Christian Reconstructionism

Christian Reconstructionism

Christian Reconstructionism is a religious and theological movement within Evangelical Christianity that calls for Christians to put their faith into action in all areas of life, within the private sphere of life and the public and political sphere as well. The primary beliefs characteristic of Christian Reconstructionism include[1]:



Christian Reconstructionism arose as an ideology among conservative Calvinists. The movement in its modern form was founded in the United States of America, popularized by Rousas John Rushdoony, in his work The Institutes of Biblical Law (1973), though to an extent it had its beginnings in the colonial governments of early New England (especially that of the Massachusetts Bay colony). Other past and present Reconstructionist leaders include Gary North (Rushdoony's son-in-law), Howard Ahmanson, Jr., Greg Bahnsen, David Chilton, Gary DeMar, Kenneth Gentry, and Andrew Sandlin.

Reconstructionist perspective

The social structure advocated by Christian Reconstructionism would have the clergy, laity and government, individually and corporately, to be in ultimate submission to the moral principles of the Bible, including the Old Testament, while retaining their separate jurisdictional spheres of authority and roles in society as inferred from principles of biblical law, both Old and New Testaments. It is the claim of Christian Reconstructionism that even as under the Davidic administration of the Israelites, the Priests (Levitical line) and Kings (Davidic line) were distinguished by their scopes of authority (e.g., the King could not offer sacrifices for others and the Priests could not pass or enforce legislation) and their roles in society (e.g., the King maintained the social welfare and the Priests maintained personal welfare), so it should be in a modern Christian Reconstructionist society.


While many Christians believe that biblical law is a guide to morality and public ethics, when interpreted in faith, Reconstructionism is unique in advocating that civil law should be derived from and limited by biblical law. For example, they support the recriminalization of acts of abortion and homosexuality, but also oppose confiscatory taxation, conscription, and most aspects of the welfare state. Protection of property and life needs grounding in biblical law, according to Reconstructionism, or the state set free from the restraint of God's law will take what it wishes at a whim. Accordingly, Reconstructionists advocate biblically derived measures of restitution, a definite limit upon the powers of taxation, and a gold standard or equivalent fixed unit for currency.

Christian Reconstructionists describe their view of public ethics by the term, "Theonomy" (the Law of God governs); while their critics tend to label them "Theocratic" (God governs). The notable differences are that "theocracy" is usually thought of as totalitarian and involving no distinction between church and state, while Reconstructionists claim that "theonomy" is broadly libertarian and maintains a distinction of sphere of authority between family, church, and state.[3] For example, enforcement of moral sanctions under theonomy is done by family and church government, and sanctions for moral offenses is outside the authority of civil government (which is limited to criminal matters, courts and national defense). However, in some areas the application of theonomy could increase the authority of the civil government; 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 idolatry,[4][5][6] active homosexuals,[7] adulterers, practitioners of witchcraft, and blasphemers,[8] and perhaps even recalcitrant youths[9] (see the List of capital crimes in the Bible).

American Vision's Joel McDurmon responded to these criticisms:

What reconstructionist has promoted “coercive” means? This is the same criticism that comes from men like Horton and T. David Gordon—that Reconstructionists want to steal seats of power and install an American Taliban (the same rhetoric that I have witnessed over and over from atheists Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, and Christopher Hitchens). If this is not an uneducated misrepresentation, it is a lie.[10]

The founders of the movement have all been Calvinists, though most Calvinists have not been reconstructionists. They believe that their view of the law is a faithful extension of the Reformed Christian view of the continuing validity of Biblical Law in a modern context. This is sometimes bitterly contested in the conservative Reformed churches where their influence first began to appear. Some Reformed denominations have crafted official statements rejecting theonomy as a heresy, but others tolerate some forms of it on the grounds that as a Biblical theology it can appeal to historical and doctrinal precedent within the Puritan and Reformed tradition.


Christian Reconstructionism was originally formulated as a practical expression of Postmillennial Christian Eschatology, though the distinctive tenets of the school of thought (generally referred to as Theonomic Ethics) are purported to be compatible with other eschatological viewpoints within conservative Christianity. The "second generation" of theonomists includes some premillennial evangelical and fundamentalist movements.

Views on pluralism

Christian Reconstructionists make no pretense of subscribing to the pluralistic ideals of religious tolerance (derided as "Political Polytheism", by author Gary North, in a book of that name), because this would require them to accept a non-Biblical source of ethical standards. They envision a future in which non-Christians will eventually be relatively few in number and surrender the public square to Christian rule.

In political terms the ideal toward which they aim might be called "denominational tolerance", or "tolerance within the bounds of Christianity": in the predominantly Christian world they envision, this is the only kind of tolerance that will be necessary. Therefore, they use the Bible, in contrast to political documents like the Constitution of the United States, as their pattern and guide for envisioning the future. They believe they are more in line with the theonomic Christian Commonwealths, such as that of Colonial Massachusetts under John Cotton, Geneva after John Calvin taught there, or the Netherlands under Abraham Kuyper, even though Kuyper was a pluralist who governed in coalition with the Roman Catholic political party and was opposed to the freemarket economics that theonomists think Biblical law requires. Christian Reconstructionists cite the eventual failure of the English Commonwealth under Oliver Cromwell as evidence that only majority rule and consent can sustain a Theonomic Christian Commonwealth. They seek to pervade society from within, through the gradual spread and perfection of Christian belief and obedience; and they believe that this influence is ultimately inexorable, having no need for or benefit from top-down coercion.

Christian Reconstructionist leader Gary North who is more libertarian in his approach summarized his views this way:

What I found is this: the concept of the rule of law was Mosaic, not Greek (Ex 12:49). The concept of private property is supported in the Decalogue's laws against theft and covetousness. The Mosaic economic law as a whole was pro-market, pro-private ownership, pro-foreign trade, pro-money-lending (Deut 28:12). The New Testament did not break with most of these laws, and the few that it did break with, such as slavery and the jubilee land law, made the resulting position even more market favorable. It is my goal in life to do what I can to persuade people to shrink the state. The messianic State is a crude imitation of a religion of redemption. It makes the State the healer and, ultimately, the savior of all mankind. This messianic religion is what the early church battled theologically and risked martyrdom to oppose. Christians refused to toss a pinch of incense onto the altar symbolizing the genius of the emperor. For that seemingly minor resistance to State power, they were thrown to the lions. Both sides knew the stakes of that contest. Christianity was a dagger pointed at the heart of the messianic State. It still is. ("Authentic Libertarianism").

Conversely, Christian Reconstructionism's founder, Rousas John Rushdoony, wrote in his magnum opus, The Institutes of Biblical Law: "The heresy of democracy has since then worked havoc in church and state ... Christianity and democracy are inevitably enemies." He elsewhere said 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." [11] In the book, he proposed that Old Testament law should be applied to modern society and that there should be a Christian theonomy, a concept developed in his colleague Greg Bahnsen's controversial tome Theonomy and Christian Ethics, which Rushdoony heartily endorsed. In the Institutes of Biblical Law, Rushdoony supported 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 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. [12] In short, he sought to cast a vision for the reconstruction of society based on Christian principles and represents the more traditionally understood approach to Reconstructionism.

Cultural views

Reconstructionists seek an approach to culture and ethics that they believe is ideally biblical. They believe that where there is no faith in the Bible, there is no functional common ground between people, because God is denied in whose image all people are made. This is one reason that politics is a significant instrument of change in the Reconstructionist program, and the political involvement that they urge is seen by them as explicitly Christian and biblical, not consensus-building.

Reconstructionists claim that biblical law requires equal treatment of all people regardless of their beliefs, and that it is inherently just toward all men. They argue that the social laws that might be established under biblical law would not regulate beliefs, but only actions, and more specifically, public actions (where public denotes a demonstrable corpus delicti or mens rea). It is consistent with their goal of rule by the civil state, to seek out religious deviants. Public actions, which are contrary to their understanding of general principles of the moral law (e.g., open hostility to God (blasphemy), propagation of idolatry, public homosexuality), would not be tolerated, because these are acts of public intolerance of God's rule and would be disruptive of the social structure. They see only two options inevitably opposed as totalities: the kingdom of God which subverts sin, against the totalitarian humanist state which subverts God's rule.

Reconstructionists claim to be continuing Reformed theology, especially in its Puritan form. There has been significant debate between Reconstructionists[citation needed] and their critics[citation needed] over the extent to which similar views were held by the authors of the Westminster Confession. A recent precursor was Frederick Nymeyer who published the journal Progressive Calvinism (1955–1960) in which he advocated Biblical law and Austrian economics.

Influence on the Christian Right in general

Although relatively insignificant 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 U.S. Christian Right.[13] This is the wider trend to which some critics refer, generally, as Dominionism. They also allegedly have influence disproportionate to their numbers among the 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.[14][15][16][17] They deny this, noting they have published thousands of newsletters and hundreds of books.

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 John Rushdoony, for example, interpreted the Great Commission as a republication of the "creation mandate" (The Institutes of Biblical Law, p. 729), 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...

For Rushdoony, the idea of dominion implied a form of Christian theocracy or, more accurately, a theonomy. For example, he wrote that:

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.[18]

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.[19]

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.'"[20]

Christian critics

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, is ignoring 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. [21]

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."[22] Kline's student, Lee Irons, himself suspended from office in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church for his view of the Law, 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.[23]

Rodney Clapp wrote that Reconstructionism is an anti-democratic movement.[24][25]

In an April 2009 article in Christianity Today about controversial 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".[26]

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."[27]

Theocracy compared to neofascism

Popular religious author and former Roman Catholic nun Karen Armstrong sees a potential for fascism in Christian Reconstructionism, and sees theologians RJ 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,"[28] Berlet and Lyons have written that the movement is a "new form of clerical fascist politics,"[29][30][31][32]

Relation to Dominionism

Some sociologists and critics refer to Reconstructionism as a type of "Dominionism". These critics claim 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.[13][14][15][16][17][33]

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. Authors Sara Diamond and Fred Clarkson suggest that Schaeffer shared with Reconstructionism the tendency toward Dominionism.[14][15]

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.

Dominionism and Dominion Theology are pejorative terms that are applied by critics, and not generally adopted by a group to describe itself.

See also


  1. ^ Gary North and Gary DeMar, 1991, Christian Reconstructionism: What It Is, What It Isn't.
  2. ^ Bahnsen. Van Til's Apologetic. pp. 145–6, 97, 315–6 .
  3. ^ Michael J. McVicar. "The Libertarian Theocrats: The Long, Strange History of R.J. Rushdoony and Christian Reconstructionism." Public Eye. Fall 2007 Vol. 22, No. 3.
  4. ^ Rushdoony, R.J., The Institutes of Biblical Law, (Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1973), pp. 38–39.
  5. ^ Schwertley, Brian M., "Political Polytheism",
  6. ^ An Interview with Greg L. Bahnsen
  7. ^ DeMar, Gary, Ruler of the Nations. p. 212
  8. ^ North, Gary, Unconditional Surrender: God's Program for Victory, p. 118
  9. ^ Einwechter, William, "Stoning Disobedient Children?", The Christian Statesman, January–February 2003, Vol 146, No 1,
  10. ^ Joel McDurmon (2009-04-17). "Begg-ing the Question on Christian Politics". Retrieved 2010-08-17. 
  11. ^ "In Extremis - Rousas Rushdoony and his Connections." British Centre for Science Education. Accessed Dec. 12, 2007.
  12. ^ Greg Loren Durand. "Reconstructionism's Commitment to Mosaic Penology: Christian Reconstruction and Its Blueprints for Dominion." Retrieved June 10, 2008.
  13. ^ a b Martin, William. 1996. With God on Our Side: The Rise of the Religious Right in America. New York: Broadway Books.
  14. ^ a b c Diamond, Sara. 1995. Roads to Dominion: Right-Wing Movements and Political Power in the United States. New York: Guilford Press. ISBN 0-89862-864-4.
  15. ^ a b c Clarkson, Frederick. 1997. Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage. ISBN 1-56751-088-4
  16. ^ a b Diamond, Sara. 1989. Spiritual Warfare: The Politics of the Christian Right. Boston: South End Press.
  17. ^ a b Berlet, Chip and Matthew N. Lyons. 2000. Right-Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort. New York: Guilford Press.
  18. ^ The Institutes of Biblical Law, pp. 3–4.
  19. ^ Foreword to Greg Bahnsen's Theonomy in Christian Ethics, 3rd edition, xii.
  20. ^ Martin 1996:354
  21. ^ Duncan, Dr. J. Ligon (1994). "Moses' Law for Modern Government: The Intellectual and Sociological Origins of the Christian Reconstructionist Movement". Retrieved 2011-08-23. 
  22. ^ Kline, Meredith (Fall 1978). "Comments on an Old-New Error". The Westminster Theological Journal (41): 172–89. 
  23. ^ Irons, Lee (2002). "The Reformed Theocrats: A Biblical Theological Response". Retrieved 2008-03-30. 
  24. ^ Clapp, Rodney (February 20, 1987). "Democracy as Heresy". Christianity Today 31 (3): pp. 17–23. 
  25. ^ North, Gary (1987). "Honest Reporting as Heresy". Westminster's Confession: pp. 317–341. 
  26. ^ The Controversialist. By Molly Worthen. Christianity Today. April 2009, Vol. 53, No. 4. Accessed June 16, 2009.
  27. ^ The Sword of the Lord. Christianity Today. Published March 1, 2006.
  28. ^ Armstrong. The Battle for God. pp. 361–2 .
  29. ^ Right-Wing Populism in America. p. 249 .
  30. ^ DeMar, Gary. 1988. The Debate Over Christian Reconstruction. Atlanta, GA: American Vision Press.
  31. ^ Bahnsen, Greg and Gentry, Kenneth. 1989. House Divided: The Breakup of Dispensational Theology. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics.
  32. ^ . Chalcedon. .
  33. ^ Barron, Bruce. 1992. Heaven on Earth? The Social & Political Agendas of Dominion Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan. ISBN 0-310-53611-1.
  • Bahnsen, Greg L. 1977 [2002]. Theonomy in Christian Ethics [3rd edition]. Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press. ISBN 0-9678317-3-3.
  • Bahnsen, Greg L. "M. G. Kline on Theonomic Politics: An Evaluation of His Reply" Journal of Christian Reconstruction (Winter 1979) Or available online for free
  • Bahnsen, Greg L. 1991. By This Standard: The Authority Of God's Law Today, Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics. ISBN 0-930464-06-0. Or available online for free
  • Bahnsen, Greg L. 1991. No Other Standard: Theonomy and Its Critics, Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics. ISBN 0-930464-56-7. Or available online for free
  • Barron, Bruce. 1992. Heaven on Earth? The Social & Political Agendas of Dominion Theology. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan. ISBN 0-310-53611-1.
  • Berlet, Chip and Matthew N. Lyons. 2000. Right–Wing Populism in America: Too Close for Comfort. New York: Guilford Press. ISBN 1-57230-562-2.
  • Clarkson, Frederick. 1997. Eternal Hostility: The Struggle Between Theocracy and Democracy. Monroe, Maine: Common Courage. ISBN 1-56751-088-4.
  • DeMar, Gary. 1988. The Debate Over Christian Reconstruction. Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press. ISBN 0-930462-33-5. Or available online for free
  • DeMar, Gary and Peter Leithart. 1988. The Reduction of Christianity. Ft. Worth, TX: Dominion Press. ISBN 0-930462-63-7. Or available online for free
  • Durand, Greg Loren. 2009 "Judicial Warfare: The Christian Reconstruction Movement and Its Blueprints For Dominion." Dahlonega, Georgia: Crown Rights Book Company (second edition). Available online for free
  • Gentry, Kenneth. 1992. He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics. ISBN 0-930464-62-1. Or available online for free
  • North, Gary. 1989. Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics. ISBN 0-930464-32-X
  • North, Gary. 1990. Tools of Dominion: The Case Laws of Exodus. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics. ISBN 0-930464-10-9. Or available online for free
  • North, Gary. 1991. Theonomy: An Informed Response. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics. ISBN 0-930464-59-1. Or available online for free
  • North, Gary and Gary DeMar. 1991. Christian Reconstruction: What It Is, What It Isn't. Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics. ISBN 0-930464-53-2. Or available online for free
  • Rushdoony, Rousas John. 1973. The Institutes of Biblical Law. Nutley, NJ: P & R Publishing (Craig Press). ISBN 0-87552-410-9.
  • Rushdoony, Rousas John. 1978. The Nature of the American System. Fairfax, VA: Thoburn Press.
  • Sugg, John (2006-01-01). "A Nation Under God". Mother Jones. Retrieved 2007-03-27. 
  • Van Til, Cornelius. 1969. A Christian Theory of Knowledge. Philipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing. ISBN 0-87552-480-X

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