Fortress Press

Chosen Nations: Pursuit of the Kingdom of God and Its Influence on Democratic Values in Late Nineteenth-Century Britain and the United States

Chosen Nations

Pursuit of the Kingdom of God and Its Influence on Democratic Values in Late Nineteenth-Century Britain and the United States

Christina L. Littlefield (Author)


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At the heart of the biblical myth of chosenness is the idea that God has blessed a people to be a blessing to others. It is a mission of solemn responsibility. The six British and American thinkers examined in this study embraced the myth of chosenness for their countries, believed that the liberties they enjoyed were inherently tied to their Protestant faith, and that it was their mission to protect and spread that faith, and its democratic fruit, at home and abroad.

Each theologian in this study—Robert William Dale, Hugh Price Hughes, and Brooke Foss Westcott in England; Walter Rauschenbusch, Henry Codman Potter, and Josiah Strong in the United States—wanted, in Rauschenbusch's words, to “Christianize the social order,” seeking to evolve their countries into true Christian nations that would lead to an international kingdom of God. They were all products of their time, yet ahead of their time, and their pursuit of a true, free, national Christianity helped support the development of Western democratic values.  However, their belief in chosenness also fueled imperialistic claims, neglected the rights of native peoples, led to anti-Catholicism, and hindered the religious liberties of others.
  • Publisher Fortress Press
  • Format Paperback
  • ISBN 9781451465570
  • eBook ISBN 9781451469622
  • Dimensions 6 x 9
  • Pages 200
  • Emerging Scholars category Christian History
  • Publication Date September 1, 2013


"Because Christina Littlefield helps us see what we have not seen well before—the transnational dimensions of America’s civil religion—this book is crucial reading for anyone seeking to understand the intersection of religion and politics in the Western world. Littlefield’s incisive analysis helps us discern the deep moral ambiguities that inevitably plague efforts to build the kingdom of God around a nation, a race, or a particular civilization. This enormously stimulating book implicitly suggests another fruitful comparison—the extent to which the Christian Left of the late nineteenth century has paradoxically informed the civic faith of America’s Christian Right today."
—Richard T. Hughes
Messiah College

"The great value of Christina Littlefield's book lies in its bringing together of what has too often been studied in mutual isolation. Christian reformers in late nineteenth-century Britain and their contemporaries in the United States, ideas of civil religion and of the social gospel, and concepts of the kingdom of God and of the chosen nation, are all brought into relationship in a way that is both original and illuminating."
Brian Stanley
University of Edinburgh

"In this meticulously researched book, Christina Littlefield offers a new perspective on six late nineteenth-century socially progressive church leaders, three from the United States and three from the United Kingdom. Using the concept of civil religion, she argues that each was articulating core beliefs of contemporary society as much as those of the Christian faith, and in this way demonstrates what might be called the soft underbelly of the social gospel. No one interested in social comment by religious leaders can ignore this book."
—David M. Thompson
University of Cambridge

"Christina Littlefield has provided a perceptive, original and highly readable account of the social gospel movement in its trans-Atlantic context, exploring how American and British proponents sought to preserve a Christian social ethic amid rapid industrialisation and urbanisation. She admirably portrays the attractions in their efforts to shape a humane civil society, but also the dangers of their language of ‘chosenness’ and divine favour.”
Stewart J. Brown
University of Edinburgh