By Jonathan Clark*
A brand new e book on Christian nationalism has touched a chord with many who really feel alienated from a tradition more and more hostile to spiritual religion. Its prescriptions, nonetheless, might show as lethal because the illness it needs to remedy.
It’s not a degree of dispute that the Christian religion, each in affect and variety of adherents, is declining within the Western world. Each month, new books, articles, podcasts, surveys, and sermons analyze, diagnose, and strategize in regards to the waves of secularism pounding by way of church buildings, synagogues, houses, marriages, workplaces, universities, main and secondary faculties—certainly, what seems like each sq. inch of our society. As a university Presbyterian pastor at a state college, I really feel this as acutely as anybody. The statistics of opposition for campus ministry are overwhelming; I usually inform buddies that my job is as a rear guard for the religion within the West. I now look to the World South and the East for the way forward for institutional Christian religion.
So once I first encountered fellow Presbyterian Stephen Wolfe’s articles in 2020, I used to be excited. However my pleasure shifted to dismay as his e book, The Case for Christian Nationalism, swept by way of bestseller lists in 2022. Though he makes some useful observations, Wolfe’s manifesto is an in the end unhelpful response for American Christians going through the fact of an aggressive secularism.
Wolfe argues that the Christian faith shouldn’t be merely a religious fact but additionally the perfect and solely answer to society’s quest for civil justice and fairness. His hope for America is the institution of a “Christian nation,” or a nation whose “totality of motion,” each authorized and social, is directed by the Christian religion and towards Christian items, each “earthly and heavenly.” He defines “nationalism” as civil actions and social commitments that shield and additional “one’s personal”—notably one’s personal nation.
Wolfe involves this conclusion not as a theologian however as a political thinker observing “pure rules,” or pure regulation. He’s emphatic that grace (God’s redemptive interplay together with his creation) doesn’t exchange nature however reasonably perfects and completes it. Thus, the rational man is able to deducing true justice unbiased of particular revelation. The autumn into sin had solely minimal impact on a Christian’s capability to discern, and hopefully apply, Christian nationalism to a given polis.
First, some reward. Wolfe units himself a colossal process: he tackles nothing lower than the main philosophical and political questions which have animated us “social animals” since Aristotle. What’s justice? What’s the political good? What’s peace? How do spiritual claims work together with human social life? And Wolfe’s ambition is matched by his breadth of studying. He earnestly consults the theological and political voices of the Protestant Reformation, particularly the Magisterial Reformation, which sought an interdependence of church and state. He writes with admirable zeal. It’s clear that he cherishes his nation, his household, and his religion. Lastly, he rightly sees the threats posed by radical progressivism and secularism in opposition to not solely religious order however earthly order as properly.
Wolfe additionally accurately understands authorities pre-exists the Fall and is a creational good from God. Due to this fact, authorities deserves Christian prayer for “peaceable and quiet lives in godliness and holiness” (1 Tim. 2), and to “punish evil and reward good” (Rom. 13). Christians should pursue civil order that protects justice and punishes evil, even with political workplace. Second, Wolfe rightly research the Reformers’ want to combine Christian religion with authorities, even in ways in which increase our separation of church and state eyebrows. Authorities exists for our frequent good, and one way or the other that frequent good have to be inferred from Christian religion.
Nevertheless, there are main issues with The Case for Christian Nationalism. First, concerning type, Wolfe is way from accessible. This e book is gradual going. Wolfe claims to “resurrect” the type of the Magisterial Reformers and to counteract tweetable sound bites with “the power of logic.” At instances, although, it appears as if Wolfe’s technique is to make use of a verbal barrage as a tidal wave to obscure simply how debatable a few of his contentions are, whether or not condoning Christian violent revolution or warning in opposition to the perils of seed oil.
Second, Wolfe is hardly charitable to any problem or disagreement. Wolfe dismisses any criticism of Christian nationalism as missing logical coherence, being critically beholden to leftist sociology, or simply not in his area (like theology.) He merely can’t entertain a world the place he is perhaps mistaken.
For extra substantial political, historic, and philosophical criticism, others have written lengthy critiques, most notably Kevin DeYoung, Neil Shenvi, Brian Mattson, and Susannah Black Roberts. I, nonetheless, want to handle a number of ways in which Wolfe betrays his personal custom—a betrayal that should make us cautious of his strategy to scholarship generally.
Wolfe writes explicitly as a Presbyterian and endorses a Presbyterian Christian nationalism. Reformed Presbyterians are compelled by conscience, custom, and confession to discovered any theological and theological-political program upon scripture first. But Wolfe doesn’t even make a passing effort to seek the advice of scripture to bolster his arguments; as an alternative, he says, “I make little effort to exegete biblical textual content.” He makes an attempt as an alternative to validate his arguments by interesting to the Magisterial Reformers (together with John Calvin), Puritans, and others. All through his argument, scripture is ornamental, not foundational. In essentially the most theological chapters, the primary and second, Wolfe writes dozens of pages with hardly one proof textual content, not to mention severe explication or exegesis.
Throughout the custom Wolfe claims as his personal, this transfer is inexcusable. Any reader of the Westminster Divines, Calvin, and the Puritans is aware of this: don’t begin an argument by saying “I’ll ignore scripture.” The Reformed custom lengthy admits that it stands or falls on privileging scripture when deciphering human expertise and obligations, and that extra systematically than some other Christian custom. In dismissing scripture, Wolfe betrays his confession and the theological giants whose shoulders he claims to face upon. With that betrayal, he casts a shadow on all his many invocations of previous thinkers, for he makes little effort to grasp these theological traditions, which themselves are rooted in biblical reflection. As a substitute, he merely exploits them.
Second, Wolfe minimizes the impact of sin on human society and civil life. For Wolfe, the Fall’s principal impact was religious: it compromised man’s relationship with God and merited divine wrath however didn’t considerably harm man’s pure, earthly (civil) relationships. Thus, people might seek the advice of their pure presents or instincts for steering in civil order. Once more, Wolfe claims that grace doesn’t abrogate nature however perfects it. This theology of sin is nowhere near the Augustinian, Protestant, Presbyterian traditions. As Wolfe downplays human sin and overemphasizes pure human instincts and impulses, he mockingly arrives in the identical philosophical zip code as a Rousseau or a Schleiermacher—hardly champions of conventional Christian thought.
This leads Wolfe to some harmful locations. For instance, pure pre-Fall man, Wolfe argues, solely related to “one’s personal.” Christian nationalism seeks to harness what he claims is a pure impulse for civic functions. Exclusivity shouldn’t be a product of sin, Wolfe contends. Opposite to the biblical ethic of affection and fraternity with “the opposite,” opposite to the Church’s name to interrupt down social divides, and opposite to the fact that the impulse to exclude and alienate is sinful, Wolfe would have Christian nationalists affiliate and search the nice just for the individuals like them, whether or not racially, socioeconomically, or geographically.
Lastly, Wolfe misses the main theme of the true biblical place of the individuals of God in society: that of exiles, foreigners, and outcasts. Wolfe presents an overrealized eschatology of heaven on earth, caused by a Christian prince compelling the Kingdom to come back. Biblically, true peace and justice will come solely when the Prince of Peace returns. Till then, the default place of the Christian neighborhood is to not yearn for earthly energy and affect however to deliver devoted witness by way of easy (“silly” is the apostle Paul’s phrase) technique of worship, evangelism, and household.
Wolfe has no conception of this witness-in-opposition. For Wolfe, the long run is a robust nation, and a robust nation occurs to be the Christian one. The church’s witness of a future Kingdom, the faithfulness of God, and the “weak issues of the world shaming the robust” barely register. Wolfe’s solely response to opposition is a Nietzschean-like problem: Does a Christian man (sure, male) have the self-discipline to impose his imaginative and prescient of Christian life and regulation onto a vacuum of secularist life? There is just one reply he’ll settle for. And anybody who disagrees with him has submitted to the contradictions of an Enlightenment-infused liberal agenda and is near embracing the progressive excesses of the left.
Wolfe’s work may operate all too properly as a theological and philosophical basis for a few of the worst impulses in our all-too-human hearts. It lays the muse for Caesaropapism, a renewing of racial divisions inside society and church, blurred strains of church and state authorities, overly formidable civil legal guidelines, and brute energy politics. Wolfe is himself cautious to keep away from invoking the “nationalism” of the Nineteen Thirties and ’40s, content material to defend a “phenomenological nationalism,” or, “the lived expertise” of associating with one’s personal. Nonetheless, Wolfe writes a manifesto that within the mistaken fingers may do nice hurt.
As I learn The Case for Christian Nationalism, I admit to empathizing in locations. Usually I even agreed. To the common school pupil, I’m the dangerous man: white, straight, male, upper-middle class, a Christian pastor. I do know that the Gender Research division on my campus teaches a imaginative and prescient of humanity that’s, by my Christian lights, anti-human. Wolfe accurately senses these errors. However he goes the mistaken approach in the hunt for an answer. He dignifies sinful pure impulses to generate a will to energy, and he tries to match a leftist energy narrative with a Christian nationalist one—a watch for a watch, or reasonably, a blow for a blow. For Wolfe, the meek not solely can’t inherit the earth—they ought not. They merely don’t deserve it.
That is no approach ahead for Christians. Our religion depends upon the facility of weak point. The meek shall inherit the earth. God will use the weak to disgrace the robust. I belief this, not as a result of I deduce or intuit it and even as a result of my custom confesses it, however as a result of God’s Phrase tells me. That’s sufficient for my household—and for my nation.
*Concerning the creator: Jonathan Clark is a Presbyterian minister (PCA) and serves because the campus minister with Reformed College Fellowship in Colorado Springs, Colo. He holds an MDiv from Covenant Theological Seminary and a BA in politics, philosophy, and economics from The King’s Faculty. He’s married to Caroline, a graphic designer, and collectively they’ve one daughter. His pursuits embrace Christian missions in a secular tradition, Enlightenment philosophy and politics, and biking at any time when it’s heat outdoors.
Supply: This text was printed by the Acton Institute