Martyred for the Gospel

Martyred for the Gospel
The burning of Tharchbishop of Cant. D. Tho. Cranmer in the town dich at Oxford, with his hand first thrust into the fyre, wherwith he subscribed before. [Click on the picture to see Cranmer's last words.]

Collect of the Day

The Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany.
The Collect.

O LORD, we beseech thee to keep thy Church and household continually in thy true religion; that they who do lean only upon the hope of thy heavenly grace may evermore be defended by thy mighty power; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Daily Bible Verse

Wednesday, December 30, 2009

Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed

If there has ever been a movie that has provoked me and aroused anxiety and concern it is Ben Stein's Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed. Every Christian and every religious person should see this documentary. What is particularly disturbing is that atheists and socialists and communists are now out of the closet and openly declaring that religion is a delusion and a fantasy and should be regulated and done away with. In one clip, the comic Bill Maher openly says that religion is dangerous and should be regulated, presumably by the government. How much more in your face do we need for them to be before we get the message?

This sounds amazingly like some of the things the communists have been saying for decades. I remember in particular in high school in the 1970's we were required to take a class called Americanism Versus Communism. In that class we were told that communism is an atheistic and materialistic regime which believes that religion is an "opiate" of the people. That is, they believe that religion is used by capitalists to drug and delude people into accepting their subservience as the proletariat.

Atheists would have us to believe that religion and Christianity is evil and that wars are always fought over religion. The fact is more wars have been fought over power struggles than religion and materialistic atheism is not without its responsibility for genocide and worse, if we examine the Nazi regime of Hitler and Stalinists of Russia.

What is particularly troubling is the efforts of atheistic scientists to use their power and influence in academic and scientific organizations and publications to suppress any idea of intelligent design or of any intellectual inquiry or research into such ideas from a scientific perspective. There can be no academic freedom if there is no room for all kinds of questions, including intelligent design regarding microbiological evolution, macro evolution and Darwinism.

Astonishingly, socialists and communists are no longer working behind the scenes but now openly attack religion on cable television channels like Show Time and HBO. One has to wonder how long the United States can maintain its moral conscience once the atheists and communists have their way?

It seems to me that there is an open agenda by many in the mass media to attack and undermine religion. The attack comes on many fronts. Pornography is openly pushed for free on the internet so that the morals and inhibitions of young people are undermined more than it has ever been before. In my teenage years the worst was a few suggestive sex scenes in R rated movies. Hardcore porn was illegal in most states and difficult to obtain. These days porn is everywhere.

Another attack against religion is on the political front. Anyone who opposes abortion and homosexual marriage and special rights is "evil" according to the liberal media. So Christians are portrayed as idiots who are deluded and stupid. The really "enlightened" people are "tolerant" of homosexuality and a woman's right to make decisions about her own body; in other words, she has the right to kill her unborn child.

The real message of Ben Stein's moving documentary is that people of faith will be ridiculed and ostracized if they dare to think for themselves. There comes a time when people of faith must either give in and be persecuted or even eradicated by force--including genocide if history teaches us anything--or we must begin to speak out and stand up for faith. If we do not get involved in protecting religious freedom and academic freedom those freedoms may soon be gone forever. Moreover, the Constitution of the United States guarantees us the freedom of speech and the freedom of religion. Those freedoms are quickly evaporating before our very eyes. Expelled: No Intelligence Allowed confronts us with the sad truth that faith in God is being undermined in front of our noses and no one is doing anything about it.

One has to wonder if the political left has any conscience remaining? They seem willing to use every dirty tactic in the book to win the culture war and to undermine traditional family values and to redefine and re-engineer society as a whole. Ben Stein's documentary is a poignant and disturbing expose of the conspiracy to put religion in the closet and to make wickedness, evil and atheism the new moral compass of America. I have to agree with Stein that we need to tear down this wall which suppresses the truth and attempts to force free thought into oblivion. (Romans 1:18-21).

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Wresting the Wheel from God: Theological Roots of the Current Crisis in Christianity

This is an article from a theologically conservative pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America at the Word Alone website. His observations and insights are a worthy read for anyone seeking to reform liberal mainline congregations.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Re: Keller RC interview reveals his presuppositions

Hi, Hugh...
I read the interview and found some parts of the argument appealing.  I was suspicious at the get go because First Things is a Roman Catholic publication.
Moreover, Keller is hard to nail down.  His approach is anti-intellectual and subjectivist.  Assuming that people will not tolerate long rational arguments is an invalid assumption.  I would agree that attention spans are shorter BUT if one is a good speaker and writer there are ways to engage and hook the reader or listener into the process so you don't lose them.  Of course we don't take an absolutely academic approach but there is absolutely NO EXCUSE for selling out to broad church, dumbing down and other such compromises.  True apologetics is an intellectual exercise.   We must find ways to make people THINK. 
That damned Gordon H. Clark must be rubbing off on me. 
Anyway, in my hippy days I used to be a Jethro Tull fan.  On one of there albums, Thick as a Brick, there was a line in the title song that said, "I may make you feel but I can't make you think...."
Sad but this is a perfect description of postmodern irrationalism.  Keller's confusing on creation is just another irrational escape from the issues.  He doesn't want to struggle with the various views and answer them.  Also, his understanding of N.T. Wright's book on resurrection is a bit off since I have that book on my shelf.  N. T. Wright appears scholarly but in the end he wanders aimlessly through a maze and we don't know what to believe in the end other than the simple statement that Jesus was raised from the dead.  Wright does not significantly address the issue of historiography or epistemology in matters of real historical events like an actual and physical resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Anyway, just a couple of off the cuff responses to the interview.  Keller's multiperspectivalism is obviously predominated by subjectivism.  I find this alarming.  On the superficial level it is alluring and appealing but an in depth look reveals that Keller has nothing to offer except a somewhat agnostic assurance of faith. He's against mere Christianity but he's for mere Christianity.  Which is it for goodness sake???  At the end of the interview he ends up saying that it is mere Christianity.  It's mere Christianity for dummies.  That's a sad statement for a presupposition.  He's actually assuming that most people are dummies so he just wants to persuade them using postmodern arguments, not real meat or real intellectual and rational answers to the problems at hand.
Pragmatism may draw a crowd but in the end it is vain, useless and empty.  Real life is dirty and nitty and gritty.  It isn't some formulaic answer that can hook people in without ever answering ANY of their questions in the end!  This is the reason I left Pentecostalism.  It is superficial and claims to have answers but you never hear what they are!
In Christ,
From:  Hugh McCann 
Sent: Wednesday, December 16, 2009 7:56 PM
Subject: Keller RC interview reveals his presuppositions

An Interview with Timothy Keller, Feb 25, 2008, by Anthony Sacramone, managing editor of "First Things" magazine.  www.firstthings.com/onthesquare/2008/02/an-interview-with-timothy-kell

On any given Sunday in Manhattan, before and after theater matinees, visits to museums, and walks in Central Park, some five thousand mostly twenty- and thirty-somethings gather at one of three Redeemer Presbyterian worship sites to hear the gospel of Jesus Christ.
More specifically, they gather to hear it from Pastor Timothy Keller, Redeemer's senior minister and the founder and life force of this nationally renowned ministry. Keller's intellectually upscale apologetic has helped change how non–New Yorkers view our so-called secular city and usher in a paradigm shift in how evangelism is done in postmodern America.

Keller is a graduate of Gordon-Conwell and Westminster Theological seminaries and ordained in the Presbyterian Church in America. Yet his appeal—and approach to church growth—extends far beyond the walls that typically separate confessional and evangelical Protestant denominations.

In his new book,
The Reason for God, currently No. 18 on the New York Times bestseller list, Keller offers what one might call his summa: the meat of his preaching, teaching, and confession of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior for a world of unexamined materialist presuppositions, genetic determinisms, and endless digital cross-chatter.

I sat down to talk with Pastor Keller at the Redeemer offices in Manhattan.

People must have been egging you on to write a book like this for years.

A long time, yeah.

Was there one thing that caused you to say, "I'm going to finish this"? Was it the growth of the new-atheism phenomenon?

No. I started working on the book before that happened. I think the new-atheism thing was an impetus, and it was also an opportunity, because I believe that this book, say, three or four years ago, the average secular person in a Barnes & Noble wouldn't necessarily—why would you pick up a book that's designed to say orthodox Christianity's true? But now, as part of the cultural conversation, the book's title immediately positions it as an answer. But I actually started writing the book about four or five years ago, because some people in our church who had come from non-Christian backgrounds and non-Christian families just felt that the stuff they were getting at Redeemer was so helpful to them and helped them justify their beliefs—they wanted it to be more available than it was at the time, which was, basically, you've got to come to a church service at Redeemer.

And I think probably the other thing was this thing called aging. And I know that, when I was in my thirties—I'm so glad I didn't write when I was in my thirties, because by the time I was in my forties I would probably have wanted to burn the books. See, the difference between thirties and forties is huge, the difference between forties and fifties is not as big, and I felt like I was probably coming to what I was probably going to say at the end my life: This is how I see it. And I didn't want to go into print earlier because I just found myself evolving. But as I got into my fifties, I said, if I'm going to do it, the time is now. And I also did get a lot of pressure, but it was before these new-atheist books came along, but I think that was actually just one more opening.

Penguin probably was willing—which doesn't even have a religion division—the reason Penguin was interested in it was because of the cultural conversation and the new atheists. I don't think they would have picked it up otherwise, frankly. But they've been really supportive, wonderful.

C.S. Lewis' name, obviously, pops up in this book frequently—

Yeah, fourteen times.

What would you say is the greatest difference between how someone must approach apologetics today as opposed to when Lewis was doing it in the 1940s and 1950s?

First of all, I'm inspired by Lewis, and my book is inspired by his book, but I'm a preacher first of all, not a writer, and I don't even deserve to be mentioned in the same sentence as a writer like C.S. Lewis. And yet everybody's doing that, and I take it as a compliment, but it's pretty unjustified. However, he's the benchmark, so everybody's going to be compared.

Lewis definitely lived at a time in which people were more certain across the board that empirical, straight-line rationality was the way you decided what truth was, and there's just not as much of a certainty now. Also, when Lewis was writing, people were able to follow sustained arguments that had a number of points that built on one another. I guess I should say we actually have a kind of rationality-attention-deficit disorder now. You can make a reasonable argument, you can use logic, but it really has to be relatively transparent. You have to get to your point pretty quickly.
In New York City, these are pretty smart people, very educated people, but even by the mid-nineties I had found that the average young person found Mere Christianity—it just didn't keep their attention, because they really couldn't follow the arguments. They took too long. This long chain of syllogistic reasoning wasn't something that they were trained in doing. I don't think they're irrational, they are as rational, but they want something of a mixture of logic and personal appeal.

I know for a fact that Lewis was just heavy sledding for even smart Ivy League American graduates by the mid-nineties. One of the reasons I started doing this was I thought I needed something that gave them shorter, simpler, more accessible arguments.

Is this the result of a kind of relativism regarding what is truth, or is it just a kind of laziness or solipsism?

I think it's a lot more complicated. Even Lewis, in his Weight of Glory series, Lewis said that, before World War One, the average educational experience was twelve or thirteen people sitting in a room listening to a paper by one person then tearing it apart till 2 a.m. in the morning. And he says, now, the quintessential educational experience is listening to a celebrity lecturer, with a hundred or two hundred other people taking notes and then taking an exam. Even he said, between the wars, he saw a diminishment in people's ability to really think hard and long about issues.

People want you to get to the point quickly. And they want you to tell them what's going on quickly. And they just don't have the attention span. You can look at television, you can look at the Internet, you can look at the so-called rise of narrative and loss of trust in logic—I think it's cumulative . . . I don't want to say it's all relativism or all the Internet because people don't read long articles anymore. But I just know that it's very hard to find people who can wade through—unless you're a professional academic, you're not going to wade through these books anymore.

Touching on Lewis and the war, people forget the role the war played in the creation of these books, and how Lewis approached apologetics. I mean, Mere Christianity came out of wartime broadcasts. Soldiering, warfare, and pacifism are subjects that come up throughout his books. We're at war now. Is the connection between religion and war now a more common objection, something you have to address very early on when you talk to skeptics?

It does come up, because of the connection between—in the popular imagination—the connection between war and religion. Are we having a clash of civilizations, you know? Did America go to war because we had this idea that God's on our side? Are we going to war against people from the Islamic faith, the terrorists who are inspired by Islam—it's all muddled up in the popular imagination that there's war out there because of clashing religions. Yeah—it's there, it's there.

I have to deal with it in a way that Lewis didn't have to deal with it. This popular idea that religion leads to divisiveness, and religion will destroy the peace of the world and the unity of the world. And I don't see Lewis talking about that at all. He never has to deal with it. But now, one of the main things is that religion is bad for world peace. It divides us. It leads to violence. It fuels warfare. And of course Lewis was facing a war that everybody supposedly—the Germans were Lutherans and the British were Anglicans—it didn't seem like to him, or anybody at that time, that that was a religious clash. But today, now people see it as religious. So yeah, I'm dealing with it all the time—in chapter one of the book. It's not in Lewis like that.

You say early on in The Reason for God that a little doubt is necessary to test the integrity of your faith. Does this mean that Christians need to become amateur apologists to some extent, to be ready to give an answer for the hope that is within them?

Yeah . . . Would you like me to be more illuminating than that?


I don't mention it in [The Reason for God], but I think there are always doubts that, if you come to grips with them—I think there's doubts that you have, that you always have, that you ought to be more forthright and address them, for two reasons. One is, then you're a better apologist. Because now people are coming shootin' stuff at you in a way they wouldn't when I was growing up.

But the other is, it's actually good for your faith to actually work it out. Here's my illustration. I don't know what your readers will think. When I was recovering from thyroid cancer, from the surgery, I actually had time on my hands, something I never have had in years and probably never will again unless I have something else like that. And so I read every word of N.T. Wright's The Resurrection of the Son of God—all eight hundred pages, even the indices (laughs), because I didn't have anything else to do. And it was kind of startling to me, because we do live in a less rational sort of anti-foundationalist approach, and he was just taking a nice old-fashioned approach: There's no historically viable alternative explanation for the birth of the Christian Church than the fact that the early Christians thought they saw Jesus Christ and touched him and that he was raised from the dead. As I was reading it, I realized I was coming to greater certainty, and that when I closed the book, I said, at a time when it was very important to me to feel this way, I said, "He really really really did rise from the dead." And I said, "Well, didn't I believe that before?" Of course I believed it before—I defended it, and I think before I certainly would have died for that belief. But actually, there were still doubts in there, and the doubts were taken down 50 percent or something. I didn't even know they were there. And it was a wonderful experience It was both an intellectual and emotional experience: You're facing death, you're not sure you're going to get over the cancer. And the rigorous intellectual process of going through all the alternative explanations for how the Christian Church started, except the resurrection—none of them are even tenable. It was quite an experience.

So in a way I was working on a doubt and it was a wonderful experience and I took it down. Maybe there is a deeper level of doubt that I don't even know is there yet. So it's for you and your ability to be a good apologist.

In The Reason for God, you make a very brief argument for the validity of evolution within a limited sphere. It would seem to me that apologists for the faith must address this issue at some point. But doing so can call into question the historicity of the Fall and the very need for a savior. How do you talk about evolution without confusing people?

Oh, it's a little confusing, but actually I'm just in the same place where the Catholics are, as far as I can tell. The Catholic Church has always been able to hold on to a belief in a historical Fall—it really happened, it's not just representative of the fact that the human race has kind of gone bad in various ways. At the same time, if you say, "There is no God and everything happened by evolution," naturalistic evolution—then you have "theistic evolution": God just started things years ago and everything has come into being through the process of evolution. You have young-Earth six-day creationism, which is "God created everything in six 24-hour days." To me, all three of those positions have perhaps insurmountable difficulties.

The fact is, the one that most people consider the most conservative, which is the young-Earth, six-day creation, has all kinds of problems with the text, as we know. If it's really true, then you have problems of contradictions between Genesis 1 and 2. I don't like the JEPD theory. I don't like the theory that these are two somewhat contradictory creation stories that some editor stuck together—some pretty stupid editor stuck together. I think therefore you've got a problem with how long are the days before the sun shows up in the fourth day. You have problems really reading the Bible in a straightforward way with a young-Earth, six 24-hour day theory. You've got some problems with the theistic evolution, because then you have to ask yourself, "Was there no Adam and Eve? Was there no Fall?" So here's what I like—the messy approach, which is I think there was an Adam and Eve. I think there was a real Fall. I think that happened. I also think that there also was a very long process probably, you know, that the earth probably is very old, and there was some kind of process of natural selection that God guided and used, and maybe intervened in. And that's just the messy part. I'm not a scientist. I'm not going to go beyond that.

I do know that I say in the book, "This is an absolute red herring—to get mired in this before you look at the certainties of the faith. Because the fact is that real orthodox believers with a high view of Scripture are all over the map on this. I can line up ten really smart people in all those different buckets, which I'll call "theistic evolution," "young-Earth creationism," and let's call it "progressive creationism" or "semi-theistic evolution." There are all these different views. And when you see a lot of smart people disagreeing on this stuff, well . . .

How could there have been death before Adam and Eve fell? The answer is, I don't know. But all I know is, didn't animals eat bugs? Didn't bugs eat plants? There must have been death. In other words, when you realize, "Oh wait, this is really complicated," then you realize, "I don't have to figure this out before I figure out is Jesus Christ raised from the dead."

Over the years—it's not bad, but I've gotten sort of hit from both sides.

In the middle of The Reason for God, there's a chapter called "Intermission"—

I figured you'd be interested in that, working where you do.

You talk about significant differences between Christian denominations. In the book, you're coy about your own affiliation, except to say that you're a Protestant. Why didn't you come out and say, "Look, I'm coming at this from a Reformed, Presbyterian, Calvinist perspective, because I think that best explains who Jesus is, what Jesus did for us, what the Church is."

Because I'd like to be understood, Anthony. Now I know that the average reader in a Barnes & Noble, picking up the book and reading it, will know the difference between Catholic and Protestant, but I don't think they're going to know what [Reformed Presbyterian, Calvinist] is. Unless I want to take a page or two to explain the differences between all the Protestant denominations, I don't want to go there.

I think the most important sentence in the book on that subject was, "All Christians believe all these things, but no Christian believes just these things." So I said, "Here's the Apostles Creed, and the Trinity, the deity of Christ, he died for our sins, saved by grace, you've got to be a part of the Church"—right? OK. I said, "All Christians believe all these things. If you don't believe all these things, you're not a Christian: You're in a cult, you're a member of another religion, or you're a secular person."

All Christians believe all these things, but no Christian believes just these things is my way of saying there's no such thing as "mere Christianity." There just isn't. Because as soon as you ask "How do I get the grace of God?"—you're a Catholic or a Protestant. Is it the sacraments primarily, or are the sacraments just a symbol of how you get it? As soon as you start talking about how do we relate to the Church, you know, or how does God open your eyes—then you're Arminian or a Calvinist.

This puts me in a position where I don't want to defend just one kind of Christianity. I think I want to defend the Apostles Creed. And I want you, as a nonbeliever, to buy the Apostles' Creed, and then after that figure out where you want to go. I really think I can do that. But, at the same time, I don't believe I can possibly speak to a lot of these things without [doing so from] within my particularity. So I actually say that there are certain chapters in which I'm going to be speaking as a Protestant because there's no way not to speak as a Protestant or a Catholic.

And there are some places where, if you look really carefully, I think I do say I'm a Presbyterian minister. And I said, if you look really carefully, you will see I'm really speaking from inside my own tradition. Because there are places where you can't talk without being in your own tradition.

Here's what so misleading. If I say I'm speaking as a Reformed Protestant and I'm just going to defend Reformed Protestantism, 80 percent of what I'm going to say in that book will be defending a Catholic Christian's faith, too. So why not admit that? . . . It was a real dance. It was a real tightrope . . . there are certain places in which, if you're a Catholic—I've got some really strong friends who are strong Catholics, and they love the book, but I'm sure when they get to certain places they say, "Yeah, there we go . . ." But they don't mind it, because they're really happy to have a book that's basically defending the whole Faith. And if I was just running up the flag saying, "I'm a Protestant, I'm Reformed, I'm Presbyterian, I'm Reformed, not Arminian"—I don't know. This is my best guess, my best guess at how I can model the unity of the Church.
One of the things that non-Christians hate about us is how much we don't like each other. How am I going to overcome their prejudices unless I show a certain breadth of spirit and generosity toward people with different views? And the best way to do that is not to be always talking about the fact that I'm Reformed.

Don't you run a risk, though? If they pick up the three authors you reference most frequently in the book—Lewis, Jonathan Edwards, and Flannery O'Connor—and investigate their backgrounds, and start getting into limited atonement and election and a sacramental notion of the church and the Anglican broad way, don't you run the risk of someone saying, "It's all relative: It all depends on where I'm going to be most comfortable," as opposed to "Christ founded a Church—and this is it."
I know there's a danger. I thought there were other ways of writing that book, and I decided that there were more disadvantages to those than this one. But I see huge disadvantages, and you're pointing them out perfectly—you're pointing them out perfectly. Listen, I could probably do a better job than you, because you're being nicer to me. But I could be meaner, and I could say, "This fits in with the spirit of the age," which is, I'm coming to you as an individual. I'm asking you to make up your own mind, and then you can sort of walk around with this kind of relationship with God now, and it doesn't stress enough that you've got to be a part of a church.

Now part of that is why I am Protestant. In other words, I think if I was Catholic I'd probably write this differently. You can't help it.
The Church would play a much bigger role.

A much bigger role. But I know that Catholics reading the book—I also know that Catholics are right about the importance of the Church. So, there we go. In other words, I tried to write a nonsectarian book which still admits that it's got sectarian roots to it and tells people, when you're done, you're going to have to be a part of a particular church. That's the best I can do. My best job. I mean, there are a lot of judgment calls, and I just made them.

You've always been very careful, both in your preaching and toward the end of The Reason for God, to remind people that they should examine their motives for embracing the Faith, to make sure that Christ is not a means to an end but that God is the end. But how many times have you had someone come up to you and say, "I tried Christianity but it didn't work. I still felt lost, I still felt depressed, it didn't make sense of the narrative of my life, and so I gave up on it." What do you say to someone like that?

"Be specific." There's almost no good answer to that if you allow a person to stay at that level of generality: "It didn't work. It didn't really make sense of my life." And, of course, that seems to contradict the book: The book says it will make sense of your life. Once I find out what the particular problems are, I can fix it. I mean, there's no way even to answer your question because it's so general. I can tell you the kinds of things I usually hear when I ask, "Be specific." In many cases, it's a short-term disappointment. Which is, "I really was sure that God was calling me to do this, and every door closed." You can always go to the "Evil and Suffering" chapter, chapter two, which says, "If you can't see any good reason why God let something happen, does that mean there can't be any good reason why God let that happen? The answer is no, so why are you acting as if there can't be any good reason? That's the motive problem. In other words, you got into this faith in order for God to serve you, not for you to serve God."
A second area, if I say, "Please be specific," is that they feel that Christianity is too hard. For example, a lot of times I'll have a young man say, "I know I'm not supposed to sleep with girls until I get married, but I don't have any prospects and I just can't do it. I just can't go without sex." Or something like that. You know, Christianity's too hard. That's a much better argument. But then you can always say what Lewis says about "is Christianity hard or easy," in Mere Christianity . . . In some ways, Christianity is for sinners and for people who do fail, not for people who are good. And yet at the same time you are going to fall down. Everybody's going to fall down at various points. But if you're actually addicted, as it were—if you say, "Here's something I shouldn't do but I just can't stop," then there's an addiction going on, there's something going on. You need to get in touch with that. Even if you weren't a Christian, you shouldn't be violating your conscience. There's something else going on, there's something that's too important to you, you have to deal with your heart. You need counseling.

It's not something I would imagine you heard a lot in the sixteenth century, though: "It didn't work for me."

No. But that's what I mean by saying, usually it's a disappointment. And that's where I can come back and start to say, "If there's a God, then you should relate to him"—and I do talk about this in the last chapter—if there's a God, you should be going to him because you ought to go to him, not because it works for you. I think, when I was a younger man, if somebody said, "It doesn't work for me," I think the right answer, as you just alluded, is "What do you mean 'work for you'? You should be doing this because God is God and you're not. And he's the Lord and you're his servant. What are you talking about 'work for you'? You're being selfish, you're being individualistic, you're being a consumer" Now, even though that's probably true (laughs), I'll try to find out what the specifics are, and usually the person's got some real—the individualistic culture's created this victim mentality and this feeling like God's gotta be there to meet my needs. It's created that and it's the background, but many people have had real disappointments, real sadnesses, real failures, real—

There are also real promises in the gospels for the healing of one's life.

That's also why I don't throw the consumerist thing at people anymore . . . Don't forget Job. I think the point of the Book of Job was that the only way he could turn into somebody great was he had to be profoundly disappointed. The only way for God to use him was he had to suffer. So at a certain point you do have to counsel the sovereignty of God, but before you get there, you have to be pretty thoughtful, pretty sympathetic, because people see those promises and they want to be healed. I can tell people a lot of stories, but you'd have to give me specifics, and there's no reason to go there . . .
At some point you have to get back to this consumerist problem that they have with it. But you have to be very very gentle on the way.

And the consumerist problem hasn't been helped by certain ministries, the health-and-wealth gospel, and other bestselling authors who shall remain nameless.

Yeah. It's the background for people's legitimate—I think people in the sixteenth century were asking questions like, "If God really loves me, why have four of my five children died of dysentery?" Surely they were struggling with that. But the background of "if there is a God he ought to be meeting your needs"—our consumerist culture makes that almost unbearable. Almost unbearable. But it does irritate me to hear people say, "I don't believe in God because bad things happened to me."

Whenever people write about Redeemer, they usually refer to it as a megachurch.

Stop that!

Now, I've heard you—

Have you seen Bob Newhart? Stop it!

Oh sure.

Stop it. Go ahead.

I actually have his "Button-Down Humor" stand-up album from like 1968 or something. OK: I've heard you refer to Redeemer as a seeker church. Do you see Redeemer as part of the emerging church phenomenon, and what does that mean?
No, no, no, no. The words "seeker church" now I think mean Willow Creek to most people, which is a service that is strictly—Willow Creek branded that term, so I probably can't use it anymore.

Yeah, well the seeker church is a church in which you have sort of low participation, there's a talk, there's good music—but it's not really a worship service. You're not trying to get people engaged. You are targeting nonbelieving, skeptical people as the audience. That's considered a seeker church. And I would have always said that Redeemer is the kind of church in which we're trying to speak—it's a worship service, but we're trying to speak in the vernacular. We're trying to speak in a way that doesn't confuse or turn off nonbelievers. We want nonbelievers to be there. I think that a lot of ministers would never say, "We expect nonbelievers to be constantly there, lots of them there, incubating in the services." And we do. We do expect that. In that sense we'd be a seeker church. But now I'm afraid I don't think it's a good word to use, because when people hear "seeker church" they're thinking something else.

I found that if you define megachurch as anything over two thousand people, then yes, then we are. But here's four ways in which we're not a megachurch, or we don't do things people associate with megachurches. One is, we do no advertising or publicity of any sort, except I'm trying to get the book out there so people read it and have their lives changed by it, but Redeemer's never advertised or publicized. And the reason is, if a person walks in off the street just because they've heard about Redeemer through advertising, and they have questions or they want to get involved, there's almost no way to do it unless you have all kinds of complicated programs, places where they can go. But if they come with a friend who already goes there, their questions are answered naturally, the next steps happen organically, the connections they want to make happen naturally… We do not want a crowd of spectators. We want a community.

Secondly, we do almost no technology. We don't have laser-light shows, we don't have Jumbotrons, we don't have overheard projectors, we don't have screens. We don't have anything like that. Thirdly, we have a lot of classical music, chamber music—we are not hip at all. We don't go out of our way to be hip.

There's praise music in the evening services.

Yeah, but it's jazz. It's toned down. It's much more New York. It's certainly not your typical evangelical contemporary music. We actually pound into people that we're not here to meet your needs but to serve the city. So we pound that into them, that we're not a consumer place, that we're not here to meet your needs but to serve the city.

So no publicity, not at all hip, almost no use of technology, definitely consider it a worship service, do not do much in the way of pat answers and how-tos in the sermons but really have people wrestle with the issues—but we do it in such a way that the interests and aspirations and hopes and doubts of non-Christians are constantly addressed. When a person who doesn't believe comes they're often surprised at how interesting, intelligible, nonoffensive the thing is. So it's relatively subtle at this point.

Do you ever see a point at which Redeemer's mission, which is transdenominational, if not nondenominational, is inhibited by being a member of a specific denomination? Would it be easier to do what you do if you were not connected to the Presbyterian Church in America?

Maybe a little. Because, when you're part of a denomination, you've got to have some constitution, some structure, that you hold with everybody else. The larger a church gets, the more unique it gets, and it would always be a little easier, I suppose, if we didn't have any—like, for example, how we do elections. We have to get a quorum of our members. When our constitution was built, no one was thinking about a church that held five services on a Sunday, at three locations. So the problem is to get a quorum of our congregation, we don't actually have a quorum of our congregation at any one service. So where do we hold an election for our services? And the answer is, we choose the largest one and we just hope people come. So it's a bit of a struggle to get a quorum, because our constitution is set up for a traditional church in a small town. Its not set up for multi-site churches, it's not set up for churches that don't have their own buildings. And if we were an independent church, we'd just do it our own way. But we think it's very very important to be part of the connection. We think for accountability it's important, for tradition it's important. So we just put up with it.

Even though you're helping to plant non-Presbyterian churches?

Yes, because I don't believe you can reach New York with the gospel if you only plant Presbyterian churches. There are all kinds of people who'll never be Presbyterians. It just doesn't appeal to them. Some people are going to be Pentecostals, some people are going to be Catholics. I mean, I know that sounds—I'm not talking about that certain cultures reach certain people. It's much more complicated than that. Even though there's something to that. We all know that certain cultures seem to have more of an affinity toward a certain kind of Christian tradition than others, but I wouldn't want to reduce it to that at all. I would just say that I only know that God seems to use all these kinds of churches to reach the whole breadth of humanity, and so that's why we give money to start churches of other denominations, and give free training to it. And we've done about a hundred in the New York area, where we've helped people. It's very important to us.

One last question: If you had to recommend one book that wasn't the Bible and wasn't The Reason for God to someone questioning Christianity, what would it be?

I'd still say Mere Christianity. Even though I wrote this book partly because I found Mere Christianity to be not as accessible as it used to be. But it's still peerless and much better than my book. My book is Mere Christianity for Dummies.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Moses' Law for Modern Government: The Intellectual and Sociological Origins of the Christian Reconstructionist Movement

[Nota bene: While I do not agree with the doctrine of common grace, it is interesting to see how theonomists have  used "common grace" to justify their extremist right wing political philosophy, while others whom the theonomists would eschew use common grace to justify their left wing political and social gospel agenda.  The Christian Reformed Church, for example, is going in an increasingly leftwing and liberal direction as Calvin College and Calvin Seminary indicate.  Richard Mouw, the president of Fuller Seminary, is a product of the Christian Reformed Church and his emphasis on common grace has likewise led him and Fuller in an increasingly left wing Evangelical direction.  The irony of theonomy is astonishing since the implications and indications are that theonomy a few decades down the road will wind up as antinomian as the other proponents of common grace.    The article below can be accessed at the original website by clicking on the title.  Charlie.]


Moses' Law for Modern Government:  The Intellectual and Sociological Origins of the Christian Reconstructionist Movement

J. Ligon Duncan, III


For many years now, students and professors in seminaries affiliated with evangelical denominations, as well as church members and pastors have puzzled over the Christian Reconstruction movement. Sometimes Reconstruction has been a matter of heated controversy: causing division in faculties, student bodies, and congregations. Other times it has merely been a matter of curiosity--a novelty which people do not quite understand, but are either attracted to or suspicious of. One common denominator, however, has been the generally fuzzy conception of just what Reconstruction is. The situation has been much the same amongst many of the theologians, journalists, political scientists, and sociologists. Reconstructionism has been labeled as anti-democratic, anti-Semitic, and extremist. This has led to a proliferation of misunderstandings by supporters, detractors, and analysts of the movement. And, needless to say, it has prevented clear, cogent appraisal of the Reconstructionist program. Since the movement has recently gained wider notoriety through Bill Moyers' documentary series God and Politics, and an exposé-style review in Christianity Today, and has exercised no insignificant influence on the Christian Right, it behooves us to devote some attention to the main points of this religious socio-political agenda.

It is not our primary purpose here to provide analysis, but to describe and define, and to supply a preliminary sketch of the theoretical and environmental origins of the Christian Reconstructionist movement. First, we will explain specifically what Christian Reconstruction is. The goal here is to delineate the distinctive tenets of the movement more clearly than they have been heretofore. Opponents of Reconstruction have generally failed to identify what is truly distinctive about its position, preferring (uncharitably) to caricature it rather than define it. Further, proponents of the movement occasionally vacillate between ambiguity and dogmatism when asked about the distinguishing characteristics of their position. As we have noted already, this is an impediment to critical discourse. Second, this paper offers an initial suggestion of the intellectual and sociological origins of the Reconstructionist movement. This paper is purposely brief and necessarily technical in places, though it strives for clarity and simplicity. Of course, this author has no pretensions of having provided an exhaustive treatment of a subject which has attracted much written attention (and stirred considerable ecclesiastical and political controversy in recent years, as well). One trusts, however, that this will prove a useful contribution to the ongoing evaluation of Christian Reconstructionism by social scientists and historians.

I. What is Christian Reconstructionism?
Since reversing the "Great Reversal" in the 1970s, evangelical socio-political thought has fallen broadly into three categories: evangelical liberals, conservatives, and reconstructionists. The later two categories are differentiated by the superadded distinctives of the reconstructionists. Broadly speaking, a reconstructionist is "a Christian who believes it is his or her responsibility to challenge the anti-Christian character of society and culture. The reconstructionist sees it as an obligation to seek to change society in ways that will bring it into conformity with the teaching of Scripture." To further specify, we may quote popular Reconstructionist author Gary DeMar who says:

Reconstructionism is a distinctive blending of certain biblical doctrines. They are (1) personal regeneration, (2) the application of biblical law to all areas of life, and (3) the advance of the already-present kingdom in history through the preaching of the gospel and the empowering of the Holy Spirit.

Individuals from a wide variety of backgrounds and ecclesiastical communions are influenced by and committed to these ideals, from conservative Roman Catholics to Episcopalians to Presbyterians to Pentecostals. Arminian and Calvinist, charismatic and non-charismatic, high Church and low Church traditions are all represented in the broader umbrella of Reconstructionism (often in the form of the "Christian America" movement).

A. Names or Labels

Not surprisingly then, many labels are associated with the Christian Reconstruction movement. It has been called: "Dominion Theology," "Theonomy," "Christian Reconstruction," or merely "Reconstructionism" among other things. Oftentimes these labels are employed more or less interchangeably (by both those within and without the movement). Nevertheless, each of them point to a distinctive element of Reconstructionist theory, elements not held to by all who are influenced by the movement. "Dominion" intimates the reconstructionist belief that the cultural mandate (Genesis 1:26) obligates all Christians to work for the bringing of human society under the dominion of God's Word. "Theonomy" which simply means "God's law" indicates the belief that all of the non-ceremonial Old Testament civil code is meant to be obeyed by all nations. "Reconstruction" betokens the conviction that American society and public policy are in a desperate state, salvageable only by a radical effort to bring the nation in line with norms of Scripture.

B. Types and Groups

In light of this exegesis of various labels used in the movement it becomes apparent, for instance, that one may be a Christian reconstructionist without being a "theonomist" (though not vice versa). Hence, there are two major types or classes of reconstructionists: theonomic and non-theonomic. T. David Gordon is absolutely correct when he says:

As socioreligious phenomena, Theonomy and Christian Reconstruction are closely related. The individuals involved in the one are ordinarily involved in the other. However, theologically and religiously they can be distinguished. Christian Reconstructionists exist in a variety of forms, and are ordinarily united in their belief that the Western world, and especially the United States, has departed from the Judeo-Christian ethical basis that once characterized its public discourse, with devastating results. Positively, Reconstructionists wish to see the United States return to a more biblical approach, or even a more Judeo-Christian approach, to the issues of civil life. Theonomy is more specific than this, though it does not disagree with it. Theonomy wishes to see every nation conform its civil practices to those revealed in the Mosaic legislation. Thus, Theonomy is more comprehensive than Reconstruction (theoretically concerned that all nations observe the Mosaic legislation) and much more specific about the legislation that it believes is to be observed. Theonomy does not wish merely a return to a biblical ethic, or a Judeo-Christian ethic, but to the ethic of the Sinai covenant.

It is important, however, to note that the intellectual origins and leadership of the movement emanate from the "theonomic reconstructionists." Even within this more narrowly defined group we find significant differences of emphasis and opinion in the writings of Rousas J. Rushdoony (The Chalcedon Foundation), Gary North (Institute for Christian Economics), and Greg Bahnsen (Southern California Center for Christian Studies). Nevertheless, it is from these sources that the ideology of the movement has flown.

II. Theonomic Christian Reconstructionism
A theonomic reconstructionist may be succinctly and fairly defined as "someone who believes that none of the non-ceremonial law of the Old Testament is set aside in the New and that all people, rulers and ruled alike, are under obligation to follow such law personally, and to enact it where appropriate in legislation." Christian Reconstructionism is theoretically a positivist, fundamentalist, Calvinist response to the moral-political forces unleashed by modernity in late twentieth-century United States. That is, Reconstructionism views all legitimate law as divine positive law (or an application thereof) and thus rejects natural law and social contract theory. It is also positivistic in its insistence on Scripturally-derived social, political, and economic theory (since it asserts that there is no true knowledge apart from the Bible). It is "fundamentalist" in its stress on the necessity of vital personal religion and biblical inerrancy, and it is Calvinist in its insistence on the sovereignty of God. To define the rationale behind these beliefs and the implications of them is a little more difficult.

A. People and Books

To answer in detail the question "what is [theonomic] Christian Reconstruction," it may be useful to note some of the movement's leading authors. Rousas John Rushdoony is the father of the movement. Greg L. Bahnsen is the best-known exegetical proponent of Reconstruction. Gary North appears to be the most prolific of the Reconstructionist authors (though he is certainly not unique in his prodigious production, for the movement has evidenced a number of extremely fruitful writers). He has devoted his talents to popularizing the movement (and in so doing has shown an inclination to considerable displays of verbal pyrotechnics!) and to developing the economic implications of the thesis, among other things. Other authors who are actively involved in promoting the movement include David Chilton, Gary DeMar, and Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr.

Three book's in particular may be noted for their influence and/or notoriety. First, there is Rushdoony's seminal Institutes of Biblical Law, which is of moment as an early reference work for the movement. Second, Bahnsen's Theonomy in Christian Ethics , may be identified as the standard exegetical presentation of the Reconstructionist position on the role of the Law in the Christian life (his By This Standard serves as a more popular treatment of the same subject and No Other Standard as a detailed response to his critics). Third, we may mention David Chilton's Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators (written in response to Ron Sider's Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger). Unlike the two previous volumes, this tome is not integral for providing the theological rationale of the movement but is mentioned because it achieved some renown on college and seminary campuses. It is a rather typical example of Reconstructionist rhetoric, and reflects the Reconstructionists' desire to formulate a right-wing alternative to more liberal evangelical social ethics.

B. The Christian Reconstructionist Agenda

Before looking at the rationale behind the distinctive tenets of Reconstructionism, it will be appropriate for us to consider a few aspects of their program. First, Reconstructionist writing champions the present-day relevance and applicability of Old Testament civil ethics and shows strong antipathy for theological systems which do not. Much of its polemic has been directed at the evangelical movement known as Dispensationalism because of its insistence on an exclusively "New Testament ethic." Reconstructionism is in large measure a response to this movement on the one hand, and to mainstream Liberal views of Old Testament ethics (in which the Old Testament is dismissed as primitive, sub-Christian, even anti-Christian, and at any rate irrelevant to contemporary Christian ethics) on the other.

Second, reconstructionists are challenging evangelicals, who have tended to be isolationists since the 1920's and 1930's, to reengage in social ethics. They are laying emphasis on the church's "salt and light" functions in society and calling the church to repentance for her neglect of these God-given duties. In this call for Christian political and social action, Reconstructionism is heralding a message which has been and is being sounded in many quarters of evangelical Christianity.

Third, Christian Reconstructionism is determined to expose what it calls "the myth of neutrality." Following the presuppositional epistemology of Cornelius Van Til, the reconstructionists argue that no one can approach a field of knowledge neutrally, objectively, or a-religiously. We must approach all study with either theistic or anti-theistic premises. There is no other alternative; for claimed neutrality or objectivity is actually negation. This view of knowledge obviously necessitates a distinctively Christian view in every field of human educational enterprise (including economics, law and politics), which for the reconstructionists means an explicitly Scripturally derived view.

Fourth, in keeping with the previous point, Reconstructionism is attempting to make a systematic and exegetical connection between the Bible and the conservative ideology of limited government and free market economics. For instance, Gary North has written volume after volume deriving principles of economics from his studies of the Pentateuch.

Fifth, Reconstructionism has sharply questioned the legitimacy of State-financed education and has been a major factor in the rise of the Christian school movement. According to North, "The government schools are established as a humanist religion aimed at stamping out Christianity." Indeed, one of Rushdoony's early books was a critique of state education entitled The Messianic Character of American Education (1963). North candidly sets forth his view of the proper Christian agenda in our current societal situation:

we must use the doctrine of religious liberty to gain independence for Christian schools until we train up a generation of people who know that there is no religious neutrality, no neutral law, no neutral education, and no neutral civil government. Then they will get busy in constructing a Bible-based social, political, and religious order which finally denies the religious liberty of the enemies of God.

Finally, and most controversially, the reconstructionists advocate the implementation of the Mosaic penal sanctions in modern society. Let it be said that, contrary to much criticism of Reconstruction, there is a good deal of discussion about the manner of application of the case law in a different nation-state context. That is, most reconstructionists argue that we must make allowances for the circumstances and the conditions in the modern nation-state as we apply the Mosaic casuistry. However, this very willingness to discuss flexible applications of the case law actually detracts from the popular appeal of Theonomy, which lies in its (apparently) straightforward biblicism and simple theological solution to complex socio-economic and political situations.

What would a "reconstructed" America look like, K.L. Gentry suggests the following elements of a theonomic approach to civic order:

1 It obligates government to maintain just monetary policies ... [thus prohibiting] fiat money, fractional reserve banking, and deficit spending.

2 It provides a moral basis for elective government officials. ...

3 It forbids undue, abusive taxation of the rich. ...

4 It calls for the abolishing of the prison system and the establishing a system of just restitution. ...

5 A theonomic approach also forbids the release, pardoning, and paroling of murderers by requiring their execution. ...

6 It forbids industrial pollution that destroys the value of property. ...

7 It punishes malicious, frivolous malpractice suits. ...

8 It forbids abortion rights. ... Abortion is not only a sin, but a crime, and, indeed, a capital crime.

III. The Origins of Reconstructionism
When one speaks of the philosophical and sociological origins of Reconstructionism, one may give the impression that a covert argument is being manufactured against the claims of the Reconstructionist movement to be biblical in its foundation. I am anxious to avoid so ambitious a project in the following surmise. The aim is more to detect influences on how leading Reconstructionists have read Scripture, and why they have focused on or emphasized certain things.

A. Philosophical: Kuyperian/Van Tillian Calvinism

Abraham Kuyper's development of Calvin's thought, and formulation of a distinctively Christian approach to education and society, has exercised formibidable influence on twentieth-century Calvinism. Post-Kuyperian Calvinism has thought in an emphatically "worldviewish" fashion, that is, there is a regular stress on thinking and living Christianly in all areas of life. This pattern of thought was decisive in the so-called Dutch school, and influencial upon Dooyeweerd and Van Til in turn. Kuyper argued for an over-arching philosophy of life resting upon God alone as the epistemological foundation. "There is not an inch in the whole of temporal life which Christ, as Lord of all men, does not say, `Mine,'" said Kuyper.

Van Til took up and refined Kuyper and Dooyeweerd's thinking. One of his customary emphases was that there is no such thing as neutrality. A person cannot be neutral about God, nor can he be neutral in his thinking or living. There are only two options: for or against, God-centered or man-centered. Van Til said: "There is no alternative but that of theonomy and autonomy." Van Til meant that in the sphere of human thinking and behaving one has only two options: God's way or self's way.

The combination of Kuyper's concern for a distinctly Christian approach to the whole of life, and Van Til's insistence that one is always either theonomous or autonomous, when applied to the area of civil law and government provided a critical platform for the theonomic theory as we shall illustrate later.

B. Theological: An Evangelical Reform Movement

Theologically, Christian Reconstructionism may also be viewed as a reaction (and in the author's opinion, a well-meaning, but misguided, overreaction) to four prevalent tendencies in American Evangelicalism, and to what most traditional Christians would regard as general Western social decadence. First, Reconstructionism constitutes a challenge to the widespread peripheralization of the Old Testament in forming the Christian mind in the sphere of personal and social ethics. The peculiar view of biblical history taught in many evangelical churches reduces the Old Testament to a shadowy, pre-Christian, even sub-Christian form of the New Testament, rather than the very foundation of God's revelation. Hence, the Old Testament is valued only for end-time prophecy, moral tales, types of Christ, and if its teaching is not re-confirmed in the New Testament, it is regarded as outmoded. Reconstructionism is deliberately contradicting this pattern.

Second, Reconstructionism wishes to rebuff the general evangelical tendency to disengage from societal responsibilities. The sacred/secular dichotomy and the suspicion of any form of "social gospel" has led most fundamentalist-influenced church members to abandon any sustained or regular attempt to impact government and society. This continues to be the norm today, with the exception of so-called "family issues" like abortion, school prayer, home-schooling, "family values," and homosexuality, but even then rarely is a Christian voice heard except in protest. Theonomy wants to dump the sacred/secular dichotomy for a Kuyperian view of vocation and explore the long-ignored civic "salt-and-light" responsibilities of Christians.

Third, Reconstructionism is a reaction against the tendency to (totally) subjectivize and individualize the Christian faith . There is, of course, a vital subjective side to the Christian faith as all Christians would agree. The Puritans, for instance, would have called this "experimental religion" while Roman Catholics call it "spiritual formation" and it is an essential element to vital Christianity. If it is not there, faith is dead. But when personal piety is substituted as a part for the whole, it becomes an "ism." In other words, when Christianity is reduced to purely individual, personal spirituality (and this has been a characteristic error in much evangelicalism) an important aspect of historic Christianity is being disregarded or lost. The Reconstructionist movement wants to redress this imbalance (though it seems overly non-experiential at times) and remind the Christian of the outward demands of true Christian piety.

Fourth, Reconstructionism is a response to the anti-law spirit which pervades Christian circles where cheap-grace teaching is the norm. No one who has followed the Lordship controversy, even at a distance, can doubt that antinomianism has achieved almost confessional status in Dispensational circles. In many churches, any suggestion that Christians have an obligation to keep the Law is considered an attack on the Pauline teaching on grace. Theonomy challenges the church to return to Reformational teaching on the grace of law, the role of the law as standard in the Christian life, and the consequent relevance of Old Testament law to Christian ethics.

These four trends are readily apparent in American Evangelicalism in general and particularly in churches which have been influenced by the theology of Dispensationalism, with its emphasis on the antithesis between law and grace (in an unfortunately eccentric form), its curious version of the history of redemption, and its peculiar eschatology. Theonomy is, among other things, a rebuttal of Dispensationalism.

IV. The Fundamental Distinctives of Reconstructionism

A. Presuppositionalism

Having given some preliminary background information on Christian Reconstructionism and having suggested a rationale for its development, a considered of the distinguishing characteristics of Reconstruction. The following three distinctives reflect a depiction which is promoted by Reconstructionist authors themselves and not by the misunderstandings of their critics. First, a commitment to the Presuppositionalism of Cornelius Van Til is essential to the theonomic thesis. The importance of this is found in the rejection of the idea of natural law and especially in the espousal of the concept of non-neutrality. Popularly speaking, in the ethical sphere we do not have seven options, or five options, or three options. We may do one of two things. We may be "autonomous" or "theonomous." We make up our own law, or obey the law of God. Either self or God is legislating. Those are the only options.

So when a Reconstructionist asks other Christians the questions "How should a society be governed?" or "What kind of laws are best for the society?," he goes on to say to them "you only have two options. You may follow man's plan and man's law, or you can follow God's plan and law." Then the Reconstructionists inquires: "And where does one find God's will for society expressed? Why in the Bible, of course! Just read your Old Testament and you will find God's perfect law for all human societies recorded in the law of Moses."

B. Postmillennialism

Second, postmillennial eschatology plays a significant role in driving theonomic ethics. Without diverting into a lengthy discussion of the particular brand of postmillennialism prevalent in Reconstructionist circles, suffice it to say that eschatology is of first importance to theonomic authors and to the defense of the thesis from attacks at critical points. This is a major point of contention with the Reconstructionist's evangelical antagonists, the Dispensationalists. Hence, Reconstructionist presses crank out a steady stream of popular and academic treatments of postmillennial and preterist eschatology.

Among the areas in the theonomic thesis where postmillennialism plays an important role are: 1) challenging prevalent Christian eschatological pessimism (in both premillennial and amillennial circles) which robs an important motive force for Christian societal labor in the here and now; 2) addressing Christian preoccupation with the heavenly consummation of Christ's kingdom (or an earthly millennium) which diverts focus from the present responsibilities and blessings of kingdom life; and 3) explaining why the Reconstructionist agenda will not have to resort to the use of force to see its hopes for the nations realized. Often the Reconstructionist is accused of being anti-democratic and of plotting to impose his societal vision on the unwilling masses. However, because of his postmillennialism, he can explain that the nations will be willingly reconstructed as the gospel itself advances.

C. Transformational Worldview (embracing theonomic ethics)

Third, what might be called a "macro-transformational worldview" is essential to Theonomy. The terminology of "reconstruction" and "dominion," common to theonomic literature, comes from this idea. The Reconstructionists are arguing for impacting the structures of society (government, economic system, educational system, etc. [hence, macro-transformational worldview]) with the law of God. In the words of Rushdoony, "as the new chosen people of God, the Christians are commanded to do what Adam in Eden, and Israel in Canaan failed to do. One and the same covenant under differing administrations still prevails. Man is summoned to create the society that God requires" (italics mine). The Christian's calling to be a transformer of society is what Rushdoony is accentuating, here and elsewhere. Now, of course, the idea of "transformation" is not unique to Reconstructionism. It is standard in Reformed theology as a quick review of the writings of Calvin, Knox, Dabney, Henry, Schaeffer and others will reveal. Every believer has been given the charge to be salt and light in society. Reformed theology has always taken those salt and light functions seriously. Whether the Reconstructionists are disproportionate in their emphasis on societal (as opposed to personal) transformation is, of course, open to question.

This same concern for societal impact as part of every Christian's vocation is echoed in Bahnsen's writings where he stresses that this involvement and transformation must entail the supreme criterion of God's law. He writes:

The Christian's ethical responsibility to the law of his God extends beyond the simple personal observation of those stipulations. More than just obeying God's commandments personally, the Christian is expected to promote the keeping of God's law (and every detail thereof).

Elsewhere, he adds: "Christian involvement in politics calls for recognition of God's transcendent, absolute, revealed laws as a standard by which to judge all social codes."

So far, about all that has been argued in the above quotations is that the Christian has social as well as personal obligations which are entailed in his sanctification, and that God's law provides the touchstone by which his civic involvement is to be evaluated. The eccentricity of the Reconstructionist program for transformation is found in its appeal to the Old Covenant judicial case law as binding for the New Covenant era nation-state (hence, it is a "transformational worldview embracing theonomic ethics "). For example, Bahnsen says:

We have observed that a distinctively Christian position with respect to law and politics will call for promoting of the comprehensive Gospel advocated by the Reformed Faith--a Gospel which has political implications because Christ has established God's kingdom (with its influence in every area of life) and now rules as the King of Kings over all mankind. ... Study of Scripture has shown that God's will for public justice and politics has been revealed in the permanent standards of God's law. Therefore, Christians ought to work to persuade others of their obligation to the commandments of God, including the civil magistrate of his duty to enforce the penal sanctions of God's law against criminal activity in society (emphasis mine).

Reconstructionism's particular version of transformationalism is linked to both its presuppositional and postmillennial commitments. It is easy to see how one could argue that if there is no such thing as "natural law" (in the Calvinian sense), and if there are only two ultimate sources of law (God or self), and if God intended the Old Testament case law as "a model of social justice for all cultures," and if Christ is going to return after a golden age on earth characterized by godly rule and peace, then surely the kingdom in the millennium will be ruled on the basis of God's own revealed law in the Old Testament (including case law and attendant penal sanctions), and Christians should be actively working to bring about in their own countries observance of the law which God intended for all nations and which He will establish in the millennium.

D. Highlights of the Theological Justification of theonomic ethics

These three distinctives are identified by Theonomists themselves as essential to their position. However, the last one (a transformational worldview embracing "theonomic ethics") entails at least five propositions necessary for its own justification. What are "theonomic ethics?" Theonomy simply mean's "God's law." So what is unique about the Reconstructionist approach to it? "God's law in exhaustive detail" is a battle cry for the movement. What exactly does a Theonomist mean by that and what is its significance?

These queries may be answered by recourse to Bahnsen's case for Theonomy. Key points of his argument may be briefly outlined as follows. First, the law of God (in its entirety) is binding in the New Covenant as well as the Old. Second, there is no explicit Scriptural recognition of the common distinction between the moral and civil law. Third, there are two types of law in the Mosaic code: moral and restorative. What has traditionally been called the civil law is part of the moral. This is justified by the identification of an "underlying rationale" in God's law. Fourth, the restorative (or ceremonial) has been confirmed by Christ and therefore is no longer kept by believers. The moral law remains perpetually binding, including the case laws and attendant penal sanctions (though not necessarily retaining their precise wording). Fifth, the fact that civil law is still binding is confirmed by New Testament citation of case law as authoritative for the New Covenant era. Therefore, the Christian ought to be obedient to the Old Covenant civil laws, encouraging others to obey the civil law, and working in one's own country to realize the enactment of the Old Covenant civil code (with appropriate modifications) as part of the law of the land. Hence, the appeal to "the abiding validity of God's law in exhaustive detail" means for Bahnsen that the moral law is not really kept until the Mosaic civil code (which is part of that moral law) is honored.

In order to elucidate the main points of the above-outlined justification of the theonomic theory, it will be profitable to survey and critique five more important assertions in Bahnsen's argument. After which, we will offer a concise summarization of the essential marks of a Theonomist.

1. Espousal of Twofold Division of the Law (or the Unity of the Law)

Reconstructionists identify the most significant distinction between Old Covenant laws as twofold: moral and ceremonial. Historically speaking, this means a functional denial (most commonly in the form of a reinterpretation) of the traditional Reformed threefold division of the law--moral, civil and ceremonial-- (cf., Westminster Confession of Faith 19:3-5) and, alternatively, the espousal of a twofold division--moral and ceremonial (or restorative). Theologically, it involves an attempt to identify all non-ceremonial Old Covenant law with the moral law (summarized in the ten commandments) in such a way that they constitute a unity. Hence, if one accepts this identification, and grants that the moral law remains authoritative in the New Covenant era, so also must one grant that the enduring validity all other non-ceremonial law. This is very important to the theonomic "exegetical" argument. Bahnsen says:

The most fundamental distinction to be drawn between Old Testament laws is between moral laws and ceremonial laws. ... This is not an arbitrary or ad hoc division, for it manifests an underlying rationale or principle. Moral laws reflect the absolute righteousness and judgment of God, guiding man's life into the paths of righteousness; such laws define holiness and sin, restrain evil through punishment of infractions, and drive the sinner to Christ for salvation. On the other hand, ceremonial laws--or redemptive provisions--reflect the mercy of God in saving those who have violated His moral standards....

He goes on to say elsewhere, "The ceremonial law can be seen to have sub-divisions: (1) laws directing the redemptive process therefore typifying Christ...and (2) laws which taught the redemptive community its separation from the unbelieving nations...." He continues, "The moral lawof God can likewise be seen in two subdivisions, the divisions having simply a literary difference: (1) general or summary precepts of morality... and (2) commands that specify the general precepts by way of illustrative application...."

It should be noted that this is a critical point to Bahnsen's exegetical argument for the continuing validity and binding authority of the Mosaic civil legislation in the New Covenant era. If Bahnsen's thesis is not sustained at this point his entire proposal fails, even if he were able to support every other major locus. It is also built on weak evidence. The importance, may I say, the genius, of this point is that Bahnsen attempts to link the civil ordinances to the moral law in such a way that any evidence for the continuing validity of the moral law in the New Covenant era becomes an argument in favor of the continuing validity of the civil code. Thus, standard Reformed arguments for the abiding authority of the moral law are marshalled by Reconstructionists as material to buttress their distinctive position.

However appealing Bahnsen's argument is here, it is not insurmountable. First, it may be observed, his argument is descriptive rather than exegetical. Though he chastises "latent antinomians" for "multiplying distinctions and qualifications which are not enumerated in God's word" his own categories are based not on explicit Scriptural testimony but on what he calls an "underlying rationale or principle." In other words his classification of "moral" and "ceremonial" is determined by his (however plausible) speculation on the purpose for which God gave particular laws.

Second, it should be noted that the designation "ceremonial law" is not employed in the Bible, nor is there anything like a comprehensive list of what might fall into such a category of laws. Is it as easy to distinguish civil and ceremonial law in the Torah as Bahnsen seems to suggest? Yet Bahnsen's argument assumes and proceeds on a readily identifiable set of "ceremonial laws." How does he recognize these?--by his assessment of their character, not by exegetical directive. What is the basis of the category "ceremonial law" then? It is determined descriptively. Even then, crucial questions remain. For instance, grant Bahnsen's descriptive distinction and answer the question "Is ceremonial law amoral?" For an interesting treatment of Old Testament civil law which does not avoid the complexities of categorization see Christopher J.H. Wright's Living as the People of God.

Third, though he insists that the New Testament allows for no distinction between moral and civil laws, the fact is that the New Testament does indeed make much of the distinction between the Old and New Covenant structure of the kingdom of God. Under the Old Covenant the institutional form of the kingdom of God was the nation-state of Israel. The New Covenant institutional form of the kingdom of God is the church (which is non-national and trans-national in its embodiment). This shift provides an important, simple and obvious rationale for the expiration of the judicial law. The civil law of Israel (as the application of God's eternal standards to a particular situation in the history of his kingdom) has now (in the progress of his redemptive economy) passed away with the demise of that state (in its unique role as earthly representative of the rule of God) and the advent of a superior institutional expression of God's rule.

Fourth, Bahnsen criticizes those who distinguish between moral, civil and ceremonial law on the basis that they are arguing without positive biblical warrant for a threefold distinction. However, as we have already observed, he cannot offer any positive biblical warrant for his own argument for the twofold moral/ceremonial distinction. He identifies these categories by his hypothesis on their function and purpose (in a way not dissimilar to those who identify a classification of moral, civil, and ceremonial law) yet accuses his opponents of holding a position without positive scriptural justification.

2. Hermeneutic of Assumed Continuing Validity

A fundamental hermeneutical principle, frequently repeated by Theonomists, is that if the New Testament does not explicitly abrogate a law then it is still in force. It is reminiscent of standard Reformed argumentation for the continuing validity of the moral precepts of the Mosaic code but also assumes the peculiar Reconstructionist two-fold distinction in the law. Bahnsen puts it this way: "We should presume that the Old Testament standing laws continue to be morally binding in the New Testament unless they are rescinded or modified by further revelation." In order to support this argument, he spends a great deal of time in exegesis of Matthew 5:17 arguing that the word "fulfilled" there is to be taken with the force of "confirmed." According to Bahnsen, Christ has "confirmed" the entire law of the Old Testament and hence anything not personally fulfilled by Christ on behalf of the believer is still required of the faithful in the New Covenant period. In other words, though Christ's saving work has made obsolete the ceremonial code, Jesus' words in Matthew 5:17 are taken to prove his confirmation of the believer's duty to keep the civil law (as part of the moral law). Bahnsen's exegesis is directly opposed to the dispensational formula here ("if an OT command is not repeated in the NT, it is no longer binding"), and probably derives from that conflict. Hence, we observe that this axiom is the inverse of the dispensational premise of dealing with Old Testament law. Whatever positive or negative response one has to Bahnsen's principle, it can be granted him, and his case for the binding authority of the case law still remains inconclusive-- if his argument for the twofold division of the law is not conceded to be compelling. In other words, if one grants Bahnsen his argument on Jesus' "confirmation" of the law, and his hermeneutic of continuing validity, and yet continues to hold to a threefold rather than a twofold division of the law, then all Bahnsen's argument proves is the continuing validity of the moral law. His argument cannot be sustained apart from the rectitude of his twofold division.

At this point, we may say in passing, that Bahnsen's case is often dependent upon a sort of fundamentalist, proof-texting approach to exposition (not unlike some of the dispensational exegesis to which he is responding). He finds no passage which specifically identifies a class of civil laws in the Mosaic code and so he postulates that no such thing exists. He finds no explicit New Testament abrogation of such a class of civil laws and, again, decides that the civil code must still be in effect. Meanwhile, he manages to ignore a great weight of inferential Scriptural evidence both for the existence of such a class of laws and its subsequent termination. Examples of this include: the obvious socio-governmental character of parts of the Mosaic code, the unique historical and redemptive-historical circumstances in which the civil code was given to Israel, the accommodational character of the legislation, the change in the institutional form of God's kingdom from Old Covenant to New, the demise of the nation-state of Israel, and the peculiar New Testament pattern of case law application (which we will review later).

Of course, this wooden approach to interpretation does not prevail consistently but only when he attempts a defense of the peculiar portions of his thesis. For instance, take the matter of his approach to the Mosaic ceremonial ordinances. The ceremonial law, as a class, is not explicitly abrogated in the New Testament. The passages that Reformed theologians (including Bahnsen) rely on to prove the abrogation of ceremonial law in the New Covenant era refer to particular cases in which Christ abrogated or fulfilled specific ceremonial ordinances: unclean food laws (Mark 7:19; Acts 10:15), and tabernacle furniture and ritual typology (Hebrews 9:1-14). Bahnsen and Reformed theologians in general argue from the abrogation of a specific ceremonial ordinance to the abrogation of a class of ceremonial ordinances (assuming, all along, that such a class exists). Such an argument is legitimate and very much like the argument of Reformed theologians for the existence and subsequent termination of a class of civil laws. Bahnsen employs it when arguing for the confirmation of the ceremonial law, but decries it when it is used to argue for the abrogation of the Mosaic civil code.

3. Appeal to New Testament Citation of Mosaic Case Law

One argument which is employed to show (in contrast to the ceremonial code) that the civil laws of Israel are still binding on Christians is drawn from the New Testament's authoritative citation of Mosaic case law. Theonomists assert that the New Testament appeal to the Old Testament case law proves that Old Testament case law is normative for the civil magistrate in the Christian era. Bahnsen says:

There is abundant evidence that the New Testament authoritatively cited and applied these case-law illustrations to current situations. To use examples mentioned above, the New Testament echoes the Old Testament law in prohibiting incest (1 Cor. 5:1), homosexuality (Rom. 1:26-27, 32), defrauding employees (Mark 10:19), and muzzling the ox as he treads (1Tim. 5:18).

Now, the fact that the New Testament applies case law is no surprise. The question is how it applies the case law. For instance, in one of the examples which Bahnsen cites in the quotation above (1 Timothy 5:18), Paul applies a civil law statute clearly intended for enforcing responsible treatment of domestic animals to the question of the church providing an equitable salary for a minister! This raises a very serious question. On Bahnsen's hermeneutical principles, how can the New Testament authors legitimately do that? How can they apply a case law patently intended for the state of Israel to an issue concerning the church?

One possible explanation entails recognizing that the New Testament authors had a profound understanding of the difference in the institutional form of the Old Covenant community (nation-state of Israel) and New Covenant community (church). Without going into the debate about Old and New Covenant church-state relations, at the very least, it can be said that under the older dispensation, the church was established by and closely tied to the nation-state whereas under the new dispensation, the church is trans-ethnic and trans-national. This external, structural, administrative change may find witness in the New Testament's modified application of civil case law to the ecclesiastical community.

Whatever the case may be, it is clear (even from this brief discussion) that mere appeal to the fact that the New Testament cites Old Testament case law does not provide, of itself, any positive evidence for Bahnsen's case. Indeed, the New Testament's employment of case law seems to provide prima facie evidence against the views of Theonomy. It always applies the Old Testament civic legislation to ecclesiastical issues and never even hints that Christians ought to seek a civil fulfillment for the peculiarly Mosaic case statutes.

4. Non-Arbitrary, non-Circumstantial Design of the Old Testament Case Law

Fourth, Reconstructionism postulates that Old Testament case law was not merely intended for the particular circumstances of Israel. In other words, they were not ad hoc--meant simply for a definite stage and circumstance of redemptive history. For example, Bahnsen says:

God's revealed standing laws are a reflection of His immutable moral character and, as such, are absolute in the sense of being non-arbitrary, objective, universal, and established in advance of particular circumstances (thus applicable to general types of moral situations).

One could affirm this whole quotation, with the exception of the word "universal" (if one understands Bahnsen's usage of it) and still reject Bahnsen's thesis. His basic argument is this: because the civil law of Israel is non-arbitrary, objective, and universal, it cannot be exclusively intended for the situation of ancient Israel. Therefore the civil laws must be applied today.

Now let us grant that the civil law reflects the character of God and that the civil law of Israel was non-arbitrary. Even if we concede these points, the intimation that God did not take into consideration the particular and temporal needs and circumstances of the nation-state of Israel is mystifying. The classical Reformed view differs from Bahnsen at this point. The Theonomist says that the civil law is neither arbitrary nor circumstantial. The general Reformed consensus holds that the civil law was not arbitrary, but was circumstantial. If this latter view is correct, then there may be things peculiar to the Mosaic code which are inappropriate for the modern nation-state.

This is an area where Theonomy, in gross violation of biblical patterns and common sense, is ignoring the context of the giving of the law to the redemptive community of the Old Testament. This constitutes an approach to the nature of the civil law very different from Calvin and the rest of the Reformed tradition, which sees the civil law as God's application of his eternal standards to the particular exigencies of his people.

5. Mosaic Case Law a Model of Social Justice for All Cultures

Fifth, and following on the last point, Theonomy asserts that the Old Testament case law is a model of social justice for all cultures, including the penal code. To quote Bahnsen again: "The civil precepts of the Old Testament (standing `judicial' laws) are a model of perfect social justice for all cultures, even in the punishment of criminals." This point [the continuing validity of Mosaic penology] is clearly important in the Reconstructionist ideology. It has also occasioned some of the most vehement reactions of non-Theonomists. Abusive ad hominem and sensationalism have reigned in most responses to this issue, hence a more restrained approach and thorough reply is still needed.

Without question, none should underestimate the value of having God's own revealed applications of his eternal character and the principles of his moral law to the civil situation in Israel. These laws may indeed give us guidance in making equitable laws and even suggesting appropriate punishments. Calvin and the Puritans acknowledged this, as has the whole of the Reformed tradition in general. However, we must not forget that the circumstances in God's redemptive purposes may have dictated both the form and even the content of the case law at certain points. This Calvin, and the Puritans following him, clearly recognized.

E. The Marks of a Christian Reconstructionist (Theonomist)

What, then, qualifies a person to be a Reconstructionist? How do you identify a one? We will summarize the preceding discussion by pointing to nine distinctive marks of a Theonomic Reconstructionist. First of all, the Theonomist opposes a dispensational/antinomian view of the law in Christian life. Second, the Theonomist endorses presuppositionalism (especially in its rejection of natural law and emphasis on non-neutrality). Third, the Theonomist is postmillennial in his eschatological platform. Fourth, the Theonomist espouses a Kuyperian transformational worldview, emphasizing the law as the Christian's tool of dominion. Fifth , the Theonomist argues that the civil law is a sub-set of the moral law. Sixth, the Theonomist insists that the Old Testament civil case law is normative for the civil magistrate and government in the New Covenant era. Seventh, the Theonomist maintains, on principle, that the state is obligated to apply the Old Testament case laws' penal sanctions. Eighth, the Theonomist asserts that it is the Christian's duty to obey and work for the enactment of the Old Testament civil law and its penal sanctions in the modern nation-state. Ninth, the Theonomist is willing to label as antinomian (or latent antinomian) fellow Christians who do not share his particular views of the present-day application of the Mosaic code, because indifference to the theonomic thesis is impossible.

This prelimary sketch of Reconstructionism has revealed a number of identifiable traits of and influences on the movement. For instance, 1) it is apparent that Reconstructionism is sub-category of Calvinism. One may be a Calvinist and not be a Reconstructionist, but one may not be a Reconstructionist and not be a Calvinist (consistently). Reconstructionism borrows heavily from the Calvinistic legacy not only in its high view of Scripture, but also in its views of Church-State relations, and the complementarity of law and gospel. 2) Reconstructionism is heavily indebted to Kuyperian (and/or Dooyeweerdian) thinking about common grace and antithesis. The Reconstructionists' "worldy-minded Calvinism" draws strongly on nineteenth and twentieth century Dutch Calvinist philosophical traditions, notwithstanding points of contact with older British precedents. 3) In terms of redemptive historical approach, Theonomists tend to stress continuity of redemptive history more or in a different way than have mainstream Calvinists. 4) Reconstructionism also rejects the older Reformed views of divine natural law and promotes a positivist view of law. 5) A tendency to supralapsarianism and mono-covenantal thought can also be found in Reconstructionist circles. That is, Theonomists are predisposed to "high Calvinism" in their view of the decrees but also to deny (wittingly or unwittingly, explicitly or implicitly) important aspects of classical, federal, bi-covenantal theology. There is much evidence of a reticence to speak about a covenant of works/covenant of grace framework, and even a hesitance to talk about distinctive stages in the covenant of grace. 6) Reconstructionists are inclined downplay or deny (theoretically and/or functionally) "common grace insights" in the Christian's formation of a distinctively Christian approach to his culture. Theonomists are suspicious of general evangelicalism's exaltation of general revelation over special revelation, and its the frequent capitulations to unbiblical patterns heralded as wisdom gleaned from God's revelation in nature and providence.

Note: Due to technical difficulties the footnotes have not been reproduced. For footnotes/references readers are refered to the author at the email address above.

A Selected Bibliography

  • G.L. Bahnsen. No Other Standard. Tyler, TX; Institute for Christian Economics, 1991.
  • G.L. Bahnsen. Theonomy in Christian Ethics. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1977.
  • W.S. Barker and W.R. Godfrey, eds. Theonomy: A Reformed Critique . Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990.
  • M. Cromartie. No Longer Exiles: The Religious New Right in American Politics. Washington, DC: Ethics and Public Policy Center, 1993.
  • G. DeMar. The Debate Over Christian Reconstruction. Fort Worth Dominion, 1988.
  • G. DeMar. "You've Heard It Said." Brentwood, TN: Wolgemuth and Hyatt, 1991.
  • K.L. Gentry. God's Law in the Modern World. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1993.
  • T.D. Gordon. "Critique of Theonomy: A Taxonomy." Westminster Theological Journal 56 (1994): 23-43.
  • H.W. House and T. Ice. Dominion Theology: Blessing or Curse? Portland: Multnomah, 1988.
  • J.B. Jordan, ed. Christianity and Civilization: The Failure of American Baptist Culture 1 (Spring, 1982).
  • God and Politics. "On Earth as It Is in Heaven." Produced by Bill Moyers. 60 min. Films for the Humanities and Sciences, n.d. Videocassette.
  • R. Nash. Great Divides. Colorado Springs: NavPress, 1993.
  • G. North. Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism. Tyler, TX; Institute for Christian Economics, 1989.
  • G. North. Theonomy: An Informed Response. Tyler, TX; Institute for Christian Economics, 1991.
  • G. North. Westminster's Confession: The Abandonment of Van Til's Legacy. Tyler, TX; Institute for Christian Economics, 1991.
  • R.J. Rushdoony. The Institutes of Biblical Law. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1973.
The Third Sunday in Advent.
The Collect.
O LORD Jesus Christ, who at thy first coming didst send thy messenger to prepare thy way before thee; Grant that the ministers and stewards of thy mysteries may likewise so prepare and make ready thy way, by turning the hearts of the disobedient to the wisdom of the just, that at thy second coming to judge the world we may be found an acceptable people in thy sight, who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit ever, one God, world without end. Amen.
The First Sunday of Advent.
The Collect.
ALMIGHTY God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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