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

  • Will Langrehr

    Very appropriate at this “political” time in our nation. I think too many people (including Christians) are looking for a political leader/party to save us. So well said. Thanks Brian.

  • Andrew of MO

    I just finished reading about a mass shooting in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Six people are confirmed dead, and a 14-year-old girl is either the seventh death, or still clings to life in a hospital. Several other people are wounded. We just ended 2015 with numerous shootings. In my job, I just spoke to a woman living in San Bernadino, and who remembers the shooting well, as she was in a hospital in lockdown after the premature birth of her child during the event.

    We are exceptional, hideously so. God help us to help one another.

  • Matthew

    Good word. Yes … it is still relevant.

    On another note … how does one teach for about an hour on a complex topic like the Olivet Discourse without even looking at one notecard?? Impressive.

  • I just know this stuff. 🙂

  • “American Exceptionalism. This too shall pass….”
    But in fact it has already passed after America was “fundamentally transformed” under its current administration.

    America once occupied a special place of leadership among democratic nations during both world wars, the struggle against godless Communism and the re-establishment of the Jewish state of Israel as the only democratic power in the Middle East — a region where Christians and other non-Muslims are routinely persecuted by Arab states.

    But now America draws red lines in the sand and then conveniently denies ever doing it, allowing our fellow Christians to be slaughtered in Syria and elsewhere in the world while at home it harasses bakers and florists for not supporting state sanctioned same-sex “marriage.”

    American Exceptionalism has indeed passed.
    But is American Christianity any the better because of it?

  • It appears you didn’t understand a single thing I said. God doesn’t work through the empires of men, God works through the empire of Christ. Without exception.

  • Pastor Zahnd, I don’t think you’ve truly understood what this administration has done to us since you wrote this article six years ago. It’s not “just another day in America” — its an America that’s being “fundamentally transformed” for the worse!

    But America is not (yet) an empire — it’s still struggling to remain a constitutional republic.

  • A. I don’t care.
    B. I don’t accept your political opinion.
    C. None of this is pertinent to what I’m saying.

  • If those are the only choices for your response, then it’s no wonder that you often delete my comments.

  • I delete your comments when you start channeling Rush Limbaugh. You need to dial down the talk radio diatribes. There’s no place here for it here.

  • I haven’t listened to Limbaugh in more than a decade.
    And for the record I am an unaffiliated, registered voter.

  • Craig of TX

    wow! I have always wondered if people who “don’t care for America because I ONLY care about Jesus” would change their mind if they understood what its like living in countries without freedom.

    Note to self: It actually is possible to Love Jesus and all His grace He has given us (yes including freedom where we live) and still care about the country’s direction. Its not an either- or proposition.

  • Joel Olson

    cannot allow Jesus to become a political puppet, a sock on the arm of the
    statesman. Our role is to translate the values of scripture into the hearts and
    minds of every American, not to rule those Americans or force our values on
    them by manipulating the vote. The humble witness of Jesus is weakened when it
    is communicated through the edicts of rulers rather than the powerful
    persuasion of changed lives, hearts, and minds. The Kingdom of God cannot be
    voted into existence.”

    Jesus clearly taught and exemplified a submissive existence in the
    kingdom of man (dandelion) and an intentional and productive citizenship in the Kingdom of God (Sequoia)

  • JD

    “American exceptionalism has indeed passed”? Thank God! The “exceptionalism” that gave us genocide, slavery, oppression of women and minorities, constant war, and discrimination is an “exceptionalism” I want nothing to do with. It is an “exceptionalism” that has no grounding in the love of Christ. I choose the exceptionalism of the only Kingdom that matters…Christ’s Kingdom. Man’s politics and Kingdom politics are mutually exclusive.

    Oh, and can we please stop equating the current nation-state of Israel with the Israel of the OT? They aren’t the same.

  • Israel remains the oldest nation in the world with the same language, culture and people all living in the same place.

    And if you want nothing to do with “genocide, slavery, oppression of women and minorities, constant war, and discrimination,” you have much in common with President Obama, whose continual inaction has shown that he too wants nothing to do about the genocide of Christians and Yazidis and the oppression of their women under the Islamic State.

  • JD

    The modern nation state of Israel is not the same Israel of the OT. If you insist on believing that, then I’d recommend this great article on the subject:

    Also, why are you obsessed with blaming Obama for everything? What do you want him to do with ISIS? Kill them? Well, as for me, I’m a Christian and believe in the nonviolent example of Christ. I believe the answer to ISIS isn’t more violence. I pray, not for their destruction, but for their redemption. But ISIS has the power they do because of a power vacuum created by Obama’s predecessor. But, you deflect by mentioning Obama. You said “American exceptionalism has indeed passed”. That statement implies America used to be exceptional. Guess what? We’ve never been “exceptional”, at least when looking at our history through Kingdom lenses. It’s not Obama’s fault. It’s not Bush’s fault. America has a long history of violence and brutality, especially towards minorities and women.

    Edit: please don’t take my comments as me saying America has produced nothing good. I just don’t buy into a romanticized view of our history, and my allegiance belongs to another Kingdom. There are absolutely great things here now and in our past.

  • JD

    And to answer your initial question, I believe Christianity is better off because of it. Maybe not American Christianity with their red, white and blue Jesus. But I believe His actual church is better off. “American exceptionalism” is grounded in pride and idolatrous nationalism. Neither of those are Christian principles. We’ve created a false idol of political freedom, ignoring he fact that true freedom has nothing to do with man’s laws, but with Christ. So the sooner the church in America can tear down those idols, the better.

  • The fact that Obama has not lifted a finger to help Christians in the Middle East is not “blaming Obama for everything,” a straw man argument of your own creation.

    And if you want to argue that America was never exceptional, tell it to Pastor Zahnd.

    And I did not say that the modern state of Israel was “the same Israel of the OT”; the latter was a theocracy, but modern Israel is a democracy, the only such state in the Middle East. Otherwise Israel remains the oldest nation in the world with the same language, culture and people all living in the same place.

    If you keep putting words in my mouth all your arguments are just straw.

  • Isn’t state sanctioned same-sex marriage an idol? What about mandated political correctness?

    I can go on, but DOMA and the other “idols” being torn down in America are just being replaced with others even worse.

  • JD

    No, state-sanctioned same-sex marriage is not an idol in the church here in America. I’m talking about false idols that have been embraced by the church, such as nationalism. And who has mandated political correctness? An extremely dangerous narcissist that is anything but politically correct is about to become the nominee for the GOP.

    The world is going to worship false idols. Our job, as His church, is not to make America great, but to be a witness to His Kingdom here and now. The world will worship the idols of materialism, nationalism, greed, etc. Our job is to worship Him and only Him. Our job is to be a witness to an alternative way. The laws that the state passes has zero bearing on that.

  • JD

    Well, the “blaming Obama for everything” comment is based on your continual pointing a finger at the “current administration”, but seemingly ignoring anything that happened prior. I’m a voluntaryist, so I’m not a fan of any administration. But, let me ask you this. What do you want Obama to do re: ISIS? You continue to use that as a charge against him. What is it that you want him to do?

    As for Israel, you seem to be equating biblical Israel and modern Israel by claiming Israel is the oldest nation in the world with the same language, culture and people. This isn’t the same Israel as biblical Israel. Modern Israel is only roughly 70 years old. If you want to co-opt the history of biblical Israel, then naturally it’s going to be assumed that you are equating the two.

  • That Israel is the oldest nation in the world with the same language, culture and people is a fact.

    And the “current administration” also includes John Kerry, Val Jarret, Jehu Johnson, etc.

  • “… state-sanctioned same-sex marriage is not an idol in the church here in America”?

    It is in the Episcopal Church, the uniquely American member of the world-wide Anglican Communion.

    And in D.C., St. John’s Episcopal Church is known as “The Church of the Presidents” having served as the chapel to the White House for nearly two centuries.

    In fact nearly half of America’s presidents have been affiliated with either the Episcopal or Presbyterian churches.

  • JD

    Not sure how this makes SSM an “idol” of the church here in America. It’s not. Even among churches that support SSM, I wouldn’t call it an idol. We may disagree with them theologically, but that doesn’t make it an idol. SSM is not an idol of the church in America is. What is? Greed. Pride. Nationalism. “Justified” violence. Guns. Political freedom. Now, it could be an idol in particular institutional churches, but it is certainly not one that’s widespread throughout the church in America.

    Heck, I’d wager that if you walked to the front of many churches in America, especially the Baptist ones I grew up in, and ripped up a bible and then burned an American flag, the outrage would be much greater with regards to the flag.

  • JD

    Okay. You’re going to play the semantics game? While the current administration includes those people, the buck stops with the POTUS. When you continually point the finger at the “current administration”, you are pointing that finger at Obama.

    Also, can you please support your “fact” that Israel’s culture, language and people are the same today as they were 3,000 years ago? Heck, let’s just look at the language:

    “Modern Hebrew, Arabic and English are the predominant languages of modern Israel. Modern Hebrew emerged in the late 19th century, and is based on different dialects of ancient Hebrew and somewhat influenced by many languages (English, Jewish languages, Slavic languages, Arabic, Aramaic, German and others). Hebrew and Arabic are the official languages of Israel.According to a 2011 Government Social Survey of Israelis over 20 years of age: 49% report Hebrew as their native language, Arabic 18%, Russian 15%, Yiddish 2%, French 2%, English 2%, 1.6% report Spanish and 10%; other languages (among others Romanian, German and Amharic, which were not offered as answers by this survey).”


    My guess is that if you put Moses in modern day Israel, he’d have serious problems being able to communicate with others. Now, let’s go to culture. Do you really believe the culture is the same between the theocratic state of ancient Israel and the secular modern state of Israel? Heck, the Tel Aviv Gay Pride Parade attracts over 100,000 people to it. I’m going to guess that ancient Israeli culture would not have been so embracing of a gay pride parade.

    So, other than the name (ignoring the fact that prior to 1948, Israel as a state did not exist on a map) and the fact that it’s largely Jewish, where are the similarities?

  • Your avatar is a revolver and now you’re complaining about guns?

    Every time you post you somehow manage to shoot yourself in the foot.

  • JD

    Have you actually looked at the picture? It’s a revolver with the barrel twisted and unable to be used as a weapon anymore. If that’s what you are resorting to, then there’s really no point to continue trying to have a civil dialogue.

  • Ancient or modern, Hebrew is still Hebrew just as Israel is the oldest state in the world still in existence.

    And the current administration includes, but is not limited to Barack Hussein Obama, who not only bears the responsibility for all his appointments, but for the “red line” he drew in Syria even after he later denied he did any such thing.
    And the ACA isn’t called “Obamacare” for nothing.

  • JD

    Okay, if you’re going to simply ignore everything posted by people you disagree with, then what’s the point of continuing? Also, you keep using the term “state”, but I don’t think that word means what you think it means. Point to the state of Israel on a map from 1900. Looking at Middle East historical maps, I see a ton of references to Palestine, but prior to 1948, I’m having problems finding the word “Israel”.

    But, I imagine none of this will matter to you. This seems to be an futile discussion. You can go ahead and have the last word. Have a great day, brother.

  • Is that what that blur is supposed to be?

  • If you want a pre-1948 reference to Israel, try your Bible.
    There’s an entire Old Testament filled with them.

  • JD

    Yes, it’s pretty clear on my end and is a pretty well known statue.

  • I haven’t seen anything clear from your end.
    Why don’t you try a non-pixilated plowshare?

  • JD

    Nah, I’m fine with this picture, as I’ve never had a person comment about it being unrecognizable before. And my points have actually been quite clear. Have a great day.

  • I’m sure all of your “bullet” points have been quite clear to you, even if they never made it out of that blurred barrel.

  • JD

    Okay. If that makes you feel better. You’re simply displaying exactly why I’m not going to engage with you anymore, and why you apparently get posts deleted here. Peace to you.

  • Joe, you might want to consider why you are my only(!) blog reader who regularly ends up in ongoing and mostly pointless arguments with other readers of this blog. I suggest you think of it as a bad habit, an area of your life you could improve upon.

  • JD

    My apologies for cluttering up the comments section. My wife can confirm that walking away from dead-end conversations is something I struggle with. It is certainly something I need to work on as well. Peace to you.

  • One of my bad habits is not accepting posters who call themselves Christians and then go on to disenfranchise our Jewish brethren, claiming that Israel is no longer Israel but Palestine, Hebrew isn’t really Hebrew, etc., and then insist on engaging me over it when I obviously want no part of them or their anti-Semitism.

    Apparently JD — who sounds very BDS — doesn’t agree with Paul in Romans Chapters 9-11, yet as both a Mod and pastor the only thing you have to say to me is why such arguments are “pointless.”

    I assure you they are not pointless to the Hebrew Christians I know in Israel through my work with Worthy News.

  • I’ve lost count — is this the second, or third time you’ve said goodbye?