Christian Reconstruction and Its Blueprints For Dominion
by Greg Loren Durand
The influence of the Reconstruction movement, and its underlying ethical system known as Theonomy, is quite broad despite the admission of one of its founders that it is "a recently articulated philosophy,"(1) "unquestionably new," "a major break" with two thousand years of Church history, and a "theological revolution."(2) Even though Reconstructionists often claim Dutch Reformed theologian Cornelius Van Til as the forerunner of their movement,(3) the true "father" of Reconstructionism was the late Rousas John Rushdoony,(4) a former ordained minister of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church who published the "bible" of the movement — Institutes of Biblical Law — in 1973. About the same time, Greg L. Bahnsen wrote his Th.M. thesis entitled "The Theonomic Responsibility of the Civil Magistrate," which was later published as Theonomy in Christian Ethics. This work caused an uproar throughout the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, of which body Bahnsen was also an ordained minister.(5) Both Rushdoony and Bahnsen are now deceased, but their work is continued by The Chalcedon Foundation in Vallecito, California and The Southern California Center for Christian Studies in Placentia, California.
However, the most articulate and influential of the movement's spokesmen is Gary North, who "studied directly under Rushdoony,"(6) and has written nearly two dozen volumes over the last thirty years, some of which are well over 1,000 pages in length.(7) North did serious damage to his own credibility with his failed predictions that the "Y2K computer bug" would bring the world to a standstill in January of 2000, and he has only recently resurfaced with a carefully repackaged “biblical economics” on Lewellyn Rockwell’s libertarian daily commentary website.(8)
Other less visible notables in the Reconstruction camp are Kenneth L. Gentry, Gary DeMar, and the late David Chilton. Christian political conservatism (often referred to by its opponents as "The Religious Right") has become so infiltrated by Reconstructionism that the two have become almost synonymous terms of late. One of the most tenaciously held beliefs of Christian conservatives is that the United States was founded as a Christian nation and must therefore be restored to its biblical roots.(9) The Christian homeschool movement has also proven to be fertile soil for the growth of Reconstructionist ideas and Rushdoony is often credited as the "Moses" who led the exodus of Christian children out of the public school system. In fact, the Homeschool Legal Defense Association was founded in 1983 by Michael Farris, one of Rushdoony's followers, gaining over fifteen thousand members within the first seven years of its existence. Other organizations which have openly adopted or have at least been heavily influenced by Reconstructionism are Pat Robertson's 700 Club, his Christian Broadcasting Network and Regent College, Jay Sekulow's American Center for Law and Justice, Randall Terry's Operation Rescue, Howard Phillips' Constitution Party (formerly, the U.S. Taxpayers Party), and David Barton's Wallbuilders, Inc. Some organizations which formerly were associated with Reconstructionism, such as the Rutherford Institute, have now distanced themselves from the movement.(10)
The Reconstructionists are not content to be ignored and they certainly will not go away if the Christian Church does ignore them.(11) One thing that may be said in their praise: they are a zealous people. However, zeal is of no value if it is attached to a serious error (Romans 10:2), which charge it is the purpose of the present work to prove. Given the voluminous literature that has been produced by the leading Reconstructionists over the last thirty years, it will not be possible to respond to everything they have written. Though this book is not intended as an exhaustive rebuttal of the movement,(12) it is hoped that it will prove to be a handy guide to those who lack the time and patience to wade through the endless verbiage produced by the Reconstructionists in order to learn what they really teach. One of the main complaints of the Reconstructionists has been that their critics have not really understood their position and have therefore merely attacked "strawmen" rather than offering legitimate objections.(13) The reader may be assured that this author, himself a former Reconstructionist, knows what the main pillars of the system are and what arguments are relied upon to uphold the structure. May the Lord see fit to use what is presented in the following pages to awaken the Reformed community to the errors of Theonomy and Reconstructionism.
1. Gary North, Backward Christian Soldiers? (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984), page 267.
2. Gary North, Tools of Dominion (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991), page 7.
3. Gary North, Political Polytheism (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), page 162; Gary North, Theonomy: An Informed Response (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991), pages 16-17. Although his anti-natural law approach to apologetics laid the groundwork for Reconstructionism, Van Til himself disclaimed affiliation with the movement, writing, "Then too I am frankly a little concerned about the political views of Mr. Rushdoony and Mr. North and particularly if I am correctly informed about some of the views Gary North has with respect to the application of Old Testament principles to our day. My only point is that I would hope and expect that they would not claim that such views are inherent in the principles I hold" (letter to Gregg Singer, 11 May 1972; cited in North, Political Polytheism, page 133fn).
According to Van Til, "the natural [unregenerate] man is as blind as a mole with respect to natural things as well as with respect to spiritual things" (Introduction to Systematic Theology [Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1974], page 82), and "the natural man does not, on his principles, have any knowledge of the truth" (Common Grace and the Gospel [Phillipsburg, New Jersey: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1972], page 184). To a Van Tilian, therefore, there can be no such thing as natural revelation, natural religion, and natural law. In later chapters of this book, the reader will see how the application of Van Tilianism to the civil realm has led the Reconstructionists to insist upon revealed biblical law as the only legitimate source of the governmental authority, and why some of the movement's leaders have openly denounced the historic Reformed understanding of the role of the magistrate as "heretical nonsense."
For a good critique of Van Til's presuppositionalism, see "A Critique of Cornelius Van Til: Being a Defense of Traditional Evidential Christian Apologetics."
4. Gary DeMar and Peter Leithart, The Reduction of Christianity: A Biblical Response to Dave Hunt (Fort Worth, Texas: Dominion Press, 1988), page 184; Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr., essay: "A Tribute to the Father of Christian Reconstruction."
5. According to Gary North and Gary DeMar, "Turmoil began soon, when Bahnsen came under fire in the Southern California Presbytery of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, where he was seeking ordination. It took him two years to gain it, and some of the same elders who fought him then are still trying to undermine him today" (Christian Reconstruction: What It Is, What It Isn't [Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991], page xiii).
6. North, Political Polytheism, page 21.
7. North's magnum opus is his Tools of Dominion. In the introduction of this massive 1,287-page volume, North reveled in the fact that Tools is a "fat book" and compared it to Aurelius Augustine's City of God, John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion, William Blackstone's Commentaries on the Laws of England, and even to the Bible itself (North, Tools of Dominion, page 2). It is not long before the reader of North's works will discover that humility is not one of his long suits.
9. John Eidsmoe, Christianity and the Constitution: The Faith of Our Founding Fathers (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Book House, 1987); David Barton, The Myth of Separation: What is the Correct Relationship Between Church and State? (Aledo, Texas: WallBuilder Press, 1992; David Barton, Original Intent: The Courts, the Constitution, and Religion (Aledo, Texas: WallBuilder Press, 1997).
10. Rushdoony wrote the outline for Rutherford Institute founder John W. Whitehead's first book, The Separation Illusion: A Lawyer Examines the First Amendment (Fenton, Michigan: Mott Media, 1977), and served on the Institute's board of directors for several years (Fred Clarkson, Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy [Monroe, Maine: Common Courage Press, 1997], pages 92-93). In turn, Whitehead wrote the foreword to Gary DeMar's Ruler of the Nations (Fort Worth, Texas: Dominion Press, 1987) and gave honorable mention to Rushdoony several times in his book, The Second American Revolution (Elgin, Illinois: David C. Cook Publishing Company, 1982).
11. Gary North wrote, "Our critics... wish that theonomists would go away and leave them in their ethical slumber. We won't. That is what the 1980's demonstrated: theonomists will not go away. We will not shut up. Our critics can ignore us no longer and still remain intellectually respectable. We have written too much, and we continue to write" (Tools of Dominion, page 12).
12. Greg Bahnsen once attempted to deny that Reconstructionism is a movement:
I don't consider Christian Reconstruction a "movement," but rather a
school of thought. Christian Reconstruction includes people from a number of denominations and traditions. It has no central authority, or chain of command, or any other sociological marks of a "movement." But it does have fundamental theological distinctives: the authority of scripture, with a presuppositional approach to apologetics, the idea of moral absolutes where all the Bible is ethically relevant, and an optimistic view of redemptive history. In short, while it is not a movement, Christian Reconstruction is a distinctive and
challenging school of thought (Contra Mundum, Winter 1992).
DeMar and Leithart also made the same attempt in The Reduction of Christianity (pages 30-31). However, the majority of Reconstructionist writers have not had any qualms about identifying it as a "movement." For example, in his book, Backwards Christian Soldiers?, Gary North wrote, "The battle for the mind is between the Christian reconstruction movement, which alone among Protestant groups takes seriously the law of God, and everyone else" (pages 65-66). On the back cover of the above book, North was identified by his own publishing company as "the economist of the Christian Reconstruction Movement." In Tools of Dominion, North stated that "the Christian Reconstruction movement does represent a major break with recent church history" (page 7). In Political Polytheism, he admitted that Reconstructionism is a "new movement" which has created "new terms" and has "redefin[ed] old terms" in order to "lay additional foundations for a theological paradigm shift which has already begun" (page 52). In the same book, he stated that Cornelius Van Til's apologetic method "launched the Christian Reconstruction movement" (page 162), and he referred to the 1980s as "a watershed period for the Christian Reconstruction movement...." (page 214). In the book description for Christian Reconstruction What It Is, What It Isn't (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991), which North co-authored with Gary DeMar, he wrote, "Christian Reconstruction is a theological system, a movement of independent activists, and a cultural ideal." In an August 1995 letter to I.C.E. subscribers, North gave tips on how "to become part of the Christian Reconstruction movement." Thus, not only has North consistently classified Reconstructionism as a movement, but throughout his writings, he has also identified himself and Rushdoony as its founders and Rushdoony's Institutes of Biblical Law as its foundational text.
The official periodical of Rushdoony's Chalcedon Foundation has also never been shy about identifying Reconstructionism as a movement (The Chalcedon Report, April 1997) and the Institute for First Amendment Studies identifies the organization as "the origin and principal center of the Christian Reconstruction movement." DeMar and Leithart, who, as mentioned above, attempted to deny that Reconstructionism constitutes a movement at one point in Reduction of Christianity, later contradicted themselves in the same book by writing, "Anyone who reads published criticisms of the Christian Reconstruction position should carefully examine these criticisms to see whether the particular critic offers evidence that he or she has read the basic literature of the movement and has quoted from large sections of it, word for word" (page 362).
Thus, Reconstructionism may legitimately be labeled a "movement," despite Bahnsen's attempt to deny the obvious. While it is true that there was never a "chain of command," there has nevertheless always been a "central authority" and a "leadership" — the writings of Rushdoony, North, Bahnsen, et. al.
13. Maphet wrote, "The one thing that stands out in the approach many have taken in confronting the issue of theonomy is this: instead of going to primary sources... the critics have relied solely on secondary sources.... This seems to be endemic with the modern-day opponents of theonomy. With this approach the theonomist will never get a fair hearing" ("A Pastor's Response," page 298). In their book, The Reduction of Christianity, DeMar and Leithart agreed:
The amount of Christian Reconstruction literature is large and growing rapidly. It will continue to grow. Anyone who reads published criticisms of the Christian Reconstruction position should carefully examine these criticisms to see whether the particular critic offers evidence that he or she has read the basic literature of the movement and has quoted from large sections of it, word for word. Has the critic provided accurate footnotes to Reconstructionism's books, articles, and newsletters? If not, then the reader should be initially skeptical of the critic's accusations. Perhaps the critic has not really mastered the literature that is being criticized. Perhaps it is a case of bearing false witness. Critics are responsible for doing their homework carefully; they should not rush into print with a lot of wild and unsubstantiated accusations. Their books should offer evidence that they have done their homework (page 362).