Last evening I heard Dr. Vishal Mangalwadi from India lecture on restoring America to greatness by means of Biblical knowledge and theological education. According to Dr. Mangalwadi, “Christianity lost America because 20th-century evangelicalism branded itself as the party of faith. Secularism (science, university, media) became the party of truth. This is one reason why 70% Christian youth give up meaningful involvement with the church when they grow up.”
Mangalwadi is right in saying traditional American Christianity is lost and gone. Where I disagree is over the need to restore it. To do that will be as futile for us as it is for Jews to attempt restoring the Davidic kingdom, Solomon style. Both fall short of God’s glory in the revelation of Christ, upon whose shoulders the government now rests, whether we acknowledge it or not.
Too many American Christians mourn the loss of something that never existed. Philip Jenkins has demonstrated in his new book, The Great and Holy War, how World War I became a religious crusade in which differing nationalistic agendas became a religious crusade, exposing the sham of religious pretence that Europe and America might actually be Christian. If one defines Christian as wholeheartedly following the teaching and example of Jesus, the west has never truly been Christian.
Yes, Biblical truth lies at the foundation of western education to be sure, as well as its economic progress, social conscience, and democratic institutions, but today’s individualism, nationalism, and often myopic, narcissistic patriotism do not stem from Biblical roots, and they also lie at the base of American culture. Earthly kingdoms are built upon natural, and when necessary, violent force. The American empire, like all preceding empires including Solomon’s, was built upon violent force, and what is built upon violent force must be preserved by an ever increasing reliance on violent force, until in the end, the nation falls by violent force. Eventually the Israelite monarchy ended, and so will the American experiment in secular democracy. Jesus said, “Those who live by the sword will die by the sword.”
For a period of time the West did honored the Bible, but consistently failed to honor the King revealed therein. Every war between so-called Christian nations has been an explicit denial of Jesus’ Lordship and an insult to his person. Jesus said, “You search the scriptures, expecting to find eternal life, but the scriptures are all about me, and you don’t allow me to give you the life you claim to seek (John 5:39-40).” He might well say the same thing to us today.
At the time of the Babylonian captivity, Israel’s kingdom was destroyed. Ezekiel and Jeremiah warned Israel to swallow its selfish pride and submit to Babylon. When they refused to listen, God told Jeremiah in 7:16, “Do not pray for this people.” The end of the monarchy Israel had demanded from Samuel had finally come. Still God’s surprising grace won out, and Israel’s expected demise was averted through the faith of the survivors who believed God’s promise to bring home a remnant of survivors. It was God alone who would save Israel without the help of an army or a government.
In the Servant Song of Isaiah 42, God says, “I will not share my glory with another, or my honor with idols.” God will not share his glory with any human institution or idea. Israel’s victories before the monarchy were not achieved with the army plus God. At that time Israel had no real army; so that the victories and the glory were God’s alone. Likewise, God will not share his glory with American democracy.
I find it hard to support Dr. Mangalwadi’s project for restoring America’s greatness. We serve not America’s greatness, but the greatness of our God. Recognizing that followers of Christ still do have the role of being salt and light wherever we are in society, still as his church, our job is solely to lift Jesus up and make him known for who he is. Despite its benefits, our democracy has consistently fallen short of God’s glory, will soon outlive its time, and will pass away as all things temporal must do.