Dualism Is the Problem

A few additional reflections on National Conservatism and Christian Nationalism. My recurring, obsessive theme is: The dualism isn’t the solution; it’s the problem.

First: In his contribution to the Theopolis Conversation on National Conservatism, William Wolfe writes, “NatCon is not trying to ‘save a nation’ in a spiritual sense but merely help nations save themselves from being gobbled up into the woke blob of the World Economic Forum.”

This doesn’t answer the objection. Rather, it exemplifies the dualism I and others attack. Wolfe doesn’t offer a solution. He restates the problem as if it were a solution.

Consider: For Wolfe, there’s a thing called “saving a nation in a spiritual sense,” which presumably means preaching the gospel and converting sinners to saving faith in Jesus. There’s a separate thing called “saving a nation” in a political sense, e.g., saving America from the globalist blob.

The realm of spirit is over here. The world of politics is over there. Wolfe hopes to save a nation in the political sphere without having to save it in the spiritual realm. If he’s consistent, he would say the opposite is true as well: We can save a nation in a spiritual sense without saving it in a political sense.

The two realms have competing soteriologies. It’s revealing that Wolfe expects nations to “save themselves.” Spiritual salvation, he would surely agree, is by grace through faith. But he talks as if National Conservatism can achieve political self-salvation by works.

As always, the dualism is the problem. What we aim for isn’t spiritual or political, but always “spiritual-political,” because the life of nations is always “spiritual-political.” The two terms aren’t synonymous, but they’re too deeply entangled to be disentangled.

Christians want nothing less than national salvation for all nations, full stop. We want America, and every other nation, to be baptized and discipled – just as Jesus tells us in the Great Commission. This is the only way of salvation for nations, as it is the only way of salvation for individuals. Over the long run, only baptized nations genuinely flourish as nations.

Practically, does Wolfe believe we can “politically save” America from wokeness without a spiritual revival? I doubt it. But then, why isn’t the gospel at the heart of the National Conservative agenda?

Second: Neil Shenvi writes, correctly: “the Bible teaches by both precept and example that our identity and our solidarity need to be primarily oriented toward God’s people within the church and not around either ‘ethnicity’ or even family.”

Stephen Wolfe responds on Twitter: “You *can't* live like this; it is impossible. Natural relations animate our instincts and actions. Just try to apply this principle consistently across all of life – always let the spiritual trump the natural. It would destroy you and those around you.”

S. Wolfe restates the problem as if it were the answer. His retort assumes the very dualism I and others (perhaps Shenvi) reject.

After all, “spiritual” can trump “natural” only if they’re separated into competing principles or realms. But they’re not separable. Always and everywhere, we deal with the “spiritual-natural.” Letting “natural relations animate our instincts and actions” is also a spiritual stance, as Wolfe acknowledges when he speaks of the Volksgeist.

Wolfe’s dualism has disastrous ecclesiological consequences. Wolfe firmly places the church in the “spiritual” realm. If we seek our primary solidarity in the church, he says, we’re seeking the impossible. We’re letting spirit trump nature.

But the church isn’t a spiritual communion in Wolfe’ sense. She’s the fulfillment of natural human sociality. She’s the new human society formed by Jesus (Ephesians 2:11-22).

In his book, Wolfe repeatedly says “grace perfects nature,” but he refuses to apply this to the church. In Wolfeworld, “grace” doesn’t have a social form at all. The church is visible, but the grace of the church is some invisible stuff, mediated through the external operations of the visible church, that prepares souls for heaven.

If he applied his axiom about nature and grace to the church, he might see the contrast isn’t natural v. spiritual, but natural v. eschatologically realized nature. Not family v. church, but natural family v. graciously enlarged brotherhood in Christ; not nation v. church, but nation v. the holy nation, which is both local and international, particular and universal.

Say it with me, with feeling: The dualism is the problem.

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