Mere Christendom

Having written numerous blogs and articles on Christian Nationalism, Doug Wilson, a pastor at Christ Church in Moscow, Idaho and recognized evangelical proponent of Christian nationalism, has finally written a book summarizing his views on the subject. Unfortunately, in this reviewer’s opinion, Wilson writes much like he speaks—in short, often disconnected paragraphs, throwing out names and concepts with little or no context, and making crude and demeaning comments rather than rational arguments. This should be expected, for this book is a compilation of some 400,000 words written elsewhere, organized by his grandson, and edited by Wilson. The book reads exactly as promised: “a smoking slag heap of words” (p. xi). His methodology follows that of some well-known politicians—mock anyone who disagrees with you, make outlandish statements, propose axioms you don’t intend to defend (p. 33), offend as many people as possible, and speak to your base constituency who will cheer you on no matter what you say. If you are a Wilson fan, you will love this book; if not, you will be disgusted or at best bewildered. If you are reading Mere Christendom to try to understand what evangelicals of Wilson’s stripe are trying to say about Christendom and Christian Nationalism, you will get the big picture, but it is not fleshed out well, and you’re likely to be confused and frustrated in the process.

Most evangelicals, including me, would agree with Wilson’s thesis statement: “I argue for a principled abandonment of the disastrous experiment of secularism, for a corporate confession of the fact that Jesus rose from the dead, and all done in such a way as to preserve and protect our liberties” (p. xi). The difficulties come as Wilson attempts to unravel the meaning of his thesis. He begins with an excellent definition of secularism: “The idea that it is possible for a society to function as a coherent unit without reference to God” (p. 3). Then he adds, “Since the Lordship of Jesus applies to everything (p. x), non-Christians must not be allowed to define genuine liberty” (p. 4). While this statement makes sense, it leads to one of Wilson’s key problems—by whom and through what means are non-Christians to be stopped from doing so? Sadly, the author has no real solutions. He thankfully stops short of anarchy (p. 123), but he often claims his book is not a “call to action” (pp. 27, 30), and so no workable solutions are given.

Wilson is long on criticism but short on answers. Here, his strong postmillennialism (p. 97) comes into play. He believes it may take millennia to bring about what he prescribes (p. 245), so we can afford to be patient. Sounds wonderful for future generations, but what about believers in the meanwhile? Wilson’s one stab at a catalyst to bring in mere Christendom is evangelism (pp. 65, 250-257). If only pastors and churches would once again boldly proclaim Christ, then the nations will be discipled and Christ will return. Who can disagree with the need for gospel and Bible-centered churches and pastors? But given that Christianity in the West (and the West, especially America, is Wilson’s focus) is theologically adrift and headed in exactly the opposite direction, his words ring hollow. If the hope for Christian nationalism hinges on the pulpit, then there is not much that excites optimism. Of course, if our hope rests on the return of Christ who will then set up His kingdom on earth, rather than on Christian evangelism, our whole perspective changes—but I digress.

Part of Wilson’s current hope lies in his belief that mere Christendom has happened in the past, for as much as 1,000 years at a time (pp. 87), but he never bothers to tell us when this idyllic era existed. Therefore, it is difficult to critique his view, although his definition of mere Christendom helps:

A network of nations bound together by a formal, public, civic acknowledgement of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, and the fundamental truth of the Apostles’ Creed. I mean public and formal recognition of the authority of Jesus Christ that repudiates the principles of secularism, and that avoids both hard sectarianism and easy latitudinarianism (p. 69).

When Wilson believes such a world ever existed is hard to imagine. One clue is that his stated theological foundation rests on the Apostles’ Creed—which deals primarily with the doctrine of God and makes no mention of soteriology or numerous other cardinal doctrines. He may draw this conclusion from one of his favorite authors, G. K. Chesterton (pp. 40, 65, 76, 209, 228, 230), a Roman Catholic thinker who wrapped orthodoxy around the Apostles’ Creed in his book Orthodoxy. For a man who actually understands and articulates the gospel well (see pp. 250-253) to quote and lean on a Catholic so heavily and upon a creed that is devoid of an articulation of gospel reception is hard to understand.

Wilson’s scattered thinking and proposals are difficult to review as he actually develops few ideas in detail. But below is a sampling of his thoughts and snide remarks:

  • Congress is the fortress of fraud (p. 8).
  • While recognizing that the kingdom of God is far off, he writes as if we should expect it to be appearing soon (pp. 8, 11, 56, 76-81, 130-131).
  • When people are set free from sin, we will have free markets (p. 11).
  • Wilson claims, “It is a sin to believe that our government is anything but a pirate ship of thieves,” in reference to taxes (p. 23). He recognizes that what government “steals” “is only stuff” and the early Christians accepted joyfully its plunder (p. 32), but he does not adopt this attitude.
  • He accuses the majority of Christians of idly standing by and accepting immoral laws, such as same-sex marriage (pp. 42-47). Of course, few Christians are guilty of doing so, but Wilson, as usual offers no solution as to how to oppose such laws successfully.
  • Wilson asserts that if you support BLM riots, you are on your way to hell (p. 57). While I do not support BLM riots, whether one does or does not is not the criteria for salvation.
  • He rants that his views on slavery and the civil war are misunderstood on purpose (pp. 62-63).
  • He believes we need an all-powerful magistrate (or prince as Stephen Wolfe calls him) to lead us (p. 70). Of course, Scripture says such a Prince will come in the form of Jesus Christ, not a mortal man. Wilson’s prince would immediately abolish the EPA, IRS, and Department of Education, and the Departments of State and Defense would be downsized, and term limits would be imposed (pp. 72-73).
  • In Wilson’s imaginary kingdom, a formal recognition of the Lordship of Jesus is necessary, but secularists will be allowed to build their own schools and organizations at their own expense (pp. 73-74).
  • He confuses the purposes and differences between Christ’s first and second comings (p. 79).
  • He believes erroneously that 50 of the 55 members of the Constitutional Convention were orthodox Christians (p. 88). This belief is based on the “glue” of the Apostles’ Creed to which they apparently ascribed but not to the actual gospel (pp. 71-77).
  • The world will gradually become Christian through evangelism (pp. 95, 98, 118, 159-161) when we start preaching a hot gospel (pp. 174-175, 250-257). At that point, secularism will just give way (p. 222). This is reflective of his postmillennial eschatology (p. 97).
  • Wilson mocks the intermediate state following the death of a believer by calling it a floaty thing and a Gnostic Heaven (p. 100).
  • He believes states are constitutionally allowed to set up their own church/denomination but the Federal government cannot. Therefore, the Gettysburg Address “was a masterpiece of revisionist history” (pp. 111, 112), and the Magna Carta was a great blow to civic liberty (p. 115).
  • Congress has sold us into bondage and is evil—therefore we must resist, but Wilson does not detail how to do so (pp. 117-120).
  • He mocks virtually all environmental action and restrictions (pp. 119, 131-132, 136).
  • He ignores and reinterprets Romans 13 (pp. 121, 217-219).
  • Wilson believes America was open and free in 1958 (p. 134). Tell that to the black citizens of America at the time.
  • He does not fear Christians mistreating Christians (pp. 138, 144, 156), which causes one to wonder if he has ever read church history.
  • He believes in free speech but makes no exegetical case for it, while wanting to disallow the freedom to blaspheme based on Old Testament Law (pp. 151-158).
  • He makes condescending remarks such as, “Sit still children, and I will tell you. Stop squirming” (p. 171).
  • Wilson argues that OT laws and penalties, as found in places such as Leviticus 24, will be slowly implemented, including death for blasphemy (pp. 171-179).
  • The American Revolution was won by a collection of Christian states, and that means our republic was part of Christendom. It was the Civil War that disrupted this form of Christendom (pp. 198-199).
  • He advocates for separation of states into independent nations because secularism and Christians belong to different civilizations and cannot be cobbled together (p.200).
  • Wilson expresses appreciation for N.T. Wright (p. 210), a man who rejects the biblical gospel and replaces it with a social gospel.
  • He teaches that inflation is an intentional manipulation tool used by the government to control people (p. 223).
  • We need to learn how to form valid arguments by studying the secular Greek philosoher Aristotle (p. 223).
  • Once Christian leaders really believe that Jesus is Lord, they will be ready to overthrow secular culture (p. 230).
  • He admires Stonewall Jackson and Robert E. Lee (p. 250).

Of course, bringing in this kind of Christendom is going to take millennia of ‘bumpity-bumpity” (p. 245) and will happen only when the nations are discipled (p. 13).

I view Mere Christendom primarily as the random rants of a frustrated man who is thoroughly confused about the kingdom of God, the mission of the church, and even the essence of biblical Christianity. He has tied his hope to postmillennial theology in which he expects evangelism and revival to usher in the kingdom before Christ returns. And since all of this may not take place for thousands of years of “bumpity-bumpity,” he is reduced to frustration, name calling, and ridiculous proposals. This book will do little more than fuel anger against government, rally Wilson’s fan club to his cause, and distract God’s people from their true purpose as found in Scripture, which is to call people to Christ, proclaim the gospel, and disciple the saints. Mere Christendom is a prime example of what happens when we go astray on one vital doctrine (in this case eschatology) and how it leads to catastrophic error in living.

by Douglas Wilson (Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2023), 257 + xii pp., hard $21.81

Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Southern View Chapel

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