Book Review

How to be a better patriot

A review of Adam Wyatt’s "Biblical Patriotism: An Evangelical Alternative to Nationalism"

December 21, 2021

Before looking at affection, friendship, and erotic love in his classic study The Four Loves, C. S. Lewis begins by examining our love for the sub-human. And one of these is love of country.

“We all know that this love becomes a demon when it becomes a god. Some begin to suspect that it is never anything but a demon. But then they have to reject half the high poetry and half the heroic action our race has achieved. We cannot keep even Christ’s lament over Jerusalem. He too exhibits love for his country. (22)

Over the course of the rest of the chapter, Lewis sets out the good aspects and the ways patriotism can be twisted to become demonic. Among the former is the admonition that our love of country is rooted in our love of place, and often a particular place with particular people. I love America, but when I picture America, it is Tupelo, Mississippi, that comes to mind, with its downtown area, the local coffee shop I frequent, or the small church I attend.  

It is unlikely that I will love “Americans” in the abstract whom I have never met, if I do not love those who I meet every day. Lewis also points out that this love of home can twist itself into a sense of superiority such that we actually come to believe that no other country, place, region, is as good or worthwhile as our own. Further, when one assumes they are a superior nation there is a duty to either civilize (by which he means expand our own borders) all the world or to think that any action taken against an inferior country is acceptable. The love of home, when made a god, quickly becomes a demonic force of destruction. 

Adam Wyatt’s Biblical Patriotism: An Evangelical Alternative to Nationalism is a welcome contribution to the study of patriotism because it combats these dangers and emphasizes the good qualities. Drawing on both history and biblical exegesis, Wyatt grounds his study in the concept of loyalty and the sense of virtue. Seeing patriotism as a middle road between the dangers of nationalism and cosmopolitanism, Wyatt argues for a definition that is not only good for society, but for Christians. 

The dangers of nationalism and cosmopolitanism

Before looking at the middle road of patriotism, it is helpful to examine the twin dangers that Wyatt identifies for the Christian. On one extreme is the ditch of nationalism, which aligns with Lewis’ definition of a patriotism that sees our nation as superior to all others. Recently, scholars have pointed out the unique dangers that this poses to Christianity and the ways that it corrupts the gospel truth of a universal church. When the nation is held up as all important, it becomes a cruel god, bending all to the will of the state and baptizing any action taken as moral and just. 

However, Christians must not slide into the opposite error of thinking that national borders are irrelevant: cosmopolitanism. We all live in a global society where the actions of one country, particularly a large or influential one such as China, Russia, or the United States, have implications for the rest of the world. However, Christians must not buy the lie that our native country does not matter. We are born into a particular place and time, and though national borders may change, they are consequential. 

Both nationalism and cosmopolitanism take an important aspect — love of the culture and particularity of our country or our interconnectedness to the rest of the world — and magnifies it to such a degree that virtue becomes a vice. By contrast, Wyatt argues that patriotism, when rightly defined and understood, functions as the golden mean between these twin errors. 

Loyalty and particularity

Patriotism is not an amorphous term for a love of country, synonymous with fuzzy feelings when “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” is played. Rather it is grounded in the virtue of loyalty and finds its expression through identification. Loyalty functions as the key to Wyatt’s argument because it is loyalty to a particular country of which the individual is a citizen that defines patriotism. Thus, though I spent a summer in the United Kingdom and came back raving about how much I loved it — much to the annoyance of anyone who would listen — I was not patriotic. I was affectionate. I was even obsessive (there was definitely a Union Jack in my luggage that made its way to my college apartment wall). But I was not patriotic because I was not linked in a meaningful way to the U.K.. I had neither the rights nor duties that come with citizenship.

By contrast, patriotism is anchored in a country that we, in Wyatt’s language, “identify as our own.” This identification begins with loyalty and is expressed through our attachment and appropriation of the country as ours. Thus, patriotism is not static, but it develops over time and in response to stimuli. I was in elementary school, but I still remember the sudden mass appearance of American flags everywhere — banks, classrooms, front doors, even gas stations — after the 9/11 terror attacks. Similarly, in the wake of tragedy, such as the Boston bombing or natural disasters, it is not uncommon for Americans to speak as if they themselves were attacked or harmed in their support or charitable action for those who were. They identify with the victims because of a shared national identity. 

It is fair to raise the question of who we can see as part of that shared identity in this polarized time. If citizens live in different Americas based on what we watch on HGTV or listen to NPR, whether we eat at Cracker Barrel or Whole Foods, or buy our clothes from Walmart or Bloomingdales, one wonders if we actually can see ourselves as having a shared story and identity. And for those who have been systematically excluded from the national story, it is understandable to push against all that comes with the national story and culture. 

However, as Lewis points out in his examination of patriotism, it is how we reckon with those stories that reveals whether we have a godly or demonic patriotism. Patriotism does not ignore the sins of the past, so long as we do not confuse the saga that we tell with our history. National narratives are to call us, ostensibly, to our better selves. And to say that they are saga, to use Lewis’ term, is not to imply that they are falsehoods, because many are true. But rather it recognizes that they are meant to instill a particular kind of virtue in the citizenry, one that is absolutely — as both Lewis and Wyatt acknowledge — in keeping with the Christian’s duty to the nation. It is the power of story and saga that can uphold virtue and urge us to sacrifice our own desires for the well-being of our country. 

And even as we tell the story, Americans especially, should recognize that there is always a reason to expand the story of who counts and is worthy of emulation. In previous generations, that meant recognizing the full dignity of enslaved Africans, granting the right to vote to women, or not prohibiting someone from elected office because of their religion. Now, it likely means recognizing that the person on the other side of the political aisle is an American as well and not our enemy. In all situations, it is recognizing the full dignity of the person and extending to them, on the basis of our patriotic values, the rights which are foundational to our nation. The story may change and include new actors, but its call to deeper virtue remains constant. 


In a moment when Christians are debating the proper relationship between church and state and what it means for faithful Christians to exist in a particular nation at a particular point in time, Wyatt’s Biblical Patriotism reminds us that our love and loyalty to country is a good and biblical truth. We may at times rebuke the nation with a jeremiad, just like the Puritans of the 1600s, and we may remind the nation of its failure to live up to its promises and ideals, just like the civil rights leaders of the 1960s. But we do not give up a love for the nation. 

As Christians, we hold our love for the nation secondary to our love for the kingdom of God, and we acknowledge our place as citizens of the kingdom. But this does not mean that we are apathetic to the concerns of our nation. Rather, it frees us to live well as good citizens. As public theologian Russell Moore has argued, “We are Americans best, when we are not Americans first.” Adam Wyatt’s study of patriotism is a great reminder of this reality and of the importance of a love of country for those who are sojourners on this earth. 

Alex Ward

Alex Ward serves as the research associate and project manager for the ERLC’s research initiatives. He manages long term research projects for the organization under the leadership of the director of research. Alex is currently pursuing a PhD in History at the University of Mississippi studying evangelical political activity in … Read More

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24