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The Journey Blog

Book Review: American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea:

The continuing challenge for Americans is to carefully understand the relationship of the Bible to the nations of this world. The United States of America has been undeniably blessed by God, but when American Christians begin to equate the United States of America with the Gospel of Jesus Christ there is great danger of losing the true Gospel.

TJC Member, Douglas Baker has written a review for the Claremont Review of Books on John Wilsey's book, American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea:

"On June 1988, at a Southern Baptist Convention conference in San Antonio, W.A. Criswell delivered the “skunk sermon.” Criswell, pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas and former president of the Convention, thundered against liberal theologians who masked their true identity by calling themselves moderates. “A skunk by any other name still stinks!” he said to vigorous applause.

The sermon followed a well-worn pathway of Southern Baptist thought, fusing American exceptionalism with a theology of destiny. Unapologetically equating democracy with Christianity and American history with divine providence, Criswell warned of growing secularism:

We have lost our nation to the liberal, and the secularist, and the humanist, which finally means to the atheist and the infidel. America used to be known as a Christian nation. It is no longer. America is a secular nation. Our forefathers who came on the Mayflower founded here a new republic, a new nation, and it was Christian. Our Baptist forefathers founded a state, and it was Christian. When I was a youth growing up, the name of God and the Christian faith was a part of the civic and national life of our people. It is not anymore.

Criswell’s sermon is indispensable to understanding America’s Christian Right, particularly its conflation of politics and religion. The pastor currently occupying Criswell’s pulpit in Dallas, Robert Jeffress, often preaches similar sermons, heralding American exceptionalism as essential for understanding of Christianity. In American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion, historian—and Southern Baptist pastor—John D. Wilsey examines this world of divine election and American exceptionalism.

Then Link to the article here: