Book Review: “The Case for Christian Nationalism”

(Editor’s Note: recent concerns regarding this book are addressed here)

The Case for Christian Nationalism. By Stephen Wolfe. Moscow, ID: Canon Press, 2022. 488 pp. $24.99 (paper).

The contemporary effort to formulate an alternative political vision to liberal democracy has been underway for some time now. However, much of the constructive literature thus far has been produced by Roman Catholics,[1] with little comparable work being done by Protestants.

Fortunately, Protestant authors have recently begun to fill the gap,[2] with perhaps the most prominent example so far being Stephen Wolfe’s The Case for Christian Nationalism. In this book, Wolfe argues for “the institutionalization of Christianity,” while also “[offering] reasons and exhortations for Christians to act in confidence for that institutionalization” (5).

The obvious first question, and the one skeptics often ask, is what exactly is meant by “Christian nationalism”? Wolfe defines the term as follows:

Christian nationalism is a totality of national action, consisting of civil laws and social customs, conducted by a Christian nation as a Christian nation, in order to procure for itself both earthly and heavenly good in Christ. (9, emphasis original)

While this definition mentions “both earthly and heavenly good,” Wolfe says plainly that Christian nationalism does not consist of “seeking to bring heaven to earth, nor is it seeking to earn heaven by works. One does not place himself back under the covenant of works by seeking to establish Christian civil communities on earth” (23). That said, this definition by itself probably does not address the underlying concerns of skeptics, who in all likelihood are really asking about the practical outworkings and implications of the term: who counts as a Christian? How are non-Christians to be treated? How and to what extent would the civil power support Christianity? Wolfe thoroughly addresses these and other questions throughout the book, the basic structure of which I will elucidate in the following section.

Overview

I cannot hope to comprehensively capture Wolfe’s argument here, but I will attempt to summarize the more salient points. Wolfe makes clear from the start, “I assume the Reformed theological tradition, and so I make little effort to exegete the biblical text” (16). Support for his arguments is thus largely drawn from John Calvin, various Reformed scholastics, Herman Bavinck, and Thomas Aquinas rather than directly from Scripture. This is one reason Wolfe refers to his project as a work of “Christian political theory” rather than a work of “political theology” (16). The second reason is that his argument is based on “a foundation of natural principles. While Christian theology assumes natural theology as an ancillary component, Christian political theory treats natural principles as the foundation, origin, and source of political life, even Christian political life” (18, emphasis original). What makes the work Christian political theory is the reliance on “natural and supernatural propositions,” both being integrated into what Wolfe calls “mixed syllogisms, referring to syllogisms in which one premise is known by reason and the other known only by faith” (19, emphasis original).

Having established this methodology, Wolfe begins with an exposition of theological anthropology, with chapter 1 detailing the state of man before the Fall. Much of what Wolfe says here—about man being a rational and social animal, the reality of natural law, and man as the imago Dei—will be familiar to readers. His main point pertaining to Christian nationalism is that even apart from the Fall, the human race “would have formed distinct civil communities—each being culturally particular. The nation, therefore, is natural to man as man, and the matured earth would be a multiplicity of nations” (79‒80).

Chapter 2 discusses man in both “the states of sin and grace” (81), where Wolfe maintains that “total is not to be conflated with utter depravity, as if sinful man sins in every respect. Rather, sin affects every aspect of man’s being” (82, emphasis original). One of the implications for understanding total depravity this way—i.e., that the imago Dei has been marred rather than totally effaced—is that “since the fall did not eliminate the natural gifts, it follows that man did not lose the knowledge of the principles and the faculties that most concerned his outward, earthly life” (84). Thus, civil government remains “necessary by the nature of man and serves man for his good” (88) after the Fall. This is so even in light of the Gospel because grace restores and perfects nature rather than destroying it:

Neither grace nor the unity of faith, nor the spiritual kingdom of God, nor the instituted church undermines or subverts the nation. Grace does not destroy what is natural but restores it. Grace also perfects nature, and thus nations can be Christian nations and commonwealths can be Christian commonwealths. (116, emphasis original)

The next several chapters “explicate the definition of Christian nationalism, working through the concepts and its elements” (20). Chapter 3 focuses on “the nation and nationalism” (24), in which Wolfe affirms three things: “(1) that each of us has a people-group (i.e., an ethnicity), (2) that each people-group can be conscious of itself, and (3) that each people-group has the right to be for itself” (118, emphasis original). Chapter 4 considers the nature of the Christian nation and nationalism, with particular focus on the principle that “Christian nations can act through civil government for their heavenly good” (204). Chapter 5 defends cultural Christianity as a “supplemental mode of religion” that “implicitly orders people to the Christian faith, though it cannot bring anyone to faith” (28). Chapter 6 explores the role civil law plays in “[ordering]…people to their good” (30). And Chapter 7 “investigates the chief agent of Christian nationalism, the Christian magistrate,” whose duty it is to “wield formal civil power” for the public good (31).

The last few chapters are described by Wolfe as concerning “important related issues” rather than the “direct discussion of Christian nationalism itself” (32). Chapter 8 argues that “Christians are morally permitted to violently remove tyrants” (32). Chapter 9 discusses freedom of conscience and affirms that “neither the outward suppression of false religion nor the public exclusivity of Christianity violates the sacredness of conscience” (354). Chapter 10 draws on the history of “Protestant experience in early America,” from colonial times to the early American republic, in support of the notion that “early America is a Protestant resource for an American return to Christian nationalism” (36). Lastly, the Epilogue presents “a sort of fragmented conclusion, a series of loosely organized aphorisms” clustered around the general question of how to move forward in light of the rest of the book.

Engaging with every single one of Wolfe’s discrete claims—most of which are not even mentioned above—would make for a tedious review, so my comments will be selective.

Christian Nationalism is Christendom

First, the substance of Christian nationalism is not inscrutable or even nebulous. Quite simply, it is about restoring Christendom, as Wolfe himself clearly states: “Affirming both the principles of nature and the truths of grace necessarily leads to Christian nationalism or, if you prefer different terms, to the traditional claims of Christendom” (186). At the heart of the idea of Christendom is a single question: is it legitimate for a nation’s civil government to officially favor one religion over others? If the answer is affirmative, the rest is just details.

Wolfe offers several arguments in defense of the premise that “civil government ought to direct its people to the true religion” (183). For any Christians who are not strict biblicists, the simplest, most effective argument may be what Wolfe calls his “appeal to the ‘consent of the nations.’” In short, affirmation of civil government’s role in promoting true religion is common within the Christian tradition, and many figures within that tradition have themselves “appealed to pagan sources to support their position that civil authority ought to direct man to true religion” (191). Hence, the idea should be familiar to readers who have any acquaintance with Christian thought prior to the 20th century.

Anglicans in particular should have no issue with the government promoting true religion, for the Holy Communion service in the 1928 Book of Common Prayer includes an express prayer for civil magistrates to do just that:

We beseech thee also, so to direct and dispose the hearts of all Christian Rulers, that they may truly and impartially administer justice, to the punishment of wickedness and vice, and to the maintenance of thy true religion, and virtue.[3]

Contrary to popular belief, officially privileging one religion over others does not require inquisitions or burning heretics at the stake. For one thing, restraining false teachers can involve non-capital punishments such as “banishment and long-term imprisonment” (391). Furthermore, it is not the case that heresy must be defined so broadly as to encompass all who are not members of one particular sect or denomination—Wolfe envisions a “pan-Protestant civil society” in which “all orthodox Christians” could live (394).[4] Although he never spells out what he means by “orthodoxy,” the Apostles’ Creed and the Nicene Creed could easily serve as bare-minimum, generally agreed upon standards, allowing supplementation if necessary. As for what the civil promotion of Christianity might look like in practice, Wolfe suggests that “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” (182).

It is commonly objected that such measures would be illiberal and thus un-American. This objection completely misses the reality that America has already become profoundly illiberal, as Wolfe points out:

Neutrality, even if it was real for a time, will never hold, because man by his nature infuses his transcendent concerns into his way of life and into the place of that life. The pagan nationalist rejection of neutrality is correct in principle, and Christians ought to abandon their foolish commitment to neutrality, contestability, and viewpoint diversity. (381, emphasis original)

Wolfe’s recognition that American liberalism is a dead letter is enough by itself to put this book far above many other Christian treatments of politics still mired in the pluralistic ideals of yesteryear. Moreover, his retrieval of classical Christian political theory in light of this realization is both timely and salutary, deserving careful attention as we consider how best to act in our current moment.[5]

At the same time, there are a few aspects of Wolfe’s particular version of Christian nationalism that I disagree with, such as his peculiar definition of liberty of conscience. As mentioned above, Wolfe spends chapter 9 arguing that civil promotion of true religion, to the exclusion of certain practices, is not a violation of freedom of conscience. However, he bases this argument on the claim that matters of conscience only pertain to internal thoughts and beliefs, not outward practices. Civil restraint or punishment of external false religion is thus not a violation of conscience, for as he puts it, “The conscience is not compelled, since only external expression is targeted” (361).

This is a curious view of conscience, considering that it leaves no grounds for Christians to object when their own religious practice is restrained by the civil power. “You are free to believe whatever you want in your head,” say the trans activists and the cult of Caesar alike. “But you must use the correct pronouns, or offer a pinch of incense, lest we punish you for threatening the public good.” I am not saying Wolfe is wrong in arguing that the civil magistrate should be able to restrain external religious practice. However, to simultaneously maintain that one is not thereby forced to violate one’s conscience strikes me as dubious thinking. It is no comfort to persecuted Christians that they can think what they like as long as they outwardly conform to civil orthodoxy, nor would it be comforting to non-Christians if the shoe were on the other foot.

The “Right to Revolution”: Wolfe’s Case

Of much greater concern for an Anglican audience is Wolfe’s affirmation of the “right to revolution,” which takes on heightened significance in light of the larger question of how Christians might make the ideas in Wolfe’s book a reality. For his part, Wolfe thinks that in many nations, including the United States, the failure to enforce Christianity via civil power is “a problem of will rather than numbers” (181). I do not see how Wolfe reaches this conclusion, given that the current percentage of Protestant Christians in the United States is estimated to be around 40%, and this is before subtracting all the apostate, mainline denominations such as The Episcopal Church, the United Methodist Church, the Presbyterian Church in the United States of America, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, etc.[6]

Regardless of the numbers, Wolfe maintains that “a Christian people, constituting a minority of the population under a civil government, can revolt against a tyranny directed at them and, after successfully revolting, establish over all of the population a Christian commonwealth” (345, emphasis original).[7] Wolfe also makes clear that he considers Christians in the United States to be living under tyranny:

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. The occupation universalizes their ideology, forcing your Christianity to exist only in the walls of churches, denying any civil and social ordering to God and Christ’s kingdom…. When Christians are under a universalizing and totalizing non-Christian regime that wields implicit powers against true religion, how is this not tyranny? (344)

Yet Wolfe is careful to say that revolution is merely permissible under such circumstances rather than obligatory, and that other forms of resistance such as civil disobedience should be seriously considered. This is in spite of the fact that most of the Reformed authors Wolfe cites on the subject insist that rebellion against tyranny is not only a right but a duty. Samuel Rutherford, in response to the objection that the Bible nowhere commands resistance to tyrants:

When…the Lord’s prophets complain that the people execute not judgment, relieve not the oppressed, help not and rescue not those that are drawn to death unjustly by the king, or his murdering judges, they expressly cry out against the sin of non-resistance.[8]

Johannes Althusius, on whether “ephors” and “optimates” may resist a tyrant:

The optimates of the realm both collectively and individually can and should resist tyranny to the best of their ability…. Those who refuse to help the resisting ephor with their strength, money, and counsel are considered enemies and deserters.[9]

Junius Brutus, on the lawfulness of resisting a tyrant who jeopardizes true religion:

If the king follow after strange gods, and not content to be seduced himself, seek also to attract his subjects, endeavouring by all means to ruin the church, if Israel seek not to withdraw him from his rebellion, and contain him within the limits of obedience, they make the fault of their king their own transgression.[10]

It is not clear on what grounds Wolfe departs from the Reformed tradition on this point. But Wolfe’s demurral notwithstanding, one gets the impression that he would strongly favor a revolution, provided that other options had been exhausted and that such a revolution had a real chance of success (345). He is also quick to deny that these mitigating considerations should be taken to mean he is “unserious” in raising the possibility of revolution.

Indeed, Wolfe’s appreciation for the gravity of his viewpoint is evidenced by the fact that (to my recollection) this is the only part of the book where he directly engages with a passage of Scripture, namely Romans 13. Verses 1‒2 of this chapter read, “Let every soul be subject unto the higher powers. For there is no power but of God: the powers that be are ordained of God. Whosoever therefore resisteth the power, resisteth the ordinance of God: and they that resist shall receive to themselves damnation” (KJV). Faced with this passage, Wolfe paradoxically asserts that both of the statements “you shall not resist powers ordained of God and you may conduct revolution against tyrannical civil rulers” can be affirmed without contradiction. His rationale for this claim is that “in resisting a tyrant, a people are not resisting the powers ordained of God, for a power of tyranny is not ordained of God. Thus, a people can conduct revolution against tyrannical civil rulers and, in so doing, not resist the powers ordained of God” (350, emphasis original).

Unfortunately for Wolfe, his argument hinges on the equivocal nature of the word “power.” He wants to suggest that the word “power” as used in Romans 13:1‒2 means something like “capacity” or “potency,” which would mean that the verse does not forbid resisting tyrannical persons. However, Wolfe’s interpretation is severely weakened by the fact that most translations of this verse other than the KJV, which he quotes in making his argument, render the root noun from which the Greek dative ἐξουσίαις is derived as “governing authorities” rather than “higher powers,” which indicates that what is being spoken of here are persons, not “capacities” or “potencies.”[11] In short, the verse is saying that all must be subject to the ruling persons ordained by God, which is indeed incompatible with revolution against such persons. This reading is supported by verses 3‒6, which use terms that clearly denote persons—“Rulers (ἄρχοντες) are not a terror to good works” (v. 3);[12]He is (ἐστιν) the minister of God” (v. 4);[13] “Thou shalt have praise (ἔπαινον) of the same” (v. 3).[14] How could a capacity or potency “praise” anyone? Moreover, if “powers” in verse 1 meant “capacities” or “potencies,” then the verse would be affirming the very thing that Wolfe denies—namely, that since “there is no potency but of God,” then “the potencies that be [including the potency of tyranny] are ordained of God”!

In sum, Wolfe’s account of revolution could be stronger. His exposition of Romans 13:1‒2 is unconvincing, and he does not explain why revolution against tyranny is not obligatory, as maintained by the Reformed tradition he cites, but merely discretionary.

The “Right to Revolution”: Anglican Perspectives

Anglicans who identify as “confessional,”[15] treating the formularies—in this context, the Articles of Religion and the Homilies especially—as normative for their faith and practice, cannot support revolution.[16] Article XXXV endorses both the First and Second Books of Homilies as “[containing] a godly and wholesome Doctrine.”[17] The Homilies, in turn, expressly condemn rebellion even when the magistrate is a tyrant. From “An Exhortation Concerning Good Order and Obedience to Rulers and Magistrates” in the First Book of Homilies:

Christ taught us plainly that even the wicked rulers have their power and authority from God. And therefore it is not lawful for their subjects by force to resist them, although they abuse their power.[18]

And from “An Homily Against Disobedience and Wilful Rebellion” in the Second Book of Homilies:

In reading of the Holy Scriptures we shall find in very many and almost infinite places as well of the Old Testament as of the New, that kings and princes, as well the evil as the good, do reign by God’s ordinance, and that subjects are bounden to obey them.[19]

However, in cases where the magistrate commands what is contrary to God’s law, subjects are obligated to practice civil disobedience:

Yet let us believe undoubtedly, good Christian people, that we may not obey kings, magistrates or any other, though they be our own fathers, if they would command us to do anything contrary to God’s commandments. In such a case we ought to say with the apostles: “We must rather obey God than man [Acts 5:29].” But nevertheless in that case we may not in any wise resist violently or rebel against rulers, or make any insurrection, sedition or tumults, either by force of arms or other ways, against the anointed of the Lord or any of his appointed officers, but we must in such case patiently suffer all wrongs and injuries, referring the judgment of our cause only to God.[20]

This opposition to rebellion even in the face of tyranny is somewhat unusual in the larger Christian tradition. Roman Catholic theories of resistance can be traced back at least to Thomas Aquinas.[21] Martin Luther and Philip Melanchthon both condemned rebellion in their earlier careers, but the former ultimately came to accept the form of resistance theory found in the Magdeburg Confession,[22] while the latter articulated his own distinct theory of resistance.[23] Examples of Calvinist resistance theory have been quoted above, and more could be added.[24] In comparison, traditional Anglicanism stands out as “peculiarly obedient to magisterial authority.”[25]

It could be argued that the scope of Anglican political thought broadened after the English Reformation to include support for resistance, as seen in the views professed by some churchmen. Bishop Richard Watson “combined a belief in the individual’s divinely derived obligation to obey government with an affirmation of its popular appointment and a right of resistance where there was widespread popular dissatisfaction.”[26] Bishop William Markham went so far as to say the church “was committed, on Biblical grounds, to two contradictory principles, the right of resistance to tyranny and the duty of obedience to the powers that be.”[27] This greater openness to resistance among Anglican clergymen was also apparent during the American Revolution, where despite the common generalization that Anglicans were Loyalists by definition, “several strains of political thought, such as loyalism, patriotism, and pacifism/neutrality, existed within the [American] Anglican clerical community.”[28]

Yet polemical exchanges between the emerging “High church” and “Low church” parties suggest a correlation on the “Low church” side between greater openness to resistance and a growing tendency to disregard the Homilies (and, by implication, the Articles). In a piece thought to have been written by Thomas Gordon, the author describes the “High Church” as “teaching the Doctrines of Hereditary Right and Passive Obedience, contrary to the Judgment and Practice of the Legislature at and since the [Glorious] Revolution, and to the Determination of the House of Lords, on the Impeachment of Dr. SACHEVEREL, and their Condemnation of the Oxford Decree.”[29] John White Middleton, an Evangelical, says of Bishop Horsley that “High-churchmen were gratified by…[among other things] his demand of obsequious submission from the commonalty and laity to their temporal and spiritual governors.”[30] Meanwhile, on the high church side, Henry Sacheverell writes that the low church man “thinks the Articles of the Church, too Stiff, Formal, and Strait-lac’d a Rule to confine his Faith in…. He looks upon the Homilies as tolerably good, for the Time they were Compiled in; but, that They contain some Doctrins, not so suitable to this Age.” All this alongside the contention that obedience “was due only to ‘a Legal Government’, of which legality ‘the People are to be the Judges’. If so, ‘there can be no such Thing as Rebellion in the World’.”[31]

Thus my original point stands, albeit re-stated: professing Anglicans have certainly defended revolution, but this seems to have been accompanied—or rather, enabled—by a more liberal attitude toward the formularies as something less than confessionally binding. For contemporary Anglicans seeking to reverse this liberal turn and take the formularies seriously again, revolution is not an option.[32]

Conclusion

Nothing I have said should be construed as a rejection of Wolfe’s larger argument. Indeed, Wolfe recognizes that some will not accept the denominational particulars of his project, but this does not preclude wide agreement on some of its essential features:

My account of Christian nationalism is a Presbyterian Christian nationalism. It contains all the essential features of Christian nationalism, so it shares much with other forms of it. Thus, even if I cannot convince my readers of Presbyterianism, much of my argument remains applicable to their own tradition. And one might come to agree with the justness of Christian nationalism but not follow me in my Presbyterianism. Given the state of our world today, I will consider that a success. (20)

The final word I would like to leave with readers is that Wolfe has written something important here, something that deserves to be read and contemplated. This is true even if the prospects for realizing the ideas he discusses are currently dim, for these ideas can still inform our vision of what to work toward in the days and years to come. The first Christendom has long since faded from the world, but we can still work and pray for a second Christendom.

Notes

  1. See Charles A. Coulombe, Star-Spangled Crown: A Simple Guide to the American Monarchy (Arcadia, CA: Tumblar House, 2016); Thomas Crean and Alan Fimister, Integralism: A Manual of Political Philosophy (Havertown, PA: Eurospan, 2020); D. C. Schindler, The Politics of the Real: The Church Between Liberalism and Integralism (Steubenville, OH: New Polity Press, 2021); P. Edmund Waldstein and Peter A. Kwasniewski, eds., Integralism and the Common Good: Selected Essays from The Josias, vol. 1, Family, City, and State (Brooklyn: Angelico Press, 2021); and P. Edmund Waldstein, ed., Integralism and the Common Good: Selected Essays from The Josias, vol. 2, The Two Powers (Brooklyn: Angelico Press, 2022).
  2. See Joseph Boot, Ruler of Kings: Toward a Christian Vision of Government (London: Wilberforce Publications, 2022), and Andrew Torba and Andrew Isker, Christian Nationalism: A Biblical Guide for Taking Dominion and Discipling Nations (Clarks Summit, PA: Gab AI, 2022).
  3. The Book of Common Prayer (New York: Oxford University Press, 1928), 74. This prayer is largely identical to a corresponding one in the 1662 Holy Communion service.
  4. Wolfe’s boundaries for acceptable religious diversity are far more generous than what is found in the integralism of Crean and Fimister, who maintain that baptized non-Romanists are subject to civil discipline and correction: “The crimes of heresy and schism in a baptized person, declared by the Church, cause citizenship to be suspended until they have been absolved in the public forum.” Crean and Fimister, Integralism, 117.
  5. A common allegation against Christian nationalism is that it is actually code for “white nationalism.” Given that the subject of race and ethnicity has already been exhausted prior to the book’s publication, I will let the following excerpts from the book speak for themselves: “Given my friendships and associations with people of different ancestry, I can say that being ‘white’ is unnecessary both to recognize themselves in what I describe and to cooperate with someone like me in a common national project. This is not a ‘white nationalist’ argument, for in my view the designation ‘white,’ as it is used today, hinders and distracts people from recognizing and acting for their people-groups, many of which (to be sure) are majority ‘white’ but are so not on the basis of a modern racialist principle” (119n3). “The ties of blood do not directly establish the boundaries of one’s ethnicity. Rather, one has ethnic ties of affection because one’s kin conducted life with other kin in the same place” (139). “We should not…disregard the work of intermarriage over time in creating bonds of affection, as Aristotle argues. Out of marriage form various brotherhoods and tribes and shared or public pastimes” (139). Helpful clarifications from Wolfe on this topic can also be found in “The Case for Christian Nationalism w/ Stephen Wolfe in Studio,” CROSSPOLITIC, 20 October 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sx3bxz-WdeU, starting at 35:45; “Christian Nationalism vs. Mere Christendom? | Doug Wilson & Stephen Wolfe,” Canon Press, 24 October 2022, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FeU7dBrSRLo, starting at 7:48; and “Christian Nationalism and the Controversies,” Canon Calls, 25 October 2022, https://podcasts.google.com/feed/aHR0cHM6Ly9jYW5vbmNhbGxzLmxpYnN5bi5jb20vcnNz/episode/aHR0cHM6Ly9wZXJtYWxpbmsuY2FzdG9zLmNvbS9wb2RjYXN0LzM3NjUwL2VwaXNvZGUvMTMwNTI3OA?hl=en&ved=2ahUKEwijy622yo77AhUkk4kEHYr7AloQjrkEegQIDRAF&ep=6, starting at 2:56.
  6. The Pew Research Center reports that as of December 2021, “40% of U.S. adults are Protestants.” Gregory A. Smith, “About Three-in-Ten U.S. Adults Are Now Religiously Unaffiliated,” Pew Research Center, 14 December 2021, https://www.pewresearch.org/religion/2021/12/14/about-three-in-ten-u-s-adults-are-now-religiously-unaffiliated/. The Public Religion Research Institute estimates that the percentage of Protestants in the United States in 2021 was 42.4%. PRRI Staff, “PRRI 2021 American Values Atlas: Religious Affiliation Updates and Trends: White Christian Decline Slows, Unaffiliated Growth Levels Off,” Public Religion Research Institute, 27 April 2022, https://www.prri.org/spotlight/prri-2021-american-values-atlas-religious-affiliation-updates-and-trends-white-christian-decline-slows-unaffiliated-growth-levels-off/.
  7. Wolfe also writes that “the civil regulation of religion assumes both that the civil rulers are Christians (at least with regard to profession and church membership) and that the principal part of the people are Christian” (359n13, emphasis mine), which appears to contradict his claim that a Christian minority can come to power and “establish over all of the population a Christian commonwealth.”
  8. Samuel Rutherford, Lex, Rex, Q. XXXIV, Ans. to Obj. 16 (Colorado Springs: Portage Publications, 2009), 329, https://www.portagepub.com/dl/caa/sr-lexrex17.pdf, emphasis mine.
  9. Johannes Althusius, Politica: An Abridged Translation of Politics Methodically Set Forth and Illustrated with Sacred and Profane Examples, Frederick S. Carney, ed. and trans., Ch. XXXVIII, § 47‒48 (Indianapolis: Liberty Fund, 1995), 184, https://files.libertyfund.org/files/692/Althusius_0002_EBk_v6.0.pdf, emphasis mine.
  10. Junius Brutus, Vindiciae Contra Tyrannos, Q. 2 (Colorado Springs: Portage Publications, 2021), 34, https://www.portagepub.com/dl/law/vindiciae.pdf, emphasis mine. As this and the previous two excerpts show, the Declaration of Independence had ample precedent in saying it is not merely the people’s “right” but “their duty, to throw off such [tyrannous] Government.” “Declaration of Independence,” https://www.archives.gov/founding-docs/declaration-transcript.
  11. See parallel translations for Romans 13:1 at Bible Hub, https://www.biblehub.com/romans/13-1.htm. The root noun ἐξουσία (found in verse 2) is translated as both “power” and “authority” throughout the New Testament, depending on the context. Significantly, the word is used to refer to persons in multiple cases, e.g., Luke 12:11, Ephesians 3:10 and 6:12, Colossians 1:16 and 2:15, Titus 3:1, and 1 Peter 3:22. Bible Hub, https://www.biblehub.com/greek/strongs_1849.htm.
  12. Bible Hub, Romans 13:3, https://www.biblehub.com/romans/13-3.htm#lexicon.
  13. Bible Hub, Romans 13:4, https://www.biblehub.com/romans/13-4.htm#lexicon.
  14. Bible Hub, Romans 13:3, https://www.biblehub.com/romans/13-3.htm#lexicon.
  15. See Jared Lovell, “Toward a Confessional Anglicanism,” The North American Anglican, 30 September 2022, https://northamanglican.com/toward-a-confessional-anglicanism/.
  16. While it is not a focal point in the liturgy of the American Prayer Book, rebellion is also treated by the Litany as wickedness from which we should seek deliverance: “From all sedition, privy conspiracy, and rebellion…Good Lord, deliver us.” Book of Common Prayer, 55, emphasis original.
  17. Book of Common Prayer, 610.
  18. Gerald Bray, ed., The Books of Homilies: A Critical Edition (Cambridge, UK: James Clarke & Co, 2015), 89.
  19. Bray, Homilies, 511. Compare John Jewel, An Apology of the Church of England, ed. Robin Harris and Andre Gazal (Leesburg, VA: Davenant Press, 2020), 56, and George Carleton, Jurisdiction Regal, Episcopal, Papal, ed. Andre Gazal (Landrum, SC: Davenant Press, 2021), 70.
  20. Bray, Homilies, 92. Compare Carleton, Jurisdiction, 71 and 297.
  21. Thomas Aquinas, De regno ad regem Cypri, Gerald B. Phelan, trans., § 49‒50 (Toronto: Pontifical Institute of Mediaeval Studies, 1949), https://isidore.co/aquinas/DeRegno.htm.
  22. Francis Oakley, “Christian obedience and authority, 1520‒1550,” in The Cambridge History of Political Thought: 1450‒1700, J. H. Burns, ed. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1991), 173, and Robert M. Kingdon, “Calvinism and resistance theory, 1550‒1580,” in Burns, Cambridge 1450‒1700, 201. See also The Magdeburg Confession, Matthew Colvin, trans. (North Charleston, SC: CreateSpace, 2012).
  23. Mads Langballe Jensen, A Humanist in Reformation Politics: Philipp Melanchthon on Political Philosophy and Natural Law (Boston: Brill, 2019), 139‒87.
  24. Another Reformed source Wolfe cites twice in his chapter on revolution is Heinrich Bullinger’s Decades, effectively conveying the impression that Bullinger supports Wolfe’s perspective on the subject. In reality, Bullinger agrees with the Homilies that tyranny is punishment for sin, and thus the appropriate response is for the people to repent and pray for God’s deliverance rather than seek to overthrow the tyrant: “For their wicked deeds, some people do not deserve to have a king, but a tyrant. So then, the people’s sin is another cause that evil magistrates are found in commonweals.” “Let those, therefore, who are vexed with tyrants, and oppressed with wicked magistrates, follow this advice in that perplexity. First, let them call to remembrance and consider what and how great their own sins of idolatry and uncleanness are, which have already deserved the revenging anger of their jealous God. And then let them think that God will not withdraw his scourge, unless he sees that they redress their corrupt manners and evil religion.” The Decades of Henry Bullinger, Thomas Harding, ed., H. I., trans. (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1849), ii.315‒16, https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/bullinger/Bullinger%20-%20Decades%20-%20Henry%20Bullinger.pdf.
  25. Jacqueline Rose, “The Godly Magistrate,” in The Oxford History of Anglicanism, vol. 1: Reformation and Identity c.1520‒1662, Anthony Milton, ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), 119.
  26. Iain Hampsher-Monk, “British radicalism and the anti-Jacobins,” in The Cambridge History of Eighteenth-Century Political Thought, Mark Goldie and Robert Wokler, eds. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 2006), 662.
  27. Hampsher-Monk, “British radicalism,” 662.
  28. Nancy L. Rhoden, Revolutionary Anglicanism: The Colonial Church of England Clergy during the American Revolution (New York: New York University Press, 1999), 6. See also Rhoden, Revolutionary Anglicanism, 64‒87, and Mark Smith, “The Anglican Churches, 1783‒1829,” in The Oxford History of Anglicanism, vol. 2: Establishment and Empire, 1662‒1829, Jeremy Gregory, ed. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2017), 81.
  29. Thomas Gordon, The Independent Whig, quoted in J. C. D. Clark, “Church, Parties, and Politics,” in History of Anglicanism, vol. 2, 295, emphasis original.
  30. John White Middleton, An Ecclesiastical Memoir of the First Four Decades of the Reign of George the Third (London, 1822), 27, quoted in Clark, “Politics,” 299. Peter B. Nockles concurs in identifying a tendency “to deny a right of resistance” as a hallmark of high church Anglicanism in The Oxford Movement in Context: Anglican High Churchmanship, 1760‒1857 (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1994), 45
  31. Henry Sacheverell, Character of a Low-Church-man, 9‒10, 18‒19, quoted in Clark, “Politics,” 301, emphasis original. Also relevant is Sacheverell’s comment that the low church man “looks upon the Censuring Atheism, Infidelity or False Doctrin, as a Dogmatical Usurpation, as an Intrusion or breaking in upon…Human Liberty.”
  32. Some have argued that if the Homilies are to be taken seriously again, this would also involve accepting other teachings less amenable to high church Anglicans. For example, “An Homily Against Peril of Idolatry and Superfluous Decking of Churches” seems to condemn images in the most unqualified terms. However, it is possible to read this homily in a way that accepts its basic point—that abuse of images unto idolatry is to be avoided—while also mitigating its excesses, whereas to endorse rebellion would completely overthrow, at the most basic possible level, the two homilies condemning it. On the nuances of “Against Peril of Idolatry,” see Daniel Logan, “In Defense of Images,” The North American Anglican, 5 November 2021, https://northamanglican.com/in-defense-of-images/; Laudable Practice, “‘I Quarrel Not the Making of Images,’” The North American Anglican, 24 January 2022, https://northamanglican.com/i-quarrel-not-the-making-of-images/; River Devereux, “Reformation Anglicanism and Nicaea II,” The North American Anglican, 30 May 2022, https://northamanglican.com/reformation-anglicanism-and-nicaea-ii/; and Ben Jefferies, “Rejecting Nicea II (Again): Of Anglicans and Apostolic Faith and Practice,” The North American Anglican, 25 July 2022, https://northamanglican.com/rejecting-nicea-ii-again-of-anglicans-and-apostolic-faith-and-practice/.

Editor’s note: many grotesque comments have flooded this review, so comments have been removed. As is always the case, those who behave poorly make it difficult for the adults to discuss and disagree with dignity.



James Clark is the Book Review Editor at The North American Anglican. His writing has appeared in Front Porch Republic, Journal of Classical Theology, and Evangelical Quarterly, as well as other publications.


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