In the News


March 27, 2012 marked the debut of actor Kirk Cameron’s latest movie Monumental: In Search of America’s National Treasure, which is a documentary on “the people, places, and principles that made America the freest, most prosperous and generous nation the world has ever known.” Julie Ingersoll, Associate Professor of Religious Studies at the University of North Florida, in an op-ed piece for Religious Dispatches believes viewers shall find “new, more extreme Cameron,” whose views have been influenced by Rousas John Rushdoony and David Barton. In essence she finds in Cameron a “shift from the larger premillennialist evangelical world that he depicted in Left Behind to the postmillennialist dominion theology of the Reconstructionists.” Cameron, however, has not made any formal statement on whether or not his eschatology changed. Nevertheless, Postmillennial Reconstruction is well within the pale of theological orthodoxy.

Postmillennialists anticipate that the advancement of the Gospel will bring forth a semi-golden age before the Second Coming of Christ. Christian Reconstruction is a movement within the postmillennial tradition, which holds to a particular view on the Old Testament Law called theonomy. Kenneth Gentry explains, “The theonomic postmillennialist sees the gradual return to biblical norms of civil justice as a consequence of widespread gospel success through preaching, evangelism, missions, and Christian education. The judicial–political outlook of Reconstructionism includes the application of those justice-defining directives contained in the Old Testament legislation, when properly interpreted, adapted to new covenant conditions, and relevantly applied” (italics in original). [1]

Postmillennialism in all its varieties stands in contrast to premillennialism, the belief that Jesus Christ shall return to establish a future Millennial Kingdom. The most popular form of premillennialism is of the dispensational variety, which affirms two peoples of God (i.e. the sharp distinction between Israel and the Church), and two phases of the Second Coming (i.e. a secret Rapture of the Church, a seven year Great Tribulation brought on by the Antichrist, and a visible return of Christ, which begins the 1000 year reign). Many within the dispensational tradition have become drunk with millennial madness, using newspaper eschatology to make false predictions concerning the time of the Rapture. Some but not all dispensationalists even advocate a type of Christian Zionism which has monumental socio-political implications on the sensitive relations between modern Israel, Palestine, and other nations in the Middle East. John Hagee is an influential teacher advocating Christian Zionism.

Postmillennialism also stands distinct from amillennialism, the belief that the millennium is a present reality for believers between the two advents of Jesus Christ.

Hank Hanegraaff, in The Apocalypse Code, briefly discusses the “thousand years” of Revelation 20 as a type of vindication language, wherein God vindicates those having suffered  for Christ during a short period (i.e. “ten days”) in that they reign with Christ forever (i.e. “a thousand years”). He writes, “though mistaken by many as a semi-golden age of Christian history—leading to much debate over whether the return of Christ will happen before (premillennialism) or after (postmillennialism) the millennium, or whether the millennium is symbolic of the period of time between Christ’s first and second advents (amillennialism)—the thousand years of Revelation are symbolic of the unique and ultimate vindication (qualitative) that awaits the martyrs who died under the first century persecution of the Beast.” [2] Moreover, Hank holds that the proper grammatical principle of biblical interpretation reveals that the great tribulation, spoken of by Jesus Christ in the Olivet Discourse and depicted in apocalyptic images by John in the Book of Revelation, concerns mainly the events surrounding the fall of Jerusalem and destruction of the temple in AD 70—albeit the Apocalypse also points forward towards the final future to the new heaven and new earth.

Hank and CRI also recognize that the millennium is a secondary issue of eschatology that Christians can debate but not divide over. Nevertheless, ideas have consequences, and what one believes about the end time, whether Left Behind eschatology or Christian Reconstruction, determines how they live, and these are more than just harmless theological concepts relegated to the mind. Moreover, we encourage Christians to study the various positions and, using sound principles of hermeneutics come to a conclusion deemed most biblical (See “Practical Hermeneutics: How To Interpret Your Bible Correctly Part 1,” and “Practical Hermeneutics: How To Interpret Your Bible Correctly Part 2”).

The Christian Research Journal has also addressed R.J. Rushdoony’s views on the Christian family and Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalysis.

Christians should think deeply about the most pressing social issues of the day. When one does examine the source of all the great innovations of the West (i.e. monogamy, women’s liberation, hospitals, public education, capitalism, etc.), one finds it was the result of minds deeply influenced by the Word of God. Whether or not one adopts all the tenets of Christian Reconstruction, all Christians still must come to grips with thinking christianly about every aspect of life.

— Warren Nozaki

We also recommend the following bookstore resources:

How Christianity Changed the World (B758)
by Alvin J/ Schmidt

Must the Sun Set on the West Audio CD Set (CD955)
by Vishal Mangalwadi

The Meaning of the Millennium: Four Views (B115)
edited by Robert G. Clouse

Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond (B580)
edited by Darrell Bock

Four Views on the Book of Revelation (B581)
edited by C. Marvin Pate

Revelation: Four Views : A Parallel Commentary (B793)
by Steve Gregg


  1. Kenneth Gentry, Three Views on the Millennium and Beyond, ed. Darrell Bock (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1999), 19.
  2. Hank Hanegraaff, The Apocalypse Code (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, 2007), 274-275, cf. also ibid, 256-257n.
Journal Topics

Dawkins’s Youth Ministry

Richard Dawkins has redefined himself again. Earlier, Dawkins transitioned from academic works of theoretical biology to his popular atheistic manifesto, The God Delusion. Now, Dawkins has moved on to the scientific education of youth. Combining lavish color illustrations by David McKean with his own supple and enthusiastic prose, Dawkins aims to inspire a new generation with the belief that naturalistic science is the only source both of knowledge and of true “magic”-the poetic wonder of discovery.

The book would not be much of a problem if it stuck to data and theories. But throughout the text, Dawkins inserts fatherly asides to caution the reader against supernatural, superstitious nonsense-the enemy of true science. The procedure is to offer sober science and an atheistic worldview as a package deal. C. S. Lewis discerned a similar danger in the “Green Book,” ostensibly a work of English grammar, whose actual effect was to inculcate moral relativism: “The very power of [the book] depends on the fact that they are dealing with a boy…who thinks he is ‘doing’ his ‘English prep’ and has no notion that ethics, theology and politics are all at stake. It is not a theory which they put into his head, but an assumption, which ten years hence…will condition him to take one side in a controversy which he has never recognized as a controversy at all.”1

Dawkins’s approach is to mold impressionable minds with the presumption that all that really exists is a closed physical universe of pitiless indifference (p. 235). Pursuing the logic of natural selection, he concludes that a living creature is simply “a survival machine for genes. Next time you look in the mirror, just think: that is what you are too” (74–75). This means that the “poetic wonder” of scientific discovery has no ultimate significance. There are no valuable truths to discover, nor valuable people to discover them: we are lumbering robots in a meaningless world. Like the Green Book criticized by Lewis, Dawkins’s book will likely produce more people “without a chest,” closed to the transcendent realms of God’s moral law and saving work.

Propaganda. Throughout Dawkins’s entertaining text, which explores biology, astronomy, chemistry, physics, natural disasters, and alleged miracles, Dawkins seeks to discredit biblical revelation by citing its stories as myths alongside pagan myths and modern “urban legends.” Thus Genesis is presented with Norse mythology (34–35) and Dawkins repeats the old chestnut that since there are elements in common between the flood account in The Epic of Gilgamesh and the Genesis flood, the latter is cultural borrowing (140–43). Although there are some similarities, many of these would be expected in any flood account, and there are also marked differences. Most importantly, Dawkins does not seriously consider the possibility that both accounts arise from an actual historical event. Worse, when archaeologists do find evidence of the historicity of a biblical event, Dawkins attributes it all to purely natural causes anyway (208–9). And he relies heavily on David Hume’s famous critique of miracles (254–65), with no reference to John Earman’s devastating critique, Hume’s Abject Failure (Oxford, 2000).

Invincible Ignorance. Evidently, Dawkins has adopted a position that makes it impossible for him to contact transcendent realities. Dawkins tells us he would never accept a supernatural explanation regardless of the evidence, “Because anything ‘super natural’ must by definition be beyond the reach of a natural explanation” (23). But refusing to allow supernatural explanations does not show they are false. And Dawkins continues to complain that “none of the myths gives any explanation for how the creator of the universe himself…came into existence” (163), refusing to allow the idea of a necessary being that has no origin.

Interestingly, Dawkins never considers the possibility that theism might give a better explanation than materialism for the success of the science he prizes. Why does the world conform to orderly laws? Why should we expect our minds to be capable of discovering them? If he faced these questions without prejudice, Dawkins might begin to see that there is a deeper magic still.

–Angus Menuge

Angus Menuge, Ph.D., is professor of philosophy at Concordia University, Wisconsin. His book review, “Dawkins’s Youth Ministry” appears in the Volume 35, No. 1 special “Origins” issue of the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL available by donation only.


1. C. S. Lewis, The Abolition of Man (New York: Macmillan, 1955), 16–17.

For future issues of the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL, subscribe or renew your subscription or give a gift subscription.

To view this article in the PDF format, please click here. 

The article above is from the current, special origins issue of our award-winning magazine, the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL | What Were the Origins of Life on Earth? This special issue is packed full of compelling articles by many of the biggest names in the Intelligent Design movement, relating to all aspects of the origins problem—scientific, theological, philosophical, hermeneutical, and apologetic (see the Table of Contents here). But not only so, this special issue also features a sneak peek at Hank Hanegraaff’s forthcoming Creation Answer Book!

Journal Topics

How the Gospel Frees Us from Psychological Oppression

The following article first appeared in the Effective Evangelism column of the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL | Homosexuality, Teens, and Bullying , Volume 34, Number 03 (2011).

Christianity is often pejoratively referred to as “dirty rotten sinner” religion. Our detractors will often say something like this: “Christians tend to be so guilt-ridden. They feel that they have to go through life degrading themselves in order to win God’s approval. I find that very depressing. Instead, I want a spirituality that’s positive, freeing, and one that will make me feel good about myself.”

This type of reaction is very understandable. We all want to be happy, and it might seem that the gospel is a one-way street into a medieval village where the Inquisition is diabolically entrenched, seeking to wipe away every smile. While it’s a hard sell merely to claim that the gospel will set us free from so many of life’s torments, a story might prove helpful.

For the first few years that I was teaching Bible and theology at the New York School of the Bible, I was assailed by such intense feelings of unworthiness, shame, and self-contempt that they co-opted my thought life. Driven by such powerful feelings, my self-doubts seemed to speak with unassailable authority: “You teach? What type of Christian are you anyway? You think you really have faith? Look how selfish and self-absorbed you are. How are you going to help anyone? What a charlatan, posing in the front of the class as some type of authority! What do you think their reaction would be if they really knew you?”

Devastated by these indictments, I wanted to disappear and to have the buildings of New York City implode over my head and swallow me up without a sign. Many times I thought of calling my school to say, “Find yourself someone else. I’m not your man.” But gradually, the gospel began to take root.

Good Christian. In my longstanding pre-Christian struggle to attain some sense of significance and value, I’d ward off the shame and self-contempt through positive affirmations: “I’m a good person; no, I’m a vastly superior person. I’m _____, _____, _____, and more. I’m a once-in-a-lifetime person!” There was no end to the superlatives. In fact, I was always inventing new ones—whatever I needed to tell myself to keep the shame at bay. However, these never sufficed, and so I always needed to up the superlatives in order to overcome the ubiquitous feelings of shame.

As a Christian, I learned that it was wrong to engage in such self-stroking. But I had to do something about the poisonous arrows of my own demons. I needed to prove myself, and now I had a new vehicle with which to do it. I would excel at spirituality! I would prove, at least to myself, that I was worthy of God’s grace.

I reassured myself that I was more deserving of salvation than others. I was more spiritual; I had chosen God because I wasn’t as carnal as most of the human race. I had the keenness of mind to recognize the surpassing value of the things of God, and I had a great destiny, not just in heaven, like all the other Christians, but I would also lead the way here.

God loves us too much, however, to allow us to continue in our delusions. He closed my hand to all my dreams of spiritual accomplishment. Even more difficult to endure, I began to see my own poverty of spirit, my utter unworthiness. My levees were overwhelmed, and the demons of shame and self-contempt came roaring back. I feverishly sought to rebuild the levees with good works—anything that would tell me, “You’re OK!”

However, in my torment, I began to read the Bible with new tear-filled eyes, hoping to find a God tucked within its pages who would be far more merciful than I had ever dared to hope for. Jesus told a parable about two men who entered the temple to pray. One was a self-assured Pharisee, the other a broken sinner who lacked the confidence even to look up to heaven (Luke 18:9–14). I had become that broken sinner, now defenseless against the internal raging. I had been stripped of confidence and any sense that there was something about me that would merit even a glance from a holy God.

Paradoxically, this was the beginning of psychological freedom. I had been stripped bare of all my defenses, and for the first time in my life, I gradually found that I didn’t need them. I could finally let go of my miserable fig leaves, because I was beginning to know a God who wanted to clothe me with His forgiveness, His righteousness, and His sanctification (1 Cor. 1:29–30). I was beginning to learn that I was complete in Him (Col. 2:9–10), not because of who I am, but because of who He is.

It took me a while to learn these lessons. The Bible was my thought life foundation, but it seemed to say such contradictory things. On the one hand, it assured me that salvation, along with everything else I needed, was absolutely free. But then I observed that other verses seemed to say that God’s “gifts” also required some labor on my part. These “contradictions” first needed to be resolved before I could decisively confront my demons.

However slowly, that day did come. Now, when demons accuse me of my failures and unworthiness, I’m ready for them: “Satan, you’re right! I am totally unworthy to serve God, let alone to teach. I don’t deserve the slightest thing from Him. But I have an incredible God who is everything to me—my righteousness, my sanctification, and whatever else I need. He loves me with an undying love and will never leave me. It is He who has given me the privilege to serve Him by teaching. I’m so glad that I’ve been reminded of my unworthiness, because this just prompts me to be grateful, and makes me want to sing His praises.”

Understanding the truths of Scripture becomes a wellspring of peace (Col. 2:1–4). I’m now rid of some baggage that had been too heavy to bear. As Jesus said, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31–32 NKJV). The truth has set me free—free from the need to defend myself, free from struggling to prove myself, free from shame and self-contempt, and free from the fear of failure. Well, not absolutely free, but free enough.

This freedom would never have come without seeing the depths of my unworthiness. Had I not come to this crushing point, I would never have discovered true grace, and without receiving this incredible grace, I never would have found the confidence to lay aside all the inner struggles and finally to accept the fact that I’m an utter sinner saved by grace. Not everyone’s experience is as intense as mine was, but we all have a conscience that tells us things we don’t want to hear, and we all have attempted to beat it down one way or another (Rom. 1:18–21). We all yearn to prove ourselves and, to accomplish this, we resort to self-deception.

This isn’t merely a biblical point of view; this is the prevailing view of psychology. Shelley Taylor writes, “As we have seen, people are positively biased in their assessments of themselves and of their ability to control what goes on around them, as well as in their views of the future. The widespread existence of these biases and the ease with which they can be documented suggests that they are normal.”1

While for the successful and admired, these biases are easy to maintain, for the depressed, they require more effort than can be sustained. Ironically, the more successful we are at maintaining our comforting self-delusions, the more we sacrifice mental flexibility, freedom, and joy. As paradoxical as it might seem, the road to freedom compels us on a humbling journey through the “valley of the shadow of death” (Ps. 23:4 NKJV), where our old armor and defenses are stripped away so that we can be reclothed in splendor. No wonder Jesus tells us, “For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14 NKJV).

Blessed Assurance. How then do we come to this place of assurance of God’s grace in the face of our spiritual brokenness? It’s not possible on our own. Jesus had taught emphatically against the idea of self-salvation (Matt. 19:26; John 3:3; 6:44). He made it equally clear, however, that spiritual growth is also impossible without His involvement (John 15:4–5). Knowing this, we have to trust Him to perform for us the humanly impossible and to cry out for His intervention.

Spiritual desperation is a lens that brings grace into focus. It’s this mourning that sharpens our eyes to the reality of grace (Matt. 5:3–4; Ps. 25:8–9; 14–15). But what if we don’t see our neediness? We have to embrace the prayer of David: “Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting” (Ps. 139:23–24 NIV).

Trust Him in this. He has promised to reveal to us our spiritual deficiencies as He also did for the churches of the book of Revelation (chaps. 2–3). As Paul proclaimed: “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus. All of us who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you. Only let us live up to what we have already attained” (Phil. 3:14–16 NIV).

The more we grow into the assurance of the gift of His acceptance, the more we will grow into self-acceptance. With self-acceptance, we can begin to be transparent about our failures and inadequacies and even to laugh at ourselves. I used to think that in order to show Christ off to the world, I had to exhibit Christ-like perfection. Well, I’ve learned instead that I’m far from perfect, but I have a Savior who is perfect. I’m inadequate, but He is fully adequate. This has given me not only a freedom to be me, but also a lowliness and a confidence to draw other broken people to the One who can make all the difference.

—Daniel Mann

Daniel Mann has taught at the New York School of Bible since 1992. He is the author of Embracing the Darkness: How a Jewish, Sixties, Berkeley Radical Learned to Live with Depression, God’s Way.


Shelley E. Taylor, Positive Illusions (New York: Basic Books, 1989), 46.

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To view this article in the PDF format, please click here.

In the News

On The Kony 2012 Campaign

Just a little over week ago the KONY 2012 video began airing on social media sites and since then has gone viral, having 75,150,482 hits on YouTube as of March 13, 2012. The movie was produced by Invisible Children, which is a non-profit organization setup in 2006 to use “film, creativity and social action to end the use of child soldiers in Joseph Kony’s rebel war and restore LRA [Lord’s Resistance Army] affected communities in central Africa to peace and prosperity.” The video is narrated by Jason Russell, one of the co-founders of Invisible Children. Since Kony’s atrocities are relatively unknown, particularly in the United States, KONY 2012 seeks to launch a grassroots campaign to inform each and every member of the global community and ultimately bring the warlord to justice by December 31, 2012. Part of the campaign includes appealing to 20 culture makers (celebrities, athletes, and billionaires) along with 12 policy makers to address the problem, and among other things a mass poster campaign set for April 20, 2012.

Criticisms that the KONY 2012 video oversimplifies a very complex situation have also been raised. For example, Michael Wilkerson, a freelance journalist who has lived and reported in Uganda, explains, “Well, the biggest issue that I’ve raised or perhaps the easiest to understand to begin with is that the Lord’s Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, was actually forced out of Uganda by the Ugandan military in 2006. So I came to start paying attention to this ‘Kony 2012’ campaign because all of a sudden on all of the places that I monitor—things happening in Uganda—there were these hordes of people saying stop the war in northern Uganda. Let’s go to northern Uganda and get rid of Kony. And there is no war in northern Uganda anymore, not since 2006,” but qualifies, “The LRA is still what I like to call a regional wrecking ball. It’s still raiding and massacring and abducting in neighboring countries, but northern Uganda itself is peaceful.” Ishaan Tharoor, in an op ed piece entitled “Why You Should Feel Awkward About the ‘Kony2012’ Video,” blogged that “the LRA is no longer thought to be actually operating in northern Uganda….Moreover, analysts agree that after concerted campaigns against the LRA, its numbers at this point have diminished, perhaps amounting to 250 to 300 fighters at most. Kony, shadowy and illusive, is a faded warlord on the run, with no allies or foreign friends.”

There are also responses to the critics. Luis Moreno Ocampo, chief prosecutor at the International Criminal Court, who also appears in Kony 2012, noted in a BBC interview that Invisible Children had “mobilised the world,” and that “they’re giving a voice to people who before no-one knew about and no-one cared about and I salute them.” Invisible Children has also posted responses to their critics.

CRI has been aware of the activities of Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army for quite some time, and published the 2005 News Watch piece “Terrorizing the Innocents in Uganda: Religion Plays a Deadly Role in the Lord’s Resistance Army” by Steve Rabey. The article highlighted the cultic tactics used by Kony to indoctrinate children, turning them into brutal killers.

I believe Christians are to pray for the Lord to work through people and circumstances to bring Kony to justice and end the terror of the Lord’s Resistance Army. They are to pray for what the Lord would have them do in response to this. Most of all, I believe Christians must prayerfully consider specific ways to strengthen the church in Uganda, so that the Gospel may continue to be proclaimed, for it is the power of God to salvation (Rom. 1:16-17). Moreover, it is on account of hearts and minds transformed by the Word of God that one gains solid theological and spiritual foundations for effective social transformation. There is corruption in the world, but the Christian is the salt and light (Matt. 5:13-14).

— Warren Nozaki

In the News, Journal Topics

Mormon Leaders Want To Stop “Unauthorized” Baptisms for the Dead

Howard Berkes for National Public Radio reported that this coming Sunday (March 11, 2012), Mormon leaders are formally warning followers to stop controversial baptisms for the dead, particularly of “unauthorized groups” such as “celebrities and Jewish Holocaust victims,” and a letter will be read in every congregation stating: “Our preeminent obligation is to seek out and identify our own ancestors…Those whose names are submitted for proxy [baptisms] should be related to the submitter.” There is also concern over non-Mormons being offended in finding out their deceased family members had been baptized into Mormonism.

The complete letter to be read has been published in The Church of Jesus Christ Latter-Day Saints Newsroom article “First Presidency Issues Direction on Names Submitted for Temple Ordinances.” It is as follows:

We would like to reiterate the policies first stated in 1995 concerning the submission of names for proxy temple ordinances:

Our preeminent obligation is to seek out and identify our own ancestors. Those whose names are submitted for proxy temple ordinances should be related to the submitter.

Without exception, Church members must not submit for proxy temple ordinances any names from unauthorized groups, such as celebrities and Jewish Holocaust victims. If members do so, they may forfeit their New FamilySearch privileges. Other corrective action may also be taken.

Members are encouraged to participate in FamilySearch indexing which is vital to family history and temple work.

Bishops are asked to post this letter on their meetinghouse bulletin boards. Church members may seek the assistance of the family history consultants in their area for additional information, if needed. Name submission policies are also clearly stated on

We appreciate the faithful adherence to these policies by all members of the Church.

Sincerely yours,

Thomas S. Monson

Henry B. Eyring

Dieter F. Uchtdorf

The First Presidency

Baptism for the dead is one of several Mormon Temple Rituals vital for attaining godhood, which Hank Hanegraaff contends have no biblical sanction. Although just exactly what the apostle Paul meant in speaking of the “baptism for the dead” in 1 Corinthians 15:29 is a matter of some debate, the Mormon interpretation and practice is clearly not consistent with the teaching of Scripture. The Christian Research Journal has well-critiqued baptism by proxy and set forth viable interpretations of 1 Corinthians 15:29 in the articles “The Mormon Doctrine of Salvation for the Dead: An Examination of Its Claimed Biblical Basis” by Luke P. Wilson, and “Baptism for the Dead: Discerning Historical Precedent from Mere Prose” by Steve Bright.

—Warren Nozaki, Research

For further study on Mormonism, CRI recommends the following bookstore resources:

Memorable Keys to the M-O-R-M-O-N Mirage by Hank Hanegraaff

Mormonism 101 by Bill McKeever and Eric Johnson

One Nation Under Gods: A History of the Mormon Church by Richard Abanes

Mormonism’s Greatest Problems Package featuring Bill McKeever, Eric Johnson, and Sandra Tanner

Journal Topics

Were Early Christians Communist?

The following article first appeared in the Practical Hermeneutics column of the CHRISTIAN RESEARCH JOURNAL | Self Esteem from a Scalpel, Volume 33, Number 04 (2010).

When I graduated from college in 1989, it looked like socialism was dead. The Soviet Union—the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics—was in its death throes. In comparison, the American economy was booming, and countries around the world were beginning to liberalize their markets. After a sophomoric flirtation with socialism, I had concluded that capitalism was probably the most workable economic model. I had not resolved my lingering suspicions, however, that capitalism was immoral and that socialism was still the Christian ideal.

Part of that impression came from biblical passages that seem to suggest as much: “Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common.…There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need” (Acts 4:32–35 ESV).

Many who have read this passage have wondered if the early church was communist and the Christian ideal is communism. After all, this was the first church in Jerusalem. They were “filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God boldly” (Acts 4:31 NIV). If they didn’t get it right, who did?

On the surface, this looks like communism, but that’s a misreading. The details and context here are everything.

First of all, modern communism is based on Marx’s theory of class warfare, in which the workers revolt against the capitalists—the owners of the means of production—and forcibly take control of private property. After a while, Marx predicted, the socialist state would wither away and you’d get a communist utopia in which everyone lived in peace, harmony, and preternatural freedom. There’s none of this class warfare stuff in the early church in Jerusalem, nor is private property treated as immoral. These Christians are selling their possessions and sharing freely and spontaneously.

Second, the state is nowhere in sight. No Roman centurions are showing up with soldiers. No government is confiscating property and collectivizing industry. No one is being coerced. The church in Jerusalem was just that—the church, not the state. The church doesn’t act like the modern communist state. As Ron Sider notes, “Sharing was voluntary, not compulsory.”1 In fact, sharing by definition is voluntary.

It’s easy to lose sight of this later in the text, though, when Peter condemns Ananias and Sapphira for keeping back some of the money they got from selling their land. If you don’t read it carefully, you might get the impression that he condemns them for failing to give everything to the collective: “Ananias.…why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the lands? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to men but to God!” (Acts 5:3–4 ESV). But look closely at the text; Peter condemns them not for keeping part of the proceeds of the sale, but for lying about it. In fact, he takes for granted that the property was rightfully theirs, even after it was sold. So Peter isn’t condemning private property.

Third, the communal life of the early church in Jerusalem is never made the norm for all Christians everywhere. In fact, it’s not even described as the norm for the Jerusalem church. What Acts is describing is an unusual moment in the life of the early church, when the church was still very small. Remember, this is the beginning of the church in Jerusalem. Thousands of new Christians probably had come from a long distance to worship in Jerusalem at Pentecost. They would have had to return home soon after their conversion if not for the extreme measures taken by the newborn church to allow these Christians to stay and be properly discipled. Given the alternatives, a mutual sharing of possessions seemed to be the best course of action.

Compared to modern nation states, the Jerusalem church was a small community banding together against an otherwise hostile culture. The circumstances were peculiar. For all we know, this communal stage lasted six months before the church got too large. It’s unlikely that all these new Christians, many denizens of the far-flung Jewish Diaspora, stayed in Jerusalem for the rest of their lives. Many probably returned home at some point, and brought their new faith with them.

We know from the New Testament that other churches in other cities had quite different arrangements. For instance, Paul sternly warned the Thessalonian Christians, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” and told them to “earn the bread they eat” (2 Thess. 3: 10, 12 NIV). Apparently some new Christians had begun to take advantage of the generosity of their new brothers in the faith. That’s not an especially surprising scenario, given the effects of the Fall. So it’s no surprise that the early communal life in Jerusalem was never held up as a model for how the entire church should order its life, let alone used to justify the state confiscating private property.

Communal living does have its place. Nuclear families live more or less communally. In functional families, however, someone is in charge, namely, the parents. So it’s not really a commune.

Many monasteries and religious orders are more or less communal to this day. These are highly disciplined, voluntary communities that are self-consciously separate from the ordinary life of family and commerce. Many of them survive for centuries—and in fact, the productivity of some early monasteries helped give rise to capitalism in medieval Europe.2

There have been other voluntary, nonmonastic groups that have tried to live communally. The American Amish and the Jesus People USA live in communal or semi-communal groups today. And there were lots of examples of Christian communes in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The ones that survived very long were small, voluntary, and intensely disciplined.3

The Pilgrims and Communism.. In fact, even most private, voluntary communal experiments fail. American children hear the story of William Bradford at Thanksgiving. Bradford was the architect of the Mayflower Compact and the leader of a small band of separatists who founded the Plymouth Colony in Massachusetts in 1620. Most young students learn that the colony lost half its population during its first, harsh winter, but few know about the colony’s brief and tragic experiment with collective ownership. Because of an ill-conceived deal made with the investors who funded the expedition, the Pilgrims held their farmland communally rather than as private plots. They divided their food, work, and provisions evenly. This may sound nice, and the Pilgrims may have thought they were replicating the model of the early church in Jerusalem; but before long, conflicts arose among the colonists. Bradford reports in his journal what economists and common sense predict. In large groups, such an arrangement leads to perverse incentives, in which the lazier members “free ride,” taking advantage of the harder working. The other members grow more and more frustrated, and less and less productive. That’s just what happened in the early years of Plymouth Bay Colony.

To solve the problem, Bradford soon decided to divide the plots up to the individual families. Suddenly people had strong incentives to produce, and they did. Over the years, more and more of the land was privatized, and the colony eventually became a prosperous part of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.4 If Bradford had not had the guts to divide the commune into private lots, our school children would not be making little cutouts of turkeys and Mayflowers every November, since there probably would have been few if any survivors.

The Early Christians Weren’t Communists—and We Shouldn’t Be, Either. The take-home lesson should be clear: neither the book of Acts nor historical experience commends communism. In fact, full-bodied communism is alien to the Christian worldview and had little to do with the arrangement of early Christians in Jerusalem. While there have been and still are small, atypical groups that manage to pull off some form of communal living, at least for a while, there’s no reason to think that communal living—let alone communism—ever has been the Christian ideal.

—Jay W. Richards

Jay W. Richards is the author of Money, Greed, and God: Why Capitalism Is the Solution and Not the Problem (Harper-One, 2009).


  1. Ronald J. Sider, Rich Christians in an Age of Hunger (Nashville: W Publishing Group, 1997), 78.
  2. See Rodney Stark, The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success (New York: Random House, 2005).
  3. For a detailed history of communism/socialism, see Joshua Muravchik, Heaven on Earth: The Rise and Fall of Socialism (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2003).
  4. Tom Bethell, The Noblest Triumph: Property and Prosperity through the Ages (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 1999), 37–45.

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