Studying the revolutionary war from the perspective of chaplains who attached themselves to the militias and the continental army it became clear to me that the spiritual impetus to independence was a form of theological reflection that saw life in the new world as a fulfillment of covenant promises that God made to his people. It was full of metaphor and allusions to the Exodus. The “Promised Land” concept was rife in the years leading up to the Declaration of Independence, and it popped up in the debates over “manifest destiny”. It is at the heart of Black theology and spirituality before and after the Civil War. It is the foundation of “I have a dream” speech of MLK.
I came across an article in the Christian Science Monitor about new research being done that showed the religious seeds of revolution, a concept that was discarded before. The article was from the eighties and so the research has been happening for awhile. Dr. Harry Stout from Yale was the subject of the article and he is quoted as bringing contemporary songs into the discussion. The music of Bruce Springsteen came up like this – “`Bruce is disillusioned, because he’s been brought up to think there is a promised land. But he doesn’t find it in the factories, or in the streets of fire.” What Stout asks his students is: Where did Springsteen ever get the idea that there is a promised land?”
That is a simple question that makes one stand up and take notice. The promised land concept is all over our history. A blessed place God prepares for his people whose first iteration is Canaan and the image can be heaven and eternal life. It is something like a mass consciousness of the good things God has prepared for those who love him.