Today, especially in the wake of the events of Jan 6 in our nation’s capital and the aftermath, there have been many thoughtful things written about the dangers of Christian nationalism. One writer said: “The split we are seeing is not theological or philosophical. It’s a division between those who have become detached from reality and those who, however right wing, are still in the real world.” I disagree. I believe that the problem is theological, and the healing can only happen when we deal with the underlying spiritual issues at work here. Bad theology (another name for heresy) blinds us to the underlying spiritual truths.
I want to begin with the 18th century: Specifically the revivals and evangelistic campaigns of Finney and Moody. The pattern at that time was revival of the church then evangelism of the community. Revival was not about changing the culture or the community; it was about changing the heart of the church. The life-transforming work of the Holy Spirit can be stifled by unconfessed sin which hardens the heart. The challenge of unconfessed sin is that it is often deeply hidden in our hearts – or to use modern language, it rests within our subconscious. It is something repressed so that we, perhaps, have a vague sense of something wrong, but in our everyday life it cannot be fully grasped or acknowledged. The revival of the church happens when we individually and corporately search the depth of our souls. It comes with the deep conviction that we are sinners in need of grace. That humility at the feet of the Cross gives us the power to break through the normal human defenses that hid our own sin from our self. It is with the spiritual renewal that comes from revival that the church is then empowered to witness the Gospel of Christ to the surrounding community. The power of the gospel comes out of human brokenness – a brokenness that has experienced the power of grace.
The theological error of Christian nationalism is that it reverses the process and confuses revival with evangelism. The narrative of Christian nationalism is that the nation needs a revival and that revival can only happen when more people become Christians. The sin-focus is not on unconfessed sin within the church, but on the moral failings in the society. The believer comes not broken but empowered, having the answer to society’s problems and using power to bring about moral reform. This error is especially dangerous because it blinds us to our own failings. We never get to the place of soul searching and confession of sin. It replaces the truth of our own brokenness with the lie that Christians are powerful. It then closes off the most important truth of the gospel: our own need for grace. Thus falsely empowered, we use our sin-warped power – in the name of Jesus – in inflict more damage. In this way, Christian nationalism transforms itself into a political ideology and becomes the enemy of true evangelism.