Law and Love

by Douglas Wilson

What is this booklet about, and why does it need to be written? The Reconstruction movement is in great need of some constructive criticism, and this booklet is intended to start the process. I hope that other writers will soon join in the effort.

I am writing because I do not know of any criticism of the movement, in print or otherwise, that even comes close to the mark. The criticism either contains factual errors, or the Reconstructionists are criticized where they are strongest, i.e. where they are right.

An example of the former would be some of the false impressions created by a recent cover story on the movement in Christianity Today. The writer, Rodney Clapp, was not thoroughly acquainted with the literature of the movement, and it showed.

An example of the latter would be one of the criticisms leveled by the anti-New Age author, Dave Hunt. Because the eschatology of the Reconstructionists is optimistic, Dave Hunt considers them to have dangerous New Age tendencies. Now it is true that both movements are optimistic about the future, and want their worldview to pervade the whole earth. But to criticize the Reconstructionists on this basis is like comparing the Allies to the Nazis because they both wanted control of France.

Mr. Hunt’s criticism fails because he attempts to attack the Reconstructionists at their strongest point i.e. the relevance of the Bible in history.

I am writing as someone who has a great deal in common with those in the Reconstruction movement. Some points of agreement are:
  1. I believe that the Kingdom of God will grow until the earth is as full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea. Then Jesus will return and destroy the last enemy, Death.
  2. I believe that all knowledge must begin with the Word of God. Rather than protect our faith with our reason, we must defend our reason with our faith.
  3. I believe that the Old Testament is still a clear statement of the mind of God. The New Testament must govern how we apply it to our lives, but it must nevertheless be applied — to our lives, churches, nations and families.

But unfortunately, this agreement does not extend to other areas. It is also unfortunate that the points of disagreement are not trivial or secondary. As a pastor, I am dismayed that I can recommend few Reconstructionist books for the people to whom I minister. This is because the reader may be tempted to reject everything that is said, including that which is worthwhile, because of those elements which are clearly offensive to God. Either that, or he may accept that which is offensive, and fall short of the attitude God requires of Christians. Neither option is acceptable. The silver that can be mined from Reconstructionist literature requires the removal of a great amount of dross.

This booklet is based on three basic objections to the movement. They are:
  1. Mr. Gary North (along with some others) exhibits in his writing a churlish disposition that is not in keeping with our high calling as Christians. In addition, many Reconstructionist authors who do not exhibit this attitude do not distance themselves from those who do.
  2. Mr. Gary North exhibits in his writing an utter lack of humility in evaluating how God will use the publications with which he is associated. Again, other Reconstructionists allow this attitude to continue unchecked.
  3. The exegetical methodology adopted by Mr. James Jordan is one which will prove destructive in any serious attempt to restore a biblical foundation for our society. Other Reconstructionists, while not as adept at this methodology as he, nevertheless seem to be comfortable with it.

In writing, I have assumed that the reader is familiar with the basic literature of the Reconstruction movement. What I say here is directed principally at the Tyler branch of Reconstructionism, but some of the criticism also applies elsewhere. The reader is encouraged to make application anywhere application is appropriate.

“When Apollos wanted to go to Achaia, the brothers encouraged him and wrote to the disciples there to welcome him. On arriving, he was a great help to those who by grace had believed. For he vigorously refuted the Jews in public debate, proving from the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” (Acts 18:27–28).

The Church of Jesus Christ was born in controversy, and it has been surrounded with controversy ever since. God has consequently blessed His people from the beginning with gifted controversialists. Apollos was one of the first.

This is not something that was intended to be unique to the first century. Paul requires that the elder must “hold firmly to the trustworthy message as it has been taught, so that he can encourage others by sound doctrine and refute those who oppose it” (Titus 1:9).

It is very clear that God does not intend for Christian leaders to roll over and play dead in the presence of false teachers. Refutation is frequently necessary. But it is very important to remember that God not only appoints our tasks, He appoints the way in which they are to be done.

In Col. 4–6, Paul says, “Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” In 1 Peter 3:15b–16, we are instructed, “Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a dear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander.”

The language of a Christian controversialist must be vigorous, clear and strong. It must also be loving. The balance must be set by the teaching of Scripture.

Many Christians believe that the Bible prohibits the use of strong or vigorous language during verbal controversies. This mistake is the result of failing to understand Scripture in the light of Scripture. When we see that the men who wrote the Bible instructed us to speak in a certain way, it would be wise to look for examples of their speech. How did they understand their own instructions? This will prevent us from reading our own definitions into their requirements.

For example: In Luke 4, we find the account of Jesus speaking at the synagogue in his home town of Nazareth. Verse 22 states that the people were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips. Jesus continues to speak and six verses later the people are so furious with him that they attempt to murder him. What is going on?

In Galatians 5:14–15 Paul says, “The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you keep and biting and devouring each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other.” This is a mere three verses after Paul had expressed the wish that the members of the circumcision party would go the whole way and emasculate themselves.

John records a wonderful invitation to anyone who wants to come to full and free forgiveness. “Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life.” (Revelation 22:17b). Two verses earlier he had referred to a certain class of sinners as “dogs” (possibly a reference to homosexual offenders. See Deuteronomy 23:18).

This leaves us with two choices. Either the verses on gracious speech mean what most Christians think they do and the writers of these instructions were obviously inconsistent, or there is only apparent inconsistency because out definitions of graciousness are not in line with examples given in the Bible.

It is very easy to compromise in the name of graciousness. It is very easy to think that the Lord requires us to offend no one. It is very easy to believe that to identify a “brood of vipers” is ungodly. Why so easy? Because it is the path of least resistance.

Our Lord did not die and come back from death victorious in order to populate eternity with invertebrates. We are told that gentleness is part of the fruit of the Spirit. But we are not told that gentleness requires us to be milquetoasts. We are told the meek will inherit the earth. But we are not instructed to abdicate all strength. Rather, we are told to “be strong in the Lord and in His mighty power” (Ephesians 6:10).

This is not a matter of incidental concern. One of the major problems in the modern church is the identification of strength with sin. As a consequence, the church is now like Samson, blinded and shorn of strength. Repentance is in order. We need to give up our humanistic definitions of love and graciousness in order to embrace a more biblical understanding.

But it should go without saying that this does not mean that Christian leaders are provided with a justification for calling people names indiscriminately. We must imitate the writers of the Bible across the board. We must love as they did, think as they did, give ourselves away as they did, and then speak as they did.

Just as it is possible to compromise the truth for the sake of graciousness, it is also possible to be ungracious in the name of “no compromise.” Not only is this the case, but people in the “no compromise” camp use the error of the opposition to justify what they do, and how they speak. It is this truth-oriented ungraciousness which is the single most tolerated sin by Reconstructionists. And this is the first problem which must be addressed.

It is the opinion of this writer that Gary North has shelled humanistic thinkers (inside the church and out) with a biblically based warhead — delivered with a humanistic missile.

But it is not enough to destroy the positions of the enemy. It must be done the way God said to do it. Gary North is quite capable of letting the Amalekites have it. They are beaten. “What then is this bleating of sheep in my ears? What is this lowing of cattle that I hear?” (1 Sam. 15:14.) Saul fought the enemies of God, but he did not do it the way he was instructed.

The apostle Paul says, with tears, that some are enemies of the cross of Christ. Gary North gleefully says that Ronald Sider is “dead meat.”[1]

Jesus Christ prophesied that Jerusalem would fall at the hands of the Romans, and He wept over that same city. He engaged in a vigorous polemic against the leaders of Judaism. But the polemic was directed against men for whom He was willing to die.

Gary North, in a newsletter responding to Rodney Clapp’s article, said, “We’re far more concerned about the cultural impact of AIDS than the cultural impact of Clapp.” Gary North knows his Bible well, but one thing has escaped him — the tone.

The problem reminds me of an incident in the life of Mark Twain. One day, when his wife had had her fill of his profane language, she decided to shock him by imitating him. After she had recited all his profanities in his presence, he calmly informed her that she knew the words but she didn’t know the tune.

In a similar way, Gary North seems to know that the Bible requires that sin be strongly rebuked. And this he does, but he doesn’t know the tune.

Would Paul say that Alexander’s mother swam after troop ships? Would John say that Diotrophes was a son of a bitch? No? The Bible requires that sinners be confronted. But it does not therefore follow that any confrontation is automatically biblical.

In his essay “Confrontation With Bureaucracy,” Mr. North concludes an otherwise admirable paragraph with a strange version of Christian exhortation — “Sue the bastards!”[2]

Confronted with this, Gary North could no doubt reply that the individuals to whom he was referring were not legitimate sons of God, and were in fact bastards. Fine. True enough. But this just demonstrates further his difficulty in carrying a biblical tune — and also demonstrates that he may in fact be tone deaf.

I do not say this because I disagree with Gary North (although I frequently do), but because it is an embarrassment to agree with him. And because Gary North has a good theological mind, it is not uncommon for Christians to find themselves in frequent agreement with the content of what he says. They therefore find themselves frequently embarrassed by the way he carries on.

The issue is not whether humanists like being skewered. Of course they do not. The issue is whether God has instructed us to oppose them in this way. The answer is that He has not — quite the reverse.

In the Publisher’s Preface to That You May Prosper,[3] Gary North goes out of his way to predict that this book will prove to be the most important book of theology published for centuries. He does not do this in the normal manner of publishers who want to hype the product. He lists a number of authors (including Luther, Augustine and Bunyan) who will not have the impact on history that Ray Sutton, the author of the book, will have.

The suspicion arises that if any milestones are being passed, they are milestones of publishing exuberance. The problem is not the book, the problem is the arrogant crowing about the book. In this regard, the ungodly King Ahab appears to have had the greater part of wisdom — “Let not him who puts on his armor boast like him who takes it off” (1 Kings 20:11).

Gary North writes, “Of the forgetting of books there is no end. There will be an exception to this general rule, I believe: That You May Prosper. The outline of this book will shape the thinking of Christians from this day forward.”[4] Well, maybe. But why can’t we wait, as though humility were a virtue, and see? Why is it necessary to sneer at Bunyan, or loftily compare your own publishing efforts with some of the theological giants that have preceded us?

This is not to say that there should be no disagreement with Christian writers of previous centuries. It is just the contention that all Christian debate here, as elsewhere, must be conducted in humility.

“Let another praise you, and not your own mouth; someone else, and not your own lips” (Prov. 27:2). While it is true that Gary North is saying these things about someone else’s book, he is saying them as the publisher of the book, and as the leader of the Tyler group that is producing a large amount of literature. He is therefore bragging about something in which he has a large interest, and that interest is not humbly held.

There are two reasons why this sort of boasting should be avoided.
  1. The Bible forbids it. Those who exalt themselves will be humbled God opposes the proud. The Bible warns about disastrous consequences when the presumption is revealed for what it is. Those who take the high seat of honor will find themselves deposed. Sanctions are a reality.
  2. The Bible teaches that the kingdom of God grows and fills the earth, as leaven works through the loaf. What we do here in our generation depends upon what was done before. There is continuity in the work of God.
Therefore, theological contributions must be offered with the awareness that we are building on what has gone before. I am sure that this would be granted intellectually, but in this preface, there was no tone of gratitude at all. Bunyan, for example, was dismissed for being a wandering tinker, and for spending too much time in jail(!).

The Bible teaches that the one who boasts, should boast in the Lord. In the literature coming from Tyler, the boasting is humanistic.

In both That You May Prosper and Days of Vengeance, Ray Sutton and David Chilton write like Christian gentlemen, and they do not display this lack of humility. But they allowed their books to be introduced by someone who does not have that same restraint.

Until this problem is corrected, the Reconstruction movement will not be blessed by God. The armies of Israel were defeated at Ai because of sin in the camp. How much more will we be held responsible? This sin isn’t even hidden away in someone’s tent. It goes out glued in the front of the books as a publisher’s preface.

On this subject, there is one final warning. This type of boasting, and the selfish ambition that fuels it, is not a sin that is content to remain alone. James tells that whenever you have selfish ambition, you will also have every evil practice (Jas. 3:16).

This means that, unless there is repentance, the worthy emphasis on ethics found in the Reconstructionist movement is doomed in the long run. And why doomed? Because the law of God cannot be kept by people who think that arrogant boasting is a virtue. Sooner or later, some other aspect of God’s law will also be set on its head and ignored.

There is another problem in the Reconstructionist camp. This problem is somewhat different than what has been discussed so far in this booklet. It concerns how the Bible is handled.

The problem does not appear, at first glance, to be an attitude problem. This is because it concerns how the Word of God is handled, as opposed to how other people are handled. The Reconstructionists tend to handle their opponents roughly, and the problem with it is easy to see.

In contrast, Mr. Jordan has a great reverence for the Word of God. He also appears to have a gracious spirit in how he deals with those who disagree. But his reverence for the Bible is not itself biblical in approach. Therefore, the long-term dangers presented to a godly attitude are great.

The attitude problem here is not one of churlishness. It is rather a well-meaning desire to get God to say more than He has chosen to. This can only serve, in the long-run, to set aside the Word of God for the sake of human tradition. I hesitate to dispute at all with Mr. Jordan because he appears to be a well-meaning Christian gentleman. But the approach to the Bible he advocates is extremely dangerous. I have therefore decided to include this section on exegesis.

The apostle Paul instructed the Corinthians, “Do not go beyond what is written.” The reason? “Then you will not take pride in one man over against another” (1 Cor. 4:6). Interpretations which extend beyond the text are divisive.

In contrast to this “minimal” approach, Mr. Jordan argues, “We have to explain this in order to distance ourselves from the ‘interpretive minimalism’ that has come to characterize evangelical commentaries on Scripture in recent years.”[5]

Mr. Jordan knows that certain temptations accompany such interpretation, and he addresses the problem. Unfortunately, his solution is another manifestation of the problem. He says, “What, however, is our check on such an interpretation? We have to say that the check and balance on interpretation is the whole rest of Scripture and of theology.”[6] The emphasis is mine.

If our theology is allowed, in any measure, to regulate how the Scriptures are handled, then humanistic dross is inserted into the pure Word of God. Do we want some sort of Protestant magisterium? God forbid! Theology must never regulate Scripture. Scripture must regulate theology.

Rushdoony is correct when he says that systematic theology is inescapable — it is not a question of whether, but which. We therefore have a choice between a systematic theology which is derived from the Bible, and is dependent upon it, and those systematic theologies (and their name is Legion) which are superimposed on the text.

We must not allow our theologies to become in any way authoritative in our handling of the text. If this is not done, we have lost the principle of Sola Scriptura. Passages of Scripture are then put on some interpretive Procrustean bed and mangled accordingly.

A systematic theology must be, first, a biblical theology. It must refuse, in the strongest way possible, to go beyond the text.

Some who superimpose their theologies on the text are members of various cults. They see what they want to see. But many who are perfectly orthodox do the same thing. They are restrained from heresy, not by the Scriptures, but by the orthodox communion to which they belong. But it is not long before people begin to do to the creeds of their church what they have already done to the Word of God. They see what they want to see.

Scripture and theology are not co-regents. There is no way to remain submissive to Scripture without this understanding. Any attempt to build such a co-regency will only result in the regency of whatever theology the builders hold. And if that theology was orthodox, it will not remain so long.

But when we return to the restrictions of sober exegesis we will discover that it is not “minimal” at all. The richness of the Scripture is profound — there is more than enough there to keep us all occupied for generations.

Up to this point, I have discussed the general problem that will accompany such “broadening” of our interpretive approach. Theology will replace the Bible, and that theology will not be orthodox for long.

But there are two specific problems that come with this approach which will result in immediate difficulty for Reconstructionists. This difficulty should already be apparent.

First, this approach dilutes the Reconstructionist’s effectiveness in those areas where he does have a good biblical case. For example, a sober handling of Matthew 24 is already going to look crazy to the average American evangelical. It doesn’t help matters if the Reconstructionist turns around and starts saying things that really are crazy.

If we have adopted an approach which allows the importation of theological bias into the text, then we will be accused of doing so — even when we haven’t.

The second problem is this. Sinful men do not like the Scriptures as they stand. Any method of interpretation that allows for wiggle room is therefore welcome.

We do not want our ranks full of men and women with heads filled with bizarre interpretations, and lives filled with personal sin. It is already happening.

Being right is not enough. We must be right in the right way. Jesus Christ told the church at Ephesus that they had to return to their first love, or their lampstand would be removed. The same thing applies to those who are fighting under the banner of Reconstruction.

Pietists have restricted religion to the attitude of the heart. This is thoroughly unbiblical, and Reconstructionists know it. But it is also unbiblical to restrict religion to correct doctrine and lifestyle apart from attitudes.

I have great delight in knowing that the law of God applies to nations, kings, presidents, congressmen, churches and families. But it also applies to our heads, mouths and pens (and word processors).

Unless this is recognized, with repentance following, the Reconstruction movement will amount to nothing that has lasting spiritual value. If I understand the immorality of secular economics, but have not love . . . If I publish better books than Jonathan Edwards did, but have not love . . . If love isn’t in it, then it stinks. And the better the theology, the worse it stinks.

God is not mocked. This is comprehensively true. It does not just apply to the humanists, or antinomian Christians. It also applies to those who say that God is not mocked, who then go on to mock Him in the way they speak and write.

It is not enough to mellow out a little bit for the sake of selling books. It is necessary to understand the spiritual issue involved, and repent. Because the sin has been committed in print, restitution should be made in print. This restitution would include an apology to all those who have been unbiblically reviled.

I have written principally about Gary North, and secondarily about the Reconstructionists who have tolerated his abrasiveness — I have also written about a method of handling Scripture that will prove ineffective in dealing with this kind of problem.

I have not rushed in print with this booklet. It was preceded by a private letter to Gary North, to which he did not respond. I do not know whether he read it and disregarded it, or whether he never received it. Either way, an attempt was made to address this problem privately first.

What should I happen now? My desire is that the people mentioned in this booklet would make appropriate restitution. If that is done, well and good.

But if the unfortunate response is that I have not made my case, then I request an opportunity to present a more detailed case in person. I would like to make it to anyone mentioned in this booklet, in the presence of those elders to whom they are in submission.

If that offer is rejected, then I would like to make the case in public debate. I would be willing to debate Mr. North on the first two points made, or Mr. Jordan on the third. I leave it to them to decide time, place, format, and forum. I am at their disposal.

I have published this, not because I want Gary North out of the battle, but because I want him to become more effective in the battle. He is a gifted controversialist, but all gifts must be exercised the way the Giver instructs.

I have no idea if this call will be heeded. If it is not, then I pray that God will raise up someone else to fight the humanists the way God wants us to. If it is heeded, then we all should thank God.

Special thanks are due to Dan and Catherine Walker, who understand that graciousness does not mean compromise.

[1] Productive Christians in an Age of Guilt Manipulators, David Chilton, page x, Foreword, Institute for Christian Economics.
[2] Tactics of Christian Resistance, Gary North, ed., page 170, Geneva Divinity School Press.
[3] That You May Prosper, Ray Sutton. The entire Publisher’s Preface has to be read to be believed. Dominion Press.
[4] Ibid., page xviii.
[5] Judges: God’s War Against Humanism, James Jordan, page xii, Introduction, Geneva Ministries.
[6] Ibid., page xiii.