The Different Shades of Christian Nationalism
I reject the integration of church and state at any formal level. I believe that these two spheres (to use the Kuyperian model of sphere sovereignty) is helpful to distinguish the differences between the sphere of the church and the sphere of the state. One is civil and the other is spiritual. One has been given the sword while the other has been given the keys. While there will be some overlap within both spheres, specifically the church within a nation will be members of both spheres, there is a boundary that must be maintained. Just as the king and the priest had very distinct separation within Old Testament Israel, I believe that the civil magistrate must never take up the keys of the church nor should the church seek to wield the sword that’s clearly given to the magistrate.
Perhaps you’re a Christian who lives in America and you’ve been concerned with the direction of our nation over the last several years. That concern is not unmerited. We have watched the nation legalize homosexuality, embrace critical race theory and intersectionality, and now we’re currently debating the proper age for butchering children for sex change procedures.
If you have a problem with legalized grooming of children by Drag Queen story hour at your local community library, the insistence that Christians embrace the latest alphabet soup of pronouns and homosexual titles, and you disagree with the degradation of our sense of morality as a nation—what’s the answer? For some, it’s Christian Nationalism. So, what is Christian Nationalism and should we as Christians embrace this movement as the answer to the decline of our great nation? In order to deal with this issue, I will attempt to provide some basic definitions and move to a stated position by way of conclusion.
What Is Nationalism?
According to Merriam-Webster, the term nationalism refers to “loyalty and devotion to a nation, especially a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others and placing primary emphasis on promotion of its culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups.” While this is similar to patriotism, it’s distinct in that it elevates one nation above all others. It would be good to avoid using these terms interchangeably.
In a similar way, the Encyclopedia Britannica provides the following definition. “Nationalism is an ideology that emphasizes loyalty, devotion, or allegiance to a nation or nation-state and holds that such obligations outweigh other individual or group interests.”
Within this current moment, we have a movement that uses a compound term (Christian Nationalism) that’s being employed by all sorts of different groups which will necessitate intentional differentiation and specificity of meaning. While it’s good to support sovereign national identity, closed borders, and capitalism, that’s not exactly how the term functions within the framework of Christian Nationalism.
What Is Christian Nationalism?
In many ways, that’s a complicated question. It’s like asking, “What does it mean to be Presbyterian?” Do you mean PCA, PCUSA, OPC, or other versions such as CREC? To be clear, there are various versions of Christian Nationalism being offered up within both political and evangelical circles. It’s possible to be a Christian who is proud of your nation (in a patriotic way), and yet not fall into the category of a Christian Nationalist.
Within this conversation, we have various terms that are being connected with Christian Nationalism either by necessity of the relationship or by way of an alternative title altogether. Some of the key language includes:
- Conservative Patriotism
- White Christian Nationalism
- Conservative Political Nationalism
- Political Protestantism
- Christian Nationalism
- Mere Christendom
For instance, more than 5,000 people assembled in Pennsylvania for the ReAwaken America Tour back in late 2022 where Donald Trump addressed concerned attendees regarding the direction of the nation. The central message of the event was focused on a reaction to the “woke” leftist politics and agenda being pressed upon our country. “We face a battle in our country,” retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, Trump’s former national security adviser turned election denier, told the crowd. “I mean, Christianity is under attack. Honestly, it feels like everything is under attack.”1 After Donald Trump spoke, more than 100 people lined up to be baptized. This movement is using the term Christian Nationalism to describe their cause and Christian baptism as a sign.
As you continue to survey the political landscape, you find Christian Nationalism appearing on T-shirts that proclaim “Proud Christian nationalist” sold by Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene(R-Ga.). Samuel Perry, an associate professor of sociology at the University of Oklahoma and the co-author of the book The Flag and the Cross: White Christian Nationalism and the Threat to American Democracy makes the claim that “white Christian Nationalism” is growing rapidly within the Republican party. While we continue to see Christian Nationalism appearing in the sphere of politics, that’s not exactly the version being discussed within evangelicalism.
At the time of this article, the gold standard definition for the movement within evangelicalism is by Stephen Wolfe in his book, A Case for Christian Nationalism. However, prior to the release of his book, Andrew Torba and Andrew Isker released a much shorter book titled, Christian Nationalism: A Biblical Guide For Taking Dominion And Discipling Nations. Andrew Torba is the founder and CEO of Gab.com. Andrew Isker is the pastor of 4th Street Evangelical Church in Waseca, MN. He is a graduate of Minnesota State University, Mankato and Greyfriars Hall Ministerial Training School in Moscow, ID, and he has served churches in Missouri, West Virginia, and Minnesota. The description of their book provides the following statement regarding Christian Nationalism:
Christian Nationalism is a spiritual, political, and cultural movement comprised of Christians who are working to build a parallel Christian society grounded in a Biblical worldview. This book is a guide for Christians to take dominion and disciple their families, churches, and all nations for the glory of Jesus Christ our King.
Doug Wilson, pastor of Christ Church in Moscow, ID, provides the following endorsement to Andrew Torba and Andrew Isker’s book, “If you want to know more about Christian Nationalism, this book is for you. You will be getting your info from the horse’s mouth, as it were, instead of from the mainstream media, which is oriented more to the other end of the horse.”
Andrew Torba, the founder of Gab.com has also come under intense heat for public statements that were perceived as antisemitic, including his stated desire to overcome a “Judeo-Bolshevik” society (a term that makes the claim that communism is a Jewish plot). Torba has also said conservative Jews and non-Christians are welcome to stay in his ideal society, going as far as to say the following about his version of the Christian Nationalist movement:
We don’t want people who are atheists. We don’t want people who are Jewish. We don’t want people who are, you know, nonbelievers, agnostic, whatever. This is an explicitly Christian movement because this is an explicitly Christian country.
Needless to say, such statements have not been received well which has opened the door for Wolfe’s book which has gained a great deal of popularity.
Stephen Wolfe published his book, A Case for Christian Nationalism in November of 2022. In his book, Wolfe lays out several key points regarding Christian Nationalism, including the following definition:
Christian nationalism is a totality of national action, consisting of civil laws and social customs, conducted by a Christian nation as a Christian nation, in order to procure for itself both earthly and heavenly good in Christ.2)
While this is not a review of Wolfe’s book, what he provides us in print is a working definition for what he references as a “pan-Protestant project.” Perhaps one of the most controversial chapters of the book is found in the seventh chapter where Wolfe lays out his views regarding civil government and the “Great Man” that he calls, “The Christian Prince.”