BOOK REVIEW

Walter J. Chantry, God's Righteous Kingdom, Carlisle, PA: Banner of Truth Trust, 1980.


This review was solicited by Jon Zens as representative of the "Reconstructionist" viewpoint, and originally published in Baptist Reformation Review, Vol. 10, No. 1, First Quarter, 1981. I no longer claim to represent the "Reconstructionist" viewpoint, and a review of this review is appended.
This untoward generation is characterized by dishonesty, laziness, and incompetence. Walter Chantry, instead of producing an example of Christian character, has written an embarrassing work that lacks Christian integrity. The Puritan-rooted views of the "Christian Reconstruction" movement have a short day in yet another kangaroo court.

Page after page in God's Righteous Kingdom presents half-truths, distortions, innuendoes, and guilt by association with dispensationalists and Marxist groups like Evangelicals for Social Action. Mr. Chantry's work does not seek to encourage, either by example or by precept, diligence and hard work.

Greg Bahnsen, by contrast, used nearly 3500 Scripture references in Theonomy in Christian Ethics to establish the case for the abiding validity of Old Testament Law. R.J. Rushdoony, in his great work of application, The Institutes of Biblical Law, evidences decades of study in over 1000 footnotes and 3000 Bible references. The very clear case for "Christian Reconstruction," along with the theological and historical roots in the Reformers and the Puritans, is lightly brushed aside by Mr. Chantry.

Not that might makes right; nor that the whole movement could not possibly be refuted in a tract the size of God's Righteous Kingdom (if the Scriptures were as obviously against Theonomy in Christian ethics as Mr. Chantry makes it sound). But Mr. Chantry, with his misrepresentations, quasi-devotional approach, and lack of systematic, Scriptural understanding of the issues involved, has shown himself incompetent to do so.

Sad. Mr. Chantry's previous books, Signs of the Apostles, and Today's Gospel -- Authentic or Synthetic?, really do "make the reader say at the end: 'This is something which needed saying.'" Mr. Chantry makes many good points; the last chapter alone is worth the price of the tract. With great sorrow it must be admitted that many scholars, even "reconstructionists," are more interested in impressing high-level humanist intellectuals than in helping Joe Christian deal with the "bleak realities" (p. 147) of the day-in, day-out routines of life. But the tremendous insights of chapter 12 will be lost amidst the distortion, faulty reasoning, and non-Scriptural argumentation of chapters 1-11.

Name that Heretic

Before examining the errors of Mr. Chantry, we must clear the name of organizations and scholars dedicated to "Christian Reconstruction." Although dispensationalists and other groups are mentioned, most of Mr. Chantry's tract deals with one group. Let's see if you can name that group.

According to Mr. Chantry, somewhere in this world there is a group that exhorts men to obey all of the Old Testament law (p. 11, 106, etc.). This group does not distinguish between the ceremonial law and the rest of God's Law (p. 113). They apparently urge men to carry out the ceremonial sacrifices of the Old Testament. I haven't read much about this group, but they certainly deserve the condemnation of all Christians.

This same group dismisses evangelism and prayer as unimportant (p. 26, 27). It is hard to believe that any group calling itself "evangelical" could be opposed to evangelism. For anyone unconvinced that evangelism and soul-winning are important, may I recommend an article entitled, "Evangelism and Reconstruction," by David H. Chilton in The Chalcedon Report, no. 168, Aug. 1979. R.J. Rushdoony, in his book The Institutes of Biblical Law, points out again and again that

the key to remedying the situation is not revolution, nor any kind of resistance that works to subvert law and order. The key is regeneration, propagation of the gospel, and the conversion of men and nations to God's Law-Word.[1]

Evil men cannot produce a good society. The key to social renewal is individual regeneration.[2]

But to point out that Chilton, Rushdoony, and other "reconstructionists" believe that conversion and evangelism are important is not to accuse them of the same error made by proponents of that "synthetic gospel" so ably criticized by Mr. Chantry. Reconstructionists" are interested in no easy-believism. They desire Christians to exert a righteous influence to create and maintain a society of order based on God's Law. Their approach is balanced:
. . . if not enough regenerate men exist in a society, no law-order can be maintained successfully. Thus, a healthy society needs an operative law-order and an operative evangelism in order to maintain its health."[3]
Another clue: In the writings of this unidentified group, "attention is shifted from purity of soul to external ethical standards" (p. 29). Focusing only on externals, to the exclusion of the internals, is nothing less than Pharisaism, and is highly dangerous. I searched in vain for any recent group that explicitly calls itself "The Pharisees," or "Pharisaicals for External Action," or some similar title. Nevertheless, it would be instructive for us to expand somewhat on Mr. Chantry's indictment of those who would ignore the purity of the soul. Greg Bahnsen writes in Theonomy in Christian Ethics,
Christ reproves a legalistic concern with outward behavior alone and emphasizes the need for heartfelt obedience and inner purity . . . ."[4]
Indeed, the whole of chapter 3 of Theonomy, "Pharisaism Reproved," is ably summarized by Mr. Chantry:
In his great sermon on kingdom righteousness (Matt. 5), the greatest Prophet produced no new standard. He merely gave clear exposition of old statutes. These were selected, not to make a complete list of duties, but to correct the prevailing misinterpretations of the hour (p. 81).

Systems developed by scribes, Pharisees, Sadducees, and Herodians all perverted the true spiritual character of the Old Testament revelation. They were not reliable representatives of the old covenant. Our Lord Jesus' new kingdom was the genuine embodiment and rightful heir of the Old Testament marrow" (p. 44).

Rushdoony goes further and notes that when man is seen only in terms of external influences and behavior, the Biblical emphasis on the heart of man has been neglected:
If the world is the basic source of contamination, the logic of law requires environmental reconditioning; the world must be remade in order to save man. If the basic course of defilement is, as Jesus declared, "from within, out of the heart of man," then the salvation of man is conversion or regeneration. Man must be remade if the world itself is to be saved. We have thus two opposed doctrines of salvation and of law.[5]
We can certainly hope, then, that members of this dangerous (but unnamed) group will read the works of Bahnsen and Rushdoony to supplement Mr. Chantry's indictment. Maybe thereby they will learn that the Christian's first duty is not to change the world, but to change men, through the power of the Holy Spirit.

Mr. Mr. Chantry further warns us that this unidentified group is attempting to change society through military means (p. 37). The very idea of using guns and coercive force to extend the Kingdom of God is seriously unScriptural. At this point, I am becoming somewhat insecure; I try to stay abreast of contemporary theological trends, but I am utterly at a loss to name a Christian group advocating war as a means of extending the Kingdom. Even here in Southern California, a virtual breeding ground of religious wackos, the closest I could come is my next-door neighbor, a "Nazi-Quaker" (he declares war, but then refuses to fight).[6] Perhaps Mr. Chantry is referring to such groups as those that "are convinced that the number one priority for Christians in our age should be the elimination of hunger from this world" (p. 24); who would apparently replace evangelism, conversion, and sanctification with the coercive power of civil government. Rather than seeing the government as God's deaconate of revenge, "to execute wrath upon him that doeth evil" (Rom. 13:4), this group sees government legislation as a means of making men righteous. If you know of any group that is as unbiblically Statist as the organization Mr. Chantry has in mind, and would like further reading, no writers have spoken out against a Messianic concept of the State as forcefully as those defending "Christian Reconstruction." The reason why the "reconstructionists" are so determined to keep the State in a restraining capacity, rather than give it positive powers, is that the only agent given such positive powers for the task of the conversion of men and nations is the Holy Spirit, working through the teaching and preaching of the Word. Men are not made righteous, nor are nations discipled, by passing laws to redistribute income or hinder Godly businesses (a la the social-action evangelicals). The State cannot extend the Kingdom of God. It can only help restrain the kingdom of Satan. As Mr. Chantry puts it, "some would say a great deal about law and little about a Spirit of power" (p. 54).

The "reconstructionists," seeing this error, have thus devoted much space to establishing the importance of the Holy Spirit. (For examples, see two chapters in Theonomy: chapter 4, "The Law's Inability to Justify and Empower," and chapter 7, "Sanctification and the Holy Spirit.")

The unwary reader may have been led to believe that in the current battle, Walter Chantry and the "reconstructionists" stand firmly united against this seriously aberrant evangelical group. Incredible as it may seem, the group Mr. Chantry has in mind is the same "reconstructionist" group we have been quoting all along. Never was more straw employed in the construction of an opponent than in Mr. Chantry's tract. But misrepresenting the position of the "reconstructionists" (knowingly? without adequate study?) is not the only problem with Mr. Chantry's tract. He reveals inconsistencies and serious errors of his own.

Consistency and the Law

Recently, a number of Reformed Baptists have returned to the radical theology of the Anabaptists. Their regression demonstrates that the issue is consistency. On the one hand is Chalcedon and the "reconstructionists." Opposing them are the neo-Anabaptists. In the middle is Walter Chantry, accompanied by the bulk of the Reformed camp. Jon Zens has put his finger on it:
The problem is this: the contemporary pastors, young men aspiring to the ministry, and people in the pews who are reading these [Banner of Truth] reprints are generally ignorant of a dominating theme in Puritanism, which Dr. [Gary] North refers to as "the ideal of the Holy Commonwealth. . . ." Thus, modern Christians reading these reprints are usually unaware that there was in fact a dominant political force in Puritanism, which, as Dr. North rightly observes, grew out of their conception of the Gospel. To be honest, therefore, with Puritanism as a whole, we must either acknowledge that this "Holy Commonwealth" ideal is indeed a valid outworking of the power of the gospel, or we must reject it as inimical to the truth of the gospel.[7]
David H. Chilton has gone further:
The question is, do 'the interests of gospel purity' affect our lives? Does Christ's Lordship make a difference for the Christian ruler, lawyer, legislator, or judge? Or is the lordship of Christ limited to the prayer closet?[8]
A fundamental issue here is that of the Law. Anabaptist theology has given birth both to evangelical groups rallying for the social gospel (see the article by Ronald J. Sider in Evangelicals and Anabaptists, edited by C. Norman Kraus), and a more consistent pietistic internalism. The former advocates change based not on powers given the State by God, but on Marxist theory and policy. The latter insists that nations must not (cannot?) be Christian, thus condoning by their silence Humanistic/Satanistic laws, and neglecting the Great Commission of our Lord. Both are antinomian. Mr. Chantry is inconsistent as well.

"It has been exactly right," Mr. Chantry claims, "to advocate that Christians think through what bearing the truth and righteousness of God have upon all circumstances of life and upon all issues of our day" (p. 37). "God is certainly interested in family conduct, business practices and citizenship. Our Lord cares how we carry on our present lives" (p. 17). "There is a will of God for the redeemed in this life. It is that they walk before men according to His righteousness. We have returned to the moral law for direction in sanctification" (p. 72). if this is true, then let us ask some concrete questions.

Tomorrow President Reagan signs an executive order forbidding the reading of the Bible in front of more than 15 people at once. Can Christians "employ political campaigns" or "organized pressure" to put a stop to this, as they did to stop IRS attempts to destroy Christian schools? Chantry is unclear, at best (p. 38). Can we even write letters? Apparently not (p. 37). Chantry seems to say that Christians should not voice their political opinions (if they are so "unspiritual" as to entertain them). "[T]he church's task is not to lecture legislatures, judges, and magistrates" (p. 38). The Word of God presents a different perspective (Psalm 105:22; 119:46; Prov. 22:11). Puritans like John Owen followed a much different plan of action.[9]

Suppose I am the governor of one of our fifty states. The legislature has passed a bill mandating the death penalty for murder, adultery, and homosexuality. Should I sign the bill? Mr. Chantry, I go to your church. What bearing does "the truth and righteousness of God" have upon this concrete decision?[10] After all, capital punishment was commanded by God in the Old Testament, and surely God was "childish" and given to "externals" back then (pp. 108, 120). Instead of being told to take up the World of God and see that every nation and every ruler obeys it (Psalm 149:5-9; Matt. 28:18-20; Eph 6:17), Mr. Chantry tells God's people that laws against homosexuality are undesirably "Jewish" (p. 100).

A final example, I am a cattle-rustler, and become converted. Need I follow Exodus 22:1 and make fourfold restitution of all stolen goods? Or would I thereby be forsaking "mature sonship" and returning to the "material" and the "worldly"? (pp. 108, 110) Chantry would not look favorably upon a Christian who follows "beggarly" Old Testament laws like restitution, or teaches others to do the same; our lord, however, would have the highest praise for such a mature "son of Abraham" (Luke 19:8-9; Matt. 5:19).

Certainly a return to animal sacrifices would be a return to "bondage." But for individuals and politicians as well, service by obedience to Biblical Law is freedom (James 1:25: 2:12). Mr. Chantry curiously likens the Law to "a fence," "rigid" and "restrictive" (pp. 111,121), an analogy found nowhere in Scripture. Quite the contrary, to serve God in obedience to His Law is like being set free in a large, open place (Psalm 119:45; 118:5; Prov 4:11-13). Mr. Chantry would do well to read Theonomy in Christian Ethics. There is a serious discrepancy between his view of the Law and that of our Lord's (Matt. 5:17-20).

Undetected Pagan Influences

Perhaps the source of Mr. Chantry's inconsistencies and misconceptions of God's Law is the tendency of Mr. Chantry to read the Bible in terms of Far-Eastern and Greek philosophy, rather than letting the Bible interpret itself. This tendency is glaringly evident in the section on "The Spirituality of the Kingdom of God." It may be recalled that Hindu and Greek religions were all "dialectical," in that they separated physical, material things from ideas, and the non-material. Inevitably, one realm would be considered inferior to the other. Mr. Chantry, in this Greek tradition, has chosen to despise the material and exalt the non-physical. There is no Biblical justification for doing so; it is the influence of "neo-Platonism."
Basic to neoplatonism was the emphasis on mind or ideas as the true or more important substance, so that the superior man, discerning the irrelevance and/or illusory nature of the material world, concentrated on the things of the mind or spirit.[11]
Every single page in this section, and many others throughout the tract, asserts some tenet of neo-platonism (from Plato, the Greek). The Christian is exhorted to look with disdain upon his family (p. 15), nation, society (p. 16), government (p. 19), vocation and career (pp. 18,23), hard work (p. 21), proper diet (p. 26), and material blessings (p. 15). Mr. Chantry tells us that the Christian's continual emphasis should be on the "spiritual," significantly, always spelled with a lower-case 's.' There are many ways to achieve this "spirituality," Among them, "communion with God," which entails "lengthy and emotional exercises" (p. 22). We are reminded of Hindu rituals involving endless chanting, and contemplation of alleged "mystical vibrations from the realm of the universal Other." Oh, that we might spend 3-6 hours per day in the prayer closet rather than deal with a messy, material Christian school. Similarly, we are told that there is no more important business than to "know" and "adore" the Lord (p. 23). Adam's noblest calling was not working as God's vicegerent under the "Dominion Mandate" of Gen 1:26-28 (cf. also Philp. 2:12).[12] Rather, it was to "walk" with God (p. 23). (Regrettably, this "Walking Mandate" was neither cited nor exegeted.) Again, no activity is more "spiritual" than "worship" (p. 26-27).

Now are "reconstructionists" opposed to "communion?" "Knowing God?" Our "walk" with God? Worship? In a sense, yes! In Mr. Chantry's non-Biblical sense, that is. Mr. Chantry's pagan definition divides God's creation into two warring factions: the material and the spiritual. The Biblical division is only and always between sin and righteousness.

"Reconstructionists" do not desire to become spiritual or non-physical (p. 20-21). They desire to become righteous (Rom. 8:4). If we had no other statement from Mr. Chantry than his affirming "the spiritual rather than the material" (p. 19), we would have no way of knowing whether he was a Christian or not. Plato likewise affirmed "the spiritual rather than the material," as did many pagans. Come to think of it, Satan is a completely spiritual being! No, "reconstructionists" seek to become Spiritual -- capital "S" -- not "spiritual." To be Spiritual is to walk not after the flesh (lawlessly) but after the Spirit -- the Holy Spirit -- according to His Word and in His power (Rom. 8:4; Gal. 5:16ff.). To be "heavenly minded" is thus to have an eye to His glory, not our own; in accord with His wishes, not ours. We store up riches in heaven when we do all things to the glory of God; even on our jobs, even in our families, even in government, and even as we stash a few Krugerrands away in the likely event that God judges a money system radically at odds with His Law (1 Kings 21:3; 2 Cor. 12:14; Prov. 19:14).

With these errors crippling him, Mr. Chantry (as well as most Reformed writers) is without a consistent defense of covenant theology. In the years to come, pietist/non-covenantal and Marxist/social-action Anabaptists will tear Mr. Chantry apart.

Conclusion

Law, eschatology, and Biblical (as opposed to pagan) presuppositions are all wrapped up in a grand "package deal." What a man says will happen has a strange way of surfacing in his discussions of law and ethics (what ought to happen), and vice versa. Truly, the Word of God is a seamless garment. But rather than being "childish," the full-orbed affirmation of what is called "Postmillennial, Theonomic, Christian Reconstruction" is surely a sign of maturity, and a cause thereof. I wonder how much of the debate surrounding Theonomy and Postmillennialism is just a sanctimonious way of getting out of the duties God requires of us: hard work on the job, integrity and competence in the sight of men, and the demanding task of truly educating our children in the things of God (Deut. 6:4-12). It is certainly easier to send the children off to any old school so that we can stay at home and be "spiritual." But is it more mature? Gary North concludes:
The doctrine that the church and its members will experience an endless set of failures until the day of judgment, whereupon the saints shall judge the world with Christ, has this curious implication: experience in exercising Godly judgment is best attained through constant failure and the inability of saints to gain positions of authority, in time and on earth. Those Christians who argue that individual saints will be far removed from the seats of power or even the corridors of power, until the day of judgment, are building a theoretical case for the success of off-the-job training. They are arguing for perpetual childhood and subservience: domination by rebellious rulers -- ever-more consistent, ruthless, and lawless rulers -- is the way to become competent rulers. But the Bible tells us that a sign of God's judgment is to be ruled by children (Isa 3:4). We need an eschatology which offers us a doctrine of progressive responsibility, a doctrine of maturing judgment. We need a concept of on-the-job training and promotion through competence.[13]
Is God going to put us in charge of cities and nations in the next life when in this life we shirk our responsibilities under God's Law and surrender the cities and nations to Satan? We know better.

NOTES

1. R. J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, Nutley, NJ: The Craig Press, 1973, p. 113.  [Back to text]

2. Ibid., p. 122.  [Back to text]

3. Ibid., p. 321.  [Back to text]

4. Greg L. Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, Nutley, NJ: The Craig Press, 1977, p. 122.  [Back to text]

5. Rushdoony, p. 709.  [Back to text]

6. They call me "the Milton Berle of Christian Reconstruction." I stole that line from Joan Rivers.  [Back to text]

7. Jon Zens, "More of Cromwell, Less of Gurnall?" Baptist Reformation Review, Spring, 1979, as quoted in David H. Chilton, "Cromwell and His Critics," The Journal of Christian Reconstruction, VI:2 pp. 40-41.  [Back to text]

8. David H. Chilton, "Cromwell," p. 63. You really should read the whole debate.  [Back to text]

9. John Owen, Works, London: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1965-68, vol. 8, pp. 245-471.  [Back to text]

10. Would a ruler or a judge ever find any helpful teaching in most reformed churches? Could he even be a governor if he were really "spiritual"?  [Back to text]

11. R.J. Rushdoony, The Flight From Humanity, Nutley, NJ: Craig Press, 1973, p. 6.  [Back to text]

12. Presumably, this applies to Noah as well, after the Fall, when the Mandate was renewed (Gen. 9:1-7. Cf. Ps 8:4-6.)  [Back to text]

13. Gary North, "Progressive Responsibility," Christian Reconstruction, IV:5 (Sept/Oct 1980) p. 2.  [Back to text]


A Review of a Review

Jon Zens asked for a reconstructionist review of Chantry's book for publication in his periodical, Baptist Reformation Review, now called Searching Together. Somehow this assignment fell in my lap.

There are several issues on which I took the Reconstructionist position, and with which I would now take exception.

 

Militarism

I said there were no groups advocating military take over. This was not really true. There were Reconstructionists who were so militaristic that they would cause Chantry to test the absorbancy of his "Depends." On a trip to Tyler, TX in 1980, I was greeted by a leading Reconstrustionist wearing an army camouflage outfit. He published a journal called "Short Burst," a reference to automatic weapons fire. Aryan Nations groups also claim to be Christians and stockpile arms.

It is true that these groups do not advocate using the State to advance the Kingdom through military means, but they do believe that para-military (para-State) groups can advance the Kingdom through arms. I believe Christians must repudiate militarism -- both private and public.

 [Back to text]

Anabaptists

After some study, I came to align myself with the Anabaptists rather than the Reformers. In a report I hope to put online soon, I demonstrate that the Anabaptists were 5-point Calvinists and Theonomists, and opposed the use of the sacraments as political instruments of the New World Order. At critical points the Reformers abandoned Theonomy for Natural Law and Humanistic politics. We can learn much from the Anabaptists.

Modern Anabaptists fall into two erroneous groups. Those who support political activity do not support Biblical political activity, but Marxist activity. Those who oppose Marxism tend to be pietistically reclusive or isolationist, and do not attempt to have a prophetic impact on the State. Neither of these groups represent the genius of the first Anabaptists.

 [Back to text]

Capital Punishment

I now repudiate "capital punishment." See the debate at http://members.aol.com/VFTINC/DeathRow/index.htm

 [Back to text]

 

Political Action

You can't read the Old Testament and miss the point that Godly men have an influence on the State. Most of the Old Testament is a record of the conflict between the State and Godly prophets against it. If Christians should rebuke, counsel, admonish, or otherwise speak words against anything, the State is surely the number one candidate.

After some study, I have now concluded that the State is inherently evil, and cannot be a positive force for Christian Reconstruction. Our response to the State is the same as our response to Organized Crime: we seek to minimize its detrimental effects and encourage its members to resign/repent.

It's time for a "paradigm shift."

 [Back to text]


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