Cliff's Edge

A Christian America?

“True religion” and theocracy

Clifford Goldstein
A Christian America?

Almost a quarter a century ago, I left religious liberty work to become editor of the Adult Bible Study Guide. It was a different world, a different country, then from now. And though even then some believers, the “dominionists,” advocated a Christian theocracy under their tutelage, I wasn’t prepared for Stephen Wolfe’s 2022 The Case for Christian Nationalism (Canon Press).

What follows are excerpts that depict his point, which is that Christians promoting “true religion” need to take control of America and enforce the faith. Period.


He writes: “A nation has no power in itself to bring anyone internally to true faith—to realize heavenly good in individuals. But nations have the power to ensure that outwardly the things of salvation—the preaching of the Word and the administration of the Sacraments—are available to all and that people are encouraged, even culturally expected, to partake and be saved unto eternal life” (Wolfe, pp. 15-16, Kindle).

“The classical Protestant position is that the civil magistrate can punish external religion—e.g., heretical teaching, false rites, blasphemy, and Sabbath-breaking—because such actions can cause public harm, both harm to the soul and harm to the body politic” (Wolfe, pp. 34-35, Kindle).

He continues, saying that civil authorities need to promote “sacred things. This can include the funding of church construction; ministerial and seminary financial support; the suppression of public blasphemy, heresy, and impious profanation; obligating Sabbath observance; and other things” (Wolfe, p.182, Kindle).

His logic flows like this:

“(1) Civil government ought to direct its people to the true religion.

“(2) The Christian religion is the true religion. Therefore,

“(3) civil government ought to direct its people to the Christian religion” (Wolfe p. 183, Kindle).

Thus, he writes, “civil government ought to regulate outward things for the complete good of the people. Heavenly good is one part of the people’s complete good. Therefore, civil government ought to regulate outward things for the people’s heavenly good. Since some outward things directly promote man’s heavenly good (e.g., Sabbath observance), civil government ought to direct the people in them” (Wolfe, p. 189, Kindle).

“Having supported the major premise above, it follows that civil government can and ought to direct the people to the Christian religion” (Wolfe, p. 193, Kindle).

Meanwhile, he continues:

“(1) Any outward action that has the potential to cause harm to others is rightfully subject to civil restraint or punishment (in principle).

“(2) External false religion has the potential to cause harm to others.

Therefore, (3) external false religion is rightfully subject to civil restraint or punishment” (Wolfe, p. 361, Kindle).

“True Religion”

His logic is, basically, flawless, deductive even, which proves how useless logic can be for discovering truth. Though I don’t do justice to the sophistication of his arguments (you need to read the book yourself), once one accepts a premise or two, which on the surface sound reasonable, one can easily wind up where he does.

Over and over (about 72 times), Wolfe talks about “true religion” and that the civil government needs to, for the good of the people, promote it. Of course, that does bring up the slight problem of defining “true religion.” Even if one accepts Christianity as the “true religion,” with hundreds of versions in the United States alone, which is the one to be enforced? Obviously his, which, he admits at the outset is “the Reformed theological tradition,” (Wolfe, p. 16, Kindle).

This includes doctrines such as once-saved-always-saved, predestination and the like, which many Christians reject. Also, he not only argues for infant baptism but claims that it “is consistent with Christian nationalism because it makes possible a society that is baptized in infancy and thus is subject to Christian demands for all of life” (Wolfe, p. 218, Kindle). (A society baptized in its infancy will be subject to Christian demands for all life? Is he serious?) One wonders, meanwhile, what will happen to those who don’t follow his “true religion,” those (for instance) who know that infant baptism is not only unbiblical but flat-out ridiculous.  

We have an idea, actually, of what will happen: look at centuries of Christian-against-Christian violence in Europe precisely because civil government was enforcing the “true religion.”

The Christian Prince

What you must read for yourself to believe is his depiction of “the Christian prince,” the one who will enforce this Christian utopia on America. Again, some excerpts.

“‘Prince’ is a fitting title for a man of dignity and greatness of soul who will lead a people to liberty, virtue, and godliness—to greatness” (Wolfe, p. 279, Kindle).

“The prince, as a civil leader, holds an office on behalf of God, the creator. ‘The principle and supreme end of the civil magistrate as such,’ writes Turretin, ‘is the glory of God, the Creator, conservator of the human race, and the ruler of the world’” (Wolfe, p. 286, Kindle).

“The prince is a sort of national god, not in the sense of being divine himself, or in materially transcending common humanity, or as an object of prayer or spiritual worship, or as a means of salvific grace, but as the mediator of divine rule for this nation and as one with divinely granted power to direct them in their national completeness. He embodies the people as one who, by divine power, executes their will for themselves. He is a master in the Master’s universe. The prince personifies their national spirit, unifies them under a mission, and inspires an intergenerational will to live. He directs men in fulfilling the dominion mandate—to fulfill man’s nature. He inspires noble action, sacrifice, and common affection, and he casts a vision for national greatness” (Wolfe, p.  288, Kindle).

This sounds like a cross between Mein Kampf, Leviathan, and an apologetic for papal supremacy.And, pray tell, who might this Christian prince be?

And then, at the end of time, at Christ’s return—what happens? “On that day,” writes Wolfe, “the Christian prince, tossing his crown before Christ, will yield to Christ what has always been his, and he will join his people as a spiritual co-equal in Christ” (Wolfe, p. 299, Kindle).

And this is the “true religion”?

The Christian Sabbath

In case you hadn’t noticed from the above quotes, this Christian regime will enforce adherence to “Sabbath,” which for him is Sunday. Though Sunday-keeping in America is, at least for now, church in the morning, Cracker Barrel for lunch, a jaunt at the mall, and then an NFL game—Sunday-keeping plays a big part in Wolfe’s Christian utopia.

“That day,” he writes, “more than any other, is the day of the Lord—the day in which Christ’s kingdom is most made manifest: God’s people hear the Word preached and receive the Sacraments  . . .Sabbath laws train people in virtue; they are pedagogical. The imposed earthly constraints declare the day holy and thereby instruct the heart and remind people of their duty, and they witness to outsiders both that the land is Christian and that they are committed to God’s worship. Furthermore, the establishment of the Christian Sabbath contributes to Christian national solidarity” (Wolfe, p. 321-322, Kindle).

However, what he also writes about Sunday is, from an Adventist perspective, fascinating.

“Whether or not Sunday is now a holy day by divine positive command is irrelevant here; the fourth commandment, like all the other commandments, is perpetually binding as to its underlying moral principle. All ought to set aside a day for undistracted worship and divine contemplation. Hence, there must be some positive institution of the Christian Sabbath, and the most fitting day (given apostolic practice and by long tradition) is each Sunday” (Wolfe, p. 32, Kindle).

Whether or not Sunday is a “divine positive command” is irrelevant? Irrelevant? If you plan to enforce it by law, might it be nice were it, indeed, “a divine positive commandment” from God? Instead, he argues for “apostolic practice” (the apostolic practice was to obey the seventh-day Sabbath [Acts 13:14, 42, 44; Acts 16:13; Acts 17:2; Acts 18:4] not Sunday) and “long tradition”? Tradition, even a “long” one, is fine, but hardly the stuff that leads to “true religion.”

Violent Revolution

When I left religious liberty work in 1999, an issue was prayer in schools. Now it’s drag queens in schools. The inmates in places have taken over the asylum. Things have gotten crazy, surreal even.

Which is why—however extreme, unrealistic, and antithetical to New Testament theology Wolfe’s vision is—he is going to have takers. It’s a Hegelian dialectic, each side pushing the other further into vicious extremes. And though I remember Christian leaders decades ago warning, fallaciously, about how hostile the nation was to faith (things like not allowing the Ten Commandments to be put up on government property), today’s America does, indeed, feel more alien to faith in general, and Christianity in particular, than perhaps ever before.

Though somewhat hyperbolically, Wolfe writes, “Christian Americans should see themselves as under a sort of occupation. Forces largely from outside your communities suppress that natural drive, confirmed by grace, for public religion. The ruling class is hostile to your Christian town, to your Christian people, and to your Christian heritage” (Wolfe, p. 344, Kindle).

  And that’s why Christians, he argues, must revolt against what’s happening—even if they need violence to do so.

“Here,” he writes, “I will justify violent revolution” (Wolfe, p. 326, Kindle). In a chapter titled, “The Right to Revolution” he does just that, justify violence (however carefully nuanced) in the name of Jesus. And if they need violence to get what they want, they’ll use violence to keep it, too.

Mayberry, America

From a Seventh-day Adventist perspective, this book fits remarkably well with our understanding of America in prophecy. Though unsound theologically, his position is biblical in that this kind of thinking could fulfill Revelation 13 and 14, when the lamblike beast, the United States, enforces false worship, causing “as many as would not worship the image of the beast to be killed” (Rev. 13:15).

I don’t know much about Stephen Wolfe. He’s obviously bright, educated, a seasoned thinker but pushed to the extremes by the mind-numbing craziness that infects this country. I assume that he’s a “good” citizen, a good father, a good husband, and a good Christian, one who loves God, family, and country.

But he’s also a utopian fantasist (be it harsh Calvinist brand), both about the past and the future. Here’s his version, exhumed from a mythical past, of what he would like America’s future to be.

“Mayberry is the fictional North Carolinian town of The Andy Griffith Show. That show depicts a Southern form of commodious life: a community of few and small concerns, high social trust, and an ease of life. The residents had common songs and customs, often singing them together on porches, at times for consolation. They all went to church on Sundays. The children, known by all, ran around town perfectly safe, being protected and watched by the community. Any American who watches that lighthearted, heartwarming show cannot but feel nostalgia for an America lost by negligence and malevolence”  (Wolfe, p. 226, Kindle). Just add a lynching every so often and—Shazam!—he’s got it.

I’m not judging the man. But reading his book, in the context of last-day events, I think of the Blaise Pascal’s words: “Men never do evil so completely and cheerfully as when they do it from a religious conviction.” And Jesus’ too: “Yes, the time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service” (John 16:2).

Clifford Goldstein

Clifford Goldstein is editor of the Adult Sabbath School Bible Study Guide.