Posted by: ushistoryfiles | November 8, 2012

Book Review – Lincoln’s Battle with God

The good folks at Thomas Nelson sent me an advanced copy of Lincoln’s Battle with God.  Now I have to admit, with the issue that Thomas Nelson had this summer with David Barton’s book on Jefferson I was intrigued to see if the Lincoln book would be problematic.  However, Mansfield is no Barton.  Mansfield actually has an undergraduate degree in History compared to Barton’s in Religious Education.  In other words, Mansfield has been exposed to historical thought and writing to a degree that Barton has not.  So with this in mind I tackled  Lincoln’s Battle with God.

Mansfield does take historians to task for being a bit close minded when it comes to examining Lincoln’s spiritual side.  While acknowledging that sometimes cutting through the myth that surrounds Lincoln can be difficult, Mansfield argues that evidence should not be discounted simply because it does not quite fit with a preconceived notion.  He finds that events in Lincoln’s life that indicate Lincoln was a man who struggled (like many of us do) with his faith have been avoided by biographers.  Instead, Mansfield argues, historians should be willing to let Lincoln’s spirituality show.  To paraphrase: the evidence, not the myth, should lead to conclusions about Lincoln’s spirituality.

The problem, according to Mansfield, is that historians have typically taken a snapshot of Lincoln during a specific period in his life and have applied that to his whole spiritual life.

Likewise, Mansfield takes those who insist for a more religious Lincoln to task.  On the other end of the spectrum, there are those who see Lincoln as more devout than he was because of his frequent references to God.  Mansfield states, “we want conversions rather than religious journeys”.  The problem is that Lincoln was a man on a spiritual journey, one that held a healthy suspicion of the clergy as well as church culture.

Overall, I found Lincoln’s Battle with God to be a well researched, well reasoned study of Lincoln’s faith.  He paints the picture of a Lincoln who struggled with his faith in times of trial, was let down by an organized Christianity, questioned dogma that didn’t make sense, and yet still sought comfort from God.  The Lincoln that Mansfield has presented in Lincoln’s Battle with God is quite simply human.

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