The Continuing Legacy of Christian Reconstruction
From time-to-time the question comes up: “What is Christian Reconstruction?” The following is the text of a September 17, 2005, talk given at the Chalcedon Foundation’s 40th anniversary conference in Cumming, Georgia, at the Chalcedon Presbyterian Church whose Pastor is Joe Morecraft III. Mark Rushdoony is the son of the late Dr. R.J. Rushdoony, my theological mentor.—J.L.
By Mark R. Rushdoony
I would like to talk this morning about what Christian Reconstruction is. When people ask me for an explanation of what Christian Reconstruction is, I usually give them the short answer. I say,
Our culture has problems because it is based on the sinful will of men. Rebellion against God never works, so these problems will progress to a systemic failure. We believe in rebuilding our culture on the Word of God, starting with individuals and progressing outwardly to families, groups, institutions, communities, and beyond.
Chalcedon is an organization that promotes Christian Reconstruction, but Christian Reconstruction is not an organization. It is a view of the Christian faith and the believer’s responsibility thereto. I realize that not all Reconstructionists agree on all points, but I’m speaking now of the historical roots of Reconstruction and some of the ideas that gave it impetus.
All of Scripture is about reconstruction. Genesis 1:26—28 records God’s decree to man to have dominion over the creation under Him. In Genesis 3:5 man’s first sin is recorded. It was the desire to be as gods, knowing (or determining as gods) good from evil. In Genesis 3:15 we are told of certain enmity between Satan and the Messiah. As the people of that Messiah, we are in conflict with all those who would be as gods, who would presume to usurp His prerogative. In the Great Commission of Matthew 28:18—20 we are told by our Messiah that He has been given all power in heaven and earth. Christ then says, “therefore” (because of this) we are to go forth and preach and teach that all things must be subject to Him. Because all power and authority in heaven and earth is Christ’s, our preaching and teaching must proclaim that power and authority.
Christian Reconstruction begins with a view of God. Because God alone is God, all things are subject to His law-word. Because Jesus Christ is God incarnate, He is Lord. Believers must choose, therefore, righteousness over rebellion.
Christian Reconstruction is a view of the Christian faith that sees God’s sovereignty in more than soteriology, the doctrine of salvation. Because God reigns on high, His law-word is objective and authoritative. Christian Reconstruction sees the sovereignty of God in ethics, so it emphasizes God’s law and its application to all of life.
Christian Reconstruction sees the sovereignty of God in knowledge itself, so it emphasizes the necessarily infallible nature of Scripture. It also stresses a presuppositional approach to knowledge.
Christian Reconstruction sees the sovereignty of God in history, so it is overwhelmingly postmillennial. It sees God’s providence: past, present, and future.
Christian Reconstruction emphasizes the reality of the fall but not its legitimacy. Christian Reconstruction sees sin as real but abnormal. It sees man’s calling to be new creatures as a restoration to His created purpose. As Adam was created to work and exercise dominion, so dominion man, born again in the last Adam, Jesus Christ, is called to exercise dominion in obedient faithfulness. Christian Reconstruction sees the choice as man’s word and man’s law or God’s Word and God’s law. Because we cannot serve two masters, we must choose which we will serve.
Christian Reconstruction is not new, though the term only dates back to 1965. In many respects, Christian Reconstruction is a return to the older Presbyterian Calvinism of the 19th century. It seems new because it challenges the modern theology that has held sway in more recent years. Christian Reconstruction challenges Pietism and its false, dualistic division of spiritual and material. Dualism sees the spiritual as opposed to the material, and the spiritual as a higher way, so it tries to escape into an “other-worldliness.” It sees spirituality as an escape from the earthly, mundane aspects of life. Christian Reconstruction, on the other hand, sees the term “spiritual” as a reference to the Spirit of God, who claims authority over every area of life and thought. Christian Reconstruction also challenges dispensationalism, which relegates Christians to a subjective morality and a truncated Bible.
I mention Christian Reconstruction’s challenge to Pietism and dispensationalism because it is the nature of re-construction that some demolition must precede it. In the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, there will be debate, even conflict, about what is salvageable and what is not. Some will resist the demolition stage and demand the right to repair unsound structures because they are valued for their personal, family, community, or historic significance.
Christian Reconstruction must critique the structures and institutions of our culture. Some of these are old and venerable in the eyes of many but are rotten or rest on unsound foundations. But Christian Reconstruction is not, at heart, about demolition but about reconstruction, about building anew on a firm foundation. I would like, therefore, to talk about some of the foundational elements that make up Christian Reconstruction. The first is presuppositionalism.
Presuppositionalism is a belief in God’s sovereignty in His revelation of His will. Presuppositionalism is about how we use the Bible. Presuppositionalism is also about how we use our intellect. Presuppositionalism says we approach God’s Word with faith not reason. We use God’s Word as truth; we do not test its truthfulness.
Otto Scott once casually expressed to me his dislike of the term “presupposition” because it was redundant. A presupposition is, in fact, a supposition. The term is intentionally redundant, of course. It means that our suppositions, our starting points, are themselves based on assumptions. Rationalism says man’s mind, his reason, can determine and know truth. Presuppositionalism says man’s reason is so dependent on his creator that knowledge must begin with God’s revelation of Himself.
Presuppositionalism is contrasted with all forms of rationalism, particularly evidentialism. Evidentialism is the approach of trying to prove God exists and that His Word is true. The Arminian emphasis on free will has elevated man’s reason and will and has always relied on evidence or emotional appeals to sway man.
The issue is the nature of man’s problem. Is man’s problem intellectual or moral? If man’s problem is intellectual, he needs more evidence to persuade him. The answer to an intellectual problem is education. If man’s problem is a moral one, however, his intellect will suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). Such men will seek, like Adam and Eve, to determine their own good and evil. The answer to a moral problem starts with repentance and faith.
If man’s problem is a moral one, man needs a moral change; he needs the grace of God to make him a new creature in Christ. He needs God’s grace to believe that God’s Word is truth. And so salvation by grace is the next foundational principle of Christian Reconstruction.
Salvation by Grace
Christian Reconstruction must begin with the individual and his regeneration.
Christian Reconstruction is a bottom-up approach to change. Christian Reconstruction is about the outworking of God’s regeneration in the life of the believer. Sin cannot be stemmed in our social order until it is stemmed in us. This requires God’s grace. Individuals must be born again. Individuals must be made new men in the last Adam, Jesus Christ. Individuals must be made new creatures. Thus, Christian Reconstruction will proceed no faster than the Holy Spirit works. Conversion, then, is the beginning of our walk, not its end.
I will not go into a lengthy description of Reformed soteriology, but at least two of its salient points are important to understanding the direction of Christian Reconstruction. The first is total depravity. Total depravity means man is unable to please God on his own or to understand God’s truth. It means we need God’s grace to have faith and understanding. We cannot understand ourselves unless we understand sin.
The second aspect of Reformed soteriology that is particularly important to Christian Reconstruction is the doctrine of grace. Our salvation is of God’s will and call; our faith and conversion are a response to His regenerating power in us. Our sanctification (our growth in grace) is also an act of grace.
All God does for man is of grace. We know the frustration in the expression: “I don’t know what you expect of me.” God’s law-word is God telling His people exactly what He expects from them. Law is as much an act of God’s grace as His redemption; it is God telling us what He expects of us.
The doctrines of grace remind us that it’s all of God. The doctrines of grace remind us of what Jesus Christ said in John 15:16: “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you.” Because we did not choose Christ without His first choosing us, we do not choose our law or our morality. The doctrines of grace remind us we do not have a do-it-yourself salvation. Neither do we have a do-it-yourself morality. Christ tells us to seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. This is the purpose to which we are called.
The next foundational element of Christian Reconstruction is covenant theology.
I said that dispensationalism was one of the ideas Christian Reconstruction challenged. I want to talk about two ways in which Christian Reconstruction challenged dispensationalism. The first way Christian Reconstruction challenged dispensationalism was regarding its view of the past and present. Christian Reconstruction offered covenant theology in opposition to dispensational theology. Dispensational theology breaks Scripture into separate parts (really into separate revelations), each applicable for a limited time and a limited audience. The growth of dispensationalism coincided with the rise of Darwinism. A church that accommodated an evolving world was comfortable with a changing, developing God.
In 1987 Ross House Books (which is now part of Chalcedon) published a book on covenant theology by Charles D. Provan called The Church Is Israel Now.That title sums up the heart of covenant theology, that the Christian church is heir of the promises to and the responsibility of the Hebrew nation of old. When God blessed Abraham in Genesis 22:17—18, He promised: “[T]hy seed shall posses the gate of his enemies.” In Matthew 16:18, after Peter confessed faith in Jesus Christ as the Messiah, Christ said, “[U]pon this rock [this profession of faith] I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” Abraham’s seed was promised the gate of his enemies, and then Christ promised His church they would occupy the gates erected by hell itself.
Another aspect of that promise to Abraham was that in Him all nations would be blessed. That blessing is Jesus Christ and His salvation. But who is now commanded to teach and baptize “all nations” in the Great Commission? The church, the people of Jesus Christ, who are heirs of Abraham’s faith.
You need to read at least the table of contents of Provan’s book. He lists descriptions of Israel. Then he gives passages that use these as now transferred to Christians. Who are the beloved of God?
The children of God?
The people of God?
The children of Abraham?
The chosen people?
What is so impressive about that book is that it merely lists Bible verses under headings. It is 95% Scripture.
Dispensationalism denied the covenant duties of the people of God. Dispensationalism held that the Old Testament was no longer binding. Dispensationalism taught the Gospels are not binding because they pertain to the future. Dispensationalism said Christ’s death was His plan “B” after the people rejected His attempt to establish His earthly Kingdom, and that He will come back and try it again later. Dispensationalism tells the church that we are in a parenthesis, a holding period, until Christ returns to set up His Kingdom.
Dispensationalism needed to be challenged. It was, and is a false foundation on which the church can build nothing enduring.
Christian Reconstruction challenged dispensationalism with postmillennialism, another of its foundational elements. If covenant theology addresses the shortcomings of dispensationalism as it addresses the past and present, postmillennialism challenges its view of the future. Dispensationalism is premised on the belief that the Kingdom is yet to come, that it must await the return of Jesus Christ. Our view of the future dictates what we believe about our present responsibilities.
Postmillennialism says all the references to the Kingdom in the Gospels (Matthew in particular is full of them) are references to Christ’s present rule as King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Genesis 3:15 promised a Messiah who would crush Satan’s head. Postmillennialism believes that happened at Calvary. Then Revelation 20:2 refers to Satan being bound a thousand years. When Christ was accused of casting out demons in Satan’s power in Matthew 12:24—29, we see Him saying that He has bound Satan. Christ said He cast out demons because He first went into the strong man’s house and bound the strong man so He could spoil his house. Christ bound Satan so He could spoil his power. Satan, the strong man, was bound by Jesus Christ, the stronger man. This is how Christ described His work. First John 3:8 says Christ’s purpose was to destroy the work of the devil. Colossians 2:15 says He spoiled principalities and powers; He made a show of His triumph over them. In John 16:11 Christ said plainly: “[T]he prince of the world is judged.” In Luke 10:18 He said, referring to the power of the returning 70, which amazed even them: “I beheld Satan as lightning fall from Heaven.”
Satan is defeated and bound. Revelation 20:3 says that after Satan is bound he will deceive the nations no more. Some say, “But Satan is deceiving the nations! Just look around at the unbelief!” But you have to remember that things are fundamentally different now than in the
ancient world. When the apostles went out to preach about Jesus of Nazareth, the first reaction would have been, “Who? … Jesus who?” Christ has now established Himself as the antithesis.
Men and nations are not deceived. They know the claims of Jesus Christ.
Men and nations may now reject Jesus Christ, but they must respond to Him.
Few peoples have not heard of Jesus Christ; though many rejectHim. But in God’s timing, these gates shall fall and the Kingdom of God shall prevail.
Postmillennialism sees Christ’s victory as happening before His return. Psalm 24:1 says all the earth is God’s. Then Psalm 110:1 has the Father saying to Jesus Christ: “Sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool.” The reference to making another a footstool refers to a common practice of the ancient world. When one king defeated another, the defeated king was brought before the victor where he prostrated himself before the conqueror. The victorious king would put his foot on the neck of the conquered foe as a visible recognition of his dominion over him. Then the conqueror would decide to kill him or to let him rule as a subordinate king, but by this time the battle was long over. Putting your foot on the head of your vanquished foe was symbolic; it was not part of the battle. Now Psalm 110:1 does not say, “Sit … until I send you back so you can fight for your kingdom, defeat your enemies, and make them your footstool.” It says sit here at my right hand until I defeat your enemies and prostrate them before you. Hebrews 1:3 tells us when Christ sat down on the right hand of the Father. It was after “he had … purged our sins,” that is, after His atonement and ascension. So, Jesus Christ remains at the right hand of the Father until such time as His enemies are defeated and prostrate before Him. Christ’s victory over His enemies happens before His return.
What are the implications of the postmillennial belief in the present Kingdom and the certainty of the defeat of Christ’s enemies in time and history? It means we are engaged in a battle in which victory is certain. Only our loyalty and steadfastness remain in question. It means we work not as a subculture but as the people of the King, the rightful ruler of heaven and earth. It means we are authorized to challenge all that is not of God. It means our life and labors have a relevance we cannot see because all things work together for good to them that love God, who are called according to His purpose.
Another foundational tenet of Christian Reconstruction is Biblical law. If you are intimidated by the size of my father’s first volume of The Institutes of Biblical Law, at least read the introduction. It is only about 14 pages, and it is profound. The introduction alone makes you repeatedly stop and say, “Wow, I have to stop and let that sink in.”
Our present labors are in terms of a law, a rule. Law is inescapable; it is our norm, our standard. Law is a concept of right and wrong, so it is necessarily religious.
In order to advance the law of God, or theonomy, Christian Reconstruction has again had to challenge both dispensationalism and Pietism. Pietism accepted a dualistic view of reality. Pietism divided the spiritual from the material and saw spirituality as other-worldly. Pietism’s morality became a subjective view of the pursuit of spirituality and goodness as abstract concepts. Dispensationalism then came around with a new view of sacred history, which dismissed much of Scripture as of historical importance only. Pietism and dispensationalism drove the church away from the law so that it had no view of culture, no real answers, only a path of personal salvation and an other-worldly spirituality.
The church lost its call to Scripture-based Godliness as its standard of righteousness.
The church, in rejecting God’s law, lost its source of answers. Christian Reconstruction affirms the validity of the whole Word of God. The failure of the church in this regard is the story of the modern church, and it will not be fixed by winning a few legislative or court battles. Addressing Biblical law in the civil realm is only a small sliver of the work of Christian Reconstruction that is needed. The problem is in the covenant people of God, in the church, and in the pulpit just as much as it is in the rest of our culture.
The church needs to teach God’s law-word. By this I do not just mean the Mosaic codes. I mean all the Word of God must be taught as authoritative.
The history, the prophets, the words of the psalmists, those of the Gospel writers and the apostles as recorded in all 66 books of the Old and New Testaments are cumulatively the law-word of God and authoritative.
The church needs to desire that God’s “will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
The church needs to teach Deuteronomy 8:3 and Matthew 4:4, that man lives “by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.” The church must teach Matthew 5:18—19, which says every jot and tittle of the law will remain until heaven and earth pass away and that our status in the Kingdom depends on our willingness to obey the law and teach others to do likewise. The church needs to confront false humanistic love, which hides in the pews under the guise of spirituality, with Christ’s words in John 14:15, 21, 23: that those who love Him keep His commandments. The church needs to teach Romans 3:3: that faith in God’s grace establishes the law. The church must, like King Josiah, rediscover the law.
The belief that Christians are no longer under God’s law is called antinomianism,which means “anti” or “against the law.” But antinomianism is only against God’s law in favor of some other law. Man will have some law, some rule, some standard. Rejecting God’s law only means some other standard is in view. To attack theonomy is to attack God’s law. To attack God’s law is to war against God Himself. To claim, as in Pietism, that “the leading of the Spirit” is a higher, more spiritual, moral guide is a blasphemy against the triune God. Such an idea is predicated on the assumption that the word of the Spirit could in any way differ from the revealed word of the triune God. It assumes that we can wait and see which word we prefer.
Theologians have distinguished three uses of the law. One use is for conviction of sin. This is when we confront man with God’s law as the antithesis of his self-will. The law confronts man with sin as God defines sin.
A second use of the law is sanctification.Sanctification is the Christian’s growth in grace.Man grows in grace as he submits himself to God’s revealed will. God’s law is at heart, God’s will. Man’s response to God’s law is either obedience or rebellion.
At this point I want to make clear that the thrust of all my father’s work on Biblical law was that it was the means of man’s sanctification. The law is in no way the means of man’s justification. Man is justified by God’s grace, and man receives that grace by faith alone. Sanctification is the believing man’s response to faith by the power of the Spirit, and the Spirit of God always leads man toward obedience to the Word of God.
A third use of God’s law is the civiluse, its use as a basis for criminal and civil law. To claim that “you can’t legislate morality” is nonsense. All law is legislated morality. All laws say something is good and must be encouraged, or something is bad and must be discouraged. If civil law does not reflect God’s moral law, it will reflect another moral code.
Unfortunately, many believe that at heart theonomy is a political agenda. This is patently false. The confusion comes from the fact that we live in a statist era. We live under statism, and we think like statists. We think of laws as matters of legislation and controlling its political agenda. So when we talk about applying God’s moral law, people think we are going to impose it by statist force.
How are we to seek the furtherance of God’s law? This brings us to the next tenant of Christian Reconstruction, and that is its anti-statism.
A Godly society under Biblical law would have a small, limited government that would be protective of local governments. Liberty is essential to Christian Reconstruction’s vision.
Theonomy is anti-big-government. Theonomy is not about political solutions.
Biblical law has a very real government concern, but it’s primarily about the law of the Kingdom of God. Specifically, Biblical law is primarily about the law governing the citizens of the Kingdom of God.
My father often referred to the rabbinical count of 613 laws in Scripture. His point was not whether this was an accurate count, but the small quantity of Biblical laws. Moreover, many of these laws had no civil or ecclesiastical penalty attached. The most obvious example of this is the tithe that had no provision for enforcement. Biblical laws involve a very limited role for civil and ecclesiastical governments to enforce them. That does not mean those laws without penalty were not binding, only that their enforcement was a personal responsibility, an exercise of personal faithfulness.
Christian Reconstruction sees government as inclusive of more than the state. Man’s primary realm of government is self-government, so Christian Reconstruction is a message of personal accountability to God.
The family is also a sphere of government. It is our first government, our first school, our first place of worship, our primary economic sphere. Christian Reconstruction is a message to families to care for their own and train them up to be free and Godly.
The local church is a sphere of government. It oversees, trains, helps, and disciplines its members.
The school is a form of government. You probably still have vivid memories of the rules and discipline of the schools you have attended. They created an order and held you accountable to it.
Vocations involve a level of government. Some professions have extensive internal licensing, performance, and complaint review procedures.
Society itself involves various spheres of government. Various private agencies and associations for artistic, charitable, historic, and cultural purposes impact our lives.
Civil government is a legitimate and necessary sphere of government, but one that must not be allowed to control all others or we have totalitarianism.
Christian Reconstruction is not about implementing Biblical Law through a political coup.
Christian Reconstruction is not about capturing statist power so we can use it; it is about advancing the Kingdom of God and His righteousness.
The ultimate political ambitions of Christian Reconstruction, such as they are, are to shrink the power of national and state governments and to increase the power of these other spheres.
The primary functions of government are defense and justice. It is only in regard to the latter that we seek Biblical law in the realm of civil government.
The power of civil magistrates that bears on evildoers must be a just and righteous standard, and that only comes from God’s law
Another fundamental idea of Christian Reconstruction is that of dominion. The dominion of which Christian Reconstruction speaks is not the political dominion of the United States, or California, or Georgia, but the dominion of God’s law and the advance of His Kingdom.
Romans 12:2 tells us to be transformed by the renewing of our minds so that we might prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God. This does not speak of proving the Word of God, but of testing what does and does not conform to it.
Dominion is the application of God’s law over our spheres of influence; the surrender of every area of life and thought to God’s righteous standard. Romans 12:2 speaks of the renewing of our minds. Ideas have consequences; we must rethink every discipline in terms of the Word of God. Philosophy must be based on a theistic footing, not a humanistic one. Economics must be rethought. Our money is a manipulated, contrived fraud. Our economy is based on debt, not capital accumulation. We must rethink psychology and sociology beginning not with a mythical evolutionary struggle, but with man’s moral problem, his sinful rebellion against God. We must rethink political science.
Liberty will not be restored by our current two-party system. Politics is about controlling the reins of power, not reducing it. We must rethink our view of diplomacy and the use of military might. We have to return civil government to a limited role. We must rethink science. Creationism has made great strides, and thank God for the creationist movement of the 20th century, but it needs to go beyond an apologetic of Genesis and become scientific inquiry based on it.
A presuppositional creationism would move science forward, not try to merely prove the Biblical account. Not all creationists fall into this, but too many do. Their work is too often geared toward the conclusions: “It’s a young earth” or “This points to creation.” Of course it does. We need to base our science on those presuppositions. We must revive the deaconate and other forms of voluntary charities. We must apply our faith to the arts, to film, TV, literature, and the performing arts.
These areas of dominion are not going to be accomplished through political means, and the most important area in which we need to exercise dominion must never involve the state. We have to start with the Christian church. Until we have more faithful churches, we’re still working on the foundation. It needs a more comprehensive theology. It needs an optimistic eschatology. It needs to shed its false dualistic Pietism and embrace God’s law-word as its marching orders. It also needs to tithe. We can’t claim to be doing God’s work if we rob Him of what is His.
Christian Reconstruction is not, as I began, an organization. It is an understanding of the Christian faith and what God expects of believers.
In conclusion, I would note that the power of Christian Reconstruction is not in its novelty, for there is nothing really new in it. Nor is its power in its expression by my father or anyone else. The power of Christian Reconstruction is in its consistency. That is why secularists often trace every part of the Religious Right to my father and Christian Reconstruction, often erroneously. They see the power of its consistent message. They see not just conservative ideas, but a worldview that transcends current political and cultural events. The power of Christian Reconstruction is in its assumption (yes, presupposition) that God now rules, that He always has and always will.
The power of Christian Reconstruction lies in the fact that it walks not by sight but by faith that Jesus Christ is now victorious and His victory over men and nations will be revealed in time and history.
My father’s final exhortation to the family was
We have a certain victory. We are ordained to victory.
I can’t talk much more.
We have an ordination to victory in this battle.
Oh my God have mercy upon us. Oh my Lord!
Oh my God we thank thee for this great calling to victory.
Oh my God bless us in this battle!
I invite you to join us in this battle, to join all those who struggle for the Kingdom of God. But don’t support the work of Christian Reconstruction because you think it’s a good idea someone is doing it. Support it and join in the work because you believe it’s something you should be doing.