What’s A Christian Country

So called Christian countries have not been a good advertisement for Christianity. If true christianity is recognised by its fruit – there is something seriously lacking.

Lots of people have been getting excited about an article on the BBC website asking whether the UK is a Christian country. As is so often the case, the best reflection on the question has come from Archdruid Eileen. I’ll quote her response in full:

Can we move on now?

My problem with the whole thing is that I consider the notion of a “christian Country” to be pretty bonkers to start with. What on earth is a christian country?

Countries that are supposedly christian have prospered through human slavery, legislated for apartheid and colonised vast swathes of the planet, putting the original inhabitants to the sword. So called Christian countries have not been a good advertisement for Christianity. If true christianity is recognised by its fruit – there is something seriously lacking.

Yes, it is true that there have been christians who have influenced countries for good. Believers were instrumental in getting the slave trade banned in the UK. But what were we doing with a slave trade in the first place, if we were a christian country?

The thing is, it is people who are Christians, not countries. It is conceivable that the majority of a country’s population could be Christian and it is certainly true that many countries have legal and social systems which have been influenced by christian thought and values. It is even true that some countries have Christianity as an official religion – and this is where the rubber hits the road.

You simply cannot legislate for people becoming Christians. The only way to become a Christian is through faith in Christ, but the concept of the christian country tries to create a loophole. You are a christian because you were born in a christian country. This is biblical and theological rubbish, but generations of people in Europe have swallowed the lie in the name of ‘christian civilisation’. Secure in their birth and heritage, they were never required to ask the hard questions about the nature of their own faith.

Calling a nation a christian country does no one any favours, least of all the population of the country involved.


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11 replies on “What’s A Christian Country”

Thanks, Eddie. Some church movements lost out through the abolition of slavery. We can’t judge the ways of other times as they were always affected by their own presuppositions.
But inour own countries, we can try to ensure Governments act justly and fairly. I suspect that the current UK Government doesn’t mind to much if those Christians that oppose gay marriage, for instance, complain. It makes the Government look progressive, whatever that means. But if we protest on poverty, suddenly they squeal.

I largely agree Eddie but I’d like to hear some Asian thoughts to challenge what comes over as a typically Western evangelical individualized concept of faith. Understanding a shared faith identity might move us forward from Christendom and would also articulate a transformational Christian effect in society. A lack of clear theology being expressed on this issue leaves David Cameron simply taking up Christians as a useful resource of do-gooders to make up for cuts to welfare rather than a “glimpse of the kingdom” transformers we are called to be.

Yes, I agree Rob. I tried to integrate something about community into the post, but it ended up being too long for the context. In the end, I settled for making one point, aware that I was leaving others unaddressed.

>> So called Christian countries have not been a good advertisement for Christianity.<> Calling a nation a christian country does no one any favours, least of all the population of the country involved <<

Not so sure about that as a blanket cover all assertion! There may be a "noble lie" or two in the "christian country" concept! People who think they live in a "christian country" might feel there is something to live up to!

As for the archdruid: Such assertions are made in order to help themselves along by self reinforcement.

Current evangelical diffidence for the "Christian country" concept may have something to do with the a (over) reaction to the marginalization and alienation of evangelical subcultures from civic life – a trend that was intensified during the 1960s. It's a kind of contrary "We don't need the state… we'll show 'em!" reaction.

*Quote* So called Christian countries have not been a good advertisement for Christianity *Unquote*

…True! But then sometimes (quite often, in fact) some Christian communities are not a good advertisement for Christianity! Being a bad advertisements seems to be part of the human predicament!

I think current evangelical diffidence for the Christian country concept is actually because we are finally shaking off the shackles of Christendom and getting to grips with what the true relationship between the church and state is supposed to be. We are also, slowly, starting to learn from the experience of believers in other parts of the world where the whole Christian nation thing has never been part of the equation.

OK, the Christian message of repentance, forgiveness, new life etc. is primarily about radical reform of the individual and Christianity, unlike Islam, doesn’t have chapter and verse mandating a takeover of civic life. But therein lies the rub: In having few detailed mandates Christianity, as in the early days of the church, is free to make it up as it goes along and adapt! (Within basic moral constraints one hopes). And so in Christianity’s drive to convert individuals there may come a point when the faithful walk the corridors of power and Christianity’s civic influence is strong (and this has happened on more than one occasion in history and I’m not just thinking of Constantine). Decisions then have to be made about how to use that power in society. Christians in these circumstances think a lot more confidently and positively about their relationship with the state than do marginalized and/or persecuted Christians; so positively in fact that they may feel justified in thinking of themselves as a “Christian nation” – a concept that in my opinion is neither mandated for or against by scripture. What you call “shackles” would be to them “opportunity”.

Well, as you’ve said Eddy, the advertisement sent out by these “Christian nations” hasn’t been a good one! But I can only repeat what I’ve already alluded to: Viz the sometime alternative of an anchorless, fragmented, fighting, squabbling, partisan Christian subculture is also not such a good advertisement either! So what’s to choose? Welcome to the Open Gospel!

Just a couple of thoughts. I’ve never said that Christians should not be involved in the political process – indeed, I’ve argued strongly for it. However, the point remains that when a country self-identifies as ‘Christian’ it disempowers the church in its work of mission within that country. Walls and LaTourette have written about this extensively as a historical phenomenon and post-christendom writers like Murray have also expanded on it.

I took a look at your ‘Open Gospel’ piece.

“The “Open Gospel” is a term I use to indicate that the common, defining, distinctive, and primary phenomenon of Christianity is not its patchwork of sometimes mutually hostile church subcultures but the underlying Gospel message, a message which, unbounded by cultural barriers, diffuses laissez-faire style through populations spawning a variety of church communities.”

This is a noble aim, but the problem is that the aim itself and the subsequent statement arise from a particular culture (the post-enlightenment West) and reflect its values.

Essentially, what you are aiming at here, is what Bevans describes as underlying the ‘translation model of mission’. a culture-free heart of Christianity which can be expressed in different ways in different places. I’ve written extensively on this in the past (from a mission perspective). However, I have to say that I’m less convinced by it as time goes on. I’m not sure that Christianity can ever (or should ever) be expressed in a culture neutral way. The fact of the incarnation roots Christianity in human language and culture.

Thanks very much for the reply Eddie

*Quote* However, the point remains that when a country self-identifies as ‘Christian’ it disempowers the church in its work of mission within that country. Walls and LaTourette have written…..etc” *Unquote*

Cogent point and probably true. As you’ve said Eddie, the advertisement ( = mission signals?) sent out by these “Christian nations” hasn’t been a good one. But whether proprietary, fragmented, marginalised and sometimes fanatical Christian partisanship offsets the flabbiness of a “nationalised faith” I find difficult to guess. With a “nationalised faith” we get quantity if not quality, but then I’m not so sure that proprietary/fragmented/sectarian/partisan Christianity boosts quality enough to sufficiently compensate.

My guess (or should that be my “hope”?) is that whatever the cultural vehicle of Christianity, whether “nationalised” or private one finds genuine Godly people dotted here and there at all levels. I really don’t want to buy the “restorationist” idea that large numbers of quality Christians did not exist between NT times and the reformation…or whatever “restoration” one identifies with.

“The Open Gospel”: This is not an aim. This is not prescriptive but a very general descriptive template of the patchwork of Christian sub-cultures across history that have arisen in response to mission signals; I certainly would not disagree with your feeling that it is impossible to express Christianity in a cultural vacuum; in fact it can’t be done given the nature of human cognition. Moreover, notice that I didn’t define the “Open Gospel”, but left it as a variable. This was done deliberately: The metaphors Christian use to express the Gospel is a function of culture.

You will have to excuse me as I have no knowledge of your discipline and I am hazarding an approach to it from an entirely different background. Whether that background will help throw light on the subject remains to be seen. I know this will sound strange but I almost accidentally stumbled into this mission studies caper as an unexpected consequence of a private attempt to simulate natural language on a computer. So yes, I’m very much a creature of the enlightenment and will probably remain so this side of eternity!

References material only:
How I fell unexpectedly into mission studies:
On the logical need for a cultural substrate:
I’ve attempted to tease out some humanly universal cultural motifs at the end this paper:

On the same that day I read your post, I came across this quote from Carson which resonates with all your seem to be saying. He’s talking about Mark 12 when Jesus is talking about paying taxes:
“The locus of the community is no longer a theocratic kingdom; it is now an assembly of churches from around the world, living under many ‘kings’ and ‘caesars,’ and offering worship to none of them. And that is why many Christians around the world trace the history of the non-establishment of a particular religion to this utterance of the Lord Jesus himself.”

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