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The Gospel Coalition’s Clownish Critique of Christian Nationalism

The Gospel Coalition decided to weigh in on Christian Nationalism after seeing G3 ministries handle the issue poorly and attempts to do even worse in an article written by Peter Schreiner. Despite identifying as a New Testament professor at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, little New Testament understanding is to be found in the article, especially as it relates to Romans 13.

After denouncing hot takes in the first paragraph the second paragraph goes full Blue Anon:

“Christian Nationalism” has become a junk box into which everyone piles his own conceptions. But it’s not monolithic. Three dominant perspectives on Christian Nationalism have arisen over the past several years. Some equate Christian Nationalism with rioting at the U.S. Capitol on January 6. Others say it’s any attempt to enforce God’s law in a country. Others claim it’s advocating for Christian values on issues such as abortion. How you view the movement depends almost entirely on your circles.

His camps of Christian Nationalism are replete with a lack of coherent definition. At Evangelical Dark Web, we define Christian Nationalism as follows: The belief and practice of Christianizing a nation, either establishing or restoring a Christian heritage to a people, through the spreading of the gospel, establishing of institutions, and aligning civil laws with the Law of God. This definition is highly compatible with Stephen Wolfe’s and Paul Miller’s definitions. Yet rather than assess the definitions which generally are different perspectives of the same picture, Schreiner concocts his own straw men to argue against. In reverse order he starts out with the good.

For some, Christian Nationalism simply means that Christianity has influenced and should continue to influence the nation. They argue America was founded on transcendent Christian principles. The Declaration of Independence affirms “all men are created equal” and “are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.” Such a principle is worthy of Christian advocacy alongside a biblical view of issues like marriage, sexuality, and abortion. Our nation would be improved by affirming the goodness of natural law principles.

In the best sense, this form of Christian Nationalism doesn’t attempt to dominate the political process or to make the nation completely Christian but seeks instead to bring change by persuasion. Rather than trying to overthrow the government, adherents advocate their cause by supporting laws, electing candidates, podcasting, writing, and developing think tanks. They won’t force their opinions, but they also won’t back down from arguing for them.

Schreiner argues that this isn’t what most Christians mean when they speak of Christian Nationalist, and he’s right. Even the people who aren’t fully on board prefer more dominance in the political process than we currently have.

Schreiner moves on to discuss the bad side of Christian Nationalism.

Some view Christian Nationalism as a fusion of Christianity with American civil life. Although this might not sound different from the above, a fusion means Christianity and American life should coalesce. The political process should be overhauled to serve God. The laws of the United States should be explicitly Christian.

This is the logical result of a Christian influence in government, yet The Gospel Coalition presupposes that aligning the civil government to be obedient to God is a bad thing.

The fusion view is flawed in at least three ways. First, it contradicts the Christian philosophy of witness. Christ’s kingdom is to be advocated by persuasion, not power. Conversion must be a free choice, not instituted by command—compelled by the Spirit rather than instituted by human law. According to John in Revelation, Christians follow Christ in his victory primarily by witnessing to the reign of Christ, not by enacting laws. We follow a politic of persuasion all the way down. Revelation 12:11 says we conquer by the “word of [our] testimony.” We imitate Christ’s victory through suffering. This is our main political witness. We conquer not by fighting the culture war but by embodying Jesus’s cross-shaped victory. His blood declares him the King of the universe, and our blood speaks to our solidarity with him. We continue to speak of and demonstrate Jesus’s cross in our own lives and so remain faithful in a pagan society.

The Gospel Coalition supported on numerous occasions government overreach in the realm of religion during Covid. They showed that they weren’t willing to suffer an ounce for the name of Christ. Yet then they claim that suffering is our main political witness? The irony is overwhelming, as is the hypocrisy.

Moreover Christ begins the Great Commission by stating all power has been given to Him. Additionally, The Gospel Coalition, generally claims to be Reformed, yet it’s view of Evangelism is persuasion which may be an earthly perspective of Evangelism, but the Holy Spirit does the work, not us. God ordains the mean, whether through persuasion or other means.

Second, the fusion view doesn’t respect the temporal distinction between this age and the age to come. We live in the gap between Christ’s resurrection and his second coming. In this time, religious freedom, diversity, and pluralism are blessings to God’s people who wish to live a “peaceful and quiet life” (1 Tim. 2:2). In this age, we can’t institute or codify God’s law in totality. That day will come, but it will be done by Christ himself––the true King. As citizens of the kingdom of God, we point forward to the kingdom but never forget the age we inhabit. We live in the age of choice. God has honored humans enough to give them time to repent. This doesn’t mean neglecting the natural order God created for humanity’s good, but it also doesn’t mean seeking to establish the theocratic state.

In a David French style, this Baptist argue that religious pluralism is a blessing to society. I too remember reading the Old Testament describe how God blessed Israel by allowing rampant idolatry.

Third, this form of Christian Nationalism goes against key features of the American experiment, mainly pluralism and religious liberty. The First Amendment of the Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Although America does have a distinctly Christian past, this form of Christian Nationalism overlooks the pluralism and religious liberty for which many founding fathers advocated. Eliminating all dissent might sound attractive, and it certainly would allow governing authorities to get things done more quickly. But squashing dissent violates human liberty, equality, and the vision of the founding fathers. It requires coercion of and change from those who dissent. If taken to its logical conclusion, this Nationalism undermines the foundation of a free society. Should such a fusion dominate American civil life, it would divide the nation rather than unify it. Uniformity in some aspects of national life isn’t all bad, but that must always exist beside diversity.

Schreiner proceeds to read a pluralism in America’s founding that is not remotely the same pluralism we see today. This entire point is argued, without even taking the Bible out of context as in the previous two reasons. The US Constitution is the scripture used to justify religious pluralism and the blessings of idolatry.

Christian Nationalism can also turn ugly. It can become a cultural framework that idealizes and advocates for a fusion of Christianity with American civil life and does so by dominion. This is the type of Christian Nationalism exhibited by some on January 6. This is the complete conflation of God and country and advocating for it by force or violence when deemed necessary.

The critiques of the second position apply here as well, but the phrase “Christian Nationalism” is, at its core, a confusion of categories. Although we can affirm and even celebrate the role Christianity has played in America as a nation, America can’t ever be described as a “Christian nation.” No nation-state can be a Christian nation-state, because Christianity doesn’t work that way.

The injustice of the J6 political prisoners is quite ugly, but The Gospel Coalition is trying, erroneously to label that Christian Nationalism. It was protestant theology on the doctrine of lesser magistrates that fueled the American Revolution, since Schreiner is so inclined to reference America’s founding. The Black Robe Regiment was Christian movement that Schreiner’s logic would place in the ugly side of Christian Nationalism.

Additionally, Schreiner argues that the label Christian can only be applied to individual believers. Historically, this has never been the case. There is a sense in which this is theologically true. Yet this logic would dictate that there are no Christian ministries, businesses, families, or even churches.

It’s wrongheaded to try to enforce the fusion by force. Jesus explicitly said his kingdom is not of this world. If it were, his servants would fight (John 18:36). We advocate for the end of abortion, but we don’t kill doctors who perform abortions. We can march and protest, but we don’t form mobs of destruction. We work to elect candidates of integrity and conviction, but we don’t harass public officials at town halls or school board meetings.

The New Testament scholar states that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world, neglecting the clear teachings of Jesus that Christ’s kingdom is in this world and at hand.

And therefore what are Christians to do in relationship to the civil government? According to The Gospel Coalition, classical liberalism is morally superior to Christian Nationalism.

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8 Responses

  1. So many wrong assumptions. bad arguments, false dilemmas, false accusations, etc. in his article, it would take half a week to address them all.

    But as far as the founding of the country goes, the founders said things that may sound pluralistic by today’s definition of the word, but the author fails to understand that the context was the federalist model they put into place. In those days, towns, communities, counties, cities, states, etc. were fairly homologous. The Baptists lived in one area, Catholics in another, Quakers in another, and so on. The states had official religions. Towns had official religions. The Constitution only limited the federal government.

    The federalist model they envisioned was one where at each level of government going “up” from most tiny granular towns through all the levels to the federal government, the values, beliefs, laws, size, and scope of authority and power decreased, to only the values and beliefs the smaller government’s, within its scope of responsibility, had in common, and such that no level of government imposed anything on those smaller government’s, that would conflict with its values and beliefs. That’s what the 1st Amendment meant, and how it was to be applied. But what we have now is the opposite. Now as you go “up” from the smallest most granular, through to the federal government, power increases, and the values and beliefs being imposed are more numerous, attempt to be more all-encompassing, therefore attempt to impose a conflicting set of values and beliefs on the levels under it, and that is exactly what the 1st Amendment was originally intended to prevent.

    As the country was originally designed, there would never have been something like a scotus decision that made so-called “gay marriage” legal nationwide. Such violates federalist principles, violates the original design, and thus directly violates the 1st Amendment. Such is government establishment of religion – which is nowadays inevitable because that original federalist model has been flipped completely upside down, such that governments at “higher” levels can do nothing but impose conflicting values and beliefs on those “under” it, making the only question at this point in time what those values and beliefs will be, and that is the cause of a tremendous amount of conflict.

    It is the cause of much conflict. But to a significant degree, it’s almost meaningless to try to appeal to the 1st Amendment or the founding of the country, considering how far the country has strayed from the original model. The upside down mess we have now cannot do anything but violate the 1st Amendment, and to a significant degree violates it simply by even existing in a system that is a complete inversion of the original federalist design.

    No system devised by imperfect mankind will ever be perfect, because mankind is not perfect. The federalist model may not be perfect, but it’s fairly hard to beat in comparison to other options. One criticism of it might be that it conflicts with the Great Commission, but that is dependent on how it is implemented. Right? If you live in the Christian town, and you want to send missionaries over to the other town, you can do that. The 1st Amendment protects free speech and freedom of the press immediately after protecting religion. Then if the inhabitants of that town will not hear you, shake the dust off your feet.

    I don’t know and don’t have the answers. But what I do know is that it’s almost meaningless, at this point in history, to even try to reference the founders or 1st Amendment, because the mess of things now is such that it is already intrinsically violated through the “design” of our current model of government.

    1. * homogeneous (darned spell check)

      And it should go without saying the subject here is religion. I’m not talking about skin color or anything else aside from whether or not one is a born again Christian.

    2. We say “the” Constitution, and talk about it limiting the federal government, because that grabs our attention these days, but at each level of government, state, country, local, etc. each had constitutions with the same limiting purpose, clearly defining the limited scope. The entire “tree” was such a model, where power, authority, values and beliefs, etc. decreased as you went up that “tree”, each dealing only with that which smaller governments within its scope had in common, to the point where the federal government was supposed to be the most limited of all.

      1. * county (darned I don’t know what that was – auto-correct, brain, who knows) I give up on the corrections – you all know what I mean. lol

        1. Of course, an inadvertent demonstration of the imperfection of mankind, myself most definitely included, is not a bad thing considering the subject at hand.

  2. People who take the TGC tack on this are going to have to do more homework and make better arguments.
    This article was “a swing and a miss.”

  3. It is interesting listening to intelligent people on this thread, I’m so tired of all the name calling and expressions of ignorance that are so common place elsewhere. I’m going to have to tune in more often.
    Thank you folks for your input.
    Bob Kill

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