Reacting to a typically oversimplified and alarmist piece by Michelle Goldberg (who has been worrying about this for years), my friend Jordan J. Ballor has an excellent post on the connections between the Paul camp and the fringe Reconstructionist (or theonomist) camp.
Here’s the crux of his argument:
Goldberg’s connection between Christian Reconstructionism and libertarianism, especially in the person of Gary North, is quite legitimate. This can be seen in more detail and with more nuance in one of the few academic articles to explicitly address this connection, “One Protestant Tradition’s Interface with Austrian Economics: Christian Reconstruction as Critic and Ally,” by Timothy Terrell and Glenn Moots. And as pieces from David Bahnsen and Doug Wilson from earlier this year show, the connections between reconstructionists and libertarians are deep, in part because, as Wilson puts it, “We are talking in many cases about the very same people.”
But as Terrell and Moots point out, the place of Christian Reconstructionism within the broader context of American evangelicalism, and Reformed covenant theology in particular, is hotly disputed. Indeed, write Terrell and Moots, “Some of the most notable critiques of Christian Reconstruction come from within conservative Presbyterianism.” So while Christian Reconstructionism might self-identify as a kind of Reformed covenantal thinking, this doesn’t mean that all Reformed covenant theology is either postmillennial or prone to theonomy.
Now, not all libertarians are Reconstructionists. Indeed, since there are very few Reconstructionists and relatively more libertarians, few are. But, in a nutshell, the theoretical connection between the two runs something like this: libertarianism is all about paring back the power and responsibilities of the federal government, leaving states (and local communities) free to govern themselves as they would. It’s at this more intimate level that “Christian community” can be “reconstructed” in biblical terms. Reconstructionist libertarianism does not go all the way down, in other words. Indeed, Reconstructionists are quick to criticize the individualism of typical libertarians, among other things. (For the long, scholarly source of this thumbnail sketch, go here.)
Ron Paul will not get the Republican nomination. And he is not paving the way for his Reconstructionist friends and acquaintances, who comprise a tiny minority among those who support him. More worrisome for me are the emphatic individualism, subjectivism, and unconcern about community that are “vulgarly” associated with libertarianism, not to mention the isolationism (and worse). There are lots of people with those views hovering around the Paul camp. But they’re a subject for another time.