Sub-Christian Nationalism? (Part 17)

“My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.” (John 18:36)

One of the great questions presented to faithful Christians by the Christian Nationalism movement is the nature of the kingdom of God. In article XVII, the Statement addresses the method by which the kingdom of God comes. It is interesting that this article is the first in the series to mention the kingdom of God, for at no point so far has the Statement defined or characterized the kingdom. Thus, let us do for the Statement framers what they should have done, since before we can discuss the method of advancing the kingdom, we must first ascertain from Scripture what the kingdom is.

Our Lord Jesus’ first public announcement was, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The first thing predicated of the kingdom in the Gospel of Mark is that the kingdom is near (ἤγγικεν). That Christ brought with him a kingdom was not evident to everyone. Indeed, in the Gospel of Mark particularly, the hiddenness or the secret of the kingdom is stressed (e.g., “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, so that ‘they may indeed see but not perceive, and may indeed hear but not understand, lest they should turn and be forgiven’” [Mark 4:11–12; cf. 7:36; 8:30; 9:9]).

Our Lord Jesus explained this paradox of a present but hidden kingdom thus:

Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, he answered them, “The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed, nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is in the midst of you.” (Luke 17:20–21)

“The kingdom of God is not coming in ways that can be observed” (Luke 17:20). It is coming but it is not visible as we ordinarily think of visibility. Herod and Caesar had buildings; they had troops and they had a visible administration of earthly royal power. Jesus’ kingdom came with none of those things.

The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed (Matt 13:31–32). In seed form it is very small. It does not grow until it is planted, has died, and has given birth to something much larger. The kingdom of God is like leaven (Matt 13:33). It is like a buried treasure (Matt 13:44). It is like a pearl (Matt 13:45). It is like a fishing net (Matt 13:47). Citizens of the kingdom are like children (Matt 18:3). It is like ten virgins, some of whom were prepared and some of whom were not because “you know neither the day nor the hour” (Matt 25:13).

Jesus’ disciples struggled mightily with Jesus’ teaching regarding the kingdom. His account of a hidden, secret, even invisible inaugurated (but not consummated) kingdom was quite contrary to their expectations. Even after they had all deserted him, after he had been brutalized, murdered, buried, and after he resurrected and appeared to them, they still pestered him about their vision of a powerful earthly kingdom in which they would have a place:

So when they had come together, they asked him, “Lord, will you at this time restore the kingdom to Israel?” He said to them, “It is not for you to know times or seasons that the Father has fixed by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the end of the earth.” And when he had said these things, as they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight. (Acts 1:6–9)

The power that Jesus promised was not Peter’s sword (John 18:10). It was the power of the Holy Spirit. According to King Jesus, the kingdom advances through verbal witness to Christ’s obedience, death, resurrection, ascension, and return. In short, according to Jesus, the method of the kingdom’s advancement is the proclamation of the good news. Of course, this is what he intimated in Matthew 16:13–20:

Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven, and whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.” Then he strictly charged the disciples to tell no one that he was the Christ.

Confessing Peter is the rock (even as denying Peter is Satan; Matt 16:23). When Peter confesses Jesus to be Messiah, the Son of the Living God, Jesus gives to confessing Peter the keys of the kingdom and tells him not to tell anyone. What are the keys? According to the Reformed churches they are:

The preaching of the Holy Gospel and Christian discipline; by these two the Kingdom of Heaven is opened to believers and shut against unbelievers (Heidelberg Catechism 83).

The keys are spiritual and ecclesiastical. Indeed, the apostle Paul juxtaposes what we might fairly consider cultural matters over against those things that are strictly the fruit of the Holy Spirit: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit” (Rom 14:17). For Paul, the things one eats and drinks belong to Christian liberty because they belong to nature and culture. What belongs to the kingdom is that which is produced supernaturally by the Holy Spirit through the means of grace. He takes the same position against the self-described “super apostles” who confused Christ and culture: “For the kingdom of God does not consist in talk but in power” (1 Cor 4:20). The power in view is that of the Holy Spirit. What the super apostles offered was the culture of sophists. The apostle Paul countered with the “foolishness” of the gospel:

Where is the one who is wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world did not know God through wisdom, it pleased God through the folly of what we preach to save those who believe. For Jews demand signs and Greeks seek wisdom, but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. For consider your calling, brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” (1 Cor 1:20–31)

The power of the kingdom is the “foolish” message of a crucified Messiah; but according to Paul, that foolish message is stronger than the power of the super apostles. It shames the “wise,” and by it God chooses the improbable to make citizens in his kingdom.

Against this background then, let us consider briefly the method proposed by the Christian Nationalists for advancing the kingdom.

WE AFFIRM that the Kingdom of God does not advance by carnal means but by the working of the Spirit in bringing men to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. We affirm that culture affects law and that law also affects culture. We affirm that while political maneuvering and cultural expertise can be good and helpful, God works most powerfully through bold proclamation of His truth by His people. We affirm that God uses means yet is free to work without, above, and against them at His pleasure (Statement, art. XVII).

Formally, then, it seems as though the Statement agrees with aspects of the New Testament depiction of the kingdom—but there is tension between the first and second sentences of this affirmation. More importantly, there is a logical leap, the problem being a missing term. The Statement does not say exactly where the Spirit ordinarily works to bring men to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ. The answer would be the visible church, as we see in Matthew 16, Matthew 18, and throughout the New Testament.

In the New Testament, the kingdom is consistently associated with and said or assumed to be administered in and through the visible, institutional church. That is where the message (i.e., the holy gospel) of the kingdom is preached, and that is where the keys of the kingdom are located and used.

The second sentence of the affirmation moves abruptly and without justification to culture, which gives away the agenda of the Statement. For Christian Nationalism to be, the church must do its part: affect and effect culture. There is a problem with this conception of the kingdom, however: it is without basis in the New Testament picture of the kingdom.

We simply see no evidence in the New Testament of any—except perhaps passing—engagement with any of the myriad of cultural issues facing the first-century Roman Empire. There is no evidence that our Lord sought to influence or affect the broader culture in Judea or in the empire. There is no evidence that the apostle Paul sought to influence or affect the culture. This is not to deny that the Christian faith and life did over time have some societal effect. That is, to borrow from Walter Marshall, the gospel mystery of the kingdom.1

Just as the church does not accomplish sanctification among Christ’s people by pounding and hounding them with the moral law, but rather by sweetly preaching the foolishness of the gospel, so too, the church and Christians as citizens of the culture do not achieve cultural ends either by making the visible church an engine of cultural change or by aiming her preaching and teaching at affecting or effecting the culture.

It is true that there is a reciprocal relation between law and culture. Andrew Breitbart (1969–2012) is well known for saying that culture is upstream of politics, but it is also true that laws have an effect upon culture. A corrupt, post-Christian culture—as ours is—will produce corrupt politics. That we are there seems self-evident; but what is in question here is the relation of the kingdom of God to culture and politics.

The framers of the Statement seem to assume what must be proved, that the kingdom affects and effects culture directly.

As demonstrated in this article, it seems the framers have forgotten the categories of nature and the twofold character of the kingdom. Under the general providence of God, Christians live in both nature (creation) and grace (redemption)—we need not confuse the two in order to fulfill our duties in both spheres. “Political maneuvering” is an arresting phrase, especially when used under the heading of the kingdom of God since the kingdom and political maneuvering are two distinct things. There ought to be no political maneuvering in the kingdom. If it is to exist, it belongs to the secular realm and is subject to natural law. The framers might have chosen a better term like trade-offs or the like, rather than maneuvering which necessarily has echoes of Machiavelli.

God does work most powerfully, as the Statement says, through the preaching of the gospel—but to what end? Certainly, God is free to work as he wills, but that belongs to his mysterious providence.

WE DENY that pragmatism should be the driving force behind the decision-making of a Christian movement.

The denial under article XVII is interesting because the way it is framed could make one think they are seeking to justify pragmatism (as a secondary force or tool). Indeed, the Statement does not deny pragmatism, but rather seeks to control it. In the end, this denial, as is the case with some of the language of the affirmation, raises as many questions as it answers.


  1. I am alluding to Walter Marshall, The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification (London, 1692).

©R. Scott Clark. All Rights Reserved.

You can find this whole series here.


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  1. I agree that the pervasive emphasis of the NT lacks the direct engagement with culture that some strong Christian Nationalists foreground.

    However, I disagree with the statement: “There is no evidence that the apostle Paul sought to influence or affect the culture.”

    [Paul]”could have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar”. [Acts 26:32] Why did he take this course of action?

    The latter sections of Acts is narrative about an apostle “who [must] see Rome as well.” [Romans 19 v21]. Yes, we don’t know if he got to see Caesar, and what happened if he did, but we know that was where he wanted to go.

    You might argue that I am going beyond what is explicitly revealed in scripture, but I am convinced that Paul was going to Rome, and appealing to Caesar, to do influence Caesar in some way that would bless Christians at a societal level.

    In love – and from the UK.

    And, to explain why I am saying this….in the UK the schools teach that “God is dead!” The educational elites have “killed God”. Most of the UK students I teach at a UK university have no idea that there could be a God & have no sense of objective morality.

    How is this going to change?

    • Neil,

      Paul went to Rome as part of hoped-for mission to Spain. We have no evidence whatever that, while in Rome, he confronted the empire about the crimes they were committing. It’s not a matter of going beyond Scripture. It’s a matter of drawing inferences that actually follow from the text.

      It will not work, to meet the test, to redefine “influence” to mean, “spoke to.”

      Where is the clear evidence that Paul set out to influence Roman culture? Where did he speak to the abandonment of infants by Roman pagans? Where did he speak to widespread practice of slavery or the widespread practice of chemical abortion used by prostitutes or others?

      Where does he speak to the horrific abuses visited by the Romans on the Judeans or upon any of the other conquered peoples? He says nothing explicit about any of these issue or any others.

      The argument that he invoked his rights as a Roman citizen (which he didn’t do until after he had allowed the Romans to beat him, thereby putting them in a pickle), hardly counts. If invoke my rights to an American policeman, no one would reasonably call that “cultural influence.” He was exercising his natural rights as Roman citizen and the adjective is key here: natural.

      What he sought to do was to preach the law & the gospel, to plant churches, and thereby to advance the Kingdom of God.

  2. I read “We affirm that culture affects law and that law also affects culture” as either
    1) true in the sense that a nation’s civil laws (immigration, embargo etc) can affect the supply of and demand for another nation’s culture (food, music, language, art) or
    2) false in that Biblical/Moral/Spiritual/Ecclesial law is taught WITHIN culture but necessarily transcends it and cannot directly affect, mandate/proscribe culture (food, music, language, art) without Judaizing.

    But, RSC, when I see you interpreting “law affects cultulre” as confronting the emptire with crimes, I think maybe ‘”cultulre” means something like “civil/secular law”?

    If the Statement Guys were asking for feedback, I’d suggest they omit the word “culture,” and qualify every use of the word “law.”

    • Joe,

      Culture is a comprehensive term. It includes language, art, food, thought patterns, architecture, music, social norms and all that flows into law. Culture is the context in which laws are formed.

      The articulation of God’s natural, moral law can affect culture if only to restrain wickedness. The gospel, of course, and the grace of God are the only things that can transform (and I used this word with hesitation) a culture.

      • “The articulation of God’s natural, moral law can affect culture if only to restrain wickedness. The gospel, of course, and the grace of God are the only things that can transform (and I used this word with hesitation) a culture.”

        Thanks, that’s helpful !

  3. I’m wondering if any political theory can be surmised by scripture? I mean, as per natural revelation, the law is written on our hearts, but even that we fight against, especially the most hardened and depraved among us (including, and in particular, those in high places, regardless of public posturings/justifactions).

    I’m most interested in how we may convey and promote the 2nd use of the law* in today’s “negative world”? with the understanding that this is not really a biblical mandate, at least I don’t think it is. (Discerning the moral order of objective reality against the “do what that wilt” nature of the subjective experience.

    * “It was this law that the Caesars knew. It was with this understanding that Paul called pagan Caesars “ministers of God” (Rom 13:6). After the Mosaic national, civil covenant had been fulfilled, God’s moral law, revealed in creation and known by our senses and in our consciences, is sufficient to guide civil society, even though we don’t use it correctly.”

    So we are guarding against trading in the sacred domain for the secular one. The Bible is not a sociological how-to.

    • AJ,

      This is where we must be careful regarding the sufficiency of Scripture. It is sufficient for everything for which it intends to be sufficient. Does it intend to be a source book for political theory? No. It is the source for the saving knowledge of God, our worship, and our Christian life.

      Can we learn from Scripture truths about politics secular/civil life together? Yes, but the traditional way to say this (as Wollebius wrote) is to say that what applies, e.g., from the Moaic judicial laws are those things that agree with natural law. So, it’s really natural law that guides in political philosophy.

      For a Christian, a biblical anthropology would certainly inform his politics. So too his eschatology informs his politics but politics is really a function of nature, not grace.

      • But that’s not something we can impress upon the political establishment, is it? If the state, and the governing rulers of the state, are intent on taking things in a more dysfunctional, unnatural direction (say, for the sake of social engineering/radical transforming/breaking down of society). There’s really no recourse. I’m not saying we have to believe that is actually occurring (although I do).

        Paul did not endorse cleaning up society. That was not his motivation. He wasn’t trying to institute or facilitate a social program. He wasn’t trying to eradicate paganism for the sake of better living and human flourishing (as an ultimate outcome and consequence of his mission). He was proclaiming eternal truth. His motivation was spiritual and thus existential. But truly spiritual. (I think that helps put things in proper perspective.)

        We can speak to these things but I don’t think we can attempt to change them without getting severely mixed up.


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