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Christian Nationalism 5—Who Is King in the Kingdom of God?

In The Case for Christian Nationalism, Stephen Wolfe hopes to “enliven in the hearts of Christians a sense of home and hearth and love of people and country out of which springs actions for their good.” (5)

Christian nationalism has been a part of the national conversation ever since the riot at the Capitol Building on January 6, 2021. It is almost universally condemned by Christians and non-Christians alike. But is this condemnation fair? Wolfe thinks not and seeks to make the case for it.

For the next few weeks, I will be working through Wolfe’s book and offering a response. Others have addressed some of the more controversial takes in the book—I will not duplicate their work. Instead, I want to engage the sentiment behind it. Parts of the book are very well-written, and I suspect it will have lasting appeal. While I reject Wolfe’s vision for Christian nationalism, I want to highlight the positives and offer an alternative path forward to loving a place well.

In my last post, I highlighted a major flaw in Wolfe’s work: his rejection of hospitality toward the stranger. There is a second major flaw in the book: his understanding of human dominion. Wolfe’s political theory is a house of cards built on the premise that a Platonic republic would have been normative to prelapsarian humanity. He argues that if Adam had not sinned, humanity would have arranged itself in self-governing nations, similar to what we see today. This is simply not true. Wolfe fails to account for the curse on the earth in his reasoning of what prelapsarian civilization would have looked like.

In Genesis 3, God curses the earth because of Adam’s sin:

“And to Adam he said, ‘Because you have listened to the voice of your wife and have eaten of the tree of which I commanded you, “You shall not eat of it,” cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return.’” (Genesis 3:17–19 ESV)

Part of the curse on the earth was the introduction of toil and scarcity. Before the fall, mankind tilled the earth, but they did not do so “in pain” or “by the sweat of their face.” In other words, humanity’s labor resulted in a surplus of goods to be enjoyed. There was no lack. There was no anxiety created by scarcity.

What does this mean for Wolfe’s assumptions about division of labor? Wolfe writes:

"Since each community has a diverse set of members—each member contributing his gifts to the whole—it would contain a multiplicity of interests, pursuits, and ends. All would share in ultimate ends, such as the good of the whole (i.e., the common good) and the glory of God, but penultimate ends would vary. Vocational diversity and complexity produce potentially clashing interests, which (absent some organizing agent) would destroy liberty and the health of the community itself. Clashing interests occur not from ill-will or from the neglect of neighbor, but from natural epistemic limitations: we cannot know in every case how our actions might hinder or frustrate others in pursuit of their ends." (70)

According to Wolfe, even if we aren’t motivated by ill-will toward our neighbor, our actions sometimes will fall into competition with their desires, even if their desires are as noble as our own. He cites the example of one community building a dam for its own good, but blocking a river that benefitted another community downstream.

But how would a world without scarcity affect this reasoning? In his dam illustration, humanity would have no need for dams in a world that willingly gave up its fruit. In a world without a curse, it is easier to imagine humanity sharing with one another, since there would not be any anxiety over potential future needs. Such a world, though difficult to imagine, is exactly the kind of world that the Scriptures describe for the eschaton.

In a cursed world, it is easy to understand that gifting in software engineering is more desirable than gifting in farming, but this would not necessarily be the case in a world without scarcity. In fact, it is very possible that without the curse, mankind would be perfectly content without technology at all. In a way, technology is mankind’s attempt to push back against the curse.

Without the scarcity introduced by the curse, it is unlikely that humanity would have sorted itself hierarchically. Therefore, it also unlikely that aristocracy would have been the natural civic structure of prelapsarian humanity. This is fatal to Wolfe’s argument because he needs to demonstrate that human princes would have existed before the fall. He fails to do this.

In my next post, I will show how human exercise of dominion over other humans is a result of the fall. But in the meantime, Wolfe’s speculations about prelapsarian society raises some interesting questions: Were it not for the curse on the earth, how would we organize ourselves? How would the economy and government be different if there were no more fear of lack?

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