Christian Nationalism: A Reply to Jonathan Leeman

Jonathan Leeman has written a recent article in which he recommends that we reject Christian Nationalism because it misrepresents Jesus. Leeman distinguishes between “influencers” and “identifiers.” He is in favor of Christianity influencing the nation and its laws (these are the influencers). But he is not in favor of the nation and its government identifying as Christian (these are the identifiers). 

I imagine this proposal will make a lot of sense to many American evangelicals. We are well into a conversation about Christian Nationalism. And I see no sign of this conversation letting up. Moreover, there are going to be many roads sprawling off of this discussion and this particular path regarding the legitimacy of “naming” is but one of them. 

Why are we in for a nice long conversation? Well, even the most adamant “wall of separation” folks among us are starting to see that there is always a god of the system. They’re seeing the prophets and priests of the new religion. They’re not on board with celebrating the religious liberty manifesting itself down at the local Drag Queen story hour, where Big Rob is shaking his tail-feather at the town’s 1st graders.

I am grateful that Leeman wants to see Christianity influence the nation. And I want to commend that after Christianity has influenced a nation, acknowledging what that nation has become is not anti-gospel. Put simply, if Christianity does influence a given nation, as Leeman and many want it to, what do you have after that influence? You have one nation under the Triune God. You have a nation that has realized and acknowledged that Christ is Lord.

As we are sorting out some of these particulars, it is worth noting that there are lots of supporting arguments under the water of the various positions. And that is certainly going on when it comes to whether to call a nation Christian or not. With that said, I will give the thrust of Leeman’s concern about calling a nation Christian, and then offer three points arguing that calling a nation Christian really won’t be all that bad.

Leeman’s concern is that if you call a nation Christian, then you will confuse people about who represents Jesus. It is the church’s job to identify Christians. And giving the title of Christian to the nation will have troubling consequences downstream. It will mislead people about what a Christian is, inoculate false professors against true Christianity, and make evangelism and missions harder. According to Leeman, the stakes are high. At the end of the day, the consequences of this naming error, “sends people to hell.” He adds, “No longing for what America once was—and in some ways I do—is worth all that.”

Leeman is right about the significance of naming. Some might say, “We need to be more Christian around here, but I don’t care what you call it.” Leeman is not making that mistake. He knows naming is important. I agree with him. It is also true that the name “Christian” should not be thrown around arbitrarily. If a man calls himself a Muslim and worships Allah, then we have no warrant to go around calling him a Christian. By the same token, if you have a whole nation of men who call themselves Muslim and worship Allah, then you have no right to call that nation a Christian one. 

But the issue at hand is whether you can call a given nation Christian without misrepresenting Christ, confusing unbelievers about the way of salvation, and aiding them on their journey to the outer darkness. I contend that you can for the following three reasons.

First, our nation is led by representatives that God himself has called his ministers (Romans 13:4). If our Lord has no objection to calling our civil authorities his servants, then why should we object? I imagine Jonathan would reply, “I have no problem calling our civil authorities God’s servants.” OK, good. And is this God the Christian God? Yes, he is. It follows that the leaders of our nation, biblically defined, are ministers and servants of the Christian God. And they represent us, the nation. 

Someone may quibble with this first argument. But I don’t see the wiggle room. If someone recommends “Triune God Nationalism” or “Christian God Nationalism,” or “One Nation Whose Leaders Serve Yahweh,” that is quite fine with me. We have still established that we should have no problem naming the nation and its leaders because God has already named them his servants. 

Now, you say, but each of these civil leaders, whom God has called his ministers, have not experienced the new birth. You are exactly right. And that has not stopped the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost from calling them, the leaders of the nation, his ministers. Romans 13. 

Second, the work of the Great Commission and our Christian Public Witness involve this naming. Upon his resurrection, Christ said to “teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). It is a heavy lift to say that Christ commands us to baptize the nations in the Triune name, but we should not identify such nations with the Triune name. I know there are arguments to support just that proposal. But, to make that case you end up having to say the opposite of the plain reading of the text. And that is the kind of exegesis that makes John MacArthur tap one of his deacons on the shoulder and say, “Hold my Fresca.”

Likewise, we hear our public witness in Psalm 2 where the faithful say to the kings, “Kiss the Son, lest ye perish in the way.” Again, what do you do when the kings heed your preaching? What do you call such civil authorities and their jurisdictions after they kiss the Son? Can you not call that nation a Christian Nation? Would it be better to call it “A Nation Whose Leaders Have Kissed the Christ, the Son of the Living God?” This too is fine with me. But I don’t think Russell Moore will be any happier with it.

Third, now is the perfect time to come to grips with the fact that the United States of America is and has already been called a Christian nation. We’re not evangelizing a pagan land. We are ministering in a nation that long ago identified as Christian. Now someone is going to say, “And it didn’t work back then so why do you want to do it now?” But this question misses the point. The point is not that naming a nation Christian is the silver bullet that will keep it faithful. The point is that back when people had no issue with calling ourselves a Christian nation, back in the days of our forefathers when Christian catechisms were employed in the public schools, Brutus wasn’t posted up in the stall next to your 7 year old daughter. That nonsense is going on now while we speak of the terrible evils that will come upon us if we say that we are one nation under Christ. 

Look at our money, “One nation under God.” Say our pledge, “One nation under God.” Sing our songs, “God bless America.” Examine the religion of our presidents. Take a look at the 55 men at the Constitutional Convention. 50 of them were Christians. Then there is the 1892 Supreme Court case where the court itself wrote, “this is a religious people . . . [T]his is a Christian nation.” Walk into the legislative halls all across this land, you will find the name of our Lord there again, carved in stone.

We are not having a debate about whether to place the name of our Lord on the nation. He has already seen fit to do so. We are having a debate about whether to stride in our pride down to the court house like a rebellious son and renounce the name of our Father, the name he has given us.