If you are an evangelical, you believe that Christ gave us the task of proclaiming the gospel of Christ to others, in the hope of persuading them to repent of their sins and believe the gospel. If you still have the name evangelical, but you don’t believe that anymore, then you need to figure out how to respond to those Christians who do still believe that the Great Commission—the way Jesus gave it—applies to us today. One of the things you can do is rename whatever the heck it is you’re doing, that outreach-lite stuff, and call it missional, and then you can turn around and accuse the old-timey Christians of being Christian nationalists.
Sounds pretty bad, right?
But Before Defending Christian Nationalism . . .
There really are some appalling (and blasphemous) images out there in the fever swamps of the screwy right, and I can say this because I’ve seen them. If you look over to the immediate right, you will then be able to say that you have seen them also.
But if you take a look at the image right below that, the one that says that the repeal of Roe is all about imposing “Christian” nationalism, and which therefore relegates all responsible pro-lifers into the same category as the nutters, you have to acknowledge that this is standard operating procedures for the left—from their fever swamps to the very central corridors of all their accumulated power. And this means they have no one to blame but themselves for what is now coming to harvest.
Once you use “racism,” and “white supremacy,” and “theocracy,” and “handmaid’s tales,” and “misogyny,” “fascism,” and “hate” as your catch-all refutations of anything whatever that impedes your socialist daydreams, you are the one who has emptied all such terms of all of their meaning. And once those terms don’t mean anything anymore, you can’t be surprised that, well, they don’t mean anything—at least not to anybody in a debate with you. Once you have flattened everything with your cancel-culture-steamroller, don’t turn to us and complain about how flat it all is.
Yes, it was easy for them to react to Trump like he was a dangerous lunatic, but never forget that when Romney was the candidate, and McCain before that, they got exactly the same treatment from the anointed purveyors of cultural sunshine and uplift, who never met a disagreement with them that wasn’t fascism.
So there really are some crazies on the right, there really are. But the only people who should be allowed to criticize them would those who believe that dictionaries ought to contain definitions that are basically stable, and not susceptible to facile weaponization by the Left. “Hate is not a family value.” Whoever said that it was? This means that our rule of thumb should be that to qualify as a legitimate critic of right-wing loons, you need to be Ted Cruz, or to the right of Ted Cruz. You also need to be to the left of Alex Jones. When you have found that sweet spot—and what a coincidence it is too—you find yourself more or less where I am. So welcome.
Once this is agreed upon, Christian nationalism, as I will explain below, is a responsible position that a mentally balanced and decent citizen can take. Moreover, it is a position that all consistent Christians need to take. Patriotism matters. This is a position that can actually be adopted without garnering that wild glint in your eye, the kind of glint that tells your fellow passengers on the subway to steer clear.
Christian nationalism is not the idea that America has replaced Israel as God’s chosen nation. None of that nonsense.
“Everything here is either better or worse than—”
“Dimble!” said Ransom. Dimble, whose tone had become a little impassioned, stopped and looked towards him. He hesitated and (as Jane thought) almost blushed before he began again.
“You’re right, sir,” he said with a smile. “I was forgetting what you have warned me always to remember. This haunting is no peculiarity of ours. Every people has its own haunter. There’s no nonsense about a chosen nation. We speak about Logres because it is our haunting, the one we know about.”
C.S. Lewis, That Hideous Strength
So, are you ready for a lucid and levelheaded defense of Christian nationalism? Are you willing to walk with me through the basic arguments? Are you willing to take my hand? Come, let us reason together.
A Mother’s Day Card Fiasco
Suppose a man goes to the Hallmark store to buy his mom a Mother’s Day card. While browsing in that aisle, he notices another man selecting a card that (impudently) says “To the Best Mother in the World.” Does he have the right to knock the card out of the other man’s hand, and start a fist fight with him there in the store because that twerp falsely claimed that his mother was the best one in the world?
This is not a trick question.
No, that would not happen. A man who honors his mother rightly knows exactly why another man would honor his mother, even though—and follow me closely here—she is a different mother. A sane patriot who loves his country understands better than anyone else why another sane patriot could love a completely different country. And a jingoist is the guy who starts fights in Hallmark stores.
But we, in our pretendy cosmopolitan wisdom, decided that we should try to get people to respect and honor other cultures by insisting that they learn how to disrespect their own. But that is not how it works. In our purported wisdom, we have thought that if we only teach all the little American kids that their mother is not so hot, and that there are many things about her behavior over the years that have been really pretty sketchy, then harmony and peace will break out all over, and all the little white supremacists under our charge will suddenly realize how wonderful all those other mothers are.
We have thought that the way to instill respect for the cultures of others is by ingraining a contempt for our own. But that is not what you actually get. What you get is backlash, a recoil. What you get is white boy summer, and it is your own stupid fault.
Then the idiot who praises, with enthusiastic tone,
Every century but this, and every country but his own.
A Biblical Requirement
The fact that it is possible for a man to make an idol out of his marriage and family—and it is possible—does not in any way give us permission to abrogate the requirement that a husband love his wife as Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25). Our duties are assigned to us by God in Scripture, and are not to be reverse engineered from the errors, sins, and faults of others. Say that another man has his wife up on a pedestal, and is living in a world of blurry romantic conceits. What is that to you? You must still love your wife as Christ loved the church. John Lennon may have wrecked the Beatles over Yoko, but that is no reason for you to wreck your marriage by loving your wife less than you were commanded to.
The same principal applies to nations. I have certain duties and responsibilities toward my own people. These duties are assigned to me in Scripture, and Scripture also helpfully supplies the boundaries of those duties. As the Westminster Larger Catechism helpfully teaches us, my duties toward my people, my nation, my culture, are subsumed under the Fifth Commandment. We are plainly told to honor our father and mother so that our days may be long on the earth (Eph. 6:2-3). And we are also told that whoever loves his father or mother more than Christ cannot be a Christian (Luke 14:26; Matt. 10:37 ).
Wait a minute . . .
Augustine taught us that our loves and affections must be rightly ordered. And rightly ordering them means that a man must love his wife in sacrificial imitation of how Christ loved the church (Eph. 5:25), and he must also love Christ so much that compared to it his love for his wife seems like hate (Luke 14:26). Do these things and you shall live. But sort them out before you do them. Think them through—don’t pull a Proverbs 26:6.
Carnal wisdom treats this problem as a zero sum game, as though our loves were a pie that needs to be divvied up. And we somehow think that more of a slice for our people means a smaller slice for Jesus. But that is not how it works. Did the apostle Paul love his kinsmen? You know that he did—at go-to-Hell-for-them levels (Rom. 9:3-4). Did the apostle Paul value that love more than he treasured his relationship with Christ? You know that he did not (Phil 3:7-8). He reckoned the surpassing value of knowing Christ as putting absolutely everything else in the shade. One of the things that treasures of surpassing value know how to do is surpass. But when it is a rightly ordered love for Christ, they not only surpass, but they also encompass, surround, contain, carry, support, and sanctify those lesser loves.
So your love for Christ and your love for others is not a zero sum game. A certain kind of love for your neighbor is prohibited—she is your neighbor’s wife and so a love for her is contempt for Christ (Ex. 20: 17). Another kind of love for your neighbor is how you instantiate your love for Christ (1 John 4:20). It is not one pie that is cut up into slices, with one slice for Jesus and the rest for others. Rather, it is a layered cake, and love for Christ is to be the bottom layer of every piece.
Three Basic Options
There are three basic options when it comes to how the nations of men are organized. The nations can remain distinct, the nations can disintegrate, or the nations can coalesce—this means that the options are nationalism, tribalism, or internationalism.
Enter the church. Now the church has the capacity to relate to whatever it is the world is currently doing. The church had to deal with Nero as he was, which is not the same thing as approving of Nero as he was. And we have to relate to a pluralistic society, but that does not make us pluralists. We have to relate to an unbelieving society too, but why should that make us unbelievers? We live in an idolatrous society, and we are still told to keep ourselves from idols.
So the question should therefore be “what relationship between the nations should the church be ready to instruct the princes of the earth to pursue?” When kings become nursing fathers for the church (Is. 49:24), when kings bring their honor and glory into the church (Rev. 21:24), when the ships of Tarshish bring their silver and gold unto the name of the Lord God (Is. 60:9), what shall we teach them then? How shall we instruct them?
“And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age.” Amen.”
Matthew 28:18-20 (NKJV)
I want to ask you to walk with me up the stairs, one step at a time. We were commanded to disciple the nations, baptizing them. What is a baptized nation? It is a Christian nation. How many of these Christian nations are there supposed to be? No set number is given, but the simple answer is “all of them.” All the nations of men are to be brought into submission to Christ, having received His baptism. Is there any room for vainglory, is there space for any one of these nations to claim the mantle of Israel, as though they were God’s chosen and peculiar people? No, because all the nations are to be Christian nations.
But in the current climate, is there any possible way to seek to make America a Christian nation without drawing the charge of Christian nationalism? No, there is no way to do this without drawing that charge. Should we care about this? Not even a little bit.
Some will say that it is not possible to make a nation into a “Christian” nation. Nations don’t have immortal souls and cannot be Christian. To which I would reply, why did Jesus tell us to do it then?
Once the nations are discipled, and we hang the trumpet in the hall, and are studying war no more, what is the relationship of these nations to be, one to another? It is not to be an international bureaucracy—we are Christian nationalists, after all, not Christian internationalists. I am not one of those repellent globalists. Ick, poo! But by the same token, we do believe these nations are now all getting along, right? What should we call this international collection of Christian states? I am glad you asked. My name for it is mere Christendom.
I believe I may have mentioned this before.
Last Call for Christian Nationalism
In the first paragraph of this post, I referred to those Christians who have abandoned their obligation to win others for Christ, and who are content to acquiesce to the current state of affairs. They have an acceptable market share, and are willing simply to occupy that space alongside all the others. They are Christian within the walls of their faith community, but if you zoom out and ask what general system they want to maintain, they are not explicitly Christian. The political name for what they want is pluralism, and the theological name for that is polytheism.
But Christ is Lord of the nations. He is the King of kings. He is the Lord of lords. We should want Him to recognized and honored as such.
The fuzzy jargon of contemporary evangelicalism wants to talk about things like “faithful presence,” or “seeking the good of the city,” but they are careful that they not be too effective in their witness. They want to be “faithfully present” in our culture in the same way that Daniel was faithful in Babylon, or so they say. But you have to be careful with that because a modern Nebuchadnezzar might then order all the nations, tribes, peoples, and languages not to speak anything amiss against the God of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego (Dan. 3:29)—or else a series of bad things might happen to them.
“Then mayor of New York City spake, and said, Blessed be the God of Tim Keller and James Davison Hunter, who hath sent his angel, and delivered his servants that trusted in him, and have changed the king’s word, and yielded their bodies, that they might not serve nor worship any god, except their own God. Therefore I make a decree, That every people, nation, and language, in Brooklyn or beyond, which speak any thing amiss against the God of the evangelicals, shall be cut in pieces, and their houses shall be made a dunghill: because there is no other God that can deliver after this sort. Then the king promoted Darryl Hart, Michael Horton, and Abed-nego, in the province of Babylon.”
Daniel 3:28–30 (KJV, slightly edited for the modern reader)