Stephen Mansfield, Lincoln’s Battle With God: A President’s Struggle With Faith and What It Meant For America Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2012, 254 pp. $13.31
The sixteenth president of the United States is dearly beloved by conservatives and liberals alike. He is known for his exemplary leadership, uncompromising character, and love for liberty. Yet his approach to God and the Christian life is something that is either assumed or neglected altogether. Either option shows a certain amount of naivety and must be challenged. Stephen Mansfield’s book, Lincoln’s Battle With God: A President’s Struggle With Faith and What it Meant for America addresses this matter in a way that is educational and inspiring.
Mansfield presents Lincoln as one who was raised in a strict Calvinistic home which was discarded during his teenage years. During his legislative years in Illinois, he was referred to by friends and associates as the “infidel.” One friend spoke candidly about Lincoln’s early rejection of the Christian faith: “Lincoln denies that Jesus was the son of God as understood and maintained by the Christian world.”
Yet, when Lincoln began his bid for the White House, his antipathy toward historic Christianity appears to cool. In his earlier days, some considered him to be an atheist, yet as he progressed in politics, his worldview begins to shift. He is a man who as Mansfield writes, “believes in a God who exerts some degree of sovereign rule in human affairs … whatever the case, he appears to have emerged from his season of ‘infidelity’ and moved toward a less skeptical view of Christian truth.”
Pastor James D. Smith may have played an important role in Lincoln’s view of religion. Smith was a scholar in his own right and was welcomed by Lincoln for his rational approach to Scripture. He stood head and shoulders about some of the revivalists who were excessive in their methodology, not to mention their theological foibles. Whatever the case, Smith was convinced that Lincoln was converted under his ministry. “It is a very easy matter to prove,” writes Smith, “that while I was Pastor of the 1st Presbyterian Church of Springfield, Mr. Lincoln did avow his belief in the Divine Authority and Inspiration of the Scriptures.” Considerable debate has taken place and continues to this day whether or not Lincoln put his faith in Christ at this point.
But in 1850, Lincoln son Eddie grew ill and eventually died on February 1. Most agree that significant change in Lincoln’s worldview occurred during this time. Mansfield writes, “Had Lincoln become a Christian? We cannot know definitively. We do have reason to suspect, though, that something had changed in his ongoing battle with God … A process of spiritual broadening had clearly begun.”
The author continues to document the ongoing theological development in Lincoln and argues convincingly that a work of grace had likely taken place. Later speeches and letters force one to conclude that at the very least, Lincoln had turned a theological corner; at the very best, a true conversion had taken place. Much of Lincoln’s correspondence and especially his speeches give evidence of a truly converted man.
Lincoln’s Battle With God is an illuminating look at one of the most influential leaders in American history. Mansfield writes objectively and provides a depth of research that guides readers into the inner recesses of our 16th president’s heart. I commend Steven Mansfield for offering such a heartfelt book and encourage many to enjoy the fruit of his labor.