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Rousas John Rushdoony (1916-2001) was born in New York City to recently arrived Armenian immigrants who had fled the Turkish massacres of 1915-1916. Within weeks his parents moved to Kingsburg, California, where his father founded an Armenian-speaking Presbyterian church. He spent his boyhood, save for a time when his father was a pastor in Detroit, Michigan, on the family farm in Kingsburg.

Rushdoony graduated from the University of California at Berkeley with a B.A. in English in 1938 and an M.A. in education in 1940. He attended Pacific School of Religion, a Congregational and Methodist seminary near the Berkeley campus, and graduated in 1944. He was ordained that year by the Presbyterian Church, USA and was a missionary to the Piute and Shoshone Indians on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in a remote area of Nevada for eight and a half years.

In 1953 Rushdoony took a pastorate in Santa Cruz, California, a small retirement town on the ocean. He left the PCUSA in 1958 and joined the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, bringing into it another church in Santa Cruz. While in Santa Cruz he published By What Standard? an analysis of the thinking of Cornelius Van Til, who argued that the Christian must not base his thinking on autonomous human reason, but rather on self-consciously Scriptural grounds. Van Til was a professor of religion, but Rushdoony expanded Van Til’s “presuppositional” thinking to all of life and thought. Rushdoony’s writings therefore cover a broad spectrum of subjects because he believed in rethinking all area in terms of the Word of God. These areas included theological and Biblical studies as well as history, education, law, science, philosophy, psychology, economics, and epistemology.

By the mid-1950’s Rushdoony had also firmly adopted a postmillennial eschatology, which gave his writings a characteristically optimistic perspective. During his pastoral years in Santa Cruz he published Intellectual Schizophrenia and finished The Messianic Character of American Education. These two books stirred a great deal of interest in the establishment of Christian schools. Later, in the 1970’s and 80’s, when Christian and home schools and parental control of children’s education was challenged, Rushdoony frequently appeared around the U.S. as an expert defense witness on behalf of churches, schools, and parents.

In 1962 Rushdoony retired from the full-time pastorate and became a researcher and writer, first for the William Volker Fund and then with its spin-off, the Center for American Studies, before working on The One and the Many on a research grant. This book examined the necessity of a Trinitarian approach to the philosophical tension between unity or diversity as ultimate.

In 1965 Rushdoony founded Chalcedon, a Christian educational think-tank. His own personal monthly newsletter eventually developed into the Chalcedon Report, a monthly magazine.

In 1974 one of the last major aspects of Rushdoony’s thought was published with the first volume of The Institutes of Biblical Law. In this volume he advocated the applicability of Biblical Law. In doing so, Rushdoony distinguished between justification, God’s declaration of our righteousness on the merits of Christ’s atonement which is by grace and sanctification, which is the believer’s growth in grace. Sanctification, he held, was to be oriented around greater obedience to the Word of God. A believer in covenant theology, Rushdoony held Old and New Testament to be binding except where Christ’s person and work clearly superceded the old covenant. Rushdoony’s work on Biblical law gave rise to the theonomy, or theonomic (literally “law of God”) movement, though he personally used that term less frequently than others, preferring to refer to “Biblical law” or “the law of God.”

Rushdoony’s optimistic eschatology, combined with his belief in the Lordship of Christ, Van Tillian persuppositional thinking and particularly his affirmation of Biblical law gave rise to what he termed “Christian reconstructionism,” the idea that Christianity must proclaim not only personal renewal in the gospel, but God’s requirements for every area of life and thought in personal, social, economic and cultural settings. Never an organized movement but rather a perspective on Christian duty, the term “Christian reconstruction” was used by others with differing approaches to its meaning.

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  1. Kevin Evans July 3, 2012 at 6:30

    Christian Reconstructionists have some noble ideas, but I don’t believe that the 21st century church would accept this theological viewpoint. The idea of having a Christian government or rather a theocracy like Calvin had in 16th century Europe is repugnant to many evangelical, much less non-Christians. I am presently reading Rushdoony’s Institutes volume 3. But I would like to know exactly what were his views on Negroes. I have read critics of Theonomy argue that Theonomists are racists. As a black man I am very much concerned about these allegations. But I am willing to give the movement the benefit of the doubt.

    • Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. July 3, 2012 at 6:30


      Thanks for your note. I would note several important points: (1) I do not know Rushdoony’s views on blacks. (2) The Scripture sees all men as descending from Adam and therefore equal as images of God (Acts 17:26), and it sees any convert to Christ as equal in the body of Christ (Gal 3:28). In fact, in Num 12:1-6 Moses is said to have married a black woman, and when Miriam rebuked him, God chastened her by turning her white — with leprosy. (3) Whatever Rushdoony’s sociological views of blacks was (and again, I don’t know his views there), that is irrelevant to his theology of postmillennialism.

      (4) If it were legitimate to discount someone’s eschatological postion because of his (alleged) racism, then why stop there? Why not go deeper and discount his underlying Christianity? Why stop the argument at his eschatology; why not ride it all the way to his core theology, the Christian faith? That sort of manuever is precisely what liberlism does to Christianity regarding the alleged anti-Semitism in the NT (e.g., Matt 27:25; John 8:44; Rev 2:9; 3:9). Many say that Christianity can have no moral legitimacy until it offers a new version of the Bible that leaves out the offending (alleged) anti-Semitic texts. Thus, the liberal does not deal with anti-Semitic individuals in church history; it wants to blame the Christian NT itself.

      (5) Even Rushdoony’s Christian Reconstructionism is not necessary to postmillennialism. It simply sets his postmillennialism apart as a distinct variety of postmillennialism. (6) You are correct in noting that the 21st century church would not accept Calvin’s view of society and political structure. But if you take into account postmillennialism, you have to realize that the 21st century status of the church will be overcome by a return to biblical standards. Postmillennialists do not look at current conditions to determine feasibility, but at biblical expectations. If a first century Jew were to look at the long-delayed coming of the Messiah in their day, they could well have stopped holding that hope. But the Messiah did come, despite any vanishing expectations.

      • Rushdoony believed the same thing that every orthodox pre-1960 Christisn believed; that while salvation through Jesus is needed and open to everyone regardless of distinctions, these distinctions do not magically disappear or become irrelevant after salvation and so categories such as race, gender, and class are real and still have meaning for Christians.

        “Ah, yes, uh, true, God has created the diversity of mankind, and therefore each of the Christian cultures will begin with the sovereignty of God and the authority of His Word, but there are areas where their particular talents and diversities will be expressed, so that, even as I, for example, have aptitudes in certain areas while a very dear friend of mine has aptitude in another area and is every bit as zealous for the Sovereignty of God as I am — but when he talks in the area of sciences, he loses me in about the second or third sentence. But he is applying the Word of God in the context of his situation. Now that’s a little more extreme than cultures or nations, but there is no question that different peoples have different aptitudes and abilities. We tend today, just as I.Q. tests are today artificially constructed so that they will eliminate sexual differences (women will come out ahead in most fields except the two I mentioned) and racial differences, because there are variations. People of one ethnic background will have marked abilities in one area and not as marked in other areas, but they don’t want to believe that there are these differences you see; therefore they try to eliminate them. Well, in a Godly culture, we will consider those as blessings of God to be developed.”

        –R. J. Rushdoony – audio, “The New Absolutism” (44:00 minute mark)

        “Identification [declaring all people identical] is used as a means of negating the particularity of the law, and of reducing it to nonsense by merging all reality into one inseparable unity. Unity, identification, is thus a substitute for law and truth by its erasure of all boundaries.

        Justice then ceases to become the function of government, and identification by enforced equalization is the goal. In the Negro problem in the Southern States, the concern of federal action is less and less civil justice and more and more identification. That the Negro should have justice is certain, but compulsive identification is not justice and is actually injustice, and can obscure radically the Negro’s just claims before the law. The “freedom” which Dr. King envisions is not merely freedom from domination or discrimination but a freedom from difference. This is the heart of the matter, and in every stratum of society, there is a lust for “freedom from difference” and a resentment against any who claim such a right.

        As a result, the inevitable outcome of the practice of identification is the growth of moral detachment. Since the concept is basically anti-ethical, it culminates in an unconcern with moral issues. As yet, in the West, the Christian inheritance is responsible for an extensive hangover of moralism, at present used as a facade and justification for identification. It destroys the meaning of both particularity and universality. The particular loses meaning, in that the whole alone is real, and the whole, having no real differentiation, becomes an empty universal, and moral categories disappear in the face of moral relativism. The ultimate outcome, therefore, of identification in Western society will be, if its inherent logic triumphs, the rise of a radical inhumanity and the collapse of all true progress as total relativism takes over.

        With most peoples there can and must be a separate but peaceful co-existence.

        A nation bent on the world establishment of the concept of identification will operate on the premise that the goal must be unity or union and will work to that end, sacrificing itself constantly in terms of that hoped-for consummation. But a nation aware that some issues are irreconcilable, while avoiding any ungodly plunge into conflict, will recognize that there can be no compromise, and that peaceful co-existence in such instances is an illusion.

        The biblical summons to holiness is thus a call to separation.”

        –R. J. Rushdoony, The Politics of Guilt and Pity, pp. 80-86

        This quote begins with a quote by historian Kenneth Stampp from his book The Peculiar Institution. From there, Rushdoony dissects Stampp’s statement.

        “Today we are learning much from the natural and social sciences about the Negro’s potentialities and about the basic irrelevance of race, and we are slowly discovering the roots and meaning of human behavior. All this is of immense value to the historian when, or example, he tries to grasp the significance of the Old South’s peculiar institution. I have assumed that the slaves were merely human beings, that innately Negroes are, after all, only white men with black skins, nothing more, nothing less. This gives quite a new and different meaning to the bondage of black men; it give their story a relevance to men of all races which it never seemed to have before.”

        Rushdoony next unmasks the universalist abstractions propagated by Stampp that wind up undermining and, in fact, denying history:

        “If Negroes are only “white men with black skins, nothing more, nothing less,” then, conversely, white men are only Negroes with white skins, nothing more, nothing less. This means that all cultural differences, hereditary predispositions, and historical traditions are irrelevant and meaningless. It means, in other words, that history is meaningless. And how can one be an historian if it is his purpose to deny history?

        The white man has behind him centuries of Christian culture, and the discipline and selective breeding this faith requires. Although the white man may reject this faith and subject himself instead to the requirements of humanism, he is still a product of this Christian past. The Negro is a product of a radically different past, and his heredity is governed by radically different consideration. Elizabeth E. Hoyt has cited Dr. Simon Biesheuvel’s comparisons, a deliberately extreme contrast, to pinpoint certain cultural ideas, African and Western. From Tennyson’s Ulysses is cited as a typically Western expression of man’s purpose,

        To follow knowledge like a sinking star
        Beyond the utmost bounds of human thought
        To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
        Of all the Western stars, until I die
        To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield

        By contrast, illustrating what Africans call Negritude, is the following cry from Aimé Césaire of Martinique

        Hurray for those who have never invented anything.
        Hurray for those who have never explored anything
        Hurray for those who have never conquered anything.
        But who in awe give themselves up to the essence of things.
        Not intent on conquest, but playing the play of the world.

        This contrast is an oversimplification, and one designed to be flattering to both races, but it does indicate the reality of racial differences. Men like Stampp would, of course, seek to negate every historical citation of differences as merely “cultural differences.” The men behind the respective cultures are the same men. It is therefore held to be wrong to cite histories against any race.

        A more absurd position can scarcely be imagined. If you and I have our histories abstracted from us, and our heredities as well, along with all our cultural conditioning and responses, we are no longer men, no longer human beings, but an abstract and theoretical concept of man. No real history of us can then be written. Stampp’s Negroes are thus neither black men nor white men: they are an abstraction, but an abstraction to illustrate the devil in Stampp’s humanistic morality play.”

        –R. J. Rushdoony, The Biblical Philosophy of History, pp. 88-89

  2. Kevin Evans July 3, 2012 at 6:30

    Thank you Dr Gentry for your thoughtful response. I consider my self to be postmillenial. You are dead right though: Even if one were to prove that Rushdoony was against Negroes, that wouldn’t discredit historic Christianity or the postmillenial viewpoint of prophecy.

  3. “Rush” (what his friends called him) used to preach at Black churches when invited. He praised a number of Christian leaders who were Black. I remember him, in one instance, mentioning how he explained to his wife, who went with him, what to expect in one particular church because their expression of worship was different than what she was used to.

  4. Charles E. Miller, BA in Germanistik, MA in Religion January 2, 2014 at 6:30

    I have a question for you, and I hope you are willing to answer. I am currently a United Methodist and a former Southern Baptist. I left the Southern Baptist due to the charismatic movement. I like a traditional church. I do not plan to leave the UMC at this time; however, I am afraid that gay clergy may take over the Methodist Church. What domination would you recommend, should I have to move. I do not want to be an Independent Baptist since I am not a dispensationalist. I wish we had Baptists like B.H. Carroll, founder of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. I live in Hampton Roads, Virginia in the City of Chesapeake.

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