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The Reconstructionist

By Rodeny Clapp

THE RECONSTRUCTIONIST
"A TFC Booklet"

“The Goal of Our Instruction...”


“... the end of the commandment, is Love ...
from a pure heart, a good conscience,
and a faith unfeigned.”
1 Timothy 1:5

Our Purpose...
To humble the pride of man in the fear of the Lord,
to exalt the grace of God in salvation,
and to promote true holiness in the heart,
through life, and by lip.
Revelation 12:11

The Reconstructionist

In the early 1960s, a small cadre of American Christians began calling for a
second Reconstruction, one even more radical than the post-Civil War renovation
of Southern society. Their white-bearded patriarch, Rousas John Rushdoony,
found very few listeners then. But today, Rushdoony and his compatriots are
regular guests on religious television shows, hobnob with Pat Robertson, testify in
dozens of church-state education trials, and claim burgeoning numbers of
adherents in the charismatic wing of evangelicalism. Newsweek has labeled
Rushdoony’s Chalcedon Foundation as “the think tank of the Religious Right.”
In recent years, for the first time, major Christian presses have released
Reconstructionist literature. Crossway Books (a conservative Christian publisher)
and Dominion Press (a Reconstructionist publisher) together distributed the work
of some of the leading Reconstructionists— including Gary North’s Conspiracy.
Thomas Nelson co-published (also with Dominion) four titles in the Biblical
Blueprint Series, which are edited by Gary North. These books were endorsed by
Jerry Falwell as “a tool Christians need” for the difficulties that confront society.
Conservative Christian authors have been influenced by Reconstructionism as
well. Reconstructionists have claimed that the late Francis Schaeffer’s A Christian
Manifesto relied on Rushdoony’s social analysis. The younger Schaeffer, Franky
V, freely cited Rushdoony in one of his early books, and listed the Chalcedon
Report as one of four periodicals all concerned Christians should read. And the
prominent conservative attorney and author John Whitehead has called
Rushdoony one of two major influences on his thought.
More startling than the degree of influence, however, is what Reconstructionists
actually propose for society: the abolition of democracy and reinstitution of
slavery, for starters. But as radical as some of their views may be, the
Reconstructionists cannot simply be ignored. Theologian and social critic Richard
John Neuhaus correctly observes that Reconstruction has moved from “eccentric
marginality to a position of some influence.” And it could, he continues, “become
the dominant system of thought in the religious right. Such a development would
have inestimable consequences for the relationship between religion and
American public life.”
What Reconstruction Is
There are clearly sensational elements to Reconstruction. Yet it is a serious
attempt to provide intellectuals and activists a “biblical” alternative for cultural
reform. Although the major Reconstructionist thinkers differ on the details,
attention must be paid to the three foundational points underlying all
Reconstructionist thought: presuppositional apologetics, theonomy, (literally,
“God’s law”) and postmillennialism.

Presuppositional apologetics. Reconstructionists look to the late Westminster


Theological Seminary professor Cornelius Van Til for their philosophy of truth
and reality. Van Til, who is said to be opposed to the Reconstruction agenda, is
nonetheless intensely admired by his disciples. They consider his theological
contribution one of “Copernican dimensions,” call his thought “life-transforming
and world-transforming” and compare his intellect to Einstein’s.
In Van Til’s view, a person’s faith in ultimate truth is not something subject to
historical or scientific investigation.1 We can only approach reality with a
presupposed understanding of the wide sweep of truth. What makes all the
difference is the presupposition adopted. Christians, of course, turn to the Bible.
Rushdoony displays his typical reliance on presuppositional apologetics in public
lectures, saying that without the Bible and God’s law there is no mathematics,
science, or law and order. He contends it is blasphemous to try to prove there is a
God or that the Bible is true. Although isolated facts may be observed by any
person, Christian or not, such facts are finally confusing outside a biblical
framework. “Without the Bible,” Rushdoony insists, “every fact from atoms to
man is unrelated to all others.” Apart from the Bible, there is “no knowledge at all
—only chance and universal death.”
Theonomy. Theologians as diverse as Helmut Thielicke and Paul Tillich have said
Christians should be theonomic—that is, live by God’s law. Yet these theologians
did not define God’s universal law as strictly and exactly as that revealed to
ancient Israel. Reconstructionists do define God’s law strictly, taking cues from
certain strands of New England Puritanism.
In his magisterial, 619-page explication of Reconstructionist theonomy,
Theonomy in Christian Ethics, Greg Bahnsen argues that Old Testament Law
applies today in “exhaustive” and “minutial” detail. “Every single stroke of the
law must be seen by the Christian as applicable to this very age between the
advents of Christ.”
Generally, Christians understand law as a compatible servant of the gospel and
look for the enduringly valid, underlying moral purposes of Old Testament Law.
But Reconstructionists take this several steps further. While they believe Christ’s
coming altered ceremonial law, ending the need for animal sacrifice, they do not
see ancient Israel as a unique theocratic state. It is a “blueprint” for the theocracy
all nations should be. And that leads to the most controversial feature of
Reconstruction.
Rushdoony, Bahnsen, and their peers anticipate a day when Christians will
govern, using the Old Testament as their lawbook. True to the letter of Old
Testament Law, homosexuals, incorrigible children, adulterers, blasphemers,
astrologers, and others will be executed.
Postmillennialism. Only a little less controversial is the Reconstructionist
eschatology, or view of the end times. Reconstructionists believe the church will
triumph and claim the “crown rights” of Jesus Christ before the Second Coming.
This optimistic eschatology, common to evangelicalism up through much of the
nineteenth century, was widely discredited by the horrors of two world wars. Yet
the Reconstructionists remain undaunted. In a telephone interview, Rushdoony
said: “I hold to postmillennialism not because I look at the world, but because I
look at the Bible. And the Bible tells me all things shall be put under Christ’s feet
before the end.” Reconstructionists are the eschatological equivalents of
geologists: human lifetimes are nearly insignificant periods of time in their
schema. The long-term perspective is what matters—200, 500, 2000 years. There
are periods of decline and growth, but in the final analysis, the church is winning
over the world, just as a glacier ultimately crawls forward. In fact, Bahnsen
believes the church is still in its infancy.
Postmillennialism is important on the practical level because it emboldens its
proponents. If they were to use premillenialist D. L. Moody’s analogy of the
world as a sinking ship from which souls should be rescued, the
Reconstructionists would want to commandeer the ship, repair it, and sail it
toward their own destination.

The Mover Behind Reconstruction


The understanding of any religious or political movement is helped by knowing
something about the people who created it. As already mentioned, the real pioneer
for Reconstructionists is R. J. Rushdoony, who insists his model of Christian
Reconstruction is strictly biblical. But he also allows that his Armenian family
background may have something to do with the way he understands the Bible.
Rushdoony was born in New York City in 1916, not long after parents Yeghiazar
and Rose arrived in the United States. For nearly 2,000 years prior to their
immigration, the Rushdoony family lived on a mountain adjoining the biblical
Ararat. R. J. proudly relates that in the Rushdoony line there is an unbroken
succession of fathers and sons or nephews who were pastors from the early fourth
century until the present. The present-day father of Christian Reconstruction thus
comes from a highly religious family living in a distinctly religious country.
About A. D. 300, Armenia became the first nation to accept Christianity as the
state religion. A century and a half later, the Armenian church was separated from
the Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox churches by virtue of its refusal to
accept the Chalcedon Creed.
When Protestant (mostly Calvinist) missionaries arrived in Armenia in the
nineteenth century, the nature or natures of Christ became the subject of
passionate debate. The official Armenian church taught that Christ had one
wholly divine nature; the Calvinists, having accepted the Chalcedon Creed as
essential to orthodox Christianity, taught that He had two—human and divine.
This was a major difference between fledgling Armenian Protestantism and the
old Armenian church. The Rushdoony family became a part of the Armenian-
Protestant minority which naturally (given its context) viewed the Chalcedon
formula as the keystone of genuine Christianity.
Accordingly, Reconstruction has emphasized the importance of the creed. The
inside back cover of the Journal of Christian Reconstruction explains that the
Chalcedon definition “challenges directly every false claim of divinity by any
human institution: state, church, cult, school, or human assembly. Christ alone is
both God and man, the unique link between heaven and earth.” The Chalcedon
creed is seen as the “foundation of Western liberty” since, in the Reconstructionist
interpretation, it places all human institutions under the direct mandates of explicit
Christian revelation.
The influence of Rushdoony’s Armenian heritage goes further. During an
interview, he noted that in Armenia:

The whole of Scripture was taken very seriously, very literally. To this day in
Soviet Armenia, even the Old Testament sacrifices are observed in a Christian
form. The animal that is going to be butchered, a lamb or a calf, is taken to a
stone near the church door. It is there placed on the stone, hands are laid upon it,
and then follows a centuries-old prayer, the gist of which is, “Lord, I know that it
is not the blood of bulls nor of goats, but the blood of Jesus Christ which cleanses
us from sin. I therefore shed this blood remembering the shed blood of Jesus
Christ.” Then the animal is killed. The priest’s portion is given to the pastor, and
the man returns home with the rest.

What Reconstruction Would Do

Similar to Rushdoony’s Armenian ancestors, Reconstructionists believe the


detailed laws of the Old Testament are not at all obsolete. Accordingly, they have
attempted to design their political, economic, and legal agendas by relying solely
on the details of Old Testament law (with New Testament modifications; they are,
for instance, not polygamists).
Politically, in Rushdoony’s terms, the Reconstructionists are “Christian
libertarians.” As Rushdoony writes in The Institutes of Biblical Law, “the state is
limited to a ministry of justice, and free enterprise and individual initiative are
given the freedom to develop.”
In the Reconstructed society, there will be no federal government. Nor will there
be a democracy, which Reconstructionists regard as a “heresy.” Rushdoony is
opposed to pluralism since “in the name of toleration, the believer is asked to
associate on a common level of total acceptance with the atheist, the pervert, the
criminal, and the adherents of other religions.”2 In a Reconstructed society,
government will be republican, with the Bible as the charter and constitutional
document.
Government will occur at the state and local level, and society will center on
families. The family will be ordered in a patriarchal fashion. Rushdoony’s
Institutes approvingly cite a theologian’s judgment that women cannot claim
“priority or even equality” with men. (Rushdoony is suspicious of any blurring of
sexual distinctions, insisting “there is no evidence to support the usual portrayal
of Christ and the apostles as long-haired men.”)
Parents will be responsible for the education of their children. Public, or
“government,” education is thought to rob the family of the right to shape its
children by biblical beliefs. It thereby “emasculates” men, detracting from their
leadership of the family and rendering “women either fluffy luxuries for men or
aggressive competitors to men.”3
Economically, the Reconstructed society will return to a gold or silver standard.
Reconstructionist David Chilton voices the theonomic view on this matter, citing
Leviticus 19:35-37 and saying that “‘hard money’ is a strict limitation on
government’s ability to grow beyond biblical boundaries.” Money not based on a
set standard is “counterfeit,” and the inflation resulting from manufacture of
currency is “theft.”4
Nations that do not follow these and other biblical “blueprints” will deservedly
suffer economically. Writes Gary North: “The so-called underdeveloped societies
are underdeveloped because they are socialist, demonist, and cursed … The Bible
tells us that the citizens of the Third World ought to feel guilty, to fall on their
knees, and repent of their godless, rebellious, socialist ways. They should feel
guilty because they are guilty, both individually and corporately.”
Reconstructionists also grapple with the Old Testament laws condemning usury.
Rushdoony believes interest should be permissible on commercial lending, but
with only short-term loans allowed. The Chalcedon Foundation’s Journal of
Christian Reconstruction argues in one edition that a thirty-year mortgage on a
home is an unbiblical practice (citing Deuteronomy 15) and suggested that debts
be limited to six years.
The Reconstructed society will reinstitute a “biblical” form of slavery (not chattel
slavery) to allow impoverished persons to labor away their indebtedness, or
criminals to make restitution for damages. Arguing that “even Southern slavery
was not as unbiblical as many have charged,” Chilton says the slave should be
cared for, educated in civic responsibility, and (if Christian) freed after set periods
of time. With such boons as “job security,” slavery is to be regarded as among
“the most beneficent” of biblical laws.5
The Reconstructed society will have no property tax, since such taxes supposedly
imply that the state, not God, owns the Earth. Tithing will substitute for income
tax, and “tithe agencies” will take over the services currently provided by the
welfare state. Such Old Testament practices as gleaning will also assist the poor.
In a telephone interview, Rushdoony was happy to note that “gleaning is now
reviving in some parts of California.” He reported, “A large tonnage of apples is
gleaned in northern California by elderly people, the fruit sold, and proceeds used
for those who are not able to work in the fields.”
Legally, the Reconstructed society will form and administer law directly from the
Old Testament. As Bahnsen writes in Theonomy in Christian Ethics, “the
follower of Christ should teach that the civil magistrate is yet under moral
obligation to enforce the law of God in its social aspect.” The inscripturated law
must be held in the highest regard because it is “the transcript of God’s eternal
holiness and the permanent standard for human righteousness.”6
Bahnsen lists fifteen crimes that deserve capital punishment in the Reconstructed
society. These include not only murder and rape, but sodomy, Sabbath breaking,
apostasy, witchcraft, blasphemy, and incorrigibility in children. Following the list
he writes, “Christians do well at this point to adjust their attitudes so as to
coincide with those of their Heavenly Father.”7 In a telephone interview, Bahnsen
protested that the Reconstructionist view on capital crimes is often misconstrued.
Incorrigible children, for instance, are not impetuous five-year-olds who refuse to
go to bed on time. “The Law deals with someone who is drunken and a glutton,
the 18-year-old who repeatedly gets drunk and beats up his mother and father,”
Bahnsen said. And those to be executed for homosexual practice must be engaged
in “outward acts” with at least two witnesses. (The two witnesses might be two
lines of confirmatory evidence and not literal observers.)
The Reconstructed society will have no prisons. The modern prison system, in
Rushdoony’s estimation, is “an important aspect of the defilement of our times.”
Under biblical law, “men either died as criminals or made restitution.”8 Career
criminals will be executed and occasional lawbreakers will pay for the damages of
their actions, possibly as slaves.
How do Reconstructionists believe such bold political, economic, and legal
changes will occur? They disavow violent revolution.
Rushdoony said that Christians will take over gradually, sphere by sphere:
education, the arts, communication, law, and so on. “Too many churchmen have
no sense of time, no sense of history,” he said. “They expect everything to be
accomplished overnight.”
Bahnsen expects gradual change as well, suggesting his children and probably his
grandchildren will not see the Reconstructed society. He too is impatient with
critics or sympathizers who believe Reconstruction will be sudden, downplaying
the harsher effects of implementing Levitical law by saying nearly everyone will
be a Reconstructionist Christian by the time it is put into effect. He denies the
possibility that “blood will run in the streets of San Francisco tomorrow.”
Reconstructionist Joseph Kickasola, now teaching at Regent University, wrote in
the Journal of Christian Reconstruction, “We do not believe in revolution or in
massive and rapid social change. What is important is bottom-up-ism, grass-roots
—transforming moral and spiritual change. This will require the salvation of souls
and world mission, as well as legislative reform, for we cannot allow our social
base and religious liberty to deteriorate in the meantime.”

Reconstruction’s Influences

Armed with a comprehensive strategy for the betterment of the Republic,


Reconstructionists are having an effect in several areas. Their distaste for “statist”
schools is shared by fundamentalist private- and home-schoolers. Rushdoony—
frequently in court as an expert witness on behalf of church-affiliated schools—
has become especially well known in their circles. Anti-income tax organizations
such as the New York Patriots also appreciate Reconstruction’s “Christian
libertarianism,” and reprint articles by Rushdoony and associate Otto Scott in
their newsletters.
Ecclesiastically, the Reconstructionists have some appeal with independent
Baptist churches, and more appeal within small denominations with
fundamentalist and Reformed roots. The Presbyterian Church in America saw
enough fuss over Reconstruction that it issued a statement on the subject in 1978.
While not endorsing it, the general assembly then decided the Reconstructionist
position was not heretical.
The most significant ecclesiastical effect may be among charismatics. Rushdoony
believes as many as twenty million charismatics worldwide are part of the
Reconstruction movement. This is so, he thinks, because one cannot be a
consistent charismatic, insisting on the continuing exercise of miraculous gifts,
and remain dispensational.
In the introduction to his Backward, Christian Soldiers? Gary North reported that
the controversial charismatic campus ministry Maranatha is “forthrightly
proclaiming the ‘crown rights of King Jesus’” and boldly challenging humanism.9
In addition, Rushdoony praises the ministry of author and evangelist Bob
Mumford, and served as a contributing editor to the now-defunct charismatic
magazine New Wine. One theme edition of the magazine, called “The Church at
War,” evidenced militant Reconstruction motifs.
The perceived deterioration of America’s social base and religious liberty is a fear
common to Reconstructionists and the wider New Religious Right. And that
shared fear is probably the point of Reconstruction’s most powerful influence.
At precisely the time fundamentalists and conservative evangelicals re-entered the
political arena, the Reconstructionists pumped out a body of seemingly
sophisticated political philosophy. This philosophy is appealing religiously
(Rushdoony and his peers are strict inerrantists) and politically (theologian Clark
Pinnock criticizes Reconstructionists as “the liberation theologians of the Right”).
As Michael Cromartie of the Ethics in Public Policy Center comments, the
Reconstructionist system “provides an immediate alternative” for religious and
political conservatives “who aren’t going to take it anymore.”
Some Reconstructionists, in fact, will take credit for the rise of the Religious
Right. Gary North, writing in the debut issue of Christianity and Civilization,
claimed that when Rushdoony’s “fusion of theology and conservative social and
political concerns finally became available, the fundamentalists could then
develop their intellectual leadership needed to actualize their movement.”
Yet it would be a distortion to categorize the Religious Right as a passel of
convened Reconstructionists. In fact, few of those who have relied on
Reconstructionist literature buy into the entire philosophy. Many are
premillennialists and balk at Reconstruction eschatology, and obviously many
avoid the radical Reconstructionist version of theonomy.
In Bahnsen’s words, “The people who contact me are looking for somebody who
wants to support the Christian school movement over against government
intervention, or they’re looking for an argument why homosexual rights should
not be written into the law,” Such people are attracted to the Reconstructionist
articulation on a particular issue. Like Herbert Schlossberg, author of the critically
acclaimed Idols for Destruction, they appreciate certain aspects of the
Reconstructionist system and close their eyes to the rest. (Says Schlossberg, “The
real contribution of the theonomists is in economics. I don’t read that much
theology.”)
The most interesting Reconstructionist political ties are to television evangelists
Pat Robertson and D. James Kennedy. Rushdoony and North have appeared a
number of times on Robertson’s “700 Club.” But the relation of these evangelists
to Reconstruction extends beyond the television show.
As mentioned earlier, professing Reconstructionist Joseph Kickasola teaches in
Regent University’s School of Public Policy. (Regent was founded by Pat
Robertson.) More remarkably, the dean of the Schools of Law and Public Policy
is Herbert Titus. Fifteen years ago Titus was a “left-wing atheist” law professor at
the University of Oregon. Tired and disillusioned, he began attending a small
Orthodox Presbyterian church in Eugene, Oregon. One of the elders of the church
was Gary North’s father, and Titus was nurtured in his fledgling faith by
Reconstructionists. Titus is now premillennial and looks to the Adamic and
Noahic covenants, not the Mosaic, for guidance as to universal law. He disagrees
with the execution of homosexuals and implementation of other Levitical laws,
but continues to have a “great respect” for the Reconstructionists. Titus said the
school has used six or seven Rushdoony and North titles for textbooks. In turn,
Reconstructionists cite Robertson’s creation of a television network and Regent
University as a model of effective Christian organization.
Asked about his own convictions, Pat Robertson said he has not embraced
Reconstruction. “The Lord intends His people to exercise dominion in His name,”
Robertson said. Consequently, “I admire many of these [Reconstruction]
teachings because they are in line with Scripture. But others I cannot accept
because they do not correspond with the biblical view of the sinful nature of
mankind or the necessity of the second coming of Christ.” Robertson said he is
premillennial and does not “expect some kind of reconstructed utopia here on
earth.”
Rushdoony and North have also been repeat guests on the “D. James Kennedy”
television program, which often calls America to return to its Christian base. In an
interview, Kennedy said he obviously does not agree with every single contention
of every guest. Kennedy denied that he is “a theonomist as such.” It would be
“impractical” for every nation to go theonomic. But would that be desirable?
“Well, I think it would be presumptuous for me or anyone else to disagree with
God, don’t you?” Kennedy replied.
Some practicing politicians have been very close to the Reconstructionists. One
was Georgia Democratic Congressman Larry McDonald, a member of the Moral
Majority and former president of the John Birch Society. McDonald, who was
killed on the ill-fated Korean Air Lines Flight 007 in 1983, teamed with
Rushdoony and Bahnsen to present seminars on Christian political involvement.
McDonald developed ties with the Chalcedon Presbyterian Church (a suburban
Atlanta body) and with its Reconstructionist pastor, Joseph Morecraft. In turn,
Morecraft was an unsuccessful Republican nominee for a congressional seat,
pulling 33 per cent of the vote in his district.

Conclusions

Some evangelical theologians praise Reconstructionists for their staunch


affirmation of biblical authority. John Frame, a professor of theology at
Westminster Theological Seminary’s California campus, has commented
approvingly on the “considerable breadth and depth” of Rushdoony’s knowledge
of Scripture.10 Evangelicals may also appreciate the Reconstructionist call away
from a largely privatistic faith to one that is socially creative and responsible.
At the same time, there is clearly much cause for concern and disagreement. One
concern is the Reconstructionist’s sometimes breathtaking and scathing
arrogance.
North evidences a glee for polemical bloodshed, writing that Bahnsen’s clash with
a critic resulted in an outcome no more favorable for the critic than if Bambi had
met with Godzilla. Under these conditions, North claims, the numbers of
opponents to Reconstruction are “thinning even more rapidly than their hair.”
Rushdoony is free of italicized and capitalized venom, but he still finds the
audacity to accuse no less than John Calvin of “silly, trifling reasoning” and
“heretical nonsense.”
This invulnerable confidence is bolstered by the Reconstructionists’ theonomic
conviction that the Old Testament laws, more or less as they stand, can be
transferred to the present-day situation. The Reconstructionists are frequently
criticized for not adequately appreciating the historical and cultural distance
between nomadic, agricultural Israel and modern technological America. Most
biblical interpreters would compare this hermeneutical gap to the Grand Canyon;
the Reconstructionists treat it like a crack in the sidewalk.
The Reconstructionists are also a distinct minority in their conviction that Israel
was not the only nation God intended to be a theocracy. In a paper criticizing
Bahnsen’s Theonomy, Columbia (S.C.) Graduate School theologian Paul Fowler
states the commonly accepted interpretation that “God set Israel apart to be a
model of righteousness in an unrighteous world, and numerous judicial laws were
given to keep her pure as a nation.” Israel was divinely elected and given a special
vocation; her theocratic relationship to God was unique, for one time and one
nation.
Reconstruction’s presuppositional apologetic causes Rushdoony and company to
lean all the harder on specific biblical laws. As Westminster’s Frame has written,
“One suspects at times that although to Rushdoony Scripture is not a ‘textbook of
physics or biology’ it is indeed a textbook of statecraft in the sense that it includes
all the statutes that will ever be needed for any sort of culture.”11
Reconstructionists are not predisposed to trust the common grace or general
revelation said, from Augustine onward, to be available to all humanity. As
Messiah College political scientist Dean Curry points out, if one believes there is
no reliable general revelation, one cannot believe there may be a reasonably just
non-Christian government. The logical next step is to work for a theocracy.
In fact, however, the biblical “blueprints” are not as transparently obvious as the
Reconstructionists would have them. There is considerable disagreement about
the application of many laws within Reconstructionist circles. For instance, North
suggests the instructions of the Sermon on the Mount were intended for a
“captive” people, and that when Christians come to dominate a culture they no
longer need turn the other cheek to the aggressor but may “bust him in the chops.”
This is not an interpretation which is convincing to every Reconstructionist.
Similarly, Rushdoony holds to kosher dietary laws, but Bahnsen considers that
unconvincing exegesis.
Should illegitimate children and eunuchs be denied the rights of full citizenship?
Should grooms resume the payment of dowries to their bride’s father? Should
Christians allow the use of lie detectors, or should they oppose them, as
Rushdoony does, on the basis of biblical hedges against self-incrimination?
The point is that there are hundreds of such details to be sorted out and applied to
the contemporary situation. Reconstruction does not actually provide the clear,
simple, uncontestably “biblical” solutions to ethical questions that it pretends to,
and that are so attractive to many conservative Christians. Reconstructed society
would appear to require a second encyclopedic Talmud, and to foster hordes of
“scribes” with competing judgments, in a society of people who are locked on the
Law’s finer points rather than living by its spirit. Bahnsen argues this will not be
the case because the citizens of a Reconstructed society will be the descendants of
generations of persons nurtured in the study of, and submission to, biblical law.
That, of course, is potentially convincing only on the condition that one adopts
Bahnsen’s optimistic postmillennial eschatology.
This side of that eschaton, the proposal of a theocracy that would, among other
things, impose the death penalty on practicing homosexuals, rashly ups the ante in
the already tense church-state poker game. For instance, Everett Sileven, a
Reconstructionist pastor in Louisville, Nebraska, confesses that he expects
Reconstruction to occur in his lifetime.
Sileven expects the economy to crumble before 1992, soon to be followed by the
demise of democracy, the judicial system, and the Internal Revenue Service. He
wants to be considerate of such offenders as homosexuals: “we can give them six
months to stop, offer them help from clinics and churches.” But if they don’t stop
—the death penalty.
Both Bahnsen and Rushdoony lament such talk. Bahnsen, in addition, insists that
there will be no violent indiscretions because the wider society will never allow it.
It is ironic, then, that he relies on un-Recon-structed, godless society to curb the
potential abuses of the incipient Reconstructed society.
He also points out that every idea is liable to abuse. But such potential dangerous
ideas require equal caution in their deployment. As the Chalcedon Foundation is
fond of repeating, “Ideas have consequences,” and it is not exactly plausible that
caution and chastened self-confidence are strong suits in Reconstruction circles.
In the end, for all their bravery and ingenuity in putting forth such alien and
socially unacceptable ideas, we are left to wonder if the Reconstructionists’
proposal does what they so badly want it to do. Does it really restore and convey
the world-transforming fullness of biblical Christianity?
Reconstructionists never make the mistake of saying the Law can justify, but they
do make it practically the sole means of sanctification. As Frame notes,
Rushdoony in his Institutes nowhere suggests that “the love-ethic of Scripture
requires godly emotions, a renewed conscience, a renewed sensitivity to the
concerns of others.”12
Is God really nothing more than the abstract, impersonal dispenser of equally
abstract and impersonal laws? And is the objective of the Christian church, and its
hope for the world, to concentrate on the Law itself—or to come to know the
Lawgiver?
Rodney Clapp is general books editor at Intervarsity Press. He co-authored
People of the Truth with Robert Webber and is currently writing First Family,
Second Family (IVP). Formerly a senior writer for Christianity Today, he has
also published articles in The Reformed Journal, Marriage Partnership,
Leadership, Christian Century and the Wall Street Journal. He lives in Wheaton
with his wife, Sandy, daughter, Jesselyn, and Tobermory the cat.

Notes

1 Christianity Today, December 30, 1977, pp. 18-22. 18


2 Rousas J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law (Phillips burg, N.J.:
Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co., 1973).
3 Ibid.
4 David Chilton, Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipu lation (Tyler,
Tex.: Institute for Christian Economics, 1985).
5 Ibid.
6 Greg Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics (Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian
and Reformed Publishing Co., 1984).
7 Ibid.
8 Rousas J. Rushdoony, Institutes.
9 Gary North, Backward. Christian Soldiers? An Action Manual for Christian
Reconstruction (Tyler, Tex.: Institute for Christian Economics, 1984).
10 John Frame. “The Institutes of Biblical Law: A Review,” West minster
Theological Journal 38 (Winter 1976): pp.195-217.
11 Ibid.
12 Ibid.