Book Review: Can God Bless America?

Can God Bless America?, by John MacArthur

In this slim, roughly 100 page book written after 9/11 [1], mainstream Christian author John MacArthur asks a question he falsely believes to be one that is never asked over and over again, and that is can God bless America in a way that is consistent with His holiness?  Although the answer to this question may seem even more obvious now than it was at the time when this book was written, the author manages to take his examination of the blessings that we seek from God and the changes that we would have to make for God to be able to bless us in a way consistent with His unchanging character as revealed in Scripture takes some unexpected detours that will likely please some readers and greatly bother others.  A book like this is not calculated to be pleasant, but rather it is designed to present a biblical rebuke but one that also shows graciousness to others, and I have to find that I enjoy the book a lot more as it is written than I would likely have enjoyed it had the author been more detailed about those he did not consider to be suitable Christians, as I am pretty sure the author would find fault with my own particular biblical worldview, notwithstanding our fundamental agreement on the big picture discussed here.

This short book, almost a pamphlet, is divided into four chapters.  The first chapter asks whether God can bless America in a way that seems to dwell over and over on the lyrics and context of Irving Berlin’s famous patriotic message, its offensiveness to atheists, the absence of conditions on the request for God to bless America, and the way that a searching question can often become a mere patriotic slogan devoid of searching questions and reflection.  The second chapter takes a look at biblical history, spending a great deal of time in James and the time of Nehemiah, looking at the factors that would be necessary for God to smile on us with favor, namely our repentance for the sins of our fathers and our conversion to godly ways that would lead us on the path to salvation.  The author then turns in his third chapter to the issue of guilt, finding fault with New Age philosophers like Dyer [2] who would wish to banish all reflection on our guilt for having abandoned God’s ways in seeking after our own lusts.  The author is right that guilt is an unpopular subject, and also right that we need to come to grips with our own sins before we can expect divine favor.  The book then closes on a bit of a surprise left hook in pointing out the dangers of moralism, where the author makes the apt but unpleasant comparison between modern moralists and politically active social conservatives [3] with the moral viewpoint of the Pharisees of Jesus’ day, which is a stinging rebuke that will leave some readers more than a little bit upset.

Although this book is very short, it is better that this is so given the author’s point.  Had the book been longer, it likely would have either strayed into the moralistic tendencies that the author was rebuking or it would have offended readers by including more details as to what the author considered to be unbiblical or twisted doctrines that made someone unsuitable as a partner in seeking salvation.  Considering that the opinions of people, myself included, do not matter for much in the final analysis when we come face to face with the reality of divine judgment, it is wise that he merely makes general comments about this matter rather than providing detail that would pointlessly alienate his audience, much of whom would likely find much to critique in the selective sins that are railed against by moralistic contemporary Pharisees [4].  Besides those pragmatic concerns, this book is all the more powerful at its size because it can be read fairly rapidly, quickly enough to get a sense of the author’s preoccupation with the relationship between godliness and patriotism, as the author appears to be wrestling with the tension between a desire to see our country to succeed and an awareness that this would require massive repentance on a scale seldom seen in human history.  No elections can save our people, no laws or Supreme Court decisions, only a widespread conviction that our hearts and our conduct need to be right with God and with each other before judgment falls upon us.  One critique I would make is that the author appears ignorant of the fact that our blessings are the result of a covenant relationship, but this is a small quibble to make with a book that is otherwise very thought-provoking, and a worthwhile critique to those who tend to view our national survival as being dependent on a great deal of partisan political activism.

[1] See, for example:

[2] See, for example:

[3] See, for example:

[4] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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