We at American Vision are aggrieved, though not surprised, to learn of another ministry taking direct shots at our “Restoring America” message 1) without quoting us (let alone in context), and 2) widely misrepresenting our easily accessible views. Since the ministry in question is widely respected and has something of a following, and mostly among a younger, internet crowd, the record needs to be set straight. This article, in part and in brief, will do so. In doing so, I will lay down an offer . . . or challenge.
It is no new thing for other evangelicals and fundamentalists to attack us without actually quoting or interacting with us (and then refusing to debate in real life), but to do so while misrepresenting us in such a fundamental way is far beyond anything that can be called accountable or brotherly.
It was recently brought to my attention that Todd Friel of the TV, radio, and podcast Wretched, has taken aim at the Christian Reconstruction effort to “reclaim America.”
Mr. Friel’s most recent criticism involved a special dinner edition of his show with guests Phil Johnson (John MacArthur’s editor and sometime ghostwriter), Trevin Wax (a Southern Baptist and an editor of Life Way’s Bible introductory series, “The Gospel Project”), and Bob Glenn (pastor of “Preaching and Vision” at Redeemer Bible Church in Minnetonka, MN). The dinner was a stacked-deck attack on what Friel referred to as “Rushdoonyites” and “Dominionism” and our attempt to “Reclaim America,”—an attack, I say, though veiled as a discussion.
To begin, Mr. Friel tossed up the alley-oop question to his dispensational peers: “Is the concept of ‘Reclaiming America”—the movement known as ‘dominionism’—a biblically correct movement?”
Phil Johnson pounced first, adjoining, “I think not.”
Mr. Wax opined that dominionists “are not talking Gospel, they’re talking moralism,” and thus can easily take the stage next to Mormons in a political theater.1
Rev. Glenn confessed pure befuddlement at the concept of “reclaiming America”: “I’m still unclear of even what that means. . . . I feel like I can’t even speak to it.”
Friel followed by calling “Rushdoonyites” “pharisaical moralists” who engage in political activism “without the Gospel,” and “trying to impose a worldview without any authority.”
At one point Friel queried whether “dominionists” are “heretics,” to which Johnson replied “some of them are.” He provided no justification for consigning such brethren to hell. When called out on it by the other guys, he backtracked and qualified his comments somewhat, although without retracting the condemnation.
In more than one instance, the problem as clear: dominionists ignore the Gospel and seek to reclaim America through pharisaical works—a clear attempt at “works” salvation by law and political activism.
The outstanding problem with the whole discussion: not once did any of these guys quote a “Rushdoonyite” or “dominionist” to let them speak for themselves. In fact, at no point did any of them show any familiarity with any of our writings or teachings. Yet at the same time they confidently misrepresenting our position. All we get is the traditional black-out, silencing, words put in our mouths, beliefs alleged to our hearts, and then . . . the traditional knocking-down of the “works” straw man.
I heard a saying once that seems to fit here: “If you’ve got a problem with the man, go see the man.” None of these guys made an attempt to come see the man before publically criticizing him and condemning behind his back for a false claim.
Let me be blunt: Mr. Friel and company have not done well. They should do much better. When you represent the views of your Christian brothers in a large public venue, you have an obligation to do so as accurate and honestly as possible. There are no exceptions to this rule. Mr. Friel and Co., failed to come close to this rule, or even try. It is deplorable and lamentable, and I call them to repent.
Below I have compiled just a few excerpts of dominionist writings that clearly expose the accusations of moralism, Pharisaism, lack of gospel preaching, and “non-gospel” preaching to be both inaccurate and easily discoverable, had these critics chosen to do their homework. Before I get to these, let me issue my offer/challenge:
If Mr. Friel wants to put dominionism, Christian Reconstruction, “Reclaiming America,” or any of the related terms to the test, then do it: Let’s have a level-playing-field discussion and/or debate.
Otherwise, if Mr. Friel still chooses to criticize us without talking to us or debating us squarely, then a certain commandment calls him at least to:
1) Do his homework
2) Do it in full context
3) Give it its best showing possible
For example, Gary DeMar has openly criticized the position of Mr. Johnson’s boss, John MacArthur, on numerous occasions. Every time he does, he quotes McArthur himself, summarizes his position fairly (within both the contexts of the immediate source and his theological tradition), and only then levels a criticism. Why can’t our opponents not give us the same fair and brotherly treatment?
Mr. Friel is personally even more inexcusable on this account because he knows exactly who and where we are. In 2008, without (we assume) knowing at the time whom and what exactly American Vision represents, Mr. Friel contacted American Vision via email. After reading one of DeMar’s articles on the ACLU, Mr. Friel stated that we had “a lot in common” and suggested, “Perhaps we can do some ministry together.”
Gary responded positively, but to this day has never heard back. Why go from “a lot in common” and “we can do some ministry together” to stone cold silence, and now shady criticism tactics?
The point is this: Mr. Friel knows exactly whom to call about dominionism if he wants the real answers. Mr. Friel knows we’re right down the road from him. Mr. Friel has read our articles and websites. Yet Mr. Friel is choosing to attack the concept of “Reclaiming America” as unbiblical without naming, quoting, or contacting us on it. And Mr. Friel knows exactly how to contact us.
Dominion, the Gospel, and Regeneration
Here are some of the many statements that refute Friel and Co. on this issue, and most of these are easily accessible via the internet:
Since Friel uses the label “Rushdoonyite,” let’s begin with R. J. Rushdoony himself. In his landmark magnum opus, The Institutes of Biblical Law, Rushdoony wrote:
All law is religious in nature, and every non-Biblical law-order represents an anti-Christian religion. But the key to remedying the situation in not revolution, nor any kind of resistance that works to subvert law and order. The New Testament abounds in warnings against disobedience and in summons to peace. The key is regeneration, propagation of the gospel, and conversion of men and nations to God’s law-word.2
Friel and friends apparently missed this.
A few pages later, Rushdoony goes on to preempt the very charge Friel and Co. have leveled. He teaches that “evil men cannot produce a good society. The key to social renewal is individual regeneration.”3 Friel missed this, too.
Another: “Clearly, there is no hope for man except in regeneration.”4
Again: “In terms of God’s law, true reform begins with regeneration. . . .”5
Mr. Friel and friends missed these, too, but perhaps he can appreciate them. Perhaps he can also appreciate that Rushdoony also held dominion and the reconstruction of society as a secondary priority to that of conversion:
The primary purpose of conversion is that man be reconciled to God; reconciliation with his fellow man and with himself is a secondary aspect of this fact, a necessary by-product but a by-product nonetheless.6
Here’s Rushdoony in another publication stating the same ideas:
This is the purpose of the law of God, restoration, and the means is faith, or regeneration by the sovereign grace of God.7
I suspect nearly any Rushdoony book (and there are over 60) would confirm these same sentiments. Just to test my suspicion, I grabbed a random and lesser-known work that happened to be next to my chair (yes I am writing this from my easy chair), the commentary on Genesis. Sure enough, here’s the confirmation on page 107:
The truth remains that . . . man is a sinner, and can never escape the fact except by regeneration and sanctification in Jesus Christ, a member of Him and His new humanity. . . .
But what about other “dominionist” and “Rushdoonyite” authors? We have plenty of examples:
Dominionist and Rushdoonyite Gary North wrote of our views in 1987, in a popular book called Liberating Planet Earth:
We are talking about the transformation of this world. Only when the present world has been transformed by the gospel of salvation and the transforming work of the Holy Spirit, as He works through God’s redeemed people, will the world at last be delivered completely from sin, at the final judgment (Revelation 20).8
(Note: you only had to read eight pages into this one to get the gospel point.)
Here the transformation happens not only “when” but “only when” the gospel is preached. Friel missed this.
In preaching against humanism and communism, North contrasts “the preaching of the gospel of personal, individual salvation,” with “the imposition by force of an elitist, top down revolutionary cadre.” He obviously sides with the former.9 Indeed, North condemns the socialist message as “the gospel of ‘salvation through political plunder’”10
Friel and friends missed this, too.
In another place, North affirms the centrality of the Gospel once again, this time quoting Rushdoony in Political Polytheism:
“The key to social regeneration is individual renewal,” wrote Rushdoony in 1973. But we must begin this process of reconstruction with confident faith in the gospel; we must be confident that God’s salvation is as comprehensive as sin is.11
North gets more explicit:
The long term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. . . . The way to achieve this political goal is through successful mass evangelism followed by constitutional revision.12
I had to straighten out a raging liberal on this quotation some time ago. To his credit, he at least quoted us. Mr. Friel has not yet risen even to the scholarly level of this leftist atheist.
One Reformed critic of theonomy and dominionism, William Edgar, actually represented our position correctly in First Things, in a memorial of Rushdoony after his death: “they tend to believe that God’s Kingdom will eventually be established on earth through the faithful preaching of the gospel and the faithful application of God’s law to society.”
Friel and friends missed this.
How do dominionists say the kingdom of God shall gain dominion in all the earth? Dominionist David Chilton (deceased) in Paradise Restored, wrote: “The Garden of Eden, the Mountain of the Lord, will be restored in history, before the Second Coming, by the power of the Gospel; and the desert will rejoice, and blossom as the rose (Isa. 35:1).”13 How was that again? “By the power of the Gospel.”
Disagree with the eschatology, if you will (another discussion to be had), but don’t accuse the man of calling for political activism “without the gospel.” This is something of which everyone at the table should take note.
Chilton reiterates: “By means of the gospel, His people are extending His rule over the face of the earth, until all nations are discipled and Paradise comes to its most complete earthly fulfillment.”14 Friel missed it.
Chilton commented on Revelation 21:24–27:
This is written of a time when the nations still exist as nations; yet the nations are all converted, flowing into the City and bringing their treasures into it. As the light of the gospel shines through the Church to the world, the world is converted, the nations are discipled, and the wealth of the sinners becomes inherited by the just. This is a basic promise of Scripture from beginning to end. This is the pattern of history, the direction in which the world is moving. This is our future, the heritage of generations to come.15
Chilton was quite clear here about the gospel flowing through the church. Friel missed it.
Interestingly, Chilton directly addressed the very criticism Friel and Co. leveled here, only consider: this was published in 1985 (it is still available for free online). Chilton responded to the exact same criticism as it had come from Hal Lindsey, that “postmillennialists . . . believed that Christians would … [bring] about the Kingdom of God on earth through their own efforts.” Chilton said,
This is one of the most commonly heard objections to the Hope. The dominion outlook is equated with the liberal “Social Gospel” movement of the early 1900s. Such an identification is utterly absurd, devoid of any foundation whatsoever. The leaders of the Social Gospel movement were evolutionary humanists and socialists, and were openly hostile toward Biblical Christianity. It is true that they borrowed certain terms and concepts from Christianity, in order to pervert them for their own uses. Thus they talked about the “Kingdom of God,” but what they meant was far removed from the traditional Christian faith. Orthodox postmillennial teachers such as Benjamin Warfield and J. Gresham Machen vigorously opposed the Social Gospel. True postmillennialism has always been truly evangelical: It teaches that the Kingdom was established by Jesus Christ alone, and that the Kingdom is advanced through the spread of the gospel and the application of the Bible to every area of life.
There is another dimension to this issue, however. Since we believe that Christians will overcome all opposition and will bring the gospel to the ends of the earth, postmillennialists are accused of having faith in man. This is a radical distortion. The truth is that postmillennialists believe in God, who works in history through redeemed man. We believe that the omnipotent Lord of heaven and earth is indwelling His Church, and will not allow us to be defeated in the mission He gave us. St. Augustine prayed: “Give what You command, and command what You will.” That is our attitude as well. Because God works in history to bless the godly and curse the ungodly, history is on our side. In the battle between redeemed men and wicked men, we have faith in redeemed men. We believe that God’s people will overcome, in time and on earth, as well as in eternity. In Christ we are the heirs of all things.16
Chilton addressed this 28 years ago. Where has Mr. Friel been? If only he had done his homework. If only he had done just a little bit of it.
Kenneth Gentry, Jr.
Ken Gentry, another postmillennialist and dominionist, writes in He Shall Have Dominion:
In response to the Pharisees, Christ specifically declared that the kingdom does not come visibly with temporal fanfare. “And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the kingdom of God should come, he answered them and said, The kingdom of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17:20-21). Obviously a spiritual conception of the kingdom is here demanded, in contradiction to an Armageddon-introduced, earthly, political kingdom.
This is why Christ went about preaching what is termed the “gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:23; 9:35; 24:14; Mark 1:14-15). He proclaimed a redemptive, spiritual kingdom. Hence, being exalted to His throne leads to a spiritual effusion of grace, not the political establishment of an earthly government.17 .
On page 232 of the same work, Gentry writes,
The New Testament clearly expects an era of Christian dominion to occur prior to the Second Advent of the Lord Jesus Christ in power at the final judgment. This era of dominion will produce the worldwide transformation of society through the preaching of the gospel and individuals’ widespread positive response to the message of redemption – a continuity of dominion.
Note once more: “through the preaching of the gospel”—not “political activism without the gospel.” Get that. Mr. Friel didn’t.
Dominionist Ray Sutton, in That You May Prosper, explains a little of how this works: not through government or political activism, but through individual evangelism:
The spread of the Gospel is not a top-down operation. Salvation comes from above, in that it is applied through the work of the Holy Spirit. But normally, the spread of the Gospel should be from household to household, “leavening.” This is certainly what we see in the Book of Acts. The Gospel begins in the menial households of the Roman Empire, and it spreads to the greatest family, Caesar’s household, when Paul is taken captive and converts Caesar’s own bodyguards.18
Well, there you go. Here are twenty quotations with references from the most popular and widespread works on dominionism and Rushdoonyism, all of which directly mandate the preaching of the gospel before political activism and as the only successful foundation of it. These references make this explicit, are stated in no uncertain words, and have been easily accessible for decades—some for over 40 years.
We have not even touched the writings of Gary DeMar, nor my own, nor have we examined the dozens of other writers in the movement or more loosely associated with it, now or at one time. We could find similar examples in all of these.
Mr. Friel, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Wax, and Rev. Glenn have missed all of these. These Christian leaders are all respected and trusted not to miss these kinds of things. I am glad to enter the discussion. I hope to hear from them soon. Heck, maybe we can get everyone together for another steak dinner and film the discussion over again.
- Mr. Wax actually spoke much good sense against the points Friel and Johnson made. Though I would be critical of some of his comments, I will have to address the good points as well in a separate article.(↩)
- Institutes of Biblical Law, 113.(↩)
- Institutes, 122.(↩)
- Rushdoony, Institutes, 449.(↩)
- Rushdoony, Institutes, 627.(↩)
- Institutes, 777.(↩)
- Rushdoony, Politics of Guilt and Pity, 340.(↩)
- Liberating Planet Earth, 8.(↩)
- Ibid., 71.(↩)
- Ibid., 154.(↩)
- Political Polytheism, 20.(↩)
- Political Polytheism, 87.(↩)
- Paradise Restored, 46.(↩)
- Ibid., 148.(↩)
- Ibid., 208.(↩)
- Ibid., 227–228.(↩)
- He Shall Have Dominion, p. 226(↩)
- That You May Prosper, 134.(↩)