Crawford Gribben’s work Survival and Resistance in Evangelical America makes sense of much of contemporary evangelicalism and the political mood of much of North America. Gribben spent a number of years interviewing, reading, and analyzing those who play a part in Christian Reconstruction in the Pacific Northwest (the book’s subtitle).
Christian reconstruction refers to a broad group of people who want to reconstruct society around biblical law, or at least a Christian culture. Douglas Wilson might be the most popular member of this movement today. That said, he himself does not own the theonomist label, even though he affirms a debt to the thinking of R. J. Rushdoony. That latter founded the modern theonomy movement.
Gribben then describes a diverse set of people who have moved to the Pacific Northwest (Idaho area) to resist the coming decline of American culture in the hopes of rebuilding a better life afterward. It is a strategic retreat to combat the coming decline. Yet this reconstruction hopes in a better future, and so it carries postmillennial eschatology.
For my part, I find myself to be part of this story in a number of ways. First, I grew up in a household that had Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law, was homeschooled with a curriculum mentioned in Gribben’s book, and lived in a survival and resistance culture. The last bit needs to be explained.
I was not a reconstructionist, one who wanted to rebuild society around biblical law. Instead, I lived within the dispensational world in which the prevailing view was: things are getting worse, the end could be soon, and so we need to survive against a hostile culture until the rapture. The reconstructionists believe much the same thing, as Gribben chronicles, yet they view a different temporal ending: namely, the reconstruction after the coming decline.
Those who migrate to Idaho and area include: reconstructionists, paramilitary groups, and Y2K survivalists. So the group is diverse and presumably includes premillennial survivalists who are awaiting the rapture. And actually, as my background explains and as Gribben notes, there was a time when dispensationalism and reconstruction had a relatively friendly relationship for a time.
In any case, the broader patterns of resistance and survival in America appeal both to reconstructionists and dispensationalists and survivalists and probably more besides. And I found that this book helped me make sense of my past and current experiences as a Christain with some familiarity with such a perspective.
One might wonder why such a book should exist if Reconstructionism died out in the 1990s. As Gribben notes, “Christian Reconstruction is not dead anymore” (139). It is alive and producing. It has media in the New York Times bestseller list, Amazon Prime Video, Netflix, and YouTube. It publishes books a plenty with major publishers and Canon Press (connected to the Moscow Hub of reconstruction). It has a school and liberal arts college (New Saint Andrews College). The movement punches way above its weight.
It ties together people from across the globe through its media in the hope for reconstruction around a particular culture. While obviously Christian in its formal commitments, Gribben rightly discerns that it “is a distinctly American vision” (144). The new city on the hill of the frontier of the USA may feel like the American Redoubt for Christian culture. But it may only feel so to Americans who have imbibed that cultural sensibility.
I suspect in Canada we too, with our love for all things American, will be drawn to such a view. For my part, I think the retreat and rebuild strategy will continue to pay off. I wish more Christians did so and build up institutions that would last beyond personalities. Local churches function as the heart of Christian culture, but if they rise and fall with their Senior Pastor (which seems to often be the trajectory of independent churches), then it stands to reason that uniting together to (re)build something that lasts beyond our lifetimes will matter.
After all, what kind of world do we want our children to grow up in? For my part, I can see the vision of Idaho and the American Redoubt as a particularly appealing one. Though, I have to admit that the theonomic reasoning and American style of cultural engagement prevent me from becoming any more than an interested observer.
Read this book because it will make sense of so much that is going on in North American Christian settings. It will explain why libertarianism and theonomy often go hand-in-hand. After all, big government and liberal democracy make a bottom-up Christian reconstruction a tough sell. And reconstructing a society around biblical law cannot happen if that society is a liberal democracy.
The anti-statism then with its survivalist mindset also explains or at least somewhat explains why so many within the reconstruction camp write so aggressively, polemically. They genuinely feel like they are at the outskirts of the society, a last holdout of Christian culture.
More could be said, but lest I impute too much of my opinion into a book review, I simply point you to the brilliant Survival and Resistance in Evangelical America.
It is a fair and coherent analysis of this important movement. I could give it to a reconstructionist, and I would expect them to see it as a fair estimation of what they believe. That is a strength. And one worth fostering by purchasing a book like this to create a demand for more even-handed illuminating historical work—indeed, a living historical work, since reconstruction is going on right now!
Disclaimer: The publisher provided me with a review copy.