Grace does not deracinate.
In The Case for Christian Nationalism, I argued that Adam’s progeny, had Adam not fallen, would have formed culturally distinct nations as they spread across the earth, and each people would have a unique way of life and without sin. Several reviewers called this claim “speculative”; others thought it sufficient to cite the Tower of Babel. No critic (to my knowledge) attempted to refute my arguments directly, which I continue to consider sufficient for my conclusions. However, more can be said on the subject, and this essay will develop my method, confirm my conclusion, and address various questions around it.
The question of man’s social relations in an unfallen state assumes a counterfactual—that Adam had not sinned. With their distrust of counterfactuals, many consider any assertion about these relations to be speculative prima facia, since they are outside our experience and biblical witness. But this is too hasty. If we can affirm or deny certain faculties and abilities for man in that state, we can make reliable inferences, both positive and negative, about his life in that state. Here are a few preliminary examples. Being a featherless biped, man would be unable to fly like birds and would walk and run, not crawl or slither; nor would he run on all-fours, at least not ordinarily. Being commanded to “multiply” on earth, men and women would propagate by sexual relations and pregnancy. We might consider this obvious (and it is) but Genesis 1-2 says nothing about sexual relations, nor how humankind would multiply. Consider another example: since Adam and his progeny were under the moral law, which commands man to worship God and worship rightly, we can safely say that they would worship God and rightly.
Though these obvious inferences say little about social relations, they demonstrate this important principle:
Whatever we ascribe to man in his state of innocence can lead to trustworthy inferences about his life in that state.
But how do we go about reliably ascribing features to man in a state of integrity? We should begin by recognizing that unfallen social relations, whatever they would have looked like, would arise from the nature of man as God created him. His social nature determines his social life. That is, by God’s design, man is naturally sociable and sociable in a specific way. We know that man is neither like the bears (solitary), nor like honey bees (hyper collective). But whatever type of social creature man is, he (by God’s design) has all the right faculties, capabilities, instincts, and desires for that society and to live well in it. Indeed, the telos of these attributes is, in part, a certain type of social existence.
To answer the question before us we must begin by determining the faculties and abilities of men that are pertinent to man’s social being as created. We are not searching for an explicit divine command—“you will form diverse societies”—but rather the divine will inhering in the very nature of man. If human nature as created draws man to form disparate societies (as I contend), then doing so is God’s will for man.
Original and Adventitious Goods
Now, since we do not have direct access to unfallen man, we must infer from man’s current state back to his state of innocence. We do this by making this crucial distinction: between what is good according to God’s creational design for man and what is good only because of sin. A mother nursing her child is good by God’s design, something apparent from God’s design of the woman’s body. Likewise, marriage is itself a good native to creation, and humans are designed by instinct and reason to marry. The state of sin, however, necessitated certain ad hoc goods, mainly to shore up human life and society. As Thomas Aquinas said, “Many goods are present in things which would not occur unless there were evils.”1 The pediatrician, for example, is good for society only because of fallenness—children now get sick and need special care and treatment. Pediatrics would not be a good in an unfallen world, since medicinal care would be unnecessary. Hence, the state of sin requires the augmentation of means to achieve man’s original, natural ends. Health now requires medicine. Civil peace and justice between men—both natural ends of human society—now require the addition of civil punishments, acting as restraints upon sinful behavior. In relation to man’s original state, these means are adventitious—they are necessary only as remedies for man in a state of sin. We can distinguish these goods with the terms, original and adventitious.
Original goods remain good for man in his fallen state, because his fall did not eradicate his humanness. What was good for unfallen Adam is good for his fallen progeny. Adam went from being a righteous man to an evil man but he still remained a man. For this reason, conformity to human nature as originally constituted remains necessary for human good. Put differently, the original law given to Adam remains the only suitable standard of conduct for man and his only rule to happiness; further this law (when applied well) remains the only ground of social happiness. All that to say: despite the need for adventitious goods in the post-fall world, there is continuity regarding original human goods, or simply human nature, between the state of innocence and the state of sin.
Thus, properly ascribing things to unfallen man requires us to determine which things of man today are original to man and which are adventitious. Everything of the latter sort is excluded (at least as to necessity) from the state of integrity, for such things would be unnecessary for him to achieve his good per his design.
II. Statement of the question
This distinction helps to clarify the true question between myself and my opponents. The question is, whether a diversity of nations on earth is an original good or an adventitious good, i.e., whether the formation of diverse nations on earth is a natural and necessary consequence of man’s constitutive nature (viz. his natural, God-designed sociality) or a postlapsarian, adventitious good—necessary only due to sin. I affirm the former, because (as I will show) we should ascribe to unfallen man the sort of things that would necessarily lead to a diversity of nations as Adam’s progeny spread across the earth.
This question assumes that national/ethnic diversity on earth is good in some way, either original or adventitious. Those who affirm the latter might call it a “necessary evil,” making it good only relative to its effects. However, this still renders the diversity of nations an adventitious good. The belief that the diversity of nations is an absolute evil, serving no purpose but evil and flowing from nothing but man’s sinful nature, will not be refuted here, since few seem to affirm it.
Before offering my argument for the former, it is worth showing that neither my conclusion nor the method I use to reach it is novel. Thomas Aquinas, though he did not (to my knowledge) speak specifically about diverse nations, nevertheless, wrote extensively about man in the state of integrity. He affirmed that unfallen people would have been unequal in bodily stature, beauty, knowledge, virtue, domestic authority, and civil authority. From his anthropology, Aquinas recognized a great deal of continuity between the states of innocence and sin regarding human sociality.2 On social life, he writes, “Because man is naturally a social being…in the state of innocence he would have led a social life. Now a social life cannot exist among a number of people unless under the presidency of one to look after the common good.”3 For Aquinas, man’s social nature as created would require civil governors to direct individuals to the good of the whole. This anthropology would seem to affirm the formation of diverse civil societies, since unfallen man would be incapable of worldwide governance. Thus, one would expect Aquinas to say that a diversity of civil societies would form simply because multiple jurisdictions of governance would be necessary, given the nature of human governance. In any event, Aquinas was certainly willing to ascribe attributes to unfallen man and theorize about his social life.
Now, the Reformed adopted many of Aquinas’s presuppositions, eschewing as he did much of the rather bizarre conclusions of past theologians.4 Reformed theologian Herman Bavinck summarizes the Reformed perspective:
In all these issues [concerning man in the state of innocence] Reformed theology was able to make such sound judgments….Though the form (forma) [of life] has changed, the matter (materia) of humankind, plant, animal, nature, and earth is the same before and after the fall. All the essential components existing today were present also before the fall. The distinctions and dissimilarities between men and women, parents and children, brothers and sisters, relatives and friends; the numerous institutions and relations in the life of society such as marriage, family, child rearing, and so forth; the alternation of day and night, workdays and the day of rest, labor and leisure, months and years; man’s dominion over the earth through science and art, and so forth—while all these things have undoubtedly been modified by sin and changed in appearance, they nevertheless have their active principle and foundation in creation, in the ordinances of God, and not in sin.5
Reformed theologians (and I would say Augustine and Aquinas) could speak soundly about the state of innocence because, firstly, they clearly distinguished the state of innocence from the state of glory—God’s creation was very good but not perfect. “Adam did not yet enjoy the highest level of blessedness….We may not draw conclusions from [the state of glory] for the conditions” of the state of innocence, states Bavinck. That is, unfallen man had a natural body, not a glorified one. Put differently, the postlapsarian and pre-glorified human being is fundamentally the same kind of being as the prelapsarian human being. Hence, there is fundamental continuity of human nature between the two states. Secondly, the fall was principally spiritual. Jonathan Edwards, reflecting Reformed consensus, wrote that at the fall of man, “immediately his image, his holy spirit, and original righteousness, which was the highest and best life of our first parents, were lost; and they were immediately in a doleful state of spiritual death.”6 The emphasis on the spiritual loss and spiritual death, as opposed to utter depravity of nature, is why Bavinck can affirm the following:
Since after the fall people have remained human and continue to share in the blessings of God’s common grace, they can inwardly possess many virtues and outwardly do many good deeds that, viewed through human eyes and measured by human standards, are greatly to be appreciated and of great value for human life. But this is not to say that they are good in the eyes of God and correspond to the full spiritual sense of his holy law.7
So, the Reformed had a strong basis to affirm extensive continuity between the two states of man. Unfallen man and fallen man operate from the same natural principles. Thus, one can theorize from man’s current state to his former state. This is why, on the subject of natural hierarchy, Calvin concludes that “there would have been, I allow, a difference of endowments had nature remained perfect.” New England Puritan Samuel Willard could write, “Had man abode in his primitive state, there would have been always some naturally superior to others.” And Bavinck agreed: “The disparity, which we presently observe everywhere in human society, is in principle and in essence not a result of sin, as many people thought in earlier and later times, but it existed from the beginning, even before sin entered the world.”8 As for food, the Reformed often believed that unfallen man was permitted to eat meat. As Bavinck writes, “most Reformed theologians were of the opinion that eating meat was permitted to humans even before the flood and the fall.” One might cite Calvin, who in his sermons on Genesis wrote that men likely “were free to eat meat [before the fall].”9
How did they come to these views? Was it vain and unprincipled speculation? No, they applied theological anthropology, recognizing continuity between the states of innocence and sin; and they reflected on the natural constitution of man—his body, soul, faculties, and ends. They were able thereby to distinguish between the original constitutive nature of man and his sin.
Samuel Willard follows this method precisely when addressing the question of human society in the state of innocence. He writes,
Civil human societies have their rise and reason from the nature of man. Some therefore have thought it a good comprehensive description of man, that he is πολιτικόν, man was made a sociable creature; and has a natural disposition to hold converse with his own kind. Nor does this inclination arise, merely from the necessity of his lapsed state for mutual support and defense, though that has augmented the necessity of it; but it was put into the constitution of man, and he sought it, not only by instinct, as brutes so with their kind; but the exercise of reason, and the consideration of the relations which God at first constituted between mankind, and the affection put into them towards their correlates therein. It is therefore a brutish opinion of those, who would have men, if their integrity had remained, to have lied in the fields and woods after the manner of wild beasts, whereas it is evident that men do seek familiarity with such whom they have the least necessity for….And it is rational to conclude, that as the world had begun to be peopled, there would of necessity have been a multiplying of civil societies, and these distinct, for the upholding of civil commerce and amity.10
Notice that Willard begins with the “nature of man;” he is a “sociable creature” who seeks human society by instinct and reason. Willard distinguishes man’s original, God-designed nature from that of man’s “lapsed state”. The latter state “augmented the necessity” of civil society but it was still necessary according to human nature as created. As designed by God, human nature would lead to “distinct” civil societies.
Recently, in his 2022 book, Professor Steven Bryan of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School came to a similar conclusion:
The divine commission to ‘fill the earth’ is fulfilled not simply by populating the earth with people. Rather, the divine intention plays out as humanity fills the earth with culturally distinct peoples…. The emergence of diverse peoples who fill the earth with a rich variety of cultures is central to the divine vision for humanity.11
Another theologian, Danny Slavich, wrote on his blog the following:
God commanded the children of Adam and Eve to spread into the earth and take charge of it. Obedience would have created distinctions of location, language, culture, and ethnicity. Different groups would have clustered together, forming distinct people groups. In other words, ethnic distinctions would have developed as part of God’s good design—distinctions without divisions.
These recent examples suggest to me not necessarily that views are widely shifting but that the question is being asked more and more and subsequently people are coming to what I consider the most obvious answer.
Still, the outright rejection of any positive theory about unfallen social life seems to be the default position in our time. But there can be no default position. Every position, whether one that denies mine or asserts an agnostic position, relies on certain assumptions–each of which need to be defended.
Consider Martin Luther’s famous judgment, that “there was no need of civil government [in the state of innocence], since nature was unimpaired and without sin.” This conclusion requires prior judgments concerning man’s social nature. His claim in effect is that “man’s original social nature is sufficient to order the whole to the common good without the aid of civil government.” Now, this argument is fine prima facie, but the conclusion—like my position—still follows from judgments about man in his unfallen state, namely, that he was equipped such that man would not require human government. This cannot be the default position; it must be demonstrated.
Likewise, denying that there would be many nations entails that there would be one nation. The denial logically leads to an affirmation. But the one-nation thesis can be the default position no more than mine. Which faculties of man, as people spread thousands of miles apart, would enable him to maintain cultural and linguistic uniformity? How could that happen? What would man need, which he clearly has lost, to achieve that? This position assumes suppositions regarding man’s original sociality and his antecedent abilities. It cannot be the default; it must be demonstrated.
One might take the agnostic position saying, “We cannot know enough about human social nature in an unfallen state to make any reasonable conclusions on questions of civil societies in an unfallen world.” Like those above, this position has prima facie validity. Nevertheless, it assumes and relies on a certain theological anthropology. Recall that my Reformed anthropology permits continuity in human nature between the states of innocence and sin. To be agnostic, however, requires an anthropology that either entirely or almost entirely closes that state of man from us—likely requiring a strange severing of human natures or to affirm a devastation of man that resulted in utter depravity. Only then would we be so closed off and unable to distinguish between original and adventitious goods. The point being: the agnostic position relies on suppositions in theological anthropology and thus it cannot be the default position. It must be demonstrated.
IV. The Anthropological Argument
As I stated above, we can infer unfallen man’s social relations from the things we ascribe to him in his unfallen state. The two key features of man for our purposes are his gregariousness and the natural limitedness of his faculties and abilities.
That man is a gregarious creature is affirmed universally in the Christian tradition. Man cannot live well by “living alone as wild beasts do, nor wandering about as birds . . . [nor as] stateless hermits, living without fixed hearth or home,” as Johannes Althusius writes.12 He continues, “[M]an by nature is a gregarious animal born for cultivating society with other men.”13 Many have spoken of an “instinct” that draws people to society14, pointing to a philanthropic drive to be with and for others. Man knows, by instinct and reason, that the earthly goods necessary to live well in this world are available only in society. No man or household has the skills necessary to produce the full range of material goods. As Althusius writes,
God distributed his gifts unevenly among men. He did not give all things to one person, but some to one and some to others, so that you have need for my gifts, and I for yours. And so was born, as it were, the need for communicating necessary and useful things, which communication was not possible except in social and political life. God therefore willed that each need the service and aid of others in order that friendship would bind all together, and no one would consider another to be valueless. . . . Everyone therefore needs the experience and contributions of others, and no one lives to himself alone.15
Thus, living well in this world requires a variety of vocations, i.e., special callings by which one serves neighbors. And this fits with our own intuitions that mastery over some particular vocation is an unqualified good; it is not a product of the fall, sin, or misery. Furthermore, if each of us were self-sufficient for our own needs, none would need any help from another and thus no opportunity would exist for us to serve our neighbors and fulfill God’s law. Fulfilling God’s natural law requires our neighbors to have needs, and a diversity of vocations would be the principal means by which human needs are met and each of us fulfills the law.
For this reason, an unfallen world would include diverse vocations, each vocation being distinct in its art and end product. As Althusius states, these relations of production form a “symbiosis”—a living-together of “co-workers who, by the bond of an associating and uniting agreement, communicate among themselves whatever is appropriate for a comfortable life of soul and body. In other words, they are participants or partners in a common life.”16
This symbiosis is an interdependent relation of whole and parts. That is, each part depends on the whole for its existence, for no carpenter (for example) can achieve mastery without living with and depending on the service of farmers (and vice versa). Each part depends on the whole for its existence and for mastery.
Human gregariousness, therefore, renders man neither solitary nor hyper-collectivist but both communal and individualistic: each man serves the good of the whole with his individual vocation. Unlike most other creatures, man is both an individual and a community member. Again, this arrangement satisfies our good sense that each of us should offer some unique contribution to others and that we should welcome and celebrate the unique and good contributions of all others.
Now, this does not, by itself, demonstrate that a diversity of nations would have arisen in the state of innocence. But it does meet an important condition for it, namely, that man is drawn to others in his immediate locale for his complete good.
Unless we want to ascribe to unfallen man certain spooky abilities, such as telepathic powers, we must conclude that man by nature is a place-bound being. He dwells in a particular place, and moving and communicating over long distances takes great effort. His everyday interactions with others are limited by his natural faculties, binding him to a locale. Without some secondhand communication, he is ignorant of events and individuals in faraway places and even in the next town over. Most individuals would practice their vocations in this locale and with a particular set of people. Man’s place-boundedness is simply the necessary consequence of his natural faculties and abilities, and his calling to exercise a special vocation for others.
Man was made perfectly fit for local belonging. Indeed, it is best to speak not of our limitedness—which might carry a negative connotation—but of our natural suitability for particularity and for strong local attachments. Your love for your hometown, your childhood home, the little brown church in the vale, and the landscape of your homeland is an original good. You can escape this conclusion only if you want to ascribe to unfallen man certain strange abilities for which we have no evidence and which grace has not renewed in the state of grace. The binding of people and place is not a product of the fall; the love of home is not an adventitious good or necessary evil. Original sin did not eliminate some faculty through which man transcends his immediate surroundings, making him a sort of cosmopolitan. We are limited beings by design so that we might belong to a distinct people and a place.
Moreover, a people group in an unfallen state is more than a bounded set of humans; it’s a people distinct in their cultural particularity. One marvel of our design is that from the principles of human nature can arise innumerable ways of life. The particularities of culture, language, and arts are not innate to man—as if there is only one way of life natural to him. Clothing, music, dance, literature, cuisine, and most other features of human life can be expressed in countless sinless ways. Culture is never purely natural, as if innate in human nature is a concrete set of cultural practices. Indeed, man is suited by his nature to belong to a people, to receive their people’s way of life, and to adopt it as second nature. By design, our knowledge of what to do and how to act in this world is necessarily informed by the way of life into which we are socialized. Our very person is inextricably bound up with the life-world of our people; it is not easily shrugged off or torn from us.
Given the natural limitedness of man and our natural sociality, it is evident that people-groups would have formed as Adam’s progeny spread across the earth, resulting in a dazzling diversity of cultures—each having its own customs, dialects, words for things, names of landmarks, material culture, and vocational practices. The peculiarities of geography would be deeply formative, each place having unique requirements of agriculture, unique animal and plant life, seasonal changes, distinct landmarks, climates, etc. As they shape the land, the land shapes them—as if the people and place belong together.
The variety of cultures we see today, though tainted with sin in content, is not itself a result of sin or misery but simply the product of natural human interaction in a locale over time and generations. We were made for this. Do we really want to blame regional dialects, dances, music, dress, and all other particularities entirely on the loss or diminishment of some human faculty or from some sinful impulse or as some kind of adventitious good? If human sameness is natural to man and human diversity is a consequence of sin, then which lost faculty would have led to sameness? Further, do we see foreign ways of life today as tragic differences, symbolic of our sin? Is diversity in this world in the same category as bad-tasting medicine? Or do we experience diversity with joy and perhaps even marvel at the possibilities of being human in God’s world? The fact is, though Christians disagree on the prudence of “multiculturalism”, we see cultural diversity on earth as, in itself, an unqualified good, and it pleases us that the Gospel is for the nations.
The necessity of civil government in an unfallen world is not essential to my argument, for we can conceive of nations united around ways of life without subjection to civil governors. Yet if this necessity were demonstrated, it would support and confirm my thesis. Here’s why. If civil government is necessary, then no governor could effectively govern the whole world, for governors must know those whom they govern in order to govern well. One cannot govern sight unseen, as it were; and human governors are human, not omniscient beings. It follows that, if civil government is necessary for unfallen man, there would have been multiple civil governments and so multiple civil societies.
But why affirm the aforementioned antecedent, i.e., the necessity of civil government? Since each community has a diverse set of members—each member exercising his gifts for the good of the whole—the community would contain a multiplicity of interests, pursuits, and ends. Each would desire the common good and the glory of God, but individual ends would vary. Vocational diversity and complexity produce potentially clashing interests and frustrated efforts, which (absent some organizing agent) would destroy liberty and the health of the community itself. Clashing interests occur not from ill will or from the neglect of neighbors, but from natural epistemic limitations: each of us cannot know in every case how our actions might hinder or frustrate others in pursuit of their ends. This is not a natural defect of man but simply points to the natural need for an ordering agent, to resolve collective action problems. Human sociality, by God’s design, requires some coordinating agent to order man at the social level.
The necessary ordering agent of civil society is civil government. Its original function is not to restrain sin, since it orders an unfallen people. Its purpose is positive: it reconciles the diverse interests of families and vocations to establish and maintain civil peace. As Aquinas said, “Social life cannot exist among a number of people unless under the presidency of one to look after the common good; for many, as such, seek many things, whereas one attends only to one.”17 And elsewhere:
For where there are many men together and each one is looking after his own interest, the multitude would be broken up and scattered unless there were also an agency to take care of what pertains to the commonweal. . . . [T]here must exist something which impels towards the common good of the many, over and above that which impels towards the particular good of each individual.18
17th century English theologian, Richard Baxter, affirmed this as well:
At his first creation man was subjected to none but God: though it was provided in Nature, that there should have been Government and Subjection though man had continued innocent: but that would have been only a Paternal assisting Government for our good, having nothing in it that is penal, or any way evil.19
Civil government accomplishes its end with deliberation, and by enacting and promulgating civil law. Unfallen subjects would willingly submit to these laws, trusting that the laws are for their good and will assist them in loving their neighbors. As such, the law does not require threats of punishment for disobedience. What motivates individuals to obey the law is the end of the law: one’s good and that of one’s neighbor, toward which the laws order.
It follows from this section that unfallen man would form distinct civil societies, each being culturally distinct and each having its own civil government. Thus, there is not discontinuity but continuity between the state of innocence and our own state regarding the presence of distinct nations. Our love for a particular home is an original good.
V. The State of Grace.
As the Christian tradition has largely affirmed, including the Reformed tradition, grace does not destroy nature but assumes and affirms it. Nothing original to creation is undermined, superseded, or abrogated by the Gospel. Indeed, grace restores nature by correcting error; grace deals with sin.20 Hence, if anything, grace might render unnecessary some goods of the postlapsarian world, but it assumes and affirms all original goods. Anything essential to man’s good when in a state of innocence remains an essential good for him in both the states of sin and of grace. The essential principles of human relations—those that are necessary for living well together—must remain essential in every state of man. Therefore, if the formation of distinct nations is natural to man by God’s design and necessary for his good, then grace does not destroy but rather assumes and affirms distinct nations. Christians would, therefore, not only affirm the necessity of distinct nations for human good but seek a diversity of Christian nations. (I address the claim that the church is the only Christian nation here).
Since unfallen man would populate a world with distinct peoples, it follows that God created man with the proper set of faculties, abilities, desires, and needs that would, in their totality, lead him to that end. God’s will for it inheres in our nature as created. Now, the telos of our nature is our good and happiness, and thus distinct nations are one condition for our complete good and happiness. Grace does not change this. Nations after conversion to Christ are not to be destroyed but to be reformed and restored to their natural purpose.
VI. Theological and Philosophical Arguments
The following are philosophical and theological arguments, each independently demonstrating my thesis.
Since in man is the possibility for cultural diversity, cultural diversity would have arisen in a state of innocence, for diverse representations of any kind of thing with the possibility of diversity more perfectly represent the thing itself and thereby display the divine goodness that created it. Hence, in forming culturally diverse societies, man would more perfectly display the glory and wisdom of God in creating man than had man produced only sameness.21 To use an analogy: a car show that showcases a great variety of Ford Mustangs from several decades is a more perfect representation of the Ford Mustang than a show with only several cars of the same year. Likewise, a variety of people representing many ways of being in the world more perfectly represents the human being than simply a mass representing only one of innumerable particular ways of being human.
The following are arguments based on Revelation 7:9.
1. Revelation 7:9 speaks of “a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands.” Their garments signify their final sanctification, viz. their glorification. Everything sinful is removed, and thus all adventitious goods are no longer goods and removed, for (as I said above) they are good only relative to the presence of sin. And yet we see the great congregation of the Lord standing before his throne still distinguished by their nationality, kin, people-group, and languages. Therefore, such diversity is an original good.
2. If the distinctions identified in Rev. 7:9 carry over to the glorified state—which is a higher state than both the states of innocence and grace—then certainly they are goods of the lesser states and so an original good to the state of innocence.
3. The glorified state is the perfection of man—the highest possibility of his being. Now, since each part of any perfect thing is necessary to its perfection, the diversity of nations is necessary for the perfection of man, since (as seen in Rev. 7:9) man in a glorified state retains national distinctions. Thus, man in the state of innocence would have formed a diversity of nations to meet this condition of perfection for his glorified state.
4. Citing this verse, Herman Bavinck wrote, “Tribes, peoples, and nations all make their own particular contribution to the enrichment of life in the New Jerusalem…The great diversity that exists among people in all sorts of ways is not destroyed in eternity but is cleansed from all that is sinful and made serviceable to fellowship with God and each other.” If diversity enriches the state of glory more than sameness, then it was an original end of man in the state of innocence to meet this condition of perfection for his state of glory.22
VII. Tower of Babel
The chief biblical objection to my position is the story of Babel in Genesis 11. The claim is that the diversity of nations across the earth is not a product of ordinary human movement but a result of divine action. This objection, however, commits a genetic fallacy. The historical origin of diversity by positive divine action does not negate the proposition that such diversity is natural and would have occurred otherwise. To be sure, Genesis 11 does not definitively support my thesis either. But this is irrelevant. I support my thesis elsewhere, and it is perfectly consistent to say both that diversity is natural and that it was accomplished by supernatural means.
We are told in Genesis 11 that soon after the great flood the human race had one language and lived together “in the land of Shinar.” Hence, they were one people in one place. They put their linguistic unity to evil use—to build a tower that “may reach unto heaven” (v. 4) to make a name for themselves. They were clearly conscious of the possibility of being “scattered abroad,” which for some reason was undesirable to them and suggests disobedience to God’s command to “fill the earth” (Gen. 1:28). Thus, their unity appears to be a self-conscious choice for an evil purpose. And since these people were likely only a few generations from the flood, their numbers were probably equivalent to a moderate-sized nation. God then scattered them with diverse languages to separate them.
There is little indication from the text that God approved or disapproved of their unity in principle, nor that he approved or disapproved of the subsequent diversity. God’s actions simply disrupted the evil plans of an evil postdiluvian people seeking to be like God. Thus, the text contains evidence neither for nor against my position and so contains no objection to it.23 The unity of the post-diluvian people and subsequent scattering simply have no relevance to whether human nature as originally designed would lead to a diversity of nations. And indeed, history after Babel suggests that nation-forming, language-creation, cultural diversification, etc. are natural to man.
If my argument is sound, what are we to do with it? To my mind, my position has important theological and political consequences. If the diversity of nations is an original good and grace does not destroy nature, then Christianity affirms the diversity of nations, that the Gospel does not destroy or undermine or “relativize” nations, that the church is not a rival or alternative nation, that our human instincts to dwell among our own people are natural and good, and that nations can be Christian nations. It means that Christians, in seeking the good in this world, ought to cherish and protect their own people, including their cultural distinctives. Grace does not deracinate. Christians are Christian human beings, made to occupy a piece of dirt in this world that they call home.
Image Credit: Unsplash
- See Summa Contra Gentiles, III.71 ↩
- See Summa Theologica (ST), I.96.3. On wild animals, he writes, “In the opinion of some, those animals which now are fierce and kill others, would, in that state, have been tame, not only in regard to man, but also in regard to other animals. But this is quite unreasonable. For the nature of animals was not changed by man’s sin, as if those whose nature now it is to devour the flesh of others, would then have lived on herbs, as the lion and falcon. See ST, I.96.1. ↩
- See ST, I.96.4. ↩
- Many early church fathers believed, for example, that Adam was immortal, which meant (to their minds) that he would have no need for sleep or food. Augustine, however, took a different view: “the first man was still in a natural body.” See The Literal Meaning of Genesis, 8.5. ↩
- See Reformed Dogmatics, II:576 ↩
- Jonathan Edwards, “Sermon XI: The Eternity of Hell Torments,” in vol. 6 of The Works of President Edwards (New York: Carvill, 1830), 118. Turretin likewise wrote, “We maintain that the loss of the divine image (or of original righteousness) followed the fall of Adam doubly—both meritoriously and morally (on account of the divine ordination) and efficiently and really (on account of the heaviness of that sin).” See Institutes of Elenctic Theology (IET), 1:9.8.5 ↩
- Bavinck, Reformed Dogmatics, IV:256–57. ↩
- See, respectively, Calvin, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, trans. John Owen, vol. 15 (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2005), 5:477 (on Mal. 1:2–6); Willard, Complete Body of Divinity, loc. 37675; and Bavinck, Christian Family, 109. ↩
- John Calvin, Sermons on Genesis 1-11, 110. Quoted by Brad Belschner at https://cognitive-disinhibition.blogspot.com/2016/03/the-birth-pains-of-creation-animal.html. ↩
- Willard, Body of Divinity, loc. 37662 ↩
- Steven Bryan, Cultural Identity and Purposes of God, 41. ↩
- Johannes Althusius, Politica, ed. and trans. Frederick S. Carney (1625; Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1995), 22 (1.24–25) ↩
- Ibid. ↩
- Bartholomäus Keckermann writes, “The origin of political society derives from God and the nature of man to which man is driven by the law of nature and instinct.” Systema disciplinae politicae (Hanover: Guilielmus Antonius, 1608), 9. Calvin states, “Since man is by nature a social animal, he is disposed, from natural instinct, to cherish and preserve society.” Institutes, 2.2.13. ↩
- Althusius, Politica, 23 (1.26–27) ↩
- Ibid., 19 (1.6). Calvin recognizes this in his commentary on Isaiah: “Were (men) alone, they could not plough, or reap, or perform other offices indispensable to their subsistence, or supply themselves with the necessaries of life. For God has linked men so closely together, that they need the assistance and labor of each other; and none buta madman would disdain other men as hurtful or useless to him.” Commentary on the Prophet Isaiah, vol. 7 of Calvin’s Commentaries, 1:172 (on Isaiah 5:8). ↩
- ST, I.96.4. ↩
- On Kingship: To the King of Cyprus, trans. Gerald B. Phelan (Toronto: Aeterna Press, 1949), §8, 9. ↩
- Richard Baxter, Holy Commonwealth, pg. 200. I thank Timon Cline for pointing me to this passage. ↩
- Grace also perfects nature but that important truth is not relevant here. ↩
- Along these lines, Aquinas wrote, “since every created substance must fall short of the perfection of the divine goodness, it was necessary, in order that the divine goodness might the more perfectly be bestowed on things, that there should be diversity among them, so that what could not be perfectly represented by one single thing might be more perfectly represented in various ways by things of various kinds.” See Summa Contra Gentiles, III.97. ↩
- Bavinck, RD, 4. 727. ↩
- James Jordan interprets the story in a way that supports my position. He writes, “Many Christians are used to thinking that the nations are a result of a curse by which God scatter people at the Tower of Babel. Not so. The curse of Babel came because the people rejected God’s plan of diversified nations. God had to come down and force them to do what He intended for them. Notice that it is in Genesis 10 that we have listed the seventy nations of the world. The story of the Tower of Babel is not recorded until Genesis 11.” See The Bible and the Nations, 5. ↩