Wednesday, March 21, 2007

On Reconstructionism and Dominionism

After listening to Gary North's interview with Paul Pressler, I was interested in learning about Gary North. I quickly learned that he was the son-in-law of Rousas John Rushdoony who was the founder of a movement called Christian Reconstructionism.

The name Rushdoony was familiar to me, but the movement was unknown. Rushdoony was frequently quoted by Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer and Rushdoony were both students of Cornelius Van Til. Van Til was a Presbyterian scholar of Christian apologetics.

Apologetics is a term that is used to describe how Christians defend the credibility of their faith to each other and to non-believers. Cornelius Van Til developed an apologetic method known as presuppositionalism. It is based on the presupposition that the Bible is inerrant and infallible and that it reveals God's absolute truth for every area of reality.

While I attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, I learned a little about Van Til and read nearly every book that Francis Schaeffer published. Schaeffer's books were texts in the philosophy and apologetics classes of many conservative members of the faculty. His contribution to apologetics was a, then, new emphasis on the influence of Christianity on culture. He often cited Rushdoony as an authority on the influence of biblical law on modern law.

After graduating from seminary and entering the pastorate, I decided to investigate the thought of R. J. Rushdoony and his son-in-law Gary North. I quickly discovered that the worldview reflected in Rushdoony's writings is virtually identical with that of Francis Schaeffer. Even their tone in voicing their piety is similar. Most people who read Schaeffer will find numerous resonances in the writings of Rushdoony.

Rushdoony, however, was less reserved than Schaeffer in talking about a perceived clash between Christianity and democracy. Before he published his Christian Manifesto (1982), you could tell that Schaeffer was no friend of church-state separation, but he did not write explicitly about Christians influencing government by concerted political action. In my opinion, the unexpressed intention of Schaeffer's Christian Manifesto was to rally Evangelical Christians to the Reconstructionist cause.

To understand the Reconstructionist movement, you have to know something about the thought and writings of R. J. Rushdoony. His magnum opus, published in 1973, is an 800 page tome patterned after Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion. Rushdoony entitled his work The Institutes of Biblical Law.

On page 294, Rushdoony gives an indication why he believes that the American system of pluralistic democracy is heresy. He wrote, "In the name of toleration, the believer is asked to associate on a common level of total acceptance with the atheist, the pervert, the criminal, and the adherents of other religions."

[To hear a 3.14 minute podcast (mp3) of Bill Moyers introducing Rushdoony and talking to him about biblical law as a blueprint for civil society, click here and give it time to download]

If Rushdoony and his disciples have their way, democracy will be abolished and a Christian theocracy will be established. A theocracy based on biblical law along the lines of John Cotton's Massachusetts Bay Colony. Rushdoony wrote, "The only true order is founded on Biblical Law. All law is religious in nature, and every non-Biblical law-order represents an anti-Christian religion." (p. 113) He also made it clear that he expects that force will be necessary to impose such order, "Every law-order is in a state of war against the enemies of that order, and all law is a form of warfare." (p. 93)

[To hear a 1.10 minute podcast (mp3) of Bill Moyers talking to Rushdoony about the heresy of democracy, click here and give it time to download]

At its root, Reconstructionism is a militant Biblicism. In many ways, it is a revival of the holy war theology of the Hebrew Bible under the guise of Christianity. The chief difference being that Reconstructionists believe they have a mandate to claim more than the land of Palestine, they believe they are commanded to conquer the entire world and exercise "dominion" over all its peoples.

To a man, Reconstructionists believe that Biblical prophecies assure them that they will ultimately be victorious in the war they are waging to remake society. The chief thing that divides Reconstructionists are the methods they employ to change the culture and society. R. J. Rushdoony thought change would come as the gospel spread and lives were transformed. This would necessarily be gradual and could conceivably take centuries to accomplish. Gary North, on the other hand, thinks change can come rapidly by taking over the institutions of civil government in a manner similar to the way Fundamentalists took over of the Southern Baptist Convention. Their differences over tactics led to conflict between Rushdoony and North.

[To hear a 4 minute podcast (mp3 file) of Bill Moyers discussing North's tactics and questioning Rushdoony about them, click here and wait for it to download.]

Despite their differences over the tactics and strategy, all Reconstructionists are committed to making the laws of Ancient Israel the law of the land in the U.S. They believe the Mosaic law is God's blueprint for all societies. Transported to the context of twenty-first century America, they see themselves as "Christian Libertarians."

Stripped to its barest essentials, here is their dream for America. Their ultimate goal is to make the U.S. Constitution conform to a strict, literal interpretation of Biblical law. To do that involves a series of legal and social reforms that will move society toward that goal. Here is their blueprint: 1) Make the ten commandments the law of the land, 2) Strengthen patriarchically ordered families, 3) Close public schools - make parents totally responsible for the education of their children, 4) Reduce the role of government to the defense of property rights, 5) Require "tithes" to ecclesiastical agencies to provide welfare services, 6) Close prisons -- reinstitute slavery as a form of punishment and require capital punishment for all of ancient Israel's capital offenses -- including apostacy, blasphemy, incorrigibility in children, murder, rape, Sabbath breaking, sodomy, and witchcraft.

[To hear a 6.18 minute podcast (mp3 file) of Rushdoony explaining to Bill Moyers the rationale for applying the death penalty to adulterers, homosexuals and incorrigible children, click here and wait until it downloads.]

With the exception of the call to close prisons, significant steps toward the kind of reforms that Reconstructionists envision have already been made in our society. What they have been able to accomplish has been done by their allying themselves with the Republican party and other conservative Christians and working through the political process. By doing so, they have been able to exert extensive influence over the whole evangelical movement.

I use the term Dominionism to describe the broader movement, heavily influenced by Reconstructionist ideas, that is working from within the political system to takeover the institutions of government and create a theocratic republic. That is being accomplished by 1) declaring the United States to be a "Christian Nation," 2) electing conservative "Christian" candidates who are legislating biblical morality and law, and 3) electing and/or appointing "strict constructionist" judges who will rule in accord with biblical law.

[To hear a 6.12 minute podcast (mp3) of Bill Moyers trying to get Paul Pressler to talk to him about his involvement in the Council for National Policy (along with Falwell, Robertson, North, Rushdoony and others), click here and wait for it to download.]

[To hear a 4.41 minute podcast of Bill Moyers talking to Joseph Morecraft about the expected effects of a political alliance that he forged between Charismatics and Reconstructionists, click here and wait for it to download.]

The chief thing that distinguishes Reconstructionists from most of the conservative evangelicals in the Dominionist movement is that they are not ultimately pessimistic about the possibility of men ushering in the millennial reign of Christ. Most conservative Christians are pre-millenialists. They think Jesus has to return to usher in the kingdom of God on earth. Reconstructionists, on the other hand, are post-millenialists. They think Jesus expects them to usher in the kingdom of God before he returns and some of them expect to do it by force -- by force of law and/or by force of arms.

Most of the people in the anti-abortion terrorist underground -- the people who bomb abortion clinics and shoot abortion providers -- are Reconstructionists who grew impatient with the slow pace of reform through involvement in the political process. They have already taken the law into their own hands.

Some Reconstructionists realize that, sooner or later, there is bound to be a backlash against the kind of society that they intend to create. Many seem to be biding their time until public sentiment turns decisively against the kind of reforms they are seeking. When that happens, I believe that some, if given the opportunity, will be willing to take up arms and wage another civil war. Some of their literature indicates that they believe that such actions can be morally and theologically justified if they follow a lesser magistrate (like the Governor of a state) who claims to be following biblical law while refusing to submit to a rule of law that is imposed by a secular constitutional authority. This kind of crisis could easily be precipitated by the Governor of state, like Alabama, refusing to execute a Court order to remove a ten commandments monument from state government property.

[Incidently, Aubrey Vaughn, the pastor whose church and congregants participated in the making of the Reconstructionist GOP takeover video, was arrested at the courthouse in Alabama for trying to obstruct the removal of Roy Moore's ten commandments monument. To hear a 4.6 minute podcast of Vaughn, identifying himself as Ray Jones, offering a resolution against government schools in the Hotze video, click here and wait for it to download.]

NOTE: The audio excerpts of Moyers with Rushdoony and Moorecraft are from Bill Moyer's 1989 documentary God and Politics:  On Earth as it is in Heaven. The audio excerpt of Moyers with Pressler is from Bill Moyer's 1989 documentary God and Politics:  The Battle for the Bible.

Tomorrow, I'll write about SBC Takeover Leaders and the Council for National Policy


peter lumpkins said...

Dr. Prescott,

Thanks for the article. I find it curious though that, from my recollection of Schaeffer, I'm not sure he was on the same page with Rushdoony. Indeed, while both were students of Van Til, the latter took Schaeffer to the woodshed quite often, in fact.

Moreover, in Schaeffer's works at large, not one reference is made in the index to Rushdoony, pretty telling if he so depended on him. Also, in Christian Manifesto, not only does Schaeffer not approvingly cite dominion theology's Grand Wizard, I don't think Schaeffer cited him at all.

Thus my question is, where are these influential references cited of Rushdoony by Schaeffer located?

Thanks, Dr. Prescott. With that, I am...


NotTheSun said...

Thanks Bruce. Very thorough, interesting and scary.

Points 1 and 6 in the blueprint seem contradictory to me. Thou shalt not kill but capital punishment is OK. I've always been a little wishy washy on that one myself.

One thing I've always found confusing is the application of 'God's Law'. If it is God's Law, why has man always been the one who has meted out the punishment? If our society is as bad as Rushdoony says it was at the time of the interview, why are scores of ne'er-do-wells not dropping in their tracks as they commit their deeds?

Relprofjonas said...

Good comments Bruce. A mutual friend, Dr. Steve Abbott wrote his Ph.D. dissertation at SWBTS around 1990 on the concept of the Kingdom of God in the Christian Reconstruction movement. He was serving as pastor at a church in Waco and used the Baylor library for much of his research. So, he and I became good friends, each discussing our dissertation topics with the other over lunch. Christian Reconstruction/Dominion Theology is really scary stuff

Glenn Jonas

Michael Westmoreland-White said...

I did similar spadework on this years ago. Reconstructionism/Dominionism is alarming. The majority of the Christian Right, however, do not seem to buy into the entire Recon packagage, but just to want parts of it. They might rather be called "Christian nationalists." They clearly reject the postmillenialism of Reconstructionists and most fall short of wanting a full-blown theocracy. But they argue similarly to Reconstructionists about biblical law being the only "real" law, about the unacceptability of any form of pluralism, and about Christians being a dominant force (if not actually controlling everything) in government--with no separation of church and state.

I think full-blown Reconstructionism's popularity crested in the mid-'90s, but the Right still buys into patchwork forms of it. The arguments against church state separation are still quite popular in much of the Right and they have succeeded in getting Reconstructionisms complete endorsement of laissez-faire capitalism made into mainstream thought! Both of those are quite dangerous (and the latter is weird for any form of "biblicism") and need full defenses. Keep it up.

peter lumpkins said...

Dr. Prescott,

I posted a comment yesterday on this thread. I guess it got lost. I questioned the relationship you seem to posit between Rushdoony & Schaeffer. Interestingly, not one foot note is indexed in Schaeffer's works which shows any dependence on Rushdoony at all.

Moreover, your post seems to connect Schaeffer to reconstructionsm. That's odd since Reconstructionsists themselves took Schaeffer to the woodshed for providing a non-Christian answer in his "Christian Manifesto."

I'd really be interested in the sources connecting Rushdoony & Schaeffer. Thanks and have a great day.

With that, I am...


Dr. Bruce Prescott said...


I'll have to check through what's left of my Schaeffer books to find references to Rushdoony. At one time, I had all of them.

As for a hard connection between Schaeffer and Reconstructionists, check out the relation of Schaeffer (and after his death, the role of his wife, Edith) to Jay Grimstead and the Coalition on Revival. Here are some links:

Coalition on Revival

Dominion Theology

COR: Building a Christian Society

peter lumpkins said...

Dr. Prescott,

With all due respect, my brother, I hoped, from this site especially, more than a couple of internet articles, at least one of which, I doubt you yourself frequent for relialble information.

I am uninterested in how radicals interpreted Schaeffer--rather misinterpreted--least of all, Paul Cameron, an abortion doctor murderer. I remain highly interested in Schaeffer's alleged dependence upon Rushdoony as well as his implied theocratic views upon which you insist here.

If Schaeffer indeed advocated theocracy/dominion theology, his words following makes little sense:

""We must not confuse the Kingdom of God with our country. To say it another way, 'We should not wrap christianity in our national flag'...

"We must make definite that we are in no way talking about any kind of a theocracy. Let me say with great emphasis Witherspoon, Jefferson, the American Founders had no idea of a theocracy. That is made plain by the First Amendment, and we must continually emphasize the fact that we are not talking about some kind, or any kind, of a theocracy....

"There is no New Testament basis for a linking of church and state until Christ, the King returns. The whole 'Constantine mentality' from the fourth century up to our day was a mistake....Making Christianity the official state religion opened the way for confusion up till our own day."

Grace, Dr. Prescott. With that, I am...


Dr. Bruce Prescott said...


I'm familiar with Schaeffer's disclaimer. It is like the fine print in a legal contract.

A couple paragraphs disclaiming theocracy does not undue the effect of the other 159 pages of a book that makes the case for it.

peter lumpkins said...

Dr. Prescott,

Rather than deter, Dr. Prescott, it would be better to actually deal with Schaeffer. You have directly linked him with theocracy in your post. When I questioned it by offering evidential words to the contrary, they are rebutted by simple dismissal. For me, I cannot accept that strategy as, shall we say, sober.

Moreover, I am directed to website "articles" written by questionable folk whose scholarship you yourself would not accept, Dr. Prescott.

In addition, one is hard pressed to explain precisely why, if Schaeffer was so theocratically minded, Christian Reconstructionists blasted "Christian Manifesto" as sub-christian. Interesting, do you not agree?

Now, I do not know alot. Granted. But I do know when one may just be attempting to pull a literary woolybugger on me-especially a woolybugger about somebody I have read quite as often as Schaeffer.

Even so, I could be wrong about Rushdoony's profound impact on Schaeffer. But, not until i see the goods, Dr. Prescott. Show me the goods.

Grace. With that, I am...


Dr. Bruce Prescott said...


Short of reproducing Schaeffer's entire "Chritian Manifesto", here are some excerpts:

John Knox – "maintained that the common people had the right and duty to disobedience and rebellion if state officials ruled contrary to the Bible. To do otherwise would be rebellion against God."

Samuel Rutherford – "Only when the magistrate acts in such a way that the governing structure of a country is being destroyed -– that is, when he is attacking the fundamental structure of society -– is he to be relieved of his power and authority."

Francis Schaeffer – "That is exactly what we are facing today. The whole structure of our society is being attacked and destroyed. It is being given an entirely opposite base which gives exactly the opposite results."

"As I write, a case of undue entanglement and interference is in the courts in a situation that corresponds exactly to Samuel Rutherford’s concept to the proper procedure for a corporate body to resist."

The state of Arkansas has passed a law allowing creation to be taught in the public schools. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is trying to have this law revoked, saying it violates the separation of church and state. Here is a clear case fitting Rutherford’s criteria. The State of Arkansas has passed a law. The courts are being used by the ACLU to try to nullify a state law which has the support of the original meaning of the First Amendment. The ACLU is arguing its case based on a certain concept of the separation of church and state. But it must be stressed that this concept is entirely new and novel from the viewpoint of the original intent of the First Amendment and the total intent of the Founding Fathers. This new separation concept is a product of the recent humanist dominance in the United States and is being used in this case to destroy the power of properly elected state legislature’s "sovereign" ruling. The ACLU is acting as the arm of the humanist consensus to force its view on the majority of the Arkansas state officials. If there was ever a clearer example of the lower "magistrates" being treated with tyranny, it would be hard to find. And this would be a time, if the appeals courts finally rule tyrannically, for the state government to protest and refuse to submit. This fits Rutherford’s proper procedures exactly." (pp. 109-110).
"There comes a time when force, even physical force, is appropriate. The Christian is not to take the law into his own hands and become a law unto himself. But when all avenues of flight and protest have closed, force in the defensive posture is appropriate." (p. 117)

It doesn't take much effort to see that Schaeffer, like other Reconstructionists, approves of revolutionary measures under the leadership of a godly "lesser magistrate."

Dr. Bruce Prescott said...


Regarding the influence of Rushdoony on Schaeffer.

I think Schaeffer may have dedicated one of his books to Rushdoony, but I am no longer in possession of all his books to double check.

I heard Schaeffer speak in person on at least four separate occassions when people were given opportunity to ask him questions. I have fairly certain recollection that he referred people to Rushdoony's "Institutes" on at least one of those occassions.

Since my personal veracity does not seem sufficient for you, here's a citation from the first chapter of Michelle Goldberg's book "Kingdom Coming":

"As early as the 1960s, Schaeffer was reading Rushdoony and holding seminars on his work." p. 38

She cites William Edgar, "The Passing of R.J. Rushdoony", First Things, August/September 2001 as her source.

Dr. Bruce Prescott said...

Here's a link to the First Things article:

The Passing of R.J. Rushdoony

peter lumpkins said...

Dr. Prescott,

Thank you for taking the time to assemble some quotes. Also thanks for the link to Edgar's article which was much more helpful.

I am unsure what Ms. Goldberg's work was attempting to suggest, but all Edgar suggested was Schaeffer led a seminar on Rushdooney's "little book" on the differences b/w French/American revolutions. That's it. Nothing else.

As for the quotes, Dr. Prescott, they simply are moot. Schaeffer surely did not possess the radical view--and right view I might add--of the strong separation of church & state that's evident in Baptist/Anabaptist heritage. Most Reformed theologians do not.

On the other hand, to dump him into the Reconstructionists' camp is simply ill-founded at best. Schaeffer denies theonomy explicitly as I showed and asserted that a Church State is wrong period. To overlook such is astounding.

Nor I am questioning your "personal veracity," Dr. Prescott. I hope we're both beyond the silly notions that many in our Baptist community possess that if we disagree, somehow we are the "bad guys."

I pressed a very popular Calvinist blogger recently for evidence pertaining to an assertion he'd made about Jerry Vines. I was rewarded by being banned from his blog. He sent me an email telling me all about the "heart problem" he'd sensed in my posts. So much for honest dialog.

Thanks again, Dr. Prescott, for your willingness to chat.

Grace. With that, I am...


Panda said...

I'm late to the party on this page but it's still fascinating information months later. A friend of mine who has the insight and stamina to stay on top of religious insanity/influence sent me a link to this page, he's referred me to your site several times...and I've visited before. It took me a while to plow through it all...with trepidation. I'm slow. ;)

I like your are informative and fill in the background, I like that.

The name Rushdoony was familiar to me, but the movement was unknown. Rushdoony was frequently quoted by Francis Schaeffer. Schaeffer and Rushdoony were both students of Cornelius Van Til. Van Til was a Presbyterian scholar of Christian apologetics.

I'm terrified of "organized religion" and everything that goes with it. I was raised Catholic but (decades later) am quite comfortable as an agnostic with a spiritual side. I'm repulsed by zealotry and patriarchal theology, and frightened by dogmatic judgmental hypocrites in need of power and domination to deal with their personal demons.
I really appreciate your site. I've visited before but as you well know, digesting the horrors and realities of it all isn't for the faint of heart. I have to be "in the mood" to spend time learning more. Life...a constant unfolding of information. More will be revealed.
Thank you for your site and sharing this information with us out here on the tubes. You tell it well.

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