Why I'm Not A Christian Nationalist

Some terms are completely useless, in that, they can mean all things to all men. "Christian Nationalism" is one such label. 

In common discourse, the term "Christian Nationalism" is used to describe everything from Christians voting for pro-life measures to Vladimir Putin's Russia. To some, it means nothing more than "Christians influencing their culture" to "Christians institutionalizing their control over society." While sometimes used as pejorative to smear all conservative Christians, the term has been embraced by others as a badge of honor. By embracing the smear, they can really stick to the libs ("Deplorables" anyone?). 

So what is Christian Nationalism? What does it aim to accomplish? What are its values? Is it a project with which Christians and conservatives should identify? 

A recent book, The Case for Christian Nationalism, presents itself as an authoritative, definitive work on the subject. At 488 pages and loaded with hundreds of footnotes, it is thoroughly researched and closely reasoned. For anyone wishing to interact with Christian Nationalism,The Case for Christian Nationalism is a key work to consider. It comes from a key advocate for the view, is endorsed by Nationalist thinker Yoram Hazony, and is published by Doug Wilson's Canon Press. Simply, this comes, not from the far fringes of Christian Nationalist thinking, but from the very center. 

The rest of this post is a reflection on Wolfe's book, not technically a review of all its arguments. Others have done that with far better skill than I can muster. 

Having read the must-discussed book, it is clear I am not and cannot be a Christian Nationalist. Here are five reasons why:  

1. I'm a Biblicist. 

This is my longest point, so buckle up. By "Biblicist," I mean one who not only believes that the Bible is God's Word, that it is sufficient, inerrant, and infallible, but also that the Bible is the starting point for Christian thinking and the stopping point for Christian critique. The Bible interprets reality and is the supreme authority. I don't use the term "Biblicist" as a "I am of Christ" conversation-stopper, nor do I use it to mean that systematic theology and church history are of no value. Most evangelical Christians would agree with this kind of framework. 

In contrast, on page 16, Wolfe states, “I make little effort to exegete biblical text....I am neither a theologian nor a biblical scholar.”  He confirms that self-assessment over the next 400+ pages. Wolfe never even attempts to perform the most basic action in making a “Christian Case” for anything: exegeting and applying Scripture. Key texts like Genesis 10 and 11 which show the Biblical origin of nations, are completely ignored. Texts like Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 2; 17:26 and Revelation 7:9-10 go unmentioned. 

Indeed, Wolfe’s key claim that ethnically-distinct and competitive nations would have existed in an un-fallen world (chapter 1) lacks any Biblical support. It is pure speculation. From this assumption, he argues that cultural particularity and even ethnic conflict are natural and therefore good (152). However, nothing in the text of Genesis hints at these conclusions. Wolfe erects a fanciful world on an ephemeral foundation of theological speculation. Ironically, his imaginary pre-fall nations are marked by cultural division, violence, disagreements, and the need for government. One wonders how the pre-fallen world is any different than the post-fall world in Wolfe's thinking. 

Further, Wolfe’s assertion that it is not just natural but good to love people like us (118) and exclude people unlike us (199) flatly contradicts the plain sense of Leviticus 19:18, 33-34, Matthew 5:43-48, Luke 10:25-37. While it is true that we should have “natural affection” toward our own, Biblical love is marked by its expansiveness beyond our own in-group. It is more than, not less than, natural affection. Wolfe seems to regard love as a limited quantity, that if shared with any kind of out-group must automatically be denied to those closest to us. Jesus and the New Testament writers reject this kind of zero-sum thinking, calling us instead to love our enemies, provide for them, and forgive them. 

One of the central concerns of the NT is that, in Christ, Christians can enjoy unity that transcends ethnic division (Ephesians 2:11-22; Colossians 3:11). Wolfe, however, thinks that ethnic diversity and cultural particularity is such an essential reality that even the gospel cannot transcend it: “this brotherhood [Christianity]--being fit for a heavenly kingdom is wholly inadequate as to its kind for cooperating to procure the full range of goodness necessary for living well in this world” (199). In other words, the gospel might get you to heaven, but it cannot secure ethnic unity now between divided people groups within the church, much less form the basis for national cohesion among diverse cultures. We might as well ignore the entire book of Ephesians, the Jerusalem Council, Galatians, the Day of Pentecost, and most of the NT. Wolfe's Christian nationalism, it turns out, is less about Christianity than it is about shared culture and ethnicity. 

To ground his argument, Wolfe repeatedly recites the mantra, “Grace does not eradicate nature,” nature referring to man’s pre-fallen condition, which he maintains includes ethnic particularity. He argues that “your instinct to conduct everyday life among similar people is natural, and being natural, it is for your good” (142). “This instinct is not from the fall or due to sin; it is natural and, therefore, good. We are naturally drawn to what, in principle, is necessary for our complete good” (150-151). While it is certainly true that man's pre-fallen nature was good (Genesis 1:31) and that the Imago Dei is not fully obliterated by the Fall, these statements should be deeply troubling for anyone holding a Biblical view of man’s fallen condition (Romans 3:10-19, 23; I Corinthians 2:14 etc). Wolfe does not countenance for an instant that our preference for ethnically (and racially) similar people and our dislike of those dissimilar may be a result of the Fall. Contrary to his assumptions, the Fall does radically alter our nature to such a degree that what is natural and instinctual is thoroughly corrupted by sin (see I Corinthians 2:14). 

2. I'm a Baptist. 

Wolfe’s system of Christian Nationalism requires some way of Christianizing national citizenship. Enter infant baptism. “Paedobaptism is the position most natural to Christian nationalism, for baptizing infants brings them outwardly (at least) into the people of God. When the body politic is baptized, all are the people of God.... credobaptism likely creates problems for Christian nationalism.” (217) 

Baptists maintain, in accordance with God’s Word, that church membership is limited to the regenerate and that baptism is reserved for the saved. There is no instance in the New Testament of baptism being offered to the unregenerate or administered to infants. The uniform testimony of the New Testament is that baptism follows faith, and this order is never reversed. Baptists have long rightly maintained that church and state be institutionally separate and that Caesar not intrude on matters on the things that are God’s. Christian Nationalism is, in actuality, Christian nominalism, as it makes cultural Christianity and Christian culture its main goal. It aims for the establishment of a state church, ultimately collapsing the distinction between national citizenship and kingdom citizenship, erasing the lines between the church and world, and obliterating the wall between the saved and the lost.  

Baptists have long been wrenches in the gears of national churches. Refusing to baptize their infant children, they were regarded as both heretical and unpatriotic. Whether in Calvin's Geneva or Winthrop's Massachusetts, Baptists have been hounded by the Christian magistrate, whipped, drowned, and exiled. Shockingly, Wolfe takes a chapter to defend the legitimacy of such actions in history. But history aside: the ecclesiology of Christian Nationalism is deeply problematic. 

3. I'm an American. 

To be an American is to be part of a nation of immigrants. Belonging in America is not about ethnicity or race, but about allegiance to the American Creed. And while it is absolutely true that America’s Founding is based on broadly Protestant values, the Founders rejected the notion that personal adherence to a particular faith was essential to being American. American ideals explicitly reject an established national religion (though it should be noted that the early Republic allowed individual states to have established churches), even if the values of the majority have been largely shaped by Christianity. To argue for a government-imposed national religion is contrary to our founding ideals and documents.  

Over against the historical reality of America as melting pot and a nation that has progressively realized its national ideals of equality for all, Wolfe argues for an idea of nationhood that ties national belonging to ethnicity, and ethnicity to blood. 

If love for in-groups is good and inclusion of out-groups is bad, why would segregation not be acceptable? If blood relations and ethnicity are the foundation for nationhood (see 138-139), and if “a community in blood is crucial to ethnicity,” how does this vision not only accept but encourage racism? How can a nation like the United States, which is not defined by any one ethnicity or culture, be maintained? Judging by the book by its cover (literally), Wolfe views the United States as a nation, but it is hard to see how his vision can be implemented without removing or suppressing dissident elements. Wolfe himself has made comments on Twitter denouncing inter-racial marriage, and has favorably interacted with and cited openly racist individuals. 

Nationalism, by definition, must try to impose cultural sameness and homogeneity on a people, often through the barrel of a gun. The fact that nationalistic projects have typically degenerated into oppressive dictatorships should give us pause. Like so many nationalistic efforts in the past, CN would require a dictatorship of the minority (Reformed Christians like Wolfe). Instead of the proletariat or a Committee of Public Safety, you would have some kind of elite council of Christian Princes ruling the nation. This is no exaggeration. 

In Wolfe’s chapter on the “Christian Prince,” he argues for “theocratic Caesarism--the prince as a world-shaker for our time” (279). He maintains that “modern democracy is often more oppressive than its alternatives” (279, footnote 2). This is nuts. I would rather live under American democracy with all its flaws than a Constantinian dictatorship or a Genevan theocracy. Both have been united in their persecution of and disdain for credo-baptists like myself and other "heretics" who refused to go along. But that is not all. In near-blasphemous language, Wolfe writes, “The prince holds the most excellent office...for it is most like God. The prince, unlike the church minister, is a mediator--‘a vicar of God’--in outward, civil affairs...Having the highest office on earth, the good prince resembles God to the people. Indeed, he is the closest image of God on earth” (286-7). Last time I checked, “There is one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus” (I Timothy 2:5). The truest image of God is not the Christian prince, but Jesus Christ (Colossians 1:15). 

But back to the matter at hand: Wolfe longs for a Christian Caesar to impose Christianity on the nation, sponsor state churches, and repress heresy. Such actions run counter to core American ideals (not to mention the Bible). 

4. I'm a Conservative. 

Conservatives historically have a restrained view as to what governments and revolutions can accomplish. Conservatives have a limited view of the government's function. Essentially, conservatives believe that government is competent to ensure justice and protect the citizenry from threats of violence against their persons and property. Conservatives have balked at visions of governmentally-imposed utopias, whether those visions be egalitarian or nationalistic. In short, governments should basically keep the streets safe, the garbage picked up, and the borders secure.  They are not competent to impose religion, arbitrate theological disputes, enforce equality of outcome, or usher in the messianic kingdom. Reform, rather than revolution is the way forward. Conservatives prefer Burke's little platoons of local institutions, rather than the abstract ideals of a Paine's world remade.  

There is no hint anywhere on the pages of the New Testament that Christians should ask or expect the government to be the means of encouraging conversions and holy living in the spiritual sphere. Government, according to I Timothy 2:1-4, simply is to ensure that Christians can live a quiet and peaceable life. Christian nationalism, while sharing many values with Christian conservatives, is in fact a utopian revolutionary idea, not a conservative one. Wolfe admits as much in his conclusion. It is a revolutionary, rather than reformist project, one that expects national government to bring about massive change in the national character. 

Whatever this is, it is not conservative. 

5. I'm a Realist. 

Christian Nationalism is simply not going to happen. The way things work in this country is that you have to persuade voters, win elections, build coalitions, create policies, and build institutions. The Christian Nationalist project is an unrealistic pipe dream that calls for violent revolution to impose itself on an unwilling nation (there's a whole chapter devoted to defending the right to violent revolution).  

If CN is so unrealistic, why the spilling of so much virtual ink? 

I’m concerned that myriads of Christians will devote their time, energy, and focus into building an earthly kingdom that will never materialize at the expense of the mission of the church, which is making disciples of the nations for the glory of God. 

Christian Nationalism is a bridge to nowhere, a cul-de-sac off the main drag, a black hole for gospel focus. The NT's focus is not on any particular nation, but on the nations. It does not call us to Christianize cultures, but evangelize peoples. 

Here is what is real and important: the church's mission in the world. 

The Great Commission is rooted in the universal kingdom of the risen King and it is global in scope. Thus, the Bible presents the church universal as the true Christian nation (I Peter 1:1-2; 2:9-10) made up of representatives from every nation, tribe, and tongue (see Matthew 28:18-20; Col. 3:11; Revelation 7:9-10). The gospel does redefine (contrary to Wolfe) our natural relationships, including family relationships (Mark 3:33-35). This does not obliterate natural families and nations, but it does point us to something far more ultimate: the church of Jesus Christ. 

As good as it is to enjoy the good gifts of history and place, Christians have been people who "let goods and kindred go" to make the name of Jesus famous. Christians have been people who cross borders and call people to follow the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. 

Conclusion: Neither Christian nor National

In short, CN is neither Christian nor national. By limiting the nation to "Christian," it excludes most people currently residing in the United States who would not subscribe to the views of the would-be elite. 

It is not Christian in that it reduces "Christianity" to a cultural label. In Christian Nationalism, Christianity merely refers to a set of shared cultural values, not to regeneration through the gospel of Jesus Christ. History shows that places with established churches have slid most quickly into nominalism, hypocrisy, and secularism. Sweden and England come to mind. Both countries have state churches and both countries are radically secular. Clearly, an established church is not the answer to modern secularism. Those advocating today for Christian Nationalism they must either ignore this historical reality or act like the socialist who maintains that the real thing has never really been tried.  

Count me out.


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