Scot McKnight on the Nature of "National Idolatry"

Scot McKnight on the Nature of "National Idolatry" September 28, 2010

Building on a recent post, I sent the following question to a number of Christian bloggers and writers:

The “Restoring Honor” rally has sparked a conversation on whether American evangelicalism is guilty of America-worship.  So, when does patriotism pass over into idolatry?  What marks the difference between loving, honoring and worshiping America?

Scot McKnight, a renowned New Testament scholar, speaker, and writer, and proprietor of the popular Jesus Creed blog, offers his response below.  I always respect Scot and his opinion:

Our relationship to our country is not an either-or but a spectrum.  On the good end of the spectrum we love only God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength.  At the same end, and standing next to the “love God” command is that we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.  We might ask what it means – biblically speaking – to “love,” and the way the Bible’s narrative works we are to see love as God’s rugged, faithful commitment to be “with us” – or God’s faithful presence.  But this presence, as the covenant texts of the Bible teach us, is a presence that is “for us.”  God isn’t just “here” but he’s here in a way that is for our own good and his glory.

God loves us and we love God back by accepting and dwelling in his presence and we love others by leading others into that presence.  And we love others, in imitation of God, by both being present and by being for them.

This applies radically to our relationship to our country.  If we take “country” to be “we the people” and not just land and buildings and institutions, then we as followers of Jesus are to love fellow Americans in a way that imitates God and that leads them into God’s presence and that makes them know that we are “for” them.

The seemingly all-too-real temptation today is to ignore, to neglect and to avoid this framework of loving God and loving others in a way that is both “with” and “for.”  Instead of this kind of love, we sometimes live and dwell in a country in a way that avoids, ignores and neglects our relation to God and to others as one of love. We are tempted to secularize our relationship to our country and fellow citizens.

We commit national idolatry when we love our country and fellow Americans for their own sake and not for the sake of God and the extension of God’s love to others in Christ.

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