City on a Hill – Introduction

In Search of the City on a Hill: The Making and Unmaking of an American Myth  is written by Richard M. Gamble, Hillsdale College professor and Ruling Elder in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  In the coming weeks we’ll look at some excerpts.

In his Introduction, Gamble writes:

At some point in history – we will never know when – someone first applied the city metaphor to something other than Jesus’ disciples, to something or someone outside the boundaries of the Christian Church. That may not have happened for many centuries. It may not have happened first or only in America. But along the way it became commonplace to talk about America as the embodiment of Jesus’ hilltop city.

…we will see in the following pages that at one time Americans chiefly used the “city on a hill” to describe something transcendent and theological, and then at a later time chiefly to describe something earthly and political. The transition required nothing less than the unmaking of a biblical metaphor and the making of a national myth.

…Ideas are acted upon, used, and changed.. . . “while Dostoevsky describes what ideas do to men, Flaubert describes what men do with ideas: and perhaps the latter may be more significant – certainly for the historian.” That premise lies at the heart of this book.

…As a Christian, I believe that for the health of the Church it is necessary to unmake a national myth in order to reclaim it as a biblical metaphor.


Filed under Church and State, City on a Hill

10 responses to “City on a Hill – Introduction

  1. Richard

    I have to get the book; it sounds like a terrific read.

  2. Thanks for the tip, Richard. It would be great to have you read it and give us your thoughts as we go along.
    His writing style is very accessible. Leafing through the pages, I see the Massachusetts pilgrims, Jonathan Edwards, JFK, Ronald Reagan, and others, right up to McCain and Palin.

    • Richard

      Eh, I ordered it on ILL through my local library, I hope to get it soon; if this is half as good as “The War for Righteousness,” it should be terrific. I know DGH touched on this theme in a chapter in “A Secular Faith.” I expect the book will drive culture warrior types nuts. Good history ususally does that–see the demise of Barton, David.

  3. Kris D. Jones

    This first time I heard that was JFK. The second time was Reagan. I suspect that even the American Puritans might have indulged in the conflation of the 2 Kingdoms that way…
    Thanks for the heads up – I’ll read this book.

    • darrelltoddmaurina

      Read the “Magnalia Christi Americana” (subtitle: The Ecclesiastical History of New-England; from Its First Planting, in the Year 1620, Unto the Year of Our Lord 1698″ by Cotton Mather and it will be pretty hard to argue that this type of theology does not have very deep roots in the American Reformed tradition. The same can be said for England before the overthrow of Cromwell’s son.

      Like it or not, the “Christian Right” is not a new development in American history, though the modern Christian conservative movement has diverged in significant ways from its roots.

      • DTM, I read a good chunk of that book, including Mather’s passing along the story of Anne Hutchison giving birth to 30 inhuman creatures as divine punishment for her 30 heresies. Speaking charitably, Mather was credulous and presumptuous to the extreme for his confidence in reading providence.

        That’s not really the point, though. Are you suggesting that it’s OK to misuse scripture if it’s for a good political end? Of course you aren’t. So, what exactly is your beef with the introduction?

      • darrelltoddmaurina

        Actually I don’t have a beef. I studied under Dr. Gamble and if I’m going to say something critical of him I need to study carefully what he said.

        Dr. Gamble said regularly in class that it’s important to recognize that Reformed people in history can be wrong and there’s nothing wrong with that. We do not have Protestant saints and we should not have Protestant hagiography. I would be among the first to say that I have problems with some of Mather’s views.

      • “We do not have Protestant saints…”

        Moreover, we don’t even have biblical saints in that sense of the word. We see Abraham lieing, David commiting adultery, and Peter being rebuked for his hypocrisy. The scriptures always show men of the same temptations and frailities as we who walk the earth today.

        Not they we are to be flippant about our predecessors, mind you, but I would more closely identify with Old Princeton than with the Puritans. So we study both and do our best to continue what is good and jettison what is not.

    • Sounds like we have a book club forming…

  4. Here is my Amazon impression: People who like this book will also enjoy “The War for Righteousness: Progressive Christianity, the Great War, and the Rise of the Messianic Nation” by the same author.

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