Roots of American Order – chapter 2, “The Law and the Prophets”

Cindy is hosting a book club for Russell Kirk’s The Roots of American Order.  I thought I’d pop in this week.

Kirk’s premise in this book is that American order grew out of the civilizations of the ancient Hebrews, Greeks, Romans, and the time of the Reformation, particularly in Britain.  Chapter two deals exclusively with the Hebrews.

Kirk contends that though we receive no political system from the Hebrews, we have inherited a moral order from them.  Through history God revealed himself to the Hebrews to be just and merciful and good – not capricious and not pleased by external rituals alone.

The communities of the early European settlers of this continent were built upon their extensive understanding of the the Bible, including the Old Testament, accepting both halves of the Bible as equally valid and true, and on the influence of European Christian denominations and leaders, particularly John Calvin.  I bet you Presbyterians out there understand far better than I can the depth and outworkings of the high esteeem in which they  understood “covenant.”

Kirk further says that the communities of the early settlers, though deeply influenced by the Hebrew Law and the Prophets, they were really and truly Christian.  What he doesn’t say, is that the Christian understanding of the Law and the Prophets is dependent on love.  

I found the influence of Calvin interesting, and the contrast between the French and American revolutions.  Whether a society views people as inherently good or inherently wicked would certainly have a bearing on the laws that that society creates.  I wonder what Charlotte Mason would say?

I also liked his explanation of the Hebrew understanding of time.

I am early in my homeschooling career, but through this time I have been influenced by those who make the claim that education is not about mere utility.  The height of praise is not that something is simply useful, so I was disappointed that Mr. Kirk spent a good many pages describing and explaining how early American settlers and the Founding Fathers understood the Old Testament but in the next breath says it doesn’t matter if what they believed is true.  Maybe I am provincial, but I believe it matters because if the reasons and causes and the roots of the roots are not true, then the frame of order is arbitrary and merely expedient rather than good.  If this frame is arbitrary then any other might be put in its place and even when it proves practically disastrous, calling it “good” or “bad” will be meaningless irrelevance.  It matters to me personally because if we can’t even believe that a historical Moses existed then how are we to believe that God was born of a virgin and took on Himself the sins of the world and died and rose again?  And if He did not rise then our faith is futile.  Here is a relevant article by an atheist who also values truth.

Here are some petty criticisms:

  • The typos alone are driving me crazy.  I know that’s petty of me, but I find it distracting.
  • The flip-flopping between Yaweh and Jehovah even after explaining that Jehovah is a mispronunciation is annoying – pick a name and be consistent already.
  • I’m no Old Testament scholar, but even I caught the erroneous attribution of Micah 6:8 to Hosea – unless it’s in Hosea too and I just can’t find it???  Those kinds of errors worry me because I’m taking on faith a lot of the other stuff he’s written and I’m hoping he’s got it right.
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12 thoughts on “Roots of American Order – chapter 2, “The Law and the Prophets”

  1. Dana says:

    I, too, especially enjoyed the section on Hebraic view of time.

    Because Kirk was trying to appeal to a very wide audience, I think he purposefully stays from being evangelistic in this volume. FWIW, Pepperdine University initially funded the writing and had hoped to produce a film series from it.

    At any rate, Dr Kirk’s worldview and presuppositions are clearly Christian and I do not think that he portrayed the principles as untrue.

    I wonder how an unbeliever would read this book?

  2. savedbygrace says:

    I am fascinated.
    for some reason I believed God is outside Space and Time.
    He sees our past present and future.

    can you point me to an online resource where I can learn more about hebrews thinking of space and time?

    grace and peace

  3. Dana says:

    Mine is First Edition, Second Printing, with corrections, 1975 ~

    ISI has published a Fourth Edition, with foreword by Forrest McDonald. Perhaps someone with a newer edition can verify if this misspeak was addressed.

    • sara says:

      That’s curious. I just received a paperback 3rd edition in the mail and it leaves out the Micah reference altogether and puts in the Hosea 14:9, “The ways of the Lord are right, and the just shall live by them, but the transgressors shall fall therein.”

  4. Brandy @ Afterthoughts says:

    Sara, The hint that it didn’t matter if it was true bothered me, too. I just didn’t blog about it. 🙂 I see the “wide audience” point Dana was making, but in the end I’m with you: It Matters. {Not that Dana meant it didn’t matter, but…well, hopefully you know what I mean…}

    I have a 3rd edition from 1991 and I haven’t noticed typos. Bummer for you though!

    He seemed to have a strange chronology of Scripture at times {two Isaiahs?}, so I actually assumed that he had some sort of weird belief concerning Micah. At least, I thought I noticed the Micah thing in mine, but now I can’t find it so who knows.

    I really want to reread the time and space portion because I couldn’t totally wrap my mind around it the first time through!

  5. Beth/Mom2TwoVikings says:

    Hey, sweet lady. Lost your regular email after our last multi-state move. Just wanted to say “hi” and to tell you I was thinking about you yesterday…recently got my own copy of “Pocketful of Pinecones” (we’re finally starting homeschooling full time this fall after a disastrous first year here in our new Illinois town). I was lying in the shade, watching the kids play, remembering you reading it too, and wondering how you’re doing! 🙂 Drop me a line sometime! bookworm (at) northernbranches (dot) com XOXO

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