American Exceptionalism?


American Exceptionalism?
Brian Zahnd

American Exceptionalism: The theory that the United States occupies a special place among the nations of the world and possesses a unique destiny in history.

I’ve heard it said, “American Exceptionalism is simply a fact.”

I’m sure it is.

Just like Greek Exceptionalism and Roman Exceptionalism and British Exceptionalism were facts too.

If you’re not exceptional, you’re just another nation. “Exceptionalism” is required of a superpower. It’s what gives cred to the “We’re number one!” chant.

But you’ll have to excuse me if I don’t get too excited about Greco-Roman-British-American Exceptionalism — or any other geopolitical claim to exceptionalism.

(There really is a big difference between being truly exceptional and merely the latest in a long line.)

American Exceptionalism. This too shall pass. There’s only one exception.

The Kingdom which endures world without end: The Empire of Christ.

The nations are a drop in the bucket.
Empires are bloody in tooth and claw.
Without exception.

But the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our Lord and his Christ—
And he shall reign forever.

I believe in the vision John saw.

This kingdom has come.
This kingdom has begun.
This kingdom is among…
Us. We who confess Jesus is King.

The kingdom of God is the alternative society built around Jesus bringing forth the goal of the Law and the dream of the Prophets: Love for God and neighbor characterized by justice, mercy and humility.

The kingdom of God is both now and not yet. But unless you’re willing to rethink everything (be born again and take it from the top) you won’t be able to see this kingdom, even though it’s already dawning.

Once you see the Kingdom of Christ, the kingdoms-nations-empires-superpowers of this world lose their luster.

Daniel 7: Parade of beasts. Lion, leopard, bear, monster. Look again. Son of Man. Kingdom come!

When the day is done the “Hooray-for-our-Team-we’re-the-Exception-we’re-number-one!” American may just be a bigger patriot than I am. I’m not anti-America. Far from it. America is a wonderful country. A great place to live. It’s my home and I’m happy to live here. I celebrate much of American culture and achievement. It’s just that my faith for saving the world lies elsewhere. I believe the world already has a Savior. So I’m passionately ambivalent about the machinations of politics. Which is not to say I’m irresponsible. I’m not! A real commitment to live a life formed by Christian ethics will make any serious Jesus follower profoundly socially responsible. This is true from Argentina to Zimbabwe.

As Stanley Hauerwas has taught us, the kingdom of God doesn’t have a social strategy — the kingdom of God is a social strategy. It is the social expression of the Christian confession, Jesus is Lord. Amen.

Meanwhile it’s another day in America. America…the latest in a long of line of nations that made it to the big time and in due time will take its place on the used car lot of has-been superpowers. But don’t sweat it. The Kingdom of Christ endures.

Despite what Winthrop, Lincoln, Nixon, Reagan, Obama have said,
The “last best hope of mankind” is not America, but…
The Son of Man and his Kingdom.
You know that’s true!

No doubt, I’m fanatical and “out of balance” about the kingdom of God. It’s just that I believe it is so real that it leaves virtually no room for any passion for the kingdoms of this world.

Jesus said to the chief priests, “The kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a nation producing its fruits.” (Matthew 21:43)

I leave you with this question: What is that exceptional nation that produces the fruit of the kingdom of God?

I’ll give you a hint: Its motto is, Worthy is the Lamb.

Vicit agnus noster, eum sequamur.
Our Lamb has conquered, let us follow him.


(This blog is probably destined to be more popular with my Russian, Canadian, Mexican, French, Italian, Indian, Nigerian, Honduran, British, Bolivian, Dutch, German, Swiss, Australian, Finish, Swedish, Albanian, Croatian, Haitian, Polish, Kenyan, Tanzanian, Egyptian, Ukrainian, Iranian, Israeli, Palestinian, Portuguese friends.)

P.S. I wrote this six years ago, but it still seems relevant.

Christ Pantocrator, Saint Catherine’s Monastery