Timeline of Modern Theonomy Movement

In an attempt to better understand the theonomy/Christian Reconstruction movements of conservative presbyterianism in the second half of the last century, I started putting together this timeline of major events.

  • 1947: R.J. Rushdoony, PCUSA missionary at the Duck Valley Indian Reservation, reads his first Cornelius Van Til Book: The New Modernism.1
  • May 12, 1958: Rushdoony received into the OPC.2 He ministers to an OP congregation in Santa Cruz, CA until 1962.3
  • 1959: Rushdoony publishes By What Standard Presbyterian and Reformed Publishers.
  • 1965: Rushdoony forms Chalcedon Foundation in Los Angeles.4 Greg Bahnsen starts writing for Chalcedon while a student at Westmont College.
  • 1966: Reformed Theological Seminary founded by conservatives in the Southern Presbyterian Church (PCUS).
  • October 1, 1970: Rushdoony leaves the OPC.5
  • 1972: Cornelius Van Til retires as professor of Apologetics at WTS.6
  • 1973: Rushdoony’s “The Institutes of Biblical Law” published.7
  • 1973: Bahnsen graduates with M.Div and ThM from Westminster Theological Seminary. ThM Thesis published in 1977 as “Theonomy in Christian Ethics”.8
  • 1973: Gary North (Rushdoony’s future son-in-law) and Greg Bahnsen join staff of Chalcedon Foundation.9
  • May 19, 1973: Joe Morecraft received into the Westminster Presbytery, an independent presbytery of former PCUS congregations that would later join the PCA.10
  • December 4-7, 1973: First general assembly of the PCA.11
  • 1974: Rushdoony received by the Anglican Church of America.3
  • July 20, 1975: Bahnsen ordained by Presbytery of Southern California of the OPC (OPC Ministerial Directory) after receiving some resistance.9
  • 1975: Gary North starts Institute for Christian Economics. 9
  • 1976: Twenty-eight year old Greg Bahnsen joins faculty at RTS Jackson while working on his PhD. Students over the next three years include James Jordan, Gary Demar, and Kenneth Gentry.12
  • 1976: John Frame offers a critical review of Institutes of Biblical Law in the Westminster Theological Journal.13
  • June 1978: Greg Bahnsen graduates from University of Southern California with a Ph.D. in Philosophy.14
  • 1978: Meredith Kline’s “Comments on a New-Old Error: A Review of Greg Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics” appears in the Westminster theological journal.15
  • June 21, 1978: PCA General Assembly asks Committee on Christian Education and Publications to define “theonomy” and make a recommendation as to a request for a committee to study the topic.16
  • February 8, 1979: Greg Bahnsen terminated from RTS Jackson faculty.17
  • June 18, 1979: PCA Committee on Christian Education and Publications committee recommends a simple definition and no further study.18
  • 1980: Greg Bahnsen becomes pastor of Covenant Community OPC in southern California. He minsters in the OPC in SoCal until his death.3
  • 1980: Westminster Seminary California welcomes its first class of seminarians. Meredith Kline joins the faculty the following year.19
  • Feb 2, 1981: Two weeks after Ronald Regan is inaugurated, Newsweek publishes an issue on the Religious Right and calls Chalcedon Foundation the “Think Tank of the Religious Right”20
  • 1981: James Jordan moves to Tyler, TX (where North had lived since 1979) to pastor Westminster PCA. Disagreement between North and Rushdoony over article written by Jordan for the Chalcedon Foundation’s Journal of Christian Reconstruction results in Rushdoony never speaking to his son-in-law again.21
  • June 13, 1983: PCA General Assembly’s Permanent Sub-committee on Judicial Business responds to a “CONSTITUTIONAL INQUIRY ON WCF 19-4”. 11th General Assembly of the PCA adopts its recommendations on theonomy and ordination, saying “no particular view of the application of the judicial law for today should be made a basis for orthodoxy or excluded as heresy”.22
  • 1983: Joe Morecraft leads Chalcedon Presbyterian Church out of the PCA to form the RPCUS after formal complaint of theonomic views being required for holding office at CPC.5
  • November 4, 1986: Rev. Joe Morecraft loses to Democrat George Darden for a Georgia seat in the House of Representatives.23
  • April 18, 1987: Death of Cornelius Van Til.24
  • June 14, 1988: Pat Robertson loses to George H.W. Bush in the Republican presidential primaries.25
  • November 1, 1990: Theonomy: A Reformed Critique published by WTS faculty.26
  • 1991: Three out of four of the RPCUS presbyteries depart from the denomination. One becomes the Reformed Presbyterian Church – Hanover Presbytery27, one becomes RPCGA28, and the 3rd dissolves.
  • 1991: Bahnsen publishes “No Other Standard: Theonomy and its Critics”29; Vern Poythress publishes “Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses” the same year30; “Theonomy: An Informed Response”, edited by Gary North, published by North’s organization.31
  • December 11, 1995: Greg Bahnsen dies at age 47.32
  • 2001: PCA’s Westminster Presbytery votes to leave PCA; some members hope to realign with RPCUS.33
  • February 8, 2001: Rushdoony dies at age 84.
  • 2002: Westminster Presbytery reverses decision to leave the PCA; its Tazewell, VA congregation leaves for the RPCUS.34

Sources on Theonomy and Christian Reconstruction

  1. “Understanding R.J. Rushdoony”, Mark Rushdoony ↩︎

  2. July 1958 Presbyterian Guardian ↩︎

  3. A Ministerial and Congregational Register of the OPC, 1936–2016 ↩︎

  4. Who Was R.J. Rushdoony? ↩︎

  5. The Christian Reconstruction/Theonomy movement ↩︎

  6. The Rev. Dr. Richard B. Gaffin Jr.: Sancti Libri Theologicus Magnus Westmonasteriensis by Peter A. Lillback ↩︎

  7. Wikipedia ↩︎

  8. Westminster’s Confession by Gary North ↩︎

  9. Christian Reconstruction by Gary North ↩︎

  10. Westminster Presbytery at PCAHistory.org ↩︎

  11. General Assemblies at PCAHistory.org ↩︎

  12. Today in OPC History ↩︎

  13. The Institutes of Biblical Law: A Review Article ↩︎

  14. “A conditional resolution of the apparent paradox of self-deception” ↩︎

  15. Galaxie.com ↩︎

  16. 6th General Assembly of the PCA at PCAHistory.org ↩︎

  17. “What Really Happened at Reformed Theological Seminary” by Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen ↩︎

  18. 7th General Assembly of the PCA at PCAHistory.org ↩︎

  19. History of Westminster Seminary California ↩︎

  20. Building God’s Kingdom: Inside the World of Christian Reconstruction by Julie Ingersoll ↩︎

  21. Christian Reconstruction: R. J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism by Michael McVicar ↩︎

  22. 11th General Assembly of the PCA at PCAHistory.org ↩︎

  23. United States House of Representatives elections, 1986 ↩︎

  24. Obituary ↩︎

  25. Republican Party presidential primaries, 1988 ↩︎

  26. “Theonomy: A Reformed Critique” at WTSBooks.com ↩︎

  27. Hanover Presbytery on Wikipedia ↩︎

  28. RPCGA on Wikipedia ↩︎

  29. Manuscript on Gary North’s website ↩︎

  30. Manuscript on Poythress’ website ↩︎

  31. Manuscript on Gary North’s website ↩︎

  32. Greg Bahnsen on Today in OPC History ↩︎

  33. Presbyterian and Reformed News: Volume 7 Number 3 ↩︎

  34. Presbyterian and Reformed News: Volume 8 Number 1 ↩︎