Crisis and Kairos
It would seem prudent, therefore, when Michelle Goldberg identifies Rushdoony as a "Calvinist theologian," to examine the ideas forged by Calvin apart from Rushdoony as to their accuracy and validity from primary sources. Drawing inferences and attempts to define a "milieu" that spawns modern political candidates without carefully examining the entire bibliographic record would easily earn someone poor marks in any serious academic setting. Yet, Goldberg writes that the very idea of Christian Reconstruction (or the neologism, Dominionism) "is more a political phenomenon than a theological one." Actually, no. It is a theological aberration that has little support as a normative hermeneutic for serious students of Holy Scripture regardless of how political opportunists (conservative or liberal) might exploit the idea.
Francis Schaeffer—a favorite target of both Goldberg and Ryan Lizza—advanced a cultural ethic based on the Christian idea of evangelism where disciples of Jesus Christ worked to mitigate poverty and change the culture through acts of service, and, when possible, through the improvement of public policy. While Schaeffer's book, How Should We Then Live?, has caused particular consternation for those seeking the impetus for political engagement by Christians, the ideas that Schaeffer put forward were nothing but applications of key biblical texts that encouraged Christians to prepare themselves intellectually to affect every arena of life. To posit that Schaeffer "helped disseminate his (Rushdoony's) ideas to a larger evangelical audience," when in point of fact Schaeffer was thoroughly critical of Rushdoony's views on church and state, is disingenuous and proves that neither Goldberg nor Lizza understand their topic.
Schaeffer's great skill to interrelate various academic disciplines (philosophy, ethics, political theory) under the aegis of a comprehensive Christian theological worldview was a triumph for many Christians who had retreated from engagement in the public square. Through his writing and teaching, Schaeffer helped change the course for modern evangelicals who, according to David Moberg's research classic, The Great Reversal, had inordinately separated evangelism from social concern. As a result of Schaeffer's efforts, evangelicals began to find their footing again to think carefully about evangelism, public policy, and the common good.
America's civil society has always possessed a certain "civil religion" that converged with other intellectual forces (Locke, Montesquieu, Hutcheson, Hume, Reid) to forge a government of laws supporting a free exercise of religion that was never to be encumbered by government. At its best, the tapestry of American government is woven out of the finest strands of political thought from the Hebrew theocracy, the Greek democratic city-states, and the Roman republican Senate. While Christianity played a role in the American founding, Christian theology was not the singular idea that gave birth to the Declaration of Independence or the United States Constitution. While Holy Scripture offers some general principles for the foundation and understanding of government and its role, serious political theorists understand that the Hebrew theocratic nation-state played only a part in the development of the modern political reality.
Schaeffer would agree. Schaeffer stated in his A Christian Manifesto that "the American founding fathers had no idea of a theocracy," and he made the case that the Constantinian synthesis of church and state was a tragic and destructive error. This synthesis—for which there is "no New Testament basis"—has over the course of the centuries "caused great confusion between loyalty to the state and loyalty to Christ, between patriotism and being a Christian." He went on: "We must not confuse the Kingdom of God with our country."
So the quandary that flummoxes so many on both sides of the political aisle is the continued influence of a man, Francis Schaeffer, who does not say what others want him to say, no matter how hard they try to make him say it. A flourishing democracy requires an informed citizenry, but too much of our conversation on this issue has been a traffic in misinformation and suspicion. At least in this case, the likes of Goldberg and Lizza have done no service to the truth and thus no service to our public conversation.