Between Babel and the Beast (Review)

Over the years I have moved in an Anabaptist direction in my thinking on ethics and the relationship of a Christian to the government. Like many, this was greatly influenced by the works of John Howard Yoder (though having a wife who worked at a Mennonite school and spending time with many people there certainly helped). After growing up in a church that often praised America alongside of Jesus during worship (or so it seemed), and living in an evangelical subculture that sees America as a Christian nation, it was refreshing to see a view that unequivocally upheld the supremacy of Christ in the face of any nation.

Yet I often felt that some of what I read and heard went a bit too far. Yes, all governments are flawed and fall short of God, but some are better then others. Peter Leithart’s book offers the sort of balance that I have been looking for.

He begins with a section looking at empire from a Biblical perspective and argues that not all empires are bad. Some empires, especially those that protect God’s people, can be good. This leads into his second and third sections, discussing America. Leithart is no David Barton, he shows the numerous flaws in America. Along with this, he calls the religion of lifting up America to the heights of heaven as “Americanism”, a sin for which Barton and many others certainly are guilty of. I have often thought that the greatest sin of America Christians is nationalism, Leithart’s word for this is Americanism.

What is most chilling is how Leithart shows that while America does not qualify as a beast, America supports the work of many beasts worldwide. Leithart defines a ‘beast’ as an empire that persecutes God’s people. America allows freedom of religion and thus protects God’s people. Yet America provides millions of dollars to countries like Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Iran and even Israel who are not safe-havens for Christians but instead where Christians face persecution (yes, even Israel).

This book is a must-read for evangelical Christians because Leithart says what needs to be said, and he is one of their own. While it may be easy to brush off Yoder or Shane Claiborne or Jim Wallis it should not be so easy to brush off Leithart. His conservative credentials are clear. For that, hopefully he can get the message out that while America is great, Americanism is a sin that puts a country in place of Christ.

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