Bachmann, Pearcey, Francis Schaeffer, Creationism, Dominionism, and Violence -- some points

On August 15, The New Yorker published an article by Ryan Lizza asserting that Republican presidential candidate Michelle Bachmann was influenced by “Dominionism”, via fundamentalist theologian Francis Schaeffer and one-time Schaeffer student Nancy Pearcey. “Dominionism” as it is being used here, refers to Christian Reconstructionism, the idea that old-fashioned Old Testament Biblical Law should become U.S. law, a position usually associated with Rousas John Rushdoony.

We have have met Nancy Pearcey before; amongst other things, she is a current ID proponent and Discovery Institute fellow. Back when it was still cool to cop to being a creationist, though, she was a longtime editor of the young-earth creationist Bible-Science Newsletter, endorsed the idea that humans lived with dinosaurs, and was a coauthor of the first ID book, Of Pandas and People. For documentation, see my 2006 PT post Yet another version of the origins of ID and, for the publication of much of Pearcey’s chapter of Pandas in the Bible-Science Newsletter, see my 2005 PT post Why didn’t they tell us?

Pearcey authored the 2004 book Total Truth (forward by Phillip L. Johnson, remember him?), and Michelle Bachmann recommended the book, providing Ryan Lizza his link:

Francis Schaeffer instructed his followers and students at L’Abri that the Bible was not just a book but “the total truth.” He was a major contributor to the school of thought now known as Dominionism, which relies on Genesis 1:26, where man is urged to “have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth.” Sara Diamond, who has written several books about evangelical movements in America, has succinctly defined the philosophy that resulted from Schaeffer’s interpretation: “Christians, and Christians alone, are Biblically mandated to occupy all secular institutions until Christ returns.”

In 1981, three years before he died, Schaeffer published “A Christian Manifesto,” a guide for Christian activism, in which he argues for the violent overthrow of the government if Roe v. Wade isn’t reversed. In his movie, Schaeffer warned that America’s descent into tyranny would not look like Hitler’s or Stalin’s; it would probably be guided stealthily, by “a manipulative, authoritarian élite.”

Today, one of the leading proponents of Schaeffer’s version of Dominionism is Nancy Pearcey, a former student of his and a prominent creationist. Her 2004 book, “Total Truth: Liberating Christianity from Its Cultural Captivity,” teaches readers how to implement Schaeffer’s idea that a Biblical world view should suffuse every aspect of one’s life. She tells her readers to be extremely cautious with ideas from non-Christians. There may “be occasions when Christians are mistaken on some point while nonbelievers get it right,” she writes in “Total Truth.” “Nevertheless, the overall systems of thought constructed by nonbelievers will be false–for if the system is not built on Biblical truth, then it will be built on some other ultimate principle. Even individual truths will be seen through the distorting lens of a false world view.”

When, in 2005, the Minneapolis Star Tribune asked Bachmann what books she had read recently, she mentioned two: Ann Coulter’s “Treason,” a jeremiad that accuses liberals of lacking patriotism, and Pearcey’s “Total Truth,” which Bachmann told me was a “wonderful” book.

Ryan Lizza (2011). “Leap of Faith: The making of a Republican front-runner.” The New Yorker, August 15, 2011.

Unfortunately, this is more than a little confused. Like shoes, communists, and ice cream, there are many varieties of crazy right-wing fundamentalist. They share many similarities – e.g. “evolution BAD!”, but they are not all identical. Amongst fundamentalists, some are explicit Calvinists and many are not, although Calvinism is widely influential throughout the fundamentalist movement. Amongst fundamentalists, some are postmillenialists, some are premillenialists. Amongst the Calvinist postmillenialists, only some of them are Christian Reconstructionists.

(Stop when you get a headache, but, roughly: postmillienialists believe that the Book of Revelation says the “millenium” already came – i.e., God’s kingdom began 2000 years ago with Jesus – and it is up to believers to convert the world and create a Golden Age before Christ returns again; premillenialists belive the millenium is still to come, and when it does, Christ will return and rule the Earth.)

My sense of it is that premillenialism is clearly dominant over postmillenialism within U.S. Christian fundamentalism. I am less sure of the situation among conservative Calvinists. But, the major personalities associated with Christian Reconstructionism are well-known – Rushdoony, Rushdoony’s son-in-law Gary North (no relation to Oliver North of Iran-Contra and cable TV fame), and Howard Ahmanson (a major funder of the Discovery Institute, although apparently he has rejected some of the more radical positions of Rushdoony, see wikipedia). The list does not include Francis Schaeffer or Nancy Pearcey, who are both, I would say, Calvinist intellectuals who are pretty mainstream within fundamentalism/conservative evangelicalism. Schaeffer and Pearcey overlap closely with a whole suite of fundamentalist intellectuals who share a very similar set of views – Biblical inerrancy, antievolution and possibly young-earth creationist, but not insistent on a young-earth like the Henry Morris school, politically activist, culture warriors on all the traditional issues, etc. The suite of views is extremely widespread in U.S. fundamentalism – for example, it describes most of the important personalities at the Discovery Institute, in the ID movement generally, at Biola University, Dallas Theological Seminary, etc. Apart from “conservative evangelical”, I’m not sure there is a good common term for this large group, except perhaps “the Schaeffer school” or something.

Anyway, this group has been protesting the link Ryan Lizza made between Michelle Bachmann and the Christian Reconstructionists. Douglas Groothius, an unblinking, uncritical, straight-down-the-line fan of ID of Denver Seminary, points out the lack of connection between Pearcey/Schaeffer and Rushdoony. The DI’s Richard Weikart, writing at the Pearcey Report website, makes similar points (while showing just how influenced he was himself by Schaeffer as a youth). And we have a series of freakouts from UD (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, or heck, just search UD on “Bachmann”…we know their favorite I guess).

So far, so good, in my opinion. Being a fan of Francis Schaeffer does not make one a dominionist or Christian Reconstructionist. Christian Reconstructionists deserve to be criticized, and those who flirt with the ideology need to be called out, but more generic fundamentalism is bad enough on its own to criticize, there is no point in making false charges. And those who make unsubstantiated links between the two are opening themselves up for pretty effective rebuttals, like this one in the Washington Post.

However – one subset of the counterarguments by Groothius and others is devoted to defending Francis Schaeffer from the charge of recommending violence to overthrow an allegedly tyrannical American government. Groothius writes:

Third, the key Christian influences on Bachman are not Rushdoony and his followers, but Francis Schaeffer and Nancy Pearcey. Schaeffer referred to Rushdoony’s views on mandating biblical law as “insanity,” and never sanctioned any form of theocracy. (The name “Rushdoony” does not even appear in the index of Schaeffer’s five-volume collected works.) Schaeffer explicitly condemned theocracy in A Christian Manifesto (p. 120-1). Nor did he call for the violent overthrow of the government if Roe V. Wade were not overturned. Schaeffer rather explained various ways of resisting tyranny according to a Christian worldview and in light of church history. He saw “civil disobedience” (his phrase) as a last resort and did not stipulate any specific conditions under which it would be advisable in America. In fact, Schaeffer worried (on p. 126) that speaking of civil disobedience is “frightening because there are so many kooky people around.” Further, “anarchy is never appropriate.”

Now, this sparked a memory for me. Back when I was researching the origins of the ID movement, I read much of the commentary on the 1981 McLean vs. Arkansas case. After the creationists lost that case, various participants wrote various accounts. One of the notable ones was by old-earth creationist and Dallas Theological Seminary member Norman Geisler (website / wikipedia). Geisler was the guy who, at trial, admitted on the stand that he thought that, yes, he didn’t think UFOs were aliens, he thought they were demons instead.

Anyway, soon after the trial, he wrote his take on it in the evangelical magazine Christianity Today. Geisler’s account is interesting for several reasons – for example, his argument for “equal time” for “creation science” is essentially identical to the later ID movement’s arguments (and indeed, Geisler turns out to be a key figure in the origin of ID, he participated throughout the origin of the movement, and it is clear that from then to now he never saw much difference between “creation science” and “intelligent design” – see especially his 2007 book Creation and the Courts). But the article is also interesting for its conclusion, which invokes Francis Schaeffers just-then published book A Christian Manifesto.


[I post the concluding few paragraphs for context, and so you can see Geisler getting worked up.]

The fact that “creation” may imply a Creator while “evolution” does not is no proof that the former is religious and the latter is not. Believing that there is no God can be just as religious as believing that there is a God. Humanists hold, and the Supreme Court has ruled, that belief in God is not essential to a religion (U.S. v. Seeger, 1964).

Fourth, scientific progress depends on teaching alternative models. There would be little progress in science if it were not for minority scientific opinions. Copernicus’s view that the earth revolves around the sun was once a minority scientific view. So was the view that the earth is spherical, not flat. If no alternative models to Newton’s law of gravitation were allowed, then Einstein’s insights (and space travel) would have been rejected and scientific progress retarded.

That creationism may be a minority view among scientists today does not make it wrong, and certainly does not mean it should not be heard in science classes. (Arguing that it should be taught only in social studies classes is like telling someone running for Senate that he can present his view only to sociologists’ groups, but not to political gatherings.) One of the most despicable examples of intellectual prejudice I have ever witnessed was when evolution scientists at the Arkansas trial claimed that creationism was not science and that creationists were not scientists. It reminded me of Voltaire’s famous satire in which he described ants on one anthill looking at the different colored ants on another anthill and declaring that they were not really ants and that what they were on was not really an anthill.

John Scopes summed up well when he said, “If you limit a teacher to only one side of anything the whole country will eventually have only one thought, one invididual.” I believe it would be (is) a gross injustice for the court to rule it unconstitutional to teach both sides of any issue. Although I would not go as far as some in these matters, one can understand why Francis Schaeffer in his recent book, A Christian Manifesto (Crossway, 1981), has called upon Christians to engage in civil disobediance and even use force to overcome the tyranny he sees implied in a negative decision in the Arkansas creation-evolution issue.

[p. 29 of: Geisler, Norman L. (1982). “Creationism: A Case for Equal Time.” Christianity Today, XXVI(6), 26-29. March 19, 1982. Bold added.]

Now Geisler is not some random guy, he was and is a giant of conservative evangelical theology – bigger than Groothius, frankly. If Geisler got this impression from Schaeffer’s book, there is probably something there.

I happen to have Schaeffer’s A Christian Manifesto. The penultimate chapters are entitled “The Limits of Civil Disobediance” (chapter 7), “The Use of Civil Disobediance” (chapter 8), and “The Use of Force” (chapter 9). And the book contains a lot rhetoric about tyrannical government, reviewing the situation in communist contries and the like, but then applying the logic to the U.S., e.g.:

[Samuel Rutherford, a Presbyterian theologian, influential during the period of English history (1649-1660) when Cromwell and the Parliament overthrew the king and ruled a Commonwealth, see here and here; it was burnt after the Restoration of the crown] offered suggestions concerning illegitimate acts of the state. A ruler, he wrote, should not be deposed merely because he commits a single breach of the compact he has with the people. Only when the magistrate acts in such a way that the governing structure of the country is being destroyed – that is, when he is attacking the fundamental structure of society – is he to be relieved of his power and authority.

That is exactly the situation we are facing today. The whole structure of our society is being attacked and destroyed. It is being given an entirely opposite base which gives exactly opposite results. The reversal is much more total and destructive than that which Rutherford or any of the Reformers faced in their day.

[end of Chapter 7]

[pp. 101-102 of: Francis Schaeffer (1981/1982), A Christian Manifesto (Crossway, revised edition 1982) ]

What kind of things are destroying society? Well, abortion, as Groothius mentions, but also…you guessed it! Evolution! I won’t type out the whole passage, but pages 109-111 are devoted to the then-ongoing McLean case. Of the counteraction in the courts, Schaeffer writes, “Here is a clear case fitting Rutherford’s criteria.” (p. 109). On the next pages, he says,

The ACLU is acting as the arm of the humanist consensus to force its view on the majority of the Arkansas state officials.

If there was ever a clearer example of the lower “magistrates” being treated with tyranny, it would be hard to find. And this would be a time, if the appeal courts finally rule tyrannically, for the state government to protest and refuse to submit. This fits Rutherford’s proper procedures exactly.

It is a time for Christians and others who do not accept the narrow and bigoted humanist views to use the appropriate forms of protest. [p. 110]


The people must act against tyranny by returning these issues to themselves. [p. 111]

[…Schaeffer reviews a Time poll showing that 76% of the public supported “teaching both theories”, and says…]

Any election figure getting such a percentage would consider this a mandate. Surely, the Founding Fathers would have considered this situation to be tyranny. It would be appropriate to remember the Boston Tea Party of December 16, 1773. [p. 111]

Schaeffer certainly seems to be saying that something approaching secession is an “appropriate form of protest.” Certainly the Boston Tea Party did not exactly lead to peaceful results. Now, Schaeffer does exhibit some signs of sense – he carefully defines “force” as broader than “violence”, to include, for example, nonviolent protest. And he clearly says these should be tried before rebellion.

But, Schaeffer also uses the word “tyranny” and associated rhetoric throughout the book – dozens of times, I think – and he also says at several points that if the government ignores protest, more extreme measures are legitimate. A few examples of extreme rhetoric:

Again we must see that what we face is a totality and not just bits and pieces. It is not too strong to say that we are at war, and there are no neutral parties in the struggle. One either confesses that God is the final authority, or one confesses that Caesar is Lord.

[p. 116, end of Chapter 8]

There does come a time when force, even physical force, is appropriate. The Christian is not to take the law into his own hands and become a law unto himself. But when all avenues to flight and protest have closed, force in the defensive posture is appropriate. This was the situation of the American Revolution. The colonists used force in defending themselves.

[p. 117, beginning of Chapter 9]


The thirteen colonies reached the bottom line: they acted in civil disobediance. That civil disobediance led to open war in which men and women died. And that led to the founding of the United States of America. There would have been no founding of the United States of America without the Founding Fathers’ realization that there is a bottom line. And to them the basic bottom line was not pragmatic; it was one of principle.

Please read most thoughtfully what I am going to say in the next sentence: If there is no final place for civil disobediance, then the government has been made autonomous, and as such, it has been put in the place of the Living God. If there is no final place for civil disobediance, then the government has been put in the place of the Living God, because then you are to obey it even when it tells you in its own way at that time to worship Caesar. And that point is exactly where the early Christians performed their acts of civil disobediance even when it cost them their lives.

[p. 130, end of Chapter 9. Italics and sentence repetition original.]

I think we can now see why even Norman Geisler, certainly no wilting flower of liberalism, wrote that “…I would not go as far as some in these matters” when discussing Schaeffer’s book.