Tribalism Comes Naturally

Damon Linker explains why Marx and Plato were wrong:

Politics in all times and places involves a bounded community defining itself, and its citizens ruling themselves, in contradistinction to other bounded communities. The community can be a village, tribe, or city-state; a nation-state; or an empire. Certain forms of government are better suited to certain sizes than others. (A small community can work as a pure democracy, for example, but a vast empire never could.) But regardless of the community’s size, it always has limits (a border), and it always draws a distinction between those who are permitted to join the community and those who are not; between who is and who is not a citizen; and between who does and who does not get to enjoy the privileges that come with citizenship, including a say in making such determinations in the future. This may in fact be the most elemental political act of all, the basis of everything else the political community does. To declare that this act is prima facie illegitimate is to declare a foundational political act to be illegitimate. It is to treat politics itself as in some sense morally compromised. . . .

But then again, neither is it possible to justify in universal-rational terms the right to private property or, really, any form of inherited (unearned) wealth or privilege. The more you think about it, politics (very much including liberal politics) is an activity shot through with norms, practices, and beliefs that can be rather easily exposed as “fictions” once subjected to universal-rational scrutiny.

That’s why philosophers as otherwise so profoundly different as Plato and Karl Marx have concluded that the rule of reason and justice demands communism (the abolition of private property). Indeed, Plato went even further than Marx, to suggest that in a perfectly rational and just political system, property communism would need to be combined with communism of families, with children taken from their parents at birth and raised by the community as a whole. After all, isn’t deference to a mother’s love for her own child based on the fiction that she is always automatically best suited by nature to raise him or her?

The most that might be said for our neoliberal almost-open-border advocates is that they think Plato should have gone even farther in subjecting politics to universal-rational scrutiny and advocated a completely communist state that is also boundless in extent, encompassing all people everywhere, without distinction.

In other words, Plato should have advocated the universal, homogenous state — which is precisely what many on the center-left seem to not-so-secretly believe morality demands.

That such a state is neither possible nor desirable (recall what I said about the largest political communities and their incompatibility with democracy) should be obvious. But then what do our universalist liberals hope to accomplish, not by raising perfectly reasonable objections to specific immigration restrictions, but by denying the legitimacy of having any immigration restrictions at all? There are many, many intellectually coherent answers to the two key questions of immigration policy (Who can come here? And how many of them?) — but many on the left seem to think there is only one legitimate answer to each question (Everyone. And all of them). This is ludicrous.

Linker could have added evangelicals and Roman Catholics who think that the parable of the Good Samaritan should inform how American Christians respond to outsiders:

So, as governments oversee matters of security, we will care for the hurting, calling Christians to embrace refugees through their denomination, congregation, or other nonprofits by providing for immediate and long-term needs, such as housing, food, clothing, employment, English-language classes, and schooling for children.

We distinguish that the refugees fleeing this violence are not our enemies; they are victims. We call for Christians to support ministries showing the love of Jesus to the most vulnerable, those in desperate need, and the hurting. This is what Jesus did; he came to the hurting and brought peace to those in despair.

Critical moments like these are opportunities for us to be like Jesus, showing and sharing his love to the hurting and the vulnerable in the midst of this global crisis. Thus we declare that we care, we are responding because our allegiance is to Jesus, and we seek to be more like him, emulating his compassionate care for the most vulnerable.

Granted, aid to refugees is not immigration policy. Nor is Emma Lazarus‘ poem.

But borders matter and Christians who want to assist those who have fled their homelands do so not as residents of planet earth but as citizens whose nations make laws that govern who comes and goes. Just try traveling somewhere outside the U.S. to minister the gospel or provide diaconal assistance without a passport.

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A Common Complaint from W-wers

Carlton Wynne objects to natural law and its influence among Reformed Protestants:

I believe this aspect of the Natural Law theory in view–that people can reason their way to actionable truths apart from God’s special revelation–is too optimistic about the powers of unaided reason after the fall. The general revelation of God in nature and beneath conscience must be “carefully distinguished from the reaction that sinful man makes to this revelation” (Van Til). The apostle Paul says that unbelievers “suppress the truth” that they know (including the truth of their moral obligation to God), that they are, at root, “hostile to God” (Rom 8:7); that they have become “futile in their thinking” (Rom 1:21). They are, Paul says elsewhere, “darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart” (Eph 4:18).

These are hard words, no doubt. But they point to one side of what has been called the “antithesis” between belief and unbelief, a moral and spiritual conflict of basic commitments that touch all that Christians and non-Christians think about and discuss. According to this Scriptural principle, fallen man is slavishly committed to his own moral autonomy, while Christians are to view all things under the Lordship of Christ and the light of His Word. This means that, at the deepest level, there is no mutually acknowledged common ground between Christian and non-Christian. And this, it seems to me, leaves NL proponents calling for peace when there is no peace.

Fine.

If true, do you then only go to Christian physicians?

And if true, why would you ever let non-Christians into positions of political authority? If you assert the antithesis you wind up theonomic.

Will “common grace” really explain why you, a person who believes in the anti-thesis, choose a non-Christian physician or politician over Christian ones?

Why the Personal is not Political

President Obama explained why policy is such a poor instrument for addressing something as personal as race relations:

But this is always one of the challenges of politics: It can never capture all the complexity and contradictions in life. So you end up having to try to be true in a way that can be consumed for a mass audience, but you’re always missing some elements of it. You’re always leaving some things out.

And that’s part of the reason why race is such a difficult thing to deal with in politics, because the evolution of racial identity, racial relationships, institutional racism, is never similar. The trajectory, I believe, has been positive. But anything you say on the topic of race, there’s a counterargument, there’s an exception, there’s a nuance. There’s a, Wait, hold on a minute, how about that? And that’s part of the reason why, I think, it creates frustration. It’s also why it’s easy to demagogue. It’s also why situations that look ambiguous can lead to people dividing into camps very quickly.

Justice is one thing. Politeness is another.

In the Larger Scheme of Things

Should the church engage in politics? John Allen answers, that’s a no-brainer:

And that ministry inevitably has a political edge. Yes, Jesus Christ said “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s, and God what is God’s,” which is a charter for church/state separation. However, Christ also said we will be judged for how we treat the least among us, which is a standard with a clearly political dimension.

Popes represent a tradition rooted in prophetic denunciations of injustice and abuses of power, and a Lord who chose to be born into a poor family in an occupied corner of the world’s leading empire of its day.

To insist, therefore, that popes remain apolitical would be to demand that they betray their office.

As if politics were all about finger-wagging. Lobbyists make lousy politicians.

J. Peter Nixon worries what happens when the church’s ministry becomes too oriented to this world:

Last week Pope Francis presided over a Mass to mark the end of the Year for Consecrated Life. Robert Mickens reported here that the Holy Father also gave a short talk to men and women religious at an audience prior to the Mass. “Why has the womb of religious life become so sterile?” he asked.

The answers to that question are complex and manifold. . . . I know enough men and women religious to realize the dangers of sentimentalizing their lives. Those without property can often become proprietary about their roles and responsibilities and unhealthy power dynamics can afflict any community of human beings. The spiritual risks of celibacy are well known, even if they are sometimes exaggerated.

The lives of ordinary believers and the lives of those called to practice the counsels should complement one another, embodying the tension between a Kingdom that is already present and yet still to come. In the past, the balance may have tipped too far in the direction of the latter, leading to the suggestion that the married state was somehow inferior to religious life. Over the last half century, however, we have tipped far in the other direction. Somehow, we must find balance.

The balance may not involve the monastic life, but it could include something like recognizing that this world, and even its attempts to right social wrongs, is not all there is:

So while politics is important business, there are strict limits to what we can achieve by political means. There are no limits at all, on the other hand, to what we can achieve by prayer, fasting, and almsgiving; for that we have the Lord’s promise! We can revive our own faith, awaken the strength of our neighbors, and thereby accomplish what not even a presidential candidate dares to suggest.

“America is great because she is good, and if America ever ceases to be good, America will cease to be great.” So wrote the most acute of all observers of our political scene, Alexis de Tocqueville. Perhaps the most appropriate “political” task for Lent would be to embark on our own private campaigns to make America good again, beginning with ourselves.

Of course, Protestants don’t believe we make ourselves good. But confessional Protestants do understand, in ways that challenge followers of the papacy, an institution fraught with power and political intrigue, that ministering the gospel does more good in the long run than making policy or running for office.

Of Secular Novels, Governments, and Drinks

Amy Julia Becker recommends secular novels to Christians. Among the reasons she gives are these:

The earnest and bleak atheist world-view provided by Camus in The Plague challenges any trite answers we might want to offer to the problem of suffering. The searing portrait of pain and loss that makes up much of the southern and African-American literary canon challenges the role the church has played in passively supporting the evils of slavery and segregation. (Toni Morrison’s Beloved, Zora Neale Hurston’s Their Eyes Were Watching God, William Faulkner’s Absalom Absalom all come to mind as books I have read and reread in my struggle to understand the persistent divide between black and white within this nation.)

It’s hard to know which contemporary novels will rise to the top of the literary landscape. Who are the Steinbecks and Fitzgeralds among us? The Chopins and Whartons and Cathers? Whoever they are, many of them are not Christians, and yet these are the perspectives that can teach us about who we are as a culture and how we as Christians can engage our culture through a lens of love.

Good novels—whatever world-view they profess—challenge us to love others better. They disrupt comfortable assumptions about reality. And, to the degree that these books state something true about the world around us, even if that truth is about God’s apparent absence, they also invite us to know God better by loving our neighbor all the more.

If secular novels help us to be human (at least in this period between the advents of Christ, since being a glorified human being will truly be transformational), can’t we say the same thing about secular governments? Don’t secular magistrates, even un-Christian ones, also make us ask big questions about what we share in common with unbelievers, what is government for, and the nature of community in a fallen setting? If governments were only Christian, wouldn’t we wind up with the Puritan’s Massachusetts Bay? The exclusion of non-Puritans from Puritan Boston may foreshadow the sort of separation between the wheat and tares coming at the last day. But it hardly does justice to life in a post-ascension era when the Holy Land is no longer holy and God’s people are strangers and aliens.

And then there are the humanizing effects of secular (read alcoholic) beverages. Of course, in excess they can dehumanize. But in the right proportion they make the heart “glad,” right? And yet, D. L. Mayfield thinks that some Christians may need to give up alcohol out of respect for their neighbors:

We have neighbors who eat raw chicken when they are drunk and get terribly sick; others who suffer from alcohol-related psychosis and bang symphonies on the trees outside our window at all hours of the night. People knock on our door with candy for my daughter, waving and talking to her even though she is asleep in the other room. People break windows, or almost fall out of them. Empty vodka growlers line the living room of one; another almost sets our building on fire when he forgets about the chicken-fried steak smoked to smithereens on his stove. There are people in our building who die because of alcohol—cirrhosis of the liver, asphyxiation from their vomit, slow-sinking suicides everywhere we turn.

And suddenly, alcohol is no longer fun. Instead it is a substance that changes my friends and neighbors, making them unpredictable and unsafe; it leaves me feeling helpless and afraid and vulnerable. It makes me question my faith in God, struggling to find hope for those who are addicted. There are other neighbors here too, people who are in various stages of recovery, and they help me. They drink their coffee black and smoke in the parking lots. They shake their heads and tell me they don’t touch the stuff anymore. They find that every sober day is a gift.

I certainly respect and admire Mayfield’s determination to live among the urban poor. But I would also say that by giving up alcohol — even for social as opposed to moral reasons — she has chosen a less human way to live, like not reading secular novels because the members of your congregation can’t handle them. Reading books by non-Christians, paying honor to secular rulers, and drinking and eating in moderation are activities that Christians share with non-Christians. In other words, being spiritual (as some Christians understand it) is as noted before not a way to be fully human but one that reduces our creatureliness to cardboard cutout proportions. I still don’t see how the transformationalists of whatever variety are comfortable with the goodness of creation if culture (literature, politics, and food) needs to be redeemed before Christians can properly appreciate or engage it.

All About My Hyphenated Self

Since we have multiple callings that require us to juggle our various identities — I relate to my wife differently when wearing my hat as elder compared to when wearing my pajamas as husband — I was glad to see that I am also conflicted when it comes to politics. Time has a personality quiz that yielded the following results:

Liberal Qualities

You like cats more than dogs
You prefer documentaries over action movies
You use a modern browser
You prefer the Met to Times Square
You’re not completely proud of your country’s history

Conservative Qualities

You think kids should respect authority
You like a neat desk
You think self-control trumps self-expression
You’re not wild about fusion cuisine
You think the government should treat the lives of its citizens as much more valuable than those of other countries
You don’t think your partner should be looking at porn alone
You think the world benefits from nations and borders

That makes me 79 percent conservative and 21 percent liberal. And to think that some so-called conservative Protestants think 2kers are not only liberal but radical. Whom are you going to believe?

Pia Desideria

That title, the famous expression of Jacob Spener, the so-called father of pietism, came to mind when I read Richard Doster’s article at ByFaith, “Politics: Why Christians Must Be Involved.” (Thanks to Neoz for the link.) The reminder owes not so much to the contents of Spener’s book (though the connections between pietism and neo-Calvinism are striking — Christianity must make a visible difference on daily life). Instead, title itself, which has something to do with pious desires (or wishful thinking), is indicative of the tone of Doster’s article:

Christians, when rightly informed and motivated, change the character of political debate. They bring the moral standards of God’s kingdom into the civic realm and thereby become agents of His common grace — of His provision for those who believe as well as those who don’t.

“Forgiveness of sins is the central message of the gospel,” says theologian Wayne Grudem. “That’s the only way people’s hearts are truly transformed.” But that’s the opening of a fuller gospel story. The whole gospel, Grudem believes, includes a transformation. God’s grace changes people, and as a result they change everything around them. Families are renewed. Schools are rejuvenated. Businesses reorient their mission and purpose. What’s more, the gospel of Christ, because it changes hearts, changes the course of civil government.

When and where has this ever happened?

I don’t like to pull the expertise card, but I do know a little bit about the history of Protestantism and the record is never as stellar as the whoopers claim. Some good things happened here and there. But some good things happen in my home from time to time. Does that mean that Christianity has the wonder-working powers that Doster claims? And what about the times after the good times? What about America after Witherspoon, England after Wilberforce, Scotland after Chalmers, the Netherlands after Kuyper (not to mention Ephesus after Paul)?

At some point, dreamy accounts like this are going to need to show their homework. Until then, critics of the transformationalists will counter with articles like, “Knowledge: Why Christians Must be Informed.”

Who's Radical Now?

The Brothers Bayly are persistent in besmirching two-kingdom theology and its proponents but their latest swipe is rich indeed. They have reprinted a mysterious piece (impossible to find anywhere else on the Net) about the enormities of the Obama administration. Nathan Ed Schumacher is the author and Tim Bayly’s foreword runs ever charitably as follows:

This piece . . . demonstrates that the silence of Emergent and R2K men in the face of the wickedness and oppression in our public square is of the same fabric. Fear of man is a principle that knows no boundaries.

I keep wondering why fear of God pertaining to the ninth commandment, you know one of those laws that the Baylys would seem to want to prevail in the public square, does not inform the way these fellows write about Christians — not to mention officers — in the church. But I digress.

Schumacher, it seems, had a conversation with a graduate of a seminary on the West Coast – hmmm – about the woes of the nation and why more ministers were not speaking publicly about such matters. Schumacher contended with the seminary graduate that the difficulties facing the United States were not simply political but moral in nature. But the seminarian responded that the church should only speak to spiritual matters. Schumacher responded:

Here we have a spirituality radically disconnected from morality – an ethereal religion not connected to historic Christianity and its application of ethics to the real world. What kind of “spirituality” or theology is this that can disregard morals, ethics, and God’s Law and even silently abide open murder?

So what is Schumacher talking about when it comes to immorality in the United States? It turns out that morality is closely tied to politics.

We live in an astonishing time in America where the President is making open war domestically on the Constitution, and openly making unlawful wars internationally – such wars outlawed by the Constitution and long vested by the Rule of Law as war crimes and open murder – and formally recognized as such by the Nuremberg trials. When a President publicly usurps the Constitution, making an open show of violating its limits on exercising power, whether it be by his making illegal war, giving secret orders, punishing American soldiers for exposing truth, building secret prisons, operating torture chambers, running kidnapping operations (rendition), publicly asserting his right to kill American citizens with no trial or process, openly publicly stealing money via “bailouts”, taxing in violation of the Constitution, openly violating the Bill of Rights, creating illegal Federal agencies and programs, etc., ad nausem, then what does that mean according to the Principles of Law? It means, without question, that he has invoked the Law of Belligerents against the American people by acting as a belligerent upon the American people themselves, because publicly assaulting their Constitution is, in fact, an assault upon them. In other words, the President is openly making war upon the American people by these belligerent actions – actions which are open, public, and undeniable. If you don’t understand this, you are not paying attention. Our Constitution formally defines this as treason.

Schumacher’s solution is for the church to call a synod:

It is long past time for church Officers to convene formal and official church councils and synods all across this land to address the open lawlessness and public sin and crimes of what passes for “our government”- and to address the way forward. Nevertheless, it is probable that they can be expected to refuse to do this – and likely that they will always have a long list of lofty “spiritual reasons” as to why they cannot accept responsibility. But if church Officers, who are the official voices of moral authority, refuse to do this then there is a deafening silence and they cannot expect to be found faithful – and the rest of us will suffer the continuing consequences of their dereliction of duty – praying that God will raise up some “Thomas Beckets” who are jealous for the church, the Law of God, and who will have the courage to say “No” to our present political “king”.

In the comments on this post, the Baylys add a curious wrinkle to the clear overreach (clear according to what follows below). When one commentator brought up the example of the apostle Paul who did not seem to be overly upset by the rule or policies of Caligula, Tim and David ever lovingly responded:

. . . we don’t need to see it happening constantly with the Apostle Paul or John the Baptist or Jesus or Augustine or Calvin or Edwards or Machen in order to know that the R2K men are wrong when they oppose the church and her officers standing against theft, oppression, rampant gross immorality, the repudiation of the rule of law, and the massive bloodshed of the slaughter of hundreds of millions of wee ones.

When you find yourself arguing that John the Baptist is no model for pastors today, you should wonder whether, just maybe, your cowardice has gotten the best of your faith.

Two aspects of this response are striking. The first is the Bayly habit of hitting below the belt – that is, questioning masculinity rather than formulating an argument. The second is that the Bible really does not need to be our guide because the existing evils are so enormous. Paul, Jesus, and the rest of the apostles may not have led protests against their societies, but their silence is only an opening for the Baylys’ shouting. Never mind that a cardinal conviction of Reformed Protestantism is that officers in the church, whether individually or collectively, need a biblical warrant for using their authority.

I do wonder why the Baylys do not recognize how partisanly political their moral hectoring looks. It is not as if Obama is the first president to abuse the powers of the Constitution or propose questionable economic policies. Can the Baylys or Schumacher remember the former president’s apparent disregard for the Constitution in the Gulf War, the Medicare bailout, or the Patriot Act? Do they not know that Christians on the Left opposed Bush in terms remarkably similar to the way they castigate Obama, thus making party affiliation more than biblical interpretation the basis for moral posturing?

I also wonder if the Baylys have ever heard of the United States Civil War and the debates that Old School Presbyterians had over support for the federal government. The 1860s was a time of grave national crisis also driven by a hotly disputed moral issue and the Old School General Assembly of 1861 decided to address the matter through the clumsy Spring Resolution. Here we have a church doing exactly that for which Schumacher calls and the Baylys approve — an Assembly addressing a moral and political question. And yet, Charles Hodge, a man who voted for Lincoln, believed secession was treasonous, and that treason was immoral, opposed the church taking a stand on matters that literally broke the United States apart. Hodge wrote:

. . . a man who acts on the theory of secession, may be justly liable to the penalty of the civil law; he may be morally guilty in the sight of God; but he has committed no offense on which the church can take cognizance. We therefore are not inconsistent in asserting, 1. That secession is a ruinous political heresy. 2. That those who act on that doctrine, and throw off allegiance to the Constitution and the Union, are guilty of a great crime; and, 3. That nevertheless they are not amenable in this matter to the church. The question whether they are morally guilty, depends on the question whether their theory of the constitution is right. If they are right, they are heroes; if they are wrong, they are wicked rebels. But whether that theory is right or wrong it is not the province of the church to decide.

The reason why the church cannot decide such political and constitutional matters, even when morality is involved, is that the Bible does not address these topics. Hodge explained:

The church can only exercise her power in enforcing the word of God, in approving what it commands, and condemning what it forbids. A man, in the exercise of his liberty as to things indifferent, may be justly amenable to the laws of the land; and he may incur great guilt in the sight of God, but he cannot be brought under the censure of the church.

What the Baylys (as well as most critics of the spirituality of the church) miss is the distinction between morality and authority. The Baylys go knock-kneed whenever a 2k person suggests that a moral truth should not necessarily be advocated by the church. The Bayly logic seems to be that if it is right, then all authority must be used to execute the right. But biblical teaching would also prompt questions about who has authority to enforce the good. Just because I believe drivers who pass me on the right are wrong does not mean that I have power to pull those drivers over and lock them up in our basement. The Baylys desire to marshal the church’s power behind their interpretation of the Constitution (and their assessment of the culture wars) comes dangerously close to ecclesiastical vigilantism: the church can and should do whatever is right and not bother with the technicalities such as the confession of faith or Book of Church Order. Ironically, then, in the Baylys’ twisted logic, the very constitution of the church becomes expendable in the defense of the United States Constitution.

A related point that the Baylys miss is how radical their views are compared to the supposed radicality of 2k. Charles Hodge was by no means the most vociferous proponent of the spirituality of the church. But he could see the folly of positions like the Baylys on good 2k grounds. Hodge was not a radical and neither are 2k proponents. In contrast, the Baylys’ disregard for the constitution of their church and the teachings of their confession of faith several steps down the road to anarchy.

And they call 2kers antinomian? Call again.

Scott Clark Has a Point

(Or, show me your confessionalism!)

In Recovering the Reformed Confession, Scott Clark argues for and understanding of the Christian ministry and piety that informed the confessions of the Reformed churches pretty much all the way down to when Boy George (Whitefield) set foot in the North American British colonies. Among the points Clark makes is that the teachings affirmed and practices prescribed in the Reformed confessions are a better gauge of Reformed identity than the sort of zeal and experience that the likes of Whitefield encouraged and sought.

One way to test Clark’s argument is to ask by what measure do we evaluate a college that claims to be Protestant. Some who are sharply critical of Clark have recently faulted one of the leading evangelical institutions on two grounds: first, a majority of the faculty voted for Barack Obama; second, its teachers education program encourages students to embrace notions of tolerance and diversity that various secular state teachers’ agencies affirm, thus forcing Christian college education majors into a secular mold of “social justice.” (The same critics of Clark have faulted Covenant College for its faculty’s support for Obama in the 2008 presidential contest.)

What does not seem to matter in such evaluations is whether the college’s faculty are members or attend churches where the Reformed creeds are the confessional standard. In fact, one could well imagine a college qualifying as a flagship institution because it was consistently pro-Republican (as long as the pro-life plank of the platform was in place) and minimally doctrinal. If memory serves, this was exactly the kind of place that Wheaton College was before 1990. Culturally activist while doctrinally tolerant on dogmatic minutia is likely the ideal for Clark’s critics, meaning that creeds and confessions do not matter significantly when evaluating Christian higher education.

So why do such critics object if the confessionalist shoe does not fit? It isn’t an accusation of infidelity (though it has implications for this.) It is simply a question of definition: do the creeds inform the way you assess Christianity or do you have a different list of allegiances and personalities that in effect constitute your confession? If you are confessional you are going to evaluate Christian institutions and expressions on the basis of the creeds, as well as the health of the communions with which an institution affiliates. But if you are more inclined, in this case, to Whitefield and Edwards, you end up criticizing a school for its politics. In other words, pietism generates activism; while confessionalism nurtures perseverance.

Put another way, a confessional “world view” (as much as I hate the phrase) esteems the cult and the culture in inversely proportional relations. The higher one’s view of the creeds, the less one cares about politics. And the more one cares about culture, the less the creeds matter.

Makes sense to this confessionalist.

The Bible against the Gospel?

How could that be? Well, one answer is that it happens whenever you read the Bible through the lens of politics, whether conservative, liberal, or the make-believe category of independent. We first noted the appearance of The American Patriots’ Bible here. Now Richard Gamble, the OPC elder who teaches American history at Hillsdale College and is not to be confused with Richard C. Gamble, the Covenanter pastor, has reviewed the patriotic scriptures for The American Conservative magazine. The entire review is worth reading, but this is a particularly apt section:

A nationalized Bible would seem in effect to reverse the story of redemption. At the core of Christianity is a message that the gospel of salvation is flung wide open to all peoples regardless of nationality, race, or language. The day of Pentecost made that truth clear. While Christianity has inevitably taken on national accents as it has encountered culture after culture over the past 2,000 years, it is a universal faith. Why, then, take that transnational faith and fuse it with an earthly Caesar and empire by setting it side by side in pages of Holy Writ with a particular nation’s history and identity, as if Christianity belonged to Americans in a special and intimate way not true of other people? This Bible by its very existence distorts the gospel. As Augustine says in The City of God, the “heavenly city, while it sojourns on earth, calls citizens out of all nations, and gathers together a society of pilgrims of all languages…”

Beyond what the editor and the publisher intended, The American Patriot’s Bible is deeply American. It takes to a new level the remaking of Scripture into a marketable consumer good, a trend underway in the United States since at least the invention of the modern steam press in the early 19th century. (See R. Lawrence Moore’s Selling God.) It also exemplifies the irony of American Protestants, who adhere to the sufficiency of Scripture for faith and life yet find the unadorned text of that Word not so sufficient after all. And finally, it provides further evidence of how theologically ill-equipped one dominant strand of American Christianity has been over the past few hundred years to know how to sojourn in America, how to conceive of the United States as part of the City of Man and of the church as a stranger in a strange land.