As a young Christian, I remember distinctly my first encounter with the idea of Christian Reconstruction. It was in Van Nuys, California, in 1978 at a Christian bookstore run by Reformed Baptists. Browsing the “recommended” racks, where books were presented cover-up, rather than tightly packed sideways with only their spines exposed, I noticed several light blue soft covers with a small stylized cross on the front cover. “Hmm. The Journal of Christian Reconstruction? What does that mean?” I pulled several off the shelf, each one focused on a different “symposium” subject.
The list of contributors for each Journal was formidable. These were nothing like the pap and pablum sold elsewhere in the store. The store owners carried the other popular stuff to pay the bills, but this underperforming book rack was where their heart was, and where the theological meat was.
I looked at other items on the same rack: pamphlets called God’s Plan for Victory: The Meaning of Postmillennialism and An Introduction to Christian Economics. On inspection, I noticed that the editor of the Journals was the same person who wrote that economics book: Dr. Gary North. The other fellow, Rousas John Rushdoony, had written the pamphlet.
These were serious men. They meant business.
That book rack occupied but a tiny fraction of the large store. It wasn’t a lot, but I discerned that this book rack, or fraction of a book rack, was an outpost for truth. As I was already headed away from amillennialism toward Warfield’s eschatology, I bought two of the Journals to take home. The 1974 “Symposium on Creation” had a fascinating article on geology by Stuart Nevins, among others, but I could find nothing by that author anywhere else.
Nonetheless, that first Journal’s emphasis on, and staunch commitment to, creationism was remarkable, hitting the mark for me. I would later learn that the piece by the mysterious “Nevins” was actually written by Steven A. Austin under a pseudonym (because he didn’t need his pursuit of a doctorate in geology being torpedoed by opportunistic anti-creationists sniffing out defectors and dissidents). It was one of only two times (of which I’m aware) that Chalcedon allowed an author the use of a nom de plume (“Alex Hammer” being the other “man behind the curtain” two decades later).
These Journals (everyone called them JCRs to avoid saying the full ten-syllable name) were to become mainstays of my library, subjected to repeated readings and very heavy wear-and-tear. At the time they were being produced, the Chalcedon Report newsletter was a fairly modest affair and had yet to evolve into a magazine. So, the Journals were bearing the weight of the reconstructive task as they brought disparate threads together in one place, being marvelously curated (a now grossly-overused term) by Dr. North through their infancy. These were the high-water mark, a literary vehicle where the reader could easily see what it took to take more ground for King Jesus in one area after another.
In short, the Journals exuded optimism. They encouraged us by letting us know what others were doing and how they were doing it. They inspired readers to do the same. And in some cases, they even inspired readers to become contributors, such as in my case starting in 1982.
The Three Facets of Reconstruction
The reconstructive task is not a monolithic thing: it’s remarkably decentralized to give the enemy fits. Some pursue reconstruction (whether they adopt the name or not is irrelevant) by extending Christ’s dominion and preeminence into new areas. I call this the extensive element of reconstruction: taking more ground laterally, penetrating more disciplines and subjects with the light of Scripture, taking them captive to the obedience of Christ.
Others pursue reconstruction by drilling deeper into an existing discipline, rooting out autonomy and false presuppositions that are hidden under the surface. These men and women are popping the hood by pursuing the intensive element of reconstruction: they’re diggers securing the mineral rights under the surface of each discipline. This task is no less important, since faulty ideas tend to bubble up to the surface if not nipped in the bud. The Scriptures themselves embody depths that call for mature Christians to search them out.
Finally, there’s another element of reconstruction. We’re interested not only in extending the scope of reconstruction by expansion into every area of thought and action, and in extending the depth of reconstruction so that God’s opponents are left with no excuse no matter how deep their humanism is hidden under the surface currents of thought, but we’re also interested in extending His dominion through time. The leaven is to finally leaven three whole measures of meal, but this is not all done at once. So, we add to the extensive and intensive aspects of the work the protensive aspect: the work seen from the vantage of progress from the past to the present into the future. We’re part of a chain where history has meaning and therefore our work has meaning.
An awareness that our labor is not in vain in the Lord will therefore inform our efforts, so that we can be content to be stepping stones to the next generation. Confidence in the future of God’s Kingdom means we don’t have to be anxious. This mindset is especially important when you’re involved in “raising the foundations of many generations,” (Isa. 58:12, ESV), which is a daunting task if you’re fearful of the giants in the land.
When I encountered my first JCR, the then-vocal mindset was that God was about to put the capstone on history with apocalyptic events on the horizon. Nobody welcomed the idea that our task of raising foundations was still in force: Christians were simply too busy rejoicing that they weren’t going to die but would be raptured from responsibility.
You can imagine the outcry against statements made in the JCR that confronted Christians with their Great Commission duties. Notable was Dr. Greg Bahnsen’s forthright comment that postmillennialism wasn’t trying to salvage the idea that Christ’s return was imminent, that distinctive to our eschatology was the denial of that idea (and with it, the massive cultural forfeitures the resulting defeatism justified). It was time to correct the erroneously rewritten definition of “victory” that had penetrated Christendom to the point that Christians had become the most impotent sector of human society. It was time to bring back our net salt content.
The Journal Takes a Turn-of-the-Century Breather
By 1998, the Chalcedon Report was a full-fledged magazine with a front cover. The September 1998 Chalcedon Report on creationism again dipped into the same waters stirred up by the first JCR. That year was the last year that an original Journal was produced: the 1998 “Symposium on Eschatology.” In 1999 a retrospective after 25 years was thought appropriate, so a Silver Anniversary issue of the Journal was produced. It included “the best of the best” articles from the preceding quarter-century of publication. But with the growth of the magazine, the changes at Chalcedon arising from Dr. Rushdoony’s illness and passing, and a subsequent rearrangement of resources and priorities as the Internet became a growing factor in communication, the Journal went on hiatus.
Several years later, Chalcedon’s magazine, still pursuing a multi-disciplinary approach as the JCR had done, was renamed Faith for All of Life while the original Chalcedon Report became the ministry newsletter it had originally been launched to be in 1965. The ongoing publication of books that Dr. Rushdoony had written but never printed became a priority alongside the magazine, newsletter, and website. Plans to eventually put the Journal back into play never quite disappeared but were postponed as dictated by resources and circumstances.
With the continued evolution of the website and heavier use of social media platforms, the change in Chalcedon’s print magazine plans in 2018 reopens the question, “where will the weighty material be?” The Journals were there in the past to handle that meatier material, and the JCR editors (of which there’ve been a half-dozen over the quarter-century print run of the Journal) didn’t hesitate to include lengthier articles when their value justified the expense. The editors knew they were planting seeds and may not see the results of their editorial decisions in their lifetime. The time to resuscitate that mission has now returned.
In God’s providence, the digitization of the original Journals has been progressing (not as fast as we’d have liked, but that’s simply to acknowledge that God orders our steps). This provides a strong foundation for resumption: we have extension, we have depth, we have historic sweep, and we have on-line availability. Now that the magazine format is changing once again, it is time to shift our weight back to the Journals that provided this service faithfully over the last quarter of the twentieth century.
What’s in a Name?
You may not immediately recognize the new Journal because of a change in its name. Content wise, it will reflect its august heritage as a Chalcedon publication, but in an age of labels and pigeon holes, the Journal’s name has progressed to better reflect its core commitment. That commitment was laid out repeatedly in 1965 by Dr. R. J. Rushdoony in the earliest Chalcedon Report and in his correspondence. He saw everything that he was doing in terms of the concept of Christian liberty, and he didn’t hesitate to use this term and emphasize it repeatedly. He spoke of Christian liberty as being Chalcedon’s focus, and when he commented on his opponents, he would sometimes observe that they specifically opposed his views on Christian liberty.
Christian liberty, then, was really at the center of Chalcedon’s work. The gospel of Jesus Christ liberates everything from the tentacles of humanism and autonomy. When Dr. Rushdoony speaks of “the liberty of the sons of God” in his commentary on Romans 8:19-23, he takes the idea in the widest possible extension. Of course, it applies in the social sciences, but also to everything else as well. Total depravity speaks of the extent of man’s penchant to be his own god, and full recovery means sending the light into every dark corner of culture, science, art, and everything else. In this way does the knowledge of the Lord cover the earth as the waters cover the sea: in every respect, with no exceptions.
So, the Journal will reappear as The Journal of Christian Liberty. The first issue due out later this year will focus on abuse. Just as the doctrine of creation was a hot-button topic in 1974 when Chalcedon’s Journal first appeared, so now too the light of God’s Word is desperately needed in the crucial area of abuse in its many forms. That there are Biblical solutions to the matter is sufficient reason to put them forward as the Journal is at long last resurrected as Chalcedon’s flagship publication in respect to Christian scholarship.
As reported in the Chalcedon Report, Kyle Shepherd will serve as the general editor while I will serve as the supervising editor. The Journal of Christian Liberty will appear both in print and on-line, with details to be revealed in the future as we approach our relaunch date under our new publication’s name.
This brings us back around to the somewhat obscure title of this article. It is time to shift the weight from the magazine back to the Journal. Stewardship of Chalcedon’s resources must always be pegged to the advancing technologies of our era to maximize our impact and avoid stagnant backwaters. As we approach completion of the posthumous publication of Dr. Rushdoony’s unprinted manuscripts (and the reprinting of his classic works with new indices, such as the seminal Institutes of Biblical Law), the need to bring the Journal back into play becomes easy to see.
It is time to shift our weight back onto the Journal, now renamed The Journal of Christian Liberty. Pray that the next quarter-century might give us occasion to thank God that He has moved His work from “first the blade” to “then the ear” (Mark 4:28), for it is to that end that we labor, and it is for that purpose that our faithful supporters continue to underwrite our work for the King.
- Martin G. Selbrede
Martin is the senior researcher for Chalcedon’s ongoing work of Christian scholarship, along with being the senior editor for Chalcedon’s publications, Arise & Build and The Chalcedon Report. He is considered a foremost expert in the thinking of R.J. Rushdoony. A sought-after speaker, Martin travels extensively and lectures on behalf of Christian Reconstruction and the Chalcedon Foundation. He is also an accomplished musician and composer.