swing all the way to the “boring” side of the equation, he comes dangerously close. The tension, drama, intrigue, risk, excitement, and—for lack of a better term—plot of the faith-forging of early America is just begging to be incorporated into a exciting book by a qualified historian. Somehow, the page-turning anticipation of the built-in historical plot is missing from Gragg’s treatment.
When I finished the book, I found myself savoring the aftertaste of the cool, crunchy, and refreshing…um…taste of the book. There was none of the thirst-inducing, mouth-puckering…uh…repugnance that I had experienced with other books that I had read before My final assessment of the book is that it is a worthy historical perusal. Gragg makes an important point, and backs it up in a powerful way.
Disclosure of Material Connection: Please note that we have received this audiobook free of charge from Oasis Audio as part of a book review program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions expressed herein are strictly the opinions of the reviewer. Disclosed in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”