(In case you are not familiar, Shrek was just caught reading the old childhood diary of his now-wife, Fiona. This clip should help you imagine the title of this blog post being delivered in a Scottish accent.)
But, here is the actual book that skeered everybody real bad:
And … behold! I have posed it with my scary black nail polish.
In my experience so far, the people who are most alarmed by this book are just reacting to the title. And it is a scary title, because Wolfe is trying to do something that many people try to do, which is take a derogatory term and own it, while of course redefining it somewhat or at least clarifying the definition. In fact, this book is nothing more nor less than one big, extended definition/explanation of what Wolfe means by the term, and what he thinks Christians should mean by it.
Most of the people who reacted to the publication of this book as if their hair were on fire, apparently did not read it, because their definitions of Christian Nationalism are very different and, in many cases, the opposite of the extended definition found in this book. I will demonstrate this with quotations from the book, below.
(To be fair: the other possible problem is that they did try to read it, or else they listened to an interview with Wolfe trying to explain it. I have heard a few such interviews, and I cannot say that Wolfe is the clearest at expressing himself in person. The book, too, is … dry. It sounds like it was written by a lawyer, or a more-than-usually-dry theologian. Combine this with the fact that many of the concepts in this book are entirely foreign to modern Americans, especially those who have not been raised Presbyterian, and I can easily imagine that someone could dip in, get dizzy, and quickly flee … or else fix on a phrase or two and completely misconstrue them. If you want to hear Wolfe’s ideas expressed in a vivid, accessible, and much clearer way, seek out the blog posts of Douglas Wilson.)
But anyway, here are a few of the assumptions people often make when they hear the phrase Christian nationalism, and quotes from the book that show Wolfe’s actual take on the topic:
Here’s what the scared people are saying:
“Nationalism means imperialism or jingoism“
Several ethnicities can share the same language, of course. But since language is a particular and is necessary for civil fellowship, it follows that at least some particularity is a prerequisite for civil fellowship. Hence, sharing only what is universal — viz., common humanity — is wholly inadequate for a complete social bond. And even a cursory reflection on one’s daily habits and everyday life reveals that more extensive unity in particulars is necessary for living well. We do not, and indeed cannot, live (let alone live well) according to universal rules. Nor can we live well among contrary particulars; there must be a normal to which all conform or assimilate, at least in order for people to live well together. Thus, an instinct for a suitable normal is a good instinct; so too is the moral expectation that people conform to that normal or else face some degree of social separation.
Exclusion [of out-group members] follows not necessarily from maliciousness or from the absence universal benevolence, but from a natural principle of difference that recognizes for oneself and for others the goods provided by similarity and solidarity in that similarity. To exclude an out-group is to recognize a universal good for man — a good made possible only by respecting and conserving difference. Since it is a universal good, you and your people are entitled by nature to a right of difference. This is a natural right, because particularity is necessary to live well according to the nature of man.pp. 144 – 145
The principle of exclusion does not preclude the reception of foreigners absolutely. Nations ought to be hospitable. At the individual and family levels, hospitality demands generosity to strangers, especially to those in need. A nation, as a sort of corporate person, can and ought to be hospitable as well. But hospitality is subordinate to higher duties: no individual, family, or nation is duty-bound to welcome strangers to the detriment of the good of those most near and bound to it. Furthermore, guests have duties toward their hosts.p. 167
“Christian nationalism is a code phrase for wanting an all-white America (a.k.a. White Supreme Pizza)“
Nations express Christianity like they express gender through dress — a universal is expressed in a particular way. Christianity perfects the whole not by eliminating earthly particularity, just as any man who comes to Christ does not lose his personality and other unique characteristics. The Christian nation is still a nation as described in the previous chapter, having intergenerational memory and love, degrees and types of loves, and a delight in people and place. Grace sanctifies sinners, but it does homogenize personality; likewise, Christ sanctifies nations but does not eliminate national distinctness.p. 175
“Christians should not have any loyalty to any particular country or family, because ‘all are one in Christ.'”
Man’s limitedness is expressed in the natural need for a sort of directed gregariousness. That is, he is close at heart with a particular, bounded people, who ground and confirm his way of life in the world and who provide for him his most cherished goods. [Even] Unfallen man is benevolent to all but can only be beneficent (i.e., act for the good of) to some, and this limitation is based not merely in geographic closeness but in shared understanding, expectations, and culture.
Cultural diversity is, therefore, a necessary consequence of human nature, and so it is good for us. It is good that particular practices are made habitual by localized socialization and are “owned” in a sense by a particular place and people. It is good that the particularity of each community distinguishes it from the others. Man’s limitedness was not a divine mistake; neither is cultural diversity, separated geographically, an error. It was God’s design for man and thus a necessary feature of his good.p. 65
“Christian nationalism” mean getting rid of the First Amendment, and establishing a national church to which every citizen is required to belong.
Althuis states, “Franz Burckhard therefore errs, and the Jesuits with him, who think that the magistrate is not able to tolerate diverse religions.” Burckhard, a Roman Catholic professor at Ingolstadt, is reported to have said, “What more just than to cut off the heads of all these villains of Lutherans!” Burckhard … called for Roman Catholics to rescind the Peace of Passau (1552), which granted religious freedom to Lutherans within the Holy Roman Empire.
This rigid position is natural enough for Roman Catholic theology, which asserted that it is the one true visible church … But in Protestantism the church is essentially invisible and composed of the elect by faith, and belonging to that church is not conditioned on or grounded in one’s outward belonging to a visible, centralized communion. Thus, Protestants of different doctrinal persuasions can mutually recognize their shared faith. This is the basis for principled toleration and religious liberty in Protestant commonwealths. Indeed, the unfolding of Protestant principles — not Enlightenment or Roman Catholic “doctrinal development” — is what led Americans to affirm religious liberty in the 18th century, which I demonstrate in the next chapter. The point here is that a Protestant people have principled flexibility when faced with religious diversity. How a Christian magistrate navigates this complexity requires wisdom, prudence, and resolve.p.375
The political status of non-Christians in a Christian commonwealth is a matter of prudence. Since civil society is a human institution, it must guarantee equal protection and due process with regard to human things for all people. That is, it must guarantee justice and secure natural rights. But this does not entail equal participation, status, and standing in political, social, and cultural institutions. Thus, they are guaranteed a basic right to life and and property (the absence of which would harm the common good), but they may be denied by law to conduct certain activities that could exploit or harm Christians or the Christian religion.
This position, though fairly standard in the Christian tradition until recently, will be received with controversy today, and few would stomach any legal discrimination on the basis of religion. But even in the absence of legal distinctions, the cultural norms of a Christian nation will require non-Christians to be the exception to the norm.pp. 392 – 393
“It means that the same person is the leader both of the church and of the country in a civil sense.”
I think that a strictly indirect role for civil leaders in intra-ecclesial affairs is both preferable and most consistent with Protestant principles. There is, I admit, a natural fittingness to Christian nationalism and the [civil leader] as the “head of the Church.” But granting the leader this title would be, in my view, an abuse of power and constitute the usurpation of Christ’s kingship over the church. I offer my reasoning below.p. 300
It means giving church leaders political power.
God does not (ordinarily) declare by special revelation that this or that person has civil power. Rather, it is “a characteristic property resulting from nature,” writes Suarez. He continues:
‘This [civil power] does not emerge in human nature until men gather in one perfect community and unite politically … Once constituted, this body is at once, and by force of natural reason, the site of this [civil] power.’
The people possess civil power as a necessary and natural consequence of their combination.
One important corollary is that recognizing the true God (or Christ) is unnecessary to possess this power, for having this power is simply a natural consequence of the people’s combination into human society. And they can likewise devolve this power upon those who do not recognize the true God. Hence, true civil authority does not depend on true religion, though certainly in failing to acknowledge the divine source of civil authority, the people and civil ruler are in a perilous situation. It doesn’t bode well for them, but being godless or idolatrous does not itself preclude true political order. Hence, Peter instructs his recipients to “honor the [Roman] emperor.”pp. 283 – 284
Though we can in principle disobey unjust laws, we should recognize the difficulty in determining whether a law is unjust. It one thing for a law to be unjust and another for you to know that it is unjust. Civil magistrates are necessary, as I’ve said, because of natural epistemic limitations in individuals to determine expedient actions for the common good. … [M]any or perhaps most laws evade a simple evaluation, mainly because civil authorities are typically in a better position than private persons to make judgments about what serves the common good.
Pastors can admonish erring magistrates to correct injustice in the law, but pastors must not mistake their theological training or scriptural knowledge for expertise in jurisprudence. Pastors as pastors are no more competent to analyze or make civil law than any other private person.p. 274, 275
“People who advocate Christian nationalism think that they can use outer means, such as laws, to compel people to believe.”
Civil power cannot legislate or coerce people into belief; it can only command outward things — to outwardly do this or not do that. No classical Protestant has ever claimed that civil action can itself bring about assent to, let alone true faith in, the Gospel. Though the ultimate purpose of civil action can be the spiritual good of the people, the direct object cannot be the conscience. Spiritual good is a matter of the heart before God in Christ. Thus, civil action for the advancement of the Gospel only indirectly operates to that end.p.182
As for power over conscience, implicit power can influence beliefs, such as assent to Christian truth, but civil law cannot command belief. It can only direct bodies. It orders outward action. Civil power cannot touch the conscience. Why? Because the conscience is a forum of persuasion and civil power is the power of command. The civil command “believe in Christ” violates a necessary condition of belief, namely, that belief is a matter of persuasion.p. 253
It means that the entire Mosaic law, including the ceremonial laws, would become the legal code of the land.
[W]hether any civil law is good depends on the circumstances, which requires the discernment of a prudent man. Calvin writes, “[E]ach nation has been left at liberty to enact the laws which it judges as beneficial.” Nothing about this disparages the Mosaic law — a law of God. It is a perfect example of law. But it is not a universal body of law.
Some civil laws in the Mosaic law are universal in a way. But they are universal because they are necessary for any just and commodious human society.
Though not universally suitable, the civil laws of Scripture provide certainty as to their inherent righteousness. They are, therefore, morally permissible in civil law, and the closeness of the circumstances aid in determining whether any of them is suitable.pp. 267 – 268
We can just have a neutral, secular nation, with no national religion at all.
This “neutral” or “common” space lasted only about twenty years, which shouldn’t surprise us: the most common human arrangements in history for public space are decidedly not neutral. It is a shame that we treated this neutral world as normal and universal.
Experience over the last decades has made evident that there are two options: Christian nationalism or pagan nationalism. The totality of national action will be either Christian, and thus ordered to the complete good, or pagan — ordered to the celebration of degeneracy, child sacrifice (e.g., abortion), mental illness, and idolatry. Neutrality, even if it was real for a time, will never hold, because man by his nature infuses his transcendent concerns into his way of life and into the place of that life. The pagan nationalist rejection of neutrality is correct in principle …p. 381
For decades, theologians have developed theologies that exclude Christianity from public institutions but require Christians to affirm the language of universal dignity, tolerance, human rights, anti-nationalism, anti-nativism, multiculturalism, social justice, and equality, and they ostracize from their own ranks any Christian who deviates from these social dogmas. They’ve effectively Christianized the modern West’s social creed. The Christian leaders most immersed in the modern West’s [actual] civil religion are those who loudly denounce the “civil religion” of “Christian nationalism.”p. 5