I’ll be honest every time I think this whole Stephen Wolfe The Case for Christian Nationalism thing has died down I keep finding the praise or vilifications steaming away like the express is running late. And the crew on this particular train is a motley bunch, and I am not particularly interested in describing them. But it occurs to me there are several broad things that I think it is apparently plain and it would behoove us to all take a deep breath and admit. Therefore, my thoughts:
Not that Many People will Actually Read it
Let’s just be honest while sales have apparently been brisk most of that is due to a near flawless marketing campaign by Cannon Press that capitalized on the shrill shrieks of horror coming from most people to the left of them. But it is one thing to get excited, pop over to Amazon, plunk down your twenty odd bucks, and then smirk over the thanksgiving turkey as that nephew raises his eyebrows in panic at what is prominently displayed on your coffee table; and actually reading the thing.
Let’s not forget Wolfe is an academic, and he wrote an academic book, that comes in at a brisk academic 488 pages. The likelihood that the whole think will be read, comprehended, and acted on is minimum. I am willing to bet the vast majority of purchasers, will start it, put it on the bedside table, and taper off on their reading, while browsing some articles on it while at work. A finished introduction does not a book read make.
I had a friend who turned me off to Doug Wilson for years, by only reading the introductions to Wilson’s book and then spouting the provocative bits with none of the nuance while claiming he read the whole thing. More likely that not I am willing to bet there are a lot of people pulling that kind of nonsense. So we can all calm down.
We have Bigger Ambitions
There is an old Robin Williams joke about Bill Gates being hauled into a senate hearing where he is asked, “Mr. Gates do you realize you are creating a monopoly? To which Gates responds, “Monopoly is just a game senator I’m trying to control the f***ing planet!”
Quite frankly those who are terrified of a truly Christian nation happening sometime in the future have good grounds to be so. But it’s worse than they think. We intend to take over the entire world. Kuyper was not wrong when he said:
“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!” – Abraham Kuyper, Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader
Or as Christ said in Matthews Gospel:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” – Matthew 28:10-20 (emphasis added)
So everything belongs to him, he reigns, and all his enemies will be put under his feet. That is already, and not yet. So if you are an enemy of Christ there is good reason to fear his coming kingdom. That said…
Wolfe is Jumping the Gun
Clearly. Much of the book is dealing with how Wolfe, a Presbyterian, thinks a Christian nation would look. And for those of us who are not Presbyterian and are not big fans of having our babies splashed, much less by the state if they are going to have any citizenship; I would say he has over baked his cake. Wolfe is tracking things down into the practical details of how he thinks things should be ordered, and while there is some value to musing in advance about the practicalities of the inevitable complete reign of Christ; to quote Elim Garak, “It’s best not to dwell on such minutiae.”
In short, for a book that is promoted on a popular level, the discussions found therein are a little inside baseball. Only slightly more practical than discussions about how many angels can dance on a pin head. There are times and places for such talk. And to try and give Wolfe credit, I am willing to bet that when he wrote the thing he intended it to be an obscure interesting intellectual theological discussion and the Cannon people then flogged it into the best seller list, and he is just riding the wave. That said the time for those kinds of discussions in the broader conversation is not now. As Wilson himself is fond of saying, “It is immanentizing the eschaton.”
There has yet to be a Success Story of Christian Nationalism
Which brings me to possibly to what I see as the biggest flaw (though the last point I see as a real contender) There has never been an example of a “Christian Nation” or even a “Christian City” that was successful. They ended up imploding and they imploded for good reasons. Despite Wolfe’s Aquinas fanboying.
If I push my Irish prejudice aside and just rely on my Puritan thinking, Cromwells republic was a failure. I will grant the good bits but what made it work was Cromwell and he died, and he didn’t exactly rule a “christian” nation as evidenced by what followed his death.
Calvin’s Geneva also had its problems. And while I am first in line to suggest that Servetus got everything he was asking for; there were still things like the guy who had to walk the streets stoping at every corner to kneel and beg Calvin’s forgiveness.
And these examples are the kinds of magisterial reformers that Wolfe shines a very positive light on. They practically glow in a way that says, “I’m ready for my close up now Mr. Wolfe.”
That does not mean I do not believe that Christ will rule a Christian planet, but I tend to look more to a sort of “eye has not seen” kind of understanding at this point. Rather than looking a period of history I particularly love and cherry picking the good parts and trying to smash them onto the world of today. We live in a fallen world, and mankind is still desperately wicked. Just because Christian is slapped on a political party does not mean it will rule in a righteous way.
The Term is not Worth Saving
Finally, I realize that the attempt is to reappropriate the term Christian Nationalism as a badge of honor. Like how the Puritans did with the word, Puritans. I get the impetus, but I think it is misguided.
Christian Nationalist can not be simply limited to the, hypothetically, respectable presbyterian circles Wolfe runs in. Christian Nationalism immediately brings to mind the kind of Kenneth Copeland adherent, Q paranoid, barely educated, trailer trash that aggressively toured the capital once upon a January sixth. It is not just a cut and dried term of intellectually rigorous theologians and statesman that Wolfe wants to imagine it is.
Wolfe is a smart guy, he should apply all that brain power to coming up with a new name that he gets to define. The title of Christian Nationalist would take planet lifting work to redeem (in a world that Christ warned us would hate us flat out to begin with) and it’s just not worth it.
I’m tired of this discussion, I hope that it dies out soon and we the Reformed can say shortly that it was fun ride while it lasted but now we have got it out of our system. And then we can move on to a more effective system without all the baggage that Wolfe is ignoring comes with his preferred system.
It is time to say we have taken stock, he had his say, and we can move on.