Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Forming a Christian Heart 4: Nationalism

Isaiah 26 is a future picture of God’s people Israel, banished and driven out by the sin of the former times now restored as a nation to God’s favour. The prophet Isaiah wrote a song for the people when the Messiah will establish his kingdom. Isaiah was picturing himself standing in the redeemed land listening to the people express their gratitude to God. The days of distress are over; God has ordained peace on earth and the nation is prospering again. This passage represents a worldview known as religious nationalism.


Here are some key verses that demonstrate this worldview:

26:4 Trust in the Lord forever, for the Lord, the Lord himself, is the Rock eternal.

26:8 Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our hearts.

26:11 Lord, your hand is lifted high, but they do not see it. Let them see your zeal for your people and be put to shame; let the fire reserved for your enemies consume them.

26:15 You have enlarged the nation, Lord; you have enlarged the nation. You have gained glory for yourself; you have extended all the borders of the land.

A worldview is an orientation of the heart; or a lens through which we see and interpret reality. Religious nationalism is the worldview where a shared (or dominant) religion contributes to a sense of national unity, a common bond among the citizens of the nation.

Nations arose as political systems grew from bands to tribes to chiefdoms then states. As a result, the progressive concerns of the people move from daily survival to keeping tribal unity to maintaining power and finally, as nations, to identifying national character. Nationalists tend to react with fierce devotion to preserve a particular national character; often with a belief that any changes will bring disaster. Religious nationalism believes that God has a special relationship to and mission for my country and the nation’s faithfulness to God will determine its prosperity or downfall.

Wilkens and Sanford write “when God and country are intertwined,Hidden Worldviews ones’ national culture can be viewed as God’s will (his Kingdom) manifest on earth” (Hidden Worldviews, 2009, p. 73). Therefore, to the nationalist, the pursuit of national character is the measure of faithfulness to God.

While this worldview was entirely appropriate for the Hebrews of the Old Testament period, nationalism has been a seductive worldview for Christians since the 4th century when Roman emperor Constantine made Christianity the state religion. What followed was the long creation of Christendom with its vision of a Christian government devoted to the enforcement of Christian values, and whose institutions are covered with a veneer of Christian holiness. 

But is it the church’s mission to create Christian nations (i.e., politically organized people groups)? Is that “making disciples”? This vision can still be tempting for Christians. You may be influenced by nationalism if:

  • You believe our national character is and should be Christian and you lament its diminishment;
  • You believe the political goal is to ensure that Christianity prevails as the dominate value shaper in our country and to denounce secularism;
  • You believe that once we are a Christian nation, we must ensure that our nation’s interests prevail in the world because it means God’s interest’s will prevail.

Wilkens and Sanford insist that this discussion “should not be taken as a condemnation of patriotism…love of one’s country is a good and necessary thing…[and] there’s no simple way to determine…when patriotism degenerates into nationalism…but we do need some benchmarks for self-examination” (p. 62).

The authors give this sober warning: “When Christian and nation are fused, Christianity inevitably takes on a secondary status as the legitimating mechanism for the goals of the state and ceases to be a prophetic voice to the nation. (p. 75)…Nationalism is really a corporate variation on the sin of pride” (p. 77).


Wilkens, S. & Sanford, M. (2009). Hidden worldviews: Eight cultural stories that shape our lives. Downers Grove, ILL: InterVarsity Press.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Forming a Christian Heart 3: Consumerism

What images come to mind when you think of consumerism? Perhaps troubling images of maxed out credit cards, deforestation, crowded malls, hoarding, or open pit mining.


But Wilkens and Sanford (2009) reminds us that “the Bible clearly teaches an idea you will seldom hear from the pulpit…This idea…is that God created us to be consumers. Really! In Genesis 2, God created [humanity] and then proceeded to give [them] the things [they] needed for a good life. “The Lord God made all sorts of trees grow up from the ground—trees that were beautiful and that produced delicious fruit.” (Hidden Worldviews, p. 44).

Consumerism is the tendency of people to identify strongly with and/or attach security to products or services they consume or own. Conspicuous consumerism refers to lavish spending on goods and services with admired brand names and status-enhancing appeal, especially for the purpose of causing envy. A few special brands take consumerism to a different level. These are the so-called cult brands: Cult brands sell lifestyles, not just a product or service; cult brands get into your heart and create absolute loyalty and fierce opposition to their “evil, third-rate” competition – lit. redefining the consumer relationship into a community identity and just cause. Examples include Harley-Davidson, Star Trek, Volkswagen, and Apple (esp. the Macintosh computer).


A person might be able to work for two different employers at the same time. However, God and money (Mammon) are not employers but slave owners. Mammon roughly equals our concept of “net worth” which is the value of a person’s assets, including cash, minus total liabilities. Of course, many people do try to cherish both God and net worth, but ultimately only one will be chosen. “Love” and “hate” in early mid-eastern thought are often roughly equivalent to choose and not choose. So the one not chosen will be “hated,” even if only by neglect.


The Brethren in Christ church declares one of their values as: “Living Simply: We value uncluttered lives, which free us to love boldly, give generously, and serve joyfully.”1 In advertising-filled culture where everything seems more complicated than it needs to be, it’s natural to long for “the simple life.” But as this core value suggests, the commitment to living simply is not just a reaction to our consumerist culture, it’s deeply connected to a desire to trust in God and be generous to others.

This does not imply that rich people cannot be Christians. It does imply that wealth brings grave dangers, not least of which is the extra anxiety of having to protect one’s possessions for fear of losing. To serve the consumerist worldview is to serve a hard, unloving taskmaster; it’s one that will never say “it is enough; it is finished.”

“These things dominate the thoughts of unbelievers, but your heavenly Father already knows all your needs. Seek the Kingdom of God above all else, and live righteously, and he will give you everything you need.” (Mt. 6:32-33).

1 Brethren in Christ Canada, Core Values, retrieved from http://www.canadianbic.ca/core-values/