David Schrock: We welcome Andrew Walker back to the podcast.
Andrew Walker: Hey, thanks Dave. Thanks, Steve. It’s good to be with you.
David Schrock: Glad you’re here. And Steve, how are things at Southern Seminary?
Stephen Wellum: Oh, they’re doing fine, and I’m looking forward to the conversation with Andrew.
David Schrock: That’s right. Hey, is there much conversation about Christian nationalism going on around campus right now?
Andrew Walker: That’s a good question. I don’t sense that it’s a pressing issue that’s defining the moment. I think it’s predominantly an online conversation, which is definitely significant and it’s percolating in people’s minds. But I haven’t gotten the sense at Southern that it’s everything that people are talking about.
Stephen Wellum: Yeah, I’d agree with that. I think if you have individual conversations about what’s going on in the country and politics and so on, you have that, but not like you’re seeing on the online format.
David Schrock: Yeah. It’s a good reminder. We talked about that in another episode recently, that there’s a lot more conversation going on on Twitter than in face-to-face places. But because it is there and that does influence the way that people and pastors are thinking about this, it’s worth our conversation.
So Andrew, just to get the ball rolling, you wrote a review of Stephen Wolfe’s book. I wonder if there’s been any follow up with him about that.
Andrew Walker: No, I haven’t had any one-on-one conversation or feedback from Stephen about the piece, if my memory serves me correctly. In fairness to him, I’m critiquing his book as a Baptist. And one thing I will say that I appreciate about Stephen is he’s spoken in the past commendably about me because, as a Baptist, I have been pretty clear about the fact that though Baptists find themselves in the Protestant and Reformed tradition, I don’t think that we should find ourselves in the magisterial tradition when it comes to church and state matters. So, I’ve been trying to be very clear with Baptist voices that we’re Baptists. That means we’re not Lutherans or Presbyterians or Anglicans when it comes to matters of church and state. I really haven’t had much back and forth with Stephen in particular.
David Schrock: That’s fair. Yeah, I think that’s an important piece, though, thinking about this discussion. And there’s lots of different angles, but the church polity issue is certainly one of them, and that’s going to relate to how we as Baptists relate to the state. And certainly, there can be easy confusion when you read a compelling book from someone who is outside of your tradition and there are things you can appreciate about that. But then if you smuggle in some of the church polity, it doesn’t exactly match unless you begin to change some of the ways that you view the church.
Maybe more generally, Andrew, you also wrote a piece called “What Does Christian Nationalism Even Mean?” where you began to think through the definitions of Christian nationalism and asked for people to give better proposals for what it means, not just looking back at history but at what it should mean for us today.
That piece was in the World News Group, I think at the end of last year. Have you gotten any feedback on that? Or have you seen that conversation materialize in any helpful ways?
Andrew Walker: That piece—and I’m not trying to tout my work or pat myself on the back—was pretty well received, and I had received a lot of really encouraging feedback from people that had been reading it on Capitol Hill, because the main point of that piece was to lovingly challenge all sides on this issue. Helpfully, the Christian nationalism discussion that’s going on right now is a conversation amongst conservative Christians who all share similar beliefs around urgent matters of prolegomena and theological principle. But I think one of the frustrating elements in it is it can also distract a lot of good conservative Christians who are getting hung up on entailments and granular delineations when in reality we all share a lot in common about wanting to see the re-Christianization of the social order. There’s the question of how do we go about doing that?
So, rather than setting ourselves against each other and lighting each other on fire, we should understand that we all stand opposed to abortion. We all stand opposed to Obergefell. We’re really talking about the mechanisms or the vehicles to accomplish that desired goal that we all have, which is the re-Christianization of the world, but particularly in our context, Western order itself.
David Schrock: Andrew, if you were to define Christian nationalism, how would you define it? Or how would you understand it best today?
Andrew Walker: Yeah, thanks for that. I do define this in a unique way, and I define it particularly along the grounds of Establishmentarianism. And to me, Christian nationalism comes to fruition in its most precise, visible form in the state adopting the church or the Christian religion as its official church or its official religion.
I stand opposed on theological principle to establishmentarianism as a legal reality. And that’s important. We’re talking about de jure realities—things that are true by legal right. So on legal grounds, I reject Christian nationalism, but when we talk about de facto realities and cultural realities, I absolutely want civil society infused with the leaven of the gospel and with the leaven of the biblical witness.
So, in reality, my criticisms are very narrowly focused about the apparatus of government itself—not just magistrates—but the apparatus of government and the apparatus of political judgment fusing itself to the Christian church or a Christian denomination or a Christian confession.
Outside of de jure realities, I think that I would have pretty much everything that there is to have in common with other people who would be willing to wear the label of Christian nationalist. I’m not willing to wear that label for myself. I would prefer myself to be a champion of what I would call Christian democracy. Because democracy is speaking to a republic, a broader people, a moral ecology, not just the narrow apparatus of government itself.
Stephen Wellum: Andrew, with that—if you want to Christianize a government, we’re going to enforce or at least encourage certain moral norms upon a society. Obviously in different worldviews and different religions, they don’t always have the same moral norms. So if we are applying Christian moral standards—and then we can get into what you would consider those standards to be—are we not in some sense saying we’re applying Christian values?
We may not be making legal or establishing a specific denomination or church, but in some sense, we’re bringing Christianity to bear in the nation. How would you distinguish that?
Andrew Walker: At an ultimate level, all true morality has to emanate from our understanding of Christianity. The question that I want to very carefully delineate is those matters of revelation.
I’m very heavily indebted in my theological thinking here to Calvin’s duplex cognito dei—that there’s a twofold knowledge of God. There’s a knowledge of God the Creator and a knowledge of God the Redeemer. And I do think that all true moral claims that every single person understands as true ultimately emanate from a true knowledge of God the Creator. So, the atheist or the Muslim who is accidentally saying true things is saying those true things because there is a knowledge of God that God has disclosed in creation order. They may be suppressing the truth and unrighteousness, but because they are participants in God’s creation order, they have access to that epistemic knowledge.
What I would want to differentiate would be the fact that the unregenerate man does not have knowledge of God the Redeemer. And then moreover, government itself, as the apparatus with a mechanism of political judgment, is not an object of the Covenant of Redemption. Magistrates and individuals themselves who are in office can be saved. But when you’re talking about the office of king or the office of a legislator, the office itself is, in my view, not an object of the Covenant of Redemption. Meaning that office is foreclosed from being able to mediate redemptive rule; meaning that, by nature of what government is—it’s a temporal, creaturely institution—it’s not meant to mediate redemptive blessing, but is necessarily foreclosed to those temporal realities pertaining to the order of creation.
That means that, again, because every single human being is a rational agent, they have to have some minimal moral knowledge and to that extent, knowledge of God the Creator. But that does not entail that when someone is saying true things morally, that they are doing that with regard to the realm of redemption.
Stephen Wellum: Okay, so you’re distinguishing the natural order, creation order, natural revelation from redemption and often going with special revelation. So, as you have defined government, you would see it as something instituted by God that has the responsibility of bringing creation order, natural order, natural revelation to bear on society. As they do so, they are a nation that is following a moral order and a Christian order. So, would you call that then “Christian nationalism,” or would you still try to shy away from that term?
Andrew Walker: No, so I just want to be very clear in my own theological integrity here. I would not call that Christian nationalism because when I’m talking about what is Christian, that is referring to agents who are objects of the covenant of redemption. And that can only come through the proclamation of the gospel and the reception of the gospel.
And as I look at scripture, I see no theological warrant for treating the apparatus of government itself as a mediator of that redemptive covenant. It’s creaturely, it’s temporal, and it’s meant to accomplish proximate justice in this age. And again, I think that individuals can have real knowledge of morality, but that does not make them Christian.
And Steve, your own work on progressive covenantalism has been profoundly influential in my own understanding of this in differentiating where different institutions locate themselves in that redemptive storyline.
David Schrock: Yeah, Andrew, we could take this in a lot of different directions here, but maybe here’s one that could be fruitful. I’m thinking about some—Doug Wilson has done this, and there might be others as well—who have wanted to legislate the Apostles’ Creed in a Christian nation. Of course, his understanding of Christian nationalism or “mere Christendom” is a network of nations that would be submitting themselves to the triune God as revealed in the Apostles’ Creed.
But what I’m hearing you say is that it wouldn’t be based upon that Christian revelation that would be found in the gospel or found in scripture, but rather it’d be a recognition of the creator. So, would you be comfortable with legislating and even calling for—and probably the founding of America had something close to this, but not exactly this—a recognition that God is creator and that this nation operates underneath God as creator?
Andrew Walker: Yeah, I’ve written about this to some extent: a category of what I call civic theism which is different than civic deism. Civic deism is a real diluted understanding of religion the Supreme Court adopted. But civic theism is the understanding that if the nation wants to have any coherent account of morality or human rights, it’s going to have to root that in a divine reality.
And I think that the duplex cognito dei provides that theological justification for where fallen human beings can root a true knowledge of right and wrong and a true foundation for human rights. Really the language of “In God we trust” that we have on our coinage, I’m hesitant to say that’s perfect or what I’m necessarily calling for, but I do think that is actually apropos and it’s permissible. Because again, what’s that language doing? I would love to think that it’s providing sufficient grounds to protect against abortion and gay marriage. Sadly, it is not. The fact that it hasn’t still speaks to the reality of what political orders are in this fallen age. They’re still fallen. We’re not going to bring about the perfect redeemed political community.
And oftentimes, the things that concern me with the Christian nationalist conversation is there’s this proto-imminetized eschaton where if we just implement the right formula, we’re going to get this all figured out. Sorry, but when you go and look at the history of how Christian nations have played out, there has never been a Christian nation that has existed in perpetuity.
Calvin’s Geneva and Kuyper’s Netherlands are some of the most secular, pagan environments alive today. Now, I’m not laying that blame squarely on their particular arrangements. I’m not trying to impute failure uniquely to them. I’m simply saying the fact that those nations have fallen is a recognition of what nations are in this age. They’re necessarily fallen.
Now, you get to the question of the Apostles’ Creed in our preamble. The problem I have with that is it would be saying things that are not true of all people living in that nation. So that gets us into what is the value of the label Christian when all the people living in that nation aren’t Christian?
Now I will say this—and this is where I would say that I’m a little bit unique in my Baptist understanding of church and state—I would allow for what I call a principle of acknowledgment, which is not a principle of establishment. A principle of acknowledgement could be a situation where the nation-state is recognizing as a historical reality that Christianity has played an important role in the founding of that nation. And that’s a historical acknowledgement. That is not the same thing as saying that we are a Christian nation.
Now, someone might be listening and think that’s just too cute by half. And maybe it is, but it’s theologically accurate in my worldview. Undoubtedly, Christianity has influenced America, and I’m thankful for that. But I would not say that America is a Christian nation. It is a nation that has been historically influenced by Christianity, and I think it’s fine for our documents to acknowledge that historical indebtedness, and even controversially. This is where I would disagree with someone like Richard Land even. I’m okay with the Ten Commandments being posted in federal buildings, but that’s not because I think that America is in a similar covenantal arrangement as Israel. It’s because the Ten Commandments as a historic, organic set of principles has undoubtedly influenced our nation. And I’m a political conservative. I’m Burkean, meaning that I want to allow those organic influences to rightly shape us, and I think that can be done without going so far as to say that we are a Christian nation. Again, that’s covenantal language that assumes that these boundary markers, this geography that we’re in, is in covenant with the Redeemer. It’s not in covenant with the Redeemer, but it is in covenant with God the Creator.
Stephen Wellum: I just want to ask a question to follow up here because you’ve been talking about a civic theism and not a deism, and an historic acknowledgement of the Ten Commandments and Christianity and so on.
How would you respond to someone that’s going to say, “Listen, Andrew you’re going to need more than that.” You can’t just have a general theism. Islam, for instance, is theistic. It’s not deistic. Yet when you look at the governing of Islam in terms of its moral norms—let’s take marriage. They allow for polygamy. So, you’re going to need not just an appeal to theism, but you’re going to need an appeal to Christian theism. And you’re not going to need an appeal just to how people understand natural law or so on. Eventually you’re going to have to bring in some role for Scripture to arbitrate between these theisms, which then leads you to Christian nationalism, right? How would you handle some of those challenges?
Andrew Walker: No, very simply—again, I’m not trying to be trite by saying this—it means that you should have as many Christians in office as you could possibly get. I do think that if you’re a non-Christian, you have just as much right to be an office holder. That doesn’t mean you should be if you hold to aberrant moral views, but it means that, in an imperfect age where we’re going to have to adjudicate moral disputes, which is what happens in this eschatological age, that I want more Christians in office.
And I live here in Kentucky. Steve, you live here in Kentucky. One of the things I love to talk about is over the last 12 years, one of my friends has formed an organization to help mobilize Christians to get involved in politics. And the number of Christians and pastors who are legislators in Frankfort, Kentucky is a direct response to what I think is a good theological practice. We have been called to be good citizens, to get involved, and to steward the institutions of creation order properly. And the government is not a morally neutral object. It’s going to be filled by someone. Why not be filled with Christians?
So, my concern in this discussion is that I would be heard as saying, “I don’t really care who’s in office. Government’s fallen, yada, yada, yada.” No, government is fallen, but government is still a contested mechanism that has to be filled by someone. I want people with rightly calibrated consciences to be in those offices and to make policies that are in accordance with God’s created order. And Steve, to push back just a little bit, if we have a society where it’s all Christian legislators, that’s still not going to eliminate all the problems of sin in this age. We’re still going to have a society that’s marked by imperfection and fallenness, and this gets back to this creation order reality of what is politics? Politics is not meant to imminetize the eschaton and to bring about the perfect age. It’s always meant to approximate justice. It’s meant to pursue the common good. It’s meant to restrain evil. And to be very clear, I want as many Christians in office as I can possibly get. But even with that reality being possible, it doesn’t mean that we’re going to be without problems of our own still.
David Schrock: Yeah, that’s a good segue to another question, Andrew. What do you think that the mission of the church ought to be?
This certainly relates to some of the differences between those who would be postmillennial and those who would be amillennial or premillennial. This would be related to what you just talked about—getting as many Christians in office as possible. Somebody could hear that and think, “Oh, that’s what we need to be doing, what our church needs to be doing.” Just going back to the basic question, what is the church’s mission as you understand it?
Andrew Walker: Yeah, so let me just throw my cards on the table. I’m amillennial in my eschatology. So as I understand the mission of the church, the mission of the church is to proclaim word and sacrament, although Baptists don’t like the term sacrament.
We want to disciple people, and one of the ways we disciple people is to see transformed consciences. And transformed consciences are then going to work organically in all contours of society to reflect the principles of righteousness. So, my view of culture transformation is conscience transformation.
So, I believe the power of the Word of God and the local gathered assembly transforms consciences. People in their individual capacity then step outside the role of the church and fulfill all the various roles of civil society, including people who will potentially be running for office. And it poses no problem for my Baptist views on church and state for a Baptist to be a magistrate and to be a magistrate who is Baptist who is voting in accordance with the principles of righteousness. But as that Baptist legislator is voting with the principles of righteousness, it’s not going to uniquely bring about the kingdom of God. It’s merely going to better reflect those creation order realities.
So to me, the person who’s in office who’s a Christian gets rid of Obergefell and gets rid of abortion, and that’s totally fine. But, when you’re thinking about the mission of the church, the mission of the church is directly related to individual discipleship and transformation, and then indirectly related to cultural and political transformation.
And please hear me. I’m not saying that cultural and political transformation is insignificant. I’m saying that’s a byproduct of the reality of what has occurred by individuals whose consciences have been shaped and transformed by the gospel.
David Schrock: So, when earlier you mentioned the Christianization of culture and the Christianization of a nation, that’s what you were getting at there more than the means of Christianizing nations on the way to some golden era in the future. I think that’s a distinction that needs to be made because many of the arguments being made for Christian nationalism today are riding on the backs of a postmillennial age that is coming in the future.
Andrew Walker: Correct.
David Schrock: Andrew, let me ask you another question. So, we talked about the church, but what about the state? Again, you mentioned this briefly, but to define our terms, what is the purpose of the state? You see it as something that God is instituting. You certainly see that in Romans 13 and elsewhere. How would you define that? And then how do you relate between those two institutions and their spheres of authority?
Andrew Walker: Yeah, so the order of creation and the order of redemption factor heavily in my theological worldview. And it’s important to keep those orders clear, but also recognize how they can at times overlap in this already-not yet age of inaugurated eschatology.
In my view, the state is a creational ordinance or a creational institution meant to execute proximate justice in this age commensurate with what is possible in this age. So obviously the government is to praise that which is good and to punish that which is evil. But again, eschatological reality is not within the purview of the state.
I do not see in Scripture where the state qua state or the government qua government is that recipient or object of the redemptive order or the covenant of redemption merely because I think that—and I think you see this in the New Testament—this is an age that is passing away and I think that government is one of those things that is going to be passing away and is not going to be in the eschaton in the current form that it is right now.
So, that’s one of the reasons why I would say that government is absolutely significant and worthy of a Christian’s highest calling as a vocation. But even as something that’s worthy of their vocation and calling, it’s not going to mediate God’s redemptive blessing because government is just not called to do that type of thing.
I know someone could say, “What about Psalm 2? The king is to kiss the Son.” And yes, the king is to kiss the Son. The greatest thing right now that could happen for Joe Biden is if he were to repent and throw himself down at the mercy of Christ. If he were to do that, that’s not going to fundamentally transform our nation overnight. All that means is that Joe Biden as the person Joe Biden is redeemed and is regenerate, and is going be a recipient himself in the covenant of redemption and the future coming eschatological age. That doesn’t change what his fundamental calling is as a ruler, which is to rule justly. And to rule justly does not, in my understanding, mean that one must be only Christian to rule with justice. If that were the case, I don’t know how we think about Jimmy Carter’s faith, but Jimmy Carter is regarded as one of the worst presidents in United States history. He espouses an evangelical faith (again, we can debate the contents of that faith). But then you compare Jimmy Carter to someone like Winston Churchill, and Winston Churchill was very much not a Christian and even hostile to the faith. I would choose a thousand Winston Churchills before I would choose a single Jimmy Carter. And that actually makes sense in my theological worldview, where I think in the Christian nationalist worldview, there’s an incongruency right there.
Stephen Wellum: So when you think of the state, you’ve said they should uphold what is good and act justly, and you’ve tied that to creation order. This often comes into the discussion of the law of God, right? You’re in some sense saying they’re instituted by God; they should be following God’s law. How would you determine the actual content of that law and what would that look like? Many people appeal to the Decalogue, but, given the first table of the law, that would involve also some sense of worship, right?
So, can you just reflect on the content good and justice, and where that’s from? Does that look like the Ten Commandments? If it does, then how is that not establishmentarianism or something like that?
Andrew Walker: This would be the natural law, in my opinion. And I’m a progressive covenantalist. I would not say that we base our understanding of the natural law on the Decalogue. I think we need to go prior to that, to the covenant of creation. When you go to the new covenant, all of the principles of creation are ratified and affirmed, meaning that they are abiding; they’re purportedly intelligible and I believe individuals in principle have access to them. And I think that even though individuals access them imperfectly and are often rebellious to those principles, the natural law finds a way to reassert itself.
A couple examples—after the Holocaust, you have to have the Nuremberg trials because there has to be this sense of cosmic justice. Where does that sense of cosmic justice come from? We can explain that. Fallen human man can’t perfectly do that. That’s where, even in our understanding of witness, you want to say to the political orders and the magistrates, “The quest for justice that you’re looking towards, Christians can give specifying clarity to that in that it comes from God.”
And then even today, take the trans phenomena. Some of the greatest opponents of the trans madness that’s going on are non-Christians. So that’s an example of how the natural law does find a way to assert itself. It’s not going to assert itself perfectly, but again, I don’t expect in this age to have political communities that are marked by perfect justice. It’s often ameliorating and redressing and solving problems of human ferocity where the task of government comes most clearly.
David Schrock: Steve, how would you understand the law and its application in the state?
Stephen Wellum: Well, I think I would say something similar to what Andrew’s doing. I do think you need both natural and special revelation to flesh out the content. And I do think the responsibility of the state—it’s not the church—is to uphold creation order so that it would look a lot like what we would call the second table of the law—upholding the sanctity of human life, upholding marriage, upholding human sexuality properly and this type of thing. Then they would have to be fleshed out in terms of specifics.
I think I agree with Andrew that you can’t enforce a kind of establishmentarianism in terms of, “Here’s our church.” But it is a challenge. We would still have to work with a larger Christian worldview to make sense of even a proper sense of government, right? Even a balance of powers and a constitutional order are all really Christian more than Islam or Hindu or anything else, right?
So, we do need a whole argument in terms of a Christian worldview, but we need to clearly establish the role of the state and the government within that state as Andrew has done. And then, we could start dealing with the specifics before us.
David Schrock: Andrew, let me ask a particular question related to Baptist political theology. Of course, that’s the title of the book that you have co-edited that’s come out this year. And in that, I just cherrypicked some of the places that it talks about Christian nationalism. I’m not sure if that was a conversation that was had among you and some of the other editors. But it’s interesting to read that Malcolm Yarnell begins scoffing at some of the modern proponents of Christian nationalism as amateurish and enthusiasts. And yet Greg Wills comes around and talks about how some Southern Baptists in their history were Christian nationalists.
So, you look historically—I think it is Barry Hankins who affirms that E.Y. Mullins affirmed some kind of Christian nationalism. And then Cory Higdon is defining—he’s probably talking about something more current—Christian nationalists as kind of malevolent. So how should Southern Baptists think about Christian nationalism in their history and how does that inform the way that we think about this today?
Andrew Walker: I think Southern Baptists should love their country. They should love America. They should understand the unique role that Protestantism in particular played in the formation of this country. I don’t think that we are a Christian nation qua Christian, but we had—and I’m borrowing the language of Mark David Hall who I know is in this series—a Christian founding. Which means again, remove de jure legal realities. There are de facto, cultural, moral, ecological realities that are formed by a Christian understanding and a Christian worldview. When Steve was talking about that, I completely agree. The separation of powers has to come from an understanding of a Christian view of anthropology and the fallenness of humankind to then counteract the worst elements of human beings that want to have a power grab.
Again, love your country. But I would say you don’t want to see America as in a unique covenant with the Lord as any other type of country would be in a unique covenant simply because we are a nation like any other nation and nations have their temporal role to play in this age. But then lastly, I’ll just simply say that this is a call for active engagement with your world. Everywhere I speak, I get the exasperated Christian who raises their hand and says, “I’m so sick of liberalism running the show. What do we do to fix this?” And my response is the beauty of the system that we have is you are free to make arguments. You’re free to mobilize. You’re free to organize. You have to create governing majorities. Our problem is not that we don’t have good moral answers. We do; we have the best answers. Our problem is that we have to marshal fifty plus one. That’s what we have to do. So that means you have to do the nitty gritty, granular act of politics.
And, liberals love to accuse conservative Christians of being too political. In my experience, I don’t think that we’re political enough. It depends on how you determine the size and scope of how many evangelicals there are in America, but let’s say that the percentage is upwards of 25 percent as some sociologists think. If that’s the case, we are arguably the greatest potential political bloc in the United States. And the fact that we haven’t been able to shift the Overton window like we ought to be able to is an indication that Christians are actually not that engaged as is often the stereotype.
David Schrock: So Andrew, let me ask you a two part question here, and Steve, feel free to jump in as well. What would you say—this is part one—to someone who says that the idea of organizing and politicking to be able to gain a majority to vote somebody in office is no longer possible because it seems that those in office are rigging things to make that less possible by using media and things like that. So that some of those free abilities to vote someone out and vote someone in is not the same as it was 20 or 50 years ago.
And then secondly—and you can take it however you want—is it requisite that we go back to the founding? It seems as though there’s been some questions about this idea of Christian nationalism as even having a Christian prince or some kind of strong man who would be able to lead our nation in a different direction. Are we beholden to that founding? Certainly, we see that there were Christian principles and Christian ideas that were influencing that. Just very practically, how would you begin to engage or to help someone to think through these things today?
Stephen Wellum: Yeah, and let me just add in there. You hear a lot of people saying that it’s just not a fair playing field, so what we need to do with the political left is exert more power and more authority to step in and take the reins back. And then we’ll bring freedom again or something like that. So, it’s in the same realm; how do we go about making this kind of change?
Andrew Walker: So in the context of whether the system is fair or not, I would have to be confronted with individual examples to know exactly what you’re talking about. But the example I would give Dave is, I’ve heard a lot of conservatives frustrated about ballot harvesting. So when something like ballot harvesting gets discussed, if it’s legal, my response to conservatives is then you need to be doing ballot harvesting better. You may not like ballot harvesting. You may not like the current system that we have in place. You can either change the laws on the one hand, which requires mobilization, or you can get smarter and, beat the left at its own game. There’s nothing that stops you from taking advantage of laws if you’re going to follow them lawfully, so to speak.
Now, the second question, should we go back to the founding? We’re not going to go back to the founding because we have an entirely different America culturally and demographically than what the founding had. So, my own particular political philosophy would be articulated in the work of Robert George and his volume Making Men Moral. He argues for a moral perfectionism that accords with the kind of apparatus of deliberative democracy.
I highly recommend Making Men Moral; it’s very technical, but it’s a very influential book. And what makes that book so significant is it tries to reject Rawlsian liberalism that says you can’t have religion playing any role whatsoever, while also rejecting the idea that you have to have a heavy-handed authoritarian source for political authority to be legitimate. So, it champions the Constitution. It champions a high value for deliberation on moral goods. The question I have to wrestle with is, “Is modern-day America an America that can deliberate about moral goods?” And I don’t have a lot of optimism that we can. But, even though I love and honor our past, I don’t think that we need to go being nostalgic, but I also don’t think that we need to cast off the constitutional order.
Josh Abbotoy—who is a friend of mine, but I do disagree with him—said jokingly, “We just need a Protestant Franco.” With all due respect to Josh, who I do like, I reject that as well. I am suspicious of any authoritarian impulse whatsoever simply because of my theological moorings that say any attempt to put power in the hands of one person apart from Jesus Christ is not going to go well.
David Schrock: That’s good. Let me go back to the beginning, and we’re going to finish up here in just a second. You defined Christian nationalism for us. We talked a little bit about that. You’ve made some of these cases and you would make your case for Christian nationalism as being something where you would not want to have an establishmentarian view of the government of the nation. But there have been some who’ve equated a Baptist political theology with something like a post-war consensus. Can you explain what that is and why that’s not what you’re saying?
Andrew Walker: Yeah. There’s this trope online that if you’re a Baptist, you’re almost this Rawlsian, Lockean, Enlightenment champion who thinks that the separation of church and state means the separation of religion and politics, and that you are championing a strict separationist jurisprudence out of the 1940s and 1950s from the Supreme Court.
That is just not the case whatsoever. My theological foundations for the separation of church and state begin from a theological reality that I do not see the mission of the church and the mission of the state as coterminous. And if they are not coterminous, that means there has to necessarily be a differentiating of their jurisdictions, of their competencies, and of their authorities.
So, this is not calling for a naked public square. This is not calling for Baptist Joint Committee individuals like James Dunn, a liberal Baptist with strict separationist views on church and state whatsoever. This is simply acknowledging a theological reality that I see no evidence in Scripture where the state has been given the keys of the kingdom to pronounce realities as Christian or non-Christian.
Stephen Wellum: But it would seem to require—and I think this is a challenge for the church—that if we want to see a common order and a moral order that’s enforced that is largely Christian, then the church is going to have to be the church. We’re going to have to see evangelism. We’re going to have to see conversions. We’re going to have to see people’s hearts changed. And as you say, in discipleship, their consciences affected. And we’re going to have to see them go into the world and live as Christians and then seek to influence the larger society. That may not be the mission of the church, but they are responsible in their workplaces. They’re responsible to serve as governing officials and so on.
So, it does really require a huge responsibility of the church to see salt and light and to see God’s common grace at work, and not him pulling off his common grace and seeing what I’m afraid sometimes we think we’re seeing today—an actual destruction of the nation in terms of God’s judgment.
So there is a real role the church plays, doesn’t it?
Andrew Walker: So, my view of cultural transformation in this kind of broader Christian nationalist discussion—I want America to be as Christian as we can possibly be. For me, that is a bottom-up reality rather than a top-down reality. And that begins where Baptist theology begins, which is in the local assembly with the centrality of the preached Word and believing that it is the preached word that changes hearts and then transforms consciences and that that reality has not been placed in the hands of the state. And where it has—and we can have a whole other conversation about the problems that I associate with de jure Christian nationalism—has never brought about the renewal of the nation; it has never brought about the renewal of the church that has been promised.
And, just to maybe close this out, right now there is a court case going on in Finland in Scandinavia where a member of parliament cited a Bible verse in June from the book of Romans during Finland’s pride month and is now on trial for hate speech. And the question then is raised why is that a particularly important reality? Well, because Finland has a state church; it has a national church; it has a Christian establishment. What value is a Christian nation that is literally persecuting fellow Christians?
David Schrock: Yeah, that’s a good question that leads us not only back to the Bible, but to prayer as well, right? That the Lord would have mercy on that minister there in Finland and that he would have mercy on our nation, and that we desire for our nation to be filled with Christians to be in service to the Lord who is the God over all.
But that also begins in the local church. One of the things I’m just struck by is the fact that it’s hard to have a Christian nation when we can’t have Christian churches. And so many churches today are not actually embodied by the revealed word that they may claim.
So certainly, that is the beginning point there with all sorts of ripple effects into our local community, our states, our nation and beyond. So that’s certainly something for us to continue to talk about, to pray about and to work towards.
So Andrew, thanks so much for joining us on the podcast today, brother. We’ll continue to talk through these things.
Andrew Walker: Thanks guys.
David Schrock: Absolutely. And Steve, thank you, brother. Good to have you on again and talk through this as well.
Stephen Wellum: Yeah, important issues and we need to really think through them carefully. And Andrew, thank you for helping us think about this.
Andrew Walker: Thank you guys.