By Kevin Brown
Nicholas Fuentes is many things. He’s a young, politically engaged person who seems to possess some kind of sincere religious faith. He frequently elevates Christian culture, advocates for faith in the public realm, and defends traditional Christian beliefs with evangelical zeal. He is, says a close acquaintance, a “genuine believer.” Fuentes is also a white nationalist.
Rising to popularity after attending the 2017 “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Fuentes is strident in his criticism of multiculturalism, which he enthusiastically predicts will be supplanted by a “tidal wave of white identity.”
The sentiment is repugnant. But when it comes to mixing faith with heterodox values (e.g., white nationalism)— Fuentes is hardly alone. This raises questions. Is he really a Christian? And are core evangelical beliefs enough to enter the pearly gates?
Such speculations raise concerns. Musing over another person’s core beliefs or eternal destiny is unfruitful—even dangerous.
There are, however, more theologically worthwhile questions to consider.
Would a Christian with white nationalist values even like Heaven? Is Heaven a reality they would want to be a part of? If God’s eternal realm is characterized by every tribe, every tongue, and every nation locking arms in a communal expression of worship—are we really to believe that this is an arrangement Fuentes, or others like him, would prefer?
Eternity is ‘Below the Neck’
I was raised with the understanding that faith and the heavenly destination it was aimed toward was a matter of what I believed with my mind and affirmed with my mouth. Put differently, my salvation was secured with the faculties above my neck.
Yet the theological inheritance of thinkers like St. Augustine, John Wesley, and C.S. Lewis provide an alternative manner of thinking about the Christian life against an eternal backdrop. For them, the center of gravity for the life of faith is kardia—one’s heart, appetite, or interior self. That is, we are desiring beings, and virtue, says Augustine, is ordo amoris or “ordered love.”
Loving what is lovely.
Desiring the truly desirable.
Pursuing that which is worthy of pursuit.
Worshipping what we were made to worship.
Certainly, belief matters. But it matters because of how it informs our loves. Contrary to the modern understanding of man as a thinking being (“I think, therefore I am”), our humanity is not constituted so much by our knowledge, but by our loves. To love, to desire, is human. It is, writes Samuel Taylor Coleridge, the “reflex of our earthly frame.”
But what do we love? And why does this matter?
Holiness and Eternity
Tyndale Seminary’s Victor Shepherd helpfully distinguishes between our “right” to eternity and our “fitness” for it. If, for example, someone purchases a ticket to attend a concert, this economic exchange gives them the right to sit in the concert hall and enjoy the music. However, asks Shepherd, what if they are tone deaf? If so, not only would they cease to appreciate the concert music, they would be bored, frustrated, or annoyed. That is, beyond the question of one’s right to be at the concert, is the question of their suitability for it.
Here’s the point. Justification is our right to eternity with God, but sanctification is what makes us fit for eternity. Christ’s atoning death may open the gate to Heaven, but our fitness for God’s eternal Kingdom relates to the heavenly sensibilities we are cultivating in the here and now.
This is reminiscent of C.S. Lewis’ famous work The Great Divorce. The book describes a bus that traverses the expanse between hell and heaven, where inhabitants of the former visit loved ones in the latter. But while Heaven’s doors are wide open for the visitors, most opt to return to the isolated, cold reality of the “grey town.” Why?
Because they prefer hell. They desired autonomy and self-righteousness. Their scorn for others, lust, and other disordered affections were not suited for a Heavenly reality. Though the invitation for Heaven is available to them, God ultimately obliges their preference to return to the dreary solitude they came from.
We often think of Heaven or Hell as a blessing we receive or a punishment we deserve. Seldom do we think of either as a destination we might prefer. For Lewis, hell encompasses our mis-guided and mis-applied inclinations, affections, and loves. That is, we will desire our way into eternity—but the nature of our eternity will be proportionate to the nature of our desires. In this way, for God to give us what we want may be his greatest gift—or his harshest judgment.
In his book “Notes from the Tilt-A-Whirl”—N.D. Wilson describes a casual dinner gathering where an atheist student, speaking to her Protestant professor dinner companion, bluntly raises the question or her eternal destiny.
“Do you think I’m going to hell?”
Equally blunt, the professor responds. “Don’t you want to? … God is who he is. Do you want to be with him?”
The question is equally relevant to us today. Eternity is not simply a matter of what we believe, it is also a matter of what we want.
“Who Has Not Found the Heaven Below”
Discussions of race and ethnicity, though difficult, are critical for the life of church. Issues of justice, equity, and rights for all who bear God’s image should be of significance for those who claim the moniker Christian. But as people of faith, our vocabulary for discussing these or related issues should mirror a broadened theological understanding between the desires we cultivate and our life of faith.
To paraphrase John Wesley, all have an open invitation to God’s great banquet table—but we don’t get to choose the guest list. If I cannot appreciate and embrace Christian brothers and sisters who are different than me in race, culture, and ethnicity—then I may not be suited for God’s dinner table.
This invites new, sometimes uncomfortable, questions.
What do we want? What is our desire? What do we aim or orient ourselves towards as ultimate? Do the longings of our hearts, today, make us suitable for Heaven? Would God’s eternity be familiar? Would we enjoy our neighbors at the great banquet? Do we believe in a Heavenly realm while, at the same time, disordered affections and inclinations make us fit for a different eternal reality?
As Emily Dickinson reminds us:
Who has not found the Heaven below,
Will fail of it above.
God’s residence is next to mine,
His furniture is love.
If our earthly pursuits fashion us for something other than a Heavenly reality below, what makes us think we will be fit for it above?
Kevin Brown is an Associate Professor of Business at Asbury University. His graduate background incorporates economics, philosophy, and theology—and his research seeks to explore the interplay between these fields.