Richard Gamble on the American Patriot’s Bible

Richard Gamble has written a blistering review of The American Patriot’s Bible. Gamble is dead-on in his thoughts about evangelicals, civil religion, and the abuse of both the Bible and American history among so many politically conservative evangelicals, including not a few Southern Baptists. Almost every semester I have a student or two in my Baptist history classes who argue that America is a Christian nation, the notion of a free church in a free state is a pagan concept, etc. One day a student complained in another professor’s class that I was teaching that church and state should be separate. He asked my colleague what he thought. The professor said that he agreed with me because “our people” tend to get drowned in “Christian nations.” Amen!

For what it’s worth, the wife of a good friend of mine was horrified to receive a free copy of this book at an event during the SBC Annual Meeting in Louisville. She saw it as a key commentary on why Southern Baptists need a Great Commission Resurgence–because too many of us have become distracted by a desire to return America to her “Christian roots” (among other distractions) rather than laboring for the sake of the gospel so that more Americans (and people from every tribe, tongue, and nation) will become Christians. I agree 100%.

(I would also recommend you read Gamble’s fantastic book The War for Righteousness: Progressive Christianity, the Great War, and the Rise of the Messianic Nation. Conservatives are not the only one who use Christian jargon and spurious history to advance a political agenda.)

HT: Robbie Sagers, pinch-hitting @ Between Two Worlds

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  18Comments

  1. David Rogers   •  

    Nathan,

    Thanks for posting this. From a missiological point of view, I see this as pure syncretism. It is a shame and a very real danger for the church in the U.S. that so many are blind to this.

  2. kschaub   •  

    Such a BIG obstacle.

    Thanks for posting this Dr/Deacon Finn. :)

  3. Pingback: distraction from the Gospel « Interstitial

  4. kamatu   •  

    The only way I could see to make a case for America as a Christian nation would be to consider the Founders to be setting up a country where faith could flourish and leaving the calling of the elect to God. The US Constitution was supposed to stop civil and religious tyranny and allow each man to make his own choices.

    Reading the review, the attempt to fold the Roman Catholics in sounds strange, since even when JFK was elected there was still the fear that the Pope would command him on how to perform his duties. So, I guess we are now to a Protestant Christian nation.

    While there are other strands of thought, the two best theories IMO call the USA a Presbyterian republic or Masonic republic. Mainly because the “governmental” relationships between the local, regional and federal levels are similar with checks and balances, but I’m not aware of any direct ties for this. The Founders were aware of both groups and could have just as easily been “lifting” the ideas they found good as they crafted the new government. I find this idea useful in talking to people who are convinced about the pop “Christian America”.

  5. Nathan Finn   •     Author

    Robert Masters,

    Apparently, I accidentally deleted your comment. But rest assured I am also quite familiar with the writings of the founding fathers–including the evangelicals, the high churchmen, the masons, the deists, and the Unitarians. Some of them were Christians. None of them argued that America is a “Christian nation” in the same sense as, say, most of Europe. They envisioned a free church in a free state and took specific measures to ensure as much. In this case, I’m afraid you are more “Geneva” than “Southern Baptist.” Gamble gets this one right.

    There will be no truly Christian nation until the kingdoms of this world become the kingdom of our Lord of His Christ.

    NAF

  6. Nathan Finn   •     Author

    Kamatu,

    Agreed. I tend to think both Presbyterianism and Masonic polity influenced American polity. I think the founders were all theists, and they adhered to a basically “Judeo-Christian” worldview. But none of this a Christian nation makes.

    NAF

  7. Robert I Masters   •  

    Nathan,
    That was pretty convenient…..the deleting of the post!

    1. why do you believe the cultural mandate has been rescinded…
    Southern Baptist Chuck Colson does not….why do you?

    2. Dr D.James Kennedy taught and believed in the Twin Mandates of the Cultural and Gospel…why was he wrong?

    3.We in Tenn have codified this in law…..all new immigrants to Tenn are taught that this nation was founded as a Christian Nation. Yes even the Muslim ones!

    From the Son of a missionary killed by cannibals
    Robert I Masters

    P.S…. still waiting for an answer on why we should expect Gods Blessing on the GCR when we sell the idol of The Shack book?

  8. Joel Rainey   •  

    Bravo NAthan! Our tendency as evangelicals over the past 30 years or so has been to think that if we just get the “right guy” in the White House/Senate/Congress/Governor’s Mansion, that the mission will be executed via the civil authorities, and this mindset of America as a “Christian Nation” is exactly what lies behind this thought. To be sure, or founding principles were steeped in Christian principles. . .what most don’t realize is that those among those principles was the creation of an environment that recognized that forced conversion is no conversion at all. Thanks for pointing out the fatal–if well-meaning–flaws in the “Patriot’s Bible”

  9. Dawson   •  

    Nice post – Nationalism is a dangerous and seductive political identity. I learned first hand how it can confuses things in Turkey.. Veritas Bro..
    Blessing to You and Your better half..

  10. Nathan Finn   •     Author

    Robert,

    No conspiracy. In fact, I even hit the “approve” button for your comment (or so I thought) . . . and yet, your comment is not here. But since you were kind enough to reproduce the heart of it, here goes:

    1. I do not believe the cultural mandate has been rescinded. In fact, I am a strong proponent of it. But I am not a theocrat, and the cultural mandate does not necessitate that I be. The cultural mandate has to do with much, much, much more than politics anyway. As for Chuck Colson, what he thinks about these matters is inconsequential to me, though having read several of his books I am not convinced he would agree with your theocratic tendencies. But I may be wrong in that.

    2. I have great appreciation for Evangelism Explosion and other facets of Kennedy’s ministry, but his understanding of American history was exactly the type of thing Gamble was critiquing. It doesn’t make Kennedy a bad man, but it does make him a bad historian and it does mean he had some theocratic tendencies (though even in the case of Kennedy I am not sure you can show he was an out-and-out theocrat in the same sense as, say theonomists, etc.).

    3. Many states codified this language into law. And it’s very quotable. And yet, they meant what I mean, not what you mean (except early on in New England–though incidentally, they supplied a hefty amount of the deists, masons, and Unitarians). As with Scripture, you must interpret and not merely proof-text. There was a broadly Judeo-Christian worldview–and that led them, along with some other influences, to advocate a free church in a free state.

    Your PS is not germain at all to this topic. Furthermore, it has nothing to do with the GCR. Your quarrel is with LifeWay, so I suggest you craft a letter to the appropriate party at that entity.

    NAF

  11. Robert I Masters   •  

    Nathan Finn,
    Who said anything about theocracy…not me! Stating that we are Christian Nation is simply to state the truth.

    Dr Kennedy did believe America was a Christian Nation..

    http://store.coralridge.org/ProductDetails.aspx?pc=107021

    Lifeway is a Southern Baptist Entity and accountable to God first; then the people of the SBC.
    Now will you answer the question as how the GCR, an initiative in the SBC, expects to be successful when worship other gods by selling The Shack.

    Robert I Masters
    From the Southern Baptist Geneva

    BTW…..I do not see Presbyterians drowning any Baptists today so what I am really saying is this in my title.
    http://www.founders.org/library/reform.html

  12. Robert I Masters   •  

    Nathan,
    You really should have a better argument!

    Here is a good page of some better thoughts concerning this issue.

    http://tinyurl.com/pwl23a

    I agree with Douglas Wilson on this point….It appears that Anabaptist confusion is to blame for many of these fallacies.

    Robert I Masters
    From the Southern Baptist Geneva

  13. Robert Dando   •  

    I am SO glad you have highlighted this issue.

    I wonder if anyone at the publishers thought what the impact of such an “Americanised” Bible might be on suffering Christians around the world and on missionaries in many countries where they have to constantly point out that the gospel is not about Western culture but about universal truths.

    As a visiting Brit, when i saw this in a Barnes and Noble in Va I was shocked and horrified because of the damage such a thing can do – and of course that doesn’t include the damage it will do to those who read it who will mistake nationalism for the gospel and be surprised on the day of judgement.

    Rob

  14. Robert Dando   •  

    Oh and by the way – I’m not being anti-American in my comments. after all, for centuries we thought we were “God’s own country”, and look where it got us! :)

  15. Nathan Finn   •     Author

    Robert Masters,

    To state we are a Christian nation is historically inaccurate and is a form of theocracy, even if a “soft” form. I’d rather wait for the real thing, under Jesus’ rule, when human sin won’t botch the whole thing up. As for Douglas Wilson, I am familiar with his arguments and, like virtually all historians–including most believing historians of which I am aware–I remain unpersuaded.

    As for the Shack, again, your quarrel lies elsewhere. But I would suggest your logic is faulty on at least one point–to sell the book is not to worship a false god, even if the book does in fact portray one (and FWIW, I think it does). There are many sins and shortcomings among the people called Southern Baptist, including me. I remain hopeful that God will visit us with revival, perhaps even in the form of a GCR, and that as he does so we will each of us confront our sins and shortcomings and that our whole Convention of churches will be the healthier for it.

    Thanks for engaging, but if you don’t mind, I’m past ready to move on from this topic. Any more attempts to hijack the post with distractions (i.e. The Shack) will be deleted and not see the light of day. Take it somewhere else.

    NAF

  16. kamatu   •  

    Brother Masters, I will say that I also had a post accidentally deleted recently and Brother Finn was most apologetic.

    While I concur with you that the SBC has a number of issues organizationally where Christian charity has been allowed to slip towards license, I also strongly concur with Brother Finn that America is not a “Christian Nation” in the way it is popularly pushed. I’d only go so far as saying that it is a Christian nation in that the form of the republic and Constitution are conducive to free belief. The founders were mainly Christians (including some of the theist/deist camp who felt their beliefs were private) who were Calvinist. They set up a place where Christianity was supposed to be free to flourish without interference from the government or priests.

  17. Eugene R. Schlesinger   •  

    Dr. Finn,
    Agree wholeheartedly with your analysis.
    I will say, though, that the sort of angry/fundamentalist/conservative-for-conservatism’s-sake rancor found in some of your interlocutors’ comments is one of the chief reasons that younger Southern Baptists are disillusioned by the Convention.

    ERS

  18. Chris Poe   •  

    Dr. Finn,

    During my short lived stint as a Southern Baptist after previously having been a Presbyterian for several years, more than once I joked that a “trade” of those who are essentially of a theonomist or theocratic outlook in Baptist life (whether SBC or Reformed Baptist) for all of the so-called “Baptists” in the PCA would be a good thing. What you note in your post only reinforces the point. Of course it would be better to come to a healthier perspective on these issues.

    This confusion goes back at least to what has been called the Constantinian Change in which church and state were combined, but more recently it is the fruit of 30 years of often unbalanced activism that has largely amounted to a “conservative” social gospel, complete with muting sola fide, sola scriptura, and in some cases, the exclusive claims of Christ lest it upset others in the coalition. (ECT of course is exhibit A.) As you note with the reference to Dr. Gamble’s book on progressivism, this latter day social gospel is no more biblical than the old liberal one.

    P.S. Earlier I sent you a note about Dr. Gamble’s “War for Righteousness” forgetting that I had learned about it here to begin with!

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