Christian reconstructionism is a fundamentalist Reformed theonomic movement that developed under the ideas of Rousas Rushdoony, Greg Bahnsen and Gary North; it has had an important influence on the Christian Right in the United States. In keeping with the cultural mandate, reconstructionists advocate theonomy and the restoration of certain biblical laws said to have continuing applicability. The movement declined in the 1990s and was declared dead in a 2008 Church History journal article, although Christian reconstructionist organizations such as the Chalcedon Foundation and American Vision are active today. Christian reconstructionists are usually postmillennialists and followers of the presuppositional apologetics of Cornelius Van Til.
A Christian denomination that advocates the view of Christian reconstructionism is the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States. Most Reformed Christians, however, disavow Christian reconstructionism and hold to classical covenant theology, the traditional Reformed view of the relationship between the Old Covenant and Christianity.
Christian reconstructionists advocate a theonomic government and libertarian economic principles. They maintain a distinction of spheres of authority between family, church, and state. For example, the enforcement of moral sanctions under theonomy is carried out by the family and church government, and sanctions for moral offenses are outside the authority of civil government (which is limited to criminal matters, courts and national defense). However, some believe these distinctions become blurred, as the application of theonomy implies an increase in the authority of the civil government. Reconstructionists argue, though, that under theonomy, the authority of the state is severely limited to a point where only the judicial branch exists (e.g., a homosexual does not fear of a police force breaking in their house at night, since, under theonomy, there is no executive branch and therefore no police). Reconstructionists also say that the theocratic government is not an oligarchy or monarchy of man communicating with God, but rather, a national recognition of existing laws. Prominent advocates of Christian reconstructionism have written that according to their understanding, God's law approves of the death penalty not only for murder, but also for propagators of all forms of idolatry, open homosexuals, adulterers, practitioners of witchcraft, blasphemers, and perhaps even recalcitrant youths (see the List of capital crimes in the Bible).
Conversely, Christian reconstructionism's founder, Rousas Rushdoony, wrote in The Institutes of Biblical Law (the founding document of reconstructionism) that Old Testament law should be applied to modern society, and he advocates the reinstatement of the Mosaic law's penal sanctions. Under such a system, the list of civil crimes which carried a death sentence would include murder, homosexuality, adultery, incest, lying about one's virginity, bestiality, witchcraft, idolatry or apostasy, public blasphemy, false prophesying, kidnapping, rape, and bearing false witness in a capital case.
Kayser points out that the Bible advocates justice, and that biblical punishments prescribed for crimes are the maximum allowable to maintain justice and not the only available option, because lesser punishments are authorized as well.
Rousas Rushdoony wrote in his magnum opus, The Institutes of Biblical Law: "The heresy of democracy has since [the days of colonial New England] worked havoc in church and state" and: "Christianity and democracy are inevitably enemies", and he said elsewhere that "Christianity is completely and radically anti-democratic; it is committed to spiritual aristocracy," and characterized democracy as "the great love of the failures and cowards of life". He nevertheless repeatedly expressed his opposition to any sort of violent revolution and advocated instead the gradual reformation (often termed "regeneration" in his writings) of society from the bottom up, beginning with the individual and the family and from there gradually reforming other spheres of authority, including the church and the state.
Rushdoony believed that a republic is a better form of civil government than a democracy. According to Rushdoony, a republic avoided mob rule and the rule of the "51%" of society; in other words "might does not make right" in a republic. Rushdoony wrote that America's separation of powers between 3 branches of government is a far more neutral and better method of civil government than a direct democracy, stating "[t]he [American] Constitution was designed to perpetuate a Christian order". Rushdoony argues that the Constitution's purpose was to protect religion from the federal government and to preserve "states' rights."
Douglas W. Kennard, a Professor Theology and Philosophy at the Houston Graduate School of Theology, wrote with regard to Christian reconstructionism, that Christians of non-Reformed traditions, such as some "Baptist, Methodist, Catholic, [and] Orthodox", would be "under threat of capital punishment as fostered by the extreme Theonomist." On the other hand, Ligon Duncan has stated that "Roman Catholics to Episcopalians to Presbyterians to Pentecostals", as well as "Arminian and Calvinist, charismatic and non-charismatic, high Church and low Church traditions are all represented in the broader umbrella of Reconstructionism (often in the form of the "Christian America" movement)."
Although relatively small in terms of the number of self-described adherents, Christian reconstructionism has played a role in promoting the trend toward explicitly Christian politics in the larger American Christian right. This is the wider trend to which some critics refer, generally, as dominionism. They also allegedly have influence disproportionate to their numbers among advocates of the growth of the Christian homeschooling and other Christian education movements that seek independence from the direct oversight or support of the civil government. Because their numbers are so small compared to their influence, they are sometimes accused of being secretive and conspiratorial.
In Matthew 28:18, Jesus says, "All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth." This verse is seen as an announcement by Jesus that he has assumed authority over all earthly authority. In that light, some theologians interpret the Great Commission as a command to exercise that authority in his name, bringing all things (including societies and cultures) into subjection under his commands. Rousas Rushdoony, for example, interpreted the Great Commission as a republication of the "creation mandate", referring to Genesis 1:28
Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing...
The purpose of Christ's coming was in terms of the creation mandate… The redeemed are called to the original purpose of man, to exercise dominion under God, to be covenant-keepers, and to fulfil "the righteousness of the law" (Rom. 8:4)… Man is summoned to create the society God requires.
Elsewhere he wrote:
The man who is being progressively sanctified will inescapably sanctify his home, school, politics, economics, science, and all things else by understanding and interpreting all things in terms of the word of God.
According to sociologist and professor of religion William Martin, author of With God on Our Side:
It is difficult to assess the influence of Reconstructionist thought with any accuracy. Because it is so genuinely radical, most leaders of the Religious Right are careful to distance themselves from it. At the same time, it clearly holds some appeal for many of them. One undoubtedly spoke for others when he confessed, 'Though we hide their books under the bed, we read them just the same.' In addition, several key leaders have acknowledged an intellectual debt to the theonomists. Jerry Falwell and D. James Kennedy have endorsed Reconstructionist books. Rushdoony has appeared on Kennedy's television program and the 700 Club several times. Pat Robertson makes frequent use of 'dominion' language; his book, The Secret Kingdom, has often been cited for its theonomy elements; and pluralists were made uncomfortable when, during his presidential campaign, he said he 'would only bring Christians and Jews into the government,' as well as when he later wrote, 'There will never be world peace until God's house and God's people are given their rightful place of leadership at the top of the world.' And Jay Grimstead, who leads the Coalition on Revival, which brings Reconstructionists together with more mainstream evangelicals, has said, 'I don't call myself [a Reconstructionist],' but 'A lot of us are coming to realize that the Bible is God's standard of morality … in all points of history … and for all societies, Christian and non-Christian alike… It so happens that Rushdoony, Bahnsen, and North understood that sooner.' He added, 'There are a lot of us floating around in Christian leadership—James Kennedy is one of them—who don't go all the way with the theonomy thing, but who want to rebuild America based on the Bible.'
Michael Horton of Westminster Seminary California has warned against the seductiveness of power-religion. The Christian rhetoric of the movement is weak, he argues, against the logic of its authoritarian and legalistic program, which will always drive reconstructionism toward sub-Christian ideas about sin, and the perfectibility of human nature (such as to imagine that, if Christians are in power, they won't be inclined to do evil). On the contrary, Horton and others maintain, God's Law can, often has been, and will be put to evil uses by Christians and others, in the state, in churches, in the marketplace, and in families; and these crimes are aggravated, because to oppose a wrong committed through abuse of God's law, a critic must bear being labeled an enemy of God's law.
J. Ligon Duncan of the Department of Systematic Theology of Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, Mississippi, warns that "Theonomy, in gross violation of biblical patterns and common sense, ignores the context of the giving of the law to the redemptive community of the Old Testament. This constitutes an approach to the nature of the civil law very different from Calvin and the rest of the Reformed tradition, which sees the civil law as God's application of his eternal standards to the particular exigencies of his people." Duncan rejects the reconstructionist's insistence that "the Old Testament civil case law is normative for the civil magistrate and government in the New Covenant era". He views their denial of the threefold distinction between moral, civil, and ceremonial law as representing one of the severe flaws in the reconstructionist hermeneutic.
Professor Meredith Kline, whose own theology has influenced the method of several reconstructionist theologians, has adamantly maintained that reconstructionism makes the mistake of failing to understand the special prophetic role of biblical Israel, including the laws and sanctions, calling it "a delusive and grotesque perversion of the teachings of scripture." Kline's student, Lee Irons, furthers the critique:
According to the Reformed theocrats apparently… the only satisfactory goal is that America become a Christian nation.
Ironically... it is the wholesale rejection (not revival) of theocratic principles that is desperately needed today if the church is to be faithful to the task of gospel witness entrusted to her in the present age… It is only as the church… puts aside the lust for worldly influence and power – that she will be a positive presence in society.
In an April 2009 article in Christianity Today about theologian and writer Douglas Wilson, the magazine described reconstructionism as outside the 'mainstream' views of evangelical Christians. It also stated that it "borders on a call for outright theocracy".
George M. Marsden, a professor of history at the University of Notre Dame, has remarked in Christianity Today that "Reconstructionism in its pure form is a radical movement". He also wrote, "[t]he positive proposals of Reconstructionists are so far out of line with American evangelical commitments to American republican ideals such as religious freedom that the number of true believers in the movement is small."
Popular religious author, feminist, and former Roman Catholic nun, Karen Armstrong sees a potential for "fascism" in Christian reconstructionism, and sees the eventual Dominion envisioned by theologians R. J. Rushdoony and Gary North as: "totalitarian. There is no room for any other view or policy, no democratic tolerance for rival parties, no individual freedom."
Traditional Reformed Christians have argued that Christian reconstructionists have "significantly misunderstood the positions of Calvin, other Reformed teachers and the Westminster Confession concerning the relationship between the Sinai covenant's ethical stipulations and the Christian obligation to the Mosaic judicial laws today."
Some sociologists and critics refer to reconstructionism as a type of dominionism. These critics claim that the frequent use of the word dominion by reconstructionist writers, strongly associates the critical term dominionism with this movement. As an ideological form of dominionism, reconstructionism is sometimes held up as the most typical form of dominion theology.
The Protestant theologian Francis Schaeffer is linked with the movement by some critics, but some reconstructionist thinkers are highly critical of Schaeffer's positions and he himself disavowed any connection or affiliation with reconstructionism, though he did cordially correspond with Rushdoony on occasion. Authors Sara Diamond and Fred Clarkson suggest that Schaeffer shared with reconstructionism the tendency toward dominionism.
Christian reconstructionists object to the dominionism and the dominion theology labels, which they say misrepresent their views. Some separate Christian cultural and political movements object to being described with the label dominionism, because in their mind the word implies attachment to reconstructionism. In reconstructionism the idea of godly dominion, subject to God, is contrasted with the autonomous dominion of mankind in rebellion against God.
The few bona fide Christian Reconstructionists still on the scene, notably Gary DeMar at American Vision, Inc. in Atlanta and a few holdouts at the Chalcedon Foundation in Vallecito, consider themselves a separate movement and seem to exert little direct influence on the Religious Right.
There are several Christian Reconstructionist organizations but the key centers are as follows: Rushdoony's Chalcedon Foundation in Vallecito, California; his son in-law Gary North's Institute of Christian Economics in Tyler, Texas; and Gary DeMar's American Vision organization in Atlanta, Georgia.
Reconstructionists are separated by geography, and sometimes by their stances on certain issues, into various formal organizations. Among their key centers are Rushdoony's Chalcedon Foundation in Vallecito, California; North's Institute for Christian Economics in Tyler, Texas; and Gary DeMar's American Vision organization in Atlanta, Georgia.
His laws are to be obeyed by every human individual as well as by every human institution. [… T]he Bible does recognize several other legitimate human governments that God has established. […] These governments are under His sovereignty and are also separate from one another. Each one has its moral authority ordained by God within its limited sphere of jurisdiction. […] The Family […] The Church […] The State […] Historically, human civilizations have brought tremendous suffering and judgment upon themselves because they have blurred the distinctions between these separate governments, have failed to submit to the biblical requirements for these governments, and have over-extended the authority of one or more of these governments.
What is the legitimate punishment for a crime? [… W]hat would stop a tyrannical state from once again imposing the death penalty for petty theft as was repeatedly practiced in England? On the other hand, what would hinder the state from simply fining a murderer $100? […] Without an objective standard of justice from God, how can we discern justice? […] Is it unjust to cut off the hand of a thief as is prescribed in the Koran? The Bible would say, yes. In America people are placed into jail for years for thefts that could have been paid off by means of Biblical restitution in much less time. With the biblical penalty, the criminal is rehabilitated and the victim is compensated. It is easy to see how the Biblical penalties designed to be restorative would be a wonderful alternative to present penalties. But some people have questioned whether the Biblical death penalty should be implemented. It is acknowledged that the penalty for murder is not restorative. But it is the contention of this booklet that the (maximum) penalty of death for every other crime was designed to restore sinners to repentance. […] Theonomists have tended to treat [the Hebrew phrase "möt yumat"] as a mandate for the death penalty. I argue that this is impossible, since God Himself authorized lesser penalties.
In colonial New England the covenantal concept of church and state was applied. [...] The heresy of democracy has since then worked havoc in church and state, and it has worked towards reducing society to anarchy.
American Vision is a United States nonprofit organization founded in 1978 by Steve Schiffman. It operates as a Christian ministry, and calls for "equipping and empowering Christians to restore America’s biblical foundation." The organization promotes Christian Reconstructionism and Postmillennialism, and opposes dispensationalism. Gary DeMar was the organization's president from 1986 to 2015; 2019-. DeMar was Senior Fellow from 2015-2019, Joel McDurmon, was and now current senior researcher.Bahnsen Theological Seminary
Bahnsen Theological Seminary was a Reformed Calvinist theological training institution, based in Placentia, California. It was most notably associated with Greg Bahnsen and Kenneth Gentry.
It offered instruction worldwide by correspondence, as well as courses presented locally.Chalcedon Foundation
The Chalcedon Foundation is an American Christian Reconstructionist organization founded by Rousas John Rushdoony in 1965. Named for the Council of Chalcedon, it has also included theologians such as Gary North, who later founded his own organization, the Institute for Christian Economics.
The Chalcedon Foundation provides educational material in the form of books, newsletter reports and various electronic media, toward advancing the theological teachings of Rushdoony's Christian Reconstructionism movement. It is notable for its role in the influence of Christianity on politics in the U.S. and has been described as "a think tank of the Religious Right." Rushdoony's son, Mark now heads the foundation.
The Chalcedon Foundation has been listed as an anti-gay hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center for, among other reasons, supporting the death penalty for homosexuality.David Chilton
David Harold Chilton (1951–1997) was an American reformed pastor, Christian reconstructionist, speaker, and author of several books on economics, eschatology and Christian Worldview from Placerville, California. He contributed three books on eschatology: Paradise Restored (1985), The Days of Vengeance (1987), and The Great Tribulation (1987).
His book Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt-Manipulators: A Biblical Response to Ronald J. Sider (1981) was a response to Ronald J. Sider's best-selling book, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger: A Biblical Study (1977), which promoted various programs of wealth redistribution by the government. Chilton argued that the Bible either does not authorize such programs or explicitly teaches against them.
His book Power in the Blood: A Christian Response to AIDS (1987) was primarily dealing with the Church's relationship with the world.Dominion theology
Dominion theology (also known as dominionism) is a group of Christian political ideologies that seek to institute a nation governed by Christians based on their personal understandings of biblical law. Extents of rule and ways of achieving governing authority are varied. For example, dominion theology can include theonomy, but does not necessarily involve advocating Mosaic law as the basis of government. The label is applied primarily toward groups of Christians in the United States.
Prominent adherents of these ideologies are otherwise theologically diverse, including Calvinist Christian reconstructionism, Roman Catholic
Integralism, Charismatic/Pentecostal Kingdom Now theology, New Apostolic Reformation, and others. Most of the contemporary movements labeled dominion theology arose in the 1970s from religious movements asserting aspects of Christian nationalism.
Some have applied the term dominionist more broadly to the whole Christian right. This usage is controversial. There are concerns from members of these communities that this is a label being used to marginalize Christians from public discourse. Others argue this allegation can be difficult to sympathize with considering the political power already held by these groups and on account of the often verbally blatant intention of these groups to influence the political, social, financial, and cultural spectrums of society for a specific religion, often at the expense of other marginalized groups.Gary DeMar
Gary DeMar is an American writer, lecturer and former president of American Vision, an American Christian nonprofit organization. The think-tank has a vision of "an America that recognizes the sovereignty of God over all of life and where Christians are engaged in every facet of society."Gary North (economist)
Gary Kilgore North (born February 1942), l is an American paleolibertarian writer, Austrian School economic historian, and leading figure in the Christian reconstructionist movement. North has authored or coauthored over fifty books on topics including Reformed Protestant theology, economics, and history. He is an Associated Scholar of the Ludwig von Mises Institute.He is known for his advocacy of biblical or "radically libertarian" economics and also as a theorist of dominionism and theonomy. He supports the establishment and enforcement of Bible-based religious law, a view which has put him in conflict with other libertarians. Particularly controversial are his views on capital punishment, which he believes is appropriate punishment for male homosexuality, adultery, blasphemy, and a wide variety of other crimes.Greg Bahnsen
Greg L. Bahnsen (September 17, 1948 – December 11, 1995) was an American Calvinist philosopher, apologist, and debater. He was a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and a full-time Scholar in Residence for the Southern California Center for Christian Studies (SCCCS). He is also considered a contributor to the field of Christian apologetics, as he popularized the presuppositional method of Cornelius Van Til. He is the father of David L. Bahnsen, an American portfolio manager, author, and television commentator.Islamic monarchy
Islamic monarchies are a type of Islamic state which are monarchies. Historically known by various names, such as Mamlakah ("Kingdom"), Caliphate, Sultanate, or Emirate, current Islamic monarchies include:
Kingdom of Morocco
Kingdom of Bahrain
Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan
Kingdom of Saudi Arabia
Sultanate of Oman
Monarchies of Malaysia
Nation of Brunei, Abode of Peace
State of Kuwait
State of Qatar
United Arab EmiratesJames B. Jordan
James Burrell Jordan (born December 31, 1949) is an American Protestant theologian and author. He is the director of Biblical Horizons ministries, an organisation in Niceville, Florida that publishes books, essays and other media dealing with Bible commentary, Biblical theology, and liturgy. It adheres to biblical absolutism including Young Earth Creationism and is committed to the concept of biblical theocracy.Kenneth Gentry
Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. (3 May 1950) is a Reformed theologian, and an ordained minister in the Reformed Presbyterian Church General Assembly. He is particularly known for his support for and publication on the topics of orthodox preterism and postmillennialism in Christian eschatology, as well as for theonomy and Young Earth creationism. He holds that each of these theological distinctives are logical and theological extensions of his foundational theology, which is Calvinistic and Reformed.Kinism
Kinism is a white supremacist interpretation of Christianity. The ideology is a "movement of anti-immigrant, 'Southern heritage' separatists who splintered off from Christian Reconstructionism to advocate the belief that God's intended order is 'loving one's kind' by separating people along 'tribal and ethnic' lines to live in large, extended-family groups."Postmillennialism
In Christian end-times theology (eschatology), postmillennialism is an interpretation of chapter 20 of the Book of Revelation which sees Christ's second coming as occurring after (Latin post-) the "Millennium", a Golden Age in which Christian ethics prosper. The term subsumes several similar views of the end times, and it stands in contrast to premillennialism and, to a lesser extent, amillennialism (see Summary of Christian eschatological differences). For the most Christians this question was solved by the Council of Ephesus.
Postmillennialism holds that Jesus Christ establishes his kingdom on earth through his preaching and redemptive work in the first century and that he equips his church with the gospel, empowers her by the Spirit, and charges her with the Great Commission (Matt 28:19) to disciple all nations. Postmillennialism expects that eventually the vast majority of people living will be saved. Increasing gospel success will gradually produce a time in history prior to Christ's return in which faith, righteousness, peace, and prosperity will prevail in the affairs of men and of nations. After an extensive era of such conditions Jesus Christ will return visibly, bodily, and gloriously, to end history with the general resurrection and the final judgment after which the eternal order follows.
Postmillenialism was a dominant theological belief among American Protestants who promoted reform movements in the 19th and 20th century such as abolitionism and the Social Gospel. Postmillennialism has become one of the key tenets of a movement known as Christian Reconstructionism. It has been criticized by 20th century religious conservatives as an attempt to immanentize the eschaton.Progressive Reconstructionism
Progressive Reconstructionism is a loosely-knit interfaith community found principally at this time in the developed world. It comprises activist adherents of Reconstructionist Judaism (and of some other Jewish traditions) and the Christian left, of progressive Hindus, Buddhists Muslims, left-leaning Neopagans, Wiccans, and members of other faiths, as well as of progressives who follow a spiritual practice but adhere to no particular religion or tradition, considering themselves to be "spiritual but not religious" (among these are included even agnostics, non-theists, and secular humanists). Some of the key current proponents are Michael Lerner, Starhawk, and Matthew Fox.
Among the seminal ideas leading to Progressive Reconstructionism have been Jewish Renewal, the Social Gospel and Liberation Theology, Reclaiming Wicca, and Creation Spirituality. Some of the main centers of study and organizing in this movement are the Network of Spiritual Progressives, Wisdom University, Naropa University, The Chaplaincy Institute, California Institute of Integral Studies, the Institute of Noetic Sciences, Reclaiming, Muslim WakeUp! magazine, and the Yahoo! independent catholic Blog (called, "The Old-Catholic Churches").
As an interfaith and progressive movement, it is not to be confused with Dominion Theology, the so-called "Christian Reconstructionism" and Theonomy of such right-wing millennialists as R.J. Rushdooney and his colleagues, North, Bahnsen, et al. Progressive Reconstructionism is also different from the Polytheistic Reconstructionist religions, though both movements include individuals and groups who identify as Polytheists or Pagans, and the Polytheists and the Progressives have more in common with one another than does either group with the "Christian Reconstructionists".R. J. Rushdoony
Rousas John Rushdoony (April 25, 1916 – February 8, 2001) was a Calvinist philosopher, historian, and theologian and is widely credited as being the father of Christian Reconstructionism and an inspiration for the modern Christian homeschool movement. His followers and critics have argued that his thought exerts considerable influence on the evangelical Christian right.Reconstructionism
Reconstructionism may refer to:
Christian Reconstructionism, a Calvinistic theological-political movement
Hellenic Polytheistic Reconstructionism, a revival of ancient Greek religion
Polytheistic reconstructionism, an approach to Neopaganism
Progressive Reconstructionism, an interfaith community
Reconstructionist Judaism, a modern American-based Jewish movement
Zalmoxianism, a rebirth of ancient Dacian religionThe Institutes of Biblical Law
The Institutes of Biblical Law is a 1973 book by the philosopher and theologian Rousas John Rushdoony. It is the first volume of a three-volume work, also referred to by the same title, which is modeled after John Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion (1536). Together with Rushdoony's other writings, the book is the basis of Christian reconstructionism.Theonomy
Theonomy, from theos (god) and nomos (law), is a hypothetical Christian form of government in which society is ruled by divine law. Theonomists hold that divine law, including the judicial laws of the Old Testament, should be observed by modern societies.Theonomy is distinct from the "theonomous ethics" proposed by Paul Tillich.