Patriot-olotry: The Intersection of Theology and Politics

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Jim's picture

The belief in American exceptionalism was wedded to the growing theological movement known as Dispensationalism in the late 19th and early 20th century. Dispensationalism, a novel theological movement that was popularized by J.N. Darby and C.I. Schofield, convinced Christians that they could most certainly find American exceptionalism in the Scriptures. 

  • "The belief in American exceptionalism was wedded to the growing theological movement known as Dispensationalism in the late 19th and early 20th century" / wrong & not defensible
  • "Dispensationalism [is ] a novel theological movement " / wrong & not defensible
  • "Dispensationalism ... convinced Christians that they could most certainly find American exceptionalism in the Scriptures. "  wrong & not defensible 
Jim's picture

American exceptionalism is the belief that the United States is qualitatively and fundamentally different and better than other nations. The reasons behind this widely held belief are varied. The amalgamation of a Puritan history, Protestant work-ethic, manifest destiny, and a general pragmatism have all helped shape the belief that God has, in fact, blessed the United States in a way that He has not blessed other nations. 


Sees "American exceptionalism" as "is one of three related ideas.

  1. The first is that the history of the United States is inherently different from that of other nations
  2. Second is the idea that the U.S. has a unique mission to transform the world
  3. Third is the sense that the United States' history and mission gives it a superiority over other nations."

Probably every nation is "inherently different from that of other nations". I agree with point # 1 above but reject the other two.

What i see as "special" (but perhaps not uniquely special) about the US:

  • The wealth
  • The liberty
  • The opportunity to move from poverty to wealth in one generation (I have a a story about below)


the belief that God has, in fact, blessed the United States in a way that He has not blessed other nations. 

I agree that we have been blessed (particularly in the area of freedoms - specifically freedom of worship)

Point # 2: "in a way that He has not blessed other nations" ( I agree to a point)



Story: opportunity in 1 generation: My son-in-law came as a refugee from Afghanistan (via Pakistan to Germany to the US). He left as a baby with his family. They had nothing. The father and mother did not even have last names.

That family has 5 kids:

  • A daughter - a pharmacist 
  • A woman with a degree in finance
  • My s-i-l with a masters from MIT
  • A daughter - with a Doctor of Pharmacy 
  • A son with a degree from the U of Minnesota (new grad just starting out)

The parents came as cooks! Were able to open their own restaurant that specialized in Afghan cuisine. All the kids worked for no pay in that restaurant

One generation! From nothing but clothes on their back to their acheivements. Amazing!

Jim's picture

Not naming the family but I know them very well

Grew up in poverty in very N Wisconsin. When I say poverty I mean house w outhouse and only pump water in the kitchen. 3 boys slept in one bed until one by one they joined the Navy

Father learned electric work working on submarines.

Family sold farm and moved with only what fit in their car ... to Florida

Father rose to position of maintenance plant manager

  • 4 of the 5 children college graduates (all paying their own way)
  • 3 of the 5 children multimillionaires

From dirt poor to great wealth in one generation

Barry L.'s picture

America is exceptional because our culture is Protestant influenced from it's founding. Even when immigrants of other faiths come here, they are successful when they assimilate into that culture. Not necessarily to the Protestant belief, but adopt the culture into their life. You look at the countries they come from. The folks in their home country are no where as enterprising as those same people in the U.S. The problem with Europe is that they are not assimilating into that country's culture.

Bert Perry's picture

I think the article fails in that it doesn't really describe the symptoms of "patriolatry" very well.  I can affirm that the United States is something special, as we've enshrined (at least historically) a lot of the rule of law and limitations on rulers that the Bible would affirm.  I would even affirm that a somewhat restrained view of the powers of the judiciary is entirely consistent with the Protestant view that when the newer, lesser authority is in conflict with the Bible, we go with the Bible--the judicial form of this doctrine being really Constitutional originalism or textualism.

Where I think we go wrong is where we assume that we ought to have public displays of faux patriotism in our churches.  Quite frankly, I don't think we ought to fly the U.S. flag, because the tradition is that it flies higher than anything else--that would include the Cross.  Nope, I'm agin' it.  I also don't think we ought to say the Pledge of Allegiance for the simple reason that our first allegiance is to God, and our second allegiance is to family, our third to country--and that does not really include the flag.

Moreover, we ought to remember Memorial Day and Armistice Day as patriotic holidays, but rather as solemn remembrances of the men who didn't come back.  We've got plenty of patriotic holidays--Patriot's Day (April 15, Lexington and Concord), Flag Day (why?), and Independence Day.  Do we need to make everything an occasion for flag-waving?  Really?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture


The author suggests dispensationalism is partly responsible for the rise of "patriotology:"

Dispensationalism, a novel theological movement that was popularized by J.N. Darby and C.I. Schofield, convinced Christians that they could most certainly find American exceptionalism in the Scriptures.

That is a lie. Lie. Lie. Now I've seen everything. Will these CT's stop at nothing in an effort to blast dispensationalism? Perhaps in his next article, the author can find some way to tie dispensationalism to the abortion industry and Planned Parenthood . . .

I've read Chafer's entire systematic, and I don't recall hearing anything about American exceptionalism. Ryrie didn't mention it ether. Or McClain. Or Pentecost. Or Bock. Or . .  anybody. What is his proof. Oh . . . of course. The Left Behind series, the favorite whipping boy for CT's who are too lazy to read primary sources on DT, or too unwilling to engage them. Pathetic.

This is an interesting concept for an article, ruined by a bizarre fixation on a perverted caricature of dispensationalism. Keep building straw men, if you must, folks . . .

I think the next article for my own blog will be entitled, "The Transgender Dilemma - How Covenant Theology Has Produced Gender Confusion." It'll deserve just as much respect and attention as this silly article does - and it'll be just about as theologically responsible, too.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?