McAtee Contra Leithart On Nationalism

Recently, on the Web-blog of “First Things”

Dr. Peter Leithart, champion of the Federal Vision movement, wrote that Christians are forsworn against being either Nationalists or Internationalists.  Leithart wrote that Christians “must refuse the choice,” of embracing either nationalism or globalism, arguing instead that Christians must be “Kingdom First” people.  Leithart’s notion is that Christians cannot be either Nationalists nor Globalist because they are Christ Kingdomists and being Christ Kingdomists they must forswear both Nationalism and Globalism.

All in all this article was rather badly put on Dr. Leithart’s part. What I’d like to think that Dr. Leithart  was actually arguing is that Christians are forsworn against being unbiblical Nationalists. With this truth every right minded Christian agrees. Biblical Christianity has no more use for the anti-Christ Nationalism of the Alt. Right, for example, than it does for the anti-Christ Globalism of Russel Moore or much of the PCA and the modern misguided Reformed clergy corps.

However, at the end of the day all Biblical Christians are duty bound to embrace a Biblical Nationalism where the Lordship of Jesus Christ and His law are to be bowed to by the Kings of the earth, lest those Kings perish in their way. There is simply no way to get to Leithart’s proffered Biblical Globalism apart from a return to a notion of Christendom where many individuated Nations find a harmony of interests and so a sort of biblical Globalism because they are each, in their own capacity as individuated Nations, bowing to the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

Naturally, it can be easily agreed upon that as biblical Christians our first commitment is to Christ and His Kingdom but it is precisely because Christ and His Kingdom is our first commitment that biblical Christians are duty bound to champion concepts of Biblical Nationalism. Scripture clearly teaches that God

Acts 17:26 made from one man every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth, having determined allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place

That God supports nationalism is seen in the reality that He has made every nation of mankind to live on all the face of the earth. If God supported pagan globalism — the kind of globalism that desires to erase all National distinctions in favor of an amalgamated melting pot of an undifferentiated glop of peoples — then He would not have made every nation of mankind and so given people National identities. Clearly already we have an idea that God supports godly nationalism. As such we see that if it is true, per Dr. Leithart, that we must be Christians who seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness we must be at the same time be Christians who advocate biblical nationalism. Any hopes of a biblical globalism — a return to Christendom as it were — is pinned upon a return to biblical nationalism first.  In all this we are merely echoing far greater minds who went before us,

“Nationalism, within proper limits, has the divine sanction; an imperialism that would, in the interest of one people, obliterate all lines of distinction is everywhere condemned as contrary to the divine will. Later prophecy raises its voice against the attempt at world-power, and that not only, as is sometimes assumed, because it threatens Israel, but for the far more principal reason, that the whole idea is pagan and immoral.

Now it is through maintaining the national diversities, as these express themselves in the difference of language, and are in turn upheld by this difference, that God prevents realization of the attempted scheme… [In this] was a positive intent that concerned the natural life of humanity. Under the providence of God each race or nation has a positive purpose to serve, fulfillment of which depends on relative seclusion from others.”

-Geerhardus Vos,
Biblical Theology

Dr. Leithart insists that the Church is ecumenical, a worldwide “Abrahamic empire.” And with this we agree. However the Church is ecumenical in the sense that it is Nation of Nations. It is not ecumenical in the sense that it is filled up with jumbled together individuals who have lost all their creational identity markers because they’ve become Christian.  It is ecumenical in the sense that Christians in their nations, from every nation comprise the catholic Church.

Leithart goes on to note that, “our deepest  brotherhood isn’t with other citizens of our nation but with those who are united with us by the Spirit in the Son.” It is true that we have a deeper brotherhood with those who are united with us by the Spirit in the Son, than we have with citizens of our own nation who are outside of Christ, but we wonder if Leithart misses the deepest of all brotherhood that exists when we are united by the Spirit in the Son with those we are already united with us by blood ties?

Thus while we agree with Leithart that commitment to Christ reigns above commitment to Christless family we still also agree with Charles Hodge when he noted, while commenting on Romans 9:3,

Paul had two classes of brethren; those who were with him the children of God in Christ; these he calls brethren in the Lord, Philip, i. 14, holy brethren, &c. The others were those who belonged to the family of Abraham. These he calls brethren after the flesh, that is, in virtue of natural descent from the same parent. Philemon he addresses as his brother, both in the flesh and in the Lord. The Bible recognizes the validity and rightness of all the constitutional principles and impulses of our nature. It therefore approves of parental and filial affection, and, as is plain from this and other passages, of peculiar love for the people of our own race and country.

Charles Hodge
Commentary Romans 9

Because of this Leithart is wrong when he writes, “we cannot be nationalists,” unless what he means is that we cannot be unbiblical nationalists and must instead be careful to be biblical nationalists.

Leithart’s problem also comes through when he writes on why the Church cannot be globalist. We agree that the Church cannot be New World Order globalist but the reason that is so is because the Church is a Nation of Nations and to eliminate nations by a babelistic amalgamation would be to eliminate the Church. I agree here with a earlier generation of Biblical Scholars,

“More than a dozen excellent commentaries could be mentioned that all interpret Israel as thus inclusive of Jew and Gentile, in this verse, — the Gentile adherents thus being merged with the covenant people of Israel, though each nationality remains distinct.”

Thus the highest description of Jehovah’s covenant people is applied to Egypt, — “my people,” — showing that the Gentiles will share the covenant blessings, not less than Israel. Yet the several nationalities are here kept distinct, even when Gentiles share, in the covenant blessing, on a level of equality with Israel. Egypt, Assyria and Israel are not nationally merged. And the same principles, that nationalities are not obliterated, by membership in the covenant, applies, of course, also in the New Testament dispensation.”

Martin J. Wyngaarden, The Future of the Kingdom in Prophecy and Fulfillment: A Study of the Scope of “Spiritualization” in Scripture (Eugene: Wipf & Stock, 2011),   pp. 101-102.

And those national distinctions exist right into the New Jerusalem where we see the nations existing as nations and being healed in their capacity as nations,

The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.  (Rev. 22:2)

Nations, as Leithart rightly notes, retain their national identities – their languages, histories, and customs and so the Church is and remains, as I’ve noted earlier, a nation of nations. Christians must be nationalists because they serve a God who “possesses all the nations” (Psalm 82:8).

The disagreements I have with Dr. Leithart shouldn’t negate the agreements I have. I thought this paragraph by Dr. Leithart to be wonderfully put,

Put it positively: Our internationalist and nationalist instincts infuse and qualify one another. Christian “globalism” acknowledges the goodness of peoples, the beauty in the difference of human experience and culture. The church is polyphonic. We live within political communities and, as Augustine said, we are specially obligated to love our nearest-neighbors. Christian “globalism” will thus exhibit “nationalist” features. Yet Christian “nationalism” is always qualified by our more fundamental attachment to the trans-national church. Christian patriotism will appear suspiciously thin to a true-blue nationalist.

First, it needs to be said that the Church is more intra-national than it is trans-national. Second, I would take exception here to the idea that the unbiblical nationalist is the “true-blue nationalist.” In point of fact it is the Biblical Christian who is the true-blue nationalist because they realize that any nationalism apart from Christ is idolatry and as such will destroy true-blue nationalism.

A true-blue biblical nationalism would never lift the nation above Christ. A true-blue biblical nationalism would never absolutize the nation so that it bears a sacredness above Christ and His Church in other nations. We refuse impure unbiblical nationalism but we enthusiastically embrace, without embarrassment, a biblical nationalism. There is no other option.

Having said that we understand that there is no longer any nation that exists that has pledged, as a nation, its fealty to Christ. As such biblical nationalism goes a beggaring. However, in principle, biblical Christians must work for the day when once again, political leaders of particular nations acknowledge they are servants of a universal King and where fealty to the king is a fealty to one who saw himself as a vassal of Christ.  This is our postmillennial expectation.

We live in a time when all the pieces are moving towards a Babelistic New World Order. The media moguls with their Hollywood films, books, radio, and magazines are cramming down our throats the messages of a Globalism that offers an amalgamated, unisex world union as a promised utopia.  Likewise Corporations, and Governments are pushing us incessantly towards this nightmare dystopian New World Order vision.  Even the modern contemporary Church in the West, both “conservative” and liberal, having reinterpreted Christianity through a Cultural Marxist grid, is pushing this globalist agenda. Leithart’s warnings against nationalism in this climate is like warning against prudery while living in a bordello culture. Surely prudery can be a problem but it’s hardly a real danger in a bordello culture.

Biblical Christians live in a time where they must say “no” to New World Order globalism, as well as to anti-Christ Alt. Right Nationalism, as well as Leithartian scriblings that embraces open borders all the while insisting that we should beware of globalism. If the embrace of open borders is Leithart’s idea of an appropriate nationalism we have problems.

In the end I see what Dr. Leithart is advocating for as a “soft Globalism.” Leithart’s globalism is not the in your face variety found in the Halls of White House or as advocated by Angela Merkle. Instead it is a kinder and gentler Globalism where Nations lose their identity incrementally and where the idea of nations can still be spoken about in theory even if they are eclipsed in practice. Honestly, I see Dr. Leithart, on this monumentally important issue, being a wolf in sheep’s clothing.

Beware this leaven.




Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *