Reprise: From Reconstructionism to Dominionism, Part 1
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Wed Mar 14, 2007 at 04:42:59 PM EST
After listening to Gary North's interview with Paul Pressler, I was interested in learning about Gary North.  I quickly learned that he was the son-in-law of Rousas John Rushdoony who was the founder of a movement called Christian Reconstructionism.

The name Rushdoony was familiar to me, but the movement was unknown.  Rushdoony was frequently quoted by Francis Schaeffer.   Schaeffer and Rushdoony studied together under Cornelius Van Til.  Van Til was a Presbyterian scholar of Christian apologetics.  

Apologetics is a term that is used to describe how Christians defend the credibility of their faith to each other and to non-believers.  Cornelius Van Til developed an apologetic method known as presuppositionalism.  It is based on the presupposition that the Bible is inerrant and infallible and that it reveals God's absolute truth for every area of reality.

While I attended Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, I learned a little about Van Til and read nearly every book that Francis Schaeffer published.  Schaeffer's books were texts in the philosophy and apologetics classes of many conservative members of the faculty.  His contribution to apologetics was a, then, new emphasis on the influence of Christianity on culture.  He often cited Rushdoony as an authority on the influence of biblical law on modern law.

After graduating from seminary and entering the pastorate, I decided to investigate the thought of R. J. Rushdoony and his son-in-law Gary North.  I quickly discovered that the worldview reflected in Rushdoony's writings is virtually identical with that of Francis Schaeffer.  Even their tone in voicing their piety is similar.  Most people who read Schaeffer will find numerous resonances in the writings of Rushdoony.

Rushdoony, however, was less reserved than Schaeffer in talking about a perceived clash between Christianity and democracy.   Before he published his Christian Manifesto (1982), you could tell that Schaeffer was no friend of church-state separation, but he did not write explicitly about Christians influencing government by concerted political action.  In my opinion, without saying so explicitly, Schaeffer's Christian Manifesto was a tract that was intended to rally Evangelical Christians to the Reconstructionist cause.

To understand the Reconstructionist movement, you have to know something about the thought and writings of R. J. Rushdoony.  His magnum opus, published in 1973, is an 800 page tome patterned after Calvin's Institutes of the Christian Religion that Rushdoony entitled The Institutes of Biblical Law.   On page 294, Rushdoony gives an indication why he believes that the American system of pluralistic democracy is heresy.  He wrote, "In the name of toleration, the believer is asked to associate on a common level of total acceptance with the atheist, the pervert, the criminal, and the adherents of other religions."

[To hear a 3.14 minute podcast (mp3) of Bill Moyers introducing Rushdoony and talking to him about biblical law as a blueprint for civil society, click here and give it time to download]

If Rushdoony and his disciples have their way, democracy will be abolished and a Christian theocracy will be established.  A theocracy based on the Bible along the lines of John Cotton's Massachusetts Bay Colony.  Rushdoony wrote, "The only true order is founded on Biblical Law.  All law is religious in nature, and every non-Biblical law-order represents an anti-Christian religion." (p. 113)  He also made it clear that he expects that force will be necessary to impose such order, "Every law-order is in a state of war against the enemies of that order, and all law is a form of warfare." (p. 93)  

[To hear a 1.10 minute podcast (mp3) of Bill Moyers talking to Rushdoony about the heresy of democracy, click here and give it time to download]

At its root, Reconstructionism is a militant Biblicism.  In many ways, it is a revival of the holy war theology of the Hebrew Bible under the guise of Christianity.  The chief difference being that Reconstructionists believe they have a mandate to claim more than the land of Palestine, they believe they are commanded to conquer the entire world and exercise "dominion" over all its peoples.  

Friday, part 2 of From Reconstructionism to Dominionism.

Note:  The audio excerpts are from Bill Moyers 1989 documentary on God and Politics:  On Earth as it is in Heaven.


I owe you alot for information on some of these guys.  And I am grateful.

But I need a review (or a fast-forward) to the reason why it's taking up so much of your time now.

When I found the Rushdoony books at my local big city seminary in 2005, I noticed they were not showing much sign of circulation.

I judged by your earlier Reprise that Pressler, for example, seemed outside of "the pall" of North's little camp.  Did I miss something?  Is it a little camp, or a big camp?

Why am I concerned that Rushdoony's brother-in-law is apparently a disciple, and something of a force on the right, if nobody else is buying it?

How big is R's fellow student, Schaeffer, now?  I was decidedly NOT impressed with cursory looks at some of his "works," but my taste is definitely not right of center.

Basically, in 50 words or less, why should I be worried about a "movement" comprising Rushdoony's brother-in-law and one of his fellow students?  It doesn't sound like a big deal, but I trust your intuition.

In your opinion, is North one of the master-minds of this religio-political mess America is in?

God bless the whole world - - No Exceptions
by John Anngeister on Wed Mar 14, 2007 at 08:29:16 PM EST

For me, what is important is the thread of theocracy.  The ideological formulations of both Schaeffer and Rushdoony point in that direction. Rushdoony was more open and militant in his rhetoric. But it was the intellectual frission among evangelicals and fundamentalists created by the writings of Schaeffer and Rushdoony that sparked the rise of the Christian Right and the development of the tendency we call dominionism.
_ _ _

Chip Berlet: Research for Progress - Building Human Rights
by Chip Berlet on Thu Mar 15, 2007 at 09:45:38 AM EST
I am led to ask, what burned so readily?  Theology or Ideology?

Gary North (in MB's previous "Reprise" article) seems most interested in where and when the money caught fire.

I can see no way, or almost no way, that the conservatives could expect to go out and capture an institution where the support -- the financial support would be coming from people who don't like conservative ideas.

What possible fuels were lying around in the SBC kitchen that fed the heretic spark into full flame?

I'm maybe confusing dominionism with "reconstruction" (topic of Mainstream's previous story), but there North compares the takeover of a democratically-based religious organization (SBC) with techniques of success in other types of dominionist overthrow operations (i.e. Texas or Ohio state GOP, etc.)

How significant was the monetary or funding dynamic in the SBC coup?  Pressler paints the picture of a majority movement, and if his claim is true, that might equate to a financial hegemony as well.

But Pressler also claims his majority was frustrated with the lack of a conservative direction in the denominational platform or stance on social issues.  So ideology was in the drivers seat, and money was along for the ride?  

I will never again take the word of a conservative when he claims a "majority," in this case less so, since the SBC coup fingerprint bears the mark of a leadership elite.  When the thing came down, Adrian Rogers was dealing the cards to only one side of the table, it seems to me, and Pressler admits it.  I say, reality check on the substance to their "majority" claim.

Note also the way North explains away the sovereignty of the "opponent" in this kind of gamesmanship:

if we can find those institutions that are financially supported by people who are in essential agreement with us about the way the world works, . . . it is still possible to go in and take the institutional power away from our opponents who have very quietly and very successfully gained the seats of power in those organizations -- despite the fact that the money and the support is coming from people who share our views.

North likes to bill the target institution as mysteriously under the thumb of sneaky elites before his operation moves in to rescue the financial supporters from voiceless sterility.

Mainstream, in the SBC case, were the incumbents more representative than the Rogers clique turned out to be?  Or is it like Pressler says - the incumbents were leading the flock into unwilling support for women's rights and other unsavory social aims? : )

God bless the whole world - - No Exceptions
by John Anngeister on Thu Mar 15, 2007 at 03:19:33 PM EST

And will take another look when I can. There's only so much time in a week, but I want to thank you for putting that together.

Only a few days ago I was taking a close look at Carl McIntire and his harsh little post-Machen schism in Presbyterianism, and didn't make the connection, but I believe he may be an important component in the geneology of your problem (wasn't he the one who edited the earlier Christian Economics?.

Did the brotherhood of Christian hate get together at some point and decide to quit using the "John Birch" moniker because it was too "hot?"  Or was JBS a secular group?  We certainly hear less of it since - when, the 70s?  But clearly the membership went on to bigger things.

Thanks again for writing, Chip.

God bless the whole world - - No Exceptions
by John Anngeister on Fri Mar 16, 2007 at 12:44:20 PM EST

To see the lasting influence of Rushdoony and North on the SBC, look today at the influence of Rick Scarborough.

The influence of Schaeffer on the SBC is profound.  Tens of thousands of SBC preachers are his disciples.

by Mainstream Baptist on Fri Mar 16, 2007 at 09:50:41 AM EST

I wasn't looking at any of these kinds of "Christians" until I had my Ash Wednesday experience in 2004 - the day after election Tuesday, when I could see very plainly that "somebody" had stolen and disgraced the national franchise in Ohio.

I was a little slow to come around, but I had been (and still am) happy reading a variety of  theology and philosophy that has nothing to do with the conservative mindset (except in its loyalty to the divine Son).  I guess I naively hoped the system would straighten itself out when Bush tried for re-election.

So after my "Ash Wednesday," I found you and Frederick and Chip and others almost immediately, and with your help took the measure of  the extremist opposition while lurking here and at Theocracy Watch.

But my "positive" response still lay in the direction most natural for me - a "reprise" of our religion's more progressive theologies, and an analysis of their failure to withstand the rising tide of conservative deaf-dumbness.

So I stopped short of getting to "crisis mode" with respect to political confrontation with the religious right.  Lately, though, I am more willing to budget a few precious hours of study time back in that direction.

Thanks again, and please don't take any of my comments as "snippy."  Grandstanding, maybe, but only by way of finding my own "voice" among these issues and debates.

-I will, however, expect us to be honest about what may have been "wrong" with Baptist theology and ideology in the first place - by way of explaining its apparent vulnerability to this present evil.  Surely it took more than just a minor "tweak" to screw things up.  I'll be following you closely, MB.  Thanks for being here.

God bless the whole world - - No Exceptions
by John Anngeister on Fri Mar 16, 2007 at 12:30:51 PM EST

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