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What makes America unique?

Dr. Jim Denison is a cultural apologist who helps people respond biblically and redemptively to the vital issues of our day. He is also the co-founder and Chief Vision Officer of the Denison Forum, a Dallas-based nonprofit that comments on current issues through a biblical lens.

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Statue of Liberty viewed off of a boat in New York Harbor over the July 4th, 2009 weekend (Credit: Steve Chihos via Flickr)

America celebrates her 239th birthday tomorrow.  According to a recent survey, nearly two in three Americans say God has granted our nation an exceptional role in human history.  Is this true?

Charles Murray earned a BA in history from Harvard and a PhD in political science from MIT.  In American Exceptionalism: An Experiment in History, he states categorically: “American exceptionalism is a fact of America’s past, not something you can choose whether to ‘believe in’ any more than you can choose whether to ‘believe in’ the battle of Gettysburg.”  In its early years, the United States was considered to be “exceptional” by foreign observers as much as by Americans.

According to Murray, four factors contributed to the nation’s uniqueness:

1. Our geography: rich soil for farming, a frontier to encourage immigration, and the Atlantic Ocean to separate us from European conflict.
2. Our people: hardworking pioneers who formed close-knit families.
3. Our ideology: the belief that humans possess innate rights which the state cannot bestow or withhold.
4. Our religiosity: by separating church and state, we formed congregations composed of people committed to their faith, not just those born into it.  John Adams was blunt: “Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people.  It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other.”

Do these factors mean that our founders were all Christians?  We sometimes hear that 52 of the 55 signers of the Declaration of Independence were “orthodox” Christians, and that 24 held seminary degrees.  But their personal spiritual commitments are actually hard to determine.  We can characterize only about 20—half were biblical Christians, while the rest were deists or non-orthodox.

While America’s founders were not all committed Christians, they were clearly committed to a Judeo-Christian moral standard.  Even Thomas Jefferson, himself a deist, insisted: “Injustice in government undermines the foundations of a society.  A nation, therefore, must take measures to encourage its members along the paths of justice and morality.”

How can we take such “measures” today?

Abraham Lincoln warned, “America will never be destroyed from the outside.  If we falter and lose our freedoms, it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”  Spiritual renewal is critical to the future of our democracy. (Tweet this) Our greatest need today is not to make America a Christian nation, but to help America be a nation of Christians (Matthew 28:18-20). (Tweet this)

I love America, and celebrate her national birthday with joy.  But I also pray every day for America to experience the spiritual awakening we so desperately need.  Will you join me?