Reconstructionism

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The Institutes of Biblical Law, authored by R.S. Rushdoony in 1973, is considered the popularising work of Reconstructionism.

Reconstructionism is a theological tendency within Calvinism, initiated by Rousas John Rushdoony in the United States during the 1970s. Though the movement sees as a historical predecessor, the Puritan colonies of New England, especially Massachusetts Bay Colony. The central Reconstructionist concept is theonomy, the general application of moral and case laws derived from the Bible in family, church and civil government; essentially it calls for Christians to put their faith into action in all areas of life. Gary North and Greg Bahnsen are also prominent with the Chalcedon Foundation its most noted organisation.

Within Calvinism itself, the movement can be regarded as a continuation of the work of Cornelius van Til, who opposed Karl Barth on the basis that he had attempted to create a syncretic theology, utilising Kantian epistemology. The presuppositionalist apologetics of van Til argues that the basis of apologetics between Christians and non-Christians, is not one of neutrality, but rather the Bible reveals a self-authenticating world-view and pre-supposed truth. Reconstructionists advocate postmillennialism, in which they see the Golden Age occuring before the second coming of Jesus Christ.[1] Because of their belief in minarchy, they tend to be associated with conservative libertarianism.[2]

Contents

Origins

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The movement, in its modern form, was founded in the United States of America by Rousas John (R. J.) Rushdoony in the second half of the 20th century, though to an extent it had its beginnings in the colonial governments of early New England (especially that of the Massachusetts Bay colony). Other past and present Reconstructionist leaders include Gary North (Rushdoony's son-in-law), Howard Ahmanson, Jr., Greg Bahnsen, David Chilton, Gary DeMar, Kenneth Gentry, and Andrew Sandlin.

Reconstructionist perspective

The social structure advocated by Christian Reconstructionism would have the clergy, laity and government, individually and corporately, to be in ultimate submission to the moral principles of the Bible, including the Old Testament, while retaining their separate jurisdictional spheres of authority and roles in society as inferred from principles of biblical law, both Old and New Testaments. It is the claim of Christian Reconstructionism that even as under the Davidic administration of the Israelites, the Priests (Levitical line) and Kings (Davidic line) were distinguished by their scopes of authority (e.g., the King could not offer sacrifices for others and the Priests could not pass or enforce legislation) and their roles in society (e.g., the King maintained the social welfare and the Priests maintained personal welfare), so it should be in a modern Christian Reconstructionist society.

Theonomy

While many Christians believe that biblical law is a guide to morality and public ethics, when interpreted in faith, Reconstructionism is unique in advocating that civil law should be derived from and limited by biblical law. For example, they support the recriminalization of acts of abortion and homosexuality, but also oppose confiscatory taxation, conscription, and most aspects of the welfare state. Protection of property and life needs grounding in biblical law, according to Reconstructionism, or the state set free from the restraint of God's law will take what it wishes at a whim. Accordingly, Reconstructionists advocate biblically derived measures of restitution, a definite limit upon the powers of taxation, and a gold standard or equivalent fixed unit for currency.

Christian Reconstructionists describe their view of public ethics by the term, "Theonomy" (the Law of God governs); while their critics tend to label them "Theocratic" (God governs). The notable differences are that "theocracy" is usually thought of as totalitarian and involving no distinction between church and state, while Reconstructionists claim that "theonomy" is broadly libertarian and maintains a distinction of sphere of authority between family, church, and state.[3] For example, enforcement of moral sanctions under theonomy is done by family and church government, and sanctions for moral offenses is outside the authority of civil government (which is limited to criminal matters, courts and national defense). However, in some areas the application of theonomy could increase the authority of the civil government; prominent advocates of Christian Reconstructionism have written that according to their understanding, God's law approves of the death penalty not only for murder, but also for propagators of idolatry[4][5][6], active homosexuals[7], adulterers, practitioners of witchcraft, and blasphemers[8], and perhaps even recalcitrant youths[9] (see the List of capital crimes in the bible).

The founders of the movement have all been Calvinists, and they believe that their view of the law is a faithful extension of the Reformed Christian view of the continuing validity of Biblical Law in a modern context. This is sometimes bitterly contested in the conservative Reformed churches where their influence first began to appear. Some Reformed denominations have crafted official statements rejecting theonomy as a heresy, but others tolerate some forms of it on the grounds that as a Biblical theology it can appeal to historical and doctrinal precedent within the Puritan and Reformed tradition.

Postmillennialism

Christian Reconstructionism was originally formulated as a practical expression of Postmillennial Christian Eschatology, though the distinctive tenets of the school of thought (generally referred to as Theonomic Ethics) are purported to be compatible with other eschatological viewpoints within conservative Christianity. The "second generation" of theonomists includes some premillennial evangelical and fundamentalist movements.

Views on pluralism

Christian Reconstructionists make no pretense of subscribing to the pluralistic ideals of religious tolerance (derided as "Political Polytheism", by author Gary North, in a book of that name), because this would require them to accept a non-Biblical source of ethical standards. They envision a future in which opponents to Jesus Christ will eventually be relatively few in number and surrender the public square to his rule. In principle they are opposed to bringing this about through martial or political means. Adherents of the movement are opposed to any institutional combination of Church and State, as in Erastianism and Caesaropapism.

They do not view politics as their primary, or even an important, instrument of change. Nevertheless, in political terms the ideal toward which they aim might be called "denominational tolerance", or "tolerance within the bounds of Christianity": in the predominantly Christian world they envision, this is the only kind of tolerance that will be necessary. Therefore, they use the Bible, in contrast to political documents like the Constitution of the United States, as their pattern and guide for envisioning the future. They are more in line with the theonomic Christian Commonwealths, such as that of Colonial Massachusetts under John Cotton, Geneva under John Calvin, or the Netherlands under Abraham Kuyper, even though Kuyper was a pluralist who governed in coalition with the Roman Catholic political party and was opposed to the freemarket economics that theonomists think Biblical law requires. Christian Reconstructionists cite the eventual failure of the English Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell as evidence that only majority rule and consent can sustain a Theonomic Christian Commonwealth. They seek to pervade society from within, through the gradual spread and perfection of Christian belief and obedience; and they believe that this influence is ultimately inexorable, having no need for or benefit from top-down coercion of any kind, because it is carried out under the already established authority of Jesus Christ.

Christian Reconstructionist leader Gary North summarized his views this way:

"What I found is this: the concept of the rule of law was Mosaic, not Greek (Ex. 12:49). The concept of private property is supported in the Decalogue's laws against theft and covetousness. The Mosaic economic law as a whole was pro-market, pro-private ownership, pro-foreign trade, pro-money-lending (Deut. 28:12). The New Testament did not break with most of these laws, and the few that it did break with, such as slavery and the jubilee land law, made the resulting position even more market favorable. It is my goal in life to do what I can to persuade people to shrink the State. The messianic State is a crude imitation of a religion of redemption. It makes the State the healer and, ultimately, the savior of all mankind. This messianic religion is what the early church battled theologically and risked martyrdom to oppose. Christians refused to toss a pinch of incense onto the altar symbolizing the genius of the emperor. For that seemingly minor resistance to State power, they were thrown to the lions. Both sides knew the stakes of that contest. Christianity was a dagger pointed at the heart of the messianic State."("Authentic Libertarianism").

Cultural views

Reconstructionists seek an approach to culture and ethics that is ideally biblical. Unlike most Calvinists, they deny that non-Christians can be appealed to apart from scripture, to persuade them to adopt ideas that are approximately scriptural. They believe that where there is no faith in the Bible, there is no functional common-ground between people, because God is denied in whose image all people are made. This is one reason that politics is not a significant instrument of change in the Reconstructionist program, and the political involvement that they urge is explicitly Christian and biblical, not consensus-building.

Reconstructionists claim that biblical law requires equal treatment of all people regardless of their beliefs, and that it is inherently just toward all men. They argue that the social laws that might be established under biblical law would not regulate beliefs, but only actions, and more specifically, public actions (where public denotes a demonstrable corpus delicti or mens rea). It is not consistent with their goal of a severely limited role for the civil state, to seek out religious deviants. However, public actions, which are contrary to their understanding of general principles of the moral law (e.g., open hostility to God (blasphemy), propagation of idolatry, public homosexuality), would not be tolerated, because these are acts of public intolerance of God's rule and would be disruptive of the social structure. They see only two options inevitably opposed as totalities: the kingdom of God which subverts sin, against the totalitarian humanist state which subverts God's rule.

Reconstructionists claim to be continuing Reformed theology, especially in its Puritan form. There has been debate between Reconstructionists and their critics over the extent to which similar views were held by the authors of major Reformed standards, such as the Westminster Confession. A more recent precursor to Christian Reconstruction was businessman and Christian Reformed Church member Frederick Nymeyer who published the journal Progressive Calvinism (1955-1960) in which he advocated Biblical law and Austrian economics.

Influence on the Christian Right in general

Main article: Dominionism

Although relatively insignificant in terms of the number of self-described adherents, Christian Reconstructionism has played a role in promoting the trend toward explicitly Christian politics in the larger U.S. Christian Right.[10] This is the wider trend to which some critics refer, generally, as Dominionism. They also allegedly have influence disproportionate to their numbers among the advocates of the growth of the Christian homeschooling and other Christian education movements that seek independence from the direct oversight or support of the civil government. Because their numbers are so small compared to their influence, they are sometimes accused of being secretive and conspiratorial.[11][12][13][14] They deny this, noting they have published thousands of newsletters and hundreds of books.

Some influences on the Christian Right acknowledge looking to the New Testament to justify theocracy.reference required In Matthew 28:18, for example, Jesus is reported to have said, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. This verse is seen as an announcement by Jesus that he has assumed authority over all earthly authority. In that light, some theologians interpret the Great Commission as a command to exercise that authority in his name, bringing all things (including societies and cultures) into subjection under his commands. Rousas John Rushdoony, for example, interpreted the Great Commission as a republication of the "creation mandate" (The Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 729), referring to Genesis 1:28:

Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.

For Rushdoony, the idea of dominion implied a form of Christian theocracy or, more accurately, a theonomy. For example, he wrote that:

The purpose of Christ's coming was in terms of the creation mandate… The redeemed are called to the original purpose of man, to exercise dominion under God, to be covenant-keepers, and to fulfil "the righteousness of the law" (Rom. 8:4)… Man is summoned to create the society God requires.[15]

Elsewhere he wrote:

The man who is being progressively sanctified will inescapably sanctify his home, school, politics, economics, science, and all things else by understanding and interpreting all things in terms of the word of God and by bringing all things under the dominion of Christ the King.[16]

According to sociologist and professor of religion William Martin[1], author of With God on Our Side:

"It is difficult to assess the influence of Reconstructionist thought with any accuracy. Because it is so genuinely radical, most leaders of the Religious Right are careful to distance themselves from it. At the same time, it clearly holds some appeal for many of them. One undoubtedly spoke for others when he confessed, 'Though we hide their books under the bed, we read them just the same.' In addition, several key leaders have acknowledged an intellectual debt to the theonomists. Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy have endorsed Reconstructionist books. Rushdoony has appeared on Kennedy's television program and the 700 Club several times. Pat Robertson makes frequent use of 'dominion' language; his book, The Secret Kingdom, has often been cited for its theonomy elements; and pluralists were made uncomfortable when, during his presidential campaign, he said he 'would only bring Christians and Jews into the government,' as well as when he later wrote, 'There will never be world peace until God's house and God's people are given their rightful place of leadership at the top of the world.' And Jay Grimstead, who leads the Coalition on Revival, which brings Reconstructionists together with more mainstream evangelicals, has said, 'I don't call myself [a Reconstructionist],' but 'A lot of us are coming to realize that the Bible is God's standard of morality … in all points of history … and for all societies, Christian and non-Christian alike… It so happens that Rushdoony, Bahnsen, and North understood that sooner.' He added, 'There are a lot of us floating around in Christian leadership—James Kennedy is one of them—who don't go all the way with the theonomy thing, but who want to rebuild America based on the Bible.'"[17]

Variations

Christian Reconstruction broadly divided into two branches. One group, oriented to the ideas of R.J. Rushdoony and associated with the Chalcedon Foundation of California, maintained an emphasis on the role of the individual and family in their own self-discipline and interaction with culture, while the other, associated with Gary North and the Institute for Christian Economics (ICE) in Tyler, Texas began to emphasize a unique five-point covenant model, the institutional church, the clergy and sacraments. Some writers published by ICE went on to repudiate Christian Reconstruction. Of these Ray Sutton became a bishop in the Reformed Episcopal Church, and James B. Jordan and Peter Leithart, building on the anti-theonomic theology of Meredith Kline, developed a new theological movement known as Federal Vision theology.

A group adopting some aspects of Christian Reconstructionism has arisen recently, with a new racial reinterpretation of Christian Reconstructionism called Kinism ("kin" as in "family" or "race"). This new movement is neo-Confederate white separatism re-tooled using Reconstructionist rhetoric, and mixed with agrarian economic principles. Like the Reconstructionists, the Kinists claim to be indebted to Reformed apologist, Cornelius Van Til, who argued that the Bible contains a self-vindicating system of knowledge (Van Til 1969). However, they reject what they refer to as "Austrian economic principles", that is, the libertarian market economics advocated by the Reconstructionists, which is comparable to the free-market principles associated with Ludwig von Mises.

Critical views

Critics are skeptical of the pragmatic value and actual viability of the proposed Christian Reconstructionist social structure, claiming that an overly authoritarian civil society would be a very real threat if such a structure were to be adopted. They believe that Christian Reconstructionism would entail abandoning the historical interpretation of the principle of separation of church and state as promoted by Thomas Jefferson and James Madison. Critics also argue that Reconstructionism would in practice result in the domination of the church by the state (or vice versa), regardless of the stated goals of Reconstructionists.

Evangelical groups and individuals also worry about postmillennialist Dominion Theology. These include Gavin Finley and others in the free church tradition such as the Mennonites and the Amish.

Christian critics

Within their own Reformed and Christian circles, critics have been vocal. Some have raised the criticism that the use of biblical sanctions will accomplish more evil than good, even though the law is good, because people are not good. In line with an idea like this, Michael Horton of Westminster Seminary California has warned against the seductiveness of power-religion. The Christian rhetoric of the movement is weak, he argues, against the logic of its authoritarian and legalistic program, which will always drive Reconstructionism toward sub-Christian ideas about sin, and the perfectibility of human nature (such as to imagine that, if Christians are in power, they won't be inclined to do evil). On the contrary, Horton and others maintain, God's Law can, often has been, and will be put to evil uses by Christians and others, in the state, in churches, in the marketplace, and in families; and these crimes are aggravated, because to oppose a wrong committed through abuse of God's law, a critic must bear being labelled an enemy of God's law. [2]

Professor Meredith Kline, aspects of whose own theology have influenced the method of several Reconstructionist theologians, has adamantly maintained that Reconstructionism makes the mistake of failing to understand the special prophetic role of Biblical Israel, including the laws and sanctions, calling it "a delusive and grotesque perversion of the teachings of scripture." ("Comments on an Old-New Error," in The Westminster Theological Journal 41 (Fall 1978)).[3] Kline's student, Lee Irons, himself suspended from office in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church for his view of the Law, [4] furthers the critique in his essay, "The Reformed Theocrats - A Biblical Theological Response":

According to the Reformed theocrats apparently ... the only satisfactory goal is that America become a Christian nation.
Ironically ... it is the wholesale rejection (not revival) of theocratic principles that is desperately needed today if the church is to be faithful to the task of gospel witness entrusted to her in the present age ... It is only as the church ... puts aside the lust for worldly influence and power - that she will be a positive presence in society.[5]

Rodney Clapp, in a piece for the Evangelical magazine, Christianity Today (Vol. 31, No. 3 (February 20, 1987), pp. 17-23), entitled "Democracy as Heresy", wrote that Reconstructionism is an anti-democratic movement. This article was answered in a 1987 newsletter by Gary North titled "Honest Reporting as Heresy" (also published in Westminster's Confession, pp.317-341.)

Reconstructionist Dr. Greg Bahnsen writes in the Foreword to The Debate Over Christian Reconstruction by Gary DeMar (Atlanta, GA: American Vision Press, 1988), that Christian criticisms of Theonomy and Reconstructionism tend to be of such poor quality, that they discredit Christian scholarship as a whole:

It is difficult enough for us to gain a hearing in the unbelieving world because of its hostility to the Lord Jesus Christ and its preconception of the lowly intelligence of His followers. The difficulty is magnified many times over when believers offer public, obvious evidence of their inability to treat each other’s opinions with careful accuracy.

Hysteria

Main article, Jewish persecution of Christians.
File:Chip Berlet.png
Chip Berlet, former activist for the communist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha, has attacked the movement.

Reconstructionists have been persecuted by the Southern Poverty Law Center, a Jewish-dominated[18] lobby group, principally for their opposition to the homosexual agenda,[19] abortion, secular humanism and more.[20] They have also been attacked by Chip Berlet, previously an activist for the Chicago Area Friends of Albania group which defended the totalitarian-communist dictatorship of Enver Hoxha. Berlet attacked Reconstructionists as a "new form of clerical fascist politics".[21] TheocracyWatch, an organisation ran by deep ecology activist Joan Bokaer, also criticises Reconstructionism regularly.

Some critics categorize the Christian Reconstructionist movement as a form of totalitarianism or theocratic neofascism. For example, Karen Armstrong sees a potential for fascism in Christian Reconstructionism, and notes that the system of dominion envisaged by Christian Reconstructionist theologians R. J. Rushdoony and Gary North "is totalitarian. There is no room for any other view or policy, no democratic tolerance for rival parties, no individual freedom,".[22]

Relation to Dominionism

Some sociologists and critics refer to Reconstructionism as a type of "Dominionism". These critics claim the frequent use of the word, "dominion", by Reconstructionist writers, strongly associates the critical term, Dominionism, with this movement. As an ideological form of Dominionism, Reconstructionism is sometimes held up as the most typical form of Dominion Theology.[13][23][11][10][12][14]

The Protestant theologian Francis Schaeffer is linked with the movement by some critics, but some Reconstructionist thinkers are highly critical of Schaeffer's positions and he himself disavowed any connection or affiliation with Reconstructionism. Authors Sara Diamond and Fred Clarkson suggest that Schaeffer shared with Reconstructionism the tendency toward Dominionism.[11][12]

Christian Reconstructionists object to the "Dominionism" and the "Dominion Theology" labels, which they say misrepresent their views. Some separate Christian cultural and political movements object to being described with the label Dominionism, because in their mind the word implies attachment to Reconstructionism. In Reconstructionism the idea of godly dominion, subject to God, is contrasted with the autonomous dominion of mankind in rebellion against God.

Dominionism and Dominion Theology are pejorative terms that are applied by critics, and not adopted by a group to describe itself. The terms inherently lump unrelated groups together for guilt by association.

See also

References

  1. This has put them in conflict within Protestantism with the Zionist Dispensationalists who generally promote their own unique concept of premillennialism.
  2. Gary North and Gary DeMar, 1991, Christian Reconstructionism: What It Is, What It Isn't,
  3. Michael J. McVicar. "The Libertarian Theocrats: The Long, Strange History of R.J. Rushdoony and Christian Reconstructionism." Public Eye. Fall 2007 Vol. 22, No. 3.
  4. Rushdoony, R.J., The Institutes of Biblical Law, (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1973), pp. 38-39.
  5. Schwertley, Brian M., "Political Polytheism",
  6. An Interview with Greg L. Bahnsen
  7. DeMar, Gary, Ruler of the Nations. p. 212
  8. North, Gary, Unconditional Surrender: God's Program for Victory, p. 118
  9. Einwechter, William, "Stoning Disobedient Children?", The Christian Statesman, January-February 2003, Vol 146, No 1,
  10. 10.0 10.1 Martin, William. 1996. With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America. New York: Broadway Books.
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Diamond, Sara. 1995. Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States. New York: Guilford Press. ISBN 0-89862-864-4.
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 Clarkson, Frederick. 1997. Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage. ISBN 1-56751-088-4
  13. 13.0 13.1 Diamond, Sara. 1989. Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right. Boston: South End Press.
  14. 14.0 14.1 Berlet, Chip and Matthew N. Lyons. 2000. Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort. New York: Guilford Press.
  15. The Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 3-4.
  16. Foreword to Greg Bahnsen's Theonomy in Christian Ethics, 3rd edition, xii.
  17. Martin 1996:354
  18. Jew Watch (23 November 2010). "Southern Poverty Law Center". 
  19. Iowa Independent (23 November 2010). "Groups that helped oust Iowa judges earn ‘hate group’ designation". 
  20. Southern Poverty Law Center (Winter 2005). "Casting Stones". 
  21. Right-Wing Populism in America, p. 249
  22. Armstrong, Battle for God, pp. 361-362.
  23. Barron, Bruce. 1992. Heaven on Earth? The Social & Political Agendas of Dominion Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan. ISBN 0-310-53611-1.

External links

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