To the relative neglect of heeding the gospel call by the Host of heaven on his terms, there are all sorts of felt needs to be met on man’s terms. They range from the trivial and petty to the evolved and sophisticated. One of the dangers for Presbyterians who tend to easily recognize the former in popular expressions of religion is to miss it when it comes to questions of statecraft, holding out that holy writ really does have something directly to say about how we order public life. Yes, Joel Osteen is a problem. But how often are other names named or otherwise identified? When do we raise our hands when certain political ideologies, if yet popularized and closer to trivial than sophisticated, stand to bask in the soft glow of heavenly sanction? At least one Presbyterian is appropriately skeptical:
Publication of The American Patriot’s Bible ought to provoke a much needed debate in the United States about the church’s right relationship to civil society. This Bible may become a landmark in that debate, clarifying the issues as never before, forcing people to recognize the degree to which Americanism has penetrated Christianity. An Augustinian perspective may help frame that conversation. In Book XIX of The City of God, the Bishop of Hippo explained in which areas there can be peace and in which there must be conflict between the earthly and the heavenly cities. Christian and non-Christian have a common interest in earthly peace, good order, and the “necessaries of life.” But in matters of worship, Augustine wrote, the Christian was forced to “dissent” from the earthly city. The limits of the common life had been reached. The Christian was forced “to become obnoxious to those who think differently, and to stand the brunt of their anger and hatred and persecutions…” Praising piety and faith in general alongside remnants of the historic Christian faith, The American Patriot’s Bible combines the things of God and the things of Caesar at the very point where they most vigilantly need to be kept apart. When the City of Man sets up Americanism as its faith, the Christian is forced to dissent.