What is a Nation? Why does it Matter?

Those interested in the Syrian refugee immigration situation, the role of civil government, and the Protestant concept of nations will be fascinated by this presentation by Dr. Vishal Mangalwadi of India. When Christian thinkers in the East labor to articulate what their nations should be and become, they force Westerners to look more objectively at their own views of God and the world than they otherwise would.

Dr. Mangalwadi was introduced to me by an Indian brother in ministry who loves to find original thinkers in his native culture. Mangalwadi is one such original thinker. Christianity Today has dubbed him “India’s foremost Christian Intellectual.” He has profoundly influenced Indian Christian thought over the last four decades as a Christian philosopher as a teacher and author of more than a dozen books. This disciple of Francis Schaeffer boldly asserts many unpopular truths in the public square. Some have said it is remarkable that he is still alive given his boldness to speak against Hinduism in South Asia.

In this video, Mangalwadi spoke last year to an audience assembled by the Asia Biblical Theological Seminary and Delhi Bible Fellowship in New Delhi, India.  In the first half of the lecture, he postulates that the Bible is the force that made modern India as he introduces his newest book The Book that Made Your World (see bullet points as an appendix below).  However, of greater interest to American Christians will be the second half of the lecture along with the question and answer time following the lecture.

After articulating how the Bible made modern India, Mangalwadi delves into the notion of nationhood. He identifies India’s historic lack of the concept of nationhood as one of its great problems. Again, he makes the case that the current Indian concept of a nation is derived from the Bible.

His thought-provoking discussion of a nation as a moral concept develops from the early chapters of Genesis. He traces the Protestant view of nationhood through the Peace of Westphalia (1648), and shows the application of it in Franklin D. Roosevelt’s challenge to Winston Churchill to see that Britain and its empire were not substantially different than Adolf Hitler’s advances. Mangalwadi addresses the differences between empires and nations, subjects and citizens, taxation, and a host of related themes.

For Americans, he saves the best for last with some jarring claims that should help us think about the nature of nations. Perhaps sometimes we so much embrace the fact that we are citizens of heaven that we fail to remember that Jesus has established nations on earth and that we have obligations in and to those nations. Mangalwadi makes the claim that evangelicalism capitulated to secular viewpoints and undermined the biblical and historically Protestant view of nations, especially through the influence of Fuller Theological Seminary and Billy Graham. The “new” view, according to Mangalwadi, reduced nations to ethnic people groups as opposed to the biblical and historically Protestant idea that a nation is a people, in a territory, and with a language. He adds that a great nation, then, is one that is in covenant with God.

If nothing else, listen to the last eight minutes of the lecture. Some of his strongest words are reserved for Billy Graham when he says in conclusion that part of the reason for America’s loss of Christianity is that: “Billy Graham cared for souls; he didn’t care for the nation. Therefore nation has every reason not to care for the gospel.”

Reformed Presbyterians will find Mangalwadi’s thoughts lacking an understanding of the reign of Christ. However, he is not far off. In another short video, he explains the failure of Christianity in America.

You will find Mangalwadi’s thoughts probing, and you will be refreshed to see how he is pressing others to think in India and beyond as he repeatedly urges his students to pick up these threads as possible Ph.D. material. No one will agree with everything Vishal Mangalwadi says. I certainly did not. But you will have your thinking stirred and you will find a lot of gold nuggets along the way to pick up and polish in your own thinking. So, take up and listen!

Appendix:  Why ardent Hindu Indian Prime Minister, Narendra Modi, is the greatest proof that the Bible created modern India (or highlights of the first half of the lecture):

  • Modi declares that good days are coming for India, which contradicts Hindu cosmology which is inherently fatalistic and denies that human beings can shape their own destiny. Mangalwadi says that Modi is drawing from a biblical cosmology as seen in the hope of Israel being led to a land flowing with milk and honey.
  • Modi revels in the fact that he is India’s “First Servant” – the literal meaning of Prime Minister. But this too is contrary to the Hindu caste system. The idea of leaders serving rather than being served flows not from Hindu thought, but from Jesus who washed his disciples’ feet.
  • Modi labors to clean up India from all of its garbage. Hindu pantheism draws no distinction between what is holy and what is profane. Mangalwadi reminds hearers that God called the nation of Israel to bury its waste in the ground because God is holy.
  • Finally, Modi employs the slogan “Make in India” to encourage entrepreneurship, labor, and productivity. Hindu theology is structured such that Brahmins, the Hindu leadership, would not work but would have others work for them. Mangalwadi shows that Modi is actually encouraging the Indian people to embrace the teaching of the Scripture which begins with God working and then calling his creatures to mirror his labor.