Twelve Reflections on Twelve Interviews on Christian Nationalism

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Editor’s Note: you may listen to this article read on our podcast here.

David Schrock—along with either Trent Hunter, Brad Green, or Steve Wellum—recently conducted twelve interviews about Christian nationalism for Christ Over All:


  1. Kevin DeYoung: Interview | Transcript
  2. Mark David Hall: Interview | Transcript | Article
  3. John Wilsey: Article | Article Audio | Interview | Transcript
  4. Douglas Wilson: Interview | Transcript
  5. Stephen Wolfe: Interview | Transcript
  6. Andrew Walker: Interview | Transcript
  7. P. Andrew Sandlin and Joe Boot: Interview | Transcript
  8. Tom Ascol: Interview | Transcript
  9. Timon Cline: Interview | Transcript
  10. Scott Aniol: Interview | Transcript
  11. Jonathan Leeman: Interview | Transcript
  12. Albert Mohler: Interview | Transcript

Schrock and friends tried to approach these conversations like Detective Columbo by asking questions such as these:

  • What is Christian nationalism? How do you define it?
  • How have others misunderstood or misrepresented your view of Christian nationalism? What would you like to clarify?
  • What is the church? What is the church’s mission?
  • What is the state? How do the church and state relate? How do Christ and the state relate?
  • What is the law of God? How does that apply to nations? Does only the second table of the Decalogue apply? Or both tables?
  • What is your ideal vision of government? Is it a Christian monarchy? Is it a representative form of government like the American founding? Something else?
  • How would you advise Christians to respond to government corruption and tyranny?

I copied the transcripts of those twelve interviews into a Word document, and that document is 200 pages single-spaced. That’s a lot to sort through. After listening to the twelve interviews and reading the transcripts, I offer the following twelve reflections or observations.

Reflection 1. The interviewees are basically within views 4 and 5 in my taxonomy of political theology.

In my taxonomy of political theology (article | article audio | interview), here is how I label views 4 and 5:

  • View 4. Religious Influence: The government should not promote only one particular religion, yet religion may influence the government within limited parameters. (For view 4—in contrast to view 3—the public square is not religiously neutral.)
  • View 5. Christian Government: The government and religion overlap. (For view 5, religion should not merely influence the government. The government should identify as a Christian government.)

I say, “The interviewees are basically within views 4 and 5” because I am not sure if Stephen Wolfe might fit in view 6. My guess is that he would place himself within view 5.

This is what I expected. When conservative, confessional evangelicals have in-house debates regarding political theology today, for the most part they are somewhere on a spectrum spanning views 4 and 5.

Views 4 and 5 agree on the following:

  • The government and the church are separate in the sense that they have distinct God-authorized jurisdictions.
  • The public square cannot be religiously neutral; it is a religious battleground.
  • The church’s mission is to make disciples. For example, Doug Wilson explains, “Some people are afraid of Christian nationalism being an ecclesiocracy where the clerics or the ministers are running the show as Muslim clerics are functioning in Iran. I don’t think that’d be wise or smart at all. I don’t think that the church has that role. I think the church should simply be preaching the gospel, building people up in their faith, feeding them the Word of God, and expecting them as intelligent Christians, taught Christians, to go figure out what to do in the coding world, and in the bicycle repair world, and in the astrophysics world. That’s all kingdom work.”
  • Individual Christians should significantly influence the government.
  • The government should not force citizens to follow Christianity since only the Spirit’s regeneration produces a heart change; the church’s weapon is not the sword but instead the word, prayer, water, bread, and wine.

Reflection 2. The interviewees disagree on whether it would be good to have a Christian government.

The key difference between views 4 and 5 in my taxonomy of political theology is whether it would be good for the government to be a Christian government.

  • For view 4 (religious influence), the government should neither (1) exclusively promote a particular religion nor (2) restrict the spread of false religious beliefs nor (3) adopt a policy on the basis of Christian beliefs nor (4) institutionalize Christianity.
  • For view 5 (Christian government), the government may do all those activities. That is, the government may (1) exclusively promote Christianity (but not impose Christianity) and (2) restrict the spread of false religious beliefs and (3) adopt a policy on the basis of Christian beliefs and (4) institutionalize Christianity to some degree. In other words, the government may identify as a Christian government in the sense that the laws and customs it promotes derive from the ultimate authority of God. The government may enforce biblical law appropriate to its God-designed sphere or jurisdiction.

For view 4, it would not be good to have a Christian government. For view 5, it would. Some of the interviewees fit in view 4 (e.g., Mark David Hall, John Wilsey, Andrew Walker, and Jonathan Leeman), some fit in view 5 (e.g., Douglas Wilson, Joe Boot, Andrew Sandlin, Timon Cline, and probably Stephen Wolfe), and some might be more like a 4.5 rather than distinctly one or the other (e.g., Kevin DeYoung, Tom Ascol, and Albert Mohler). For example, Tom Ascol confirmed with me via email that he supports a self-identified Christian government that recognizes its very limited role in strictly religious affairs (like worship and beliefs) and that may adopt public policies and laws based on what God has revealed in the Bible.

Reflection 3. The interviewees agree that America had a Christian founding.

They do not agree that America was a Christian nation, but they do agree that Christian ideas profoundly influenced America’s founders. As Mark David Hall argues, those Christian ideas were “developed within the Christian tradition of political reflection.” That is different from saying that America was founded as a Christian nation, which to Mark David Hall “sounds exclusive, as if it’s a nation founded by and for Christians, where non-Christians will maybe be tolerated, but not much more than that.”

Reflection 4. The interviewees know what time it is.

In the past few years, it has become increasingly common to describe a person like this: “He knows what time it is.” Or, “He doesn’t know what time it is.” The concept of knowing what time it is comes from at least two Scripture passages:

  • 1 Chronicles 12:32a: “Of Issachar, men who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do ….”
  • Luke 12:56: [Jesus rebukes the crowds,] “You hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of earth and sky, but why do you not know how to interpret the present time?

As Doug Ponder explains, our times are antiauthoritarian, sentimental, therapeutic, secular, progressive, licentious, and anti-Christian. In our current context, those who know what time it is recognize that our culture has moved from a positive world for Christianity to a neutral world to a negative world. They recognize that the widespread ideologies of abortion and LBGT and wokeness and Marxism are evil. They are not pretending that the problems are not really there. They are not pretending that the problems are not really that bad.

All the interviewees know what time it is. As Kevin DeYoung says, “Some seismic changes have happened in the last 20 years—at least 50 or 60 years—such that any kind of strong Christian consensus is no longer operative in this country.”

Reflection 5. The interviewees agree that a Christian culture in a society is good.

Kevin DeYoung explains,

When some people say “cultural Christianity,” they may have in their mind nominalism, a Christianity that is just a cultural garb. The danger they’re worried about is hypocrisy, nominalism, dead churches, all of which are concerns in Scripture. So when some people hear the discussion, they’re like, “You want that? I don’t want cultural Christianity. I want vibrant Christianity. I want the real thing. So if that goes, then good riddance.” However, if we’re talking about a Christian culture, and I think that’s what people often mean by cultural Christianity, they’re meaning a culture that has been markedly, demonstrably shaped by Christianity. In my mind, of course we want that.[1]

1. In Kevin DeYoung’s review of Stephen Wolfe’s book, he says, “The best part of the book is Wolfe’s chapter on ‘The Good of Cultural Christianity’ and, in particular, the section on ‘Celebrating Decline.’ Wolfe is right to maintain that while cultural Christianity cannot save sinners (i.e., the message of the gospel is entrusted to the church, not to the civil order), a Christian culture can be both preparative and persuasive in direction of the gospel ([Stephen Wolfe, The Case for Christian Nationalism,] 213). Just because hypocrisy and nominalism are dangers—dangers that ministers should and do warn against—that doesn’t mean we should welcome the collapse of social assumptions and stigmas that pushed people in the direction of biblical truth and basic morality. … I share Wolfe’s bewilderment over the Christian leaders who seem to prefer a society hostile to Christianity. I’ve seen pastors in my own denomination look wistfully at Christians losing power and becoming a minority in the country, as if Constantine ruined everything and our influence would be so much greater if only we could lose power and become more marginalized. It’s one thing to acknowledge cultural Christianity comes with tradeoffs or to recognize cultural Christianity allowed for certain sins to flourish; it’s another thing to say ‘good riddance’ to Bible Belt near-Christianity, as Russell Moore did in a 2015 article that Wolfe quotes at length (224–25). Wolfe notes how Moore rejoices that ‘we don’t have Mayberry anymore, if we ever did’ (226). Traditional family values may have kept some children in intact families. ‘But,’ Moore concludes, ‘that’s hardly revival’ (225). True, not revival, but something worth preserving, if we can?”

None of the interviewees think that it is a net gain for society to move from a Christian culture to a culture that is hostile to Christianity. They agree that a Christian culture in a society is good.

Reflection 6. The interviewees basically agree on the strategy of what faithful Christians should do right now.

Of course, they don’t agree on all the details of political theology and what that entails for the most wise political strategy right now. But they agree on the most fundamental applications—basic principles like the following:

  • Be a godly man or woman. Trust and obey God.
  • Be a faithful husband or wife.
  • Be a faithful father or mother by bringing up your children with a Christian enculturation.
  • Be a faithful church member. Work together with your church to make disciples locally and globally.
  • Be diligent and outstanding at your vocation.
  • Proclaim the gospel in your spheres of influence.
  • Be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

Scott Aniol puts it this way:

We ultimately all want the same thing. The question is, how do we get there? We all want a Christian prince, right? [That is, Jesus Christ.] 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.

Albert Mohler puts it like this:

The first responsibility of the church is the preaching of the word of God, and the obedience of Christ’s people in all that Christ commanded. And that includes honoring marriage, honoring the family, raising our children in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and obeying Christ in all things from the Great Commission to the entirety of the biblical commands given to us. So that’s the Christian responsibility. I think the Christian citizen responsibility, out of love of God and love of neighbor and obedience to Christ, is to seek to influence the society in the most honorable and truth-centered and God-honoring way to the limits of what is politically possible in any generation, and to seek to make it even more possible in generations to come.

Reflection 7. The interviewees disagree on how to talk about the Ten Commandments with reference to political theology.

There are at least four positions:

Position 1. Christians should not tie their view on the Ten Commandments tightly to their political theology. This is a minority position within view 4 in my taxonomy on political theology. Andrew Walker states, “I would not say that we base our understanding of the natural law on the Decalogue. I think we need to go prior to that, to the covenant of creation.”

Position 2. The government should enforce only the second table; the government should not enforce the first table. Most proponents of view 4 in my taxonomy hold this view. Scott Aniol explains,

Ultimately, someone will not obey the second table [commandments five through ten] without also obeying the first table [commandments one through four]. 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.

Jonathan Leeman shares this view but qualifies that it is helpful as a shorthand:

Sometimes people use shorthand to say, “Well, I think the government’s called to enforce second table instead of first table,” just because one [i.e., the second table] gets it horizontal—neighbor-to-neighbor—and one [i.e., the first table] gets it vertical—us to God. And as a very quick shorthand for where government jurisdiction lies, okay. But as soon as you push into the details of that, yeah, that starts to break down because, as you say, first of all, the whole Ten Commandments are given to Israel. Look at the first few verses of Exodus 20. “I brought you out of Egypt.” But it doesn’t even quite work with the second table, does it? Think about the law against coveting. We’re getting to certain heart matters there. How do you restrict coveting? I’m not sure how you do that. And Jesus himself then takes the second table and says, “Look, even if you hate your brother or lust against another woman, you’ve broken that.” Okay, so in Jesus’s interpretation of the second table, are we going to enforce that as well against lust and against hate? So yeah, I think you need to be very careful before you say first table, second table. Though I understand in shorthanded fashion why it’s sometimes useful to speak that way.

Position 3. The government should acknowledge the first table and enforce the second table. This position is saying a bit more than the previous position; it seems to fall between views 4 and 5 in my taxonomy. Albert Mohler states, “I don’t believe that western civilization can endure without acknowledging the first table of the law and obeying the second table. … I think our society, historically and in the present and in the future, should and must acknowledge the first table of the law. And that should be a matter of constitutional importance.”

Position 4. The government should enforce both the first and second tables of the law. In other words, the government should pursue justice by promoting the natural law (which the Ten Commandments summarize) as much as prudently possible. Proponents of view 5 in my taxonomy hold this position. Timon Cline says that it is fair to say that he supports “establishing Christian laws of morality” from both the first and second tables of the law. Doug Wilson explains, “Together with Stephen Wolfe and others, I do believe in the continuing validity of the first table of the law. If someone says, ‘Do you want to see blasphemy eradicated? Do you want to see limitations on blasphemy and restrictions on blasphemy?’ Yes I do very much, and I do think that should be something that is done constitutionally and via the law.”

Reflection 8. The interviewees disagree on how to define “good” and “bad” in Romans 13:3.

Romans 13:3 says, “Rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval.” What do the words “good” and “bad” refer to in Romans 13:3? The interviewees hold two basic positions:

Position 1. The words “good” and “bad” in Romans 13:3 refer to civic good and bad. (John Piper argues elsewhere that “good” refers to “civic good deeds that were widely respected by non-Christians.”) Jonathan Leeman explains,

Blasphemy is, for instance—idolatry is punishable by death in Israel, but not among the nations. You never see that. So by the time you get to the New Testament, and you say, “Punish the evil and reward the good,” you have to understand that within a certain context, right? So, in the same way, let’s suppose I walk into a classroom and I say to the teacher, “Okay, reward the good kids. Punish the bad kids.” You understand that in the context of a classroom that there are certain goods and certain bads that teachers are going to reward and punish. A commercial airline pilot is going to say, “Wear your seat belts, and put your tray tables away.” He’s going to have a certain set of rules—certain goods and bads that he’s going to enforce by virtue of his context. A pastor, a mother—the context to some extent is going to determine the jurisdiction of goods and bads. So when Peter says and Paul says, “Reward the good, punish the bad,” there’s a certain context in mind, a civil context, that you have to look at the whole storyline of scripture to say, “Okay, what is that?” It’s not all goods, all bads. That’s God. God does all goods, all bads. Not government. So yeah, that requires us to pay attention to the storyline of Scripture as a whole to determine what goods, what bads government is to enforce.

Similarly, Scott Aniol explains,

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. … 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.

Position 2. The words “good” and “bad” in Romans 13:3 refer to what God says is good and bad (cf. Romans 13:8–10, which adds, “and any other commandment” and thus includes more than the second table). While interviewing Joe Boot and Andrew Sandlin, Brad Green says (apparently to their approval—they don’t disagree),

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.

Reflection 9. The interviewees disagree on whether the label “Christian nationalism” is helpful.

All of the interviewees recognize that non-Christians—especially the media—would label any Christian within views 4 and 5 as a “Christian nationalist.” Albert Mohler explains,

In one sense, this is a very clever packaging just to try to scare people by putting together the words Christian and nationalism as if that’s some threat to our constitutional form of government, which is, I think, exactly contrary to the truth. I think it’s the foundational worldview that makes our constitutional system of government, indeed our entire civilizational system, possible. … These days, all you have to do is believe that marriage is to be the union of a man and a woman—all you have to do is believe that there’s a man and a woman—and you are going to be called a Christian nationalist in this society. If you believe that a man’s a man, a woman’s a woman, and that there’s an ontological status to the word boy and an ontological status to the word girl, then you’re an outlaw.

Not all of the interviewees, however, would use the label “Christian nationalist” to describe themselves. Most—such as Mark David Hall—do not prefer it because they think it is misleading and unhelpful. Joe Boot, for example, explains, “I’m not especially comfortable with that designation because of the cultural freight that comes with it.” Andrew Walker prefers the labels “Christian democracy” or “civic theism,” but he recognizes that he has a lot in common with many who call themselves Christian nationalists:

Rather than setting ourselves against each other and lighting each other on fire, we should understand that we all stand opposed to abortion. We all stand opposed to Obergefell. We’re really talking about the mechanisms or the vehicles to accomplish that desired goal that we all have, which is the re-Christianization of the world, but particularly in our context, Western order itself.

Three of the interviewees are happy to use the label Christian nationalism: Doug Wilson, Stephen Wolfe, and Timon Cline. Doug Wilson explains what Christian nationalism is and why he is happy to use the label:

To the person who’s appealing to the mistreatment of Baptists and saying, “We can’t do what you’re saying,” I would say, “Okay, friend, when they flogged that Baptist, did that make Jesus happy or unhappy? Was Jesus pleased with their behavior or displeased with their behavior?” Now, they’re going to, of course, say he was displeased. And I would say, “Okay, so shouldn’t we then conform our behavior to please Christ instead of displeasing him?” They would say, “Yes,” and I would say, “Welcome to Christian nationalism.” That’s all I want to do. Basically, I think we should stop making God angry with us. … Christian nationalism—basically at some level, you’re going to be called what your adversary calls you. And basically, I thought “Christian nationalism” was a big improvement over “white supremacist”—the “Theofascist, Christofascist white supremacist.” Basically, “Christian nationalism” is something I can work with. I’m a citizen of this nation, and I’m a Christian. Okay, I can work with that. And I can explain it and defend it in under three minutes, right? It doesn’t take a book to explain it. … I would prefer “Christian republicanism.” But then you’ve got the confusion over whether you’re talking about the political party. There’s always something.

Reflection 10. The interviewees who fit within view 5 do not put most of the load-bearing weight for their view on postmillennialism or theonomy.

Doug Wilson is a well-known proponent of postmillennialism, but postmillennialism is not the driving force behind his political theology. He acknowledges, “[It] does play a role, but I don’t think it’s the driving force. The driving force is the question ‘Can human societies govern themselves without reference to the transcendent?’ And I believe the returns on that question are clearly in: Secularism doesn’t work.”

The driving force of view 5 is not postmillennialism, nor is it theonomy. Stephen Wolfe explains, “I’m not a theonomist. I’ve been called a theonomist by everyone, but I’m not. I’m just classical Protestant in my understanding of civil law.” Wolfe also says in his interview that he is not a postmillennialist. (Timon Cline is postmillennial but not a theonomist.)

Reflection 11. The interviewees disagree on whether some nations (other than Israel under the Mosaic covenant) may be in a covenant with God.

There are two basic positions:

Position 1. Nations may be in a covenant with God. Doug Wilson explains,

I believe that in the Anglosphere we are in covenant with God at a national level. And I think specifically the covenant is the Solemn League and Covenant. So the Solemn League and Covenant bound Scotland, England, and Ireland in perpetuity. The covenant was made in perpetuity. Not only that, but in the restoration when Charles II was brought back after Cromwell, one of the terms of him having the throne restored to him was that he had to subscribe to the Solemn League and Covenant again—which, of course, he disregarded and disobeyed, but that’s what he subscribed to. So I would say that the United Kingdom and then the Commonwealth—Canada, Australia, and places like that—are still under a covenantal obligation to God. And I would say America, by an oblique argument, still is under a covenantal obligation because our colonies that formed our nation were under that. So I believe that when we repent nationally, we’re not coming in as pristine pagans to be converted. We’re not in that position. We’re a divorced person coming back home.

Joe Boot argues,

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, [formerly] 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. … What constitutes any tribes as a nation, as we saw in the founding of England, is covenantal religious commitment.

David Schrock summarizes Boot’s view (to which Boot replies, “Well summarized”) like this:

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.

Position 2. Nations may not be in a covenant with God. Andrew Walker says,

As I look at scripture, I see no theological warrant for treating the apparatus of government itself as a mediator of that redemptive covenant. It’s creaturely, it’s temporal, and it’s meant to accomplish proximate justice in this age. And again, I think that individuals can have real knowledge of morality, but that does not make them Christian.

Reflection 12. The interviewees all interacted as Christian gentlemen and modeled how to discuss political theology.

When people debate an issue in our day, style tends to matter more than substance. I think that’s a shame because substance matters more. For example, imagine that two people are debating whether Jesus is God. The first person argues that Jesus is not God, and he does so in a charming, sophisticated, and elegant way (like an NPR opinionater or a witty professor with a British accent). The second person argues that Jesus is God, and he does so in an arrogant and rude way (and with a Southern accent that pronounces one-syllable words with two syllables). The winning position should be based on the content, not the manner in which people presented the content. But at the same time, the way we argue is important. It does not please God to present the right position in a sinful way. It’s also foolish and counterproductive.

When evangelicals today discuss Christian nationalism, many are tempted to sound winsome and respectable to the left. The interviewees are not like that when they interact with David Schrock and friends. They interact as Christian gentlemen, and they model how we should discuss political theology. Each one shares what he thinks without being a jerk about it. Each one recognizes that the enemy is the world, the flesh, and the devil—not fellow brothers who are on a slightly different part of the spectrum of views 4 and 5. That is refreshing.

A big reason that these twelve interviews are so edifying is David Schrock and his team at Christ Over All. Hats off to them for how they planned and conducted these informative and constructive interviews. (They suggested I delete those affirming words to avoid publishing what may sound self-congratulatory, but I prefer to keep them because it is good to show honor to whom honor is due.)

Conclusion

Christ Over All has helped move the ball down the field on the controversial topic of political theology, but of course, this isn’t the final word. As we continue to discuss political theology, let’s do it with the right disposition and in the right proportion. And as we do that, let’s focus on Christian fundamentals with God’s help (as I share in Reflection 6 above):

  • Be a godly man or woman. Trust and obey God.
  • Be a faithful husband or wife.
  • Be a faithful father or mother by bringing up your children with a Christian enculturation.
  • Be a faithful church member. Work together with your church to make disciples locally and globally.
  • Be diligent and outstanding at your vocation.
  • Proclaim the gospel in your spheres of influence.
  • Be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Author

Andy Naselli

Andy Naselli

Andrew David Naselli (PhD, Bob Jones University; PhD, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School) is professor of systematic theology and New Testament at Bethlehem College & Seminary in Minneapolis and one of the pastors of The North Church.