April 29, 2009

American Patriots and the Bible?

"THE ONE BIBLE THAT SHOWS HOW 'A LIGHT FROM ABOVE' SHAPED OUR NATION. Never has a version of the Bible targeted the spiritual needs of those who love our country more than The American Patriot's Bible. This extremely unique Bible shows how the history of the United States connects the people and events of the Bible to our lives in a modern world. The story of the United States is wonderfully woven into the teachings of the Bible and includes a beautiful full-color family record section, memorable images from our nation's history and hundreds of enlightening articles which complement the New King James Version Bible text."

This is the sales pitch for one of the newest Bibles from Thomas Nelson Publishers, The American Patriot's Bible.

Before I say anything, let me say that I am grateful to have been born in America and I do love my country when it's at its best. I'm in debt to the men and women of the armed forces who have sacrificed everything for our sake. What I'm about to say is in no way a denegration of their service or the service of others who've sacrificed to make our country great.

That being said, a Bible such as this is misleading at best and idolatrous at worst.

America is not a "Christian" nation. We are a secular democracy with a large number of Christians in it. Our founders were not Evangelical Christians. Many, if not most, of them were Deists. From Thomas Paine's repudiation of the God of the Bible to Thomas Jefferson's neutering of the New Testament, it's easy to see that the desire to paint our forefathers--who were AMAZING statesmen and country-builders!--as saintly devotees to Jesus can often override the actual record of history.

The fact is that this nation's history is not one of a shining beacon of hope, a New Jerusalem, a city on a hill, or any other hagiographic ideal. For every example of national goodness, there is one of national evil. One cannot merely brush aside historical realities such as the genocide and displacement of Native Americans, colonial slavery, Jim Crowe laws, Chinese labor abuse by the railroads, or the heretical notion of Manifest Destiny as minor blemishes on an otherwise spotless record.

No. Judgment begins in the house of the Lord! We must take a long hard look at our nation's past...and present...and steer clear of any self-aggrandizing or revisionist history which would downplay our corporate guilt. Wrapping the text of Scripture in a "God-and-country-America-the-beautiful" packaging is either extremely naive or extremely blasphemous...or possibly both.

Jesus was crystal clear in stating that His Kingdom "is not of this world" and that He would belong to no political ideology or nationalistic patriot movements, even among His fellow Israelites. In fact, this is in large part why the same crowd that praised Him as Israel's long-awaited conquering king on Palm Sunday became disallusioned and called for His crucifixion on Good Friday. Pharisees and Zealots were the two main patriotic parties within 1st century Judaism...and Jesus openly rebuked their "God-and-country" ideology, which was one of the reasons they were able to persuade the crowds to call for His death. (For more on this, see the extremely detailed historical work by N.T. Wright on Jesus' clash with the powers of His day in "Jesus and the Victory of God".)

Despite the rhetoric we find on the lips of many, Jesus is not Right-Wing. Jesus is not Republican. Jesus is not an American Patriot.

And despite the rhetoric of the other end of the political spectrum, it's equally false that Jesus is Left-Wing, a Democrat, or an America-hater.

Jesus will not be dragged into any of our petty political squabbles. Nor will He favor the citizens of one nation over those of another. His Church permeates all kingdoms and cultures and it is that Church to which we ultimately belong, regardless of our particular national or ethnic pride.

Throughout the last two millennia, various nations have tried to co-opt the Bible in order to bolster their political power or appeal to the Christians in their midsts. But any Bible which seeks to infuse ideological, political, personal, or cultural views with the timeless truths of Scripture is on dangerous ground. When it comes to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, the American flag has no more significance or pride of placement than that of Honduras, New Zealand, Angola or Vietnam. Yet I have a feeling that many of the same critics of translations such as the TNIV, NLT or NRSV which try to translate culturally as well as grammatically are likely the target demographic for this newest moneymaking attempt by the publisher.

I'm sure the publishers, editors and contributors to this project have the highest intentions and truly desire to spread the Gospel to everyone, in this case, the niche market of "Patriots". But as someone whose life is devoted to the full-time study and teaching of the Inspired texts, and who has also has seen firsthand the lack of access among many Christians around the world to a good translation of the Bible, much less a good study Bible, I feel a mixture of annoyance, outrage, saddness and grief when I continue to see bookstores throughout America filled with such marketing gimmicks. Most of them are either silly (The "Rainbow Study Bible") or sentimental (The Soldier's/Fireman's/Policeman's/Sportsman's/Sailor's/Couples/Precious Moments Bibles), and are therefore often benign. However, one that perpetuates the myth that America is "God's Country" and furthers the stereotype of Christianity as being a Western or Euro-American religion is irresponsible...and borderline idolatrous.

For a great take on being a faithful Christian without falling into the trap of political ideology, check out "How to Be Evangelical Without Being Conservative" by Roger Olson.

1 comment:

BrotherB said...

Right on! I share your deep respect for the men and women of the armed forces, states-persons, and civil servants and love for this country where we are free to meet and worship the Lord of all. However, I've experienced that same mixture of emotions on Sundays that fall adjacent to Independance Day when visiting a church that has decided to wrap nationalist pride up with religion. We need to keep or regain our focus as the Church.

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