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.