NOTE:

The material from this entire section, America - The Covenant Nation, comes from my two-volume printed series of the same name, America - The Covenant Nation, published in 2021 (minus all the pictures posted here!).



More about these books, including their availability for purchase in either their printed or auditory forms, can be found at my other website,  America - The Covenant Nation.

The textual material on the page below is drawn directly from my work,
America - The Covenant Nation, Volume One, pages 1-18



THE PARABLE OF THE FOUR GENERATIONS

The Rise and Fall of Societies

History teaches us a key lesson: that societies rise – and then fall – sometimes in short order (just a few generations), sometimes slowly over the centuries.  But they all do at some point come and then go as strong, viable societies. 


For instance, ancient Athens rose to glory and then fell in the span of only a mere century.  It did linger on after its fall, but no longer a great society.  Rome however managed to hang on for centuries between its gradual rise beginning in the 300s and 200s B.C.1 (or earlier if you take into account its very first steps) and its fall, first in the Western half of the Empire during the 400s A.D. (thanks to the Germans) and then in its Eastern territories in the 600s A.D. (thanks to the Arab Muslims) – although it did hang on as a small Eastern power all the way up to the mid–1400s.

In the 20th Century alone, we watched the decline and disappearance of the once-great British, French, Dutch, Belgian, and Portuguese Empires.  And we saw both the 70-year dramatic rise and then dismal collapse of the Soviet Russian Empire.  And we got to watch Hitler's "1000-Year Reich" and the great Japanese Empire rise to enormous greatness and then to full collapse – all in a mere dozen years.

And we got to watch America rise from being a secondary power to the status of being the world's sole superpower in the course of the 20th Century.

Thus arises the question: for how long will America hang on to its greatness?  Will America be like ancient Athens, holding on to greatness for only about a century (such as what happened  also to the great Habsburg Spanish Empire which dominated the entire 1500s)?  Or will it manage to carry on over the centuries, like the great Roman Empire?

Back in the early 1970s, when I first took up university teaching, that question was put to me by my students, naturally concerned about the direction toward which their American society seemed to be headed.  I answered with a story illustrating a society's natural dynamics of growth and decline, a story explaining how strong leadership, inspiring a disciplined social-moral order, could establish and build to great strength an entire society.  But the story also illustrated how corrupt or just morally lazy leadership, which seems to come along inevitably with time, would also confuse and severely damage that society and its social-moral order.  I called this story the "Parable of the Four Generations."  Here is a brief summarization of the parable.

The Parable

The First Generation.  A society typically begins under the mastery or leadership of a very strong-willed individual, not infrequently a young man who climbs out of very tough – even brutal – circumstances.  And in overcoming those circumstances he achieves a self-discipline in the face of dangerous challenges, one which so strongly impresses a gathering circle of young warriors that he is able to turn this group into a similarly disciplined band of conquerors.  The warrior-leader is very generous to those who would follow his lead bravely, against even the most dangerous of challenges. But he could also be equally unforgiving of those who would fail to live up to his very precise warrior code or his high expectations of a very brave performance in carrying out the warrior duties of those who would dare join him.  Washington and Hamilton exemplify this type of individual.

But what drives this leader is not just some hunger to force others under his direction for the sheer joy of it.  That can come to certain people as a big ego-high.  But usually that same urge will blind and ultimately destroy such wannabe leaders.  No, what drives this First-Generation leader is vision, a higher vision or sense of call that comes from some source other than the approval of the immediate world around him.  It comes typically from a sense, even at a very early age, that Heaven itself has a special commission for this young man to build a society that will serve the greater will of Heaven, God, Providence, Allah, Zeus, Tian – or whatever name is given to this Higher Power.  It is the ability of our young warrior to keep his eyes on this higher call that allows him not to fall victim to the flattery of those who would try to use him for their own personal gain.  He is immune to such human willfulness.  Thus such vision with its call to bold action as well as an unshakable resolve to keep himself and others under the inflexible moral discipline required to see that vision come to reality together make him the powerful leader that he is.

He also occupies a special place in history because his arrival on the social scene is timed with developments well beyond his own political-social designs.  In fact, he himself is no such political-social designer.  Instead, he is an individual fully capable of taking on fearsome challenges immediately in front of him as they arise to confront him on an almost daily basis.  He does not design life, like some lofty intellectual working at a desk and living in a bubble of beautiful ideals and wonderfully rational plans designed to achieve utopia.  His world is tough, messy, and unpredictable.  But he is fearsomely brave as he pursues this political-social call placed on him by the very power of Heaven.  He resolves simply to keep moving forward, even in the face of the most discouraging circumstances.

And thus it is that this man of valor is able to inspire others to join him on this path of overcoming – and ultimately this path of social conquest.  He is thus able through sheer doggedness to produce social greatness.2

And in our parable, that conquest would include even the great civilization just over the next mountain range, a civilization that is in deep trouble because it is no longer led by such powerful leaders as our First-Generation founder.  This once-great civilization has fallen into deep moral decay, one that inevitably comes along with the rise to power of the Fourth and final Generation.  This civilization finds itself caught at this point in time in the throes of social collapse.  It is ripe for conquest by some kind of rising power outside itself.  And that is where the First-Generation leader finds himself and his men headed in history.

Timing is, of course, also key to success in history.

The Second Generation.  The son (the Second Generation) of the original founder-warrior will also have grown up in tough circumstances, though only because of the disciplined social environment established by his father, not because of a threatening political world immediately around him.  By the time he is a rising young man, much of that has already been cleared away by his father's early successes. However, the father's grand vision, in which he understood rather clearly the ultimate destiny of his small but growing society, has had the father over the years preparing his son to take up the responsibilities that one day will be passed on to him.  The First-Generation father therefore has had his Second-Generation son train and join him in battle, learning the responsibilities of leadership.  There is, after all, a world to be conquered by both of them, father and son.

And that conquered world one day will need to be administered by a competent ruler. But it will fall to the son, not the father, to be just that individual.  Anticipating this, the father perhaps will have, early along the way, sent his son off to live and study for a number of years within that larger civilization, one that is destined to be ruled by his own rising dynasty.  This certainly occurred in the case of Philip II of Macedon, when he sent his son Alexander off to Greece to study under Aristotle.  As a result, the son will know and understand the ways of the larger world that one day will be his responsibility to rule.

The son will also know of the Heavenly Commission upon which his society was originally founded by his father, though perhaps only secondarily, through what his father has told him about it.  The son will respect that Higher Power and will take its ruling principles into account in his governance.  But he will also be shaped by his knowledge of the political codes and moral rules of the society he is about to inherit, its wise counselors, its civilized ways.  All of this will come as a blend of the son's own vision and self-discipline. He is more the person of Reason, like the civilized world he has come to know, than of dangerous risk-taking, something required by the social conditions his father grew up in.

Typically, the era of the Second Generation will be understood by historians as constituting the political height of that society or civilization, the one created or restored through the conquering efforts of the First Generation, and the considerable administrative talents of the Second Generation.  John Adams would exemplify that particular generation.3

The Third Generation.  The grandson/son of the two preceding generations will be personally familiar only with life as lived within the palace that he was raised in.  He will know well the stories of the great valor of his grandfather, although such knowledge will have more the nature of folklore than reality to him.  He will see and experience directly the blessings of his father's well-administered social-legal order.  It certainly will have already benefitted the son greatly.  And thus he will be entirely devoted to the idea of completing and securing the full development of that perfect social order. He will spend his time in his royal chambers working on that perfect design, working closely with his highly-educated advisors on the specifics of a proposed legal order he wants them to put into place by royal decree.

Along with the proposed legal order, his own vision typically will include the perfecting or beautifying of the visible features of the civilization he has inherited: the beautification of the palace dwellings; the building of magnificent homes for his huge administrative staff; the upgrading of the public places such as the all-important central market and the houses of worship; the development of public parks and places of leisure (mostly for the privileged urban classes).  Jefferson would exemplify that particular generation.4


Of course all of this will come at a great cost, especially to those least able to fend off the tax collectors, who fleece the poorer classes to pay for these extravagant projects, projects which will bring little or no benefit to the lower social orders  Restlessness and even occasional revolt will from time to time upset this utopian social order that Generation Three is attempting to put into place.  And our ruler will be uncomprehending as to why such turmoil is accompanying his efforts to perfect his people's world.  But that is because he lives largely in a social-intellectual-moral bubble of his own making.  He is far removed from the hard realities of the larger world around him.  Most importantly, he has lost touch with those he is expected to govern. He no longer relates to this people as a moral compass or spiritual guide for them.  Trouble brews.

The Fourth Generation.  Having grown up in a world of total privilege, surrounded by flattering supporters who were looking to be brought into that world of privilege, our Fourth-Generation leader will have lost touch completely with the hard realities facing his society, the challenges that as society's governing authority he is expected to address and solve.  But he lives in a world of massive disinformation (who would dare to contradict the presuppositions of the Great Ruler).  He is clueless as to his responsibilities.

Not only is there a total loss of dedicated discipline to his governance, there is not even any particular direction to it.  He is a person of no particular vision, except to hang on to all the entitlements coming his way as Great Ruler.  He is bored, listless, and dangerous, not only to those immediately around him but also to himself.  And most tragically, he is also a great danger to the society he is expected to lead.  He indulges in every known diversion possible, being able (he believes) to afford them all: gambling, drugs and alcohol, sex (in various ways), wild spending sprees (for nothing in particular), cruel games (including the torture of individuals he does not particularly care for), and so on.

And as for the general moral order of the society he is supposed to be leading, it now finds itself in a state of collapse.  Hungry gangs wander the streets, violating persons and property as they see the urge to do so.  It is dangerous for women and children to go to market for the day's needs, or even to enter the streets at all.  Extortionists come around to exact the price of protection on the defenseless people.  The social order is simply collapsing.  And as for the people's affection for their government, its Great Ruler in particular, there is none.  They wish him dead, and would support anyone inclined to cause that to happen.

And that brings us back to the First Generation, for that is where such help is to come from.  And thus the cycle begins all over again.

What the Paraable Seems to Imply About America Today

So, in answering my students' question back in those years of the early 1970s as to where America found itself in this matter of a society's rise and fall, I answered "somewhere in the middle of the
Third Generation."  We had been trying to perfect the structuring of American society through Johnson's Great Society programming and building a strong South Vietnamese society able to ward off the aggressions of Communism.  But instead of achieving wonderful social progress on both fronts, Johnson's programs seemed to have brought to America only shocking social chaos, both at home and abroad.  And that chaos merely continued through the 1970s.  At times it felt as if we were even heading into the Fourth Generation.

Later, during the 1980s and 1990s, we actually seemed to step back into a profile more characteristic of the Second Generation.  But with the beginning of the 21st century we also seemed to skip ahead, down the road heading America toward the Fourth Generation.  Indeed, today I would have to say that we stand somewhere in the early stages of the Fourth Generation.  We have so thoroughly "Changed" the fundamental moral structure of American society, that America – and Americans – are suffering from a major identity crisis, one characteristic of the Fourth Generation.


1B.C. – "Before Christ." "Since Christ" is designated as A.D. – "Anno Domini" (Latin for "Year of our Lord").

2Certainly both Washington and Lincoln are perfect examples of this kind of leadership.  So also was the largely unacknowledged true Founder of Anglo-American society (at least the New England version), John Winthrop.  And this category should also include Hamilton, a fiercely brave soul who took up the unloved responsibility of getting the new Republic started up on very strong financial foundations.  These people carried America forward in its development through the most challenging of times.

3Both Roosevelts, Truman, Eisenhower, and Kennedy would certainly fall somewhere in this category, in the way they worked to maintain and utilize American social power in the face of huge social challenges.  Nixon, Reagan, and Bush Sr. probably also belong in this category.

4American examples of this would be Jefferson, Wilson, and Johnson (LBJ), all of whom sought to perfect American society (and even the world in some cases) through highly-planned or rational social redesign.  Franklin Roosevelt, Carter and Clinton seemed to have started out this way, but thankfully were forced back into a Second-Generation profile when hard Reality struck!


Americans seem to find it highly entertaining to tear at each other at home – wielding "Reason" like a club to crush political adversaries. The traditional moral grounding which for generations forced political debate to stay within certain boundaries has disappeared. All combatants today are so convinced of their own righteousness (who needs rules or boundaries when you are certain that you alone are the only one who is Right in these matters!) that Washington politics has become totally uncivil. This is definitely Fourth Generation behavior.

With China on the rise in its effort to become the superpower of the 21st century, this is not a good condition for America to find itself in. America seems to be losing serious influence abroad (it was a very strong America, after all, that put in place the shape and direction that moved much of the larger world after World War Two). But the loss of power abroad means also the loss of political freedom at home. A weakened America does not need to be "protected' or "guided" by a newly dominant China.

Xi Jinping

America needs help, much help, from some source other than its own self-inflicted wisdom or Reason that now pretends to direct it.  It is going to need the very power that long ago put the foundations of this great society in place.  It is going to need the very power of Heaven, of God himself, to get America back on track as a powerful society.  Literally, it needs to restore the Covenant or contractual relationship with God, one that was agreed to four centuries ago (the early 1600s) by the Puritan Founding Fathers.  In that Covenant, those leaders agreed to put this country's fate in the hands of God and promised that they would follow God's – not man's – counsel. What they were doing there in New England was totally unprecedented, very risky, and they were going to need God's help in order to succeed in this rather experimental social venture.  And succeed they did.

But as with all things in human nature (as our parable points out), success led American society down the road of moral drift – more than once, as it turned out! But God remembered the Puritans' agreement with him and honored the terms of the Covenant. In sending great spiritual revivals or "Awakenings" to America at various points in the county's history, he got America back on course, moving ahead once again.  In each of these instances, that Godly relationship – not human social planning – got Americans ready to face some very major social crises that loomed before them.  And thanks to God's moral-spiritual renewal of America, America came through these crises stronger than ever.

Now here we are today morally confused and horribly undirected.  Worse, we seem to want to fight any efforts to get us up and running again as a truly great society.  We need Godly, not more Rationally human, guidance again ... badly.

Thus, recovering that Covenant or contractual relationship with God is a matter of great urgency today.



THE PURPOSE AND NATURE OF THIS STUDY

The Two Americas

Another central and closely-related theme of this study is the fact that from its founding onward, there have always been "Two Americas."   One such America always finds the Americans themselves focused entirely on their own individual or personal success achieved through Rationally-designed self-advancement, calculated to help the individual acquire superior social status, visible clearly to the world in terms of the material display (housing, cars, clothing, etc.) that is supposed to accompany such personal success. This America finds itself in the category of the Third Generation, which unfortunately slides so easily into a Fourth-Generation situation.5  

The other America, however, is characterized by a willingness of Americans to take on huge social challenges as a single people, working closely together – even sacrificially – to bring their beloved society to success.   Like the First Generation, they have also well-understood that what truly mattered in life was a very personal relationship with God, one that enabled them to take on unpredictable and thus fearsome challenges in the full confidence that God, not some lofty program of grand Humanist design, would guide and strengthen them through those tough times.  

This dual pattern has appeared repeatedly: Americans rather naturally wanting to drift down the self-focused "Rational" Secular-Humanist-Materialist path, and then God through various Awakenings bringing them together back on the course that as a Covenant People they had originally set out on.

Christian Spiritual Perspective – Coupled with Strong Political Realism

This study covers all the typical subjects of an in-depth American political history, but with extensive social-cultural analysis offered by way of a mixture of a strong political Realism and an equally strong Christian cultural and spiritual perspective. The study also includes a closer look at a number of individuals, leaders who strongly shaped America's social-moral culture as the country developed.  And it always keeps an eye on the changing balance culture-wise between Human Reason (Humanism or Secularism) and Christian morality and spirituality as America moved from one age to the next

This is a study shaped greatly out of a classroom effort to help young Americans come to know personally the narrative of their own society (and eventually also young international students to better understand the same dynamics for their society as well), to prepare them to enter a world in which one day they will have to make choices, both personal and social.

This narrative was designed to help them gain needed political-moral perspective, to help them rise out of the confusion that has been left for them to deal with by previous generations. They have the huge social responsibility of becoming a wise generation.  After all, America is supposed to be a democracy, dependent on the wisdom of all its people and not just on the guidance of a self-proclaimed body of the enlightened few located off in some distant political center.   Thus it is that this study is intended for the classroom, at all levels of young adult learning.

Actually, this study originated a quarter of a century ago as part of an adult social studies program and therefore is also directed toward a fairly adult general audience.   It is written at a college level (even grad school level) in terms of vocabulary and social commentary.  However, I once asked my high-school students if they had trouble with the vocabulary.  They assured me that the meaning of what they were reading was always very clear, even if occasionally above their general vocabulary level!


5This is the situation America found itself in during the Roaring Twenties (1920s), materially rich and spiritually impoverished – until the Great Depression of the 1930s brought America out of this moral funk and got the country spiritually ready to take on the huge challenge of World War Two soon facing them.
     

THE PERSONAL BACKGROUND TO THIS STUDY6

Ever the political analyst.   I am by training and experience not really an historian but instead a political scientist – by very strong instinct.   I have long used history as my laboratory in developing an understanding of social and political dynamics.   But I am also a dedicated Christian – who had to come to that Christian faith and understanding through a long process of searching for the Truth in life.   Actually, it turned out that Truth found me!   From that moment on, I have been trying to flesh out the details of that Truth.   This study is a part – a big part – of that effort.

Early in my career I was a university professor (international politics) and a consulting political- economic analyst for corporate America.   My journey started back in the 1960s at Georgetown University (1963–1968), when I did my master's thesis on South Africa and my doctoral dissertation on Belgium, both concerning the subject of multiculturalism – having become intrigued with the subject because of my junior year (1961–1962) spent at the University of Geneva in multicultural Switzerland.  The dynamics by which I came to predict (as it turned out, correctly) that South Africa in the mid–1960s was destined to go down a path different from the one being followed elsewhere in Africa (South African Whites would hold on to their power, at least for another generation) pushed me to dig more deeply into the matter of why societies go this way rather than that.  And I arrived in Belgium (1969) just as it was beginning to find relief from the long struggle between the French and Dutch-speaking halves of the country – by instead moving to serve the higher goal of becoming the center of a rising New Europe.  I was impressed by how societies that find a higher purpose to their very existence can gain great strength in the process.

University professor.  As a young political science professor at the University of South Alabama (1971–1986), I had the opportunity to broaden this interest considerably, teaching over the next fifteen years not only American diplomacy and international relations, but also regional political dynamics (courses offered annually on Europe, the Middle East and Asia) by which I began to understand how different societies see things differently and thus approach life differently.  But I also saw a pattern amidst all these differences and, early on, developed the Four-Generation parable to explain this dynamic.  This interest in social dynamics led me ultimately to set up my own consultancy business in political-risk research, working with banks and corporations located across the American South, and ultimately to offer a special contract course on political risk analysis staged at the London School of Economics.  Thus it was that I put to work my instinct for Realpolitik.   This study certainly reflects that same instinct.

The cynical Realist.   However, something was missing in all this political Realism.  I was quite understanding of the dynamic of the rise and fall of societies – and was not very happy watching American society going through this same dynamic in the 1970s.   Sadly, in all this insight, life was showing me no good exit from the cynicism that hard Reality left me with.  I was a most unwilling member of a latter-day Lost Generation, having become greatly disillusioned with life.

Encounters with God through contemporary examples of Jesus Christ.  Then in 1983-1984 – in the midst of immense spiritual turmoil – God began to reveal himself to me step by step, eventually put clearly before me in the form of a young Catholic priest I worked with in El Salvador (1985–1986), a Christ-like figure loving and encouraging a small community of campesinos being shot up in a savage civil war going on in that country; then soon after that, an Episcopal priest who performed the same act of loving support to throwaway kids living under the boardwalk at Pensacola Beach; and similarly, a local plumber who went fulltime into a deeply caring Christian ministry to the homeless in downtown Mobile.   Coming to know and work with these individuals opened up a whole new world for me.  

While still teaching fulltime, I found myself undertaking part-time both regional prison ministry and Mobile jail and street ministry, fascinated to see how the Gospel of Jesus Christ brought wonderful light into the human darkness, even when that darkness seemed very dark indeed.   As a Realist, I knew quite well that this was a darkness that no human program, no government program, no amount of Human Reason, was going to bring light to.   For a natural cynic, the Gospel of Jesus Christ was a huge revelation.

Taking up the call.   In fact, this personal Awakening was so huge that it caused me in 1986 to drop my professorship, tenure, status, and all, and head off to seminary in Princeton, simply to devote myself fulltime to deepening my understanding of the Christian social dynamic.  Actually, fulltime was even fuller because I almost immediately started up a daily morning street ministry nearby among Trenton's homeless – breakfast, bible study, and just wide-ranging discussion.   I would continue my hands-on work there, even for eighteen months after having completed my studies at the seminary – working in construction while awaiting a call!


6This personal story of mine has been recently published (September 2021) as The Spiritual Pilgrim – A Journey from Cynical Realism to a "Born Again" Christian Faith. Its various 250-page print versions can be found online under my name at amazon.com or barnesandnoble.com, as an ebook at kobo.com, or as an audiobook at audible.com.  Here too, more information about this book (and how it can be purchased) can also be found on my website thecovenantnation.com. But you will also discover a lot of coverage of all this on this website: The Spiritual Pilgrim.


Something of a side-note on my Princeton days but illustrative of where I come from in life was when in 1989, just a few days prior to the time I was due to graduate, my thesis mentor, a youngish professor at the seminary, finally reported my grade (which I myself had not yet seen) to the Registrar.   It was an F!   This was his personal assessment of my 260-page senior thesis, which was assembled after I had spent two months in South Africa the previous summer interviewing widely leaders of the various racial groups that made up the South African Society.

My thesis concluded that there was going to be no violent revolution that would bring Black power into full play.  But instead, an amazing spirit of racial reconciliation was going to achieve the same objective.  This fervently Liberal professor, who actually knew very little about South African society and its dynamics, concluded that I had been taken in by South African Fascist deception, and thus I was not worthy of the Princeton stamp of approval.  He was so wrapped up in his bubble-world of Liberal Reasoning that Reality found itself beyond his reach.  Anyway, as it turned out, I had so many extra academic credits accumulated that much to his surprise I was able to participate in the seminary's graduation ceremonies three days later – thanks to a sympathetic Registrar who immediately refashioned for me my major from Christian Ethics to Biblical Studies.   And when I ran into him sometime later, when things were unfolding in South Africa just as I had predicted, he was not interested in following up on the subject!

The discovery of the power of historical narrative.  In any case, one of the great wonders that hit me in those seminary years came in acquainting myself with the power of the Judeo-Christian narrative, especially in the original languages of Greek and Hebrew!   It was at this point that the idea of social narrative itself took on special meaning, even supreme importance, to me.

This arose from understanding the grandness of what the ancient Jews had achieved when they were dragged off to captivity in Babylon and were no longer permitted to practice their familiar pattern of worship, up until then mostly animal sacrifices performed at the Temple by temple priests.  Unable to build a temple for themselves in Babylon, they instead simply reinvented themselves around their own narrative!  They were a people anciently covenanted to God to be precisely his people – and as such had a marvelous story to tell about what that had meant to them over many generations.  This story, this narrative itself thus became the focus of their devotion to and worship of their God Yahweh and their identity as a distinct people.

Thus it was that these ancient Jews literally created Judaism:  rabbis or teachers instead of priests to lead them in their devotional life, rabbis who collected and then issued commentaries (sermons) on the gathered narrative at weekly gatherings at synagogues found scattered among the Jewish population in Babylon.  It was thus the narrative itself, not temple sacrifices, that at this point defined the Jewish people and their special relationship with God.   This was unique at the time.   It was awesome.

And I realized how importantly Christianity was built on this same tradition of the narrative, not only including the Jewish narrative (the Old Testament) but also the story of Jesus's ministry (the Gospels) and the counsel (the Epistles or Letters) of the early saints, in particular the counsel of Paul found in the New Testament.  For three centuries, the Bible became brutally-persecuted Christianity's early social-moral foundation … before the Roman authorities reversed course and adopted Christianity as the Empire's own moral underpinning.

But in reversing this course, Christianity ultimately became "Romanized."

I also understood the struggles of the Christian Reformers of the 1500s and 1600s in their effort to get Christianity back to its original foundations based on the Biblical narrative – and not on just the Romanized ecclesiastical or hierarchical Church-based, legalistic, political-social tradition.  I well understood how this inspired the Puritans who came to America in the early 1600s to put into operation a society that would actually try to live as close to the counsel of that same Biblical narrative as possible.  These Puritans were well equipped with highly educated teacher-preachers (like the Jewish rabbis) to keep them aligned with this Biblical counsel – through the weekly holding of Sunday gatherings where sermons inspired by this Biblical narrative were presented on an on-going basis.


While in seminary I had no intentions of becoming a pastor.  But pastoring is ultimately the task God called me to in my move into my second career.  Over a twelve-year period, three Presbyterian churches were to hear, from the pulpit and through special social-studies courses, sections of that narrative, mixed in with my tendency to move to contemporary social-cultural analysis in the process.  I even in the 1990s started up my own website (newgeneva.org, later refashioned as spiritualpilgrim.net).

New Geneva.  In my last years of pastoring I put together a team of myself and four other Presbyterian pastors and a Presbyterian businessman and for two years worked on developing a New Geneva study center to retread Presbyterian pastors and elders, naturally around both the Biblical and the Christian West's historical narrative.  But with seventeen acres in hand, the project awakened a prestigious Presbyterian Church nearby, which viewed the project as possibly resulting in a sheep raid on their flock and, wielding enormous political pressure in the Presbytery, had us shut down.

The King's Academy.  Thus it was at this point that God led me to take a position (September 2001) at a new and quite humble but very spiritually and intellectually rigorous Christian school, The King's Academy (TKA).   Quite ironically, in my first week at the school I stressed to my students that the days of Fortress America were gone.  The two oceans no longer served to protect us from the affairs of the rest of the world.  We no longer had an option as to whether we wanted to get involved with events abroad or not.  It was our destiny to play a huge role in the world's development, whether we wanted to or not.  Also, I stressed that the world now in this day and age would be coming to us – and at us – on its own terms, and we needed to be prepared physically, emotionally and spiritually to face such challenges.  In fact, I mentioned in several of my classes how the Islamic jihadists wanted to take down the New York City Twin Towers.  Tragically, my point struck home to my students even more deeply, when the very next day the Twin Towers did indeed come down.

I don't know what made me pick that example (I was of course aware of the former attempt in 1993).  But that's how doing God's work often goes.  That certainly got my students' attention concerning the importance of this learning project we would be working on together.   Nonetheless, this was not a happy thing for me.  Two of the people who died in the Towers were former parishioners of mine when I served as a pastor in Northern New Jersey.  One in fact, the church treasurer, I was rather close to.

Anyway, from this academic base camp at The King's Academy I began to expand considerably my teaching material, which bit by bit made its way to my website, including Western cultural history, comparative world cultures, biographical sketches, French language development, classic literature, even art history!  And this is the material (the American history portion anyway) that would bring me today to produce this narrative that appears before you.

About This Study

As already indicated, this has been a long-researched project that was gradual, changing, and always developing here and there over a twenty to thirty-year period, some of that during a time of pastoral duties, though most of it while teaching my high school students at The King's Academy. It was done with the understanding that this is political science and Christian philosophy as much as historical fact.But in any case, the facts are extensively researched, and abundantly detailed.

Ultimately this particular study is about America and its covenantal relationship with God, offered America by God through the willingness ofAmerica's early leaders to follow Jesus as the Lord and life of this strange venture, this founding of a very new and very unique society. These Founders would be commissioned not only to help all members of this new society to live up to the terms of this Covenant (which the people themselves also agreed to honor) but also to show through the American example the way to such a divine relationship to the rest of the world. In accepting this commission, it was understood by those early Americans that this new society was to dedicate itself to living to great purpose – to be a City on a Hill, a Light to the Nations.

This covenant relationship with God has certainly been one with its ups and downs. But it was always this relationship that clearly moved America forward, eventually to become the superpower of the 20th century. But sadly today, an overly comfortable and smugly self-satisfied America has again drifted away from this relationship, perhaps further than it had in any of its earlier wanderings. We have now raised at least two – and are working on a third – generation that in general knows very little, or even nothing, of this Covenant.

America needs to be awakened to both the blessings and the adversities of life, shown the wisdom of those who went before us, facing most of the same problems – in different packages, but fundamentally the same issues then as now. There is much to be learned in once again hearing the American narrative. There is much that must be learned, or social drift into an ever-darker world will be the foreordained outcome.

Even the Puritans – or better, especially the Puritans – who started out this American narrative, were aware of this challenge. And that is why we start with them.



For more on this personal journey, go to The Spiritual Pilgrim

ON BEING A COVENANT PEOPLE

John Winthrop and the Puritan Covenant

In mid-June of the year 1630 John Winthrop, Governor of the new Massachusetts Bay Company, called together aboard his flagship, the Arbella, the first group of some twenty thousand Puritans who would be coming to New England over the next ten years.  These Puritans had just arrived at their destination in Massachusetts and would soon be disembarking to begin their new mission in New England.

As Puritans it had long been their mission to purify the Church of England of its corrupt medieval ways and bring it as close as possible to strict Biblical standards in its operations ... exactly as God himself had commanded.  But finally Winthrop’s group of Puritans had come to the conclusion that hope of reform was futile ... and to the decision to take their mission to America.  Life under King Charles and Archbishop Laud had become impossible –  even highly dangerous – for those who wished to continue the cause of Christian reform in England.

But even this retreat to America was highly dangerous.  The general record of English settlements in America was horrifying ... hunger, sickness and ultimately death overtaking more than half of those who attempted the venture.  Yet they were willing to face that risk, so great was their determination to succeed in this project of theirs.


It is important to note that this move to America was more than just a gamble of the English to secure for themselves a better life than the one they had in England.  Most all of them came from comfortable middle class homes ... and had they been less vocal about their concern for reform of the Church of England they could have quietly lived their lives out in relative ease.  No, something else was going on here ... something that had made them the reformers that they were.  They truly believed in their religious cause ... so much so that their efforts at reform had brought them enormous problems with the English Church and Crown. 

At least now in America they would be free to see these reforms reshape their world, both religious and social.  And that, in sum, is why they came ... by the thousands.

It is hard today even to begin to imagine the thoughts that motivated these English settlers.  Religious idealism is such a secondary matter (if even that) in modern America, where material rewards count so heavily and life is measured in terms of a person’s professional success.  Yet as hard-driven as Americans are today in pursuit of the American materialistic dream so too the Puritans were hard-driven in pursuit of their religious dream: a life lived in close companionship with God – and ultimately, as Christ himself stressed, in close companionship with each other.

Thus before his shipmates disembarked from the Arbella Winthrop addressed them with one of the most famous sermons ever preached, a sermon entitled by Winthrop himself, A Model of Christian Charity.  Sounding very much like Moses addressing the ancient Israelites just as they were about to enter the Promised Land, Winthrop challenged his fellow Puritans:

... Thus stands the cause between God and us.  We are entered into covenant with Him for this work.  We have taken out a commission.
It was well understood by all that a "Covenant" meant there were specific terms or obligations that had to be met, something like a legal contract drawn up between themselves and God.  They would serve God ... and if they were faithful in that service, then God would also faithfully serve them.  With God’s help they would prosper ... in a most miraculous way.

This is what they understood this whole venture was all about ... to prove not only to themselves but also to the wider world the notion that man could live most nobly, most successfully – not in pursuit of personal gain, wealth and superior social status ... but instead in pursuit of a closer relationship with the God who presided over all doings in his Creation. 

But as with all contracts there was the down side ... relating to failure to keep the Covenant with God.  Failure would indeed bring down on them God’s wrath.  Winthrop warned them:

... if we shall neglect the observation of these articles ... [and] embrace this present world and prosecute our carnal intentions, seeking great things for ourselves and our posterity, the Lord will surely break out in wrath against us, and be revenged of such a people, and make us know the price of the breach of such a covenant.
Additionally, the Covenant included a second aspect to it, not just the one linking these Christian souls to Almighty God.  The Covenant also required a similar bond uniting them in affection and devotion to each other.  Winthrop explains:
Now the only way to avoid this shipwreck [of God’s wrath], and to provide for our posterity, is to follow the counsel of Micah, to do justly, to love mercy, to walk humbly with our God. For this end, we must be knit together, in this work, as one man.  We must entertain each other in brotherly affection.  We must be willing to abridge ourselves of our superfluities, for the supply of others’ necessities. We must delight in each other; make others’ conditions our own; rejoice together, mourn together, labor and suffer together, always having before our eyes our commission and community in the work, as members of the same body.  ...
Then Winthrop went on to remind his fellow Puritans that this venture was something of much greater importance than merely their own success as a colony ... for God had entered into this Covenant with these Puritan settlers as a demonstration or model of how all people should live.  Whether this venture succeeded or failed would by God’s own intent come to be a matter of great importance to all the world ... which would take careful note of exactly how this Covenant life in America worked out for everyone.  Winthrop stated:
We shall find that the God of Israel is among us, when ten of us shall be able to resist a thousand of our enemies; when He shall make us a praise and glory that men shall say of succeeding plantations, "may the Lord make it like that of New England."  For we must consider that we shall be as a city upon a hill.  The eyes of all people are upon us.  So that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken, and so cause Him to withdraw His present help from us, we shall be made a story and a by-word through the world.
He concludes, citing Moses's admonition to Israel:
"beloved, there is now set before us life and death, good and evil," in that we are commanded this day to love the Lord our God, and to love one another, to walk in his ways and to keep his Commandments and his ordinance and his laws, and the articles of our Covenant with Him, that we may live and be multiplied, and that the Lord our God may bless us in the land whither we go to possess it.

But if our hearts shall turn away, so that we will not obey, but shall be seduced, and worship other Gods, our pleasure and profits, and serve them; it is propounded unto us this day, we shall surely perish out of the good land whither we pass over this vast sea to possess it.

Therefore let us choose life, that we and our seed may live, by obeying His voice and cleaving to Him, for He is our life and our prosperity.

And How Do Things Stand Today with That Same Covenant?

Here we are today four centuries later, indeed a highly successful society ... in terms at least of the enormous material blessing that we enjoy as Americans.  Was this divine Covenant – as Winthrop and the Puritan settlers earnestly believed it would be – the source of this success?   Or was it just luck?  Or was it simply the cleverness of the American people that brought us to such success?  This a question of huge importance ... one that needs some serious investigation.  But it is a question hardly heard at all today outside of the tiny ghettos of struggling American churches.

Certainly the Covenant is largely forgotten today, not even mentioned in the public education of America's youth, and only seldom in the public discourse held in the in the halls of the national capital or in the national media.  Indeed, according to today's legal interpretation, such religion was never intended to be any part of public America, church and state supposedly having been separated by the First Amendment.  But a close reading of the First Amendment7 which few people seem to actually bother with) reveals that the Founding Fathers intended this constitutional principle contained in the First Amendment to protect religion from regulation by the state – not for religion's public regulation (and largely exclusion) by the state.  But this is how generally Americans prefer to understand things today.  Authority in the form of the state, not God, is what Americans today believe should be the governing voice in American life.

And how is that working out for us today?  Were Winthrop's reminders of the negative side of the Covenant (the curses that should fall upon the community should it turn its hearts away from God) simply idle words, spoken out of the superstition of the times?  Or indeed was this the deal, then and now?

The best way to answer this question is to take a long, hard look at the record itself, to observe what we can of America's good times and bad, its rises and declines, to see if there is any actual evidence that the Covenant was indeed all that Winthrop had declared it to be.

And thus if indeed it was just contemporary superstition and there is no real evidence in history that it played a significant role in American history, then we can get on with things (materially and professionally) and continue down the path we have been on since the 1960s when we began to let the federal state based in Washington, DC, take the lead in American life.  But if on the other hand there is strong evidence that indeed the Covenant was – and therefore still is – fully operative, we should pay close attention to Winthrop's admonitions, and begin to fear … or better yet, take corrective steps.

And so that is what motivates this work: an investigation into the question of America being a Covenant Nation.  And we will begin our investigation at the beginning, not just with Winthrop's New England but also with the royal colony of Virginia.  These two simultaneous ventures of the 1600s were themselves very revealing on this matter!


7The First Amendment, protecting the rights of Americans against an overbearing state, reads specifically:  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”



Go on to the next section:  Colonial Foundations - The Christian Social Legacy

  Miles H. Hodges