Book Review: “American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion” by John Wilsey

Shared from J.W. Wartick, a snippet, excellent review!

John D. Wilsey’s American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion sheds light on the ways that Americans through history have conceived of the United States as a blessed nation.

The book is organized around various historical periods, from the origins of exceptionalism in the earliest colonial periods to modern times. One aspect of American exceptionalism is “the idea that Americans are a people specially chosen by God and given a destiny to fulfill by him…” (16, cited below).  Throughout the book, Wilsey shows how this idea has developed and how it has negatively impacted not only our theology but also the way the country developed politically and ethically.

Wilsey traces the sad history of slavery and expansion into North America, highlighting how the ideology of American Exceptionalism played into the whole endeavor. Because that which was deemed “American” was theologically tied to a concept of chosen nation and a skewed view of manifest destiny, people from the lowliest white farmer to the President of the United States were able to justify heinous acts upon fellow human beings. Furthermore, due to the concept of chosen nation that theologians lifted from the pages of the Bible and applied to the United States, many of these atrocities were dismissed as aspects of a new eschatological narrative pointing towards the concept of America’s growth and civil religion.


Source: Book Review: “American Exceptionalism and Civil Religion” by John Wilsey