Saturday, November 22, 2014

The Fault Lines of Theonomy/Christian Reconstruction [UPDATED]

Posted by Christine Pack

[UPDATED: The debate between Theonomist Joel McDurmon of American Vision and Pastor J.D. Hall of Pulpit and Pen has been completed and can be viewed in its entirety here.]


Have you encountered Christians in your walk who have used confusing language and concepts about "taking dominion" of the earth? Who have talked about having a mandate from God to capture certain designated realms of the culture in order to "reclaim" them for God? Who have talked about the hope of one day on this earth living under a "Theocracy?" If so, you may have been dealing with Christians who are Theonomists, who are sometimes called Dominionists.

Or, have you ever had an encounter with another Christian in which he walked you through a carefully worded Question and Answer script, at the end of which, if you played along, he announced to you that you have been a Theonomist all along, and never knew it?
Do you love God? Answer yes or no.
Do you think His laws are just? Answer yes or no.
Do you think sin should be punished? Answer yes or no.........
Or, have you attempted to have a discussion with a self-proclaimed Theonomist, only to be told that you don't "understand" Theonomy enough in order to comment on it, and that in order to do so, you must first read the 50 volume set of the collected works of Gary North, 25 scholarly articles by Gary DeMar, and four thousand articles by Greg Bahnsen before you are allowed to interact with them? (The reality is that the Christian walk is not Jesus + The Collected Canon of Theonomist Works. All Bible-believing Christians have the right and privilege to interact on any subject at all, even Theonomy. But Theonomists very often come across as seeming to look down their noses at their fellow Christians who are using only the Bible as their reference point.)

If you have ever had an encounter with another Christian that played out like one of the encounters described above, you will find this article helpful. And hopefully, this article will expose how Dominionism, which is a view held by Theonomists, often outworks itself in ways never prescribed by Scripture.

Please note going forward that there are often very varied beliefs among Christians who hold Dominionist views. In this article, I will mention and/or link to Christian Reconstructionism, Patriarchal, Quiverfull, and the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR), even while I understand that these streams and ideologies often vary in many ways. For instance, not all Theonomists will be Christian Reconstructionists, not all Christian Reconstructionists will be Patriarchal, not all Patriarchals will be Quiverfull, not all Quiverfulls will be NARs. However, what undergirds all of these movements or ideologies is their Dominionist worldview, and because of this, there is often a natural dovetailing of ideas between these groups and ideologies. This Dominionist view almost always flows out of the Postmillennial eschatalogical view. But as Pastor Jordan Hall noted in the recent completed Theonomy debate, whenever you've got your eschatology driving your Christian walk, you've got a problem.

So buckle up, because some of this is heavy-sledding, and the mention of movements that on the surface seem widely disparate might cause some short-circuiting in the brain. But hopefully, our readers can see how Dominionism is what is foundational to, and what is driving, these movements and ideological streams.

 Theonomy 

Theocracy is defined as a system of government in which priests (or rulers) rule in the name of God. So a Christian Theonomist would be someone who wants to impose the Old Testament form of civil government upon the world.

Theonomists are Christians who have a misunderstanding of Bible verses which talk about mankind taking physical dominion of the earth. They misunderstand these verses to mean that Christians are meant to take spiritual dominion of the earth, and not just physical dominion. The verses typically used by Theonomist dominionists as proof-texts are Genesis 1:28 and Psalm 8:
"God blessed them and said to them, 'Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.'" (Genesis 1:28) 
"What is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them? You have made themd a little lower than the angels and crowned them with glory and honor. You made them rulers over the works of your hands; you put everything under their feet: all flocks and herds, and the animals of the wild, the birds in the sky, and the fish in the sea, all that swim the paths of the seas." (Psalm 8:4-8)
I have had my own experiences with Christians I know who hold to Dominionist views. Some years back, I began to realize that some friends of mine held some views that I found to be unorthodox, to say the least. They were (are) members of a Presbyterian-PCA church, which is typically closely aligned to the Reformed Baptist view (which my husband and I hold). Some of our friends' views came to light during a conversation, and once I began to understand where they were coming from, I remember saying to the husband, Sooooo, are you saying, we're already in the Millennial Kingdom? and if so, well, have you watched the news lately? His response was, Oh yeah, we're in the Kingdom, and the world will only get better and better through God-given blessings, those being primarily the gospel and the spread of the gospel message, but also through science, medicine and technology. I was processing this statement, when he said the kicker that really got my antennae up: "This is the standard Presbyterian-PCA view." Well, I knew that wasn't true, because my father, who has mentored me for years, has been a Presbyterian-PCA elder for almost 30 years, and I knew for a fact that he did not hold these views.

 Taking Dominion: Physically or Culturally? 

That conversation with my friend sent me on a researching quest over the next decade to find out where these errant views were coming from. And yes, my Dominionist friend also used the scriptures quoted above to "prove" his Dominionist views. It is a big leap, however, to take God's commands for us to subdue the earth to mean that our dominion should include the spiritual realm as well as the physical realm. It is only the physical realm that is explicitly mandated by God for us to control. The fact is that we live in a peculiar time in history in that we don't really even have to think much about taking physical dominion of this earth, due to the fact that those who lived in the past have already done it so successfully for us in previous generations. But taking physical dominion is no small thing. Remember the Laura Ingalls books? Those were hard, perilous times, and those books were written just a little over a hundred years ago. From our perspective today, however, we often struggle to understand the difficulties endured by those in the past in what it meant for them to take dominion. For the most part, we don't ourselves have to personally fend off bears or survive droughts or fight pestilence or battle floods in order to eek out enough food to keep our families alive; we nip out to the grocery store and get all that we need, often with nary a thought to what a luxury such conditions are, and the fact that such luxuries were virtually unknown to the vast majority of humans who have ever lived on this earth throughout history, and are even now only enjoyed by the relatively few numbers of humans today who have the blessing of living in highly industrialized nations.

So what does Dominionism look like today? In the Christian realm, Dominionists typically align themselves with one of two prominent Dominionist movements: (1) the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) or (2) Christian Reconstruction/Theonomy. As noted, the NARs misinterpret the Bible verses above as meaning that they a mandate from God to take spiritual dominion of the earth.  Out of this mistaken belief, the NARs have developed a teaching known as "Joel's Army," an elitist, end-times movement that exhorts families to raise up youth and children to be a "New Breed", who will be the "Manifested Sons of God." The movement has a decidedly militant edge to it, and those in it believe they will raise up a generation who will take back this world for God.

Some of the teaching materials and imagery associated with "Joel's Army"
The NARs have also developed a theology known as the "7 Mountain Mandate" which is also about taking spiritual dominion of this world (rather than simply having physical dominion, which is the biblical mandate) and which names specific areas of the culture they have targeted to reclaim. The realms they have designated are:
1 - Business
2 - Government
3 - Family
4 - Religion
5 - Media
6 - Education
7 - Entertainment 

But flip the Dominionism coin, and you will find Theonomy/Christian Reconstruction, a much more theologically buttoned up form of Dominionism (and the form of Dominionism held by my friends). Leaders of the Christian Reconstruction movement also exert tremendous influence through the Christian homeschooling movement, and through the Patriarchy and Quiverfull movements which often hold the same Dominionist views. Some leaders in the Theonomy/Christian Reconstruction movement include R.J. Rushdoony, Doug Phillips, Joel McDurmon, Gary DeMar, Kenneth Gentry, Greg Bahnsen, Gary North and Doug Wilson. Ministries associated with Theonomy/Christian Reconstruction are American Vision, Crown Rights Media and the now defunct Vision Forum (Vision Forum's president, Doug Phillips, resigned in 2013 due to a moral failure).

Dominionists of the Theonomy/Christian Reconstructionist flavor work very, very hard to distinguish themselves from Dominionists of the New Apostolic Reformation (NAR) variety, the latter with their wackadoodle services where adherents sometimes shake, quiver, bark like dogs, and deceive themselves into believing angel feathers, gold dust and "glory clouds" are manifesting. Christian Reconstructionists eschew all this nonsense, and rightly so. Christian Reconstructionists are also, as previously noted, much more theologically buttoned up and biblically grounded, with some of them being highly regarded, and for good reason, in the Presuppositional Apologetics department (Greg Bahnsen and Sye Ten Bruggencate come to mind here). But like their NAR counterparts, Christian Reconstructionists also believe they have a mandate from God to reclaim the culture, and the world.

Understanding the Theonomy/Christian Reconstructionist views on reclaiming the culture and world helps make sense of why the Reconstructionist views dovetail so well with Patriarchy and Quiverfull views...... got to have lots of babies, you see, through embracing the "quiverfull" teachings (which are based on a misinterpretation of Psalm 127:3-5), if you're going to have any shot at taking Dominion of the world, right? There are of course, as I noted in the opening paragraph, varying views within the Dominionist camp. But they all believe that Christians are supposed to take dominion of the world, with there obviously being various views about how to get there. Theonomists as noted believe and teach that Christians are meant to re-instate the Old Testament civil laws into all the world's governmental structures. These Old Testament laws include the stoning of Sabbath breakers, disobedient children, and unrepentant homosexuals (and yes, you did read that right).

However, the reason we are not under the Old Testament civil laws, and should not seek to place ourselves back under them, is simple: Jesus fulfilled the laws perfectly, all of them, on our behalf. And thus, we're no longer bound by the Old Testament civil and ceremonial laws, but only the moral Law, which is a picture of God's character and nature, and thus stands eternally, and which serves for us as believers as a curb and guide in our Christian walks.
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them." (Matthew 5:17) 
"For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes." (Romans 10:4)
In fact, in the book of Romans, Paul teaches that those who live by the Law, will die (and be judged) by the Law.
"All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law." (Romans 2:12)

 Closing Thoughts 

I am of the opinion that the errant views held by these different groups and ideologies flow out of the their eschatalogical view, which is the Postmillennial view, and which posits that we are already in the Millennial Kingdom, i.e., the Kingdom of God, spoken of in Revelation 21. The reason I think that Christian Reconstruction/Theonomy flows out of this eschatology is because it's not a far leap to look around at what (they believe) is the Kingdom of God, recognize what a mess it's in, and extrapolate out that they must roll up their sleeves and start doing their part to make this world look more like God's kingdom, since it is obvious to any observer, saved or lost, that the world is very far from perfection in its current state.

Christian Reconstruction/Theonomy appear to me to be largely (but not entirely) a young person's movement (perhaps a bit of "zeal without knowledge" [Prov 19:2] there?). These young Christian Reconstructionist/Theonomy guys are smart, and passionate, and full of vim and vigor. And while I do appreciate their passion and energy, they come across as seeming to think the Christian life is all gleaming swords and prancing horses as they march with flags flying to the sound of trumpets into Christian battle. They are so wrong on this point. Yes, the Christian cause is the most noble of all causes. There's truth there. But the Christian life is hard and bloody and brutal, and they will never emerge from their battles victorious in the way that they think, having taken back this world completely.

And lest we forget, Jesus plainly taught"My Kingdom is not of this world" (John 18:36). If these men, many of whom are young now, get to the end of their lives with their families intact, and their children solid in the faith, with just a few faithful friends who have stayed the course with them, they should consider themselves blessed beyond measure. They will suffer painful persecution in long, drawn out ways they cannot even imagine, persecution that might sometimes make them wish for death (and thus heaven). Let's check back in with those guys in a few years, after the joy of riding into battle has worn off a little, and they have been in the bloody, muddy trenches for many months, even years, and have lost comrades right and left. Perhaps they will feel differently then, after the bloom is off the rose.

There's a reason "Onward Christian Soldiers," a hymn penned during the late 1800s that invoked American triumphalism, was quickly adopted by Christian Reconstructionists. Christian Reconstructionist Kenneth Gentry, who writes for American Vision, also specifically mentions "Onward Christian Soldier" as being representative of the Post-Millennial view in his book He Shall Have Dominion: A Postmillennial Eschatology. There is a majestic, triumphant fervor that comes through loud and clear in that hymn. But Christian Reconstructionists are kidding themselves if they don't realize where their theology ends up. Taken to its ultimate conclusion, it would mean that men (albeit Christian men) would ultimately take over, and rule, this world with Christian virtues. But can we not see the fault line in this thinking? How are Christians, who all must struggle and fight against the remnant of indwelling sin that remains even after conversion, going to rule this world? Who among us has not witnessed ugly church splits even amongst true believers? And what about the silly church splits, over things as mundane as carpet color and music? No, this world will be made right only when Christ returns to make all things new, and that does not include a world rampant with church splits, spiritual abuse, wars, sex trafficking, corrupt politicians, broken families, drug and alcohol abuse, disease, death and sorrow.
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” (Revelation 21:1-5)

 Additional Resources 

The Errors of Theonomy - Part 1 (J.D. Hall, Pulpit and Pen)

The Errors of Theonomy - Part 2 (J.D. Hall, Pulpit and Pen)

Theonomy Debate Between Theonomist Joel McDurmon and Pastor J.D. Hall

Kingdom Now? Cultures Being Redeemed? No and no. (Sola Sisters)

Brother's Keeper.....Some of the Problems With Theonomists (Fred Butler, Hip and Thigh)

Reactions To Theonomy: A Collaborative Post (Len Pettis, Pulpit and Pen)

Judicial Warfare: The Christian Reconstruction Movement and its Blueprints for Dominion (critique by former Christian Reconstructionist Greg Loren Durand)

Theonomy: A Reformed Baptist Assessment (Sam Waldron)

What Is Dominionism? (Derek Gilbert interviews Sarah Leslie of Herescope, beginning at 1:08:00 mark)
A Biblical Examination of the Dominion Mandate and the Christian Reconstruction Movement (Bob DeWaay)

Moses' Law for Modern Government: The Intellectual and Sociological Origins of the Christian Reconstructionist Movement (Ligon Duncan)

Christian Reconstructionist Leader Doug Phillips of Vision Forum Resigns, Cites Moral Failure [UPDATED]

Doug Phillips, Repentance and Justice (Sola Sisters)

Hall of Shame: Doug Phillips and Vision Forum (Mennoknight)

Rethinking Vision Forum

How God Saves Us In Christ (And Why Legalism Can't Help Us) (Pastor Jeff Crippen)

Why The Law Cannot Sanctify (Romans 7:5-6) (Pastor Kevin Williams)


 Bible Thumping Wingnut Radio Show 

J.D. Hall's Discusses His Debate With Theonomist Joel McDurmon

Reflecting On The Theonomy Debate / Social Media Conduct

Previewing The Upcoming Theonomy Debate


 Secular Articles About Patriarchy/Quiverfull 

When Having Kids Is A Religious Experience (ABC News)

Quiverfull: More Children For God's Army (Newsweek writer Kathryn Joyce)

Inside the Duggar Family's Conservative Ideology (Newsweek, Kathryn Joyce)


 Miscellaneous Resources 

What Is The New Apostolic Reformation? (And Why Should We Be Concerned About It?)

Signs and Wonders Training Camp for Kids? (Stand Up For The Truth)

A Tale of Two Kingdoms (Stand Up For The Truth)

Pastor Carl Trueman: Concerns With Quiverfull/Patriarchy (Sola Sisters)

R.C. Sproul Jr Says that the Scandal of Josh Duggar Having Had An Ashley Madison Account Is None of Our Business - Then Responds When his Own Visit to the Ashley Madison Site is Discovered (RC Sproul Jr website)

Ligonier Suspends R.C. Sproul Jr Over Ashley Madison Adultery Website Visit (Christianity Today)

In-Depth Discussions of Patriarchy with Author and Christian Researcher Karen Campbell:
⁃ Quiverfull/Patriarchy, Part I (9 radio programs) 
⁃ Quiverfull Patriarchy, Part II (14 radio programs) 
⁃ Militant Fecundity (Aggressively Raising Up A "Christian Army") vs. Seeing Children As A Blessing (4 radio programs) 
What Are The Quiverfull and Patriarchy Movements? (Got Questions?)