Theonomy Files, No. 3: The collapse of Christian Reconstruction

I suppose the inevitable question, one loaded with irony, is that given Christian Reconstruction’s commitment to the bible and postmillennialism, how come the movement fractured immediately and society is not reconstructed?  Before we get into the individual faults of the men and camps, it is important to first note perhaps why they were prone to fracturing.

The easiest answer is that the American Reformed church didn’t want that kind of thinking within it.  I don’t mean the more wacky elements of CR.  Let’s stick with a mainstream figure like Greg Bahnsen.  Bahnsen stayed within the communion of the local Presbyterian church.  Bahnsen never associated himself within the wilder elements of CR.  Yet he was probably hated the most by so-called Reformed Institutions.  I think they correctly realized that if Bahnsen’s views on civil government are correct, then much of the Presbyterian mindset today needs to be revamped.  It was understood, however, that remaining good Americans was preferable.   Theonomy was blackballed.  It was never officially condemned, but still..

As a result, many CR leaders knew they wouldn’t be welcomed in the presbyteries.   So they reasoned:  too bad for the presbyteries!  For all the problems and limitations in local presbyteries, they do keep individuals from going off the deep end.   We will soon see why.

  1. Rushdoony:  On one hand it’s a good t hing that Rushdoony’s (and by the way, it is spelled “Rushdoony.”  A number of moderators on Puritanboard adamantly insisted it was spelled “Rushdooney,” the typing of the cover of his books notwithstanding) errors are so easy to see.   Being egregious errors and out in the open, they are fairly easy to avoid.  His main errors are the dietary laws, ecclesiology, and shallow readings of some Reformed sources.  I won’t bother refuting the dietary laws.   I suspect his personal experiences drove his ecclesiology.  I don’t know the whole story, though Gary North has documented it here.   Evidently he got angry at some obviously wrong practices of a part of the OPC and separated himself from church bodies for the greater part of a decade.A bit more minor issue but one more prevalent is that many young CRs began their study of theology by beginning with Rushdoony.  As a result, many simply parroted his slogans without really understanding all the theology and philosophy behind it.  Their grasp of Reformed theology was very tenuous beyond the basics.   Once they came across sharp Anchorite apologists, they were toast.  They didn’t have the strong foundation in Turretin, Hodge, and Owen that older men had.  Had they begun with the latter and had a decent foundation, then they could have approached Rushdoony with the sense of applying some of his legitimate insights.Finally, people who really follow Rushdoony have a hard time accepting any criticism of the man.
  2. Was the home-church movement an inevitable spin off from Rushdoony?  That he endorsed something like it is clear, but most Reformed people understand he is wrong on that point.  I think one of the dangers of the home church movement is that apart from any presbyterial oversight, there is nothing stopping the members from embodying outrageous positions.
  3. Gary North:  Gary North held the high ground until 2,000.  His Y2K debacle lost him his credibility.  Others have pointed out his refusal to condemn the Federal Vision, though truth be told, would it have mattered?  Most people stopped listening to him in 2,000.   Would his condemning FV in 2003 have changed anything?  It’s a shame that he got tied in with y2K predictions and Federal Vision associations.   Many of his key arguments were never refuted (or even addressed).  I have in mind the judicial sanctions in history argument.  It’s ultimately why I can’t hold to historic premillennialism in the long run (see future post).Another of his problems would be the Tyler connection.  This really isn’t that big a problem compared to Rushdoony.   Tyler had the bizarre mixture of independent congregationalism and quasi-sacerdotal episcopalianism.  Aside from some caustic and hilarious rhetoric aimed at the Institutional Reformed, there isn’t much to accuse him of.
  4. Was Federal Vision inevitable?  This is hard to answer.  If you read Bahnsen’s Theonomy in Christian Ethics carefully, you will notice how mainstream and normal his method and footnotes are.  He is citing standard P&R and evangelical textbooks on hermeneutics and the Sermon on the Mount.   All of this is wildly at odds with the later Federal Visionists.  This would explain why Federal Vision advocates at least two generations afterwards rejected Bahnsen (some even ridiculed him).   Jim Jordan very clearly rejected theonomy. So to say that Bahnsen led to the Federal Vision is a classic instance of the correlation = causation fallacy.

Gary North notes that CR split into two camps:  Tyler Ecclesiasticalism and Rushdoony’s Home Church Patriarchalism (those theonomists remaining faithful to the local church and presbytery held to a theoretical theonomy, but kept it at that.  The exception would be the micro-Presbyterians like Joe Morecraft).

16 comments on “Theonomy Files, No. 3: The collapse of Christian Reconstruction

  1. Justin says:

    I must say though, that “emotional incest” article you linked to was downright ridiculous IMO.

    • I don’t approve of her feminism, but others from different theological perspectives have long made the same criticisms of Vision Forum.

      • Friend for Life says:

        From a Christian woman’s perspective, I admire those men who care for their adult daughters like VF and the Botkins teach. I don’t think it’s outrageous – I think it is loving and practical in today’s violent society. I hate to hear of young women being sexually assaulted or perhaps killed while away at college, living on their own or serving in the armed services. In fact, I can’t think of a more loving act a father could do than to continue care for his grown daughter until she marries or perhaps goes to serve on the mission field.

      • I reserve judgment for now. I’ve seen both the best and worst of both worlds on this. I don’t know enough of the author’s own background nor of the perspective of the Botkins. I have my doubts about VF’s ecclesiology, but I haven’t seen a definitive statement one way or another.

      • Friend for Life says:

        Their position can be taken to extreme, as all things can, but for the most part they seem to be helpful for those seeking to raise godly children and have successful Christian marriages. I think they are an asset to Christian Reconstruction. 🙂 Also, I just did a brief reading of Gary North’s work you link to and it seems he is concerned with fathers taking on the role of a minister, which also concerns me. I realize not everyone has access to a good Church, but I’m uncomfortable with fathers baptizing or administering the sacraments. According to the 2nd Helvetic Confession, even if a “bad” minister administers the sacraments, it doesn’t lessen them in anyway, as it is Christ who makes them valid and effective. Perhaps part of the problem with theonomy is a lack of knowledge of the Reformers and early Confessions of Faith and catechisms.

      • Friend for Life says:

        I’ve been trying to get more information on what church Doug Phillips of VF is part of, and it appears that Jacob is right to have concern… Sad to say, it appears they are part of the home church movement, and this can lead to abuse due to a lack of oversight; I belonged to a nondenominational independent church as a new believer and experienced an abuse of power by church leadership with no place for me to report it.

      • Friend for Life says:

        This might be a helpful resource:

      • Thank you. I will look into it.

  2. Benjamin P. Glaser says:

    Keith Mathison in his book on Dispensationalism constantly footnotes Bahnsen, inluding “By This Standard”, which I thought was interesting.

    • I remember those very footnotes (or maybe it was in his book on postmillennialism). While I will disagree with Bahnsen on a few things, he should be commended for faithfully seeking to build Christ’s church in accordance with the discipline of the local presbytery.

  3. […] Theonomy Files, No. 3: The collapse of Christian Reconstruction I suppose the inevitable question, one loaded with irony, is that given Christian Reconstruction’s commitment to the bible and postmillennialism, how come the movement fractured immediately and society is not reconstructed?  Before we get into the individual faults of the men and camps, it is important to first note perhaps why they were prone to fracturing. Read more… […]

  4. Fr. John+ says:

    I appreciate reading your insights. Clearly, I don’t know much of all of this, having left Reformed thinking somewhere in the late 1980’s, and don’t see (in fact, have come to believe it the only valid form of Governance for the Body fo Christ) any problems in the ‘sacerdotalism’ of the REC, like Bp. Ray Sutton- who, BTW, eschews ANY fawning over his earlier works by any man- almost as if he were unwilling to remember the path from whence he came.

    And Jimmy Jordan was already a nut job in the 1980’s, calling the Church Fathers, ‘Church Babies.’ That lost me, WAY back when. What hubris.

    And, yes, you are spot on. Bahnsen’s book is fully in the mainstream of historic Presbyterian thought, if you read it. And your comment deserves a fuller treatment sometime, when you wrote:

    “I think they correctly realized that if Bahnsen’s views on civil government are correct, then much of the Presbyterian mindset today needs to be revamped. It was understood, however, that remaining good Americans was preferable.”

    The PR’s in America wanted their 501(c)3 and to eat it, too…. back in the days of Anita Bryant, when they COULD have effected SOCIAL CHANGE- prior to Clinton, Bush, Bush, Obamanation.

    For it is not ‘God’s Law’ or no Law.’ As Bahnsen (and North) showed, ‘It’s either God’s Law, or Satan’s (Apostate Man) anti-law.”

    I still dont’ get the FV brouhaha. Will read that link above. Looking at the way plays and operas consistently had ‘wet nurses’ and ‘maids’ oversee the fully adult daughters of men, who were not yet married, is clearly a Western and a Christian thing – and the same practice happening in Muslim countries, clearly shows that, even perverted Mosaic law, is still a guarantee of purity BEFORE marriage- as opposed to the ‘sluts in training’ model modern Satanic Culture wishes all pubescent girls to be!

    And, I find it odd, that a non-valid form of merely Adult Male oversight (Elders, Presbyteries) can demean a ‘home-church’ movement, when y’all don’t even want to acknowledge the word in Scripture for overseer (NIV) is the Greek EPISCOPOS 0 i.e., Bishop!

    Sorry, but I smiled at that ‘pot calling kettle’ moment. My elders in the Orthodox Pharisees sect took themselves soo seriously- and they were no different than I, as a lay college student.
    But a real Bishop clearly, both has, and is, the living Icon of Christ. And that is why I left the OPC. I saw it at twenty-three. Amazing that others never learn to have ‘eyes to see, and ears to hear’- even at seventy.

  5. Fr. John+ says:

    “This might be a helpful resource:

    Just reading the opening statements, I fully concur with EVERYTHING that FV stands for, and clearly, what I see, as one ‘outside’ the Evan-jelly-goo movement, is an antinomian hatred for God’s Law, Reign, and Rule.

    That the feminazis, faggots, and merely liberal idiots also find FV to be everything AGAINST their Satanic World order, means (to me, IMHO) that, as Luther noted, ‘HERE IS WHERE THE BATTLE RAGES.’

    Perhaps, the independent nature of a)Bishop-less ‘churches’ (i.e., home churches) and b) graceless communions (i.e., not having Apostolic Succesion/valid sacraments), is, in large measure, why problems have erupted. But having a man baptize his children is fully allowed, even in the Catholic cult- but the ‘normativization’ of the sacraments leaves all of them open to abuses, if ONLY a ‘home church’ is all there is… so, I can see the point there.

    But Patriarchy? Heck, no. It’s how the Orthodox see it, it’s how the West has seen it, it’s how America saw it, until the 1920’s – and, as the parent of boys in homeschool co-ops, it’s how EVERY MOTHER sees my lovely boy, when he so much as smiles at a girl! LOL

    Guard those covenant children. For from their loins, comes the next generation of godly seed. [ Ez. 9:2]

    • Friend for Life says:

      Hey John, I think the point the author is trying to make is that the extreme positions some of the CR crowd have taken does not bode well for the reputation and/or effectiveness of theonomy. (Or at least this is my understanding.) Also, regarding the Church, you might want to check out today’s featured article at American Vision:

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