Political Economy of the Bible v. Christian Nationalism

On Thanksgiving Day, 1837, Robert Hamilton Bishop–Presbyterian minister and president of Miami University—addressed the gathered townspeople of Oxford, Ohio in the First Presbyterian Church. He took as his theme natural gifts in the form of bountiful harvests, the endurance of human society, and the natural blessings received by God since Eden. Although death entered the world at the Fall, Bishop saw meaningful natural continuity sustained by God even as death wreaked havoc on life within the created order. The way in which God sustained the natural order, Bishop argued, was not through delineation, but through multiplicity. He quoted Genesis: “God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, Be fruitful, and multiply and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” This timeless relationship between human dominion and human multiplicity he called the “political economy of the Bible.” [1]

Dominion, according to Bishop, ultimately prioritized generating a multiplicity of peoples, vegetation, and the natural bounty of the Earth, and not their delineation. Bishop proposed that “the simple, but extensive and permanent arrangement by which the continuance of all these and similar productions” was secured was through “generation after generation of vegetables, and of the lower animals, and of man,” each in their turn eventually passing away. “Cities, and castles, and towers, and palaces, and highways, and bridges, and other monuments of human greatness, which in the days of their splendor, were styled eternal, have for ages been in ruins.” Even nations and empires, “which counted their years of prosperity by the thousand, are known no more.” He told his listeners, many of them local businessmen, that “extensive and efficient plans and modes of doing business, and of applying human power, which for generations outlived the names of their authors and projectors, have become inefficient and are forgotten.” [2]

Bishop contrasted the impermanence of commerce, nations, and men with the “sun and the moon and the stars” which stood “in the same relation to one another, and have the same kinds of influence upon our atmosphere and upon our earth, at this hour that they had at the beginning–five thousand years ago.” The crops of 1837, he noted, “have been substantially the same all over the globe, that they were in the days of Adam, and of Moses, and of Julius Cæsar, and of our grandfathers.” No part of the natural order, “this extensive and efficient arrangement, has ever been out of order.” Because of nature’s permanence, Bishop said the Psalmist could sing: “Forever, O LORD, thy word is settled in heaven. Thy faithfulness is unto all generations: thou hast established the earth, and it abideth. They continue this day according to thine ordinances: for all are thy servants.”[3]

For Early Republic Protestants, nations and empires were routinely held up as innately impermanent and of secondary importance to the natural order. Interestingly, Bishop believed that a society that more closely followed biblical natural precepts would transcend to a considerable degree the functions of national government. Posmillennialism, at least in Bishop’s economy, was a distinctly post-national proposition. A righteous society was not only possible, it was inevitable. “My friends,” he declared, “you know that the Bible again and again announces in the most express terms, that a period shall arrive in the history of man on earth, when something like this shall be actually realized all over the globe.”

Debates over so-called Christian nationalism among Protestant and particularly Calvinist clerics and scholars in the Twenty-First Century have led to a reclamation of nationalism as not merely incidentally prudential to help maintain the natural order, but as a sort of positivistic and divinely ordained good. Older Protestants certainly maintained the ideals of dominion, hierarchy, multiplicity but did not seem to see nations as a necessary delineating feature of the divinely created natural order. Nations and empires passed away. Nature did not.[4]

[1] Robert Hamilton Bishop, The Political Economy of the Bible: A Sermon (Oxford, OH: R.H. Bishop, 1838), 6.

[2] Bishop, The Political Economy of the Bible, 7.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Bishop, 15-16.


Other Articles by

Join our Community
Subscribe to receive access to our members-only articles as well as 4 annual print publications.
Share This