Transcript: Interview with Kevin DeYoung on Christian Nationalism

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The following is a transcript of the Christ Over All interview with Kevin DeYoung. For an explainer to the format of this month, and our affinity for Columbo, be sure to listen to the introductory podcast between David Schrock and Trent Hunter.

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David Schrock: Well, Kevin, I’m so glad that you’re with us today. You’ve certainly been helpful for me from a distance and the things that you have written and even the topic we’re talking about today, thinking about Christian nationalism.

And we’ve got a couple articles that I’ve been looking at going back over the last couple of years and I want to talk about those a bit and where things are today. But to begin, you wrote an article in 2021 called, “What to Do with Christian Nationalism.” And in that you talk a little bit about where Christian Nationalism came from, and certainly some things have changed between now and back then.

Where did this rise of Christian nationalism and the conversation come from and how big a deal is it?

Kevin DeYoung: You’re certainly right. This was 2021.

It’s amazing that wasn’t even two years ago and the conversation has morphed in a lot of different ways. So, what I was sensing in 2021—and it feels to me like it was just on the cusp of starting to change in 2022. But at that point, I didn’t see people—and they were probably there—I just didn’t see them or hear them who were wanting to own the label of Christian nationalism. So I pointed out in the article, you know, of course Russell Moore had denounced it, Andrew Whitehead, Samuel Perry, and their oft-cited book [Taking America Back for God: Christian Nationalism in the United States] were talking about it, and it was mostly a term of derision, and sometimes it would have the adjective in front of it just to make sure we knew it was bad, “white Christian nationalism.” So Christian nationalism was this thing and it was identifying, I think for a lot of us, an out-group. These are people who are believing and doing things that a different group of people thought were beyond the pale.

And part of the trouble, as I was writing there—So at that point I was saying, people are not owning this, I don’t know people who are saying, “Yay, Christian nationalism.” Well, that has certainly changed. But I was also trying to point out the definition, and I do think this is still the case, was so amorphous. It’s not like “Conservatism.” People debate a lot what Conservatism is, but it’s been an identifiable “-ism” and people can write books on the history of it and they can identify different strands—the Southern Agrarians or the Paleoconservatives or the Neoconservatives. There’s a thing. There’s a tradition of it.

Whereas, I don’t know where to go to get, “Here’s what this Christian Nationalism is, here are the ten points, here are the five things, here’s what it has always stood for.” So, it’s been, in my mind, a moving target. It’s been very amorphous. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t use the term. That’s just some of the difficulty in it.

So, when I wrote that piece at the end of 2021, it was to say, “look, if Christian Nationalism means a nation influenced by Christianity, then shouldn’t every Christian want that?” And in fact, some of what Whitehead and Perry show is— by some definition there are six metrics—African-American Christians are the most Christian nationalist of any person.

If you just ask questions about prayer and about what your leader should be like and the influence that Christianity or the Bible should have on a nation. So, in some sense, almost every church-going, serious Christian in this country could fit their definition or come close to it as a “Christian Nationalist.”

And yet I was saying at that point, the term was used almost exclusively as one of derision—to evoke January 6, a certain kind of aggression, maybe a real populist mindset, and something that wants to strike out any sort of pluralistic society. It evokes the thought of, “We’re a Christian nation and we want Christian leaders, Christian rules, supported by the Christian magistrate.” And all that has been fleshed out more by some people with whom we’d agree and some we’d really disagree with.

So that’s where the conversation has gone. And it is important. In one sense, “a waste of time” is too strong a phrase because here we are talking about it. But it’s not like the United States is close to saying, “Hey Christians, never mind, why don’t you just run everything,” and we have to decide how to do that.

So it is a little bit of an esoteric conversation, but principles trickle down. So, there’s a danger in making too much of it, and yet it is an important issue. And I think all of this reminds me of that piece by Ross Douthat in First Things last year where he was writing about what to do after Christendom.

I think that’s what all of this discussion is about. “Okay, this is not the same world that we once inhabited.” That’s a truism. Everything’s always changing, but it really is the case that some seismic changes have happened in the last 20 years—at least 50 or 60 years—such that any kind of strong Christian consensus is no longer operative in this country.

Therefore, what do we do?

David Schrock: Yeah. I think that’s a good summation of where we’ve been over the last two years. And certainly, even thinking about the way in which you mentioned just the change of the world, I’m thinking of the other pieces, such as Aaron Renn’s taxonomy of his living in a negative world.

And certainly, that has changed there. One of the things I’d be curious to hear more from you, Kevin, is thinking through: So, this shows up in 2021. Maybe it’s kind of spilling up out from what happened with Make America Great Again. And certainly Donald Trump—it seems like there’s some connection between white Christian nationalism at that point.

And certainly, some of the things that Russell Moore is saying—I remember being in the room in 2015. I think it was in Columbus, Ohio, where he’s saying there’s never going to be Mayberry again, and that’s a good thing. And it was strange because, in that room with Southern Baptists, there was a great cheer that was there because somehow we’re going to be able to be more pure in the way that we are able to represent Christ in the world. And all those things are taking place. So this brings us up to 2020, 2021, somewhere through there. Are there any connections that you see, just kind of walking back? So thinking about Trump, you think before that you have kind of the compassionate conservatism that is there in the early two thousands, or you go back before that, even the moral majority and Reagan, or go back to the 1950s and following where you kind of have a civic religion.

Is there anything that is happening where there’s dots that you can connect along the way?

Kevin DeYoung: Dots leading to the moment we’re now in?

David Schrock: Yeah.

Kevin DeYoung: For sure, and you traced it back there, some different iterations. And it’s good to remind ourselves: this hasn’t just happened in the last six, seven, eight years that, say conservative white evangelicals (for lack of a better descriptor) are interested in the nation-state or in politics. And one of the advantages of getting older—there’s not many—but one of them is you can remember, “Didn’t we do some of this already?”

So I remember in the early 2000s—Bush is president and Jim Wallis’s book, God’s Politics, is on the bumper stickers: “God is not a Republican or a Democrat.” Which I always thought should have had in parentheses for the people putting the bumper stickers on, “(but he does always vote Democrat).” The sense of the saying was, “Hey, we’re poking.” So, I can remember my whole ministry life for 20 years. It’s not that the critique doesn’t have some merit, but hearing, “Conservatives are too wedded to a political party”—Yeah, I think that’s probably true. “Conservatives are too into politics”—Yep, that’s probably always true of a lot of people.

But it also goes before that, and it’s not that this has just started with Reagan. What’s happened is, polarization has certainly become more pronounced. And you can see that from the scatter plots of the United States Congress and how people vote—the red spots have gotten redder and farther apart from the blue spots which have gotten bluer.

Now, one of the reasons for that—I remember reading a book. I can’t remember the name of it, but it was actually discussing the good of polarization. Now, this was like 10 years ago, before some of the nastiness was really prevalent. So it’s not all good for sure, but one of the reasons we have polarization in a way that some other countries in the Western world don’t is because we still do have a large number of people who say abortion is wrong. And at least—I’m not speaking to their eternal souls, I’m not speaking to their hearts or their sincerity— but there is objectively a political party that says they are for pro-life. And you can say it’s for whatever reasons, but there is this group, and that does not exist in a whole lot of places.

That’s why you talk to brothers and sisters in the UK, for example, who say, “We don’t talk about this. It just seems like a done deal.” And of course, Roe v. Wade was the big target, and now we’re living with, “Okay, what do we do now that that is mercifully overturned?” So, there are a lot of things going on that are leading to this moment. But I think at the heart of what’s precipitated—I’ll just paraphrase this. This has stuck in my head since I read it. I don’t know if you guys read Willmoore Kendall before. This book came out in the 60s, A Conservative Affirmation. I’m not a Kendall guy. He’s a bit more populist-striped than I am. But he—a conservative populist guy, Christian, though of an eclectic sort—he says in 1963 that we certainly are not going to overturn this American idea that Christianity is not going to be the law of the land.

And then he says, and we’re certainly not going to overturn this idea that Christianity is a public truth in our land. I’m paraphrasing. So, he’s saying these two things as late as 1963. He’s saying the American experiment has always lived in this tension. Christianity is our public truth. It’s what everyone, more or less, in polite mainstream society agrees on. It can be referred to. It is our anchor. It’s there. And because it’s there—we’ve also lived in this tension—it’s not going to be privileged in law, it’s not going to be privileged in that you have to be a Nicene Christian in order to hold office, all of those things.

So, in my mind, what’s changed since 1963 is, what do you do when one half of that equation does not exist anymore? Christianity is not the public truth. Look at the flags that our country waves. June, it’s the pride flag. That’s the national, at least, public political religion.

David Schrock: From the White House.

Kevin DeYoung: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. So, the public truth would be something about diversity, or “live out your truth,” or something. So, I think a lot of this foment is, “Okay, what do we do now that Christianity no longer exists in this country as the public truth that mainstream people are going to agree on and you can bring it up at your school board meeting and they’re going to say, ‘You know what? That’s good.’?” I mean Franklin Delano Roosevelt [U.S. President from 1933–1945] in his speeches is talking about being a Christian nation. So that’s changed, and I think that has just exploded into a whole lot of options that Christians are still trying to figure out.

So is the answer, “You know what, that part of the equation is gone, so let’s undo this other thing which has always been a part of the American assumption, namely, that though Christianity is the public truth, it’s not a state religion, it’s not a Christian magistrate who punishes the blasphemers.” So now that we don’t have Christianity as the public truth, people are saying, “Well, you know what, that half of the American experiment didn’t work. Maybe the whole way this was laid out wasn’t the right way to go. Maybe this took a big wrong turn with Locke or some time there. Maybe the sixteenth and the seventeenth century had a better way of doing this.” Or other people are saying, “Maybe the answer is to just lean even more into pluralism, and one of the blessings of liberty is that you’re going to have Drag Queen Story Hour in your public libraries, in government buildings, and you’re going to say, ‘You know, that’s a blessing of having a free society.’”

And everything in between. And that’s what Christians are trying to figure out.

David Schrock: So thinking through all of that, Kevin, it seems like there are more questions right now than there are answers. And we have begun to hear some different books. Certainly, what you are pulling out in that first article is some of those who are negative towards Christian nationalism.

2022 shows up, and you have The Case for Christian Nationalism from Stephen Wolfe. You have some of the works from Doug Wilson. You have others who are kind of taking on that title, even some of the work that the guys at American Reformer are holding fast to that and beginning to give some answers.

I want to ask where you find some of the best definitions or clarifications or presenters of these things. But before we get there, Trent, anything from you as a pastor? What are you hearing from people in your congregation? Obviously, each congregation is different. I’m about 20 miles away from Washington, D. C. You’re in Greenville, South Carolina. Kevin’s near Charlotte, right? So, each context is going to be different. But what are you doing as a pastor, and what are you hearing from people or talking to people about some of these questions right now?

Trent Hunter: Asking me, I might talk to someone on the other side of the country and they’ll say, “Oh, I’m sure it’s like this there.” I’m like, it’s not like that at all here. It’s really different church to church. Some of it’s on what the pastor’s doing, how he’s speaking, if that’s stirring, if that’s chasing people away, what people make of that when that happens. So, working as we do expositionally, I’ve found that’s a nice control on my own pace in learning and speaking to things.

So, when we were going through 2020 and whatnot, I was watching a God and government sermon coming up in March, and I knew I had about six months. I slowed down and did three sermons just in the course of exposition. So, I’ve told folks, “Hey that thing that’s hot in the news right now or people are talking about, we’ve already gotten to some of that and we’re going get to more of that later.” But I’m not always responding. And I think this commitment to exposition and a low responsiveness in the public gathering for better or worse.

For the better, it means that the folks are not like high reactive in the meeting trying to figure out which article I’m responding to or what I read or what I think of them. So that’s a bit on the public gathering.

Interpersonal relationships then—And I’d love Kevin’s take on this pastoring on the ground dynamic. I’ve found that treating them as individuals and not making assumptions as with counseling and everything else goes a long way. So, I’m out to lunch with a brother six months ago and he says, “Hey, that Francis Schaeffer month was really interesting that you guys did at Christ Over All.” You know, it seems to me though, that he’s at the bottom of this Christian nationalism.

So Francis Schaeffer was new to him and Francis Schaeffer thinks in worldview categories and speaks about abortion. That sounds like Christian nationalism, so I didn’t sort of heat up and assume that he read all the things I read or that he ignored that or whatever. We just slowed down, picked the issues apart, defined some terms. And I just stay relaxed like it’s cool and then try deal with them on their terms.

I can hardly keep up with the discussion. And recently, I was across the table from another brother who made a comment, “Oh, yeah, Christian nationalism.” He rolled his eyes, and I thought, “Well, it depends on what he’s rolling his eyes at,” because Kevin affirmed in his piece, a lot of what some of those guys are trying to fix and correct.

And I think it was at the end of year, the first article we talked about Kevin, it’s often used as a pejorative. There’s a convenient dismissal of conservative concern over a Senate and aggressive liberalism. So some people just don’t like people who are against liberalism. Well, I am like really against liberalism and some of the stuff on the right is annoying to me because of how it undermines my cause in fighting the big booger in front of us.

So the answer to that is exposition and sort of the methodical way we go about our public gathering goes a long way to setting the temperature and the pace of the church’s conversation and what the mainstream way of talking and praying is. And then in the hallways trying to stay reasoned and personal as I would on any topic with people when this topic comes up.

And I’ve found at least in our church, the temperature is not hot. What I’m concerned about is when I’m convinced we have a resistance moment and we don’t have the footing yet. We don’t have agreement on what’s needed at a church level or an individual level, and we find ourselves just crumbling under disagreement we didn’t see.

So I’m watching that, I’m writing a bit to that. You know, this podcast is a part of sort of preparing us to think in a godly way and together on it. But I’m watching that in the years ahead. I don’t think the left will sort of relax after 2020. I think that was a revelation of intention and aggressiveness.

And I’m not sure what the next turn looks like. That’s just me. So that’s a bit on pastoring publicly and then in the hall personally.

David Schrock: Kevin, taking some of those things there, certainly you’re experiencing those same things in the local church. Who have you found to be helpful to begin to move towards some definitions here?

We talked about just the amorphous nature of what Christian nationalism is. Are there certain voices—Certainly you engaged with Stephen Wolfe and gave a really helpful review of his book. Are there certain voices that have been more helpful than others as you’re beginning to think about this?

Kevin DeYoung: It’s a good question. I can immediately think of less helpful more than I can think of more helpful.

David Schrock: Let’s start there.

Kevin DeYoung: Well here’s what I would say. Trent, you said several things really good in that response and one of them was: Don’t assume the person you’re talking to has been reading all the things you’re reading. Because that’s what happens. We have in our mind, “You’re saying something to this, and I’ve been tracking with this argument.”

And so, our language has become so coded. That’s what happens with so many of these issues. And Samuel James has used that language as helpful. Certain issues become coded a certain way that we don’t know what they’re responding to. And though I try not to—I don’t actually go on Twitter myself that much because I’m on a number of text threads like you men probably are. And inevitably one of those guys heard something from another friend. So one way or another, I feel like I hear what’s going on and am pretty attuned more than I’d like to be to the online discourse. And what I find, probably you guys do too, in my church is probably no one knows and follows the things as much as I am.

And I say that to my shame, probably, and to their benefit, and it would be a concern. So there are things that sometimes three of us might say, “Did you see what happened yesterday? Those two guys were throwing it down.” The people in my church, they’ve never heard of these people. There’s lots of people that have never heard of Kevin DeYoung. But if we’re not careful, we who are engaging on these issues, we’re tracking with all the players and the people especially on Twitter (or X), then we start speaking about things that our people are not tracking with. And maybe they should, but often they don’t need to.

And that means we need to be really careful. Before we agree or disagree, because like you said, they’re responding to something else, and often they’re coming out of their own experience. I had somebody one time, not recently—he visited our church, shook my hand. He was from a liberal church in town, and he was all fired up about this because he said, “Last Sunday, my pastor shamed all of us for being white, and said if we were white, we were white Christian nationalists.” So he’s coming like really hot about this issue.

Whereas I met other people who come and they’re coming from a church that went full on MAGA, and if you’d said racial reconciliation, they’re like that’s CRT or something. So they’re really attuned to the hyperbole, you might say, on the other side. So all that to say, I’m not sure who all of the helpful voices are.

I would say this as a really good litmus test: if you’re getting your major cues— intellectual, moral, spiritual—from people whose twitter account would be an embarrassment to print out and put in your bulletin, just think twice about those people.

Okay, we all do things that we regret, all those caveats. And I know somebody’s out there saying, “But Kevin, you don’t know what time it is and we can’t play.” No, this is not—we can talk about winsome if you want—this is not the only cultural strategy. But really this cuts across the political spectrum and ideological spectrum. If the people who are discipling you are the people who don’t display the fruit of the Spirit and have lost sight of what the really big thing is. So, I just did an article on Clearly Reformed about, you know, what is the story we’re telling? And I was drawing from the Westminster Larger Catechism, which says this kingdom here on earth, which we pray for, is to give support to the ultimate triumph of the kingdom of grace.

So is the story we’re telling, yes, we want the nation, we want politics, we want these things, we pray for our nation, to the greater end that the church of Jesus Christ might have freedom, might have prosperity, might be built up, might be able to send out mission? Or is it the story is we want the church so that the church can then do something in this nation?

I think that’s a big way to tell the story in two very different ways. Carl Truman, he’s kind of adjacent to this discussion. I think Jonathan Leeman and Andrew Walker—they’re Baptists, I’m Presbyterian—but those are good friends and they’re thoughtful guys who are talking about these issues.

Yeah, so you mentioned Aaron Renn is a creative thinker, obviously his piece on The Three Worlds has been influential. First Things is Catholic, and it’s a symposium of sorts, so I don’t always agree with them, but I’m okay with people that I don’t agree with on everything if they seem like mature, rational, thoughtful people. Then let’s have this discussion. So, you know, the Davenant guys are doing creative things. I don’t agree with them on everything, but, but they’re thoughtful guys that I want to listen to.

David Schrock: Maybe to put a pin in a couple of those things that you just said there, Kevin.

One, I mean, just the importance of not preaching, not counseling, not leading a church based upon what the internet is telling us.

I mean, there’s a place for that. We can be thankful for that. Most times we’re not thankful for what’s going on there. Right. And that certainly should not be how it’s informing the way that we’re leading the local churches that we’re serving in.

And then I think even just the names that you just mentioned. I think there is a commitment from those brothers, yourself as well, and certainly the three of us, that the local church is where the action is, right? The message of the gospel taking place in the local church. This is one of the things you draw out in your response to Stephen Wolfe is that it’s more nation centric than it is church centric, right?

And obviously the message of the gospel is what creates the church, is then going to be purifying the church. And there’s a real emphasis on that. And so, Andrew Walker and certainly Jonathan Leeman have done a great deal to put a priority on that. And I think that’s just an important thing to keep in mind as well, that what is going to take place in eternity is the assembly of the believers who are gathered together here, and that that has tremendous impact.

And of course, that gets into all sorts of different discussions about eschatology and all those things like that. But I think that’s one of the things, just appreciate what you just said there, a focus on the local church and the work that is going on there instead of just trying to keep up with all the things on the internet.

That’s just something we need to remind ourselves of.

Kevin DeYoung: And just, any pastors or leaders out there, I try to think, what goes on the Internet: Is this something that’s helping my local church? So bringing the things, the sort of questions or confusions that I see in the local church, I want those to prompt me to write something about this.

Rather than the reverse, to bring into the church, into the pulpit, you have to explain what the whole thing is about. “Guys, you didn’t know—there was something that really would have made you upset if you had seen it this week. Let me explain it to you.” So let what flows organically out of the life of the church then inform the sort of things we might say more publicly, rather than all of this then shaping.

And so your comments, Trent, are so wise about expositional preaching and that little thing you said; it’s so good. It’s okay to tell her, “You know what, there’s a big thing happening in our world or in our news right now. And we got that scheduled. I’m going to do a little sermon series on that, touching on those issues three months from now.” Boy, that can take a lot of heat and energy out of the room in a good way. Just say, “Okay, my pastor’s paying attention.” And like you said, it slows down. It gives you some time, us some time to think about it. You know what? We’re not. We are not omni-competent. We are not omni-educated. We’re trained in a very narrow slice of things to do theology, to exegete, to help people with the Bible in their Christian life.

And a lot of us, even if we’ve had an interest in these issues for a long time, it’s a big massive field of inquiry and we should have some epistemic humility before we launch in and just kind of say, “You know what, let me tell you what’s really going on with half a millennia of discourse in the Western world.”

David Schrock: So, with all of that, I’m going to ask a question here related to the topic at hand. Some of this like, okay, maybe we shouldn’t even have a month on Christian nationalism, but we’re having a month on Christian nationalism.

Trent Hunter: You know, a note on this in Christ Over All, a little methodology here, is we were getting poked to do this in November. We’ve got friends in our ears and they’re like, “Hey, you guys, you’re going to miss the chance.” I’m like, “Listen, we’re going to say it. If we put a whole bunch of energy into this now, it’s going to get lost in the noise and we won’t have a chance to circle back around and do it. Someone else can talk about it now. We’re going to put a month on the calendar. And sort of work on it for six months or whatever and see through how to do it.”

Kevin DeYoung: Think about, that’s really good. Think about it. If it’s the case that if you don’t say anything about this for six months, it’s gone, then maybe it was ephemeral and trivial enough that it didn’t merit a whole lot of our energy.

Trent Hunter: So some of the whole editorial strategy of what we’re trying to do here when every little site’s got its own way of doing it—we need them all—is to take a month at a time and then move on to other stuff and it will all integrate over time almost like books in a chapter—12 in a year. Yeah, so it’s even the noise of 2020 got us thinking, “Golly, is there a way to keep giving material but to do it in stretches rather than constant hive mind-like communication is what the internet feels like.

David Schrock: Well, and certainly that is the focus for the month and trying to define some of these things. And I think it’s just right to be able to acknowledge that there’s been some challenge to be able to define. And even there’s not just one Christian nationalism, there are multiple Christian nationalisms from different perspectives, and I’d be more sympathetic to some presentations than others.

Kevin, what would be the difference, though, as we’re trying to define some of these things between, in your mind, Christian nationalism and cultural Christianity? So if I’m reading your piece, I think there’s a sense of sympathy for some of the challenges that are there, the questions of how do you live in a world that is Post-Christendom in America.

There’s been so much that’s there since you’re talking about, since the changes since the 1960s. And so there’s been a loss of cultural Christianity and again, if you’re in the south it might be different than New England or the Great Northwest, but what’s the difference in your mind between Christian nationalism and cultural Christianity?

Kevin DeYoung: I think a helpful distinction, which I’m sure is not original to me, is the difference between “Christian culture” and “cultural Christianity,” if you can use those as a noun or as a modifier. So you might think of, and I know what you’re saying, but you might think of when some people say cultural Christianity, they may have in their mind nominalism, a Christianity that is just a cultural garb.

The danger they’re worried about is hypocrisy, nominalism, dead churches, all of which are concerns in Scripture. So when some people hear the discussion, they’re like, “You want that? I don’t want cultural Christianity. I want vibrant Christianity. I want the real thing. So if that goes, then good riddance.”

However, if we’re talking about a Christian culture, and I think that’s what people often mean by cultural Christianity, they’re meaning a culture that has been markedly, demonstrably shaped by Christianity. In my mind, of course we want that. In an eschatological sense, heaven is going to be the most Christian culture ever.

So, if you say, “I don’t want Christian culture,” no; you do. If you want heaven, you want a very Christian culture. And more than that, we lose something. This is where I’m sure if I went back to Kevin DeYoung 15 years ago, earlier in ministry, I’m sure I said things or preached sermons or even wrote things that leaned in this sort of direction, like you alluded to earlier, Trent, of, “You know what, if this cultural Christianity just all faded away and disappeared, well then, all the better for it. The real Christians would stand up, the light will shine brighter in the darkness, and it’ll just separate the wheat from the chaff, and it’s going to make the church stronger and better than ever before.” Well, that would be nice, and that can happen at times. But, I think there’s a naiveté there, and it’s often spoken, I think, by those who’ve never had to live with what they ostensibly say they dream of as a good thing.

Is it really a bad thing that you could go into a public school and make an argument from the Bible and people would say, “Yep, we got to take that argument seriously?” Is that something we don’t want? We don’t want political candidates to speak about their faith or to think that to be a Christian is a positive rather than a negative for someone who’s running for public office.

Or just assumptions. I mean, in Charlotte, it is different. It’s even different than it was in Michigan, which I’m sure is different than Washington State or than New England. I’m thankful for many more vestiges of shared Christian assumptions. Now, I know the rejoinder is, “Well, look at all the hypocrisy and that didn’t help black people very much through Jim Crow,” which is sadly, lamentably true. But even the fact that we can reflect on that says something about our Christian witness and our Christian values and a Christian sense of owning sin and recognizing it and wanting to change.

The people who talk wistfully as if the world would be better if the culture was just so un-Christian I think either don’t know what they’re really asking for, haven’t experienced it. I mean, just think about missions, okay? Baptists in particular, all about missions. The SBC is basically you come together to support global missions.

You think you do more missions globally without a Christian culture? When you can’t have buildings, when you don’t have prosperity, when you can’t speak openly and freely, when you’re just trying to survive. Yeah, I mean, there’s a reason that the missionary movement has gone now—Korea’s done their part, Brazil has sent out a lot in the last half century—but there’s a reason that the modern mission movement so much has come from Anglo-America. And from places that have freedom, liberty, prosperity, a deep, deep sense of Christian influence. So, of course, there are dangers anytime in a Christian culture lulling people into a sleepy nominalism. But I think we would be unwise to wish that away. And so, our goal, the Church does not set out, “You know what I want to do? I want to make a Christian culture.” But we do want to make Christians— Christian disciples—and Christians are right to be concerned when that Christianity as shared public truth is disappearing.

David Schrock: And I think that’s where it does apply to the local church, where you’re able to say that the mission of the church—and certainly the work that you did with Greg Gilbert has been really helpful to clarify that there is a shared mission of the church to make disciples, that’s the mission that you argue for there.

But then even as you’re making and then teaching disciples to go out into the world when the church scatters, you are bringing light into the darkness and if a Christian is fully Christian, in whatever vocation that they have, it can create a culture in that workplace. It can create a culture in that school and create a culture in wherever they are. And there should be a sense in which we should be striving to do that. And I do wonder if there’s a debate on Christian nationalism, if we were just to scale that down a bit and say—you would have some who would be for Christian nationalism, some who would be against that—but to be able to say what you just articulated there, that there should be a sense of which Christians do pray for, do desire a Christian culture. Because when we’ve experienced that, whether it’s in pockets in Michigan, whether it’s Holland, Michigan, or whether it’s Grand Rapids, or in a couple of days, I’m going to Shipshewana, Indiana with all the Amish that are there, right?

Kevin DeYoung: There’s some good rocking chairs.

David Schrock: Absolutely. Right. There’s a culture there that can be appreciated. And when you kind of strip actually, what are the seeds that this came from? Well, it came from the seeds of Christ and the tradition of the church that is there in that place. That seems to be something that could be a unifying principle for those who may have disagreements on Christian nationalism. Say a Christian culture is something that overflows from those who are truly disciples of Christ.

Kevin DeYoung: Absolutely.

Trent Hunter: I was thinking of Tom Holland’s book Dominion. It seems that—I’ve read a bunch of Rodney Stark over the years and that stuff always fascinated me. Like an international and historic zoom way out and someone who’s tried to explain how the world got the way it is. And they keep finding Christianity back there.

And then Holland’s book, where I listened to an interview of his where he says he’s writing this book and the Me Too movement is breaking out. And the Me Too movement doesn’t realize how Christian it is, in a sense. How Puritan it is, in a sense. That there’s moral absolutes and that women are owed certain dignity. But it’s, obviously it’s unmoored and unhinged from revelation and the book, but it’s actually our Christian past and memory and informed conscience that means we have a civil rights movement that’s successful. That means that we look back and we say, we’re sorry. Don Carson talks about how the West is famous for its guilt literature on its own history. So you’ve got slavery in the past for all these civilizations, but the only reason we talk about ours and even know about it is because we keep writing about it.

So I thought that was a great point. I’ve heard you talk about Tom Holland’s book before.

Kevin DeYoung: Yeah, you summarized it well. And he found things there that he wasn’t expecting to find in Western civilization that the things he wanted to preserve and keep coming back to you couldn’t say, “Well, those values we got from the Romans.”

You know, you did get some things. What have the Romans done for us? Well, the aqueducts, the roads. But it is the case that Christianity has given us this ladder to scale to these unimaginable heights, and now people are saying, “Well, we’re here. Knock the ladder out from under us.”

Well, what you find is then other people can’t get up to where you are. And also, and I mean, nations, you know, culturally, economically, but then also eventually without that, to use a different analogy, you know, the scaffolding falls, the foundation falls, and, and you have something entirely different.

I do not label myself as a Christian nationalist. I think I’ve said that plainly, though I could, I could certainly come up with a definition that fits me. Certainly during the nineteenth century, probably until World War II—and most people don’t realize, though Fink and Stark talk about this in The Churching of America, America became much more Christian in the nineteenth century. There was plenty of Christian influence at the founding, but less people think it’s always just Christian and secularism is just a straight line to less Christian. America became much more Christian. Evangelicalism, evangelical Protestant Christianity was the default in the nineteenth century, and I would say up until the mainline church goes liberal, and then collapses post World War II.

So there was a shared consensus, and I would imagine for most of that history, if you had asked someone and taken some poll, “Is America a Christian nation?” You’re going to get overwhelming majorities, strong majorities, saying “Yeah, of course we’re a Christian nation.” Even from those who are not sincere, born-again believers.

Winston Churchill can still talk about Christian civilization of the British Empire, and I don’t think Winston was a born again Christian, sorry to say. So that’s there, and one of the things in particular with the sexual revolution—I think you can make, sadly make the case that no people can live for very long as a body politic with radically different views on sex and the boundaries of sex. I think it’s such a powerful thing and drive and impulse and we would say it’s Christian’s gift that can be perverted that I think that’s why you find in the Christian past lots of rules and sometimes there were not too many moral rules but some of the punishments—We might look back and say, “Yep, that went too far.” And yet in the other direction, I think this is why we’re not finding a live and let live compromise, because I think on sex in particular, it’s too fundamental, it’s too powerful, it’s too much of a human good and impulse that I’m not sure a body politic or a people can exist with two radically different approaches to it.

You will have one cultural truth on sex. So where I’m sympathetic to some of this conversation is the frustration that some people feel if our leaders are just negotiating the terms of our surrender, rather than putting forward, say, a muscular alternative. Where I don’t agree with those, perhaps on my right, is, well, now that muscular alternative is some vision of a sort of a Caesar who bestrides the country as a Christian magistrate and exercises his will among the people.

Not only is that not coming, that’s not had a good track record in history so that’s not what we want. But we’re right to say there is a fundamental disagreement, and as Christian leaders, I think we need to show to our people we have something more to offer than just, “Would you be nice to us as we pull back on the retreat?”

David Schrock: Yeah, the things you just laid out there remind me of a couple books that just kind of underline that. So one is Mark Noll’s new book, America’s Book. I think it is just about the Bible and American history. And he just shows that there’s kind of a Bible Christendom, that the book of the American people was the Bible, especially the nineteenth century.

And it’s hard to see how America was framed in so many ways by the proliferation of the Bible. Now the Bible with many new kind of entrepreneurial religions and sects and denominations all throughout the nineteenth century, but the Bible is at the core of that and you then slide into the twentieth century and that begins to change in so many ways.

It comes through the modernist movement and the civil war as well. It’s just there’s a questioning of the Bible.

Sexual evolution comes through in the other book then by J. D. Unwin. It might be just Sex and Civilization. But J. D. Unwin, who just has made the categorical studied argument that anytime that a culture gives itself over to sexual license, it destroys itself. And we are just one more civilization.

Kevin DeYoung: That is objectively true.

Trent Hunter: You lose social energy. That was the line that stuck with me from Unwin’s work.

If men aren’t working to feed a family or win a woman because they can have it without marriage, then you lose social energy, a drive to create and to work and to stay and to build. Makes perfect sense.

David Schrock: So it moves from a religion, a Protestant understanding of religion in America, that Christianity would be at the forefront of that, to a new religion that would be sexuality, right?

And just kind of the pursuit of that. So I think those are just some things for us to be learning and thinking about as well. Kevin, just to kind of close out our time here, if there was a book that would serve pastors well today—maybe you’re working on it right now—but if not, if there was one that would help us to think through some of these things, what are some of the things that pastors need, that churches need to be able to think clearly on these subjects? We talked about the need for better definitions. What is in the works that we need to be able to handle these things?

Kevin DeYoung: It’s a really good question. I want to say, go read Augustine’s City of God. That’s a heavy lift.

You know, I think some people don’t feel like the book has aged well, but I think it still has some really helpful discussion—Carson’s book on Christ and Culture Revisited, Very different cultural context now, 15, 20 years later, but there’s some good discussions there.

I think to read widely. So, you know, I’m going to have David VanDrunen on my podcast later this semester. So, we’ll talk about some things that probably don’t agree on all of his exegetical steps, but he’s a really good scholar and thinker who’s trying to think very Christianly in natural law on issues of Christianity in politics. It’s very good.

There’s a little book [Empowered Witness: Politics, Culture, and the Spiritual Mission of the Church] that I did a forward for that’s coming out by Crossway by a friend of mine named Alan Strange, Dr. Strange, who’s a church history professor. But he did his PhD on the spirituality of the church, which is a big doctrine among Presbyterians in particular. So he has a little book putting in a plug for the spirituality of the church, but showing how Charles Hodge had a little more chastened view of it than Thornwell.

It usually gets a bad rap because people just associate “Oh, that’s what you use when you want to have slaves.” Well, no, it has a long history in especially Presbyterian, but in protestant Christianity. So I’m sure there’s lots of other things that I’ll think of as soon as we get off this because, like you guys, I have I have a big shelf of things.

He was Catholic, but I still think reading Russell Kirk is helpful, if not his big book, his little one. And I did a blog post on that; I just summarized his 10 points of American conservatism. One of the questions, if most of the people listening to this identify as conservatives in some way, it really is a fundamental question to ask each other and ourselves: “Then what am I conserving?”

And it’s a good discussion. I think there are people who would say, “you know what I want to conserve? I want to conserve the political theology from the sixteenth and early seventeenth century.” And that’s a respectable intellectual position. I don’t think it’s always presented in a chastened way, but it’s a respectable intellectual position. Those are many of our heroes. So that’s one thing.

What I mean by it is, can you give me something like the American founding? Now, I would never say that’s the only way. We’re the only country who’s come up with a system of governance. But when I think about what are we conserving, I think, well, something like that, which I argue in one of these other pieces, I think has, has three strands, which were there at the American founding: [1] Classic republicanism, drawing on Greek and Roman models, and then [2] Protestant Christianity, and then [3] the newer Enlightenment or Lockean liberalism and Montesquieu and all. So I think those three strands were there, and you didn’t ask me about Witherspoon, but an angel gets its wings whenever I mention him, so I’ll just mention John Witherspoon.

I mean, a reason that a completely orthodox, earnest, Calvinist Presbyterian pastor could sign the Declaration of Independence is, with all of the disagreements—there really were a lot of disagreements among the founders— But I think those three strands, Classic Republicanism, Lockean Liberalism, Protestant Christianity, they saw—now we’re free to argue that they were wrong—but they saw those three things as forming a cord that, if not dependent on each other, at least were consistent with one another.

And I think that the system they came up with is still one worth conserving and is consistent with Christian ideas and ideals, though imperfectly lived out, and I think for 200 plus years, we’d say has actually served the Church of Jesus Christ in a lot of really profoundly positive ways.

David Schrock: Yeah, it certainly provided a context for the Church to flourish in our country and for this country to go to the ends of the earth. And certainly that is what we want to continue to pray for as 1 Timothy 2 calls us to pray for those who are empowered, those who are authorities over us, that there would be peace in the land in which we live. There was certainly that for 200 plus years and is worth conserving in many ways.

Well, Kevin, I appreciate the time you’ve given to us today and Trent as well to talk through these things. This has been really helpful, brothers.

Kevin DeYoung: Well, good to be with you, please. And the rest of the month, clean up all the messes that I may have left.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Authors

  • Kevin DeYoung

    Kevin DeYoung (PhD, University of Leicester) is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, NC, and associate professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte. He has written books for children, adults, and academics, including Just Do Something, Crazy Busy, and The Biggest Story. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have nine children.

  • David Schrock

    David Schrock is the pastor for preaching and theology at Occoquan Bible Church in Woodbridge, Virginia. David is a two-time graduate of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is a founding faculty member and professor of theology at Indianapolis Theology Seminary. And he is the author of Royal Priesthood and Glory of God along with many journal articles and online essays.

  • Trent Hunter

    Trent Hunter is the pastor for preaching and teaching at Heritage Bible Church in Greer, South Carolina. Trent is a graduate of Moody Bible Institute and The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He is the author of Graphical Greek, an electronic reference guide for biblical Greek, Joshua in Crossway's Knowing the Bible series, and is co-author of Christ from Beginning to End: How the Full Story of Scripture Reveals the Full Glory of Christ. Trent is an Instructor for the Charles Simeon Trust Workshops on Biblical Exposition.

Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung

Kevin DeYoung (PhD, University of Leicester) is the senior pastor at Christ Covenant Church in Matthews, NC, and associate professor of systematic theology at Reformed Theological Seminary, Charlotte. He has written books for children, adults, and academics, including Just Do Something, Crazy Busy, and The Biggest Story. Kevin and his wife, Trisha, have nine children.