Russell Moore is wrong: Christian liberation and nationalism are not two sides of the same coin
The Christianity Today editor-in-chief thinks that liberationism and nationalism trade integrity for ideology, power for principles. But he is dead wrong.
In a piece adapted from Russell Moore’s newsletter for Christianity Today, the editor-in-chief wrote about the perils of collecting power and posturing ourselves. Moore offers a powerful interpretation of the Temptation of Jesus where Jesus doesn’t yield to the temptation to throw himself from temple to be saved by his angels. Moore argues that if Jesus would, no one would call him “demon-possessed, a lunatic, a closet insurrectionist, or a covert collaborator with Rome.” Instead, they’d call him the Anointed of God. It would have proved his divinity. It would have “forced a sign.” But instead, Jesus called that a sin.
I actually think that Moore’s point is profoundly true. I do think that radical posture of humility is precisely what Jesus calls us to, and so I am in agreement with Moore’s interpretation and application. Moore says we are all tempted, seemingly, to trade principles for power, even if we don’t aspire to hold political office. Moore concludes that God proved Jesus’ anointing, not through vindication, but through resurrection. Jesus didn’t need immediate satisfaction but modeled how to trust God. Moore argues that when we forget this narrative, “we start seeing our audience as whatever mob or strongman will protect or respect us.” Moore is urging us to be patient for the judgment seat of Jesus, and not demand immediate satisfaction.
Moore wants Evangelicals to move beyond proving themselves and finding their comfort in their “identity in Christ,” and while I largely agree with this in premise, his column is so vague on the details of what it means, it’s hard not to fill in the gaps. It’s hard not to think that the path of the moderate Evangelical is the one that doesn’t need to be proven right, but will be satisfied by Christ’s judgment seat. Without naming specifics, it’s hard not to think that Moore is trying to defend his own political and social posture from attacks, in a way that he sees different groups.
Early in the column, he says the trading of principles of power is “at work and transcends almost every tribal boundary.” Moore goes on to say:
“Forms of Christianized Marxism often yield to this temptation by replacing a gospel of repentance and faith with merely subduing oppressive social structures. Christian nationalism does the same thing—replacing a faith of new birth with blood-and-soil cultural Christianity.”
Matt Tebbe pointed out the problem with Moore’s attempt to “both sides” the issues here, and I agree with his perspective.
First, I want to note that “Christianized Marxism” is such an opaque term that is hard to define on its own, but I think that Moore is referring to liberationist Christians, who want to undo powers of oppression. He might be referring to people who are commonly called, as a pejorative, “woke.” He reduces liberationist thinking into merely “subduing oppressive social structures.”
And worse, he claims that Christian nationalists are just a different side of the same coin. They do the same thing, trading their faith with “blood-and-soil Christianity.”
I hope it is apparent that Christian nationalists and those who ascribe to Christian liberation are distinct and shouldn’t be compared. But for those who refuse to take a political side, it makes sense to me that they would conclude they are the same and are grabbing for power. The issue is that they are not the same, and furthermore, Moore’s framing of “Christianized Marxists” is flawed fundamentally.
For one thing, as I said above, Moore is vague in who is precisely talking about. His ambiguity makes a precise critique more challenging, but at the very least, to reduce liberationist thinking to “subduing oppressive social structures,” is weak, at best. Liberationists imagine a new world inaugurated by Jesus that puts an end to systems of death. And to act like that world replaces “a gospel of repentance and faith,” misses the opportunity that we all have to divest from the powers of death we’ve inherited and invested in. Fundamental to our liberation is our own repentance. This isn’t a contradiction of the Gospel, but rather a core tenet of it.
On the other hand, I can’t really speak to whether Christian nationalism rejects a “faith of new birth,” but I imagine many Christian nationalists would claim they are “born again Christians,” and think they are restoring the U.S. to its Christian roots. While I think that blood-and-soil Christianity, or Christofascism, is their goal, their problem is not primary in its rejection of a confessional faith. For Moore, he seems to actually be trying to prove that Evangelicalism, and the project of Christianity Today, are correct. He wants to make sure that his Evangelical faith is indeed the solution, politically and in terms of posture, to the polarization he names in his column.
What Moore says does have good in it, and I do believe that the attitude of humility and not needing to be proven right is valuable for all Christians. With that said, it is not the fundamental problem with Christian nationalism, nor Christian liberation. In equating the two, Moore makes this a matter of posture (a dubious claim on its own), waters down the truth in liberation theology, and does not effectively name or convict Christian nationalism for what it is. Moore’s newsletter may serve to convict Evangelicals who want to be right, but ultimately postures himself in the very position he is criticizing.