Within the Reformed Christian tradition arose a small but influential movement in the mid/late 1960s known as Christian Reconstructionism. While based on Reformed theology it contains some significant and unique twists. Reconstructionism is marked by certain distinctives: the cultural mandate, sphere sovereignty (soevereiniteit in eigen kring), presuppositional apologetics, and the rejection of an otherworldly pietism. Among its key thinkers are: R.J. Rushdoony (considered the movement’s founder), Gary North (his son-in-law), James Jordan, Greg Bahnsen, and David Chilton. Reconstructionism’s influence extended beyond Christian circles into politics. With generous funding from Howard Ahmanson, Jr., Reconstructionism became popular in the 1980s during Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Both Ed McAteer’s Religious Roundtable conferences and the separate but friendly Moral Majority were heavily influence by Rushdoony Reconstructionism.
Key to Christian Reconstructionism is the concept of “cultural mandate” or “dominion mandate.” This is the conviction that Scripture gives the church a mandate to take dominion of this world socially and culturally (De Waay). Rushdoony in an interview with Jay Rogers stated:
Paul refers to the Church in Galatians 6:16 as the new Israel of God. This means that we have a duty. We have to occupy the whole world. The Great Commission is to make disciples of all nations. To bring them all into the fold together with all their peoples because Christ is the ordained King of all creation. We have a magnificent calling. I don’t believe God programmed us for defeat. (Emphasis added.)
This theological paradigm is based on the understanding that sin consists of autonomy (independence of God’s divine rule) and the belief that the subsequent disorder and sufferings that afflict us stem from this rejection of God’s will. Reconstructionists believe that the remedy is theonomy – the restoration of divine rule through the preaching and application of Scripture. This leads to the belief that all of Scripture is about reconstruction. Rushdoony in “The Meaning of Theocracy” wrote:
What we today fail to see, and must recapture, is the fact that the basic government is the self-government of covenant man; then the family is the central governing institution of Scripture. The school is a governmental agency, and so too is the church. Our vocation also governs us, and our society.
Christ as the Second Adam has “federal” headship of the new human race and Christians are called to apply Scripture not only to their own lives but to the world around them as well. They rely on sola scriptura as the basis for their moral code. This can be construed to mean a narrow exclusivist framework that allows for very little interaction with contemporary thought or non-Western cultures.
The Bible commands both personal devotion and cultural transformation according to biblical law. We should heartily abhor any “either-or” mentality about these things. We don’t need to abandon one for the other. True piety must include both. But we must be sure to get our standards for both from Scripture alone. (Chilton; emphasis added.)
R.J. Rushdoony wanted government to be in the hands of Christians as they were the ones who truly accepted the divine law:
The Christian theonomic society will only come about as each man governs himself under God and governs his particular sphere. And only so will we take back government from the state and put it in the hands of Christians. (Rogers; emphasis added.)
Critical to Reconstructionist or Dominion theology are three biblical passages: Genesis 1:26-28, Genesis 9:1-5, and Matthew 28:18-20. In their reading of Genesis 1 God gave man the mandate to exercise dominion not only over animals but also culture and politics; hence the term “cultural mandate.” In Genesis 9, God reaffirms the original mandate to Noah after the Flood. From the prohibition against the killing fellow humans is inferred the institution of the magistracy. Using the cultural mandate of Genesis 1, Christian Reconstructionists understand the Great Commission (Matthew 28:18-20) to be the basis for the universal Christian world order. De Waay notes:
Christian Reconstructionism consistently tie the dominion mandate to Matthew’s account of the Great Commission. In it they see the call of God for the church to “disciple” the “nations.” This they understand (along with the usual understanding of preaching the gospel) to be teaching God’s law (theonomy) to geo-political, social institutions for the purpose of Christianizing the world and creating a post-millennial, golden age before the bodily return of Jesus Christ.
Christian Reconstructionism has been labeled “Neo-Calvinism,” a form of Dutch Calvinism initiated by Abraham Kuyper. The beginning of its ideas can be traced to Kuyper’s 1898 Stone Lectures at Princeton Seminary where he spoke of the cultural mandate or “primordial sovereignty.” In Lecture 3, “Calvinism and Politics,” Kuyper asserted:
In order that the influence of Calvinism on our political development may be felt, it must be shown for what fundamental political conceptions Calvinism has opened the door, and how these political conceptions sprang from its root principle.
This dominating principle was not, soteriology, justification by faith, but, in the widest sense cosmologically, the Sovereignty of the Triune God over the whole Cosmos, in all its spheres and kingdoms, visible and invisible. A primordial Sovereignty which eradiates in mankind in a threefold deduced supremacy, viz., 1. The Sovereignty in the State; 2. The Sovereignty in Society; and 3. The Sovereignty in the Church. (Emphasis added.)
The notion of a cultural mandate is fairly new to Reformed theology even though early Reformers like John Calvin were concerned not just with the reform of the church but with reforming civil society as well (See Calvin’s Institutes 4.20). What Neo-Calvinism has done is to elevate the political, governmental and especially legal element to an unprecedented degree.
The appeal of Reconstructionist theology can be found in its comprehensive worldview. It unites into one package: the fundamental structure of the natural order (to be under human rule), man’s fundamental identity in relation to God (to rule on behalf of God), the Christian’s fundamental identity in relation to others (to reinstate God’s rule through the preaching of the divine word), and a framework for understanding the grand sweep of human history (Christian dominion will hasten the return of Christ). Here we see the fusion of the doctrines of creation, salvation, ecclesiology, and eschatology into one coherent (totalizing) whole. This grand vision provided Kuyper a powerful motivating force for living and for changing the world.
One desire has been the ruling passion of my life. . . . . It is this: That in spite of all worldly opposition, God’s holy ordinances shall be established again in the home, in the school and in the State for the good of the people; to carve as it were into the conscience of the nation the ordinances of the Lord, to which the Bible and Creation bear witness, until the nation pays homage again to God. (In Naugle)
Dominionist Christians hold to a post-millennial eschatology which teaches that the Second Coming will not take place until most of the nations are discipled. This does not mean every single nation or person becomes openly Christian; yet the Lordship of Christ will be the dominant influence over the nations as a whole. This is based on a peculiar reading of the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20) injunction to “disciple all nations.” Implied here is Dominionist Christians ruling over all of human society at Christ’s return. Understanding this expansive worldview can help one understand the eagerness with which Dominionists seek to bring present day society under “Christ’s rule.”
What Does Genesis 1 Teach Us?
Because Genesis 1:26-28 is foundational for Reconstructionist theology close attention will be given to the Reconstructionist reading of this passage. R.J. Rushdoony’s seminal The Institutes of Biblical Law (1973), and Greg Bahnsen’s Theonomy In Christian Ethics (1977), Gary North’s The Dominion Covenant: Genesis (1985) are considered the foundational books for Reconstructionist theology. But upon closer inspection one finds little or no basis for their foundational doctrine of dominion. For example in North’s book one finds that Genesis 1:26 is mentioned only three times in this lengthy book (over 500 pages). North asserts that man’s identity is grounded in his covenant relationship with God and that Genesis 1:26-28 defines the basis for man’s relationship with God.
Man is actually defined by God in terms of this dominion covenant, or what is sometimes called the cultural mandate. This covenant governs all four God-mandated human governments: individual, family, church, and civil. (North p. ix)
But what is especially striking is the absence of biblical exegesis that shows how Genesis 1 supports the notion of the dominion covenant and the cultural mandate. This is a criticism made by a number of critics. Among them is Bob De Waay who wrote “The Dominion Mandate and the Christian Reconstruction Movement.” Reconstructionist theology is popular even in Southeast Asia where it also met with criticism. Sze Zeng noted that basing the cultural mandate on Genesis 1 is problematic being based on eisegesis. He notes:
Kong Hee is reading into the text. Genesis 1 – 2 has nothing to do with the broad mandate to cultivate ‘culture’ in the world. These passages concern the specific agricultural work of the primitive family for their sustenance and not about “taking the raw material God has given to man, and creatively nurturing it to its fullest potential,” as Kong Hee stated. (Emphasis added.)
If the Reconstructionist reading of Genesis 1:26-28 is in error then we need to ask what the correct reading would be. For that we look at three sources: (1) the magisterial Reformers, Martin Luther and John Calvin; (2) the early Church Fathers, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, and Augustine of Hippo; and (3) recent biblical scholarship.
In his commentary on Genesis 1 Martin Luther found that God giving “dominion” to Adam and Eve referred to authority over animals.
And in the next place we must view the matter in an absolute sense, that all animals, nay, the earth itself with all created living things and all generated from them, are subjected to the dominion of Adam, whom God by his vocal and expressed command constituted king over the whole animal creation (p. 121).
John Calvin in his commentary on Genesis similarly found dominion to refer to human authority over animals:
And let them have dominion. Here he commemorates that part of dignity with which he decreed to honor man, namely, that he should have authority over all living creatures. He appointed man, it is true, lord of the world; but he expressly subjects the animals to him, because they having an inclination or instinct of their own, seem to be less under authority from without. (Emphasis added.)
When we look at the early Church Fathers we find a similar emphasis in their exposition of Genesis 1. John Chrysostom, considered one of Christianity’s greatest preachers, in his homilies on Genesis noted:
What in fact does the text go on to say? “Let them have control of the fish of the sea, the birds of heaven, and all the reptiles creeping on the earth.’” So “image” refers to the matter of control, not anything else, in other words, God created the human being as having control of everything on earth, and nothing on earth is greater than the human being, under whose authority everything falls. (John Chrysostom p. 110)
John Chrysostom goes on to note that just as there are wild animals in the natural world that need to be tamed so likewise in our souls are wild brutish thoughts that need come under the rule of reason (pp. 120-121). Gregory of Nyssa, one of the Cappadocian Fathers, in “On the Making of Man” noted that mankind’s weaknesses in comparison to other creatures is more than made up for by God bestowing on him “dominion over the subject creatures.” (Emphasis added.)
With reference to modern scholarship we find a similar interpretation of “dominion” in Genesis 1:26. Keil and Delitzsch’s widely known Old Testament commentary series affirm the understanding that man was given dominion over the animal kingdom and the earth (Vol. 1 p. 64). Thus, from the standpoint of biblical studies and historical hermeneutics it becomes clear that the Reconstructionists are following an innovative interpretation of Genesis 1 that is at variance with their own Protestant tradition and that of the early Church as well.
One of the biggest problems that must be addressed by Reconstructionist theologians is the fact that the so-called dominion mandate given prior to the Fall may not necessarily apply to the human condition after the Fall. De Waay notes:
It is remarkable how much emphasis is placed on Genesis 1:26-28 as being a mandate to rule over cultures and human institutions in a fallen world when at the time that Adam was given this mandate, no such cultures existed and the world was not fallen. The text says nothing about cultures or subjugating other people. (Italics added.)
Adam’s pre-Fall dominion has been understood in terms of primal harmony between man and the animal under him. Martin Luther noted:
For as Adam and Eve acknowledged God to be Lord, so afterwards they themselves held dominion over all creatures in the air, on the earth and in the sea. Who can express in words the excellency and majesty of this “dominion?” For my belief is that Adam could by one word command the lion as we command a favorite dog. He possessed a freedom of will and pleasure to cultivate the earth, that it might bring forth whatever he wished (p. 118). Source (Emphasis added.)
Gabe Martini, an Orthodox blogger, in a FaceBook discussion on dominion theology underscored how dominion referred to the primordial harmony between man and animals that has been lost in the Fall:
When it comes to our rule or dominion over creation, this is seen as a sign of God’s love for humanity (in Chrysostom, for example), but also as something LOST by the advent of sin. In other words, the dominion “mandate” was a pre-Fall (if you will) command, something that is no longer possible in our present or (un-)natural state. This is why you see animals following around extreme ascetics where that likeness of Christ and the dominion mandate is actually present. The reason hurricanes, floods, tornadoes, and tsunamis wreak havoc on the earth is this corruption and death brought on in Adam. The first Mother of Life (“Zoe” in the Septuagint) became tragically a mother of death. But the true Mother of Life (Mary) and the true Man or Adam (Jesus Christ) reversed that curse, paving the way for life—even life everlasting. So when a wild animal attacks a person, this is not an example of our need to exercise dominion over that creature or punish it; it’s a reminder that we failed to live up to our original mandate, and that only through the mysteries of the Faith in Christ can a reconciliation be found. (Emphasis added.)
Another significant challenge for the Reconstructionists is the fact that their belief that Genesis 1:26 has implications for the political relations has been repudiated. The late Fuller Theological Seminary missiologist, Arthur Glasser, criticized the notion of humans subjugating humans. He cited Kirk(?) who wrote: “Man has no right whatsoever to subjugate his fellow man. Only God is man’s legitimate Sovereign” (Kingdom and Mission p. 33).
Probably the strongest and most direct refutation of the Dominionist reading of Genesis 1:26 is to be found in Augustine’s City of God.
He did not intend that His rational creature, who was made in His image, should have dominion over anything but the irrational creation,— not man over man, but man over the beasts. (City of God 19.15, emphasis added)
If Augustine of Hippo, considered the preeminent theologian of Western Christianity, repudiates the Dominionist reading of Genesis 1:26, then those who hold to Reconstructionist theology should take heed and reevaluate their position lest they end up belonging to an eccentric sectarian group far from the mainstream.
In conclusion, what the Dominionists or Reconstructionists have done is read into Genesis 1:26 their belief that men are to rule over other men, and implicitly that Christians (Calvinists) are to rule over other men (other Christians and non-Christians). This position can sound plausible until one sits down for a minute, take a deep breath, then read the passage calmly paying attention to what it says and it does not say. Genesis 1:26 teaches that humanity is to rule over (1) the fish of the sea, (2) the birds of the air, and (3) all the creatures on the ground. Nowhere does verse 26 teach the idea of men ruling over other men! When one examines the way Genesis 1 has been interpreted by the early Church Fathers and later by the Protestant Reformers, we find an innovative reading of Genesis 1 that rests on shaky exegesis. The command in Genesis 2:15 to “dress” and “keep” the Garden of Eden, that is, to cultivate and adorn the Garden of God can be understood to refer to man as a farmer living in harmony with nature.
Sojourners in the World
The foregoing critique of Reconstructionist theology does not mean that Scripture is silent on God’s sovereignty over creation and human society. There are a number of key passages that speak to this issue although they may not be the ones that Reconstructionists give much attention to. One of the best overview of God’s sovereignty can be found in Paul’s speech to the Athenians in Acts 17.
From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. “For in him we live and move and have our being.” As some of your own poets have said, “We are his offspring.” (Acts 17:26-28, NIV)
In his speech Paul described God’s providential care over all of humanity. Nowhere in his speech do we find any indication of Reconstructionism’s dominion mandate!
Another key passage is Jeremiah 29:4-7 in which God instructs the Jews living in Babylon to “seek the peace and prosperity” of their new home. He does not instruct the Jews to take the reins of power in Babylon but to serve their pagan masters to the best of their ability. This is because God is the Ruler of Jews and non-Jews. His sovereignty extends beyond the borders of Israel into all the world including the so-called unconverted barbarians. Paradoxically, God is sovereign even when pagan kings rule over his elect. Dominionist theology doesn’t hold up well to situations of ambiguity and pluralism.
The Epistle of Diognetus, an early writing included among the Apostolic Fathers, described Christians as living among men, sharing the “local customs” and language, and being different only with respect to their way life based on Christ’s love. “They pass their time upon the earth, but they have their citizenship in heaven. They obey the appointed laws, and they surpass the laws in their own lives. They love all men and are persecuted by all men. They are unknown and they are condemned. They are put to death and they gain life” (Chapter 5:10-12). This does not sound like Dominionist or Reconstructionist theology at all! One has to wonder then whether the Dominionist Christians are of the same spirit as the Apostolic Fathers, the first generation Christians who were taught by the very Apostles of Christ.
When we look at the early Christians we find an absence of a clearly defined political theory. The early Church entered the world as an illegal sect at times persecuted by the Roman government and at times living at peace with society. With Emperor Constantine’s Edict of Milan in AD 313 Christianity became a public religion. Then in time it became the official religion of the Roman Empire under Emperor Theodosius. While Orthodoxy holds symphonia – church and state complementing each other – as an ideal, it is far from a dogma or political platform like that advocated by the Reconstructionists.
Another major exegetical blind spot in Reconstructionist theology is the silence with respect to the Davidic covenant. This grant covenant encompassed the earlier Abrahamic and Mosaic covenants (2 Samuel 7, 1 Chronicles 17:11-14) and established a prototype for Christ’s kingship. The Davidic Covenant is foundational for understanding the New Covenant founded by Jesus Christ. One has to ask why has the Davidic Covenant been all but ignored by the Reconstructionist Christians?
In contrast, Reconstructionist theology has some specific ideas about politics. Mark Rushdoony identified Christian Reconstructionism as being (1) anti-statist, (2) favoring small, limited government, and (3) shrinking national and state governments in order to expand the influence of the family, church, and local community. It appears that Reconstructionist theology is wedded to a particular kind of political structure with very little wiggle room for alternative political views. Despite the Reconstructionism’s anti-statist stance and its Libertarian tendencies one has to wonder what a Reconstructionist polity would look like. Would it be similar to Puritan New England which expelled Roger Williams and Anne Hutchinson for their non-Calvinist beliefs? Would they support regicide like Oliver Cromwell did in the Puritan Revolution? Would they support capital punishment for a heretic like Servetus in Calvin’s Geneva? In an 1988 interview with Bill Moyers Rushdoony admitted that the Reconstructionist theology would lead to the support for capital punishment for violations of biblical law. Many Christians would find such a polity unpleasant and repulsive.
Reading Reconstructionist literature one gets the impression that dominion is given emphasis and the theme of the Suffering Servant is downplayed or muted. If the Church is to “reign” (whatever that word should imply) on earth then it seems most likely to happen by suffering, serving, dying, and martyrdom, not through the exercise of social-political authority. The “suffering-servant” is a far more common Christological theme for “rule” in both Scripture and the early church fathers.
Being an Orthodox Christian does not entail the rejection of the idea of a cultural mandate. Rather we understand the cultural mandate in the context of the Eucharist, not in theocratic rule. In Revelation we read about the New Jerusalem: “The glory and honor of the nations will be brought into it.” The glory and honor of the nations is a way of speaking of the culture and the arts of the Gentiles. This prophecy finds its fulfillment in the Divine Liturgy. In the Eucharist we take from the natural order wheat and grapes and transform them by means of technology and cultural arts into bread and wine. We bring them into the Church and God blesses the bread and the wine transforming them into the body and blood of Christ in the Eucharist. Church architecture, the icons, the hymnography, and the transformed lives of the people present at the Liturgy that we find the fulfillment of the Cultural Mandate. And it is in the Church in the Liturgy, the Sacraments, the ascetic disciplines and the life of repentance that men are learning to rule over their passions and where the Dominion Mandate finds its fulfillment.
With respect to ecclesiology most Reconstructionist Christians from the mid 1960s to the mid 1980s were considered low church Calvinists who adhered to a strict and austere regulative principle approach to worship. However, as they began to read Orthodox, Anglican, and Roman Catholic writings their theology began to morph becoming the Federal Vision movement. (One influential work has been Alexander Schmemann’s For the Life of the World.) Today Rushdoony and other early Reconstructionist are criticized as being almost Anabaptist in their ecclesiology. The Federal Vision movement stimulated among Reformed Christians interest in the early Church, the Church Fathers, liturgical worship, and the Eucharist. In exposing people to the early Church the Federal Vision movement exposed its followers to the Orthodox Church with the unexpected consequence of some of its members “crossing the Bosphorus.”
Augustine of Hippo. City of God.
John Calvin. Commentary on Genesis.
David Chilton. “Piety and Christian Reconstruction.”
Bob De Waay. “The Dominion Mandate and the Christian Reconstruction Movement.” Critical Issues Commentary.
Arthur F. Glasser. N.D. “Kingdom and Mission: A Biblical Study of the Kingdom of God and the Worldwide Mission of His People.” Class reader for MT 520.
Gregory of Nyssa. “On the Making of Man.”(Chapter VII)
Michael A. Grisanti. 1999. “The Davidic Covenant.” The Masters Seminary Journal (Fall 1999), pp. 233-250.
Abraham Kuyper. “Third Lecture – Calvinism and Politics.” Stone Lectures.
Martin Luther. Luther on Creation: A Critical and Devotional Commentary on Genesis. John Nicholas Lenker, ed.
Bill Moyer. Interview with R.J. Rushdoony. Excerpts found in “Quoting Rushdoony Just Seems Like a Really Bad Idea” by Libby Anne, Love, Joy, Feminism.
David Naugle. “Introduction to Kuyper’s Thought.”
Gary North. 1982. The Dominion Covenant: Genesis: An Economic Commentary on the Bible. Volume I. Revised 1987. Institute for Christian Economics: Tyler, Texas.
Jay Rogers. “An Interview with R.J. Rushdoony” in Forerunner.com.
Mark Rushdoony. 2005. “The Continuing Legacy of Christian Reconstruction.” Chalcedon Foundation.
R.J. Rushdoony. “The Meaning of Theocracy.” Chalcedon Foundation.
Sze Zeng. 2010. “Critique on Kong Hee’s Genesis 1-2 ‘Cultural Mandate.’”
At the end of his life, David Chilton became very interested in Eastern Orthodoxy. He was friends with Fr. Peter Gillquist and some of the other former Evangelical Orthodox. Again magazine published a couple of articles by/about Chilton.
Interesting! Didn’t know that. Maybe you can find out the titles of Chilton’s articles?
Excellent review Robert. There will doubtless be places where
Reconstructionists will object. But given the short length…it is
a fine review/critique.
One place where it seems to me (yet a novice) this could have been
complete is the whole Orthodox teaching on ‘Victory in Death’. Christ
conquered sin & death…by His own death and suffering. As a man
who lived in the Reformed/Recon. community for over 30 yrs…we
knew little of this, and largely, shunned what we knew. We loved to
talk of “Feasting on the Fat of the land…per the riches & abundance
in Christ’s victory over Satan” and reigning with him over all Creation.
But we did this with little or no Fasting. Dominion and reigning with
Christ without Suffering as a Servant easily becomes a Power-play. We
had no sense of Christ “trampling down death…by His own Death” as
being a model for us and His Church. But IF the Church (or Christians)
is ever to “reign” [whatever that word should imply] on earth…then it
seems most likely to happen by suffering, serving, dying, ie…Martyrdom
…not via social/economic & political power/authority. This is counter-
intuitive to both Modernism’s penchant for political/Statist power and
authority…as well as the reformed reconstructionist mentality.
Good review. This mirrors a lot of criticisms I have made of Recons. I’ll add a few:
1) Recons view God’s law as a 1:1 application to modern-day society (like a modern Constitutional law code). But if you read Torah it is not only law, but story and song as well. This makes one wonder if it’s meant to be applied as such.
2) the concept of “equity” is inevitable. This forces Recons to own up to some kind of natural law theory, which they do not want to do.
3) It’s hard to separate Reconstructionism from a right-wing form of Ron Paul’s platform. A question I often ask reconstructionists, “Could reconstructionism work in a medieval guild-socialist monarchy?” They will say no. This raises the further problem of why a unique moment in Western history (i.e., a unique blend of John Locke and Rushdoony) should be normative for all civil governments.
I like your point about Torah being more than a law code and the major role played by the story of God’s redemption of his people. The same thing happens in the New Covenant – God comes to us in the flesh, in Jesus the Christ. God is at work among us, calling us to follow him, to go where He is going.
Good points Jacob…esp #3. Of course, a medievalish guild-monarchy
need not be “pure-socialist” or “pure-Libertarian” either. A benvolent Christian Monarch might allow open markets run their course to
a point…before skimming a small 1-2% of profits…or even .5% (1/2
of 1%) import duty tax…for selective redistribution… Such a Monarch
could have tremendous flexibility, with a host of wise counselors.
PS In all fairness. I think James Jordan and later “neo-theonomists”
have noted more potential flexibility in the Mosaic law and have
allowed for such flexibility in the civil code…& even a Monarch.
Jordan was the one who tipped me off about it being more than a “late-modernity law code,” though I always gathered that he stayed pretty close to the Libertarian orbit. His Theocratic Critique of Theonomy (available at Wordmp3) is mostly good.
One Reformed pastor in a critique of the Reconstructionist movement said Chilton converted to Eastern Orthodoxy–I haven’t been able to find any solid evidence either way. He did have something like a brain aneurysm at the end of his life, which may have led to his death. I know he embraced full preterism at the end of his life, though some say he recanted (and if he did recant, it may have been the same time he converted to EO).
For what it’s worth, R.C. Sproul Jr. has stated that Chilton did not convert to EO. While Chilton admitted to him that he admired much about EO, he was still too committed to Reformed Theology.
Agreed. I’ve tried to find yay/nay and couldn’t either Jacob. My guess (and that’s all it is) is that Erik is right below…just infatuated by some several Orthodox writers and the Liturgical depth…but not ready to made a move.
CR could exist in harmony with a monarchy, but not with any form of coercive socialism. Any system that by force deprives its citizens of wealth and property for redistribution is in violation of the 8th Commandment and its injunction against stealing. However, the voluntary donation and redistribution of wealth as exemplified in the Book of Acts could be kosher. Likewise, with respect to guilds or unions, there are legitimate as long as they are voluntary and not compulsory.
Well then I guess there’s a contradiction between the Divine commands in the Mosaic moral code, the Temple tax to aid the poor and the Hebrew Jubilee.
I suppose that’s why the Jubilee remained mostly a theory, because Yahweh had moral lapse, a moment of socialist weakness, so the Jews just ignored the Jubilee, and grumbled about the Temple tax, finding as many ways to loophole out of it as possible.
Welcome to the conversation!
Thanks Robert. Good to be here.
That is one of the legit criticisms of CR (and many Reformed people are picking up on it). CR is baptized libertarianism (and that is not a slur; I”ve read almost everything Gary North has written–and I’ve usually enjoyed it).
For what it’s worth, the Westminster Larger Catechism condemns usury (as did almost all of Christendom, East and West) and praised the magistrate who rewarded righteousness. Stuff foreign to libertarianism.
Thank God! there are other OCs who recognize that. I’ve been looking for you for nearly 14 years! In TX it’s hard to find any other than the “reds” 😉 (and I mean elephants not communists)
I think CR is often blind to “objectivism” or flavors itself with a healthy dose of it. Few realize that Alan Greenspan was one of Ayn Rand’s groupies. No wonder he was such a zealot of Friedman after drinking her Kool-Aid!
Here’s an entertaining read –Gathering Clouds: A Tale of the Days of St. Chrysostom
Also, methinks the absolute best American history book – “Who Built America? Vol. 1&2”, CUNY, American Social History Project.
Amazing how what circulates today appeared in the 187os, yet is still being regurgitated today in virtually the same form.
Too much good info there, but here’s a taste –
In Gilded Age America, society was divided along class lines to the point of unrest. Luxurious mansions were built and private armies hired by industrial capitalists to protect their wealth and power. Soon proponents of this “new order” came to see all working people as “the vicious and disorderly classes” as documented in Century magazine.
Growing visibility of unbridled privilege –
The increasing powerlessness and dependence on wage labor of working people drove them to organize in the Knights of Labor, the Eight-Hour Movement, and the craft unions. Struck for higher wages and to express solidarity with fellow workers. Formed independent political parties, debated and sometimes adopted radical political ideologies such as socialism and anarchism.
Eastern cities, upper-class Protestant flight to suburbs abandoned many downtown churches to immigrant Catholics and Jews resulting in Protestant churches losing touch with urban working people and becoming more oriented to well-to-do. Wealthy congregations produced nationally renowned [“star”] ministers such as Brooklyn’s Henry Ward Beecher, one of the most influential of the “princes of the pulpit”. Tremendously popular [pop cultural icon], known for wit and eloquence despite alleged infidelities, Beecher had supported antislavery movement, but his social philosophy was profoundly conservative, sympathetic to the rich and hostile to the poor. He proclaimed that “No man in this land suffers from poverty unless it be more than his fault—unless it be his sin.”
Walt Whitman among those who deplored the industrial system’s disregard for human beings, decried the contemporary “hollowness of heart” and “depravity of the business classes.” The Gilded Age (1874) by Mark Twain and Charles Dudley Warner satirized post-Civil War politics and values as “Get rich . . . dishonestly if we can, honestly if we must.” Their book title later adopted by historians to describe the materialism and superficiality of the late nineteenth century.
Another writer claimed “that you have nothing is a judgment on your laziness and vices, or on you improvidence.” Many businessmen, politicians, and scholars cited Charles Darwin’s theory of biological evolution props in 1859 in attempt to explain capitalist social relations. Known as “social darwinists”, they distorted Darwin’s theory to “scientifically” explain impoverishment of the “unfit” masses, and warned that interference on behalf of the “weak” would doom American society. Justifying ruthless competition, John D. Rockefeller called it “a survival of the fittest, the working out of a law of nature and a law of God.”
So I say, hate socialism? Clean up the crony capitalist mess and there won’t be any need for it. It’s all in black and white in the American historical (hysterical?) record.
Another critical read that puts it all in perspective – “Land of Desire: Merchants Power and the Rise of a New American Culture” by William Leach.
Basically this – America went from economy of thrift to economy of spendthrift from the 1870s-1930s. All these years and despite beginning to change, we’re back to square one.
I especially like the implications of “desire” read through lens of an OC perspective, as in fasting, training desire so it’s soulfully dispassionate instead of fleshly sensual. Explains a lot. Without such knowledge and practice of spirtual warfare, Americans have been and are sitting ducks.
Here’s link for Gather Clouds that doesn’t work in previous post –
I would have to argue that there is no contradiction. The Temple Tax was something that grew up during the Intertestamental period and was not a covenant requirement from the Mosaic code. This is the tax being discussed by Christ in Matthew 17 as not being obligatory for the sons of God, but one that could nevertheless be paid so as not to give offense. It is true that the Temple Tax was in part based on the head tax of Exodus 30, as well as the voluntary obligation taken on in Nehemiah 10, but the Temple Tax in Jesus’ time was essentially a pharisaical tradition made mandatory and indefinite. Moreover, in all three instances the money collected was supposed to be used solely for the Tabernacle/Temple and its services. With respect to the Temple Tax, though, Edersheim has pointed out that because of the excess of funds collected some indeed was used for public works, but this was not its original intent and I’m not sure you can count public work projects necessarily as individual welfare anyway.
Perhaps you are thinking of the tithe, as this was used to aid and relieve the poor. However, it must be noted that there was no ecclesiastical or civil means to enforce a collection of the tithe, or the occasional special tithe. Whether or not an individual relinquished ten percent of their net increase was a matter that rested exclusively between that person and God. In other words there was no SWAT team that would kick in your door, take your children from you, throw you in prison, and confiscate your property if you failed to pay what could be construed as an income tax. In fact, God specifically warned against giving civil rulers the power to take property and wealth so as to give to others in I Samuel 8.
As for the Jubilee, I can see nothing in it that resembles coercive socialism. This simply returned land, which God had assigned to particular tribes, as individuals did not have the authority or ownership right to permanently sell it. It released indentured Hebrews back to their families, as no child of the covenant could be held involuntarily for more than seven years. Finally, it eliminated debts that individuals had voluntarily established between themselves. There is simply nothing here about the state forcibly taking wealth that an individual may have acquired and giving it someone else.
Agreed. David Chilton did a great job on the jubilee. Socialism thinks in terms of distributive justice, but the jubilee is not saying “let’s divide the land blindly and mete it out.” It is going back to previous ownership, which implies private property.
The point is that the Bible and history reveal that the rich have a responsibility to the poor, much moreso in the words of the Lord Jesus Christ than in Hebrew tradition (Mosaic or otherwise), NOT that the Bible and Hebrew tradition are some literalist, fundamentalist social blueprint and owners manual of instruction to be quibbled over like lawyers as to what is relevant – that which is strictly in Mosaic law or not. The Bible is not the archaeological measure of a fundamentalist Christian Dominianism.
Human failing in regard to solidariy of humanity against the only real enemy of mankind (the evil one and father of lies) by which the rich share their blessings with the poor as one human family instead of seeing their riches as their just reward for industriousness, and poverty as the just desserts for laziness – that failing (sin) exists because of “sin”, separation from communion with God whereby human will (and therefore action) is aligned with God’s will.
Just as human government exists because of such failing (sin) so that there can be order and some measure of peace in fallen human society (NOT because God “ordains” one form of government over another), so socialism was invented to put the brakes on the new industrial scale havoc that was being wrecked on modern society. Just as Caesar and the Roman Empire was used by God, by His “ordinance”, so God uses the modern west, and communist and totalitarian states alike without distinction. Yet that point of understanding (comprehension) is lost on those who are tainted with CR and “conservative” politics.
It is typical “conservative” partisan political “thinking” in “christian” Halloween drag (costume, disguise) that would focus on everything in the Bible that supports its “free” market view, but nothing in the Bible that would indict the actions of the actors of the market and the market “values” they hold dear. In other words, if there was a human ethic that dominated the market instead of simple profit motive so that the market behaved itself and put the common good and responsibility to humanity and community above money, then there would be most likely be little to no need for measures (“socialist” or otherwise) to counter the inhumanity, evil, devastation and corruption that exists in the market, and has existed since the beginning of industrialism/imperialism/colonialism – yet another point lost on “conservative” political partisans who “think” they’re BE-ing Christian when the measure of such has nothing to do with the market and everything to do with their personal disposition toward the poor per the Parable of the Sheep and Goats in Matthew 25.
The breaking of the Mosaic Law in being covetousness is of much more concern in regard to hoarding of wealth than in any form of taxation. But “conservative” politicos would have all Christians be “goats” instead of sheep, nominal “Christians” in name only, and in reality, worldly in every regard, especially regarding money.
Christ revealed that sin is first and foremost a function of desire rather than resulting action from desire transformed to will transformed into action – a matter of the “heart”, the eye of the soul which should lead the body, not the bodily passions leading the soul around like a dog on a leash. But the Truths of scripture are lost on those who have no “eye to see” – especially those who live in the closed system of the “Land of Desire”, the only existence they have ever known, and who like New Yorkers, think there is no “life” outide of such existence. The only glimpse of light outside of such Plato’s Cave that I know is “Land of Desire: Merchants, Power and the Rise of a New American Culture” by William Leach.
“The things and possessions that are in the world are common to all, like the light and this air that we breathe….. All these things were made for all in common solely for use and enjoyment; in terms of ownership they belong to no one. But covetousness, like a tyrant, has intruded into life, so that its slaves and underlings have in various ways divided up that which the Master gave to be common to all. …She has deprived all other men of the enjoyment of the Master’s good gifts, shamelessly pretending to own them, contending that she has wronged no one. …I tell you that they owe a debt of penitence to their dying day for all that they so long have kept back and deprived their brothers from using.” — St. Symeon the New Theologian 949 – 1022 A.D.
Actually, I think you are missing the point to the comment you responded to and my response to your examples. I am not disputing that wealthy people have a God-given responsibility to be generous and “share the wealth” or that their possession of wealth inclines them to being greedy or unjust. As Luke states – “Everyone to whom much was given, of him much will be required” or in Matthew – “…it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God”. I’m not even debating the Scriptural legitimacy of free markets, this ancillary discussion was about whether state socialism (defined as the civil state owning and managing all property, people, and means of production) violates Biblical precepts or paradigms, whether they are in the OT or NT. In opposition to the idea that a state be given the power to seize persons and/or property, the Bible is pretty explicit in defending the concepts of private property and rights against such seizures from other individuals or governing authorities, which is why state socialism does indeed violate Scripture. On the other hand, one can make a case for communitarianism or libertarian socialism because this represents a voluntary sharing of wealth or property. As I stated, this was exemplified by the communal living of the early church in the Book of Acts. However, as Peter told Ananias during this episode – “While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal?” Hence, wealth and property must voluntarily be given up by an individual, not forcibly taken by a messianic state.
I’m not missing the point, I’m saying that the assertion that sharing of wealth MUST be voluntary and that state taxation is “forcing” the rich to do so is anti-Christian is bogus sophistry. Socalled “christian” reconstructionism, dominionism, etc etc. is what the conversation is about and how the Reformed are tangled up with all that and seem to have a hard time waking up to the anti-Christian nature of such. Since all of it is a protestant-pietist convoluted historical mess, there is little to no distinction in Joe Public’s mind (and many to most Reformed Protestant’s mind) between any of it – CR, dominionism, “moral majority”, right wing, “conservatism, etc. As such, “socialism” is the whipping post of the CR-D-MM-RW-C (whatever you call it) mentality.
That mentality cannot even fathom how socialism came into being, and how there would be no such thing as socialism if socalled “christians” had created a market that actually worked to the benefit of most people, to the benefit of the common good and community.
If sharing of wealth can only be “voluntary” in order to be “christian”, then the state should not “force” individuals to be “moral” either, and their compliance with the Mosaic Law should be “voluntary”. In which case, you no doubt will say that when they aren’t moral (don’t comply with the Mosaic Law), then they must be “punished”. Why is it that socalled “white collar” crime, whereby the rich continually “rob” others, is the least punished form of crime in the socalled advanced western world?
And where is the “punishment” of the rich who aren’t white collar criminals by the state when they too fail the “law” – fail to comply with the Mosaic Law against covetousness? There are many ways to steal from others in the modern world – theft does not simply consist of the “taking” of some physical object from others (their sheep, cow, house, etc.)
Instead “conservatism” tries as it does so often to turn Real Christianity inside out and to make taxing of the rich a “covetous” act, when in actuality it is the hoarding of wealth for selfish pursuit by the rich which is covetous, and taxing of such hoarded wealth by the state retribution for such hoarding.
If everyone were self-governed as they were designed to be, that is governed by God from the depths of their humble, repentant heart, then there would be no need for government because everyone would do the Will of God. And we know how that ain’t gonna happen.
The state is the consequence of fallen human nature, but CR-D-MM-RW-C’s don’t see it that way. They are out to establish a chiliastic utopian “kingdom of god” in this fallen world, instead of suffering the hatred of the world for BE-ing citizens of the Real Kingdom of God, which is the Kingdom of Heaven. This ia part and parcel of their false end times doctrine. And the convolustion just goes on and on.
The convolusion began with the design and implementation of the New American Culture, the industrial based consumer culture. It’s that old and it’s all documented in “Land of Desire: Merchants, Power and ther Rise of a New American Culture” by William Leach.
Around the end and turn of the 19th century up to the “Roaring” 1920s and 30s Great Depression, the monied American old guard moved out of urban centers into their wealthy suburbs and built there new, grand Reformed Protestant churches there. Catholic and other immigrants took over the inner city church buildings, leading to a 20th century Catholic tradition of defending the working class.
During this time, the heresy of money as mark of God’s favor and poverty as a mark of His disfavor was invented by the rich Reformed. They saw themselves, as F. Scott Fitzgerald attests, as being better than others. They thought it their duty to “clean up” the dirty immigrants which led to the YMCA and prohibition. We know how well that worked out. And that’s only the beginning; read the “rest of the story” in Leach’s well documented book, and weep. It’s like deja vu. Little has changed since them. Same ‘ole arguments, same old hard headedness, same ‘ole arrogance, same ‘ole problems, etc. etc. . . .
“the assertion that sharing of wealth MUST be voluntary and that state taxation is “forcing” the rich to do so is anti-Christian is bogus sophistry”
No one is saying that civil governments cannot levy taxes; I challenge you to find one CR author who claims the state has no right to levy any tax. They just distinguish between legitimate and non-legitimate forms of taxation. So yes the rich can be taxed.
“If sharing of wealth can only be “voluntary” in order to be “christian”, then the state should not “force” individuals to be “moral” either, and their compliance with the Mosaic Law should be “voluntary”
While all law itself seeks to enforce a morality, no Theonomist would claim that the law can make a person moral – that would be the definition of works righteousness. The sword of the civil magistrate was set in place to protect the innocent from criminal offense.
“And where is the “punishment” of the rich who aren’t white collar criminals by the state when they too fail the “law” – fail to comply with the Mosaic Law against covetousness?”
Not all sin incurs civil penalties, like I said before; failing to properly pay the tithe had no civil penalty. Drunkenness in one’s home is a sin but is not to be punished by the state. Likewise, covetousness is a sin but God prescribed no civil penalty against it.
“Why is it that so called “white collar” crime, whereby the rich continually “rob” others, is the least punished form of crime in the so called advanced western world?”
Corruption and influence peddling will be found in any political-economic system as long as fallen man is involved, as there will always be some who are more equal than others. This can even be seen in modern socialist systems where those with means or power are rarely prosecuted. So this isn’t something limited to Western economies.
I think you seem to be confusing the American economic system, or what many “conservative” Christians in the U.S. consider appropriate with what CR would like to see in place. This is simply not the case. The American economic system is what is called a mixed-economy; this is a system that attempts to blend elements of free markets with strong government planning and intervention. In short, this is a euphemistic term for fascism or socialism-light. However, you don’t need to take mine or any other western CR view on the matter. I would encourage you to read what the Holy Hieromartyr Hilarion of the Orthodox Church in Russia had to say on the matter during the early 20th century, and this is someone who was directly subjected to socialism in all its glory:
“In vain do some think that socialism is merely a theory of economics. No, socialism replaces everything with itself; it is founding its own religion. In the resolutions of the various socialist assemblies and the discourses of socialist leaders one finds clearly and definitely expressed the demand for a revolution in all human thought…in religion socialism is expressed as atheistic humanism…If socialism looks upon itself as a world-view, what, then, is this world-view? It is, first of all, a consistent materialism…“Christian socialism” is a contradiction in terms. What is Christian cannot be socialist. If we do not loudly and openly declare that socialism is the enemy of Christianity, nothing will result except harm and scandal. All compromises are inappropriate here.”
The “business” of progressive taxation (aka redistribution of wealth) being violation of 8th commandment against stealing, is a “pious” (pharasaical) fabrication like the business about poverty being the result of laziness, both of which are meant to justify the hoarding of riches. Along the same lines is acceptance of a certain level of unemployment in exchange for industrialism, yet the rich industrialists shall not be taxed because then they won’t create jobs for the plebs (at the acceptable rate of unemployment). Hogwash. See Bill Moyers interview with Joseph Stiglitz. Rich industrialists haven’t been using their profits to create jobs for decades upon decades. Instead, they’ve been using them to lobby Congress to keep the govt’s hands off their off-shore tax havens.
“St John Chrysostom taught in the 4th century that “all wealth comes from God, and belongs to everyone equally”, so “the rich person who keeps all his wealth for himself is committing a form of robbery.” ” Orthodoxy and Political Conservatism
“The things and possessions that are in the world are common to all, like the light and this air that we breathe….. All these things were made for all in common solely for use and enjoyment; in terms of ownership they belong to no one. But covetousness, like a tyrant, has intruded into life, so that its slaves and underlings have in various ways divided up that which the Master gave to be common to all. …She has deprived all other men of the enjoyment of the Master’s good gifts, shamelessly pretending to own them, contending that she has wronged no one. …I tell you that they owe a debt of penitence to their dying day for all that they so long have kept back and deprived their brothers from using.” — St. Symeon New Theologian
So I read the Orthodoxy and Political Conservatism article you referenced and I found a very interesting note right after the Chrysostom quote you mention here:
“It is also worth noting that Chrysostom preached that wealth should be given to the poor by those who have it to give, not by the government taking and redistributing wealth to those it deemed poor.”
I think that pretty much coincides with what I have been saying, no? I also found this Chrysostom quote from a different source more fully informative of his views:
“I am often reproached for continually attacking the rich. Yes, because the rich are continually attacking the poor. But those I attack are not the rich as such, only those who misuse their wealth. I point out constantly that those I accuse are not the rich, but the rapacious; wealth is one thing, covetousness another. Learn to distinguish.”
1) I would agree that Torah is not simply about law and rights, though I would not reduce or relegate it to story and song. Torah is conceptually or holistically to be viewed as instruction or loving guidance, not unlike how one might view the book of Proverbs. However, if God’s instruction and guidance provide examples or precedent of how polity should be organized or justice administered, should we not seek to follow such divinely revealed standards.
2) I’m not sure how you arrive at the conclusion that CR must at some point resort to natural law theory. While it is true that reason must at some point be used to arrive at a modern and equitable application of law to a modern situation, the difference between theonomy and natural law is that the latter begins and ends with autonomous reasoning while theonomy begins with God’s written laws, paradigmatically reasons through mosaic civil case law, and will hopefully end with “righteous judgment” (Jhn. 7:24/Isa. 1:18). It is also true that the law of God is written on man’s heart and through general revelation can sometimes be brought to its conclusions (Rom. 2:14-15), however, the written word is always more reliable for accessing God’s revelation and Israel was setup for the purpose of serving as a model for the rest of the nations. Accordingly, if Israel was to serve as a model for the rest of the world then it seems logical that we should seek to emulate their application of justice.
***I’m not sure how you arrive at the conclusion that CR must at some point resort to natural law theory.***
Equity is an application of natural law in pre-Grotian systems. That’s why otherwise theocratic fellows like Rutherford and Gillespie also appealed to natural law theorists.
At most torah gives you 600 some odd laws, many of which can’t be politically applied. The only way to apply the so-called judicial laws in modern society is to use equity, which is natural revelation. I am not saying theonomists are wrong for this, but they do need to own up to what they are doing.
***that the latter begins and ends with autonomous reasoning while theonomy begins with God’s written laws***
That is true of post-Grotian systems. While I ridicule neo-platonic thought wherever I can find it, this is one area they actually get right. Medieval neo-platonists who used natural law saw it as participating in the eternal law, hardly autonomous.
I see, point taken. I don’t think it is that theonomists will not own up to some form of natural law, the problem is that for those stepped in Van Tillianism when you say natural law theory what we hear is ‘a Cartesian system of law that begins with self and is examined solely through experience’. Of course this is not how natural law theory was originally defined in Christian Europe. It’s kind of like using the term liberal in modern American politics – originally those who advocated for free markets and limited government, but quite the opposite now. We just reject the modern iteration of natural law theory that suggests there is some sort of secularly neutral universal system of justice somewhere out there that can be accurately discovered without reference to God or His special revelation. Might I suggest that a more well-received term might be natural reasoning. For example, Puritan Thomas Vincent’s catechism has an excellent way of putting it:
Q. 10 Why are the Scriptures called the only rule?
A. Because the Scriptures, and nothing else, are sufficient to direct us how we may glorify and enjoy God.
Q. 11. Is not natural reason, without the light of the Scriptures, sufficient to direct us? A. 1. Indeed natural reason may, from the natural impressions of a Deity upon the mind, and the evidences of a Deity in the works of creation and providence, show that there is a God, and that this God is infinite in his being, and power, and wisdom, and goodness: and that he is to be glorified and worshipped by his creatures. 2. But natural reason cannot fully and savingly show what God is. (1.) It cannot reveal his love and mercy to sinners in his Son. (2.) It cannot reveal how he should be glorified and worshipped. (3.) It cannot direct us how we should enjoy him here or hereafter.
Or as Gary DeMar has noted:
“The debate is not over how much one side depreciates the use of general revelation. Rather, the issue is over what ethical standard will be used to evaluate the conclusions formulated from a study of general revelation and Natural Law. Natural Law takes on a life of its own as a nation steadily depreciates God’s specially revealed Word as the norm for all issues relating to faith (redemption) and practice (ethics). This situation results in using contemporary ideologies to build an interpretive framework so that general revelation can become specific. This means that Natural Law will be interpreted in different ways depending on what ideology is in vogue. A prevailing atheistic regime will interpret Natural Law one way, while a New Age humanist will put another slant on it. In each case, the church’s prophetic ministry is depreciated”
Good stuff here Jacob & Erik. So we could agree that it is not “Solo” Scriptura, but Scripture… along WITH the guidance of natural reason and a particular theological “Tradition”. In other words, we don’t just hand out children a bible (Moses) with: “I’ve got nothing to say…read this”? There are other “means of grace” sermons, commentaries… even the writing of the Church Fathers, Church Creeds & Counsels …that ALL help us learn what the Spirit intends Scripture to teach us? Makes that “Tradition” all the more important, egh?
***the problem is that for those stepped in Van Tillianism when you say natural law theory what we hear is ‘a Cartesian system of law that begins with self and is examined solely through experience’.***
I know. I personally don’t use the phrase “natural law” for a number of reasons, not least the ones mentioned. I will use phrases like “objective moral order” per Oliver O’Donovan.
Natural reasoning is an okay alternative, but it too has connotations it can’t control. I’ve used it before in discussions.
Agree wholeheartedly, as Keith Mathison argues:
“The fundamental problem with “solo” Scriptura is that it results in autonomy. It results in final authority being placed somewhere other than the Word of God…Every doctrine and practice is measured against a final standard, and that final standard is the individual’s personal judgment of what is and is not biblical. The result is subjectivism and relativism. The reformers’ appeal to “Scripture alone,” however, was never intended to mean “me alone.”
That is why I think the term Prima Scriptura would be a better way of describing the authority of Scripture. Just as I would say that one is justified by a ‘living’ faith alone. Unfortunately that kind of terminology is just not as stridently catchy.
A point of clarification about sola/solo Scriptura (and theonomy has to be very clear on this). Mathison took that phrase from the renowned medievalist Heiko Oberman. I have my suspicions that Mathison misread Oberman on this point.
Another problem is that after Francis Schaeffer and some of Van til’s disciples, people started saying, especially in the face of legal humanism, that the Bible has all the answers. Well, I appreciate the sentiment, but that statement is firmly rejected in the Westminster Confession. The Bible, per Westminster, is the final authority for theological and ecclesial practices. It is NOT the only source book for relevant data. The Anglican divine Richard Hooker is quite good on this point.
“The notion of a cultural mandate is fairly new to Reformed theology, though the early Reformers were concerned not just with the reform of the church but with reforming civil society as well …”
The “Reformed Reformers,” you mean – not the Lutherans.
You have sharp eyes! You’re right about how it could be misunderstood. I rephrased the sentence to: “The notion of a cultural mandate is fairly new to Reformed theology even though early Reformers like John Calvin were concerned not just with the reform of the church but with reforming civil society as well …”
Coming to faith in Christ in a sturdy evangelical church fifty years ago, I have been rigorously and deeply exposed to a-, pre-, and post-millennial views of “final things” for most of my life. Having considered each argument, I have decided to adopt a firm pan-millennial view of eschatology. (I’m not joking here.) In the end, everything will pan out just fine because God not man will order the sequence and exact timing of all events. “LORD have mercy!” should remain our constant prayer.
Much of the so-called “final things” deal with events leading up to the Return of Christ and the Final Judgment. At every Sunday Liturgy I am reminded that one day I will stand before the Great Judgment Seat of Christ. For me this puts all the debates about pre-, post-, and a- millennial positions in proper context. It is a sobering thing to consider that we must give an account for our words and deeds to God at the end of our life. In the Liturgy the Church calls us to live a life of repentance and prayer. The Church also calls us to grow in Christ, to share in Christ’s life, being transformed into the likeness of Christ. The Orthodox teaching on theosis while grounded in daily discipleship is also oriented to the Eschaton.
After being a serious Navigator-Christian in the Air Force and college, I told my new Dispensational Bible-Church pastor I was a ‘Pan-Mill…’ He was not amused! 😉 That’s
when I started reading…led me to Reformed Theo. (ala A & Post). Then 30+yrs later I found Orthodoxy, and as they say…the rest is history! Lord have mercy.
Jordan has actually repudiated his early Reconstructionism and moved towards a position similar to that advocated at the end of the essay- dominion by liturgy rather than by legislation. St. Maximus said that the more the Eucharist is celebrated, the faster and more fully the gospel will sweep the world. That the world is subdued by liturgy also appears in the book of Chronicles, where the author draws attention to the Israelite music that would accompany the army into battle- thus pointing to the true source of Israel’s victory as her worship, rather than her sword. I do think the Church is called to transform society, but that transformation always starts in and flows out of the Church.
I should note, however, that the dominion mandate in Genesis 1 is inner-biblically interpreted to refer to the dominion of society as well- after Joshua conquers Canaan, Joshua 18 refers to the land being “subdued before” Israel, which goes back, I think, to Genesis 9 where the animals Noah is to subdue are spoken of in the same terms that the Canaanites will later be spoken of.
Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge!
Your comment about James Jordan is intriguing. And I like your reference to Saint Maximus and the Liturgy.
This is terrible argumentation. As a former reconstructionist, it was the dominion mandate that got me looking at Orthodoxy. This article ignores the entire history of Byzantium, the Code of Justinian, as well as arguments for slavery from St Paul to St Basil and into the Byzantine greats, for example.
Saying the article was “terrible argumentation” is vague and quite sweeping. It would be more constructive if you were to point to issues that ought to have been addressed.
As to your complaint about my ignoring the “entire history of Byzantium,” I did touch upon some key figures like Constantine and Theodosius. But the main focus of this article was the concept of dominion mandate as the basis for the Christian religion, not Orthodox political theory.
As a theonomist I would like to commend you on what comes across as an attempt to fairly and civilly critique the Reconstructionist viewpoint. First I would like to caution that one must differentiate between Dominionist that seek a top-down imposition of Christian principles or law and those that advocate for a bottom-up reconstruction of society, with the Rushdoony/Bahnsen types being very much in the latter camp. In view of that, I don’t think it is accurate to claim that dominionism per se is the key to CR or that the Church (at least the institutional manifestation) is to take dominion of the world. The institutional church has separate lanes of authority that are not to be confused with those of the civil sphere, however this does not mean there is to be no cooperation or interaction between the two as was pictured in the theocracy of Ancient Israel. I wonder if your understanding of a theonomic society is something more like what is instituted in Iran, because Iran is actually an eccelisiocracy where the church/clerics rule every aspect of the state and society. This example is specifically what is not advocated by CR.
As for the key to CR, Rushdoony states that “Because we are not God, for us the decisive power in society must be the regenerating power of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in and through us. Not revolution but regeneration, not coercion but conversion, is our way of changing the world and furthering the Kingdom of God. This is the heart of Christian reconstruction.” In this light Christian dominance, or Christians being the predominate force in all society or in every sphere, is not the means or even the end sought in and of itself but is simply the by-product of God’s sovereignty in a redeemed society. In other words it is the outworking or effect of a nation observing what Christ has commanded. It just stands to reason that if a society is mostly Christian they are going to elect Christian magistrates to govern said society; Christian rulers (like all Christians) in turn are obligated to submit to Christ’s authority and only sanction or institute laws He has ordained (e.g. outlawing things like murder, adultery, theft, etc.).
You also state that the CR post-millennial eschatology is based on a reading of the Great Commission, but I’m not sure how you arrive at that. To my understanding the post-millennial eschatology is based on texts like Hab. 2:14, Dan. 2:34-35, and Mat. 13:31-32. The Great Commission, and not the Sword of Joshua, is simply the way God has now commanded us to spread the gospel along with its regenerative and subduing effects on all nations. You make a fair point in that Gen. 1:26 is primarily about establishing man as the pinnacle of the created order over earth and animals. However, man as God’s vice-regents are also instructed to multiple and fill the earth physically (Gen. 1:28), and then again spiritually through conversion (Mat. 28:19-20). If believers, by God’s will and the Spirit’s actions, eventually become the dominant population through either birth or conversion, then how can they not be expected to exercise Christ’s teachings in every aspect of society?
I hope that this brief excerpt from Rushdoony might offer some more insight:
The Heart of Reconstruction:
“God’s repeated test of the integrity of a people’s faith is their care for widows, orphans, and strangers, for those who are outside their normal realm of association. This is the second aspect of this commandment. To love our neighbor as ourselves is to show as great a concern for their welfare, rights, and reputation as for our own. To love our neighbor as ourselves means to respect our neighbor’s marriage and its sanctity (“Thou shalt not commit adultery”); his life (“Thou shalt not kill”); his property (“Thou shalt not steal”); his reputation (“Thou shalt not bear false witness”); and to do this in word, thought, and deed (“Thou shalt not covet…”).
What this means is very clear. Beyond a very limited sphere, judgment is the province of God. A godless state will assume more and more of the prerogatives of God and assume powers of judgment over all of life. Because we are not God, for us the decisive power in society must be the regenerating power of God and the work of the Holy Spirit in and through us. Not revolution but regeneration, not coercion but conversion, is our way of changing the world and furthering the Kingdom of God. This is the heart of Christian reconstruction. The heart of Biblical law is that it makes us the basic government of society in and through our personal and family life, through our vocations, churches, and schools. In Biblical law, civil government is a very limited and minor sphere of rule and power.
No society can be healthy if the people are not strong in their faith. A strong state means a weak people. The various civil governments of the world are all strong and over-bearing in their power because the peoples are weak in the faith. Statist power grows to fill a vacuum in government created by the irresponsibility of the people. When men say of their Lord, “We will not have this man to reign over us” (Luke 19:14), they are inviting anarchy. The Book of Judges describes such a time. Men had rejected God as their king, and, because “In those days there was no king in Israel” God having been denied, “every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25).
When men do that which is right in their own eyes, when they deny Christ our King and His law-word, then their word and their group becomes the source of determination for them. Men then act humanistically and are determined by their group, not the Lord.”
Hey Eric, I too appreciate your gracious tone and had hoped to keep this reply short. I agree (as a serious Theonomist/Recon for decades) that Rush & Bahnsen were far more bottom-up in their views, while others more top down. Don’t see it as either/or but both and. Yet I don’t see Robert ever intended to argue that Theonomist/Recons believe the “Church” in the “institutional manifestation” is to take dominion of the world.” Seems a bit over stated. Indeed, Rush would never argue for such a central role of the Church in forming an “eccelisiocracy”! and don’t thing Robert hinted at such.
[Inerruption] Here’s where my answer started to get a bit long…and think it might best be in a follow-up Blog post in a few days. I’ll need to work with Robert on thought…so stay tuned brother. Always appreciate the opportunity to talk with sincere, men who love Christ and take the Faith seriously. 😉
Rushdoony’s family was Armenian Orthodox. I was told by a close friend of his that he even had an Armenian Orthodox funeral. There are some very valuable things that we can learn from his teachings, regarding application of God’s Law…but that is a double edged sword.
Theonomy’s biggest problem is that its eschatology is twisted with pride, and that dictates its entire outlook on Scripture. The ascetic nature, as you describe, is simply not there, which ousts humility and other aspects of the spiritual life. Theonomists, in general, live very lavish lives, and believe they have a right to all the riches of this world.
Welcome to the Orthodox-Reformed Bridge! While we are zealous to contrast the the fullness of Orthodoxy with Reformed (an on occasion Evangelical) Christian communions, we always try to as charitable as possible. This means not painting with a broad brush or making categorical accusations. IF it is true some Theonomists live lives full of pride and lavishness — I fear it equally true of some Orthodox! We all struggle with the deadly sins. Let us make our focus on what we sincerely believe and teach to be the truth — not how some might live. Lord have mercy on us all.
P.S. Others might wish verify the details of Dr. Rushdoony’s funeral and connections to Orthodoxy, but it beyond the focus of this blog post.
Some live lavish lives, but not most. From my own background, I known for a fact that if you are a theonomist in a NAPARC seminary you will experience opposition. If you teach as a theonomist in said seminaries, you will be expelled and slandered and your potential for future ministry and employment will be compromised.
However, you do make a point on how worldly many are.
Don’t forget the elephant (so to speak) in the room: billionaire, Religious Right leader and theonomist Howard Ahmanson Jr. (who something of a Rushdoony protégé). He’s the heir to the Home Savings Bank fortune, and many (most?) theonomist organizations are funded by him. He’s something of the George Soros of theonomy (and Calvinism more broadly).
I actually wonder if the recent “resurgence” of Calvinism, coupled with the proliferation of Calvinist organizations and institutions, might actually be partly an “astroturf” phenomenon, funded by the likes of Ahmanson, rather than purely a grassroots phenomenon. Calvinism (because its supposedly encourages a stronger work ethic), has always been popular with business-elite types, since they would see it as benefiting their own interests. Also, theonomy’s pseudo-libertarian leanings make many fat-cats happy as well.
If he were Orthodox, he’d be an archon.
Interesting. Could be the case but most of the grass-roots Calvinists (Piper, Mohler, Driscoll even) are staunchly opposed to theonomy.
Historically Rushdoony’s family was Armenian Orthodox but his dad converted to Presbyterianism, was educated in Edinburgh, and planted an Armenian Presbyterian church in Kingsburg, CA. Kingsburg is where R.J. grew up and it is also where his funeral services were held and where he is buried. I have also heard this rumor about his funeral services being in an Armenian Orthodox church but this seems very unlikely. For one, and correct if I’m wrong Robert, but if Orthodox churches will not even allow non-Orthodox to take communion then it is hard to imagine they would allow non-Orthodox to have funeral services in their churches. Also, and more importantly, there are no Armenian Orthodox churches in Kingsburg, CA. There is, however, the First Armenian Presbyterian Church and I suspect this is where his funeral services were actually held.
On a side note, Rushdoony was one of the founding members of a Continuing Anglican church in Los Altos, CA. You can see his name listed on their website here: http://www.stpaulsanglicanchurch.org/statement_of_faith.php
Of course this was back in the late 60s before he went off the deep end with respect to ecclesiology.
Orthodoxy is indeed a faith of nations but not by doctrine, rather by practice. When the people of Christ is so large and powerful, the kings bow down! This is how the Edict of Milan came about. St Constantine was in awe of the Church and was compelled to support her. From there the Christian community grew into an empire, creating patriarchs (fathers of nations) at the hand of the emperors. Today that tradition continues within Russian and Greek theology…hence the Double-headed eagle (church and nation). We do not vote emperors in, they vote us in! That is a huge contrast to the western and theonomic idea that we will create our own empire, apart from the historical validity of the empire. Now, where we lie within the scheme of the empire is a very big question at hand. The Russians might say that we should continue where we left off prior to the Bolshevik revolution and the Greeks might say to salvage Constantinople.
Thanks Michael. I’m not sure I grasped rightly or can agree with all you’ve said here. Perhaps you can re-say it differently so we might know what youmean by “Empire.” If that’s the civil rule of Christian government over all people, how does that work? Don’t want to overreact or dismiss it out of hand, but it does seem to smuggle civil rule over all men in by different means than do Reconstructionists. What role would the Church play? And how would it apply to our current situation in the USA?
Robert: excellent analysis. I’d fully bought into CR along my Journey from evangelicalism prior to my conversion to the Orthodox Church. I’d say the fundamental weakness of CR is a misguided understanding of ecclesiology, which is to say they stand outside the true Church and what She proclaims, having constructed their own golden calf. I call it Rambo Christianity.
It was predestined to be error. 🙂
Welcome to the OrthodoxBridge!
Thanks for sharing.
some of the laws, while perhaps “judicial”, would never be applied by theonomists. For example, if you are fighting a guy and your wife intervenes and grabs his…stuff…would you really chop off her hand? Really?
A more technical criticism, and this mainly applies to theonomists who hold to the Westminster Confession. Bahnsen says the judicial law is applicable today in its exhaustive, abiding validity, yet the Westminster Confession, while allowing that it can be applied today, does not say it is exhaustively abiding but only as the general equity requires. I know theonomists have a response to that, but I’ve never found it convincing.
In regards to your mention of Deut. 25:11-12, and irrespective of the whole theonomy issue, you might be interested in an article by Jerome Walsh entitled “You Shall Cut Off Her… Palm? A Reexamination of Deuteronomy 25:11-12”. Given that any type of physical mutilation is nowhere else in the Bible commanded, it should force us to be careful with this interpretation and really focus on what the words in this text mean when compared with the rest of Scripture. The gist of his article is that:
The words “cut” and “hand” in the translation “cut off her hand” are somewhat unusual (“hand” in particular). The word normally used for “hand” is the Hebrew yad , used in verse 11 immediately before this verse, but in verse 12 we find the more rare word kaph. Kaph, derived from kaphaph (“curve”), denotes the bowl of a dish, or the leaves of a palm tree, or even the socket of the thigh (used twice in this sense in Genesis 32), as well as the palm of a hand. Recent scholarship points out that this word is a circumlocution for the groin. The word “cut” (kawtsats, from kawtsar) is used in Jeremiah 9 and 25 for cutting off the beard, being based on an Arabic root for cutting the nails or hair, in addition to other ranges of meaning (including the reaping of a field). In sum, a defensible translation for Deut. 25:12a, in lieu of “cut off her hand,” would be “shave [the hair of] her groin.” As Semitic scholar Jerome T. Walsh phrased it, “She has humiliated a man publicly by an assault on his genitalia (presumably without serious injury to them); her punishment is public genital humiliation, similarly without permanent injury.” This translation, as Walsh points out, reduces “the severity of the punishment from the permanency of amputation to the temporary humiliation of depilation.” Consequently, the punishment addresses both the principle of the lex talionis (proportionality of punishment) and “the shameful nature of the woman’s deed.” Had actual injury ensued, the assault would have been covered by the well-known biblical laws concerning compensation for injury rather than this passage.
I don’t actually disagree, but all of what you typed above kind of indicates that maybe God’s Torah should not be applied like we apply modern day systems.
Reconstructionism/dominionism does not appear to be much of a going concern these days. I almost never hear people talk about it anymore. It seems to be dying the death of utopian movements, because people just wake up one day and realize that their actions are not bringing heaven to earth and never will; they suffer and they can’t always make things work out right. Life doesn’t work that way, God didn’t make it so.
The Orthodox solution appears to me to embrace life at a simpler level. There is suffering, yes, but there is thankfulness for every blessing from God, for food, for safety, for peace. I recently attended a liturgy for the Blessing of the Fruit. Such a simple service, a blessing of the harvest, maybe too simple for our sophisticated culture that is disconnected with the need for God to bless, feed and sustain us through even sending clement weather.
We are not going to take over the culture for Christ. All of the times in history that was attempted it ended badly. But we can be a positive witness for the love of Christ, we can receive what we need to live with thankfulness, and we can look to the Heaven and the Kingdom that Christ will establish on earth, that will have no end.
A few days ago I got a question about Reconstructionism/dominionism on FaceBook. The lady liked my answer and suggested that I turn it into a blog article which is what I did.
What is interesting is that for a theological movement supposedly fading away, this blog posting has a generated quite a bit of discussion in just a few days. So for those who are struggling with Reconstructionist theology, it is important that we take their concerns seriously.
I am glad to hear how you were deeply touched by the service of the Blessing of the Fruit. The teachings of the Orthodox Church is powerfully manifested in her liturgical services. We should invite people to “come and see” the Orthodox services.
Kuyper himself is often held up by recons as a role model, but his own attitudes were quite different. He didn’t seek “dominion” by Calvinists over the Netherlands, but rather self-sufficiency (which led to the phenomenon of “pillarization”, in which Calvinists, Catholics and secularists ended up forming different social and economic institutions, political parties, etc.) Each agreed to tolerate the others but all kept to themselves for the most part.
Arguably that approach (self-sufficiency for one’s own community without seeking dominion over those outside it) actually has more in common with ideas advanced by certain Orthodox authors like Rod Dreher (the Benedict Option is a bit like self-pillarization).
I would also welcome your thoughts on groups such as the Russian Orthodox Army, Alexander Dugin, Greece’s “Golden Dawn” and “Black Lily”, Bulgaria’s ATAKA, etc. These groups and individuals seem to me to be like Orthodox dominionists; they use Orthodoxy as a justification to support their aims of “purifying” society and they promote fascism and/or neo-Nazism. They have certain bishops who support them (like Seraphim of Piraeus, who is a well-known neo-Nazi sympathizer). Some of them call for the execution of homosexuals, etc. (which is exactly the same thing the Dominionists want as well). They promote an overly-exclusive ecclesiology (bordering on neo-Donatism) as well; there seems to be a correlation between ultra-traditionalist approaches to theology and support for extremist political movements like fascism.
I think Orthodoxy needs its own version of the Barmen Declaration. Perhaps there should be another ecumenical council called in order to disown fascism and excommunicate those who support it. This is arguably as big a threat to the faith as any of the 1st-millennium heresies were. The memories of St. Maria Skobtsova (who gave her life defending a Jewish woman against Nazi terror) and of Archbishop Damaskinos demand that we not stay silent. If this threat isn’t rooted out, I fear Orthodoxy, like Islam, may end up in a situation where the extremists have more influence than the moderates.
Oh and don’t forget Br. Nathanael Kapner, who appears in Orthodox monastic habits in numerous YouTube videos where he promotes anti-Semitic conspiracy theories (he claims that because he is a convert from Judaism, he can say these things and he knows what he’s talking about). But the neo-Nazis love him, and videos of him are ubiquitous on websites like Stormfront. To think this guy can profane the tradition of Orthodox monasticism that way makes me sick.
Reading this makes me realize I was even more of a cliche than I thought. Raised Dispensationalist “evangelical?” Check. Attracted to CR thought? Check. Migrated to Federal Vision? Check. Several of years struggling with an increasing attraction to Orthodoxy? Check. Wife slower to come along and somewhat resistant? Check. Attending Liturgy with the family now? Praise, God – check. About the only difference is that I never bought into the five points and so I never fully committed to either CR or FV, just found their perspectives and the challenges to what I had been raised on compelling – and then I found the Church.
I can relate to so much of what you declared about a personal attraction to O. and gently dealing with a loving wife who just doesn’t see it . . . yet. Regarding the federal vision idea, I have asked a seminary-trained Elder in our current PCA church to explain it to me three different times and it still makes no sense (to me) when viewed against the entire diorama of God’s Word and church history. Some Protestants seem to pick at so many intellectual sores that really aren’t sores at all.
Maybe it’s more the case of you walking on a well trodden path? You are walking in the footsteps of other fine men. God bless!
You mentioned Kong Hee. It’s worth pointing out that he’s a Pentecostal/”Prosperity Gospel” megachurch preacher. Pentecostals and Calvinists don’t usually get along very well. Oddly, however, dominionism/CR thought has attained quite a bit of influence within certain strains of Pentecostalism. It goes by several other names including “Kingdom Now Theology” and “Seven Mountains”. Strange bedfellows indeed.
Thank you for the clarification. Yes, there is a Pentecostal version of dominionism. Not knowing anything about Kong Hee’s church affiliation, I inadvertently lumped him together with the Dominionist/Reconstructionists in the Reformed tradition. However, Sze Zeng’s criticism of the Dominionist reading of Genesis 1 applies to both versions.
Pentecostals latched onto a lot of the dominion rhetoric without really thinking through the doctrine. There was some Reformed-Pentecostal dominion overlap in the 80s and early 90s, particularly in response to abortion and the government’s throwing Christian school parents in jail, but not as much any more.
Indeed, that was one area of criticism that the reformed pointed out to CRs: many would ally with Oneness Pentecostals in the church realm.
For some reason the software held up your comment. My apologies for the delay.
It’s cool. WordPress does this to me all the time (Or it used to, anyway).
Not all Reformed, especially historic Reformed, are libertarian capitalists. The Reformed confessions condemn usury and state that the magistrate must positively reward righteousness, as opposed to the negative reading that CRs give it.
Still, we are suspicious of socialism. You cannot have socialism without the barrel of a gun, and if socialism is logically pushed too hard, you have Marxism and the GULAG (or FEMA camps)
I’m not sure why you keep bringing up usury within the context of CR and capitalism; the two do not necessarily go hand in hand. It happens in our modern economy and definitely could happen in some anarcho-libertarian state, but a Biblical libertarian economy governed by His law-word would prohibit such lending practices.
I’m glad to hear it, though a lot of Mises-guys are pro-usury.
I was thinking, perhaps we should clarify here. At first glance I was taking your mention of usury in the modern sense of a predatory loan, and yes these are immoral. In general, however, interest loans in the case of commerce or business are not prohibited; it is essentially the charitable loan that should charge nothing. Or, at the very least no interest above the rate of inflation as you would still be getting only what you lent in that case.