May 26, 2009
Book Review: The Patriot's Bible (part 2)
Does the Patriot's Bible glorify nationalistic violence?
Read part 1 of Greg Boyd's review of The Patriot's Bible.
It's perhaps not coincidental that the Patriot's Bible offers no commentary on any passages related to our instruction to love and do good to our enemies.
But the Revolutionary War is not by any means the only nationalistic violence celebrated in the Patriot's Bible. To the contrary, the glory of nationalistic violence permeates this Bible. For example, every book of the Bible opens with a montage of national monuments, symbols, stars and stripes, etcâ€¦ which include, with few exceptions, images of armed soldiers, bombers and battleships. Most stunningly, each Gospel opens with a scene that includes soldiers struggling to raise a flag under the words "In God We Trust." All the subsequent books of the New Testament open with a montage that includes a flag waving behind the Statue of Liberty on one side and armed marching troops on the other. It's quite breathtaking - and I don't mean this in a good way.
Similarly, a very high percentage of the commentaries sprinkled throughout this Bible exalt American wars and their heroes. To give but one example, a comment in 2 Samuel about how "the mighty have fallen in the midst of battle" (2 Sam. 1:25) elicits a half page commentary entitled "Duty-Honor-Country." In it the commentators review a famous speech given by General Douglas MacArthur in which he claims that "[t]he solider, above all other men, is required to practice the greatest act of religious training â€“ sacrifice." In facing danger, MacArthur adds, the soldier "discloses those divine attributes which his Maker gave when He created man in His own image."
The soldier on the field, prepared to die and kill for his country, apparently exemplifies the greatest act of religion and the best expression of what it is to be made in the image of God!
(I have to assume MacArthur and the commentators of the Patriot's Bible only intend to refer to American soldiers, though it remains unclear how they could justify such a selective application of the imago dei). The commentary becomes even more amazing as it recounts MacArthur's statement that "â€¦the solider who is called upon to offer and to give his life for his country is the noblest development of mankind." The contributors clearly agree with this theology, for they comment that, "as long as other Americans serve their country courageously and honorably, [MacAthur's] words will live on" (p.341).
Without in any way detracting from the courage of soldiers who lay down their lives for their country, I find myself utterly confounded as to how Christian commentators can agree that a military combatant is "the noblest development of mankind." Since Christ is the perfect illustration of what it means to be "in the image of God," and since he is our Lord and the one we are called to imitate, shouldn't he be the criteria for what constitutes "the noblest development of mankind?" Yet, he refused to buy into the Jewish nationalism of his day (despite the fact that Israel, unlike America, actually had been sanctioned by God in the Old Testament). And he laid down his life for his enemies rather than engage in violence against them (Mt 26:53) or allow his disciples to do so. (Jn 18:10-11, 36).
People who obey the New Testament and follow this example, I submit, should be viewed by Christians as most clearly reflecting the image of God and as constituting "the noblest development of mankind."
Sadly, this intense glorification of national violence constitutes a central theme of this ill-conceived Bible. And, in my opinion, this simply reveals how thoroughly the Gospel of Jesus has been co-opted and redefined by the Gospel of American Patriotism in this Bible.
I have no doubt that those who contributed to the Patriot's Bible are sincere, godly people who genuinely believe they're doing America and the Kingdom a service by publishing this work. And had they published their particular interpretation of American history in a separate volume, I would have had much less trouble with it. What grieves me deeply is that the Patriot's Bible fuses this interpretation with the biblical narrative in an attempt to give it divine authority. As such, this version of the Bible virtually incarnates the nationalistic idolatry that has afflicted the Church for centuries and so thoroughly compromised the beauty of the trans-national, self-sacrificial Kingdom Jesus came to bring.
In the Introduction Dr. Richard Lee promises that, "If you love America and the Scriptures, you will treasure this Bible." I truly love America and deeply love the Scriptures, but for just this reason, I was thoroughly appalled by this Bible.
Dr. Richard Lee's response to Greg Boyd's review of the Patriot's Bible will be posted soon.