Welcome to the American Christian Heritage Group blog where we give you glimpses of our country's early Christian foundations. We hope you enjoy these, learn more about our Christian heritage and undertake reading of the many cited sources and end notes. Please feel free to register and leave comments.


March 17th, 2010

Dr. David S. Dockery

Dr. David S. Dockery is President of Union College (Jackson, TN). He has written an article entitled “Integrating Faith and Learning in Higher Education” where he gives an overview of early American history of colleges and Universities. The web site is listed below where you may read the entire article. Here are a few excerpts of that article. [1]

The integration of faith and learning is at the essence of authentic Christian higher… This was once the goal of almost every college in America. It is no longer the case. Prior to the 19th century, every college started in this country—with the exception of the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Virginia—was a Christian based college committed to revealed truth. All of that changed with the rise of secularization and specialization, creating dualisms of every kind—a separation of head knowledge from heart knowledge, faith from learning, revealed truth from observed truth, and careers from vocation.

What happened was a loss of world view in the academy. There was a failure to see that every discipline and every specialization could be and should be approached from the vantage point of faith, the foundational building block for a Christian worldview. The separation of faith from learning and teaching was the first step toward creating the confused and disconnected approach to higher education, even in church-related institutions. [2]

A brief overview of Christian higher education will help us see the shifts and changes in purpose and focus across the years. Early Christian education emphasized catechetical purposes as foundational. Medieval universities (those developed between the 11th and 15th centuries) were largely for the purposes of professional education with some general education for the elite. Of the 79 universities in Europe during this time it was Salerno that was best known for medicine, Bologna was best known for law, and Paris was best known for theology.

The Renaissance period emphasized the revival of Greek and Roman literature with the addition of newer subjects developed during the medieval period like arithmetic, geometry, and music. The Reformation and Post-Reformation period placed all aspects of education within the context of a Christian worldview. Higher education reached its zenith, building on what had gone before, in America. Early American colleges governed by trustees from related religious groups provided education within the context of faith and grounded in the pursuit of truth (veritas). Some of these schools included:

  • Harvard College [University], Massachusetts founded in 1636 was founded as a Congregational school.
  • William and Mary, Virginia founded in 1693 was an Anglican school.
  • Yale, Connecticut, founded in 1701 was a Congregational school.
  • Princeton, New Jersey, was founded in 1746 as a New Light Presbyterian school.
  • Columbia, New York, was founded in 1754 as an Anglican school.
  • Brown, Rhode Island was founded in 1765 as a Baptist school.
  • Rutgers, New Jersey, was founded in 1765 as a Dutch Reformed school.

Pennsylvania and Virginia were essentially the first secular institutions. The German model espousing research and academic freedom began to widely influence American Higher Education in the 19th Century. Johns Hopkins, founded in Maryland in 1867, was the first pure research institution in this country.

During the 19th Century state supported higher education began to flourish, following the University of Virginia model, which had separated the theological influence from the curriculum by abolishing the chair of divinity in its reorganization of 1779. The University of Michigan adopted a credit point system; Harvard introduced an elective curriculum, and majors and specializations followed as we moved into the 20th Century. [3]

The rise of enlightenment thought was a watershed in the history of western civilization; it was a time when the Christian consensus was broken by a radical secular spirit. The enlightenment philosophy stressed the primacy of nature, a high view of reason and a low view of sin, and an anti-supernatural bias; and it encouraged revolt against a faith-affirming perspective of education. [4] Friedrich Schleiermacher’s On Religion: Speeches to Its Cultural Despisers severed faith from philosophy and morality. Faith was understood only in pietistic terms having no connection with matters of truth. Though Schleiermacher tried to save the Christian faith, in reality he separated it from the exploration of truth—even the Jesus of history and the study of the Bible was separated from the Christ of faith. [5]

Early twentieth century American education was impacted by this mindset in the Modernist-Fundamentalist controversies. Both groups in various ways tried to save “faith” through various pietistic approaches, on the one hand, you could find the separatistic pietism of American fundamentalism, and on the other there was the pragmatic pietism of William James, the common faith civil religion of John Dewey, and the a historical experiential religion of Harry Emerson Fosdick. The result, however, was the divorce of faith from teaching and scholarship in universities across the country in the arts, the humanities, the sciences, the social sciences, and all other spheres, including the scholarly study of religion. There was during this time still a belief in objective truth in all fields, but the dominant perspective, with rare exceptions, maintained that faith had to be bracketed from this search for truth. The situation has changed even more drastically at the end of the twentieth century with the rise of postmodernism, which includes the loss of a belief in normative truth, and the influence of relativism in almost all spheres of knowledge. [6]

Following World War II a rapid expansion of higher education has taken place all across America. As we enter the 21st Century there are approximately 3,600 institutions of higher learning: 2,000 public and 1,600 private. Many of the public institutions are community colleges. Others are large research universities. Of the 1,600 private institutions almost 800 maintain some church relationship (about 400 mainline; a little less than 300 Roman Catholic; and few more than 100 Evangelical).

In thinking about Christian higher education we cannot rapidly leap over the foundational issues. We need carefully and intentionally to think about the importance of integrating faith and learning as the essential issue for defining Christian higher education.

[1] http://www.uu.edu/dockery/092000-erlc.htm
[2] This disconnection has been ably documented by George Marsden, The Soul of the American University (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1994); and James T. Burtchaell, The Dying of the Light: The Disengagement of Colleges and Universities from their Christian Churches (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998). Burtchaell sadly acknowledged that the story of the disengagement of the schools from their denominations and constituencies is in fact “more melancholy than the author expected.” (p. xi); also Mark R. Schwenn, Exiles from Eden: Religion and the American Vocation in America (Notre Dame: University of Notre Dame Press, 1981).
[3] See Robert Rue Parsonage, Church Related Higher Education (Valley Forge: Judson, 1978); Bernard Ramm, The Christian College in the Twentieth Century (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1963); Arthur Holmes, The Idea of a Christian College (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975); Douglas Sloan, Faith and Knowledge: Mainline Protestantism and American Higher Education (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994); Charles D. Johnson, Higher Education of Southern Baptists (Waco: Baylor University Press, 1955).
[4] See Colin Gunton, Enlightenment and Alienation (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1985), pp. 111-52; also Thomas C. Oden, After Modernity…What? Agenda for Theology (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990).
[5] See Schleiermacher’s posthumously published Leben Jesu (1864).


February 14th, 2010

Generosity in this nation is part of our religious freedom and faith. As a nation, we are known for our generosity. The following article appeared in the January 2010 issue of IMPRIMUS, a publication of Hillsdale College. Imprimis, which in Latin means “in the first place,” is Hillsdale’s national speech digest. It publishes presentations delivered at the College’s many seminar and lecture programs. Begun in 1972 with a circulation of 1,000, it now reaches over 1.8 million readers monthly, the largest thing of its kind. Imprimis promotes the principles of individual rights, limited government, free market economics, personal responsibility and strong national defense. It comes at no cost to anyone who wishes to receive it, as part of Hillsdale’s commitment to “pursuing truth and defending liberty.”

In understanding our Christian foundation, it is important to know not only how it came about in our nation, that is our Christian roots, but also how it influences our nation today. This is an abbreviated version of the article entitled “The Generosity of America.” The full version may be read online by going to: http://www.hillsdale.edu/news/imprimis.asp

The Generosity of America

By Adam Meyerson, President
The Philanthropy Roundtable

The following is adapted from a speech delivered in Washington, D.C., on January 8, 2010, in the “First Principles on First Fridays” lecture series sponsored by Hillsdale College’s Allan P. Kirby, Jr. Center for Constitutional Studies and Citizenship.

In 1853, a professor and preacher named Ransom Dunn set off on a two-year journey to raise funds for Hillsdale College, a young institution of higher learning in southern Michigan. Ransom Dunn would ride on horseback for 6,000 miles through the farm communities of Michigan, Wisconsin and Minnesota, and altogether he raised $22,000—the equivalent of about $500,000 today. The rural families then populating the upper Midwest were not rich. They were braving the winters and struggling to make a living on what was then the American frontier. But these families were willing to part voluntarily with $10, $50, $100 apiece—the highest contribution was $200—to support Hillsdale’s mission—a mission set forth in the College’s Articles of Association, whose authors proclaimed themselves “grateful to God for the inestimable blessings resulting from the prevalence of civil and religious liberty and intelligent piety in the land, and believing that the diffusion of sound learning is essential to the perpetuity of these blessings.”

We can learn several lessons from the horseback rides of Ransom Dunn. To begin with, charitable giving in America has never been the exclusive province of wealthy people. Throughout our history, Americans from all walks of life have given generously for charitable causes. Indeed, the most generous Americans today—the group that gives the most to charity as a proportion of their income—are the working poor.

Second, unlike many of those seeking donations in the charity world today, Ransom Dunn did not raise funds for Hillsdale by appealing to donors’ guilt, or by urging them to “give back” to society. Instead, he appealed to their ideals and aspirations, their religious principles, and their desire to create an institution of learning in the upper Midwest. Hillsdale was also an important center of anti-slavery teaching, and Dunn appealed to the convictions of people who sought an end to this great evil in our nation.

Third, the tradition of private generosity in America has always been central to our free society.

Today, Americans voluntarily give over $30 billion a year to support higher education, and—thanks in part to philanthropy—America has the best colleges and universities in the world.

I have dwelt at length on higher education, but I could offer similar remarks about museums and orchestras, hospitals and health clinics, churches and synagogues, refuges for animals, protection of habitat, youth programs such as scouting and little league and boys and girls clubs, and grassroots problem-solvers who help the needy and homeless in their neighborhoods. Private charitable giving sustains all of these institutions and gives them the freedom to make their own decisions.

Private charitable giving is also at the heart and soul of public discourse in our democracy. It makes possible our great think tanks, whether left, right or center. Name a great issue of public debate today: climate change, the role of government in health care, school choice, stem cell research, same-sex marriage. On all these issues, private philanthropy enriches debate by enabling organizations with diverse viewpoints to articulate and spread their message.

We usually hear about charity in the media when there is a terrible disaster. For example, after Hurricane Katrina, we heard about the incredible outpouring of private generosity that amounted to $6 billion. What gets less attention is that Americans routinely give that much to charity every week. Last year Americans gave $300 billion to charity. To put this into perspective, that is almost twice what we spent on consumer electronics equipment—equipment including cell phones, iPods and DVD players. Americans gave three times as much to charity last year as we spent on gambling and ten times as much as we spent on professional sports. America is by far the most charitable country in the world. There is no other country that comes close.

Reasons for Our Generosity

I would briefly like to discuss three reasons why America is the most charitable country on earth.

First, we are the most religious people of any leading modern economy. The single most important determinant of charitable giving is active religious faith and observance. Americans who attend church or synagogue or another form of worship once a week give three times as much to charity as a percentage of their income as do those who rarely attend religious services. One-third of all charitable giving in America—$100 billion a year—goes to religion. Whether we are Jewish, Protestant, Catholic, Mormon, Muslim, or some other faith, we Americans have the freedom to support our own religious institutions, and this philanthropic freedom has been intimately linked to our religious liberty. But the giving by regular religious worshippers is not limited to their own churches. They also give more to secular charities than do those who never or rarely attend religious services.

A second reason America is so charitable is because we respect the freedom and the ability of individuals, and associations of individuals, to make a difference. Americans don’t wait for government or the local nobleman to solve our problems; we find solutions ourselves. One of my favorite examples of this is the subject of a forthcoming Hollywood movie called The Little Red Wagon. In 2004, after Hurricane Charley, a six-year-old boy in the Tampa area named Zach Bonner wanted to help the families who had been left homeless. Pulling his little red wagon, Zach went door to door for four months and collected 27 truckloads of supplies, including tarps and water.

The third reason for our extraordinary charity is that philanthropy is such an important part of our nation’s business culture. Wealth creation and philanthropy have always gone together in America. They are reflections of the creativity and can-do spirit of a free society. From Benjamin Franklin, who founded the first volunteer fire department, to Andrew Carnegie, who brought public libraries to communities across America, to Bill Gates, who is seeking to eradicate malaria, great business entrepreneurs have sought to be great philanthropists. It’s not just because they have the money. It’s because they have the leadership and the passion to innovate and to build institutions, and the analytical skills to assess what works.

Let me give you three brief examples.

As many of us know from John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, the exodus of homeless farm families from the Great Plains in the aftermath of the Dust Bowl was one of the largest migrations and human tragedies in our history. But thanks to the pioneering plant research and outreach to farmers by the Samuel Roberts Noble Foundation—founded by an oilman in Ardmore, Oklahoma—agriculture is thriving in Oklahoma today, and we don’t have dust bowls any more in the Great Plains.

When Tom Siebel sold software giant Siebel Systems to Oracle, he decided to apply his business and marketing skills to another cause—fighting the devastation of Crystal Meth. He created and financed the Montana Meth Project, and as a result teen Meth abuse in Montana has fallen by 63 percent in three years. Now philanthropists in other states are seeking to replicate these extraordinary results.

The late Don Fisher and his widow Doris were the philanthropic architects of the Knowledge is Power Program, which is a network of 80 schools across the country where low-income children excel. They were also the earliest large-scale supporters of Teach for America. Using the same principles that enabled them to build the Gap retail chain, the Fishers have built extraordinary philanthropic brands.

These philanthropic achievements have all been made possible by freedom. For over 200 years, Americans have enjoyed the freedom to decide where and how to give away their money—freedom to sustain cherished institutions or to create new ones. And this freedom to give has in turn been central to independent decision-making throughout our society.

Each of us should think about how we can make a difference with our own charitable contributions, following the examples of Zach Bonner with his little red wagon and the generous Midwestern farm families who helped to build Hillsdale College. And our federal and state governments, for their part, should respect and defend the freedom that is vital to the great American tradition of generous giving.

The full version is online at:

Reprinted by permission from Imprimis, a publication of Hillsdale College. Copyright © 2009 Hillsdale College.


January 21st, 2010

By the early 1630s it was nearly impossible for anyone with Puritan convictions to receive a pastoral position in the Church of England. For that reason, many left for the New World, including a pastor named John Eliot. Born in 1604, Eliot had received his education at Jesus College, Cambridge, and although he had taken orders in the Church of England, his sympathies were with the Puritan Party. For a period of time after his graduation from Cambridge, he had assisted Thomas Hooker (later the founder of Connecticut) at Chelmsford in Essex but even there the long arm of Laud exerted its influence by threatening him with suspension.

In 1631 Eliot decided to emigrate to the New World. He arrived at Massachusetts Bay Colony in July of that year on the same ship that brought the family of John Winthrop, the Colony’s first governor. He was invited to preach for several months at the First Church of Boston while their minister John Wilson was in England. Eliot’s preaching was so well received that he was offered the position of Teacher of the church, which he declined in favor of a similar offer from the church at Roxbury. He was settled in Roxbury as Teacher in October 1632 and remained there for fifty-seven years until his death in 1690.

When the Puritans came to the New World they had two goals. One was to form a pure church by separating themselves from the perceived corruptions of the English Church. The other was to bring the Gospel to the native inhabitants. On the seal of the Massachusetts Bay Colony was the figure of a Native American ringed by the words “Come over and help us” (Acts 16:9). Thus from its very foundation the Massachusetts Bay Colony articulated the desire to meet the spiritual needs of the native inhabitants of the New World, and there is no doubt that Eliot possessed the desire to carry out this objective. [1]

What is outstanding about the Reverend John Eliot is he truly was an Apostle. An Apostle is considered to be a missionary, but there is more depth to the work of an Apostle. They are responsible for building the church, its government and order. As such, Apostles are planters of the church and John Eliot was called “Apostle of the Indians” because of the fruit of his work. His influence became a major force of change and was far reaching. Consider these achievements:

  • Establishing the Company for Propagating the Gospel in New England, the first missionary organization in our country;
  • Eliot’s methods set the pattern of subsequent “Indian missions” for almost two centuries;
  • By 1674 there were 14 villages with 4,000 converts among the Indians;
  • His converts were gathered into Christian towns, governed by a biblical code of laws;
  • He established schools and encouraged others to establish schools;
  • He translated the Bible in the Algonquin Indian Language and published it in 1663 – it was the first Bible printed in the United States
  • He was influential in the founding of Harvard College (University) and became one of its Governors;
  • John Harvard (1607-1638), a disciple of John Eliot, and a Puritan minister, gave the unorganized college one-half of his estate (Cambridge, MA) and library; then it was named Harvard College in his honor in 1639;
  • Founded The Roxbury Latin School that is the oldest school in continuous operation in North America;
  • He wrote The Christian Commonwealth: or, The Civil Policy Of The Rising Kingdom of Jesus Christ. [2]

The Christian Commonwealth was a document intended as a plan of government for the Natick Indian community. John Eliot strongly believed government is to be founded on God’s word. Here is an excerpt:

[It is not for man] to search humane Polities and Platformes of Government, contrived by the wisdom of man, but as the Lord hath carried on their works for them, so they ought to go unto the Lord, and enquire at the Word of his mouth, what Platforme of Government he hath therein commanded; and humble themselves to embrace that as the best … [The] written Word of God is the perfect System or Frame of Laws, to guide all the Moral actions of man, either towards God or man.” [3]

John Eliot’s plan for the political organization based on the word of God has far reaching ramifications. Our constitutional liberties are a direct result of our founders’ moral and religious convictions which were based on a belief in a God who created heaven and earth as well as on the fixed and unchanging absolutes of God’s Word.

[1] Sola Scriptura, John Eliot and America’s First Bible
[2] Compiled from various historical accounts
[3] The Christian Commonwealth: or, The Civil Policy Of The Rising Kingdom of Jesus Christ, John Eliot, London, (written in 1649, published in 1659)


January 20th, 2010

In writing the story about the Plymouth Plantation, it was stated it influenced the direction of this nation in ways that many today do not realize. One of the reasons why most are not aware of the depth and magnitude of the early settler’s influence on our nation is because it is not in our history books. Many generations of students are now lacking the knowledge and understanding of the roots of our nation, and in particular the Christian history.

One can truly say that the rapid growth of the colony had a profound effect on molding our future nation. Twelve years after the Plymouth Plantation settlement was founded the colony had made significant progress. Consider these facts:

  • A population of more than 20,000 people;
  • Had planted 50 towns and villages;
  • Organized 30 to 40 churches;
  • Founded Harvard College (now a college within Harvard University); and,
  • Sent settlements through Massachusetts into New Hampshire and along the banks of the Connecticut River. [1]

What is even more profound is learning that Harvard University’s foundation was by a Puritan minister, John Eliot (1604-1690), with an explicit purpose of propagating the Gospel of Jesus Christ. He was a missionary to the natives and called the “Apostle to the Indians.” His proposal to establish the college in 1633 was realized three years later. New England’s First Fruits (1643) describes what led to the founding of Harvard College:

After God had carried us safe to New England and we had builded our houses, provided necessaries for our lively-hood, rear’d convenient places for God’s worship, and settled the Civil Government: One of the next things we longed for and looked after was to advance Learning and perpetuate it to posterity; dreading to leave an illiterate Ministry to the churches, when our present ministers shall lie in the Dust. [2]

The portrayal of the Puritans has been steeped in belittling them as religious fanatics. Puritans were far from being fanatics and were very progressive in the practical growth of their communities and influencing the future direction of our country. [3]

The founding of Harvard College is proof of the driving mission to honor and glorify God in their lives and civic communities, including the formation of our government.

This account establishes the well-educated men who migrated to the colonies and led Harvard College:

“The Puritan migration which established the colonies of Massachusetts Bay and Connecticut was led by alumni of Oxford and Cambridge. About a hundred Cambridge University men, and one third of that number from the University of Oxford, emigrated to New England before 1646, and from these alumni were recruited the founders and first governors of Harvard College.” [4]

The Puritans emphasized education and required a broad study of liberal arts, logic, metaphysics, natural science and natural philosophy. They surrounded these studies with a Christian influence, both outwardly and inwardly. Christian worship began and ended each college day, signaling that all was to be dedicated to the glory of the God. When pagan elements conflicted with Christian truths, the clerics provided Christian perspectives. The Puritans emphasized that all vocations were sacred. Over half (52%) of Harvard graduates in the 17th century became clergymen. [5]

The Puritan’s primary goal for all education was “Christian nurture and growth”. [6] This was prominent in “The Statues of Harvard,” the rules and guidelines for students:

Let every student be plainly instructed, and earnestly pressed to consider well, the main end of his life and studies is to know God and Jesus Christ which is eternal life (John 17:3) and therefore to lay Christ in the bottom, as the only foundation of all sound knowledge and learning. And seeing the Lord only giveth wisdom, let every one seriously set himself by prayer in secret to seek it of him (Proverbs 2, 3).”[7]

This is the true history of our nation – that we were founded on the Rock of our Salvation.

[1] The Religious Foundations of America, Charles Lemuel Thompson, D.D., L.L.D., Fleming H. Revell Company, 1919, Page 140
[2] America’s Christian History, Gary DeMar, American Vision, Inc., 1993, Page 102
[3] End Note: Pilgrims and Puritans together represented two variants of Christian doctrine. Today this would be seen as different schools of theology and those denominations and churches that represent these doctrines. None of this diminishes the depth of our ancestors and their insightful leadership that brought about the United States of America as a Christian nation.
[4] The Founding of Harvard College, Samuel Eliot Morison, Harvard University Press, 1998 (reprinted from the 1935 edition), Page 40
[5] The Soul of the American University, From Protestant Establishment to Established Nonbelief, George M. Marsden, Oxford University Press, Copyright 1998
[6] Worldly Saints, Leland Rykell, 1986, Zondervan, Page 16
[7] Rules and Precepts Observed at Harvard College, dated September 26, 1642; Also, American Higher Education: A Documentary History, Volume 1, Statutes of Harvard, ca. 1646, Richard Hofstadter and Wilson Smith, Editors, University of Chicago Press, 1961