What happened at the capitol on January 6th was despicable. A couple of points up front. No, I was not there. Yes, thousands marched in peaceful protest. Some of them were my friends who have strong misgivings about the integrity of the recent U.S. election. In many respects, I share their frustration. Living in Canada for a number of years, I grew tired of the lopsided media coverage of the States. I have little time for media personalities who justify one form of violence while condemning another.
That said, I do not believe our election was rigged to the degree that the results should be overturned. While a political pundit I am not, I do believe it is quite logical that we find ourselves on the eve of a Biden/Harris administration. A year ago, I would have said Trump was the favorite, but the months leading up to the election were the perfect storm. Trump’s rhetoric, Covid, negative media coverage, liberal social media platforms, and a massive get out the vote effort all contributed to Joe Biden’s election. I know many of you reading this post will disagree, and I respect that.
Do I believe Donald Trump was directly responsible for the violence that took place on January 6th? On this point, I’ll agree with some commentators and say no. That said, he is responsible for “ratcheting up the temperature.” And this is the big problem I have had with Trump. If you go back and watch his speech to crowds on January 6th, it is no surprise to me that violence ensued. When you essentially claim that congress, the Senate, and even the Supreme Court are conspiring against you, the implications are treason. Rosanne Boyland was the 34-year-old woman who lost her life. And in the words of her brother-in-law Justin Cave, “It is my own personal belief that the president’s words and rhetoric incited a riot last night that killed four of his biggest fans.”
Easy as it would be to make that event the focus of this post, I want to take a step back and write about something that troubles me even more than the actions of that dark day – Christian Nationalism.
The Rise of Christian Nationalism
For years, I have heard how the “radical left” is the greatest enemy of American Christians. It is the left that is tearing apart school systems, breaking down families, and dividing our nation. They are to blame.
The longer time has progressed, the larger this list has grown to include the media, most politicians, and…well, anyone who disagrees. Take Vice President Mike Pence for example. For years, I heard Christians say he was a man of God and that he was the real reason they supported Trump. But when he refused to give in to Trump’s call to overturn the results, I saw numerous Christian voices on social media calling him a traitor.
Quite often I have heard Christians speak against the prosperity gospel, a form of religion that says God wants us to be happy and successful. From my vantage point, Christian nationalism has usurped this role.
American Christian nationalism, as I would define it, is a belief that says: A) America is better than any other nation B) That American traditional values must be preserved at all costs and C) That fighting for American ideals is synonymous with fighting for God.
How does this play out? An example would be the Jericho march on capitol hill several weeks ago. Seriously, go back and listen to some of the clips from this event. They are mind-numbing. You have people like Eric Metaxas stating, “When God gives you a vision, you don’t need to know anything else” (as though God had decreed Trump should have two terms), and speakers like Alex Jones, who claimed the Sandy Hook shooting was a hoax. Then you have Trump’s faith advisor, Paula White, who had one of the most bizarre prayers following Trump’s election defeat, calling on angels from Africa to come over and help — oddly resembling the infamous Gandolf ritual performed by a Bethel worship leader.
And while these are more extreme examples, this thought process has creeped into the ideology of many everyday American believers. Every day, I see various forms of this viewpoint pop up on my newsfeed – many times from people I know and love – and it spooks me.
A Lesson from Bonhoeffer
Recently, I’ve been doing a lot of reading on Bonhoeffer, a German theologian who gave his life in an attempt to take down Hitler. And no, I am not going to make the uneducated argument that Trump is like Hitler. The gap is wide between the two, despite what some might wish to believe. It is a tired argument that suggests anyone who disagrees with your position is a Nazi. It is the low-hanging fruit argument that generally drives people back into their trenches of defense.
No, the most astonishing part of the whole Nazi invasion, to me, was not the evilness of Heinrich Himmler, Hermann Goring, Joseph Goebbels and the rest of the regime. That was to be expected. Rather, it was the silence of the German church. It began with the Jewish question. Should Jews be allowed to hold any position of power in Germany? And while some like Bonhoeffer and Karl Barth stood against the evils that took place, many compromised – giving rise to the Holocaust.
But why? This takes us back to WWI and the Treaty of Versailles. In retrospect, the sanctions placed on Germany were so great that the waters of hate were boiling years before Hitler came on the scene. According to the terms of this agreement, Germans had to accept guilt for the war, limit their armies to 100,000 men, pay a devasting 6.6 million fee for the cost of the war, and relinquish their territories and colonies.
Picture yourself in this position. Imagine if you and your family had to suffer this humiliation. It was into this perfect mess that Hitler came upon the scene and offered something the German people had not felt in a long time – hope.
As Hitler rose in power, it’s interesting to go back in time and read the conversations German Christians had. While there were parts of what he did they disliked, they also had a longing for their fatherland to be restored to its former glory. And somewhere along their journey, the lines between the true gospel of Christ and the gospel of nationalism became one.
It startles me sometimes when I go on social media and see much of the same language I read in a history book. Statements of war, calling fellow Christians to “rise up” as though this time period is 1776 version 2.0. Jericho marches around the capitol are led on D.C. as though we continue to live underneath the Old Covenant. Scriptures like Jeremiah 29:11 are cherrypicked from any section of the Scripture to support one’s political position, with little thought given to the original context.
The Real Problem
The roots of Christian nationalism are always the same, regardless of the nation. They begin with the feeling that this nation is superior to others, that our allegiance to Christ’s calling and the calling to protect our nation are one and the same, and that success can best be accomplished through attaining power.
Christian nationalism rides the back of one leader to the next. Yesterday it might have been Bush, today it might be Trump, and tomorrow remains a mystery. Trump might fade into history, but the ideals of Christian nationalism will remain, waiting to attach themselves to the next political figure who presents themselves as a savior.
It’s important to note that virtually no Christian I know would consider themselves a Christian nationalist. It’s always veiled with something like, “Of course I love Jesus first, but love for country is also important!” My only response is, “We know them by their fruits.” There is a saying I picked up several years ago that says, “What you do speaks so loudly that what you say I don’t hear.” This is the case with Christian nationalism. If you claim Jesus is first, but 9/10 of your social media posts are on election integrity, I have questions. If you claim to be kingdom-minded but are only concerned with the interests of Americans, again, I question your position. If you see no issue in attending a campaign rally for a flawed political candidate but take issue in hosting a joint event with a local church in your community, that is a problem.
Christian nationalism is a more dangerous enemy than the radical left because it is deceptive and divisive in a way that the radical left is not. Those who do not hold a Christian worldview will predictably behave in a way that is not Christian. They will push for abortion at any stage of pregnancy, abuse kids by telling them there is no such thing as gender and push for some sort of a godless utopia that is strictly humanistic.
That is evil. It is sin. And it is for these same people that Jesus Christ gave his life.
But sometimes when I hear Christians talk so passionately about defeating the radical left, I cannot help but wonder if they care more for another person’s demise than they do their salvation. Do they ever consider that the media personality or political figure they rage against will one day spend eternity somewhere?
I’ve come to believe it is where you spend your time, energy, and resources that reveals your true affection. If your true love is the kingdom of God, your primary concern will be eternity. But if your passion is love for country and preserving a certain way of life, you will seek the destruction of all that stands in your way.
Another discovery I have made is that Christian nationalists tend to read the Bible through an Old Testament lens. When a Christian nationalist reads passages of war, promise, or prophecy in the Old Testament, they tend to plug them directly into their current context. Pretty soon, a little plucking from Isaiah here and Jeremiah there and you can create whatever version of the gospel you choose. Filtering these passages through the lens of Jesus is not an option because it does not serve the end agenda.
The real problem with Christian nationalism is that it undermines what Christ did on the cross. It focuses on using Old Covenant methodology when the New Covenant Christ established has already come.
Christian Nationalism is Jesus + Something. It’s living as though Hebrews 8 does not exist.
Why Does This Matter?
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to interact a bit with Carey Nieuwhof and it was through a few emails with him that this whole idea of The Monday Christian sprang to life. As he has pointed out on numerous occasions, the greatest issue the church in North America faces today is being relevant. Not relevant in some cool sense of the term, but relevant in terms of message.
To that point, a few days ago, I noticed a member of a Christian music group make a poor comment about Bible teacher Beth Moore, calling her a “treasonous traitor,” among other statements. Usually, I let distasteful comments like this slide, but I had seen him make similar remarks in the past and decided to Tweet a response. “Listened to your music for years. Why Tweet something like this?” His reply was disappointing. No apology. No PM for clarification. Instead, it was a doubling down of why he thought Beth Moore was a bad person.
Here is why that exchange mattered to me. In a world of phonies, I long for authenticity. If who you are on the stage does not match who you are in person or on Twitter, it’s tough for me to reconcile the two differences. Unfortunately, that music group has lost relevance in my life. I’m not going to raise a stink. I’m not going to contact their HR and complain. But it’s hard for me to enjoy another one of their songs, knowing that one of the people singing is fine with cutting down other members in the body of Christ.
You might say, “That’s harsh. You need to extend more grace.” And perhaps you are right. But it is reality, and it is a scene that will continue to play out into the foreseeable future. Over the last four years, I’ve watched which Christian leaders have had the guts to speak truth to power and those who have remained silent, only choosing to comment on matters they know those in their base will respect – like speaking out against BLM rioters. The same leaders who were quick to point out the flaws of the Obama presidency suddenly found themselves at a loss for words when a political leader who promised them what they wanted committed many actions that were contrary to the ways of Christ.
This is why I admire people like Russell Moore. In a recent article for The Gospel Coalition, Moore wrote,
“I cannot tell you how many people will say one thing in private, and something completely different in public. I am not referring to prudence in not airing everything publicly that is meant to be private. I mean instead saying the exact opposite in public what they will say in private.”
Sadly, I have found this to be true as well. Power is alluring and the thought of losing people or finances can cause many leaders to live a double life. But the moment this happens, there is a tradeoff. We stop being authentic and quickly fall into the dustbin of irrelevancy.
It is tough to say you want to reach the world for Christ on Sunday and live the life of a Christian nationalist on Monday. The two are incompatible.
Much has been said about Christians and conspiracy theories and so I will not continue down this path. But I must say that the fruit of Christian nationalism is always predictable. Everything can and will be blamed on the left. For example, one of my first thoughts after the capitol breach was that responsibility for this event would somehow be thrown at the feet of leftists. Sure enough, only minutes later I saw social media posts about how members of Antifa were actually the ones responsible and that it would have been impossible for peace-loving Trump supporters to commit such acts of disrespect. This leaves me only to shrug, not because I discount that possibility, but because that was the knee-jerk rush to judgment. It’s predictable because that is always how the narrative works. The left is always to blame and those who do not agree with the Christian nationalistic agenda are traitors who lack courage. It is what people like Rush Limbaugh and Dennis Prager have preached for years.
Fighters and Farmers
Switching gears, the problem I have with many who sympathize with my viewpoint is that we become so focused on criticism that we fail to do anything of value. We love the idea of latching on to a cause where we see hypocrisy and feel it our life’s duty to call out every injustice we witness – all the while taking little inventory of our own shortcomings. In the process, perhaps we forget that it is easier to criticize the world than it is to lead a family.
I witnessed a good deal of this during my time in Canada. There it was cool to critique and criticize the American church. And it is an issue I have with some European theologians who are quick to point out the flaws of the American church while providing little explanation for the sharp decline of Christianity in places such as England.
In short, I have little interest in being a constant critique. I love the motto, “Criticize by creating.” Stop being a Monday morning quarterback and do something. There are causes worth fighting for. It is right that Christians fight to end abortion. It is right that we stand against racism. And it is right that we seek to elect leaders who will help uphold Christian values.
But even more than being a fighter, it is important that Christians embrace the concept of being a good farmer. In 2022 I plan to release a book on the concept of breadcasting from Ecclesiastes 11. In that short chapter, King Solomon shares the wisdom of investing wisely. He tells his audience to diversify and “give a portion to seven or eight” to ensure some return is made on their investment. While the obvious implications are financial, I think we could take this a step further and say the greatest investment we will ever make in life is in the lives of other people.
Being a fighter sounds intriguing and there is certainly some of that imagery in the New Testament. There is a time and a place for fighters. But in the West, I see an abundance of fighters and a shortage of farmers. We need both, and every Christian should spend time in each of those roles. Fighting can be glamorous and controversial. It’s taking an unpopular stand for right even when others think you’re crazy. Farming is mundane. It’s a whole lot of getting up and doing the right thing even when you don’t see the harvest.
But imagine the good we might see if we channeled some of the energy we spend fighting into investing seeds of the gospel into culture.
How Do We Break Free of Christian Nationalism?
There are dozens of different gospels that are harmful. Some might fall into a gospel that only emphasizes the material world. Others might lean towards the gospel of prosperity. For some, it’s the gospel of intellectualism – constantly dismissing those who do not run in their circles or have their pedigree. And then, of course, there is Christian nationalism. Sometimes, I have fallen into one of these ditches myself. But when this happens, there are three steps that help me when I start to get off course.
First, a recommitment to the gospels and the book of Acts.
Soak in the words Christ gave in his Sermon on the Mount. Observe what angered him and what drove him to tears. Think of the martyrs in the early church and how almost every disciple gave their life, not for a Jewish gospel, but a gospel for the entire world. Consider how the Apostle Paul died not so that the church in Jerusalem could be spared persecution, but so that those in Rome might hear the gospel. That’s powerful.
Second, find someone to disciple.
Take someone who does not have your belief set and start helping them mature in their faith. Not only does this help them, but it stretches you. If you are doing it right, you will be asked questions that make you uncomfortable and cause you to dig deeper for answers. Unfortunately, despite this being the primary command Jesus gave his followers, it is one that Christians in Western churches often feel comfortable to ignore.
Third, step outside of your circle.
It’s only through stepping back that you gain perspective. Recently, I was reading a book by Chinese missionary Hudson Taylor. He wrote about how it was necessary for him to step aside from his work in China for a time due to health complications and return to England. But as he notes,
“Little did I then realise that the long separation from China was a necessary step towards the formation of a work which God would bless as He has blessed the China Inland Mission.”
Mark Batterson often states, “Change of pace X change of place = change in perspective.” If you have lived in the same community for twenty years, attended the same church, and have a healthy circle of friends, you are blessed. But that blessing might come with a price. It might be that you stop seeing life from other people’s perspectives and have begun to dismiss people you do not understand.
Breaking free of any form of false gospel takes intention, but it is worth it.
A Spirit of Charity
I close with this familiar thought from 1 Corinthians 13:1, “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.”
When it comes to the issue of Christian nationalism, there are many noisy gongs. Popular church leaders stating that if your church does not take a stand for Trump, you should leave; Christians condemning other Christians for being sheep (an odd sort of complement in a way); Pastors saying that other churches who have shut down for Covid are living scared and preaching a watered-down version of the gospel; And Christians who raise legitimate concerns being written off as woke.
Enough. It’s time to stop focusing our attention on defeating some ambiguous target, such as the radical left, and to begin recommitting ourselves to the teaching and lifestyle of Christ (1 Cor. 5). This is the only pathway to hope and the true freedom our souls crave. A freedom not confined by geographical boundary. A freedom no one can take away.
*If you disagree with my assessment, I understand and I want to hear from you! My prayer in writing this is that it might cause people to think. While I do not harbor hopes that this post will magically change someone’s position, I do pray it will help add perspective. My heart is not to write a post that stirs up controversy (although I fear that is unavoidable), but out of a desire to bring healing and hope. Thank you for taking the time to read this book…I mean…post. 🙂
 Taylor, J. Hudson. The Autobiography of Hudson Taylor: Missionary to China (Illustrated) . GLH Publishing. Kindle Edition.