Kingdom of Priests

Over at Crunchy Con, Rod points us to a fascinating Christianity Today review of a new Bible version with a commentary promoting American patriotism on Biblical grounds. Rod is unimpressed by the concept behind The American Patriot’s Bible: “To the extent that this Bible’s publishers conflate serving Christ with patriotism, thereby implying that a Christian might never have to make that choice, they are corrupt, and corrupters.” 

Now I’m all in agreement that fondly imagining there’s no choice to make between religious and secular ideas is a form of corruption — hence my own impatience with “theistic evolution” and “BioLogos,” with their lulling assurance that we needn’t choose between belief in Darwin’s blind, purposeless evolutionary mechanism and coherent, meaningful belief in God.
But asked if patriotism among Christian Americans may properly claim religious justification, I would have to say yes, absolutely so. Maybe a Jew, looking at things from the perspective of the Hebrew Bible, can see this more clearly than a Christian. 
A book I’d like to write someday would be titled something like, What’s So Special about American Christianity, and Why: A Jew Explains. It’s not merely that America is the most philo-Semitic country in the world, ever. Nor is it simply that a Jew is altogether safer to practice Judaism, less encumbered by prejudice against it, even blessed with encouragement to Jewish observance, than he would be in any other nation — possibly including the modern state of Israel herself! This is not an argument from personal convenience, nor even just from simple, healthy gratitude.

Much more than that, it says something about American Christianity’s orientation toward the God of the Hebrew Bible. Christianity Today’s reviewer, Pastor Greg Boyd, chides the new Bible commentary: 

The central assumption that undergirds the Patriot’s Bible is that America is, in a unique sense, a nation established, governed, blessed and protected by God. Throughout the Patriot’s Bible, but especially in the Old Testament, an explicit parallel is drawn between Israel and America….

A question never addressed in the Patriot’s Bible is why anyone, American or otherwise, should agree with any of this. The Patriot’s Bible never tires of offering the reader quotes from various famous people in American history who believed all of this, but this simply begs the question.

Pastor Greg’s denunciation reaches its crescendo with a somehow predictable charge of idol worship: “This version of the Bible virtually incarnates the nationalistic idolatry that has afflicted the Church for centuries.”
Whether America’s earliest settlers had a theological right to identify with ancient Israel is one question. Whether that identification produced a result in the form of a persistent, if not always perfectly consistent, thread of warm feelings toward Jews and Judaism is beyond doubt. It explains why America today is both Israel’s and the Jews’ best friend. The friendship is based on overlapping frameworks of spiritual values. May God grant that we should both, on the Christian and the Jewish sides, continue to be worthy of it.
Did God somehow select America to play this role? I have no idea. Maybe nations make friends like people do — from personal affinity. But the practical reality is that our country — and I say this despite being a Jew first and an American second — has taken upon itself the role of international benevolent benefactor of the Jews. American Christians are largely responsible for that. American atheists certainly aren’t. Whatever stains of anti-Semitism there are in American history, they are minor in the context of this bigger picture.
If you take to heart the Hebrew Bible’s designation of the Jews as uniquely chosen to fulfill a world historical role as the “kingdom of priests” (Exodus 19:6), then the Gentile nation that uniquely gives Jews the friendship and protection to make our doing so possible is surely playing a major part in God’s plans for humanity. To that extent, supporting America, even in her wars, is supporting God’s providential design. 
Obviously, that doesn’t make everything America does right. Nor, in the context of private life, would I say that my own personal friends never err. Yet I try to warmly support them in their life struggles as best I can. I love them. God forbid that I should condemn them, as some Americans condemn America. Sometimes I disagree with their choices, and often, as a friend, I’ve come to realize I have to hold my tongue from chiding. In my relationships, that lesson has come hard to me. I’m still trying to learn it.
When God called Abraham from Ur, he promised that the patriarch’s children, the Jews, would grow to become “a great nation” in commerce with the other “families of the earth”: “I will bless those who bless you, and him who curses you I will curse” (Genesis 12:2-3). Under that Biblical criterion, no Gentile nation and no national version of any non-Jewish religion could be more blessed by God than America and American Christianity.
This is not only a Jewish idea. The promise was directed to non-Jews, and Christians find it enshrined in their own Bible.
I haven’t seen the Patriot’s Bible so I’m obviously not endorsing its commentary in detail. But its “central assumption” that God’s purposes are being served through America, uniquely among all the nations of the world, seems unarguable. To feel patriotism toward such a country, whether you are a Jew or a Christian, would only be appropriate. To fail to do so would be churlish indeed.
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