David Schrock: Today, we’re sitting down with executive vice president of G3 Ministries and the author of Citizens and Exiles, Scott Aniol, and we’re discussing his book and how it relates to the project of Christian nationalism.
So Scott, welcome to Christ Over All.
Scott Aniol: Thank you so much for having me.
David Schrock: Glad to have you here, brother. And back to discuss these matters of Christian nationalism, for and against and all of that, Steve Wellum. Good to have you, brother.
Stephen Wellum: It’s great to be here. We’re having lots of great conversations with lots of people, and I’m looking forward to talking with Scott today.
David Schrock: Absolutely. Well, Scott, why don’t you tell us what you’re doing these days, where you’re working, and maybe how you got interested in this subject of church and state as well as Christ and culture.
Scott Aniol: Yeah, absolutely. So, I’m currently just west of Atlanta in Douglasville, Georgia. I’m executive vice president and editor-in-chief of G3 Ministries, as well as professor of pastoral theology at Grace Bible Theological Seminary in Conway, Arkansas.
Before coming here, I served on the faculty for 10 years at Southwestern Baptist Seminary in Fort Worth, and that really began my journey in this issue of Christ and culture and related topics. My primary area of scholarship and writing and teaching for two decades now is the area of worship theology, but inevitably when discussing that, you get into questions of culture and contextualization, the relationship between the church and the surrounding culture.
So even in my PhD dissertation—which I wrote a critical evaluation of the missional church movement, particularly its philosophy of culture and contextualization as it relates to worship. But in doing that work, I really got into issues of Christ and culture, two kingdoms theology versus neo-Kuyperianism, all of that.
So, I have been teaching and writing in that space with particular application to the church’s mission and the church’s worship, not so much political theology, but still in that general area. But then over time, I began to work in the broader implications of that as well. So I think around 2017 or 2018, I began to read some papers at ETS and a couple other conferences, not specifically with relation to culture and the church and worship, but broadening that out to a much broader sort of biblical theology in understanding the nature of these things.
And that sort of really began to lead me down that pathway even more. And then about 2021, I started the book that now has been published, Citizens and Exiles. I put it on the back burner to do some other works along the way. But then, really, because of the uptick in this discussion of Christian nationalism, toward the beginning of the summer I decided to finish that book—not as an academic treatment, but really to try to help a lot of people on a more popular level, again, with a holistic biblical theology of what God is doing in this age, and how we as Christians, and we as gathered Christians in the church, then relate to the culture around us based on what God’s intent is and what God is doing in this present age.
David Schrock: That’s helpful.
Let’s define terms here a little bit. So when you talk about what Christ is doing, what God is doing in this present age, how do you understand the two ages here? When we talked to Doug Wilson, he had a very unique way of thinking about the end of the Judaic Aeon and then the beginning of the Christian Aeon as taking place there in a more kind of partial preterist view there in the early first century. Certainly, that’s different from where you’d be. But how would you understand where we are in the ages today, and how does that impact the way that you’re approaching this subject we’re going to talk about, Christian nationalism?
Scott Aniol: So, one way of really thinking through that is to see pre-fall, the current age, and then after Christ comes again. Now, of course, the New Covenant does also add a distinction there as well. But what I argue in the book and what I would say is that God intended to rule the world through a vice regent, through a human representative with Adam being that kingly representative on earth. Adam failed in that role and was therefore cursed. So, that then institutes now this current evil age, but God intends one day that what he originally intended in the garden will be accomplished through the last Adam. And that will come. That has been assured and secured by the death, resurrection, and ascension of Christ. So, now we’re living in an age where God has provided the redemption for his people and now is gathering his people into his redemptive kingdom. But that earthly rule of the second Adam and all that that entails doesn’t occur until Christ comes again. So that’s how I conceive as the broader outworking of God’s plan.
In the interim, however, even in the curse and after the curse and certainly after the flood, God institutes certain common grace institutions like civil government, even the family—which he certainly instituted before the fall but continues as a common grace institution—for the common grace preservation of the world, even unbelieving people, in the midst of a world that is cursed by sin.
And that’s sometimes what people will refer to as the two kingdoms of God; God’s redemptive rule over his redeemed people on the one hand, but then also God’s providential rule even over unbelieving people through common grace human institutions. That’s how I conceive of what God is doing in this present age.
And we Christians are dual citizens. We are citizens ultimately of the redemptive kingdom of God, but we are also still citizens of the common institutions of this world alongside unbelieving people. So, that sometimes creates challenges for us to think through how do we relate as citizens of God’s redemptive kingdom to what’s happening in the world, the state, etc. But nevertheless, I think the Scriptures do—and particularly the New Testament—give us a clear understanding of the nature of what that relationship should be.
Stephen Wellum: I have a clarification question, Scott. I think I’m hearing what you’re saying. I didn’t hear a strong emphasis on what we would call inaugurated eschatology in the sense that the age to come that the prophets looked forward to has come in Christ. It’s not here in its fullness. You spoke of post-fall, this present age, and then it seemed to give the sense that the two-age construction was still future to us so that we live in this present age, and then ultimately Christ will come.
I’m assuming you’re a historic premillennial, so he’s coming and setting up an earthly kingdom, and that will come in terms of the new heavens and new earth. You mentioned Christ’s first coming. So on the dawning of the new covenant, would you say that even presently we have a two-age construction that typical Reformed theology and biblical theology would have in terms of the age to come has broken in, it’s already here, but it’s not yet in its fullness? Or are you not wanting to argue in that kind of two-age construction?
Scott Aniol: Yeah, I’d be willing to say certainly it is already here in the sense of the redeemed people of Christ being gathered into and under the rule of Christ even in this present age. So, I would see certainly a spiritual rule of Christ over his church during this age that certainly was, of course, secured at the cross, and now Christ is seated at the Father’s right hand.
But I would say none of the physical aspects of that reign and that kingdom will occur until Christ comes again. So, there is a sense of an already-not yet there, already spiritual, but not yet physical and consummated.
Stephen Wellum: And in the physical—I’m not familiar with all of your view on that, so just some clarification for our listeners as well. Are you putting the physical in terms of the future in a more dispensational sense or simply that Christ will come rule in the millennium, and then establish the new heavens and new earth?
Scott Aniol: Yeah, I am premillennial. I would see a literal reign of Christ on and over this earth. And I do see a future for national Israel. There’s a lot of versions of dispensationalism, and all the specifics of that I’m a little bit more ambivalent about. But by physical aspects, I mean the particular prophecies concerning the nature of the kingdom of Christ on this earth in the physical aspects of that kingdom will not occur until Christ comes again.
David Schrock: Yeah. So we could keep going down this line because certainly this plays an important role in what we’re about to talk about with regards to Christian nationalism because certainly the way that we understand the covenants working out, the understanding of typology, the Old Testament being fulfilled in the New, the already-not yet, all of those things are foundational for our understanding of what it means for Christ to be ruling and reigning today, distinct from the future and all those things.
But let’s turn the corner to think about this topic of Christian nationalism. So, Scott, as you have thought about that, (1) how would you define Christian nationalism? And (2) what would begin to be some of the reasons why you’re not persuaded that’s either a term that should be used or, more than a term, a concept that should be employed today going forward?
Scott Aniol: Yeah, I think like many of us, probably the first time I heard the term in any real significant way was after January 6th, and it was mostly sort of leftist news media who are calling out Christian nationalism. And I’m of the disposition that if leftists are complaining about something, then I’m probably willing to say, “Hey, that’s me, right?”
So, my first reaction was, “If they mean Christians who believe nations are good, Christians who want to influence the nation with Christian values, that’s me.” I believe that’s true. But then I began to see some groups, even potentially white nationalists, taking the label onto themselves, or even people like General Flynn and Marjorie Taylor Greene saying, “Hey, we’re Christian nationalists.” So I stood back and said, “Okay, before I take on this label, I want to see what it all turns out to be.” And then really, once Stephen Wolfe’s book came out and there began to be an even escalated conversation among Christians, and then there were Christians—Reformed Christians, evangelical Christians—really taking on that label, I began to say, “Okay, I need to get a handle on this and see if this is something that we really ought to be advocating for.”
I read Wolfe’s book, and I read Torba and Isker’s book. And immediately, I recognized my problem is not so much the label—although I am concerned about that because of the kinds of people who take the label—but I just disagree theologically with what is articulated in those books that these men are defining as Christian nationalism.
So, when I define Christian nationalism, I use Stephen Wolfe’s definition. I want to use his definition on his own terms. So I would define Christian nationalism as he does, as, “The totality of national action consisting of civil laws and social customs conducted by a Christian nation as a Christian nation in order to procure for itself both earthly and heavenly good in Christ.”
So, as I read him and others I was seeing, “Okay, this is more than just Christians valuing nations, recognizing that nations are God-ordained, and it’s even more than Christians saying we ought to actively try to influence our nation for good.” I believe all of that. But it’s more the idea of a nation self-identifying as Christian, and in a sort of external sense, affirming Christianity without necessarily even the citizens or even the leaders having personal faith in Christ. When I read Wolfe’s book, my immediate reaction was, “Well, this is essentially Presbyterianism applied to a nation.” So, I actually can get why a Presbyterian would see a consistency there. As a Baptist, I would I have a disagreement with that because I don’t want to call anything Christian in which there’s not a personal profession of faith and submission to the Lordship of Christ intentionally. I don’t want an external Christianity. I want an actual regenerate Christianity.
And then, reading on then into Wilson later in May—and I’d also already had this feeling too that it really fits best with a sort of postmillennial eschatology as well. Now, Wolfe is not postmillennial, but the idea of expecting the possibility of whole nations coming to identify with Christ and with Christianity in this present age—again, theologically and eschatologically I would have some differences there as well.
So, I see Christian nationalism as actually being very consistent with a Presbyterian theology and a postmillennial theology. So, my initial reaction against both the label and even the underlying ideology was just a difference theologically—that I couldn’t buy into what I’m reading in those books regarding how they’re viewing the purpose and nature of the state in this age, the relationship between church and state in this age, and particularly as a Baptist, even the idea of a state-sponsored Christianity. Just theologically, I have a difference there.
So, that was my initial reaction, my initial objection. And again, it’s more of a holistic biblical theology difference than even just who’s adopting the label or some of those other concerns as well. I do have some concerns there, but my primary reason for not wanting to adopt the Christian nationalist theology is really, at its root, theological.
Stephen Wellum: So, if you were to pick up on that given your understanding of this present age, you would say that in this present age nations are not a Christian entity, right? The church is.
Scott Aniol: Exactly.
Stephen Wellum: So now we have a proper distinction between church and state. Christians live in nations, live under the state. But it’s only, in this present age, the church that is the Christian reality. It’s the people of God. And that’s where you’re seeing the confusion with people like Wolfe or Wilson or many who come from the Reformed tradition.
Scott Aniol: Absolutely. Yeah, the state is, again, a common grace institution. It is good, right? God instituted human government for the common grace preservation of humanity in the present evil age.
But the state is not in any sense redemptive, nor does it have any role in enforcing or encouraging or leading towards people coming to Christ. That is the role of the church under the rule of Christ, under the rule of the Word. We are tasked with the Great Commission, and we are tasked with discipling of believers who come to faith. That is not the role of the state, so they are, in a sense, distinct.
Although, as you said—and this is why I think sometimes Christians have a challenge—we as Christians are in both. We are members of the redemptive people of God. We are members of the church, and we have our marching orders when it comes to the church as the church. But we are also members of the state. We’re members of nations. And again, these are good, God-ordained things, and we have a role that we are to play as citizens of human nations. And that’s a good thing, but nevertheless, they are distinct entities in the plan of God. We are members of both, so we have to figure out how we’re supposed to operate in both.
Stephen Wellum: Would you disagree with Wolfe’s understanding of a nation, a Christian nation? So, he’s saying the job of the Christian nation is to direct its people towards both temporal and spiritual ends. Would you even see that a nation’s role is to direct things towards a godly—even a temporal—end, or is it more in terms of God has instituted nations, governments, states to uphold what is good, to punish what is evil, and that their task is more limited and it’s not so much the Christian task? He’s tying it to a Christian task. Would you disagree with him on that, and just the very principle of what the role of the state actually is?
Scott Aniol: Exactly. Yeah, I would say God has ordained the state to maintain peace and order in the civil realm. So if you want to talk about, for instance, the enforcement of the law of God, I would say, yes, the state has been tasked with issues related to what we sometimes would refer to as the second table of the law, right? Interaction between citizens. So certainly, the preserving of human life; capital punishment, the punishment of those who murder; those sorts of relationships. I even see that in Romans chapter 13 where God is instituting human government for the common good of the people in order to punish wrongdoing and encourage good. But the context there in the very next verses right after that in Romans chapter 13—the specific kinds of things that Paul mentions are those second table sorts of issues, right? Relationship between neighbors.
I don’t see any biblical role for the government, as you mentioned that Wolfe argues, to lead to the spiritual good of humankind. No, that’s the church’s role. The church’s role is to make disciples. That’s what we’re talking about in terms of people coming to faith and living out their faith in life. That’s the church’s role. Government has not been instituted by God in order to enforce those sorts of laws of God.
David Schrock: Yeah, so I think the definition there that Stephen Wolfe gives on page 11 of his book is really helpful to see where this line of distinction is, right? That he would see that the nation has this role for heavenly goods, for spiritual goods, and in your work, Citizens and Exiles, you make a more clear distinction between the civil role and the redemptive role of the state first and then the church, respectively, thinking about those things.
Scott Aniol: Exactly, yeah.
And again, as Christians, as churches, we have that spiritual role. But as members of society, we ought to live out our Christian values and encourage righteousness, but how do we do that? The question is what is the means by which we do that? We engage in the public sphere, in the state, in a temporal civil manner, certainly. But then how do we encourage people to walk with the Lord spiritually? We preach the gospel and then we disciple believers to live out their faith. So, we do have that dual role. But then when we step back and look at the two institutions, the church and the state, there is a separation. And again, I just don’t see biblically the state having any role—the good that is mentioned in Romans chapter 13 is particularly in that context and then, in a broader biblical theology, the civic good of the people. But certainly not a redemptive or an eternal good that the state is tasked with.
Stephen Wellum: We’ve talked to obviously a variety of people and there are those who are more for Christian nationalism. And they would say, “Yes, governments have the role to enforce the second table of the law.” But they’re also going to make the argument that you cannot really separate the first table from the second table. They’d say, “Isn’t this a bit arbitrary? Okay, you can do it in terms of your neighbor and implications there ethically and morally, but what about in terms of blasphemy and having no other gods before me? How can we separate that?
What kind of response would you give to that? Because that’s a pretty common one, right? So if you’re going to say this is the law of God, this is what a nation should uphold—the second table—what about that first table?
Scott Aniol: Yeah, actually the first answer I would give is that I actually agree that ultimately, we cannot separate, right? Ultimately, someone will not obey the second table without also obeying the first table. That is true. But the answer then is not a sort of external enforcement of the first table. The answer is the government has to externally enforce the second just to preserve peace and order. We want to get people to submit themselves voluntarily to the lordship of Christ, that is the first table, so that they will consistently live out the second table.
And I think that’s part of the issue here. You hear the common—I think Rushdoony was one of the first to use this phrase—”it’s either Christ or chaos,” right? It’s either you obey all the law or there’s utter chaos. And again, ultimately and eternally, I agree. But temporarily in this present age, I think what that language ignores is God’s common grace.
God has given common grace to the degree that even unbelieving people can live in orderly societies. They’re actually doing so inconsistently with their own worldview and theology if they do not acknowledge the lordship of Christ. But because of God’s common grace, they do recognize—and C. S. Lewis makes this point in both Mere Christianity and The Abolition of Man—that any successful society in history has recognized, “You know, we probably need to outlaw murder because if we don’t, this is going to devolve into chaos.”
So, the purpose of civil government is merely sort of a temporal, temporary restraint and withholding of what depravity would result in left to itself. It’s not going to ultimately lead to a sort of utopia or a full observation of the entire law of God without people actually coming to faith in Christ. So ultimately, I want to see people submit themselves to the full law of God. But they’re not going to do that unless they do so voluntarily submitting to the lordship of Christ by the regenerating power of the Holy Spirit through faith in the sacrificial atonement of Christ.
The government does not have a role in enforcing the first table because it can’t, ultimately. Because the first table has to be internal. So, God has instituted government to protect human life and preserve order. Our job now as God’s redeemed people, our job as the church, is to see more and more coming into faith in Christ so that people voluntarily submit themselves to the law of Christ and therefore, voluntarily live out, and consistently live out, the word of God, even the second table of the law.
David Schrock: And Scott, when you say that, you’re tapping into the work that the Spirit does through the preaching of the gospel to change hearts, to write the law of God on the heart that is there. So in thinking about the role of the church—if the role of the church is to make disciples, to preach the gospel, to bring the light of Christ into the world—what is the public witness of the church?
You certainly say that we, as individual Christians, are a part of two different realms, two different kingdoms, right? The redemptive kingdom and the civil kingdom—and we have responsibilities in each. But what is the responsibility of the church qua church, the church as the church, to equip its people to be a public witness?
And then maybe more specifically, what is the role of the church to define what is good, right? Because I think that’s the other piece that’s related. If we’re going to say that the second table—and again, it’s somewhat arbitrary—but if we’re talking about the civil realm enforcing the second table, but it doesn’t get to define what is good. So what is the role of the church to help define what is good in civil spaces? What is the role of the church and its public witness?
Scott Aniol: So, I would say because the mission of the church is absolutely to make disciples—and what does that mean? It means teaching them to observe everything that Christ commanded. The church does have a role and a responsibility to teach the congregation how to live Christianly in every aspect of society, right? That is the church’s role. There are so many places in the New Testament you can see this. I think Peter in 1 Peter really articulates this well because he says, “Here we are. We are a holy nation. We are a royal priesthood. Our identity is ultimately as citizens of Christ’s redemptive heavenly kingdom.” But then he shows how that influences the way that we live in all of these common grace, common aspects of life. Whether it be family, submission to authority in government, work in vocation, all of these things are ways in which Christians ought to live out what it means to be a Christian in those spheres of life.
So, this is where my view is sometimes caricatured as, “You just believe that the public sphere is neutral and that secularism is good.” Absolutely not. Nothing is neutral. As Christians, we ought to be living out externally our inward faith in Jesus Christ, and it is the church’s role to teach the people of God how to do that. And we see that articulated in the New Testament. So that’s absolutely what I would see as the church’s role.
In terms of defining what is good, again, I guess it depends on what we mean by good. Ultimately, true, holistic good is voluntary repentance of sin and submission to the lordship of Christ. So that’s, I would say again, what is the church’s primary role. Preach the gospel and define goodness based on scripture, based on the law of God, absolutely. And then move people to recognize that they are breaking the law of God. They need to submit their hearts to the law of God and then live out the righteousness of Christ in every aspect of life.
But when it refers to our public witness or what we want to tell the state to do, I think we define goodness as goodness compared to the righteousness of God as expressed in his Word and through his law. Absolutely. But part of that also then is going to say, if I’m a Christian and I’m submitting to the authority of scripture, I want to ask the question, “What has God ordained human government to do?” And if God has ordained human government, merely to create a sort of temporal good and the preservation of peace and order in a sin cursed society, then even as a Christian, that’s what I want to urge government to do. I want to tell government, “You need to protect innocent life.” So abortion needs to be abolished and capital punishment is a good in order to protect human life and punish those who murder.
I want to tell government, “Your role in preserving the peace of society is to outlaw theft and to punish theft, to outlaw anything that would destroy or harm life or safety, to protect from those who would harm us from external sources.” So even, the protecting of borders and just law and all of those sorts of things.
So I believe that Christians and the church as the church definitely should proclaim that and encourage that, but I think it would be wrong for the church to tell the government, “It is your role, for instance, to outlaw blasphemy.” People who blaspheme are disobeying the law of God, and I want to see blasphemy completely eradicated. But how is blasphemy eradicated? Again, it is by people putting their faith and trust in Jesus Christ, having regenerate hearts. That’s not the role of the government; that’s the role of the church.
Stephen Wellum: Now, there would be a place in this if a government was actually upholding, say, the sanctity of life, marriage, and these types of things, for the state to say we will not allow for polygamy. So, you think of in our history with Mormonism—and of course they’ve had a revelation that’s changed from polygamy to monogamy—that would be where some of this becomes a fine line where you are arguing against a religious view. In some sense, you’re saying we will not accept the practice of your religion because of its entailments towards polygamy and so on.
So there’s where things get a little blurry, but you’re saying still, government then upholds the good by protecting life, protecting human sexuality, marriage, property, these type of things that are tied to the second table and in some sense are grounded in creation order as well.
Scott Aniol: Yeah, absolutely.
And it is blurry, and it is messy because we don’t live in a perfect world yet. And because I would say government wasn’t intended to create the perfect world. And so it is messy. It’s hard. How do you defend these things? You are arguing against religious positions like you mentioned. So, it does get sticky.
But in the same respect, because this is God’s world and because even the law of God is written on men’s hearts, even the fact that even unbelieving people are made in the image of God as Romans 1 and 2 teach, there is, even in that, among unbelieving people a sort of common grace recognition that when certain things are in place, society works better, and when certain things are not, society does not operate well.
So, I think even in those ways, we can appeal to men’s consciences, we can appeal to the created order in arguing those things. But yes, it’s going to be messy. And this is part of, I think, the difference between what I would say and what a lot of, especially, postmillennial, theonomic Christian nationalists would say. And that is that that in this age, God has not promised things to get to a place of perfection or utopia. We’re always going to have to deal with these sticky questions because we live in a sin-cursed world. It’s the nature of the sin that we have around us. Government is given to us, the state has been given to us, as a common grace means to preserve things, but it’s never going to ultimately result in redemption or perfection in this age.
David Schrock: So let me pick up on that and just ask—so thinking about common grace, I’m wondering if common grace is common, or if common grace is actually the fruit of the presence of the gospel and conversion in those places, right? I’m thinking about, certainly different nations that have had different impact from the gospel are going to have different civic orders, are going to have different laws on the books, and everything else like that.
Is common grace a general common reality, or by means of the church’s public witness is common grace actually going to become more gracious by means of seeing culture changed as—hearts are changed certainly—but as that culture changes, that leads to changes in law and custom and all the rest. How do you understand common grace in different cultures?
Scott Aniol: So, I would say actually both-and. I do think common grace is common, that God has given certain, again, institutions and means to all people without distinction for their common good. Meredith Kline talks about this in Kingdom Prologue, that the reason God does this is really to set a stage for the accomplishing of redemption of his people, right? Because things would devolve into chaos without those gracious means that are given to all people.
On the other hand, I do agree completely that the more Christians there are in a society, the better things are going to be. The more influence of Christians living faithfully and living out their Christian witness in every aspect, every sphere, and proudly and boldly proclaiming the gospel, the more Christians that there are in a society, the more influence of the gospel that there is, certainly things are going to be better. And there will be, like you said, even more graciousness to even the common grace. So, certainly that is the case. I would see that as definitely a both-and there.
Stephen Wellum: Yeah, can I just follow up on that? Because a lot of the discussion with Christian nationalists present almost a kind of ideal world. Maybe that’s some of their postmillennialism coming in—almost that the entire culture is Christian and the gospel has so taken over and now we can put laws into the nation that acknowledge God, and not just any God but the Christian God and so on.
So, in your view—I think this would be maybe helpful to ask you about to just distinguish from others. So, even in a case where we think a huge revival has taken place; that many have come to faith in Christ; the churches have grown; there’s the secondary, tertiary benefits of the gospel that are spilling over to society as Christians are living as salt and light and so on; even the society is benefiting from that, even though they’re not Christian; there’s wanting to put, in some sense, Christian laws in place, right? Upholding what is right and good and moral—marriage and the sanctity of life and so on and so on. That’s the ideal, right?
We, in some sense, had that with the Great Awakening and some of the Evangelical revivals and that’s probably crucial and foundational to even this nation and it’s founding. So even then, if that’s the case, you would I think still—and correct me if I’m wrong—you’d still say the role of the state though still must be, even if you have majority of Christians in society, not to make the state, per se, a Christian state or a Christian nation. The government is still called, even if they are Christian, to act in a certain way. They’re limited in their sphere, and it’s not to then turn the entire nation to Christianity. The church is Christian and you may have a lot of Christians in the state, but it still must function as a state.
Would that be a correct way of saying what you’re saying?
Scott Aniol: Yeah, exactly. And I think you’re right, too. I think that is largely what we had in the founding of our nation and the Great Awakening and all that happened there. The ideal vision of a government is a theocracy ruled by a perfect king, right? That’s where I think there’s agreement. The question is, when will that take place? And again, I would say that doesn’t take place until the king has returned. I think a lot of Christian nationalists have a sort of over realized expectation of what government is supposed to accomplish and can accomplish before the return of Christ.
I would see a lot of parallels here with even something like medicine or bodily exercise, right? These are common grace blessings that are necessary because of sin and can help to slow down the decay, but they can never ultimately give life. And that’s the same with human government. Government will never be able to bring about full peace and order and justice as long as sinners are ruling, even Christian sinners. And so I think the genius of the American form of government was recognizing those limitations and recognizing human depravity has to be taken into account, even in the formation of a government, even the depravity of its leaders.
So, this is where I think there was genius in separation of powers, checks and balances, representative democracy and not just full democracy, all of that. And yes, if there’s a great revival and there’s many, many Christians in a nation and many, many Christians get into political power, still, I would say you keep checks and balances, you keep separation of powers, you keep a representative government, you keep a limited government, only tasked with providing civil order. And this is what I think happened in the founding of our nation where men who were either themselves true Christians, because there were some, or even if they weren’t Christians, they were definitely influenced by many, many years of Christian values. They recognized this, they recognized human depravity, they limited government, and they didn’t say this is a Christian nation. They recognized that’s not the government’s goal. They instituted just and moral laws that are consistent with biblical values in Christianity, but nevertheless, still recognized human depravity, recognized their own depravity as leaders, not trusting in any one man or any body of men to have all of the power so that government would do what it’s supposed to do as ordained by God, and then giving the church the freedom to do what the church is supposed to do, and that is to make disciples.
David Schrock: Yeah, I think that’s one of the things that we certainly see in this conversation where there’s a great confidence it seems in someone like a Stephen Wolfe—and we talked to Timon Cline as well—of putting power in the hands of a Christian Prince. Whether that Christian Prince is one man or plurality of leaders, there’s great confidence in that. And maybe there’s not the same kind of conviction that was had at the founding of the sinfulness of humanity and the way that a person in power can become a tyrant very easily. So, I think that’s one of the points of discussion here.
Scott, I’d be really curious to hear how you would distinguish your understanding of the millennial reign of Christ on the earth as opposed to a postmillennial reign of the church, which is mediating the presence of Christ on the earth today. Because my understanding would be, just to clarify, that Christ would return—so I’m not a pre mill, so I’m trying to get into your shoes here for a second, right? So, Christ would return and there would still be unregenerate men and women on the earth, but there would be a ruling in righteousness on the earth that in some ways seems to be what the goal of post millennialism would be, but the difference being Christ is on the earth.
Can you help just compare and contrast those views?
Scott Aniol: No, you articulated that exactly right. That’s the irony. And I even, when I reviewed Doug Wilson’s book and had some online interchange, I made this point. I actually agree completely with what the goal is. It is unbelievers and believers living in this world together and there being a righteous rule at the same time. The difference is really a matter of timing, right? So yes, absolutely.
In, in my theology, Christ is on earth. He is ruling with a rod of iron. There are unbelievers who are living, and that’s increasing as more and more children are being birthed during the period. But they’re being ruled justly and righteously. Therefore, there is much more peace and order than there ever would be otherwise. So that’s the irony when you bring eschatology into it. There’s overlap between premillennialism and postmillennialism when it comes to what we expect; Christ ruling on this earth in a just way when there’s unbelievers and believers. Of course, the big difference there is whether it’s Christ himself and then us ruling and reigning with him, with which I would agree, or whether it’s simply mediated through the church.
And then there is overlap between premillennialism and amillennialism in the understanding of what is currently taking place—the nature of the kingdom currently is spiritual and that the mission of the church currently is the evangelization and discipleship of people within our churches. So, there’s overlap there and really, it’s a matter of timing. Really, it’s a matter of biblical interpretation. So, again, when I look at somebody like a Doug Wilson for example, a Presbyterian postmillennialist, I can respect that the Christian nationalist Mere Christendom project fits within his theological construct, and I definitely see it as merely a difference of theology and biblical interpretation.
What puzzles me is when non-postmillennial Baptists jump on the Christian nationalist bandwagon. And really, when I started seeing that, that was when I decided to enter the fray. And I simply just started saying I don’t understand how Baptist theology is consistent with a sort of Christendom idea. So, that’s really who I’m talking to. I love having dialogue with a guy like Wilson. I think he’s consistent with this theology and it’s really a matter of clarifying where our positions are. And then obviously we have different biblical interpretation. I’m more puzzled by non-postmillennial Baptists, and I’m just trying to figure out how they’re reconciling the Christian nationalist Mere Christendom project from within the Baptist framework and not holding to a postmillennial eschatology.
David Schrock: Yeah, I’m glad you went there because that was actually one of the last questions that I wanted to ask as we’re closing up time here. And we’ll have to sell this to all the Baptist Christian nationalists out there—they have to wait until the end for this discussion right here.
But Scott, as you’ve looked at that—I’ve got a particular question in a moment—but just generally, what have the conversations been like? Have you received any pushback from that or had any dialogue? So, I know you’ve spent time, interacting with Doug Wilson and Uri Brito and others like that. Have you had any back and forth with some of the Baptist Christian nationalists that have been helpful in any of those conversations?
Scott Aniol: Yeah, maybe not so helpful. There’s been a lot of fire, and Twitter is not the best world for good conversation. If I think back, I think the very first comment I ever made on anything related to this topic was when I saw a Baptist say something like, “Baptists need a Christendom,” or something like that. And I just responded, “Baptist theology is incompatible with the idea of Christendom.” Because, again, the idea of Christendom is calling the nation Christian from an external perspective before there’s actually internal profession.
And again, as a Baptist, I don’t want people to publicly acknowledge Christ’s lordship in a formal way until after they actually believe it. So that was my first interaction. And yeah, there are Baptists out there who are Christian nationalists and who definitely objected to me saying that. And unfortunately there hasn’t been a whole lot of useful conversation up to this point.
But again, I just think let’s go to the Scriptures. Let’s be consistent within our own theological constructs and biblical interpretation. And my goal in all of this is exactly that, that we would be biblical. My main concern is that we don’t lose our mission. I think that’s always a danger whenever. Whenever societal transformation—this is historically true—whenever societal transformation becomes a dominant goal, we tend to lose the mission that Christ has given to us. That’s not saying that what we do in the public sphere is wrong or unnecessary. That is a way that my view has been caricatured, like it’s the sort of pietistic withdrawal. I’m not arguing for that whatsoever. Christians ought to boldly live out our Christian faith in the public sphere. Nations matter, how we vote matters, all of that. But at the same time, that’s not our mission.
That’s not our war Paul says in 2 Corinthians 10. We don’t war with weapons of the flesh. Our primary battlefield is in the realm of arguments and lofty opinions raised against the knowledge of Christ. And therefore, our primary weaponry is not fleshly weaponry, but divine weapons. And those divine weapons have been given to us in the Word of God. They are the ordinary means of grace: preaching, scripture reading, teaching, worship, proclamation of the gospel, discipling of believers.
That’s our primary mission. And then absolutely, as believers as we go out, we need to be bold witnesses, but we also need to stand for righteousness and justice. We need to stand against ungodliness in our culture and murder and rape and all of that. We absolutely need to be public about that and stand against that, but recognizing that we haven’t been promised full societal transformation and utopia in this present age. That will come when the king comes, and we long for that day. We don’t give up. We still try to do good for our fellow brothers and sisters in the church, as well as our fellow human beings in this world to try to encourage righteousness.
But at the end of the day, we recognize the limitations of these earthly institutions, and we long for the day when Christ will come and he will redeem all things for his glory.
David Schrock: I think you double click or you’ve emphasized that main thing of the mission of the church. I think that’s something that we would all share with you, a passion for that. And it’s really a concern of losing that. We’ve seen that on the other side with regards to social justice and wokeness and all of that. I’m just wondering—so a couple thoughts. One of them is I can imagine someone who’s a Baptist but who has heard this title from the left of a “Christian nationalist” and says “Yeah, I’m for my nation. I’m a Christian.” And they’re happy just to receive the term. I could see that combination there.
But then secondarily, there’s something a bit deeper than that. And that is something more of a tactic, right? So thinking about the tactics of this, where they are trying to bring back a kind of culture that is Christian in our country.
And maybe to put the best of those together, is it possible that there could be somebody who holds strongly to a regenerate church membership, everything that we would with regards to a Baptist church, but then also says, I want to be working—and maybe they even recognize it’s not the church’s mission to do this, but Christians going out from the church should be striving to see a culture that is Christian that would include the laws of the land. That they would have that kind of forward leaning movement.
Now, some of them might be postmillennial, some might not be. But they would see that the tactics are to seek a culture that is Christian. Do you think it’s possible to hold both of those two things together, or the moment that you begin moving that direction, it loosens your grip on the mission of the church?
Scott Aniol: Yeah, so I think absolutely there are a lot of people in that category, right? And there are even a lot of people who would say, “I just believe, I love my nation. I believe nations are good. And I’m a Christian, so I’m a Christian nationalist.” And I get that. I would just say there’s more to it than that, but I get it. That’s where I am, too. I’m the same way.
But then to the second question—yes, I would be concerned. If we say—even not as a church, but as Christians—we need to be striving for Christian culture, I would just say that’s the wrong way of thinking, and it does loosen our grip on the spiritual battle that we’ve been given. I think rather we should be saying we need to be striving to proclaim the gospel and bring more people into the kingdom of Christ, and we need to be striving to live our Christianity as boldly and as faithfully as possible. That’s it. And the more that we do that, perhaps that will influence culture for good.
Yes, I long for that. I think that’s a good thing. I don’t agree with a Russell Moore who would say we need to rejoice that culture is less Christian. I disagree with that, right? But that’s not our goal though. Because again, the danger is we loosen our grip on the mission, and then the other danger is—and I’ve seen this—because I don’t believe biblically that’s been promised, we might strive for that, and strive for that, and strive for that, and we keep losing, losing, losing. And then we get discouraged, and a lot of people end up getting burnt out. And I want to say, what does the New Testament tell us to expect? It tells us to expect persecution. It tells us to expect that we will be persecuted for our faith and for our Christian living. That doesn’t mean it will always happen. And again, the more Christians there are, the better things might get, and we should rejoice in that. But if that’s our mission and our goal, I’m afraid we’re going to be discouraged, burnt out, and tempted to give up what is actually our mission in this present age.
David Schrock: Steve, anything to add to that to press in on the discussion?
Stephen Wellum: I think you’ve clearly defined your position, the mission of the church. I think it’s going to be really helpful in setting it over against some of the other conversations and seeing both similarities—obviously there’s a similar goal that many of us have living in this nation, seeing its collapse, seeing its moral depravity, all around the corruption of government, and so on.
And I think a lot of the discussion is, how could we get back to maybe a better age or better time in the nation? But then we have to think carefully how we do that, and the role of the church, the importance of the preaching of the gospel, the mission of the church, regeneration, right? In some of our discussions, we haven’t heard from others too much about the doctrine of regeneration, assuming that a country can almost enact laws and bring change to people’s hearts.
So, this is going to be a really helpful discussion. I really thank you, Scott, for laying it out here. So, we’ll really see some of the differences and both agreements and disagreements and maybe forge ways forward.
Scott Aniol: Yeah, I think you’re right too about the overlap and the similarities, right? We ultimately all want the same thing. The question is, how do we get there? We all want a Christian prince, right? We all want a perfect world and a perfect theonomy and all of that. But the question is, what have we been commanded to do? What has Christ promised will happen?
So, at the end of the day if we can all agree on boldly proclaiming the gospel and faithfully living in any ways that we can in society, that’s great. And that’s why I really did enjoy dialogue with a guy like Doug Wilson who has a long view, and I think what we both think we ought to be doing right now is pretty much the same—church planting, faithful proclamation of the gospel, faithful worship, rearing godly kids, working hard on our vocations. If that’s what we ought to be doing right now, sign me up.
David Schrock: I think that’s important, especially with the pressures that come from our leaders in government. The more that there’s a clamp down and overreach and even government tyranny, the more that it crystallizes what are the main things.
And certainly, part of that is to be a witness to the world, but it’s to be witness world for Christ and the salvation that he brings in the gospel. So, we’ll continue to talk through these things, but I do hope that, even as we see the differences this month and in the months to come, that there is also recognition of the similarities and the need for our nation to know Christ in his salvation.
Scott Aniol: Amen.
David Schrock: Well, Steve, Scott, this has been a fun conversation. Thank you guys both for being on the podcast today.
Scott Aniol: Enjoyed it. Thanks so much.
Stephen Wellum: Great conversation. Thank you, Scott.