The American Patriot’s Bible: Review

APB.jpgLee, Richard G., ed.

The American Patriot’s Bible: The Word of God and the Shaping of America.

Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2009. Pp. x + 1620. Hardcover. $39.99.

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With thanks to the Thomas Nelson Book Review Bloggers program for this review copy!

After spending a couple of weeks in this Bible I feel that I’m now in a position to offer an informed opinion on its contents.  Much of the reaction to this Bible came from problems with the concept, or the description given by prominent theologians, but much of the hoopla wasn’t based on any actual interaction with the Bible itself.  Having said that, I think that The American Patriot’s Bible is a strange product.  I don’t see the nationalism (which I don’t see as synonymous with patriotism) that others saw, nor do I find it idolatrous, but I do wonder why the material in this Bible couldn’t have been (or better yet, wasn’t) published as a stand alone volume.  There’s nothing wrong with highlighting the role that God has played in America’s history, but to do it in the manner that the APB has done it doesn’t seem quite right.

The application of Scripture to certain points of American history seems strained at best.  For example, in 1Samuel 4 we read of the Philistines capturing the ark of the covenant and at the end of the chapter Phineas’ wife gives birth to their son and names him Ichabod because “the glory had departed from Israel.” (1Sam. 4:21)  Based on this verse there is a note that talks about “A Nation’s Flag” and quotes Henry Ward Beecher as saying:

A thoughtful mind, when it sees a nation’s flag, sees not the flag only, but the nation itself; and whatever may be its symbols, its insignia, he reads chiefly in the flag the government, the principles, the truths, the history which belongs to the nation that sets it forth. (p. 308)

It’s a nice quotation, and probably true when one really thinks about it, but one wonders how 1Samuel 4:21 brings this quotation to mind.  There’s a fundamental difference between the ark of the covenant and a country’s flag.  The ark of the covenant, aside from being instituted by God himself, was a symbol of God’s presence with Israel.  One would think that such a quotation would be more appropriate in let’s say, the Isaianic passages which speak about God’s “standard” (i.e., banner/flag — Is. 49:22; 59:19; 62:10).  While I agree with Beecher’s basic definition of what flags represent, I can’t see any of those things as comparable to God’s presence or glory.

There also seems to be a watered down reconstruction of history which ignores some of the more unseemly bits.  To take one example, the article on “Christianity in Colonial America” says:

Beginning early in the seventeenth century, settlers from Spain, France, Sweden, Holland, and England claimed land and formed colonies along the eastern coast of North America, and the struggle for control of this land continued for well over a hundred years. (I-5)

“Struggle for control of this land” is a euphemism for battles fought to steal this land from the indigenous natives.  Now what’s done is done, and every American living today enjoys the benefits of what was done back then, but the end doesn’t always justify the means, and if we’re going to tell the story then let’s tell it in all of its gory details.

There’s also a couple of things that I wouldn’t think the producers of this Bible would have included in it.  On p. I-42 there’s a full page picture of Martin Luther King, Jr., who while being a great leader in the Civil Rights Movement, denied the deity of Christ and the doctrine of the Trinity (at least in seminary, and to my knowledge he never showed any evidence of repenting of these beliefs).  It seems that a conservative Christian audience, i.e., the target audience of this Bible, might take exception to this.  Two pages later on p. I-44 there’s a picture of President Obama showing that King’s “dream” has finally come to fruition, but again, given the target audience, I wonder how many of them would be pleased with President Obama’s inclusion in this Bible given that they were those who opposed his presidency the loudest.

To be honest, the best features of this Bible are the aesthetics; it’s really nice to look at.  The best notes are those that make a little bit of sense, like when a certain Bible passage is what a president held his hand over while being sworn into office.  The vast majority the notes just seem out of context and loosely connected to the actual text.  Oh, and let me mention this as well, in highlighting the faith of our founders which was for the most part Christian, religious liberty is obscured.  Sure, most of our founders wanted to practice their Christianity, but they wanted the freedom to practice their faith, and also for others to have the freedom to practice theirs.  Now I’m not saying that this Bible would deny this, but it certainly doesn’t highlight it.  I would find it hard to recommend this work to anyone, unless of course you’re interested in a Bible with a lot of random quotes and articles on a somewhat romanticized view of American history.


21 thoughts on “The American Patriot’s Bible: Review

  1. I don’t think many people think of King’s position on the Trinity when they think about King. What goes through their minds is that he challenged racism in the South, using the Christian principles of non-violence and love for enemies.

  2. Also, weren’t some of the founding fathers Unitarian? I’ve read John Adams was, and he’s the one who said America should be based on God and the Bible (which many in the religious right like to quote).

  3. Nick,
    In the case of the ark and flag quotation, don’t you think that the editors, by placing the quote there were specifically trying to draw a connection between the two?

    It seems to me that what is implied is that the flag of a country equals the ark and we should view the flag with the same meaning as Israel did the ark.

  4. James: Indeed, most people think of King as a great civil rights leader, and he was that, but at the same time, he was more than that (in a not so good way) and I think that some people would have a problem with seeing him in their Bible. On the other hand, I don’t think I’m the target audience for this product so maybe I have no clue. And I believe that some of the founders were deists and possibly a Unitarian or two thrown in for good measure.

    Daniel: That’s exactly what I think, and I think it’s a strained connection. That’s how I feel about the majority of the notes. They’re connected by very slim threads of thought which makes me wonder if such a project is really worth while in the first place.

    Mike: Perhaps. I just read something on Mike Bird’s blog about Liberty University’s “distinctives” and it seems to me that if someone affirms those then they’d love this Bible.

  5. Really? Would the Christians you know have problems seeing King in a Bible? Some I know would, since they’re somewhat John Birch-ish in their orientation. But King seems to be popular in a lot of evangelical circles.

  6. James: Some of them would without a doubt. In my old church they had someone come in and speak about MLK on Martin Luther King Day a few years back and a lot of people took exception to this. I personally found the whole thing bizzarre since my church had never done anything like that before and to my knowledge hasn’t done anything like that since.

  7. Nick,
    It seems like much more than a strange connection to me, but down right wrong. If the flag equals the ark then the US equals Israel and you are now into some serious nationalism, which is a big problem.

    The overall problem is connecting any sort of ethnic or national identity with the Bible.

  8. Daniel: I think to be fair, we should note that the quotation itself says “flags” in general and doesn’t actually specify America’s flag. In that sense the ark then represents all flags and Israel all nations. It doesn’t get rid of the main problem but I think it saves the editor from a charge of American nationalism.

  9. Nick,

    Probably my thoughts on a bible like this are at least guessable. But I’d just like to say, I appreciate that you took the effort to review it as a Bible and read it.

  10. Seumas: Thanks. I’m going to continue to use it for a little while and see if I can’t find any redeeming qualities in it.

    Daniel: “He” meaning the Bible’s editor? I’m sure his primary intention is for the quotation to have reference to the American flag, but I wouldn’t bank on his thinking that the quotation applies exclusively to it.

  11. It sounds like right wing crap to me. If God has a position on the advisability of a constitutional amendment to ban flag burning, I hardly think that it’s clear from the story of Noah’s arc.

    There is nothing at all surprising about the inclusion of MLK. Conservatives are desperate to separate Black evangelicals from the Democratic Party. By embracing King, they hope to obscure the fact that the religious right is firmly rooted in southern churches that supported Jim Crow and opposed the civil rights movement.

  12. Hi, if you don’t want this Bible, I would love to be able to read it! I’m with the Thomas Nelson Bloggers and didn’t have the chance to review this Bible and wanted to!

  13. Doreen: I’m going to hold onto this one. I’m sure if you send an email to a Thomas Nelson rep. you’ll be able to procure a copy of your own. The first book I reviewed for the BRB wasn’t on their list.

  14. This book contains a treasure of fascinating american history. Although I agree that some of the Biblical connections to historical quotes are not as aligned as one would expect, they are still very interesting and the beauty is that it gets the reader connected more with the Bible. I love this book. There will always be critics but let’s be mindful that some critics are wanna be’s and are not as accomplished in achievements as the person who authored the book. Dr. Lee’s credentials speak for them self. I think we should give the man credit. To review this book and criticize more than compliment is the mark of a negative person in my opinion. Religion has historically been a subject that evokes strong emotions and opinions but isn’t it wonderful that in this great country we can speak our minds and share in agreement and disagreement without fear.

    Several people made comments about Dr. Martin Luther King but made no mention of another Black Man in American History who’s accomplishments were as great or greater than Dr. King’s. On page 534 it describes Booker T. Washington as the most influential American black leader and educator of his time. It brings to mind the question; could Dr. King have accomplished what he did if it were not for this other famous black man who came before him? Is it possible that Booker T. Washington was instrumental in laying the foundation of equality for future famous blacks in our country, one of which was Dr. King? Booker T. Washington planted a seed in this country for black people and it grew. In case you are wondering; I am a white guy who enjoys reading the Bible and American history. And I find it also fascinating to read other people’s comments and reviews about subjects I love. Thanks to all of you.

  15. Drawing connections between Bible verse and American history is bound to be controversial. It’s no coincidence that America is an anagram for the “I-Am-Race.” It’s my belief that just as the Jews are the chosen people, America is the chosen country. I think the past 200 plus years of American history has played that out. We need to realize the significance of that and the responsibility we have as the beacon of hope for freedom and liberty for the rest of the world. It’s about time someone stepped up an attempted to show America’s connection with the Bible and God’s plan. I applaud Dr. Lee’s effort to do that.

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