Finally, we come to the recently published Statement On Christian Nationalism and the Gospel (hereafter, the Statement).1 The authors of this document are as follows, according to the website: James Silberman (Communications Director at Free the States and columnist for The Federalist) and Dusty Deevers (an abortion abolitionist). The Contributing Editors are as follows: William Wolfe (a Baptist and a former official in the Trump administration), Joel Webbon (subscribes to the Particular Baptist 1689 Second London Confession of Faith, is a pastor of Covenant Bible Church, and is associated with Right Response Ministries, which has held conferences featuring the likes of A. D. Robles, a popular theonomic podcaster, and Jon Harris, also a podcaster and a recent graduate of a Baptist seminary who concerns himself with opposing the social justice movement), Jeff Wright, Cory Anderson, and Ben Woodring.
At the time of this writing the Statement is described as a draft.
The Statement begins with a definition of Christian Nationalism:
CHRISTIAN NATIONALISM is a set of governing principles rooted in Scripture’s teaching on Christ’s rule as supreme Lord and King of all creation, Who has ordained civil magistrates with delegated authority to be under Him, over the people, to order their ordained jurisdiction by punishing evil and promoting good for His own glory and the common good of the nation (Isaiah 9:6-7; John 1:1-3; 3:35; 17:2; Ephesians 1:20-21; Philippians 2:9-11; Colossians 1:15-18; Romans 13:1-4; 1 Peter 2:14; Deuteronomy 6:5, Matthew 22:37-39).
In one of my courses, I require students to submit a confessional document of their own writing on the theory that those who work on cars understand them more fully than those who merely drive them. Were a student to submit this as a definition, his assignment would be returned for revision. There is no actual definition of Christian Nationalism here. There is no definition of nationalism, and no account, so far, of how the adjective Christian modifies nationalism.
This is a statement of principles and, as such, is not objectionable. This very fact suggests that James Lindsay’s analysis of the (mostly Baptist) Christian Nationalist program is, in fact, an example of what Nicholas Shackel calls a “Motte and Bailey” strategy. Joseph Zabel explains the background of the metaphor:
In some medieval castles, when enemies breached the first line of defense, the inhabitants would retreat from the outer courtyard (the “bailey”) to a tower on top of a mound (called the “motte”) where they could take refuge and shoot arrows at the enemy until the hostile forces gave up. After doing so, everyone would return to the more pleasant and productive bailey, secure in the knowledge that the motte would protect them if another attack were made. Mottes were safe but economically useless, and baileys were profitable but vulnerable. For best results, both were necessary.
In rhetoric, the Motte and Bailey strategy is evident when, in response to a challenge, one retreats to a safe, uncontroversial position. In this case, the Statement begins with the motte (the uncontroversial aspect), but the bailey is yet to come.
They move to a series of affirmations and denials, stating that they affirm the Bible as “the only sufficient, certain, inerrant, infallible, necessary, and final authority for all saving knowledge, faith (what we must believe), and obedience (how we must live).” So far, so good. All confessional Reformation Christians affirm as much.
What is less clear is where they stand on the historic Christian doctrine of natural revelation and natural law. They write, “All truth claims and ethical standards must be tested by God’s final Word, which is Scripture alone. We affirm that the Bible is perspicuous in all essential matters.” They deny “that true beliefs, good character, or good conduct can be dictated by any authority other than God’s revelation.” Does that revelation include natural revelation?
Confessional Reformed and Lutheran Christians in particular will be interested in their definition of Christian orthodoxy:
WE AFFIRM the orthodox Christian faith as defined by the historic “creeds” (e.g., Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, Athanasian Creed), which the Christian church throughout church history has universally affirmed.
WE DENY that orthodoxy is defined by any particular “confessions.”
Scripture: Acts 20:27; 1 Corinthians 15:1-5; 1 Timothy 3:2, 9; 4:1, 6; 5:8; 6:3, 10, 21; Titus 2:1; Jude 3.
One cannot help but wonder why “creeds” is in quotation marks. The Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, and Athanasian Creed are accepted as creeds by Christians in a wide variety of traditions. Could it because the authors of this statement are unfamiliar with them?
The historic Reformation confessions are ruled out in this proposal for Christian Nationalism. Even if we overlook the failure to define Christian Nationalism, and the several problems identified in this series with the Christian Nationalism movement, why should Christians from the Reformation traditions sign on to this minimalist account of Christian orthodoxy? For that matter, why should Romanist Christians sign on for such a definition? We understand our confessions to be true, ecclesiastical, explanations of Scripture and the ecumenical creeds. It is not that the Lutherans, Reformed, and Romanists do not subscribe those creeds. We all do, but we disagree quite strongly over what they mean on some important points.
Here, we face one of the fundamental issues that our erstwhile Christian Nationalists seem not to have considered deeply: the American Republic was established as a secular federal government (and later the states were secularized with the disestablishment of the state-churches) precisely to avoid the profound problems inherent in the state-church model.
If we are to have a state-church and state-enforced religious Christian orthodoxy, which explanation of the ecumenical faith will be enforced? Who will decide? What happens if the state enforces a point of orthodoxy, and other churches disagree on their interpretation? What if a church rejects the very idea of mere, unexplained, creedal orthodoxy? What if a church rejects the idea of state-enforced religious orthodoxy? When has any state adopted and enforced a minimalist orthodoxy? Does no one remember the religious wars of the medieval, Reformation, and post-Reformation periods?
Their third set of affirmations and denials articulates their “standard of justice.” They affirm
God’s Word is authoritative on everything to which it speaks, and we affirm that God’s Word speaks abundantly regarding the nature and importance of civil government and justice. We affirm that God’s moral law is enduring and binding on all people, including civil magistrates and nations, throughout all time and that it is summarily comprehended in the Ten Commandments. We further affirm that every political thought must be taken captive to the obedience of Christ.
Scripture is authoritative where it means to speak, and it does speak to civil government, but exactly how and to what end has been a matter of disagreement among orthodox Christians for a long time. The “two swords” doctrine of Gelasius and Ockham’s application of conciliarism are two theories. Both affirmed the authority of God’s Word, but came to rather different conclusions. Calvin reached even different conclusions than those, and he sought to follow the Scriptures.
The truth is, Scripture was never meant to be read as a handbook to civil government. That is one reason why the Westminster Divines appealed to “general equity,” natural law. The Statement mentions general equity four times and natural law twice.
All orthodox Christians affirm that God’s moral law is enduring and binding to all people—to deny that is antinomianism. What is at stake here is the magistrate’s role in enforcing that moral law. The framers of the Statement have a plan, to which we have not yet arrived, but it entails some enforcement of the first table, and thus is theocratic.
They assert that no magistrate may rule “outside of God’s revelation, written on the heart and most perfectly revealed in Scripture.” Is it possible for anyone to escape the natural law written on the heart, or do they have something else in mind? It is not clear. Are they calling into question the legitimacy of all pagan magistrates like Claudius and Nero, under whom Paul ministered? Nero was magistrate when Paul wrote Romans 13. Both Claudius and Nero were pagans, and yet neither Peter nor Paul had any compunctions about requiring submission to those pagans, who acted tyrannically and who murdered Christians.
In their fourth point the Statement begins to actually address nationalism:
WE AFFIRM that a nation is not merely an idea, abstract principle, or ideology but tangibly defined by a particular people in a particular place. We affirm that a particular people are necessarily bound together by both a shared culture and history and may be comprised of multiple ethnicities while sharing common interests, virtues, languages, and worship. We affirm in regards to “place” that a nation is definitively set by both its borders and times physically defined by God (Acts 17:26). Thusly, we affirm that nations should rightly maintain autonomous government and sovereign control of their people and place, with the necessary rights and duties to: (1) prioritize the safety, prosperity, and wellbeing of their defined, limited national citizenry first and foremost before seeking the good of non-citizens and the global population; (2) secure their borders; (3) punish evil within their sovereign territory; and (4) establish a necessary defense against potential foreign adversaries.
The framers are entitled to their definition of a nation, but if they want to claim biblical warrant for that definition they need to provide a lot more exegesis and explanation than this.
When they write about the necessity of “shared culture and history,” what does that mean for immigration policy? Again, do they have a biblical plan for immigration? Is this a crypto-theonomic document?
Those who still believe in the vision of the American founders articulated in our founding documents and other will bristle when the framers casually include “worship” in this list: “common interests, virtues, languages, and worship. . . .” Virtues are necessary to be sure, and a virtuous nation will be a more pleasant place to live than a vicious nation, but is it the magistrate’s function to form virtue? Who will determine which virtues are necessary to form a nation? To propose a “common. . . worship” for the USA is to reject the Constitution as it stands. It is nothing but revolutionary, something about which I have been sounding the alarm for some time.
Regarding borders and sovereignty, we do not learn these principles from grace (i.e., special revelation). We learn them from “the light of nature,” as the Divines used to say. Why should we permit the framers of the Statement to baptize what we learn from political philosophers?
WE DENY that a nation should cede its sovereignty to international bodies that may subvert the will of the national interest for a global order. We deny any efforts to establish a “one world” governmental system before the return of Christ, as such efforts are a modern-day reenactment of the Tower of Babel. We further deny that sovereign nations must be composed of mono-ethnic populations to be united under God. Therefore, as Christian Nationalists, we utterly repudiate sinful ethnic partiality in all its various forms.
Scripture: Genesis 11:1-9; Deuteronomy 1:17; 16:19-20; Psalm 2:8; 22; 27; 82:2-4; Isaiah 2:2-3; 49:6-8; John 7:24; Matthew 28:18-20; Acts 17:25-26; 20:21; Colossians 3:11; 1 Timothy 5:21; James 2:1-6, 9; 3:17; 1 Peter 1:17; Revelation 7:9.
Again, the framers might be right in their view of international relations, but this is another argument over political philosophy that has little to do with Scripture or the Christian faith particularly. Perhaps Baptists are not familiar with the nature/grace distinction, but it is certainly a part of the broader Christian tradition and an important feature of classic Reformed theology. Nothing in the New Testament intends to teach us international relations or nationalism, and the function of the Old Testament judicial laws was not to inform modern politics, but to point us to Christ and his church. Insofar as a judicial law is really only a natural law applied to Israel, it still has application today, but then we are back to natural law.
We will continue this engagement next time.
- The Statement was revised after I began this series. The articles reflect the Statement at the time of writing.
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- “‘Magic and Noise:’ Reformed Christianity in Sister’s America,” in eds. R. Scott Clark and Joel E. Kim Always Reformed: Essays in Honor of W. Robert Godfrey (Escondido: Westminster Seminary California, 2010), 74–91. (Apple Books version)
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