Christian reconstructionism

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Christian reconstructionism is a fundamentalist Calvinist theonomic movement.[1] It developed primarily under the direction of Rousas Rushdoony, Greg Bahnsen and Gary North[2] and has had an important influence on the Christian right in the United States.[3][4] Its central theme is that society should be reconstructed under the lordship of Christ in all aspects of life.[5] In keeping with the biblical cultural mandate, reconstructionists advocate for theonomy and the restoration of certain biblical laws said to have continued applicability.[6] These include the death penalty not only for murder, but also for idolatry,[7] open homosexuality,[8] adultery, witchcraft and blasphemy.[9]

Most Calvinists reject Christian reconstructionism and hold to classical covenant theology, which is the traditional Calvinist view of the relationship between the Old Covenant and Christianity.[10]

Christian reconstructionism is closely linked with postmillenial eschatology and the presuppositional apologetics of Cornelius Van Til.[11][12]

Reconstructionist perspective[edit]


Christian reconstructionists advocate a theonomic government and libertarian economic principles. They maintain a distinction of spheres of authority between self, family, church, and state.[13][14] For example, the enforcement of moral sanctions under theonomy is carried out by the family and church government, and sanctions for moral offenses are outside the authority of civil government (which is limited to criminal matters, courts and national defense). However, some believe these distinctions become blurred, as the application of theonomy implies an increase in the authority of the civil government.[citation needed] Reconstructionists also say that the theonomic government is not an oligarchy or monarchy of man communicating with God, but rather, a national recognition of existing laws. Prominent advocates of Christian reconstructionism have written that according to their understanding, God's law approves of the death penalty not only for murder, but also for propagators of all forms of idolatry,[15][7] open homosexuality,[16] adulterers, practitioners of witchcraft, blasphemers,[9] and perhaps even recalcitrant youths[17] (see the List of capital crimes in the Bible).

Christian reconstructionism's founder, Rousas Rushdoony, wrote in The Institutes of Biblical Law (the founding document of reconstructionism) that Old Testament law should be applied to modern society, and he advocates the reinstatement of the Mosaic law's penal sanctions such as stoning. Under such a system, the list of civil crimes which carried a death sentence would include murder, homosexuality, adultery, incest, lying about one's virginity, bestiality, witchcraft, idolatry or apostasy, public blasphemy, false prophesying, kidnapping, rape, and bearing false witness in a capital case.[18] However, Greg Bahnsen points out that such a system would only be possible if the culture at large were a Christian culture, and that the force of government could not be used to impose Christianity on a culture that did not want it.[7]

Kayser points out that the Bible advocates justice, and that biblical punishments prescribed for crimes are the maximum allowable to maintain justice and not the only available option, because lesser punishments are authorized as well.[19]

Views on pluralism[edit]

Rousas Rushdoony wrote in The Institutes of Biblical Law: "The heresy of democracy has since [the days of colonial New England] worked havoc in church and state"[citation needed] and: "Christianity and democracy are inevitably enemies", and he said elsewhere that "Christianity is completely and radically anti-democratic; it is committed to spiritual aristocracy," and characterized democracy as "the great love of the failures and cowards of life".[20] He nevertheless repeatedly expressed his opposition to any sort of violent revolution and advocated instead the gradual reformation (often termed "regeneration" in his writings) of society from the bottom up, beginning with the individual and the family and from there gradually reforming other spheres of authority, including the church and the state.[21]

Rushdoony believed that a republic is a better form of civil government than a democracy. According to Rushdoony, a republic avoided mob rule and the rule of the "51%" of society; in other words "might does not make right" in a republic.[22] Rushdoony wrote that America's separation of powers between 3 branches of government is a far more neutral and better method of civil government than a direct democracy, stating "[t]he [American] Constitution was designed to perpetuate a Christian order". Rushdoony argues that the Constitution's purpose was to protect religion from the federal government and to preserve "states' rights."[23]

Douglas W. Kennard, a Professor Theology and Philosophy at the Houston Graduate School of Theology, wrote with regard to Christian reconstructionism, that Christians of non-Calvinist traditions, such as some "Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, [and] Orthodox", would be "under threat of capital punishment as fostered by the extreme Theonomist."[24] On the other hand, Ligon Duncan has stated that "Roman Catholics to Episcopalians to Presbyterians to Pentecostals", as well as "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)."[25]

Influence on the Christian right in general[edit]

Although it has a relatively small number of self-described adherents, Christian reconstructionism has played a role in promoting the trend toward explicitly Christian politics in the larger American Christian right.[26][page needed] This is the wider trend to which some critics refer, generally, as dominionism. Also, they allegedly have an amount of influence which is disproportionate to their numbers among advocates of the growth of the Christian homeschooling movement and other Christian education movements that seek independence from the direct oversight or support of the civil government. Because their numbers are so small compared to their influence, they are sometimes accused of being secretive and conspiratorial.[27][28]

In Matthew 28:18, Jesus says, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth." This verse is seen as an announcement by Jesus that he has assumed authority over all earthly authority. In that light, some theologians interpret the Great Commission as a command to exercise that authority in his name, bringing all things (including societies and cultures) into subjection under his commands. Rousas Rushdoony, for example, interpreted the Great Commission as a republication of the "creation mandate",[29] referring to Genesis 1:28

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

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

The purpose of Christ's coming was in terms of the creation mandate... The redeemed are called to the original purpose of man, to exercise dominion under God, to be covenant-keepers, and to fulfil "the righteousness of the law" (Rom. 8:4)... Man is summoned to create the society God requires.[30]

Elsewhere he wrote:

The man who is being progressively sanctified will inescapably sanctify his home, school, politics, economics, science, and all things else by understanding and interpreting all things in terms of the word of God.[31]

Many evangelical Christians of all types have embraced Christian Reconstructionism in part or in whole. Evangelical leaders who endorsed it explicitly or implicitly include Jerry Falwell Sr., Bill Gothard, Jay Grimstead, D. James Kennedy, Tim LaHaye, Doug Phillips, Howard Phillips, Pat Robertson, Francis Schaeffer, and Wayne Whitehead. Gothard and the two Phillipses, for example, used Christian Reconstructionism to build the evangelical homeschooling community of the 1970s and 1980s. Robertson and Kennedy hosted Rushdoony on their television programs, and Robertson also used dominionist language in his book, The Secret Kingdom, and in his 1988 presidential campaign.[32]

Grimstead, of the Coalition on Revival, summarized the position of many evangelical leaders: "'I don't call myself [a Reconstructionist],' but 'A lot of us are coming to realize that the Bible is God's standard of morality ... in all points of history ... and for all societies, Christian and non-Christian alike... It so happens that Rushdoony, Bahnsen, and North understood that sooner.' He added, 'There are a lot of us floating around in Christian leadership—James Kennedy is one of them—who don't go all the way with the theonomy thing, but who want to rebuild America based on the Bible.'"[33]

Christian critics[edit]

Michael Horton of Westminster Seminary California has warned against the seductiveness of power-religion. The Christian rhetoric of the movement is weak, he argues, against the logic of its authoritarian and legalistic program, which will always drive reconstructionism toward sub-Christian ideas about sin, and the perfectibility of human nature (such as to imagine that, if Christians are in power, they won't be inclined to do evil). On the contrary, Horton and others maintain, God's Law can, often has been, and will be put to evil uses by Christians and others, in the state, in churches, in the marketplace, and in families; and these crimes are aggravated, because to oppose a wrong committed through abuse of God's law, a critic must bear being labeled an enemy of God's law.[34]

J. Ligon Duncan of the Department of Systematic Theology of Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, warns that "Theonomy, in gross violation of biblical patterns and common sense, ignores 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." Duncan rejects the reconstructionists' insistence that "the Old Testament civil case law is normative for the civil magistrate and government in the New Covenant era". He views their denial of the threefold distinction between moral, civil, and ceremonial law as representing one of the severe flaws in the reconstructionist hermeneutic.[35]

The late Professor Meredith Kline, whose own theology has influenced the method of several reconstructionist theologians, had adamantly maintained that reconstructionism makes the mistake of failing to understand the special prophetic role of biblical Israel, including the laws and sanctions, calling it "a delusive and grotesque perversion of the teachings of scripture."[36] Kline's student, Lee Irons, furthers the critique:

According to the Reformed theocrats apparently... the only satisfactory goal is that America become a Christian nation. Ironically... it is the wholesale rejection (not revival) of theocratic principles that is desperately needed today if the church is to be faithful to the task of gospel witness entrusted to her in the present age... It is only as the church... puts aside the lust for worldly influence and power – that she will be a positive presence in society.[37]

Rodney Clapp wrote that reconstructionism is an anti-democratic movement.[38][39]

In an April 2009 article in Christianity Today about theologian and writer Douglas Wilson, the magazine described reconstructionism as outside the "mainstream" views of evangelical Christians. It also stated that it "borders on a call for outright theocracy".[40]

George M. Marsden, a professor of history at the University of Notre Dame, has remarked in Christianity Today that "Reconstructionism in its pure form is a radical movement". He also wrote, "[t]he positive proposals of Reconstructionists are so far out of line with American evangelical commitments to American republican ideals such as religious freedom that the number of true believers in the movement is small."[41]

Popular religious author, feminist, and former Roman Catholic religious sister Karen Armstrong sees a potential for "fascism" in Christian reconstructionism, and sees the eventual Dominion envisioned by theologians R. J. Rushdoony and Gary North as "totalitarian. There is no room for any other view or policy, no democratic tolerance for rival parties, no individual freedom."[42]

Traditional Calvinist Christians have argued that Christian reconstructionists have "significantly misunderstood the positions of Calvin, other Reformed teachers and the Westminster Confession concerning the relationship between the Sinai covenant's ethical stipulations and the Christian obligation to the Mosaic judicial laws today."[10]

Relationship to dominionism[edit]

Some sociologists and critics refer to reconstructionism as a type of dominionism. These critics claim that the frequent use of the word dominion by reconstructionist writers strongly associates the critical term "dominionism" with this movement. As an ideological form of dominionism, reconstructionism is sometimes held up as the most typical form of dominion theology.[26][page needed][27][43][page needed][28][44][page needed][45][page needed]

The Protestant theologian Francis Schaeffer is linked with the movement by some critics, but some reconstructionist thinkers are highly critical of his positions. Schaeffer himself disavowed any connection or affiliation with reconstructionism, though he did cordially correspond with Rushdoony on occasion.[46] Authors Sara Diamond and Fred Clarkson suggest that Schaeffer shared with reconstructionism the tendency toward dominionism.[27][43][page needed]

Christian reconstructionists[who?] object to the "dominionism" and the "dominion theology" labels, which they say misrepresent their views. Some separate Christian cultural and political movements object to being described with the label "dominionism", because in their mind the word implies attachment to reconstructionism. In reconstructionism, the idea of "godly" dominion, subject to God, is contrasted with the "autonomous" dominion of mankind in rebellion against God.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Duncan, J. Ligon III (October 15, 1994). Moses' Law for Modern Government. Annual national meeting of the Social Science History Association. Atlanta, GA. Archived from the original on November 30, 2012. Retrieved August 23, 2013.
  2. ^ Smith, David L. (February 1, 2001). A Handbook of Contemporary Theology: Tracing Trends and Discerning Directions in Today's Theological Landscape. Baker Publishing Group. p. 214. ISBN 9781441206367.
  3. ^ Clarkson, Frederick (1995). "Christian Reconstructionism". In Berlet, Chip (ed.). Eyes Right!: Challenging the Right Wing Backlash. Boston: South End Press. p. 73. ISBN 9780896085237.
  4. ^ Ingersoll, Julie (2009). "Mobilizing Evangelicals: Christian Reconstructionism and the Roots of the Religious Right". In Brint, Steven; Schroedel, Jean Reith (eds.). Evangelicals and Democracy in America: Religion and politics. Vol. 2. New York: Russell Sage Foundation. p. 180. ISBN 9780871540683.
  5. ^ Slick, Matt (January 12, 2009). "Christian reconstructionism". Retrieved October 28, 2022.
  6. ^ McClendon, James William (1994). Systematic Theology: Doctrine. Abingdon Press. p. 180. ISBN 9780687110216.
  7. ^ a b c Bahnsen, Greg L, Interview, CMF now, archived from the original on May 14, 2020, retrieved December 11, 2007.
  8. ^ DeMar, Gary (1987), Ruler of the Nations, Dominion Press, p. 212
  9. ^ a b North, Gary, Unconditional Surrender: God's Program for Victory, US: Online home, p. 118, archived from the original on November 19, 2007, retrieved December 12, 2007.
  10. ^ a b Cunningham, Timothy R. (March 28, 2013). How Firm a Foundation?: An Exegetical and Historical Critique of the "Ethical Perspective of [Christian] Reconstructionism" Presented in Theonomy in Christian Ethics. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 7. ISBN 9781608994618.
  11. ^ Worthen, Molly (2008). "The Chalcedon Problem: Rousas John Rushdoony and the Origins of Christian Reconstructionism". Church History. 77 (2): 399–437. doi:10.1017/S0009640708000590. S2CID 153625926.
  12. ^ Rosenberg, Paul (July 31, 2015). "Secrets of the extreme religious right: Inside the frightening world of Christian Reconstructionism". Salon. Retrieved March 2, 2019.
  13. ^ McVicar, Michael J (Fall 2007), "The Libertarian Theocrats: The Long, Strange History of RJ Rushdoony and Christian Reconstructionism", Public Eye, 22 (3), archived from the original on August 23, 2013, retrieved August 24, 2013
  14. ^ *Brown, Mark D. R.O.S.E.S. - The Five Points of Christian Reconstruction (PDF). Omaha, Nebraska: Biblical Blueprints. Archived from the original (PDF) on February 22, 2014. Retrieved February 14, 2014. His laws are to be obeyed by every human individual as well as by every human institution. [... T]he Bible does recognize several other legitimate human governments that God has established. [...] These governments are under His sovereignty and are also separate from one another. Each one has its moral authority ordained by God within its limited sphere of jurisdiction. [...] The Family [...] The Church [...] The State [...] Historically, human civilizations have brought tremendous suffering and judgment upon themselves because they have blurred the distinctions between these separate governments, have failed to submit to the biblical requirements for these governments, and have over-extended the authority of one or more of these governments.
  15. ^ Rushdoony 1973, pp. 38–39.
  16. ^ DeMar, Gary (1987), Ruler of the Nations, Dominion Press, p. 212.
  17. ^ Einwechter, William (January–February 2003). "Stoning Disobedient Children?". The Christian Statesman. Vol. 146, no. 1. Archived from the original on August 17, 2003 – via National Reform Association.{{cite magazine}}: CS1 maint: unfit URL (link).
  18. ^ Durand, Greg Loren (October 31, 2014), Judicial Warfare: Christian Reconstruction's Blueprints For Dominion, Chapter 13, Toccoa, Ga.: Sola Fide Publishers, 2014, ISBN 978-0692240601.
  19. ^ Kayser, Phillip G. Is the Death Penalty Just? (PDF). Omaha, NE: Biblical Blueprints. Archived from the original (PDF) on October 27, 2012. Retrieved February 14, 2014. What is the legitimate punishment for a crime? [... W]hat would stop a tyrannical state from once again imposing the death penalty for petty theft as was repeatedly practiced in England? On the other hand, what would hinder the state from simply fining a murderer $100? [...] Without an objective standard of justice from God, how can we discern justice? [...] Is it unjust to cut off the hand of a thief as is prescribed in the Koran? The Bible would say, yes. In America people are placed into jail for years for thefts that could have been paid off by means of Biblical restitution in much less time. With the biblical penalty, the criminal is rehabilitated and the victim is compensated. It is easy to see how the Biblical penalties designed to be restorative would be a wonderful alternative to present penalties. But some people have questioned whether the Biblical death penalty should be implemented. It is acknowledged that the penalty for murder is not restorative. But it is the contention of this booklet that the (maximum) penalty of death for every other crime was designed to restore sinners to repentance. [...] Theonomists have tended to treat [the Hebrew phrase "möt yumat"] as a mandate for the death penalty. I argue that this is impossible, since God Himself authorized lesser penalties.
  20. ^ In Extremis – Rousas Rushdoony and his Connections, British Centre for Science Education, retrieved December 12, 2007.
  21. ^ Dream of Total Justice, Chalcedon Foundation, retrieved July 8, 2012.
  22. ^ Rushdoony, R. J. "On Earth As It Is in Heaven". God and Politics (Interview). Interviewed by Bill Moyers. Alexandria, VA: PBS.
  23. ^ Rushdoony, Rousas J. (1965). The Nature of the American System. Ross House Books. ISBN 978-1879998278. Archived from the original on March 22, 2011.
  24. ^ Kennard, Douglas W. (December 4, 2015). Biblical Covenantalism. Wipf and Stock Publishers. p. 26. ISBN 9781625646606.
  25. ^ J. Ligon Duncan III (October 15, 1994). "Moses' Law for Modern Government: The Intellectual and Sociological Origins of the Christian Reconstructionist Movement". Center for Reformed Theology and Apologetics. Archived from the original on November 30, 2012. Retrieved July 1, 2017.
  26. ^ a b Martin 1996.
  27. ^ a b c Diamond, Sara. 1995. Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States. New York: Guilford Press. ISBN 0-89862-864-4.
  28. ^ a b Diamond, Sara. 1989. Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right. Boston: South End Press.
  29. ^ Rushdoony 1973, p. 729.
  30. ^ Rushdoony 1973, pp. 3–4.
  31. ^ Rushdoony, Rousas John, "Foreword", in Bahnsen, Greg (ed.), Theonomy in Christian Ethics (3rd ed.), p. xii.
  32. ^ Du Mez, Kristin Kobes (2020). Jesus and John Wayne: how white evangelicals corrupted a faith and fractured a nation. New York, NY. p. 78. ISBN 978-1-63149-573-1. OCLC 1120090251.
  33. ^ Martin 1996, p. 354.
  34. ^ Horton, Michael (September–October 1994), "In God's Name: Guidelines for Proper Political Involvement", Modern Reformation Magazine, 3 (5), archived from the original on April 15, 2007.
  35. ^ Duncan, J Ligon (1994). "Moses' Law for Modern Government: The Intellectual and Sociological Origins of the Christian Reconstructionist Movement". Archived from the original on November 30, 2012. Retrieved August 23, 2011.
  36. ^ Kline, Meredith (Fall 1978), "Comments on an Old-New Error", Westminster Theological Journal (41): 172–89
  37. ^ Irons, Lee (2002). "The Reformed Theocrats: A Biblical Theological Response". Retrieved March 30, 2008.
  38. ^ Clapp, Rodney (February 20, 1987). "Democracy as Heresy". Christianity Today. Vol. 31, no. 3. pp. 17–23.
  39. ^ North, Gary (1987). "Honest Reporting as Heresy". Westminster's Confession. pp. 317–41.
  40. ^ Worthen, Molly (April 2009), "The Controversialist", Christianity Today, 53 (4), retrieved June 16, 2009.
  41. ^ The Sword of the Lord. Christianity Today. Published March 1, 2006.
  42. ^ Armstrong, The Battle for God, pp. 361–2
  43. ^ a b Clarkson 1997.
  44. ^ Berlet & Lyons 2000.
  45. ^ Barron 1992.
  46. ^ Did Francis Schaeffer Believe Rushdoony Was Crazy?, Chalcedon, archived from the original on February 13, 2010


Further reading[edit]

Primary sources by Christian Reconstructionists[edit]

Bahnsen, Greg L (2002) [1977], Theonomy in Christian Ethics (3rd ed.), Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant, ISBN 978-0-9678317-3-2.

——————— (Winter 1979), "MG Kline on Theonomic Politics: An Evaluation of His Reply", Journal of Christian Reconstruction.

——————— (1991), By This Standard: The Authority of God's Law Today, Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, ISBN 978-0-930464-06-6, archived from the original on December 15, 2004.

——————— (1991), No Other Standard: Theonomy and Its Critics, Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, ISBN 978-0-930464-56-1, archived from the original on May 19, 2000.

DeMar, Gary; Leithart, Peter (1990) [1988], Reduction of Christianity: A Biblical Response to Dave Hunt, Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, ISBN 978-0-930462-63-5, archived from the original on June 20, 2006, retrieved April 15, 2006

Gentry, Kenneth (1992), He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology, Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, ISBN 978-0-930464-62-2, retrieved April 15, 2006.

North, Gary (1989), Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism, Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, ISBN 978-0-930464-32-5. ————— (1990), Tools of Dominion: The Case Laws of Exodus, Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, ISBN 978-0-930464-10-3, archived from the original on June 20, 2006, retrieved April 15, 2006.

————— (1991), Theonomy: An Informed Response, Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, ISBN 978-0-930464-59-2, archived from the original on June 20, 2006, retrieved April 15, 2006.

Rushdoony, Rousas John (1978), The Nature of the American System, Fairfax, VA: Thoburn Press.

Secondary sources and critiques[edit]

Clark, R. Scott (2006). "Reconstructionism". In Campbell-Jack, W.C.; McGrath, Gavin J. (eds.). The New Dictionary of Christian Apologetics. Leicester: Inter-Varsity Press. ISBN 978-0830824519.

Duncan, J. Ligon III (October 15, 1994). Moses' Law for Modern Government. Annual national meeting of the Social Science History Association. Atlanta, GA. Archived from the original on November 30, 2012. Retrieved August 23, 2013.

Durand, Greg Loren (2014), Judicial Warfare: Christian Reconstruction and Its Blueprints For Dominion (third ed.), Toccoa, GA: Sola Fide Publishers, ISBN 978-0692240601

McVicar, Michael J. (2015). Christian Reconstruction: R. J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press. ISBN 978-1469622743.

Moyers, Bill (producer) (January 1, 1987). "On Earth as It Is in Heaven". God and Politics. Episode 3. ASIN B006RLPCC2. Acorn Media.

Smith, Chris (Fall 2012), "His Truth is Marching On", California, archived from the original on April 15, 2013, retrieved August 23, 2013

Sugg, John (December 2005), "A Nation Under God", Mother Jones, archived from the original on June 22, 2013, retrieved August 23, 2013

External links[edit]