In the weeks following the Jan. 6 insurrection, many evangelical leaders spoke out against the idol of Christian nationalism. At the time, this conversation was predominantly aimed at conservatives, but Biden’s comments reveal the subtle ways Christian nationalism can gain a foothold in liberal circles as well.
It is easy to disparage the use of Scripture by one political side but justify its appropriation by the other as sincere faith. When we do so, it reveals Christian nationalism is simply the new linguistic proxy for our decades-old culture war.
Second, the use of this text in the context of military engagement is not only odd, it demonstrates a complete misunderstanding of the text.
In Isaiah 6, the prophet encounters God in the incomparable splendor of his throne room. Written the year King Uzziah died (estimated to be around 740 B.C.E.), Isaiah was living through political instability and division. Subjugated, terrorized and powerless, the Kingdom of Judah was hopeless as they awaited what must have felt like their imminent destruction.
Against this backdrop of futility and oppression, Isaiah encounters the living God. In the throne room of God, suddenly the nations of the world seem weak and insignificant. After Isaiah confesses his sin, God asks who he can send to the nations with his message. Without hesitation, Isaiah shouts, “Here I am. Send me!”
When we see God in his holiness, it causes us to live a different kind of life. Those of us who have been changed by the good news in Jesus join with Isaiah and say, “Here I am. Send me!” Isaiah’s words in verse 8 exemplify the proper response of any person who encounters the Holy God: a life surrendered to fulfilling God’s mission because we are intimately aware of his goodness.
This text is not about answering just any kind of calling — military, civilian or otherwise — the text is about the call of God on a man of God to spread the message of God and thus to fulfill the mission of God.
Third, Biden’s use of the verse completely misses the heart of the passage, which is what we actually need to hear today. The world does not need more conflation between American foreign involvement with Isaiah 6. While I am thankful for many examples in our history when America has been a force for good on the global stage, applying Scripture to international diplomacy or the military has been and continues to be a recipe for skepticism toward true biblical faith.