In this live episode of Gospelbound from TGC’s 2021 National Conference, I’m joined by two esteemed guests who can help explain the origins and shape of Christian nationalism with a view toward the promises of the gospel. Michael Horton is the J. Gresham Machen professor of systematic theology and apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in California. Justin Giboney is cofounder of the AND Campaign, an attorney, and a political strategist in Atlanta.
Mike did not refer to Christian nationalism in his December 2020 article for TGC, “The Cult of Christian Trumpism.” But I think he captured the same concept in what he called “Christian Americanism,” which he described this way: “Christian Americanism is the narrative that God specially called the United States into being as an extraordinary—verging on miraculous—providence. Passages from the election of Israel in the old covenant are lifted out of context and applied to America.”
Back in November 2015, I ate dinner with one of President Trump’s biggest supporters. At the time, of course, Trump was only one candidate among many in the Republican primary. And I did not understand the depth of passion among his supporters. This person explained to me that America is the last hope of Christianity. And I thought I simply misheard, or that he got the order wrong. So I corrected him. You mean that Christianity is the last hope of America, right? He said no, America is the last hope of Christianity. Well—that’s Christian nationalism.
And then you had January 6 at the U.S. Capitol. I agree with Tim Keller’s assessment: “It will be many years before the sights and sounds of evangelical religious symbols and language in the Capitol riot will fade from national consciousness. We have all been stained with it.”
Whether or not your church would advocate Christian nationalism, it’s become an apologetics challenge for church leaders in terms of public perception. That’s where I aim to help in this episode of Gospelbound by asking Mike and Justin a few questions.
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Collin Hansen: Welcome for those who are watching online, and those of you gathered here in Indianapolis you are in a live episode of the Gospelbound podcast. I am the host, Collin Hansen, the vice president of content and editor in chief for The Gospel Coalition. I don’t know anyone who self-identifies as a Christian nationalist, but it seems that in recent months, many people have become experts in Christian nationalism. So what is it? Who advocates for it? Is it a genuine threat to our churches or is it a media hyped distraction? I’m joined in this live episode of Gospelbound with two esteemed guests who can help explain the origins and shape of Christian nationalism with a view toward the progress of the gospel.
Michael Horton right here to my left is the J. Gresham Machen professor of systematic theology and apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary in California. Justin Giboney, is co-founder of the AND Campaign and attorney and a political strategist in Atlanta. Thank you both for joining me here. Mike did not refer to Christian nationalism in his December 2020 article for The Gospel Coalition called, and yes, Mike, you can thank me for this title, “The Cult of Christian Trumpism.” But I think he captured the same concept in what he called in the article Christian Americanism, which he described this way: “Christian Americanism is the narrative that God especially called the United States into being as an extraordinary verging on miraculous providence. Passages from the election of Israel in the Old Covenant are lifted out of context and applied to America.”
Back in November of 2015, I ate dinner with one of President Trump’s biggest supporters. Of course, President Trump at the time was still running in the Republican primary. I did not understand at that time, the depth and the passion of his supporters, and I was really caught off-guard in this meeting. This person explained to me that America is the last hope of Christianity, that America is the last hope of Christianity, and I thought that I simply misheard. It could not have been what he was saying. This person was well known as a Christian leader and apologist for the faith, it simply could not have been true.
So I corrected him. I corrected him, said, “You mean Christianity as the last hope of America, right?” He said, “No, America is the last hope of Christianity.” That’s Christian nationalism. Then you had of course, the January 6th riots at the U.S. Capitol. I agree with Tim Keller’s assessment of that event: “It will be many years before the sights and sounds of evangelical religious symbols and language in the Capitol riot will fade from national consciousness, we have all been stained by it.” So whether or not your church would advocate for Christian nationalism, it actually has become an apologetics issue for all of our churches, including many, many, many churches around the world. In fact, when I wrote myself the day of the Capitol riots, it was because the editorial director, the equivalent person working in my colleague in Australia, for The Gospel Coalition wrote me, actually it was I think one of our other leaders who said, “We’re all watching this right now, you have to say something.” Really, Australian Christians who are demanding and pleading more so that we would say something.
So these are the issues that I want to turn to help by asking Mike and Justin a few questions. So Mike, let’s start with you. Is nationalism itself a threat to Christianity?
Michael Horton: Yes, it is a very serious challenge. Patriotism is America, whatever your country is, is special to you. I think nationalism is America is special to God. It’s part of his plan, not just as Providence but part of the outworking almost a redemptive history. America’s a redeemer nation. Now you can get that on both sides. In fact, it’s interesting, Perry and Whitehead in their most recent book, Taking America Back for God, they have the statistics that just really explain the phenomenon of Christian nationalism, and they point out that 65 percent of African Americans fit the Christian nationalism profile, and 85 percent of white evangelicals.
So that’s a pretty significant, the difference is how you interpret that story, that narrative of Israel. But it’s interesting that there’s a broad consensus in this country, that America sort of takes over the role of Israel in the Bible, and can be mapped onto the particular history of a people. Buddhism and Islam are not an external threat in the United States to Christianity. Islam, of course, in other places but not here. But Christian nationalism is a Christian heresy. It is therefore an internal threat, both to the message and the witness of the church. I think if the Crusaders cleave the skull of an infidel, crying out [foreign language 00:06:40] Christ is Lord. Is that true? We would all say, “Yes, it’s true that Christ as Lord.” But in that context, doing what they’re doing, invoking those words, in doing it? No.
The situation in which it is invoked makes those words false whereas in the service of believers around the world, invoking Christ for salvation, it’s true, and I think that that’s the problem with heresy. Heresy is parasitical on the Christian faith, it twists and distorts the narrative of Christ and now, the narrative instead of the Old Testament, looking forward to the history of Israel, looking forward to Christ, it’s foreshadowing the coming of America.
Collin Hansen: Let me ask a clarifying question, Mike, would you say that nationalism itself is a threat to the gospel or only Christian nationalism?
Michael Horton: Yeah. If nationalism is the idea that we have to be Americans more than anything else, then yes, it’s a threat to Christianity. We’re Christians more than anything else, which means we’re united, not only here, but with our brothers and sisters around the world and that’s our first family.
Collin Hansen: Got it. Justin, a friend of mine had recently switched from a mainline church to an evangelical church. What’s interesting to me is that he didn’t leave his mainline church all those years during the sexuality debates in his church, but he did switch after the last presidential election. That seems to fit the trend that many Americans are realigning their theology in their church to fit their politics. Is that something that you’ve noticed at all in your political work? Give us some perspective there.
Justin Giboney: Oh, absolutely. That’s something that just happens too often, and to be honest with you Collin, it’s part of the reason that the AND Campaign exists, because it was clear to me and the other founders that Christians were starting to allow their political affiliation to become religious in nature. So much so that you couldn’t tell where the theology stopped and the political ideology started. People were really conflating and intertwining those two to where I don’t think a lot of people where to separate the two. So that’s something that we’ve been really serious about. I mean, you can tell because if you say something about someone’s favorite, political, elected official or their favorite, or their party. It’s like you said something about their mother, right? I mean, it’s really, they really feel offended, and what it does is it shows us where our identity is, that we’ve allowed our identity to be tied too closely to our political affiliation.
The AND Campaign always tells Christians that someone should be able to critique or even insult your party, and you not feel like it’s an insult to you. If someone can’t make that critique, even a harsh one of your party without you feeling like you’ve personally been attacked, then there’s a problem there, because there’s not a proper separation. So when it comes to issues, especially on the right when you’re talking about immigration or even racial justice, people are listening to their party and what these political leaders say and what these talking point factories say because they’re they know what to say to people, and what drives people more than they’re listening to their faith.
If you look how people’s thoughts and ideas have changed on immigration, it’s very clear that it’s gone with the party. If you look at Christians, if you look at the Christian sexual ethic, on the left, a lot of Christians have gone to the left because of certain politicians that have been able to articulate it in a way and we just went that way, instead of saying, “Hold up. What is the framework by which I view politics? Is that an ideologically progressive framework? Is that an ideologically conservative framework? Or is it a Christian framework, a biblical framework, and that other stuff has to fit within there?” But I think unfortunately, our primary lens or frame has been a political ideology frame.
Collin Hansen: Many of you may have noticed the recent statistic that for the first time, in I think, 70 years, church membership actually includes synagogues and mosques, had dropped below 50 percent and it marks a 20 percent decline in the last 20 years. In other words, for about 50 years, church membership held steady about 70 percent and then from 2000, till now had dropped 20 percent. I think there’s a lot of things that we could conclude about that, but one of the things that I’ve seen most, I think accurately about it, is that largely that moving away from the church has been among Roman Catholics and mainline Protestants, especially as Christianity has become especially closely associated with the right.
So they have distanced themselves from Christianity altogether, and if you look at of evangelical identity, especially white evangelical identity, it’s remained strong. A steady sort of 23 percent or so of the American population, but an interesting thing has happened. Now there are born again Buddhists, and evangelical Muslims, they’re taking on those names because it means religiously devout Republican voter. So a lot of what it means to be evangelical is actually more or less conflated with what it means to be Republican, and that’s a major factor for why evangelicals have not slipped much. All that evangelicalism had to do was sort of sell their souls to be able to keep their share of the population to one ideology, almost exclusively.
So I think what we’re trying to do as Christians in many ways, is to help keep that Christian identity and that theological identity primary, but as we know from the history of religion, those identities are cultural, political, theological, they’re all very closely intertwined, but that’s the beauty of Christianity is that prophetic critique that it brings. One thing, Mike, that I’ve noticed recently, was actually a very surprising development. I started to see this in early January, for the first time that some especially outspoken supporters of President Trump have said that we should not support Christian liberty, or religious freedom, basically in our culture. Would you link that development to Christian nationalism, or how else might you explain what seems to be a pretty significant shift in even just last few months?
Michael Horton: Yeah, it is interesting to watch when I heard that report, I thought back to the 16th century, everything interesting to me happened in the 16th century.
Collin Hansen: This is not a surprise.
Michael Horton: Yeah, and the first. But you have Anabaptism. Now, this is not the Baptists, the Anabaptists were a different group, and they were different in the 16th century even though they are now. But anyway, John Calvin said, “We are assailed by two sects, the pope and the Anabaptists.” His point was, they either want to take over both of them either want to take over the state or they want to set up a new Christian state. And that’s what happened at first with Anabaptism. They had the peasants’ war and they said you have to slaughter the reprobate. So you have this Manichaean separation between the visible church and the invisible church, the state and the true godly elect who are going to run things, and it was communist polygamous and violent, the state that they set up and happily it was dismantled in short order.
That’s when they regrouped and some Anabaptists said, “Well, let’s leave the world. Let’s be pacifist and separate from the world.” Those are two totally different reactions but with the same separatist theology beneath it. A disdain for this world and a refusal to participate in this order that is ruled by God’s providence, it is damned, it is being prepared, being ripened for God’s judgment, and for us to participate would be sinful. I think that we’re kind of exhibiting that kind of pendulum swing, back and forth, either we are separatists or we have to take it all, we have to own it all. The fact that according to the studies, this is what’s really heartbreaking. According to the studies, white evangelicals are the most likely group in all of American society, to say that we should have a law banning, not just immigrants, but refugees.
You know how long Christian conviction has been underneath that one? Now, if you’re really a Christian, you’ll want a law banning refugees, much less immigration and mixed marriages, interracial marriages. That means that white evangelicals are the most racist segment of American society. As a white Christian, that breaks my heart. Whatever happened to Revelation 5:9 worshiping around the lamb from every tribe, and kindred, and tongue and people, and nation, happily? Where the evangelical Church is growing most around the world, there is no Christian nationalism.
Collin Hansen: I read the book Divided by Faith by Emerson and Smith, which came out in the year 2000, and it gave me some perspective on some of what you’re seeing right here, because I think maybe somebody might be here and be a little bit shocked, or maybe a little bit angry by you saying these things. But I actually think when you go back and you study historically and sociologically, the best way to understand white evangelicals in this country as essentially the most American of whatever group. So whatever might be most closely associated with distinctives of the United States, whether it be gun control, or things like that, evangelicals are typically the most American… Military intervention, white evangelicals have always been the most supportive of military intervention.
So really, when you look back historically there hasn’t been a lot of distinctive Christian views on these things from a lot of white Christians, and now there are exceptions on things like abortion, but that was a Catholic, sort of started thing, evangelicals caught on a little bit later on that. But it is pretty interesting when you look back, well, you also notice if you look at lists of what issues have evangelicals cared about the most, the last survey I saw from the last presidential election showed that the number one issue, what evangelicals cared about the most was immigration, and the issue they cared about the least was abortion, and then next to that was religious liberty, after about 15 other issues.
So we’ve clearly, I don’t know if we ever had a lot of prophetic critique or prophetic speaking into these issues so much as a cultural accommodation on those things. Justin, I want to turn to you and try to take this big picture. I often wonder, in our bigger culture wars, if we’re essentially dealing with two different narratives of America, and how it fits into Christian nationalism that Mike was helping us to talk about. I get the sense that there’s one group that believes America is basically a good place, with some exceptions, or that people believe that America is essentially a bad place with some exceptions. Do you think that’s an oversimplification of the kind of culture war dynamic, or how would you put it?
Justin Giboney: Yeah, I definitely would say that the loudest voices on both sides, that’s the narrative that they move forth with, right? So when you talk about the conservatives all the way on the right, they’re going to present in America that is pretty much perfect except for the outsiders.
Collin Hansen: It’s kind of like the 1776 project versus the 1619 project.
Justin Giboney: Right. So you have these two perspectives that I think are in many ways fictional, right? Because there is this tension, there is kind of the good and the bad that we see. But when you look at what some would call the exhausted majority, I think there is more nuance within that conversation, that we can hold these things in tension and say there’s some things that really need to change, but this country is actually worth working on and making better, and that’s the conversation that we need to have on both sides. Not to present a narrative that on one end, if you’re a patriot, you’ve got to find anything that you can find to make your narrative ironclad that there’s nothing wrong with America, any of the small things that we did, the couple hundred years of slavery and all that that’s just a blip on who we really are. You’ve got to push that away but then you’ve also got to push away that every single thing that happens, the people in leadership are always out to get you and they spend all their time and all the days doing that.
We can’t really get at the serious issues, even the very serious issue of race, which I think is one of the number one issues that especially in the church that we really have to work through if this is going to be the country that we say it is or that the ideals would hold it out to be, we’re going to have to be a lot more honest in the race conversation and in the conversation about what this country has been historically, and what makes it exceptional. I often say it has some exceptional accomplishments. I mean, you can even look at the vaccine and things of that nature, and some exceptional transgressions. When you look at slavery, you look at George Floyd, now you look at our brother, Dante, these are things that we have to talk about and be honest about, rather than protecting narratives that at the end of the day we know are half-fictional.
Collin Hansen: Well, I know Justin this is a lot of your heart and your work with the AND Campaign, but it feels like a lot of us have been given a choice. It’s either Make America Great, or it’s How to Be an Anti-Racist. That feels like the options. Am I wrong on that? Just I feel that that’s what we’ve been for several years now.
Justin Giboney: I mean, I think we should all try to be fighting against racism, be active in that fight against racism. Does that mean we need to accept the whole idea of what some people bring to anti-racism? I don’t think so. But we should be trying to make America better and at the same time, realizing that what it’s going to take to do that. It’s not just about going backward, and if you look at the history of America, it’s a romanticized history if you say, “All we need to do is go backward.” It’s indefensible. Now, you can do that when you’re around people who are committed to upholding your narrative, you can’t do that in an intellectually honest conversation.
At the same time, we need to realize that God is asking something from all of us in that conversation. So while our everyday fight for racial injustice, I also know that I have to do it with a certain level of grace, that I also have to be willing to let people in the conversation who might not say the right thing all the time, and then it can’t be performative. I think that’s the other part of it. I can’t be doing this just to get a pat on the back from everybody in my tribe, I have to be doing it in a lot more honest way that we don’t always see.
Collin Hansen: Mike, the secular nature of the Constitution means that it would not be accurate to describe the United States as a Christian nation. I think Justin gets at this when he says, “To have an intellectually honest conversation, you can’t talk about that.” You could say it’s a nation that was populated by a preponderance of Christians, but when people look back on the Constitution, they remark at how shockingly secular it is. In fact that comes at a very low ebb of American religiosity. In our history, a lot of people don’t realize they seem to think kind of like what you’re talking about Justin, that there used to be this thing that we can get back to and it’s just sort of been backsliding since then, but it’s simply not true if you’re intellectually honest about American history.
We do know, of course, though, that Christianity did profoundly shape the United States, and it’s not like all of these ideas emerged from some imagined secular neutrality. That is certainly not the case, either. So how does the United States, Mike, maintain its commitments to life and liberty and the pursuit of happiness if most citizens don’t share or at least acknowledge Christian presuppositions? I know that’s a complicated question, but it’s really trying to get to the essence of how do we bring the best of Christianity to bear on a nation that is in many ways turning back on the Christianity that did infuse this country with the principles that Justin saying we could reclaim, that Abraham Lincoln reclaim, that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reclaimed in their efforts to renew the American project?
Michael Horton: Right. Renewing the American project is wonderful if it’s not piggybacking on a pseudo-Christian narrative, that’s our story. Brothers and sisters around the world, of every ethnicity and background. That’s our family’s story. It can’t be grafted onto the American story, and that’s because there was a time when the church was a nation, a geopolitical nation, Israel. In Exodus 19, he says, “If you obey me, you will be a chosen nation, a royal priesthood, and so forth.” If, because the Sinai Covenant, unlike the Abrahamic Covenant was conditional, as long as Israel obeyed it could remain in God’s land. It didn’t obey, was kicked out of the land exiled, and that covenant is obsolete the New Testament says. That covenant is obsolete.
So it’s interesting, theological liberals do this, right? Interpret the Bible allegorically to say what they want to say because historical narratives actually say, that’s what we’re doing and that’s what’s happening even in conservative circles if we forget, 1 Peter 2:9 uses that very description of Israel for the church, and no ifs, ands or buts, you are a chosen nation, a royal priesthood, a people for God’s own possession. Then just historically, you’re absolutely right. In a treaty with Tripoli, George Washington said, “Since the United States is in no sense a Christian nation, that religion will not interfere in our relationship with you.” Talking to a religious state, saying we’re not a religious state.
But it never would have occurred to Washington, that it’s not one nation under God. I think that’s the thing that they all [Wadias 00:27:09] Thomas Paine who was an atheist, all the way to Patrick Henry and James Madison, who wrote the Constitution. If you’ve read the Federalist Papers, he got most of his theology from John Witherspoon at Princeton University, Princeton College. Witherspoon, a Scottish Presbyterian minister. So he talks about the two kingdoms. For instance, he disagrees with Patrick Henry who wants to have tax exemption for churches and Christian schools. Why on earth would he do that? Is just secularist, atheist? No. He said, “In light of the doctrine of the two kingdoms, Christ’s kingdom and the kingdoms of this world, Christ’s kingdom is more important. What right does the state have to determine what a true church is?”
So I mean, it’s really remarkable how much the secularity of the constitution is due to Baptists who fought for liberty, Presbyterians who fought for liberty, Lutherans who came over and fought for liberty against state churches. It was evangelicals who pioneered that and the Reformation met the Enlightenment and they both kissed and embraced this is not just a Reformation narrative or an Enlightenment narrative, Jefferson was probably an atheist, as John Adams accused him of being even though John Adams himself didn’t believe in the Trinity or the deity of Christ. It was a mixed bag, just like it is today. So we’ve got to change our understanding both of the biblical exegesis underlying Christian nationalism and the bad history that you get from both sides these days. The other side just writes out any Christian influence unless it’s bad.
Collin Hansen: Just think about all that we have to try to untangle with George Washington himself, as the example that you gave there. The reason this is so complicated, and if you came expecting the Gospelbound podcast, you were going to get a lot of easy answers, that’s not really the brand. But if you think about Washington, you’re dealing with somebody who only it has not occurred to him, that the United States is a Christian nation. At the same time, it could not have occurred to him, that Christianity was not a pervasive influence in the nation, and at the same time, not so pervasive that it would have made him question slavery, or to confront that. Look at all that we have to untangle. You can honor Washington all you want. And I certainly don’t have a problem with that, but look at the legacy that you have to untangle there, just to sort of our leading founding father there.
I think one reason the debates about Christian nationalism gets so confusing, I think people get offended because they think well, how dare you question what I grew up with? I mean, Justin, I was thinking about this. I grew up pledging allegiance to the U.S. flag, clapping for veterans in parades, thinking America is a pretty great place to live. So I’m just wondering, what view should Christians have? Was that wrong of me to have that attitude? What is patriotism supposed to look like?
Justin Giboney: That’s a good question. I mean, I too, grew up pledging allegiance to the flag. I’ve been to parades, where they were veterans and we clap for those veterans, my grandfather was a veteran. But I also grew up being called the N-word in school and having teachers that didn’t want to address it, saying that a lot of black kids including myself in my school, were summarily placed into slow learning classes, when they really shouldn’t have been. Hearing my elders talk about what they went through when it came to Jim Crow, and my grandfather’s father being killed during that time. So there was this tension. So to answer your question, no, what you were feeling right then wasn’t necessarily bad but it wasn’t the whole story.
Collin Hansen: Not representative of the full story, I was getting in there. I mean, I’ll just give you one example. I mean, Reconstruction, I think, is the most perilous period of American history, especially in how the narrative is told, we’re actually working on an article on this on the Lost Cause, and things like that for The Gospel Coalition. But I do remember when I can go back through my textbooks, in rural South Dakota, the textbooks taught me a lost cause narrative of Reconstruction.
Justin Giboney: That’s what I was getting to. It’s one thing to have that feeling at the parade and all those things. I too cheer for the U.S. and will tell my sons to do so during the Olympics, there’s something to that. There’s nothing wrong with that. The question is, when you go to school, are you really learning the full American history? It’s been surprising to me, I used to assume people understood the history because I was taught the history from my elders, but a lot of people don’t know American history. If you don’t know about Black Wall Street, if you don’t know about how black veterans after going to war for their country, were excluded from the GI Bill. If you don’t know about redlining, you might want to go back and look up American history, and I think one very good place to go is Reconstruction. I mean, Reconstruction tells a very important story, that I’m not sure that we have all of it.
So not only school, though, I mean, once you have a story that you had, do you go to your church, and is your church also just upholding that narrative instead of challenging that narrative, and showing us the sin in our system along with the sin in ourselves? This becomes the real question that we have to address. The problem isn’t that you might feel good about something that isn’t perfect. The issue is, do you know that it’s imperfect and have you really studied it to understand that? So again, I would say that we [Americans] have some very excellent examples of ways that we’ve achieved, and then we have some things that we really have to work on, and if we only stay on one side of that conversation, we miss all the other history that can inform us and help us actually correct some of the mistakes that we made in the past.
So I don’t have the problem with people having a feeling of patriotism, does that patriotism force you to try to build and maintain this false narrative, or is it strong enough to say like Frederick Douglass, this system is good enough to try to build something out of, it has the mechanisms in place for us to make it better, but I have to admit there some problems in order to make it better?
Collin Hansen: Now we’re definitely on brand with the Gospelbound politics, talking about the real story of history and how much more interesting it actually is, and challenging it is. I grew up also being proud that my family is related to Rutherford B. Hayes, not recognizing that that was the compromise election in one of the most scandalous presidential elections in history, which was a compromise between the northern republicans and southern democrats to be able to end federal occupation of the south and thus end reconstruction, and thus end for an entire century African American access to politics in the south and being able to protect themselves. I mean, I used to think Ulysses S. Grant. Well, I mean, not really, he was a good general, of course, because he won the war but at the same time, I don’t know he had a corrupt administration and, oh, wait a minute, oh, people didn’t like Ulysses S. Grant because he was actually really progressive on civil rights. So a narrative was concocted to talk about how terrible he was as a president. Oh, okay and it’s just now that people are writing that actual history in these definitive biographies.
Or James Longstreet, the Confederate general. Oh, he was the problem with everything that happened in the Civil War for the South, if that was the issue, why was that attitude? Oh, because he became a Republican, and as a Republican, he became friends with William Sherman, and thus the South needed to discredit him so they blamed the loss of the Civil War on him. That’s real history but it’s not necessarily the obvious parts that you’re taught, and that leads into all of these debates about Christian nationalism. You may have, Mike already tipped your hand, you called Christian nationalism a heresy. So I think you’ve tipped your hand on this. But if you knew members of your church held to Christian nationalist views, would you be preaching against those views directly as the biblical text dictated? Would you discipline a member of your church who advocated Christian nationalism?
Michael Horton: Yes, I mean, first of all we’re all under discipline in one degree or another, taking the yoke of Christ and being taught by the church pastor and the elders being accountable to them. But it begins with instruction. It has to begin with instruction, you don’t begin with excommunication, you begin with instruction and loving kindness, and not us versus them, but just trying to explain the biblical grounds for these positions. I’ve said a few times, imagine what history would have been like if the churches in the South disciplined members who were slaveholders. Imagine the social impact, it’s not a social move at all. It’s a church thing to do. Only the church has authority to discipline its members. It has the power of the keys of heaven, not at the power of the keys of Earth. Some powerful keys, you imagine there are lots of pastors and elders, who would have been under discipline as well as their parishioners.
Can you imagine what would have happened if the church did what only it can do? The only institution on Earth, that can bind on Earth? Bind in heaven what is bound on Earth by the Word of God. That is a powerful sort of thing. Now, I’m not saying you never use discipline for social purposes, but imagine if the church had just been the church. What a difference that would have made much less people today sort of glorifying, making comments glorifying the church. But civil religion being a corruption of the biblical faith is a heresy, it confuses the law with the gospel, a conditional covenant with the unconditional covenant of grace, and it confuses the promise that was made to Abraham of a worldwide family in one person Jesus with a conditional covenant with America as long as she is obedient and unrepentant and she can always come back, 2 Chronicles 7:14 and do it all over again and sort of rededicate herself and get back in God’s good graces.
At so many points, you don’t have to yet get to politics. At so many points on theological grounds, people have to be admonished and corrected, including pastors and elders. Look, our churches right now look like Fox and CNN. You can tell when you walk into a Fox church, and when you walk into a CNN church, it’s not the gospel that they care about most, it’s the ideology. When are we going to get back to the gospel, The Gospel Coalition is an important part of this. When are we going to get back to the gospel, that core that should unite all of us who have faith in Jesus?
Collin Hansen: A colleague of mine had pointed out recently that he thinks in this Christian nationalist situation that you described that Ben Shapiro would feel totally comfortable in many evangelical churches. But if Lecrae visited, they would reject him. That I think is an illustration of what you’re talking about there, of it’s not that you have to disagree or agree with everything politically that Lecrae would say, or Ben Shapiro would say. The point is, what is the basis of our unity here? Is there unity in the gospel, in Jesus, who is greater, in the resurrected Christ or is our unity in a political program there? I think I’m probably speaking the AND Campaign’s language here. I hope, but that’s why I’m so encouraged by what you guys are doing there because until I think, Mike, we can get to where you just pointed us.
We’re going to continue to struggle in our churches, but I believe this event, I believe this moment can be an opportunity of gospel renewal for our churches. So I’m so encouraged by everybody who turned out for this live episode of Gospel Bound. I always like to end my podcast by asking a spur-of-the-moment question, what is the last great book you’ve read? Let’s start with you, Justin.
Justin Giboney: I would say Capitol Men, which was on Reconstruction.
Collin Hansen: Say it again?
Justin Giboney: Capitol Men.
Collin Hansen: Okay, Who wrote it?
Justin Giboney: I can’t remember author on top of my head.
Collin Hansen: That’s okay. Capitol Men.
Justin Giboney: Which is actually about Reconstruction.
Collin Hansen: Okay. All right, Mike? I mean, and not the last great book you wrote Mike.
Michael Horton: Completely misunderstood you.
Collin Hansen: Before and last year.
Michael Horton: Yeah. I really found this book by Whitehead and Perry fascinating. It’s called, Taking America Back for God: Rise of Christian Nationalism, and they completely deconstruct the media narrative of what nationalism, Christian nationalism is, and that it’s not just relative to white evangelicalism, it is a fascinating sociological study.
Collin Hansen: Well, I love with Gospelbound to be able to complicate certain narratives, to be able to get back into the real history. I’ll end with one story here that I think is appropriate for bringing together history, Christian nationalism, theology in the church. I was reading a biography a few years ago about Basil Manly Sr, not a lot of people know about him. He was one of the founders, essentially of the Southern Baptist Convention. He was the pastor of First Baptist Church of Charleston, which is the fountainhead of Reformed Baptist churches in the United States. He was pastor of First Baptist, Montgomery, Alabama, he actually did the inauguration for Jefferson Davis. He was the president of the University of Alabama. When he was the pastor of First Baptist Church of Charleston, they had a church discipline case.
You can look a lot through Baptist history especially and see a lot of the trends good and bad, depending on how churches handled discipline. But First Baptist Charleston was a congregation that took discipline very seriously, and one of their members was being disciplined for being involved in extra-marital sex. Now, a lot of people don’t remember this about history, she was a slave. Now First Baptist Church of Charleston had slave members, had black members before the Civil War. But they had a problem because they knew why she was having sex outside of marriage, she was being raped by her owner. They said, “Well, we can’t acknowledge what slavery is really like, it’ll undermine our entire system. But we also can’t let this just go without discipline.” So they hatched a plan. Basil Manly Sr., his biographer says Basil Manly Sr., bought her body to save her soul. He purchased her, so that she can be taken away from her master and would not be raped anymore. But he bought her, bought her body to save her soul.
This is probably the most significant Reformed Southern Baptist leader or one of the most significant Reformed Southern Baptist leaders of the first half of the 19th century. That’s a little bit of the sort of national political, racial, theological, ecclesial mess that we’re trying to untangle. There are reasons why it’s so difficult but God, I believe, is calling us in this generation, to make different choices, to be faithful, to have our gospel-centered theology above all. Let me close us then in prayer.
Heavenly Father, we’ve talked about difficult things, but nothing is too difficult for you, to bring healing to us individually, to bring healing to our church, to bring justice to our nation, and to empower Christians to live for a heavenly city. God, we pray that you would give us a glimpse of your heavenly city, here and now and how we relate to one another across political divides, keeping the kingdom of heaven, the city of God, foremost in our lives, in our worship and in our relationships. We pray that you would do so in the power of the risen Christ. Amen.