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Friday, September 23, 2005

The 5 (or 6) Points of Reconstruction

Following up on my previous post about the 40th Anniversary Chalcedon Conference, I would like to report on the distinctive themes that gave unity to the various speeches and also constitute the outlook and principles of Reconstructionism. This would have been a daunting analytical task were it not for Mark Rushdoony’s first lecture on the definition of Reconstruction. I hope Chris Ortiz will make this speech available on the Chalcedon site because it is accessible, well-organized, and finely argued. Whether or not one comes to agree with the Reconstructionist outlook, this lecture is an excellent counter-weight to the superficial sound-bite understanding that has become the norm.

Rev. Rushdoony expounded the following 6 distinctives (give or take a point depending on my powers of memory and listening):
1. Presuppositionalism
2. Salvation by Grace Alone
3. Covenant Theology
4. Postmillenialism
5. Theonomy
6. Dominion

I took the order of these points to be significant. The latter three points are certainly more controversial, with theonomy and dominionism being the most controversial, but they are not unconnected to the first three. Many Protestant evangelicals would give assent to “salvation by grace alone”, and most Reformed Protestants would assent to “covenant theology”. You really start to lose numbers with Postmillenialism and by the time you’ve endorsed theonomy and dominionism, you are a Reconstructionist, whether you call yourself that or not. (Don’t worry; I’ll eventually get to the definitions for these terms if they are unfamiliar.)

Given the social significance of this ordering, it was interesting to hear the definition of Reconstruction introduced with presuppositionalism. The term ‘presuppositionalism’ is usually thought of in connection to a type of Christian apologetics (the intellectual defense of the Gospel) such as that which has been advanced by Samuel Harris, Augustus Strong, and Cornelius van Til. Reconstructionist scholars are indebted to van Til more than any others and Greg Bahnsen has developed an Anglo-American analytic version of van Til’s Idealist style. The basic thrust of this argument is:
The proof of the Christian God is – if He did not exist, you couldn’t prove anything. (Or, as Gary DeMar put it more colloquially on Saturday, “The reason that reason is reasonable is that God is reasonable.”)
This “proof” has been debated ad nauseum and can get highly technical, but for Reconstructionists, presuppositionalism is more than just a proof one uses when he or she is engaged in debating the existence of God; it is at the core of a mode of thinking about all things. In the opening address last Friday evening, Gary DeMar said that essential to Reconstruction is understanding it (1) as an exegetical movement and (2) as a worldview. This expresses the broader view of presuppositionalism. If all human reasoning in some sense presupposes the acts and works of the Christian God, then His most authoritative work, the production of His revealed Word in the scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, becomes the necessary and sufficient starting point for all reasonable inquiry about the world. Or, to put it more simply, the Bible is the cornerstone and capstone in interpreting the world around us. Everything must be viewed through the lens of Scripture or it will be viewed improperly.

As Mark Rushdoony argued, presuppositionalism is faithful to the doctrine of the sovereignty of God’s will. It means that faith precedes and informs reason. It is contrary to the Rationalist spirit, which views man’s basic problem as intellectual, as lacking information or an engineered environment to better himself. Presuppositionalism insists that man’s problem is essentially moral and his moral condition has negatively affected his intellectual powers. It is because man has ethically failed to acknowledge God and His revealed will that his view of the world is in error.

Now this will come across like a slap in the face to those of a non-Reformed perspective, but let’s assess it in the context of the clash of cultures. Name a single epistemologically self-conscious thinker that doesn’t negatively judge other ways of thought based on the fixed assumptions of his or her philosophy. Many folks, because they don’t think very hard about their primitive assumptions, maintain delusions about an all-inclusive normative pluralism. But for those who travel the path of real thinking, it is no great surprise or offense when they are excluded by other ways of thought. Nietzsche’s and Freud’s assessment of Christianity are certainly not less harsh than the Reconstructionist view of secularity. Indeed, social pluralists themselves work vigorously to maintain a political structure and climate that gives their view ascendancy while excluding all other forms of particularism. If you want to be a thinking person, you cannot react reflexively to exclusion.

Also with regard to the clash of cultures, I take the Reconstructionist's presuppositionalism to be the key point of difference in the clash as well as the potential key to understanding. American mainstream culture is not presuppositionalist. (Does that go without saying?) As a result, presuppositionalists are going to say things that sound foreign and perhaps even frightening. I think this reaction needs to be regarded, at least in the preliminary stages, as culture shock; otherwise, the temptation will be to interpret it according to familiar lines of reasoning (usually political for the mainstream) that simply do not apply.

OK. This is already too long for a blog article. I’ll pick up the rest of the points at another time.

Update: Rev. Chris Ortiz has made a transcript of Mark Rushdoony's speech available on the Chalcedon website.

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