American Piety, Then and Now

"All the good the Savior gave to the world was communicated through this book [the Bible]. But for it we could not know right from wrong."
—Abraham Lincoln

"The Cosby Show is the greatest teacher of morals in American society."
—Sheldon Hackney,
president, University of Pennsylvania

"America was born a Christian nation. America was born to exemplify that devotion to the elements of righteousness which are derived from the revelations of the Holy Scripture."

It is the kind of statement fully capable of causing Madeline O'Hair to check her pulse or Norman Lear to reach for his checkbook. Did it perhaps proceed from a pre-fall Jimmy Swaggart broadcast, or a North Carolina stump speech by Pat Robertson? Actually, it was Woodrow Wilson, on May 17, 1911.

One might quibble with Wilson's "Christian nation" formula, but Wheaton College professors Roger Lundin and Mark Noll have collected considerable evidence for a solidly religious nation, what the subtitle of their book calls "four centuries of American piety." The authors of Voices From the Heart are quick to add that the limitation of their work to "Christians who happened to live in North America" does not mean that Americans...

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