In the news recently has been the revelation of the long-standing adultery of Douglas Phillips with a young nanny employed in his home. Douglas Phillips is the CEO of Vision Forum, Inc., a for-profit business that sells a catalog of expensive trinkets in the name of biblical patriarchy, and president of Vision Forum Ministries, a nonprofit ministry that promotes the ideas of Christian reconstructionism, homeschooling, and biblical patriarchy.
This article is not interested in the longstanding and adulterous relationship of Douglas Phillips. The scandal has exposed a movement in which Douglas Phillips is a key figure. Since he has not resigned from Vision Forum, Inc., the business side of the movement, he will continue to be a key figure in what is called the biblical patriarchy movement, the quiver full movement, patriocentrism, or the Christian patriarchy movement.
I am not interested in all the variants of this movement, which allow its adherents to dodge criticism by claiming they do not teach or believe this or that extreme teaching. For example, Karen Campbell, a Spurgeonite Baptist and longtime strident critic of Phillips, exposes some of the stranger teachings of biblical patriarchy, such as that daughters are “helpmeets for their fathers,” an insistence on courting, and even redefinitions of the Trinity.1
My criticism of the biblical patriarchy movement is not the criticism of many. Most criticism is like that of the feminist Julie Ingersoll from Huffington Post: a spitting contempt for God’s creation of male headship in marriage, the biblical teaching that the sphere of the married woman is the home, and the will of the Spirit that the women bear children, even many children.
My criticism aims at the root of the movement: sheer earthly-mindedness parading as spirituality. Biblical patriarchy promotes supposedly biblical male headship in the family as the pious cover for an earthly agenda.
Its origin is the thinking of the radical Christian reconstructionism of Rousas J. Rushdoony, a postmillennialist intent on capturing America and the world for an earthly Christian kingdom firmly ensconced in the Old Testament shadow. Publicly shying away from the radical Christian reconstructionism of Rushdoony’s magnum opus, The Institutes of Biblical Law, today’s reconstructionism, called dominionism, carries on the culture wars in his name and in the name of his earthly, postmillennial kingdom. Out of this root came biblical patriarchy.2
The kingdom of Rushdoony’s Christian reconstructionism is thoroughly earthly, a kingdom of earthly power and wealth—hording gold and silver. It is earthly dominion gained by earthly means, preferably victories at the ballot box. The earthly kingdom is the theological root of biblical patriarchy.
From this root, too, the miserable treatment of women should not be surprising. It was well known, and ironic, that Rushdoony, who wanted to make America Christian, himself violated one of its central tenets by divorcing his wife and the mother of all his children and then worked hard with his followers to cover it up by purging her out of his biography and perpetuating the charade that the second, adulterous wife was his only wife.3
So also the goal of the biblical patriarchy movement is earthly. One of its critics characterizes the whole movement as intent “to win the religion and culture wars through demographic means.” In its Declaration of Life, Vision Forum Ministries says:
God’s Holy Word declares that the children of faithful Christians are a means of spreading the influence of the Church in society, of global discipleship and cultural dominion, and that the larger the population growth of Christians, the more effective will be our warfare.4
Cultural dominion, which is earthly dominion, is the dominion at which biblical patriarchy aims. The goal of biblical patriarchy is an earthly goal, an earthly kingdom of earthly power with earthly riches. It is uninterested in the spiritual kingdom of Jesus Christ with its cross and marked absence of earthly power and riches.
This blatant emphasis on earthly power comes out as well in the teachings directed toward the males, in particular the impressionable young boys. Power, spiritual power, is equated with physical prowess, physical strength, and economic success. That is the power of their earthly kingdom.
Having the earthly-minded theology of Rushdoony as its origin and an earthly kingdom as its goal, it also seeks to reach that goal by earthly means. The means that biblical patriarchy has chosen for establishing the postmillennial kingdom is numbers: “the larger the population growth of Christians the more effective will be our warfare.” Numbers is simply another form of earthly power. The weapons of their warfare are earthly in contrast to what the apostle Paul says in II Corinthians 10:4 about the weapons of his warfare—and of the spiritual kingdom of Christ: “the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty.”
This “demographic” approach of biblical patriarchy is also not much different than the lebensborn of the Nazis, which intended to increase the population for warfare and to breed leaders for the expanded Nazi state, a point some critics have not missed.
Right along with the earthly weapon of numbers is the earthly sphere of its battle: at the ballot box in the political and cultural realm. Its warfare is not for the truth, for the spiritual kingdom of Jesus Christ, but its warfare is the cultural wars and its battleground is society. The Declaration of Life proclaims that the “defining crime” of our generation is “abortion,” and states the goals of the members of the movement as not putting into power those who disagree with their condemnation of abortion and their political agenda of overturning abortion laws. That a believing Christian stands against the wicked cruelty of abortion should be a given, but to repeal abortion laws is hardly the victorious renewal of all things in a new heaven and new earth that Christ promised His church.
Under the guise of promoting the biblical family, the movement takes dead aim at the institutions of the Christian church and Christian school. In its list of human institutions, The Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy, a kind of manifesto for biblical patriarchy authored by Phillips along with R. C. Sproul Jr. and Phil Lancaster, does not mention the school, but “family, church, and state.”5 The movement is heavily invested in the home education movement, the virtual single-handed creation of its theological father, Rousas J. Rushdoony, and a movement in which Vision Forum has played a large part.6 When Karen Campbell, an avid home educator, speaks of Phillip’s resignation as “rocking” that community, she indicates the depth of Vision Forum’s and biblical patriarchy’s influence among home educators. Vision Forum creates, promotes, and sells home education material that is used by hundreds of thousands of home educators in this country and is intended to promote biblical patriarchy.
Biblical patriarchy’s manifesto, speaking of the approved educational methodology, says, “Since the educational mandate belongs to parents and they are commanded personally to walk beside and train their children, they ought not to transfer responsibility for the educational process to others.”
The document says further, “The modern preference for grouping children exclusively with their age mates for educational and social purposes is contrary to scriptural wisdom and example,” and it calls “God-ordained” for education “the age-integrated communities of family and church.” The authors relate this vision of education to the “progress of God’s kingdom in the world,” and they exhort that “church shepherds need to promote this outlook in their flocks.”
This interpretation of the father’s calling to educate his children by walking beside them, prohibiting the so-called “transfer” of “responsibility for the educational process,” and making the grouping of children by grades against scriptural wisdom, defines the Christian school out of existence and speaks only of making limited, discretional use of the gifts of others in the community, such as, I might hire a piano teacher for my children.
This is also the practice of the biblical patriarchy movement. Its promotion of the supposedly biblical family excludes the promotion of the Christian school as a work of covenant families educating their children together, not by transferring responsibility, but by delegating it to teachers who stand in loco parentis.
Biblical patriarchy is also a movement that is intent on remaking the institution of the church in its image. Douglas Phillips is cofounder with Scott Brown of the family integrated church movement. The family integrated church movement is a wing of biblical patriarchy, which is committed to remaking the church in the image of biblical patriarchy, that is, into churches that “operate like a family.”7 While officially against house churches, the family integrated church movement associates with and promotes the writings of house church enthusiast Kevin Reed, making their claims hollow at best. They allow for the possibility that churches may take years to develop, by implication disparaging current denominations. They promote a network of disparate individuals spread over the country who are waiting for these developments, but all the while remain disconnected from any true church institute. They also maintain a list of churches and individuals that promote family integration but are of widely divergent doctrinal teachings, from Presbyterian to Pentecostal and beyond.8 They disparage creeds and proper, biblical church order, and promote a false standard of what makes a church healthy. What is the chief criterion for whether a church makes their list? If it has caught the vision of home education and biblical patriarchy!
Taking aim at the Christian school and the Christian church, the movement abuses the Christian family as the instrument of earthly dominion in society and the world. It abuses the “godly seed” as the instruments of cultural dominion. Closely related to this is biblical patriarchy’s view of the woman as primarily a “helper,” but with little or no mention of her as her husband’s friend, and implying that the primary relationship between husband and wife is that of authority instead of love. The Bible tells the husband not only to rule his wife, but also to love her, and tells the wife to submit, which is the form of her love. God’s word about her in the beginning is, first, that it was not good for man to be alone. His aloneness—not that he needed someone to rule—was the problem for which God created not merely a help, but also a help who was meet for him, and to whom he was commanded to cleave. This contrasts with the statement in The Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy that the “woman was created as a helper to her husband, as the bearer of children, and as a keeper at home.” She was also created to be his “companion,” as God clearly states in, biblical patriarchy’s vaunted passage on the “godly seed.”
The movement parades earthly goals and methods under a thin veil of biblical texts and biblical sounding ideas. In reality it has more in common with the world-conquering paterfamilias of the Roman Cato, than with the biblical patriarch Abraham. Its earthly-mindedness springs from its theological root, the earthly thinking and striving of the postmillennialism of Rushdoony.
For these reasons it is also tyrannical and an abuse of power. It seizes the authority that God gives to the husband and abuses it for earthly and personal ends for which God never intended that power to be used. It seizes the institution of the family—the wife and companion of the marriage and the children born in that family—and abuses it as the instruments for cultural dominion. It is intent on seizing the institution of the church. It condemns to an agonizing death the institution of the Christian school.9
So, too, it is also wicked. Earthly-mindedness, tyranny, and abuse of the authority and institutions of God are wicked. So is the movement that promotes this. It more than justifies the description of its teachings as “abhorrent,” even if the more scandalous are left out of view.10
1 A full-length treatment can be found at http://www.thatmom.com/articles/pros-and-cons-of-the-family-integrated-church/. Those interested in a book-length treatment of the movement can consult Kathryn Joyce, Quiverfull: Inside the Christian Patriarchy Movement (Boston: Beacon Press, 2009).
8 The network can be found here: https://ncfic.org/.