Volume 29, Issue 1, January/February 2023
In part one of this series, the “Great Hibernation,” we looked at the various ways Americans understand and process Christian Nationalism and provided several definitions, including that it is an ideology that idealizes and advocates a fusion of American civic life with a particular type of Christian identity and culture. We also introduced a particular orientation toward Christian Nationalism, best represented in the Redoubt movement, which advocates that Christians remove themselves from mainstream society and cloister in a safer environment in the Pacific Northwest. Part two revealed that the eschatology of this orientation holds to postmillennial and preterist views. After describing the several common end-time positions held by evangelicals, we saw how the postmillennial view undergirds, or at least allows for, theonomy, reconstructionism, and dominion theology, which are important to the Christian Nationalism position. Thinking through the reactions among evangelicals to corruption found in the culture, premillennialists commonly focus on rescuing the lost. Non-premillennialists want to infiltrate the culture in hopes of redeeming as much of it as possible. Christian Nationalists, on the other hand, want to take back the culture for Christ and establish Christian dominion over it.
Part three identified leaders of this particular form of Christian Nationalism and explained their goal of the reconstruction of society and dominion over it by Christians, as they believe is necessary to prepare the world for the return of Christ. The establishment of “Christendom”, or all nations under the umbrella of the Christian faith before the return of Christ, is the goal.
Four tasks remain in this examination of Christian Nationalism: discerning how it defines a Christian, taking a careful look at its philosophy, detailing its strategy, and evaluating it as a movement generally.
What is a Christian?
In a recent conversation between Doug Wilson and Stephen Wolfe, Wilson defines Christians as those following the Reformed/Protestant tradition, to which Wolfe mumbled agreement.[i] While Wilson did not detail the biblical gospel, his point was that when they were using the term “Christian,” they described a redeemed, regenerated person, not merely a nominal or cultural “Christian.” Yet in the literature and podcasts by Christian nationalists, this definition is not how the term is normally used. For example, in the conversation mentioned above, Wolfe repeatedly spoke of America as being a Christian nation, yet by no stretch of the imagination nor by any statistical gymnastics could America be described as a nation of redeemed people. Only about seven percent of the population identifies as evangelical, and every study and survey of evangelicals reveals an abysmal comprehension of the gospel by this most conservative subgroup of “Christians.” While it is impossible to know how many true Christians, by the biblical definition, there are in America, to claim that America is a Christian nation requires a very creative understanding of Christianity. Narrow that to those who embrace traditional Reformed orthodoxy and ascribe to the historical creeds, as Wilson does in the video, and that number becomes statistically minute.
Nevertheless, Torba and Isker claim that Christians are “the supermajority in The [sic] West.”[ii] Browsing through their book, Christian Nationalism,one soon discovers that the authors consider anyone claiming to be a Christian as being one, including Catholics, Orthodox, and Quakers,[iii] despite vastly conflicting definitions of the gospel. In The Case for Christian Nationalism, Stephen Wolfe is perfectly content with cultural Christianity and would settle for Mayberry (a moral, decent people) as a sign of the Christianization of America. Cultural Christianity, he believes, “prepares people for the reception of the Gospel.”[iv] But in a rather convoluted argument, Wolfe writes that “paedobaptism is the position most natural to Christian nationalism… [Why is this so? Because] baptizing infants brings them outwardly (at least) into the people of God. When the body politic is baptized all are the people of God.”[v] Wolfe is defining Christians as all those who have been baptized into the Christian faith, including infants who have never been regenerated and large numbers who merely underwent a ritual that had no meaning to them.
Wolfe, through these statements, both broadens and narrows the definition of a Christian. He broadens it by including nominal/cultural Christians who are unregenerated. By this definition, America and most Western nations are “Christian” nations. But he simultaneously narrows the definition for the future of Christian Nationalism to those who have been baptized, and he finds it “difficult to see how cultural Christianity… could operate effectively with [a credobaptist] theology.”[vi] The identifying marker of a Christian is baptism, not regeneration, according to Wolfe. By this type of reasoning, the Christian nationalist can look into the past and declare many nations and the early settlers in America to be Christian nations, or nations dominated by Christians, even when such nations were in moral decadence and were persecuting other Christians. It is clear, based on these comments, that Christian nationalists are not defining “Christian” the way Scripture does, and this definition affects everything that they believe about Christianizing nations. Os Guinness correctly observed, “We may well reach a stage where millions and millions of people still identify themselves as ‘Christians,’ but are unrecognizable by the standards to which Jesus called the followers of his way.”[vii] This observation should serve as an important warning for Christian nationalists.
Wolfe defines Christian Nationalism as “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.”[viii] This definition presupposes that a Christian nation exists and, if it does, that all of its actions are geared to produce good things in Christ both physically and spiritually. Given Wolfe’s understanding of what a Christian is, he would conclude that America is a Christian nation and is obligated as such to create civil laws and structures to ensure good for Christians. As a matter of fact, it is apparently the obligation of “civil government…to direct its people to the Christian religion.”[ix] “Non-Christian religion would be permissible only within private homes”[x] but not in the public arena.
Stephen Wolfe defends these ideas based on his unique view of total depravity, which he believes has been misunderstood even in Reformed circles.[xi] Total depravity, Wolfe believes, does not fully extend to man’s instincts, gifts, or mission. In fact, even unregenerate mankind has the same gifts as Adam and can do “what Adam could have accomplished in his work, which is to form nations under the true God.”[xii] This idea assumes that Adam was commissioned to form Christian nations and that the Fall did not derail that mandate for his descendants, even in their unregenerate state. This understanding of depravity is why Wolfe believes it is presently the obligation of “civil government… to direct its people to the Christian religion.” Without one shred of biblical evidence or example and based on conjecture concerning Adam’s original commission, which Wolfe believes was passed on to fallen humanity, Wolfe establishes one of his foundational planks to support Christian Nationalism: humanity has been called to carry out Adam’s mandate to form Christian nations.
On this issue, I agree with Michael Horton who wrote,
This original mandate [from God to Adam and Eve] became obsolete once it had been violated. This means that humans have forfeited their right to rule under God, which is why God himself, the eternal Son, assumed our nature in order to be the victorious Last Adam who fulfilled that commission on our behalf. The human race is now under the Noahic covenant of common grace, not the special covenant that Adam broke.[xiii]
Disturbingly, Wolfe asserts that Christian nations (and America is one of them, he assumes) “may consider their governing documents or establish laws as products of God’s good providence;”[xiv] and that “the people may look upon the architects of these laws as great men, inspired by God as instruments of God’s will for His people’s good.”[xv] However, we must push back on this concept, as Scripture is the only document written by inspired men, and elevating laws and people to this status is highly dangerous at best. Wolfe denies that the laws are holy writ, but it is difficult to discern in what sense they should be distinguished from it if their authors are inspired instruments of God. This is reminiscent of those who claim that God has spoken to them in some form of inner voice, but when challenged try to distinguish this message from divine revelation. Either God has spoken, or He has not – there is no third option.
For a civic government to carry out the laws, which apparently come from inspired men (or at least semi-inspired), Wolfe believes America will need a “Christian Prince,” a super-wise leader who can establish Christendom worldwide. He is the “chief agent of Christian nationalism”[xvi] who will lead the people to “liberty, virtue, and godliness — to greatness.”[xvii] With a faulty interpretation of Psalm 82:6, Wolfe even claims this Prince could be called a god and is an “instrument for eternal life.”[xviii] The Christian Prince is to reform religion, correct the clergy, protect the church from heretics, fund ministries of the Word, and call Synods to resolve doctrinal conflicts.[xix] It would appear that the fourth-century emperor Constantine would be the ideal Christian Prince in Wolfe’s imagination.
To make way for such a Prince, several things have to happen. First, democracy must be eradicated and replaced. This position is not right-wing politics;[xx] it is a call for withdrawal in order to replace America as we know it. And that can only happen through evangelism on a massive scale. The “key to the transformation of America was the gospel:”[xxi] “The fulfillment of the Great Commission…requires the establishment of a global Christendom, [and that victory requires] the necessary exclusion of a secular democracy.”[xxii] And where does this approach lead? To a “baptized civilization in which the practice of non-Christian religion would be permissible only within private homes.”[xxiii] In other words, a theocracy.
Wolfe also builds a case for segregation, developing the theory that “the natural inclination to dwell among similar people is good and necessary.”[xxiv] For Christian Nationalism to work, a nation must be homogeneous and all peoples from other traditions and backgrounds, even other such Christians, must be excluded. Thus, segregation is good and necessary because it is our natural desire. “Indeed, one ought to prefer and to love more those who are more similar to him, and much good would result in the world if we all preferred our own and minded our own business.”[xxv]
What Christian Nationalists pursues is not a marriage of the gospel and patriotism but rather rebuilding, reformation, and revival. Until that process is complete, they patiently play the long game, building a separated Christian culture as they wait for the secular system to implode. Torba and Isker explain the primary goal,
Which: is to build a parallel Christian society, economy, and infrastructure which will fill the vacuum of the failed secular state when it falls. We will “build back better,” but this time on the firm foundation of our faith in Jesus Christ. We will do this by exiting the secular system almost entirely while at the same time exerting our influence to be the salt and light the nation needs.[xxvi]
As Doug Wilson sees it, the second coming will be the “culmination of what is happening right here, right now.”[xxvii]
We now turn from the philosophical underpinnings of Christian Nationalism to some of the strategies that are designed to establish it.
Torba and Isker clearly lay out the strategy that will bring about complete victory:
We can and must reclaim the pulpit and break the spell that the enemy has over the American church. Our efforts are best spent reforming and rebuilding our own churches to take them back for the glory of God. We must have a positive, optimistic eschatology…
We can and must reclaim and maintain our townships, school boards, and counties. Then our state legislatures. Then the entire nation. In order to do so we must exit the beast system completely and build our own parallel Christian society, lying in wait for their system to collapse which is when the Godly infrastructure we have built will fill the vacuum… Finally, we must be prepared to wage a multi-generational spiritual war against the demonic anti-Christian worldviews that are dominating our culture and Western society. Our sons will have been through the Classics, all of Greek Philosophy, the entire Bible, and know how to build things with their hands, shoot guns, grow food, hunt, fish, lift weights, and start a business by the time they are 18… They will conquer, lead, and take dominion of all nations for the glory of God.[xxviii]
Almost every Christian nationalist insists that Christian dominance of society begins on the local level and then branches out to the states and ultimately to the world. Crawford Gribbens quotes James Wesley Rawles, “The Redoubt movement is not a political movement, but merely a very informal trans-migration project. The goal is to solidify a conservative Christian worldview through a demographic shift. Thus far it has been successful, and…with passing years we will further solidify a conservative Christian redoubt within the United States.”[xxix]
Those in the Redoubt movement have a variety of political views (although all would identify as being Libertarian), doctrinal diversity (although most are Reformed Calvinists), and varied lifestyles. But everyone involved agrees that there is no hope of turning America around morally or spiritually through the political process and that the best action to take is to remove themselves from mainstream society, congregate with those who are like-minded, and influence the world slowly through evangelism, discipleship, and classical education. While Moscow, Idaho (the hub of the Redoubt) has only 2000 adherents, its reach, and influence are magnified far beyond its numbers because of strategic uses of print, including a magazine, Credenda Agenda (since 1988), and books through Canon Press[xxx] and other publishing houses. They also have a college (New Saint Andrews, est. 1994); podcasts; blogs; a Prime Video broadcast called “Man Rampant,” homeschool curriculum;[xxxi] and other forms of media.[xxxii]
Stephen Wolfe comes to many of the same conclusions but from a different route. He rejects theonomy and sees Christian Nationalism as an alternative, which achieves the same end.[xxxiii] And he does not ground his political theory in postmillennial eschatology but in his observation of human nature.[xxxiv] To establish a Christian nation, a Great Renewal must take place[xxxv] through a revolution, which very likely may become violent. Christians, Wolfe reasons, “are morally permitted to violently remove tyrants.”[xxxvi] He defines revolution as “the forcible reclamation of civil power by the people in order to transfer that power on just and more suitable political arrangements.”[xxxvii] Wolfe believes that today’s non-Christian civil government is a regime, and “the regime is a tyrant” and therefore a candidate under the right conditions for overthrow.[xxxviii] After all, while “non-Christians living among us are entitled to justice, peace, and safety…they are not entitled to political equality, nor do they have a right to deny the people of God their right to order civil institutions to God and their complete good… The Christians’ posture towards the earth ought to be that it is ours, not theirs, for we are co-heirs in Christ.”[xxxix]
In place of unjust tyrants, Wolfe sees the establishment of a Christian Prince (see discussion above) and a civil government controlled by Christians and their Prince. He leans heavily toward state churches and believes civil government should fund church construction; provide ministerial and seminary financial support; suppress public blasphemy, heresy, and impious profanation; obligate Sabbath observance; and other such things.[xl] This approach stems from Wolfe’s beliefs that the Fall did not alter the design of civil government, and government is in the soul business.[xli]
Any evaluation and critique of the Christian Nationalism movement as found within the Redoubt and true Christian communities must recognize that most of its adherents are conservative Christians who hold to sound doctrines, including the gospel. They love the Lord, evangelize aggressively, are not fearful of opposition, and stand hand-in-hand with other conservative believers on the essentials of the faith and the importance of faithful living for Christ. However, I believe they have strayed because of faulty approaches in three major areas:
Postmillennial Eschatology: Their commitment to postmillennialism and often preterism has led the movement’s leadership to draw unfortunate conclusions. Consistently applying this eschatological view leads to the idea, historically and presently, that the world must be prepared for the coming of Christ by God’s people before He will return. If one is committed to the idea that the Lord will not set up His kingdom on earth until either the whole world is evangelized, the majority of social injustices are solved, or a combination of both, then the purpose and agenda of the church must be to Christianize and dominate the world to usher in Christ and His Kingdom.
Human Reasoning: Once Christian Nationalists accept certain axioms, such as the ones mentioned above, they use reason, logic, and philosophy to make the Christian Nationalism approach palatable. Stephen Wolfe champions this methodology, and if one accepts his paradigm, the system seems to make sense. Yet, as valuable as reason and logic are in their place, they are inadequate by themselves to come consistently to correct conclusions. This flaw in presuppositions leads to the system’s fatal flaw.
Lacks a Biblical Base: Christian Nationalism in a nutshell teaches that the world belongs to Christians, not to unbelievers. God gave Adam the mandate to subdue the earth, and the Fall did nothing to change that mandate, which has been handed down to Christians. The earth is our heritage because we are co-heirs with Christ, and it is time we reclaim what is rightfully ours. We must start at the local and state level and work our way out to the national and international community. To wait for Christ to return and establish His kingdom, as Scripture indicates He will (see Isa 9:6-7), is cowardliness and faulty theology. In the Christian Nationalist view, we need to step up, take dominion over all things, evangelize the world, and radically reform the social and civic structure of every culture. By doing so, we will prepare the world for Christ to usher in His kingdom.
However, try as they might, Christian Nationalists do not draw this viewpoint from the Bible but from reason and use particular theological systems to determine the meaning of Scripture, overriding it where necessary. For example, in one of the few attempts Wolfe makes to engage Scripture, he ignores the clear teaching in Romans 13 and turns Paul’s words on their head, basically claiming the only reason Paul did not call for revolution against the tyrant Nero is that “Christians were in no position to revolt.”[xlii]. Things are different now, presumably, and revolution is now feasible.
Christian nationalists, such as Wolfe, make ample use of selective views of history, reason, philosophy, their slant on Reformed theology, and observation, but they fail to demonstrate, either by precept or example, that their ideology is founded on Scripture. This lack of a Scriptural basis should alarm, inform, and serve as a wake-up call for any Christian exploring this movement.
[ii] Andrew Torba and Andrew Isker, Christian Nationalism (Clarks Summit, PA: Gab Al Inc., 2022), p. 80. (When the authors speak of the West, they are referencing Western Civilization.)
[iii] Ibid., pp. 17-18, 128-129.
[iv] Stephen Wolfe, The Case for Christian Nationalism (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2022), pp. 226-228.
[v] Ibid., p. 217.
[vi] Ibid., p. 218.
[vii] Os Guinness, Found Faithful: Standing Fast in Faith in the Advanced Modern Era, in. Richard Lints, ed., Renewing the Evangelical Mission (Grand Rapids, Wm. B. Eerdmans: 2013), p. 108.
[viii] Ibid., p. 9.
[ix] Ibid., p. 27.
[x] Crawford Gribben, Survival and Resistance in Evangelical America, Christian Reconstruction in the Pacific Northwest (New York: Oxford University Press, 2021), p. 82.
[xi] Wolfe, p. 24.
[xii] Ibid., p. 23.
[xiii] Michael Horton, Recovering Our Sanity, How the Fear of God Conquers the Fears that Divide Us. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Reflective, 2022), p. 153,
[xiv] Wolfe, p. 178.
[xvi] Ibid., p. 277.
[xvii] Ibid., p. 279.
[xviii] Ibid., p. 289.
[xix] Ibid., pp. 312-313.
[xx] Gribben, pp. 76-77.
[xxi] Ibid., p. 76.
[xxii] Ibid., p. 82.
[xxiv] Ibid., p. 24.
[xxv] Ibid., p. 25.
[xxvi] Torba and Isker, pp. 25-26.
[xxvii] Gribben, p. 57.
[xxviii] Torba and Isker, pp. 106-107.
[xxix] Gribben, pp 11.
[xxx] Ibid., pp. 126-128.
[xxxi] Ibid., pp. 92-93, 109-113.
[xxxii] Ibid., pp. 116-118.
[xxxiii] Wolfe, p. 270.
[xxxiv] Ibid., p. 469.
[xxxv] Ibid., p. 435.
[xxxvi] Ibid., p. 32.
[xxxvii] Ibid., p. 326.
[xxxviii] Ibid., p. 345.
[xxxix] Ibid., p. 346.
[xl] Ibid., p. 182 (cf. p. 262).
[xli] Ibid., p. 189, 190.
[xlii] Ibid., p. 351.