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 the last couple of weeks, I explained the main reasons I find Wolfe’s argument unconvincing: (1) his rejection of hospitality toward the stranger, and (2) his understanding of human dominion. However, I found much of Wolfe’s book compelling, and I want to offer an alternative path forward.
Today I want to discuss Wolfe’s argument that Christian nationalism promotes “the good life.” In Chapter 5, Wolfe argues for the good of “cultural Christianity.” Cultural Christianity is not to be confused with “a Christian culture.” A Christian culture is all the habits associated with being a Christian (listening to Christian music, wearing Christian clothing using Christian lingo, etc.). Cultural Christianity, on the other hand, is a social power that makes Christian culture feel normal. In cultural Christianity, social pressures make things like going to church or reading your Bible seem like the obvious choice and rather than something counter-cultural. (207–08)
According to Wolfe, cultural Christianity is a good thing for three reasons: (1) It promotes people doing the things that lead to faith, (2) It creates a “commodious social life” (a just and good society), and (3) it functions as an analog of the eschaton. (208)
Of the three reasons for supporting cultural Christianity, the promotion of the commodious lifestyle is the strongest argument. Christianity promotes “the good life,” and civilizations that function Christianly also promote the good life. About America’s drift away from cultural Christianity, Wolfe asks:
"How is the loss of cultural Christianity going for you? How much effort and time do you and your Christian friends devote to protecting yourselves and your children and grandchildren? How much space in your church bookshop is take up with resources to resist the evil in modern secularist life? The absence of cultural Christianity has brought hostility, not religious neutrality. The social power that might have helped convert your parents or grandparents is now actively wielded against orthodox Christianity, against your children. Christians have abandoned this God-ordained power to the enemies of Christ." (226)
It's a shame Jesus doesn’t have us to protect him from his enemies anymore!
Snark aside, there is some truth here. How has the loss of cultural Christianity been for our nation? I would say it has not been good and I think people (even non-Christians) are starting to notice it. The path of Jesus is the path to human flourishing. When you abandon that path, you abandon human flourishing. Jesus said:
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 ESV)
Christians have a responsibility to direct people toward the life Jesus has called them to live. However, this does not look like legislation, dominion, and xenophobia. In the next few weeks, I will suggest what it could look like. Before that, I want to end with a question asked by Wolfe:
"But wouldn’t you prefer to live in a community where you can trust your neighbors, having mutual expectations of conduct, speech, and beliefs according to Christian standards? Wouldn’t you prefer to have neighbors with Christian standards of decency, respect, and admonishment, even if it is merely cultural? Wouldn’t you prefer some common and good standard of living by which one neighbor can confront and correct another?" (223)
Would you prefer a world that Wolfe describes? Why or why not?