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City on the Hill and Early American Religion

Reproduced from A History of Christian Theology: An Introduction
by William C. Placher, © 1983 William C. Placher

Indeed I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just.
-- Thomas Jefferson 1

An eighteenth-century Italian visitor named Francesco Caraccioli once remarked that England had sixty different religions, and only one sauce. The mind boggles at what he might have said about the United States, which has supported nearly every religion of the Old World and many more besides.

One could write a history of Christianity in the United States by tracing the rise and development of all its denominations. But that would be a very long book rather than just a chapter. It would also study church politics and organization more than theology. The idea of "denomination" itself, incidentally, really developed in the United States.

In Europe after the Reformation each country tended to have an established "church" and various minority "sects." The United States evolved a more or less equal competition among various "denominations": Catholics, Quakers, Congregationalists, Methodists, and so on. Long lists of such names do not make for interesting history.

This look at theology in the United States will try to focus on intellectual issues that have transcended any particular denomination, and on a few denominations that introduced radically new theological ideas.

The following extracts are presented for educational purposes only. The owner retains all rights. This has been broken into individual sections for easier reading.

Reproduced from A History of Christian Theology: An Introduction
by William C. Placher, © 1983 William C. Placher