David Schrock: Doug, welcome to the Christ Over All podcast.
Doug Wilson: Good to be with you. Thank you for the invitation.
David Schrock: Glad you’re here today. And Brad, coming to us from Southern Seminary. Glad to have you with us today, brother.
Brad Green: It’s always good to see you, David. And again, Doug, glad you’re here with us.
Doug Wilson: Thanks.
David Schrock: We’re excited to have a conversation here that will hopefully be equal parts serious, equal parts enjoyable to think through Christian nationalism. It’s certainly something that has been a hot topic over these last number of years. And Doug Wilson has written a book, Mere Christendom, where he has engaged that in his writing platforms as well.
So we want to talk about that. But before asking questions of Doug, Brad, maybe it’d be helpful for you to explain some of your background and what it was that you wrote on in your master’s thesis. Because I think some of the things in your master’s thesis might come up in our conversation today.
Brad Green: Sure. Yeah, I went to Southern Seminary back in 1988 to 1991 and did the MDiv. I was a Christian, truly a Christian, though didn’t have the first clue about Reformed stuff. But if you were living in the late 80s, there was a lot of worldview stuff such as Crossway’s “Turning Point” series which Mr. Wilson wrote for. So I was a conservative, but I didn’t yet have my roots in deep, theologically. So I would go to the Christian bookstore on a Friday night and try to find something to read and make sense of things. So I was discovering this whole world of Christian worldview.
And I guess somewhere along the way, I must have discovered something about theonomy. So, when it came time for writing a master’s thesis, I actually did my master’s thesis on Greg Bahnsen’s Theonomy in Christian Ethics. And that was a baptism by fire for a young Baptist kid trying to make sense of things. So, I actually backed into Reformed theology in, I wouldn’t say all the wrong ways, but in that way rather than soteriology. So, I have been wrestling with Bahnsen since I had much more hair in the late 80s, trying to make sense of this world. And it was over time that I really discovered Reformed theology or Calvinistic soteriology and continued trying to work through the worldview issues.
So, I’ve benefited from Doug’s book on classical Christian education and I helped start the Augustine School there in Jackson, Tennessee. So thank you for your labors in that whole area. And I’ve been wrestling with this stuff for, I don’t know, 35 years. And once you get it in your head, you can’t get it out, David. You keep thinking and keep wrestling.
David Schrock: Yeah, well you’ve certainly been thinking about that longer than I have. I’ve benefited by a certain app that’s out there that has provided a lot of Rushdoony in the last couple of years and I’m beginning to do a little bit more with him.
But Doug, maybe just to help us to ease into our conversation about Christian nationalism—talking about postmillennialism or theonomy, how much of that is one of the questions dividing those who’d be for and against Christian nationalism? How much does eschatology play into this discussion?
Doug Wilson: Well, I think eschatology plays into it by increasing the comfort level of the people who are proposing that we do something different than what we have done. If you’re a pessimistic premillennialist or if you’re a pessimistic amillennialist, you’re always asking, “What could go wrong?” And saying, “If we change anything, we’re almost certainly going to make it worse. Things are bad now, but don’t mess with it because we prefer the devil we know to the devil we don’t know.” So, a postmillennial take is necessarily optimistic in the long run, but we’re talking about decades and centuries. We’re not talking about the next ten minutes necessarily.
So I think every intelligent Christian should be asking what could go wrong because even if you’re a postmillennialist, the kingdom of God doesn’t take off like a space shuttle. It’s more like walking up a mountain range where you go up for a ways and then down into a canyon and then up and then down. So it’s three steps forward, one step back, that kind of thing.
So eschatology does play a role, but I don’t think it’s the driving force. The driving force is the question can human societies govern themselves without reference to the transcendent? And I believe the returns on that question are clearly in: Secularism doesn’t work. It was possible, let’s say, back when Eisenhower was president, for the secularist to say to us, “Look, we can agree or disagree whether there’s a God or not. Even if there isn’t a God, we can all be decent Americans. We can all mow our lawn, we can all live peaceably together.” I think that argument would fail even back in Eisenhower’s time, but it had a surface plausibility. You looked up and down your street, and everybody was out there mowing their lawn and doing their citizen thing.
But now with 60 million children dead, with homosexual marriage imposed on the states, with the trans madness going on, drag shows for kids, riots—basically approved riots and disapproved riots—the whole thing makes me say, “Okay, where’s your vaunted secularism now?” Neutrality does not work. It’s manifestly a sham. There is no neutrality. And so consequently, I want to argue that we need to govern ourselves with reference to the transcendental reality that is God in Christ.
David Schrock: That’s helpful. Even as you begin your book, you deal with the wickedness of secularism looking at where we are now. A certainly your blogs have been helpful to see the culture that we are in and all the things that have been lost.
Looking back, if you go back to Eisenhower, there’s the reality that there’s a borrowed capital there that, if not imposed, was certainly sown from Christian ideas going back to the founding and to the Puritans and beyond.
Doug Wilson: Yeah, I’m fond of saying the prodigal son didn’t run out of money on his first day away.
David Schrock: That’s well said.
Doug Wilson: He had capital to spend for a time. We had moral capital inherited from Christendom. And we had that money and we spent it all foolishly, and the checks are now starting to bounce.
David Schrock: Yep, that’s well said. Doug, let’s get into your argument from your book. Your book is titled Mere Christendom, and that’s the argument that you are making.
How would you distinguish that, or how would your approach be more precise than just the title of “Christian nationalism”? How would you define “Christian nationalism”? And how would you say that Mere Christendom is a flavor of that? Or what are the similarities and differences that you’re working with there?
Doug Wilson: The main thing is Stephen Wolfe’s book, The Case for Christian Nationalism, was basically talking about one nation, that nation being ours—What should we do here in America? What was America’s heritage? How should we govern ourselves? He was focused.
The distinction I’m making with Mere Christendom is not a disagreement with that, really. It’s more of a zoom out feature, alright? So, what happens when you have eight or ten of these nations that have confessed the name of Christ? What is the relationship of those nations to one another? Historically, that’s what the first Christendom was. You had Germany and France and England and these various nations that were very distinct nations, but they had a shared and common Christian faith. What was the relationship between them? I think that relationship should be Christendom, but I think that we should take care to avoid some of the mistakes made by the first Christendom.
Brad Green: May I jump in here David? Doug, our group here at Christ Over All would probably have some diversity on eschatology, I suspect.
Would it be fair to say that every Christian in the end has an optimistic eschatology? Every Christian believes the knowledge of God will cover the earth like the waters cover the sea and every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus is Lord. So, is it fair to say that, in the end, we all believe in Christendom? Would that be fair to say?
In some way, doesn’t the Christian have to? Even if you have this or that eschatology, once you say, “Christ is Lord,” don’t we all have to say, in the end, “God wins. He will rule. Everyone will confess Christ is Lord”? Maybe the disagreements are on some of the details between now and then?
Would that be fair to say?
Doug Wilson: Yes, I think that’s fair to say. Every Christian is long run optimistic in that we all believe the ultimate salvation of God’s people. So I think that’s true. I think the debate would be over where in history that optimism is realized. So where is the second coming of Christ with regard to it?
So, if you believe that Christ is going to come back and reign as a premillennialist, then of course you’ve got a mere Christendom after that fact. But you’ve got a safety net because Jesus is there. The postmillennialist is someone who believes that Christendom is going to take shape prior to the second coming of Christ. So that makes some people want to ask, “Okay, so Jesus isn’t here. Where’s the safety net? What’s to keep us from relaunching the Spanish Inquisition?”
Brad Green: Just a quick story. I heard Tony Evans, the quite well known black conservative pastor in the Dallas area, speak 25 years ago when someone asked him this question: “Shouldn’t you be less concerned”—I’m not poking at you Doug here, just an interesting vignette—”shouldn’t you as a dispensationalist not really care as much for helping the poor or believing in justice?” And he said, “Maybe my eschatology should. But I read the Bible, and the Bible says to do all these things, so I’m going to do them because I’m a pastor and the people in my world are suffering, and I’m going to seek to do good, and start schools and seek justice, and help those who are suffering.”
And I like that, even though we might say, “Thank goodness for inconsistencies.”
Doug Wilson: Yeah, I would agree with that. I would say that approach is entirely admirable. Basically, that tells me that he’s more Bible driven than systematic theology driven and I admire that kind of thing.
David Schrock: Doug, you make the mention of Christendom and certainly thinking about the Christendom that came after the Reformation and the different state churches that were there. Some of them were Lutheran, some of them were Presbyterian and other things like that. In your book, you’re making the case for something of the Apostles Creed.
How does the Apostles Creed work out in that way? And I’m wondering if your vision of Christendom 2.0 is that the nations who would be able to see these things—I want to get to how does that happen—would learn from the previous iteration of Christendom? And how does the Apostles Creed then work itself out in a nation-state today?
Doug Wilson: Yeah, so by “Mere Christendom”, I’m talking about nation-states that basically confess that Jesus rose from the dead. It is the position of the United Kingdom, the position of the United States, the position of France that we believe that Jesus rose from the dead. And if you have the Apostles Creed as the thing that marks out the members of Christendom, you could have a country that was Presbyterian in flavor, or that was Anglican in flavor, or that was Lutheran in flavor.
But one of the mistakes/sins of the First Christendom was denominational differences getting all tangled up with national interests. And then you found yourself in a situation like the Thirty Years War where you don’t know if this denominational or nationalistic or a complicated mixture of both. So, what I would want to do is prevent the denominational purists from demanding too much of the nation that they’re part of. So, I’m Presbyterian, but I would want the voices that are calling for America to look to transcendental reality—that is the risen Christ—to be able to do that together with Lutherans and Baptists and Episcopalians and say, “We all agree that Secularism is not going to carry us through,” and not be squabbling among ourselves.
David Schrock: Yeah, so I’ve driven past Culpeper, Virginia, a couple times over the last year, and I’ve thought of you as I’ve driven past there both for the reference in Ecochondriacs and some of the things you’ve written there. I think the Holiday Inn Express is still there.
But, if you were to speak to a future generation—so this gets put in a time capsule—and if you were to speak to those who would be denominational purists in the future, what would you want to say to them? Because you look at church history and there was that fact. How can your vision of this not lead to that kind of denominational purity or what are you saying to those at New St. Andrews to make sure that doesn’t happen?
Doug Wilson: One of the things I would say to the people who grasp what we’re getting at with Christian nationalism and get the need for it and all of that is that it’s easy to overshoot and say, “Okay let’s implement the whole council of God as we understand it.”
I would say, “Look, the last time Virginia flogged a Baptist for being a Baptist was centuries ago. It was centuries ago, and we’re still having to explain that.” So, if I say, “Listen, we shouldn’t be killing all the babies. We shouldn’t be solemnizing a same-sex mirage. These are grotesque sorts of things that God in the past has visited with fire from heaven.” And if I want to take a stand against that and I’m having to spend time explaining that we’re not going to be flogging any Baptists, it’s the sort of thing that makes people say, “Look, you guys can’t be reasonable and sensible on piddly things. Why do you want to govern in the great things?” The fact that was done in the name of denominational purity gave the Christendom argument a black eye.
That would be the first thing. The second thing is, to the person who’s appealing to the mistreatment of Baptists and saying, “We can’t do what you’re saying,” I would say, “Okay, friend, when they flogged that Baptist, did that make Jesus happy or unhappy? Was Jesus pleased with their behavior or displeased with their behavior?” Now, they’re going to, of course, say he was displeased. And I would say, “Okay, so shouldn’t we then conform our behavior to please Christ instead of displeasing him?” They would say, “Yes,” and I would say, “Welcome to Christian nationalism.”
That’s all I want to do. Basically, I think we should stop making God angry with us.
Brad Green: Sometimes when I work with students, Doug, I think, “I wonder what would happen if the nomenclature had been different when this issue got into the Christian theological DNA?”
I’m reading Stephen Wolfe’s book now. It’s a beast of a book. Interestingly, he spends a good bit of time with Johannes Althusius. So, if I’m reading Althusius, and I’m thinking about these small overlapping authorities and thinking that authority starts at the bottom and bubbles up rather than a more Hobbesian view—Christian statism sounds terrible because I don’t want to be a Christian statist, but perhaps a Christian republicanism, or a Christian smaller-governmental-unit-ism. In a sense, my federalism and my 10th Amendmentism and my constitutionalism push me for smaller units.
I wonder if another term could arise which would capture that, for many of us, we’d be quite happy if Idaho was the first political identity rather than being a US citizen. Or, I’m from Alaska. If I would say, “I’m an Alaskan, and my Alaska is a part of this thing called the US, and we give we’ve given enumerated powers in Article 1 Section 8.
Maybe the cat’s out of the bag, but I wonder if there’s another way to state it where the emphasis isn’t on nation, but it’s on the smaller political units?
Doug Wilson: I agree with you. I’m a federalist also. I believe that the governing units are best when they are closest to the people being governed. So I think we would have a love-fest if we talked about that.
Christian nationalism—basically at some level, you’re going to be called what your adversary calls you. And basically, I thought “Christian nationalism” was a big improvement over “white supremacist”—the “Theofascist, Christofascist, white supremacist.” Basically, “Christian nationalism” is something I can work with. I’m a citizen of this nation, and I’m a Christian. Okay, I can work with that. And I can explain it and defend it in under three minutes, right? It doesn’t take a book to explain it.
Meet the Press came out and did a story on what’s going on here in Moscow, and they did the interviews all around and talked to different people. And when the segment aired, the whole thing was entitled “Christian Nationalism.” That’s the label they put on it. Now, when you talk about evangelism and doing God’s will and implementing biblical law, whatever you want to do, they’re going to call it certain names.
I would prefer “Christian republicanism.” But then you’ve got the confusion over whether you’re talking about the political party. There’s always something. Basically, I tell people that when you adopt a posture or a label, you want to be able to explain and answer the FAQs in just a few minutes.
Brad Green: Yeah, fair enough.
David Schrock: That’s good. We’ve talked about those who have followed thinking about Christian nationalism and moving that way, but for those who have been opposed to that—I’m thinking of those who are not Meet the Press but those who are believers—what has been a challenge that you continue to write on these things that people still don’t hear?
You have the four different lies about Christian nationalism that you address in the book, but what is either something you’d want to double click on from those or something else that people still misrepresent you with as you’re saying these things?
Doug Wilson: I’ll give you what I think is the big-ticket item.
And a good representative of this mentality would be Rod Dreher. When the secular utopians promise a glorious future, Rod Dreher doesn’t believe their promises at all. He sees the cattle cars and the concentration camps coming. He doesn’t believe their promises at all.
But for some reason, he does believe their warnings. So, the secular state says, “If you Christian nationalists get your way, what’s going to happen to the women?” And we all know the answer to that right? Red dresses and breeding farms. It’s a “handmaid’s tale” for you. Or “What’s going to happen to homosexuals?” They go straight to those sorts of things and warn that reformed Ayatollah weird beards are going to start chopping off hands and doing those sorts of things.
And those are the lies about Christian social order that the secularists have told and have been telling since the Enlightenment. They’ve been telling these lies for centuries. A lot of Christians have become disillusioned about secularism’s promises, but they still believe secularism’s warnings. So when they say, “If you Christians get in control and create a Christian social order, religious liberty of conscience is going to evaporate,” I say, “Look, you guys, we invented those things.”
Liberty of conscience is a reformed Protestant Christian value, and it took root in the West because of us. It’s not something you came up with. So, when you look at secular, atheistic, God-denying societies—North Korea, the Soviet Union, communist China—those places are not places that have cultivated liberty of conscience and those sorts of freedoms. That was a Christian development. And the reason it’s evaporating in our society now is because of the waning Christian influence.
Brad Green: This is very fun, Doug. I really enjoyed your book, and I’ve got to say you’re a much nicer guy than people give you credit for and I enjoy it,
Doug Wilson: I think that!
Brad Green: I’ve read you for a long time. I was intrigued by your treatment of Leviticus 24. I really enjoyed that section and it reminded me some 30 years ago when Jim Jordan did three lectures on theonomy. He has this great little section where he says, “Okay, we’re living in this new era, the new covenant, etc. And if I had a neighbor who was engaged in homosexual activity and I shared the gospel with that person and he repented and believed, there’d be no real need to say the Mosaic law teaches death for a homosexual. They’ve come to faith. They’ve repented. So, it’s a new thing.”
When I read you on Leviticus 24, I got the sense you were doing a form of biblical theology where you were saying, “Yes, the right penalty ultimately for blasphemy is death. In the meantime, let’s preach the gospel a bunch and pray and hope God brings many people to faith so they won’t blaspheme.” But can you unpack for our audience and for us what your big point was with Leviticus 24 in our current day?
Doug Wilson: Let me put a couple of pieces together. One is in Corinthians where Paul gives a list of sins, including homosexual sins. And then he concludes, “And such were some of you” (1 Cor. 6:11). So he’s writing to a Corinthian congregation, and he says, “A bunch of you guys were guilty of the things that I just described, some of which carried the death penalty in Old Testament Israel.” He did not then say, “Now that you’re Christians, you need to go down to the harbor and throw yourself off a pier.” As my dad taught me, God takes you from where you are, not from where you should have been. So, I think that is just part and parcel with evangelizing a pagan, sexually degraded world.
That’s the first thing. The second thing is, together with Stephen Wolfe and others, I do believe in the continuing validity of the first table of the law. If someone says, “Do you want to see blasphemy eradicated? Do you want to see limitations on blasphemy and restrictions on blasphemy?” Yes I do very much, and I do think that should be something that is done constitutionally and via the law.
But this is my main concern with regard to blasphemy laws. If you go from Genesis to Revelation and ask yourself, in scripture, who is the biggest blasphemer, overwhelmingly, it’s the state. Overwhelmingly, it’s the powers that be. It’s the beast making great swelling boasts. The harlot—she’s a religious figure, but blasphemous names are written on her. The Lord Jesus was tried and convicted and executed on a blasphemy charge. So the greatest blasphemy in the history of the world was executing the Son of God for blasphemy. That was blasphemy.
So what happens is that when we talk about instantiating or enforcing the first table of the law, everybody’s mind runs immediately to the village atheist sitting outside his cottage and yelling at the moon. And everybody says, “Okay, do we have to go arrest that guy and try him for his blasphemy?” We have to be aware constitutionally that giving the state the authority to arrest and try him for blasphemy gives the state the authority to blaspheme with impunity, which is what they did to Jesus. Because they had the authority to try him for blasphemy, they blasphemed.
Now, I do believe that the village atheist has to be dealt with at some point down the road, but I believe that we’ve got much bigger fish to fry. And constitutionally, we should labor over the course of some centuries to keep the state from blaspheming and to keep the principalities and powers from blaspheming.
And when we get a government small enough that that’s not a concern anymore, then we can talk about how the local municipal authorities can deal with the guy who’s yelling at the moon.
Brad Green: So, you’re taking the long view, and you’re willing to wait it out. And it may be a long, long time.
Doug Wilson: That is absolutely correct. Basically, I think that if we go straight to picking off the solitary, easy blasphemer, if we say, “Servetus blasphemed. What are we going to do?” we’re going to give the reformed movement a black eye for centuries, right? So, I think we should think tactically about this. We want to go after blasphemy, but I think we should hunt the dragon first and then deal with the garden snakes.
David Schrock: Yeah, I think that’s well said. One of the things I’ve appreciated thinking about the theonomy that you have put forward—the general equity theonomy—is that the tip of the spear is still the gospel. And there’s the need for the call to repentance and faith in Jesus Christ and that is what is going to ultimately change hearts and change families and then change everything beyond that. I’ve appreciated that greatly.
So maybe that’s a good segue to thinking about the local church and the mission of the church. And this might be one of the places that we would look a little bit differently, especially as we get to the question of baptism and baptizing the nations or making disciples and then baptizing them. What for you is the mission of the church and, connected to that, how does your understanding of the two ages fit with that? Is there an already and not yet understanding? Certainly in things that I’ve read from you, you’ve said the overlap of the ages took place between the ascension of Christ and the destruction of Jerusalem. Help us understand that and the mission of the church.
Doug Wilson: Okay, so very quickly on the ages. I think the Old Testament era—I call it the Judaic age—ended cataclysmically in 70 A.D. I think the Christian Aeon, or the Christian Age, was inaugurated 40 years before the Judaic Age ended. It was like a baton exchange in a relay race.
So, there were roughly 40 years when the two ages were running concurrently, and then the temple was destroyed, and we were into the Christian aeon. I would say that the already-not yet aspect of it has to do with the eternal age to come, so after the Lord Jesus returns. The Lord has been raised from the dead so that the end of the world happened in the middle of history. That’s the already. But then the general resurrection of the dead is the not yet.
So that’s the general pattern of the sketch for the ages. With the church, I believe the mission of the church is word and sacrament. It’s the proclamation of the gospel to every creature and the baptism and administration of the Lord’s Supper of members of the church.
I make a distinction between church and kingdom. So, the church proper—and my vision for this is like a medieval town with the Cathedral or the church at the center of the town—is the church, word and sacrament. Out in the town are the shops, the bakery, the bicycle mechanic, the homes and whatnot. That’s all kingdom. Everything is under Christ. But not everything is ecclesiastical. So, the bike mechanic and the shopkeeper and the housewife come to church to be instructed, to be taught, to be discipled, and then they are commissioned to go back out into the world to labor as citizens of the kingdom.
That’s kingdom work. Some people are afraid of Christian nationalism being an ecclesiocracy where the clerics or the ministers are running the show as Muslim clerics are functioning in Iran. I don’t think that’d be wise or smart at all. I don’t think that the church has that role. I think the church should simply be preaching the gospel, building people up in their faith, feeding them the Word of God, and expecting them as intelligent Christians, taught Christians, to go figure out what to do in the coding world, and in the bicycle repair world, and in the astrophysics world. That’s all kingdom work.
Brad Green: That’s helpful. Doug, again I enjoyed the book. I think you’ve mentioned in the past that you have Baptist roots, or you were just a good old Southern Baptist kid and something happened.
Doug Wilson: Yeah, I was baptized in a Southern Baptist church when I was 10 years old, in a Christmas Eve Service. I grew up in the Southern Baptist world.
Brad Green: Yeah. Okay. I’ve been reading this material about 35 years, I guess. And when I read your book and I reflect back on years ago when I was reading a lot of Rushdoony, Bahnsen, North, and all that stuff, I think there’s something different in this book. Are your Baptist roots coming through? I hear Doug Wilson, the evangelist. Doug Wilson, keep the gospel first. Doug Wilson, I want my neighbor to be saved and over time, I’m pretty sure there’s going to be something like a Christian culture emerge. Are you still a closet Baptist and just can’t get over your past or something?
Doug Wilson: Yeah it’s one of those things I just can’t shake, try as I might. I’ve been in counseling for years.
I grew up in a godly Christian household. My dad was a very gifted evangelist. He was a gospel man, front to last. That emphasis, keeping the gospel front and center, is very much in my DNA. When I became Presbyterian by incremental stages, I never felt that that part of me was threatened or that I had to surrender that in order to come into the Presbyterian fold. And then, historically, there are Presbyterians who are very much of the same mind and very gospel focused.
I hesitate to use the word “gospel centered” because of what has happened to that phrase. But the reason the “gospel centered” movement of recent years has just utterly collapsed, the reason it has cratered, is not because of what they had at the center, but rather because of where they had the circumference.
They didn’t have a defined circumference. And when I came into a Kuyperian way of thinking—all of Christ for all of life—what that what it did for me is it defined the circumference as the entire world. Or the name of your podcast—Christ Over All. If he’s not Lord of all, he’s not the Lord at all. And that defined the circumference for me. But you’re exactly right that I never want the center—the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ—to move at all. Yes, that’s very true.
David Schrock: Yeah, that’s exactly right. Praise the Lord. Let me ask this question. As you move from the church out into the town where you have the idea that the kingdom is being impacted by, I assume, Christians who are then taking their own witness into the world, what are your thoughts about a Christian prince or Christian magistrate?
This is something that Stephen Wolfe is explicit about in his book. You mentioned the fact that his book is dealing with America, but it’s interesting because America hasn’t had a Christian prince. It’s been more of a democratic republic going back to the constitution. How would you understand the Christian magistrate, and what would be the ideal government in your mind?
Doug Wilson: Okay. You can ask Stephen this, but in my mind, I’ve spoken about a prince as: “Do you see a man who excels in his work? He will stand before kings” (Prov. 22:29). I think standing before presidents is the same thing. So, I’ve always just said whatever your political structure is, the Christian faith can function within that. So when Peter says to pray for the honor of the emperor, I translate that as I should honor the president.
When I’ve referred to the prince or the magistrate—in American political theory, we don’t generally refer to the magistrate. We use different language. I’m using that as a placeholder for the people who hold and wield political power and who make decisions.
So with that said, I could live under a Christian constitutional monarchy. I would be happy to be there. I prefer the American system. I prefer what we do, and I think there are stronger arguments for it. If we were starting from scratch, I like what we do, and I want to preserve what we do, and I’m very American in my DNA. But when I read brothers in the Lord who were operating in the UK or other places, it’s easy for me to toggle in my mind, “Okay, this was their situation.”
For example, the absolutist monarchists—Charles I and Charles II—those guys were at war with people like Samuel Rutherford. Even though Samuel Rutherford was a monarchist, he would have been executed by the absolutism of the monarchy. So they had this battle for liberty that was going on there.
So basically, I want the executive to be constrained by the law. I want lex rex wherever you are. I want the law to be king, whether the king is a president or the king is a king.
David Schrock: To ask you another question, Doug, as you’re thinking about different nations—and we talked about the use of the first and second table of the law—do you have an understanding of whether a nation-state today could be in covenant with God? Either that if they are adopting the Apostles Creed, that nation and the leaders of that nation are making a covenant? Or that they’re already in some kind of covenant? How do you understand that relationship?
Doug Wilson: Yeah, actually I do. And I believe that in the Anglosphere we are in covenant with God at a national level. And I think specifically the covenant is the Solemn League and Covenant.
So, the Solemn League and Covenant bound Scotland, England, and Ireland in perpetuity. The covenant was made in perpetuity. Not only that, but in the restoration when Charles II was brought back after Cromwell, one of the terms of him having the throne restored to him was that he had to subscribe to the Solemn League and Covenant again. Which of course he disregarded and disobeyed, but that’s what he subscribed to.
So I would say that the United Kingdom and then the Commonwealth—Canada, Australia, and places like that—are still under a covenantal obligation to God. And I would say America, by an oblique argument still is under a covenantal obligation because our colonies that formed our nation were under that. So I believe that when we repent nationally, we’re not coming in as pristine pagans to be converted. We’re not in that position. We’re a divorced person coming back home.
Brad Green: Doug, I don’t want to name names here just because I’m just doing my research on some of this. But James Lindsay recently did a podcast, and he called you out. And you probably have heard this, but if not, it’s called “WTF is Christian Nationalism?”
But are we going be sucker punched by someone from the right? In other words, you’ve mentioned we don’t need a Thor, we don’t need a Mussolini. Are you a little bit concerned that in the midst of this cultural crisis, there could be someone besides the left that we need to be concerned about? What are your thoughts on that? Are you concerned? Are you seeing rumblings?
Doug Wilson: Yes, I’ve not heard James Lindsay’s podcast, but I did hear about it. And the thing that’s odd is what you just expressed, that’s what James Lindsay and Michael O’Fallon are worried about. They’re worried about Christian nationalism being a big distraction, and they just want to recover American constitutionalism and go back to the founding.
I do too. That’s what I want. I want basically to go back to the American Settlement. What I’m arguing is that this is not going to be possible on the strength of traditional values alone. Basically I think we need a strong religious argument for returning to the American founding, and a secular argument won’t cut it.
Secularism, I think, has failed. Their argument is, “Don’t you guys see that you’re threatening American constitutionalism?” And I’m saying, “No. American constitutionalism right now is in the middle of a grand mal epileptic seizure.” And we didn’t cause it. How bad would it have to get with no Christian nationalists on the scene at all? How bad would it have to get before you guys recognized that the secular experiment is dead? It’s not working.
David Schrock: So, maybe just to say it a slightly different way—there’s no way to go back to our founding by means of the liberalism that came about, but rather the foundations themselves drew on a Christian tradition that was there, and there’s a need to go to that in order for anything else in the future to be established. Is that sort of what you’re thinking?
Doug Wilson: Absolutely. The concrete slab that was poured prior to the founding was the Great Awakening. If you have no Great Awakening, you have no founding. There is no American founding without the vibrant, evangelical, robust Calvinism of the general populace. Without that, you don’t get what you got in 1776 to 1789.
So, the fact that James Lindsay appreciates the fruit of it is something I appreciate. So when Lindsay is critiquing the woke, I think, “Go, team, go!” I’m all about what you’re saying, but he’s an atheist and has no foundation for these things.
So if the American population had been populated in the 1740s and 50s and 60s with a nation of James Lindsay’s, there would have been no American founding. All the things that Lindsay appreciates so much, a nation of atheists would not have produced. A nation of conservative, evangelical, Bible believers did in fact produce it, and I believe would produce it again.
I believe that if we have a revival, a reformation and revival, we are establishing the preconditions of another political awakening. The Great Awakening at the religious level was prior; the political awakening and quickening that was realized in the founding was a result, a consequence.
David Schrock: Let me ask a different question. We’re almost out of time here. But how do you think about international missions?
Doug Wilson: I’m for them!
So maybe it’s a “both-and,” where you’re trying to be evangelistic and creating a culture there in Moscow and wherever else the church is planted. But if there’s a place where there is no church, is the church where the church is found then responsible to send missionaries to another nation?
Doug Wilson: Yeah, yes, I believe so. So we are engaged in missions. One of our elders is a Wycliffe Bible translator. And we’re supporting two major thrusts, one in West Africa and one to the French speaking world.
Another one of our elders is working with translating the seminary courses online for free for seminary training for people in the French speaking world and also in West Africa. So, we’re very much involved in that kind of mission.
The thing I would say is that Jesus says that basically you export what you’ve got. And if you send missionaries to proselytize overseas and you’re a son of hell, you’re going to make them twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. If your religion is half a mile wide and two inches deep, that’s what you’re going to export.
You can’t export anything other than what you’re growing, right? And this is the problem with American missions today: that we have a superficial, thin Christianity, we export that, and we have these little veneer churches that we plant overseas, and they’ve got these gnarly, terrible, political, cultural problems, and that little veneer doesn’t cut it.
And the reason our veneer has been able to survive so long is because of the moral capital that we had from a previous era. But now that’s running out. That moral capital is running out. So when the COVID crazy happened and churches were told you’re not essential, but abortion mills and porn shops and marijuana shops are essential, and all the churches closed and folded and said, “Yes, sir,” that shows you how superficial we are. And we’re not really ready for the battle yet. So, if that’s the kind of Christianity we’re exporting, I don’t think we’re helping. And so I would encourage pastors to build a thick community around their church, and then by all means send a missionary when someone’s called to that. But you’re wanting to export the whole the total package.
David Schrock: Yeah, that’s wise. So, let’s imagine that we can’t get our heads together on Christian nationalism and there’s still differences of opinion on thinking all through that, and even the way that church and state is related as Baptists, Presbyterians, postmillennial, non-postmillennial, all of that. But still, we’re all, in America at least, walking into 2024, which promises to be at least as exciting as 2020. What would be your encouragement to pastors and churches to work together to stand against what seems to be “totalitolerance,” as I’ve heard you say, and the tyranny that we saw in 2020? What are some things that we need to address going forward?
Doug Wilson: Yeah, the thing would be to make sure that you remember what the major point of unity is and how you rank the disagreements. So I know for a fact, if we got to the cattle car moment and we’re all being hauled off to the camps, Presbyterians and charismatics and dispensationalists would all be in the cattle car there with me.
So we can joke around and have friendly level debates, but all of us ought to know what the big issue is. All of us should be able to see the big E on the eye chart. This is all about Jesus. This is not about the things that divide us. And the things that divide us are not insignificant. We can recognize that and acknowledge that.
But one of the great blessings to me a number of years ago, one of our earlier controversies—we periodically have one. One of our conferences was attacked as being all about slavery and we were accused of being racist, so the gunk war started. And the thing that was interesting to me here in Moscow is a number of people—a number of evangelical leaders, pastors who had known me for years and who knew the accusations were false—knew that, but there was a tendency still to pull away. They wanted to be out of the debris field or to pull away. And in the middle of that, I got a call from a charismatic minister that I didn’t know or I knew at a distant level, and he invited me to a pastor’s luncheon over in Pullman, Washington across the state line.
And I went over there, and it was a group of a bunch of charismatic leaders and they said, “Look, this is all about Jesus. We know it’s not slavery at all. It’s all about Jesus. We just wanted to meet with you and pray with you.”
Maybe they thought they were casting a demon out or something. I don’t know. No, I know that they didn’t think that. They didn’t know me, but they saw the situation accurately. They saw what was of first importance and what was of lesser importance. We need to keep that in perspective. It’s not to say that the things that are of lesser importance are of no importance. I believe what I believe. I’m a Westminster Confession guy. But I should know who loves Jesus together with me. If I know who loves Jesus, then we can worship together in the camps.
David Schrock: No, I think that’s a good word. And certainly there are many things that you’ve shared here today that we can agree on. And there are other things that if we were to press into the details, we would want to see some differences as well. And that’s why we’re having these conversations.
Doug Wilson: Yes, very good.
David Schrock: And it certainly seems as though this is an important time to rediscover a public and political theology and we certainly appreciate the work you’ve done on that. And Brad, for your conversation with us today, thank you, brother. Doug, thanks for the time for us today.