A New Resource for Studying Reformed Theology and the Works of David Chilton

The Rev. David Harold Chilton Center for Reformed Theology

Hallelujah!

There’s a newly formed organization and a new online resource out now that is dedicated to promoting biblical Reformed theology and the rich pastoral and exegetical legacy of the late Rev. David H. Chilton.

It is aptly named the Rev. David Harold Chilton Center for Reformed Theology.

I wanted to bring it to your attention because this is exactly the kind of online resource we’ve been needing to preserve, promote, build upon and share with succeeding generations the very important foundational and seminal work that Chilton produced before his untimely death in 1997 at the age of 45.

For those of you who are familiar with and appreciate the invaluable contributions Chilton made to the early Christian Reconstruction movement and the furthering of the church’s understanding of historic orthodox biblical theology from a Reformed perspective — and to defending that perspective against anti-biblical encroachments from both “conservative” as well as liberal persuasions — this is a very welcome development!

I am excited about what this will bring to the body of Christ in terms of making the exemplary literary and pastoral fruits of Chilton’s two decades of work more readily available to a much wider audience than ever before.

The website that has been created for this purpose is still in its early stages.  But it is already showing tremendous potential in its use of the technology of the World Wide Web to, in its words, “cultivate the Chiltonian legacy in theology, liturgical arts, eschatology, and economics” and to “make the collections [of his work] accessible” to those in ministry, the academic world and to the general public.

You can visit it here.

All of Chilton’s books will be made available via download.  Audio files will feature many of his recorded sermons and lectures.   Topics will range from baptism to eschatology to worship to economics.  Articles that he wrote for the various publications and periodicals over the years will also be posted.

An example of one his audio sermons and lectures is this one on baptism.

Rev. David H. ChiltonAs I have previously written, Chllton’s legacy is one of an energetic and eminently intelligent biblical expositor and pastor who had a rare gift for taking profound and sometimes controversial theological themes and making them vivid and powerful and at the same time understandable and quite simple to grasp.  He spoke and wrote conversationally with sincerity and clarity rather than academic or rhetorical obscurity.

All of his books and articles reflect that unique ability.   We’ll continue to post occasionally here some of the articles that he wrote for ICE and Dr. Gary North.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of reading any of David Chilton’s excellent and very enjoyable, insightful and edifying books like Paradise Restored, The Days of Vengeance, The Great Tribulation or Productive Christians, or listening to his highly instructive audio messages, this is your opportunity to find them all in one place, “under one roof” and at your fingertips, so that you can begin a rather satisfying intellectual and spiritual journey towards biblically sound doctrine and a scripturally solid reassurance that, in Christ Jesus and through the covenant promises of His Gospel, your present and your future as well as the present and future of this world are in very good hands!

I commend the contributors to this project for their commitment to undertaking such a highly desirable and godly educational enterprise.

Thanks to all of you!  (And a special thank you to Mr. Steve Macias.)

A “biblical theology of dominion” and an eschatology of hope and victory — all of which Chilton wrote about eloquently and compellingly — are exactly the kind of legacy and spiritual and temporal inheritance that Christians everywhere need to recapture, rediscover and reclaim, to fully execute the Gospel mandate in America and around the world.  This new work is one more in our arsenal of Spirit-empowered, covenantally sanctioned and scripturally defined tools to do that.

Is the ‘New Calvinism’ Really Calvinism–or Is It Just ‘Five-Point Evangelicalism’?

New Calvinist Montage

Forgive me if I don’t seem to be enamored with the new “emerging” breed of Calvinists that has cropped up and become all the rage in Reformed and conservative evangelical circles during the past 7-10 years.  And forgive me if I dismiss them as five-point evangelicals and ‘sovereign-grace antinomians.’  But, frankly, based on what I have seen over the last few years, that is how I perceive them.

Don’t get me wrong.  I’m glad that the term ‘Calvinist’ now carries less of the baggage and unwarranted stigma of “cold, narrow, non-evangelistic” and even “heartless” Christianity that it did in the bad old days prior to the mid-to-late-20th-century revival of interest in the Puritans and Puritan theology.  The Genevan Reformer and ‘prince of commentators’ has been much maligned and maliciously slandered for too many years by too many “Bible-believing” Christians.

What I am not glad to see is that what is being passed off to the Christian public as “new Calvinism” — i.e., a badly-needed update and remix of the “old” Calvinism — appears to me to be really just a thin veneer of Reformed doctrine applied to the existing populist hull of American evangelicalism.

The first time I heard about “New Calvinism,” was probably only about three years ago when I was doing some online searching for a Reformed theological topic.  I don’t remember exactly what the topic was, but I know it had something to do with Calvinism (and probably eschatology).  I came across a TIME magazine article from 2009 that mentioned New Calvinism as one of the “10 Ideas Changing the World Right Now.”  Seemed like a bit of really good news at the time.

Finally! The legacy of John Calvin is getting its due.  The recognition, vindication and audience it deserves — and in a venerable old “mainstream media” outlet like TIME.  At last, the seeds sown by 20th-century purveyors of predestination, election and TULIP-driven theology were starting to sprout amongst the newest generation of younger Christians.  “Generation C.”  Finally, rampant evangelical Arminianism had met its cultural and ecclesiastical match.  Score one for our side!

But, alas, that sense of elation, gratification and vindication was short-lived.  At least for me.  Once I became more aware and more familiar with what some of the ‘New Calvinists’ were teaching and preaching (and in some instances, how they were preaching it) — given the more holistic covenantal Calvinism, theonomic-postmillennial-Reconstructionist theology and historic Reformed doctrine and creedal confessions that I subscribe to — I became more uncomfortable and less enchanted with the latent anti-Calvinist, antinomian and quasi-biblical aspects of it.

No small, cultish phenomenon, this.  It has caught on like wildfire in some Reformed and evangelical churches.   It has taken the Southern Baptist Convention by storm.  (And not a perfect one, either.)  It has found its way into ‘conservative’ Reformed and Presbyterian denominations.  It has opened up a whole new market for charismatic continuationist theology!  And it has resulted in a lot of ‘young, restless and reformed’ Christians packing non-traditional churches to hear “unchurchy” sermons preached by “unchurchy” pastors, and worship to “unchurchy” music.

What’s Going On Here?

I have first-hand experience with some of the changes wrought by New Calvinism as it finds its way into the sanctuaries, pews and pulpits (the “DNA”) of otherwise Reformed-Calvinist churches.  Some of the changes are more architectural and visual rather than doctrinal.  But they are subtle (and some not so subtle) and unmistakable.

First, the pews get taken out.  (That’s so Old Calvinist!)  Upgrading to the new, plastic, fold-up chairs.  Out with those warm, inviting community and family-friendly benches.  In with the new, individualistic, one-size-fits-all, pack-em-in-like-sardines-for-Jesus theater seats!

Then the accoutrements of traditional Christianity get removed, especially well-lit worship spaces.  Replaced by dark, spooky, theater-like venues with all sorts of lighting effects to “enhance” the worship experience.  LOUD, pulsing musical numbers combined with soft, sentimental ballads played by talented and gifted folks who transform every worship service into a garage-band, ultra-casual, youth-group-style performance.  An occasional hymn, updated, for old time’s sake.  “A” for effort, guys (and gals).  But, whatever happened to being offered a choice between “contemporary” and “traditional” worship?

But What Are They Teaching?

Well, they’re not teaching Calvinism, that’s for sure.  At least not Calvin’s Calvinism, in my opinion.

Oh, there’s talk about God’s sovereignty, grace, the depravity of man, the holiness of God, authority of the Bible, power of the Holy Spirit, transformative impact of the Gospel, etc..  Generic Calvinism.  But beyond that, what’s missing is the full-orbed, rich and all-encompassing theology of historic Calvinism.  The “new” version is more of a truncated, boiled-down mixture of pietism, TULIP soteriology (with a few bulbs missing) and mainstream evangelical-cultural accommodation, and a heaping helping of doctrinal ecumenism.

A Case in Point

Here is what one of New Calvinism’s pastoral frontmen, Mark Driscoll, had to say when commenting on that TIME magazine article:

New Calvinism Vs. Old Calvinism

FOUR WAYS ‘NEW CALVINISM’ IS SO POWERFUL

  1. Old Calvinism was fundamental or liberal and separated from or syncretized with culture. New Calvinism is missional and seeks to create and redeem culture.
  2. Old Calvinism fled from the cities. New Calvinism is flooding into cities.
  3. Old Calvinism was cessationistic and fearful of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. New Calvinism is continuationist and joyful in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.
  4. Old Calvinism was fearful and suspicious of other Christians and burned bridges. New Calvinism loves all Christians and builds bridges between them.

http://theresurgence.com/2009/03/12/time-magazine-names-new-calvinism-3rd-most-powerful-idea

Now, go back and read through those four points again, slowly…

Is it just me or is this just a REALLY misinformed and badly distorted misrepresentation of “Old” vs. “New” Calvinism?

“Old Calvinism was fundamental or liberal.” “Separated from or syncretized with culture.”  “Fearful of the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.”    

“New Calvinism is missional” “Seeks to create and redeem culture” “… is joyful in the presence and power of the Holy Spirit”

“New Calvinism loves all Christians and builds bridges between them.” 

“Old Calvinism was fearful and suspicious of other Christians and burned bridges.”

Huh?

A better name for this would be, “Four-Point ANTI-Calvinism”!  Historically inaccurate and theologically misleading about what it claims to be a resurgence of.

In the short time that New Calvinism has been with us, it has stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy and interest.  Its leaders have become household names (and lightning rods) in their own right among “Bible-believing” Christians around the world.  Besides Mark Driscoll, there is Albert Mohler, C.J. Mahaney, Tim Keller, and of course, New Calvinism’s “senior pastor,” John Piper, and others.  Obviously, these men have all had very good and quite biblical things to say about any number of issues over the years.  But there have also been some troubling aspects to their teachings and beliefs — publicly stated and publicly propagated, which means it is perfectly legitimate and valid to criticize them and ‘call them out’ on it in public — things which should dismay a good number of you, and ought to otherwise undermine some of their credibility and “disqualify” them from occupying their lofty perches as peerless, unassailable fonts of theological knowledge, as many conservative and Reformed Christians hold them out to be.

What Would Calvin Do?

‘New Calvinism’ has gained such a foothold and garnered such a sizable audience and made its formidable presence known in such a big way across the evangelical and Reformed landscape during the past decade, that I think I may take a closer look at it in future posts.

I’m just a layman.  And I’ve got no “dog in the hunt” here.  And I may be completely off-base in my impressions and my analysis.  But I just wanted to share my two cents’ worth and voice my personal perspective on this.  As a Calvinist and as a Reconstructionist.

You Can Lead a Horse to (Reconstructionist) Water, But You Can’t Make Him THINK It

Boys Pushing & Pulling Stubborn Mule

Someone on Gary North’s discussion forums this past week posted that he had recently “converted” to Christian Reconstructionism from premillennial dispensationalism.  This, of course, now makes him a contrarian in almost every sense of the word.  He said he is now the only member of his circle of family and friends to hold this position theologically and eschatologically.

His dilemma (and his question) is this: how to persuade members of his family and at least some of his friends that their position is wrong and his position is right?  Ah, yes…

“How to Lose Friends and INFURIATE People!”

Hmmm.  Sounds like a similar dilemma and question when one becomes a new, evangelically-born Christian.  Suddenly, you have (by God’s grace) awakened from a deep spiritual slumber.  You’ve been raised from the dead and rescued from certain everlasting damnation, and given new life and a new purpose.  You feel (and think) like a new man.  That’s because you are.  You know you have a truth that is THE truth (and not just “your” truth.)  The Gospel becomes like a fire shut up in your bones. You can’t keep it to yourself.  You have to tell others.  You want to tell EVERYBODY within earshot.  JESUS is LORD and Savior and King!  Believe in Him and be saved, too. Have peace with God, forgiveness of sins, everlasting life and joy and fellowship with all the redeemed in Christ and joy and peace and radiant and abundant personal fulfillment in spite of your evergreen and enduring Adamic affinities in this life, and so much more.

Who wouldn’t want that?

Well, my fellow Calvinistic, sovereign-election-embracing, total-depravity-acknowledging Christian, not everybody!

In the same way that non-Christians whom God has not been pleased to grant an irresistible attraction to the Gospel of grace in Christ are not all that interested or enthused by your new-found, let-me-tell-you-all-about-what-God-did-for-me-through-His-Son-Jesus “fanaticism,” likewise, non-Reconstructionists, whom God has not been pleased to grant — well, anyway — who are not only not interested in your new-found, “unorthodox,” borderline-heretical, overly optimistic, evangelically-incorrect belief system and worldview, they are incensed by it.

You have gone to the dark side.  You have defected from the safe haven of Rapture-and-tribulation-focused, eschatologically emasculated, piously pessimistic, conservative, culturally-defeatist, evangelical Christianity.

In other words, you’ve been a BAD boy!

At least, that’s how it looks when they are in the majority and you are in the minority — a teensy-weensy (but slowly growing) minority.  Their sense of validation and biblical superiority is based solely on the fact that they outnumber you.  Their favorite Bible teachers and preachers all teach some form of pietism-premillennialism-dispensationalism.  All the Christian radio and TV stations they tune into teach it. Probably, their pastors all teach and preach it.  Therefore, most (if not all) of their Christian friends — and relatives — believe it.  Therefore, it MUST be true.

For the most part, folks who hold to dispensationalism do so because that’s been the prevailing alternative to the anemic amillennialism of most reformed, liturgical protestant and Roman Catholic churches.

Regardless of what tradition you came out of, when you become a “Bible-believing” conservative evangelical or mainline pentecostal committed to biblical inerrancy, premillennial dispensationalism is pretty much what you are expected to believe — otherwise, you’re a LIBERAL!

And even if you’re a dedicated, conservative Calvinist, chances are you’ve shed dispensationalism and adopted a more robust covenantalism, but you have still retained the pessimistic eschatology of premillennialism (i.e., Satan reigns now, Jesus will reign later).

The Question

Anyway, here is the question, verbatim, posted by this person:

I was recently “converted” to the reconstructionist/postmillennial view of Scriptures. I am the only only person in my family who holds this viewpoint. All of my family and Christian fellowship from the past are the dispensational types. For the most part they are all heavily invested into thinking about the “end times.”

I am not really one who likes to debate and argue, but at the same time, I do not like seeing them being affected by this subtle (or sometimes not so subtle) worldview of defeat. Most of them are just “hunkering down” and waiting for Christ to return. They have no ambitions for productivity. They wouldn’t say that, but that’s how they live.

What are some good ways to be an influence on my family and friends in trying to help them see the hope that is in the Reconstructionist view of scripture and life? What are some good questions to ask to get them thinking about their assumptions?

The Answer

Here is Gary’s answer.  Pay close attention to the action steps prescribed here.  They can be applied to virtually any situation where you hold to a certain set of beliefs and the majority of people around you hold to another.  He does not say to marshall your forces to do intellectual and rhetorical battle with your ideological (but not spiritual) foes.  Rather, he says, put your theology where your mouth is.  That includes your eschatology.  Live it out so that others — especially the ones you’re trying to persuade and hoping to convince — can and WILL see the real, visible difference that it makes.

Hunkering down is the preferred way of life for the vast majority of people. This will not change. It’s Pareto’s law: the ineffective 80%.

You perceive that their eschatology is a root cause of their lack of initiative. But is it? It may be the other way around. They are just normal people, hunkered down, and their eschatology comforts them. It tells them that this is all they should expect. You want to take this excuse away from them. You will encounter resistance. If you are not rich or famous, they will say to themselves: “What does he know?” What is your answer?

So, the best way to handle this is by word and deed.

First, achieve some obvious success.

Second, produce materials that show how you did it. This includes your views on eschatology. Write a short a book on eschatology and success. Explain why eschatology does not promote or justify a lack of success. Aim this book at somebody who is about 15 years old. Do not target your relatives. Your relatives do not want to hear it. Your relatives do not want to be reminded by you that they are underachievers due to their eschatology. Publish this book by print-on-demand.

Third, produce a series of video lessons that could be used in a Sunday school. Explain your position. Post these on YouTube. I recommend a 12-week series of lessons, each about 25 minutes long. Use a screencast program to do it, with a presentation graphics program such as the one in Libre Office. Buy a good lapel microphone. Buy a good webcam for $70 or so.

Fourth, set up a WordPress.com site. Post the videos on the site as embeds.

This way, when somebody asks you what you believe, hand him a book, and then hand him a short link created by Bitly.com or TinyURL.com that takes the person to your video series on eschatology. If the person is interested, he can find out what you believe at his own pace. He can listen, review it, or ignore it. He does not have to listen to you tell him face to face.

He listens to you teaching teenage kids, which is a completely different positioning. He does not feel threatened. You are not targeting him because he is a failure. You are targeting young people to help them not become failures. The positioning is completely different. Everybody wants kids to be successful. It is just that few people want to pay the price personally to be successful and to be a role model for kids. He expects his own kids to do what he has not done, despite the fact that he has taught his kids erroneously.

If you are positioning the materials to help teenagers do better in their lives, it is very difficult for anyone to criticize you. Ignore your relatives. Why? Because they surely ignore you. Treat them in exactly the same way. Target a completely different audience, and then, if a few of your relatives are curious about what you have been doing, you can hand them the book and a link to your blog site, which has your YouTube videos embedded in it.

Again, there’s no strategy of full-spectrum theological dominance here.  Just a practical program of, “Don’t tell me, show me!”

To subscribe to Gary North’s website, click HERE!)

Forum question and answer reprinted by permission.

The Reconstruction of the Church

Reconstruction of the Church book cover

Looking for a good book on how to reform the church?  Here’s one to start with.  This is a 28-year old volume published (1985) by the old Geneva Ministries of Tyler, Texas, called The Reconstruction of the Church, part of a series called Christianity and Civilization. It was edited by James B. Jordan.

It is a symposium that was held on this topic, the fruits of which are this series of essays written by some of the leading figures in the early years of the Christian Reconstruction movement, dealing with the theme of the Church and its mission and role within the context of society and the modern culture.

The essays are provocative, illuminating, and really do represent the broad range of opinion that has always characterized the movement–no monolithic band of biblical ideologues, this bunch!

James B. Jordan, Peter J. Leithart, Gary North, Ray Sutton, David Chilton and George Grant all contributed along with other lesser known reconstructionists, Lewis Bulkeley, James Michael Peters, Marion Luther McFarland and Jim West.

If you’re familiar with the work of most of these men, you know what gifted writers, teachers and thinkers they are.  And each of the chapters in this book is its own self-contained monograph on its respective topic.  Great reading!

The book is divided into four sections:

PART I: THE CHURCH IN DISARRAY

PART II:RECONSTRUCTING CHURCH GOVERNMENT

PART III: RECONSTRUCTING WORSHIP

PART IV: RECONSTRUCTING MISSION

The essays all have intriguing titles like, “Church Music in Chaos,” “Clothing and Calling,” Culture, “Contextualization and the Kingdom of God.”   Some are historical: “Revivalism and American Protestantism,” “The Church in an Age of Democracy.”  Some are theological/expositional: “The Marriage Supper of the Lamb.”  And some are a whimsical allegory driving home a larger, powerful point: “Conversations with Nathan.”

The shared conviction of what this collection represents is best summed up in Jordan’s introduction, where he says that there are three principles (“pedagogies”) that need to be at the heart of any real reformation, beginning with the Church: true government (discipline/boundaries), true worship (sacramental liturgy/ritual) and true teaching (doctrine/instruction).

The perspective of the organizers of this symposium is that the reconstruction of the Church requires the reestablishment of all three of these pedagogies… When these things are recovered by the Church, since judgment begins at the house of God, they will also be recovered by society at large. The Church is the nursery of the Kingdom, and there can be no reformation in state, school, or family, until there is reformation in the Church.

Man’s problems are indeed religious, but religion is not just theology, and man’s problem is not just bad theology. Religion is also the discipline of ritual and the restraining virtue of court-enforced boundaries. There must be recovery in all three areas, or there will be recovery in none.

Nothing in this book is pietistic, contemplative or introspective.  All of the essays are powerfully written, practical and forthright, with an appropriate mixture of humor with intense, relentless candor about the graveness and importunity of the subject at hand: the mission of the Church of Jesus Christ in the world to the unconverted and the lost, and the faithful advancement of God’s kingdom and God’s principles implemented in time and in history on earth.

In Part I, James B. Jordan addresses what he calls “the present mess” that he sees in the American Protestant church, with its “anti-ecclesiastical piety.”  Lewis E. Bulkeley talks about church renewal biblically applied to ailing congregations.  Peter J. Leithart discusses how revivalism, despite its positive impact, has undermined our biblical conception of the Church.

Part II is on church government.  Ray R. Sutton defines it and talks about its role in handling church schisms.  Gary North argues for preserving the integrity of the church through “two-tiered” membership.  Jim West talks about the role of excommunication as a curative tool for preserving the health of the ecclesiastical body.

Part III covers worship.  David Chilton crafts a witty and fictitious dialogue between himself and his young son, exposing the liturgical shortcomings and infelicities that he finds in a typical, contemporary American evangelical church service.  Ray R. Sutton discusses formality and informality in worship, and defends the argument for clerical garb as a biblically and historically warranted expression of the minister’s calling.  Gary North draws the theological-biblical parallel between the Lord’s Supper and the Marriage Supper of the Lamb.  James B. Jordan addresses what he terms “the abominable state of music in the church.”  And James M. Peters explores architecture, imagery and symbolism as it relates to liturgy and worship.

In Part IV, on the outward focus of the mission of the Church, George Grant defines biblical charity and what that should look like in the surrounding culture.  And, finally, Marion Luther McFarland posits a biblical-covenantal approach to transforming culture, “liberating” it through the Gospel and sound doctrine taught and applied, as opposed to the standard, theologically liberal way of “contextualizing” Christianity to fit its native, indigenous setting.

There’s something for everyone here–as long as “everyone” is interested in reconstructing and reforming the Church to the glory of God and in accordance with the Scriptures and historic, orthodox, biblical Christianity!

You can download and read this excellent book by clicking here.

So Why Do They Hate Rushdoony’s ‘Institutes of Biblical Law’ So Much?

Biblical-Law stone tables

If you pull out a copy of R. J. Rushdoony’s seminal work, The Institutes of Biblical Law (vol. 1, especially)–that path-breaking, paradigm-shifting, pietism-slaying, antinomianism-busting book which essentially launched the Christian Reconstruction movement into orbit in 1973–and set it in front of your average evangelical, or even Reformed, Bible-believing Christian today, you’re liable to get one of two reactions: (1), “What do I care about ‘biblical law?’ After all, we’re under grace not law!“, or, (2), “Aaagggghhhh! Away with that heretical book!  Take it out of my theologically-prejudiced, Jesus-will-be-here-any-minute-now-so-don’t-confuse-me-with-new-biblical-data-that-I-don’t-agree-with presence.  My pastor warned me about THOSE PEOPLE!”

I’m sure he did.

And that’s the problem.

Theonomy, optimistic, postmillennial eschatology and a Christian’s responsibility to apply his faith (comprised authoritatively in both the Old and New Testaments) in EVERY area of life–including politics and culture–are, even now, “foreign” concepts in many Christian circles.  And even though they continue to gain a hearing in some churches and a following among more biblically and historically enlightened Christians, these and other ideas and concepts garnered from the vast mother lode of Christian Reconstructionist resources are still among the undesirable “stones” that are routinely rejected by the “builders” of Christ’s kingdom since the last century.

This is from Martin G. Selbrede at Chalcedon Foundation.  It is the feature article in the Jan./Feb. edition of their official publication, Faith for All of Life.  He discusses the impact that Rushdoony’s Institutes and its teachings on biblical law have had over the years and are having in certain churches and among certain Christians, and why it is having that impact.

Get into a comfortable chair, maybe get a little something hot to drink, and savor what Martin–that is, Mr. Selbrede–has to share with you.

You’re going to like this!

———————————————

Another Rejected Stone

By Martin G. Selbrede
Men invariably find themselves on the wrong side of the great reversals wrought by God. The things men regard highly, He esteems lightly. He uses the simple to confound the wise, and the weak to overcome the strong. The stone the builders reject becomes the chief cornerstone (Ps. 118:22, Matt. 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17). While this particular scripture involves the rejection of the Messiah, it nonetheless establishes a general mode of behavior that Christians seem dead set on repeating. Christian leaders building the edifice of evangelical Christianity for the last half-century have been quick to refuse many stones they’ve deemed to be unsuitable building materials for God’s Kingdom.

For good reason did the translators of the King James Version select the term refuse to express the builders’ attitude to the stone that God intends for “the head stone of the corner” in Psalm 118:22.  God’s people treated the Lawgiver the same way they treated His laws. Our contemporary misconceptions concerning His law are legion, so much so that when God asks “How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws,” we are certain this was uttered some time after the law was delivered on Sinai. But it was not. God asks this in Exodus 16:28, months prior to the “official” delivery of the law (“official” as determined by the reigning builders leading our churches and seminaries).1

Small wonder that in an age when the great things of God’s law are esteemed a strange thing (Hosea 8:12) we end up traveling across the country with an unsettling message to our fellow Christians: everything you know about the law of God is wrong.

If God’s law has fallen on tough times in our antinomian age, it should be no surprise to find that proponents of God’s law are refused by the builders as well. When R. J. Rushdoony wrote The Institutes of Biblical Law, the book quickly joined the ranks of refused stones. In affirming this, we’re not ascribing canonical status to this imperfect work by an imperfect man, nor equating his book with Scripture, nor identifying its author with the Author above all authors. Nonetheless, the importance of this particular work can hardly be overstated.

The cynics among the builders will be quick to impugn our motives here as self-serving: “You’re promoting that book because you publish it!” No, we don’t publish it. It is published by Presbyterian & Reformed. We draw attention to it because it benefits the Kingdom of God to do so, not because it benefits us financially. Our goal is to expand the reader’s awareness of the significance of this book. In a cynical age, this will be an uphill battle, one made more difficult in the face of resistance mounted by today’s builders.

Rushdoony’s Unforgivable Sins

Why does Rushdoony’s Institutes elicit such hostility among the builders? After all, books about the Ten Commandments have been fairly common in Christendom. At the dawn of the Reformation, John Wycliffe expended considerable ink on the government of God and the Ten Commandments in one of his most important works, his Summa Theologiae (not to be confused with the Summa of Thomas Aquinas). The heirs of the Reformation, the Puritans, likewise regarded the law of God as an issue that needed to be engaged, not neglected or ignored. The fact that God’s law was generally held in high esteem at the high point of Biblical scholarship in the Western world should not be missed. In contrast, today’s quick-and-dirty, sloganized dismissal of the law of God is worse than embarrassing: it has utterly neutered the people of God.

Modern evangelical Christianity has veered off its moorings into the plush comfort of vague generalities. Today’s builders have yet to meet a spiritual cliché they won’t embrace with enthusiasm. Perhaps those of us influenced by the Puritans have been marginally less than gracious when ascribing “warm, fuzzy, pious gush and mush,” to modern ChurchSpeak, with its unbalanced elevation of feelings over all other considerations. If this dominant mindset hadn’t mired so many Christians in a potentially fatal immobility, patience would have been easier to exercise.

The appeal of generalities is that they don’t touch us directly, they mediate information by way of abstraction, and abstraction is always a step or more removed from concrete reality. Speaking in generalities permits us to be oblique. When we generalize the Word of God, we dull its sharp edge. The Word of God becomes a two-sided pillow2 rather than a two-edged sword.

This was the first of Rushdoony’s sins: he was specific. He didn’t spiritualize the Decalogue with high-sounding rhetoric that would actually make void the law of God (Ps. 119:126) or render the commandment of none effect (Matt. 15:6). Recognizing that all of the law and the prophets hang on the two great commandments, Rushdoony mined from God’s own commentaries on His law. God was specific, so Rushdoony’s exposition followed suit.

This was entirely unacceptable.

Although the builders may concede that the law of God is good if used lawfully (1 Tim. 1:8), that the law is perfect, just, holy, spiritual, and to be delighted in with the inner man (Rom. 7:12, 14, 22), the law must always be presented as a vague generality, an inaccessible goal, or (better yet) both. When presented in this way (stripped of specifics), the builders believe they’ve realized the ideal of the spirit (a general ethos) that gives life rather than the letter (God’s statutes) that kills. They’d surely deny that they’ve added or taken away from the law: they’ve simply generalized it. (When pharmacists invented Bufferin to make aspirin easier on the stomach, the notion was valid. Had Bufferin been invented by evangelicals, there’d be no aspirin in it-just buffers to soothe the stomach.)

Books about the Ten Commandments that deal in generalities, that play it vague, that rearrange our Christian clichés and slogans with eloquence, don’t elicit hostility. They’re welcomed because they buffer us from God and the power of His Word.

This was a game that Dr. Rushdoony had seen played out too many times, to ruinous results (especially as a missionary at Owyhee). Muzzling the Word of God was an exacerbation, not the solution, to man’s burgeoning problems. The New Covenant, among other crucial things for Christians, did indeed involve the writing of God’s laws on our hearts and mindsin specifics, inculcating the same spirit motivating David’s composition of Psalm 119. The first Psalm was to be taken as written (it extolled the law of God), not as hijacked by the builders (who point to anything but the law of God as the thing to meditate upon day and night).

In other words, one of the stones already rejected by today’s builders is Psalm One’s reference to the “law of God.” That ugly stone has since been replaced by a much better brick, one hewn by the hand of man, leading the reader away from specifics and back into the evangelical fog.

The Puritans were not crippled by such “improved readings” of the Psalms. We today are not merely crippled; we’re in a body cast and on life support. We ourselves are the emperors without any clothes.

Then along comes Rushdoony.

Rushdoony: the one who waxed specific about the law. The one who treated the specifics as if God had actually written them. By talking about specifics as if they mattered (and they do), he did something dangerous to the generalizations. He swept them, all of them, aside as thinly veiled attempts to repackage human autonomy within the contours of Christian spiritual terminology.

Rushdoony did this two ways. First, he painstakingly documented the consequences of neglecting the specifics of God’s law. Second, he did the same for the consequences of “observing His commandments, to do them” (Psalm 103:18). Most observers expected a Christian writer to speak to the first point, but not so much to the second. But by dealing with the law’s specifics across all domains of human action (cultural, economic, sociological, environmental, scientific), Rushdoony opened up new avenues for seeing the folly of mankind and the wisdom of God. He was unmuzzling the whole counsel of God. And the builders found this to be unacceptable. They preferred to repose true value in God speaking through His Spirit to individual souls, not in His speaking to us through His law. Not merely to assert value, but moral obligation and a ground of blessing, of the law of God (like the Scriptures, in their irksome way, sometimes seemed to do) was beyond the dimensions of our modern cramped orthodoxies.

It is somewhat remarkable that the concept of orthodoxy can even survive in the context of vague outlines and fuzzy generalizations, but that haze is strenuously guarded not for its own sake, but for what hides behind it. The man in Matt. 5:19 who loosens even the least commandments of God and teaches men so is deemed “the least in the kingdom of heaven.” By blowing away the fog, the sharp outlines of the antinomian’s razor is revealed in stark contrast against the background of Scripture.

But there was more. The loosening of God’s commandments creates an ethical vacuum that is always filled by something else. In fact, creating new rules of conduct for Christians is itself one way that God’s laws are loosened, not only individually but in the aggregate. Why? Because such attempts at lawmaking undercut the sufficiency of Scripture. The man of God is assuredly not “thoroughly equipped for every good work” with the Old Testament, no matter what 2 Tim. 3:17 reads: men must amend God’s law, peel some of its unacceptable or unworkable parts away, and using our vague general spirituality as a guide, build a more workable set of rules for Christian conduct for our modern era.

Over the course of its 800-odd pages, Rushdoony’s Institutes gives the lie to that misguided Christian conceit. For faithfully recounting the wonderful things in God’s law, the book’s author was labeled a dangerous extremist (that’s when the builders were being nice). In fact, the builders found themselves in agreement with the enemies of Christianity in their assessment of Rushdoony. This is strange company to be in … or is it? Perhaps their joint commitment to human autonomy (overtly so among the humanists, covertly so among far too many Christians) led these two groups to sing in harmony this one time … against the evils and horrors supposedly riddling God’s law.

The Dislocation of Liberty

Beyond the sin of magnifying all the commandments of God (that is, the sin of dealing with specifics, the fleshing out of God’s moral imperatives for man), Rushdoony revealed something else about the law’s detractors. These men invariably pose as champions of liberty, but God’s law maximizes human liberty while rejection of it puts us under the oppressive power of our fellow man. Isaiah 5:20 refers to those who call good evil and evil good, and this moral reversal is routinely played out over against the debate concerning the place of God’s law in our world.

When observing Rushdoony’s achievement in documenting the truth of the Psalmist’s assertion that he walked at liberty because he sought God’s precepts (Ps. 119:45), the builders are quick to contradict the Scripture: pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! Avoid the bondage of God’s law. Enter into the freedom that comes when those ugly specifics of God’s law are set aside.

But just as Psalm 119:45 cannot be broken, neither can Psalm 94:20: the wicked frame mischief using law. When the law is slacked (Hab. 1:4), something else takes up that slack: the precepts of men. Men abhor moral vacuums, and if God isn’t Lord over the matter addressed by one of His statutes or precepts, then man slips his feet into God’s shoes to legislate in His stead.

Some builders might tolerate the restrictions that God’s law might impose on the secular state, but no builders will tolerate the restrictions that God’s law would place on the church’s most sacred activity: making rules for the congregants to walk by. Ultimately, the implicit defense of autonomy that drives the antipathy toward God’s law merely masks an aggregation of power by human authorities in both church and state. The law of God cuts across all these boundaries to liberate men from lawless overreaching by all human institutions. Since these institutions put on airs as the defenders of liberty (rather than its enemies, as is regrettably the case), they must either repent or characterize Rushdoony’s position as insane (as some have, for all intents and purposes, already done).

Is it not revealing that we have as hard a time finding an elected official who’ll actually follow the U.S. Constitution (setting aside the debate over its Biblical status) as we do a church leader who’ll follow the entire Bible (which, unlike the U.S. Constitution, is actually perfect)? In both cases, men seek to cast various cords from them and burst various bonds asunder (Psalm 2:3), no matter how glowingly they paint such rebellions as liberating acts.

Today’s builders, then, know full well that God’s law encroaches on their power, their authority, their autonomy, their spiritual sinecures, and their plans for the future. They know this as well as the secularists know it-perhaps even more so. If they were not wedded to these “benefits” of antinomianism, they would bend the knee and acknowledge the glory of God’s perfect law of liberty. Instead, they go away very sad, for their possession of legislative power in their spiritual communities is very great and they’re unwilling to put that at risk by unleashing liberty among their flocks as God would have them bestow it in their capacity as His mouthpieces.

If liberty is a dangerous thing, perhaps few should have the actual article, and the rest should merely be convinced into thinking they have it. Nothing achieves this goal better than the vague fog of ChurchSpeak, which has taken turns into Orwellian paths that would have been unthinkable a century ago. When the law of God is magnified, men can clearly recognize whether they’re abiding under their own vine and fig tree or not, and illusions become impossible to maintain. In a world sustained on empty illusions, a world that effectively “loves death” (Prov. 8:36), the gatekeepers have spoken appropriate words of comfort: “peace, peace” (Jer. 6:14; 8:11)-but they heal the wound of His people slightly.

The Sin of Contemporary Relevance

God makes clear to His people that His words are not distant and inaccessible but “nigh, even in thy mouths” (Deut. 30:11-14). But too many of our builders today will argue that while God’s laws may not be distant in terms of miles, it isdistant from us in terms of years. If it was delivered thousands of years ago, it was in a form that must only be useful to ancient agrarian societies-not to us.

The builders then assure us that this is their motive for retreating into the haze of vagueness: by so doing, they can glean some spiritual meaning for us today, thus preserving God’s law to us in the only form that we could possibly find benefit in. They find life for an old worn-out shoe by putting a new soul [sic] on it. Their paperback books glory in the hidden treasures of the old shoe (without ever denying, let alone challenging, the “fact” that it’s an old shoe). The builders are then back in the driver’s seat, now becoming the champions of restoring the contemporary meaning of God’s law (as they’ve discerned it) by teaching it in abstraction.

Rushdoony challenges this line of reasoning, arguing from Scripture that the law of God is timeless and speaks to all men in all societies across all temporal boundaries. His powerful exposition of the details of God’s laws so thoroughly establishes their contemporary relevance that it sounds the death knell for those who hold the opposing view (that God’s law is a quaint artifact that long ago retired as the Word of God Emeritus). It is here that Rushdoony’s encyclopedic knowledge comes to the fore, sweeping forward and backward in time with example after example illustrating the wisdom and perpetual applicability of God’s precepts.

Most builders wouldn’t have taken offense if Rushdoony had restricted himself to delineating the value of God’s law during its supposed earthly run (from Moses to Christ as many poorly-guided Christians currently hold it). Rushdoony does no such thing. He shows that Christians who embrace their calling to “establish the law” (Romans 3:31) have an unlimited runway in front of them. By opening the doors to possibilities the faithful had lost sight of after the Puritan era ended, the work of Rushdoony and like-minded Biblical scholars before and after him has set in motion something extraordinary: Christians who have finally taken up the proper armor to fight in, and the proper tools to build with. If the Word of God has contemporary relevance, and we’ve neglected to apply it, then the crying need of our era is to fulfill the Great Commission in its fullness while taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Men and women influenced by Institutes and by preaching based on the whole counsel of God know for a fact that the Word of God is sufficient.  The liberating power of that one point can change the entire world.

Then, the only task remaining is to extend the reach of God’s law, extending the realm of liberty and holiness and Christ’s lordship over all things in the process. This follows from the fact that there is no neutrality in God’s world (despite what the peddlers of piously fuzzy theology might argue). The Bible asserts that “even the plowing of the wicked is sin” (Prov. 21:4), so that men are to work toward an ever-broadening application of God’s law as implied in Psalm 119:96: “I have seen an end to all perfection, but thy commandment is exceeding broad.”

In short, if the law is merely for ancient agrarian cultures, we have to dig deep to find something of value in it for us andour world. But if, as Rushdoony shows, the law is addressed directly to us and our world, and our crises are a direct result of our studied neglect of the Scriptures, then we are actually equipped with the tools God has given us to establish His kingship over our persons and our families … and then beyond.

These are tools that the builders do not believe you should take up or use. They are not for you, they say. These are tools with no contemporary purpose. Stick with the current program, or hunker down, but in any case, do not build anything-especially without our sanction, and especially not with stones we’ve rejected.

But these are tools that Rousas John Rushdoony put directly into your hands, going around the builders entirely. It is yours to decide whether to slacken your grip and drop them into a dustbin, or to wield them like a man.

Rushdoony’s Final Sin

Perchance the builders of modern evangelical Christianity could have forgiven Rushdoony for being specific instead of protecting the status quo ethical haze that hangs like gauze before the eyes of God’s people. They might have been able to overlook his proclamation of liberty from man’s better-reasoned substitutes for God’s laws in both church and state. They might even have been convinced to wink at the vibrant call to action implicit in Rushdoony’s treatment of God’s Word as a timeless revelation rather than a historically-conditioned temporary ethic for ancient Israel that God terminated after sixteen centuries (which He might reinstitute for yet another ten centuries as held by premillennial believers but which most definitely is not for us today). All of that might have been forgiven.

But R. J. Rushdoony won’t be forgiven by these builders.

If you read The Institutes of Biblical Law, you will quickly realize why this is so.

This book is so unremittingly Biblical, upholding such a high regard for God’s enscriptured Word, and then carrying the light of that Word in all its manifold details into every imaginable area, it comes across as a virtual roadmap for applying our faith in ways that are utterly concrete and ripe with meaning.

Rushdoony illustrates how God has actually positioned the true moral axis of the world: not upon moralism, but upon godliness. These two things, moralism and godliness, are not the same thing, as Rushdoony repeatedly proves, again contradicting the builders’ all-too-humanistic vision of morality and Scripture. But how many Christians know this? How many Christians continue to orbit the wrong moral axis, the one still commended by our builders?

Even less forgivable to the builders is the fact that Rushdoony’s book is absolutely formidable in stretching the scope of the Ten Commandments back out to their original total dimensions, thereby revealing the tragic fact that the Word of God has been shriveling and contracting under our watch as we’ve “limited the Holy One of Israel” (Ps. 78:41) under the urging of our builders. Rushdoony’s Institutes reverses the incredible shrinking Bible effect, and comes little (if anything) short of fomenting an explosion of the applied Word of God across all Creation. Every paragraph of this book has the net effect of retaking lost ground. There are few things that can motivate a dedicated Christian more than working to increasing his King’s holdings in the world, starting with himself and his own family.

But there is one thing that is an even greater motivation.

For the final sin of Rushdoony is how he turns the tables on all the builders who vaunt love as the great Christian value. Far from being what his enemies depict him as (an ungracious, unloving legalist), anyone reading Institutes in one hand and the Bible in the other will soon realize that it is Rousas John Rushdoony, not our evangelical leaders, who is the truetheologian of the heart. The careful reader will soon realize that Rushdoony is propounding nothing new, he’s calling for a return to a lost faithfulness on the part of God’s people and pointing the way.

There is no stumbling in the darkness when the statutes of God line the path you walk upon. That is the “highway of holiness” that is so easy to see under the light of God’s law that “wayfaring men, though fools, will not err therein” (Isa. 35:8). In modern language, we’d say that Isaiah is setting forth The Idiot’s Guide to Holiness by using such pointed terms: anybody can understand it, and everybody will know how to walk there. “The redeemed shall walk there,” Isaiah informs us (Isa. 35:9).

For the truth of the matter is that Rushdoony’s Institutes cannot help but prick hearts. It edifies, but it also indicts, for the Word of God always has two edges, and it is probes deeply into “the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Moreover, the greatest commandment could not be more clear: we are to love the Lord God with all our heart. If all the law and the prophets hang on this command and its companion verse in Leviticus 19:18 to love our neighbor, theneverything in Rushdoony’s book is directed to how we love God with all our heart. To do this one ultimate thing, while still addressing every other culture-transforming aspect of the book disclosed above, ranks as the most valuable gift any Christian can give to another.

Releasing such a comprehensive, many-faceted love upon our families, churches, and culture, if pursued with the same heart with which David wrote Psalm 119, will quickly show how comparatively anemic our contemporary builders’ notion of love in all its vagueness really is. The specifics of God’s laws embody true love, toward God, toward man, and even toward creation itself, as Rushdoony ably documents.

The more ministries and churches and families incorporate Institutes as a source of exposition, of edification, of guidance, the more they find themselves building on the rock of God’s total word to man, and the less intimidated they become in handling the whole counsel of God in our modern world. The modern builders’ agenda of keeping their fog machine stoked, of refusing the stone of God’s law and any books that unleash it among God’s people, will always appeal to escapists, to antinomians, to those content with false liberty, and any who prefer emotional intoxication over a heart bent on fully serving God and man.

If you can’t see that our builders have already led us into an incredibly deep ditch,3 you will not recognize that Rushdoony is leading you to maturity, liberty, truth, and a faith that overcomes the world.

But once you read the Institutes, you’ll never again see the Ten Commandments as a tired Christian cliché filling dull Sunday school lessons for children. You will know that God’s Ten Commandments anchor nothing less than a siege engine that will level every shakable thing and lay them all in the dust so that the unshakable Kingdom alone will remain. And you and your family will act on that certainty with invincible resolve, total conviction, utter humility, and with every single atom of your being.

1. The strident, tendentious efforts to explain away God’s references to His statutes, laws, and commandments in Genesis 26:5 and Exodus 18:16 (and everything in-between) are likewise heavy with the fingerprints of today’s “builders.”

2. The Monty Python skit concerning the Spanish Inquisition mirrors our modern approach quite effectively, insofar as the most dreaded weapon the fictional authorities use against their targets is “the comfy cushion.”

3. As has been well said, the culture is the report card for the church.

Martin G. Selbrede is Chalcedon’s resident scholar and Editor of Faith for All of Life and the Chalcedon Report.

Reprinted by permission from the author.
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