Richard Gamble in his new book, In Search of the City on a Hill, spends a lot of time on John Winthrop’s role in appropriating and transforming Jesus’ trope of a “city on a hill” for Puritan and (later) U.S. purposes. But he also observes Jonathan Edwards’ contribution to the myth of America as God’s “New Israel”:
A fuller understanding of Edwards’s role in making Jesus’ metaphor into an American myth would take us into his eschatology, his expectation that America might be the site of the coming of Christ’s millennial kingdom, his view of history as the outworking of the conflict between the Papacy and the Reformation, and the nuances of his theology of church and state. Among these larger questions, one historical debates has centered on the degree to which Edwards promoted what Ernest Lee Tuveson in the 1960s called America’s ‘Redeemer Myth.’ . . . As one voice among thousands, Edwards helped perpetuate that quintessentially Puritan notion of a righteous city set high upon a hill for all the world to see. . .
. . . whether righteous or unrighteous, obedient or disobedient, New Englanders were God’s chosen people, a spectacle to the world. Either way, the covenantal relationship was real and inescapable. America could not be hidden. Its light may have grown dim, but the city on a hill — even as just one city on a hill among many possible cities — laboured under the duties of a national covenant of works. This view may indeed be ‘pessimistic,’ but it does nothing to affect America’s standing as a city on a hill and how that theology can affect the nation’s understanding of the church and its calling in the world. A more nuanced ‘Edwardsian’ handling of the metaphor might make for a more chastened national identity, or a more restrained foreign policy, or a more communitarian theory of social justice, but it would still be premised on an identification of America as ‘our Israel’ and open the way for all the implications of national chosenness. Edwards used the metaphor of the city to bind his church members with the cords of a national covenant, obscuring the Augustinian understand of a sojourning City of God on pilgrimage through the City of Man. Better known, his sermons might have restrained American conduct with a sobering sense of divine accountability. But like so many of his era, he blurred the sacred and the secular. The things of Caesar looked very much like the things of God from inside the walls of Edwards’s city. (84-85)