Mark Noll’s new book, In the Beginning was the Word: The Bible in American Public Life, 1492–1783, is a fascinating look at Scripture role in forming the influencing individuals during the first three centuries of the American Experiment. He opens, “It is no exaggeration to claim the Bible has been—and by far—the single most widely read text, distributed object, and in reference book in all of American history” (1). Because of its central place in the personal, social, and political thought life of America—not to mention its spiritual and religious influence—the Bible has given language and leverage for all kinds of actions in American history.
This is the goal of Noll’s book, to show how self-conscious biblicism translated into the public square. He begins with the Bible’s impact in England and follows it across the Atlantic, showing how the move from British Christendom to American colonialism shaped the way Americans read the Bible. As he has demonstrated in his other books (especially, America’s God: From Jonathan Edwards to Abraham Lincoln and The Civil War as Theological Crisis), America’s political crises and military engagements (e.g., the Revolutionary and Civil Wars) deeply shaped America’s reading of the Bible. Continue reading