I’ve just finished reading the first chapter of Gregg L. Frazer’s The Religious Beliefs of America’s Founders: Reason, Revelation, and Revolution. Here’s his concluding (and summary) paragraph on “theistic rationalism”:
Theistic rationalism was an elite understanding of the eighteenth century, shared by the key Founders and by many preachers. A gentle, hopeful, and nondenominational belief system that borrowed from Christianity and from deism, it never became the property of the masses. But it equipped elites to describe the projects of the Revolution and the Founding in terms that did not offend popular religion. If it never conquered the evangelical spirit of popular Christianity nor wholly displaced orthodox and traditional religion, it nevertheless was enormously influential in reshaping religious understandings in a way that made them welcoming of revolution, republicanism, and rights. If American can be both religious and republican today, it is partly because the Founders, in their day, were theistic rationalists.
I know David Barton would not approve of Frazer’s characterization of the Founders, but I wonder what John Fea would think?