Demanding Liberty by Brandon O’Brein

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This book is hard for me to categorize. The author, Brandon O’Brien, warns us in the preface that that might be the case, but I had no idea that it would be thus to such a degree. It’s not exactly a biography, though I came to know Isaac Backus much better. It’s not exactly a historical treatise, but I found places where my historical understandings were off. It’s not exactly a political statement, but I wondered if there might be one just below the surface. I found myself asking what this author was up to quite early in the book, though I never was sure I could answer that question. To be sure, I found the book deeply interesting and hard to put down.

If the author desired to only overturn the applecart of our neatly packaged conclusions, this book was a smashing success. If he had some conclusion he wanted to take us to, then not so much. The titles alone of his previous books, Misreading Scripture with Western Eyes and Paul Behaving Badly, had me wondering if he was something of a provocateur. When he admitted that he was a Baptist who had become a Presbyterian and now was writing on a Baptist hero, I wondered if he was something of a rabble-rousing raconteur too. As a Baptist myself, when some of his first comments seemed to overplay the lack of education of the early Baptists, I was sure that it was so. But alas, he was quite fair to the Baptists overall and even seemed to have a real admiration of their dedication and of Backus himself.

He did prove to me that I have been something of a reductionist in how I view the Christian heritage of my country. It was much more of a battle than I carried in my convenient memories, but I retain my amazement at where it landed. On a few occasions, he took that premise a little too far. I’m not convinced that the Jefferson described in the introduction was as anti-religion as he was portrayed, nor do I see the full weight of the parallel of conservative Christians today to their forebears with “a difference between being marginalized and feeling marginalized.” Still, there might be enough truth in it to call for some introspection.

This book held my attention until the last page. I’m still not sure whose side the author is on, or if he even knows. He did, however, ask good questions. My conclusions are ultimately the same, but I would have to admit that my views are a little more nuanced after reading this book.

We are at the point of this review where I’m supposed to give a recommendation. Perhaps if you’ve read this far you already have all the recommendation that I could give you. Clearly, this book influenced me. Maybe you will want to find out if it will have that effect on you.

I received this book free from the publisher. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255.

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