Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Book Review: The American Patriot's Bible

Dear Thomas Nelson Publishers:

I regret to inform you that a printing disaster appears to have occurred. Some prankster on your factory floor has shuffled together two books: the Bible and someone’s reflection on how America is (or at least was once) a Christian nation. Somehow, the pages from these two books have been intertwined and bound together in one volume bearing the amalgam label The American Patriot’s Bible. I strongly encourage you to correct this problem immediately, as not doing so could lead to a great deal of confusion about the proper separation between the City of God and the city of man.

Thank you for your time,

Coyle Neal

The temptation to actually send that letter is quite overwhelming…

Okay, so, The American Patriot’s Bible. (Which I assume is some sort of companion piece to the forthcoming Canadian Patriot’s Bible, Chinese Patriot’s Bible, etc.) This book is, well, a King James Version of the Bible with notes and asides dedicated to showing the importance of the Bible and Christianity in American history. In fact, the editor’s introduction states that the Bible was the source of the answers to the political problems engaged by the Founding Fathers, and that “It has proven itself over and over again in the formation and continuance of the greatest nation in history, the United States of America.”
I will not be reviewing the Bible. Instead, I’ll restrict my comments to the “American Patriot” part of the book.

Structurally, this is not so much a “study Bible” as it is a “Bible with notes and asides inserted throughout.” That is, there are few commentaries made on individual texts. Instead, sprinkled through the book are short essays and quotes loosely related to occasionally Biblical topics. For example, “The Right to Keep and Bear Arms” (pg 17) discusses the importance of owning firearms as a means of the preservation of liberty, and suggests that the colonial rebellion against King George “may have had its roots in the Old Testament accounts of Israel’s wars for freedom.” This essay includes a citation on the side—Genesis 14:14 “And when Abram heard that his brother was taken captive, he armed his trained servants, born in his own house, three hundred and eighteen, and pursued them unto Dan.” Which, to be fair, does involve weapons, so I guess there’s a link there…
Anyway, the point is, this is really not a study Bible, it’s more of a mash-up of Scripture and devotional reflections on some of the events of and ideas about American history.

(Reminder: I am not writing a review of the Bible. My comments here are directed at the commentary only.)
This book is troublesome and ultimately unhelpful on both a personal (as a Christian) and professional (as a political scientist and historian) level.
Not to bog this down with academic jargon, I’ll just briefly point out the historical fallacy that lies at the heart of the book. It is true that Christianity (specifically Protestant Christianity) was the most important philosophy/idea/theology/whatever on the Founding generation of Americans. It is not true that it was the only philosophy that affected and united them. English liberalism, Whig constitutionalism, Scots Enlightenment, and numerous others all impacted the founders and affected the ideas that worked their way into American government. For example, the rights of life and liberty are first articulated in the writings of the English liberal John Locke. It was through him that they worked their way into the Declaration of Independence, not through theological reflection on the Bible.

And, well, that’s enough on the academic side of things. I’ll save that for the classroom.

Much more important is that as a Christian, I believe this book is virtually without redeeming value. There are two reasons for this:

-First, the book assumes that America is a Christian nation. I think we can even go a bit farther and say that tenor of the book is that the editors believe that America is God’s nation. It almost as if the editors had not read Hebrews 11, where we are reminded that God’s people are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth,” who “seek a country… a better country, that is, an heavenly city.” (Hebrews 11:13-16) As Christians, our home is not in this world. We are rather pilgrims on our way to our true home, God’s true country where he has prepared a city in which we can live for all eternity.
Of course it’s true that as Christians we hold a dual citizenship. We are citizens of two kingdoms until we arrive at that heavenly city. While I wait for heaven, I am commanded to be a good citizen in whatever nation I dwell here on earth, even as I remember that that nation is a temporary and passing affair, with only a limited role to play in my life and in the history of the world. What I am strictly not to do is to confuse my current, temporary nation with my eternal home. Jesus makes this clear when he commands us to “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mark 12:17) Which, ironically, this book turns on its head with a side-note suggesting that “The choice before us is plain: Christ or chaos… America’s future depends upon her accepting and demonstrating God’s government.” (pg 1142) Where Jesus drew a distinction between God and Caesar, the editors would blend the two back together.

-Second, and much more importantly, there is no Gospel present in this book. It’s almost as if, in their rush to demonstrate how Biblical America is, the editors forgot the point of the Bible itself.  The essays, notes, and asides are all somewhere on the spectrum between sappy moralizing and rigid legalism, mostly falling on the latter end of that spectrum. Numerous examples of this could be cited, but perhaps the best example is the first one. In the introductory “Seven Principles of the Judeo-Christian Ethic” (which comes in the first couple of pages, before even the title page), the author writes:

“This principle of the Abrahamic covenant states that if a person or a nation obeys God, observing the moral truths found in the Bible, that person or nation will be blessed. If they disobey, they will bring punishment upon themselves. For most of our nation’s history, Americans have accepted the belief that good deeds produce good results and that people who were “God-fearing” in language and lifestyle would be blessed by Him.”
And, having talked about sin, what a further wonderful opportunity (which the editors do not take) to talk about the forgiveness that comes from the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ: where all of that sin and guilt is taken off of us and put on the cross and finished, and in its place we are given new life. This, at least according to the Apostle Paul, is the true meaning of the covenant promise to Abraham in Genesis 15 (see Galatians 3:14 for that). The meaning of the Abrahamic covenant is not that nations will be blessed if they obey God, but that in Christ we will be blessed despite our sin having earned us punishment.

And, hopefully that’s enough. I could continue to rant, but I’m not sure that would be constructive. I cannot in good conscience recommend this book.


I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers. Clearly, they did not pay me to write a good review of it.

4 comments:

  1. Just commenting to say I think this was an excellent review- though I doubt this 'Bible' was aimed at me as a non-American anyway. I've been taught that scripture makes it clear that there is only one 'chosen nation' and that was (and is) Israel, not America. For anything else to be proclaimed is a gross distortion of scripture.

    Furthermore, I think I must agree with what you say about the non-Christian influences behind the establishment of America. Indeed, is it not true that some of the founding fathers of the USA had leanings towards Deism rather than Christianity?

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  2. I think we can go a step farther and say that MOST of the American Founding Fathers had deistic (or even Unitarian) inclinations. There were exceptions who were what today would be considered Evangelical Christians (Witherspoon, Patrick Henry, Sam Adams, probably being the biggest names in that last), but all of the most recognizable ones were openly not Christian.

    Thanks for reading and commenting!

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    1. That's OK. I'm actually British by the way, so according to this Bible would that make me a minion of Antichrist?

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    2. Haha, nope. I think you're mostly ignored (though it's been a while, so I couldn't say for sure).

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