David Schrock: So, Joe and Andrew, welcome to the Christ Over All podcast.
P. Andrew Sandlin: Thank you very much. It’s a privilege to be here. I appreciate all the work that you men are doing.
Joe Boot: Well, it’s good to be on the show, David.
David Schrock: Joe, we are glad that you are here coming to us from the United Kingdom today. We’re going to talk a little bit about Christian nationalism, and we’ve got Brad Green as well. Good to see you, brother.
Joe, perhaps you can just give us a little bit of a biography. Tell us a little bit about your story and the ministries that you are involved in.
Joe Boot: Sure. I have lived and worked on both sides of the pond, as we say—the Atlantic. I was 19 years in Canada. I was the founding pastor of Westminster Chapel in downtown Toronto for 14 years. And I’m the founder and president of the Ezra Institute, which is a Christian worldview and cultural apologetics think-tank and training organization. And we now have offices in Canada, the U.S., and in the United Kingdom. And I’ve been really engaged in the work of thinking up to culture, developing—standing on the shoulders of giants, I hope—a defense of the Christian philosophy of life for every area.
So that really has been my work and ministry. And last year, my family returned to the United Kingdom after almost two decades serving in Canada.
David Schrock: Very good. Well brother, I’m glad that you’re with us today. I look forward to learning from you and talking about some important things.
Andrew, same question for you. Just a little background biography and some of the ministries that you’re involved in right now.
P. Andrew Sandlin: Well, I founded and lead the Center for Cultural Leadership here in California. It’s a 23-year-old Christian think-tank designed to influence Christians and to influence culture distinctively. I’ve pastored two churches in my lifetime, and was the president of the National Reform Association, executive vice president of the Chalcedon Foundation, and like Joe, I have a very sound and stout Christian heritage I look back to. And our goal is essentially to write about the Christian worldview to influence Christians to re-Christianize this sinful world to the extent possible before the end of time.
David Schrock: Amen. Brother, you’ve written for us at Christ Over All, and we are thankful for the contributions you’ve made to us and also in the future. And Joe, perhaps in the future you can do some writing for us as well, but I know that you do plenty of what you’ve done. And in fact, it was last year that Steve Wellum came to me and he said, “Hey this book—The Mission of God by Joseph Boot—you need to read it, because it’s the best thing that I have read on the subject.” He’s like, “Now maybe not the postmillennial part, but everything else is really, really good. So, I told you I’m about halfway through it. I’ve really appreciated what you’ve done there and perhaps we’ll get a chance to talk a little bit about that.
But this month we’re thinking about Christian nationalism and ways that has been articulated in different spaces, different countries, different traditions. So, I’m wondering, Joe, for your perspective. You were in Canada, now back in England. You’ve spent time in the United States. How are you thinking about that language, that term, “Christian nationalism,” or what are you seeing with this discussion that has been taking place on this subject?
Joe Boot: First of all, I do think that the issue and the question of biblical nationhood over against the kind of union globalist thinking and agenda that has dominated the Western discourse for some time is really important. And my concern—I certainly know Andrew’s concern—is because Christian culture involves Christian nations. The nation-state is, at least from a sphere of sovereignty Christian standpoint, a territory—a true state, a true nation-state today with a republic or res publica is where you have a public legal order over a given territory. That means Britain, even though we’re a constitutional monarchy, also is truly public. It’s no longer private barons, lords, and various different law orders, but a united law order over a given territory.
So, with the sort of pressure of the ideas of multiculturalism, radical pluralism, progressivism, transnational ideas of globalism and globalization and so on, a discussion about what constitutes the nation, the importance of a Christian confession—you know, in Britain, we just had the coronation of King Charles III and there is a public constitutional confession of Christian identity there.
But I would say that, on the other hand, I’m uncomfortable with the term nationalism. “Isms” usually identify an ideology. The term nationalism carries with it a certain cultural freight that is often unhelpful. I’m not saying that we can’t redeem the term. You talked about nationalisms, as opposed to purely nationalism. I would say, for example, that the Jewish scholar Yoram Hazony’s book The Virtue of Nationalism comes closest to what I would say is more of a biblical definition of the idea of nationhood.
And for some reason, I think recently with the discussion that’s gone on around this, those who have talked for some time about the importance of Christian culture, the importance of the Lordship of Jesus Christ and so on, and the fact that the state is also obligated under God to have a Christian character have been identified as nationalists, as Christian nationalists. But I would say that I’m not especially comfortable with that designation because of the cultural freight that comes with it. What I think is happening—and perhaps we can come to this a bit later in the discussion—is that there are versions of this idea of Christian nationhood that are taking an ethnocentric, I would say even a primordial view of race, that is distorting the discussion of the importance of a Christian confession for the state, Christian culture, and turning it into an ethnocentric view of identity where I would have differences there over what fundamentally constitutes the idea of a Christian nation.
I would say that nations are constituted covenantally and they are defined religiously not ethnically. And I think that is where I think some of the differences might emerge between what I would want to say about the idea of Christian identity for the state and the idea of a Christian nation-state, and some of the more current discussions that have gone on where you can understand in this sort of Marxist context of multiculturalism and progressivism, and the sort of destruction of Christian identity in the West, it was almost inevitable that eventually we’d see a kind of primordial nationalism start to rear its head, and Christians aren’t immune from being dragged into that kind of definition.
So, I would position myself as somebody who believes in the importance of a Christian nation-state because I believe, just like the family and the church, the state has to be under God and submit itself to the lordship of Christ. But I prefer to talk about Christian culture and Christian nationhood rather than hang my hat on what I would say is a political ideology of nationalism that is varied, has a checkered history, and can end up dying a death of a thousand qualifications.
David Schrock: Joe, that’s really helpful, and we could go in a lot of different directions there. I think of the things that stands out in thinking about this is how much this language of Christian nationalism—which I think it’s helpful to make a distinction between that political ideology and biblical nationhood—but it seems as though this language, this nomenclature of Christian nationalism and white Christian nationalism, really came to the forefront starting with the J6 riots of 2021 and moving into the present today. And there’ve been a lot of conversations about that, and I think a lot of conversations with younger believers who are seeing some of these things.
But you guys, you and Andrew both, have been thinking about Christian culture and the way the Scriptures relate to the world and to the culture for many decades now. So maybe just to ask you, Andrew, help us to think through what’s going on today, if someone is just beginning to think about these things in the last year or two or three or four years, that you have seen over the last few decades. Obviously, some of these conversations, Joe, in your book, go back to the Puritans, go back far earlier than that. Even, Brad, you’ve looked at and spent time with Augustine thinking about the City of God. So, this is something that goes back through the centuries of Christianity. But what’s something over the last few decades that maybe would help us to understand the moment that we are in right now?
P. Andrew Sandlin: First, I’d recommend beginning, if you haven’t done so, reading works by the Dutch worldview thinker Abraham Kuyper and his successor, Herman Dooyeweerd, Cornelius Van Til, and even before that, Groen van Prinsterer, and others. And, of course, you could go back to Calvin and so on.
I think as Joe indicated, because of this secular, godless globalism today, there is both in Europe and the U.S. a strong reaction toward more of a localist and nationalist feeling. That’s not new. That was going on in Russia and in Europe in 1915 through 1945. Dooyeweerd talked about this, these sort of antinomies in non-Christian thought that are constantly bouncing up against one another and both are wrong.
So, I think the moment we have now, because it doesn’t recognize godly globalism—and I think we need to make that point. The problem is not globalism. The problem is anti-Christian, anti-biblical globalism. When we read in Ephesians 1 and Colossians 1 and Hebrews 1 and the rest of the scriptures about the cosmic lordship of Jesus Christ, the issue there is not specifically Christianizing a nation, though that is implied. It’s rather Christ’s lordship over all. Christianity is a global faith; the gospel is a global message. But that in no way undermines the integrity of individual nations that, of course, have their own separate identity.
I think the problem with Christian nationalism in its most prominent iterations is that it’s essentially the positing of an ethno-state bound together by kinship, presided over largely by concentrated political order with a formal Christian profession. That’s certainly not the same thing as Joe mentions as biblical nationhood, and it’s certainly not Christian culture. I think we need to understand that, proximately, the greatest enemy in Western culture is statism, and we don’t need a revived Christianized statism (which is oxymoronic) to replace that.
I think we need to Christianize culture in all areas of life. I’ll say finally, I think one problem is that because Christians have been so culturally derelict for the last 150 years—they have lost in culture, lost in politics, lost everywhere—now in a mad panic, say, we must capture politics in order to impose a Christian vision. I don’t think that they understand that the left did not first win politics, the left won culture over last 100 or 150 years. And we will not win the culture back simply by gaining political victories, though getting good Christians in political office is certainly desirable. So, this is basically a cultural battle. Christian nationalism sees it as a political battle and that is a dangerous miscalculation.
David Schrock: Yeah, and I think probably you’d have different stripes that would argue in different ways related to how to bring that about, some focusing more on culture. We had a conversation—even Stephen Wolfe, who’s been at the forefront of this where he has some kind of idiosyncratic definitions with respect to ethnicity and ethnicity as culture and shared norms and stuff like that. So, there does seem to be some ways that there’s some challenges thinking about that. But I think it’s helpful to the point back to, that the work you have done, Joe and Andrew, is really adjusting or focusing on culture, bringing the scriptures to bear on that.
And I have a question about nationhood. So Joe, you mentioned biblical nationhood. Would you just give us kind of a foundation of how you would define nations from the scriptures, and help us to think that through today?
Joe Boot: First of all, I think it is clear in Acts 17 that God establishes the boundaries of the nations, and that in Daniel 2, we’re told as well that kingdoms rise and fall and that, ultimately, that’s in the sovereign hands of God. So, the boundaries of nations have been relatively fluid over time. I talk about biblical nationhood a bit in my book Ruler of Kings: Toward a Christian Vision of Government, because when we see God constituting a nation, and of course, nations like America, nations like Britain looked back—I mean, the coronation service of the United Kingdom looks all the way back to the coronation of King Solomon. And the early settlers in America thought of themselves as a city set on a hill. They still thought of the nation covenantally and religiously.
So, when we look at the biblical conception of nationhood, we see actually God calling out a pagan out of a pagan civilization. There’s nothing sacrosanct about his place or his blood. He’s called out of all of that, and, religiously, God makes covenant with him, Abraham, and says, “You are going to be the father of a great nation.” Of course, we know that eschatologically, the seed of Abraham is Christ from the book of Galatians, ultimately. But Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, we have the founding of a nation, but the nation isn’t fundamentally racial or ethnic. Abraham has eight sons, but only Isaac is the child of promise. And when the Hebrews end up in Egypt, of course we know the story of Joseph. Joseph marries an Egyptian. His wife is Egyptian and is the mother of two Jewish tribes, Ephraim and Manasseh. When they leave Egypt, the Scripture says they left as a mixed multitude because there were Egyptians who believed what God had said through Moses and left with the Hebrews.
And then throughout the history of Israel, of course, most famously, Moses himself, of course, marries a Midianite, not a Jew. And Rahab herself—of course, Boaz is an ancestor then of King David, who’s an ancestor of Christ. And we see that actually there’s a missionary call, there’s a missiological purpose to the formation of Israel. A mission that they fail in, of course. But you could convert and worship the God of Israel. And Leviticus is clear you are to love the foreigner as yourself. It’s absolutely explicit.
So, biblical nationhood is actually about fundamentally religious commitment to God. England had its Solemn League and Covenant with God that even Charles II ratified where parliament committed itself to the law and gospel. The president of the United States still takes his oath of office on the Bible, opened to Deuteronomy 27 and 28. And America, of all nations, a nation of immigrants, should know that nationhood is not founded on blood and soil. It’s founded on a shared religious commitment. England became a nation fundamentally because of Alfred the Great and the beginning of English law and its commitment to the Ten Commandments. His resistance to the pagan Danes and a dream of a united England, but England doesn’t really get united until the tenth century, and the Acts of Union for England, Ireland, Scotland, Wales—Northern Ireland anyway—is not until the eighteenth century for England, Wales, and Scotland.
So, nationhood is fundamentally—it doesn’t mean that it doesn’t have any tribal linkage. We can talk about the fact, of course, legitimately, that there are families of peoples, there are people groups. But what constitutes any tribes as a nation, as we saw in the founding of England, is covenantal religious commitment.
That’s what I mean by biblical nationhood. So, I share Andrew’s concern and skepticism that would want to take basically romanticism and folklore of blood and soil and turn it into a sort of ethnocentric nationalism, and fundamentally statism. Whereas biblically, the totalizing principle is the kingdom of God. It’s not the nation-state. So, the kingdom of God in Dooyeweerdian, Kuyperian terms, relativizes nationhood. The kingdom of God is paramount.
Now you mentioned, very quickly because I know you need to move on, but you mentioned Stephen Wolfe. One of my concerns about his book is that the kingdom of God is basically—in scholastic terms, he uses a nature/grace paradigm. And the kingdom of God is you can have kingdom, brotherhood, and unity, but that’s for a heavenly kingdom, that’s not for the earthly kingdom. So that unity that’s given to us religiously in terms of the kingdom of God in Christ has no impact or influence on political reality, or even ecclesiastical reality which is the earthly institutional life of the church and the earthly life of the state. That’s a nature, not a grace issue for Stephen Wolfe.
So, the kingdom of priests that Andrew was talking about—that he’s made us a royal priesthood, a holy nation and every tribe, tongue, people, and nation have been made a kingdom of priests unto God which we should see of all place in the church. Wolfe does not allow the kingdom of God to relativize family, church, and state in terms of religious commitment. And he justifies that theologically with this sort of ethnocentric nationalism by saying there’s a nature and grace divide, there’s unity in the heavenly future eschatological kingdom, but that is not to do with the earth either in church or state now. Now that to me absolutizes nationalism, it absolutizes race or ethnicity, a nation, which in fact the Bible, I believe, relativizes in terms of the kingdom of God.
That doesn’t destroy families or churches or nations. But it relativizes them in terms of a priority of the kingdom of God, which is the only allowable totalizing principle.
Brad Green: Yeah, that’s helpful, Joe. I wrote a very long review of Wolfe for Christ Over All. And one of the things I’ve not seen in other reviews is, even by Protestants, is challenging him on the nature/grace dualism. Peter Leithart mentions it briefly. But here’s my thesis in general. Andrew, you mentioned Dooyeweerd in your intro as well. So, Dooyeweerd has this—and Joe you lean on Dooyeweerd a lot in your writings—Dooyeweerd works through these three or four—he calls them motifs or motives: Greek form-matter, scholastic nature-grace, humanistic nature-freedom. And as long as you’re working on those kinds of axes, you oscillate back and forth in an odd kind of irrational, rationalistic kind of way. Where the true motive he calls the radical biblical motive of creation, fall, redemption, consummation.
So, when I read Wolfe–I read very slowly and carefully—I kept thinking, why am I so uncomfortable with this? And part of it was the nature-grace schema becomes so all-encompassing and all-consuming, and there’s so little biblical material. You outlined it in the last few minutes, Joe. Do you think that nature/grace schema, like Dooyeweerd says, just gets Wolfe on the wrong track, and he never recovers? Is that a significant structural problem in his system? The nature/grace stuff?
P. Andrew Sandlin: I would go further than that. Excellent question. I would say that his version of Christian nationalism is impossible apart from that scholasticism. Now, I think essentially what you have there—let’s use Schaeffer’s terms here of the upper and lower story which is just a different metaphor but the same idea. He basically kicks spirituality and the church and Christianity up into the upper story to allow the state to flex its muscles in the lower story. And the upper story is governed by the Scriptures and the word of God and the confessions. And the lower story is governed by what he really likes, natural law. The problem with that is the Bible does teach creational law; God’s law is manifested everywhere. But it’s interwoven with propositional revelation. I mean, man even in the garden had to rely on God’s spoken revelation.
So, I don’t think that his version of Christian nationalism is possible without that scholasticism. I’d also mention, Brad, there is one review that deals extensively with Stephen’s strong nature/grace distinction, and that is Brian Mattson’s review called “A Children’s Crusade.”
So, I think what we have in Wolfe, at least his version of it, is sort of an attempt to return to, in my view—largely Roman Catholic, though admittedly some Protestants held to this—his very strong nature/grace distinction. And that leaves room for the autonomy of the creation of a politicized order that is not governed by the Word of God. And of course, Kuyper and especially Dooyeweerd and others wanted to decimate that idea, correctly in my view.
Brad Green: Okay. Yep. Thank you.
David Schrock: Joe, you want to add anything or can I throw another question at you?
Joe Boot: No, I think that’s precisely right. And I think this is why I believe the reformational tradition, which challenges the Aristotelian, Thomistic nature/grace distinction is so critically important. Because I do believe that without that, the way he articulates the project falls to the ground. And the lack of engagement with biblical material there is very telling. And of course, the problem with the whole natural law paradigm is that we’re not talking about natural law, but natural laws. Whose version of natural law are we actually dealing with? Aristotle was quite happy to justify slavery on the basis of natural law. Thomas Aquinas, the papal theocracy and feudalism and so on. These were natural. This was nature’s law. And I think the sort of powerful state, the prince and the incredibly powerful state flexing its muscle as the highest institution in creation to bring people toward perfection and then the heavenly church is what sprinkles the pixie dust of Christianity on that. That’s why I think Wolfe is quite clear that his nationalism stands irrespective of the Christianity. He would just like his nationalism to have a—as a Christian, he would like it to have a Christian character, but nationalism stands irrespective of Christ and the gospel.
David Schrock: That’s good. So Joe, let me ask you this question. So going back to nations coming into formation by means of a covenant. When you describe it that way, certainly I think you are helpful to say that the nation of Israel was a covenantal reality more than an ethnic reality. As the mixed multitude that comes with them, there wasn’t one pure ethnicity that was there the way we think of that, but there was a covenant people that was there.
So, I’m wondering—I was listening to something just recently that the Constitution effectively was a covenant of sorts that kind of formed the foundations of America. England certainly has a history and understanding of being a Christian culture as well, and certainly the monarch’s rule that is there.
But the question I’m asking is, help me to understand biblically where this idea of a covenant comes in. So, we have in the Scriptures, the covenant creation with Noah, Abraham, Moses, all these different things. So, Christ Over All just this last month was looking at progressive covenantalism and the outworking of the various covenants leading to the new covenant. When you’re using this language of a covenant, is there something in Scripture that is giving justification for that? Or is this something where a people are taking a covenant together and in the best-case situation, they’re remembering their Creator, they’re remembering their Lord, and then making a covenant with one another, respective to a fear of God in that way? Help us to understand where this language of covenant for the formation of a nation comes from.
Joe Boot: Obviously the language of covenant, which is law and blood, is right out of scripture. And when God constitutes the nation of Israel, what he reminds them of throughout their journey, throughout their historical development and demise, is that they were slaves in Egypt and that he brought them out of slavery in Egypt and then he gave them effectively a constitution.
And the law of God given through Moses really is the constitution of Israel. The Torah is Israel’s constitution. Now I’m not claiming that Britain or American had the unique or has the unique covenantal relationship that God called Israel in terms of. That covenant was ordered by the Lord in all its parts and so on.
But as Paul says, all these things that have been written are written for our warning and our instruction. So, it’s no surprise that when you look at the development of Christian culture in the West, we look back to the covenant with Israel and the constitution of that people is fascinating in that there’s no people in place. There’s no blood and soil there because he says you were slaves in Egypt. They were wanderers, and then they were slaves in Egypt. And God gave them a land. They have no ancient right to that land, and that’s another issue I would take here as we think about that—there is no absolute right of any people to any particular land. In fact, God says to Israel, “I’m going to give you this land.” We know that he’s thrown the Canaanites out. They’ve been spewed out because of their enormities. Because of their idolatry, their paganism. And Israel is in Egypt 400 years because the sin of the Canaanites had not yet reached full measure. But he warns Israel and he says, “If you commit the same sins as these people, the land will spew you out.”
So that sense of—which is right there when the American president used to take the oath of office on an open book, a Bible to Deuteronomy 27 and 28, which invokes the blessings and cursings of God on the people. There was that sense of, “We are a people in covenant with God. We are under God.” I mean, even the Canadian Charter, which is a disastrous document in my view, in the early 1980s acknowledges the supremacy of God and the rule of law when it sort of threw over the British North America Act, although it claimed to incorporate it.
So, if you look at the Western nations and our history, you see that they have a covenantal character. So, that’s what I mean by that. Over against what we would see in say, the French Revolution, which is a contractarian view of nationhood where we’re just all a bunch of autonomous individuals and we’re deciding that in a certain sense, we’re going to surrender our individual will to the general will. This is the problem of unity and diversity, particularity and universality. How do you have unity amidst diversity? Well, we’re all independent, rational beings, and we’re going to have a social contract together that that can be updated and modified in terms of the general will. Well, that’s not the Christian view. The state is not merely a social contract. A nation-state is a covenantal religious reality, and we recognize our inheritance and we recognize a commitment to the future. There’s a sort of eschatological sense of who we are. And that’s what I mean when I talk about biblical nationhood as it relates to covenant, not that I’m claiming England or America is on par with God’s covenant with Israel. But that’s what we take inspiration from, God’s formation of a nation. And that’s undeniably—the whole idea of Christian constitutionalism comes right out of the Bible. It’s right there. Read Jonathan Burnside, Britain’s foremost scholar of biblical law. That’s his position on this, and I think he’s right.
David Schrock: Yeah, so that’s helpful. So what you’re saying there is it’s not a divine covenant the way that the covenant with Abraham was, or the new covenant, let’s say. But, in light of the revelation that is given in God’s word, and the covenantal structures that are there, it’s the people who are respecting that, gaining wisdom from that, and then building a nation in a covenantal framework, analogously to what we find in the Scriptures.
Is that fair to say, how you’re putting it?
Joe Boot: Well summarized.
David Schrock: Okay. So Brad, I’m curious if there’s anything that you would say differently there. So, we’re talking to two paedobaptists brothers here, and we’d be two credobaptists. Is there a difference that we might have thinking about how nations and states work together, or is everything that Joe just said, “Yeah, that’s good to go”?
Brad Green: Yeah, so this is, I think, a challenge for us Baptists. So if you’re a Baptist who’s drunk deep at the well of reformed social theory, whether it’s Rushdoony, Dooyeweerd, Van Til, Andrew mentioned Groen van Prinsterer. I think a Baptist—we will say with our various brothers, that in the end, the position that says every social order is ultimately religious in some way, shape, or form—I do think that’s undeniable. I think that part is just every state either advances more or less towards faithfulness to Christ or is mitigating against faithfulness to Christ. I guess the dividing mark might be we are more hesitant to establish a state religion. That’s going to be the typical Baptist line in the sand. Even if it’s Baptist, we can say—I think we should say, particularly as Reformed Baptists—that every social order is going to be inescapably religious, and you simply cannot get away from that.
I think even though if I’m a Baptist and Joe and Andrew are not, I think all three of us would agree that we’re in this for the long haul and all of us want Christian individuals, Christian churches, we want our families to confess the lordship of Christ, and we believe that Romans 13, the civil magistrate, they are servants of God, they are ministers of God, they’re even avengers of God’s wrath. They are going to do that in accord with some standard, so it would be odd if the one thing we cannot look to would be God’s revelation, right? That would be an odd place to be in.
So, I think we should look to God’s word, including his law, and ask what can we do justice-wise in the present given God’s word. Now I would say as a, whatever, not quite old school covenant theologian, but probably more like Wellum and progressive covenantalism, is how do we transpose or apply the law in a new covenant key given that we live in a new covenant administration. So that would be my twist maybe a little bit, maybe on what Joe said but not hostile to it, but just similar in a Baptist key. Are we that far apart, Joe? I don’t think we’re that far apart.
Joe Boot: Not at all. I should let Andrew speak, but I would say as somebody who’s driven to be nonsectarian on the baptism issue in terms of fellowship, relationship, and co-belligerence on these issues, I don’t think there needs to be an established church. I mean, I’m British and there can be, I think, a structural interlacement between church and state without collapsing their jurisdictions and their spheres of authority. But I don’t think there does need to be a formal establishment at all to realize Christian culture.
And I think you’ve hit the absolute nail on the head, Brad, that this is absolutely about there’s no possibly neutral social order. And I think Baptists have rightly, to a degree, been sensitive about the potential of religious persecution within a Christian state, because there’s a tendency to think that if you’re going to have a Christian state, you must have a particular established version of Christianity that might persecute the others. And I actually don’t think that’s true, and I think your own country, the United States, is a great illustration of that—no established church at the federal level, but tremendous influence for the Christian faith upon the state. And a sort of corporate confessionalism really. It was certainly true in Canada which has no formal establishment but an unquestionably Christian character for the state, a Christian dominion. I think this is where the principle of sphere sovereignty that Kuyper outlined is so important, and is just as embraceable by Baptists as it is by paedobaptists. But I should let Andrew in on this because he’s much wiser than I am.
P. Andrew Sandlin: Not as handsome, but I think that it is obviously possible to have a Christian social order without a formal recognition, an explicit recognition of Christianity. In fact, I’d say that’s what the United States was originally. Why is that? Because the real issue is, as it relates to politics, will the state enforce the law of God appropriate to its sphere? And by the way, that’s very, very narrow. In the Bible, most sins are not crimes. In fact, very few of them are.
So, the Bible does not permit statism. The Bible is at war with statism. So, a state that does that is effectively a Christian state because it’s doing what God wants it to do. Whether it formally recognizes Jesus Christ as Lord—it’s certainly permitted to do that—that’s not the issue. In fact, to think that the formal recognition of the lordship of Christ guarantees a sound political order is just obviously false. This is true in imperial Russia and in a lot of the Eastern European countries that formally recognize Jesus Christ as Lord, and yet they’re radical—many times historically have been radical statist orders.
In that sense, I think the Baptists have made a great contribution in the proper understanding of separation of church and state, which is not the separation of state from God, an entirely different matter. So, I think the goal—the Christian stake in politics is to make politics less important. I wish people would understand that. Politics is not unimportant. The issue is Christian culture. Culture is the tail that wags the political dog. But because we have a 24/7 emphasis on politics today—you turn on TV, whether it’s CNN or Fox, almost everything is what is going on in Washington, D.C., and I’m sure in England, for example, it’s London. What’s going on in Parliament? What’s going on in Congress? Rather than what’s going on in Hollywood? What’s going on in popular music? What’s going on in architecture? What’s going on in all of these other spheres of culture? Those are the things that shape politics. For 150 years, Christians in the West have abandoned culture, and now, oh my, they’re in a big panic because they think they have to capture politics to reinstall the right kind of culture.
That essentially is a leftist idea. Leftists have believed historically that they capture politics to impose a particular cultural vision. That’s not the biblical approach. According to the Bible, we start churches and we have sound families and we evangelize and we influence the culture and our music and education and literature and art and architecture and technology and all these other things, and as a result of that we have a Christianized political order.
That’s very different from Christian nationalism—at least the versions of it that are I think most prominent today.
Joe Boot: And that speaks to the issue I think of totalitarianism which is not about jack boots in the hall as such. Totalitarianism is the view that the state can relate to all of these other parts of culture, as Andrew is saying, in parts to whole relationship. As though these are only lesser aspects of the state. Which is why in Roman-Catholic social theory, you have the principle of subsidiarity—a hierarchy of aspects of life. Whereas what Andrew is articulating is the principle of sphere sovereignty.
So, the goal of Christian culture is the reduction of the state to a very limited area of life. It’s one form of government, civil government, it’s one of many governments. But because of the statist character of secularism, secular paganism—and we’ve been repaganizing, going back to this Greco-Roman idea of the state. We now are starting to engage as Christians in these statist terms. And that, I think, is a serious mistake. The answer is not the capture of the levers of political power as though we can impose Christianity. We have to in all these different areas, develop a Christian vision of reality that will, over time, involve the transformation of the political sphere, a very limited sphere of life in the biblical view.
David Schrock: Yeah, that’s good. So, let me say this with sarcasm dripping. But I’ve heard about theonomy. Theonomy is God’s law. Isn’t theonomy the implementation of the law into the politics of our land today? That seems to be one way that it’s caricatured.
So, I’m wondering—I mean, Andrew, I know you’ve spent time with R.J. Rushdoony and the Chalcedon work that he has done. And so, he is certainly the father of reconstructionism and theonomy who has been reappropriated today. And Joe, you certainly do a really good job of appropriating things that he has said. What is mistaken about that idea that theonomy is just moving towards politics based upon all that you’ve just said?
P. Andrew Sandlin: I would say that have not read Rushdoony carefully at all, or maybe at all. I can assure you that Rushdoony, with whom I worked side to side for 11 years, would have been opposed to at least the versions of Christian nationalism we’re talking about. He was not opposed to Christian nations by any means. But he certainly was opposed to the idea of a centralized, top-down Christianized political order.
He was forever, in all of his interviews and much of his writing, repudiating that idea. He was often misunderstood as believing that the goal of theonomy and Christian reconstruction is to capture politics so we can impose a Christian society. If anything, he believed in a radically decentralized political order. In the American context, in the federalized context, he would tend to say that families and cities and towns should be the strongest politically. And then you move upward to counties and then the state and then, the weakest political authority of all he would have said would have been the nation. If anything, he would believe more in Christian counties than he would in Christian nationalism—or Christian towns. And more than that, the Christian family and of course, Christian churches.
So, the idea that his view was that we simply capture a nation so that we can impose a law order and sort of force people to act Christianly—he would have considered that tyrannical. And he was right about that. So, it is rather ironic for those of us who actually know the thought of Rushdoony and others, as much as we and I disagree with him on some very specific points, that they’re appropriating him for Christian nationalism. I can assure you he would certainly not have supported that version of Christian nationalism.
David Schrock: Yeah, that’s helpful to know. Joe, you also resource the Puritans. And I think, at least in my experience of the last 20 or 25 years, I’ve been influenced by John Piper, J. I. Packer, and others who will regularly cite the Puritans with regards to salvation, with regards to soteriology, with regards to sanctification, so many things like that. But one thing that is missing is their understanding of eschatology, the kingdom of God, and even some of their political thought.
And it seems as though in the last few years, maybe it was Andrew, or maybe it was you, Joe, talking about this crisis of what do we do in our culture as there’s been a loss of Christian culture? And there is a return to some of these older sources. What impact did the Puritans have on the founding of America and what today can we learn from them for what faces us in 2023 and 2024 going forward?
Joe Boot: Gosh, that’s a huge question in terms of its scope. Interesting what Andrew said that the influences on Rushdoony included the Puritans who he looked to frequently, especially in terms of some of their ideas of jurisdiction and Lordship of Christ, Kingship of Christ, as well, of course, Rushdoony very much appropriating Dooyeweerd’s understanding of statism and that particular critique.
But anybody who looks at the Puritans and Puritan England from which come some of the Puritan forefathers—they headed to the Americas, of course, Oliver Cromwell himself considered going. How you can look at the Puritans and their piety without looking at Oliver Cromwell and his politics is a little bit beyond me. John Milton was in Oliver Cromwell’s cabinet. And of course, John Owen was one of the great theologians of the same era. And their concern was Christ’s kingship. And if you look at a lot of Oliver Cromwell’s speeches, they were sermons from the Psalms on Christ’s Kingship to parliament. And Cromwell himself is, of course, is a highly contested figure. Even the Marxists have tried to claim him at times because some of the levelers amongst the Puritans. He was seen as so much a person of the people. And, of course, he his role in breaking the idea of the absolute power of monarchy. He’s a contested figure. I think of the best people to read on him actually is the Catholic scholar John Morrill who has said he’s actually been physically assaulted at conferences for speaking on Oliver Cromwell as a Roman Catholic.
But the Puritans were concerned with the Bible. Fundamentally, their contribution in America and in England was—the great statue of Oliver Cromwell outside the Houses of Parliament in England is a statue of a man holding a Bible. What does the Word of God have to say to us as a people and what do the claims of Christ really mean for the idea of a Christian commonwealth?
And the Puritans–Puritan remember was kind of a term of insult. It wasn’t sort of a blessing; it was more of a curse that they were being charged with. Many of them, of course, were Anglicans. They were people within the established church in England. They weren’t just independents; many were great Anglicans. And they were concerned for the issue of freedom under God. If we’re going to summarize it: “The lordship of Jesus Christ, freedom under God.” Is the law king, under which the king and all men and nations are subject to the law of God, or is the king over the law? The whole idea of the prince under the law—lex rex, Samuel Rutherford and his discussion of all men, kings and commoners, being under the law of God. And it was that, that relativizing of political authority to God’s authority and to the importance of the Bible, the application of the Bible.
If you look at the early laws in the Puritan colonies in the Massachusetts Bay Colony, I think—Andrew can correct me if I’m wrong. This early law, much like English law, English common law, was being taken directly out of the Bible. So, I think that was the contribution of the Puritans. Puritanism, of course, eventually is watered down. Some of the localism that Andrew is talking about gets watered down. You’ve got Cambridge Platonism which started watering down Puritanism in England. But the concern of the Puritans was with the claims of Christ and its application in not just the family, but in the family and in the church and in the state. And what role does the Bible have to play in all of that? And I think that was their great contribution, that we have to go to the Word of God, to the Bible, to inform our lives in every aspect.
David Schrock: Yeah, I think that’s a really good word. Why has there been so much blessing? It’s because in our country’s history, the Bible has played a key role there.
You mentioned Yoram Hazony earlier, and it was striking in reading his book Conservatism the way that the Hebrew Bible played a role in helping to establish the legal and justice system there in England, right? And the Anglo history there based on the Bible. So certainly, the Puritans are having that at the forefront.
And certainly today, if there’s going to be any kind of culture that is going to be recovered, it has to be with the Bible at the forefront of what is taking place there. And I appreciate the work both of you guys have done to do that very thing.
Our time is running out, so I’ll just finish with one question. And that is, what are you encouraging pastors and those who are coming in your spheres of influence with regards to your ministries—what are you encouraging them to do positively, right? If the Christian nationalism as an ideology is something to be warned of, what are you saying they should be doing today to promote a Christian culture? Andrew?
P. Andrew Sandlin: Well, great question to end on David. I believe that the answer that CCL—Center for Cultural Leadership—started on 23 years ago is the answer. And that is Christian culture. Which did not begin with nineteenth century romantic nationalism of which modern Christian nationalism is largely an appropriation, but rather historic Christian culture founded in the Bible and disclosed in the Bible. That is that every area of life and thought should be brought under the authority of Christ the King. Not coercively, but by the preaching of the gospel and submission to Jesus Christ and obedience to the word of God.
And therefore, politics is not central. The self-governed individual under God is central, in tandem, of course, with the Christian family and, of course, the Christian Church, and I would add to that today, technology, and science, and education, and music, and art, and architecture, and all of these areas of life should be understood from a distinctly Christian worldview. As you can probably tell, I’m a part of, as Joe is, the Reformational tradition. That’s to speak very much like a Kuyper and a Dooyeweerd and Bavinck and Schaeffer, for example, popularly and more recently would speak.
Schaeffer, by the way, was a strong enemy of statism. Francis Schaeffer would have been a sworn foe of any idea of a Christianity that sort of imposes itself on society. He believed in liberty and freedom and hated statism. To me, the recovery of a Christian worldview applied to culture is what I stress with pastors and other leaders, and not to simply try to get the right people elected or to get a formal Christian profession and have what Wolfe calls the Christian Prince who basically has way too much political authority. That’s not the way, that’s not the biblical way, that’s not the Christian worldview way.
Joe Boot: When Andrew was talking, I was reminded a of a story that I heard Rushdoony actually tell. I’m not old enough to have known Rushdoony personally like Andrew because he’s a little bit older than I am. So, I heard this in a lecture that he was giving, but he was actually saying that there was a point at which a very wealthy individual—very, very wealthy individual—came to him and asked him about where he should be investing his money as a Christian in order to see change in the nation.
And Rushdoony urged him to invest it in the development of Christian education, Christian schools, Christian curriculum. And this man decided not to do that. He decided to invest it in a political party, and put money behind certain candidates. And Rushdoony said that it was a number of years later, the same man came back to him and he said, “You were right. You were right.”
I think if the culture is running away from you—and the horse is several furlongs away now. It’s not just that the horse as bolted; it’s several furlongs away. The notion that the answer is the installation of some sort of powerful Christian political figure who will then turn the ship around—the only way that could be done to alter any sort of structure of a nation would be in terms of statism, in terms of a sort of almost a dictatorial authoritarianism.
Whereas, I think what I do in my ministry with the Ezra Institute, we talk about informing faith, reforming culture. Thinking Christianly is what does it mean to develop the Christian mind so that in every area of our lives we begin to think biblically, think Christianly in this new way so that whether it’s in our vocation, or our family, our civic life, our university life or our studies, academic life, law, politics, education, the arts, and so on, we begin to develop a Christian understanding of that area so that all of life is being shaped and transformed.
Now I certainly wouldn’t discourage anybody who’s interested in politics and civic life as a Christian thinking through what does it mean to have a Christian view of government. And I mentioned, I’ve written this book Ruler of Kings: Toward a Christian Vision of Government to help people moving into that area to think that through. And neither Andrew or I would discourage the idea of Christian nationhood, biblical nationhood under God.
The question is how do you get to the point where that one aspect of life, the nation-state, at the civic level is confessing Christ and applying the word of God? Which is what we talked about what a Christian state would do. So, what I encourage and I was involved in and have been involved in is the establishment of Christian schools, Christian education. How do we think through what it means as Christian leaders in the church to preach with a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other? To apply the word of God to the issues of our cultural life? What does it mean to—I’ve sat with those in law. So, let’s say I’m talking to lawyers or talking to those in medicine, doctors, what I say is, “Look, as a Christian lawyer, it’s not enough to say we need a Christian prayer group.” We want to start a prayer meeting for Christians who are lawyers. That’s good. We should do that. But what does it mean to have a Christian view of law?
And if I’m in medicine, it’s not enough to just say, “There’s a bunch of Christian doctors in this hospital. Let’s have a lunchtime Bible study.” That’s wonderful. But what does it mean to think about medicine Christianly? Et cetera, et cetera, and you could multiply that into all of the vocations and all of these different areas.
And of course, what does it mean in our own family life to develop and nurture the Christian mind and the Christian life? That’s what I’m seeking to see happen. And some of those people would be involved in political life or the judiciary—so what does it mean as a magistrate not just to have a prayer group with other Christian magistrates in your jurisdiction, but to think Christianly about the law? As we do that, civic life will alter in due course. And I think that’s what I’m seeking to do practically, and that has involved me not just establishing churches, but establishing Christian schools.
David Schrock: That’s so well said. We put it at the very end of our time together here, but it’s the Great Commission, right? To go into all the world to make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey all that Christ has commanded. And in so many ways, I do think in many churches there has been too much emphasis on evangelism, end of story. And really, there needs to be in local churches, pastors teaching the disciples to obey all that Christ has commanded. So that, whether, again, it’s in the arts or entertainment, whether it’s in science or medicine, whether it’s in law, or, at the local mechanic shop fixing your car, that there’s a Christian way of thinking about those things.
And really, that’s where the central role of the church plays its part, to be able to disciple those in all those areas, so that people are not just saved and then go their own ways, but that they are able to be informed by all that Scripture says about all of life. And brothers, you’ve been helping us immensely today to think about those very things. I appreciate it.
Joe Boot: It’s been a pleasure, David. Thank you.