Peter J. Leithart on the Heresy of Americanism

From a Trevin Wax interview regarding Leithart’s latest book, Between Babel and Beast: America and Empire in Biblical Perspective:

Americanism has a way of reading the Bible (with America sometimes playing a prominent role in the biblical story as the “new Israel”), an eschatology (America is the “new order of the ages” and the “last best hope of mankind”), a doctrine of political salvation (everyone becomes like us, and all will be well), and, since the civil war, a view of sacrifice (American soldiers give their lives, and take the lives of enemies, to make the world peaceful and free).


The practical effect of Americanism is that it blinds Christians to the real evils that America has perpetrated and also obscures the central importance of the church as God’s empire on earth. Americanism encourages Christians to support the American cause no matter what, because the future of the world depends on America. Even when we’re bombing civilians or sending billions of dollars in military aid to Muslim dictators, Christians still wave the flag and sing America’s praises. And for some Christians, criticism of America is almost tantamount to apostasy.

A few ways to combat Americanism:

…teaching the Bible means teaching Christians that they are Christians first before they are Americans; it means teaching them that their Christian brothers in Iran and Iraq are closer “kin” than American unbelievers. Teaching the Bible means attacking the idolatries associated with Americanism. Teaching the Bible means teaching people not to kill, even if the American government says it’s OK.


Another obvious thing: Practice church discipline. Pastors need to be willing to enforce biblical standards, even if those biblical standards come into direct conflict with American interests and aims. According to the just war tradition to which I adhere, killing in war is just only if the war is just. When was the last time Christians judged an American war to be unjust? As Bill Cavanaugh says, the church needs to re-assert its authority to tell Christians when they can and cannot kill. We’ve ceded that authority to the state. One of the difficulties here is that the American church is absurdly fragmented. For its authority to be weighty, Christians need to be pursuing reconciliation.

This is excellent stuff, though I can see it ruffling more than a few feathers. If what Leithart says intrigues you, then you might want to check out Gregory Boyd’s thought-provoking — and provocative — The Myth of a Christian Nation: How the Quest for Political Power Is Destroying the Church.

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