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.
There are two major flaws to Wolfe’s argument: (1) his rejection of hospitality toward the stranger, and (2) his understanding of human dominion. In my last post, I showed that Wolfe fails to demonstrate that human dominion over other humans was part of prelapsarian society. Today, I will show that human dominion over other humans is a result of the fall.
Wolfe argues that human government should direct people toward worship of the true God. He writes:
“Since a Christian—having restored integrity—possesses the same gifts as Adam, he is equipped and drawn, by his nature, to the same sort of dominion—to mature earthly life according to its principles and to order this world to the next. Christians are empowered and obligated to act according to Adam’s original task, though not to meet any gracious condition for eternal life. The intent of the work is not to obtain a title to eternal life or to transform earthly life into the kingdom of God, but to order this life to the next. The Christian work of dominion in this world, like the task given to Adam, matures the earth such that it points to that heavenly rest to come and supports the goods of that heavenly rest offered primarily through spiritual administration (viz., the instituted church).” (98)
Again, the case Wolfe makes for the necessity of prelapsarian government is flimsy at best. But even if Wolfe is right that Christians should exercise dominion in a way that points the world to true religion, he assumes that the authority of the sword is the means by which Christians should do this.
Jesus explicitly told us this was not the case.
“But Jesus called them to him and said, ‘You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.’” (Matthew 20:25–28 ESV)
Jesus told his disciples that following him meant rejecting the human tendency to exercise dominion over others and instead to become a servant. Does this command contradict God’s command to Adam? Not at all. In Genesis 1, God says to Adam:
“Then God said, ‘Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.’” (Genesis 1:26–28 ESV)
Note the things humanity was to exercise dominion over: (1) the fish of the sea, (2) the birds of the heavens, (3) the livestock, and (4) everything that creeps. This is obviously a synecdoche—mankind’s dominion wasn’t limited to those four categories; it extended over all creation. But there is one notable absence in the dominion mandate—other people. God never told the first humans to exercise dominion over each other.
In fact, one of the ways in which Adam exercised dominion over the animals was by naming them (Genesis 2:19–20). After the fall, when Adam and Eve were cursed, God said to Eve:
“I will surely multiply your pain in childbearing; in pain you shall bring forth children. Your desire shall be contrary to your husband, but he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16 ESV)
Adam’s desire to exercise rule over his wife was a result of the fall, and his first act after the curse was to name his wife as he has named the animals (Genesis 3:20).
Wolfe is correct to claim that mankind still bears the responsibility to direct others toward worship of the true God. However, exercising dominion over other people is not the means of accomplishing this mandate. Service is.
If nationalism is to be Christian nationalism, it must encourage true religion through service, not the exercise of dominion.
What are ways Christians can serve mankind in a way that points to worship of the true God?