Christian orthodoxy and republican ideas: the American puzzle

Noll’s fifth fourth chapter in America’s God describes the unusual agreement between traditional Christians and republican political ideas in late 18-century America.  First, we have to define republican ideology.  Here’s how Noll does it:

American republican language returned constantly to two main themes: fear of abuses from illegitimate power and a nearly messianic belief in the benefits of liberty.  It presupposed, in the succinct summary of Blair Worden, that “man is a citizen, not (like Hobbes’ man) a subject.”  Moreover, “his citizenship is dependent on the free exercise of his virtue and of his reason, and upon his participation, as an elector of representatives and as arms-bearer, in the communal affairs of his country.” (56)

After the American Revolution, clergy from all Christian churches (whether Congregational, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Methodist, or Catholic) spoke highly of American political ideas, while their peers in Europe and Canada often decried the values of the new American Republic, especially in the face of war against the French Republic.  Philadelphia’s Jewish community even protested their exclusion from Pennsylvania’s government using American political dialogue.

Noll believes that this phenomenon needs explanation because for more than a century before the American Revolution, those who held republican ideas were usually suspected of heresies such as Arianism and Socinianism (which denied the full divinity of Christ).  Republican beliefs often assumed a more optimistic nature of human beings, believing that they could be independent and virtuous by nature, opposing traditional Christian teachings on man’s sinfulness.   Making sense of the American combination of evangelicalism and republicanism is the task of Chapter 6 5.

UPDATE (6/11/09): I got my chapter numbers wrong originally.



  1. […] The marriage of Christianity and republican political theory in America Posted on June 11, 2009 by Scott Kistler Noll’s fifth chapter analyzes the American combination of Christianity and republican political ideas, which was a rare combination in the 18th and 19th centuries.  You can see my notes on his previous chapter, where he explained more about this, here. […]

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