Thomas S. Kidd’s latest book, Thomas Jefferson: A Biography of Spirit and Flesh (Yale University Press, 2022), was recently named WORLD’s Best Book of the Year.
Kidd, who serves as research professor of Church History at Midwestern Seminary, said of the recent announcement, “I was so pleased to learn about the WORLD best book of the year award. It is a testimony to how many readers are interested in the vital but contested role that faith played in the American founding.”
Midwestern Seminary’s faculty has continued to publish an array of helpful works for the church over the years. Kidd’s recent award marks the consistent stream of the seminary’s publications aimed at equipping the church for faithful ministry.
President Jason Allen agreed, “I was not surprised at all to learn of Dr. Kidd receiving this award for his work Thomas Jefferson. Dr. Kidd’s work speaks for itself, and this honor is well deserved. When one considers all of the books that WORLD could have selected for this award, this is just another reminder of the caliber of scholarly churchmen we have at Midwestern Seminary and Spurgeon College.”
Speaking to the book’s inspiration, Kidd said, “There has been increasing controversy in recent years about the Founding Fathers generally, and Jefferson specifically, much of which has to do with moral questions. “Hypocrisy” is an easy and somewhat deserved reaction to Jefferson’s inconsistency, but I don’t think hypocrisy is a very helpful answer historically when trying to understand the enigma of Jefferson’s beliefs and contradictory life.”
“In this book,” he continued, “I hope to offer a genuinely new approach by trying to understand how Jefferson’s religious and ethical views synced with how he actually lived.”
Discussing a figure such as Jefferson in today’s cultural context is no easy task. Kidd acknowledged the temptations on either side of the conversation.
“I hope that when confronting as perplexing a character as Jefferson, readers will steer clear both of patriotic apologetics and of today’s temptation to cancel those in our national past who have manifest failings and sins.”
He encouraged a better way forward, stating, “It’s much better, I think, to ponder how someone who did terrible things could also be used for great good in American history, most notably his articulation of our God-given rights and equality and his championing of religious liberty.”
As Kidd addresses in his book, Jefferson’s life was marked by several tensions. Kidd explains several of these convictional and practical tensions, such as the tension of equality and enslavement, frugality and extravagance, and biblical devotion and intermittent dismissal of sections of Scripture
Jefferson’s contradictory convictions can serve as a warning for Christians today. As Kidd stated, “A lot of Bible readers implicitly cut out parts of Scripture they don’t like. But Jefferson literally did so with scissors.”
“Jefferson’s Jesus became a great teacher of ethics, but not the resurrected Son of God. The warning here is that as soon as we place our own standards of reason above any part of the Word of God, we are on a slippery slope.”
In addition to serving as a warning and example for Christians today, Kidd hopes the book will help Christians discern the right way to think through the failings of historical figures.
“One of our biggest cultural challenges is knowing what to do with historical figures who were once widely revered, such as Jefferson, but who engaged in behavior we see as appalling and immoral, such as enslaving people.”
He went on to say, “Somehow we have to be able to clearly repudiate these actions, while also not casually assuming that we are morally superior because we denounce (or cancel) such people. A proper Christian reaction to the terrible failings of people in history is sober humility, not pride or ‘virtue signaling.’”
Each of these qualities marks Kidd’s Thomas Jefferson as not only historical insightful, but practically significant for the Church and broader community. His publications have been consistently in line with this helpful combination of both scholarly rigor and devotional application. Readers can expect the same from his future publications as well, which are currently underway.
As he informed the seminary community, “I am currently finishing a book on church history from the Reformation to the present for B&H Academic. After that, I am writing a book on the Second Great Awakening, to be published by Yale Publishing Press.”
Until those works are published, view and pick up Thomas Kidd’s previous publications, including his award-winning book Thomas Jefferson: A Biography of Spirit and Flesh, here.
To read WORLD’s best book announcement and their interview with Dr. Kidd, visit here.