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Christian Nationalism - Part 2
Should we engage society?
In my last blog post I talked about the theological error of Christian nationalism, and its danger to Christianity because it undermines evangelism and attempts social reform through the use of power. Having stated what I think is wrong, I feel the need to suggest a way forward. The next couple of blogs will address that.
First, should Christians be concerned with social reform? If you look at our history, we discover that modern Evangelicals defined themselves as the socially engaged version of conservative Protestantism as they separated from fundamentalism after World War II. Perhaps the most important work at that time was Carl F.H. Henry’s “The Uneasy Conscious of Modern Fundamentalism.” Evangelicals had become alienated from the social reform movement at the beginning of the 20th Century, and Henry made the case for them to become engaged in society and promote reforms that make for just society. Christianity, Henry argued, has a public face and does not live in an isolated corner of the world. For Henry, Christianity had a message that addressed not just problem of personal sin, but also addressed the social problems of the 20th century.
In many respects, the phenomenon of Christian nationalism can be seen as a way of addressing Henry’s concern. However, Christian nationalism also grows out of a kind of cultural religion that has been with the country since before its founding. The Pilgrims were intentional about founding a commonwealth built on Christian principles. Throughout our history, religion and politics have mixed. I am old enough to remember when there were Public Service Announcements on television encouraging people to “attend the church or synagogue of your choice.” One of my favorite tellings of this tale is Richard Niebuhr’s “The Kingdom of God in America.” This cultural American Christianity became, in Niebuhr’s famous conclusion: “A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgement through the ministrations of a Christ without a cross.” This was liberal cultural religion.
Liberal cultural Christianity ended with a whimper in the 1960s as events overwhelmed the “kum-ba-yah” narrative. Evangelical Christianity, which was on the rise in the last half of the 20th century, attempted to take up the challenge of social engagement. Some of the results, such as Prison Fellowship and World Vision, have had a remarkable impact on society. However, so much of the current cultural engagement has devolved into Christian nationalism. To attempt to answer how this happened would take much more than can be covered in a blog. However, in my next blog, I want to suggest some ways out of the swamp of nationalism.