I just visited Mount Rushmore for the second time. You wouldn’t think that looking at big giant rock people would be very compelling but it is. It’s just… Grand. The artistry of it. The challenge of it. The size of it, are all just breathtaking. Sculptor Gutzon Borglum was invited to South Dakota with the idea to sculpt great Western figures in the spires of the Black Hills. Suggestions such as Sacagawea, Lewis and Clark, and Buffalo Bill (Hitchcock, not the guy from Silence of the Lambs) were given. Borglum loved the idea but moved the location and changed the faces. He wanted figures that represented all Americans and that celebrated the first 150 years of America. He picked these 4 dudes:
He was the leading general of the Continental Army. The King of England offered good ol’ George W. the chance to be the King of America and representation in the British Parliament. But classic George turned all that money and power down, because he didn’t want to exchange one dictator for another (even if it was himself.) Even when he was elected President, he stepped down after 8 years because he didn’t think a single person should have that much power for too long. Every president after him followed that trend until you get to the central government loving FDR. Congress made it a law after him. George is certainly worthy of American immortalization.
He was the predominate designer of the Declaration of Independence. He was pretty ticked that John Adams beat him for the second President of the United States. Tom called John an Aristocrat! John called Tom a French-Warmonger! (Man am I glad that all the name calling has stopped in modern politics.) But Tom gets the last laugh because he has a 60-foot face on the side of the mountain, and John got played by Paul Giamatti in an HBO miniseries. Jefferson is probably most famous for buying a big chunk of the United States called the Louisiana Purchase. Really we just wanted the port of Louisiana and France gave us Arkansas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Colorado, Wyoming, Nebraska, Iowa, Minnesota, Montana, South and North Dakota for free. Fine, we’ll take them! But we better get your fry recipe too!
Everyone loves good ol’ Honest Abe right? He obviously deserves to be on any monument representing the great figures in American History. One little quirk to Mount Rushmore though is that many Native Americans actually hate Lincoln – especially the Lakota who lived in the Black Hills before American kicked them out, forced them onto Reservations, and started criminalizing them for doing all their cool Indian stuff. I kind of assume Lincoln was lied to (at least I hope he was), but a delegation of Indian Chiefs started heading towards Washington D.C. because they were hoping that this Great Emancipator would grant them the freedom and the rights that were granted to Blacks. Well on the way, they were arrested, tried, and killed by order of… Abraham Lincoln. It seems as though Lincoln was perhaps misinformed about their intentions, but not a good look. And now a giant Abraham Lincoln face is on a giant mountain in one of the most holy places for Native people living in that area. Not a good PR move for sure.
Photobomber – Theodore Roosevelt
If we were playing the Sesame Street game “One of These Things Is Not Like the Other One” we all would be quick to point out Teddy. In fact, it looks like he’s photo-bombing the other 3 presidents in the background. Washington basically is America. Jefferson bought the land where Mount Rushmore is. Lincoln freed the slaves and held the country together. And Roosevelt is most famous for the products at Build-A-Bear Workshops. But I didn’t realize that Roosevelt decided that the National Government can actually own land (which I don’t like) and thus started the National Parks (which I kinda like) and therefore he gets his face in a National Park – Mount Rushmore.
But all this got me thinking. Who would I put on the “Mount Rushmore of Christianity”? The answer would be: 8lb 6oz baby Jesus, Grown-up bearded Jesus, Coming-back-on-a-white-horse Jesus, and then the Apostle Paul photo-bombing in the background. But then who would make the Mount Rushmore of Christianity for the next 300 years? What about during the Reformation and Awakenings? Then what about today? So here are my top 4 candidates for Mount Christmore (that’s a good name right?) Just so you know this list is biased. I live and grew-up in America, thus my perception is unequivocally slanted towards how these men have affected American Christianity:
The Church Fathers – 100 – 400 A.D.
He made it his personal mission to absolutely tear-up Gnostics. He was basically Rambo, John McClane, and the Heretic Terminator (spiritually speaking) all wrapped into one. His articulation of the Trinity is especially important. It’s not like he just made stuff up either. He was basically the Apostle John’s spiritual grandson. John discipled a man named Polycarp, then Polycarp discipled Irenaeus. His understanding of the nature of Christ and the Trinity is simply better than some random person making stuff up in more modern times (I’m looking at you Joseph Smith. Oooh, maybe I should make a Heretic Mount Rushmore.)
This dude even better articulated the major doctrines of our faith. He was integral in the writing of the Nicene Creed. He also was the chief opponent to Arius. Arius talked about Jesus being something less than truly God (that’s it… you’re on Heretic Mount Rushmore!) Athanasius laid the smack-down (spiritually) on Arius (while St. Nicholas laid the smack-down physically on him. True story – the future Santa Clause hit Arius right in the face. Best Christmas story ever!)
He, more than any other, influenced the writings of Western Christians, Philosophers, and Reformers. Even his contemporaries like Jerome (who translated the entire bible in Latin) said Augustine was the most important person to revitalizing the Faith. He straight-up wrote the terminology for Original Sin, Grace and Salvation. Oh, and he was the Bishop of Hippo. Awesome.
The Photobomber – Constantine
There are tons of other Early Church Fathers that are worthy of recognition, but being a photo-bomber is a unique role. They are trying to get more attention than they deserve. Constantine definitely was the ultimate photo-bomber of this era. He makes Christianity a religio licita (i.e. a legal religion in the Roman Empire) and suddenly he thinks he deserves to be on Mount Christmore. He keeps inserting himself in major events but was not nearly as influential as modern historians like to make him.
The Reformers and Awakeners – 1500-1850 A.D.
Nailing the 95 Thesis to the door of the church gets you on Mount Christmore. The Early Church Fathers took on individuals like Arius, Marcion, Nestorius, and the like. Luther took on the entire Roman Catholic Church. Calling them heretics is gutsy and he had to assume he was going to be killed. Thus on October 31, 1517, the Protestant Reformation was born.
When it comes to modern day discussions, few have been as influential than the concepts articulated by Calvin and his followers. His emphasis on the sovereignty of God stood in stark contrast to the works-based religion that Catholicism at that time had turned into. (And just like Abe Lincoln he has a crazy blemish on his record. If you want to be kind of weirded-out, Wikipedia – Michael Servetus. He was a heretic for sure, but Calvin was part of a council that had him burned at the stake. Not a good look whatever the excuse might be.)
I actually think that Wesley might be the most influential person on modern Christianity. The way we even think about Christian living has been at least somewhat guided by the writings of Wesley. I also love the interaction that another giant (totally deserving to be on Mount Christmore), George Whitefield had with Wesley. They disagreed with each other ALL THE TIME about theology and called each other heretics a few times even though they were both great evangelists. But one of my favorite stories comes when one of Whitefield’s groupies asked “We won’t see John Wesley in the heaven, will we?” To which Whitefield humbly replied “Yes, you’re right, we won’t see him in heaven. He will be so close to the Throne of God and we will be so far away, that we won’t be able to see him!” Just like every single person on these lists, he has flaws, but his impact on Christianity throughout the world is Legen (wait for it) Dary.
The Photobomber – William Carey
This is mean, because I think pretty highly of Carey. He is the Father of Modern Missions. But when there’s people like Jonathan Edwards still out there, how did Teddy William Carey make it up there? Well because the Gospel spreading throughout the world is important and Carey started the momentum. So he gets credit for Judson, Livingstone, Taylor, and the like.
Today – 1950 – Present A.D.
He has shared the Gospel with more people (face-to-face) than any other person in history. If that doesn’t get you on Mount Christmore, I don’t know what does. He was the face of Christianity for years. He has prayed personally with every President since WWII. He has twice been offered cabinet positions, once by a Democrat and once by a Republican.
He wrote both Mere Christianity and The Chronicles of Narnia that is diverse to say the least. His brand of apologetics towards skeptics has reinvigorated the modern apologetic movement. (And J.K. Rowling has mentioned being influenced by good ol’ Clive Staples… that alone puts him over the top.) Full discloser, I would be somewhat worried about my Chair position at Trinity College if I didn’t include Graham (their most famous alumni) and Lewis (the headquarters for the C.S. Lewis Society.) But it’s my Mount Christmore list and I can put whoever I want on it. Go make your own.
Martin Luther King Jr.
This list was by far the hardest to make. I almost put Ravi Zacharias for his apologetics in Universities, I thought of Rick Warren for making a Billion Dollars for Purpose Driven Life, I considered Joel Osteen, not for him influencing me, but for his obvious influence to millions of people in America (unfortunately), I even thought of Jerry Falwell for his vision for the soon to be largest University in the world. But I put MLK here for a couple reasons. First of all, his influence in America is obvious to anyone. Second, he was unapologetically Christian and faced a challenge perhaps only similar to his name-sake Martin Luther. He faced an entity that thought they were right and he certainly knew he might die for his beliefs. Finally, he’s a symbol now. He is greater than the sum of his message. Heading into the 21st Century his sermons and speeches can be used to heal a church that is still divided for some reason.
Photobomber – John Piper
No pastor is America is more talked about and exalted than John Piper. He’s pretty great, don’t get me wrong, but come on. He shouldn’t be on the Mount Rushmore of Christianity. Is he really going to be remembered 500 years from now? Will Hologram Youtube still have his sermons? He is certainly venerated beloved by millions of Christians but he is closer to Teddy Roosevelt than George Washington and everyone knows it.
What do you think? Feel free to comment on who would be on your Mount Rushmore.
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