A son of Abraham? | WORLD
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A son of Abraham?

BOOKS | Author offers a religious and intellectual look at Lincoln

National Portrait Gallery/ Smithsonian Institution

A son of Abraham?
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Last November, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. released a new edition of the 1999 biography Abraham Lincoln: Redeemer President by Allen C. Guelzo. Christians may want to mark the reprint for at least two reasons.

First, Guelzo’s sensitivity to the religious aspects of Lincoln’s life. The Princeton professor writes from a Christian perspective and as a leading scholar on the life of Jonathan Edwards. Thus, he’s well-equipped to help readers answer questions like “Was Lincoln a Christian? And if not, how should we think about his religious and moral convictions?” Lincoln’s presidency looms large here, but so do his private concerns, such as the early abuse he received from his Calvinist father and the death of his 3-year-old son.

Second, as an “intellectual biography,” Guelzo’s book presents Lincoln as shaped by leading thinkers of his day like Henry Clay and John Stuart Mill. Lincoln then drew on those ideas to remake American culture and politics. Through his leadership during the Civil War, the “Redeemer President” helped redeem the nation from slavery and shape “a single people, unified rationally … around certain propositions that transcended ethnicity, religious denominationalism, and gender.” Those include the “proposition that all men are created equal” found in the Gettysburg Address.

Guelzo writes with poetry and ­erudition here. He isn’t as gripping as a David McCullough, but he’s more theologically astute, making Abraham Lincoln well worth readers’ time and attention. Guelzo’s preface details a number of revisions in this edition, including minor facts like the names of newspapers; he reckons his basic judgments have “stood up pretty firmly in the brisk and shifting breezes of interpretation.”

Since 1999, debates over the role of slavery in America’s history have only intensified. Readers will find this a robust and well-documented answer to recent historians who reduce American history to propaganda—be it left, right, religious, or secular.

Guelzo told WORLD that in composing this biography, he took his cue from the psalmist: “‘As a man thinks in his heart, so is he.’ And in many ways I take that and I apply it to Lincoln. I want to know what was in Lincoln’s core.” That core, he found, wasn’t “redeemed” in the fullest Christian sense of the term, but it did enable Lincoln to redeem his country in important ways.

Emily Whitten

Emily is a book critic and writer for WORLD. She is a World Journalism Institute and University of Mississippi graduate, previously worked at Peachtree Publishers, and developed a mother’s heart for good stories over a decade of homeschooling. Emily resides with her family in Nashville, Tenn.



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