This reading group guide for Forged in Faith includes an introduction, discussion questions, and ideas for enhancing your book club. The suggested questions are intended to help your reading group find new and interesting angles and topics for your discussion. We hope that these ideas will enrich your conversation and increase your enjoyment of the book.INTRODUCTION
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In a series of vignettes featuring a who's who of America's Founding Fathers, Rod Gragg sets out to illustrate the influence Judeo-Christian values had on the forging of our nation. From the founding of Jamestown in 1607 up until the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776, Gragg weaves biographical profiles with historical narrative, expertly giving the reader a bird's eye view of the developing colonies before swooping closer and leading us through the great moments in American history Forged in Faith
allows readers to look at a familiar story through a new lens. Readers get to know Samuel Adams as the “Last Puritan,” a moniker given to him because of his strict faith, experience William Penn's “Holy Experiment” that ends up becoming the state of Pennsylvania, and decide whether they would have been a "New Light" or "Old Light" during The Great Awakening of the mid-eighteenth century. Gragg is an able and eager guide through the annals of history, retracing the acts of faith and moments of humility demonstrating that America was, in fact, Forged in Faith
. TOPICS AND QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. In the introduction, Gragg writes, “As the American national consensus shifts from a traditional, God-centered worldview to a secular, man-centered philosophy, perspectives and priorities changed” (p. 6). Do you agree that America is currently shifting to a secular philosophy rather than God-centered worldview? What are some examples that this shift is occurring?
2. Do you think the first of America's colonies, Jamestown, lived up to its billing as the New Jerusalem? In what ways did Sir Thomas Gates and Sir Thomas Dale help the sustained success of Virginia?
3. “If any does not work, neither shall they eat” (p. 34). In the Plymouth settlement, we see an example of a biblical maxim being used in early government. Do you think that all Bible-based laws used in early America were inherently moral?
4. How has the connotation of the word pilgrim
changed since the early seventeenth-century settlers first arrived in America? Do you think of them as “the embodiment of all that was best in human kind,” as Professor Clarence Ver Steeg suggests would have been the popular view prior to the twentieth century (p. 50)?
5. According to Gragg in Chapter 6, under the guidance of Roger Williams, Rhode Island became the first American colony to offer its people full religious liberty. This simply meant that there would be no government-endorsed religious denomination. Why do you think it took nearly forty years for this to happen in a nation founded by religious separatists?
6. William Penn also adopted the notion of religious freedom in his colony of Pennsylvania, partially to allow a place for his fellow Quakers to thrive. Soon, however, Gragg notes that they were outnumbered and became a religious minority. Is there danger in allowing freedom of religion in a developing country where there are multiple branches of one theology? If there was any doubt that their own branch of the faith would have remained predominant, do you think religious freedom would have been promoted so readily?
7. Do you see the creation of America as a reaction against the Church of England, or as a unification of like-minded believers following their calling? Would a land of religious freedom eventually have become a reality even without dissent?
8. In Chapter 8, Gragg shows excerpts from documents from each of the thirteen colonies, and notes that all were constructed on the pillars of faith and freedom. Do you think it would have been possible for one of the colonies to ignore the notion of faith and still have survived?
9. During the Great Awakening, the theologically liberal Christians became known as the Old Lights and the more conservative “new birth” Christians as the New Lights. Discuss the differences between the Old Lights and New Lights. Why did the split occur? Can you still see any lingering effects of this differentiation today?
10. What do you make of Sam Adams’s assertion that “We must obey God rather than men,” (p. 139). Was it arrogant or humble? Do you think the British also felt that they were obeying God?
11. In contrast to his cousin Sam, John Adams’s faith came accompanied with an “independence of thought” (p. 148), according to biographer David McCullough. Both were evident in his politics. What relationship do you think faith and independent thinking should have? Even though our historical documents were forged in faith, were they also influenced by political realities?
12. Thomas Jefferson was perhaps the Founding Father most conflicted in his faith, as demonstrated by his creation of the Jeffersonian Bible and his dabbles in Unitarianism and Deism. Ultimately, however, he condemned critics of Christianity. If Jefferson had ultimately rejected Christianity, do you think he still would have played a big role in the shaping of American history? ENHANCE YOUR BOOK CLUB
1. There are a number of historic sermons quoted in the book. Sermons make up a large part of the extant literature we have from that time in American history, and tell us a lot about the values and priorities of the people in the congregations. Look up a few of these sermons and read them aloud in your book club. They are available on the web, or in many compendiums of early American literature. There are also great books devoted to the subject, like American Sermons
edited by Michael Warner. Some sermons referenced in the book include:“An Oration on the Beauties of Liberties” by John Allen, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” by Jonathan Edwards, and “The American Vine” by Jacob Duche.
2. The First Great Awakening in American history helped lay the foundation of the political and religious climate for many of our laws, but it was not the only period of religious transformation in America dubbed a Great Awakening. There have been three others since, the second occurring from 1790–1840, the third from 1850–1900, and the fourth from roughly 1960–1980. You can learn about these other periods in American religious history in books, such as Awash in a Sea of Faith: Christianizing the American People
by Jon Butler.
Do you think America is currently going through a fifth Great Awakening? How would we know if we were? How do the different Great Awakenings compare to each other?
3. In Chapter 15, Gragg writes about what must have been a great moment in American history: when Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, and John Adams were tasked with designing a national seal for the United States. We all know what the end result was, but who knew that Franklin favored an image of Moses parting the Red Sea or that Jefferson championed “The children of Israel in the wilderness led by a cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night” (p. 182)?
Break into groups within your book club and come up with your own designs for America’s national seal. Try to put yourself into the mindset of Franklin, Adams, and Jefferson and the American ethos at the time. Would it have religious undertones, perhaps depicting a scene from the Bible? What would your national motto be?