While relatively unknown outside conservative Christian circles, the Christian Reconstructionists provided much of the intellectual underpinning for the rise of the New Christian Right in the latter half of the twentieth century. Reconstructionist thinkers grounded in strict Calvinism, including Rousas John Rushdoony, Gary North, Greg Bahnsen, and David Chilton, articulated a theological system called theonomy, which was based on the view that God's law, contained in the Bible, was applicable to all areas of life—not the least of which is civil government.
Reconstructionist Christianity can be understood as flowing from two theological distinctives: presuppositionalism and postmillennialism. Presuppositionalist epistemology holds that all reasoning begins with premises (presuppositions) for which there may be no proof. Reconstructionists derived this epistemology from Cornelius van Til, a professor at Westminster Seminary, where many of them studied. Reconstructionists teach that in the search for truth, one must begin either with God or with human reason (thus humanism) but that there can be no neutral starting point; that no aspect of life can be religiously neutral—not civil government, not science, not education. Thus they seek to bring all of life "under the lordship of Christ." From popularized versions of this system the New Christian Right has drawn its critique of "secular humanism" and called for "reestablishing America as a Christian nation."
As postmillennialists, Christian Reconstructionists stand apart from traditional American Fundamentalists, who are predominantly premillennial dispensationalists. Reconstructionists hold that Jesus' Second Coming will follow a "thousand-year" reign of the Kingdom of God (they are not literal concerning the thousand-year duration), which began at Christ's resurrection. They believe that the great tribulation promised in the Book of Revelation occurred with the destruction of the Temple at Jerusalem in 70 c.e. and that since the resurrection, it has been the responsibility of Christians to "usher in the Kingdom" by taking dominion over the Earth (as Adam and Eve were commanded to do at Creation). They expect the increasing "Christianization" of the world and a subsequent transformation of the world's nations into societies based on biblical law. These postmillennialist sensibilities have been imported into premillennialist conservative Protestant theological systems in piecemeal fashion as "Prosperity Theology" and as "Dominion Theology" (which, in turn, promoted involvement in business and politics).
While Christian Reconstructionist books and materials (including workbooks designed for use in Bible study sessions) were produced by a relatively small cadre of thinkers, the influence of the movement has been largely hidden for at least two reasons. First, the promotion of these views occurred in a diffused and informal manner. During the 1970s and 1980s Christian Reconstructionist materials were widely disseminated in the conservative Protestant subculture. New Christian Right leaders and pastors read Reconstructionist works, fundamentalist church bookstores sold the materials for individual and group Bible studies, and Christian schools and Christian home schoolers bought Reconstructionist curricular materials for use in their classrooms.
The second reason why the influence of this movement has been hidden is that Reconstructionists have been so unrelentingly consistent and have endorsed positions that the larger Christian Right found too extreme. Rushdoony has said in print, as well as in a PBS video with Bill Moyers (God and Politics), that democracy violated fundamental biblical principles and that the Book of Deuteronomy lists the death penalty as the punishment for homosexuality and "incorrigible" teens. Christian Right leaders have distanced themselves from Reconstructionist leaders while at the same time embracing many Reconstructionist views that seemed more politically palatable. For example, a 10 percent flat tax to replace the current graduated income tax was advocated by Reconstructionists as biblical (based on the biblical tithe) long before it was advocated by the Christian Right and then by more mainstream Republican politicians.
Important sources of Reconstructionist materials are Gary North's Institute for Christian Economics and Dominion Press, in Tyler, Texas, which publishes Reconstructionist books; North's newsletter The Remnant Review; and Rousas John Rushdoony's Chalcedon Foundation in Vallecito, California, from which The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, The Chalcedon Report, and other publications come. Key Reconstructionist works include Rushdoony's two-volume commentary on the Ten Commandments and their application for today, The Institutes of Biblical Law (1973); Bahnsen's exposition of presuppositionalism Theonomy and Christian Ethics (1974); Chilton's development of postmillennialism in Paradise Restored (Reconstruction Press, Fort Worth, Texas, 1985) and Days of Vengeance (Dominion Press, Fort Worth, Texas, 1990); and The Biblical BluePrint Series, edited by Gary North, which explores the application of Reconstructionist theology to every area of life (including government, education, and family, but also the welfare, banking, and taxation systems).
Barron, Bruce. Heaven on Earth? 1992.
Juergensmeyer, Mark. Terror in the MindofGod. 1999.
Lienesch, Michael. Redeeming America. 1993.
Moyers, Bill. God and Politics, PBS video. 1987.
Shupe, Anson. "Christian Reconstruction and the Angry Rhetoric of Neo-Postmillennialism." In Millennium, Messiahs, and Mayhem, edited by Thomas Robbins and Susan Palmer. 1997.
Julie J. Ingersoll