Some argue that the American Revolution was motivated by Christian ideals—the love of political and religious liberty, and the passion to create a society built on biblical values. Many scholars say the Revolution was merely the product of Enlightenment deists—rationalists who believed God, like a watchmaker, set the universe running and let people manage it by reason. They wanted to found a just and free society on rational, scientific principles.

How we resolve this disagreement depends upon how we pose the question. If the question is, Was there unambiguous biblical justification for the Revolution? we probably have to say no. While many Christians supported independence, many others (Tories) argued for submission to Great Britain—and many pacifists argued biblically that war under any circumstances was wrong.

If we ask instead whether the Revolution was sustained by Christian ideals (versus Enlightenment rationalism) the answer is tangled. In fact, both of these ideologies embraced the ideals and rhetoric of liberty and together were the driving forces behind the Revolution. Despite their pronounced differences, each supported the other and, in the words of historian Patricia Bonomi, “did not cause separate channels but flowed as one stream toward the crisis of 1776.”

Kingdom of Heaven

The responses of both Christians and rationalists to British rule followed similar lines, but their visions and arguments for independence were clearly different.

As talk of revolution increased, colonial clergymen preached the justness of the colonists’ cause. Samuel Langdon from Massachusetts, for example, preached in 1775: “If God be for us, who can be against us.… May we not be confident that the Most High … will plead our righteous cause?” ...

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