Patriotism Not Nationalism

I originally posted this on July 3, 2018. Given recent developments, I thought it was worth reposting now and I added a few recent thoughts at the end.

This past Sunday I tried to speak faithfully to the intersection of our love of our country and our love of God, putting emphasis on the dire importance of placing our love of God above everything else including our rightful love of country (despite its flaws, there is a lot to love.) Roger Olson comes at the same topic from a different viewpoint in a recent blog post.

Some highlights:

Patriotism is love for one’s country without blinders about its flaws and defects.  Patriotism seeks to actualize the highest and best ideals of one’s country which can sometimes look like disloyalty to nationalists.


Patriotism is honest about the country’s failures and urges leaders to push on toward better achievements of its founding ideals.  Nationalism rejects all criticism of country as almost (if not exactly) treason.


Patriotism regards America as a gift from God and thanks God for it, but it equates “America” with ideals such as freedom of religion, freedom of expression and equal justice for all.  It is realistic in knowing that government and society do not always live up to those ideals.  When patriots wave the flag they are fully aware that it symbolizes and represents wonderful ideals and not every decision and actions government makes.  When nationalists wave the flag they are using it as an idol to sanctify whatever America does.

and finally,

Patriotism looks to the future and hopes for and works toward the country’s achievement of its ideals.  Nationalism looks to the past and defends everything the country has ever done as necessarily good and right just because the country did it.  Thus, patriotism loves the country for what it can be; nationalism loves the country for what it has done–regardless of morality.  Nationalism exempts country from moral accountability; patriotism holds country morally accountable because it loves it.

Under these definitions, I am a patriot who agrees that nationalism inevitably slides into unfaithful idolatry.

A few additional thoughts in 2022.

  1. Since Christ is and will be Lord over all Earth, “Christian nationalism” is not only unavoidably unfaithful, but an inherent contradiction in terms.
  2. Patriotism includes things like paying your taxes, casting informed votes, and serving on juries. Nationalism includes things like storming the Capital building, threatening elected officials of both parties, and wounding and killing Capital police when you don’t like the results of an election.
  3. Christians must take great care to ensure their patriotism doesn’t slip into nationalism.

Olson, Roger E. “Remembering the Difference between Patriotism and Nationalism.”—Roger E. Olson: My Evangelical Arminium Theological Musings. July 01, 2018. Accessed July 3, 2018.