Theonomy

My Debt to the Christian Reconstructionist Movement

My Debt to the Christian Reconstructionist Movement

I came to Reformed theology through a very different door. While many of my friends were coming to it through the mainline Reformational figures–R.C. Sproul, et al.–I came through the doors of Christian Reconstructionism. I had heard and read Gary North before I ever heard of the popular Calvinist names of John MacArthur and John Piper. The first Gary North article I read as a young college student was on six-day creationism. At the time I felt rather offended by the suggestion. There was a type of dogmatism in Gary’s words that left an impression on me. It was not just that six-day creationism was right, it was that it was needed for all of life. Looking back, I think I am today much more sympathetic to that claim than when I first read it. I now pastor a congregation whose denomination embraces six-day creationism. But it wasn’t that which drew my attention. It was the claim that the Christian faith needed a cohesive, all encompassing paradigm. I was used to separating matters. And the thing about matter is that it is composed of atoms. And atoms are happily atomized. Keeping things distant from each other helped create this divided theology. What hath creation to do with eschatology? I answer this question very differently today because of Christian Reconstructionism.

North was on to something. He still is today publishing vociferously. He is filled with youthful vigor as he writes 2-3 essays a day. The man truly redeems the time. It was through North that I heard about Christian Reconstructionism. A friend of mine from college had been engaged with that movement for some time, and so one day he came into my room and offered me his Christian Recons. collection of journals. I took them all. I still have a few today. Most of them are available on-line for free. CR (Christian Reconstructionism) opened a vast world. In it, there was rich Reformed theology. There was the sovereignty of God topic, usually summarized b y the TULIP, but in the CR world that sovereignty spoke to areas like economics, history, education, and more. I had previously been exposed to the sovereignty of God only over individual salvation. I fought that battle for a while, but eventually gave in. It was too persuasive. Thanks to Michael Horton’s Putting Amazing Back into Grace. a But then CR told me that the sovereignty of God needed to be even more prominent in my thinking. How prominent? As prominent as the world. It further taught me that Reformed is not enough. That is, you cannot simply live with your systematic theology tattooed all over your body (metaphorically speaking), but you needed it tattooed all over the world. The law of God needed to be more than a reminder of an objective standard, but a reality lived out by the nations.

In short, CR’s emphasis on the totality of Jesus for all of life consumed me. It still does to this day. Differences aside–and I do have concerns; concerns with how that theology is articulated and pastorally communicated within the vestiges of this movement–the CR movement opened the world to me. I had been isolated for a long time. My denominational loyalties kept me imprisoned to a narrow view of life that lacked beauty and didn’t translate into much tangible fruit. But with CR, I was always struck by how much a small movement had produced. The movement was not new per se. It came from a long line of thinkers. Calvin embraced some of it in his Deuteronomy Commentary–though at other places he seems to contradict himself; I do have a theory as to why–ask me–Bucer spoke unabashedly about theocratic principles, the Puritans thought that the Gospel needed to be far more than a heart declaration, but a declaration that needed to affect its environment in tangible ways.

As the years have passed, I’ve had the privilege to meet many of these modern Reconstructionists, though I never met R.J. Rushdoony. My admiration continues for many of their insights. And many of those insights seem to be even more relevant today as this nation continues to entangle itself morally, socially, and in other ways in a fashion that belittles its glorious Puritan heritage.

CR led me to where I am today. It taught me to see the world in a more wholistic fashion. It taught me to appreciate elements of this world that I never thought would interest me. Paul says we are to give honor where honor is due. As I get a bit older and reflect upon my last 15 years of theological engagement I become more grateful for those early influences. I am learning not to despise them, despite some differences. I am learning to appreciate their incredible hard work in doing, saying, writing, and speaking ideas that were and are so contrary to the current evangelical ethos.

With this in mind, I’d like to offer five Reconstructionist principles that have helped me to think more biblically and that have shaped me today. Many outside of the CR movement may share these same ideas, but they were and are very central to Reconstructionist ideals. And yes, I am aware that CRs differ on a host of issues.

First, I am indebted to the labors of James B. Jordan b who taught me to think about the world through new eyes. Jim has always emphasized a healthy biblicism. He argues that the reason so many in the evangelical world fail to understand the implications of the Bible is because they suffer from a flawed hermeneutic. They have atomized revelation because they have failed to see the thread that runs through all of Scriptures. JBJ says that God’s revelation is not a piece of literature, it is God’s word, which means that it is layered with great mysteries that only the wise can see. Jim argues for the lunacy of unbelief. The reason unbelievers cannot understand the Bible is because without the Bible they are profoundly insane. It’s not that they can’t understand truth nor that they are incapable of saying anything true, but rather that they are theologically insane, and hence incapable of coherently formulating or speaking harmoniously truthful about the world.

Second, I am indebted to Gary North’s principles of economics. Though he has written so much about capitalism and its implications in society, I am more interested in his economic focus for the Church. His writings on tithing and its implication for the Church have shaped my understanding of the centrality of the Church. North argued that the Church is the center of charity.

Third, I am indebted to Rushdoony’s powerful expositions on the nature of education and the necessity of a distinctly Christian understanding of the Lordship of Jesus over the training and nurturing of our children (Deut. 6). Rushdoony says that education is inescapably messianic. Your children are either being nurtured by the true Messiah or a false one.

Fourth, I am indebted to Greg Bahnsen’s powerful ways of communicating Van Til’s apologetic. Were it not for Bahnsen’s popularizing of Van Til, Van Til would have remained a figure at Westminter Seminary’s archives. I know that some have continued Van Til’s legacy without the help of CR, but what was unique about Bahnsen’s popularizing of Van Til was that he saw Van Til’s model of “no neutrality” applying to a host of issues, beyond the apologetics methodology debate.

Finally, I am indebted to Gary Demar’s American Vision ministries (I should add the late David Chilton). It was through Gary’s book, Last Days Madness, that I was awakened to the flaws of Dispensational theology and the richness of Preterism. Gary has dedicated much of his career to awakening the evangelical mind to an alternative eschatology. His words have not gone unheeded. Many have begun to question their understanding of Revelation, and adopting a more consistent biblical method for understanding that glorious book.

For these reasons, and I am certain many others could be mentioned, I am indebted to Christian Reconstructionism. Reformed Theology has been enriched by the contributions of these scholars.

 

  1. The irony here is that Horton is decidedly anti-Reconstructionist  (back)
  2. some of these figures like James Jordan are no longer a part of that movement, though he was a very influential figure in it in the early days  (back)
Why are Reconstructionists so mean?

Why are Reconstructionists so mean?

Someone posed a form of this question recently and I thought I offer a brief reply.

I find Reconstructionism in its basic expression very appealing. One of my dear friends was a leading figure in the Reconstructionist movement in Tyler, TX. So, I have a more intimate connection with that group. Part of what makes some Reconstructionists forget the “love” part of “speaking the truth in love” is their consistent dismissal of the institutional church. To them, the Church needs to carry a non-hierarchical nature–devoid of clergy; truly–as  I see it– an abusive application of the priesthood of all believers. When the book I edited on the Church was published I was accused by one man as a Baal worshipper because I argued for the centrality of the church. If church is simply when I meet with others, or my interactions on facebook, or meeting with some friends in coffee shop, or a Bible study in a home on Sunday morning, and if clergy is always defined as leaders of an ecclesiocracy, then I am left to operate as an ecclesiastical anarchist owing no allegiance to any man and speaking truth as I see it without concern for what others may think or how it is expressed. True postmillennialism is both ecclesiastical and catholic; deeply concerned for truth and deeply concerned about the tenderness of the theological enterprise (in omnibus caritas).

Eschatology, Poythress, and the Hallelujah Chorus

I hope to write in the next 18 months a short booklet on eschatology. I have written some papers in the past, but have not been able to provide a general outline, specifically of the postmillennial hope, and its contrast with other millennial positions.

Obviously, there are many wonderful works out there. From John Jefferson Davis to Keith Mathison, and the multitude of theonomic works from the 70’s and 80’s, namely, many of David Chilton’s work (especially his Revelation commentary).

At the same time, there still seems to be a dearth of introductory works at a more layman level. The typical parishioner who has sat under postmillennial preaching for years still finds himself confused by all the labels used. If he has not been immersed in a reformational vocabulary, he is bound to confuse categories and chronology. Naturally, they find themselves incapable of articulating why this optimistic vision contains a progression beginning in Genesis and flowing throughout the New Covenant writings.

Panel Discussion on Eschatology

I listened recently to a panel discussion on eschatology at ETS held some years ago. The postmil advocate (a conspicuous minority in that room) offered a helpful treatment of the chronology of I Corinthians 15:22-26. While helpful, that type of assessment needs to be incorporated into the broader corpus of the Scriptures. For instance, I find it unfathomable to begin a conversation on eschatology without considering the promise of Genesis 3:15 and the motif that is unfolded throughout the other books, namely Judges with its five-fold illustrations of head-crushing.

Poythress, a noble advocate of the Amillennial view, sees the postmil vision more adequately than most, but still does not see why the vision of the Puritans, for example, is a vision of a christianized society.  He argues, in this panel discussion, that if postmil advocates were to focus more on the Second Coming then he would have more in common with them. Well, there is no doubt we focus on the Second Coming, the final parousia, but history is a progression. We look to the coming of Christ at the end of history while not discounting the purposes of Christ throughout history and in history.

The famous Hallelujah chorus grasped this already-ness of the kingdom:

The kingdom of this world
Is become the kingdom of our Lord,
And of His Christ, and of His Christ;
And He shall reign for ever and ever,
For ever and ever, forever and ever,

King of kings, and Lord of lords,
King of kings, and Lord of lords,
And Lord of lords,
And He shall reign,
And He shall reign forever and ever,
King of kings, forever and ever,
And Lord of lords,
Hallelujah! Hallelujah!

We are in full agreement concerning the restoration of the world. And to quote Poythress, we are not waiting for the dissolving of the cosmos, but its restoration, while at the same time we need to believe and trust that the enthronement of King Jesus means the de-thronement of Christ’s enemies. If it is true that he must reign until all his enemies are under his feet, then this reign is quantitative, not just merely spiritualized.

The Gospel promises a discipled world (Mat. 20:18-20) and discipleship and baptism imply a qualitative and quantitative narrative of history. This tangibility of the Gospel vision is the hope of the consistent eschatology of the Scriptures.

The Death of Professor Francis Nigel Lee

The news came out today that F.N. Lee has passed away. According to Dr. Lee’s resource page, “in September 2011, Dr. Lee was diagnosed with incurable Motor Neurone Disease, alias Amytropic Lateral Sclerosis or Lou Gehrig’s disease. At 7.50 am Friday 23rd December, 2011, Nigel Lee was taken peacefully to his Lord.”

Dr. Lee was one of those rare scholars. Some have said that he is the most under-appreciated scholar of the 21st century. A committed  Calvinist and Post-Millennialist, Dr. Lee was responsible for opening the theonomic doors–together with R.J. Rushdoony– for me in the year 2000. In 2006 I wrote Dr. Lee the following:

Many of my theological discoveries in that field came due to your lectures on Post-Millenialialism. I am deeply grateful to your ministry. Recently, I have come across your articles on the website and have begun reading one of them a week.

He responded with great delight. I attempted to book him for a Trinity Talk episode. His response was short:

You seem to be in the USA. I am in Australia, and somewhat deaf!   So I don’t think a radio interview would be suitable.    07/01-09

Lee earned a remarkable number of degrees. A quick perusal will shock most readers. He kept up with a work ethic that I have not seen, except in Gary North and Peter Leithart.

I once asked him if Australia would be a good place to pursue a doctorate. His response again short and to the point:

No. Rather go to Germany. 09/27/06

Dr. Lee was remarkably interested in the role of the law in society. Concerning the Ten Commandments he once wrote:

Every one  of them is vital, in all ages. For only by observing them can man live a full life each week; maintain a happy marriage; and function well in his home, his  job, and even in the world internationally.

His artistic skills, his exegetical skills, and his comprehensive view of the world through the lens of God’s special revelation are part of the legacy of  Dr. Francis Nigel Lee. His e-mail signature most clearly summarized his view of the world: “God Triune, at the start, created the tri-universe (cf. Genesis 1:1-3).”

May your body rest in peace until the great resurrection.


Critics of Theonomy and the Eschatology of Victory

Theonomy from its early days in Tyler, TX has changed quite a bit. Did it win the day? In many ways it did. Ministries like American Vision, Vision Forum, Chalcedon, and a host of political and theological ministries were and are largely influenced by the dozens of books written by Gary North, David Chilton, James Jordan, and others. As an example, I recently saw Stephen Mansfield’s list of books that most influenced him. Rushdoony and Chilton were in that list. I could name many other modern thinkers who were influenced by the great Theonomic/Reconstructionist writers.

Over the years, the “movement” has spread all over the country. One critic of theonomy spoke gleefully of the demise of the Tyler group. In the critics’ words, “how could such a utopia continue if even the first leaders couldn’t keep it together.” What this critic fails to understand is that every powerful movement in history undergoes transitions; what we might call “little deaths.” The theonomic movement may no longer be in Tyler, TX, but it has re-emerged more powerfully, and in many ways, diversely throughout the country. They are in Hollywood, at the front of the Homeschool revolution, pioneering a Classical Christian School movement, and powerfully engaged in socio and political discussions.

We may criticize Constantine for not preserving a Christian theocracy in the early church, but how can we overlook the significant impact he would have in the future? Like every work–attempting to return to Biblical standards–we should always expect the future to bring new manifestations, which improve upon the previous. This is the way of Biblical revolution. Christians are called to an eschatology of victory; an eschatology grounded in progress.

The Reconstructionists are still alive…

… Sarah Posner thinks so.

Martin Bucer to Obama

“It would seem fitting to write for Your Majesty a little about the fuller acceptance and reestablishment of the Kingdom of Christ in your realm. Thus it may be better understood how salutary and necessary it is both for Your Majesty and all classes of men in his realm, thoughtfully, consistently, carefully, and tenaciously to work toward this goal, that Christ’s Kingdom may as fully as possible be accepted and hold sway over us.” (Bucer, De Regno Christi, 175-176)

{HT: Toby Sumpter}

The Betrayal of the Reformed Tradition by Andrew Sandlin

Note: My friend Daniel Ritchie quoted an extensive portion of an article written by Andrew Sandlin in 2001. The excerpt comes from an article Sandlin wrote for the National Reform Association. It is a strong repudiation of the dangerous ideas espoused by Michael Horton and others in an attempt to revise history and Lutheranize Calvinism.  Sandlin shatters Horton’s two-kingdoms theory and restores the Reformed view that God’s revelation applies to all areas of life.

In repudiating large portions of the Reformed tradition, and advocating a return to the Augustinian idea of “two kingdoms,” Horton is disposing of the entire notion of Christian civilization. He is undoubtedly aware that such a notion, though a prominent feature of the Reformed tradition, is a hard sell in an increasingly pluralistic world. It was, of course, no less a hard sell in the pre-Constantinian world. The unifying principle of that world was the Roman Empire. The unifying principle today is equally the state. This is a frequent combination in history: religious pluralism and statist monism–the state, not religion, is the unifying force in all of life. Or, rather, the state as religion is the unifying force in all of life.

To imply that the state is the sphere of reason while the church is the sphere of grace is to pose a duality of authoritative sources that the Bible and much of the Reformed tradition will never permit. These Lutheranizing Calvinists are, I repeat, abandoning hope in Christian civilization. This swerves not only from Byzantine and medieval Christianity, but also Reformed Christianity, and counters with the Lutheran paradigm. What we are witnessing in Horton’s essay, as well as in other recent Reformed writings, is the Lutheranization of the Reformed church.

Unlike the Reformed tradition, the Lutheran alternative has consistently maintained the “two-kingdoms” theory. The church is the realm of grace, and the state and the wider society is the realm of nature (“natural law”). This theory is ripe for murderous but shrewd tyrants like Adolph Hitler, who take advantage of the church’s withdrawal into the four walls of the institutional church and its willingness to be seduced by a state that can convince the church of the validity of a “natural” regime.

By contrast, few sectors of the church have stood as vigorously and courageously against political tyranny as the Reformed church, because the latter has refused to limit Christ’s authority to the church but has recognized that the magistrate too is bound to submit to the law of God in the Bible. Post-Reformational Calvinists strike fear into the hearts of political tyrants because these Calvinists refuse to limit biblical authority to the church.Two-kingdom advocates, on the other hand, are ripe pickings for these tyrants.

For the Reformed church to embrace the Lutheran “two-kingdom” theory is to surrender a critical distinctive of its faith and to compromise Jesus Christ’s authority in all dimensions of life. To argue that society, including the state, is permissibly non-Christian is necessarily to argue that it is permissibly anti-Christian. The issue is not whether each member of society must be a Christian, and certainly not whether the state should force anyone to become a Christian, ideas and practices which Calvinists abhor. Rather, the issue is whether we will continue to advocate and work for Christian civilization–biblical Christianity as the unifying principle of all of life–individual, family, church, science, arts, media, education, technology, and even the state. The founder of Westminster Seminary, J. Gresham Machen, loyally carried forward this Reformed tradition when he declared: “The Christian cannot be satisfied so long as any human activity is either opposed to Christianity or out of all connection with Christianity. Christianity must pervade not merely all nations, but also all of human thought.”

This is surely not what Horton wants, but to argue for anything less is to deny the sovereignty of God and betray the Reformed tradition.

Theonomy and Mormonism

I first came across the writings of the late Greg Bahnsen in 2002. Since then I have had a theological fascination with the application of Biblical ethics to all of society. God’s unchanging character, as Bahnsen asserted, meant that His laws were unchanging to all peoples and all nations. In the years that followed I became aware of the vast mis-representation of the theonomic view. The first failed attempt by Westminster Seminary in 1990 and the constant failures of Kline’s disciples to do away with the Reformed view of the law while embracing Lutheran distinctions quieted opponents of Biblical law for some time. However, since the death of Bahnsen and Rushdoony, theonomy has been consistently attacked. Reformed scholars seeking the approval of the masses have enjoyed mocking the writings of the dead (Bahnsen, Chilton, etc.) because it brings about an implicit applause from academia, which deplores the idea of an ethical system being built around God’s inerrant law-word. One wonders if these scholars would make the same voracious accusations if Bahnsen and Rushdoony were still alive.

One recent example of this is found in the Reformation 21 blog where Rodney Trotter ( a friend informs me this is Carl Trueman) seeking to find some humor in the true story of a Muslim who is married to 86 wives, prefaces the link to the story with the following observation:

Well, I always thought that having 85 wives was OK, but 86???? Come on, mate, that’s pushing the envelope too far! When does he ever get time to watch the footie??? And, no, he’s not a theonomist or a Mormon, he doesn’t live on the Utah/Arizona border, and he probably doesn’t lie awake at night worrying about the federal government putting mind-changing drugs into the water system.

I always enjoy the insightful commentary and links from Ref21, but the author of the blog far from making a humorous observation is actually making an explicit accusation and erroneous association between polygamy and theonomy. Further, he places Theonomy and Mormonism in the same line as if the two bore certain commonalities. I must inform the author that his association lacks class and only serves to perpetuate the pagan and in many situations the evangelical aversion to all things Old Testament. Perhaps this is the time to remind readers that theonomists are some of the most godly and wise parents, husbands, wives and children that I have ever met. This is not because of their inherent ability to be wise and godly, rather it is because they have sought to find true wisdom in God’s revelation in the Older Covenant. And further, theonomists see polygamy as an abomination in the eyes of God. So why on earth would any informed reformed brother use theonomy as an attempt to humor blog readers?

The Ceremonial Laws as Visual Aids to Modern Society

The Reformed community has debated the validity of Old Testament law in today’s society since the beginning of the Reformation. Many of the early Reformers (Calvin And Bucer) and the Puritan Reformers (Thomas Boston and Cotton Mather) believed strongly in the application of the law of God to their particular societies. Today, many of our contemporary evangelical leaders mock their forefathers for their commitment to Old Testament penology and regulations. Many in the Reformed community cite that theocratic Israel is a distinct body of people with a distinct law never to be mixed with the new law of this new age inaugurated by Christ. Fortunately, most recent serious scholarship do not make such strong distinctions. They acknowledge that God’s laws in the Older Covenant are inextricably linked to His unchanging character. Though this most recent scholarship would distinguish their analysis from the late Greg Bahnsen or R.J. Rushdoony, they are actually advocating a form of direct application of the ceremonial laws to our modern society. Whether they call these applications epochal adjustments or modified application, they are still finding the relevance of Old Testament law in New Covenant life. How direct may these applications be made is disputed; however, they do agree, that there is a general equity, an underlying principle, that needs to carry on into the New Covenant, in order to maintain the integrity and the continuity of Biblical revelation in all ages. Though the Reformed community and our Westminster Confession are in complete agreement that the ceremonial laws have been fulfilled in the ultimate and last sacrifice for our sins, the Lord Jesus, it is the underlying principle that needs to be revived even in our era for the sake of the world and for the sake of the Church. Both Drs. Bruce Waltke and Richard Pratt argue in this manner. In his Old Testament Theology Waltke writes that the ceremonial laws “such as abstaining from ‘unclean’ foods are ‘visual aids’ to instruct God’s people of all ages to be pure” (An Old Testament Theology, 14). The dietary laws were given so that Israel would maintain their separation from other nations. It is part of the theme of Leviticus, which is holiness. Though dietary laws no longer bind New Covenant Christians (Matthew 15:11; Acts 10:13-15), the principle of the Ceremonial laws is that God’s people are to be a set-apart people; consecrated only to their covenant Lord. Indeed if the history of our forefathers was given to us as examples (I Cor. 10:6) then why not see the ceremonial laws as examples of faith and purity (I Tim. 4:12)? After all, nothing was more central to Old Covenant life than to offer sweet aroma in the presence of God.