The Debate over Christian Reconstruction

by Gary DeMar (Atlanta: American Vision, 1988)

from the forward by Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen

Over the last decade I have witnessed more slurs and misrepresentations of Reconstructionist thought than I have the heart or ability to count, and I am thinking here only of the remarks made by Christians in positions of leadership: elders, pastors, instructors, writers -- those who bear the "greater accountability" since they lead Christ's sheep as teachers. This has forced me as an educated believer to stand back and look more generally at the what is transpiring in the Christian community as a whole with respect to its scholarly integrity. And I am heartbroken. It is difficult enough for us to gain a hearing in the unbelieving world because of its hostility to the Lord Jesus Christ and its preconception of the lowly intelligence of His followers. The difficulty is magnified many times over when believers offer public, obvious evidence of their inability to treat other's opinions with careful accuracy. Our "scholarship" is justly ridiculed by those who have been educated in institutions with no commitment to Christ or His Word, but who have the ethical integrity to demand as a prerequisite to acceptable scholarship that a student represent his opponent fairly before proceeding to criticize or refute him. To use a Pauline expression, "even the Gentiles" know better than to permit imprecision and erroneous portrayals in a serious intellectual discussion. Yet Christians (I include all of us) often seem to care little for that minimal standard of scholarly respectability. How, then, can we be taken seriously? How can we take ourselves seriously?

That holy and inspired Word of God, to which all of us swear allegiance as followers of Christ (whether Presbyterians or Baptists or charismatics or dispensationalists or Reconstructionists or whatever), is profitable to us "for correction, for instruction in righteousness" (2 Timothy 3:16). From it we should learn not to speak carelessly: "See a man who is hasty with his words? There is more hope for a fool than for him" (Proverbs 29:20). We should learn to speak cautiously about others (e.g., Matthew 5:22; Psalm 116:11; James 3:5-18), not wrestling people's words or reviling them (Psalm 50:20; 56:5; 1 Corinthians 5:11; 6:10). We should interpret them in the best light afforded by the facts (cf. Acts 24:8), rather than with evil suspicion (1 Timothy 6:4). "He who would love life and see good days, let him refrain his tongue from evil and his lips that they speak no guile" (1 Peter 3:10).

God's Word directs us to study a matter before we presume to speak critically regarding it: "He who gives an answer before he hears, it is a folly and shame to him" (Proverbs 18:13). Scripture teaches us to avoid slander, if we would dwell with Jehovah (Psalm 15:3). We must then be scrupulous to speak the truth about others, even those we would criticize. "A man who bears false witness against his neighbor is a maul, and a sword, and a sharp arrow" (Proverbs 25:18). When we witness against our neighbors "without a cause," we become guilty of "deceiving" with our lips (Proverbs 24:28). The exhortation of Paul is inescapably clear: "Therefore, putting away falsehood, speak the truth each one with his neighbor, for we are members of one another" (Ephesians 4:25). All of this is an extended commentary of the fundamental command of God's law: "You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor" (Exodus 20:16) -- reiterated by Christ (Matthew 19:18), who indicts us further by showing that false witness comes from the heart and defiles us (Matthew 15:19-20).

When we engage in theological debate with each other as fellow believers, then, it is ethically imperative that we honor our common Lord (who is the Truth, John 14:6) by being cautious to speak the truth about each other's positions. We are "members" together of the body of Christ.

Theological correction, of course, must be given where necessary; there is no disputing that. However, before presuming to correct one another, we must give the intellectual and personal effort necessary to portraying each other's views correctly. Only then are we ethically qualified to offer a critique. Only then will our critiques bring theological health and unity to the Christian community. If we refuse to speak accurately of each other, we have settled for uncharitable prejudices and party-spirit, and a watching world has little reason to take seriously our claims to being born again with hearts enabled to love each other as God intends.

Over the last decade we have seen some extremely strong words of condemnation uttered about Reconstructionist theology. Those condemnatory words, however, have repeatedly proven to be tied to gross misrepresentations of the Reconstructionist perspective. When those counterfeit portrayals are laid aside, the cautious student will find that not one substantial line of refutation or criticism has been established against the fundamental distinctives of Reconstructionism -- a transformational worldview embracing theonomic ethics, postmillennial eschatology, and presuppositional apologetics. These theological underpinnings can be shown to be sound and reliable.

That should not be taken to mean that Reconstructionist writers (i.e., those who subscribe to the theological distinctives listed here) can be defended regarding every particular aspect of their own personal theological method or regarding every doctrinal conclusion they have ever drawn. There is continuing need for correction and reform at particular points, and Reconstructionism is not above hearing constructive criticism. This has become evident in recent assessments of particular Reconstructionist writiers for their hermeneutical excesses and for their harsh or uncharitable way of speaking. (I have particular examples in mind, but they need not be mentioned here.) It is a mark of spiritual health and wisdom that such examinations of our flaws are issued and heeded. Such criticisms do not, however, belie the underlying strength of the Reconstructionist perspective.

The claim made by Dave Hunt and Tommy Ice that the Reconstructionist position is "a deviant theology" simply inaugurated one more rotation of the polemic cycle which we have witnessed over the last ten years: High rhetoric and harsh criticism met and thoroughly undermined by sober research and theological analysis which shows how critics of Reconstructionist theology have not produced a clear Scriptural refutation, have been led into positions which stand contrary to well-established Biblical teaching, or end up in ambiguity or self-contradiction regarding their own worldview and ethic.

We are grateful to Gary DeMar for one more turn of this wheel. May his fine Debate over Christian Reconstruction lead further students of the Scripture to consider the challenge, the cogency, and the benefit of the Reconstructionist worldview.

You have now read part 2 of 2 of this Forward. Continue to part 1 of 2 of this Forward.

1996 J. Lewis Calvin. . . . . . . . . . (Last update: October 19, 1996)

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