The United States of Heaven

Here is a great example of a common theological trend that conflates America with the kingdom of heaven, and blames it all on the church.

David A. Gundersen, an Assistant Professor of Biblical Counseling at Boyce College, the undergraduate school of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky, is Not Dreaming Of A White Christmas. Why not?

For too many years, says Gunderson, “pure whiteness has silently descended on our Western church families…For far too long, as America has diversified beautifully, Christmas in so many American churches has stayed far too white.”

A white Christmas is undesirable because diversity is beautiful, thus implying that any single color – white, and one presumes he would consistently say, black, brown, and yellow – is ugly or at least less charming. The idea of a white nation (and a black nation, or red nation) is not good. It must go. Why? For, the idea of a single ethnic nation is past. “For far too long,” says Gunderson. We cannot cling to the past. Diversity is the future. The wheels of time are turning and we must ride it or be crushed:

No one can deny that these United States are diversifying ethnically along with the rest of the West as globalizing trends draw the nations of the world into U.S. cities large and small. Business men and women, young professionals, reuniting family members, international students, refugees — the nations continue making their way to America.

The drawing of all the nations into one city. Remind you of anything? Nations making their way to one destination, which makes that place a Nation of nations. Ring a bell?:

And the city has no need of sun or moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day—and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. Revelation 21

A place where all the nations enter: America or the Church? A land where there is a unity of all the diversities: America or the Kingdom of God? And place where the lion and the lamb lay down, where the donkey and lion graze together: America or the New Jerusalem? It’s gates are open to the world: America or Paradise? If the Old Right thought the Church is America, the new evangelicals think America is the Church.

To appropriate a phrase, this is immanentizing the eschaton full throttle. There’s a fine line between saying the journey should look like the destination and saying the journey is the destination. The first was said by Jonathan Edwards. The second is being said by postmodern pluralists.

Like so many, Gunderson does not address the underlying reasons for why America is becoming more diverse, nor does he attempt to prove that diversity in this material world is a good thing. It is enough that heaven is diverse. The material world should be made to look like the spiritual world. Jesus was olive, so whiteness is bad. Jesus was a refugee, so we need not think about what mass migration in the midst of invasive regime-changing and globalist jihad contexts. Bono dreamily long for the time when all nations “bleed into one.” Imperial globalists found out that if you cut nations they do bleed into one. And militant Islamists found that when nations bleed into one they bleed more easily. Gunderson doesn’t want a white Christmas. Berlin has a red Christmas.

Perhaps, then, the surrounding society is not really a diverse unity as Gunderson thinks. Perhaps America – and the West – is a post-nation slowly fragmenting into many little nations, nationalities, ethnicities, and identities. Perhaps, in other words, the historical trend is not a world that is globalizing but a world that is rejecting globalization. And it is precisely where government law forces us that we seem united across diverse lines but it is where humans are free that we find them associating with their familiar groups. This is not a “white” phenomenon, as Gunderson laments. It is ubiquitous in every place and at every time. In their own nations, Mexicans meet in Mexican churches, Italians meet in Italian churches, Norwegians meet in Norwegian churches, and the Asians meet in Asian churches (Even that category is too broad as Asians get offended when they are not further categorized into their unique ethnicity.)

So, why is Gunderson focusing on American whites? Is it because he does not believe America is merely a nation but something more, something better, something ideal? Is it a proposition? A set of values, beliefs, eternal and universal Truths? Are we touching heaven again? The Old Right thought America was the Church. The New Evangelicals think the Church is America.

Further, he claims that:

…the church turns monocultural preferences into ecclesiastical principles…”

Really? Where does a church have written into their covenant or by-laws a mono-culture? Furthermore, where are those churches who have written into their ecclesiastical principles a multi-culture? Gunderson is boxing air. 

Gunderson says that the gospel will not go forth,

wherever white American Christians have few meaningful relationships with people of other ethnicities.

Does this also work for black people? Can we go into Nigeria or Mexico City and tell them that the gospel will not go forth there until the dominant color/race go find minority colors/races and have “meaningful relationships” with them?

So I’m dreaming of a day when no American Christian can see a Latino and wonder about their immigration status instead of their eternal soul, or see an African-American teenager with baggy pants and a hoodie and think danger levels instead of image-bearer, or see a Marlboro hat in a rural trailer park and think hillbilly instead of human dignity.

If it is this side of heaven, he is dreaming of a world that will never happen. A world without sin and without the need to calculate from the effects of sin. A world where people do not learn from experience, do not form patterns and make predictions, where there is no evil or ignorance or differences, where the lion and the lamb lay down together and where the donkey and bear graze the grass side by side. He’s dreaming of heaven. Only, he wants it here on earth. He wants America to be heaven and heaven to be America. More technically, he desires the historical church to be eschatological church. He demands now what is promised later.

Upon such a vision of the physical world, one is led to wonder whether Gunderson is a hardcore postmillennial. All the elements are there: uber optimism about this present material world, the spiritual breaking into the temporal, this earth right now being the new earth itself in reformation, the church’s task of translating nations into a one-world global unity. But even in that vision of the new heaven and new earth, of the new Jerusalem, the bible tells us that distinct nations still exist, for their kings bring their glory into this new earth and the tree of life is for the healing of the nations.

God created from one man all the nations that exist, determining their land boundaries and allotted times (Acts 17). He then set Jesus as ruler over them all, and Jesus calls his disciples to go disciple all the nations until they all enter into the new Jerusalem. Nations and ethnicities exist, as do their lands and borders – until and into the new earth. America is not it. It is merely one of the many nations. May we treat it as so.

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