[From the archives. Originally published April, 1989.]
Banners of Untruth – III
In this series entitled “What is Christian Reconstruction” I have attempted to clarify just what it is that distinguishes a Christian Reconstructionist. By contrasting what the critics of Reconstruction claim over against what the Reconstructionists actually say, we have seen great disparity between Reconstructionists and those who not only disagree with Reconstructionism but consider it anti-biblical.
In particular, I have been concentrating on a published address given at the 1988 Banner of Truth conference in Sydney by Rev. John Paterson who attempted a dismissal of Reconstruction teaching on several grounds. In part one we highlighted Mr. Paterson’s obvious ignorance of the published writings of the Reconstructionists, which led him to make the outlandish claim that the Reconstructionists deny New Testament teaching. Proof for these allegations has not been forthcoming from him, despite repeated requests. I believe that without Rev. Paterson providing any proof, we may safely assume he has made unfounded and therefore unwarranted allegations that Christian Reconstructionists deny the gospel.
In the second part I dealt with Rev. Iain Murray’s claim that the Reconstructionists do not properly recognise the threefold division of the Old Testament law into moral, civil (or judicial) and ceremonial (or sacrificial). It was argued that the Bible does not make such a division, and therefore it appears unsafe to abrogate parts of God’s law based on a separation of the laws which God Himself does not make.
In his address against Christian Reconstruction, Rev. Paterson listed several Christian groups in Australia which were classified as “dangerous” because of their supposed adherence to Christian Reconstruction. These groups included Logos Foundation, Festival of Light, and Call to Australia. While those who know what the Reconstructionists really stand for might find this claim amusing, however, it is the method of Rev. Paterson’s argument which interests us at this point. This is in need of analysis to see if in fact he has proven his case.
First, let us remind ourselves of Mr. Paterson’s definition of Christian Reconstruction. “In single terms it’s the detailed reinstatement of the law of the Old Testament over the whole of society. . . . It’s changing the laws of Australia so they are in fact the laws of the Old Testament.” I have already pointed out that this definition is a caricature, at best, of Reconstruction teaching. It implies a denial of New Testament teaching and a failure to recognize the way in which Reconstructionists themselves attempt to modify Old Testament laws in the light of New Testament revelation. Please keep this definition firmly in your mind, however, as we proceed to dissect the manner in which he makes his conclusions.
[From the archives. Originally published July, 1990.]
Life is full of strange surprises . . . but none so surprising as the offer a few weeks ago to have dinner with Dave Hunt, his wife, and a couple of friends.
Can you imagine it? A Reconstructionist sitting at the same table, having a meal with one of our greatest critics.
Mind you, I was warned: “Don’t get into any arguments!” You have to understand, my wife feels the necessity to offer me such advice from time to time; although these days it is more likely she that will get into an argument over Christian Reconstruction, while your mild-mannered reporter is slowly developing the habit of saying less and less (life is getting dull!).
Anyway, having a fascination for anything that is a little weird — perhaps off-beat is a better term — naturally I couldn’t resist the invitation. Dave and his wife Ruth (charming lady) were superb hosts and the conversation was stimulating, vigorous, and highly entertaining. Eventually, the topic of Christian Reconstruction was raised.
Now Dave Hunt is no milquetoast when it comes to stating his viewpoint — especially about Christian Reconstruction and the Reformed faith. He even wrote a book, Whatever Happened to Heaven?, especially to warn people about this terrible new teaching called Christian Reconstruction. The only trouble is that Mr. Hunt, like all the published critics of Reconstruction to date, got it wrong. He builds a straw man — his own incorrect assumptions about Christian Reconstruction — then knocks down the straw man he himself has built. But it is not only misconceptions that are at the heart of his criticism: Mr. Hunt is hostile to what is generally referred to as Reformed theology, or Calvinism. Since he does not agree with Reformed theology it is not surprising that Mr. Hunt disagrees with the Reconstructionists.
Mr. Hunt, it seems, is caught up in the problem of free will. He believes that man has a freedom of the will that makes it possible to choose to believe or not to believe in the great truths of Christianity without first being regenerated by the Holy Spirit. His argument for this appears, on the surface, plausible. According to Mr. Hunt, God’s “infinite authority and power did not prevent Satan from rebelling nor did it prevent Adam and Eve from joining in that insurrection against their Creator and bringing rampant evil into this world. We cannot escape the fact that God has given men the power to choose whether to love and obey Him or not.”
It is true that God granted to Adam and Eve, our first parents, the ability to choose to obey or disobey Him. What we cannot forget is that we, as the children of Adam, no longer have the same ability to choose that Adam was given when he was created. This is what is evident from the Scriptural teaching. Man is a slave to sin, i.e. disobedience to God. He cannot change himself. He needs someone to save him. Thus, while we can totally agree with Mr. Hunt’s premise, that Adam and Eve had a power to choose (i.e. a will untainted by sin and its effects), he has not proven that since the Fall in Eden man’s nature remains the same as it was at its initial creation. Neither has he proven that man has a “free” will, that is a will which relies totally on its own volition to exercise itself. In short, the conclusion is not warranted from the premise. The Bible is clear: “Even when we were dead in our trespasses and sin [God] made us alive together with Christ” (Eph. 2:5). Man is morally corrupt and only God can change him. God does not wait for man to choose Him, but freely bestows His love and grace on those whom He chooses. It is God who translates us into the kingdom of His dear Son (Col. 1:13); we do not place ourselves in the kingdom by an exercise of the will.
[From the archives. February, 1989.]
Banners of Untruth — I
In the middle of 1988 I commenced a series of essays on the general topic of What is Christian Reconstruction? I promised a number of articles dealing with a range of issues, but only managed at the time to complete the first two essays. In the first essay, I suggested there were at least four major criticisms of the Reconstruction movement. The Reconstructionists are accused of trying to restore an Israelite theocracy based on a return to the whole Old Testament law; they are charged with attempting to have the Church run society; they are accused of “legalism” (i.e. salvation by law-keeping), which implies a denial of the doctrines of grace; and they are accused of holding to a “radical” postmillennialism.
A summary would help new subscribers understand the background for this essay. Christian Reconstruction, or Theonomy as it is sometimes known, is a movement which believes that the Bible, God’s infallible Word, provides the basic rules for living in every area of life. Ethics, morality, or we might call it law, is the central point of Reconstruction teaching. Will God rule in every sphere of life, or does man determine for himself how he will live? In other words, is God sovereign, or is man? The Reconstructionists have come down heavily in favour of God.
In the second article, “The Old and New Covenants,” I suggested the basic approach which Reconstructionists use to interpret the Bible. Do we begin with the New Testament, then work our way back to the Old Testament, or begin with the Old then work our way to the New? The Reconstructionists, along with the majority of Christians throughout nearly 2,000 years of Christianity, believe the Bible teaches the latter is the correct approach. Does the Bible itself oppose the New Covenant against the Old Covenant, or are they to be seen as a unity? On the basis of biblical teaching, there is every reason to maintain a unity and continuity between the Old and New Covenants.
The point at issue is the place of the Old Testament law, especially those laws given to Israel on Mount Sinai. Are they binding today? If so, are all of them binding? If not, why not? If they apply today, how do they apply? If they don’t apply, what other laws has God given to replace them? Does the New Testament supersede the Old Testament, or does it fulfill it as our Lord declared (Matt. 5:17-20)?
The reason for the delay was the fact that I wanted to get some feedback from Rev. John Paterson, who gave a lengthy lecture against Christian Reconstruction at the Banner of Truth conference last year. Certain accusations were made against the Reconstructionists and I wanted to get Mr. Paterson’s answers to some questions before I went into print.
I spoke to the organiser of the conference, Rev. Iain Murray. I wanted to make the point that not only had his speaker been misleading about Reconstructionism, but had said some things which I believed could not be substantiated. From these allegedly false statements came the conclusion that Reconstructionist teaching is spurious teaching. Rev. Murray, however, preferred not to discuss the possibility of a violation of the ninth commandment. It is quite apparent that some of the critics of Reconstructionism have no intention of entering into a healthy public debate over their allegations. There are very good reasons they will not do this. They would prefer, it appears, to wave banners of untruth before the Christian public in the hope that their untruths are not checked against both the Bible and against what the Reconstructionists actually say.
[From the archives. March, 1989.]
Banners of Untruth — II
On Sunday, March 5, 1989, Australian residents were awakened to the sound of marching feet. A number of the Sydney Muslim community marched in protest against the book The Satanic Verses, by Salman Rushdie. Repeating calls for capital punishment for the author made by the Ayatollah Khomeini, the protest march highlighted a major problem emerging in Australia.
An editorial in The Australian a few days after the event, bemoaned the fact of such religious intolerance. Immigrants to this country, suggested the editorial, should learn that this is a “multicultural” society.
While such a plea sounds good, it doesn’t begin to address the problem which this demonstration highlights: Which laws will govern this country? Or better, whose laws will govern Australia? This, I believe, is probably the greatest dilemma facing this country at the end of the 20th century.
Which laws will govern this country? Or better, whose laws will govern Australia?
The plea for multiculturalism misses the point entirely. Multiculturalism is, in reality, a euphemism for religious equality — equality for all religions, except the religion of Christianity. At all costs, Christianity must be eliminated, at least from all outward appearances.
Seen in this light, multiculturalism is an excuse to abandon the Christian laws which have governed England at least since the time of Alfred the Great, and earlier.
The growing Muslim community will eventually exacerbate this problem, since they, like the Christians, do not believe in religious neutrality when it comes to establishing a basis for law. One of the speakers at the Islamic protest was quite adamant that the government should impose Muslim law on Mr. Rushdie and put him to death for blasphemy.
So we’re back to the same question: Whose law should the government legislate?
[From the archives. November, 1988.]
The Old and New Covenants
Part two of this discussion on Christian Reconstruction was intended to look at the charge of ‘legalism’ which is used by some against the Reconstruction movement. There is one issue flowing from part one, however, which I didn’t touch on and which should help show why Reconstructionism is consistent with what the Bible teaches. Hence the ‘legalism’ issue is postponed while we consider the Old and New Covenants.
In the first article of this series, I outlined some of the differences of opinion which exist between Christian Reconstructionists and those who disagree with this position. Those differences manifest themselves in the manner in which the Old and New Testaments are read and interpreted. Both sides believe in the priority of the New Testament; it is the manner in which this priority is handled which results in the different understanding of Scripture. Reconstructionists believe that the whole of the Old Testament is applicable today unless the New Testament says otherwise; that is, they interpret the Old Testament by using the New Testament. Some of the opponents of Reconstructionism, however, especially Walter Chantry in his book God’s Righteous Kingdom (London: Banner of Truth, 1980), use the priority of the New Testament method of interpretation a little differently. Their argument is this: unless the New Testament repeats the Old Testament then Old Testament teaching is no longer applicable. This method is explicit, for example, in much dispensational premillennial teaching.
The simple fact of the matter is that those who oppose the Reconstruction method of interpretation are never consistent with their principle. They oscillate between their own position and, when it suits them, they adopt the Reconstruction position itself. Or, they fall back on a line which says something like this: “the Old Testament law — except the Ten Commandments — is no longer binding today. It does offer some ‘good advice’ which is probably worth heeding. But there is no necessary moral obligation to obey that advice.” Now this sounds great in theory but is never practiced consistently. For example, is bestiality a sin? If so, where does the Bible teach that it is a sin? Bestiality does not rate a mention in the New Testament. Does this mean it is no longer a sin? But the sin of bestiality also carried the death penalty. What should the civil authorities do today with those who practice this abomination? Smile, look the other way and ignore it? Punish those who indulge in it? Reward those who do it (cf. Rom. 13:1-4)? If they are to chastise, what punishment should they apply? The Biblical punishment or one they determine for themselves?
In this we see the central problem in the reconstruction debate. Will we be governed by man’s law or God’s law? That is the issue which confronts every man and woman. How will we answer it?
One of the issues of debate in the controversy is the meaning of the covenants in Scripture. The Bible is, after all, divided into two sections called testaments, or covenants. What is the relationship between these two covenants?
[From the archives. Originally published July, 1988.]
There’s a new game going around. It’s called knocking the Reconstructionists. Except that it’s not a game. It’s deadly serious. The consequences are literally the future of civilization: shall it be Christian or pagan? Since we’re in the business of promoting Christian Reconstruction, and since there are some of our readers who are getting negative feedback from groups such as Banner of Truth concerning Christian Reconstruction, it is worth trying to clarify the issues of dispute in order to help our subscribers think through some of the issues which are being presented.
There are at least four major criticisms which are levelled against the Reconstructionists. The Reconstructionists are accused of trying to restore an Israelite theocracy based on a return to the whole Old Testament Law; they are accused of trying to have the Church run society; they are accused of legalism, which implies a denial of the doctrines of grace; and they are accused of holding to a radical postmillennialism. These four accusations have some overlap, and it is not easy, at times, to separate the arguments. Over this series I will consider these criticisms and see how well they are argued in the light of what Scripture says, and in the light of what the Reconstructionists themselves say. I have already contributed one book (Baptized Inflation: An Analysis of “Christian” Keynesianism, published by Dominion Press in 1986) to this debate. It is my belief that the critics of Christian Reconstruction all suffer from the same defect: they distort Reconstruction teaching to make it say something it never said. This means that the critics are either deliberately misrepresenting Reconstruction thought, or else they are not very bright fellows. They read the Reconstruction literature but cannot understand what it says.
We need to be clear on just what is meant by the term Christian Reconstruction. The term itself has appeared only since the early 1970s with the publication of the Journals of Christian Reconstruction, published by Chalcedon. If we take the work of Dr. R.J. Rushdoony as being the introduction to Reconstructionism — at least in our era — then we can date Reconstruction with the publication of his first book, By What Standard in 1959. This book is an analysis of the writings of Cornelius Van Til, who was for many years lecturer in Apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary.
Dr. Rushdoony, however, was promoting Reconstruction long before his first book. There are essays of his appearing at least as early as 1952 in the Westminster Theological Journal where he drew attention to the work of John Calvin in Geneva and Calvin’s work to reconstruct life in that city according to biblical principles. (This essay was later incorporated into his book The Politics of Guilt and Pity.) Now, however, Dr. Rushdoony has written over 30 books, some hundreds of newsletters, and numerous articles in various magazines and journals around the world. Dr. Rushdoony commenced the Chalcedon (pronounced Kal-SEE-don) Foundation in 1964 which has been the center-point for all his work for close to a quarter of a century.