Some people accuse me of being a cynic, but that’s not fair. I am really the worst sort of sentimental idealist, the product of endless fifties films, shown on Saturday morning, where right and wrong were clearly defined, when heroes had a code of ethics, and no matter how nasty the bad guys got, the good guys win at the end.
When, by God’s grace, I was brought to saving faith in Christ in the early seventies, the very first book I read was Hal Lindsey’s The Late Great Planet Earth. I was immediately struck by the great contradiction inherent in this new-found faith; I was promised a victorious life in Christ, but taught that the church was destined for defeat in time, and the world belonged to the Devil. Now, a man is, to a certain extent, a product of his life experiences (and in Christian terms, the issue is learning how to interpret those experiences from the light of Scripture). And when faced with the dichotomy between the “victorious” Christian life I was promised, and the defeatist theology so prevalent in the early seventies, it was only “natural” for me to look back to those core values to make the final decision. It took ten years, and a lot of thinking, but eventually, I was won to Christian Reconstruction on an emotional level long before I was convinced of it on an intellectual one.
Now, is there a point to all this introspection, other than to fill space in this month’s column and so meet Andrew Sandlin’s minimum word count? Yes, there is a point. Self-confessed, epistemologically self-conscious Christian Reconstructionists are at present a tiny minority. Eventually, we all believe that we will be in some sense a majority. The question is how do we get from where we are to where we need to be? And therefore we need to think about how people undergo change and what we need to do to help facilitate that change.
Change, obviously, is something in the province of God’s sovereign decree. Genuine reformation and reconstruction can occur, only when God brings them about. However, are there not means that God uses, to bring about change in different people? Think for a moment, are there not four different gospels, written in four different styles because they were intended for four different audiences? The gospel of Mark was written to a Roman audience, and emphasizes the actions of Christ. The gospel of Luke (a Greek physician) was written to Greeks, and is stylistically different. John’s gospel is more theological, and Matthew is clearly written to Jewish readers. When Paul spoke to Greeks, he spoke differently than when he spoke to Jews (“I become all things to all men that I might win some. . .” [1 Cor. 9:20-23]). Therefore, we have a Biblical warrant for learning a person’s “hot buttons” and then appealing to him in terms of those hot buttons. This is not being manipulative, but simply being as “wise as serpents and as gentle as doves.”
“The times, they are a changing,” and a wise man will understand those times, and without sacrificing truth, will learn how to present that truth in effective ways. That is perhaps the real challenge, to learn how to say things to people in ways that will help them accept the message.
Christian Reconstruction has done its homework. We have excellent historical, theological and exegetical support for our position, written in massive, hard-bound tomes that provide the intellectual foundation for the next reformation. The only problem is, the audience for whom they are intended seldom admits to reading them. Chalcedon has been at the forefront of providing the ammunition for the intellectual reformation, but intellectuals and academics are only a small part of the pie, and not necessarily the most important pieces. Intellectuals have their own presuppositions that determine whether they accept or reject the message. Reconstruction is largely dismissed by Christian academics for the same reason Creation Science is rejected by the scientific community: they are rival religions. Mainstream, academic Christian intellectuals will never acknowledge that in the name of academic credibility they have been giving aid and comfort to the enemy, which is exactly what Christian Reconstruction charges.
But taking a page from the Creation Science folks, while they continue to do the hard, rigorous work of scientific investigation from a Biblical perspective, they also produce easy-to-read, colorfully illustrated books for children. For years, I’ve been undermining theistic evolutionary presuppositions held by various Christians by giving their kids Creation Science books as Christmas and birthday presents. As the parents read the books to their children, their own presuppositions are challenged. More than a few people have called me to ask for more “grown-up” books on the same subject. If I had just given them The Genesis Flood, the book would have remained unread and they would have remained unconvinced. But by looking for another approach, a “hot button” (in this case, their kids), I nudged these people very gently and very subtly into looking at things from a whole new perspective.
OK, granted, selling dinosaur books to kids is a little bit easier then “selling” Van Tillian presuppositional apologetics. But the task is really the same, since for Christian Reconstruction to become a broad-based movement, we have got to understand where the “average” Christian lives and communicate to him in terms he can understand. And most people today are not changed simply by intellectual arguments. To assume so is the fallacy of rationalism. Quoting that now-deceased reprobate, R. A. Heinlein, “man is not a rational animal, he is a rationalizing animal.” And though of course we might rightly object to his classifying man as an animal, there is still truth in his observation. Men reason, not so much as to arrive at a legitimate conclusion, but rather to justify the prejudices they already have.
Hence, well-reasoned, clearly-written, academic works as important and crucial as they are, are insufficient, for there are “reasons” other than intellect which influence whether men accept or reject our thesis. Francis Schaeffer said almost twenty-five years ago that the dominant values in American culture were personal peace and prosperity. The Rapture craze of the seventies was so successful largely due to its appeal to personal peace. “Afraid of society crashing down around your ears? Hesitant about the future? Distressed by the decline of Christian morality and influence around you? Well, don’t worry, the Rapture’s coming and all your problems will soon be over.” Sociologically speaking, the appeal of the Rapture was not in the academic acceptability of its theology, but in its ability to bolster core values. And let us be honest, are there not more than a few people who are attracted to Christian Reconstruction simply because its teaching on small Federal government and free market capitalism offers a theological alternative to tax-and-spend Democrats and Republicans? In the same way, many, many pro-lifers were already committed to activism before they encountered Reconstruction. They were already motivated to do something, even before we came along and told them why they ought to do it.
That little boy, staring goggle-eyed at the flickering black and white images of Gene Autry and Roy Rogers riding the plains, or John Wayne storming the beaches at Iwo Jima, developed his core values from an entertainment medium, already bereft of explicit Christian imagery. But he is also, in one respect, a microcosm of the task facing Christian Reconstruction. Biblical Christianity today is a counter-cultural movement. Though there are lingering effects of our Christian heritage, most Americans and Europeans, even Christians, now have more in common with Imperial pagan Rome than with 18th-century Christian America. And to reach those people, and influence them, and by God’s grace change them, will require understanding their values and demonstrating how our message meets fundamental human needs, desires and expectations. Some will object that this was not the strategy of the Apostle Paul: “Paul just preached the truth and those appointed to eternal life believed, and that’s all there is to it. So why should we engage in this kind of ‘socio-babble’ about ‘core values.’“ Can’t we just speak the truth and leave the results up to God?
However, does the above really fit the Biblical evidence? Did Paul just speak the truth and move on? Or was there a little more to it? In 1 Thessalonians 2:1ff, Paul recounts his initial ministry among them. Verses 8-9 are especially enlightening. He says, “Having thus a fond affection for you, we were well pleased to impart to you, not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become very dear to us” (NASB). Paul, Silvanus and Timothy did not just drop their spiritual bombshells and leave. To the contrary, they got right down there in the mud and the blood, working with their own hands, getting involved in the nitty gritty of people’s lives. They were as “gentle as a nursing mother” (v. 8) even as they exhorted, encouraged and implored them as a loving father (v. 11). And just because they met the Thessalonians where they were, and ministered to them as people, they demonstrated the power of the gospel that changed their lives, and the ancient pagan world.
Usually, my friends and colleagues who are the most adamant about the purity of their doctrine, and the necessity of preaching it in rationalistic, theoretical terms, are also the same ones pastoring the smallest churches. It is not their doctrine that is at fault, but rather, the ability of the pastor, and that congregation, to relate that doctrine to real-life, human situations. Understanding “core values” does not require a degree in what is known as the Social Sciences. It simply requires spending time with real people and learning how to demonstrate that we actually have meaningful, real-life solutions to their problems, trials, expectations and aspirations. Even the God-haters, by nature, know the Living God exists and there can be no joy, no hope, no future apart from Him (cf. Rom. l:18ff). The more consistent they become in suppressing the knowledge of God, the more miserable and depraved they and their cultures become (Rom. l:21ff). Hence, what is needed is more than just intellectual answers to questions nobody is asking. Instead we must be willing to actually get involved in someone’s life. The truth of the Bible is unalterable and unassailable, because it is the word of God. But that truth can be hidden, or distorted, or miscommunicated If those entrusted with its message do not take the time to invest their lives in other people and find what makes them tick.
Life in post-Christian America is characterized by increasing autonomy, dependence upon a complex technological infrastructure, and a dearth of meaningful relationships. Our culture has fractured the family and destroyed the ability of people to be committed to anything except their own personal peace and prosperity. Christian Reconstruction offers, not just another item on the intellectual and theological smorgasbord, but a life and world view that meets the deepest human needs. But nobody is ever going to believe it, or accept it, unless Reconstructionists actually live it by getting involved with real human beings, caring for them, admonishing them, exhorting them, loving them. Autonomy inevitably leads to isolation. Man was not created to live alone, hut needs meaningful relationships. With the destruction of the family in the past 50 years, most people, including Christians, do not have in place the social infrastructure God requires to live meaningful, productive and rewarding lives. People are lonely, people are hurting, and we are the only ones with something more than a sugar pill. There are two practical solutions, both interlocking and supporting each other. The first is the creation of a distinctly Reconstructionist literature that is aimed, not at the intellectual elite, but the average man, in the average church. Andrew Sandlin is already working on this with the publication of the Chalcedon Monograph Series. Each of these small booklets introduces the intellectual content of Reconstruction in simple, easy-to-read formats that can be given to pastors, elders and the average laymen. We need more of this at every level. More booklets, more tracts, more information dissemination on a popular level demonstrating how this wonderful theology relates to the way people live.
But secondly, we also need those who call themselves Reconstructionists to open their homes and lives, getting involved with real people, and helping them solve real problems, with the theological tools we have been so gifted with. Sound too simplistic? Well, a lot of people do not seem to understand the most basic Christian principles of life. For example, you would be amazed at how many people complain to me about how cold and unfriendly their churches are, how nobody wants to know them, nobody ever invites them over, etc. Yet, my question to them (almost now a cliché) is “Well, how many people have you invited over?” And almost to a person, the answer is “none.” You see, everyone wants to be served, but no one wants to serve. Yet Jesus said, this is key to power and dominion (Mk. 10:45). If you want to have a life-changing ministry and fuel the second Reformation, don’t stop reading good books, but do start reaching out and inviting people into your life.
In conclusion, if a counter culture does not want to become a corner culture, it will have to do more than just proclaim the truth; it must also demonstrate the truth, in acts of personal love and charity as self-governed men take personal responsibility for meeting real human needs. One early morning advertisement for the Peace Corps in the early 1960s had a glimmer of the truth: “How do you change the world? One life at a time.”
- Brian M. Abshire
Rev. Brian Abshire, Ph.D. is currently a Teaching Elder associated with Hanover Presbytery. Along with his pastoral duties, he is also the director for the International Institute for Christian Culture, has served as an adjunct instructor in Religious Studies at Park University and is a visiting Professor of Comparative Religion at Whitefield College.