Who Was R.J. Rushdoony?

Who He Was

Rousas John Rushdoony (1916-2001) was a minister best known through his extensive literary output. His writings cover a broad spectrum of subjects because his belief was that every area of life and thought should be understood in terms of a world view that assumes God’s Word is both true and authoritative. He is best known for leadership role in Christian education (day and homeschool), his revival of theonomy (Biblical law), and Christian Reconstruction (a term he coined to denote a neglected aspect of the Christian responsibility and response to sin in the culture.)

Why He Started Chalcedon

Rushdoony started Chalcedon (aka The Chalcedon Foundation®) in 1965 because he felt the modern church had truncated the Christian faith by presenting it as merely an insurance policy against hell. The responsibilities of the redeemed man in Christ were reduced to a vague and ultimately subjective Christianity. Rushdoony did not believe the Christian life was to be understood as an other-worldly pursuit of spirituality but one of self-conscious obedience to God’s Word.

His Life

R. J. Rushdoony (“Rush” to his friends) was born April 25, 1916 in New York City. His parents were recent Armenian immigrants, having escaped the genocide of the Armenian population in the Ottoman Empire during WWI. His father’s life had been saved by an American Presbyterian Mission twenty years earlier and he had been educated by the Mission in Turkey as well as at the University of Edinburgh. As soon Rousas was strong enough to travel, the family moved to Kingsburg, California where he founded an Armenian speaking Presbyterian church. The younger Rushdoony spent most of his boyhood through high school in Kingsburg, with the exception of 1925-1931,  (age 9-15) when the family lived in Detroit, Michigan, where Rushdoony senior pastored a Congregational church.

(For further information on the family and early life of Rushdoony  - Part 1)

Rushdoony received a B.A. in English in 1938 an MA (Education) from the University of California at Berkeley. In 1944 he received his B. Div. at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley and was ordained in the Presbyterian Church USA (PCUSA) in the same year. He was given honorary doctoral degree (Doctor of Letters) from Bianerd Theological Seminary (1975) and Grove City College (1978). He received an earned Ph. D (Education) from Valley Christian University in 1980 for his work published the following year as The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum. He preferred the title of “Reverend” because he saw the ministry as a higher calling and honor.

(For further information and the education of Rushdoony -  Part II)

Rushdoony first pastorate was at Owyhee, Nevada, mission church on the remote Duck Valley Indian Reservation, where he served eight and a half years (1944-1953). Many years later he wrote essays on his time there, which were published in 2013 as The American Indian: A Standing Indictment Against Christianity and Statism in America.

(For further information on Rushdoony’s time on the reservation -  Part III)

In 1953 Rushdoony took a PCUSA pastorate on the California coast about seventy miles south of San Francisco in Santa Cruz, then a small retirement community. In 1958 he resigned from the PCUSA and joined the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, starting a church in Santa Cruz with a group disillusioned with the PCUSA. While a pastor in Santa Cruz he published By What Standard? an analysis of the Philosophy of Cornelius Van Til (1958) and Intellectual Schizophrenia: Culture, Crisis and Education (1961). These books, and articles he was publishing in various periodicals, gained him national recognition.

(For more on the pastoral years of Rushdoony -  Part IV)

In 1962 Rushdoony left the pastorate and became a researcher for the William Volker Fund. In 1963 he was a staff member for the Volker Fund’s spin-off organization, the Center for American Studies. That organization balked at Rushdoony’s overtly Calvinistic leanings as “too sectarian” and he was terminated, though given a two-year writing grant at full salary (1963-1965).

(For more information on Rushdoony and the years at the Volker Fund and Center for American Studies - Part V)

Chalcedon's Beginnings

In 1965 Rushdoony began the phase of his ministry for which he is best known. In that year he started Chalcedon, also known as The Chalcedon Foundation®. He began a mostly newsletter in October that came to be titled the Chalcedon Report. It became a magazine in 1987 (later renamed Faith for All of Life in 2005).

In his second newsletter, Rushdoony referred to the “task of reconstruction” ahead. By that he meant the need for a bottom up development of individual, familial, church, and community institutions and thinking that was a self-conscious return to faithfulness to Biblical life and action as well as theology. An early aspect of Christian Reconstruction in which Rushdoony had a leadership role was the Christian school movement. Many schools were started because of his writings on the need for Christian education and the damage done by the humanism taught in the public schools. Later, in the 1970’s-90’s, he became an expert witness for scores of Christian ministries that incurred the wrath of various government agencies or laws. Many of these were in defense of Christian day schools and the rights of the emerging homeschoolers. One such case, the Leeper Case in Texas, was the most important. It was appealed to the Texas Supreme Court which unanimously ruled to uphold the lower court decision that homeschools were legal and protected by law. Rushdoony’s testimony was considered pivotal in that case.

(View the transcript of Rushdoony's Leeper Case testimony)

The Chalcedon Foundation® allowed Rushdoony to speak and write full time and his output was prolific, though some of his manuscripts were not published until after his death. A few are still being prepared for publication at this writing (2016).

(View the complete Rushdoony Bibliography)

Rushdoony’s best known work is his Institutes of Biblical Law (1973), which revived theonomy in the twentieth century church. Rushdoony held firmly to the Reformation’s emphasis on justification by grace received by faith alone, but felt Biblical law was the key to man’s obedience and growth, his sanctification. Rushdoony felt the many seemingly insignificant laws of the Mosaic writings, often called the civil laws, were what modern law refers to as “case laws,” and categorized them as sometimes very specific applications of the Ten Commandments. These laws, sometimes on what might seem petty topics, were intended to teach respect for the commands themselves by giving specific examples (“cases”) of their application. The modern view, which sees obedience to the Ten Commandments as general and subjective, he considered “antinomian” (anti-God’s law) because it held the details of obedience in contempt and substituted man’s will rather than that of God.

(For more information on Rushdoony view Part VI and Part VII)