The Home of American Intellectual Conservatism — First Principles

November 15, 2018

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Rushdoony, Rousas J.
Roger Scruton - 07/27/11
Lifespan: (1916–2001)

The founder of the Chalcedon Foundation, a “think tank of the Christian Right,” Rousas John Rushdoony was also the father of Christian Reconstruction, a neo-Puritan theology that encourages Christian activism.

Rushdoony was born to Armenian immigrants. His father was an Armenian Presbyterian minister, and Rushdoony’s own theology reflects the intense spirituality of that heritage. After graduating from Berkeley (B.A., M.A.) and the Pacific School of Religion (B.Div.), Rushdoony was ordained in the U.S. Presbyterian Church in 1944 and served as a missionary in India and as a pastor before joining the small and theologically conservative Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

The major influences on Rushdoony were New England Puritanism, Old School Southern Presbyterianism (especially Robert Dabney), Dutch Reformed social theory (especially Abraham Kuyper and Herman Dooyeweerd) and, most importantly, Cornelius Van Til, an apologist at Westminster Seminary.

Rushdoony founded the Chalcedon Foundation (named for an early church council) in 1965 to encourage “the reconstruction of all things in terms of God’s Word.” Chalcedon challenged the retreatist pietism of many evangelicals, who, as was charged at the time, refused to engage their culture. The foundation publishes a monthly magazine—the Chalcedon Report, a semiannual scholarly publication—the Journal of Christian Reconstruction, and various studies through Ross House Books.

Rushdoony was a prolific author, writing books on theology, philosophy, history, political science, economics, psychology, and education. Among his most important works are By What Standard (1959), The Messianic Character of American Education (1963), This Independent Republic (1964), The Nature of the American System (1965), The Foundations of Social Order (1968), The Revolt Against Maturity (1977), The Politics of Guilt and Pity (1970), Law and Society (1982), and Roots of Reconstruction (1991). Rushdoony’s magnum opus, and the manifesto of Christian Reconstruction, is The Institutes of Biblical Law (1973), a work that explains Old Testament judicial law and its application to modern society.

Christian Reconstruction has three unique emphases: postmillennialism, presuppositionalism, and theonomy. “Postmillennialism” (literally meaning that Jesus will [return] to earth after the millennium) was the old Puritan system of eschatology. It is an optimistic system, teaching that the church will be triumphant on the earth, and hence encourages political and cultural activism. “Presuppositionalism” is a rigorously Calvinist approach to apologetics and theology, which states that one’s presuppositions or theological paradigm governs one’s worldview. Finally, “theonomy” (literally, “God’s law”) means that every area of life must be ordered by God’s law or word. Theonomy’s emphasis on biblical law has prompted accusations that it promotes “theocracy,” distinguishing its followers from other conservatives who stress tradition or natural law.

Rushdoony’s greatest influence was as a social critic who used a revisionist and Bible-centered philosophy to critique cultural trends, particularly those of humanism and statism. Rushdoony saw humanism as rooted in a primal spiritual rebellion against God. Statism he saw as but another form of humanism. For Rushdoony, God has ordained three lawful but limited spheres of authority: the family, the church, and the state. The modern humanistic order uses the state to intrude into these other spheres.

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