As the title indicates, Stephen Wolfe, author, podcaster, and scholar, is developing and defending a polemic for Christian nationalism (while most authors capitalizes nationalism, Wolfe does not). It is helpful to know from the beginning that he does not attempt to make a biblical case, merely assuming that his preferred slice of Reformed theology is correct (pp. 16, 42) and kicking any difficult doctrinal issues to the theologians to solve. In other words, the author has offered a case for “Christian” nationalism without using the Bible or making any attempt to exegete scriptures pertinent to the subject. Devoid of biblical arguments, Wolfe turns to philosophy, reason, views from selected Church Fathers and Reformers, and his very biased and limited understanding of history, including church history. And while the arguments presented are often well reasoned and some make good sense, at best, The Case for Christian Nationalism is the opinion of one man who has started with a premise and desperately scrambles to defend it. By contrast a biblical defense of anything, including Christian nationalism, should begin with careful interpretation of Scripture, drawing conclusions based on texts that are relevant to the subject, much as systematic theologians do with theology. Wolfe has not done this, and despite all his effort, this book has very little value.
With this backdrop, we turn to an overview of Wolfe’s thesis, beginning with his definition of Christian nationalism: “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). Wolfe’s stated purpose is “to show that Christian nationalism (as defined) is just, the ideal arrangement for Christians, and something worth pursuing with determination and resolve” (v. 9). The author suggests a three-step process is needed for a Christian nation to act for its own good: “(1) It achieves a national will for itself, (2) that will is mediated through authorities that the people institute, and (3) the people act according to the dictates of that mediation” (p. 14). And, “since the gospel is now the sole means to heavenly life, nations ought to order themselves to the gospel in the interest of their heavenly good” (p. 15). Wolfe leans primarily on Reformed theological convictions, especially “from the 16th and 17th centuries, in which Reformed theology was very Thomistic and catholic” (p. 17).
Each of the ten chapters develops a link in Wolfe’s philosophical reasonings, which could be summarized as the following:
- Anthropology – a description of man in his three states of integrity, sin and redemption. The uniqueness in this section is that the author believes total depravity has been misunderstood even in Reformed circles (p. 24). 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 is able to do what Adam could have accomplished in his work, which is to form nations under the true God (p. 23; see pp. 65, 75). 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. Presently, Wolfe reasons, it is the obligation of “civil government… to direct its people to the Christian religion” (p. 27). Without one shred of biblical evidence or example, and based on conjecture concerning Adam’s commission and it having been passed on to fallen humanity, Wolfe has now laid down one of his most foundational planks supporting Christian nationalism—that humanity has been called to carry out Adam’s mandate to form Christian nations. It is also interesting that drawing on Aquinas, not the Bible, Wolfe believes that all beasts were not tame, that they died and were eaten before the fall. “For the nature of animals was not changed by man’s sin,” according to Aquinas (p. 75; fn. #63). Yet, this contradicts Romans 8:19-22, which speaks of creation groaning because of man’s fall, and it contradicts Romans 5:12 that clearly teaches that death is the result of sin.
- Chapter three develops the theory that “the natural inclination to dwell among similar people is good and necessary” (p. 24). For Christian nationalism to work, a nation must be homogeneous, and all peoples from other traditions and backgrounds, even other Christians, must be excluded. Thus, segregation is good and necessary because it is our natural trait. “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” (p. 25).
- Chapter four parses out a Christian nation as a unique species of nations. Here, Wolfe assumes that America is a Christian nation (p. 175) and, like Israel, can expect divine blessings and curses in correspondence to its behavior (p. 177). Disturbingly, Wolfe asserts that Christian nations “may consider their governing documents or establish laws as products of God’s good providence” (p. 178); more, “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” (p. 178). As Scripture is the only document written by inspired men, elevating laws and people to this status is highly dangerous. Wolfe does not seem to understand that a Christian nation requires Christian people. His goal is to Christianize the nations, whether or not very many are actual Christians (see p. 180). 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 things (p. 182). This is because the fall did not alter the design of civil government (p. 189), and government is in the soul business (p. 190). After all, even pagans such as Plato, Aristotle, and Cicero were called upon by early Christians to teach that civil authority ought to direct man to true religion (pp. 191-192). In order to accomplish such a task, it will often be necessary to exclude others who are not culturally with us from our nation, even fellow Christians (pp. 199-205). He quotes John Winthrop, Mayflower traveler (p. 203) in 1637, as support, without acknowledging that the Pilgrims themselves were intruders on the nations already established in what would become America, nor that the Pilgrim nation (of less than 100 souls) soon fell apart and was filled with its own atrocities.
- Chapter five is a defense of cultural Christianity, the goal of which is to normalize Christian cultural practices to prepare people to receive the Christian faith, to establish and maintain a commodious social life, and to make the earthly city an analog of the heavenly city (pp. 208-209). The basic proposition is that a Christian nation effectively prepares people for faith and results in more believers (p. 233). Yet, so-called Christian nations throughout history, such as European nations of the last several centuries, have certainly not resulted in more Christians. Neither history nor recent experience support Wolfe’s thesis.
Strangely, in this section, Wolfe claims that “paedobaptism is the position most natural to Christian nationalism… When the body politic is baptized, all are people of God” (p. 217). As a matter of fact, he does not see how cultural Christianity could effectively operate without it (p. 218). Having essentially reduced cultural Christians to those baptized as infants, he advocates for moralism as a sign of Christianization of America. If a fully regenerated nation is not presently possible, Wolfe will settle for Mayberry, a moral, decent people (pp. 226-227, 230). Wolfe also errs in following the Thomist view that “law is to make men good” (p. 258), rather than the biblical view that while law can control behavior, it actually excites sin. But civil law, the author believes, “can suppress public blasphemy, heresy, and flagrant disregard for public worship among the baptized” (p. 262). Concerning issues such as the use of the Mosaic law, he dodges and leaves it to the theologians (pp. 265, 395). He disagrees with theonomy and sees it in decline (pp. 269-270), but believes Christian nationalism is an alternative to modern theonomy and nevertheless achieves the same end (p. 270).
Chapter seven is perhaps the strangest chapter, as the author advocates for a Christian Prince, a super wise leader who can establish Christendom worldwide. He is the “chief agent of Christian nationalism” (p. 277), who will lead the people to “liberty, virtue, and godliness — to greatness” (p. 279). 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” (p. 289). This 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 (pp. 312-313). It would appear that the Emperor Constantine would be the ideal Christian Prince in Wolfe’s imagination.
If chapter seven was the strangest chapter, then chapter eight is the most disturbing in that Wolfe argues “that Christians are morally permitted to violently remove tyrants” (p. 32). If a civil leader’s “commands harm them, they can depose or remove him and enact better arrangements” (p. 34). Revolution is defined as “the forcible reclamation of civil power by the people in order to transfer that power on just and more suitable political arrangements” (p. 326). Christians are “permitted to conduct revolution against a tyrant whose actions are significantly detrimental to true religion” (p. 338). Violence can be used to secure the kingdom of God indirectly and outwardly (p. 339). Today, the non-Christian civil government, Wolfe advocates, is the regime and “the regime is the tyrant” and is a candidate for overthrow under the right conditions (p. 345). Wolfe next develops a convoluted argument in which the Christian minority has the right, without consent, to establish a political state because civil order is for them, not for the non-Christian. “Non-Christians living among us are entitled to justice, peace, and safety, but they are not entitled to political equality” (p. 346) for, after all, the earth is ours (the Christians’, who are co-heirs with Christ), not theirs (p. 346). Moving to Romans 13, Wolfe turns Paul’s words on their head and basically claims the only reason Paul did not call for revolution against the tyrant Nero is that “Christians were in no position to revolt” (p. 351). Things are different now, presumably, and revolution is feasible presently.
The chapter on liberty of conscience is a defense of what Wolfe believes is “the classic Protestant position in that the civil magistrate can punish external religion if it teaches heresy, false rites, blasphemy and Sabbath-breaking” (pp. 34-35). Recognizing that history has repeatedly shown the bloody conflict that flows from such a position, Wolfe still claims “that experience teaches us that established Christianity is better than its secularist alternative” (p. 36). Wolfe’s hope for the future is “a sort of pan-Protestant civil society” (p. 394).
In Chapter ten, the author attempts to ground his thesis in the founding Fathers of America, especially the Puritans. He dismisses anything and anyone who is not in lockstep with his ideas and ignores the historic failures of those he believes were in line with him. Wolfe concludes that even if a state church cannot be established on a national level it could be on a state level (p. 426-427). But he runs into the same problem on a smaller scale since no state in America is unified in regards to religion. His concept that founding era settlers and early Americas were Protestant Christians begs the question of what is a Christian (p. 429). With all the talk about Christian nationalism, “Christian” is never defined biblically.
In the epilogue, Wolfe reminds his readers that this book is not an action-plan (p. 433). In other words, he has no tangible means of implicating his many theories and philosophies. He seems to recognize that it is not feasible to put most of his ideas to work, and he falls back on the thought that Christian nationalism is in its early stages, so we should be patient (p. 433). What we need is a Great Renewal, and it will come someday if Protestants adopt his concepts (p. 435). The epilogue is filled with accusations and indefensible statements, including a soft support of Russia in the Ukrainian invasion (p. 444), and that the world is now ruled by women—what he calls gynocracy (p.448). The rise of Christian nationalism necessitates the fall of gynocracy (pp. 448-451). Wolfe finds hope in the homesteader movement (e.g. the Redoubt) (pp. 463-464), supports something like the Benedict Option for living and careers (p. 467), reading old books (p. 471), and state governments fighting against the federal government (pp. 473-474). Importantly, the author says he does not ground his political theory in postmillennial eschatology, but in his observation of human nature (p. 469). In summary, Christian nationalism “is the recovery of a Christian megalothymia – a collective will for Christian dominion in the world” (p. 448).
The Case for Christian Nationalism provides a thorough, even exhausting understanding of the movement. The careful reader will recognize that the book represents the political theories of a single Christian nationalist, who may very well represent many, but not all, who ascribe to this ideology. More importantly, while Wolfe makes ample use of selective views of history, reason, philosophy, his particular slant on Reformed theology, and observation, he makes absolutely no attempt to build a biblical case for Christian nationalism. This should alarm, inform, and serve as a wakeup call for any Christian exploring this trend and using Stephen Wolfe as a resource.
by Stephen Wolfe (Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 2022), 489 pp paper $24.99
Reviewed by Gary E. Gilley, Pastor-teacher at Southern View Chapel