American Exceptionalism

The deepest theological danger inherent in American exceptionalism, then, is that of the messiah nation that does not simply seek to follow God’s will, but acts as a kind of substitute God on the stage of history. When the concept of chosenness becomes unmediated by the church and unmoored from the biblical narrative, the danger is that the nation will not only be substitute church but substitute God. When the shrine is emptied of the biblical God and replaced with a generic principle of transcendence, there exists the danger that we will not come to worship God, but will worship our freedom to worship God. The empty shrine is surreptitiously filled. Our freedom itself becomes an idol, the one thing we will kill and die for.

William T. Cavanaugh, “Messianic nation: A Christian theological critique of American exceptionalism”, University of St. Thomas Law Journal, Vol. 3, issue 2, article 6 (Fall 2005), 268. Read PDF article.

Consistency is not a postmodern virtue

… consistency is not a postmodern virtue. And nowhere is this more aptly displayed than in the barrage of criticisms leveled against the church. The church-is-lame crowd hates Constantine and notions of Christendom, but they want the church to be a patron of the arts, and run after-school programs, and bring the world together in peace and love. They bemoan the over-programmed church, but then think of a hundred complex, resource-hungry things the church should be doing. They don’t like the church because it is too hierarchical, but then hate it when it has poor leadership. They wish the church could be more diverse, but then leave to meet in a coffee shop with other well-educated thirty-somethings who are into film festivals, NPR, and carbon offsets. They want more of a family spirit, but too much family and they’ll complain that the church is ‘inbred.’ They want the church to know that its reputation with outsiders is terrible, but then are critical when the church is too concerned with appearances. They chide the church for not doing more to address social problems, but then complain when the church gets too political. They want church unity and decry all our denominations, but fail to see the irony in the fact that they have left to do their own thing because they can’t find a single church that can satisfy them. They are critical of the lack of community in the church, but then want services that allow for individualized worship experiences. They want leaders with vision, but don’t want anyone to tell them what to do or how to think. They want a church where the people really know each other and care for each other, but then they complain the church today is an isolated country club, only interested in catering to its own members. They want to be connected to history, but are sick of the same prayers and same style every week. They call for not judging “the spiritual path of other believers who are dedicated to pleasing God and blessing people,” and then they blast the traditional church in the harshest, most unflattering terms.

They’d like to have their cake and eat it too.

Kevin DeYoung & Ted Kluck, Why We Love The Church: In Praise of Institutions and Organized Religion (Chicago, IL: Moody Publishers, 2009), 87-88.