Let Us Be Better

Fruit from the Poisonous Tree isn’t Always Poisonous

Resourcement has shown us how eclectic the Reformed fathers were.  Contrary to biblicist assumptions about faithful Christian scholarship, the Reformed Orthodox fathers drew widely and deeply from Catholic and Pagan sources.  The Reformed Orthodox mind sought truth from every source available to them.  They processed their findings through the mill of reason and revelation, keeping the pure ore of truth and rejecting the slag of error.

Our day is far different.  Whether social media or politicization is to blame, our age is captive to the genetic fallacy.  This fallacy says that if the source of an idea is “bad” or “evil” or “out of favor,” then the idea is also bad, evil, and out of favor.  It matters not if it’s a good idea.  All that matters is that the idea came from a bad source.  

On a deeper level, the prominence of this fallacy in our day reveals another truth.  A hard truth that must be faced by those who would speak publicly.   The essence of this fallacy is a confusion of moral and logical categories.  It is assumed, on the basis of this fallacy that if someone is immoral, they cannot speak or produce truth.  Character assassination has become the primary debate tactic in our day because this fallacy reigns supreme in many minds.  Sadly, this is, in essence, the thrust of Gamble’s review of The Case for Christian Nationalism.

Before I go into my response to Gamble’s review, I will say this.  I do not hold Gamble to blame for this.  The days in which we live are dark indeed.  It is the labor of today to uncloud our minds from this fallacy and seek the truth in all of God’s creation.  That some are not quite there yet is no fault of theirs.  And so I do not fault Gamble for critiquing Wolfe in a manner common to our age.

Gamble’s review moves through four parts.  First, an outline of the social gospel movement of the early 20th century.  Second, an identifying of Nationalism with the French Revolution.  Third, a citation of the context of Freemantle and Chao, two figures Wolfe cites as positive examples of Christian Nationalism.  Fourth, an exposé of Renan, a French scholar whose definition of Nationalism Wolfe endorses.

The main thesis of each part of Gamble’s review is an example of the fallacy I cited above.  In each part of the review, Gamble takes time to show why the social gospel, the French Revolution, Freemantle and Chao, and Renan are bad sources.

The first part deals with the social gospel of the early 20th century.  He notes, rightly, that this movement tried to unite “religion and science” to bring about the kingdom of God on earth.  They wanted to purify the nation and bring about a “muscular Christianity.”  So far, so good.  While Gamble doesn’t make a direct connection to the social gospel and Christian Nationalism of today, he strongly implies it.  The upshot of this is to meld these two concepts in the mind of his readers.  His readers, in this context Gospel ministers in the OPC, are already well-trained to reject the social gospel.  Thus, to identify the two will make easy work of Christian Nationalism.  “Oh, that’s just social gospel anew!  Away with it,” one can imagine them saying.  But are the social gospel and Christian Nationalism so similar?  

The social gospel was built upon theological liberalism through its marriage to modern science.  The social gospel required men to deny the miracles of the faith so that they might hope for a miracle of the state.  Christian Nationalism, on the other hand, is build upon the political and ethical heritage of the Reformed Orthodox fathers.  As Wolfe says in his book, he is drawing from the Protestant political tradition and applying it to today.  The social gospellers thought that state action could save men.  Christian Nationalists think that state action can govern men.  The social gospellers thought that all men needed was moral reform.  Christian Nationalists think that men need spiritual reform.  Seeking the reform of the nation is not a bad end.  The means by which one seeks that are a different story.  It is in the realm of means, not ends, that the social gospellers are far different from the Christian Nationalists.  As different as darkness is from light.  

The second part makes the claim that nationalism, as a political frame, came from the French Revolution.  Again, you can see the fallacy at work.  “The French Revolution was bad, terrible, atheistic.  Therefore, nationalism is bad, terrible, atheistic.”  Or so the implication goes.  As a historian, I was surprised to see Gamble make such a mistake as this.  Nationalism as a political frame existed long before the French Revolution.  After the wars of religion, the European powers signed the Treaty of Westphalia.  It was the Westphalian settlement that gave us nationalism as a political frame in the modern period.  This treaty was signed over 100 years prior to the French Revolution.  Now, to be fair to Gamble, after the French Revolution one could say that nationalism evolved and became even more prominent in European politics.  One could even say that the French Revolution changed nationalism from a concept made to ensure peace into one used to promote La Revolution!  But, liberalism has always worn the status quo as a skin suit.  

The salient point here is to note the fallacy at work.  Whether or not the French Revolution was bad or nationalistic has no bearing on the thesis of Christian Nationalism.  For to say that the French Revolution was bad is a moral judgement.  To disagree with Wolfe’s thesis requires a logical argument.  

The third part provides context for Freemantle and Chao.  The same analysis applies here as it did above.  To press the point further though, we ought to ask this question, “Were Freemantle and Chao right?”  Yes, they had bad theology.  C. S. Lewis did as well.  But Lewis was right about a great many things.  Will we apply the same principle to Lewis that we apply to Freemantle and Chao?  I hope not, for I have children who have not yet visited Narnia.

The fourth part offers an exposé of Renan, a French philosopher.  Once again, we note the fallacy at work.  Renan highlighted the spiritual aspect of nationalism.  He also advocated the noble lie, much in the same vein as Plato did in The Republic.  Again, our analysis focuses on one feature.  Was Renan right when he defined the nation?  Saying that he was right or wrong here is a matter of logical definition, not moral approbation of everything he said or wrote.  Gamble’s review leaves the question unanswered.  I suppose you will have to do the reading yourself and see if Wolfe was right to quote Renan or not.

In the conclusion, Gamble lays his cards on the table.  Christian Nationalism is the social gospel anew.  He’s like the progressives, who were liberals.  He’s like Nietzsche.  He feeds on resentment.  We are now witness to another fallacy, related to the genetic fallacy, but nastier.  The conclusion of Gamble’s review is nothing more than ad hominem.  Ad hominem is an attempt to establish someone as a bad person, leading to the conclusion that their ideas are also bad.  Wolfe is a member in good standing in the church.  He is an accomplished scholar.  He is a good friend and a godly husband.  This level of debate is beneath us, all of us.  

On one point, I do agree with Gamble.  “Surely we can do better than that.”

Image Credit: Unsplash

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B.A. Castle

B.A. Castle is a son of Virginia, a Confessional Presbyterian, husband, father, and dog owner, deer hunter. Graduating from GPTS in 2019, he served for 4 years as the pastor of Grace OPC Lynchburg, VA. He edited and modernized Theodore Beza's "Learned Treatise on the Plague" (Canon Press, 2020). He published "The Analogical Day View: Exegetical and Systematic Critique" (PRJ, 2018).

One thought on “Let Us Be Better

  1. I certainly disagree with Gamble’s approach to Christian Nationalism. First it works on some logical flaws. For example, stating that the social Gospel implies Christian Nationalism does not imply that the converse is true. That relationship is something that Gamble would have to show in order to equate Christian Nationalism with the social gospel–the latter of which was not accurately portrayed in the above article.

    But Castle has his own problems as well. Yes, it is true that Christians do not have a monopoly facts and truth. And so we can learn from unbelievers. That is a point I’ve made several times before on this blog using a quote from Martin Luther King Jr. The question for Christian Nationalism is not just whether Christian Nationalism is supported by the New Testament, it is also whether the tenets of Christian Nationalism go against what the New Testament says about the Church and state as well as what the New Testament says about how the Church should relate to unbelievers in society.

    One way to better examine whether the tenets of Christian Nationalism go against what the New Testament tells its believers is to get a broader look at the issue here. First, Christian Nationalism is just one kind of Christian ethnocracy that a state could practice. Here, I will quote Jeff Halper on Christian Nationalism (see pg 74 of Halper’s An Israeli In Palestine: Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel:

    An ethnocracy is the opposite of a democracy, although it might incorporate some elements of democracy such as universal citizenship and elections. It arises when one particular group—the Jews in Israel, the Russians in Russia, the Protestants in pre-1972 Northern Ireland, the whites in apartheid South Africa, the Shi’ite Muslims of Iran, the Malay of Malaysia and, if they had their way, the white Christian fundamentalist in the US—seizes control of the government and the armed forces in order to enforce a regime of exclusive privilege over other groups in what is in fact a multi-ethic or multi-religious society. Ethnocracy, or ethno-nationalism, privileges ethnos over demos. whereby one’s ethnic affiliation, be it defined by race, descent, religion, language or national origin, takes precedence over citizenship in determining to whom a country actually “belongs.” Israel is referred to explicitly by its political leaders as a “Jewish Democracy.”

    And so what does the New Testament say about how we should live in a multi-religious society and world? Does the New Testament discourage Christians from seeking a privileged place in order to rule over any society that has multiple religious groups? What does the New Testament say about Christians using privileged places in society in order to create a society in which they feel at home? What did the Apostles tell the Church about how to respond to a society in which they were perceived negatively?

    The problem that I have with Castle’s article is that he seems to imply that avoiding Biblicism allows us to justify sole reliance on the Reformed traditions for supporting Christian Nationalism. Such a practice can elevate the Reformed traditions on too high a pedestal. In addition, Castle does not consider at all the context in which those Reformed traditions operated when forming their views on Christian Nationalism. Here we might ask if that context, which was Christendom, might have had a bigger influence on those traditions than the Scriptures did. In addition, those traditions are not our canon, they are fallible guides. And in the case of Christian Nationalism, I believe that they erred greatly to the harm of others and detriment to the reputation of the Gospel.

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