Part 2: Question 8: What About “Salvation by Politics”?

Gary North and Gary Demar

Narrated By: Daniel Banuelos & Devan Lindsey
Book: Christian Reconstruction: What It Is, What It Isn’t


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Chapter Text

Do Christian Reconstructionists Believe in “Salvation by Politics”?

One of the most persistent myths about Christian Reconstruction is that it advocates “salvation by legislation.” This was the charge levelled against Christian Reconstruction by Prison Fellowship founder Charles Colson on the Bill Moyers special about Christian Reconstruction. Colson insisted that Christian Reconstruction is

part of the political illusion of our day, the idea that there’s a political solution to every problem, and we can’t solve things quickly enough, so let’s get to Washington and let’s get a law passed, and see if we can’t get revival through Congress. Well, that’s just not the way God works.[1]

With all due respect for Mr. Colson’s ministry and achievements, it needs to be said that that’s not the way Reconstructionists work either. [2] In fact, anyone watching Moyers’ program attentively would have been more than a little puzzled by Colson’s criticism. Rousas J. Rushdoony, introduced by Moyers as the “godfather” of Christian Reconstruction, said again and again that he does not believe in salvation through political action. “The Constitution will not save this country,” he said.

“The State is a bankrupt institution,” he added. He admitted that Christian Reconstruction will not work unless “you have the vast majority of the people believing that this is the way things should be.” (Democracy?) He told Moyers that he did not want America to be declared officially Christian, since “nothing official means anything unless it is personal with the people.”[3]

Rushdoony didn’t just stumble on this theme, either. For years, he has been warning about an overestimation of the power of politics. Rushdoony was warning about “messianic politics” and the “messianic state” before Colson ever became a Christian. In The Politics of Guilt and Pity, first published in 1970, Rushdoony described the implications of the anti-Christian idea that man is “over law.” One of the consequences is that:

Man finds salvation through political programs, through legislation, so that salvation is an enactment of the state.… As a saving order, the state concerns itself with cradle-to-grave security, because, as the expression of man’s divinity, it must play the role of god in man’s life. It becomes man’s savior.[4]

More recently, Rushdoony has noted that the “ancient, classical view of man… is a fertile ground for a radical statism and a radical anarchism.” Because this view exalts man to the place of God, “[i]n its totalitarian form, it offers us a savior state as man’s hope.”[5] Notice that Rushdoony is arguing that a “messianic” view of politics is essentially anti-Christian and humanistic.

Gary North has emphasized the same point. In his book, Political Polytheism, North wrote:

Every revolution needs slogans. Here is mine: politics fourth. First comes personal faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (not just Savior). Second comes Church renewal. There can be no successful reformation of society without first beginning a reformation of the Church. Third comes family renewal. This involves pulling your children out of the public schools. Fourth comes local politics. At a minimum, this would involve public protests against abortion. From there we go to state and national politics.

Before any national political renewal can begin, we must first do what we can to make it clear to the politicians and the national government that a major religious transformation has taken place. Without the widespread movement of the Holy Spirit, this cannot happen.[6]

At the same time that leading Christian Reconstructionists caution against overestimation of politics, they also insist that political action is a legitimate life’s calling for Christians. Scripture declares these truths clearly. Paul calls the civil magistrate a “servant” or “minister” of God (Romans 13:1-7). In the Old Testament, civil judges are called “gods” (elohim: judges, not Jehovah) because they stand in God’s place (Psalm 82:1-4; cf. Exodus 21:6; 22:8, 28). Political leadership is, therefore, not only a legitimate calling, but a high calling.[7]

Christian Reconstructionists further insist that Jesus Christ is Lord of political leaders. Psalm 2 speaks of the exaltation of God’s Son as King on Zion, and then applies this truth specifically to political leaders, judges, and kings (Psalm 2:7-12). Jesus Christ has been exalted above all rule and authority and power and dominion (Ephesians 1:20-23), and all authority in heaven and earth are His (Matthew 28:18-20). He is the King of kings and Lord of lords (1 Timothy 6:15). All political leaders are directly responsible to Jesus Christ in the discharge of their public office, as well as in their private lives.

Practically, this means that political leaders should seek the guidance of Scripture in framing their political positions and programs. Deuteronomy 17, which describes the duties of the future kings of Israel, emphasizes this point:

Now it shall come about when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, he shall write for himself a copy of this law on a scroll in the presence of the Levitical priests. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the Lord his God, by carefully observing all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted up above his countrymen and that he may not turn aside from the commandment, to the right or the left; in order that he and his sons may continue long in his kingdom in the midst of Israel (vv. 18-20; cr. Joshua 1:8-9).

Note the reasons why God wants the king to have a copy of the law. First, he is reminded that he is obligated to observe the same law that his people observe. As a result, he does not become proud, arrogant, and oppressive, as if he were above the law. Second, regular meditation on the Word of God prevents the political leader from turning aside from God’s commandments. Finally, the Lord promises a long and prosperous reign to the faithful king. Though these words applied most directly to the kings of Israel, they also apply to political rulers in all ages, since the Word of God remains “useful for… every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17).

Christian Reconstructionists think civil power should be expanded to bring negative sanctions against public immorality, beginning with a ban on all abortions. This infuriates the liberal critics, who want few restraints on personal morality and great restraints on personal wealth. They want the state to become an agent bringing positive sanctions in history, which must be paid for by taxation: negative sanctions against productive people. The Reconstructionists have called for a massive reduction in the power and activity of the state, including a massive reduction in taxation. This infuriates the liberal critics, who see clearly that this would de-fund their pet projects and drastically reduce their power. Christian Reconstructionists believe that health care, education, welfare, social security, and many other social needs should be met by the church and family, not by the state. It would be highly contradictory for Reconstructionists to want salvation through politics while at the same time calling for a “minimal state.” No published critic of Christian Reconstruction has even noticed this contradiction in the false accusation. 

[1] Bill Moyers, “God and Politics: On Earth As It Is In Heaven” (December 23, 1987), page 11 of transcript.

[2] After the Moyers program, my former associate at American Vision, Peter Leithart, wrote to Colson, asking him to point out the passages in Reconstructionist literature that led Colson to his conclusion. Colson has never provided those references.

[3] “God and Politics: On Earth As It Is In Heaven,” page 4 of transcript.

[4] Rousas J. Rushdoony, Politics of Guilt and Pity (Fairfax, VA: Thoburn Press, [1970] 1978), p. 145.

[5] Rousas John Rushdoony, Christianity and the State (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 1986), p. 17.

[6] Gary North, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), p. 559.

[7] For a detailed analysis of Psalm 82:6 and related verses, see Gary DeMar and Peter Leithart, The Reduction of Christianity: A Biblical Response to Dave Hunt (Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press, 1987), pp. 76-83.