There is a great deal of lamentation from older generations of Christians regarding the drive of younger men toward Christian nationalism. Across churches and in social media interactions with younger Christians, older men are not finding clarity or unity in the answers they have received to this point when trying to understand the phenomenon. This has amounted to palpable frustration and eventually, dismissal.
The discussion of Christian nationalism has sparked no small amount of controversy that the church would do well to properly understand. An informed strategy for how to approach the younger generations would be wiser than mounting a strategic propaganda campaign against it.
The Lack of Clarity
It is understandable that there would not be a great deal of clarity in the movement known as Christian nationalism at this point. Whether you see it as a resurgent movement or a novel one, there has not been a significant amount of grounding that would direct outsiders to precisely what the movement is about. For attentive listeners, there are insights available from fellow traveler movements such as theonomy and paleo-conservatism, but for the casual observers, there is little outside of the draft Statement on Christian Nationalism and the few books published on the topic. To date, there are few, if any established resources with broad support from those who claim the title. Whether there are throughlines to previous movements or not, time is required for the movement to sort itself out, identify priorities, strategies, methods, and establish defenses.
One significant problem that the movement faces at this moment is the bad faith attempts to define the movement from the outside. For those who seek to destroy it before it gains any legs, there are certainly ample opportunities to smear it as a whole or the character of those involved with a wide range of pejoratives. Some healthy caution over letting the axe grinders influence outside views would be wise. Additionally, there is a veritable grab-bag of problematic characters attempting to direct the movement in unbiblical directions. However, the result of Christian nationalism will either be God’s glory, or it will fall by the wayside like so many others.
Rather than attempt to answer questions about Christian nationalism, let’s look at how this debate presents a golden opportunity for the church to regain many of those disaffected men currently leaving at a noticeable clip as well as to steer the passion and energy of younger men into godly purposes.
Young men are a wonder. What they can accomplish when united should properly amaze us. For good or for ill, their God-given gifts can be remarkably productive. Any meaningful reformation or revival in the church will be enabled by young men getting married, starting families, engaging in ministries, businesses, vocations, politics, arts, and hobbies. This is not to the exclusion of women and children participating in the same. But if it is to be, it will rightly be led and modeled by men. In order to truly affect reformation in this or any iteration of the American church, we must harness the talents and energies of young men.
Much of the evangelical teaching on manhood has been reduced to effeminate, so-called “servant-leadership” modes and methods that are aimed at quelling a man’s natural masculinity rather than harnessing it. Many of the faithful are surveying the landscape and have become quite disillusioned with the dearth of strong and faithful men in the church when so many have compromised morally and theologically. The church is hemorrhaging men at such an astonishing rate that it’s a travesty that so little has been done to understand it or stem the tide from the largest Christian denominations.
The fact that so few have acted or even acknowledged this is telling. The current trend lends to speculation that many churches are banking their futures on the participation of women rather than men to the extent they are planning at all. This has led them to invest heavily in a feminized church that holds little to no appeal for men who have historically been the backbone of church participation.
As it happens, there are a great many young men in the United States who are disgusted with the current state of religious, familial, moral, and political affairs and, as a result, are in search of greater meaning and outlet for their natural drive. One thing is certain: that young men in search of an outlet for their natural inclinations will indeed find it or will completely check out of productive life. What remains to be seen is whether their energy will be directed towards godly ends or something less.
What these young men are selling is precisely what the church needs to buy. The plight of young American men is arguably quite contrary to the condition of men in decades past. Sadly, previous generations have been marked by apathy which resulted from stewing in a cauldron of prosperity, stability, and opportunity. Now that the foundations have been removed, many young men have arrived dissatisfied with their state. They have understood that previous generations were handed much and that it was mostly squandered. This thought is animating for them more than perhaps any other.
No, the current crop of men are not apathetic. Historically ignorant, unpolished, unacculturated, sure. But they are anything but apathetic. The current wokeness/social justice movement is evidence that young men are crying out for a holy cause, a purposeful mission, and they desperately want to see results. The instinct they have is good, but the direction is wrong. What they seek can be found in Christ, but sadly a feminized church and depraved culture are failing to point them to God and demonstrate how He gives purpose to their masculinity.
These overlapping trend lines present a unique opportunity. But we are dangerously close to missing it altogether.
Generational divides, while completely normal, are largely felt through cultural preferences and tastes that are not shared across generational lines. Because of recent Earth-shaking world events, some divides are much more significant than others. The current divide is of the latter sort where there are profound disconnects in all things cultural, political, and spiritual. This is how revolutions are born. The question is only of what sort the revolution will be. Will it be repentant and reformational? Or will it be rebellious and violent? The seeds of both are being planted.
Historically speaking, when young men are frustrated, there is much that pivots on reactions to their frustrations. They can do either tremendous good or evil based on the options with which they are presented. Those options depend greatly on what the older generations have left them. If very few opportunities exist for the expression of their masculinity, their response is more likely to be corrosive to civil society than it is to be productive.
Men were made for slaying dragons, but they require a dragon to slay. There are real dragons out there for the slaying, but the current crop of evangelical leaders have convinced themselves that there are no dragons that need not be slain (outside of the “dragon within”), or that dragon-slaying is really best left to someone else, namely other dragons.
This message does not resonate. Men who have not completely forgone their masculine instincts recognize how bankrupt this message is because it’s obvious that there are dragons presently slaying us and they’re compelled to do something about it.
Absent submission to godly authority, such men will lash out at the wrong dragons, join the wrong movements, fight unrighteously, fight for the wrong causes, and become violent and abusive to those they should protect. Their masculinity will be gratified in all the wrong ways, but gratified it will be.
All around the United States, there are young men ready to act, serve, and spend themselves in service of something greater than themselves. If we don’t point them at the powers and principalities that need to be destroyed, and the edifices that must be rebuilt, they will likely turn their energies on tearing down everything which prevents them from gratifying their flesh in search of greater pleasure. We would be derelict in our duties as the church to fail to disciple the young men into godly ends that glorify Christ and press his dominion to the ends of the earth.