The April 2 issue of Christianity Today included an article by Preston Jones entitled "How To Serve Time: There is a Christian way to study the past without weakening the truth." In the article, Jones writes that "Christian writers of history have sometimes failed to distinguish between civil religion and casual Christianity, on the one hand, and biblical Christianity on the other." And he cites as a case in point the 1997 book by George Grant, Carry a Big Stick: The Uncommon Heroism of Theodore Roosevelt. Grant asserts that Roosevelt "stood foursquare on the legacy of biblical orthodoxy." Not so, says Jones: "Teddy Roosevelt had little use for 'biblical orthodoxy,' and to spin him as an orthodox Christian is to get him wrong."

On his Web site, Grant has responded to Jones's article. This response is worth noting for two reasons: first, for the way in which Grant frames his disagreement with Jones, and second, for the specifics of the debate over Roosevelt.

Interestingly, in framing their disagreement, Grant treats Jones as a representative of what he calls the "Evangelically-Correct approach to history." In this reading, Jones represents a party line enforced by the editors of Christianity Today. Indeed, much of Grant's labored sarcasm is directed at CT. As an editor at large for CT, I must admit that I find Grant's picture of the magazine unrecognizable. For example, according to Grant, "in Evangelically-Correct history individuals who hold to a Reformed Worldview can always be compared unfavorably with those who hold to an Arminian Worldview." Certainly this will come as news to many faithful readers of the magazine. And it seems particularly odd that Grant should raise such a charge in connection with an article in the April 2 issue, the cover story of which—Tim Stafford's fine essay, "Looking for God in History"—is largely given to the work of evangelical historians of the Reformed persuasion.

Grant is no more reliable when it comes to responding to specific points in Jones's article. "George Grant claims that Teddy Roosevelt 'led the world into a remarkable epoch of peace,' " Jones tells us. He finds this claim risible. Should we agree? Well, let's see. Roosevelt assumed the presidency in September 1901, after the assassination of President William McKinley, in time to preside over the conclusion of the brutal Philippine War. Roosevelt left office—several "police actions" later—in January 1909. Five years later "the world" plunged into the most terrible war in its history. This is "a remarkable epoch of peace"?

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So how does Grant defend his hyperbole? "Oh yes, and then there is that little matter of Roosevelt winning the Nobel Peace Prize—not exactly the sort of inconvenient fact an able Evangelically-Correct historian like Mr. Jones is apt to introduce into a discussion designed for another purpose altogether: making me look silly." It's true. Like Linus Pauling and Yasser Arafat, among others, Roosevelt won the Peace Prize—in 1906, having drafted the Portsmouth Treaty that ended the Russo-Japanese War the year before. And this proves what, exactly? Let us note, for example, that the treaty cemented Japan's claim to a special right to exercise influence over Korea—which, starting in 1910 and ending only with the Japanese defeat in 1945, meant that Korea would become a colony of Japan, more repressively ruled than America's Asian colony, the Philippines. The point is not to judge Roosevelt with the benefit of 20-20 hindsight, but rather to hint at the absurdity of Grant's imaginary "epoch of peace." May I suggest that Grant doesn't need any help in making himself look silly, so long as he persists in such sophistries?

But there is one point—and an important one—on which Grant merits a hearing. He speaks of his exhaustive study of Roosevelt's books, speeches, and personal correspondence, of "biographies, memoirs, and testimonies of Roosevelt's life." He refers to "the life-long Catechism-reciting, Sunday School-teaching, Puritanical Roosevelt." Clearly, in Grant's informed judgment, Roosevelt's faith was not merely "civil religion" or "casual Christianity." Here is a point on which Jones and Grant flatly contradict each other—and it's on this basis that Jones cites Grant as exemplifying an undesirable type of Christian history-writing. In the interest of getting at the truth of the matter, insofar as it is accessible, here is an open invitation to both historians to make their case on Books & Culture's Web site. Cogent contributions from other interested parties will be welcome, too.

John Wilson is editor of Books & Culture and editor-at-large for Christianity Today.

Related Elsewhere

Visit Books & Culture online at or subscribe here.

Jones's "How to Serve Time" and Grant's "Evangelically-Correct History" are available online.

Grant's Carry a Big Stick: The Uncommon Heroism of Theodore Roosevelt is available from and other book retailers.

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Christianity Today recently published an article about Christian recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize and unsung Christian peacemakers. Roosevelt was not listed among those "explicitly influenced by Christian principles."

"I speak as one proud of his Holland, Huguenot, and Covenanting ancestors, and proud that the blood of that stark Puritan divine Jonathan Edwards flows in the veins of his children," Theodore Roosevelt wrote in his autobiography.

Both the Web sites of Christianity Today and Books & Culture have areas on history and historiography. (And then of course, there's our sister publication Christian History.)

Books & Culture Corner appears Mondays at Earlier Books & Culture Corners include:

'Taken Up in Glory' | The Ascension has been forgotten in many Protestant churches, jettisoning an essential part of the Christian story. (May 21, 2001)

Who Won? Who Cares? | Skip the latest ballot reviews and read Italo Calvino's brilliant election novella "The Watcher." (May 14, 2001)

Infamy Indeed | John Gregory Dunne suggests imperialistic Americans got what they deserved at Pearl Harbor. (May 7, 2001)

Rantings of a Not-So-Primly Dressed Person With Too Much Time | The Chronicle of Higher Education infuses some not-so-subtle bigotry into its fetal-tissue research coverage. (Apr. 30, 2001)

Big Numbers, Big Problems | Christianity is in the midst of a massive global shift. But how much of a difference is it making in its new homelands? (Apr. 16, 2001)

DiIulio Keeps Explaining, But Is Anyone Listening? | At a media luncheon in Washington about Bush's faith-based initiatives, answered questions get asked one more time. (Apr. 9, 2001)

Public-izing Faith | Recent articles in Touchstone, Commonweal, and The New York Times serve as reminders that faith is not merely "a private thing." (Apr. 2, 2001)

How Can I Keep From Singing? | Arne Bergstrom has looked suffering square in the eye all over the world. Now he sings about hope. (Mar. 26, 2001)

To Poland, for an Evening | Once in a great while, a film like Kieslowski's The Decalogue discovers how to transport an audience. (Mar. 19, 2001)

Examining Peacocke's Plumage | The winner of the 2001 Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion rejects everything resembling Christian orthodoxy, but that doesn't stop him from co-opting the language. (Mar. 12, 2001)

Are Scientists Taking Orders from Pat Robertson? | A essay accuses the Intelligent Design movement of being primarily an arm of "conservative Republicans" and the "religious right." (Mar. 5, 2001)

Had Morse No Code? | Like much popular art, the finale of Inspector Morse functions like a dream of the collective unconscious. (Feb. 26, 2001)