After criticizing John Adams for having a supposedly Deistic view of creation, Gregg Frazer decided to further condemn Adams for having a Deistic form of worship. This is a very interesting claim by Frazer for the simple reason that he never provided an explanation of how he thinks that true Christians ought to worship God. He did say at an earlier point in his book that Deists thought “the best way to worship God was to do good to and for one’s fellow man.” Yet Frazer never explained how this differs from the way in which a Christian ought to worship God or how it differs from the definition of pure religion given in James 1:27.
This didn’t stop Frazer from criticizing Adams for being Deistic in his form of worship however. He wrote of Adams that:
Although he shared with Christians a belief that God ought to be worshipped, he often advocated the deist mode of worship. The deity was to be worshipped by “implicitly and piously” obeying his commands, by “the love of God and his creation,” and by “allegiance to the Creator … and benevolence to all his creatures.” According to Adams, “He who loves the workman and his work, and does what he can to preserve and improve it, shall be accepted of him.”
Does Frazer think that it is unchristian to implicitly and piously obey the commands of God? Does he think that Christians do not love God and His creation? Does he believe that Christians should not have allegiance to the Creator and benevolence to all His creatures? Is it really Frazer’s opinion that those who love both God and His work so much that they seek preserve and improve those things which God has created – does he really think that this marks someone as being a non-Christian? If his answer is yes to any of these questions, then he has far less knowledge of the Bible than I’ve given him credit for.
Let’s look at Adams’ comments with a little more detail than Frazer provided in his abbreviated excerpts and compare each of these statements with Scripture.
When Frazer quotes Adams as saying “implicitly and piously” he was referring to a single sentence in a letter in which Adams argued for the existence of an afterlife. After concluding his argument, Adams wrote of God (not some generic deity as Frazer intimates): “I … earnestly wish for his Commands which to the Utmost of my Power Shall be implicitly and piously obeyed.” Compare this with John 14:15 where we find Christ Himself saying “if ye love me, keep my commandments.” Adams was committing himself to the same path that Jesus instructed His disciples to follow.
Frazer’s second quote comes from one of John Adams’ many denunciations of Calvinism. Adams wrote:
Now, my Friend, can Prophecies, or miracles convince you, or me, that infinite Benevolence, Wisdom and Power, created and preserves, for a time, innumerable millions to make them miserable, forever; for his own Glory? Wretch! What is his Glory? Is he ambitious? does he want promotion? Is he vain? tickled with Adulation? Exulting and tryumphing in his Power and the Sweetness of his Vengeance? Pardon me, my Maker, for these Aweful Questions. My Answer to them is always ready: I believe no such Things. My Adoration of the Author of the Universe is too profound and too Sincere. The Love of God and his Creation; delight, Joy, tryumph, Exultation in my own existence, ’tho but an Atom, a Molecule organique, in the Universe; are my religion. Howl, Snarl, bite, ye Calvinistick? ye Athanasian Divines, if you will. ye will Say, I am no Christian: I Say ye are no Christians: and there the Account is ballanced. yet I believe all the honest men among you, are Christians in my Sense of the Word.
In this paragraph, Adams was contrasting his beliefs with those of the Calvinists. The Calvinists taught that God created the vast majority of the human race for the express purpose of condemning them to an eternity of torment just so that He could be glorified in their suffering. In contrast to this belief, Adams claimed that his religion produced a “Love of God and his Creation.” He claimed that his religion taught “Joy, triumph, Exultation” in one’s existence rather than the depressing conclusion of the Calvinists.
Was Adams wrong to love God and His creation? Not according to Scripture, for Jesus Christ Himself tells us that the two greatest commandments in all of the Bible are to love God and to love our fellow men (Matthew 22:37-39). Was Adams wrong to seek joy, triumph and exultation in his religion? Again, not according to Scripture, for we read in Philippians 4:4 that we are to “Rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice.”
Frazer’s third quotation comes from a letter in which Adams was discussing one of George Whitefield’s sermons. Now Frazer had nothing but praise for Whitefield. He referred to him as “an orthodox Christian and, by many accounts, the most effective of all Christian missionaries of the period.” Frazer often used the orthodox Whitefield as a counter point to the ministers that Frazer labeled as theistic rationalists. Given Frazer’s veneration of Whitefield, it is interesting to note how he criticized Adams for agreeing with Whitefield in this letter.
Adams quoted Whitefield as saying “He who feareth God and worketh Righteousness, Shall be accepted of him.” Then Adams declared of himself that “Allegiance to the Creator and Governor of the Milky Way and the Nebulæ, and Benevolence to all his Creatures, is my Religion.” This was not some proclamation of Deistic worship as Frazer claimed. Rather, this is Adams agreeing with George Whitefield who was quoting Acts 10:35 on the type of worship which is acceptable to God.
Frazer also quoted Adams as saying: “He who loves the Workman and his Work, and does what he can to preserve and improve it, Shall be accepted of him.” This is essentially the same sentiment as in the previous quote. Adams simply merged Matthew 22:37-39 and Acts 10:35 into a single statement. He was claiming that his religion was to love God, love man and seek the betterment of others. This is what Frazer calls Deistic worship, but it is nothing less than a simple compliance with Scripture.
The term “religion” is only defined once in the Bible. In the book of James, we read that:
Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction, and to keep himself unspotted from the world. (Jas. 1:27)
2/10/2017 06:25:57 pm
I look forward to reading these posts. Is there any chance they are in one post or document somewhere? I'd love to send it to my Kindle and read it there.
2/11/2017 12:13:32 pm
Hey, Jeff. Thanks for reading. You can view all of my posts on John Adams by clicking on the "John Adams" category on the right side of the page or by going to: http://www.increasinglearning.com/blog/category/john-adams
8/11/2019 07:56:11 pm
Bill, I know you are critiquing a book on Adams, and I think your points deserve attention, but are you implying Adams was a historic Christian? Did he not deny the atoning sacrifice of Jesus as well as his deity?
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Bill Fortenberry is a Christian philosopher and historian in Birmingham, AL. Bill's work has been cited in several legal journals, and he has appeared as a guest on shows including The Dr. Gina Show, The Michael Hart Show, and Real Science Radio.
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