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    American Religion History: Christian America?

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    Is America a “Christian nation”?  A perennial puzzle, and finally impossible to answer without many “in what respects?” qualifiers.

    One distinction might help: Presuppose a nation full of Christians, as America was for much of its history.  That nation might take various forms, and the distinction I want to introduce is that between a biblical nation and a Christian nation.

    A nation where the rite of royal anointing includes explicit references to the king’s iconic relation to the Anointed Jesus is (in that respect) Christian.  A nation where the rite of inauguration includes an oath  with a hand on a Bible, but includes no reference to Jesus or the Trinity or even God, may be a biblical nation but isn’t (in respect to this rite) a Christian policy.

    Another example: Many American Puritan writers, and many American writers long after, considered America “God’s New Israel” (for a great selection from John Winthrop to Ralph Reed, see Conrad Cherry’s God’s New Israel: Religious Interpretations of American Destiny).  That is definitely a biblical trope.  But it hardly qualifies as a Christian one, for it is self-evident in the New Testament that the church alone is God’s new Israel.  Insofar as the American experience is read through the lends of America-as-Israel, America is a biblical but not a Christian nation.

    posted by Peter J. Leithart on Friday, July 1, 2011 at 8:29 am