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Was Abraham Lincoln a Christian?

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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The last high quality photograph of President Lincoln. Taken on the balcony at the White House, March 6, 1865 (Credit: Henry F Warren)

I was not surprised that Daniel Day-Lewis won the Oscar for Best Actor in a Leading Role.  When I saw Lincoln, I thought they should hand him the award on the spot.  Interestingly he became the first to win an Oscar for playing a U.S. President.  In accepting the award, the actor paid tribute to the “mysteriously beautiful mind, body and spirit of Abraham Lincoln.”  Let’s think about Mr. Lincoln’s “spirit” today, more specifically his spirituality.

Lincoln’s early law partner, William Herndon, wrote a biography of the president many years after the assassination in which he branded Lincoln an “infidel.”  He also claimed that Lincoln wrote a book defending religious infidelity, though there has never been conclusive evidence supporting his claim.

It is a fact that Abraham Lincoln never joined a church.  His parents were Quakers before moving to the farm which became his boyhood home.  There they joined the Pigeon Creek Baptist Church, but Lincoln never affiliated formally with it.  He read Voltaire and Thomas Paine as a young man and participated in a debating society in which he often took positions counter to orthodox faith.

However, a severe depression in 1841 led him to a stronger, more personal faith.  After his son died in 1850, he turned to the pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Springfield, Illinois, whose writings led him to say, “[I] am now convinced of the truth of the Christian religion.”  After another son died in 1862, he came to believe even more fully in the providence of God.

Mr. Lincoln read daily from “The Believer’s Daily Treasure; or, Texts of Scripture Arranged for Every Day of the Year.”  He said of the Psalms, “They are the best, for I find in them something for every day of the week.”  He stated of the Bible, “Nothing short of infinite wisdom could by any possibility have devised and given to man this excellent and perfect moral code.”  He told a skeptical friend, “You are wrong, Speed; take all of this Book upon reason that you can, and the balance on faith, and you will live and die a happier man.”

Mr. Lincoln was the first president to establish a Federal Thanksgiving holiday.  During the 49 months of his presidency, he issued nine separate calls to public penitence, fasting, prayer, and thanksgiving.  (He was preparing a tenth when he was assassinated.)  “In God We Trust” was first used in his administration; the phrase, “Under God,” which he uttered spontaneously at the Gettysburg Address (it appears in none of the five drafts of the message) is now an official part of our salute to the flag.  For more on his faith, please “The Faith of Abraham Lincoln“.

One of his personal secretaries reported that the president observed a daily time of prayer in the White House.  Mr. Lincoln told him, “I have been driven many times upon my knees by the overwhelming conviction that I had nowhere else to go.”  When last did you join him?