Even atheists should warm to the idea…
Calm down. This will not be a defense of theocracy. My position here is fundamentally rooted in the American story itself, and the governing tools forged at Philadelphia in 1776. (“Christian Nationalism” is NOT “white nationalism,” by the way; people who make that claim don’t understand that Christianity unites rich and poor, black and white, men and women, and people of every possible identity.) Christian Nationalism is just another way of talking about the ideas that shaped America. More on that later..
But first a story about the bad theology that has been crippling our cause for more than a century. I drove by a church sermon sign the other day in Norman, Oklahoma. The church itself, and the grounds were pristine, and the sign was digital. The first message to flash across the screen asked the question “Is God Proud of Gay Pride?” The second message concluded: “Christians must be God’s messengers. Not His judge and jury.” I made a point of looking up the church website and hearing the pastor out on the matter. In this era of making the Bible fluid enough to please all constituencies, the kind old man at the pulpit gave a solid, scriptural argument against sexual sin, including homosexuality. (The alt-sex crowd read the Bible the same way the ACLU reads the Second Amendment, thoroughly blind to the plain meaning of the text. It can be difficult, in other words, to find a pastor who actually uses the Bible as his primary, inerrant reference.)
So far so good, but the pastor made it clear we are living in the very “last days” and that Christians have only one obligation: speak the truth but make sure it never wears a badge. Ponder the consequence of his conclusion: if Christians are not to be a judge and jury, on any front, who will be the judge and jury? Do only agnostics and atheists qualify? Are professing Christians spiritually expected to avoid influencing the government, bearing the sword, and enforcing the law? Does the Bible speak to a new California law that would remove children from parents who refuse to facilitate gender transition surgery? Is that really where we are – rebuke the social worker and the law enforcement detail, but let them take your children?
The Evils of “Pietism”
The theological framework at work here is “pietism.” It began poisoning the American Protestant church in the early 19th century, but its ugliness has come into high relief in the last five decades – as the Christian cultural consensus deteriorated and the ugly secular state stepped in to fill the resulting vacuum. For most of our history, we’ve been living on cultural capital that was built in the 17th century by American Christians who worshipped a Christ-King vastly different from the “best friend” Jesus preached in many evangelical pulpits today. The Christianity of the 17th century assumed that Christians would, indeed, serve as “judges and juries,” that man had dominion over the earth, and that entire “nations” would be won over for Christ. The Jesus of John Winthrop and William Bradford built universities and hospitals and railroads and, eventually, great, glittering cities because Jesus cares about His creation and His vineyard. The Pietist Jesus, on the other hand, only cares about your eternal salvation. As popular pietist pastor John MacArthur put it recently “down here, we lose.”
To understand how crazy pietism (and end-times madness) has become within evangelical circles, a true story: several years ago some pro-life activists I know were protesting outside a church that had remained silent on the subject of abortion. Several church members stepped outside and scolded the activists by telling them: “Don’t you know it has to get worse? You are only delaying the Lord’s return by trying to make it better.”
“We lose and it’s going to get worse,” isn’t just a really good way to drive your children away from the church; it’s little more than pure sloth disguising itself as Christianity. Pietism is a violation of both the historic Christian church and the church revealed in scripture. The Jesus of Matthew 28 makes a very bold declaration: “All authority in heaven AND ON EARTH has been given unto me.” We are also told that the gates of hell will not prevail against His church. This is an image of fortress hell being battered down and beaten by Christians soldiers. It’s the righteous energy behind the last scene in the 1943 Academy Award winning “Mrs. Miniver,” where English Christians worshipped in a bombed-out cathedral, singing “Onward Christian Soldiers” as B17s above them winged their way towards Nazi Germany. From Peter’s first sermon to Charles the Hammer beating back the Muslim hordes, to Cortez ending human sacrifice in pre-Columbian Mexico, to Union Soldiers dealing a death blow to slavery, victory for the church has been the story of Christianity. Our God, and His Truth, Go Marching On..
Very soon, at a Christian church near you, or in a political salon of some sort among you conservatives who consider yourself “god-neutral,” the idea of “Christian nationalism” will be asking for your consideration. It’s going to be on the menu. Among dominion-oriented pastors like Doug Wilson, James White, Jack Hibbs, and Jeff Durbin, the campfires have been lit, and they are under siege by “personal Jesus” pastors who enjoy life in the apolitical, and sometimes very profitable, Christian ghetto.
You should side with the warriors, the ones who really do believe in “taking up the cross” every day. You should warm to Christian Nationalism and theonomy, because – as at the beginning of our republic, where Baptists, Congregationalists, Catholics, Anglicans and Presbyterians shared power – we are not talking about a theocracy. We are talking about making laws heavily influenced by the ancient wisdom of the Bible itself. We are talking about axiomatic moral law, the sort of anchor that keeps you from looking confused when someone asks you “what is a woman?” It would not be a state-sponsored church, and certainly not a theocracy, but a distinct governing sphere willing to formulate policy informed by Christian debate.
It’s possible, were there a real revival characterized by Christian Nationalism, that divorce law might be a bit more difficult, especially for the cheating spouse. It’s possible that abortion would be made completely illegal, along with criminal penalties for seeking it. It’s possible those on the public dole would face more scrutiny. You might even hear a Republican senator quote the Bible: “He that will not work, neither let him eat.” It’s quite possible the welfare state would begin shrinking, as local churches, charities and families rush in to fill the gap. Your kid may even be able to attend public school without teachers forcing gay porn on him. Your tax burden would almost certainly shrink. If the church only wants 10% of your money, why should the government demand more than half?
It’s also quite possible the world would appear significantly more libertarian than you might imagine, as state entities reverted to equality before the law instead of equality of outcome. The Bible spends enormous time calling down wrath on magistrates who take bribes. Even if that single Biblical principle were established, just by itself, how much would we save? Imagine a nation so schooled in Biblical law that a Joe Biden would not only be unelectable, but absolutely unthinkable.
For all of those tempted to ponder the Spanish Inquisition or Cromwellian zeal, give it a rest. Mao and Stalin and Hitler and Pol Pot and Castro should make those fears comic by comparison. Godless dictators, completely unrestrained by fear of hell fire, bring hell fire to the here and now. If you think a Christian magistrate is frightening, imagine that same magistrate with absolutely no fear of God nor man.
At any rate, it simply will be some version of one or the other. Someone will be your judge and jury. We will either be a nation willing to declare that some things are not up for a vote, because we are endowed by our Creator with certain “unalienable rights,” or we will fall prey to one more of those secular, socialist 20th century experiments–complete with year zero and killing fields and all that.
The choice? Do we even have to ask?