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.”

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