This past week there has been some discussion about Van Til and his worldview and whether it was more in line with Christian Reconstructionism and theonomy than previously thought, or (more to the point) whether his privately held views were a true reflection of his stated positions of amillennialism and an apolitical Christianity.
Joel McDurmon talks about this in his two articles:
Cornelius Van Til’s ‘Spirit of Reconstruction’
When Van Til Got Crazy Political
‘Spirit of Van Tillianism”
Lots of Reformed Christians consider themselves spiritual heirs of Van Til. The Reformed world and evangelical Christianity owe him an enormous debt for his path-breaking work that established the philosophical framework for what would later become “presuppositional apologetics.”
Likewise, the philosophical and exegetical framework for Christian Reconstruction would never have gotten off the ground without his pioneering efforts.
So, why is it that Reformed Christians who embrace the philosophical and epistemological views of Van Til are loathe to embrace similarly held views when they are expressed by Christian Reconstructionists?
By Which Double Standard?
At their core, are they really that much different? In their expression, yes, perhaps. But not in their presuppositions.
Christian Reconstruction as espoused and promulgated by Rushdoony, North, Bahnsen, Chilton, et al., was a radical departure from conventional Christian thought — even Reformed Christian thought — at the time (mid-1960s). But it was based squarely on the philosophical foundations of Van Til.
To paraphrase the old adage from the Reformation:
Rushdoony and North hatched the egg that Van Til laid.
The Greatness of the Great Commission
The title of Dr. Kenneth Gentry’s excellent book leads us to the larger issue at hand, and really puts our mandate as believers and followers of Christ into perspective: our commission as the body of Christ in the world is to take the Gospel to all peoples and all nations and to make disciples of all nations, teaching them to observe all things whatsoever Christ has commanded.
Modern evangelical Christians until the 1980s have sought to keep this a personal, private, home-based matter. Fundamentalism institutionalized the thinking: “Save souls, not cultures!” That is beginning to change.
But “making disciples” doesn’t simply mean making more church-goers and Bible-readers.
It means a Holy-Spirit-caused radical transformation that begins at the bottom and works its way up. It starts out individually, privately, but it ends up collectively, publicly. Transformed lives leading to transformed families. Transformed families leading to transformed communities and transformed societies. Then, transformed cultures, transformed nations and, ultimately, a transformed world.
Isn’t this what we are supposed to be striving for and praying for (“thy kingdom come, on earth as it is in heaven”) (“Go ye into all the world…”)? Should that not be the earnest desire of our Christ-loving, Holy-Spirit-converted hearts for our fallen race, a humanity comprised of many of our fellow sinners yet-to-be-saved by grace?
You would think so.
Theonomy and Reconstruction: A Reformed Response
R. C. Sproul, Jr. has weighed in on this topic of Christian Reconstruction vs. biblical Reformation and the Great Commission before:
Let’s begin with what we all ought to agree on- that discipling the nations and teaching them to obey whatsoever Christ commanded should include some understanding of the Lordship of Christ over the cultural and political spheres. Jesus is bringing every enemy under captivity, causing every knee to bow, including the knees of princes, judges and kings who will not kiss Him, who will not acknowledge Him as Lord.
No argument there. He then asks:
So how do we make known the reign of Christ over all things? We begin by bringing our own sinful natures under submission.
No argument there. That is where all true ‘reconstruction’ must begin.
He concludes with this:
What we are called to is neither to huddle in the corner because Jesus is coming back tomorrow, nor to hang out in back rooms cutting deals to hurry His return. Instead we ought to be about our own callings, raising up godly seed, voting for and supporting honest and honorable candidates that submit to the Lordship of Christ. Is this reconstruction, or is this faithful stewardship of our time? Is this reconstruction, or is this seeking first the kingdom of God? Is this reconstruction, or is this making visible the invisible reign of Christ over all things? In the end, it doesn’t much matter what you call it. We are to obey Christ, to train up our children to do the same. This is loving your neighbor and this will change the world. (emphasis added)
Nine days after posting that, he reposted another article that had been published two years prior, which was even more amicable to Christian Reconstruction. It ended with this kind word of solidarity:
Theonomists, like the rest of us, long to see justice in the political realm. They long to see the nations discipled. They long to see the kingdom made manifest. They long to see every knee bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Who, within His kingdom, could ever argue with that?
Sproul 2.0 (“Did I Really Say That?”)
More recently, however, Sproul seems to have lost his spirit of solidarity with theonomists and reconstructionists in a podcast and an accompanying article.
It is chock-full of back-handed compliments, like these:
These good folks have the wisdom to not be embarrassed by the Law of God. Every time somebody tries to discredit the Bible stance on sodomy, based on its stance on slavery, unlike the rest of the Christians, these guys don’t blush. They’re perfectly comfortable with slavery because they aren’t slaves to popular opinion. This movement, sometimes called Theonomy, sometimes called Reconstructionism, is the stuff of nightmares to the liberal left. These guys are well-educated, articulate, and medieval.
I see. Well-educated, articulate, and medieval.
No matter. What Sproul said in his previous two articles stands as sufficient testimony to the general agreement that exists between what “Christian Reconstructionists” want for the world and what other Bible-believing Christians want.
“WHAT DO WE WANT?” A redeemed and reformed world. If not for ourselves, at least for our children and their children and their childrens’ children.
“WHEN DO WE WANT IT?” Later! (After Jesus comes back bodily to fulfill the responsibilities of His church–right after we are air-lifted out of the global mess we left behind!)
This is where premillennialists and postmillennialists part company.
They’re looking for the lifeboats. We’re building a whole new shipping company!
But Sproul sounds far more in congruence with the latter group in his eschatology than the former. For that we are grateful.
This, friends, is the very progress of history, the making of God’s enemies into his footstool. And this is the very trajectory of history. Here we are told, not that things must get really bad before He comes again, but that they must get really good. He is now at the right hand of the Father, there He will stay until all His enemies are defeated. I confess that I don’t know exactly what this will look like, it won’t mean that everyone on the planet will serve Christ. It won’t mean that there will be no more sin and no more death. That will await his final return. But it does mean this, that every pretender to the throne of Christ will be brought low.
At least he is laboring — grudgingly alongside his theonomist provocateurs — toward the same worthy goal.
Is Biblical Christianity ‘Reconstructionist’?
Let’s take the familiar critics’ question and turn it around.
It is a fair question: “Is Christian Reconstruction ‘Biblical’?”
So we ask the converse of it: “Is Biblical Christianity ‘Reconstructionist’?”
An equally fair question.
Let’s wrap up this article by asking and answering it.
Does biblical Christianity see history as the progress of Christ’s kingdom on earth advancing before He returns? In other words, is it optimistic about the future before His Second Advent?
Do fish swim?
Does biblical Christianity see all of Scripture as self-authenticating and the inviolable basis for presupposing that ALL of its utterances and pronouncements are true, and that it is the authoritative rule and standard over ALL of life and ALL people and places at ALL times, by which ALL things are judged?
Do birds have feathers?
Does biblical Christianity see the Gospel as a comprehensive message of salvation to be preached to ALL the world, so that MANY souls (collectively and individually) may be saved and many cultures redeemed, to the glory of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit?
Do cows give milk?
Is biblical Christianity a faith that is intended to affect everything in our lives and in our world, for good and for God’s glory?
Are these questions obviously rhetorical (and the answers self-evident)?
An Informed Response
So, the next time somebody asks you, “Is Christian Reconstruction ‘biblical’?”, or they tell you that it isn’t biblical, ask them if they know what reconstructionists really want.
Tell them they want the same thing that all Bible-believing Christians around the world want.
A world won for Christ, the redemption of Adam’s fallen race, and the coming (and growth and advancement and ultimate victory) of His Kingdom!