Understanding Christian Nationalism is much like the old onion-peeling analogy. As each layer is peeled away, another appears. Many layers separate the pungent tuber from its visible outer layer. We need to peel back through many layers of Christian theology to find the ultimate source of Christian Nationalism (which I’ll call Layer 1).
Layer 2: Theonomy by Any Other Name
Directly beneath the visible outer layer of Christian Nationalism, we find a second layer that has many monikers, including theonomy, reconstructionism, Dominionism, and Kingdom Now. Despite the minor variations between those movements, all of them sprang from one theological source (the third layer): covenant theology, which we’ll get to a bit later.
For the sake of convenience, I’ll refer to all the above-named movements by the catch-all term theonomy. Theonomists oppose any form of what they see as globalism. Theonomists believe that when the nation of Israel corporately rejected its Messiah, Jesus, God ended His covenant with His “Chosen People.” Ever since, God had given each nation the choice to bind themselves to Him through a covenant much like the one He made with Israel.
Beyond that, many U.S.-based theonomists believe that God directed the early Calvinist Europeans to America and established a special covenant with them, making the USA a new covenant version of old covenant Israel. Not surprisingly then, theonomists tend to favor basing U.S. laws on the laws God gave to Old Testament Irael. But before moving any further down this path, let’s peel back one more layer.
Layer 3: Covenant Theology
The next layer beneath theonomy is the layer of covenant theology. Covenant theologians try to use sophistry to deny that their beliefs are the source of replacement theology (which I’ll get to soon), but their arguments twist themselves into tangled knots. And that’s because the ultimate source of covenant theology is a doctrine called amillennialism, the next layer (which I’ll also get to soon).
There are two basic streams within evangelical Protestantism. One is referred to as Dispensationalism and the other as Covenant. Here are the key differences between the two:
Dispensationalism sees human history as being divided by dispensations (linear divisions within time). Covenant sees human history as being divided by covenants between God and humanity.
Literal or Allegorical?
Dispensationalism is more likely to take the Bible at face value (often referred to as literalism). Covenant is more likely to allegorize the Bible. For example, Revelation 7:3-8 says,
“‘Do not harm the land or the sea or the trees until we put a seal on the foreheads of the servants of our God.’ Then I heard the number of those who were sealed: 144,000 from all the tribes of Israel. From the tribe of Judah 12,000 were sealed, from the tribe of Reuben 12,000, from the tribe of Gad 12,000, from the tribe of Asher 12,000, from the tribe of Naphtali 12,000, from the tribe of Manasseh 12,000, from the tribe of Simeon 12,000, from the tribe of Levi 12,000, from the tribe of Issachar 12,000, from the tribe of Zebulun 12,000, from the tribe of Joseph 12,000, from the tribe of Benjamin 12,000.”
Dispensationalists take that passage to mean exactly what it says; it refers to 12,000 people from each of Israel’s 12 tribes, for a total of 144,000 Israelites. Covenant believers take the passage as allegorical, referring to the Church corporately. This, then, is an example of covenant theology seeing the Church as having replaced Israel. (We’ll see soon why this is important in understanding America’s Christian Nationalism.)
Layer 4: Amillennialism
One layer deeper—at the core—we find amillennialism, which means “no literal millennium.” This view is the source for covenant theology. It, too, is based in antisemitism, and here’s why: Revelation 20 speaks six times of a thousand-year period of peace and justice during which the Messiah—Yeshua in the Hebrew—will rule over the entire planet from Jerusalem. The Old Testament is replete with references to this period, and the overwhelming implication from the numerous passages is that God will restore the nation of Israel, and the Jewish people will be prominent throughout this millennial kingdom.
Amillennial theology again takes these passages as allegorical. According to amillennialists, the many biblical references to a thousand-year kingdom actually refer to the Church age, the time from Christ’s first advent until His return (which, of course, already is far more than 1,000 years). So, again we see the nation of Israel—the Jews—being slighted in favor of the Church.
The Gentile Influence
The earliest version of the Church was composed entirely of Jews, and it had a very Jewish character. The Bible’s book of Acts, chapter 15, records the rulings of the leaders of the nascent church at the Jerusalem Council. Some Jews were bringing Gentiles into the church, and the council laid out the undemanding terms by which those Gentiles could enter.
Those Gentiles brought with them many beliefs and practices that were unlike the Jewishness that had characterized the church in its earliest years. Gradually, the church became more Gentile than Jewish. By the late second century, Jews had become pushed to the fringes, and by the third century, amillennialism had ascended. Jews became outliers within the church, outsiders to be purged—along with their customs.
The Arrival of Amillennial Puritans
Most of the Puritans arriving in the “New Land” were amillennialists who believed that the church had replaced Israel. And because they saw themselves as the “true” church, they believed God had a special place for them in this new land and in His plans for humanity. Basically, they believed that God had given them this new land in exchange for their loyalty to Him. They were God’s new covenant people, and America would be God’s new covenant nation. If the people of this new land obeyed God—which meant obeying most of the old covenant laws—He would bless the nation. Conversely, if the people of the new land were to disobey the laws, He would curse them. Hence, it was incumbent on them not only to be obedient themselves, but also to impose old covenant-based obedience on all within the land.
Spurred on by modern-day puritanical ministries such as David Barton’s WallBuilders, millions of America’s evangelicals—the vast majority being white—want to see the USA return to a Puritan-style theocracy. At least they think that’s what they want. Most have little idea of what they’re advocating for. If they understood that their rebellious child or grandchild might face execution by being stoned to death, many likely would reconsider. But, sadly, few evangelicals really understand what they’re advocating for within the framework of this Christian Nationalism.
It is these uninformed-and-uncontrolled modern-day Puritans who, ironically, passionately support the MAGA messiah who flaunts every old covenant law that would dictate their lives should they get their way.
Modern American Antisemitism
It should have come as no surprise, then, that at the violent Charlottesville rally the chief chant heard from the rage-filled marchers was, “Jews will not replace us!” Nor should we be surprised to see that these Christian Nationalists want to restrict the rights of anyone who disagrees with them. As the onion is peeled back to its stinking, rotten core we find virulent antisemitism and bigoted authoritarianism.
With a bold voice, let's start a new chant: “Bigots and antisemites will not capture our democracy!”