Questioning Christian Reconstructionism (Dominionism) – and Defending the Way of the Cross

According to Larry Ball, a retired Presbyterian (PCA) minister in Florida, Christian Reconstructionism, or dominionism, is thriving, poised to make a comeback as “America continues to decline, and as the Church continues to be unable to speak to the issues of our culture.” I’ve interacted with Ball’s arguments before, you may recall. After the Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act Ball complained that Christian pastors weren’t doing their job of preaching against it. As he put it, “The only answer to the modern political debate on health care is a return to biblical law.”

By ‘answer’ Ball seems to mean that the government should remove itself from regulating or overseeing health care provision and that it should leave the task of providing for the poor exclusively to the church. As he puts it, the problem is that “The State has become their [churches’] partners in the ministry of mercy.”

As I pointed out in my interaction with Ball a few months ago, it is odd to hear a Presbyterian pastors speak so confidently about the implications of biblical law for contemporary politics when his assumptions are directly contrary to those of prominent reformers like Martin Luther, John Calvin, and those who so admired what they accomplished in their own churches and cities. Calvin, who believed it was the state’s obligation to enforce both tables of the Ten Commandments, also argued that it was the state’s responsibility to establish hospitals and provide funds for the care of the poor, not to mention to pay the salaries of ministers and establish schools for the training of future pastors. For Calvin what Ball describes as the problem with today’s pastors was precisely the case: “The State has become their partners in the ministry of mercy.” And remember, most Reformed leaders in the 16th Century looked to Calvin’s Geneva as the great example of a godly society (including, most famously, the father of Presbyterianism, John Knox).

Even today, of course, it is by  no means clear that most Christians agree with Ball’s understanding of the teaching of Scripture. Not to mention Christians living outside of the United States, within this country most Hispanic Christians, African American Christians, and even the bishops of the Roman Catholic Church, support further government involvement in health care (and certainly support government provision for the poor). Of course, they might all be wrong. The question is whether or not they are wrong because the Bible says so.

In his newer article Ball suggests that many people are disillusioned because of the reelection of President Obama but points out that Christians “must tell them that there is purpose and hope in Christ, even on this earth.” The kingdom will still come on earth as it is in heaven; Christians will still take political dominion, before Christ’s return.

It’s worth paying attention to how Ball makes use of the various motifs in Scripture about conquest and suffering. He parodies Christians who take seriously Jesus’ (and the apostles’) repeated exhortations to believers to expect suffering and to embrace it with joy and hope, storing up treasures in heaven as they conform to the image of their Lord in this age:

There is no hope in the Christian faith, except as a way to get to heaven.  Our only hope on this earth is the joy of suffering persecution, which, if we are honest, we are wont to do. Forget about what our grandchildren will have to face.  Just get me out of here as quickly as possible.

In place of the New Testament’s driving motif of life under the cross in conformity to the example of Christ Ball points the church to the example of Israel on the eve of its invasion of Canaan and genocide of the Canaanites:

The modern Church reminds me of the ten spies who reported to Moses that taking the Promised Land was just impossible.  Let’s just be real and practical here – right?  The enemy is just too big and too powerful.  They are like giants and we are like grasshoppers.   Anyone who speaks of victory is just a dreamer….

What we need is revival in the pulpit and a message of hope.  Joshua and Caleb’s message to Moses was basically that we are not afraid of them, but they are afraid of us. The enemy has heard about the great things God has done for us, and their hearts have melted in fear. We have the Living God on our side.  “If God be for us, who can be against us?” (Romans 8:31).

I’m not sure if Ball thinks we’re supposed to imitate Israel’s commands uncompromisingly to kill their enemies or to put to death those who commit thirty odd religious and moral crimes. Given his constant emphasis on biblical law it’s not clear to me how we can assume otherwise. If Ball doesn’t speak for all Reconstructionists here I’d be happy to be corrected. But note how Ball talks about our enemies being afraid of us as he urges us to take dominion in God’s name. He invokes Romans 8:31 oddly here, but note what in context that passage actually says:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword?As it is written,

“For your sake we are being killed all the day long;
we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.”

No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

(Romans 8:35-37)

In all these things. What things? Evidently tribulation, distress, persecution, famine, nakedness, danger and sword. Paul doesn’t tell us that if we endure all of this we will conquer and take dominion. He promises that in these things we are conquerors already. Like the lamb who was slain we are conquerors in our very suffering witness (Revelation). By conforming ourselves to Christ’s image we testify to the fact that we have all things in him and are waiting for his return to set all things right (here on earth as well as in heaven).

For the record, I’ll be much more hopeful about my children’s future if the Christian Reconstructionists do not take dominion over this country, and I suspect the same is true for most Christians. America is by no means the kingdom of God (who ever said it would be, except perhaps the Reconstructionists or other social gospelers) but I would not want to live in any other place or time. God has blessed us immeasurably and it is by no means evident to me that America is in decline (just remember Jimmy Carter’s famous speech; he thought we were in decline too). With that in view I’ll take Paul’s approach to civil government as a model rather than Caleb and Joshua’s attitude toward the Canaanites.

I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. (1 Timothy 2:1-2)

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About Matthew J. Tuininga

Matthew J. Tuininga is the Assistant Professor of Moral Theology at Calvin Theological Seminary in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Posted on November 15, 2012, in Calvin, Culture War, Health Care, Law, Reconstructionism and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Comments Off on Questioning Christian Reconstructionism (Dominionism) – and Defending the Way of the Cross.

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