Category Archives: R.J. Rushdoony

How to Rebuild a Social Order: First, Start with a Creed

Foundations of Social OrderHere is a good question for a Bible-affirming Christian to ask himself: “Why should I study the creeds?”

In other words, “I believe in Jesus.  I believe the Bible.  I believe in what it says.  I know I’m saved and I have a bright eternal future to look foward to.  Why should I look to the past?  Why should I concern myself with man-made formulations and decisions and writings that were put together centuries ago in a different time and place for different people — for reasons that no longer seem relevant to me?”

I’ll give you one good reason: because civilizations are built on them.

More to the point, because Western Civilization was built on them — meaning, the civilization you and I take for granted because it’s all we’ve ever known (you know, the one that so many who have enjoyed its benefits and advantages are quick to vilify), is historically founded on the ancient creeds and doctrinal formulations that were put together during the earliest centuries of the Christian Church to defend against her mortal enemies, and which were given to strengthen the growing society of believers and prepare them for the task of building a new social order, a new civilization to replace the one that was crumbling and disintegrating around them.

That’s why!

I wasn’t always convinced of this myself.

Having grown up Roman Catholic, I was used to creeds.  Mainly, the Nicene.  We said the Nicene Creed every Sunday at mass.  Its words always made a profound impression on me.  I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible.  And that’s just the first line!  By the time I recited the last line, the final affirmation — I look for the Resurrection of the dead, and the Life of the world to come. Amen. — I knew that I had just publicly recommitted myself, along with the rest of the congregation, to upholding the entirety of the crucial fundamentals of the historic Christian faith.

Corporate, public statements of faith are a powerful thing.

By the time I graduated from Catholic grade school and went on to atheistic, anti-Christian public high school and junior college, religious creeds and professions of faith became a thing of the past.  Their profound impressions had worn off.  At least for a while.

When I finally came around to personally embracing what I had so many times publicly stated as a child that I believed — the basic tenets of the Gospel and of the Christian faith — my newly-rekindled belief in Christ over the next few years began to move in a decidedly different direction: away from creeds and councils and “historic” Christianity.

‘Grounded’ in Scripture

You see, I became a “Bible bigot.”

What’s a Bible bigot?  John Wesley said it best.

My ground is the Bible. Yea, I am a Bible-bigot. I follow it in all things, both great and small. - John Wesley

“Nothing but the Bible, God’s Word, for me!”

Sounds admirable. Even exemplary.

Funny thing is, I didn’t practice what I preached.  (I’m not sure the Rev. Wesley did, either!)  I didn’t “follow it in all things, great and small.”  How could I when my newly-minted anti-nomianism and hyper-animosity toward anything resembling the dead, denominational “Churchianity” that I had abandoned all those years ago, was at a fever pitch?

My “New Testament” faith couldn’t possibly turn to Old Testament laws and principles — or (heaven forbid) ancient “Romish” councils and creeds and outdated statements of man-inspired religious convictions and preferences — for scripturally sound guidance let alone authoritative governance.

It was the fundamentalist non-war cry ringing in my ears: “No creed but Christ. No law but love!”

Can you relate?

Back to the Future

Then along came Calvin.  Into my life.  The Puritans.  The Reformers.  The Westminster Confession of Faith.  Historic, orthodox Protestant Christianity.  Rushdoony.  North.  Sutton.  Gentry.  Chilton.  Jordan.  Bahnsen.  “Christian Reconstruction.” “Theonomy.”

I soon shed the stifling cocoon of my former “Bible-believing” self.  My Christian worldview took to flight.  Apocalyptic, end-is-near, pessimistic pietism gave way to biblical blue skies and scripturally-grounded eschatological optimism.

Eventually, the creeds and councils and theological decisions of the early church to me became the blood, sweat, and tears and vital, living legacy of my spiritual forbears, my ancient brethren in the faith.  Valiant, doctrinal defense of the faith was the arena in which they fought, and many died.  They weren’t perfect.  But, then neither are we!  And yet the church progresses.  The faith advances.  The kingdom proceeds.  The truth stands.

Why study the creeds?

Well, because we owe it to our spiritual forbears.  It is the blood, sweat and tears of a vibrant theological legacy they have bequeathed to us!  We also owe it to our civilization, whose very life is built on them, and whose very survival depends on the preservation and revitalization of that legacy.

So, let’s move forward.

How Firm a Foundation

I start with Rushdoony’s Preface, which he wrote in 1998, a full thirty years after the original publication (1968) of Foundations of Social Order.

Here, he says that the critical theme in all of his writings is the integral relationship between the theological doctrines of the church and the civic health and life of the society around it.  When doctrine and theology are abstracted from life, the result is disaster and evil.  The loss of sound theology in the church leads to decay in the Christian life.

And when the early church was busy “hammering out definitions of doctrines” in its creeds and councils, it was also “laying down the foundations of Christendom” along  with them.  I get the sense in reading the accounts later in the book that they knew they were doing much more than merely engaging in intellectual and theological debate over rhetoric and the nuances of pious prose.  They knew there was much more at stake: their lives and their very societies.

Rushdoony cites legal scholar Harold J. Berman and his book, Law and Revolution, where Berman discusses how the doctrine of Christ’s atonement literally “reshaped” law and society, and also how “the present decline of that doctrine is leading to the death of Western civilization.”

Thus, Rushdoony concludes (he can do no other): “the foundation of true social order can only be in the triune God and His enscripturated truth and word.”

So, let’s take a look at one of those early foundations.

The Apostles’ Creed and Creedalism

Why even have a creed?

That’s a fundamental question you have to answer before you even begin to go to the trouble of putting one together.  The apostles and the early church had the Gospels, the Epistles, ultimately the entire Old Testament and New Testament, plus letters, sermons, tracts and treatises that were composed, written, preached, copied and shared throughout the churches in the inhabited regions of the empire.

Lots of theological information being spread around, disseminated.  In that environment, what purpose does a creed serve?

Here is the answer (from Rushdoony):

The creed is the door to the house of faith.  It is the minimal statement of belief.

Moreover, he adds,

It is intensely personal.

“Intensely personal”?  Creeds?

Rushdoony points out that creeds were written for the individual, who had to affirm every article of the creed as “his personal faith.  This meant that a believer was held accountable for what he said he believed personally, rather than corporately.  Here is where you find one of the peculiar differences between the Eastern church and the Western church, in the formulation of their creeds.  The Eastern church (Greek) uses the first person plural “we”, while the Western church (Latin) uses the first person singular “I”.

Result: there’s less wiggle room in the Western church for an errant believer to walk back from what he said!  But this also has resulted in the Western church being more open to reforms and more successful at summoning and marshalling the loyalty of the faithful.

Creeds were born of necessity.  Churches were collective affairs. They still are.  To join one, you had to least give assent to the basic tenets of what that church taught and believed.  These basic tenets had to be boiled down from a large and growing body of literature (and opinion).  Thus were born these brief, personal “statements of faith”.

The Apostles’ Creed was so called because it was written by early church leaders to briefly summarize apostolic teaching and preaching.  There’s no exaggeration or misrepresentation in the title, though, since the authenticity of its doctrinal pedigree is based on the fact that “all of its articles are to be found in theological formulas that were current around A.D. 100.”

In other words, you can take it to the bank.

The only question is, which version would you take to the bank?  The creed has gone thought several rewrites over the last two millennia.  Rushdoony includes the texts of: The Old Roman Form (A.D. 390), The Received Form (A.D. 700), and an early English form (pre-1066)

Here is what Wikipedia has to say about it.

Here is a typical modern version:

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
      creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
      who was conceived by the Holy Spirit
      and born of the virgin Mary.
      He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
      was crucified, died, and was buried;
      he descended to hell.
      The third day he rose again from the dead.
      He ascended to heaven
      and is seated at the right hand of God the Father almighty.
      From there he will come to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
      the holy catholic* church,
      the communion of saints,
      the forgiveness of sins,
      the resurrection of the body,
      and the life everlasting. Amen.

*that is, the true Christian church of all times and all places

Rushdoony points out that the Apostles’ Creed is different from all other religious creeds (Buddhist, Muslim, Hindu, humanist, etc.). Radically different. How?  Instead of being a “body of ideas or claims concerning reality” (as all of those are), it “offers a synopsis of history.”  In fact, the whole creed is a declaration concerning history.

He discusses the Creed further, along with some interesting quotes by Tertullian, Irenaeus, and the church historian Schaff, drawing attention to the fact that Schaff at the end of his excerpt declares, unequivocally, “Without a correct doctrine of creation there can be no true doctrine of redemption.”  Thus, Rushdoony notes, all of the early creeds begin with God as creator, the starting point of all that follows.

Finally, he observes that “biblical creedalism” is passive: an assent by man that he is a recipient of God’s gracious act of redemption. Yet this gives man ground for “true activity”: to move in terms of true law, the canon of Scripture, “to exercise dominion over the earth in the name of the triune God.  Christian creedalism is thus basic to Western activism, constitutionalism, and hope concerning history.”

Next: Nicea!

By the way, The Foundations of Social Order can be purchased new from Chalcedon Foundation (you can also read it online for free there), and buy new or used from Amazon and other resellers.


VIDEO: How to Understand Rousas John Rushdoony

Well, you can start by getting his name right!

That’s what the late R. J. Rushdoony’s son, Mark R. Rushdoony, wanted you to know right from the get-go when he gave this talk about his dad earlier this year.

It’s hard to believe that the movement begun by his dad — after he had coined the term “Christian Reconstruction” to refer to the rebuilding task Christians have in this world — is now in its 6th decade of existence.

Here, Mark Rushdoony offers a unique perspective on the man: the perspective of a son growing up under his father’s ministry from its earliest days.  He speaks of the men who shaped his thinking, and the experiences that formed his approach to applying the Bible to all areas of life.

This was the first of several very interesting and insightful lectures given at Branch of Hope Church (OPC) in Torrance, California.

I plan on posting more of these.  Stay tuned!

How to Be a Biblical Christian… On Purpose!

Andrea Schwartz

Andrea Schwartz has written a helpful “how to” piece, published in the current (March/April 2013) issue of Chalcedon’s Faith for All of Life, called “The Virtue of Deliberate Christianity.”

Two key words in the title: virtue and deliberate.  Problem: American Christians, by and large, I think, are not known for being either “virtuous” or “deliberate” in their faith. Whether it’s “living out” their faith, “sharing” their faith, or (heaven forbid) strongly and positively proclaiming and fearlessly defending their faith, those who do so on any consistent basis are usually branded as “extremists” (or radical) and considered “outside the mainstream” of evangelical Christianity.

Problem: God calls us to be virtuous and deliberate in our faith.

Solution: Become virtuous and deliberate Christians!

How do we do that?

Andrea says that, first, we need to understand how the Bible defines virtue. (Hint: it has to do with a lot more than just sexual purity and moral uprightness.)  Virtue, in ancient times, meant “strength, courage and excellence.”  Biblically, the word means force, strength of mind or body, and power.  And, as spoken of in Proverbs 31, virtue means strength of character, “the wise use of abilities” and a demonstrated competence in one’s exercise of those abilities.

Second, because biblical virtue is “deliberate,” we need to be deliberate about exercising our faith.  (Intentional would be another, currently popular, way of putting it.)  This is not just “a good idea” –Andrea says it is our DUTY as Christians!

In a family setting,

“The goal is to advance a mindset of keeping the law-word of God and functioning within its guidelines as the way we demonstrate our love for Christ.”

We need to be straightforward about our faith, not subtle. We need to be deliberate about passing on a distinctively Christian world-and-life-view to our children. And we need to “instill a purposeful Christianity” in them in a thoughtful, loving, scripturally-sound way. Andrea relates how she and her husband dealt with a beloved family pet that had suddenly become a menace and a threat to the safety of everyone around, and how they applied the law of God to help them decide the right way to handle that situation–and then used that as a “teachable moment” for their children. Godly instruction in action!

There is power in virtuous, “purpose-driven” Christianity — driven by God’s law-word and by God’s purposeful covenant of grace.

Read further for more practical wisdom…


The Virtue of Deliberate Christianity

By Andrea Schwartz – bio

Who can find a virtuous woman? for her price is far above rubies. (Prov. 31:10)

Many daughters have done virtuously, but thou excellest them all. (Prov. 31:29)

When we speak of a virtuous woman, we often limit the meaning to sexual purity or the absence of sinful actions in her life. However, as R. J. Rushdoony points out, there is a much more positive connotation attached to the word “virtue”:

The word “virtue” comes from the Latin and meant originally “strength, courage, and excellence.” In the Old and New Testaments, the words in Hebrew and Greek translated as “virtue” mean in the original languages “force, strength of mind or body, and power.” The meaning of “power” as virtue is clear in Luke 6:19 and 8:46.

In Proverbs 31:10 and 29, the virtuous woman is a strong woman, strong in character and in her abilities. In Proverbs 12:4, we read, “A virtuous woman is a crown to her husband: but she that maketh ashamed is as rottenness in his bones.” Because a virtuous woman is morally and in every other way strong and capable, she adds so greatly to her husband’s calling that she enables him to be a ruler or king in his realm, whereas a morally weak and incompetent wife is a source of shame and weakness, “as rottenness in his bones.” A husband lacking virtue is fully as disastrous as his wife, if not more so.

Virtue thus in its Biblical meaning is strength, moral strength, the wise use of abilities, and a general competence.1

The virtuous woman of Proverbs 31 can best be described as deliberate in her actions and duties. Her decisions and undertakings are purposefully in line with her calling, resulting in such a well-run family that her husband’s ability to carry out his dominion role is enhanced. Additionally, as her children mature, they praise their mother for her investment in them because they see the fruits of her efforts in their lives.

How does a young girl arrive at the place in life with the ability to step into the shoes of the immense calling described in this last chapter of Proverbs? Rushdoony points out that this comes through training from a very early age.

A boy or girl reared without the discipline of work, self-government, and moral force thus lacks virtue in the Biblical sense …

Virtue is the strong and positive faithfulness to every word of God, and a courageous stand for the Lord in every area of life and thought. Virtue in the Bible means power. Today, as always, true virtue is God’s power at work in this world through men.2

Thus, it is the duty of every family to establish a deliberate Christianity as the norm for the household. The mother’s day-to-day interaction with her children is especially important in this pursuit. The goal is to advance a mindset of keeping the law-word of God and functioning within its guidelines as the way we demonstrate our love for Christ.


Webster’s 1828 Dictionary defines the adjective deliberate:

1. Weighing facts and arguments with a view to a choice or decision; carefully considering the probable consequences of a step; circumspect; slow in determining; applies to persons; as a deliberate judge or counselor.

2. Formed with deliberation; well advised or considered; not sudden or rash; as a deliberate opinion; a deliberate measure, or result.

From a very early age, children must be taught the standard of behavior that conforms to the commandments of God. Only with this standard can infractions and disobediences be properly understood and dealt with. Children need to comprehend that every sin is an offense against God, whether or not there has been damage done to another person. With grace, young ones will grow and mature in obedience knowing that they will be held accountable for their actions (Eccl. 12:13-14).

Proverbs 3:5-6 tells us to “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.” All things that we think, do, or say must be analyzed by the Word of God looking to Jesus as the embodiment of that Word in the flesh. That is a tall order. It involves a number of things:

  1. Knowing the Word sufficiently to “weigh” one’s thoughts, words, and actions to determine if they are in conformity to God’s standards.
  2. Understanding the application(s) in day-to-day life
  3. Having the conviction to remain within the parameters the Bible prescribes.

The Bible makes clear in numerous places that we accomplish this by being straightforward and deliberate in our witness of our new life in Christ:

Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on an hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick; and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven. (Matt. 5:14-16)

He that is not with me is against me; and he that gathereth not with me scattereth abroad (Matthew 12:30).

Straightforward vs. Subtle

Because the Great Commission given by Jesus before His ascension is a mandate rather than a suggestion, impacting the culture for Christ is not an optional activity for the Christian. In a time when Christianity is derided and belittled, many believers decide the best way to “win” people to Christ is by subtlety. Their concern is that being direct with people will “turn them off” and they, all too often, are so subtle that their intended audience misses their point entirely.

If we look at the early church and its confrontations with the culture of its day, we note that subtlety was not the preferred weapon used to combat the prevailing pagan ideology. In fact, we see disciples being beaten, jailed, and killed because of their out-in-the-open, unswerving adherence to Jesus as King of kings and Lord of lords and His law-word.

In contrast to much of what passes as Christianity in our day, a study of the saints in Foxe’s Book of Martyrs shows that they were deliberate in aligning themselves with the Savior and lost their lives as a result. The virtue (power) of their stance may have cost them their lives, but it encouraged greater numbers to see their light and become followers of Christ.3

In America, if we are deliberate in proclaiming the need for repentance and Christ as the solution to our guilt and sin, we may avoid being beaten, or fired, or jailed for our identification as Christians. But this is not true for our brothers and sisters in Africa, China, or the Middle East. In many parts of the world, deliberate Christianity is a challenge to those who rail at Christ, and believers pay a huge price. However, like Christians through the centuries, they consider their sufferings small compared to the sufferings of Christ who redeemed them and restored them to fellowship with the Father. Sometime in America, we may face the same persecution for our deliberate Christianity.

Many believe that if they model Christianity rather than explicitly share it (“Preach the Gospel. Use words if necessary.”), they will win souls. St. Paul appears to disagree

13. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”

14. How then will they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching?

15. And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!”

16. But they have not all obeyed the gospel. For Isaiah says, “Lord, who has believed what he has heard from us?”

17. So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ. (Romans 10:13-17, ESV)

A deliberate Christian education is a MUST for any professing/confessing family because allowing anti-Christian worldviews and practices to be presented to children as fact produces a schizophrenic/conflicted mindset. When the Bible’s absolutes are challenged without resistance on a daily basis, is it any wonder that so many children from Christian homes abandon the faith after graduating from statist schools? The absence of a deliberate Christianity permits the humanistic/materialistic/secularist worldview to win the day.

Getting into Shape

When my children were younger and I coached them in preparation for a performance, whether it was a piano recital, a speech, or a drama, I emphasized that all their actions and words should be delivered in a deliberate fashion. I stressed that in order to convey to an audience that they were confident in what they were communicating, it was necessary to be aware of everything that they were doing. I had many examples to point to. Among them were world-class gymnasts and figure skaters. It was always easy to see those who were coached very well and had embraced the particulars of their sport. If you’ve ever seen stop-action photography of these athletes, you can see that they are being deliberate right down to the tips of their fingers and toes. No movement is unpracticed or unrehearsed, and the smoother and more effortless it looks, the more time and effort were put in to achieving it. No gymnast or skater accidentally delivers an excellent performance.

Why don’t believers put the same emphasis on deliberate Christianity? The command to be ready always to give a reason for the hope that is within us is a directive to demonstrate in our thinking, conversation, and actions that what we do is predicated on living our life according to God’s law-word.

When do you instill a purposeful Christianity? First of all, you can’t instill something you don’t possess. The first step is to make this a priority in your own life. Do your children witness you making your decisions in a deliberately Biblical way? Do you consider any decision beyond the scope of Scripture? The young ones who look to you for guidance should be able to conclude that you live your life in accordance with the declarative statement,

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.
(2 Tim. 3:16-17)

I believe many sincere Christians hold back on giving testimony to their faith because they are concerned they will do a poor job of giving a Biblical answer to questions that may be raised. Being ready to give an answer for the hope that is within (a command rather than a suggestion) will follow from living out a deliberate Christianity. Being salt and light arebyproducts of a deliberate Christianity. As a result, providing an explanation should be as natural as reciting our residence address, phone number, or email address. We are ready with an answer because we have done what we’ve done intentionally.

Passing the Torch

How can parents teach their children this purposeful Christianity? Initially it comes by way of example. Children should regularly witness their parents making lifestyle choices (where to live, how to educate, where to work, where to worship, where to shop) based on conformity to God’s Word. God’s Word does not always mandate the details, but provides the guidelines and parameters for our decisions.

I recall an incident that involved one of our pets. Our English Springer Spaniel had been attacked by another dog and almost lost his life. Although he recovered from his injury after surgery for a punctured lung, our dog was never the same. We were no longer able to take him out to run on an adjacent field or for walks in the neighborhood; he was skittish of other animals and would respond aggressively. We had to keep him away from visitors because he would often growl. Eventually he became unpredictable even around my children. One evening my daughter dropped a paper towel and the dog began to eat it. She reached down to get it from him. The dog growled, lunged at her, and made an effort to bite her. Although he didn’t succeed, I became convinced that it was no longer appropriate to have this animal as a pet.

My husband and I went to the Scriptures to determine our course of action. We knew that the dog had serious issues and felt it would be dishonest to give the dog to another family or even the pound for adoption. We knew that providentially we had avoided a trip to the emergency room for our daughter. We went to God’s Word for guidance.

When an ox gores a man or a woman to death, the ox shall be stoned, and its flesh shall not be eaten, but the owner of the ox shall not be liable. But if the ox has been accustomed to gore in the past, and its owner has been warned but has not kept it in, and it kills a man or a woman, the ox shall be stoned, and its owner also shall be put to death. (Ex. 21:28-29)

Because we had both been students of Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law, we also knew to look at his chapter on The Sixth Commandment for instruction. In the section “Restitution or Restoration,” he discusses injuries to persons by animals.

[I]f an animal owned by a man were guilty of the injury; if the animal had no previous record of violence to man, then the animal died (and of course the injured person was cared for and compensated). But if the animal had a previous record of violence, the owner now became liable to the death penalty for murder. (Ex. 21:28-29).4

It became a clear-cut decision that we needed to put the dog down, that we couldn’t risk another incident. Having a Biblical law that said I would be liable for the death penalty got my attention. However, I had children who loved this dog, and my daughter was convinced this was all her fault. I knew I needed to explain that God’s law required me to act and that sentimentality, emotion, and our love for the animal were not good reasons to violate it.

The next day, my daughter and I brought the dog to the pound and remained with him throughout the procedure until it was completed. For days, amidst the tears and sorrow over losing an animal that we had loved for eight years, we discussed the wisdom of God’s law and the need to follow it even when it hurts.

Power in our Testimony

The very purpose of being ambassadors for the Lord Jesus Christ in our everyday lives is to manifest His grace as we follow His law. We don’t want to be guilty of having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof (2 Tim. 3:5), since St. Paul warns us to turn away from such people. God’s claims are total and we should abandon the practice of being “subtle” in carrying out the Great Commission.5 Rather we should be deliberate as we inject commentary, opinions, decisions, and ideas with the highest priority being that are we being faithful. As Rushdoony points out,

Our God makes a total claim on our lives, and on our money, too; He requires that our children be given to Him also. How do we respond to Him? Are we rich toward ourselves and poor towards God? Do we have time for everything except His Word? Do we want Him only when we need Him?

If we do not have the power of God in our lives, it is because we are denying it; it may well be that we do not want God to interfere too much with our lifestyle. The mere “form of godliness” will get us no further with the Lord than an imitation airline ticket will get us a flight.

Serve the Lord with all your heart, mind, and being with your life, your money, and your family. Go for the power!6

1. R. J. Rushdoony, A Word in Season Vol. 4 (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2012), 15.

2. R. J. Rushdoony, A Word in Season Vol. 4 (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2012), 15-16. Of course the term “men” here refers to both men and women.

3. Foxe’s Book of Martyrs is available in many formats and should be incorporated into family devotions and the study of church history. Peter Hammond of Frontline Fellowship has an excellent audio CD, Heroes of the Faith, in which he shares many stories of deliberate Christianity.

4. R. J. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law Vol. 1 (The Craig Press, 1973), 274.

5. In no way is the call to deliberate Christianity a call to arrogance, pride, or insults. The message of the Cross is offensive; we are not commanded to be offensive.

6. R. J. Rushdoony, A Word in Season Vol. 4 (Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2012), 37-38.

Andrea Schwartz is the Chalcedon Foundation’s active proponent of Christian education and matters relating to the family. She’s the author of six books dealing with homeschooling and the family. Her latest books are Woman of the House and Family Matters. She oversees the Chalcedon Teacher Training Institute ( and continues to mentor, lecture, and teach. Visit her website She lives in San Jose with her husband of 37 years. She can be reached by email at


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The Libertarian Theology of Rushdoony and the Christian Reconstruction Movement

R. J. Rushdoony

Here is an essay that Gary North says offers an accurate assessment of the origins and development of the Christian Reconstruction movement and its theological (and political) principles.

It was written in 2007 by a Ph.D. candidate at Ohio State University, Michael J. McVicar (posted in his blog, June 2012).  Neither a “hit piece” nor a ringing endorsement.  But, I am warning you!  It paints a rather stark (yet relatively bias-free, though it’s a little prickly towards the Tyler, Texas side of the ledger) picture of the major players — Rousas J. Rushdoony and Gary North — as well as other key figures who helped shape and define the movement, how it came into being, how it ultimately came to split into disparate camps, and how the movement, in McVicar’s opinion, fares “today” (2007).

Now, this is not a “decline and fall” kind of an article.  It is more of an academic — and critical — summary of a very broad and deep intellectual and theological school of thought which, while it initially launched from a single port, has now — almost because of rather than in spite of the rifts and disputes of its leaders — sailed far and wide and has carried its “Christian libertarian” message to lands more distant and in ways far different from what its founders may have originally intended or anticipated.

For those of you who embrace the biblical-theological-eschatological message of Christian Reconstruction (and even if you don’t!), this article may serve to “connect the dots” and fill in the timeline of your understanding a little bit better with “the good, the bad and the ugly” of how we got here, where we came from, where we’re going and where we stand as a movement.

If anything, it shows the human side of fallible but gifted men who have played strategic, providential roles in moving the certain advancement of the kingdom of God forward to the “next level” of integration and transformation.

My main criticism is that it portrays Rushdoony’s objective (and by extension, the objective of his colleagues) as that of founding a “theocratic America” rather than fostering a theonomic, self-governing, self-consciously biblical Christianity, both in America and around the world.  And regarding Gary North, well, once you get used to his in-your-face analysis and “acrid prose,” his writing becomes music to your ears!

(Compare this with an alternate assessment (“Christian Reconstruction is alive and well”) written from a pastor’s perspective, that is more recent (and more brief), which I comment on here.)


The Libertarian Theocrats

By Michael J. McVicar, Fall 2007

In their struggle to understand George W. Bush, some liberal intellectuals have looked to the writings of Rousas John Rushdoony, the Armenian-American minister whose championing of a theocratic America influenced some of the nooks and crannies of the Christian Right during its rise to prominence. For example Mark Crispin Miller, in his frontal assault on George W. Bush’s response to the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks,1 charges that Bush not only acted unconstitutionally, but in his religious imagery echoed the infiltration of Rushdoony’s ideas into his Administration (and the Republican Party at large). Miller interprets Rushdoony’s theology as a call for Christians to take “dominion” over all aspects of the federal government and replace it with a theocracy.2 “With their eyes on the future, those [Rushdoony followers] at work on forging an all-Christian USA are overjoyed that Bush is president, for they correctly see the regime’s imposition on the people as itself a signal victory for their movement.”3

But a spokesman for the think tank Rushdoony founded told me Miller is wrong (Rushdoony himself died in 2001). Registering disgust, Chris Ortiz of the Chalcedon Foundation in Vallecito, California, explained that Christian Reconstructionists, as they call themselves, think the war in Iraq is both immoral and ungodly. Not only are a good many stridently critical of the Bush administration, Ortiz said, he agreed with Miller’s indictment of Bush, which he heard during a recent radio interview. At best, some Reconstructionists might see Bush as a well-intentioned fool, Ortiz told me. Many see him as a manipulative politician who snowballed the American people into supporting his disastrous presidency.

Those casually familiar with Rushdoony and Christian Reconstruction may find Ortiz’s comments befuddling since a recent spat of popular books like Miller’s Cruel and Unusual have argued the exact opposite, identifying Rushdoony and his followers as allies of the Bush administration. Ortiz surely wants to distance himself from a failing president, but his remarks also reveal a Reconstructionist distaste for the hard, government-centered politics that brought Christian conservatives into the corridors of Beltway power.

Since the movement’s emergence in the mid-1960s, Christian Reconstruction has always been a little different from other factions of American conservatism. Not surprisingly, the movement wins attention for Rushdoony’s call for the eventual end of democracy in favor of a Christian theocracy, and his insistence that a “godly order” would enforce the death penalty for homosexuals and those who worship false idols.4 But Christian Reconstructionists insist that they have always been uncomfortable with authoritarian institutions of political power because, unlike Pat Robertson and Jerry Falwell, Rushdoony wedded his rigid theological perspective with a libertarian perspective that looked outside the boundaries of popular conservatism for answers to the problems facing the United States.

“Christian Libertarians”

At first glance, the phrase “Christian libertarian” seems a contradiction, especially when one applies it to Dominionists – as the full range of those calling for a Christian nation are called – and Christian Reconstructionists. It is true that today a secular – and in some cases rabidly atheistic – tendency dominates libertarianism. But this has not always been the case.

During the 1930s, a wide variety of business, intellectual, and religious leaders banded together to attack Roosevelt’s New Deal policies. Those who emphasized the sovereignty of the individual citizen, resistance to a centralized bureaucracy, and the benefits of unfettered free market capitalism eventually coalesced into the libertarian movement that we know today. For a brief period into the 1940s, these anti-New Deal forces formed an alliance with Protestant religious leaders determined to resist “socialistic” tendencies within the church.5 While this cooperation was short-lived, it had a profound impact on the contemporary Christian Right.

The chief target of these economically conservative evangelical clergymen was the Social Gospel, a wide-ranging theological and social movement rooted in the late 19th century whose champions sought to fight poverty and improve the conditions of America’s poorest using the government to regulate market forces. The Social Gospelers pulled together across denominational lines to advocate for a heightened awareness of labor conditions in the country. But the movement had a theological side; its clergy tended to emphasize the corporate, collective nature of salvation. Moreover, many were willing to embrace evolutionary theory as a means of explaining human origins. Such a naturalistic perspective led to a willingness to see human beings as the product of their material and social environment.

Like many in the Progressive Era, the reform-minded period before World War I, the Social Gospelers believed that legislation and government regulation could change Americans for the better by changing the social environment in which they lived. By focusing attention on the social context that drives individuals to sin, the social gospel seemed to downplay the individual, embodied experience of salvation that American evangelicals have traditionally sought.6 Not surprisingly, many prosperous American churchgoers found the emphasis on economic justice over the saving of souls to be yet another expression of the “socialistic” threat to the American way of life.

While the social gospel lost much of its impulse during the economic boom following the war, popular interest in the movement reignited during the Great Depression of the 1930s. To resist this renewed influence – and defend capitalism – the alliance between business and religious leaders sought to reemphasize individual spiritual regeneration and to downplay the effects of social constraints on individual choices.

In 1935, Rev. James Fifield of Chicago formed Mobilization for Spiritual Ideals to address these concerns. Popularly known as Spiritual Mobilization, Fifield’s operation earned the fiscal support of such right-wing philanthropists as J. Howard Pew of Sun Oil, Jasper Crane of DuPont, and B.E. Hutchinson of Chrysler. Facing the daunting task of resisting nearly five decades of entrenched liberal Protestant teaching and the harsh reality of the Depression, Fifield recruited preachers and laymen eager to resist the massive redistribution of wealth envisioned by President Roosevelt. His appeal was simplistic but effective. American clergymen needed to start preaching the Eighth Commandment: “Thou shalt not steal.” In this, the shortest commandment, Fifield and his followers believed they had found the biblical basis for private property and a limit to the government’s ability to redistribute wealth, tax, and otherwise impede commerce.7

In order to undermine government-sponsored economic redistribution, the ministers and laymen Fifield hired focused on the spiritual causes of poverty rather than the social concerns of the Social Gospelers. The New Deal and the conflicts with the Nazis and Soviets were manifestations of humankind’s rejection of God’s divinity for that of a centralized bureaucracy. An all-powerful bureaucracy, they warned, usurped the “Christian principle of love” with the “collectivist principle of compulsion.”8 Beginning in 1949, the Christ-centered free market ideals of Spiritual Mobilization reached nearly fifty thousand pastors and ministers via the organization’s publication, Faith and Freedom.9 With the rhetorical flare of such libertarian luminaries as the Congregationalist minister Edmund A. Opitz, the Austrian economist Ludwig von Mises, and the anarchist Murray Rothbard, Faith and Freedom moved many clergymen to embrace its anti-tax, non-interventionist, anti-statist economic model.

In his Faith and Freedom articles, Opitz formulated a systematic theology in support of capitalism, merging economic responsibility with individual salvation to form a “libertarian theology of freedom.”10 In assessing the threat of communism and fascism, Opitz argued that the solution was not collective political action. Instead, he noted that the “crisis is in man himself, in each individual regardless of his occupation, education, or nationality.”11Jesus’ Good News was that “the Kingdom of God is within you,” making every man’s salvation an internalized, personal matter. In Opitz’s reading, Jesus’ gospel becomes the basis for a radical individualism that “was the foundation upon which this [American] republic was established.”12

By the mid-1950s, prominent secular libertarian organizations like the Foundation for Economic Education (FEE) and the Intercollegiate Society of Individualists (ISI) began to supplant Spiritual Mobilization’s influence in libertarian circles. In fact, many of Faith and Freedom‘s regular contributors like Opitz and Rothbard13 left Spiritual Mobilization and began writing for FEE’s publication, The Freeman. Further, Ayn Rand’s atheistic Objectivism pulled many libertarians away from the Christian ideals of Spiritual Mobilization.

While secular libertarianism triumphed, the remnants of its Christian heritage persisted among a small cadre of thinkers and activists who were reluctant to completely jettison Christ from the economy. Spiritual Mobilization helped a generation of theologically and economically conservative clergy find an alternative to the Social Gospel, New Deal, and communism that resonated with their traditional values, pro-business sympathies, and Christian faith. Faith and Freedom encouraged clergymen to see government as a problem, not a solution. The solution wasn’t to take over the government; it was to replace it with something radically different.

The Libertarian Theology of R. J. Rushdoony

Among the many ministers who read Faith and Freedom was a young Presbyterian pastor living in Santa Cruz, California, named R. J. Rushdoony. Rushdoony was attracted to Faith and Freedom‘s consistent warnings of the dangers of a centralized governmental bureaucracy. Born in New York City in 1916 to survivors of the Armenian Genocide, Rushdoony knew the dangers of centralized power all too well. Just a year before his birth in the States, Rushdoony’s older brother Rousas George died during the Ottoman Siege of Van, becoming one of 1.5 million Armenians eventually killed byTurkish forces.14 Rushdoony’s father Y. K. Rushdoony secured his family’s escape first to Russia and eventually to New York City.

Beyond the dangers of governmental violence, Rushdoony was also particularly attracted to Faith and Freedom‘s articles on public education.15 Like many conservative clergymen, Rushdoony saw public schools as hotbeds for collectivist indoctrination and anti-Christian pluralism. Faith and Freedom suggested that it was just to resist compulsory public education, but Rushdoony found the publication’s writers to be inadequate theologians. Therefore, during the 1950s Rushdoony set about to provide a systematic theological justification for Christians to reject public education and embrace locally organized, independent Christian schools. Deploying a unique blend of libertarianism with the most rigorous Calvinistic theology he could muster, Rushdoony delivered a series of lectures on Christian education. When Rushdoony collected the lectures into a single volume, Intellectual Schizophrenia, Edmund Optiz wrote an enthusiastic foreword and helped to secure Rushdoony’s position as a rising star in the Christian libertarian movement.

It is important to understand Rushdoony’s critique of public education, because it is a microcosm of his broader theological project. As a theologian Rushdoony saw human beings as primarily religious creatures bound to God, not as rational autonomous thinkers. While this may seem an esoteric theological point, it isn’t. All of Rushdoony’s influence on the Christian Right stems from this single, essential fact. Many critics of Christian Reconstructionism assume that Rushdoony’s unique contribution to the Christian Right was his focus on theocracy. In fact, Rushdoony’s primary innovation was his single-minded effort to popularize a pre-Enlightenment, medieval view of a God-centered world. By de-emphasizing humanity’s ability to reason independently of God, Rushdoony attacked the assumptions most of us uncritically accept.

Following the lead of the Reformed theologians Herman Dooyeweerd and Cornelius Van Til,16 Rushdoony argued that all human knowledge is invalid if it is not rooted in the Bible. In his first book, By What Standard, published in 1958, Rushdoony summarized the ideas of Van Til and Dooyeweerd. Van Til, a Reformed Presbyterian teaching at Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia, offered a radical critique of all human knowledge, arguing that it emerges from one’s theological presumptions (e.g. there is one God, many gods, or no god). For Christians, that means a three-in-one Christian God is the source of reliable human knowledge.

The implications of Van Til’s thought are far reaching. As Rushdoony explains, mankind’s first sin was an ethical fact with consequences for the nature of knowledge: when Eve succumbed to the Serpent’s temptation to “be as gods, knowing good from evil,” she asserted her own intellectual autonomy over that of God’s.17 Mankind’s “fall” into sin was precipitated by a desire to reason independently from God’s authority.18 Rushdoony extended Van Til’s ideas to their logical end to argue that all non-Christian knowledge is sinful, invalid nonsense. The only valid knowledge that non-Christians possess is “stolen” from “Christian-theistic” sources.19

In Rushdoony’s thought, knowledge becomes a matter of disputed sovereignty. Every thought that does not begin with God and the Bible is rebellious: “Man seeks to think creatively rather than think God’s thoughts after Him. Evil is the result of man’s rebellion against God…. Man’s fall was his attempt to become the original interpreter rather than the re-interpreter, to be the ultimate instead of the proximate source of knowledge.”20 Accordingly, humanity’s pretence to independent knowledge becomes a matter of rebellion against God’s Kingdom because “any attempt to know and control the future outside of God is to set up another god in contempt of the LORD.”21 Rushdoony made thinking an explicitly religious activity, a shift in focus with political implications: thinking becomes a matter of kingship, power, rebellion, and, in the final analysis, warfare. Either human thought recognizes God’s sovereignty, or it doesn’t. There is no middle ground, no compromise. It is a war between those who, like Rushdoony, think God’s thoughts after Him and those who do not.

If thinking and education are a matter of God’s disputed sovereignty, then Rushdoony believed that Christians who turned their children over to public schools were in open rebellion against God. In Rushdoony’s view, court orders forcing public schools to cease prayer and bible readings actually removed the only possible foundation for viable knowledge. Following such earlier Presbyterian luminaries as A.A. Hodge (1823-1886) and J. Gresham Machen (1881-1937), Rushdoony’s solution was to remove one’s children from public schools and to educate them in an explicitly Christian environment. Such an action brings both child and parent into accord with the “fundamental task of Christian education,” which, Rushdoony summarized, is to exercise dominion, “subduing the earth agriculturally, scientifically, culturally, artistically, in every way asserting the crown rights of King Jesus in every realm of life.”22

In many of the Faith and Freedom articles published during the 1940s and 1950s, Rushdoony saw a reservoir of popular discontent with compulsory public education and he hoped to develop it as an explicitly Christian resistance to the authority of centralized political structures. In this sense, Rushdoony was a shepherd in search of a flock and the libertarians looked more promising than alternatives. When Edmund Opitz helped secure Rushdoony a position with a small but influential libertarian organization known as the Volker Fund in 1962, Rushdoony moved to exert his unique brand of Calvinist-inspired libertarianism on the organization. He began writing a host of position papers that attacked public education, reinterpreted American history in starkly Christian terms (see box), and advocated for the regeneration of America along explicitly Christian lines. After some internal wrangling, the Fund fired Rushdoony in 1963, but the separation was gentle, giving Rushdoony the necessary resources to write two more books.

Rushdoony’s dismissal from the Fund reflected many of the secularizing changes in American libertarianism of that time. As libertarianism evolved into a more mainstream movement, it forced most of its religious defenders to the side. Rushdoony was but one casualty in this process. By the time he left the Fund, however, he had secured enough experience as a grant writer and public lecturer to set his own course. In 1965, he founded the Chalcedon Foundation, an educational organization that he used to popularize his call for a “Christian Reconstruction” of American society. In the process of forming Chalcedon, Rushdoony decided to mentor an ambitious college student who shared his passion for libertarian economics and Christianity. Their relationship would prove one of the most fascinating – and volatile – in the history of the Christian Right….

(This is a LONG essay! Continue reading here.)

So Why Do They Hate Rushdoony’s ‘Institutes of Biblical Law’ So Much?

Biblical-Law stone tables

If you pull out a copy of R. J. Rushdoony’s seminal work, The Institutes of Biblical Law (vol. 1, especially)–that path-breaking, paradigm-shifting, pietism-slaying, antinomianism-busting book which essentially launched the Christian Reconstruction movement into orbit in 1973–and set it in front of your average evangelical, or even Reformed, Bible-believing Christian today, you’re liable to get one of two reactions: (1), “What do I care about ‘biblical law?’ After all, we’re under grace not law!“, or, (2), “Aaagggghhhh! Away with that heretical book!  Take it out of my theologically-prejudiced, Jesus-will-be-here-any-minute-now-so-don’t-confuse-me-with-new-biblical-data-that-I-don’t-agree-with presence.  My pastor warned me about THOSE PEOPLE!”

I’m sure he did.

And that’s the problem.

Theonomy, optimistic, postmillennial eschatology and a Christian’s responsibility to apply his faith (comprised authoritatively in both the Old and New Testaments) in EVERY area of life–including politics and culture–are, even now, “foreign” concepts in many Christian circles.  And even though they continue to gain a hearing in some churches and a following among more biblically and historically enlightened Christians, these and other ideas and concepts garnered from the vast mother lode of Christian Reconstructionist resources are still among the undesirable “stones” that are routinely rejected by the “builders” of Christ’s kingdom since the last century.

This is from Martin G. Selbrede at Chalcedon Foundation.  It is the feature article in the Jan./Feb. edition of their official publication, Faith for All of Life.  He discusses the impact that Rushdoony’s Institutes and its teachings on biblical law have had over the years and are having in certain churches and among certain Christians, and why it is having that impact.

Get into a comfortable chair, maybe get a little something hot to drink, and savor what Martin–that is, Mr. Selbrede–has to share with you.

You’re going to like this!


Another Rejected Stone

By Martin G. Selbrede
Men invariably find themselves on the wrong side of the great reversals wrought by God. The things men regard highly, He esteems lightly. He uses the simple to confound the wise, and the weak to overcome the strong. The stone the builders reject becomes the chief cornerstone (Ps. 118:22, Matt. 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17). While this particular scripture involves the rejection of the Messiah, it nonetheless establishes a general mode of behavior that Christians seem dead set on repeating. Christian leaders building the edifice of evangelical Christianity for the last half-century have been quick to refuse many stones they’ve deemed to be unsuitable building materials for God’s Kingdom.

For good reason did the translators of the King James Version select the term refuse to express the builders’ attitude to the stone that God intends for “the head stone of the corner” in Psalm 118:22.  God’s people treated the Lawgiver the same way they treated His laws. Our contemporary misconceptions concerning His law are legion, so much so that when God asks “How long refuse ye to keep my commandments and my laws,” we are certain this was uttered some time after the law was delivered on Sinai. But it was not. God asks this in Exodus 16:28, months prior to the “official” delivery of the law (“official” as determined by the reigning builders leading our churches and seminaries).1

Small wonder that in an age when the great things of God’s law are esteemed a strange thing (Hosea 8:12) we end up traveling across the country with an unsettling message to our fellow Christians: everything you know about the law of God is wrong.

If God’s law has fallen on tough times in our antinomian age, it should be no surprise to find that proponents of God’s law are refused by the builders as well. When R. J. Rushdoony wrote The Institutes of Biblical Law, the book quickly joined the ranks of refused stones. In affirming this, we’re not ascribing canonical status to this imperfect work by an imperfect man, nor equating his book with Scripture, nor identifying its author with the Author above all authors. Nonetheless, the importance of this particular work can hardly be overstated.

The cynics among the builders will be quick to impugn our motives here as self-serving: “You’re promoting that book because you publish it!” No, we don’t publish it. It is published by Presbyterian & Reformed. We draw attention to it because it benefits the Kingdom of God to do so, not because it benefits us financially. Our goal is to expand the reader’s awareness of the significance of this book. In a cynical age, this will be an uphill battle, one made more difficult in the face of resistance mounted by today’s builders.

Rushdoony’s Unforgivable Sins

Why does Rushdoony’s Institutes elicit such hostility among the builders? After all, books about the Ten Commandments have been fairly common in Christendom. At the dawn of the Reformation, John Wycliffe expended considerable ink on the government of God and the Ten Commandments in one of his most important works, his Summa Theologiae (not to be confused with the Summa of Thomas Aquinas). The heirs of the Reformation, the Puritans, likewise regarded the law of God as an issue that needed to be engaged, not neglected or ignored. The fact that God’s law was generally held in high esteem at the high point of Biblical scholarship in the Western world should not be missed. In contrast, today’s quick-and-dirty, sloganized dismissal of the law of God is worse than embarrassing: it has utterly neutered the people of God.

Modern evangelical Christianity has veered off its moorings into the plush comfort of vague generalities. Today’s builders have yet to meet a spiritual cliché they won’t embrace with enthusiasm. Perhaps those of us influenced by the Puritans have been marginally less than gracious when ascribing “warm, fuzzy, pious gush and mush,” to modern ChurchSpeak, with its unbalanced elevation of feelings over all other considerations. If this dominant mindset hadn’t mired so many Christians in a potentially fatal immobility, patience would have been easier to exercise.

The appeal of generalities is that they don’t touch us directly, they mediate information by way of abstraction, and abstraction is always a step or more removed from concrete reality. Speaking in generalities permits us to be oblique. When we generalize the Word of God, we dull its sharp edge. The Word of God becomes a two-sided pillow2 rather than a two-edged sword.

This was the first of Rushdoony’s sins: he was specific. He didn’t spiritualize the Decalogue with high-sounding rhetoric that would actually make void the law of God (Ps. 119:126) or render the commandment of none effect (Matt. 15:6). Recognizing that all of the law and the prophets hang on the two great commandments, Rushdoony mined from God’s own commentaries on His law. God was specific, so Rushdoony’s exposition followed suit.

This was entirely unacceptable.

Although the builders may concede that the law of God is good if used lawfully (1 Tim. 1:8), that the law is perfect, just, holy, spiritual, and to be delighted in with the inner man (Rom. 7:12, 14, 22), the law must always be presented as a vague generality, an inaccessible goal, or (better yet) both. When presented in this way (stripped of specifics), the builders believe they’ve realized the ideal of the spirit (a general ethos) that gives life rather than the letter (God’s statutes) that kills. They’d surely deny that they’ve added or taken away from the law: they’ve simply generalized it. (When pharmacists invented Bufferin to make aspirin easier on the stomach, the notion was valid. Had Bufferin been invented by evangelicals, there’d be no aspirin in it-just buffers to soothe the stomach.)

Books about the Ten Commandments that deal in generalities, that play it vague, that rearrange our Christian clichés and slogans with eloquence, don’t elicit hostility. They’re welcomed because they buffer us from God and the power of His Word.

This was a game that Dr. Rushdoony had seen played out too many times, to ruinous results (especially as a missionary at Owyhee). Muzzling the Word of God was an exacerbation, not the solution, to man’s burgeoning problems. The New Covenant, among other crucial things for Christians, did indeed involve the writing of God’s laws on our hearts and mindsin specifics, inculcating the same spirit motivating David’s composition of Psalm 119. The first Psalm was to be taken as written (it extolled the law of God), not as hijacked by the builders (who point to anything but the law of God as the thing to meditate upon day and night).

In other words, one of the stones already rejected by today’s builders is Psalm One’s reference to the “law of God.” That ugly stone has since been replaced by a much better brick, one hewn by the hand of man, leading the reader away from specifics and back into the evangelical fog.

The Puritans were not crippled by such “improved readings” of the Psalms. We today are not merely crippled; we’re in a body cast and on life support. We ourselves are the emperors without any clothes.

Then along comes Rushdoony.

Rushdoony: the one who waxed specific about the law. The one who treated the specifics as if God had actually written them. By talking about specifics as if they mattered (and they do), he did something dangerous to the generalizations. He swept them, all of them, aside as thinly veiled attempts to repackage human autonomy within the contours of Christian spiritual terminology.

Rushdoony did this two ways. First, he painstakingly documented the consequences of neglecting the specifics of God’s law. Second, he did the same for the consequences of “observing His commandments, to do them” (Psalm 103:18). Most observers expected a Christian writer to speak to the first point, but not so much to the second. But by dealing with the law’s specifics across all domains of human action (cultural, economic, sociological, environmental, scientific), Rushdoony opened up new avenues for seeing the folly of mankind and the wisdom of God. He was unmuzzling the whole counsel of God. And the builders found this to be unacceptable. They preferred to repose true value in God speaking through His Spirit to individual souls, not in His speaking to us through His law. Not merely to assert value, but moral obligation and a ground of blessing, of the law of God (like the Scriptures, in their irksome way, sometimes seemed to do) was beyond the dimensions of our modern cramped orthodoxies.

It is somewhat remarkable that the concept of orthodoxy can even survive in the context of vague outlines and fuzzy generalizations, but that haze is strenuously guarded not for its own sake, but for what hides behind it. The man in Matt. 5:19 who loosens even the least commandments of God and teaches men so is deemed “the least in the kingdom of heaven.” By blowing away the fog, the sharp outlines of the antinomian’s razor is revealed in stark contrast against the background of Scripture.

But there was more. The loosening of God’s commandments creates an ethical vacuum that is always filled by something else. In fact, creating new rules of conduct for Christians is itself one way that God’s laws are loosened, not only individually but in the aggregate. Why? Because such attempts at lawmaking undercut the sufficiency of Scripture. The man of God is assuredly not “thoroughly equipped for every good work” with the Old Testament, no matter what 2 Tim. 3:17 reads: men must amend God’s law, peel some of its unacceptable or unworkable parts away, and using our vague general spirituality as a guide, build a more workable set of rules for Christian conduct for our modern era.

Over the course of its 800-odd pages, Rushdoony’s Institutes gives the lie to that misguided Christian conceit. For faithfully recounting the wonderful things in God’s law, the book’s author was labeled a dangerous extremist (that’s when the builders were being nice). In fact, the builders found themselves in agreement with the enemies of Christianity in their assessment of Rushdoony. This is strange company to be in … or is it? Perhaps their joint commitment to human autonomy (overtly so among the humanists, covertly so among far too many Christians) led these two groups to sing in harmony this one time … against the evils and horrors supposedly riddling God’s law.

The Dislocation of Liberty

Beyond the sin of magnifying all the commandments of God (that is, the sin of dealing with specifics, the fleshing out of God’s moral imperatives for man), Rushdoony revealed something else about the law’s detractors. These men invariably pose as champions of liberty, but God’s law maximizes human liberty while rejection of it puts us under the oppressive power of our fellow man. Isaiah 5:20 refers to those who call good evil and evil good, and this moral reversal is routinely played out over against the debate concerning the place of God’s law in our world.

When observing Rushdoony’s achievement in documenting the truth of the Psalmist’s assertion that he walked at liberty because he sought God’s precepts (Ps. 119:45), the builders are quick to contradict the Scripture: pay no attention to the man behind the curtain! Avoid the bondage of God’s law. Enter into the freedom that comes when those ugly specifics of God’s law are set aside.

But just as Psalm 119:45 cannot be broken, neither can Psalm 94:20: the wicked frame mischief using law. When the law is slacked (Hab. 1:4), something else takes up that slack: the precepts of men. Men abhor moral vacuums, and if God isn’t Lord over the matter addressed by one of His statutes or precepts, then man slips his feet into God’s shoes to legislate in His stead.

Some builders might tolerate the restrictions that God’s law might impose on the secular state, but no builders will tolerate the restrictions that God’s law would place on the church’s most sacred activity: making rules for the congregants to walk by. Ultimately, the implicit defense of autonomy that drives the antipathy toward God’s law merely masks an aggregation of power by human authorities in both church and state. The law of God cuts across all these boundaries to liberate men from lawless overreaching by all human institutions. Since these institutions put on airs as the defenders of liberty (rather than its enemies, as is regrettably the case), they must either repent or characterize Rushdoony’s position as insane (as some have, for all intents and purposes, already done).

Is it not revealing that we have as hard a time finding an elected official who’ll actually follow the U.S. Constitution (setting aside the debate over its Biblical status) as we do a church leader who’ll follow the entire Bible (which, unlike the U.S. Constitution, is actually perfect)? In both cases, men seek to cast various cords from them and burst various bonds asunder (Psalm 2:3), no matter how glowingly they paint such rebellions as liberating acts.

Today’s builders, then, know full well that God’s law encroaches on their power, their authority, their autonomy, their spiritual sinecures, and their plans for the future. They know this as well as the secularists know it-perhaps even more so. If they were not wedded to these “benefits” of antinomianism, they would bend the knee and acknowledge the glory of God’s perfect law of liberty. Instead, they go away very sad, for their possession of legislative power in their spiritual communities is very great and they’re unwilling to put that at risk by unleashing liberty among their flocks as God would have them bestow it in their capacity as His mouthpieces.

If liberty is a dangerous thing, perhaps few should have the actual article, and the rest should merely be convinced into thinking they have it. Nothing achieves this goal better than the vague fog of ChurchSpeak, which has taken turns into Orwellian paths that would have been unthinkable a century ago. When the law of God is magnified, men can clearly recognize whether they’re abiding under their own vine and fig tree or not, and illusions become impossible to maintain. In a world sustained on empty illusions, a world that effectively “loves death” (Prov. 8:36), the gatekeepers have spoken appropriate words of comfort: “peace, peace” (Jer. 6:14; 8:11)-but they heal the wound of His people slightly.

The Sin of Contemporary Relevance

God makes clear to His people that His words are not distant and inaccessible but “nigh, even in thy mouths” (Deut. 30:11-14). But too many of our builders today will argue that while God’s laws may not be distant in terms of miles, it isdistant from us in terms of years. If it was delivered thousands of years ago, it was in a form that must only be useful to ancient agrarian societies-not to us.

The builders then assure us that this is their motive for retreating into the haze of vagueness: by so doing, they can glean some spiritual meaning for us today, thus preserving God’s law to us in the only form that we could possibly find benefit in. They find life for an old worn-out shoe by putting a new soul [sic] on it. Their paperback books glory in the hidden treasures of the old shoe (without ever denying, let alone challenging, the “fact” that it’s an old shoe). The builders are then back in the driver’s seat, now becoming the champions of restoring the contemporary meaning of God’s law (as they’ve discerned it) by teaching it in abstraction.

Rushdoony challenges this line of reasoning, arguing from Scripture that the law of God is timeless and speaks to all men in all societies across all temporal boundaries. His powerful exposition of the details of God’s laws so thoroughly establishes their contemporary relevance that it sounds the death knell for those who hold the opposing view (that God’s law is a quaint artifact that long ago retired as the Word of God Emeritus). It is here that Rushdoony’s encyclopedic knowledge comes to the fore, sweeping forward and backward in time with example after example illustrating the wisdom and perpetual applicability of God’s precepts.

Most builders wouldn’t have taken offense if Rushdoony had restricted himself to delineating the value of God’s law during its supposed earthly run (from Moses to Christ as many poorly-guided Christians currently hold it). Rushdoony does no such thing. He shows that Christians who embrace their calling to “establish the law” (Romans 3:31) have an unlimited runway in front of them. By opening the doors to possibilities the faithful had lost sight of after the Puritan era ended, the work of Rushdoony and like-minded Biblical scholars before and after him has set in motion something extraordinary: Christians who have finally taken up the proper armor to fight in, and the proper tools to build with. If the Word of God has contemporary relevance, and we’ve neglected to apply it, then the crying need of our era is to fulfill the Great Commission in its fullness while taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:4-5). Men and women influenced by Institutes and by preaching based on the whole counsel of God know for a fact that the Word of God is sufficient.  The liberating power of that one point can change the entire world.

Then, the only task remaining is to extend the reach of God’s law, extending the realm of liberty and holiness and Christ’s lordship over all things in the process. This follows from the fact that there is no neutrality in God’s world (despite what the peddlers of piously fuzzy theology might argue). The Bible asserts that “even the plowing of the wicked is sin” (Prov. 21:4), so that men are to work toward an ever-broadening application of God’s law as implied in Psalm 119:96: “I have seen an end to all perfection, but thy commandment is exceeding broad.”

In short, if the law is merely for ancient agrarian cultures, we have to dig deep to find something of value in it for us andour world. But if, as Rushdoony shows, the law is addressed directly to us and our world, and our crises are a direct result of our studied neglect of the Scriptures, then we are actually equipped with the tools God has given us to establish His kingship over our persons and our families … and then beyond.

These are tools that the builders do not believe you should take up or use. They are not for you, they say. These are tools with no contemporary purpose. Stick with the current program, or hunker down, but in any case, do not build anything-especially without our sanction, and especially not with stones we’ve rejected.

But these are tools that Rousas John Rushdoony put directly into your hands, going around the builders entirely. It is yours to decide whether to slacken your grip and drop them into a dustbin, or to wield them like a man.

Rushdoony’s Final Sin

Perchance the builders of modern evangelical Christianity could have forgiven Rushdoony for being specific instead of protecting the status quo ethical haze that hangs like gauze before the eyes of God’s people. They might have been able to overlook his proclamation of liberty from man’s better-reasoned substitutes for God’s laws in both church and state. They might even have been convinced to wink at the vibrant call to action implicit in Rushdoony’s treatment of God’s Word as a timeless revelation rather than a historically-conditioned temporary ethic for ancient Israel that God terminated after sixteen centuries (which He might reinstitute for yet another ten centuries as held by premillennial believers but which most definitely is not for us today). All of that might have been forgiven.

But R. J. Rushdoony won’t be forgiven by these builders.

If you read The Institutes of Biblical Law, you will quickly realize why this is so.

This book is so unremittingly Biblical, upholding such a high regard for God’s enscriptured Word, and then carrying the light of that Word in all its manifold details into every imaginable area, it comes across as a virtual roadmap for applying our faith in ways that are utterly concrete and ripe with meaning.

Rushdoony illustrates how God has actually positioned the true moral axis of the world: not upon moralism, but upon godliness. These two things, moralism and godliness, are not the same thing, as Rushdoony repeatedly proves, again contradicting the builders’ all-too-humanistic vision of morality and Scripture. But how many Christians know this? How many Christians continue to orbit the wrong moral axis, the one still commended by our builders?

Even less forgivable to the builders is the fact that Rushdoony’s book is absolutely formidable in stretching the scope of the Ten Commandments back out to their original total dimensions, thereby revealing the tragic fact that the Word of God has been shriveling and contracting under our watch as we’ve “limited the Holy One of Israel” (Ps. 78:41) under the urging of our builders. Rushdoony’s Institutes reverses the incredible shrinking Bible effect, and comes little (if anything) short of fomenting an explosion of the applied Word of God across all Creation. Every paragraph of this book has the net effect of retaking lost ground. There are few things that can motivate a dedicated Christian more than working to increasing his King’s holdings in the world, starting with himself and his own family.

But there is one thing that is an even greater motivation.

For the final sin of Rushdoony is how he turns the tables on all the builders who vaunt love as the great Christian value. Far from being what his enemies depict him as (an ungracious, unloving legalist), anyone reading Institutes in one hand and the Bible in the other will soon realize that it is Rousas John Rushdoony, not our evangelical leaders, who is the truetheologian of the heart. The careful reader will soon realize that Rushdoony is propounding nothing new, he’s calling for a return to a lost faithfulness on the part of God’s people and pointing the way.

There is no stumbling in the darkness when the statutes of God line the path you walk upon. That is the “highway of holiness” that is so easy to see under the light of God’s law that “wayfaring men, though fools, will not err therein” (Isa. 35:8). In modern language, we’d say that Isaiah is setting forth The Idiot’s Guide to Holiness by using such pointed terms: anybody can understand it, and everybody will know how to walk there. “The redeemed shall walk there,” Isaiah informs us (Isa. 35:9).

For the truth of the matter is that Rushdoony’s Institutes cannot help but prick hearts. It edifies, but it also indicts, for the Word of God always has two edges, and it is probes deeply into “the thoughts and intents of the heart” (Heb. 4:12). Moreover, the greatest commandment could not be more clear: we are to love the Lord God with all our heart. If all the law and the prophets hang on this command and its companion verse in Leviticus 19:18 to love our neighbor, theneverything in Rushdoony’s book is directed to how we love God with all our heart. To do this one ultimate thing, while still addressing every other culture-transforming aspect of the book disclosed above, ranks as the most valuable gift any Christian can give to another.

Releasing such a comprehensive, many-faceted love upon our families, churches, and culture, if pursued with the same heart with which David wrote Psalm 119, will quickly show how comparatively anemic our contemporary builders’ notion of love in all its vagueness really is. The specifics of God’s laws embody true love, toward God, toward man, and even toward creation itself, as Rushdoony ably documents.

The more ministries and churches and families incorporate Institutes as a source of exposition, of edification, of guidance, the more they find themselves building on the rock of God’s total word to man, and the less intimidated they become in handling the whole counsel of God in our modern world. The modern builders’ agenda of keeping their fog machine stoked, of refusing the stone of God’s law and any books that unleash it among God’s people, will always appeal to escapists, to antinomians, to those content with false liberty, and any who prefer emotional intoxication over a heart bent on fully serving God and man.

If you can’t see that our builders have already led us into an incredibly deep ditch,3 you will not recognize that Rushdoony is leading you to maturity, liberty, truth, and a faith that overcomes the world.

But once you read the Institutes, you’ll never again see the Ten Commandments as a tired Christian cliché filling dull Sunday school lessons for children. You will know that God’s Ten Commandments anchor nothing less than a siege engine that will level every shakable thing and lay them all in the dust so that the unshakable Kingdom alone will remain. And you and your family will act on that certainty with invincible resolve, total conviction, utter humility, and with every single atom of your being.

1. The strident, tendentious efforts to explain away God’s references to His statutes, laws, and commandments in Genesis 26:5 and Exodus 18:16 (and everything in-between) are likewise heavy with the fingerprints of today’s “builders.”

2. The Monty Python skit concerning the Spanish Inquisition mirrors our modern approach quite effectively, insofar as the most dreaded weapon the fictional authorities use against their targets is “the comfy cushion.”

3. As has been well said, the culture is the report card for the church.

Martin G. Selbrede is Chalcedon’s resident scholar and Editor of Faith for All of Life and the Chalcedon Report.

Reprinted by permission from the author.
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