He is the greatest enigma among the Founding Fathers, the greatest source of controversy—and one of the greatest writers in world political history. He had nearly boundless confidence in rational man’s ability to perceive errors in traditional belief. And he did more than any other founder to defend religious freedom for evangelical Christians. He might be regarded as an “ethical Christian” who couldn’t imagine that anyone truly believed in the Trinity. He was forward-thinking in the Louisiana Purchase, but he didn’t make good predictions in religion: “I trust there is not a young man now living in the United States who will not die a Unitarian.” 

His name is Thomas Jefferson, of course. And the real “wall of separation” in American politics and religion concerns his own lofty writings on freedom when compared to his practice of slaveholding. These contradictions make him the subject of many biographies, including the most recent from Thomas Kidd: Thomas Jefferson: A Biography of Spirit and Flesh. Kidd is research professor of church history at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City, Missouri, and the author of many outstanding works, including The Great Awakening: The Roots of Evangelical History in Colonial America.

Tommy is one of my favorite historians, and I was delighted to invite him to Gospelbound to discuss Jefferson’s views on Christianity and politics. We also talked about how Christians should approach history in general.