Below is my response to my friend Dennis when he asked about the accuracy of some statements about R.J. Rushdoony.
You will find my responses below where you see Eugene writes*******
Sent: Saturday, November 09, 2013 2:16 PM
Subject: Jay, Eugene and Andrea… do you have clearer insight on this?
Hi Jay, Eugene and Andrea…
Thank you for taking a moment to help me get a clearer understanding on this. Since I received the new book from Lou Poumakis and talked to Lou, I’ve almost completed reading it and I’ve enjoyed it very much, thinking that it pretty much is in agreement with a truly Biblicist’s way of thinking about the future and our actions now. So I recommended it to my friend and radio co-host, Frank Stephens. He wrote me a reply (below) that I’m not quite sure how to process in my mind and felt that YOU could help me. That’s why I’m hoping that reaching out to you could warrant your taking a few minutes to correct any incorrect assumptions or statements in Frank’s letter. All of you have studied both Rushdooney’s and Gary North’s writings so I’m sure you can help me understand what’s true here. I’ve only read a small bit of their writings, mostly articles, to get a general idea of their beliefs but I did not realize they had a split between them as Frank describes in his letter.
Thanks for any corrections you know and suggestions of summary articles you may be able to recommend on this issue. If you haven’t yet read Lou Poumakis’ book, I think it could be a catalyst to engage a lively discussion for any thinking Christian leader in the coming generation.
Blessings to you…
Hi Dennis (writes Frank). I’ve ordered Lou Poumakis’ “Faith on Earth?”
I’ve also spent some time researching him to understand the perspective from which he is writing. He has an interesting religious background.
He was ordained as elder in the Christian Reformed Church and later as a minister in the Federation of Reformed Churches. What concerns me is that he studied and was heavily influenced by the works of R. J. Rushdoony at Chalcedon Foundation where he discovered Postmillennialism and Christian Reconstruction. I’ve very familiar with Rushdoony’s reconstructionist theology. And you will recall David Chilton was also strongly influenced
by Rushdoony and wrote his books and narratives based on much of Rushdoony’s teaching.
Rushdoony’s reconstructionist theology was front and center in George W. Bush’s administration and the Christian Right attempting to take over the Republican Party. Many people never understood the Bush administration because they never knew the influence Rushdoony’s reconstructionist theology was exerting on the decision making process.
Eugene writes**** He is utterly mistaken. Rushdoony himself and those who pattern their thought after Rushdoony to any considerable degree never did and do not advocate a takeover of the civil sphere and the forced imposition of a theocracy. You will not find such in the writings of R.J. or his son Mark Rushdoony who continues the ministry of Chalcedon. Chalcedon has and does teach that a reformation at grassroots level is the only way to bring about the rule of God in the earth. Without a righteous people (populace) themselves submitted to God’s law, the imposition of a top down theocracy would be fleeting, if possible at all. It must be the people, who, learning to obey all things whatsoever Jesus has commanded us, raise up from among themselves righteous rulers who understand that man is not allowed to pull law out of thin air (as our current legislature does), but all law must be grounded in the Law of God (Isaiah 8:20). Rushdoony never advocated a revolutionary takeover of civil government. He was, and Chalcedon is, in favor of Christians doing what they can to see God’s law rule wherever possible rather than arbitrary law pulled out of a magician’s hat (that is having no foundation in God’s law which is supreme).
Eugene writes****** Rushdoony did and Chalcedon does believe (I also do so believe) that kings and all authorities are required by God to be subject to God (Psalm 2). (((by the way, as I go along here, many more Scripture references could be added, but for time’s sake, I mention only a few))) Christians are required by God to be in submission to legitimate civil authority, but not to illegitimate authority (Daniel 6:10; 3:16-18; Acts 5:29). Civil government is required to be an extension of God’s righteous rule and compromises its legitimate authority when it rejects the authority of God.
Rushdoony’s theology is a call for Christians to take dominion over all aspects of the federal government and replace it with a theocracy. This is prevalent in the thinking of much of the Republican Party.
Eugene writes****** Not by any means in the way he suggests. Yes, indeed, we believe the righteous should rule, for then the people rejoice (Prov. 29:2). But we believe it would be futile to impose a government by revolt since an unrighteous populace could not long sustain a righteous government.
Eugene writes****** As for Bush seeking to impose a governmental takeover based on Rushdoony’s theology, this is absurd. Rushdoony never taught or called for any such action. (Near the end of his comments, Frank admits as much.)
Eugene writes****** Many Christians assume civil government is a neutral realm, and is therefore not subject to God and his law. This is a mistaken concept. The king (president, legislature) is required to be in submission to God and his law (Psalm 2; Psalm 110). This is what Rushdoony taught and Chalcedon teaches. According to Rushdoony/Chalcedon, civil government is required to subject to God and his law, and Christians ought to strive for this in righteous ways, but not by revolutionary takeover. Rushdoony/Chalcedon understand civil government is a reflection of the populace; we get the government we deserve. When we, the people are righteous, they will raise up righteous government.
Eugene writes******* It would take a book to work out all the implications and to mention all the caveats to clarify. I invite you to read Rushdoony himself: Institutes of Biblical Law; Law and Liberty; Foundations of Social Order and others.
The Postmillennialism popularized by Rushdoony and reconstruction is much different than that held by the Puritans. Postmillennialism today isn’t really postmillennialism, It is actually just an optimistic form of Amillennialism. Both believe the millennial rule of saints and binding of Satan is an allagorical representation of the last days, i.e. NT era. Puritan Postmillennialism teaches that the millennium is a prolonged period of time where Satan’s power in opposing the gospel is limited and the gospel advances exponentially. The first resurrection is the beginning of the 1000 years. The second resurrection is the end of the millennium and the beginning of “Satan’s little season” when the saints will be martyred for their testimony again. Then comes Jesus and final judgment.
Eugene writes******** Rushdoony’s Postmillennialism was no more than a clarification, or working out of the old Princeton theology of men like J. Gresham Machen (Machen started Westminster Theological Seminary after he was kicked out by the liberal takeover of Princeton). The working out/clarification indeed had to do with how do we get there from here. Getting there involves teaching all nations to obey whatsoever Christ has commanded us which includes the law of God (Matthew 5:17) after which civil law ought to be patterned, for the Law of the Lord is perfect, and if they speak not according to it, it is because they have not the beginnings of light, “no dawn” (Psalm 19; Isaiah 8:20). Those nations that order their civil life according to the law of God are wiser than other nations and to be envied (Deut. 4:6).
Since the movement’s emergence in the mid-1960s, Christian Reconstruction has always been a little different from other factions of American conservatism. Not surprisingly, the movement wins attention for Rushdoony’s call for the eventual end of democracy in favor of a Christian theocracy, and his insistence that a “godly order” would enforce the death penalty for homosexuals and those who worship false idols. Unlike Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, Rushdoony wedded his rigid theological perspective with a libertarian perspective that looked outside the boundaries of popular conservatism for answers to the problems facing the United States (recall Jerry Falwell’s Moral Majority and it all begins to make sense).
Eugene writes**** Rushdoony never called “for the eventual end of democracy”. Frank cannot produce one instance in which Rushdoony advocated this. On the contrary, Rushdoony taught that a righteous populace would raise up (chosen democratically; Exodus 18:21) from among themselves, “men who fear God”. With a righteous populace and righteous leaders raised up from among them, the civil government would be looking to the most perfect, righteous, just, merciful law system available, that which comes from the hand of God, and which is summarized in the Ten Commandments, and boiled down further to “Love God, love neighbor.”
Eugene writes**** This not to say that there are not “Reconstuctionists” who have hijacked Rushdoony’s teachings and turned them to their own idea of Christian revolution. Rushdoony should not be found guilty by false association with such as these.
Dominionist theology generally and Christian Reconstruction specifically would not be what they are today without Gary North. When he first met Rushdoony in 1962, the two grew so close that North eventfully married Rushdoony’s daughter, Sharon, in the early 1970s. As Rushdoony’s son-in-law, North proved to be a prolific and able popularizer of Rushdoony’s complex theological ideas. North demonstrated a willingness to reach out across sectarian boundaries in order to engage folks who were not quite as Christian as Rushdoony might have preferred, and directly engaged politically active conservatives, something Rushdoony largely avoided unless he could maintain strict control over their theological allegiances. As a result of his popular appeal and tireless advocacy of the Reconstructionist world-view, one could argue that North did more than any other Reconstructionist short of Rushdoony to reconstruct the world for Christendom.
North worked for the libertarian Volker Fund and the equally libertarian Foundation for Economic Education. So by the time North went to work for Rushdoony’s Chalcedon Foundation in 1973, he was a bona fide veteran of the American libertarian movement. Rushdoony brought him to Chalcedon to research the relationship between biblical law and laissez-faire economics. North threw himself into a project that he has yet to finish. Since 1977 he has spent a minimum of ten hours a week, fifty weeks a year writing a commentary on biblical economics.
North, unlike Rushdoony, believes that the eternal human social institution is the Christian church. In the event of the catastrophic collapse of such transient institutions as the federal government, churches will step into the void left by its implosion. While this view of the emergent, decentralized church is consistent with North’s unique fusion of libertarianism and postmillenarian eschatology, it is sharply at odds with Rushdoony’s view. Rushdoony envisioned the church and family as two separate, exclusive spheres. For Rushdoony the family is the primary social unit while the church represents a limited ecclesiastical organization of believers in Christ. Conversely, North believed men owed their allegiances to a church first and the family second.
Eugene writes**** North and Rushdoony did have a difference in Ecclesiology. Rushdoony was not perfect, neither is North, neither am I, neither is Frank. Rushdoony and North both forged new territory (new to modern Christianity, not to Biblical theology of past centuries). Pioneers are often criticized because they did not do things as well as we can who now walk the road they cleared; we see vistas they made visible by their work. Should we who stand on their shoulders condemn them because they did not get every minutia exactly right? Or because they were not themselves completely sanctified so as to maintain perfect relationships with others?
Like all aspects of Reconstructionist theology, these two perspectives have real-world consequences. When translated into theology, North’s focus on the future role of the church led him to embrace a more active political agenda. Long before North and Rushdoony publicly parted ways, North had already aggressively sought out political influence. In 1976 he worked in Washington, D.C. as a staffer for Texas Representative Ron Paul. After Paul’s defeat, North wrote a testy screed warning Christians that Washington was a cesspool that can’t be changed overnight. He turned his back on national politics and began developing practical tactics for churches to deploy at the grassroots level. Unlike Rushdoony who focused most of his attention on ideas, North explicitly worked to pull together disparate church groups, most notably reaching out to charismatic and Pentecostal congregations in the South in an effort to fuse Reconstructionism’s grassroots activism with committed congregations. When American society collapses under the combined weight of massive foreign debt, military overstretch, and internal decadence, North hopes to have a network of churches ready to step into the breech. In preparation, he has written book after book aimed at educating Christians on how to live debt free, avoid electronic surveillance, and develop the skills necessary for surviving economic collapse. In short, North’s version of Reconstructionism blazed a path for the militia and Christian survivalist groups of the 1990s to follow.
Eugene writes******** My goodness! North is most certainly guilty! – for who in the right mind, would claim to be a Christian and also teach “Christians on how to live debt free, avoid electronic surveillance, and develop the skills necessary for surviving economic collapse”. Again, if others came after North and took his teaching further (unrighteously farther) than North himself, he cannot be held guilty. North indeed blazed a path, but North never advocated a revolutionary militia. However, should Western civilization collapse, we ought to be prepared in some good measure to survive the chaos.
For all their tension, North and Rushdoony did agree on one point: the Kingdom of God would emerge over time. They disagreed on the conditions of this emergence. Rushdoony’s perspective was patient. He argued that over the course of thousands of years God’s grace would regenerate enough people so that a Kingdom of reconstructed men would willingly submit to the strictures of God’s law. North on the other hand constantly warned of impending disaster. At the moment of cataclysmic collapse, Godly men could suddenly step forward and rule. God’s law was therefore a blueprint for reestablishing social order following the collapse of the current secular system. Both men agreed that the invisible hand of God’s grace and not the top-down imposition of authority would guide the process. In theory, men will submit to God’s law voluntarily, leaving no place for a ruling body of theocratic clerics.
Eugene writes********** After falsely accusing Rushdoony of advocating revolutionary demolition of democracy, Frank now says what I have been saying in my response all along. Frank now says, “Rushdoony’s perspective was patient. He argued that over the course of thousands of years God’s grace would regenerate enough people so that a Kingdom of reconstructed men would willingly submit to the strictures of God’s law.” Bravo Frank! That is right!
Of course, in practice, things are much more complicated.
In 1981, North and Rushdoony had a very public falling out and the two never spoke again. This dispute led to a deep rift in the Reconstructionist camp. North initially founded his Institute for Christian Economics (ICE) as a complement to Rushdoony’s Chalcedon Foundation, but following their split North moved his operations to Tyler, Texas, and used ICE to popularize a dissident brand of Reconstructionism and spread its ideas to an ever wider audience. Interestingly, the rift between Rushdoony and North was arguably good for the movement because it led to a vital upsurge in competing publications.
Eugene writes***** “Dissident” by who’s standards? Why is Frank so accusatory? North saw some things differently than Rushdoony and wrote what he believed. But it is a large stretch to suggest North and Rushdoony were theological enemies. “Competing publications” is a good thing since no man has all the truth or is able to see all perspectives. And when a man sees some facet of theology as essential, he must express the difference between his belief and that which he opposes. This does not mean he is necessarily an enemy of the one who holds the other view.
While the short terms gains of the Rushdoony/North split temporarily reinvigorated the movement, a series of three critical setbacks in the 1990s weakened Christian Reconstruction. First, two of the movement’s most promising young theologians, Greg Bahnsen and David Chilton, died suddenly in 1995 and 1997 respectively.
Eugene writes******* The good effects of these two theologians continue today along with their publications, many of which I have on my bookshelf. And if Frank is suggesting that their deaths were the judgment of God for their theology, may I also die the death of the righteous! Bahnsen, not a perfect man, is one of my theological heroes, and I much admire the work of Chilton as well.
Eugene writes********* Postmillennial Reconstructionism is alive and well in American Vision and multitude of other ministries and continues to grow.
Bahnsen in particular had been an important rising star in the movement. His major theological work, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, was widely read and reviewed. Further, Bahnsen was a capable teacher who brought a level of intellectual respectability to Rushdoony’s ideas that few other Reconstructionists have managed. Second, as I noted above, Gary North managed to alienate himself from practically everyone inside and outside of the movement because of his overconfident tone and failed predications of looming societal collapse.
Anyway, this is too long and there’s much more that could be said, but it was a nice trip down memory lane and people I haven’t thought of for many years.
After Dennis read my response above, he wrote back:
Eugene… thanks very much for bringing clarity to Frank’s subjective and brief analysis of Rushdoony’s work. Because you are a scholar who has deeply studied postmillennial theology and Rushdoony’s work and have developed such excellent statements for the International Church Counsel on so many topics, your comments are well taken. It’s clear to me that people don’t read enough to know what and why they believe what they do. Reading Lou Poumakis’ book has spurred me to be more engaged in the discussion. Gary DeMar has many excellent video blogs that I’ve heard a few of lately and they are good too. It seems that many really intelligent people form strong opinions to take sides on complex issues without perfect and complete knowledge. I would rather keep the discussion alive by entertaining all the facts we truly know and help people to weed out assumptions and inaccuracies that are made by casual students of complex topics. If we honor the Bible as inerrant there is no way we can go wrong by reasoning in agreement with those who would try to make the square peg of their preconceptions fit into the round hole of the Word of God.
Another friend wrote:
I just read almost all of your long correspondence with Dennis’ friend Frank, whomever he is.
You did an excellent job, an erudite job defending Rushdoony and team mates.
Someone like Mark [Rushdoony] should probably pin a blue ribbon on your lapel. I was impressed with your input.
There is one small item I think Mark R. would mention if he mentions anything which is this. Both Mark and R.J. make it plain that they view a real, consistent “democracy” as an evil; essentially as mob rule or the dictatorship of the 51%, so R.J. thought of “democracy” as an evil idea.
It looks like God made you to fight theological, philosophical battles. You seem to enjoy it and are generally quite good at it. May God use that gifting for His glory and the advancement of the Kingdom.
And my wife wrote:
I am proud of you Mr. Clingman. I like Papa Jay’s comments that you quite enjoy it and are good at it . You are sure a warrior for the Lord! Go Forth my mighty man in the Lord!
I love you and sure glad married a warrior for Jesus Christ!