Andrew Preston wrote Sword of the Spirit, Shield of Faith as a history of the relationship between religion and American foreign relations, beginning with America’s first English settlers and culminating with the presidency of Ronald Reagan. Preston assumes the vital prominence of religion in shaping both America’s own self-understanding and its relationships with the rest of the world (3). Preston, by his own admission, does not write to provide a new exhaustive history of American foreign policy, but to complement existing histories by highlighting the central role religion has always played in the nation’s broader interactions with the world (5).
The importance of the book is illustrated by a vignette offered in the epilogue. Preston notes George W. Bush’s appeal to the language of faith after the September 11 terrorist attacks. Many writers at the time criticized Bush for what they perceived as a “radical break with the American diplomatic tradition” (605). However, Preston’s work ably shows that Bush’s use of religion, contrary to modern perceptions, was in line with a vibrant American tradition. This ambitious book details that tradition and helps us understand our own history.
Who Should Read It and Why?
The book is long, but it is also fascinating and extremely well-written. Anyone who desires to understand the primary role that religion has played in forming a distinct American identity and in influencing America’s relationships with the rest of the world should read this book. Preston ably nuances theological themes, which is not always the case in books like this, and treats his subjects with equity and fairness. He tells the story cohesively and provides deep insights along the way.