American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion: Reassessing the History of an Idea
By John D. Wilsey (IVP Academic)
According to a 2010 Gallup poll, cited in the book’s introduction, 80 percent of Americans believe America possess “a unique character” that makes it “the greatest country in the world.” How should a Christian view these claims? Can American Exceptionalism and the Christian faith coexist? Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary professor John D. Wilsey attempts to answer these questions in American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion.
Wilsey differentiates between two competing ideas of American Exceptionalism—closed and open. The first is based in an idea of American superiority and choosiness; the second is based on the high standards set forth in the nation’s founding. The former is incompatible with Christianity; the later provides a model for Christian civic engagement, he says. Wilsey distinguishes between these two as he traces the historical development and the theology of American Exceptionalism.
Readers looking for a Christian approach to civic engagement will find much to appreciate in Wilsey’s work. His theology of American Civil Religion is unique and well-written, and his suggestions for a new model of American Exceptionalism are creative and hopeful. Although not all readers will agree with Wilsey, his book provides a helpful ground to think both critically and optimistically about the American worldview.
Jake Raabe, student
Truett Theological Seminary