The Case for Christian Nationalism by Stephen Wolfe- a review

I wrote earlier this week about Christian Nationalism and as promised here is a review of the most prominent book making the argument for it.  

Wolfe’s case can be summarised as follows.

  1. Humanity has two ends or purposes, an earthly one and a heavenly one.  The first concerns life here and now with each other and the second is concerned with our pursuit of eternity and immortality.
  2. This heavenly goal is something received by grace, however, we can and should structure and orientate life now towards it.
  3. There is continuity between life before and after the Fall. This means that humans exist for the same ends.
  4. This means that prior to the Fall, it was already intended that people would form families, clans, tribes and nations under different earthly governments.  Nations and governments are therefore an absolute good and not merely a post fall necessity.
  5. The ideal therefore is a Christian Nation which will be best placed to order society for those objectives.

Wolfe defines Christian Nationalism as follows:

Christian nationalism is nationalism modified by Christianity. My definition of Christian nationalism is a Christianized form of nationalism or, put differently, a species of nationalism. Thus, I treat nationalism as a genus, meaning that all that is essential to generic nationalism is true of Christian nationalism.”[1]

He chooses to define nationalism after he has defined Christian Nationalism. 

My definition of nationalism is similar to that of Christian nationalism, though with less content: Nationalism refers to a totality of national action, consisting of civil laws and social customs, conducted by a nation as a nation, in order to procure for itself both earthly and heavenly good.”[2]

Before, looking at the content of his argument, it is worth making some observations about his methodology.  Wolfe explains:

I assume the Reformed theological tradition, and so I make little effort to exegete biblical text. Some readers will complain that I rarely appeal to Scripture to argue for my positions. I understand the frustration, but allow me to explain: I am neither a theologian nor a biblical scholar. I have no training in moving from scriptural interpretation to theological articulation.”[3]

He goes on:

Instead of drawing from Scripture to prove the Reformed system of doctrine, I’ve chosen to assume this system and work from it. I am unable to exegete better than the Reformed exegetical tradition anyway, and I frequently cite theologians whose work, to my mind, demonstrates the soundness of the Reformed system.”[4]

And concludes:

To be sure, some of my conclusions are expressed differently than this tradition. After all, Christian nationalism was not used in the 16th through the 18th centuries. But none of my conclusions are, in substance, outside or inconsistent with the broad Reformed tradition.”[5]

Wolfe’s argument supporting his methodology appears to be that he is not a theologian but a political theorist and that as theology is not his area of expertise, he isn’t subjected to the same rules and constraints that theologians are.  We are expected to simply accept that his political theory fits within the theological tradition.  He does however frequently draw on those theologians to back up his argument.

Now, here’ the problem with his justification for his methodology.  Like it or not, his book is a theological work. It became a theological work as soon as he sought to argue for a worldview based on how God has created and sustains mankind and the end for which God created us.  It is not a mere work of political theory. 

Secondly, it may be reasonable to assume the Reformed tradition but that does not allow us when writing and arguing to shirk the hard work of digging into the text of Scripture.  There are two reasons for this. First, that when drawing on the framework created by other theologians, we want to be certain that we have interpreted them and understood them correctly.  I’m not convinced that Wolfe does understand the Reformed tradition correctly. 

First, there is the small matter of “ends”.  What are the goals or purpose for which we were created? Well, the Shorter Catechism famously sums it up as follows:

The chief end of man is to glorify God and enjoy him forever.”

Reformed Christians have insisted historically that we have just the one end or goal, not multiple goals.  This end is both an earthly and a heavenly one.  It describes our life goal here and now and into eternity.  This is important because Wolfe quotes theologians including Maastricht, Luther and Turretin to back up his position.  Yet when we check out the context those theologians in context, it becomes clear that they are not saying the same as Wolfe, rather, they are simply answering the question about whether human beings were created immortal.  

Then, even if Wolfe has correctly understood the Reformed Tradition, this does not mean that it is itself infallible.  I am Reformed by conviction and I believe that Reformed Theology offers the best fit to what Scripture teaches. However, I do not think believe this means that we can rely on the theology untested and unchecked because whilst the best fit it is not perfect. The reformers were finite human beings who did not get everything right. As an obvious example, the vast majority of reformers continued to hold onto a questionable understanding of baptism.

The other aspect of his methodology is that he spends extensive amounts of time discussing things like “The Covenant of Works” whereby some (though not all) theologians have argued that Adam’s relationship to God in Eden was based on a covenant which unlike the later Covenant of Grace was conditional on his good works.  He also argues that we have misunderstood the meaning of “Total Depravity” with Wolfe arguing for a far more positive understanding of how much of human character and ability survived the Fall than he believes his reformed contemporaries appreciate. 

Once again, I am not convinced by Wolfe’s arguments on these issues and at some point may engage with them in more detail. However, I don’t see the need to here because we would do better to cut through the waffle. Wolfe has written a book, just shy of 500 pages and much of the stuff he writes about Covenant Theology and Human nature is in reality of at best tangentially related to his main argument.  In other words, much of his book is just filler and padding.  It seems to me that he has sought to create a weighty tome with many scholarly citations in order to disguise the thinness of his argument.  You see, if we got straight into the sum total of his argument then we would realise how ludicrous it is.

His argument boils down to this. He believes that God would have needed to institute nations even if there had not been sin and that therefore nationalism, especially infused with Christianity is a good and necessary thing.  Yet, nowhere does Scripture suggest such a thing. He has based his entire argument on an assumption unsupported by Scripture.  There is no case to answer.  He’s just making stuff up.

Furthermore, the aim of his argument is to encourage a specific vision of nationalism which is unapologetically Western and White.  He talks about “Western European” but in fact his focus is on the US. His agenda is for a supposedly Christian, American Nationalism.  He writes:

One might accuse me of assuming and norming the “Western European male” experience in this chapter. I am not worried about this, since I am male, and am rooted ancestrally in Western Europe, and am speaking largely to a Western European male audience. I fully acknowledge that my goal is to reinvigorate Christendom in the West—that is my chief aim. The question for most of my audience is, “Which way, Western Man—the suicide of the West or its revitalization?”3

He says that he is not worried by this but should he be? I would suggest that he should, or at least we certainly should be.  You see, just at a baseline level, this shows an ignorance and disinterest in his brothers and sisters around the world.  Furthermore, given that if Wolfe and his fellow travellers are responding at least in part to the US culture wars and if he then has the so called Woke agenda in his sights then he has simply ignored the arguments and complaints of his opponents.  Given that the concern most of us will have is that nationalist agendas, including those he so admires that were nurtured in the 19th Century have led to oppression, slavery and genocide in the past, it is reasonable to ask how his current proposals will avoid such evils being repeated.  In effect Wolfe is shrugging his shoulders and saying “not my problem.”

And so we turn to that matter of concern. What exactly is the nature of Wolfe’s Nationalism?  He is explicitly clear that this is an exclusive one designed along ethnic lines.

the nation is rooted in a pre-reflective, pre-propositional love for one’s own, generated from intergenerational affections, daily life, and productive activity that link a society of the dead, living, and unborn. Concrete action—past, present, and future—which enlivens space to the benefit of generations, is what grounds the nation.”[6]

Now, Wolfe does indicate that ethnicity in his mind is not limited to a purist view of bloodlines.

Ethnicity, as something experienced, is familiarity with others based in common language, manners, customs, stories, taboos, rituals, calendars, social expectations, duties, loves, and religion. These permit the ease of action and communication, the efficient completion of common projects, clarity of mutual understanding, and the ability to achieve the highest ideals and works of civil life.[7]

His definition of nation and ethnicity reflects shared culture, space and language and so it is possible for people to immigrate and integrate into the nation through marriage but only on a limited scale  A small number of refugees may be hosted If the nation can sustain that but they are not included into citizenship until several generations have passed. 

He has a pessimistic view of the ability of people from different ethnic backgrounds to interact and integrate beyond a superficial level.

People of different ethnic groups can exercise respect for difference, conduct some routine business with each other, join in inter-ethnic alliances for mutual good, and exercise common humanity (e.g., the good Samaritan), but they cannot have a life together that goes beyond mutual alliance.[8]

Therefore, whilst not insisting that repatriation is necessary, he doesn’t appear to have a problem with a nation opting for that and also promotes a form of segregation within society.

To be sure, I am not saying that ethnic majorities today should work to rescind citizenship from ethnic minorities, though perhaps in some cases amicable ethnic separation along political lines is mutually desired. What I am saying is that in-group solidarity and right of difference along ethnic lines are necessary for the complete good for each and all; and, therefore, even in multinational civil arrangements (e.g., the United Kingdom), national distinctions must be prudently upheld, and each person ought to (in normal circumstances) prefer their own people over others.[9]

He even seems to encourage segregation within churches, writing:

Indeed, civil fellowship is what makes strong church fellowship possible, because people do not lose their particularity when they pass through the doors of a church building. Spiritual unity is inadequate for formal ecclesial unity. People do not suddenly speak some Gospel language and then assume a Gospel culture. The people’s way of life permeates the visible church, and it serves as an ancillary feature that makes possible the administration of sacred things (e.g., preaching in the vernacular). The administration of the Word and Sacraments require, at a bare minimum, a common language; and church fellowship requires at least a core culture serving as the cultural norm for social relations. Culturally distinct groups of Christians could, of course, start their own churches, and this would solve one problem.”[10]

Now, let’s just pause for a moment to take in what we have just read.  All of the dressing up of this as Christian and reformed cannot disguise the reality that this is unadulterated, far right evil.  Of course, the proponents of Apartheid dressed up their position as backed by Reformed Theology, the Far Right in Britain within the National Front and BNP have often claimed to be fighting a Christian crusade and sadly, segregation in the US was supported and defended by churches and Christian leaders.  Their racism, their ethnic idolatry was Satanic and sinful then, just as it is today.

Now, it is a shame that Wolfe chose not to engage with the text of Scripture itself because if he did, then he would have discovered that in so far as God calls a people to himself, his nation, it is the people of Israel set apart from the nations of this World.  We do not need a replacement Christian nation, whether or not this is a single nation such as the US or a number of nations claiming to be Christian.  You see, as Romans 11 shows, believers are ingrafted into God’s Holy Nation.

Yes, despite Wolfe’s protestations, Christians are called for this time to live as strangers and exiles. This means that we have a higher citizenship.  This enables us to care for the good of our city and its citizens not out of nationalistic zeal but as God’s people were told to do when in Babylon.

There is no place in Christianity for the kind of agenda that Wolfe and his colleagues at Canon Press are pushing.  It is an evil heresy worthy only of utter condemnation.

[1] Wolfe, Stephen. The Case for Christian Nationalism (p. 10). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] Wolfe, Stephen. The Case for Christian Nationalism (pp. 10-11). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

[3] Wolfe, Stephen. The Case for Christian Nationalism (p. 16). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

[4] Wolfe, Stephen. The Case for Christian Nationalism (pp. 16-17). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

[5] Wolfe, Stephen. The Case for Christian Nationalism (p. 17). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

[6] Wolfe, Stephen. The Case for Christian Nationalism (p. 120). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

[7] Wolfe, Stephen. The Case for Christian Nationalism (p. 136). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

[8] Wolfe, Stephen. The Case for Christian Nationalism (p. 148). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

[9] Wolfe, Stephen. The Case for Christian Nationalism (p. 149). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

[10] Wolfe, Stephen. The Case for Christian Nationalism (p. 200). Canon Press. Kindle Edition.

%d bloggers like this: