Someone once asked me, “A friend and I were just discussing different theories on the end times. I was wondering if you had any opinion on what kind of role America has played in God’s plan for the world.”
Some historians think that the emergence of the United States of America is an indirect byproduct of the Protestant Reformation. The theology of that influential era asserted that a divinely grounded liberty had been granted to human beings who are able to appreciate natural law (reason and morality) and are committed to a free-market economy.
In terms of America’s role in the world, historian Stephen E. Ambrose said the following in the American Heritage New History of World War II:
In a world full of hatred, death, destruction, deception, and double dealing, the United States at the end of World War II was almost universally regarded as the disinterested champion of justice, freedom, and democracy.
I think the concept of American exceptionalism is clearly evident in this country’s proud 232-year history. America has never been a perfect country, but it has throughout its history been striving to fulfill its great and unique declarations. In the twentieth century, the United States was the most important power in the world in terms of fighting totalitarianism and promoting human freedom.
Wikipedia defines American exceptionalism as “the belief that the United States differs qualitatively from other developed nations, because of its national credo, historical evolution, or distinctive political and religious institutions.”
In terms of the prophetic future, if America loses its abiding commitment to faith, liberty, justice, and free enterprise then I think it will go the way of the United Kingdom (an important but clearly second-rate power on the world scene).
Since I see civilization and culture moving biblically in a negative and decaying direction (Matthew 24), I think America–as a shining light on a hill–will ultimately lose power and influence.
Nevertheless, backed by my study of church history I remain skeptical of Christian claims that we are definitely living in the end times. We may be, but then again I may die without seeing the Lord’s glorious second coming and so may my children and even grandchildren.
Personally, I am very attracted to St. Augustine’s “Two Cities” metaphor. I have a dual citizenship in the City of God and in the City of Man. I live and work on both tracks simultaneously. My ultimate destiny is to live in Christ’s Kingdom (the City of God). Yet my temporal destiny allows me to strive to promote goodness, justice, and freedom in the United States of America (for me, the City of Man).
As a basic optimist (and in spite of the current economic and political gloom), I hope that my children’s generation will regain some of the greatness of my parents’ generation. My father was a decorated combat soldier in the Second World War and fought at the Battle of the Bulge. Encouragingly, I see similar qualities in my kids that I saw in my parents. My parents, though imperfect and scarred by sin, profoundly shaped me and my world-and-life view. And my wife and I have, I think, profoundly shaped our children and their worldview. My oldest daughter, Sarah, a committed Christian, enthusiastically voted in her first presidential election last fall.
With God’s help, I plan to discharge my responsibilities in both cities. For while I confidently expect to survive the death of my body and dwell eternally in the House of the Lord, I also know that I have only one temporal life and I want to make the most of it. I desire to be found a “good and faithful servant” in both spheres of citizenship.
In difficult times like these, I find great comfort in the biblical doctrine of God’s sovereignty (Ephesians 1:11). I am directly aware that there is a divine hand of providence that guides my life (Romans 8:28).
In future articles I will explore other issues relating to Christian eschatology.
For an introduction to the topic of general eschatology, see Donald G. Bloesch, The Last Things and Robert Clouse ed., The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views. For a discussion of Augustine’s “Two Cities” metaphor, see my book A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.