Guest / Limited Access /
The Struggle for Lincoln's Soul
The Struggle for Lincoln's Soul

Was Abraham Lincoln a Christian? In this article, excerpted from Books & Culture (one of the magazines published by Christianity Today), former Wheaton College historian and now Notre Dame historian Mark Noll probes the complex character of Lincoln's faith.

Lincoln's religion has been debated almost from the moment of his assassination 130 years ago. Even today, conservative preachers and broadcasters who bemoan the decline of Christian America repeat moving stories of Lincoln's deep piety, while populist naysayers deny such claims. Both groups seem to feel that if only Lincoln could be enlisted on their side—whether of evangelical faith or naturalistic rationalism—it would amount to a great victory for them. But what does the evidence show? The following are facts now well established:

Lincoln was exposed to Calvinistic Baptist preaching as a child and to a clamor of competing Protestant preachers as a young man. In a strange way, he seems to have been both absorbed and repelled by these early influences.

As a young man, Lincoln expressed views that differed from Christian orthodoxy—perhaps a thorough skepticism or maybe only the hypothesis of universal salvation.

Lincoln only once wrote directly about his faith. When opponents in a race for Congress in 1846 accused him of lacking faith, Lincoln penned these careful, noncommittal words: "That I am not a member of any Christian Church, is true; but I have never denied the truth of the Scriptures; and I have never spoken with intentional disrespect of religion in general, or of any denomination of Christians in particular."

—Lincoln knew and quoted the Bible. Sometimes this quoting was only to find a striking ...

Subscriber access only You have reached the end of this Article Preview

To continue reading, subscribe now. Subscribers have full digital access.

Support Christian thought journalism. Donate to our nonprofit ministry today.
Read These NextSee Our Latest
Also in this Issue
Subscriber Access Only Seeker Sensitive on Russia's Frozen Frontier
Russian Baptists blend Orthodox culture with evangelical outreach.
Current IssueWhen God’s Mercy Sounds Like Bad News
Subscriber Access Only
When God’s Mercy Sounds Like Bad News
The patience of the Lord can be a heavy burden.
RecommendedDied: Doug Coe, Humble Faith in the Halls of Power
Died: Doug Coe, Humble Faith in the Halls of Power
His Fellowship is the force behind DC discipleship and the National Prayer Breakfast.
TrendingAll 240 Family Christian Stores Are Closing
All 240 Family Christian Stores Are Closing
More than 3,000 employees in 36 states will be laid off in the liquidation of one of the world’s largest Christian retailers.
Editor's PickMy Missionary Great-Grandfather Led Me to Christ
My Missionary Great-Grandfather Led Me to Christ
But only after I went to Japan in search of his life story.
Christianity Today
The Struggle for Lincoln's Soul
hide thisFebruary 9 February 9

In the Magazine

February 9, 1998

To continue reading, subscribe now for full print and digital access.