David Schrock: Dr. Mohler, welcome to the Christ Over All podcast.
Al Mohler: It’s great to be with you guys. I’ve been looking forward to the conversation.
David Schrock: Absolutely. Steve, I hope Louisville, Kentucky is as beautiful as Northern Virginia today. Good to have you back, brother.
Stephen Wellum: Always good to be back, and in Louisville it’s a wonderful day here we’re having today.
David Schrock: Amen. Certainly, I spent many years in Louisville and was deeply impacted by both of you brothers as I was there as a student a number of years ago, and I’m looking forward to this conversation today as we think more about Christian nationalism.
And, maybe just to begin with a story, Dr. Mohler, I remember a number of years ago standing in the living room of the Duck and the Goose with Jason Dees in Ben Dockery’s house there a number of years ago. And I remember calling into your radio show—before the radio show became The Briefing—and asking a question about the place of the American flag in a sanctuary.
You may not remember the call, but I remember the call. And it’s just ironic that we’re talking about similar things today. And yet, the conversation seems to be far more complex than just the place of a flag in the sanctuary. So just thinking about going back in time just a little bit, as we’re talking about this idea of Christian nationalism which has really broken on the scene in so many ways— really after January 6th, and it is really now a term of derision—I’m curious for you, just what is new in this conversation about Christian nationalism? What is old? And what are some of the fault lines that you see developing as people talk about Christian nationalism?
Al Mohler: Yeah, thank you. I believe that what’s changed in part is that the left trying to isolate and dismiss conservatives—the new label they have is Christian nationalists or nationalists. So, I’ve just been at this long enough to know—it was the new Christian right; it was the radical right; It’s just one thing after another. And frankly, there’s an industry on the left of writing books about these things as if they just discovered us, even though they’re the same people who wrote the books 30 years ago and with just a different terminology.
So, I’ll say, in one sense, this is a very clever packaging just to try to scare people by putting together the words Christian and nationalism as if that’s some threat to our constitutional form of government, which is I think exactly contrary to the truth. I think it’s the foundational worldview that makes our constitutional system of government, indeed our entire civilizational system, possible.
I guess that’s what’s new. What’s new is a lot of people have a new label. But I do want to concede that there’s something else new which is not entirely new. But there are arguments being made by some on the right—and I say that terminology on the right carefully, specifically. There are those who are asking basic questions about the structure of civilizations and societies and nations and the place of Christianity and the church within them. And out of frustration, I think, with the secular and progressive acuity in this culture, they’re beginning to ask some questions that, frankly, haven’t been talked about in the open for a long time.
So, I think there are two different things going on. Most of this is not new at all. But some of it’s new, given a sense of urgency in the society.
David Schrock: Yeah, I think that’s helpful, just thinking about some of those new questions. And we want to talk a little bit about that, about some of the political theory and political theology that seems to come to the forefront.
Again, thinking about my time at Southern Seminary, those are not the main questions in the lunchroom, so to speak. But those do seem to be very much at the forefront, so that’s something I certainly want us to talk about here. Before getting to that though, Steve, Dr. Mohler said something that I think is really important—that the Christian worldview is at the foundation of our understanding of maybe—if I understood you right—even America’s founding. Not to say it was founded as a Christian nation, but the Christian worldview certainly is at the forefront of that. How do you understand, Steve, the Christian worldview and its impact on America’s founding?
Stephen Wellum: You can’t understand what we call Europe and you can’t understand America without the influence of Christianity and the gospel. We do have to distinguish, obviously—Francis Schaeffer used to do this—how we speak about the primary effects of the gospel, which is bringing salvation to God’s people and bringing them into the church, and then also the secondary and tertiary benefits. And you certainly see the impact of a larger Christian worldview on the West, on America, the establishment even of our government, the separation of powers, the danger they saw and the concern they had to not put too much power in too few hands. All of that came from a doctrine of sin—and the moral governing of the nation in terms of its moral law and moral code is basically a reflection of certainly the second table of the law—but also not even allowing certain religious practices of polygamy tied to Mormonism and so on.
The impact of Christianity on the West, coming out of the Reformation, coming out of the Middle Ages over to America has been huge and you cannot think of our constitution, you can’t think of our government, you can’t think of the establishment of our universities without it. All of that was tied to Christianity and that is now obviously being greatly lost.
And of course, that’s what’s bringing the debate over is this a Christian nation with Christian influence? What’s the role of the church? And that’s where the discussion seems to be today.
David Schrock: How did we lose that? Dr. Mohler, it seems as though if you go back a generation or two, there was some recognition of the American founding with respect to, at least, let’s say, the place of the pilgrims and the place of Christianity that was there. And if you look in public education at a secondary level or in a collegiate level, that seems to be lost. What brought that about?
Al Mohler: I think it’s a spirit of revolt, first and foremost. I think it’s actually a very self-conscious revolt against what they do understand is the inheritance of Christianity and the overarching truth claims of the Christian worldview.
But I agree with Steve’s historical analysis there. I just want to come back and say one of the things we have to do in terms of thinking about worldview is ask ourselves what worldviews are even available or accessible at the time. And I guess it’s really, really important for us to recognize that the worldview that increasingly shapes American society, a secularized, ideologically-driven worldview, wasn’t even accessible for most of the formative period of Western civilization.
Western civilization was a Christian project, period. It was a civilizational project that made no sense to people who had no worldview other than the worldview supplied by the Scripture that begins, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth,” and goes through all the truth claims of Christianity. All the narratives were Christian narratives. All the morality was understood to be Christian morality. The ruler was described as a Christian prince. The citizens were described as Christian citizens. And even by the time you get to, say, the Enlightenment—and there’s a long story here as you know. We’re talking about the English-speaking Enlightenment that shaped in particular the United States.
You’re looking at an Enlightenment tradition that simply assumed the basic contours of Christianity, but wanted to take out the personality of God. They weren’t so much interested in redemptive history, but they had no explanation for why there was a universe except that there was a Creator who had made it. And in terms of moral principles, they were absolutely convinced those moral principles, as explicitly articulated by Christianity, were the binding glue of any lasting civilization and society. And to give you a little evidence of that—and I won’t just go on forever here—but to give you a little evidence of that, it’s really interesting to note that in the project of Protestant liberalism, the effort undertaken by someone like Harry Emerson Fosdick was in essence to abandon Christian theological truth claims and rescue Christian morality.
So, if you’re talking about someone like Harry Emerson Fosdick, he was a heretic theologically, but morally very conservative. So, there were those who said, “Look, we actually have to ditch the virgin birth and turning water into wine in order to save the morality.” Now, their heirs very quickly, especially in the transformation of the 1960s, turned on this. But, when the National Council of Churches headquarters was built in the 1950s in Washington, D.C.—dedicated by president Dwight David Eisenhower and often referred to as the “God box” as a term of derision—there were statements made, even in that process, about the Christian inheritance of Western civilization that was explained by these churches—now liberal Protestant churches—that put a common headquarters as close as they could to the United States Capitol Building precisely to make the point of the unity of the Christian and American projects.
So, all I want to say is the left has had to change its tune dramatically. And that basically is explained by the 1960s and the heirs of the children of the 1960s—who, by the way, mostly understand explicitly that they’re going to have to deny and try to isolate Christian influence in society. And increasingly, they’re having to be a little more honest that that’s exactly what they’re up to.
David Schrock: Yeah, that’s certainly the case with the abortion issue, where it was at one time a pro-choice, and now it’s really pro-death and celebrating abortions that are there. That’s just one example of that kind of revolt.
Al Mohler: Yeah, you take someone like Robert Jones who’s written, and keeps talking about, white Christian nationalism, etc. His list of bad guys now includes most of the Protestant liberals as well. Because they all use the same kind of language. If you want to find patriotic language, if you want to find the language that the left now would call just Christian nationalism, you don’t need to go just to some fundamentalist Baptist tabernacle on a dirt road. Go to the Riverside Church in New York City. Or mainline Protestantism in the 1950s.
David Schrock: Yeah, that’s one of the things this month Dr. John Wilsey—historian there at Southern—has written on, the different forms of Christian nationalism. And they’re not all on the right. Some of them are on the left as well. Certainly even with Woodrow Wilson and others who would say that America is a Christian nation, but are doing so from a very different position there.
One of the things I’m curious for either one of you is talking about the Enlightenment project and the way they wanted to keep a Christian morality, but to deny it from a Christian theology. And that seems to be similar to the way in which some have said that we can try to impose or to make use of the second table of the law, but not the first table of the law. I’m just wondering how you understand those two things. So, Steve, you had already mentioned that a little bit. So, maybe this is a historical question or maybe it’s one of just political theory in some of these newer questions—should the first and the second table of the law be a source of enforcement today, or are we only going with the second? And if only the second, does history show us that the denial of the first table and the worship of God actually makes it impossible to maintain the second?
Go ahead, Dr. Mohler. What do you think?
Al Mohler: I think that we need a language structure to try to figure out how we’re going to talk about this. The way I put it is this: I don’t believe that western civilization can endure without acknowledging the first table of the law and obeying the second table.
So, I’m a Baptist. I’m a conversionist. So, I can’t say that the civilization is to be predicated upon confessional faith as is reflected in the first table of the law. I can say that our society won’t survive without the historical acknowledgement of it. And that’s a position the left now would say is just oppressive privilege. But that happens to be not only true, I say, as a Christian, but it’s also true, I say, as an historian in terms of American history.
So, I want to be careful. I think where the integralists and some forms of Christian nationalists and theonomists make a huge mistake is that I want to require citizens to acknowledge the first table of the law. But in order to call them believers, I’m going to have to abandon my theology, which I can’t do because of my understanding of the gospel.
So, I’m a conversionist, and I’m also a Baptist. So, I can’t baptize babies and say they are now effectively participants in the church in the sense of the first table of the law. I hope that makes sense. Those are terms I’ve tried consistently to use. I think our society, historically and in the present and in the future, should and must acknowledge the first table of the law. And that should be a matter of constitutional importance.
Stephen Wellum: Now in the past that I think has been the case in history. And, of course, that’s not the case now. So then, how do we go about getting back to that situation? There are different proposals from people on the Christian nationalist side where some give the impression almost that, in order for that to happen, there would have to be almost a revolution. I would take it that it’s through the preaching of the gospel and through the influence of the church.
But what would you say to how would we get back to that place when you have a nation that’s throwing all of that off?
Al Mohler: Yeah, well first of all, I’m going to say as a churchman that the first responsibility of the church is the preaching of the word of God, and the obedience of Christ’s people in all that Christ commanded. And that includes honoring marriage, honoring the family, raising our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and obeying Christ in all things from the Great Commission to the entirety of the biblical commands given to us.
So that’s the Christian responsibility. I think the Christian citizen responsibility, out of love of God and love of neighbor and obedience to Christ, is to seek to influence the society in the most honorable and truth-centered and God-honoring way to the limits of what is politically possible in any generation, and to seek to make it even more possible in generations to come.
So, I am suggesting that it’s absolutely right for Christian citizens to seek to bring about as much Christian influence in the society as is possible and to see that reflected in public policy. In particular, we raise the abortion issue. I believe that it is the Christian responsibility to seek to influence government so that government honors the fact that that God is the author of life and that human life is sacred and that human life, from the moment of fertilization until natural death, is to be protected as a central priority of the state, of the government.
So, I’m never going to make that argument from a merely secular position. I’m going to make that argument as a Christian and without apology. I’m going to argue for the greatest volume and effectiveness of Christian witness within the entire political system without apology. I don’t believe in any separation of Christianity and politics. I want to bring about as much righteousness in the society as is possible, as is defined in God’s word.
Stephen Wellum: So, in our present governmental structure, that would involve Christians voting, Christians putting in and having Christians run for office, Christian influence in the society that then eventually laws would be put in place where they would acknowledge—the state, the nation would acknowledge—not only who God is type of thing in terms of a general confession of that, but also then the application of moral law to marriage, family, sanctity of life, and so on. That would be the means by which we would do this.
Al Mohler: Yeah, without apology. This isn’t some kind of covert strategy. I think this is Christian citizenship. And we do acknowledge that our main means of bringing this about is the preaching of the word of God. And by the way, of course, that means preaching to Christ’s people in order that they be conformed to the image of Christ. But actually, we also are to preach the word to the larger world because of the restraining power of the word of God, even in restraining evil and evildoing and affecting the conscience. I think the Puritans were absolutely right about this and the historic Protestants in terms of this understanding.
But there are also other means. There are proximate means and there are temporal means. As you say, electing candidates, participating in the political process, and doing so as Christians. I’m not looking for a confessional state in the sense of, say, what you had in the German states in the sixteenth century. I am looking for a state that acknowledges that the entire civilizational project of which it is a part is inseparable from Christianity in the basic moral, even metaphysical and ontological, claims that are made by Christianity. And it can only be sustained in that way, and I’ll make that argument publicly as long as I have breath.
Stephen Wellum: If we were ever to get to that point—which would be a wonderful situation. We seem far from it, right, presently? If we were to get to that point, would that have an impact on, say, religious pluralism or allowing for diversity of religions in the country? Would that affect immigration policy and those kinds of things?
Al Mohler: I believe it would impact all of those things. And I realize some people just had a heart attack, but I think we just need, honestly, to talk about them. We have to isolate them a little bit, so I’m going to start with immigration. I think we should want to welcome to this country those who want to buy into and contribute to and perpetuate this civilizational project, honestly acknowledging what it is. And I think we should not want to have persons come into this country and gain political and economic and cultural influence whose purpose is to replace this civilizational project with a different civilizational project.
So, I’m going to be very honest about that. I think immigration is a mass problem. I was just in the United Kingdom, and let me just tell you, if you think that debate’s hot here, you should go to Britain and understand that. And here’s where it’s really interesting. You have the right and the left in the United States making some arguments about this. It’s really interesting that in Europe, there’s an increasing consensus that if Europe’s going to survive, it’s going to have to be European. Otherwise, it’s going to be some new civilization on the landmass of what we’ve called Europe. So, it’s really interesting. You see this across cultures. And you see nations doing things that some of their political leaders would have said we would never do.
You look at the debate in Germany in the period after Angela Merkel was the chancellor. No one in Germany in political power suggests we go back to the policy of Angela Merkel—I say no one, but no one with political momentum. So, I do think, even in the United States, there’s going to be some shift. And by the way, I think part of the shift that is going to take place in the United States—it’s in the headlines of some of the newspapers. It’s not on the front page because of other, bigger events. But on the inner pages of a couple of today’s newspapers, there are stories about the fact that immigrants aren’t voting the way the left wanted immigrants to vote.
So, I just want to say as someone who wants to protect and continue this civilizational project, I think it’s good for us—especially given declining birth rates, which are another huge theological issue—I think especially with that we should welcome those who want to perpetuate, defend, and extend this civilizational project, and there are many who do.
For instance, Hispanic voting patterns are not going the way the Democratic Party counted on them going. Look at the state of Florida, the gubernatorial election. Look what’s happening in California and some other states. Now, this is not to say you can predict everything just speaking in terms of different sociological patterns, but it is really interesting. There are people who want to buy into—and it’s kind of the ethos of immigration in the early twentieth century, the Statue of Liberty. We want the people who want to contribute to this civilizational project. That does not mean the whole world.
David Schrock: That’s good. Dr. Mohler, I want to go back to something you said a moment ago. So, I’m thinking about pastors and preachers, those who are being trained at Southern Seminary and other churches where they’re being raised up. And you talked about preaching to the church, but then also preaching to those in places of political office. You talked about the need to be able to preach the word of God to them and to bring the light of God’s word to them.
So, I have two questions. (1) Where do they do that? What’s the location with that kind of preaching? So, I think about Sunday by Sunday, the people of God gather where they hear the word of God. Is there some sense that those places are preaching to the broader world, or is there someplace else? And then (2), is there a place for Scripture to be used actually to make the arguments for various legislations that are coming forward? Or is it something where there should be something more of natural law? Or is it both-and, that we should not shy away from allowing the testament of Scripture to speak to those things, even as we make arguments from creation order as well?
Al Mohler: Yeah, I’ll simply say first of all, the way you set that up rhetorically means yes, of course, it’s both-and. I say that obviously in a friendly way because you set it up very well. So yeah, I think it is both-and. I think we have to have the positive preaching of the word of God, but we also have to learn how to make arguments.
And I think Calvin’s a good illustration of this—learning how to make arguments based upon the cognitive content of the Imago Dei and the cognitive and moral content of creation order. And I think those things are just vitally important. And right now, we need all the creation order messaging that we can give.
And I’ll say, of course, it has to be both-and. But it’s really interesting the way you mentioned just the public role of the church or questioning the public role of the church. And you said, “Where does that take place?” which I thought was funny. I just stood in one of the places that took place and that’s St. George’s Chapel at Windsor where John Knox pointedly addressed Edward VI, the reforming boy-King, about priests genuflecting to the altar. I mean, this is not new. It’s Paul before Felix. It’s John Knox before Edward VI. It’s a John Knox before Mary Queen of Scots. And it’s colonial pastors and their remonstrances in what became the United States. It’s Christian activity, which by the way, should never be covert. In other words, we have the right and responsibility as Christian citizens to show up making these arguments. And I don’t think there should be any hesitation in doing so.
David Schrock: So, I ask the question in part because I think there probably has been some measure of hesitation. Because I think there’s been a fear that they should only be preaching to make disciples, should only be focusing on those things of the spirituality of the church, and there is probably an overemphasis on taking care of those things and leaving politics to the side.
But I think what you have said, and what we would want to say as well, is, no, actually there’s a role for the pastor to preach to the local congregation and beyond, equipping those disciples to take that message into the culture, wherever their vocation leads them. And it seems as though that’s been weak in some corners. Or it’s even more spiritual to say, “Just focus on the life of the church, and don’t dirty yourself with the politics in the pulpit or anything to that effect.”
Al Mohler: Yeah, that’s fair, and there’s a massive theological problem there. For one thing, you have the Southern Presbyterian spirituality of the church argument—that didn’t look too good in retrospect. And then you have the kind of Stanley Hauerwas sectarian argument, where you have a more, I would say, evangelicals who do not want to have to speak hard truths to the culture. They say, “Okay, we’ll speak those hard truths in the church. And we’ll just pull out.” And the problem with that is that the whole counsel of God includes, most importantly, special revelation in the form of Scripture. But it also includes creation order and data, knowledge, and truth to which every single human being in every place, regardless of whether or not they’ve ever heard the gospel, are obligated.
But it’s not just that they’re obligated. We actually believe this is the way that leads to human flourishing. We actually believe that regardless of regeneration, it still honors God that an unbelieving man would be faithful to his wife and would protect his family and would be industrious rather than lazy and would feed his children and contribute to the society. This is creation order.
So, the problem with a lot of this modern sectarianism is that it’s just a way of copping out from the responsibility of the church’s public witness. And by the way, it won’t work. Because honestly, over time, the aggressively secular, ideologically-driven left is not going to be any more satisfied for you to raise your children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord than for you to try to arrange the laws of Orange County, California, according to Christian conviction. They want our children. They’re not going to be satisfied to have subversives preaching the Bible in a sectarian sense.
Stephen Wellum: I could hear someone here listening to this and a Christian saying, “Boy, this is going to involve a lot of my time. How do I be a Christian influence in the society? How do I get involved in government? How do I…” Any recommendations? I would think that we’d want to say, “Look, you start in the sphere that you’re placed. First of all, be faithful as a father or a mother raising children, doing that properly, having a solid marriage, get out and vote, if your children are in a public school system, be involved in that system type of thing. Is that what you would say? Just start where you are? Because you’re a finite person. You can’t do everything, can you?
Al Mohler: Evidently not. Steve, very good point. And this is where I’d say, look, there’s a basic Christian worldview principle that Protestants haven’t had to think much about. When the worldview of the larger society was pretty much congenial to us, you didn’t have to think about some of the patterns of Christian thinking that I think are clearly biblical. And one of them has been more commonly discussed by Catholics than Protestants, and that’s subsidiarity.
And I think it’s clearly true. So, it’s in creation order—the most basic meaning and the best union of the goods is in the most basic unit of society. Which is why society’s not good at raising children. You need mom and dad to raise children. You need marriage. You need family.
So, that’s where Christians should start. Subsidiarity is also just a good reminder to Christians that there’s no honor in being active in the political sphere and abandoning your wife and children. So, that subsidiarity just reminds us, okay, we’ve got to be faithful at home first. We’ve got to be faithful in our church. But we’re also, not by accident but rather by God’s providence, in this society, and we are to have an influence.
Yeah, I like what you say—active in the school, active in the neighborhood. Christians should show up in the volunteer fire department, but Christians also need to be in the halls of Congress. Christians—and haven’t we learned this—Christians need to be sitting in the seats of judges, and Christians need to be working. And here’s the thing, it’s so liberating because everything governmental and political for Christians is proximate and not everlasting.
So, in other words, we’re not called to be politically active for eternity, but rather for this earthly life. How in the world could we not be actively involved in these things if we love our grandchildren and great grandchildren? This is where I think the biblical pattern is just really clear. Israel had to be faithful in this generation in order that it’s children would be faithful in generations to come.
David Schrock: So, Dr. Mohler, you mentioned congenial. And that makes me think of Aaron Renn’s three worlds, the positive world, the neutral world, and the negative world. And I’m not sure what you think about that, but certainly we live in a time where secularization is far larger, and there is a negativity to Christianity that wasn’t there 10 years ago and wasn’t there 30 years ago.
So, I have a question as you are a theologian and an educator. What is theological education for those training for ministry look like in the negative world? What are things that you guys are doing at Southern, or what are things that need to be done to help pastors be ready to do all the things that you just said?
Al Mohler: Well, I can think of one thing just to say first of all in principle, and then I’ll speak of something more pragmatic. In principle, it means that the content of our theological education is more important than ever before because our first responsibility is to make certain that those who are going to be preaching and teaching the Word of God are deeply committed to the historic, biblical Christian faith, understand it, can defend it, can explain it, are committed to expository preaching, are skilled at it, understand where they are in the flow of the history of the church and the history of the world, history of God’s purposes and the unfolding purpose of God in order that they may be faithful in this generation and perpetuate the faith once we’re all delivered to the saints in the generation to come.
Speaking of something that’s pragmatic, I’m talking to you guys today as an extension of the methodology I have about how to deal with these issues, and that is be loud. So, we just had a forum panel discussion in chapel this morning here—by the way, packed house—talking about Israel and the current situation with Hamas.
I think we have to be loud about analyzing, thinking, and making judgments to encourage students to analyze, to think biblically, and to make judgments. And Christianity’s public truth—like Steve, I’m so influenced by Francis Schaeffer. And as Schaeffer said, true truth is not privatistic. It’s public. And I think part of the problem with evangelicals is we’ve been too pietistic in the sense of withdrawing and believing the culture is just going to take care of itself. And even now there are those who kind of wince when we’re loud.
I hope that makes sense. I just think we have to be loud. That’s why I do The Briefing. That’s why I write what I write. It’s why I do what I do. It’s what I do at World Opinions. And it’s what we try to model in front of students is—now, I’m not saying loud as in screaming and yelling. I just mean loud in terms of unapologetic public projection.
David Schrock: That’s good.
Stephen Wellum: Yeah, it seems as we’ve been thinking of the collapse of the West in our society and then what needs to be done, there is a real sense, I think, we need to be honest that the churches that we’re part of have not done what they should be doing. There’s a partial blame here that we haven’t spoken up, we haven’t got involved in every sphere of life. We’re not even calling pastors in our churches to say, “Look, we need Christian lawyers. We need people to sit in the courts. We need Christian educators that are working in the school system and so on.”
I mean David Wells has argued that the one influence of secularization was to push God to the periphery of life and to push Christian theology to the periphery of life. So, there seems to be a real responsibility that we have to call our churches back to, and we’re trying to do that, obviously, here at the seminary. But it’s going to have to be a much more concerted effort to do that. I’m assuming you would agree with that. And we have to really be making an effort in teaching people how to preach the whole counsel of God and apply it to every area of life.
Al Mohler: Absolutely. Yeah, I’ll just be very honest. I’d be devastated to know that our graduates would not speak publicly to issues of the sanctity of human life, the reality of marriage, the ontological reality of boy and girl. I’d be horrified. And frankly, I don’t think that’s true. I think our approach of being, hopefully very gracious, but very loud on these issues explains why we have so many students and why they’re drawn here.
And I just want to give them as much substance and encouragement in sending them out so that they can they can be faithful and, frankly, lead and preach to and deploy faithful churches.
David Schrock: Yeah, one of the things you brought up a bit ago, maybe to connect it with what you just said, is just some of the church history that maybe goes back a little bit further than just our own last hundred years or so. It does seem as though that there’s an evangelical amnesia that is in many churches—and certainly seminary is one of the things giving church history to help people to understand that. But I’m wondering, if you’re putting together a syllabus of sorts, just what an annotated bibliography or a reading list to help think through some of these things, what might that look like?
So, I know if you go back into the early centuries of the church, you’d have something like City of God that would have to be on that reading list. Is there anything else that Christians, pastors, thinkers, theologians should be reading from those early periods to help begin to develop something of a political theology, and to encourage them to be out loud and in public with their faith?
Al Mohler: Well, you’re right to go to City of God. I don’t think there’s a more basic text after Scripture in terms of understanding the Christian responsibility in the society. And, not by accident, I come back to it again and again. So much so that I describe myself, if you had one word in terms of church history, as Augustinian.
And I mean that in terms of the Augustinian tradition, which would include Calvin, Luther, Jonathan Edwards as you just look through. I actually think the Institutes of the Christian Religion by John Calvin is very important here. I think his understanding of the duplex cognito dei and of even the law—that’s not to say we’re trying to recreate Geneva. It’s just saying Calvin actually thought these things through. And what Calvin isolates as impossible is the idea that Christianity doesn’t have cultural influence simply because of the glory of God in creation. So, I think that’s just extremely helpful.
And, if you look at the history of Western law, and in particular the English-speaking world, what you’re going to see is that—Yoram Hozony, I think, makes this really clear in his book Conservatism, and he’s a friend, and I think he’s done an excellent job. This English-speaking legal tradition is explicitly Christian and explicitly a legal tradition. And that’s the mainstream flow of legal theory into the English-speaking world, including ours. There’s a there’s just plenty of documentation available for anyone who has eyes to see.
David Schrock: So, is there a better book than Hazony’s on that? Because I read that a little bit ago and I was just blown away at how clearly he shows the connection between the Hebrew scriptures and the English law tradition. Is that where you would point people?
Al Mohler: I actually think that’s the best one volume work on it. And I have basically all those sourcebooks he cites. Fortescue and others. And it’s just there. The secular argument is sterile because it doesn’t explain how in the world it came. In other words, where did that come from? As if, Thomas Jefferson was sitting at Monticello and came up with all of this. That’s impossible. You can’t even explain Thomas Jefferson apart from that English English-speaking tradition, and largely an English tradition.
David Schrock: Yeah, I was telling my sons the other day—“we hold these truths to be self-evident.” No, you don’t, right? It’s not self-evident. These are things that were revealed at one point that are just in the well water thereafter. And then it becomes apparently self-evident at that point.
Al Mohler: And it is evident to all, but it’s not self-evident as you say. The rock is not self-explanatory. But it is a knowledge that cannot be denied. As someone described what I call creation order, it’s the knowledge you cannot not know.
David Schrock: So, you think about the Reformation and Calvin, Samuel Rutherford and Lex Rex would be another one that would be incredibly important.
Al Mohler: That’s right. I was introduced to that by Francis Schaeffer, by the way, when I was a teenager. All of a sudden, I’m ordering Lex Rex from B. Dalton as a 16 or 17-year-old.
David Schrock: What about the Baptist tradition? Often, I think, the Baptist separation of church and state may be too much of a separation. You’ve been certainly talking about being out loud with the impact that Christians can have. We’re conversionists. We certainly don’t believe that the state is the means by which the kingdom is going to go forward. It is through the preaching of the gospel, but some of the early Baptists had a great influence on the culture, on the laws of the land. Are there particular ones? I think about John Leland. But are there others or other books that you would recommend pastors read today, especially from the Baptist tradition?
Al Mohler: I would simply say, yeah, you’ll retrace the steps a little better than, say, more moderate or liberal Baptists want to do as if somehow church history begins with George W. Truett. And I also want to say that an awful lot of the arguments made in especially eighteenth and nineteenth century Protestantism were arguments that ignored the obvious, which is that all of their arguments basically only made sense in a civilization that was overwhelmingly Christian. It was established upon explicitly Christian principles. You could have all these Victorians saying, more or less, this is independent of Christian truth, but of course it’s not. There was no accessible worldview independent of Christian truth. So, I think that’s one place to start, right there.
David Schrock: So, is there any particular Baptist? So most recently, I was doing some reading in Richard Furman. So, Richard Furman has some sermons at the death of George Washington, the death of Alexander Hamilton. So, it seems as though he’s an example of someone who is really from the pulpit, from his position of ministry, able to speak to cultural matters.
I just wonder if there are others in the Baptist tradition that you would point to that would be helpful for us to know about?
Al Mohler: Yeah, I mentioned the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries for a reason. I want to press back and say I think it’s important to recognize where Baptists come from. We didn’t appear at the First Baptist Church of Dallas with George W. Truett in the twentieth century. And as you follow this, you look at nonconformity in England and you look in particular, say, at the Westminster Confession. And the Westminster Confession is exactly the foundation of the worldview that became even the Abstract of Principles of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.
We’re in the same family there. And the Westminster Confession by no means allows some total separation as if there are two different realms; there’s a realm in which Christian truth is applicable and a realm in which Christian truth is not. You really don’t have that until you have Baptists making the case in the face of persecution or marginalization that there should not be a state church. And I believe there should not be a state church. I’ll go on the record there. I don’t want a confessional state to the extent that the state has a position on sacraments or ordinances. I do not want that. I don’t want the state to define the gospel. I want it to acknowledge the Christian truth claims that make this civilization possible, to honor them and allow the perpetuation of them in churches.
I don’t want the state to organize a church. But that separationism in the twentieth century led many Baptists to think it’s a separation of Christ and society, and it is not. And by the way, this is always anecdotal, right? In other words, when it comes to alleviating poverty, they’ll be glad to use Christian moral language about the programs they want. But when it comes—and this is where some thinkers in the early twentieth century said. They said, “Okay, this is what’s coming. The revolt is going to come on what one later politician called the pelvic issues. It’s going to come on sex and marriage, that which restrains a human, say, sexual expression.” And, of course, even those folks could not have foreseen the T in LGBTQ, where now we’re having an outright revolt on ontology.
So, I don’t mean to just talk too much about this, and I don’t think of a book at the moment to recommend. I’ll simply say if you just follow the tradition—read the Westminster Confession, and read the Second London Confession of the Baptists, and read the Abstract of Principles of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. What you’re not going to find is the spiritualization of all these things, without cultural and binding responsibility.
Stephen Wellum: Now as we look at our present day, we’ve mentioned this before, obviously there’s a huge challenge before us. Do we need, as Christians and as churches, to form some larger organization to galvanize Christians to be involved? It’s not going to just happen by itself, or there has to be in some sense some kind of means by which we can say, “Alright, let’s work together. Let’s strategize. Let’s plan.” Any thoughts on that?
Al Mohler: I think you’re right. I think it’s a means. These organizations are a proximate means. And the problem is, in a fallen world, they’re all organizations that have a limited shelf life. And, I think, Jesus said about the church, “Upon this rock I’ll build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). The organizations that are not the church and yet may involve many Christians, a lot of them just have a shelf life. But they’re important. They’re really important.
So, I’ve been on the boards of some of these organizations. And I believe in them. I don’t want to ever confuse them with the church. But yeah, I think this education, mobilization, this is really, really important. And, it’s one of the means that is possible for us now. There’s no excuse for anyone right now not being informed on these issues. It’s not like you have to travel a thousand miles and go to a specific place like Washington, D.C., to find out what’s going on. We are now inundated with information. We need people analyzing it. We need people helping to publicize it. We need those who are organizing Christians. And by that, I don’t mean, again, at the expense of gospel ministry, but rather just saying, “There’s a referendum coming up in this state. It’s really important that you know how to vote on this. There’s an issue coming before the city council. Or the school board. And it really matters that we show up, and we show up making the right argument, and we know how to translate that into policy.”
And when the left does that, it’s considered normal. When conservative Christians do that, it’s considered an insurrection. So, we just need to understand the folks who would rather control the process would rather us not be there. And our purpose is to show up and do the faithful thing.
Stephen Wellum: Some have even said, given the situation we’re in, we almost have to develop parallel economies—different schools, different, businesses. Is that a wise idea if we’re going to impact the society? I think of the educational system. A lot of the educational system, the universities are thoroughly left, thoroughly non-Christian. How do we penetrate that? Do we need our own universities that then impact the society? Or what should we do in terms of trying to have a larger influence?
Al Mohler: Yeah, Steve, I want to be honest. I think it has to be both-and here again. Because we’re not going to create a massive research university as conservative evangelicals that’s going to have the law school and the architectural school and the medical school, in particular, that is going to be needful. It’s just not practical that we can replicate all of that.
On the other hand, subsidiarity here really becomes important. What happens in, say, elementary and middle and high school and the college years, I think we can have a massive impact there. That’s why I believe in Christian schools, in particular, and Christian parents, regardless of the means, taking responsibility for the education of their children and comprehensively. This is why I’m an avid supporter of classical Christian schools and spoke to that convention just this year at the national level.
And look, I think there are going to be very few colleges left, but you’re going to know them because they are countercultural, and I think very loud and public about their convictions. And look, I don’t think there’s any way we can recreate it in an entire parallel system. That was what was tried in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries in the Netherlands, and it was called pillarism. So, you had these columns. You had Catholic neighborhoods and Protestant neighborhoods, you had Catholic newspapers and Protestant newspapers. And these were completely separate worlds.
That kind of works until you need an airport. And the minute you need an airport, you don’t need Catholic and Protestant air traffic controllers; you need very competent air traffic controllers. You and I know that’s not separated as if that’s in an independent realm, but it is to say you’re not going to have a Protestant airport and a Catholic airport.
And I don’t celebrate this—one of the things we have in the modern world is this massive regulatory administrative state. And it’s becoming largely true that a Baptist hospital is more hospital than it is Baptist. And I’d have to say Catholic hospitals in many places like in California right now are showing themselves to be more Catholic than most Baptist hospitals ever had the nerve to be Baptist. But in the main, medicine has now become a thoroughly regulated administrative state function. And I don’t think we’re going to recreate that.
But here, Steve, I love your question and I just want to come back to, we actually don’t believe that’s where the most important things in life take place. We believe the most important things in life take place in the home in and in the school. And, quite frankly, that’s where a lot of evangelicals are dropping the ball, in terms of being faithful and raising up our own children.
David Schrock: And I wonder if just that question and how you’re answering that, Dr. Mohler, is part of where these new questions come in, right? Where some are saying, “No, we do need to establish new things.” You’re recognizing that 2023 is not 1823. So many things have already been developed. We look back in history and, not only education, but hospitals and welfare programs and all the rest. Christians were at the forefront of that. And we can learn from that and say, “Okay, what can we do?” But it’s a different day today than it was then.
And I think there’s some who are wanting to even question can we go back to American founding? Some are saying that we’re post-constitutional. We need to go back to the magisterial reformers to be able to learn from them and to have a Christian prince, and they are open to some things that are not traditionally American. And I wonder if that’s where some of the debate lies, and if you see that? And if so, do you have any just kind of counsel to think through why that’s the division, or even some fruitful ways of moving forward together as those questions continue to be at the forefront?
Al Mohler: Yeah, I think some of this is based upon hypothetical thoughts and imaginations, and very much untied to reality. So, I would rather spend my time more talking about reality. So, if you are talking about the professions, you can’t just decide, “Okay, in our society, I’m going to call this person a doctor.” We are in a regulated administrative context in which even the people who are saying that don’t believe in enough to do it. Nonetheless, that doesn’t mean we don’t have a responsibility to contend for the right regulations and the right administrators who are deciding these things, the right body of law and policy, and all the rest. But—this is again, I think, is deeply Christian and rooted in creation order and validated in scripture—the further we abstract from the most basic unit, the harder it is for Christian influence to be legitimate and substantial.
So, our greatest opportunity for Christian influence is with our children and with our grandchildren and our families. And then of course in our churches and then in the extension of those churches. I’m committed to the fact that this seminary and college—The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and Boyce College—reflect the convictions of our churches and that those convictions be deeply biblical. And yes, proudly countercultural. But, again, often when I’m talking in public about this, I use the airport illustration. I just don’t ever expect to land in a Christian airport. I do want competent air traffic controllers and competent pilots. I don’t think that’s separated from the Christian worldview. I just want to say to those who are trying to say we can have a parallel universe, you’re still flying on their planes to go to your conference to make that argument.
I think when it comes to some political structures, there’s an urgency reflected in the panic—it’s not just panic, the urgency—on the part of many Christians saying, “How can we do this? If we’re in a society that’s going to vote this way, then what are we going to do?” And, that’s where the Christian options are fewer than people would like to think. We’re still left with persuasion and political organization and influence. It’s not like we can call Interpol to solve this problem for us.
David Schrock: That’s good. Yeah, one of the things I’ve been reflecting on is the fact that for all the calls to make the nation Christian, there’s a need to make the church Christian. If the church is what Christ has promised to build, we see many churches that are deeply unhealthy, that do not have a sufficient trust in the Word of God, the sufficiency of Scripture is not there, the doctrines of Scripture are not rightly proclaimed there. And if, in fact, the church actually held to those things—and I know that’s what Southern Seminary has done, and other institutions as well—but if the churches do that, then that will have an impact on individuals who go into the culture. And that continues to be our hope. If there’s going to be a change, if there’s going to be a Christian culture with the worldview that is impacted, it begins with the preaching of the gospel, the change in the churches that then seeps out from there.
Al Mohler: Yeah. And I think we also need a providential understanding of these things. God’s not mocked, and God’s not surprised that we are right now in this predicament. In the purposes of God, there is a providential reason why we are called to a particular faithfulness at a particular time to show the glory of God in a particular way. And raising our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, how counter culturally glorious is that? Ordering our churches by Scripture and preaching the word in season and out of season, how glorious is that? By the way, this isn’t some kind of modern evangelical strategy. This is the command of Christ. So, I hope this is making sense. I think most of these issues are harder to apply, but easier to understand than many people want to admit.
Stephen Wellum: Yeah, I think that’s really the case where we can talk about it, but it’s actual implementation. So, we have to go back to square one. We have to make sure in our families and our churches that we’re being faithful, that we’re properly proclaiming the gospel, that we’re seeing regeneration take place, that Christians are moving out into all vocations of life, living under the Lordship of Christ.
And that’s where it has to really take place. So, there’s a real responsibility on our churches and also our schools, our seminaries, to train people, train the next generation so that they are faithful, not just to save the country, but to have that salt and light effect of the gospel to the glory of God.
David Schrock: To that point, our churches have to be teaching what the created order is. I just found something the other day that there’s a church—a very large church, a prominent church—that was boasting on their website of the thousands of singles that they have at their church. Now that’s a great invitation for singles to come and meet those singles, but if there’s no teaching there to call those singles to be married, to have children, to have babies, to be fruitful and multiply, then they’re missing something that’s at the very foundation of creation, which then leads to the foundation of civilization and all the rest.
Al Mohler: So, as you know, Dave, I’ve been in a lot of controversy over this my entire life. It is because, I think, the failure of Christians to take seriously even the first two chapters of Scripture is just an affront to the glory of God. And by the way, it is one of the main sources of the breakdown of civilization. This is a point of I’ve dealt with my entire adult life, you know. No civilizations had trouble helping girls to make the transition to womanhood. Every society’s had the trouble helping— and I’ll say that is a mild verb—boys to make the adjustment to manhood. And marriage and fathering have been very much a part of that civilizational process.
How could we be surprised when everything’s breaking up? It’s a rebellion against order. And by the way, it’s not sexlessness. All this has to go hand in hand with a sexual liberation ethic that basically says the restriction of sex to a man and a woman in the covenant of marriage is just inherently oppressive and so outdated we don’t even have to think about it anymore. And children are a lifestyle accessory for those who are into it.
David Schrock: Yeah, that’s well said. Well, brothers, this has been a great conversation. We’ve talked about a number of different things. I’m just thinking about even just the emphasis you’ve made, Dr. Mohler, on just being loud. Proclaiming the gospel loudly, speaking of Christ’s truth loudly, being out loud and in public with those things and how that works from the church to the four corners of our nation, to the world. And Dr. Mohler, I appreciate the time that you’ve given to us today.
Al Mohler: Well, it’s been great to be with you, and I appreciate the fact that you’re really thinking seriously, both of you. And knowing you, I’m not surprised by that at all. But I think this is the kind of conversation Christians need to have.
And especially when you’re talking about an issue that just is so recklessly discussed like Christian nationalism. And I just want to, if I may, say in closing, I am unapologetic, and I’m not going to retreat when people say, “If you want to see Christian influence translated into public policy and public truth claims, then you’re a Christian nationalist.”
I believe that in God’s providence, the nation is the largest governable system, and it is deeply rooted in biblical issues as to why nations are important. And I’m a Christian, and I believe that it is my responsibility to be faithful in the nation of which I am a part—not by accident, but I believe by God’s purposes—to see maximum Christian influence, the maximum preaching of the Word of God, and, yes, maximum Christian moral influence in the society translated even into public policy.
And, by the way, this is where faithful Christians, and in particular, Protestant evangelicals, over the course of the last 50 years, have learned of this responsibility. And you know what? The left doesn’t like it, and the latest thing they want to call us is Christian nationalists. So I just want to encourage Christians, don’t be scared when the left calls you names.
Just understand, it doesn’t matter unless we’re faithful at home first. But that’s in order to be faithful in the larger society as Christians without apology. Thank you for a really substantial discussion.
David Schrock: Yeah, that’s well said. Well done. The irony of all that is whether somebody takes the name Christian nationalist or not, as you said, the left is going to call them that anyways because that’s the term of derision for the hour, and the next hour, it’ll be different.
Al Mohler: You know what, Dave? These days, all you have to do is believe that marriage is to be the union of a man and a woman—all you have to do is believe that there’s a man and a woman—and you are going to be called a Christian nationalist in this society.
If you believe that a man’s a man, a woman’s a woman, and that there’s an ontological status to the word boy and an ontological status to the word girl, then you’re an outlaw. So, here we go.
David Schrock: Well said. Dr. Mohler, thank you so much for your time. And Steve, as always brother, it’s great to be with you.
Stephen Wellum: No, thanks for the conversation. Thanks, Dr. Mohler. And this really needs to be a real challenge to us as individuals and the church, and I hope that’s how it’s heard. We desperately need faithful churches in our day.