Guest / Limited Access /

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.

Read These NextSee Our Latest
Current IssueManga Mania
Subscriber Access Only
Manga Mania
The Japanese Bible series has sold more than the Jesus Storybook Bible. So why is it not taking off in Japan?
RecommendedThe Secret Religion of the Slaves
Subscriber Access Only The Secret Religion of the Slaves
They often risked floggings to worship God.
TrendingResearch Says: Young People Don't Want Hip Pastors
Research Says: Young People Don't Want Hip Pastors
A study of 250 congregations suggests that youth and young adults want substance rather than style.
Editor's PickOld Hollywood’s Abortion Secret
Old Hollywood’s Abortion Secret
What a culture of death tells us about a culture of life.
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.