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Co-founder and president of the Providence Foundation, a nonprofit Christian educational organization, Stephen McDowell is the author and co-author of numerous books and articles emphasizing the importance of viewing history and government from a Christian perspective. He lives in Charlottesville, Virginia, with his wife and four children, all of whom were homeschooled. Here is CBD’s exclusive interview with him.

CBD: You were a pastor for several years, and then you established the Providence Foundation, whose mission is to “spread liberty, justice, and prosperity among the nations by instructing people in a biblical philosophy of life” (quoted from your website). What led you to become interested in history and government?

SM:I became interested in history and government after I became a Christian and began to view these areas from a biblical perspective. Having studied physics in undergraduate school and geology in graduate school, then becoming a pastor, I had not extensively studied history and government, though, like most people today, my view was basically humanistic, and thus I thought these fields did not really offer much practical knowledge.

As a pastor desiring to fulfill the commands of Christ, I began to study the Great Commission and teach others what I learned. The more I learned, the more I began to see how great the Great Commission truly is. It includes not only the Evangelistic Mandate to redeem man, but also the Cultural Mandate to redeem the earth. As I looked at America and the world around me, it was not difficult to see the great need for godly reform, in both men and nations, individuals and institutions, private and public affairs. The more I learned, the more I saw that the Bible contained truth and principles for all areas of life.

I had heard much about the Evangelistic Mandate, but little about the Cultural Mandate. My interest led me to begin reading and studying all I could in many different areas. In the mid to late 1970s, I was introduced to providential history and a biblical worldview through reading Francis Schaeffer, and to America’s Christian history by reading Peter Marshall’s The Light and the Glory. Through the compilations of Verna Hall (The Christian History of the Constitution and others) and the writings of Rosalie Slater (Teaching and Learning America’s Christian History), I not only learned more of America’s Christian history but also of biblical principles of government and reasoning biblically.

Reading the primary source materials in Hall’s compilations inspired me to look back at the great writings and actions of Christians in the past. For 25 years, these have been a regular part of my studies. I have learned that Christians have been at the forefront of advancing truth and liberty in all spheres of life. I have come to see that fulfilling the Cultural Mandate requires us to discover truth through sciences, apply truth through technology, interpret truth through humanities, implement truth through commerce and social action, transmit truth through education and arts, and preserve truth through government and law.

CBD: Most American history texts emphasize dates, events, and people. Although America’s Providential History certainly includes these specifics, it also takes a broader approach to and explanation of the information presented. Can you give our readers a summary of your philosophy of studying history?

SM: Most history texts used in state schools today give many dates and events, but largely ignore God in these dates and events and people. To rectify this as Christians, it is not enough just to present Christian events and facts. We must present a providential view of history, one that recognizes that God is sovereign over men, nations, and history and is directing all events to accomplish His plan and purpose for creation and mankind. “He rules over the nations” (Ps. 22:28). God raises up nations and determines their time of existence and even their boundaries (Acts 17:24–27).

As Rev. Foljambe said in 1876, “History is the autobiography of Him ‘who worketh all things after the counsel of His will’ (Eph. 1:11) and who is graciously timing all events after the counsel of His Christ, and the Kingdom of God on earth. It is His-story.” And in this story He uses both the godly and ungodly to direct the march of history.

Historian Charles Rollin, who was read by many of our Founding Fathers, wrote that history declares this great truth: “that God disposes all events as supreme Lord and Sovereign; that he alone determines the fate of kings and the duration of empires; and that he transfers the government of kingdoms from one nation to another because of the unrighteous dealings and wickedness committed therein.”

In an earlier period in America’s history, almost everyone embraced the doctrine of Providence: “that God rules in the affairs of men is as certain as any truth of physical science,” as stated by historian George Bancroft in an address to Congress in 1866. This was true even of non-Christians. On June 28, 1787, at age 81, Benjamin Franklin (not known for his orthodox beliefs) called the Constitutional Convention to prayer when they were on the brink of breaking up. He declared:

“I have lived, Sir, a long time, and the longer I live, the more convincing proofs I see of this truth—that God governs in the affairs of men. And if a sparrow cannot fall to the ground without His notice, is it probable that an empire can rise without His aid? We have been assured, Sir, in the sacred writings, that ‘except the Lord build the house they labour in vain that build it.’ I firmly believe this; and I also believe that without His concurring aid we shall succeed in this political building no better than the builders of Babel.”

A failure to teach a providential view of history is one of the primary factors in the secularization of America. As we as a nation teach true history, we will increasingly recognize an overruling providence, which will draw more and more men to see and acknowledge Him. But if we deal superficially with our history, “seeing only secondary causes and human agencies,” we will become more and more “irreligious.”

CBD: The introduction to America’s Providential History says that “most Americans today, including most Christians, have a humanistic (man-centered) worldview.” In your opinion, what factors have contributed to the development of this pervasive mindset? What teaching strategies can you suggest to counteract humanism and instill a “biblical” worldview in our youngsters?

SM: A humanistic worldview has increased among Americans as the influence of Christianity has diminished in America. The father of American geography, Rev. Jedidiah Morse, explained why the influence of Christianity has eroded in an election sermon he preached in 1799 from the text “If the foundations be destroyed, what can the righteous do?”:
“To the kindly influence of Christianity we owe that degree of civil freedom, and political and social happiness which mankind now enjoys. In proportion as the genuine effects of Christianity are diminished in any nation, either through unbelief or the corruption of its doctrine, or the neglect of its institutions; in the same proportion will the people of that nation recede from the blessings of genuine freedom, and approximate the miseries of complete despotism. . . . [A]ll efforts made to destroy the foundations of our holy religion ultimately tend to the subversion also of our political freedom and happiness. Whenever the pillars of Christianity shall be overthrown, our present republican forms of government, and all the blessings which flow from them, must fall with them.” He explained that the “genuine effects of Christianity are diminished in any nation” through unbelief, corruption of doctrine, and neglect of institutions. Unbelief will, of course, directly affect the thinking and action of people.

Four broad doctrines that have been corrupted and affect how we view the world and live in it are: 1) Creation, 2) Lordship, 3) Providence, and 4) Sovereignty (see America’s Providential History for an explanation of these). Christianity formed the foundation of our societal institutions. As Christians retreated from governmental, educational, and economic institutions, those with a humanistic view began to direct that which had been predominantly Christian.

For example, 106 of the first 108 colleges were founded by and for the Christian faith. This gradually began to change in the 19th and 20th centuries. By the 1920s, most of the prestigious colleges had put aside their Christian roots. The ideas of relativism, positivism, and humanism supplanted the absolute truths of God as revealed in His Word and in creation. These humanistic ideologies are now predominant in the marketplace of ideas. Christians are often influenced by them without even knowing it. This occurs when we look up definitions in modern dictionaries. Modern definitions reflect a humanistic worldview, while Webster’s original dictionary defined words biblically.

Take, for example, the word “immoral.” In An American Dictionary of the English Language (1828), under the definition for “immoral,” Noah Webster writes: “Every action is immoral which contravenes any divine precept, or which is contrary to the duties men owe to each other.” To Webster, divine precept was the standard to judge immorality. Today, the standard is quite different, as reflected in the definition of “immoral” in modern dictionaries. Webster’s New World Dictionary defines “immoral” as “not in conformity with accepted principles of right and wrong behavior.” The standard for immoral behavior today is what the consensus of the population thinks. Man, rather than God, is the judge of right and wrong conduct. Man becomes his own god when relativism is embraced.

To counteract humanism and instill a biblical worldview in our youngsters, we need to restore Christian education to the nation, which must begin in Christian homes, Christian schools, and churches. Such education will look much different than modern-day state education, but also much different than some modern “Christian” education, for many “Christian” schools have been greatly affected by humanistic ideas and models.

Without time to elaborate, some general components of Christian education include:
  • 1) All aspects of education will be Christian—that is, it will have a Christian philosophy, methodology, and curriculum. The why, who, how, and what of education should completely reflect biblical precepts.
  • 2) Education will be carried out by the appropriate jurisdictional sphere. Parents are primarily responsible for the education of their children. Grandparents and the church have a role as well. From a biblical perspective, the state should be very limited in its role in education. While civil government does have an interest in the education of all its citizens, it is not appropriate for the state to control or compel in education, or even establish state schools as we know them today.
  • 3) Education will be modeled after the way Jesus educated. The content of His teaching was biblical and contained both “revelation knowledge” and “rational knowledge.” Jesus also used biblical methods of education. There were a variety of techniques He employed as He educated his disciples and others. Being a living demonstration of the truth He wanted to impart was certainly central to His effectiveness as the ultimate teacher. Parents and teachers should imitate how Jesus made disciples that transformed the world.
  • 4) Christian education will produce godly fruit in men and nations, and pass the baton to future generations.

    CBD: In Liberating the Nations, you note: “The goal of the Christian home in a republic is to love and nurture the young, build individual character, and train future generations to govern the earth.” That’s an awesome responsibility. Can you offer some practical suggestions to help homeschool parents train their children to become responsible citizens?

    SM: There are many suggestions I have, but let me just mention one thing parents can do to train their children to become responsible citizens: They can impart to them a love of truth and a love of learning. This begins with a love for God, for He is truth, and our love of learning shows our desire to know Him, to know His precepts, and to search out the knowledge that is necessary to help advance His purposes in the earth. For parents to impart this love of learning, they must have it themselves.

    One practical way to acquire, and impart, a love of learning is to read good books. The Bible, as God’s word, is the most important of all, but there are many other exciting books that can give us useful knowledge to help us to be godly citizens and fulfill our purposes and responsibilities in the earth. True knowledge produces liberty in men and nations. An ignorant people will become an enslaved people, or as Franklin said: “It is in the region of ignorance that tyranny begins.”

  • To cultivate a love of reading, start with “soil softeners”—well-written, easy-to-understand books that can be geared to youth or adults. Some of the best are good biographies of godly men and women (such as God’s Outlaw, about William Tyndale, or The Making of George Washington), and literature classics (such as Hans Brinker and the Silver Skates; The Matchlock Gun; Carry On, Mr. Bowditch; the Little House series; Robinson Crusoe). You can experience some of these along with your children by establishing a reading-aloud program in your home. This should be done by all families, whether you homeschool or not. Start at an early age with good picture books (such as The Little Engine that Could and Millions of Cats) and continue through the entire time your children are in your home. You can add history books from a providential perspective (such as The Story of Liberty by Charles Coffin and America’s Providential History), and many modern books that have a biblical worldview.

    Once a love of reading and learning is imparted, you and your children can begin to read primary source materials (for example, the writings of the Founding Fathers, the writings of the Church Fathers, and political writings of liberty) and more difficult books in all fields of learning that will impart useful ideas.

    What you feed your mind determines how you will live, for as a man “thinks in his heart, so he is” (Prov. 23:7). This is why we need to introduce excellent ideas to ourselves and our children. We need to teach our children to read chiefly for instruction, not amusement. We need to read to acquire knowledge for a useful purpose, either private elevation of character or some public useful purpose. The father of American education, Noah Webster, said that if you read (and, in today’s world, watch would apply) things just for amusement, you will find that “not only your time, but your mind will be dissipated; your native faculties, instead of growing into masculine vigor, will languish into imbecility. Bacon and Newton did not read tales and novels; their great minds were nourished with very different aliment.”

    The homeschooling that John Quincy Adams received from his father and mother, John and Abigail, is an excellent example of how parents can impart a love of truth and a love of learning that shaped a godly and responsible citizen who helped direct the affairs of our early Christian republic.

    CBD: History isn’t confined to the past. Instead, it is being made moment to moment. From a historian’s perspective, how do you think future generations will view our contemporary American society and government?

    SM: The view by future generations of contemporary American society and government depends, of course, upon their worldview. I hope future generations will view our history from a providential perspective. The extent to which this will occur depends upon us as Christians fulfilling our responsibilities to train future generations in a biblical worldview, and to disciple the nation at large, so that even non-Christians view life from a biblical point of view (as was true in early America).

    To give my perspective of modern American history, let me first reiterate that history is His-story. It is God working in and through man to fulfill His plan and purpose for mankind. A study of providential history reveals the progressive advance of the kingdom of God. Daniel spoke of a kingdom that the God of heaven would set up “which will never be destroyed . . . ; it will crush and put an end to all these kingdoms, but it will itself endure forever.” This is the kingdom that Jesus ushered in through His incarnation, atoning death, resurrection, and ascension. Since that time about 2,000 years ago, God’s kingdom (His government, truth, and liberty) has been gradually advancing in history, crushing the kingdoms of man. There has been no end to the increase of His kingdom. We can expect this to continue in the nations at large, though what happens in individual nations will vary dependent upon God’s sovereignty and how man responds to our God-given responsibilities.

    The birth of America resulted from the advance of God’s truth and liberty among men. It was a nation founded upon biblical principles by men who were largely motivated by their Christian beliefs (which is not to say we were without fault). The root determined the fruit. The fruit was the most free, just, and prosperous nation the world has seen. America upheld Christian liberty (personal, religious, civil, economic, political); protected God-given unalienable rights; and gave the world a model of government that has allowed the individual, family, church, and business to flourish. Yet, in recent generations, we have been changing foundations, from biblical to humanistic, from one rooted in the absolutes of God’s Word, to one rooted in the ever changing uncertainties of selfish man. Aspects of our Christian foundations still exist, but they are being eroded. These different worldviews have produced different fruit in America—weeds and thorns from the humanistic worldview and life-giving grain from the biblical worldview.

    Hence, we can see both good and bad things in contemporary American society and government. The bad includes a decline of morality, increase in crime and social problems, devaluing of life, loss of individual liberty as reflected by growth of civil government and taxation, loss of personal property rights, and tax-supported state schools that propagate humanism, to name only a few. When you know our early history, it is easy to see the gradual loss of liberty. Yet, compared to all other nations, America is still the most free and prosperous country on earth, which is a testimony to the power of the fruit of our Christian roots. Whether America continues to abandon her godly foundations depends in part on Christians fulfilling their godly duties.

    It is an awakening in the hearts of Christians that has stopped, in many ways, the march toward statism and loss of liberty. This awakening gives me much hope for the future. Our unbelief is being addressed by a revival of true Christianity. Corruption of doctrine is being changed as the historic truths of the faith are being restored to the church, and Christians are seeking to see how they might provide the life-giving spirit and biblical principles to our societal institutions. Many Christians are getting involved in government, social action, alternative media, and academia, with the purpose of being salt and light and holding up biblical truth as the plumb line for our society. In the last few decades, we have seen tens of thousands of Christian schools started. Today there are one to two million children being taught at home, mostly from a Christian perspective. This education is also becoming more and more biblical, which is essential to produce citizens who know how to live free and advance liberty. Those parents who are assuming the godly responsibility to educate their children will have a great impact on American society and government, not only through their children but also through their children’s children. We as a nation are at an important point in our history. While God is sovereign, humans have responsibilities that impact history, and so we have a part to play in our future. We are to plant and cultivate godly seeds. God causes them to grow and produce fruit. Nature shows us that He can produce much from a little (just think how many apples can come from one seed).

    As we faithfully carry out all our God-given responsibilities, we can hope and pray that God will not only restore America’s Christian foundations but take us far beyond where we have been in the past to a point in the future where the vast majority of historians and citizens alike will look back at this time in our history, giving thanks to God for turning our nation back to Him.


     

     Books by Stephen McDowell

    Apostle of Liberty The World-Changing Leadership of George Washington
    Apostle of Liberty The World-Changing Leadership of George Washington
    Stephen McDowell

    The American Dream: Jamestown and the Planting of the American Christian Republic
    The American Dream: Jamestown and the Planting of the American Christian Republic
    Stephen McDowell & Mark Beliles


     

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