I am grateful to Brian Kaylor, a contributing editor at EthicsDaily.com, for making me aware of a recent development at the Thomas Nelson publishing house. Thomas Nelson is one of the largest Christian publishers in America, and one of the leading publishers of Bibles. It’s their most recent Bible product that is a source of concern.
Billed as “The American Patriot’s Bible,” the Nelson folks have put together a volume of the Bible that presents Scripture in the context of American history. In a promotional piece, spokesman Richard G. Lee wrote, “Joining with the sacred text are stories of American heroes, quotations from many of America’s greatest thinkers and beautiful illustrations that present the rich heritage and tremendous future of our nation. If you love America and the Scriptures, you will treasure this Bible.”
The pages of this new Bible are also filled with pictures celebrating America’s military history. In fact, according to one critic Kaylor talked to, it was shocking to see pictures of military activity featured at the beginning of the Gospels.
Greg Boyd, author of “The Myth of a Christian Nation” and also senior pastor of Woodland Hills Church in St. Paul, Minn., said, “When you consider the uniform and emphatic teaching of Christ and the New Testament authors that followers of Jesus are called to love and do good to our enemies, laying down our lives for them if necessary, this overt celebration of America’s violent victories over our national enemies is absolutely stunning.”
Sadly, it’s not hard to figure out who the target audience is for this Bible. There exists a largely misinformed and uninformed group of Christians who believe America was founded as a Christian nation. With ties to an old British group once known as the Christian Identity movement, there are even those who believe that America is God’s new chosen people, a new Israel. Their prayer is “God Bless America.”
But that’s where the problem begins. Someone could argue that we are a Christian nation simply because there is a Christian majority. However, that does not mean that ours is the only viable form of Christianity in the world. There are millions and millions of Christians who are not Americans. It is arrogant to think that America commands some unique position in relation to the Christian message.
Traditional Christian theology has taught that all nations are under God’s judgment. This is because there is not a political or economic arrangement that fully captures the vision for justice and mercy that God demands—and there never will be. The best any form of government can hope to do is approximate God’s will.
Consequently, from a theological standpoint, there is no way the biblical record should be placed side by side with American history. They are not the same story. America is not part of the biblical story. To suggest otherwise is nothing less than spiritual arrogance and ignorance on a grand scale.
In Sunday school as children we all memorized John 3:16. That verse teaches us that God loves the whole world. Not just parts of it, not just the baptized Bible-reading corners of it, but all of it. That means our prayer must be “God bless the world,” not just America.
It is good for us to worship God and celebrate our faith. It is also good to know and celebrate American history. It is also vitally important to know that the two are not the same.
James L. Evans is pastor of Auburn First Baptist Church in Auburn, Ala.