June 30, 2014
If you define life based on your Christian faith, your calendar declares a major time-out when Christmas and Easter come ‘round. If your life is more defined by national boundaries – and, if you’re an American – this is your week: come Friday, we’ll celebrate Independence Day, on the 4th of July…
Why does the date recognizing our nation’s founding cause such hoopla? Blame it, in part, on American Exceptionalism (AE): the belief that the United States is qualitatively different – and, better – from all other governing models.
Last week, David Brooks – writing in the New York Times – noted the ideological conflict that has been erected in advance of the temporary fireworks stands that occupy corners across America this week. He notes the civil war – fought publicly in debates, and quietly in classrooms – arguing the status of America’s model, measured against all others. Go to this page to read his column.
The traditionalists – who affirm AE – have embraced the missionary zeal with which America has attempted to plant democracy and the human rights that accompany that government model across the planet, at the great expense of life and lucre. Those folks tend to gather on “the right.”
The modernists – who reject AE – have called for the dramatic pullback from the international scene. These intellectuals are gaining ground like the ISIS rebels in Iraq: New York news voices, Hollywood entertainers, Washington politicians; denominational leaders; one by one, they’re conceding. As Brooks puts it, “Such is life in a spiritual recession. Americans have lost faith in their own gospel… Without the faith, leaders grow small; they have no sacred purpose to align themselves with. Young people get fired up by the thought of solar panels in Africa but seem much less engaged in the task of spreading political dignity and humane self-government.”
Along with AE, our country has also been known for Christian Exceptionalism (CE): that our faith is the only faith that answers the ultimate answers for life, both here and heaven. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes unto the Father but by me.” (John 14:6). Based on this and other Bible passages, most orthodox Christians believe that Jesus is the only way to heaven. Without a conscious embrace of the salvation found only in/through him, mankind is forever lost.
This CE view has moderated a bit in the past century. Today, about two-thirds of self-proclaimed American Christians believe there may be other ways to heaven besides accepting Jesus as personal Lord and Savior. Following the lead of false teachers – employed as religious leaders – the erosion of missionary zeal is the natural result. The decline of CE has been in lockstep with that of AE…
Quoting David Murrow (author of the book, Why Men Hate Going to Church): “Non-Christians scoff at the idea of Christian exceptionalism. I’d guess that no doctrine makes us more noxious to non-believers than the fact that we believe we’re the only ones going to heaven. Some young Christians are having a hard time with this doctrine, since this generation is aghast at the very notion of absolute truth.”
Are we, as Americans, Exceptional? And, if so, what does that exceptional status call us to do? Even more compelling: Are we, as Christians, Exceptional? And, if so, what does that exceptional status call us to do?
That’s a question for the head and the heart. I speak to your head, every Monday, in this PoV. Allow me to introduce my dear friend Steve Amerson, to speak to your heart. Turn on your sound; put your earbuds on. American Exceptionalism? Click here for your American heart. Christian Exceptionalism? Click here for your Christian heart.
Celebrating – and, challenging – your Exceptional Calling,