The other day, I came across this question on Twitter, “What’s worse, the prosperity gospel or the patriotic gospel?” My first reaction was it was a bit of a toss up. But the more I thought about it and observed the discussion on my Facebook page, I do think the patriotic gospel needs to be spelled out a bit. I don’t know the author of the tweet so I have no idea what he meant by it but I thought I would write out a few thoughts about what I believe it is. I suspect that some will disagree but these are my convictions.
I personally don’t think there is anything wrong with patriotism, as long as it is kept in perspective. I see no prohibition in Scripture where one cannot love their country and want what is best for it. Though America has not always lived up to her ideals, we can celebrate her victories.
However, the patriotic gospel is more than just a love for country. I actually do believe it is a form of the prosperity gospel so let me lay that out. A common misconception about the prosperity gospel is that it is about money or getting rich. Actually, wealth is just an outcome of its foundation. At the heart of the prosperity gospel lies the notion that material gain symbolizes favor with God. Material gain can be wealth but also comes in different forms, such as employment success, social standing, houses, cars, and other earthly treasures. While proponents of the prosperity gospel will say they are placing their faith in Jesus, in reality, hope is placed in obtaining material gain since that represents right standing with God. It’s why you see so much emphasis on the material in prosperity teaching. Sadly, I think softer forms of prosperity teaching run rampant in mainstream American evangelism.
Now, let’s make that application to the patriotic gospel. I think the most obvious form is believing that the United States has a special status with God and therefore, supporting her prosperity means continued favor. It’s treating the US as if God has made a covenant with her. This line of thinking sees no problem with inserting patriotic symbolism into Christian expression such as Bible verses and church services.
But I think there is a more subtle form that is more rampant and easily morphs patriotism into a patriotic gospel. It is the belief that Christianity is beholden to governmental systems and we therefore put faith in the system that delivers the best outcome for Christianity to thrive. I believe this becomes especially acute if we take the position that the US has some special favor with God and therefore Christianity is entitled to receive it’s rewards from the government that benefits individual Christians, churches, and other Christian organizations.
I want to be careful here. In full disclosure, I lean politically right because I favor limited government in the interest of religious liberty and freedom of conscience. I laid out my position out in this Family Discussion Season 2 podcast episode. The more government intrusion, the more such entities can dictate how people are to live. I do believe that in support of the church, we should advocate for policies that will protect her especially considering our brothers and sisters in Christ who live under regimes that are repressive to Christianity. Out of priority for Christ’s bride, we can take steps to preserve freedom for religious expression and moral ethics according to scriptural standards.
I’m not talking about simply supporting policies. Rather, I’m speaking to actively placing hope in the system such that we believe our righteousness is affected if we don’t achieve such favor. And you see what this does under the banner of love for country. Just as prosperity teaching drives people to place an emphasis on material gain, this impulse will drive an inordinate passion for government to be on the Christian’s side and treat anyone who opposes this drive as an enemy of Christianity, even brothers and sisters in Christ. The patriotic gospel sees less governmental favor on its behalf as actually taking a loss for Christianity.
But this is where I believe the patriotic gospel fails. As long as Jesus is building his church, Christianity will not lose. Our righteousness comes from him not favorable circumstances that makes it look like we are winning. It’s actually worldly thinking that assigns success of Christianity on material rewards. At the end of the day, the Christian’s allegiance is to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and his kingdom above all else. In him alone do we put our trust.