Jesus’ words to his followers about the city on a hill, coming between references to salt without savor and the futility of hiding a light under a bushel, are admonitory, not congratulatory. Those upon whom the light has been bestowed are not to regard themselves as elevated, nor are they instructed to build a city. Rather, they are to “let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” It is a metaphor—Christians must work to make the good news as visible to mankind as a high city.
In an earlier book, The War for Righteousness, Richard Gamble related how the liberal, progressive, humanity-saving segment of the American clergy repositioned themselves as ruthless (armchair) war-makers in support of the World War I “crusade for democracy.” His latest work, a mild-mannered but incisive tour de force of intellectual history, examines a particular aspect of American self-perception—and finds it seriously problematic.
A summary can hardly do justice to Professor Gamble’s rich and thorough scholarship as he traces the city on a hill’s “journey from biblical metaphor to nationalist myth” with canonical status in the American civil religion. A view of a few salient points will have to serve here.
The journey begins...