What is Christian Nationalism?

What is Christian Nationalism?

Author: Pastor Jonathan Edwards
April 01, 2024

Whether you hardly watch the national news, or whether you are a diehard news junkie, or somewhere in between, it is nearly impossible to have lived the last three years in the United States of America without hearing the phrase “Christian Nationalism.” In my own personal experience, I’ve heard the phrase on news outlets that can be classified as “liberal” (such as MSNBC and CNN) to “conservative” (like Fox News, Newsmax, etc.). I have heard it addressed by talk show and podcast hosts, pastors, and YouTube personalities. In 2022, a 488-page book entitled The Case For Christian Nationalism was written by Stephen Wolfe and published by Canon Press to provide a Christian defense and encourage of the pursuit of Christian Nationalism. This phrase has been used as a derogatory accusation against those who participated in the January 6 riots, and it has been used as a rallying cry for some Christians to embrace a political candidate that they believe will bring about a spiritual and national revival. Because of the tremendous diversity in the points of view found in those who are commenting on the issue, it’s very challenging to know whether the idea is good or bad, whether the average Christian should support it or not! 
When faced with a complex issue like Christian Nationalism, one of the key steps to take that will aid believers in knowing whether to support it or not is trying to pin down an accurate definition of the issue and then compare that definition with the Biblical teaching on the matter. From my research, I have determined that there are three distinct, yet overlapping, definitions which have been given to this issue. Each of the definitions overlap in a specific area – namely, in that one of the aims of Christian Nationalism is to see Biblically-based Christian ethics be the foundation for society’s interactions with one another within the United States (and, frankly, within other nations as well). However, the various definitions are quite different when it comes to how Christian ethics are implemented in society, and to what prominence Christian ideas and ethics should have within the society. 
As defined by its opponents: Those who oppose the idea of Christian Nationalism often are hostile to the Bible and the truths revealed therein, or they have re-defined the Scriptures in such a way that the Scriptures no longer resemble historical orthodox positions. For them, the phrase Christian Nationalism is a perfect descriptor of their perceived (or real!) enemy; it is a way to categorize those who should not be given a voice in the public square. Thus, the opponents of Christian Nationalism define it as the belief that America was founded as a Christian nation and that the government should take active steps to preserve the Christian “heritage” and influence in the culture (Christianity today - Paul Miller. Accessed on 27 March 2024). Christian Nationalism exists as a social/political doctrine that elevates “Christians” ahead of other religious groups and gives them a special place of “privilege” when it comes to defining the American experiment (Terry Gross; Brad Onishi. Tracing the Rise of Christian Nationalism. Accessed on 27 March 2024). In addition to these two points, opponents of Christian nationalism often identify it with a particular race and kind of Christian – namely, white, Protestant, and evangelical. It should be noted that those who define Christian Nationalism in this way often are using the phrase as a rhetorical weapon against those on the other side. It’s a derogatory phrase, meant to pigeonhole and mischaracterize anyone who wants to see the United States honor a Christian ethic. 
As defined by its proponents: The men arguing for Christian Nationalism, in one sense or another, often have the best interests of both the nation and the Scriptures in mind. I genuinely believe they are seeking to honor God and help our country. As best as I can determine, these proponents of Christian Nationalism believe that it is the duty of governing authorities to recognize a transcendent authority, namely, the Triune God of the Bible, and to then make laws, statutes, and systems of justice which will promote Biblical truth and punish disobedience to God’s Law. Often, but not always, these men appeal to the fact that America was founded as a Christian nation and that they are seeking to bring about Christian America 2.0 (viewing the current iteration of American society as a prodigal son which has wandered off to the big city to sin at will, and which will soon end up envious of the pig’s slop) (Doug Wilson; Engaging the Culture; a Brief Little Primer on Christian Nationalism. Accessed 27 March 2024). In the case of Stephen Wolfe’s magnum opus on Christian Nationalism, he proposes that even “violent means” might be necessary to help bring about this particular vision of America as a Christian Nation (Wolfe, Stephen. The Case For Christian Nationalism. Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press. 2022. p. 324).
As defined by Christians who want to promote righteousness in society: This final group is where I find myself, along with several other Bible teachers and pastors who would identify as conservative, fundamental, and Protestant. Do we want to see a true and genuine Biblical worldview promoted in our nation and do we want laws to be made and enforced which agree and align with the truths God has revealed in His Word? Of course! Those in this camp would most likely hesitate to use the phrase “Christian Nationalism,” for it communicates a branch of theology (dominion theology) which many of them reject. However, they do agree with the value of religious liberty and that God has ordained human governments for the purpose of enacting just laws, carrying out justice against lawbreakers, and promoting peace and tranquility within the society (Genesis 9:6; Romans 13:1-4; 1 Timothy 2:1-2). Their views can be summarized by the following quote from John MacArthur: “We [Christians] have to be the people who uphold righteousness. When we come to vote, we want to vote for that which is the most righteous option. Obviously, we can't vote in righteousness, but we have to vote in a way that reflects our commitment to the righteousness of God” (John MacArthur. John MacArthur Denounces Christian Nationalism as Faulty. Accessed on 27 March 2024).
In some respects, the mere definition of Christian Nationalism is overwhelming! The main challenge for believers is discerning what the Bible really teaches concerning a Christian’s relationship and responsibility toward the nation they live within; depending on one’s interpretation of the Scriptures, you will either fall into group two or group three. 
Now that we’ve examined the suggested definitions of Christian Nationalism, let’s turn to the Holy Scriptures and see how they might inform our understanding of this issue and our corresponding responsibility as believers. If we begin in Genesis, we can see that God created the world we live in and all it contains. He also created mankind (male and female), and he gave them a commission: Genesis 1:28 states, “...Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth, and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the sky and over every living thing that creeps on the earth” (Legacy Standard Bible (Three Sixteen Publishing, 2022), Ge 1:28). With these words, God established a sphere of authority (dominion) that mankind has over creation. In subsequent texts, God has not taken away this command to exercise authority; rather, He has provided clarification and further direction. After the global flood that was survived by Noah, his family, and all the animals which were on the ark, God said this to Noah in Genesis 9:5-6, “Surely I will require your lifeblood; from every living thing I will require it. And from every man, from each man’s brother I will require the life of man. Whoever sheds man’s blood, By man his blood shall be shed, For in the image of God He made man.” These verses describe the institution of what has come to be known as “human government” – and the purpose of human governments is also implied in the verses. Mankind was given the authority to establish ruling bodies which would ensure that the image of God would be protected as sacred. They did this by instituting laws against murder and carrying out the appropriate punishment against those individuals who transgressed the law. Such punishment is often called “capital punishment”, and it was given to mankind as a rule of law from God Himself. 
As we continue to examine the Scriptures, we can observe that God Himself recognized human governments. He was aware of the governing philosophy and practice of the Egyptians, the Ammonites, the Moabites, the Philistines, and other people groups. God established a special kind of government with His chosen people, Israel, and that form of government is known as a theocracy. As God’s special nation, Israel was to treat God as king and they were to operate differently from the nations around them. Their legal, moral, and spiritual laws were given in what is known as the Mosaic Law Covenant; it was this Law that pointed to Christ, and which was fulfilled by Christ at His death on the cross of Calvary. 
This survey of Biblical history and the development of human governments now brings us to the era in which we live, called the New Covenant (also known as the New Testament). Here is where the debate about Christian Nationalism really rages amongst true Christians. A key question that must be answered is, “What is the church’s relationship to Israel in the Old Testament?” For the sake of brevity, I am going to summarize the positions of both camps. 
Those believers who favor Christian Nationalism and would lean towards what is known as “dominion theology” usually believe that the Church Universal has replaced Israel in God’s plan and purposes in the world. Therefore, the church must do what Israel could not: bring in the Kingdom of God. They believe that to accomplish this, it is right and good to overtake secular authorities (human governments) and make them bow the knee to God’s truth. Historical examples include John Calvin in Geneva Switzerland, and to a large extent, this is the argument proposed by Stephen Wolfe in The Case for Christian Nationalism. 
Christians who do not support Christian Nationalism per se, but nonetheless desire to promote righteousness in society, believe that the Church Universal has not replaced Israel. Rather, the Church has a spiritual mandate to make disciples for Christ from every nation. For believers in this camp, the spiritual mandate never moves into the realm of physically conquering a particular land or taking over a certain government to bring it into conformity with Biblical teaching. Rather, the focus is on preaching the Gospel and using whatever means are available to affect righteousness in society. Under the Roman empire, no one had the opportunity to vote for who became Caesar, so Paul’s command was to pray for rulers and kings and those in authority. He believed what the author of Proverbs wrote: “The king’s heart is like channels of water in the hand of the LORD; He turns it wherever He wishes” (Ibid; Proverbs 21:1). Those reading this in the United States have the opportunity to have input on our leaders; therefore, we ought to do what we can to vote for those who will promote righteousness (according to God’s Word) in society. 
While considering this topic, believers must be mindful that Paul and Peter (and other NT writers) had ample opportunity to command believers to try to wrest control of governing authorities to help usher in the kingdom of Christ; instead, they did not give any such command. What they did do was acknowledge that human governments have a sphere of authority, and the church has a sphere of authority, as do husbands and parents. Everyone is to properly submit to the sphere of authority under which he finds himself; furthermore, the individual is to prioritize obedience to God’s commands over sin which may be commanded by individuals or groups within one of these spheres. This is why the apostles told the Pharisees that “...we must obey God rather than men” (Ibid; Acts 5:29). Because the primary responsibility God has for Christians is disciple-making (Matthew 28:16-20), Christians must be careful to work for the spiritual kingdom of God, rather than to overtake a physical kingdom with the intent to usher in Christ’s real, physical reign on the earth. 
Though this blog post merely scratches the surface on the complexity of this issue, the faithful Christian should ask, “How can I practically apply what I’ve learned?” Believers, no matter which camp they fall into, must recognize that ungodly people who hate Jesus and hate the truth will use the phrase “Christian nationalism” as a derogatory attack against any stand of truth that you take. They will use the phrase to discredit you, dismiss you, and lump you in with all the other evil -isms that they believe need to be eradicated from society (racism; elitism; fundamentalism; etc.) Recently, a news anchor named Heidi Przybyla did exactly this when she proclaimed that “...the thing that unites them as Christian nationalists, not Christians because Christian nationalists are very different, is that they believe that our rights as Americans and as all human beings do not come from any Earthly authority. They don't come from Congress, from the Supreme Court, they come from God” (Heidi Przybyla. Realclearpolitics.com Accessed 27 March 2024). Heidi is exactly correct: rights come from the God who created the Universe and all that is in it! Truth comes from God! She also revealed her fear – that if Christians gained power, she would not be able to live “her truth” but would have to live according to God’s truth. That is a thought that terrifies the rebellious sinner! As Christians, we must be aware of how unbelievers redefine terms with the hopes of smearing our character. We must be ready to use these talking points as bridges from which to share the Gospel. Finally, we also must be ready to face and endure persecution for the name of Christ. May we speak and act in such a way that God receives the glory, and our enemies are put to shame because of our good character!


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