“Meet the Theonomists”

The movement variously known as “theonomy” or “Christian reconstructionism” appeared in fits and spurts, with various points of origin, back in the 1960s, largely due to the work of such figures as Dr Cornelius van Til (who never actually called himself a “theonomist” however), the Episcopal rector T. Robert Ingram, and, most especially, the Rev Dr Rousas John Rushdoony and his son-in-law, historian Dr Gary North, with their Chalcedon Foundation, originally established in Los Angeles in 1965. 1973 saw the publication of RJR’s seminal Vol. I of The Institutes of Biblical Law, which, as perhaps is inevitable owing to its self-conscious homage to John Calvin in the title, is often seen by reconstructionist zealots as a treatise of equal worth to Calvin’s. The book version was merely the compilation of extensive sermon tapes/notes that had been preached by RJR since the mid-60s, and Rushdoony’s Chalcedon Report had from the beginning been serving to establish Rushdoony and Chalcedon as major factors in the conservative Reformed orbit in the US (his Messianic Character of American Education, 1963, had already served to secure his place as the intellectual progenitor of the conservative Christian school, and, later, home-schooling movements, and his later work at Chalcedon cemented his position as a leading conservative Reformed theologian as well). Indeed, the theonomy movement has consistently appeared to the seeker after conservative, biblical, Reformed depth of doctrine/practice as a really very good, consistently biblical expression of “Calvinism,” self-consciously using such models as Calvin’s Geneva, Knoxian Scotland, and Puritan New England, as forerunners of their reconstructed vision of Christian society, but going beyond these progenitors to attempt to more consistently biblicize the model. And, indeed, many of the theonomists’ key insights are indisputably valid and worthy of emulation and adoption, such as especially their insistence on the need for criminals to pay restitution, administered through godly labor, rather than being warehoused in hellish prisons-cum-crime colleges; the reality that a statute or law-teaching of the OT need not specifically be repeated in the NT to remain valid for Christians to obey, provided the context of the Bible overall commands continued adherence thereto (bestiality being the clichéd but quite valid locus classicus for this argument); and, most formidably, the theonomists’ keen desire to build a consistent Christian worldview, and then, horror of horrors, to actually live thereby!

That said, however, well, there are problems. I do not say this lightly — I really have tried to be/become a good theonomist/reconstructionist (I will use only “theonomy/ist” from now on; consider the terms synonymous). I have run the full theonomy gauntlet as a subscriber to the Chalcedon Report for almost 8 full years, to Gary North’s Institute for Christian Economics (ICE) for over 7, to the Chalcedon Tapes for almost 8 as well; I have further listened to hundreds of tapes rented from the Mt Olive Tape Library in Mississippi, most of which were theonomist or at least recon-sympathizing teachers, as is the director of that institution, elder George Calhoun. I have also read various of the key theonomic books from Rushdoony and North, as well as other key theonomic authors, such as the late Revs David Chilton and Greg Bahnsen, the historian Otto Scott, whose Compass newsletter I have also subscribed to for 6 years, and others. Lastly, I have also been exposed to the more workaday expressions of the theonomy movement, many of which cannot but leave regularly smarmy tastes in one’s mouth: I have experienced real theonomists really working out their presuppositions to their logical conclusions on such fora as the Theonomy-L@a . . . email list (moderated by Daniel Lance Herrick); I have experienced various other theonomic email lists and lists where theonomy hardcases have made nuisances of themselves; I have examined the writings of many fringe hangers-on of the movement, as seen not only on email lists but also on www sites and in various print magazines, newsletters, etc., and, for even more edifying and direct uplift, I have had much personal interaction with many of these people as well, certainly enough to well establish certain key patterns of behavior and belief.

So what are my general conclusions with regard to this movement, its future, and my place therein? First and foremost, I must conclude that, despite the specific good points mentioned above, and some similar points, and the general Calvinistic orthodoxy of the theonomy movement, the movement itself is nonetheless infected with wholesale theological aberrations and excesses. Several of these are directly related to an over-reliance on and/or an overemphasis on certain aspects of covenant theology (despite occasional claims to the contrary from certain of the movement leaders, it is really not possible to be a consistent theonomist and a Baptist, a fact which is often unedifyingly and directly upheld by many of the newer, younger adherents). Standard covies teach that elect infants go to heaven, whoever these be, and that, in general, Christian parents can expect that their children will eventually become converted, if they have been properly raised in the nurture and admonition of the Lord, and if they demonstrate appropriate signs of such conversions as adults/teens, they are then treated as Christians worthy of full inclusion into the church. But in recent years, theonomy hardcases have begun generally to espouse twin doctrines that turn this traditional covie viewpoint almost on its head: paedocommunion and presumptive election. Paedocommunion means pretty much just what it sounds like — communion is given to infants and small children, who, having been baptized into good covie/recon homes, are quite frankly presumed to be saved. Not even presumed to be going to get saved; presumed to be saved. This of course means that the children grow up not being told of their personal need to convert, and that neither the children nor their parents and elders are examining them to see any fruits of such conversion. Indeed, many hard-case theonomists get offended if anyone, even a pastor, dare challenge their “covenant kids” to repent and be converted, and many children are deluded as to their spiritual state. But many others are not; one reliable source told me of a family who visited their church once, only to have a father force acceptance of the Lord’s Table on his eight-year-old son, who was clearly resisting, on pain of a spanking, and this little anecdote serves to mention that these twin pillars of parental presumption are common conditions in theonomyland — this is one of the most patriarchalist movements in Christendom today, and theonomy parents in general take their personal parental prerogatives very highly, cloaking highly arrogant, self-righteous and often ignorant parental praxis in pious platitudes about “their being responsible for their children, not the elders being . . .” One aspect of this is seen in the theonomists’ tendency to have woefully exaggerated expectations for their homeschooled children, both in terms of academic performance, and social/theological maturity. One regularly sees theonomic homeschool curricula that are unbalanced in the extreme, but that are also accompanied by glowing testimonials for just how brilliant and orthodox the children are.

The Chalcedon Report (CR), for one, has recently taken to publishing articles written by theonomy kids, often related to the Rushdoony clan, and accompanied by glowing encomia — the kid is brilliant, doctrinally orthodox, etc., when in reality these articles are mostly noteworthy for how well the kid has mindlessly rehashed whatever his parents have taught him. And the student articles in the CR are actually very tame compared to many of the stuff seen in other more fringe fora. Indeed, one member of the faculty of the John MacArthur “Master’s College” in California noted that the homeschooled kids they accept usually have to be deprogrammed in the area of history out of the errors gleaned from “the pseudo-historical home-school materials” they have studied under. While he was not referring just to theonomy kids, his description here is apt and fit for them.

Additional theonomic aberrations/excessiveness on the part of the theonomists certainly includes their slavish and often mindless espousal of vantillian “presuppositional” apologetics. Van Til and his acolytes since him have consistently claimed that their system is somehow not really just fideism cloaked somewhat differently, and theonomic vantillians especially are really quite good at denigrating their “classical apologetics” adversaries as merely not understanding the brilliant syntheses of the master. What they are not good at, however, is actually proving their claims. This point really is not important, in the sense that vantillianism is certainly a legitimate apologetical philosophy; what is important is that so is the classical apologetic view, and theonomists do not win friends and influence people by their strident, largely ad hominem, and generally baseless espousal of the need for presuppositionalism. Perhaps this might best be shown by pointing out here that the theonomists love Church history whenever it supports their views, and theonomists like Rushdoony and especially his acolyte Andrew Sandlin are actually fond of criticizing fundamentalists for “believing in the Bible but not in history,” but that whenever church history does not back up more innovative theonomic claims, such as here with presuppositionalism, this is conveniently chalked up to more leavening of the Spirit in the postmillennially oriented, still “infant” church. Ah.

Still further, there are several key “hard cases” which tend to blow apart the central thesis of theonomy, namely, that the OT judicial law is still binding on Christians in the NT era, unless specifically revoked in the NT itself. If this be true, then the OT law, or at least all OT laws not specifically revoked in the NT, ought to still be clearly able to be obeyed and to be judicially sanctioned according to the OT precept for disobedience, today, according to the conditions faced by the church in the NT era. Any given location that throws doubt in here is a potential stumbling block for the whole system, especially when, whenever presented with such doubts, the leading theonomic teachers act like they are deaf, dumb, and blind . . . and living on the dark side of the moon. Get more than just a few of these hard cases, and the system will tilt of its own accord. In my opinion, thus, there are more than enough of these, but I will mention only the most glaring here.

Cities of Refuge
First and foremost is the famous manslaughter/city of refuge statute, wherein the man guilty of manslaughter had to flee to a city of refuge there to live until the death of the reigning high priest, at which time he could return to his place. No matter how you slice it, in the NT era this law cannot be obeyed — indeed, it was a foreshadowing of the once-for-all atoning death of the sinless Great High Priest — but ask a theonomic teacher or serious follower what should be done with manslaughterers today, under theonomic biblical law, and, well . . . just try it. If any of you ever get an answer, any answer, holler.

Additional hard cases include the tithe. NT-emphasizing Christians have a wide variety of solutions for what if any tithe ought to be imposed on the Christian believer today, but theonomists have a greater problem. RJR correctly notes the total tithes assessed of the citizen of OT Israel as coming to 23%, but what of this for Christians today? For, no matter how you slice it, most of this money in the OT was geared for the support of the various aspects of the OT levitical and temple systems, none of which are commanded or even established as a continuance for the NT church. Christians are commanded to support their pastors, period. And even then we can discuss what this means. But theonomists have their OT law problem, which makes them think of all sorts of creative exegeses to use up that tithe . . . really. . . I have even seen advocacy for using the “Levite” portion of this to fund music ministries, as this was one of the functions of the Levites, etc. . . On a more depressing note, moreover, this strident emphasis on the OT tithe has also created in theonomyland great divisions — Gary North and his followers, for instance, teach that the whole of the tithe, as they mathematically compute it, should be paid to one’s local church only, with only additional offerings freely given to ministries like his, whereas RJR teaches that the Christian can give the tithe to the work of the Lord solely as the individual chooses. Oh well. But should the OT tithe be a real cause célèbre, a “man the torpedoes” moment?

“Judicial vs. Ceremonial”
Still further, there is also the more general problem of identifying just what aspects of the OT law qualify as “judicial,” there to be obeyed, vs. “ceremonial,” there to be reckoned as fulfilled in Christ. This really is not as easy as it looks. If one follows the Westminster Confession’s “General Equity” principle with regard to the continuing validity of the OT law, it is easy enough, but if judicial laws are still binding on Christians and must be obeyed, then it does become rather vitally important to correctly identify those laws. This can produce some really whacked-out trippy stuff, I assure you — witness the most recent issue of The Christian Statesman, the publication of the theonomically oriented “National Reform Association,” wherein independent theonomic pastor William Einwechter of Penna., actually advocates that included within the judicial laws all of which we are still to obey is the law in Deuteronomy requiring the sacrifice of an unworked heifer by the elders of a city, whenever there has been an unsolved murder in their jurisdiction. That no one else in the entire 2000-year history of the Church has apparently deemed that OT statute as anything other than having been fulfilled in Christ seems to be of no consequence to “ordained minister” Einwechter. Paul, on the other hand, seems to have another term in mind for men who act and reason as Einwechter does here — heretic.

Property Tax
An even more telling “hard case” issue that indicts theonomy is in my opinion the theonomists’ baptized “rugged individualism” version of capitalism, at least as regards property rights. No one disputes the continuing validity of the Eighth Commandment, but the specific OT property scheme laid out for national OT Israel, was this intended for other nations, Christian or not? In the OT economy, each family had an inheritance of land straight from God, except for Levites who merely had cities to live in and a strict right to receive tithes for their maintenance from the rest of the tribes who had the land. Each family’s inheritance was inviolable; it had to be returned to that family at the Year of Jubilee if it had come into the usufruct of others. The key here is that the land each family owned was given to it directly by God through Moses & Joshua. So what? Simply put, God has not chosen to divide up the land in any other nation, ever, anywhere, by families, period. In other words, in no American state is land tenure of any individual, family, corporation, institution, etc., held by divine fiat. This has great implications, the greatest of which is that the modern state is the ultimate giver of and decider of who owns what land, and that the state retains, if it chooses, certain rights over private property subsumed under the heading of “eminent domain” here in the USA. Simply put, private property owners here own their land on the basis of the state’s land ownership policies, not because God gave the individual owner his stake directly. Thus, the state can and usually does tax that property, and this is not theft. Similarly, the state can take that land away, and this is not theft either. We are blessed and fortunate here in the us that land cannot be seized by the state except on payment of just compensation and for a valid public purpose, but Romans 13, and other NT passages make clear the secular state has no such obligations. This may seem unradical in the extreme, to most Christians, including most Calvinists, but to the theonomists, especially the whacko fringe element thereof, this is heresy straight from the Pit. They argue that not only is my ½-acre lot surrounded by a picket fence enclosing a half-timbered gambrel somehow mine by divine right and subject to no just taxation or confiscation for any reason whatsoever, but that taxes of any kind can only be levied by the state for a reason specifically authorized by the theonomic interpretation of OT law — RJR gives only 16 reasons whereby the state may tax, and that’s it. I remember first coming to seriously question the validity of the theonomic system when I posed a challenge on the Theonomy-L list: knowing that road construction is considered unbiblical as a use of tax money, I asked the question about “fire departments.” Specifically, can a state tax for public fire forces? I thought surely this most basic element of modern civilization would force some reevaluation of the basic taxation thesis. I was wrong.

Essentially, the view is rugged individualism indeed; let the rich finance private services, and those who can afford them can purchase their services when the flames start blazing. Those who cannot, well, they better at least be able to afford private fire insurance. If you hear fire alarm bells ringing off in your head here, thank the Lord your God that you live in Christian civilization, where a nice new fire truck is only a phone call away, staffed with men and paid for by taxes, ready to put your fire out. Theonomy, essentially, is indeed a revision to a clan level of societal orientation; families help themselves, the state is all but impotent, except for the imposition of the death penalty (here, the theonomy boys give the state maximalist authority indeed!), and woe betide the hapless retardate or cripple who has no family to take care of him, especially if he is also not a member of the covenanted church community.

Capital Punishment
Also, theonomy is poisoned by the generally hardcore, hardcase, high-and-dry Calvinism its adherents, especially newer, younger ones, espouse. Rigid adherence to the death penalty laws of the OT is but one example. Gary North, in his Victim’s Rights, does give a cogent argument that shows that only for premeditated murder was the death penalty mandatory in OT law; for all other death penalty offenses, the victim could accept a lawful lesser sanction, which he argues was likely the normal route, often with community/official pressure (?). Further, RJR makes very clear that the death penalty must only be imposed when a conviction has been obtained at the testimony of a minimum of two unassailed witnesses. This suggests that theonomists should be very rare about the chair; oh well. The latest Christian Statesman issue, mentioned above, was themed on the death penalty, but only one author even mentioned the two witness requirement even in passing. Most just seemed to have bloodlust, and to enjoy the execution of convicts. No younger theonomists seem to have adopted North’s Victim’s Rights thesis, and just a few weeks ago I saw a clownish theonomy buffoon, the stunningly underwhelming “Rev Dr Prof” Francis Nigel Lee, of Australia, argue, ostensibly offering Calvin as his support, that all rapists must be executed (Lee seems to have been unable to grasp what the Bible says about “statutory rape,” where a man seduces a virgin who is of age, and he ignored me completely when I tried to explain and cited my acceptance of North’s death penalty thinking here (though I do not think that rape should ever be punished by death, personally)). When forced to deal with the “two-witnesses” statute, many young theonomists will try to use invented modern circumstantial and pseudoscientific statistical evidences to count as “witnesses,” ignoring the total lack of biblical support for such thinking (OJ did not fare well among theonomists, though no witnesses saw him do anything untoward that night). Lastly here, recall the appalling case of the 6-year-old killer in Michigan, this past spring; the boy, raised in a crack house by an addicted “mother,” brought a gun he had found there to school, and used it to scare another classmate with whom he had had a fight. Tragically, it was loaded, and the other child was shot dead. I am not making this up, but Daniel Lance Herrick, moderator of the Theonomy-L list, actually advocated executing the child “murderer,” and his “analysis” of biblical requirements in this case actually won several at least somewhat sympathetic ears. Certain more balanced elements on this list (full disclosure here — I have not been permitted to post there for over two years now, despite having received several letters of support for my actions from regulars there) did suggest ways that a theonomist could argue that the child ought not properly be executed; that such arguments needed to be raised is telling enough, however. It has long been a slander used against theonomists that they advocate “stoning children,” on the basis of their advocacy for capital enforcement of the “habitual criminal” OT statute (which contextually clearly deals with adults); sadly, what on the surface has long been merely slander now seems to have more than a little basis in fact.

Factious Discipline
Related to their fondness for “an eye for an eye” justice, in the worst tradition of the Ayatollah, lies the theonomists’ extreme over-fondness for church discipline among their own church members. This goes far beyond the similar tendencies seen in more mainstream Reformed circles today. One theonomic church I know of had a regular time in Sunday service given over weekly to “Censures, Sanctions, and Admonitions.” This church split quickly after this, when one of the elders adopted such practices from the playbook of hard-core Northian-Tyler camp theonomy. Similarly, theonomists love to press charges against each other in their church courts, and to press rhetorical charges or wage rhetorical wars, against each other on email lists, etc., and in print. This is perhaps not surprising, as, again even more so than the mainstream conservative Reformed in the US today, theonomists, though not usually hyper-Calvinists, are nonetheless fully members of the self-anointed elite frozen-chosen. This is mainly seen in theonomyland in terms of both the general lack of warmth, outreach, evangelism, etc., on the part of the theonomists, on the one hand, and on their tremendous overemphasis on political activism, right expressions of “taking dominion” over the culture, etc., on the other. This is a real problem, and it leads into a whole slew of unsavory additional more general aberrations as well. . .

These other more general aberrations and embarrassments in the theonomy movement include the foibles, idiosyncrasies, and downright heresies of various members of the inner core of the movement as well as various fringe hangers-on who have not really (if ever) been repudiated by those elite insiders. One of the big problems of the theonomy movement has been a magnified and often twisted version of the general tendency found in Reformed circles in general towards the “great man” theory of history and government. I mean here that theonomists have long distinguished themselves, more or less, by slavish and unquestioned loyalty and obedience to their leaders, and mindless acceptance of their leaders’ teachings, and, in those rare cases where the teachings and/or practices of such a leader are too problematic to stomach, the leaders’ followers tend to engage in verbal and practical gyrations and gymnastics to justify those errors, or, if possible, edit them out of existence in an Orwellian manner. The patriarch of reconstructionism, Rousas J Rushdoony, provides a great example of this, for several of his long-held and never-repudiated teachings and practices are quite frankly embarrassing, but his followers, who really are intensely loyal to him, never let mere embarrassment or unpleasant facts get in the way of that devotion.

Anti-Civil Rights
Various examples here include his teachings, as found in the Institutes of Biblical Law and never repudiated or revised, on interracial marriage, the black race in general, and various related issues that could perhaps be subsumed under the heading of “patriarchalism.” Put simply, Rushdoony uses the anti-hybridization and mixed-fabric clauses in the OT to suggest strongly that interracial marriage is sinful, and he buttresses this with an astounding attitude of anti-civil rights, etc. I will be accused of taking material that is 35 years old and putting this wholesale into the year 2000, but he has never repudiated these teachings, and the works in which they appear remain in print and for sale from Chalcedon.

His attitude is not surprising when you consider that he, fundamentally, is arguing for the patriarchalist clan, such as he remembers hearing about from his parents and other old-country Armenian kinfolk. “Christian” in religion, and for him, Reformed as well, but fundamentally tied together by blood (he has been accused by, amongst others, son-in-law North, in Baptized Patriarchalism, of really advocating salvation by bloodline; this is largely overstated, but RJR does come close, and he certainly is more comfortable among close kin than he is amongst those of widely divergent heritage), and with himself, as clan patriarch, in all-but totalitarian control. He is not a “home-everything” whacko, advocating arranged marriages, strict life-long obedience to parents, etc., but from what he does teach in this area, it is entirely unsurprising to see how various such nuts, from the Patriarch magazine crowd to the adherents of the racist “Christian Identity” cultic heresy, have latched onto Rushdoony/Chalcedon/theonomy and want to be considered part of the clan. And these people are around, active, and eager, despite the official anti-CI disclaimer that has sat at the Chalcedon www site for several years now. One can wonder openly how seriously most Chalcedonites take this disclaimer, seeing as how the Chalcedon Report continues to publish the occasional article written by some such nut or overt racist, no questions asked, only to embarrassedly retract the publication, in the mildest and most unpublic way it can, whenever a critic calls it on its association with said errorist (most recently to my knowledge this happened in Feb. 2000, when a racist CI gun-nut published a piece in the Chalcedon Report’s anti-gun control theme issue. This was deleted on the hush hush as soon as his identity was made known to Sandlin, but he did not make a big deal of it, and has never mentioned it in the print CR to date, but only on the www site).

These obvious racist cancers and loons aside, all wings of the theonomy movement have long been highly susceptible to party-crashing by some genuinely screwy ultra-patriachalist, supermasculinist fringe folks, and the mainstream theonomists have, almost always, done or said little to withdraw the formers’ invitations. These patriarchalists are nutty, and some of them are dangerous. For various stretches, the Theonomy-L mailing list has been taken over by them and related fringe whackos, and these people have made their presence known as well by their extensive involvement online, their web pages and self-anointed ministries, and their active participation in the conservative Christian school and home-schooling movements. Various characteristics appear with these groups, but the normative commonplace ones are repeatedly seen, and are very amenable to theonomy, and often embraced actively by more mainstream theonomists. These include extreme androcentrism, often with accompanying misogyny. Theonomic churches often have post-service men’s meetings where the men get to sit around thinking deep thoughts, masticating over the order of the decrees and the number of crimes warranting the death penalty, to which the women are not invited, their being needed to cook and clean and diaper-change, to relieve their menfolk to do their thinking for them. Extreme versions of this include the teaching that women are to obey their husbands in all things always, even when he commands a sinful act. Many theonomic women are themselves promulgating this notion on the Theonomy-L list and similar, often more hard-core fora, and theonomists are usually at least sympathetic to this teaching or softer-core versions thereof, the kinds that see women as primarily the slave-girls for their husbands, the “my glass is empty, get me a refill” types (even Doug Wilson’s Idaho church has an 8PM Sunday “men’s service” listed on its www site). Theonomists themselves are not immune to the harder-edged patriarchalist teachings; theonomist pastor Steve Schlissel of NYC of all places runs a matchmaker service, which, among other things, requires young men seeking to make matches therewith to pay a minimum of $1000 for that service, a price that was dropped quite a bit in light of “market sensitivity” (this also emphasizes that the theonomists are generally supporters of the aberrant tendency within historic Calvinist thought to equate a man’s financial prosperity with his spirituality — theonomists in both the Rushdoony and North orbits tend to denigrate formal higher education and professional career at the expense of home businesses, etc., and some fringe elements are supporters of neo-agrarianism, which really would be a economic and cultural system more amenable to theonomic presuppositions anyhow). One of the most galling aspects of this patriarchalism has been the theonomists’ tendency towards the formation of Rushdoonyite “home churches,” where a family or two, often extended kin, plus maybe a few hangers-on in a revolving-door relationship, meets in their home, dad performs the “sacraments,” and plugs in one of the 30 million Rushdoony preaching tapes (which can be quite good) for the sermon, etc., and this is “church.” Ford Schwartz, California car salesman and founder of “Friends of Chalcedon,” even had a My Home Church newsletter for a year or two in the mid-90s, describing how he started and ran home services in his house, even to the point of requiring all family members to dress up in their Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes for this hour, supposedly to make the “worship” aspect more legitimate. My personal conversation with RJR’s daughter Joanna, about this time, told me that Chalcedon was forever fielding complaints from its core of subscribers (in this case, mostly the 300 or so that were buying the monthly tapes) that “we have no fellowship,” which of course meant that there was rarely if ever available a church that preached solid Rushdoony-style reconstructionism, and that most church pastors regularly were less than supportive of the attempts of these reconstructionists to reconstruct their congregations, thereby apparently necessitating the establishment of such “home churches,” where these literally-described “heretics” (i.e., wilful sectarians), could be divorced of their need to deal with people not lockstep in accordance with the program.

On the other hand, however, the Gary North “Tyler” wing of theonomy can certainly not be styled “patriarchalist” or “home dominated” (though general androcentric tendencies prevail here as everywhere in theonomyland). No, here we see ecclesiocentrism ruling the roost, by mostly highly magisterial Presbyterians who wish this were 1633, and they were Samuel Rutherford . . . or 1653 and they were Oliver Cromwell. While Rushdoony argues against “Pharisaic” professional churchmen (a theme which has grown decidedly more strident in recent years for him), North was a key player in the legendary 1980s “Tyler” reconstructionist church, associated with men such as the late David Chilton, James B. Jordan, and the ill-fated Geneva Divinity School. This church was a fiery leader of the theonomy movement, until various things happened (details are not 100% certain here, as with some aspects of the personal histories of Rushdoony and Chalcedon, facts that have acquired an unpleasant patina tend to get sloughed off into the slough of despond and institutional amnesia tends to result; that said, I am reasonably certain of the accuracy of the accounts I present here). The beginning of the end for this reconstructionist church seems to have been the famous “whitewall sermon,” which elevated the level of ecclesial obedience required of members to the leadership by stating that one needs to obey the elders in all things save what can clearly be reckoned sinful from the pages of Scripture itself, the example being, if the elders tell you to put whitewall tires on your car, snap to to obey — chop chop! Other factors in the decline of this church include a schism led by the self-anointed “Reverend” John Martin, who now pastors a micro-Presbyterian congregation there (more on this character below), and the theological shifts of the leadership — originally affiliated with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, this congregation, under the direction of elder Ray Sutton, left for the Reformed Episcopal Church, causing division and the departure of then-pastor Chilton, and the congregation was further rent asunder as additional junior members of the leadership elite embraced Romanism or Eastern Orthodoxy, which has been a running tendency in the ecclesiocentric theonomic circles. Also, other more sublime theological heresies began to divert members’ attention and cause additional departures, most notably paedocommunion and full or hyper-preterism, as well as various seductions to the “patriot” movement, the no drivers’-licenses needed crowd, etc. Thus this congregation died, Sutton moved off to become a Reformed Episcopal minister, Chilton, after a sad health crisis, passed away, Jordan relocated to Pensacola, FL, and established a new ministry, and various new ministries and “denominations” were started, all by former Tylerites and those elsewhere who had had associations with them and/or been influenced by their truly voluminous writings (all in the pre-cyber days), led by the man who would reconstruct civilization through the newsletter, Dr Gary North.

Gary North
And what of Scary Gary himself? What more can be said about the man who has successfully predicted 14 of the last 6 recessions? who has saved us by reminding us of imminent nuclear wars, Russian invasions, AIDS plagues, and the granddaddy of them all, the total destruction of western civilization as we knew it that occurred at 12:01 am on 1 January 2000? Indeed, we all are really forever in his debt! Ah but do not laugh overmuch here; I am afraid that his followers really do think this, and he himself has done little to disabuse them of this notion. He has never repented of all the scares he has helped to promulgate, but he has done a very good job of rewriting history to rectify unevents, and to keep his stoogish acolytes on task, with the program. He has also, throughout it all, consistently sold a lot of books, and generally avoided the welfare line quite nicely. I do admit that the abject failure of Y2K, coupled with the mellowing of a man approaching 60, has tamed Gary a great deal in recent years; he even chopped off his 10-lb. beard and no longer looks like Grizzly Adams, even if he is now supposedly living like him, in his Arkansas Y2K survival compound.

North is one of the tragic heroes of theonomy, really, perhaps its Nixon. Nixon went to China and bugged psychiatrists of fifth-rate adversaries; North has written perhaps the best historical work penned by any theonomist, the truly valuable Crossed Fingers: How the Liberals Took Over the Presbyterian Church, a work which is ultimately likely to have far more lasting and significant importance for the conservative Reformed and evangelical/fundamentalist churches in America than Rushdoony’s Institutes, by a good measure. North has also dedicated years to writing newsletters, getting the word out, etc., and he, unlike Rushdoony, will not accept a person’s tithe, insisting it go to his local church. And he insists his followers attend a local church, even if not paedobaptistic or even Calvinistic; he does so himself and has always done so — one will never find a home-everything personality cult with Dr North at the head.

“Obnoxious Personality Disorder”
Yet, well, North has a justly-deserved reputation for being, ahem, someone not interested in trying to kill anyone with kindness. In the early 80s he wrote Backward Christian Soldiers: an Action Manual for Christian Reconstruction, which will never be accused of pussy-footing the issues. Indeed, this manual, with its strident, quite frankly insulting direct commands to political action, taking “dominion” etc., did win many new converts to theonomy. . . and to all the problems of hard-core Gary North style theonomy at that. Theonomist pastor Brian Abshire has noted that, in the early days of the movement, many key Reformed leaders and denominations quickly came to reject theonomy almost outright, largely because the men advocating it were afflicted with gigantic cases of OPD, “obnoxious personality disorder,” and Gary North helped teach it to ’em — it’s contagious! Simply put, well, why use a flyswatter to kill that pesky fly when you can use a neutron bomb? North has never seemed to have met a hyperbole or an in-your-face assertion he did not like, from claiming that Ray Sutton’s new “Ten Point Covenant Model” was the most important book written in Christendom since Calvin’s Institutes, to all those sweeping statements about guns, gold, and grain, etc., for which he is so famous. And his followers, whether he wanted them to or not, have followed in this example, quite effectively, though most of them lack by far his intelligence, insights, and worthwhile contributions to anything, it being far easier to act like a boorish fool than to do anything or think anything of merit. Sadly, in the final analysis, Y2K seems to have been North’s Waterloo; all but his most strident acolytes are gone, and his ministry is in the terminal (?) decline of senescence: whatever good North and ICE have done, regrettably, does not seem to equal the generalized damage to his cause he and his devotees following him have done through their rash behavior, foolish predictions, and uncompromising public performances.

Just briefly here, now, let me mention some of the somewhat dubious intellectual efforts that, on balance, have or at least could, embarrass the theonomy movement. I am referring to the pseudo-intellectual writings and theories that on their surface seem as deep and profound as anything cooked up by Einstein, and impress followers, potential followers, and even often decided outsiders as well (I know whereof I speak here quite well, as all of this stuff impressed me greatly when first I encountered it). Sadly, however, many of these theories, musings, and speculations are more innovative or idiosyncratic than brilliant, even if they are regularly accepted without question by their adherents anyhow.

David Chilton and the hyperpreterists are one such case. This loathesome heresy, known correctly by Sandlin as the “Hymenæan heresy,” after Hymenæus, the NT heretic who taught that the Lord had returned already and the dead already arisen, seems so manifestly false that one would wonder how any serious Reformed thinker could ever embrace it. Indeed, Sandlin, Chalcedon, North, etc., are all in agreement in rejecting it and denouncing it. That said, for some years it has gotten a foothold in some theonomic circles, and no other said adherent has had Chilton’s excuse of having palpable brain damage, not being in his right mind, when he embraced this. Hyperpreterism destroyed the ministry of Walt Hibbard, Sr., Maryland’s “Great Christian Books,” which introduced many people, myself included, to theonomic writings, for the first time. And the hyperpreterists have made nuisances of themselves on the Theonomy-L list and elsewhere; in any case they and their error are not going away.

“Bizarro Hermeneutic”
Further, the other such case here I want to mention concerns the curious case of the Rev. James B. Jordan, late of the Tylerites, still somewhat associated with North, but now based in Florida at the head of his Biblical Horizons ministry, and most associated with people like the Revs. Peter Leithart (now an elder at the Doug Wilson Idaho Church), Jeffrey Myers, Ralph Smith, and Rich Bledsoe. It is indeed true that Jordan has for some years disavowed reconstructionism and especially Rushdoony-style theonomy, calling himself a “post-theonomist,” but this term is hazily defined and clearly recognizes Jordan’s long-term status as a theonomist. Also, most of his readership are theonomists and their sympathizers; the degree of his distance from the movement is not astronomical and his case does show the kind of thing that has happened at least somewhat regularly with theonomists, and it also shows what kind of teaching is frequented by theonomists. Put simply, Jordan emphasizes what he calls a “maximalist” biblical interpretive hermeneutic; Abshire perhaps better labels Jordan’s eclectic theological speculations “bizarro.” Jordan has done some excellent work writing North’s Biblical Chronology essays answering hard questions of historical OT chronology.

He has also served as a singular critic of the home-everything whacko fringe. That said, well, his own theology is bizarre. He is a paedocommunonist who has perhaps been the leading theological expositor of this view, using regularly tortured eisogesis in this effort. He is fond of playing games with Greek and Hebrew, furthermore, in his various theological meanderings. All this is not to say he is a bad guy; indeed, he is one of the most gracious and personable characters in the theonomic and related orbits, and his views are not dangerous, even when, as in his Sociology of the Church, or Failure of the American Baptist Culture, they are bizarre or even incompetent.

Another extremely embarrassing and repeatedly encountered element of theonomy is best represented by the leading theonomists’ singular refusal to heed the inimitable Rodney King: “Can’t we all just get along?” If the theonomy boys can do so, they do not want to — having a schism and personally anathematizing at least one fellow-movement principal seems to be almost a union card of the movement. Obviously, the locus classicus here is the case of Rushdoony vs. North, who, recall is the former’s son-in-law, and erstwhile protégé back in the 60s and 70s. The details here are unbelievably hard to corral, but various personal correspondences suggest the following — RJR had just relocated Chalcedon from LA to Calaveras County, CA, the very small rural hamlet of Vallecito, in the High Sierras, where he hoped to reestablish clan Rushdoony for the next 2000 years, along his patriarchalist lines, and he asked son-in-law North to relocate there as well and live under such a set-up, but the latter refused. This caused RJR to issue a personal excommunication of his son-in-law and his family, to the point where only in recent years has Sharon Rushdoony North and her children even felt welcome to visit the patriarch, Rushdoony having refused all attempts at reconciliation with North for over 20 years now, even when North, through the intercession of mutual friends, was eager enough to effect reconciliation. North had cooled to this idea sufficiently, by the mid-90s, to have started to fax various personal threats to Chalcedon, so claims Sandlin, but North has made clear one claim that is of indisputable accuracy: North himself is but one of many so-called Chalcedon “MIAs,” people who were close associates of RJR, working at Chalcedon, who were fired or driven away from that organization, ordinarily with no explanation given, and then largely consigned, insofar as Chalcedon was concerned, to the ethereal realms of nonexistence in a manner worthy of the Great Soviet Encyclopedia. Sometimes these men have been able to establish their own ministries and remain active players, but others have literally dropped off the face of the map of theonomy. Always the pattern is the same with Rushdoony’s MIAs: one issue of the CR, they are there and active, the next, they are gone, either with no explanation whatsoever offered or with a lame, obviously mendacious one (the exact cause of the 1994 exile of Otto Scott from Chalcedon is not known publicly, but Scott has called the official CR explanation “an official lie,” for one). The list of key such MIAs is at least 10 names long, and likely growing (?) still today with recent Chalcedon staff alterations. Indeed, when a man becomes an MIA, the official Chalcedon History is rewritten to accommodate the new reality with such brazen revisionism that a “history of the Christian reconstructionist movement” article published in the CR a couple of years ago did not once mention the name of Gary North or his ICE, which renders the article all but worthless as history, even if it might make good propaganda.

Lastly here, it is worth noting who the real first MIA is, namely the first Mrs RJ Rushdoony, who was divorced from the patriarch back in 1956. So complete has been her damnatio memoriae that I have no idea what her first name is, whether she is still living, etc., all this despite the fact that she is the birth mother of all five of Rushdooney’s children, whose apparent loyalty to their great father has meant total exile for their mother. In the Festschrift for RJR prepared for his 80th birthday, son Mark, born in 1954, wrote a 20 pp. biography of his dad, mentioning many important events in his father’s earlier days, but stunningly not once mentioning his mother or his parents’ divorce. Of course, since Christians who take the Bible seriously frown on easy unbiblical divorce, Chalcedon will answer, when asked about this divorce, that the OPC presbytery of which RJR was then a member investigated the divorce and found him blameless in 1956, but no details have ever been provided, nor any corroboration, and various rumors still swirl about. Yet we are all apparently supposed to take their word for it, despite the obvious revising of history.

Just briefly to reiterate here, this propensity to the creation of repeated MIAs and schisms is not unique to Rushdoony, but it seems, for several reasons, to be endemic in theonomyland. I have shown how the famous 80s Tyler church disintegrated, with various persons centrally involved there going off to found various new churches/sects or to embrace various other theological viewpoints, many of these heretical. This seems to be a result of the repeated struggles for leadership seen in many of these groups, which often seem to have far more wannabe chiefs than followers. Many disaffected followers, unsuccessful at obtaining leadership in a church/group, will move on down the road and set themselves up as honchos of new groups, often with slight changes in theological or practical emphases designed largely to differentiate themselves from the group they left, and allow them to write and/or preach publicly against said earlier associates, which is indeed quite commonplace. I will speak more about some of the nuttier or more outright dangerous split-off groups below; here, suffice it to say that many men/churches/groups have embraced theonomy/reconstruction in one form or another, over the years, only to quickly set themselves up as “theonomists” (even if they do not actually put this label up front in their literature/presentation) and seek status as theonomy/reconstruction ministries, leaders, etc. I will mention several cases here fitting this pattern, below. In the past, this has furthered divisions, sub-sects, etc., while the movement has remained largely centered in the bipolar leadership of the North and Rushdoony axes, but this is changing, with North having quite effectively marginalized himself and with Rushdoony obviously on the severe physical and intellectual wane. Rushdoony’s associates at Chalcedon, his son Mark and his protégé du jour Andy Sandlin, are obviously eager to maintain Chalcedon’s status as primum mobile of the movement, despite neither man’s having the credentials of the elder Rushdoony’s. They are trying hard to do so, expanding Chalcedon’s www offerings, including pretentious daily commentaries, vastly expanding their conference speaker tours and associations, etc. They may well succeed at this effort, indeed. But new, colossal competition has arisen in the Great Northwest, and it is not going away any time soon.

Twelve years ago, the Rev. Douglas Wilson was quite literally a nobody from nowhere, the pastor of the then Community Evangelical Fellowship in undistinguished Moscow, Idaho, home of his alma mater, University of Idaho. Wilson, the son of the Rev. James Wilson, the local Evangelical Free Church pastor, was, in his father’s mode, an Arminian evangelical. His church was a 1970s-style college fellowship, the pastorate of which he had inherited in the late 1970s, when the previous pastor moved on and Wilson, the guitar leader, was elected his replacement by acclamation, without seminary training, but with a MA degree in Philosophy. Wilson proved a competent replacement, and in 1981 his church started Logos School, the progenitor Christian school in their “Classical Christian School” movement, dedicated to “recovering the lost tools of learning” along the lines of the medieval trivium, following the lead of a famous essay by this name written in the 1930s by the late British mystery novelist Dorothy Sayers, which Wilson himself (who also holds a degree in Classics) later expanded into a book. The school emphasized logic, Latin, etc., as well as theology, and fit well into the university atmosphere of the Moscow, Idaho/Pullman, Wash. (University of Idaho/WSU) environs. Neither the school nor Wilson as theologian gained much influence outside of this area, however, throughout the 80s. Then, in the late 80s, Wilson chose to preach a sermon series on Romans, and through his studies therein, was converted to Reformed soteriology. This event might well have had little effect beyond his local preaching but for reasons I do not understand, Wilson chose to expand his efforts, and quickly began to seek to expand his teachings and influence outside of his local area. I do know that Wilson, presumably in a worthy effort to learn more about the Reformed faith he had recently embraced, began various correspondences with Reformed thinkers elsewhere (James Jordan was briefly one of these), and soon Wilson was joined at his church by Douglas Jones, OPC elder (?) who had been associated with Greg Bahnsen and his ministry in Southern California. Jones became and in my opinion remains the intellectual engine behind the Moscow church; through his influence Wilson would eventually embrace covenant paedobaptism and even become a popularising author advocating the “Thousand Generation Covenant” paedobaptist promise.

As I said above, I really do not know what motivated Wilson to seek to expand his influence beyond greater Moscow, Idaho, but that he did do so, consciously, is obvious. Almost every Protestant pastor seems to want to get a “tape ministry” going in his church, but most do not get anyone to buy or even ask for the tapes that become available (anyone, that is, beyond the pastor’s own congregation and maybe a handful of close friends or relatives elsewhere). This should not really surprise — how am I to know if Wonder Pastor is making his tapes available, if he is not listed in my Yellow Pages? Wilson would not let this potential open-ended obscurity be his problem, however. Thus was established Credenda Agenda, originally a small photocopied newsletter sent out to a very small audience in 1990, barely two or three years after Wilson himself had adopted Reformed soteriology (and remember, he was then and remains unschooled in this in terms of seminary attendance, etc.). It may seem pretentious in the extreme for a self-taught former guitar leader, barely 40 years old, and Reformed for a period better measured in months than years, to start to try to export the Reformed faith and build a national ministry presence in the Reformed orbit, but that is what Wilson did.

Credenda Agenda, from the Latin phrase “Things that must be believed, things that must be done,” rapidly became the vehicle for the nationalization of Wilson’s ministry, and his inroads into the theonomy movement. His church established Canon Press to market the magazine, which remains free for the asking in print and has long been on the web as well. Canon, however, was the main vehicle for the selling of Wilson and his ministry — C/A is and remains free, but it has been increasingly overshadowed by the increasing quantities of decidedly non-free stuff available there as well, everything from the tapes of Wilson and his colleagues preaching at their church, to various classical “canon” and pedagogical works reprinted by the press, to an increasing quantity of new writings of Wilson and some of his associates. Indeed, for a man who was an Arminian Baptist neo-evangelical when Reagan left office, Wilson has become a zealous advocate for the key distinctives of Reformed reconstructionism, everything from paedobaptism to postmillennialism to vantillianism, all of which he has written on. It is true that Wilson is an excellent popularizer of these doctrines — largely through his Christian education contacts he has introduced them to folks who would never have likely every come into contact with Chalcedon, Gary North, etc., let alone some of the more fringe theonomy sites. It is also true that Wilson is not an ideas guy; nothing he has written or taught seems to be original, and in almost all cases the sources he is paying homage to (copying? plagiarising?) have said/say what Wilson says better than he says it. Yet, it is not true to say that he and his Moscow associates have not left their own distinctive personality imprint upon their work, especially C/A. Think of Credenda best as the Chalcedon Report written by Ambrose Bierce or HL Mencken, were these chaps Reformed believers. Every issue is laden with sarcasm, biting satire, and in-your-face argumentation often substituted for serious analysis. Letters to the editor (which are published here regularly, unlike their once-in-a-blue-moon appearance in the Chalcedon Report and total absence in Gary North newsletters) nonetheless fall decidedly into two categories — letters written by blithering idiots whose criticism of Wilson and Co. merely serves to make the latter look good, and good letters that contain substantive and often slam-dunk critiques of various articles, but which are not responded to seriously, but rather see their critics lambasted with silly and often totally irrelevant ad hominems designed to deflect any serious attention from the substance of those critics’ comments. Little is dealt with head on and one gets the consistent impression from Wilson and Co., far more so than with Chalcedon or even Gary North, that they are and remain insufferably impressed with themselves, largely out of all proportion to reality. Indeed, Wilson used to run a “Disputatio” column (most sections of the magazine are given pretentious Latin or Greek names) wherein he would debate some heretic or loon on some slam-dunk point. These debates ceased, however, soon after his encounter with James White, noted Reformed Baptist scholar, over the use of the KJV — Wilson has adopted a semi-KJV only view that White thoroughly demolished.

So, what of Wilson, etc.’s, connections to the theonomy movement? This is murky, but could best be summed up quickly by the old adage “if it walks like a duck, quacks like a duck, looks like a duck . . .” Wilson has, to the best of my knowledge, never come out and labelled himself a reconstructionist or a theonomist; indeed I am told by some of his followers that, at least at some point in the past, he has denied being such. That said, well, facts are stubborn things. Not only do his theological and practical positions very squarely line up with theonomy, but he has admitted repeatedly reading and studying from the various theonomic writers over the years. And, with his “classical Christian school” movement not only exposing him and his teachings to a wider audience of Christians, but also allowing him to learn more from these people, he seems to have become even more “in” this movement. Many theonomists have adopted various aspects of Wilson’s schooling philosophy (which goes well with Rushdoony’s intense medievalism, though RJR rejects “classical education” himself ) — Wilson and Jones have written articles on “medieval Protestantism” and are very much in support of the high-church ecclesiocentrism of the type more or less espoused by North; recently, Wilson’s church abandoned their 70s evangelical name Community Evangelical Fellowship, in favor of the high church-sounding Christ Church, which fits with their recent establishment of a college and seminary explicitly set up on the lines of education in 17th-century Scotland. Wilson’s historical views have also tied him to men like Steve Schlissel and especially J. Steven Wilkins (more about this individual below), leading theonomists of the Rushdoony persuasion. Wilson himself recently began to write a “Meanderings” column in C/A, in what is an entirely unsubtle, ton-of-bricks obvious knockoff of Rushdoony’s famous “Random Notes” column in the CR. Clearly, it is obvious to me that Wilson and his associates not only see themselves as theonomists, but that they are eager to be the new primum mobile of this movement, complete with their visions for courtship, schooling, and church, in the post-Rushdoony era fast approaching. They are not actively hostile to Sandlin and the current Chalcedon crowd, not by any means, but they are rivals. Indeed, in my opinion Wilson’s is a textbook case of how to embrace a worldview and come from out of nowhere to establish yourself as a leading contender for movement leadership and a force that people think of when they consider said movement. As I said above, Wilson and his associates in Idaho constitute a colossus, and they are not going to fall into the sea anytime soon.

Having discussed the histories and practices of some of the leading theonomists, I will now comment on some of the general, repeatedly-seen patterns of behavior commonplace amongst these men (and more so even among the more fringe characters I will mention later).

Yes-men & Sycophants
One such characteristic that jumps out at you regularly, across all wings of the theonomy spectrum, is the theonomist leader’s especial like of and positive desire for raising up of yes-men and sycophants. Put simply, none of these guys seem to want serious, intelligent critics criticising any aspect of their respective programs and agendas. This is one of the main reasons for the Chalcedon MIA problem, but Gary North is not significantly more likely to even respond to critics than Rushdoony is. North just ignores them, whereas Wilson, and Co., actively vilify them, often through the intermediary of flunkies or hangers-on. This of course brings up a related problem — theonomy leaders actively seek to promote (or at least accept the development of) cults of personality around them, and can therefore use sycophants, hangers-on, groupies, etc., that become their devotees to do such things as attack critics publicly on behalf of the leader, who rarely wants to sully himself with public appearances and risk, presumably, being forced to defend himself there. This of course is largely why the Chalcedon MIAs became MIAs, why largely discredited post-Y2K North has few such groupies left . . . and why Wilson and Co. are on the upswing now (have not yet developed an MIA roster but have developed a, mostly young, reservoir of some of the most credulous devotees and hangers-on, looking to rise to the top on Spaceship Moscow). This phenomenon is significantly magnified and often pathetically warped, furthermore, with the second-tier and fringe-sector theonomy “stars,” as even a cursory examination of a week’s traffic on the Theonomy-L list would show.

Blazing Keyboards
Finally here, both theonomy leaders and especially theonomists in general tend to confuse the often humongous volume of literary output that blazes off the keyboards of the stars’ word-processors, with genuine merit. Much of these writings are not, ahem, classics . . . but they are there, in great volume, sitting in disaster-survival warehouses in Arkansas, waiting to receive needed printing funds in Vallecito, or, increasingly, being shot out of the Canon in Idaho, and this mere presence is regularly sufficient to convince many an undiscerning and often recently-Reformed believer to believe whatever is contained thereon. And this problem has grown geometrically since the development of the www, when literally any quack, crackpot, loonie-toons, whitewashed racist, or otherwise self-anointed, self-ordained blowhard can become the head of a “reconstructionist” ministry.

Kkkaracters Kkkrawling out of Kkkaves
Still further, there are several other significant problems with the theonomy movement. One of which is that the leading, mainstream or more reputable theonomy leaders have long evinced a rather pragmatic and damaging attitude when it comes to searching out and/or accepting allies to their movement of full-fledged “theonomists,” whoever shows up at the door with a willing smile on his face, with few (admittedly not no) questions asked. It is worth noting here that Douglas Wilson and his associates, as well as “post-theonomist” Jordan, are not to be included in this deficiency, the latter especially being an open, consistent, and vociferous critic of such kkkaracters whenever they kkkrawl out of their kkkaves. It is of course true that Sandlin has taken to posting disclaimers against racists, etc., and North has written an excellent essay slamming the errors of notorious assassin Paul Hill, but lesser, real problems continue and do not seem to concern the leaders here. As said, as recently as February 2000 Chalcedon published unawares an article by a racist gun nut, merely because it wanted articles for its anti-gun control issue. Since I have subscribed to this publication, articles by a Sabellian, an atheist, and a man who teaches that wives are to obey their husbands even when he commands clear, unambiguous sin, amongst others, have appeared, and none of these men have merited a printed disclaimer after having been published. Indeed, in personal correspondence with me concerning this latter man, who was holding forth on an email list sponsored by Steve Schlissel’s church, Schlissel expressed the opinion that such teaching, while wrong, was not a cause for church discipline, even if it caused a woman actually to commit some grievous sin (?). North, further, is not immune to this — in his Backward Christian Soldiers he advocates working with the likes of word-faith charlatan Robert Tilton and foul-mouthed clown Gene Scott, who would sell us a satellite dish for $777.77!

Where this particular problem gets really bad, however, is when the theonomy leaders in the various sub-wings encounter the numerous and often truly nauseating characters who desire to associate themselves with this movement and be recognized as members thereof. The Theonomy-L email list, which one critic called an “open sewer,” is a good place to see this carried out over the years, but certainly not the only place. On this list, which is only occasionally frequented by Andy Sandlin, more regularly by Brian Abshire, and never by North, all manner of hardcases and social lepers appear, and the moderator, covenanter Daniel Lance Herrick (once a member of Andy Sandlin’s recon church in Painesville, OH, before Sandin left (1995) to go to Chalcedon), does not seem to do anything to prevent such clowns, scumbags, and malcontents, to hold forth there (though he will exile “Anabaptists” and “pietists”). Examples of such individuals that have been there since I have been around (1996) include various exponents of the “Christian Jural Society,” which espouses a warped doctrine of the “Good and Lawful Christian Man,” a militia-like teaching denying the need for license plates, driver’s licenses, etc., as well as the need to pay tickets, etc, and leavened with dangerous, pseudo-legal tomes and position papers regarding the yellow fringe on courtroom flags, the supposed permanent suspension of the us Constitution by FDR, etc. I have received tapes and literature eagerly sent to me by this group, whose members really do take themselves seriously and seem keen to win converts. One of the heads thereof is John (Saunders) Quade, Hollywood character actor and self-professed “minister of law” at a California recon church. Quade was a longtime associate of Rushdoony’s, co-hosting years of “Easy Chair” tapes, and as recently as three years ago Sandlin was still (to my knowledge) guest-preaching at Quade’s church, where Quade’s duties as “minister of law” include going to heathen courts and informing judges that church members hauled before them for such offenses as driving without a license are, being “Good and Lawful Christian Men,” not under the judge’s authority but must be released to Quade, their “minister of law.” This would actually be somewhat humorous if it weren’t, ahem, true. Other men espousing this type of error, such as Greg Loren, Durand (who believed that the insertion of a comma into his name somehow exempts him from Big Brother’s authority, and who continues to test this theory out today living in Mississippi, as a member of a “Confederate Presbyterian Church,” having absconded from the State of Minnesota, which sought to have him answer to the charge of driving without number plates) also have appeared without challenge on the theonomy list, as have men espousing various other errors. Only racists seem to be the recipient of uniform challenge by the theonomist establishment; various adherents of the “100% wifely obedience” doctrine and the paedocommunionist heresy, as well as those espousing the most unbalanced of revisionist pro-Southern views with regard to the War between the States are regularly allowed to hold forth and win converts, without the slightest disclaimer, let alone any attempt to silence them.

This brings me most especially to the section that may well be most likely to earn me the charge of libel, and I am ready to answer for the comments I make here nonetheless. Some of this is likely somewhat tainted by personal experience, but facts do remain stubborn things, personality conflicts notwithstanding. The point is this — not only do the theonomy leaders consistently seem to refuse to police their movement, but theonomy seems to be a consistent, extremely powerful magnet attracting all manner of loons, losers, and lupines, who are accepted into the movement, or at least into one stream thereof, and/or are allowed to set up new sub-movements within the “theonomic orbit.” The mainstream leadership does nothing about these characters, who run around making sometimes very dangerous and always very noisome nuisances of themselves, making it very difficult to avoid recalling Jesus’ injunction to his disciples that they should test a system by its fruits. I resisted making such a broad-brush conclusion about this movement, as there are many tasty fruits in the theonomic barrel, especially those from way back, but even a very few rotten apples ruin any barrel, and when virtually all the apples falling from any given tree be rotten or at least wormy, with few signs that many of the new apples be sweet and solid . . .

I have mentioned the racists and “Christian Identity” sleaze balls who have long sought to associate themselves with theonomy, but, to the credit of the theonomic leaders, who are not racists or Angloisraelist errorists, the theonomists have consistently and sincerely repudiated such associations, even when the teachings of the racist group in question, other than those concerning race issues per se, really are quite compatible with theonomy anyhow. That said, however, many other errors are rather less opposed than racism, and the leaders thereof welcome as guests of honor at the theonomic table. Perhaps the most common of these is that held by myriads of would-be Col. Culpepers, men who believe that the antebellum American South was the greatest, godliest, paradise in the history of the World, and the North was a bastion of wickedness utterly subsumed to Unitarianism and proto-Marxism, etc. Slavery gets barely a mention and, when pressed, many of these dudes defend the refusal of Christian masters to teach their slaves to read, to give them freedom on voluntary acceptance of baptism, as was centuries-old Church practice.

Even Rushdoony will have none of this. Yet, somehow, acceptance of a growing list of myths associated with the old South and corresponding North, seems to be de rigeur in the movement, and those evincing pro-Union views tend to receive harsh treatments not mollified by facts. Add this to a wistful and delusional nostalgia for old-style agrarianism (made the more pathetic when argued for on electronic mail mailing lists!), and one finds many of these guys just laughable . . . those, that is, who are not actually in power to make their vision perhaps come true. Many of these guys are young, impressionable fellows who are nonetheless likely quite harmless, but there are scarier advocates, nonetheless. One especially unctuous individual comes to mind, the Rev. J. Steven Wilkins, currently a PCA pastor in Monroe, Louisiana. Holding an MA in history, Wilkins is perhaps the leading revisionist neo-confederate and Yankee-hater (these people turn “Yankee” into a smear term meaning “Big-Brother Unitarian” and ignore the fact that millions of New Englanders own the term as one of ethnic pride) in theonomic circles today. In addition to being a promoter of the paedocommuionist heresy, he sponsors an annual “Confederate Heritage Conference” at his church, where mostly true-believer guests learn all about dem damn Yankees, how great antebellum Mississippi was (for massa), etc., all recorded for posterity on tape. On one of his “History of America” tapes, Wilkins actually claimed that, although we were going to hear a different version of us history from him than we had heard from our “atheistic professors,” we should accept his version of reality, since it came from a Christian (hint to brethren from the State of Rhode Island and Providence Plantations, pass on his “Roger Williams” and “Rhode Island” tapes unless you’ve a strong constitution and have not eaten recently). On one “Confederate Heritage” tape he notes the work of Southern scholar Grady McWhiney, “Cracker Culture,” which gives a detailed warts-and-all treatment of antebellum Scotch-Irish southern frontiersmen. I read the book on this notation from Wilkins; methinks he had not read it when he mentioned it, but when I tried to call him on the less than idyllic portrayal of Southern history McWhiney offers (as opposed to Wilkins’ halcyon one), Wilkins initially denied mentioning the book but later blathered on something about McWhiney getting it wrong, not appreciating the great role of “Calvinism” in the antebellum South, etc.

Now this would be a mere quirk of one fringe pastor, were Wilkins not increasingly very successful at getting converts to his new way of looking at reality. I know one young man who qualifies as such hook, line, and sinker, and there is another such convert, who is in a much greater position to let Wilkins make real trouble . . . Doug Wilson. Simply put, Wilkins is Wilson’s intellectual superior, and in recent years, the two men’s association has grown quite close, with all the signs pointing to a wholesale, uncritical acceptance by Wilson, of Wilkinsism. Wilson is already co-hosting Wilkinsite “American History” conferences in Moscow/elsewhere, heavily promoted to his C/A and Canon Press as well as his “Classical Christian School” clienteles. Speaking as one Yankee who also cares about history and reality, this does not, in my opinion, bode at all well for the future, both in and out of the theonomy movement.

Two other cancerous individuals I will mention both come out of the 80s Tylerite movement, and both illustrate the schismatic phenomenon of the self-anointed “micro-Presbyterian” splinter sect so common in theonomyland. Both men were originally associated to some degree with North, but both seem to have had an agenda to develop personal power and prestige, a cult-of-personality, etc., cloaked behind super-Calvinistic, ultra-strict subscriptionist Presbyterianism.

Richard Bacon
The one, the Rev Richard Bacon of the “First Presbyterian Church of Rowlett, TX,” split off from the PCA some years back and is now in some self-created sect made up of his church and a few hardcase congregations planted by him or that have become affiliated with him through his “Westminister Forum” email list and “Blue Banner” www page. Bacon’s congregation is a haven for excommunicates, and Bacon himself has a potentially dubious record here himself (depends on who you talk to). Bacon is not a heretic in the theological sense; far from it, he makes his mark as a dot all the “i”s and cross all the “t”s hardcase super-Westminster Presbie. He is also a churlish man who raises conflicts on email lists and solicits apologies for real and imagined slights (pun intended), lying about his own statements and past and not accepting the solicited apologies when they are offered.

John Martin
Similar to Bacon’s MO is that of the Rev John Martin, pastor of the “Community Presbyterian Church” of Tyler, member of the two-church RPCUS, associated with theonomists stalwart Joseph Morecraft of Atlanta. Martin is a piece of work. His church started as a result of his deliberate attempt to win office in the old North-Chilton recon church there; apparently failing at this effort he led a church split and set up this church. He runs a free tape ministry, and you get what you pay for. It was recommended to me in summer 1996; I began to receive the tapes then, in time for the last 15 or so messages in his 7-year-long series on Matthew. Seven years. Some distinguished moldy Puritan might have been able to pull that one off, but not this guy. The tapes were highly repetitive, condescending in style, and fully worth what I was paying for them. After I had listened to a few, I decided to backburner them, and the stack just kept on growing in my apartment, so, a year after signing on, I wrote Martin to cancel, hoping to save him money.

I was polite, saying I was a graduate student and really did not have the time . . . and the man refused to cancel the subscription, saying that as a graduate student I would never have the time again to hear such valuable expository preaching, etc. I wrote back telling him in no uncertain terms that he was welcome to keep on sending the tapes but I was not going to listen to them. He got mad and cancelled them, essentially calling me an apostate for my audacity. Several months later I called him publicly on this on the Theonomy-L list and received an unedifying response from him, Bacon, and their list sycophants. Facts notwithstanding, my experiences with these men show clearly several normal aspects of theonomy leaders: both men seek out disciples, ites, etc., regularly, and let these followers attack critics for them when necessary, Martin was trying to recruit me as a devotee, and when I made it clear that I was not going to become one, he reacted with hostile antipathy and essentially anathematized me, both these men are insufferably impressed with themselves and the great searing import of their writings/preachings, and, lastly and most annoyingly, when I durst criticise them in public, though I had facts to marshal, said facts are irrelevant in the minds of the leaders and their sycophants, and I become even more worthy of sustained, mendacious attack and unfact rectification, for the mere act of raising the criticism in the first place.

Philip Vollman
The last whacko, and in my opinion truly dangerous, fringe theonomy movement/ministry I will mention here (in what I assert is a reasonable representative overview of such fringe cases) is the “Shiloh Christian Church” of Leroy Twp., OH, pastored by the Rev Philip Vollman, whose extremely devoted followers like to refer to him, at his encouragement, simply as “Pastorman,” assisted by his ideas guy, the Rev Jeffrey Ziegler, who is also current president of the theonomically-oriented National Reform Association. I have long subscribed to the free email newsletter of Mrs Donna Kromer, church member and devoted disciple of “Pastorman” (she styles herself “The Word Warriorette”), and, two years ago, while en route to Wisconsin on a trip, I and another brother attended Sunday morning services there. I really do like Mrs Kromer, and I resist making the conclusions here below, but, after the experience of the “worship” service I attended there, plus reading dozens of missives she has forwarded from “Pastorman” and from Rev Ziegler, as well as other material sent at their behest/with their encouragement, well, I have no choice now but to assert that this particular theonomic church/movement has indeed crossed the threshold . . . it is cult. Words all but fail me to describe worship at Shiloh; “baptized political rally” is an understatement. Pastorman is a member of the Lake Co. Republican Committee, and Ziegler offers his services as a paid political consultant. The service, less than 2 months shy of the 1998 elections, saw active shilling for two church members who were running for office, coupled with an elder’s reminding the congregation that they knew where the members lived and would be calling them to solicit donations and campaign volunteerism for the candidates. The elder also lambasted the congregants for largely failing to show up at the church’s weekly Saturday night abortion clinic protest, and also noted with great dismay how many of the congregants were totally ignorant of the mere basics of Calvinism. This should not surprise; most of the congregants are very ignorant of the basics of Calvinism, having been recruited, like Mrs Kromer and her husband, from the ranks of local Christian Coalition conservative activists. The Lord’s Supper at Shiloh was an especially appalling experience; warnings or calls for self-examination before partaking there were none, but there was Pastorman screaming, thumping the recently-released Starr Report and blathering about the wicked sins of the “First Philanderer,” for whose destruction and death the congregation was led in prayer. All this while gum-snapping teenagers walked in and out of the sanctuary at will, and all this after 45 minutes of initial “swayin’ to the music” repetition of a half-dozen or so charismatic prayer choruses had worked people into a bit of highly suggestible frenzy. And Pastorman does not quit; he has a “Knox list,” choice snippets wherefrom Mrs Kromer forwards to her list, where he in ever increasingly shrill and foul terms rants, raves, and ruckus-raises for a wide variety of largely stridently conservative political goals — preaching the gospel does not seem to be one of these, however. Judging, further, from what his preaching seems to have done and still be doing to Mrs Kromer, for one, and having experienced the nightmare of his church’s service personally, I can not only feel comfortable calling it a cult and him a sociological cult/cult of personality fuehrer, but also feel sadly justified in openly wondering whether his vision, which I have seen at least hinted at elsewhere, might not really be the real future of the third-generation theonomy movement.

A last significant problem I will mention now is the general tendency for theonomists to accept various and sundry historical myths, simply because their particular theonomic guru advocates them. I have already mentioned the Wilkinsite “neo-Confederate” model. Others include irrational fascinations with Puritan New England, Calvin’s Geneva, and Knox’ Scotland (Vollman and Ziegler openly brag about their self-described “Knoxian Social Theory.” These said, however, the two biggest myths that find acceptance in various sectors of the movement are the incredible, idiosyncratic fascination with medieval western Europe first espoused by Rushdoony (who, as stated, really does want to be the leader of a medieval Armenian clan), and later picked up by Jones and Wilson with their “Mother Kirk/Medieval Protestantism” nonsense. Whether the Middle Ages were really great times to live, sympathetic to “Protestant” approaches to theology and ecclesiology, or should be the proper models for 21st-century Reformed Christians to adopt, I shall demur to the sound judgment of the reader. Lastly, the other constellation of myths being increasingly bandied about in theonomic circles, basically due to Wilson’s influence, concern education. Rushdoony had long advocated Christian or home schooling; indeed, such advocacy is normative in theonomic circles, to the point where most consider (or at least imply) that sending junior to the “government schools” is a priori sinful, per se. That said, what the nature of the Christian and/or home school curricula ought to be was rather less well defined, and rarely discussed, until Wilson, a longstanding advocate of “Classical Christian Education,” from well before his Reformed days, burst onto the theonomic scene, exporting his educational philosophy, buttressed by his books, tapes, conferences, and school association.

Rushdoony, as well as people like James Jordan, continue to reject the Wilson classics emphasis, and North is perhaps best seen as ambivalent here, but Wilson is decidedly winning converts, as more and more Christian schools and homeschoolers are switching to or beginning with his emphasis, complete with irrational expectations for the role and utility of Latin study, and dubious attempts to baptise the medieval “trivium,” though strangely not the quadrivium as well. (They have ignored me and vilified me but they cannot deny that I have a PhD in the Classics, and they do not.)

So, with all this having been said, therefore, whither theonomy, at least in my opinion? I remained somewhat unsure myself, at least until three months ago, when a discussion that periodically arises on the Theonomy-L list cropped up again, and people like Sandlin, Herrick, and even Abshire showed the level of hypocrisy that also can infect this movement. John Lofton, until four years ago Chalcedon’s “Man in Washington,” was a longtime zealous Rushdoonyite theonomist, trying to win influence for this movement in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and in elite Washington. Elite Washington fired him from the Times in the 1980s; it took the OPC till the mid-90s to show him the door, excommunicated on trumped-up ecclesiastical charges of “contentiousness.” Irrespective of the accuracy of the claim, which I believe to be unwarranted myself, the fact remains that Lofton was a good Presbyterian, zealously following the convoluted and decidedly legalistic church discipline procedures of the “Only Perfect Church,” rather than bugging out beforehand and joining another, and likely better, church. Once excommunicated, further, he has refused to do that as well, preferring to wait until the OPC will relent, which it seems stubbornly unwilling to do. Chalcedon and the theonomy movement at large are certainly not responsible for what the OPC did to Lofton, but they are responsible for the loathsome hypocrisy they have shown to Lofton since his excommunication. Even though Chalcedon honchos essentially acknowledge he got the shaft, for PR’s sake, they dumped him anyhow, and, since he refuses to join another church in violation of his OPC membership vows, he remains on the outs, to the level that some hard-case theonomists refuse to do business with him. This treatment might have been acceptable, were it not for the fact that Rushdoony himself, facing sure excommunication from the OPC in 1968, resigned rather than “repent” or fight, and has never joined an established denomination since then, either. Lofton is indeed a rather “contentious” guy, and some at Chalcedon might well really very much like being rid of him now, but it will not wash, the way they have accomplished this — what’s good for the goose had better be good for the gander. The Lofton episode put forth into better perspective for me several other factors that, in my opinion, slam theonomy down, and hard, and render its likely long-term survival as a viable, worthwhile, Reformed movement highly dubious.

Theonomists are uncharitable folks, even the women, many of whom end up acting far less than “feminine.” Theonomic attitudes towards education, the family, the church, the OT law, etc., are strident and harsh, and dissenters treated with disdain and often virulent hatred. Further, theonomists, especially the younger, third-generation ones, regularly show an air of spiritual superiority that galls mightily (Wilson and Co’s disdainful, sarcastic tone in C/A is an actually quite mild version of this, indeed). Theonomy also tends to split up churches. A wide variety of “home everything” nuts abound who piously bleat that they “have no fellowship” so cannot attend any church, when it is usually far more often the case that they are afflicted with a large case of obnoxious personality disorder, cannot submit to elders, and have failed at their strident attempts to proselytize all the churches they have attended into their particular version of theonomy. On the Northian, ecclesiocratic side, moreover, these people largely still have terminal OPD, still tend to split at issues so trivial as to make an Amishman blush, and to set up endless micro-sects and individual, self-anointed churches to serve as headquarters for personality cults, quirky doctrines, and institutionalised hatred of whomever was split off of.

In conclusion, thus, I will offer a few predictions and make a clear personal statement. The movement is clearly already splitting greatly, and is ever more being infected with all too many fringe loons and lupines, and this will clearly continue. Further, in the post-Rushdoony era, the struggle for leadership of the movement as a whole will also continue, but the increasing tendency for theonomists to split over ever-growing numbers of bugaboos, strange doctrinal emphases, etc., should also continue, with the result that I predict a rapid disintegration of and/or significant metamorphosis of the “theonomy” movement as we know it today. If I had to call odds on it, I would say that Wilson and his associates, being somewhat more mainstream and very much more connected to a mass audience through his Christian education work, will end up the most powerful player, and will not use the term “theonomy.” North has raised up no protégés, and will not, and Rushdoonyless Chalcedon will soon become something akin to the Trinity Foundation, John Robbins’ outfit that seems mainly to exist to continue to promote the writings of Gordon Clark — Sandlin and Mark Rushdoony together are not the charismatic leader-force of the older man. That said, however, there will likely still be many of these dangerous, nutty screwballs out there, offering “theonomic ministries,” and they may well end up being “theonomy” as it will then continue to exist. Simply put — while there has been much substantial work of great value already done in this movement, including much that I will always be grateful for having been exposed to and studied myself, nonetheless, when considering the future, it simply does not appear that “theonomy” will have much more of substantive value yet to add to the Church. As for me personally, I cannot emphasise greatly enough that I really dislike many (not all) of these characters intensely, which is hardly that surprising, since, even for a somewhat contentious man such as I am, these men nonetheless do make themselves very hard to like. In any case, I wish to have nothing more to do with the bulk of these men, and their ministries, and I disavow any personal association with the terms “theonomy” or “Christian reconstructionism,” myself, for my future.

Respectfully submitted in Christ,

Dr Thomas P. Roche