I want to begin this exhortation with two qualifications. The first is that I know you have heard this point from me before. But as Paul says in Philippians, to repeat the same things over again is not a trouble to me, and it is helpful to you. Secondly, this is a word to Americans—and I know that not all of you here are Americans. You are nevertheless invited to listen in, and there are truths here that any believer may apply, making the necessary adjustments as you go.
As the recent op-ed by Vladimir Putin showed, the assumption of American exceptionalism is offensive to him. But because he is a former KGB thug, we shouldn’t really care that it is offensive to him. What we should care about is the way in which this manner of speaking might be offensive to God.
The Founding of our nation really was exceptional in many ways. God’s blessing was manifestly with us. But one of the most exceptional things about it was the fact that the men who approved our form of government were deeply suspicious of man in general, and Americans in particular. Do not trust an American with power as far as you can throw him (Art. XII). The genius of our founding framework is that it demonstrates no trust whatever in the innate goodness of all future politicians. At our founding, we knew that we were ordinary, mortal men, prone to sin and corruption. We knew that we were ordinary, and that realization was extraordinary.
But the notion of American exceptionalism that has taken root in recent days is really the photo negative of that founding vision. It seeks to separate this exceptionalism from the gospel of grace, the gospel that straightens out depraved Americans, which is quite a trick, and it wants to make this exceptionalism somehow innate with us. And this overweening conceit provokes anti-Americanism, a form of blowback which is itself just as much an enemy of grace as that which provoked it. The former says “God didn’t give us this; we did it ourselves” and the latter says “God didn’t give you that; the Great Satan did.” They both have this in common—they refuse to give glory to the living God. They refuse to show appropriate gratitude. They pretend that we must choose between proud and ungrateful and envious and ungrateful.
How about humble and grateful? That really would be extraordinary.
So you Americans who confess Christ, your ultimate allegiance, your highest allegiance is obviously to Jesus and His Bride, the City of God. To the extent that God calls you to be a partaker of this nation’s life—and He certainly does—you must learn to see every form of secularism as an idolatrous and arrogant ingratitude. So this is one litmus test with regard to whether your form of “exceptionalism” is acceptable. If it is secular, it is not.
As a people, we must hear the gospel summons, and we must return to Jesus Christ, the president of presidents.