Review: Forged in Faith

Forged in Faith was good, but it fell a bit short of my expectations — or at least what I was looking for. It started out by focusing on the various faith-based influences on the founding of specific settlements and colonies. I could have listened to an entire book based on this.
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There were also interesting tidbits on the role of key religious leaders like
George Whitefield and Jonathan Edwards. I wish there had been more time spent on the influence of these people, but given the relatively short length of the book, I can understand why they got the limited focus they did.

The book really started to fall apart for me when it hit the years leading up to the American Revolution. The focus narrowed to the influence of a handful of founding fathers, and it was viewed through a somewhat glossy lense. I mean, Patrick Henry came across as a moderate and Sam Adams sounded like a martyr to the cause instead of a rabble-rouser with a questionable success rate at anything he tried.  (Don't get me wrong. I love Sam Adams, but...)

One-sided views of the founding fathers aside, the book kept losing its focus on faith to focus more on events. OK, there was the occasional reference to John Adams' thoughts, but does anyone doubt he was heavily steeped in his religion? The storyline also swung back from time to time to talk about Congress calling for national days of prayer and fasting. That was interesting, but I would have liked to hear more about the church's role and the role played by specific religious influences in the course of events.

There were also times when I thought the author tried too hard. For example, he went to great lengths to discount Deism's influence on the Declaration of Independence, but there is no doubt in my mind that Deism was an influence. I don't think Christians, left to their own devices, would come up with the phrase "the laws of nature and nature's God." That one always sounded to me like a compromise between Christian and Deist influences, with a little more leaning toward the Deists. In my opinion, the influence of Christianity on our founding is strong enough to stand on its own. We don't need to downplay other influences to make the case.

The author also made rather specific claims, such as Thomas Jefferson considered himself a Christian, without backing these up with evidence. Perhaps Jefferson did make that claim, but for it to be credible I really would like to have heard it in Jefferson's own words and understand the context. Again, I really wanted the author to make the case, not simply make statements and expect his audience to take them at face value. Believers will, but it's the skeptics who need to be convinced.

Quick note: I listened to the unabridged version of the book from Audible. It is possible that the print version contained footnotes and references that an audio format obviously could not capture effectively.

Finally, the "founding" stopped at the beginning of the Revolution. How could the author not touch on the concept of "separation of church and state" and what Jefferson really meant when he proposed it as a central tenant? It is probably one of the most misunderstood beliefs of the founding fathers.

Finally, there was no discussion of the Constitution. Granted, the Constitution is more of a structural document whereas the Declaration is more emotional, for lack of a better word. (If you've not read the two, I encourage you to do so and you'll see what I mean.) That said, the Constitution was not constructed out of thin air. Many of its principles were also founded on faith and I would have like to see the case made.

Forged in Faith is still an interesting and well-crafted book, despite all my reservations. For anyone who doesn't have the background, I would highly recommend it, just don't stop here. You'll come away with a basic understanding, just not a very clear picture of the founding let alone of the nuanced yet vital role faith played. 

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