Frank Schaeffer, will you PLEASE shut up! (part 5)

Several months ago, in part 4 of this series I promised I’d write a part 5 and look at whether Frank Schaeffer ever understood Reformed orthodoxy to begin with.

In a recent blog entry, Frank Schaeffer links R.J. Rushdoony, Rick Warren, Mike Huckabee, Sarah Palin, George Grant and the speakers who appeared in the God’s Law and Society video (which was produced by me, by the way) as conspirators who advocate the dismantling of American democracy in favor of a theocracy that would warrant the execution of homosexuals.

Here’s the link and a snippet from Frank’s blog:

Others carried on where Rushdoony left off.

George Grant is one of the far right/theocratic mentors. He appeared with Rushdoony in the video, “God’s Law and Society.” Grant was the co-author for Huckabee’s 1998 book, Kids Who Kill: Confronting Our Culture of Violence. That was the book where Huckabee and Grant said homosexuality and pedophilia, sadomasochism and necrophilia were all “institutionally supported aberrations.”

George Grant wrote The Changing of the Guard: Biblical Principles for Political Action. He called on a “holy responsibility to reclaim the land for Jesus Christ – to have dominion in the civil structures, just as in every other aspect of life and godliness…. It is dominion we are after. Not just influence. It is dominion we are after. Not just equal time. It is dominion we are after. World conquest. That’s what Christ has commissioned us to accomplish. We must win the world with the power of the Gospel.”

What is a Christian Reconstructionist?

First, we ought to address the bizarre notion that Huckabee, Warren and Palin are anything close to being followers of R.J. Rushdoony, that is, Christian Reconstructionists. It’s a popular tactic of the far left to paint Reconstructionists as the “truly scary ones” and then to weave a theory that places Rushdoony, Francis Schaeffer (Frank’s dad) and Cornelius Van Til at the top of a vast right wing conspiracy that includes the Republican Party, all politically active evangelicals, and of course, the Fox News channel.

Frank is taking a page from Jeff Sharlet’s playbook, a writer who published an article advancing this conspiracy theory several years ago in an article in Harper’s Magazine, “Through a Glass, Darkly: How the Christian Right is Reimagining U.S. History.” I critiqued (or rather lampooned) this article here on this blog in an entry called: “That Swiss Hermit Strikes Again.” Sharlet has since expanded the article into two books.

Without retreading old ground, I refer you to my review of the article. Here I will only laugh at the naïveté of Sharlet’s thesis and quote one of the imprecatory curses of scripture: “The wicked flee when no man pursueth: but the righteous are bold as a lion” (Proverbs 28:1).

Frank’s mantra is to refer to Sharlet’s writings and to claim something to the effect of: “Sharlet is right on! I was there and helped found the Christian Right and the Reconstructionist movement. I know all these people and their agenda is exactly what Sharlet describes. Leaders like Warren, Huckabee and Palin won’t admit it, but they are all secret Reconstructionists who would like to execute homosexuals.”

I know some of these people too. All I can say is that if Frank Schaeffer was really there at the beginning, he was either:

a. Not paying enough attention.
b. Not intelligent enough to understand the foundation of Reformed theology in Christian Reconstruction.
c. Half understanding; but by now has come to a distorted view due to his self-deceptive years when he resorted to alcoholism, drug abuse and shoplifting (as described in his autobiography).
d. Fully understanding; but is now intentionally distorting the facts and lying.

If I had to guess, I’d be stuck between “c” and “d.” It’s a clever bait and switch tactic. The Reconstructionist agenda is first caricatured as that of an ugly “hate-group” and then people who could never be mistaken for Reconstructionists on any level are tarred with the “guilt-by-association” brush. Liberals who want to believe this nonsense only have to point to Frank Schaeffer’s standing as an expert corroborator.

Just for the record, two of the pillars of Christian Reconstruction as described by some of the real founders of the movement, such as Gary North and R.J. Rushdoony, are Calvinism (Reformed theology) and postmillennialism (victorious eschatology). Warren, Palin and Huckabee are each Arminians and premillennialists. In other words, on two key points, they fall on the opposite end of the spectrum. So they cannot be correctly labelled as Reconstructionists.

The key error of Sharlet and liberals like him is that they understand civil government and social change as being imposed from the top-down. This is the opposite of what Christian Reconstrucion teaches. In fact, this is what they do to enforce social change. Reconstructionists instead believe in law-based liberty and reformation from the bottom-up through redemption and regeneration over a long period of time in history. The best analysis of the factual errors in Sharlet’s writings is by Chalcedon’s Chris Ortiz, who has also commented on the liaison with Frank Schaeffer. Some of Ortiz’s critiques are hereherehere and here.

What is a theonomist?

Second, we need to examine the third pillar of Christian Reconstruction, the one that has liberals most concerned, theonomy.

Here I have to cover some old ground. Theonomy simply means “God’s Law.” All Calvinists are to a certain extent theonomists because John Calvin taught that one of the uses of God’s Law is as a guide for civil law. In other words, we say murder, stealing, and lying under oath are illegal because God’s Law says they are illegal. In a broader sense, all Christians, and in fact all people, are theonomists whenever God’s Law appeals to them. A true theonomist is simply one who tries to obey God’s Law even when he doesn’t like it or fully understand it.

One of those caught in the web of conspiracy woven by Frank Schaeffer is George Grant, an orthodox Christian and Calvinist. As a Presbyterian (PCA) pastor, Grant is supposed to hold to the doctrinal standards of the Westminster Confession of Faith. This document teaches the threefold delineation of the Law espoused by Calvin. To anyone who opposes God’s Law, or to anyone who opposes Christian orthodoxy in general, Grant is going to appear to embrace an extreme theonomic position even though his view is no more or less than that of historic Reformed theology.

Further, a true theonomist diverges from the likes of Warren, Palin, Huckabee and Schaeffer (both Sr. and Jr.) because we also take seriously the application of the ecclesiastical and civil sanctions of the law. We believe we need to look to the whole Bible as God’s Word that addresses every area of life. We see that in many cases the penalty of death is not universally imposed by God on those who committed capital crimes. Mercy is an option both for God and through the ruling of a civil judge. (I’ll deal with this idea more in part 6.) However, we see the moral law of God (including the sanctions) as eternal and relevant for today. While we might interpret and apply it differently depending on the context, as Christians we should never be inclined to say that God’s Law is evil, barbaric or somehow culturally irrelevant.

To understand the theonomic position espoused by Rushdoony, Ortiz and others is to know that we are not advocating a top-down tyrannical system that seeks to enforce God’s Law through capital punishment. The theonomist begins with the idea that the Law brings knowledge of sin, which may then result in the regeneration of the individual by the Holy Spirit in salvation. Then the Christian applies the knowledge of the Law as a useful measure of sanctification in his or her individual life. This extends into the family, church, business, education, civil government and all areas of life. The Law finally gives us a prescription for civil sanctions as it acts as a curb or deterrent to sinful behavior. But the important thing to understand is we must stress regeneration and reformation first. The disciplinary function of the Law is an after effect of spiritual awakening on the societal scale. We do not believe that society can be reformed by executing people we do not agree with. All the sanctions of the Law are to be dispensed with an attitude of mercy and redemption.

But we also stand firm on the inerrancy of scripture. When we see that God in the Old Testament commands the death penalty for violent rape, adultery, acts of homosexuality or bestiality, we must affirm with the Apostle Paul in the New Testament that although the wicked “know God’s righteous decree that those who do such things deserve death, they not only continue to do these very things but also approve of those who practice them” (Romans 1:32).

The debate here is not between Frank Schaeffer and the “religious right” or “Christian Reconstructionists.” The debate is between Frank Schaeffer and the Lord Jesus, the second Person of the Triune God. All scripture, both the Old and New Testament, is inspired and is the standard for our righteousness in Christ. Yet autonomous man wishes to live in a world in which evil can be accepted as “good” and those who would define sin according the rightful biblical standard are branded as “hate-mongers.”

I’ll leave the reader with the following comments that were left at Frank Schaeffer’s blog by a level-headed Christian:

Yours is simply an untenable position. You claim a system of “hate” so as to draw on the emotions of the readers. However, this emotive type of argument has no bearing upon the truth; it is simply subjective opinion with no foundation or force. God has given His Law, a Law that is an extension of His character and is therefore immutable. Hence, it is still valid to this day and all of those with affection for Christ should attempt to guide the civil magistrate to enact this Law.
We offer love through the God of love. You look for tolerance for your unrighteous actions or the actions of others. We offer an objective ethical system and a God that can both change the individual and save them from their unrighteousness. You ask for special benefits within the church and society. We offer the sure cornerstone of Christ Jesus. You offer the fruits that result in Hell fire.
So Mr. Schaeffer, please either provide for us an exegetical argument that would allow homosexual conduct (an argument that you well know cannot be provided) or simply proclaim that the Law of God is old-fashioned and wrong. The latter of these two propositions is at least honest.

1 Comment

Thanks for this common sense and Biblical response... It is a blessing to have you and others set the record straight on just who are and what is Christian Reconstructionism and Theonomy. I appreciate your clear teaching and hope many will read this commentary.

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