There is no doubt that Francis A. Schaeffer broadened the appeal of the reformed faith with his popular writing style and activist worldview. Schaeffer’s popularity was extensive enough that he was recognized by the secular media as the “Guru of Fundamentalism.” ((Kenneth L. Woodward, “The Guru of Fundamentalism,” Newsweek (Nov. l, 1982), p. 88.)) Schaeffer filled the intellectual gap that resided in much of fundamentalism. In a sense, he carried on the tradition of his early mentor, J. Gresham Machen.

Prior to 1968, little was known of Francis Schaeffer. He had isolated himself from American evangelicalism by ministering to the roaming discards of society who were trekking through Europe hoping to find answers to life’s most perplexing problems. The publication of The God Who Is There and Escape from Reason introduced him to an American evangelicalism in crisis. Schaeffer had an impact where many Christian scholars had made only a few inroads to the hearts and minds of a disenchanted and impotent Christendom. What did Schaeffer do that was different? Certainly Carl F. H. Henry’s The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism ((Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1947, p. 14.)) made an impact. It was, however, more of a statement than a system of belief with worked-out implications. Schaeffer worked at integration. His desire was to be more than just a critic of culture. This is why he asked the ethical question, “How should we then live?”

Schaeffer’s View of Christian Philosophy

First, Schaeffer began at the presuppositional level. Although no credit is given to Cornelius Van Til, the Van Tillian method is evident in the first chapter of Schaeffer’s first published book. In The God Who Is There, Schaeffer introduced his readers to the importance of presuppositions in rectifying the shift from antithesis to relativism in modern thought.

It was indeed unfortunate that our Christian “thinkers,” in the time before the shift took place and the chasm was fixed, did not teach and preach with a clear grasp of presuppositions. Had they done this, they would not have been taken by surprise, and they could have helped young people to face their difficulties. The really foolish thing is that even now, years after the shift is complete, many Christians still do not know what is happening. And this is because they are still not being taught the importance of thinking in terms of presuppositions, especially concerning the truth. ((Francis A. Schaeffer, The God Who ls There (1968) in The Complete Works of Francis A. Schaeffer, 5 vols. (Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1982), 1:7.))

Second, with the fuselage of a cryptic Calvinism on the runway, Schaeffer began to design wings to get the long overdue plane off the ground and to its destination: Comprehensive lordship. In the 1981 preface to A Christian Manifesto, Schaeffer explained his methodology. He began with “the Lordship of Christ over all of life - philosophy, theology and the church, art, music, literature, films, and culture in general. The books that followed dealt with and extended areas of Christ’s total Lordship in all of life. . . .” ((Schaeffer, “Preface”(1981), A Christian Manifesto (1981), Complete Works, V:417.)) In this, Schaeffer worked in the shadow of Kuyper.

Third, late in his career, Schaeffer saw extended implications to the worldview he put in motion in his early works. He expanded the areas over which He believed Jesus is Lord with the publication of How Should We Then Live, Whatever Happened to the Human Race, and A Christian Manifesto. “That led to the demand of the next logical step: What is the Christian’s relationship to government, law, and civil disobedience?” ((Ibid.))

It was here that Schaeffer saw where his initial flight plan was about to take him: Christian Reconstruction. A reading of A Christian Manifesto alerts the reader that Schaeffer moved from being a critic of culture, his main contribution to worldview Calvinism, to advocating civil disobedience. The missing link was Reconstruction. To advocate civil disobedience was an admission that no constructive alternative to the humanistic system existed except the one advocated by Christian Reconstructionists. Schaeffer wanted his readers to understand that he in no way wanted what Reconstructionists were offering. ((See Gary North, Political Polytheism: The Myth of Pluralism (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1989), pp. 165-220.)) His earlier works influenced many future Reconstructionists because of his insistence that the whole Bible was applicable to the whole of life, the law of God included.

Schaeffer’s View of God’s Law

While he refused to discuss the particulars of the law of God as the “base” for authority, he knew something had to be done to confront a bold humanistic law system. Schaeffer turned to Samuel Rutherford’s doctrine of Christian resistance while ignoring Rutherford’s biblical approach to the application of the whole law to contemporary society, including, but not limited to, the civil magistrate. ((Richard Flinn, “Samuel Rutherford and Puritan Political Theory,” Journal of Christian Reconstruction, Symposium on Puritanism and Law, ed. Gary North (Winter 1978-79), pp. 49-74.)) The appeal to Rutherford came early in Schaeffer’s writing.

Schaeffer rightly decried a de facto sociological law—“law based only on what the majority of society thinks is in its best interests at a given moment”—but offered no worked-out worldview to counter and replace it. He wrote about a “Christian consensus” and how that consensus is found in the Bible, but he did not inform us of its biblical content as it relates to a comprehensive biblical worldview in the particulars. ((Schaeffer was more comfortable with historical and logical argumentation than with biblical exposition. Consider how he argues against abortion:

Schaeffer claims to base his arguments against abortion on both logical and moral grounds, but it is interesting that he accentuates the logical side. In fact, he never appeals specifically to Scripture to buttress his position. The major logical argument employed involves the impossibility of saying when a developing fetus becomes viable (able to live outside the womb), for smaller and smaller premature infants are being saved. Since the eventual possibilities for viability are staggering, “The logical approach is to go back to the sperm and the egg.” Dennis P. Hollinger, “Schaeffer on Ethics,” Reflections on Francis Schaeffer, edited by Ronald W. Ruegsegger (Grand Rapids: Zondervan/Academie, 1986), p. 250. Emphasis added.))

There are times, however, when Schaeffer closely resembled a Reconstructionist. This is best demonstrated in his repeated references to Paul Robert’s painting Justice Instructing the Judges.

Down in the foreground of the large mural the artist depicts many sorts of litigation -the wife against the husband, the architect against the builder, and so on. How are the judges going to judge between them? This is the way we judge in a Reformation country, says Paul Robert. He has portrayed Justice pointing with her sword to a book upon which are the words, “The Law of God.” For Reformation man there was a basis for law. Modern man has not only thrown away Christian theology; he has thrown away the possibility of what our forefathers had as a basis for morality and law. ((Schaeffer, Escape from Reason (1968) in Complete Works, 1:261-62.))

This emphasis on the law continued to play a part in Schaeffer’s worldview theology. “In Reformation countries,” Schaeffer wrote, “the Old Testament civil law has been the basis of our civil law.” Of course, he quickly reminded his readers that “we are not a theocracy, ((Many people are confused over what theocracy actually means. “To the modern ear the word ’theocracy’ has distinctly pejorative overtones, suggesting the rule of some oppressive priestly caste, ‘government of a state by immediate Divine guidance or by officials regarded as divinely guided,’ to quote a standard definition. Yet, unlike certain other systems known in antiquity, ’the “Theocracy” was not a government by priests, as opposed to kings; it was a government by God Himself, as opposed to the government by priests or kings’ (Dean Arthur Stanley, A History of the Jewish Church, 1862). The U.S. jurist and statesman Oscar Straus, a close associate of President Theodore Roosevelt, also stressed this point in his study of American culture’s indebtedness to the Hebraic concept: ‘The very fact that . . .with the single exception of Eli, no priest was ever elected to the magistracy during the entire period of the Commonwealth, decidedly negatives any such interpretation’ (The Origin of the Republican Form of Government in the United States of America, 1887).“Gabriel Sivan, The Bible and Civilization (New York: Quadrangle/New York Times Book Co., 1973), p. 145.)) it is true; nevertheless, when Reformation Christianity provided the consensus, men naturally looked back to the civil law that God gave Israel, not to carry it out in every detail, but to see it as a pattern and a base.” ((Schaeffer, Joshua in the Flow of Biblical History (1975) in Complete Works, 11:298.)) (It is interesting that Schaeffer sounded like a theonomist when he was dealing with the biblical text.) Schaeffer saw the book of Joshua as “a link between the Pentateuch (the writings of Moses) and the rest of Scripture. It is crucial for understanding the unity the Pentateuch has with all that follows it, including the New Testament.” ((Ibid., 11:153. Emphasis added.)) The following quotations show that Schaeffer was a child of the Reformation and the Westminster Confession of Faith.

  • “The commands of God were carried through Moses to the people in a written, propositional form. We are watching here the Scripture growing before our eyes” (II:165).
  • “There is continuity of written objective authority all the way from the Pentateuch through the New Testament” (II:181).
  • “God had given the people of Israel commandments which were a representation of His character, which is the eternal law of the universe” (II:247).
  • “The moral law is the expression of God’s character, and we are not to set it aside when we become Christians. Our obedience to it will make a difference in what happens to us both in this present life and in the believers’ judgment in the future. So much of Jesus’ teaching emphasizes the importance of keeping the law of God!” (II:252).
  • “So the command to the Church is the same as the command to God’s people in the Old Testament—proportional giving. Giving to God proportionately is not optional. God specifically commands it” (II:293).
  • “On Mount Sinai God gave the moral law. ‘God spoke all these words . . .’ and then came the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:1-17). Immediately after this the civil law was given. As the race became a nation they needed a civil law; so God gave them one. The civil law for the Jews was based as much on the command of God as was the moral law” (II:294).
  • “Here was real justice—a universal civil code that pertained equally to the citizen and the stranger. This justice was not rooted in the notion of a superior people, but in the character of God; therefore, it pertained to all men” (11:297).
  • “Moses told how to distinguish between an intentional murder and an unwitting murder” (11:298).
  • “Unlike modern man, the people of the Old Testament and of Christian communities after the Reformation did not view civil law as basically sociological. To them, it was not founded primarily on a social contract. Civil law was related to society, but not only to society. It was ultimately related to the existence and character of God. This is important. Law which comes from God can provide something fixed. Today’s sociological law is relativistic’’ (II:298-99).
  • “The moral law is rooted in the fact of the existence and character of God. It has validity because God is there. ‘And God spoke all these words, saying, I am the LORD thy God, who have brought thee out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bond­ age. Thou shalt have no other gods before me’ (Ex. 20:1-3). The civil law is also based upon the reality of God’s existence; so it, too, has an absolute base. Reformation law was like this - one can think of Samuel Rutherford’s Lex Rex - and so was in total contrast to the post-Christian, sociological law which is developing in the Western world” (II:299).
  • “Justice [in Paul Robert’s Justice Instructing the Judges] points to a book on. which Robert has carefully lettered the phrase, The Law of God. This is tremendous I There was a foundation for civil law, fixed in the existence and character of God and His revelation of that character to men” (II:299).
  • “On Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim . . . a choice was set before the people: ‘Obey the propositional moral absolutes of God, and you’ll receive blessing within the covenant. If you don’t, the blessing will come an end’ " (II:314).

Schaeffer continued this theme in How Should Then Live? “Paul Robert understood what the Reformation was all about in the area of law. It is the Bible which gives a base to law.” ((13. Schaeffer, How Should We Then Live in Complete Works, V:136.)) In A Christian Manifesto, Schaeffer maintained that justice is based on “God’s written Law, back through the New Testament to Moses’ written Law; and the content and authority of that written Law is rooted back to Him who is the final reality. Thus, neither church nor state were equal to, let alone above, that Law. The base for law is not divided, and no one has the right to place anything, including king, state or church, above the content of God’s Law.” ((Schaeffer, A Christian Manifesto in Complete Works, V:430.))

Unfortunately, Schaeffer left behind an unfinished legacy. He knew where the answer was, but he was unable, within the confines of his own methodology and his premillennial eschatology, to see it through. It is a shame that Schaeffer will best be remembered for his advocacy of Christian resistance and not Christian Reconstruction.

A Common Theme

From Kuyper to Schaeffer, the same themes were stressed:

(1) God is sovereign over all of life; (2) the Bible applies to every facet of society; (3) God’s law is the standard for righteousness and justice for men and nations; and (4) nowhere do we find a worked out system to learn how the implications of the reformed worldview are worked out in the particulars except in the writings of Christian Reconstructionist authors.

If you have followed this odyssey from Kuyper to Schaeffer, you can see how easily it is to adopt the distinctives of Christian Reconstruction. Schaeffer, like those who proceeded him, understood where worldview Calvinism leads. He chose to skip over Reconstruction and head straight for civil disobedience. But there is no hope for a culture if resistance is its only option for change. What happens if the resisters win? What then? How should we then live? Schaeffer never told us in the details.

The problem remained: Who would put wings on Calvinism’s world-and-life view airplane?

A Plane with Wings

The odyssey did not stop with Schaeffer. Schaeffer asked the question of how should we then live; it was left to others in the Reformed tradition to answer it.

A Pair of Calvinists

Gary North came to the RTS campus in 1978 to address the topic of economics in an informal debate with Richard Mouw of Calvin Seminary. (He is now at Fuller Seminary.) The differences could not have been more striking. Dr. North stayed with the Bible. One thing I do remember about Dr. Mouw’s address is that he said that when he gets to heaven, he will finally have time to read the works of Karl Marx. Sounds like hell to me.

One of Dr. North’s messages had a singular impact on me. North was demonstrating the reformed methodology as it related to economics. His text was Isaiah 1:21–23, and the topic was “A Biblical Critique of Inflation.” Keep in mind that this was the era of dollar inflation and double-digit interest rates. The economy was in “stagflation.” This double economic whammy was affecting the economy with not much hope for a solution. Gold and silver prices were rising because of inflation fears. We were warned by Dr. North of what would happen if God’s laws were rejected. Sure enough, the “predictions” came to pass. By 1980, silver was selling for $50.00 per ounce while gold was selling for more than $800.00 per ounce. Interest rates were nearing 20%. Does the Bible have anything to say about any of this? Dr. North said it does. Little was said by the faculty.

The passage in Isaiah 1 is an application of the case laws regarding just weights and measures (Lev. 19:36; Prov. 11:1; 16:11). The people and rulers alike resembled the debased silver that was being passed off as pure and the diluted wine that was being sold as uncut. Of course, under such economic conditions the poorest members of society, orphans and widows (v. 23), suffer the most. In just a few verses was found a specific application to a contemporary issue. Here was worldview Calvinism with wings! Why wasn’t this being discussed in the classroom?

It is a sign of the social and cultural impotence of contemporary Christianity that commentators interpret this verse in a so-­called “spiritual” fashion. It is supposed to refer only to the souls of individual citizens. Passages such as Psalms 119:119 or Ezekiel 22:18-19 can be cited as “proof” of this thesis. The problem with this interpretation is that the prophets used known social and economic deviations in order to point out to the people their spiritual sins, a device used by Christ in many of the parables. They went from the concrete sin of the defrauder to the ethical deviation of the citizenry. If the legitimacy of the prophetic charge against the economic practice in question is denied, the impact of the critique of men’s souls is thereby undercut. Verse 22 appears between concrete criticisms of specific political and social deviations, yet commentators are afraid to take verse 22 as referring to equally concrete sins. This is not the way to exegete the Bible. ((Gary North, An Introduction to Christian Economics (Nutley, New Jersey: Craig Press, 1973), p. 4.))

America and the world were in a crisis mode in the late 1970’s. The church was nearly silent when it came to offering specific remedies to avert the crisis. There was no clear message coming from the church. The only group that really took the Bible seriously enough to make valuable social commentary were Reconstructionists like North, Rushdoony, and Bahnsen.

During his presentation, Dr. Mouw quoted a hymn that his mother had loved, he said: “I’d rather have Jesus than silver and gold.” Dr. North referred this in his subsequent lecture. He said that as far as he was concerned, “I’d rather have Jesus and silver and gold.” This pretty much summarized the split between the two men.

A Pair of Baptists

A Baptist president who taught Sunday school was at that time sitting in the, White House. There was no sure word coming from him. The Bible was a closed book when it came to evaluating (honest weights and measures again) the rightness or wrongness of certain public policies. In the name of impotent Christianity Jimmy Carter had endorsed the pro-abortion and pro-homosexual communities with, “It’s not proper for Christians to impose their morality on others.” What he was actually saying was, “The Bible does not apply, except in the narrow confines of the sanctuary and the Sunday school classroom.” As seminary students we were told that the Bible does apply, but no one was showing how it could be done. For Christians, the Carter presidency was a disaster. Jeffrey St. John, a non-Christian libertarian columnist, wrote these prophetic words prior to the November election in 1976:

A Carter victory in 1976 would usher in an administration led by various liberal-to-left activist groups who have long pleaded for vast government powers over the private sector of industry and over middle-class Americans. In short, Carter appears to be leading a coalition of political and economic radicals who would go far beyond the massive expansion of the powers of the federal government Franklin Roosevelt instituted in 1933. ((Jeffrey St. John, Jimmy Carter’s Betrayal of the South (Ottawa, Illinois: Green Hill, 1976), p. 3. Quoted in Gary North, “Intellectual Schizophrenia,” Christianity and Civilization l, edited by James B. Jordan (Tyler, Texas: Geneva Divinity School, 1982), p. 7.))

The fundamentalist Christian community that had voted for Carter in 1976 felt it had been sucker-punched, again. Then entered Jerry Falwell. He was mad at hell, and he wasn’t going to take it anymore. He became a political activist, a new role. ((See Falwell’s “Ministers and Marchers” (1965). Quoted in James A. Speer, New Christian Politics (Macon, Georgia: Mercer University Press, 1984), pp. 19-20.))

Near the end of Carter’s presidency, Rev. Falwell cranked up the Moral Majority. In the beginning, his message was guided by what the Bible had to say. In an “I Love America” rally, Falwell counseled the crowd to use “theological considerations” in their choice of candidates: “If a man stands by this book [holding up a Bible], vote for him. If he doesn’t, don’t.’’ ((Time (October l, 1979), p. 62.)) Falwell could not defend this position in terms of the generally accepted doctrine of religious pluralism and his own separatist Baptist background. In time, however, the message of the Moral Majority became dross.

  • Moral Majority is a political organization and is not based on theological considerations. ((Jerry Falwell, “Moral Majority Opposes Christian Republic,” Moral Majority Report 1:13 (October 15, 1980), p. 4.))
  • The battle against humanism . . . is not theological; it is moral. ((Tim LaHaye, The Battle for the Mind (Old Tappan, New Jersey: Fleming H. Revell, 1980), p. 187.))

The switch came for Falwell in 1980 when he “renounced his earlier vows to Christianize America.” ((Flo Conway and Jim Siegelman, Holy Terror: The Fundamentalist War on America’s Freedoms in Religion, Politics and Our Private Lives (Garden City, New York: Doubleday, 1982), p. 168.)) “Theological considerations” were out, while traditional values were ushered in. Falwell admitted that “we count among us Fundamentalists, Protestants, Roman Catholics, Jews, Mormons, and persons of no particular religious convictions at all who believe in the moral principles we espouse.” ((Jerry Falwell, “Moral Majority: A Response to Attack on Basic Values of Millions of Americas,” Conservative Digest 7:1 (January. 1981), p. 28. Quoted in Robert E. Webber, The Moral Majority: Right or Wrong? (Westchester, Illinois: Crossway Books, 1981), p. 39. Emphasis added by Webber.)) This is fine for war-time strategy, but it will not work after the war is over and a culture has to be rebuilt. ((“Solomon made use even of the Sidonians when building the temple of the Lord, but he did not give them membership on his building committee.” Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith (Philadelphia, Pennsylvania: Presbyterian and Re­formed, 1955), p. 317.)) Fundamentalism has never developed such an agenda. With a moral rather than a biblical common denominator, the Moral Majority sounded like every other advocate touting the virtues of “morality.” And these non-religious moral advocates were seen as less strident, and there was no need to repent and trust in the finished work of Jesus Christ.

Former Secretary of Education William Bennett, later to be­ come our nation’s “Drug Czar,” called “for a new approach to moral education, one that gives kids a grounding in what Bennett describes as ’those values all Americans share.’” ((The Atlanta journal and Constitution (November 28, 1986), p. 49A.)) If there is still a consensus morality, one has to ask where this consensus originated. Within America the obvious answer is biblical Christianity as shaped by the Puritans. With theological considerations gone, the Moral Majority was no longer unique. Robert E. Webber makes this observation: “Thus, what the Moral Majority espouses is a morality based on civil religion, not on the unique revelation of God in the person and work of Jesus Christ.” ((Webber, Moral Majority, p. 39.))

Hath God Said? If So, Where?

Christian Reconstructionist writers revived the older expression of world-and-life-view Calvinism and added the particulars of the Genevan and Puritan models. The revival of this particular expression of world-and-life-view Calvinism has not set well with the critics. As long as Reformed churches were preaching the general tenets of Calvinism, all was well. The historian R. H. Tawney noted in 1925: “No church has ever experienced any great difficulty in preaching righteousness in general”; it is “righteousness in particular” that disturbs the churches. ((R. H. Tawney, “Introduction,” Thomas Wilson, A Discourse Upon Usury (London: Frank Cass, [1925] 1969), p. 114. Quoted in North, An Introduction to Christian Economics, p. 3.))

A good number of Reconstructionist critics are uncomfortable with Gary North’s approach to Isaiah 1 because he points out that the passage describes “righteousness in particular” in areas beyond the heart, hearth, and sanctuary. Even when the Bible clearly sets forth a specific command, they seem to be more comfortable with scientific inquiry, forgetting that Van Til wrote that “Christianity claims to furnish the presuppositions without which a true scientific procedure is unintelligible.” ((Cornelius Van Til, Apologetics (Syllabus, Westminster Theological Seminary, 1959), p. 24.)) They are like children who have to touch the pretty blue flame to determine if it will really burn flesh. Their father’s word isn’t good enough. Is God’s Word good enough? Or should the Christian find validation for the truths of Scripture in terms of a “common ground” approach? The common ground approach assumes the neutrality of facts and the interpreter of the facts. Here is an example:

Why, for example, should the United States return to the gold standard? ((For an appraisal of the gold standard, and how Muether misrepresented North’s position, see Gary North, Westminster’s Confession: The Abandonment of Van Til’s Legacy (Tyler, Texas: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991), pp. 283-86.)) Because careful and prudent economic analysis suggests it will produce a healthier economy? No, [the reconstructionists tell us] because Deuteronomy 25:15 says that you shall have just weights and measures. ((John R. Muether, “The Theonomic Attraction,” Theonomy: A Reformed Perspective, eds. William S. Barker and W. Robert Godfrey (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academie, 1990), p. 255.))

Would Muether argue this way for the truth of the divinity of Christ, the reality of the resurrection, or the inspiration of Scripture? Are we to tum to “prudent analysis” to prove that Christianity is true over against all other religions? Whatever happened to the “self-authentication” of Scripture, both in its general and particular pronouncements? Is this all that’s left of Cornelius Van Til’s legacy? With Muether’s approach we are left with only a “rational probability.” ((Cornelius Van Til, The Defense of the Faith, p. 335.))

So, why send your children to a Christian school if all we need is “careful and prudent economic analysis”? Why read the Bible for anything more than “spiritual” guidance? Muether claims that the Bible is not needed for economics. In fact, he takes a swipe at “contemporary evangelicalism” in general for its “biblicist hermeneutic that depreciates the role of general revelation and insists on using the Bible as though it were a textbook for all of life.” ((Muether, “The Reformed Attraction,” p. 254.)) Does he mean general revelation as a scientific investigation of God’s created order so that man learns to be a better scientist, agronomist, and medical practitioner by study and experimentation?

General Revelation

Henry Van Til wrote that “Man does not need special revelation for acquiring the arts of agriculture or of war, the techniques of science and art; these things are learned from nature through the inspiration of the Spirit.” ((Henry R. Van Til, The Calvinistic Concept of Culture (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1959), p. 162.)) No one is disputing the use of general revelation in this way. But even this type of investigation has numerous ethical implications. For example, knowledge of what works in the field of medicine still leaves doctors and legislators with, for example, decisions relating to abortion and euthanasia. An abortionist can be an expert in the way he performs an abortion. He has honed this “skill” through scientific study of the created order (general revelation). But is it right and just to use this knowledge in the destruction of pre­born babies?

Dr. Jack Kevorkian has designed a “suicide machine” that is efficient, effective, and painless, three criteria to consider in the practice of modern medicine. ((Jack Kevorkian_, Prescription: Medicine: The Goodness of Planned Death_ (Amherst, New York: Prometheus Books, 1991).)) But is it right and just? This is the real issue. Procedures that were designed as part of the healing craft are now being used to destroy life. There is no doubt that abortionists and the new suicide “doctors” are skilled practitioners of their respective crafts.

The study of general revelation might lead some medical practitioners to conclude that since animals often abandon and kill their young, therefore homo sapiens are little different if they do the same. A more highly evolved species like man can do it more efficiently.

The modern-day evolutionary hypothesis rests on a study of creation. Modern scientists have made a thorough study of the created order (certainly not their designation) and have concluded that man has evolved from some type of primordial chaos This conflicts with the Bible’s clear statement that “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth” (Gen. 1:1). Such a conclusion has numerous ethical implications. ((Henry M. Morris, The Long War Against God: The History and Impact of the Creation/Evolution Conflict (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1990).))

It is this independent study of what we call “general revelation” that leads to anti-Christian conclusions. The Christian views general revelation “through the medium of a heart regenerated by the Holy Spirit. . . . The Christian looks at all that he receives through general revelation, in the light of the Scripture. It is only through the Scripture that he can see the true relationship between God and creation, and that he can see in creation its unity and purpose.” On the other hand, “the knowledge which the natural man receives from general revelation comes to him through the subjective medium of an unregenerated, depraved heart.” ((William Masselink, General Revelation and Common Grace (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1953), p. 71.)) General revelation without the guidance of special revelation can lead to disastrous results.

A classic example of the claim that knowledge of God and His will is gained from general revelation is found in the ideology of Nazi Germany. Hitler’s National Socialist propagandists appealed to the revelation of God in reason, conscience, and the orders of Creation as justification for the Nazi state theology or cultural religion. Biblical revelation in Old and New Testaments was regarded by the Third Reich as a “Jewish swindle” and thus was set aside in favor of the Nazi natural theology. The Gottingen theologians Friedrich Gogarten and Emanuel Hirsch, by postulating the primacy of conscience and the flow of history as the chief modalities of revelation, provided theoretical justification for the Nazi ideology, which later wreaked havoc in Europe and beyond. A majority within the state church (known as the “German Christians”) unwittingly or otherwise embraced the new national religion, founded not on the Word of God but on the divine will allegedly embedded in the natural order. Emerging from this fatal exchange came a semi-Christian natural religion (some would say a new paganism) in which the church became a servile instrument of Nazi policy. ((Bruce A. Demarest, General Revelation: Historical Views and Contemporary Issues (Grand Rapids: Zondervan Academie, 1982), p. 15.))

The debate is not over how much one side depreciates the use of general revelation. Rather, the issue is over what ethical standard will be used to evaluate the conclusions formulated from a study of general revelation. General revelation takes on a life of its own as a nation steadily depreciates God’s inscripturated Word as the revelational norm for all issues relating to faith (redemption) and practice (ethics). This situation results in using contemporary ideologies to build an interpretive framework so that general revelation can become specific. This means that general revelation will be interpreted in different ways depending on what ideology is in vogue. A prevailing atheistic regime will interpret general revelation one way, while a New Age humanist will put another slant on it. In each case, the church’s prophetic ministry is depreciated.

It is amazing to read critics of theonomy who maintain that general revelation is depreciated by theonomists. As an independent ethical system, yes. ((The insights of unbelievers “are accurate because their presuppositions concerning the proper ‘givens’ of economic analysis are in fact the same ‘givens’ set forth by the Scriptures. They are correct, as Van Til says about secular philosophers, only insofar as they operate in terms of borrowed premises. But these men are to be preferred in their explanations of how an economy functions to those economists who borrow even fewer of the Bible’s premises.” North, Introduction to Christian Economics, p. xi.)) The Westminster Confession of Faith clearly states that the “whole counsel of God, concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture” (l, vi).

Of course, there are a number of things that are not “expressly set down in Scripture,” but these too “are to be ordered by the light of nature and Christian prudence, according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed” (l, vi). But “just weights and measures” is “expressly set down in Scripture” as Muether admits (Deut. 25:15). Then how can he square his view with the Confession and the Bible? He can’t, and he doesn’t. This would bother me if I were assessing the legitimacy of the theonomic position in terms of what the critics say about it.

Are we to argue the pro-life/anti-abortion position in the same way? Anti-Reconstructionist Meredith G. Kline ((Meredith G. Kline, “Lex Talionis and the Human Fetus,” Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society (September 1977), pp. 193-201.)) and dispensationalist H. Wayne House ((H. Wayne House, “Marriage or Premature Birth: Additional Thoughts on Exodus 21:22-25,” Westminster Theological Journal 41:1 (Fall 1978), 108-23.)) turn to precise exegetical arguments found in the “Mosaic” ((Moses had very little to do with what is usually described as “Mosaic Law.” As the New Testament tells us, “The law was given through Moses. . . " (John 1:17).)) legislation to defend the pro-life/anti-abortion position. Nearly everyone does. John Frame, a contributor to Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, remarks that “On Kline’s exegesis, the statute provides a death penalty for the destruction of an unborn child, though with the possibility of redemption. He concludes that this statute serves as a model for modern society.” ((John M. Frame, “The One, The Many, and Theonomy,” Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, p. 96.)) Kline, however, maintains that he can make an appeal to the Mosaic legislation, as a non-Reconstructionist, because it’s a form of murder covered under the Noahic covenant (Gen. 9:6). But this is still an appeal to the Bible! Isn’t this also a “biblicist hermeneutic”? Kline must find specific guidelines to flesh out the general guidelines. Muether seems to be out of step, not only with Reconstructionists and “contemporary evangelicalism,” but with his own non-Reconstructionist colleagues.

Who Is a Theonomist?

In simple terms a theonomist is someone who believes that the Bible applies in some way to issues beyond personal salvation. Do you believe that the Bible has some very direct instructions on how a pre-born baby ought to be treated and that civil government has a role in prohibiting abortion (Ex. 21:22-25)? If you do, then you are a Reconstructionist in some degree. Do you believe that the Bible is a blueprint for prison reform (Ex. 22:1-9; Eph. 4:28)? If you do, then you are a Reconstructionist in some degree. Read, for example, what Chuck Colson, president of Prison Fellowship, writes about prison reform.

Recently I addressed the Texas legislature. . . . I told them that the only answer to the crime problem is to take nonviolent criminals out of our prisons and make them pay back their victims with restitution. This is how we can solve the prison crowding problem.

The amazing thing was that afterwards they came up to me one after another and said things like, “That’s a tremendous idea. Why hasn’t anyone thought of that?” I had the privilege of saying to them, “Read Exodus 22. It is only what God said to Moses on Mount Sinai thousands of years ago.” ((Charles Colson, “The Kingdom of God and Human Kingdoms,” Transforming Our World: A Call to Action, edited by James M. Boice (Portland, Oregon: Multnomah, 1988), pp. 154-55.))

This is the essence of Christian Reconstruction. The Bible’s laws, including, but not limited to, the case laws of the Old Testament, are applicable today, and, in Colson’s words, are “the only answer to today’s crime problem.” Notice that there is no appeal to “general revelation” or “natural law.” Of course, a Reconstructionist would say that these laws are an answer for our crime problem and much more, including, but not limited to economics, education, law, politics, business, ecology, journalism, and medicine.

Colson’s assessment of the applicability of Mosaic legislation outside the covenant community compares favorably with how the Old Testament applies the law. The law is a model to the nations outside Israel’s exclusive covenant community (Deut. 4:5-8). This same law has a civil application in that it is to be spoken before kings (Psa. 119:46; Mark 6:14-29). Light comes to nations that embrace God’s law (Isa. 51:4). ((The law’s three functions operate within a civil context: The first use of the law involves the negative function of convicting the magistrate of his autonomy and the recognition that he is a minister under God’s authority, rendering him inexcusable before God, and driving him to seek grace (Jonah 3:4-10; Romans 13:1). The second use of the law would direct the magistrate to use the law as a way of ordering civil justice (Jonah 3:8; Romans 13:4). The third use involves promoting the law, as Calvin writes, “among believers in whose hearts the Spirit of God already lives and reigns,” for without a consensus the magistrate cannot rule effectively.)) The entire earth is said to be guilty for it has transgressed the law (Isa. 24:5). Before entering the promised land, Israel is warned that it will suffer the same judgment of the Canaanites who were indicted for breaking God’s law (Lev. 18:24-27; Deut. 12:29-31). All the wicked are condemned for their transgression of the law (Psa. 119:118-119; Rom. 3:19).

What standard did God use to judge these nations? The prophets brought an indictment against the slave trade (Amos 1:6; cp. Ex. 21:16; Deut. 24:7), witchcraft (Nah. 3:4; cp. Ex. 22:18), loan pledge abuse (Hab. 2:6; cp. Ex. 22:25-27; Deut. 24:6), and other biblical-specific prohibitions.


In the 1970’s there was not much to read on the topic of theonomy. Theonomy in Christian Ethics and The Institutes of Biblical Law were the two main sources espousing the distinctives of theonomic ethics. But now, with nearly 100 published books and a thousand newsletters, the critics are in something of a dilemma. If people were not willing to read 1,200 pages fifteen years ago, what do we think will happen when these same people are confronted with “tens of thousands of pages”? ((Tremper Longman Ill, “God’s Law and Mosaic Punishments Today,” Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, p. 41, note l.)) Some brave soul might attempt the task and work through the material. But the vast majority will believe the assessments of critics passed down second-hand and then third-hand. This is unfortunate.

My guess is that numerous Reformed Christians, who have not studied the issue, will assume that theonomy has been answered by Theonomy: A Reformed Critique without ever reading it or the many published Reconstructionist works. They will think: “It is a large book”—by non-Reconstructionist standards—“with footnotes, so it must have done the job.” When the topic comes up for discussion, critics of Reconstruction will point to Theonomy: A Reformed Critique and declare, “Theonomy’s been answered.” A similar scenario is operating with the dispensational critics of Christian Reconstruction: Dominion Theology: Blessing or Curse? ((H. Wayne House and Thomas Ice, Dominion Theology: Blessing or Curse? (Portland, Oregon: Multnomah Press, 1988).)) This tome has become the deus ex machina for dispensational non-readers.

If you think I am exaggerating, then consider this. An article appeared in a well-known dispensational magazine purporting to be the first in a series of articles that would evaluate Christian Reconstruction. The article was heavily footnoted, but you had to write to the publisher if you wanted a copy of the notes. Always the inquisitive one, I of course dutifully requested a copy. All the footnotes were from Dominion Theology. The entire article was based on the research of one book. No original research had been done. Then I learned, in correspondence with the author, that he had been assigned the task of writing on Christian Reconstruction with reference only to Dominion Theology.

Until a person works through the published works of the major Reconstructionist authors, he should not speak out on the subject. I fully expect that all of our critics will do this in the future. They will back up their criticisms with citations from the primary sources of Christian Reconstruction. Furthermore, they will not exaggerate their claims. They will address their criticisms to what Reconstructionists have said or written. I am quite confident about this development.

You understand, of course, that I am a postmillennialist.

See Part 1: TULIP is not Enough: Reformed Theology and Culture.

[Originally published as “Fear of Flying: Clipping Theonomy’s Wings” in Theonomy an Informed Response (Tyler, TX: Institute for Christian Economics, 1991).]