30 September 2012


I had been introduced to the followers of R. J. Rushdoony and the "Tyler Theology" as a very new Christian, still living in Honolulu.  During the three years we lived in Auckland I read as much as I could get my hands on of the writings of Rushdoony himself, of Gary North, Greg Bahnsen, and David Chilton.  All these writers had in common the theonomic idea - the idea that the Law of God as contained in the Bible ought to be our guide and rule, not only for our personal lives, but for society.  The great project of these men and their followers was that of Christian Reconstruction - the idea that the work of Christians ought to be to reform society in line with Biblical law - including, for many of them, the direct application of Old Testament laws - even, in some cases, of the dietary laws.

Such an idea is almost a natural outcome of a high view of the Bible - of the Bible, not only as containing the Word of God, but as being something like a wholly adequate guide to life.  If there is no God-appointed human authority to apply the Bible to our lives - if, in the Protestant conception, we are obliged to place everything in direct relation to the Bible - then the less one requires human judgement to guide life, the better.

I was attracted to the idea at first, but gradually came to see difficulties in it.  I recall letters that I exchanged with Bahnsen, in particular, on the matter.  Greg was sensible enough to see that an extreme theonomic view would see us stoning adulterers to death, and condemning those who ate shellfish.  He wrote, in one of his books, that, of course, one must apply only the moral laws of the Old Testament; the ceremonial laws had been for the Jews only.  I wrote to him that I did not see how one could make such a distinction.  What was there in the Bible that differentiated moral from ceremonial?

Greg responded rather impatiently that it was obvious what the difference between moral and ceremonial laws was, and thought there was no point of discussion involved.  He was, of course, quite correct - but not on a Biblicist foundation.  We do, indeed, know what are moral laws.  We know this by reason.  That, however, is a decidely un-Protestant view.  It is the bringing in of the natural law idea - not merely of natural laws of physics, but of right and wrong.  Such a view is anathema to much of Protestantism.

I became somewhat sceptical of the theonomic idea.  But there was another side to "Tyler Theology" - liturgy.

James B. Jordan moved to Tyler (where Gary North lived) only in 1982.  I think I had begun reading Jim's writings before that, though - but I may be wrong.  I do know that I began reading him whilst we were still living in Yap - and became very excited.

What Jim was doing, I thought, was to bring back the baby, that had been tossed out with the bathwater, sometime between the Reformation and modern times.  He was willing to read both Orthodox and Catholic writers, to see that the 'hymn sandwich' approach to Christian worship was neither Biblical nor good, and to present the best both of Catholicism and Orthodoxy without fear of being thought un-Protestant.  David Chilton, writing about the same time, wrote about the Book of the Apocalypse as a model Christian worship service - and one very different from most Protestant experiences.

I write about the above to say that during the whole of our eight years in Yap I was becoming more and more drawn, through the writings, particularly, of Jim Jordan, to a vision of the Church as a fulfilled Israel - complete with high liturgy as the completion of Old Testament worship, with facets that were the fulfilment of Old Testament types (another of Jim's themes), and with a real, earthly government that ought, in principle, to encompass all Christians.  I was beginning to believe in a visible and catholic Church.  These ideas were a significant part of why we eventually returned to New Zealand.  The same ideas, unknown to me, were to lead some others - Scott Hahn, in particular - to the Catholic Church.  When I spoke of the writings of Jim to some in New Zealand, after our return, warned they would do the same to me.

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