Life Hacking Gone Wrong

The Story of Benjamin Franklin

Andri Koolme (flickr)

We live in the age of life hacking — the art of accumulating tricks and skills to increase personal productivity. Many of us have heard tips from life hackers. Many of us want to be life hackers. We are drawn to anything that promises to shortcut our work, to make our communication more accurate and efficient, or to help us remember and to recall information at just the right time in life.

The goal of life hacking is productivity. The means is pragmatics. So we mark off little areas of life, or little behaviors, and we reduce them to certain actions — actions that can be sped up and simplified and improved by new techniques. The promise of new practices has arisen a whole industry of life hack websites, podcasts, bestselling books, and of course bushels and bushels of smartphone apps.

Rising in the rank of all-stars in the field of life hacking are people like Tim Ferriss, a man who willingly offers himself up as a personal “guinea pig,” as he calls himself. Ferriss tests an incredibly varied mix of modifications to the patterns and rituals of our everyday lives, and his books and podcasts are endlessly interesting as he discovers newer and better ways to eat and sleep and work and work out. Along the way he has adopted the best of the vivid, pragmatic knowledge of the old Stoic philosophers into his own philosophy of life. But he takes the Stoics with one key modification: he intentionally leaves behind the theology of the Stoics.

“On the surface, decluttering the divine will lead to no noticeable loss to the bottom line of personal efficiency.”

In the life hacking age you can do such a thing: Drop God out of your life equation. On the surface, decluttering the divine will lead to no noticeable loss to the bottom line of personal efficiency. But this discrepancy also exposes the most toxic flaw of life hacking. We can hack away to save time, and at the same time lose our way along the path of life. We grow more and more proficient with our daily routines, but grow less and less capable of stating the ultimate purpose and ends of our lives inside God’s creation.

It is too easy to hack wonder and devotion and God-centered delight and glory right out of our lives. This is when life hacking goes wrong.

Enter Benjamin Franklin (1706–1790). Franklin is perhaps the most famous life hacker of the eighteenth century. He is both a fascinating example of life hacking at its finest, and he is a prominent example of life hacking gone wrong.

To get the story, I connected with author and Baylor University historian Tommy Kidd who recently finished writing an excellent book, Benjamin Franklin: The Religious Life of a Founding Father, due out in May 2017 (Yale). He is also the author of George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (Yale, 2014), and more recently, American Colonial History: Clashing Cultures and Faiths (Yale, 2016).

To begin our 45-minute conversation, I asked Kidd for a brief biographical overview of Benjamin Franklin’s life and accomplishments.

He is really, truly a remarkable person at so many levels. He is a great inventor and scientist. He is one of the great innovators in the printing industry. He is a critical diplomat for the American colonies and then the new independent United States and I think is rightly seen as a true American genius and world genius, scientifically and in all of his innovations along the lines of an Einstein or a Steve Jobs in a more contemporary world.

“It is too easy to hack wonder and devotion and God-centered delight and glory right out of our lives.”

I knew all of that going into writing this book, but I was freshly blown away by what a renaissance man he is, and I think he is just gifted by God uniquely with all these natural gifts to discover and innovate. He is just an incredible person. And because he lives for such a long time, into his 80s, which in the 18th century is an awfully long time to live, he is able to do just amazing things coming out of a pretty humble background. So, I really don’t think that you can overstate the importance of Benjamin Franklin in American and in European history.

No, certainly not. Yet he is from a fairly humble background. Explain his rise in the world — how far low did he begin and how far up did he rise?

He grew up in a modest Puritan family in Boston. His father came to Boston in the late 17th century and Ben Franklin was born in the early 1700s. They were just trades people, regular folks in Boston, not elite at all. They did know that Benjamin Franklin was brilliant. That was easy to see in him as a boy. And so, they thought maybe they would send him to Harvard College. But Harvard was at that time — in the early 1700s — almost exclusively a school for training pastors. And I think his parents also started to realize maybe by his early teens that he was developing some skepticism about traditional faith, and I think that may have played a role in scuttling the plans for him to go to Harvard.

And so, he had very limited formal education and didn’t go to college, like many of the Founding Fathers in America never went to college. But that doesn’t mean he wasn’t educated. He was deeply educated and literate — and a voracious reader. I think his parents certainly wanted him to read the Bible, and he did that a lot.

One of the things we see about Franklin is that, even though he had some skepticism about traditional Christian doctrine, it is not because he was ignorant about the Bible. He knew the Bible backwards and forwards, had learned it in his home growing up, and then just read everything he could get his hands on as a teenager and a young man. This is part of the reason why he went into the printing business is because he liked the idea of being able to have access to a lot more books for free.

And so, that is how he became a printer’s apprentice. First, he was apprenticed to his older brother in Boston, and then they had a falling out and he ended up running away from his brother’s print shop, going from Boston to Philadelphia. But in those years as a teenager, he actually was working as an indentured servant, which is basically a kind of a temporary slave in those days. So, he had a pretty rough upbringing by our standards even though he came from a very serious Christian family.

That is rough. So how unlikely is his story?

It wasn’t totally unprecedented, although Franklin’s story is quite unusual and I think it has to do with, again, his natural gifts, his God-given gifts and entrepreneurship and invention. I think among the other founders, Alexander Hamilton has a little bit of a story like that. He comes from a much more difficult family situation, born to unmarried parents in the Caribbean and then a pastor and some other sponsors take an interest in Hamilton and manage for him to be able to go to King’s College in New York City, which later became Columbia.

“I really don’t think that you can overstate the importance of Benjamin Franklin in American and European history.”

So, if you make the right contacts and you are able to work hard and depend on your innate brilliance, I think that that story, at least among whites, is possible. It is very, very difficult if you are African American or Native American to make those kind of advances in that period. But they talk about America and especially Pennsylvania as being the best poor man’s country in the 18th century. And I think there is a little bit more of an opportunity for social advancements because you don’t have that entrenched aristocracy in America the same way you do, for instance, in England.

Franklin takes advantage of his opportunities. Fast-forward to the end. At the time of his death, what would have been said of him? What were maybe the top four achievements of his lifetime?

I think his innovations as a printer. He is easily the most successful printer in America in the 1730s and 40s — so much so that he is able to retire from printing very early because he has made a fortune.

Then his scientific experiment, in particular his experiments in electricity and the nature of lightning. He is most famous for this experiment that he did where he flew a kite into a thunderstorm and was able to draw off an electrical charge from the electrified kite string. And that experiment is not only a part of American scientific lore and so forth, but it really did draw international attention for him — so much so that he won the Copley Medal from the Royal Society in England, which was kind of the equivalent of winning the Nobel Prize at the time. It was just a huge deal. As kind of a side project almost he made these incredible scientific discoveries in electricity and he got awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of Saint Andrews in Scotland, and after that point he was always called Dr. Franklin. That is where that name came from.

And then finally, certainly his diplomatic work. He spent most of the second half of his life either in England or in France as a diplomat. As for great success, there was his negotiation of the Treaty of Paris in 1783 which brought an end to the American Revolution and granted the new American nation its independence on very favorable terms. And in a lot of ways I think the Treaty of Paris is still considered the greatest diplomatic achievement in all of American history. And he wasn’t the only one working on that, but he was probably the lead diplomat for America. And so, it is just stunning that any one person would have these kinds of accomplishments in a single lifetime.

So Franklin grew up in a Puritan home. He was familiar with the Bible, but lived in a time of hostile religious debate between Christians. Do you think this infighting soured him to the faith?

He, like a lot of people, was influenced by what we broadly call the Enlightenment. To the 18th century, people believed that there are good things about religion and Christianity, but they have seen that as practiced going back to certainly the Reformation, the wars of religion that were happening in the 16th, 17th, and 18th centuries often between Protestant and Catholic power, fighting within Puritan churches, Congregationalist and Presbyterian denominations, expulsions of pastors.

He got involved in a very technical, theological, public debate in the 1730s over a favorite pastor of his in Philadelphia who was being disciplined by the Presbyterian denomination over what Franklin thought were just some pointless theological issues. Some other Christians might think that they were actually pretty important, but he focused on, “Why can’t we just live out Christianity and Christ’s teachings on ethics and morality and the Beatitudes and so forth, and set aside or deemphasize these doctrinal disputes about issues like justification and the atonement and whether we should require ascent to the Westminster Confession of Faith?”

He grew up with these kinds of controversies, and I think, for some good reasons, got tired of it and wondered whether you could have a much more ethically focused kind of Christianity that was much less doctrinal. And so, I think that that child and that young adult kind of experience with those sorts of controversies and just a knowledge of history — the wars of religion — helped to give him a skeptical view, not only of certain doctrines, but doctrinalism, and he thought that Christianity should go a different way.

On that note, you write: “Franklin was a pioneer of a distinctly American kind of religion . . . doctrine-less, moralized Christianity.” I don’t think we Americans see this as our contribution to the world, but it is. How revolutionary was this in his day?

Yes, he is one of the Founding Fathers of this kind of religion, and I think doctrineless, moralized Christianity — if that is still Christianity, which is kind of an open question in my book — is such a common belief system. It is not quite a formal religion necessarily for a lot of people, but there are folks who have followed everybody from Dale Carnegie, to go back a while, to Stephen Covey, with The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, to Oprah, to Joel Osteen, to even contemporary podcasters like Tim Ferriss, and so forth.

This type of belief about “your best life now,” as Joel Osteen would put it, that the point is to live the kind of life that God, or your higher power or whatever, wants you to live right now, and it doesn’t really matter that much how you get there in terms of what you believe. The point is the quality of your life now. And the emphasis that this is not only the right way to live, but it is the best and most effective way to live. That is so utterly common if you go back through that list of names and you think about that incredible titanic bestselling books and popular shows and podcasts and everything that this kind of philosophy has produced.

“For Franklin, it seems almost as if the chief end of man is to be productive and to live virtuously.”

And it doesn’t necessarily overtly contradict orthodox Christianity, which is one of the ways it can be, I think, pernicious. And it is so influential. And I think that Franklin is certainly one of the Founding Fathers — and often explicitly. Stephen Covey’s company was called Franklin Covey. This is explicitly drawing on the vertex of this movement like Franklin’s book The Way to Wealth, like his “Father Abraham” speech, which just gives all these proverb-sounding kind of statements: “early to bed, early to rise” and so forth. “No pains, no gains.” You can’t even believe some of these things that came from Franklin.

And so, it is extraordinarily important in terms of American religion, world religion, but because it is so pervasive, it is like the air we breathe. We almost don’t notice it because this kind of belief system is so pervasive.

For Franklin, it seems almost as if the chief end of man is to be productive and to live virtuously. Would you agree?

Yes, I think that is right: to be benevolent, to be generous, to be virtuous. And he did think that probably — and I do say probably — that there would be a future judgment by God of our works. And so, he thought that it is the happiest way to live. It is the most effective way to live and, in the end, we will be rewarded by God for our good deeds.

This, of course, is turning away from the legacy of Puritanism that would have understood that we can’t do any good deeds without regeneration and this kind of thing, but I think that Franklin here again is saying, let’s take everything about the ethics and virtue taught by Christianity, taught by Jesus, and not worry about what he saw as divisive doctrine. So yes, to him, the chief end of man is to live a virtuous life. And he might even say: It’s fine if you want to say “and please God” in doing that. He might have been willing to even add that.

Virtue was huge in Colonial America. How would you compare Franklin’s list of virtues with the list of resolutions by Jonathan Edwards? These are two guys setting out to achieve virtue, but with very different worldviews.

Yes, I think that Franklin’s idea is very much a virtue born out of effort and discipline, and that is very much directed towards the only way that Franklin would say that we know to love God in this life is to do good to people. And I mean, again, there are shades of differences here. You get some things like that out of the Gospels about doing unto the least of these and so forth (Matthew 25:40, 45) — those kinds of teachings.

It is just that someone like Edwards or George Whitefield, Franklin’s long-time friend, would say: You are not understanding that the greatest good is love of God and that our capability for good comes out of regeneration. So, Whitefield and Edwards would say: This kind of man-centered good that doesn’t require any kind of transforming power from God might look good from a worldly perspective, but because of our sin, our best efforts in this life without any assistance from God are just filthy rags.

“Man-centered good that doesn’t require the power of God might look good, but our best efforts are just filthy rags.”

And so, I think that Franklin just simply didn’t buy that. I think he just thought, “You just do your best and you try to be sincere and disciplined and go after virtue, and God will understand that we fall short.” Edwards and Whitefield would have said: Bottom line, what you are missing is the new birth in Christ and the understanding that, because of our sin, God cannot accept us on the basis of just a lot of effort.

It’s no secret: Franklin liked prostitutes. He was not an angel. How do you think he processed his own lack of virtue?

I think it is easy to see in retrospect. And Franklin knew this, too, that virtue and philosophy that only depends on your own effort is going to be necessarily limited in its success. So, when he went to London as a young man, he and some of his friends there really went wild and took in all that London had to offer in those days, and he really sowed his wild oats.

Even Franklin came to realize, I think pretty clearly, that he couldn’t go on this way. He was running up debts, he was worried about venereal disease. We don’t know who the mother of his son William was, but some people think it may have been a prostitute. But he realized that he needed to get his act together. And so, when he came back to America, he sort of put together this system of moral resolution that was going to be his guide, he said, for the rest of his life.

The problem is that when you see him come up against temptation, especially in relationships with women, later in life, in middle age, and going on into amazingly old age, he had a series of relationships that were certainly inappropriate with other women. Franklin is a married man by then. And it is conspicuous that his talk about his moral system sort of goes quiet in those years and on those topics. We just don’t see if it is all up to us, if it is all up to our discipline. And Franklin will say this at times. You can excuse anything.

Now, having said all that, I do want to caution — and Christians who are listening know this very well — it is not as if being in Christ solves all your problems with regard to sin or eliminates all your blind spots. And I talked about this in my biography of George Whitefield, for instance, that George Whitefield was involved in slavery and the slave trade — and he just didn’t see the problem with it. We can see in retrospect that there were all kinds of immoral issues going on with the slave trade.

So, it is not as if I would say: If only Franklin had been a Christian, then he would have lived in perfect holiness or something like that. But it is pretty conspicuous how limited this moral code is when, for instance, it doesn’t really seem to raise questions for him about that propriety of this series of relationships he has with married women — women who are much, much younger than he is: pretty salacious stuff. And his moral code just doesn’t seem to come into play. So, it is inadequate in moments where he needed to do much better.

Okay, I want to press in to pragmatics a little more. One writer said Franklin had a “love for the useful.” He was a hacker. Technology itself can feed pragmatism and utilitarianism. Certainly this is true in our day. We life hack our diets, our work habits, and our sleep patterns, really all of life. Everything has an app. We can trace the minutiae of life: every calorie, every step we take, and we can manage our calendars down to the second. But if we’re not careful, life can get boiled down to all about the right techniques. When you see this in America, how much is Ben Franklin behind this? What’s his role in all of it?

He thought that a life that is maximally effective is to do good: there is another way to put it about what his life goal was. He wanted to be successful in useful fields, and so he would discipline himself in terms of his use of time. He was focused on diet, everything you might expect out of that kind of life hacking literature — blogs and so forth today. He was interested in those kinds of issues, too, because he wanted to be freed up to be the most successful, effective entrepreneur that he could be, especially as a young man. But he said that these things all need to serve the benevolent good. You need to be doing good for people and not involved in trashy pursuits.

For instance, one of the most famous instances was he had his list of the virtues and he would keep a daily chart for some years of his life that he would say: Have I been modest? Have I controlled my speech? and all these kinds of things. And he is going down the list and checking it, Yes, I did all these things today or, No, I failed here and there. I am not sure in that system how you account for pride, because it seems to me that, if you are checking off all the boxes about how well you have done, that may undermine the pride issue.

But anyway, he would try to systematize all these things and say: I can count up how well I am doing and the expectations I hold for myself. And so, tracking it, measuring it, again, he is a pioneer on all those kinds of life hacking things. But I think the difference for him is that he knew that all these things were supposed to at least feed into virtue. I am not sure that all of our life hacking folks — podcasts, bloggers, and everything today — are the same. It is often in the background, but because Franklin was so deeply familiar with the Christian virtues from his upbringing, that just came naturally to him, and he still felt obligated to live with responsibilities to that virtuous code — which he would readily admit he derived from Christianity.

That is a key point. And it seems like he tried to life hack the Christian life, too. You write of Franklin, “Church attendance had its utility when rightly conducted.” How did the church become, for Franklin, a form of utility?

He thought that most people certainly needed religion and I don’t think he would have said it had to be Christianity. But I think he would have conceded that Christianity maybe was the most sublime kind of religious code, a system of ethics, that is the best. But it is not necessarily an exclusive thing. He would have said: You need religion to give you a set of morals, a virtuous ideal. And certainly Christ is a wonderful, virtuous ideal, and example for us to follow.

He thought that churches brought accountability for ethics and virtue — that churches were a great way to live out a virtuous life because churches gave you a way to be engaged in working with the poor. It was an era when the government performed very few social welfare functions — the churches did that. They worked on education, healthcare, all kinds of poor relief efforts. And so, he was great with churches especially if they were doing those kinds of things: outreach and ministering to people. Franklin loved that.

And this is actually part of the reason why Franklin admired George Whitefield, the great revivalist, so much. We forget that Whitefield was very well known in his time for his Bethesda orphanage in Georgia, which was the great charitable project of Whitefield’s career. And Franklin gave money to the Bethesda orphanage and thought: Yes, what we need are these great social experiments in taking care of the least of these, like orphans. Franklin was involved in the first hospital in Philadelphia, and Franklin’s own publicity was explicitly Christian, justified on explicitly Christian grounds.

So, he thought: If that is what church is about, if that is what religion is about, it is benevolent service, then that is my kind of thing. If it is about dry doctrine and helping out the institutional church and its pastors and so forth, he is not keen on that. And so, that is why he thinks churches are great. He would say we need churches, but only to the extent that it is encouraging practical virtue.

His theology becomes problematic. Franklin seemed to have layers of God. Explain his theology proper.

Franklin’s ideas about God are changing over his lifetime, and they are often speculative. It is not as if he has just this one set of beliefs. He often will sort of say: Maybe it is like this or, I have doubts about that. And so, it can be very difficult to pin him down about exactly what he does believe and doesn’t believe.

What you are suggesting is that early in life as a young man, he wrote a document about articles of belief. It is just a very strange document where he speculates about something that sounds like polytheism — that there is maybe this one great, superintending God, but we don’t really have any access to that God, and there are these sort of lesser gods who kind of represent God to us. Maybe Jesus is sort of one of these demi-gods, or something like that. It is weird stuff to our perspective, and he really doesn’t follow that up very much.

So, it is one of those documents we should take totally seriously. But I think the consistent thing, especially once, is that he goes through a pretty radical phase in his teens and early 20s, and then I think he settles down and basically believes that virtue is the point of religion, that there is a God that probably is like God the Father in the Bible, that Jesus has given us a supreme code of ethics to follow, that there is almost certainly an afterlife and a future judgment, and that God is somehow providentially involved with the world.

That is a difference between Franklin and some of the more radical deists. A lot of the English deists in particular said that God was like the cosmic watchmaker, that he had wound the world up and then just left. God isn’t around anymore. Franklin had a stronger view of providence than that. And Franklin even believed, especially later on in life, that prayer probably did some good if, for no other reason, than it had a kind of disciplining effect on us.

But this is why Franklin is the one, the solitary figure, really, who asked the constitutional convention in Philadelphia in 1787 to open its sessions with prayer. And it is such a strange scene. You think: This guy is a skeptic and a deist, and yet here he is. He proposes the constitutional convention open its sessions with prayer. And it is a motion that they don’t adopt. What is so amazing to me about it is that the rest of the delegates sort of say: Yeah, that is complicated. Who is going to pray? Let’s not worry about that. Let’s just do our business here.

A lot of Christian popular historians will narrate that story and say: Oh, look how wonderful that Franklin proposed prayer. But they don’t give the rest of the story that they decided not to. And so, Franklin, among the convention delegates, seems to actually believe more in prayer than most of the other people. It is strange to pin him down on these kind of things.

An incredible scene, and you open the book with it. Yet God still seems quite impersonal to him. It seems that Christ — the atoning God-man, who shed his blood for sinners, who approaches and reaches us, and who makes a way for us to God — is a stumbling block for Franklin.

Yes, the wonderful, if troubling, thing about Franklin is that Ezra Stiles, who was the president of Yale, basically pinned Franklin down about six weeks before he died and said: Mr. Franklin, you have done so many wonderful things. But I don’t know, Mr. Franklin, that I have ever heard you say what you think about Jesus. Stiles was basically an orthodox Christian, and he was trying to see if he could get Franklin to make a profession of faith.

And it is standard operating procedure with Franklin. He kind of turns it into a joke. And that is another problem with pinning Franklin down is he will joke about anything. And so he says: I have always had doubts about the deity of Christ. I have doubts about the deity of Christ. But I am so old now that I might as well not worry about it, because I am going to find out pretty soon anyway. And then, sure enough, several weeks later, he died. And so, he found out.

He was just not sure whether he can believe the Christian tradition and the Scriptures when they say that Jesus was the Son of God. He is convinced that Jesus was a great moral teacher, but Savior, Messiah, Son of God, second person of the Trinity, he just isn’t sure. And I think that Franklin believes, Why do I have to make some kind of firm commitment on things that I am not sure about anyway? Why don’t we just, again, go back to, let’s live a loving, benevolent, virtuous life and let God sort out the doctrinal details?

He is a sort of person who says: I am just going to worry about what I know I can do. And he does keep God at arm’s length. There is this personal prayer guide, a devotional guide, that he writes for himself in which he seems to indicate an understanding that God is to be worshiped. But even there he says what we know about God is only revealed in the natural world, the splendor and the mysteries of the universe. And that is true. Again, these are things that you can find some support for in Scripture.

But as far as revealed knowledge about God, I think Franklin would say: I just don’t know how much of the Bible I can believe. And so, why don’t I just stick to these worldly, practical, utilitarian, moral responsibilities and let others worry about doctrinal issues? And so, there again, is where the doctrineless Christianity comes in. Whether that is an oxymoron right from the get-go — I think it is — he thought that this is sort of the new, enlightened kind of form of Christianity that he hoped would take root.

In some ways, in American pop culture and global pop culture, it certainly has. I think for Reformed and evangelical Christians though, of course, they will say: We have to worship God in spirit and truth for the things that are revealed in the natural world. But there are also things revealed in Scripture, and true goodness can’t be lived out without God’s power and regenerating work in our lives.

And so, that is where a lot of Christians reading my book are going to say: In a this-worldly sense and just the natural order of things, this guy lived an admirable in many ways — a remarkable, successful life. But he may have missed the biggest point of all, which is a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.

“Franklin lived a remarkable life in many ways. But he may have missed a saving relationship with Jesus Christ.”

That is tragic. His friend George Whitefield certainly saw the glory of Christ — and spent his life proclaiming that glory. What do we know of Whitefield’s attempts to reach Franklin with the gospel?

They had an amazing relationship. Here they are. Whitefield, by the time he meets Franklin in the late 1730s, has already become easily the most famous pastor or preacher in the British and American world. And Franklin, as I say, hitched his wagon to Whitefield’s star, right? Because he said: This guy isn’t like anything I have ever seen — and I can make a lot of money off of this. So, Franklin is publishing all of Whitefield’s journals and sermons, and Franklin publishes anti-Whitefield stuff, too. It is a big part of the reason why Franklin is able to retire early is he made so much money off of Whitefield. But in that business relationship then they became friends.

And so, there are just amazing letters that they would write back and forth to each other, and Franklin made clear to Whitefield that he appreciated his charitable work, but that he didn’t believe in Christ the way that Whitefield said people needed to. And so, Whitefield would talk very frankly, write very frankly, to Ben about this.

My favorite letter between them is a letter that Whitefield wrote to him in the 1750s. Now, Franklin has become as famous as Whitefield is because of Franklin’s scientific experiments, and Whitefield says to him, “Mr. Franklin, I see that you have made all of this wonderful progress in the mysteries of science and electricity. Now I implore you to study the mysteries of the new birth.” But Franklin is just always like: Yes, I knew that was what you were going to say to me. And he never goes over the line of faith. And Franklin writes poignantly in his autobiography, “Mr. Whitefield would often pray for my conversion, but he never had the pleasure of believing that those prayers were answered.” Whitefield dies about 20 years before Franklin does, and so the autobiography comes out after Whitefield’s death.

But even after that, even after Whitefield’s death, Franklin would go out of his way to talk about how much he admired — and not just admired, but loved — Whitefield as a friend. And so, I think Whitefield is a wonderful example of somebody who is a strong believer, obviously, and the greatest preacher of his time who is able to maintain this kind of sweet friendship with a nonbeliever like Franklin, and not push him away. But he is also transparent with him about his faith. It really is convicting to me that two such famous, wonderful people, who are not on the same page spiritually, are able to maintain that friendship. It is just a great example on Whitefield’s part.

Very convicting. Dr. Kidd, it is always a pleasure. Thank you!


Whenever I need the latest celebrity gossip out of the eighteenth century, you always deliver. You’re the TMZ of colonial America.

I will receive that.

Ha! The man putting up with my banter today, author and Baylor University historian Tommy Kidd. We are talking about his excellent book — Benjamin Franklin: The Religious Life of a Founding Father, due out in May 2017 (Yale). He is also the author of George Whitefield: America’s Spiritual Founding Father (Yale, 2014), and more recently, American Colonial History: Clashing Cultures and Faiths (Yale, 2016). He is readable historian every Christian should be familiar with. Thanks for listening to this special longform conversation in the Ask Pastor John podcast series. I am your host Tony Reinke and I’ll be back on Monday with John Piper, to ask him, if we have died to sin, why must we kill our own sin daily? Hmm. We’ll see you then.