Understanding [Thomas] Jefferson | WORLD

It’s that wonderful time of the year again. I’m referring to the season of end-of-the-year-best-book lists (look for more references to such lists here before the end of the year!). One such favorite list appears annually in the early December issue of World Magazine. This year it is the December 3 issue, and on their website the publisher has begun to whet our appetite for what this year’s list looks like.


Their choice for 2022 “book of the year”? Thomas S. Kidd’s Thomas Jefferson: A Biography of Spirit and Flesh (Yale Univ. Press, May 2022). This summary look at the book and its author appears on World’s website (“Understanding Jefferson”). Below you will find a portion of the article; you are encouraged to visit the link below to read all of it.

I have often been intrigued by the men God used to found this country of the United States. Some were Christians, some Deists, and still others secularists, but all had a vision for this new land that included a religious element, both for the good and for the bad. We can better face the issues of our own day by knowing how these ‘fore-fathers’ thought and lived in theirs.

To date, Kidd has filled in such gaps with more than a dozen books on religion in America, publishing with both Christian and prestigious academic presses. He tends to alternate between writing about the Great Awakening and Christianity’s role in America’s founding. Regarding the founding, he says, “I think ­religion made a profound difference, but it’s not easily categorized.” His latest book, Thomas Jefferson: A Biography of Spirit and Flesh (Yale University Press 2022), untangles the spiritual life of one of America’s most important, but also most complicated, Founders. Americans continue to wrestle with our country’s past sins, which is one reason why WORLD chose this ­excellent, timely biography as our Book of the Year.

…It wasn’t until after he’d finished his 2018 book on Benjamin Franklin that Kidd decided he might want to tackle Jefferson. Franklin knew the Bible perhaps better than any of America’s Founders, but his knowledge didn’t lead to orthodox faith. Jefferson occupied a similar space—a highly educated man who knew the Scriptures but also harbored reservations about their truthfulness.

Despite those doubts, Kidd found that Jefferson existed in a world replete with Biblical imagery—literally. In preparation for the book, Kidd took a trip to Jefferson’s home of Monticello because he wanted to get a sense of the space Jefferson inhabited. Kidd says he was struck by the many paintings of Biblical scenes that filled the house. Jefferson lived and worked in a space that offered constant reminders of the Christian faith.

In this biography, Kidd shows us an original thinker attempting to cobble together his own brand of spirituality. Jefferson held unorthodox views long before he wrote the Declaration of Independence, but he wasn’t a Deist who saw God as an uninvolved Creator. He believed in God’s providence, but he saw that providence at work in America’s founding rather than in the saving of souls or the creation of the Church.

Jefferson also pulled much of his personal ethic from Christianity, but he didn’t believe humans to be inherently sinful. He preached a strict moralism, believing individuals could achieve a perfectibility of spirit. But in Jefferson’s life we see a chasm between his principles and his actions.

Source: Understanding Jefferson | WORLD

Published in: on November 18, 2022 at 8:35 PM  Leave a Comment  

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