Gary North and Gary Demar
Narrated By: Daniel Banuelos & Devan Lindsey
Book: Christian Reconstruction: What It Is, What It Isn’t
Topics: Doctrinal Studies
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In the summer of 1962, I first met Rousas John Rushdoony. I had read Intellectual Schizophrenia (1961) in the second semester of my junior year in college (1962), and I had corresponded with him. I was initially interested in his views regarding the possible connection between the Bible and the insights of economist Ludwig von Mises, since he had referred to Mises in his book. It was a connection that I had begun pursuing on my own as a freshman in 1960. (I am still pursuing it.)
Rushdoony was teaching at a two-week summer seminar for college students sponsored by what was then called the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists, today called the Intercollegiate Studies Institute. It was, and remains, the most intellectual of the student conservative organizations. Rushdoony had been brought to the St. Mary’s College campus to lecture each morning on the Christian roots of early America. These lectures became This Independent Republic (1964).
He had only recently left the pastorate in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church to become a staff member of the William Volker Fund, which was then one of the best endowed conservative-free market foundations. (It was shut down in 1965, on the late founder’s written instructions. The millions of dollars in funds were eventually given to the Hoover Institution.) The Volker Fund financed the research and writing of several of his early books. It put him on a retainer to write The One and the Many (1971) after the Fund began to be shut down in 1964. That retainer income financed his move to Southern California in 1965. He later dedicated the book to the administrator of the Fund, Harold Luhnow, the nephew of the late William Volker (“Mr. Anonymous”). It was Luhnow who had agreed to hire him in 1962, when Luhnow fired a group of libertarian scholars under the leadership of F. A. Harper.
Rushdoony sent me Cornelius Van Til’s apologetics syllabus in the fall of 1962, which I read and came to accept before I graduated from college that June. He hired me to come to the Volker Fund as a summer intern in 1963, and I lived with his family in Palo Alto. Essentially, I was paid $500 a month (a princely sum in those days) to read books. It was during that summer that I read the major works of Ludwig von Mises, F. A. Hayek, Murray N. Rothbard, and Wilhelm Roepke. It was the most important “summer vacation” of my life.
At Rushdoony’s insistence, I also read Van Til’s Defense of the Faith. He had brought me to work at the Fund to provide the money for me to attend Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, specifically to study under Van Til. I had originally planned to attend Dallas Seminary. I was a hyper-dispensationalist at the time (Cornelius Stam, J. C. O’Hair), though a predestinarian. The problem was, as I learned that fall, Van Til never assigned any of his own books to his classes, and his classroom lecture style was as close to Werner Heisenberg’s indeterminacy principle as anything I have ever seen. I left Westminster after one academic year, but not before Professor John Murray’s lectures on Romans 11 converted me to postmillennialism. (I became a Presbyterian after reading Meredith Kline’s 1964-65 Westminster Theological Journal essays on baptism that later became By Oath Consigned.)
In 1962, there was no Christian Reconstruction movement. There was not even an outline of it. Over the next decade, Rushdoony developed the fundamental theological and sociological principles of what was later to become a movement. I did sporadic work on biblical economics after 1964. He persuaded Hays Craig of Craig Press to publish my Marx’s Religion of Revolution (1968). He put me on a part-time salary in 1970 ($300 a month) to help me complete my Ph.D. By then, I was writing almost every other month for The Freeman, and I was hired by Leonard E. Read in the fall of 1971 to join the senior staff of the Foundation for Economic Education. 1 completed my doctoral dissertation while on the FEE staff.
Rushdoony had been deeply influenced by Van Til, whose dual classification of covenant-keeper and covenant-breaker had persuaded him of the irreconcilable nature of Christianity and its rivals. Rushdoony wrote By What Standard, published in 1959, as an introduction to Van Til’s uncompromising rejection of humanism. Like Van Til, Rushdoony believed that Christians need to abandon all traces of natural law theory. But this radical belief inevitably creates a monumental sociological problem for Christianity – a problem that Van Til never addressed publicly in his career:
“If Not Natural Law, Then What?”
Van Til was analogous to a demolitions expert. He placed explosive charges at the base of every modern edifice he could locate, and book by book, syllabus by syllabus, he detonated them. One by one, the buildings came down. But he left no blueprints for the reconstruction of society. He saw his job as narrowly negative: blowing up dangerous buildings with their weak (schizophrenic) foundations. This narrowly defined task was not good enough for Rushdoony. He recognized early that there has to be an alternative to the collapsed buildings. There have to be blueprints. But where are they to be found? Step by step in the 1960’s, he concluded that the source of the missing blueprints is Old Testament law.
This was not a new idea. The New England Puritans in the first generation (1630-60) had also believed that Old Testament law is still binding on men and institutions. But after 1660, this faith in God’s law steadily faded. By 1700, it was dead. The ancient discipline of casuistry – the study of how moral principles are applied to concrete historical circumstances – was abandoned by Protestant scholars. In its place came a new religion: Newtonian rationalism. This Unitarian import is still with us, though its luster has faded with the steady replacement of Newtonian physics by modern quantum physics.
Neither was Van Til’s Calvinism a new idea. But Van Til added one new element: an uncompromising rejection of both the rationalism and irrationalism of covenant-breaking man. He rejected neutrality in every area of life. Van Til launched a revolution. It is this, and only this, that is clearly a new element in the Christian Reconstruction movement. In this sense, the movement is intellectually revolutionary. But this rejection of neutrality is not confined to Van Tilianism today. Protestant Christians in other traditions have now begun to insist that the Bible, not the mind of man, is authoritative: the foundation of all thought and the final court of appeal. They at least say they believe this; and when they really do believe it, they become the chief targets of Christian Reconstruction’s recruiting program. To believe that the philosophy of autonomous man is all wrong is to accept the necessity of a positive alternative. But Christian Reconstruction is the only Bible-affirming movement on earth that offers an uncompromisingly biblical alternative.
Over the next ten years, Rushdoony wrote a series of path-breaking books critical of modern education, theology, science, and politics. In 1965, he launched the Chalcedon Foundation, under the auspices of a local Southern California foundation, Americanism Education, Inc., which had been founded by Walter Knott of Knott’s Berry Farm fame. The mimeographed monthly report that became the Chalcedon Report began in that year. Slowly but steadily, Rushdoony’s influence kept growing.
From Negative Criticism to Positive Reconstruction
It was not until the publication of Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law in 1973 that the movement could be said to have completed the first stage of its development. Prior to his lectures on biblical law, which began in 1968, Rushdoony’s work, like Van Til’s, had been primarily negative: exposing the myth of neutrality in philosophy, education, politics, historiography, and science. Also in 1968, Francis Schaeffer’s The God Who Is There appeared. Schaeffer extended the critique of neutrality. He had studied under Van Til at Westminster Theological Seminary, 1935-37, and while he never revealed whose system he was at least partially incorporating, he nonetheless did yeoman service in extending its devastating effects. So, as Schaeffer began to bring the implications of Van Til’s negative critique to the attention of the general Christian public, Rushdoony began his presentation of a positive alternative. Out of the rubble of humanism will come a new society, the Bible teaches:
And they shall build the old wastes, they shall raise up the former desolations, and they shall repair the waste cities, the desolations of many generations. And strangers shall stand and feed your flocks, and the sons of the alien shall be your plowmen and your vinedressers. But ye shall be named the Priests of the LORD: men shall call you the Ministers of our God: ye shall eat the riches of the Gentiles, and in their glory shall ye boast yourselves (Isaiah 61:4-6).
In 1973, Greg Bahnsen and I joined the staff of Chalcedon. Bahnsen had just completed his Master’s thesis at Westminster, which was published as Theonomy in Christian Ethics in 1977. (A series of delays beyond Bahnsen’s control kept it from appearing earlier.) I had completed my Ph.D. in history, specializing in the economic thought of Puritan New England, the year before. Turmoil began soon, when Bahnsen came under fire in the Southern California Presbytery of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, where he was seeking ordination. It took him two years to gain it, and some of the same elders who fought him then are still trying to undermine him today. The ecclesiastical war against biblical law had begun in earnest by the mid-1970’s.
A malicious elder, a physician, was the primary instigator. When the Presbytery finally dismissed his objections, his local church’s session began to investigate him, so he wisely transferred to another OPC congregation on the morning that his session was scheduled to consider pressing charges, thereby escaping a fight. Ecclesiastical procedure and Robert’s Rules of Order were his cloak and dagger; what he really committed to was suppression of a rival viewpoint. There are many other Presbyterian elders who share both his opinion and his tactics, and as theonomy has spread to their denominations by means of younger candidates for the ministry, they have staged similar procedural battles at the presbytery level to keep out “the plague” of belief in God’s law. (Meanwhile, a real plague has arrived: AIDS, God’s eloquent response to the myth of moral neutrality. Robert’s Rules of Order won’t solve this problem.)
The Late 1970’s: Building Institutional Foundations
My Introduction to Christian Economics appeared in 1973. Rushdoony’s Revolt Against Maturity appeared in 1974. Bahnsen’s Theonomy appeared in 1977; his Homosexuality: A Biblical View appeared in 1978. But no other major Reconstructionist works were forthcoming in the 1970’s. The 1970’s were years of building institutional foundations. I began editing Chalcedon’s Journal of Christian Reconstruction in 1974, the same year I started Remnant Review. I started the Institute for Christian Economics in 1975, but it remained dormant for two years. I joined the Congressional staff of Dr. Ron Paul in the second half of 1976. Bahnsen meanwhile journeyed to Jackson, Mississippi, to join the faculty of Reformed Theological Seminary. Three years later, he left RTS just as he came: fired with enthusiasm! In his brief stay, he taught James Jordan, David Chilton, Ken Gentry, and Gary DeMar. His colleagues were rightly concerned that he would continue to pick off the brighter, activist students. They eliminated this possibility when they got the opportunity.
Rushdoony was working hard to expand the mailing list of his Chalcedon Foundation, and generally ceased writing and publishing his older style academic books after 1973. In 1978, Infallibility: An Inescapable Concept (69 pages) appeared, and the next year came The Necessity for Systematic Theology (74 pages) and Tithing and Dominion, co-authored by Edward Powell. In the 1980’s, a few of the books that he had written for the most part around 1973 begin to appear in print: The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum (1981), Law and Society (1982), and Salvation and Godly Rule (1983). These books are more popular in tone, with very short chapters and fewer footnote references. Rushdoony’s goal had visibly shifted: presenting the case for Christian Reconstruction to a new audience – wider, but, less theologically rigorous. The new books now came from other places.
The 1980’s: High Gear Book Production in Tyler and Atlanta
In 1981, with Remnant Review and the ICE on their feet, I began to write in earnest. This began with Unconditional Surrender (1981), and The Dominion Covenant: Genesis followed the next year. ICE newsletters also multiplied. I began to recruit younger men to write books that could not be published through the conventional Christian book industry.
At the same time, Gary DeMar went to work for American Vision. He was hired to write what became the three-volume set, God and Government. By the mid-1980’s, the board of American Vision decided to replace its founder with DeMar. At about that time, George Grant appeared on the scene: Bringing in the Sheaves, published originally by American Vision.
The ten-volume Biblical Blueprints series followed in 1986-87, with the first four volumes co-published by Thomas Nelson Sons, but abandoned soon thereafter. Dominion Press took over exclusive rights in late 1987. This series was a self-conscious attempt to prove that the thesis of Christian Reconstruction is correct; biblical law does apply to real-world situations: economics, education, civil government, welfare, politics, foreign policy, and family relations. We initially intended to write these books for high school students, but as it turned out, they are more geared to college students. But they are relatively easy to read. Over half of them are structured by the Bible’s five-point covenantal model, discovered by Ray Sutton in late 1986, and developed in his book, That You May Prosper in 1987. It was applied immediately by David Chilton in structuring his commentary on the Book of Revelation, The Days of Vengeance (1987). The five-point covenant model was the most recent major breakthrough of the Christian Reconstruction movement, and it will remain as the integrating structure for the ICE-Dominion Press books.
Confidence or Arrogance?
In my Forewords, Introductions, and Prefaces to ICE and Dominion Press books, I have expressed the opinion that our theological opponents are incapable of either answering us or developing a real-world, Bible-based alternative. This tactic is quite self-conscious: I am trying to break the seminaries’ academic black-out by exasperating them. I try to get the critics to reply in print. This tactic generally works, but it takes time and a great deal of publication money. My targets eventually respond, thus enabling me to publish two or three volumes demonstrating why their responses proved my point: no answers.
This tactic has made me very unpopular. It has also raised questions of propriety and good taste among our followers. Should I make such public claims? Should I tell the whole Christian world that what we have is better than anything they have? I get letters warning me that such an attitude is unchristian and evidence of my arrogance. Perhaps so. But I have a model: David. He also made some seemingly outrageous claims, and they were tied to the very thing I proclaim: biblical law.
I have more understanding than all my teachers: for thy testimonies are my meditation. I understand more than the ancients, because I keep thy precepts (Psalm 119:99-100).
No one can accurately accuse David of having been a shrinking violet. He blew his horn about as loudly as possible. He had the theological goods, and he let everyone know this fact in no uncertain terms. He had the law of God, and this placed him above his teachers and the ancients. It also placed him above any of his contemporaries who rejected God’s law.
Can you imagine the outrage we would hear if he were alive today and made such a public statement? For that matter, we can be confident that the priests and civic officials of his day would have had a thing or two to say about such an attitude, had he not occupied the throne. I can almost hear them:
Just who do you think you are? You claim far too much for yourself. By what authority do you claim such wisdom? Where did you, a mere shepherd by birth, get the idea that you excel your teachers, let alone the ancients? Have you studied under a master? Have you devoted years of work to a study of modern theology? No? Well, then, it is clear to us that you are ill-equipped to evaluate your own performance. You are an arrogant man, sir. You are puffed up with your own importance. You think you have great insights, but you are out of step with the latest findings of contemporary theologians. Your attitude is unbiblical. You lack deep spirituality. You are spiritually shallow. No thinking person is going to take seriously anything a strutting, self-inflated character like you has to say. Your style proves that you have nothing important to say. Therefore, we need not examine the content of your position.
David knew the authority in history that the revealed law of God offers to those who take it seriously and conform themselves to it. He announced his reliance on biblical law and the tremendous advantage it gave him: wisdom. The law of God is a tool of dominion, a means of spiritual advancement, and the foundation of progress: personal, spiritual, intellectual, and cultural. This is the message of the 119th psalm, the longest passage in the Bible, a psalm devoted to praising the law of God. By understanding the law of God and applying it in his life, a person advances the kingdom of God in history. So it was with David. He identified himself as one who had advanced beyond previous generations. David reminded his listeners:
I have refrained my feet from every evil way, that I might keep thy word. I have not departed from thy judgments: for thou hast taught me. How sweet are thy words unto my taste! yea, sweeter than honey to my mouth! Through thy precepts I get understanding: therefore I hate every false way. Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path. I have sworn, and I will perform it, that I will keep thy righteous judgments (vv. 101-6).
The law of God repels men. It is a lamp unto their feet, but they walk in crooked paths. They resent the exposure that this lamp brings. They love the darkness, for their deeds are evil. They do not want to hear about God’s law. They do not want to believe that he who gains mastery over it and over himself in terms of it becomes the master of his environment.
One group of critics of biblical law believes that power, not biblical wisdom, is the basis of progress in history. They defend the power religion. The other group of critics believes that inward spirituality is alone the basis of progress, at least personal progress – the only progress they acknowledge. They look deep within themselves, adopt various spiritual disciplines, and seek to remove themselves from the material concerns of this world. This is the escape religion. They escape the exercise of authority as self-consciously as the other critics pursue power. But both groups are united on this: a rejection of God’s revealed law and the authority it brings to those who obey it. Both sides are antinomian. Both sides reject Christian Reconstruction.
Anyone who publicly proclaims the unique, Holy Spirit-empowered benefits of biblical law is dismissed by the critics as arrogant. If such claims are true, the critics stand condemned. They refuse to admit that such claims are true. They insist that public humility regarding God’s claims for His own law is God’s requirement, and they proclaim this loudly, with total confidence. They are experts in humility assertiveness. When it comes to exercising proper humility, they will tell you in no uncertain terms just where you are out of line. Their model is Shimei (II Sam. 16:5-8). It is a dangerous model to adopt (I Kings 2).
The Offense of Christian Reconstruction
Modern Christianity implicitly sings this hymn: “O, how hate I thy law; O, how hate I thy law; it is my consternation all the day.” It is the offense of Christian Reconstruction that its promoters call upon all men to reconsider God’s Bible-revealed law. This law is the only God-given, authoritative means of evaluation: self-evaluation first, and then the evaluation of everything else. God’s law tells us what God thinks of the works of self-proclaimed autonomous man: “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away” (Isaiah 64:6). It is not a pretty self-portrait, so autonomous men refuse to look at it. Meanwhile, Christians today are afraid to mention its existence, out of concern for the sensibilities of autonomous men, with whom they have an unspoken alliance.
Nevertheless, covenant-breakers cannot escape the testimony of God in everything they think, see, and do. They know the truth, and they actively hinder it, to their own damnation.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold [back] the truth in unrighteousness; Because that which may be known of God is manifest in them; for God hath shewed it unto them. For the invisible things of him from the creation of the world are dearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even his eternal power and Godhead; so that they are without excuse: Because that, when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, And changed the glory of the uncorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds, and fourfooted beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness through the lusts of their own hearts, to dishonour their own bodies between themselves: Who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed for ever. Amen (Romans 1:18-25).
Common Ground: Disinheritance
Each person is made in God’s image. This is the common ground among men – the only common ground. We are born the rebellious sons of the Creator God. We are all of one blood: “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, dwelleth not in temples made with hands; Neither is worshipped with men’s hands, as though he needed any thing, seeing he giveth to all life, and breath, and all things; And hath made of one blood all nations of men for to dwell on all the face of the earth, and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation” (Acts 17:24-26). We are all born as God’s disinherited children.
Christian Reconstructionists insist that there is no common ground among men other than this: the image of God. While all men know the work of the law (Romans 2:15), this knowledge is not enough to save them. It brings them under God’s eternal wrath. They hinder in unrighteousness whatever truth they possess as men (Romans 1:18). The more consistent they are with their covenant-breaking presuppositions, the more they hate God’s law and those who preach it. The more consistent they become with their rebellious view of God, man, law, and time, the more perverse they become. They prefer to worship creatures rather than the Creator:
For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet. And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenantbreakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful: Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them (Romans 1:26-32).
This means that natural law theory is a myth, the creation of Hellenistic Greek philosophers to offer hope in a world in which the Greek city-state (the polis) had fallen to Alexander the Great and then to Rome. But if natural law theory is a myth, what can take its place? To what other standard can men safely cling if they reject the abiding authority of God’s law in history? Christian Reconstructionists have an answer: none. This answer is hated, rejected, and ridiculed by Christians in our day. This answer is the offense of Christian Reconstruction.
The 1990’s: Crisis in Society
The collapse of the European Communist economies in late 1989 launched a new era, though not a true New World Order (Jesus launched that). A new European state was already on the drawing board. Immediately, 1990 was heralded as the dawn of man’s New World Order. In August, 1990, the invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein’s Iraq signaled the first test of this New World Order. AIDS will prove to be a more broadly based, long-term problem. Meanwhile, the U.S. government’s budget is $350+ billion a year in the red, the public schools continue to decline, and the optimism of the Reagan years is fading.
God is plowing up the modern world. This is softening the Establishment’s resistance to many new ideas and movements, among which Christian Reconstruction is barely visible at present. This is good for us now; we need the noise of contemporary events to hide us from humanist enemies who, if they fully understood the long-term threat to their civilization that our ideas pose, would be wise to take steps to crush us.
And so we go about our work. We have time on our side; our opponents don’t. We have a sovereign God on our side; our opponents don’t. We cannot afford to be complacent; we can, however, afford to be confident, and for the same reasons that David was. Plus, we have word processors and mailing lists. That makes all the difference. A dozen men armed with word processors can inflict enormous damage on those whose paradigms are in a state of collapse.
You can’t beat something with nothing. Theonomists alone proclaim this crucial something: biblical law. I say this with great confidence, not in myself but in God’s law. And does this make our opponents angry! Read this book to find out why.
 Rousas J. Rushdoony, Intellectual Schizophrenia: Culture, Crisis and Education (Philadelphia: Presbyterian & Reformed, 1961), p. 14n.
 Its headquarters are in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.
 He did not return to the pastorate. He sought and received formal permission to labor outside the bounds of the Northern California Presbytery of the OPC, a status he maintained until he left the denomination in the early 1970’s.
 Harper had answered by mail some of my questions about economics as early as summer, 1961, and he brought me to the Volker Fund, located in Burlingame, California, that fall, a semester before I heard of Rushdoony. He gave me several books at that time, and a year later sent me Murray Rothbard’s incomparable Man, Economy, and State, after he set up his own organization, the Institute for Humane Studies, in 1962.
 Another staff member was Rev. C. John Miller, who later went to Westminster Seminary as a faculty member. Miller wrote a three-volume manuscript against public education while on the staff. It was never published.
 As is true of most authors who comment on contemporary events, you can determine the original date of authorship by checking the latest dates in the books and newspaper articles cited in the footnotes.
 See below, Chapter 9.
 Murray, Romans, I pp. 36-37.
 Ibid., I. pp. 74-76.