The Case for Christian Nationalism, Stephen Wolfe. Moscow: Canon Press, 2022. Softcover, 478 pages.
This is one of those books with buzz. Many were anticipating its release and since appearing in early November, it’s been getting a lot of attention, some positive. Douglas Wilson raves, “Wolfe is to be thanked for having the courage and learning to show us our way back [to the approach the US had at its founding].” Moreover, Christian nationalism isn’t just an intramural topic amongst believers. The mainstream media have also seized on it, partially or maybe even entirely, as the whipping boy for the United States Capitol attack on January 6, 2021. It’s worth a critical look.
Author Stephen Wolfe is described as a “country scholar at Wolfeshire in North Carolina.” He has a Ph.D. from Louisiana State University. He’s authored many articles and hosts a podcast, but this is his first book. In it he describes attending the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in America, so that seems to be his ecclesiastical affiliation.
What is Christian nationalism? It is “a totality of national action, consisting of civil laws and social customs, conducted by a Christian nation as a Christian nation, in order to procure for itself both earthly and heavenly good in Christ” (p.9). In this book, Wolfe aims “to show that Christian nationalism (as defined) is just, the ideal arrangement for Christians, and something worth pursuing with determination and resolve” (p.9). As far as method goes, Wolfe says he assumes the Reformed theological tradition, and so he doesn’t offer much in the way of interaction with Scripture. He offers both natural and supernatural arguments, often in combination.
I’ll be upfront with my assessment: this book is profoundly flawed, but at the same time thought-provoking. The Case for Christian Nationalism is built upon a speculative foundation. Wolfe’s entire argument is based on his notion of what would have happened in human society if the fall never happened. He argues that hypothetical pre-fall peoples would have formed “geographically and culturally distinct nations” (p.57) with their own civil governments. Apart from being speculative, Wolfe here contradicts the Belgic Confession. He argues that “civil governments would have existed in the state of integrity” (p.70). Wolfe maintains that the original function of government was “not to restrain sin” (p.72). However, with article 36 of our Confession, “We believe that, because of the depravity of mankind, our gracious God has ordained kings, princes, and civil officers.”
I don’t want to make this a long review, so I’ll just give a short list of some of the other flaws without much added comment. Wolfe argues at length for the responsibility of the Christian “prince” to address public blasphemy. Yet he includes (on p.159) a quote from John Steinbeck in which God’s name is abused. He argues that just as husbands must correct their wives when they perform their duties poorly, so the Christian prince should “correct the lazy and erring pastor” (p.312). He uses a racial slur on p.288. He opposes open immigration since it undermines a nation’s ethnic particularity. Spuriously using a reference to Thomas Aquinas, he suggests immigrants shouldn’t receive citizenship until the second or third generation of residency (p.168). Wolfe argues that America’s policy of open immigration is evidence of tyranny, and this is sufficient grounds for a violent revolution (p.348). In a Christian nation, neither women nor unbelievers would be able to vote or otherwise participate in politics (p.73 and p.392). The author doesn’t believe in limited government – in his Christian utopia, the government can “require the elevation of the pulpit above the Lord’s Table in church construction” (p.317). Finally, Wolfe seems to have a myopic view of the world. He argues that “dissimilar people have trouble forming and sustaining a political community…cultural diversity produces conflict” (p.146). Has he heard of nations like Singapore? He writes, “…no nation (properly speaking) is composed of two or more ethnicities” (p.135). I suppose Canada isn’t a nation then.
The Case for Christian Nationalism does get you thinking about our calling with respect to politics. For example, if one disagrees with Wolfe (as I do), what’s the alternative? He says we have two options: Christian nationalism or pagan nationalism (p.381). But how about no nationalism? Does Scripture teach us to be nationalists of any sort? I’m not convinced.
Back in the 70s and 80s, “dominionism” was a popular topic. That was owing to the theonomists/Christian reconstructionists. Wolfe tries to distance himself from what he calls “modern theonomy.” There are differences, for sure. However, one thing is the same: the drive for power, emanating from a hyper-aggressive can-do American spirit. Hear Wolfe: “We have the power and right to act. Let us train the will and cultivate our resolve” (p.352). “Let us wield power in support of the church” (p.386). “If it is going to happen, we have to make it happen” (p.469). Christian nationalism is a regurgitation of American dominionism. It’s not the way.
Originally published in Clarion 72.4 (March 17, 2023)