A Brief Tribute to R.J. Rushdoony
The evangelical world has had numerous men and women who have been influential in shaping its perspective over the past fifty years. Many names come to mind in that regard. Some names are worth remembering, and others need to be forgotten. But there is one man who carried tremendous influence that many are not familiar with.
That man was Rousas John Rushdoony, a theologian, historian, and Christian philosopher, whose books and recorded lectures, provided the intellectual “ammunition” for the engagement of evangelicals in the political arena. He was also a major proponent of Christian homeschooling and the “father” of the Christian Reconstructionist movement. He was not without critics. He was undoubtedly a controversial and sometimes a polarizing figure. Even among his admirers there are few that agreed with him in every area. But even his critics often “borrowed” his ideas and, in some instances, plagiarized his writings. For instance, Francis Schaeffer, to whom a great debt is owed for awakening the evangelical world to the abortion “holocaust” was a serious reader of Rushdoony’s works. Newsweek (February 2, 1981) accurately identified Rushdoony’s Chalcedon Foundation as “the think tank of the Religious Right.” Nevertheless, he remained virtually unknown by the vast majority of Christian evangelicals.
Dr. Rushdoony was born in 1916, in New York City, the son of Armenian immigrants. His parents had fled the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Since the year 320 there had been a Christian priest or minister in every generation of the Rushdoony family. His father, Y.K. Rushdoony, was a Presbyterian minister. Rousas was a gifted scholar who had read the Bible through several times by his teens and was known to read a book a day throughout most of his life. He served as a missionary to the Shoshone and Paiute Indians after he completed his seminary education. He later became a pastor in California and began writing for numerous magazines.
His first book, By What Standard? was published in 1959. Numerous books followed and in 1973 he published his most significant work, The Institutes of Biblical Law. This book laid the foundation on which his theological influence was felt. It also became the source of much debate over the place of the Old Testament law in the life of a believer and in the jurisprudence of a Christian nation. I first read this book in 1982, and I must admit it was intellectually over my head. But later I began to wrestle through many of the conceptual ideas that are presented in the book.
It is not my intent to try and explain, or address, the issues that are raised by Rushdoony’s books and articles. I did not always agree with him, and still don’t. But he did cause me to think, and to think “biblically.” By that I mean he forced me to examine all ideas, political, social, economic, and judicial in light of the authority of the Bible. Now I know every “Bible-believing” Christian claims to do that. But do they? Or to be more direct – do we? How do we evaluate the issues? Are we more influenced by a political party, or by a political pundit than by the Scriptures themselves? But all that remains an issue for another day.
It is my intent to honor a man, who through his books, caused me to have a “paradigm shift” that changed my worldview. He opened my world to other writers and teachers than added to my understanding. I am grateful for his contribution.
If you are not familiar with R.J. Rushdoony, I encourage you to check out his resources on the web. Though he went to be with the Lord in 2001, he left the world a wealth of material. Check out the Chalcedon Foundation website and learn more about this man and what he taught. You will not probably always agree, in fact I assure you of that. But maybe he will make you think, as he did me.