A Thanksgiving Message From Geoffrey Botkin

This Thanksgiving we honor men and women who were willing to be serious about a life-and-death issue most modern Americans do not take seriously: freedom. The Pilgrims understood that there was an historic battle between two definitions of freedom, and they risked everything to line-up on the right side. 

The Pilgrims were citizens of the world’s top nation.  England was the superpower of the day.  King James and the religious bureaucrats in the Church of England promised temporal security and religious salvation for simply conforming to the newest ideas of the political masters.  But the Pilgrims knew they had a duty to recognize and resist false doctrine or they would become part of an ancient historical problem:  living like slaves under a tyrant who took the place of God. 

The Pilgrims were not simply splitting hairs about obscure points of doctrine.  King James believed he had divine prerogatives to rule any way he wanted.  He wanted a church hierarchy to answer to him, manipulate the populace, and redefine Christianity his way.  These policies are little different from those that kept Pharaohs in power for three thousand years.  These are the policies that create false, passive, irresponsible religious cultures, which spring up anywhere God’s truth is suppressed in unrighteousness.

The issue was simple, but it takes wisdom to see it unfolding.  James and his followers wanted the licentious kind of freedom that is gained by stepping away from God’s requirements.   This has been the great issue of history since the days of Babel.  Faithless men want freedom from God so they can pursue a political and spiritual agenda of their own design.  All through history, arrogant men have found this form of freedom by living lives of passive irresponsibility.  They become so irresponsible, they become content living as the slaves of political masters.     

The Pilgrims had a much different attitude toward God and his requirements.  They knew real freedom could be found in active, willing servitude to the God of real freedom and true liberty.  The more they studied and obeyed His laws, the more their new colony benefitted from the maturity they gained through obedience. 

In studying the Puritans of the 17th century, author J.I. Packer simply wrote, “The Puritans exemplified maturity.  We don’t.  We are spiritual dwarfs.  The Puritans, by contrast, as a body were giants[1].”

These giants were our relatives.  “We’re all descended,” reminds American historian David McCullough, “every one of us is descended from someone of enormous courage, fortitude, strength, toughness.[2] 

How are modern American Christians doing in the areas of courage, fortitude, strength, and mental toughness?  

J.I. Packer suggests that our modern faith is at best counterfeit Christianity, an “irrational, emotional romanticism disguised as superspirituality.”[3] 

Packer further suggests that if we had maintained a true Christianity “fixed by law and wisdom” we might have been spared “the egocentric, zany, simplistic, degenerate, half-magic-spell type of evangelicalism which is all that the world sees when it watches religious TV or looks directly at the professedly evangelical community.  Such evangelicalism neither honors God nor blesses man.”[4]

Ideas Rule the World

The Pilgrims honored God by their tough-minded interpretation of culture that were in rebellion against God.  The Pilgrims honored God by taking active steps to base their faith on a Christianity fixed by law and wisdom.  Our younger generation needs to acquire moral discernment as they face the complexities of the 21st Century.

The ideas of bureaucratic security are seductive.  Americans need to identify the dangerous ideas that make men passive, contented consumers of messianic care.  Free “school.”  Free diplomas.  Free entitlements.  Free birth control.  Free vaccines.   Once dependency is locked into the minds of a people, it is very hard to introduce a culture to the ideas of active, mature freedom.  

This is a lesson Americans must learn.  The Bible commands men not to be idolaters, as were some of the Hebrews who came out of Egypt.[5]  David says they did not trust in God’s salvation and were not faithful to His Covenant.[6]  They desperately wanted to drift back into the bondage in Egypt, a place where their spiritual, economic, vocational, and family decisions were made for them by a government that promised perfect order.  Perfect security.  Total salvation.  But it was a Christ-less salvation.  No freedom from sin, and no freedom from death.  

Believing in false promises for a false salvation is feeblemindedness.  Observes Dr. Theodore Dalrymple, “We have willingly adopted the mental habits of people who live under totalitarian dictatorship.”[7]

Let us once again take command of the ideas that free the world, and the ideas that enslave the world, and recover the tough-minded powers of cultural analysis used by our Pilgrim forbears. This Thanksgiving I am thankful for their courageous tough-mindedness. 

 “We have an inexhaustible source of strength to draw upon,” states David McCullough, “and wemustn’t forget it.”[8]


[1] Leland Ryken, Worldly Saints, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986), p x

[2] Ibid, p xiii

[3] Ibid, p xiii

[4] Ibid, p xiv

[5] I Corinthians 10:7

[6] Ps. 78: 22, 37

[7] Theodore Dalrymple, Our Culture, What’s Left of It, “How to Read a Society”

[8] David McCullough, The Founders: The Greatest Generation; Kansas State University Landon Lecture, Feb. 1, 2002. In the words of the citation accompanying McCullough’s honorary degree from Yale, “As an historian, he paints with words, giving us pictures of the American people that live, breathe, and above all, confront the fundamental issues of courage, achievement, and moral character.”