CHAT With The Author: Robert Tracy McKenzie; We The Fallen People

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Previous "Chat" interviews

 Phil Miglioratti @ Reimagine.Network

  1. PHIL>>> It has been said history is written by the victors. What is the danger for Christ-followers holding tightly to an unexamined patriotism?  


ROBERT>>> One signal danger is that we cease to be salt and light in the culture, that we become so determined to speak in defense of the nation that we no longer also speak prophetically to the nation when that is called for. When it comes to our memory of American history, we are too often tempted to believe that anything that acknowledges our shortcomings is somehow “unpatriotic.” Nothing could be further from the truth. The Christian thinker G. K. Chesterton made this point well over a century ago.  Chesterton noted that true patriotism is less an expression of pride than a commitment to love a particular human community, and authentic love “is not blind,” as he put it. “That is the last thing that it is. Love is bound; and the more it is bound, the less it is blind.” We must never accept the false dichotomy that pits patriotism against an honest acknowledgment of America’s failures and flaws. Because love binds rather than blinds, we are free to criticize our country without somehow betraying it.


I’ll go further.  I think that Christians must do so.  Because we are created in the image of God and disfigured by moral corruption—because we simultaneously reflect both the image of God and original sin—all human communities exhibit these twin realities in varying proportions.  We’re right to celebrate what is honorable in our past, but we err when that’s all we acknowledge.  A sanitized national history purged of moral failures isn’t just inaccurate.  It teaches “bad religion,” contradicting what orthodox Christianity has always taught about human nature and the human condition.



  1.  PHIL>>>  Ed Stetzer believes you "help us think Christianly as American citizens about the future of our democracy." What does it mean to "think Christianly?"



ROBERT>> I should say up front that I first came across the concept of “thinking Christianly” in a wonderful old book—little remembered or read today—titled The Christian Mind. Its author, Harry Blamires, was mentored by C.S. Lewis while at Oxford. To think Christianly involves bringing foundational truths of Christian theology to bear on every facet of life, applying them systematically and persistently in order to scrutinize not only the external behavior of ourselves and others but, even more importantly, our ways of thinking and being, those countless implicit and often unconscious assumptions that guide us through life. To make this more concrete, in We the Fallen People I argue that the way we discuss political issues in the public square almost always carries subliminal messages about human nature that are either confirming or contradicting scriptural precepts. The sad truth is that we can often find ourselves advocating policy outcomes that seem concordant with Biblical principles, yet doing so with rhetorical arguments that are surreptitiously at war with foundational Christian truths.



  1.  PHIL>>> Our nation seems to be polarized by and fixated upon partisan issues. How is thinking about democracy different from thinking/talking politically? 


ROBERT>> Most of the time when we think and talk about politics, we are thinking about specific policy issues and how to bring about the specific outcome that seems to us most immediately desirable. This is different from thinking about democracy as a system of self-government that translates popular values into public policy, and vastly different from scrutinizing democracy as a set of cultural values that both shape and reflect our hearts. It’s the latter that I’m most interested in. Thinking Christianly about democracy has little to do with figuring out how to win the next election or clean house in Washington or put the right candidate or party into power. Rather, it’s recognizing that deeply embedded in our political arguments are assumptions about the human condition that are either reinforcing or undermining the heart of the gospel message.



  1.  PHIL>>>  The title of your book inserts "fallen" into the famous opening to our Constitution...
  • What does it mean to be a "fallen" people?
  • ROBERT>> In referring to Americans as a “fallen people,” I am not singling out the people of the United States, but rather reminding us that Americans, like human beings generally, bear the marks of what theologians refer to as “the fall.” Since the disobedience of our first parents, each of us enters the world as rebels against our rightful ruler. To say that we are “fallen” is to say that each of us is marked by “original sin,” that we have inherited a natural selfishness manifested in the desire to rule ourselves and please ourselves. Coming to think of ourselves as fallen is less about calling out specific sins that plague the world around us than about a willingness to acknowledge the sin nature that dwells inside each of us. We are naturally selfish and self-centered.
  • Why have you made "fallenness" central to your thesis?
  • ROBERT>> After teaching on the rise of American democracy for more than three decades, I’ve come to the conclusion that one of the greatest shifts in U.S. history has been a revolutionary alteration in popular understandings of human nature, and I’m convinced that this has had an enormous bearing on the evolution of American democracy, and more specifically, on our currently dysfunctional and polarized politics. On the whole, our Founding Fathers believed that human beings are capable of acts of sublime self-sacrifice, but they took for granted that we are generally driven by self-interest, even at the expense of others, which means that power—whether exercised by a king, by a dictator, by an elected legislature, or by a popular majority—is always a threat to liberty. Within a half-century of American independence, however, the country was rapidly abandoning this understanding of human nature in exchange for a far more flattering democratic “gospel” that preaches that we are individually good and collectively wise.  I call this “the Great Reversal,” and I devote much of We the Fallen People to assessing this reigning dogma in the light of Biblical truth.  
  • To centralize the fallen state of humanity into  Christian's worldview seems like a paradigm shift with radical implications... 
  • ROBERT>> It absolutely is. Boiled down, there are really only two basic reasons to believe in democracy. The first is because you have faith in human nature. The second is because you don’t. C. S. Lewis explained it this way: On the one hand, you may think that humans are naturally so good and wise that they “deserve a share in the government” and the government “needs their advice.”  On the other hand, you may deem men and women so naturally selfish that no one of them, no small group of them, can be trusted with unchecked power over their neighbors. The first view is “the false, romantic doctrine of democracy,” Lewis maintained. The “true ground of democracy” is the second. I whole-heartedly agree. In light of the “Great Reversal,” the troubling truth is that Americans long ago embraced democracy for the wrong reason. The way forward lies not in finding an alternative to democracy—nothing better is available in a fallen world—but in rediscovering the only “true ground” on which democracy can flourish. Make no mistake, this would be a paradigm shift of prodigious dimensions.


  1.  PHIL>>> Robert, compose a prayer you would challenge every believer to pray; for themself, for their nation; for the Church.


ROBERT>> Father in heaven, thank You for the mercy and unmerited favor You have showered on our land. Teach us to think Christianly about our democracy, and help us to embrace it for the right reason and to ground it on a true foundation. Remind us that the line separating good and evil does not separate us from our political opponents, but runs instead through every human heart, including our own. Grant us the humility that comes with knowing that we and all who agree with us politically are fallen beings in need of Your mercy. Bestow on us the charity that comes with recognizing that all who disagree with us politically are precious beings who bear Your image. Spare us from making idols of any political leader, party, or movement, and make us zealous, above all, for the testimony of Your church to a watching world. Amen.


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  • About This Book ~


    The success and survival of American democracy have never been guaranteed. Political polarization, presidential eccentricities, the trustworthiness of government, and the prejudices of the voting majority have waxed and waned ever since the time of the Founders, and there are no fail-safe solutions to secure the benefits of a democratic future.

    What we must do, argues the historian Robert Tracy McKenzie, is take an unflinching look at the very nature of democracy—its strengths and weaknesses, what it can promise, and where it overreaches. And this means we must take an unflinching look at ourselves.

    We the Fallen People presents a close look at the ideas of human nature to be found in the history of American democratic thought, from the nation's Founders through the Jacksonian Era and Alexis de Tocqueville. McKenzie, following C. S. Lewis, claims there are only two reasons to believe in majority rule: because we have confidence in human nature—or because we don't. The Founders subscribed to the biblical principle that humans are fallen and their virtue is always doubtful, and they wrote the US Constitution to frame a republic intended to handle our weaknesses. But by the presidency of Andrew Jackson, contrary ideas about humanity's inherent goodness were already taking deep root among Americans, bearing fruit in such perils as we now face for the future of democracy.

    Focusing on the careful reasoning of the Founders, the seismic shifts of the Jacksonian Era, and the often misunderstood but still piercing analysis of Tocqueville's Democracy in America, McKenzie guides us in a conversation with the past that can help us see the present—and ourselves—with new insight.

  • Why I Read This Book ~ 

    I was drawn to this book because I am increasingly concerned the American Story, like any other nation, is a mixture of truth and fabrication. A mixture that produces a patriotic worldview that results in glaring self-aggrandizement of the majority culture perspective of history...which leads to an ignorance of our past’s impact on some people living in America today.

    I am also concerned my first paragraph in this commentary has my Evangelical friends wondering/worried I have become anti-American (which for some is the same as being anti-Christian). Or worse, liberal.

    I find McKenzie's premise enlightening and embarrassing.

    • Enlightening, because it may explain a major factor that is causing distancing and distrusting among Christ-followers based on a left/right or red/blue perspective. Rather than balancing or debating social/political positions, we see the “other” as an enemy.
    • Embarrassing because, if McKenzie’s research and assessment is accurate, we Evangelicals, of all people, should not have lost this focus.

    The author’s premise is simply that America is a nation of fallen people.

    • "Fallen" is described as ((not quotes from this book):
      • "The term "fallen world" has a very specific meaning in Christian theology and it is used quite widely even by people who don't consider themselves Christians. We live in a "fallen" world. As a result of Adam's sin, the world has to contend with sickness, sorrow, evil and death."
      • "The fall of man, the fall of Adam, or simply the Fall, is a term used in Christianity to describe the transition of the first man and woman from a state of innocent obedience to God to a state of guilty disobedience. The doctrine of the Fall comes from a biblical interpretation of Genesis, chapters 1-3."
    • I believe the "Fall" has resulted in depravity, the inability of humans to commune with God (connect, communicate).
    • The "Fall" and the "fallenness" of humans is a doctrine of every orthodox Christian expression/denomination.

    McKenzie contends this biblical truth:

    1. Was a strong influence in the Framers ' discussions and debates that led to the formation of the American Constitution, resulting in a check-and-balance system of government.
    2. From the time of Andrew Jackson's presidency to this day, the American mind set has replaced fallenness with goodness.
    3. Rather than recognizing humans have broken, we now assume "all people are good."
    • "65% of Americans agree that everyone sins a little but most people are good by nature." (Lifeway Research)

    These chapter headlines from the book give you a glimpse into the author's investigation and argument:

    • Asking Different Questions
    • "We Must Take Human Nature As We Find it"
    • "The People's Candidate Exalts the People's Virtue"
    • A Triumph of the Virtue of the People"
    • "By Permission of the Great pPirit Sbove and the Voice of the People"
    • We the Fallen People
      • Renewing Our Thinking
      • Transforming Our Behavior

    This is a book that challenges us to reimagine Christianity in America and, as we are convinced and concerned, reimagine Church: disciple-making and evangelism, ministry and mission.

    You may wince at the message of this book, but it will be difficult to ignore the historical research and minimize the implications to our obedience to the Great Commission to make disciples. Of all fallen people.

    Phil @ The Reimagine.Network



  • Quotes from "We the Fallen People"


    "They were flawed"

    9907126059?profile=RESIZE_930xFramers' Suspiciion of Deomcracy


    Related article on The Reimagine.Network



    Subtle Substitution...



    Neither should we; but we do...


    The Danger of a Homogeneous Blindspot
    The Danger of a Homogeneous Blindspot   Phil Miglioratti @ The http://Reimagne.Network   WHAT - is homogeneity? SO WHAT - does that ha…
  • Amen!

    There should be no disconnect between your secular and spiritual spheres when it comes to thinking Christianly.

    Robert, I am on the Reimagine.Network. I find I get positive Philcilitation from its Curator.

    We may have a number of common Spiritual/secular concepts.

    I’m Moved to ask you to contact me.

    Rick Skiba

    Richard H. Skiba, Jr.
    Applying Romans 12:2 to the Church: Every Person & Program, System & Structure, Ministry & Meeting ~ Transformed; Not Conformed!
  •  Are less people identifying because we are more clearly explaning what it means to be a Christian, or are we making it more confusing and bewilderng?
    Poll: America growing more secular by the year
    Just 63% of Americans self-identified as Christian this year, a marked drop from 75% a decade ago.
    By Yonat Shimron
    Poll: America growing more secular by the year
    (RNS) — Just 63% of Americans self-identified as Christian this year, a marked drop from 75% a decade ago.
    • 9921507884?profile=RESIZE_400x

      A National thought-leader's related comments:



    • So, maybe the author of this article got it wrong from the start.  “Only 63% of Americans self-identify as Christian this year, a marked drop from 75% 10 years ago.”  The starting number is likely too high.  Self-identifying does not a Christian believer make.

      In the modern, more educated world, less people are identifying as Christian because we Evangelize Evanmotionally rather than Evanlogically.  How many Evanmotional Evangelists, preaching turning from sin, have been publicly exposed and/or tearfully confessed infidelity or outright fraud?  Tele-Evanmotionalists appearing on technologically advanced stages in huge airconditioned theaters, preach storing treasures on earth. 

      For centuries we have ritualized explaining what it means to be a Christian.  We have made it more confusing and bewildering to thinking society.  Celebrations not found in Scripture have been made obligations or, at least, requisite participation to be a Christian whether denominational or non-denominational.  Protocols of organized religion turn today’s seekers away from what should be doors to faith.

      Thus, the moderns have become spiritual on their own.  Some have established their own belief.  Some have turned to other, non-Christian organized religions or philosophies.  Some wander through beliefs de jour.

      They may even understand enough about Christian organized religions and Tele-Evanmotionalists to make intelligent comparisons.  They question top-down organizations’ charts of hundreds.  Christ needed only 12 of the unfrocked.  They look at the extravagant, sound staged Tele-venues with coffee bars and snack shops.  Christ needed only a mountain, five fish and two loafs of bread.

      Christianity has become culturalized.  Some of its dearest celebrations carry traditions or identities with pagan aspects.

      Commemorating the Birth of Christ (given the need for that, why do we celebrate anyway?) started as Christmas placed on top of a pagan festival.  A pagan tradition of trees was added.  Father Christmas then joined the celebration.  Gift giving change things from Merry Christmas to merry commerce.  Christmas turned into Xmas.  Labor Day until December 24th is now recognized as On-line holiday shopping season.

      Resurrection Sunday for centuries has been celebrated under the name of the festival for Eostrae, the Anglo-Saxon goddess of spring and fertility:  Easter.  Checking the Bible, there is no mention of rabbits hiding colored eggs and candy anywhere near Calvary.  The women ran to tell the men of the empty tomb.  The men, hurrying back, had no time to stop for bacon and eggs.

      Similarly, this article confuses what the Christian faith is about.  In the fifth paragraph of the story, this comment is made,  "Though Christians are still a healthy majority, their decline is perhaps best reflected in two questions from the poll: how often people pray and how important religion is in their lives."

      What is prayer?  Getting on your knees?  Holding on to beads?  Something done only on Sunday when suddenly awakened from a nap?

      NO!  Prayer is a conversation.  Often it is one way and not the way it is so often conducted.  Prayer is any time you’re Spiritually stopped in your tracks, often when you didn’t start the conversation.  Yes, petitions Christ already Knows are involved.  Yet, this is where Assignments are Given that you didn’t know about.

      Faith can be religious.  But it doesn’t have to be in the way humans think of religion:  consistently repeated actions because the guys in the front say so.  Faith is for everyone.  It is a Gift from God, which many won’t open.  Who doesn’t open a holiday shopping season gift, even the one from your least favorite relative?

      Once God’s Gift is opened, you begin to recognize your Assignments.  Then you start Working on your Assignments.  As faith grows, Assignments increase.  Your Work can get harder.  You may even Work against your own self interests.  As this life style is adopted, you want to do more unrewarding Work.  This is religion the way God thinks of religion.

      The saddest thing is Christianity is straight forward and simple.  YES!  SIMPLE!

      Heaven is perfect.  Are you perfect?  Can you rectify all your flaws going back to your birth to make yourself perfect? Other theologies state that all one needs to get to Heaven is more good deeds than bad. Is that perfection? How could Heaven be perfect if imperfection is allowed to enter?

      Organized religion, Evanmotionally, states that Christianity is the Only Way to Heaven.  Evanlogically, however, Christianity is also the Most Rational Choice for those seeking a relationship with God.



     UPDATE from the author, Tracy McKenzie - -

    PHIL>>>What has been the response to your core thesis in “We The Fallen People?” Are you at all surprised as to the prevailing comments? Has your concern for the Church increased at all? 

    TRACY>>>Thank you for your question about the response to my recent book We the Fallen People.

    The candid reply is that I haven’t received a lot of direct feedback to date. I’ve done dozens of radio and podcast interviews, mostly Christian and politically conservative in their perspective, and the discouraging pattern I’ve encountered is that the hosts of those programs almost always have a preconceived notion of what the book is about, and they tend to steer the conversation in directions designed to comfort their audiences more than challenge them.  The Reimagine Forum has been an exception to this pattern, which is one of the reasons I am a fan.

    When I do receive direct feedback from readers, it tends to run in one of two veins: On the one hand, the reader will stress that they totally agree with the Biblical understanding of human sinfulness that is central to the book’s reading of American democracy, but they are troubled because the book seems to imply that it might be acceptable to vote for the other party. Others tell me that they agree with the book’s basic premise, but they were hoping for more guidance on how to vote. What unifies both responses is the expectation that the book at some point will make an explicit political argument about which side of the aisle is more righteous. 

    That was never my goal, and goodness knows there are legions of writers happy to give you their answer. In contrast, I agree with Jonathan Leeman (author of How the Nations Rage), who stresses that most of the political decisions we face are not biblically scripted. This means they require wisdom, and in this regard my model has been the book of Proverbs. As Tim Keller reminds us, Proverbs “does not talk nearly so much about how to make right decisions, as to how to become the kind of person who makes right decisions.” 

    My goal in We the Fallen People was to help us to see that, for almost two centuries, Americans have too easily discarded two of the most important biblical truths about the human condition: the doctrines of original sin and imago Dei. In our political lives, we too easily fall into a pattern of thinking and acting that implicitly denies original sin in Us and denies the image of God in Them. We need to become the kind of people who see ourselves with humility and our political opponents with love. What that would mean when we go into the voting booth I don’t know; how that would affect the Republican and Democratic parties I can’t say.  But this I do believe: its impact on the testimony of the Church in this polarized time would be glorious.

  • What did America's founders believe about human nature? How might a deeper understanding of their perspective shape the way we think about our current and future challenges to democracy? 

    Join us Friday, August 19th at 1:30 pm ET, as we talk with Dr. Tracy McKenzie, professor of history at Wheaton College and author of the award-winning We the Fallen People: The Founders and the Future of American Democracy, to take a close look at the nature of American democracy and what it means for the future. We'll discuss the view of human nature that was shared by America's founding fathers, the implications of its abandonment, and explore the tension of fallen human beings entrusted with self-governance. This conversation of America's history can help us see the present with fresh insight as we consider how Christians and the Church play a role in the public and political life of the country. 

    3ecfebfe-6eea-d84b-1070-d9c6e1fcb5e3.jpegTracy McKenziePh.D., is the Arthur Holmes Chair of Faith and Learning and professor of History at Wheaton College, and past Donald Logan Chair in U.S. History at the University of Washington. 
    Since coming to Wheaton, McKenzie has turned his attention to the ways in which Christians in the United States remember (or misremember) American history. A past president of the Conference on Faith and History, a national organization of Christian historians, he is the author of numerous works including The First Thanksgiving: What the Real Story Tells Us about Loving God and Learning from HistoryA Little Book for New Historians: How and Why to Study History, and his newest release, the award-winning We the Fallen People: The Founders and the Future of American Democracy.

    We hope you will join us for this Online Conversation on Friday, August 19th at 1:30 p.m. ET. Registration for this hour-long conversation is free, but required. After you register you will receive a confirmation email with a Zoom link to join the webinar. 

    If you have any questions, please contact us at or 202.944.9881. 

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    The Trinity Forum

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