No one in the twentieth century wrote like Dr. R. J. Rushdoony. No one was more original, more insightful or as far-reaching in his analysis. When it came to understanding and applying Biblical law in every area of life, no study has come close to his Institutes of Biblical Law, Volume 1. When our Lord cites Moses in Deuteronomy in His rejoinder to Satan that, “[M]an does not live by bread alone, but by every word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God,” we cannot appreciate the fullness of His meaning unless our view of God's law is similar to the treatment we see in Rushdoony’s Institutes: all of God’s law for all of life. But because Rush’s Institutes is so rarely read, understood, or even cited by conservative and evangelical pastors and writers, antinomianism continues as an untreated cancer in the body of Christ.
In the past twenty years, Christians have complained about the pernicious and immoral influence the public schools have had on the social and cultural fabric of our youth. Yet, the idea persists that government schools can be reformed, or that Christians can somehow be an effective witness for Christ within the schools. Millions of Christian parents continue to leave their children in the public schools where, after twelve-plus years of indoctrination, entire generations are being lost and corrupted as too many children abandon the faith of their upbringing.
In 1963, Rushdoony published one of the most important refutations of the public school system, The Messianic Character of American Education. As of 2008, can you think of a single evangelical critic of public education that acknowledges what Rushdoony stated so powerfully: that the spiritual and pedagogical conflict between a Christian, Biblical view of man and knowledge is irreconcilable with secular humanism at any and every level?
In The One and the Many, we find a consistent and total rejection of Greek thought as the philosophical basis of metaphysics, epistemology, and ethics. Rushdoony identified the irrational presuppositions that corrupted Biblical Christology over the centuries, and thereby ruined the social order which should be founded upon this doctrine. And despite his devastating critique, hardly any seminary or graduate school uses The One and the Many to equip their students to oppose anti-Christian dogma. Instead, antinomianism, pietism, and dispensationalism continue to be the ideological tares sown in every field by the graduates of these institutions.
But one of Rushdoony’s most important and enduring legacies is his Systematic Theology in Two Volumes. It is in a systematic treatment where one’s beliefs are tested against Scripture, against hermeneutics, against exegesis and context, and against logic and faithfulness to the whole. Like so much else in Rushdoony’s approach, his Systematic Theology is both homage to a rich tradition and a break with the sometimes rigid and formal structures of the past. For example, no systematic theology (or study) elevates the so-called “Doctrine of Authority” to the essential place of prominence it has in Rushdoony’s version. And yet it is precisely at this point where postmodernism and neo-paganism has so effectively undermined the orthodox faith, offering a syncretistic and false doctrine of the Creator God—a God who cannot and does not speak an infallible and predestinated decree.
Having arbitrarily referenced only four of his books, one should be dismayed that of all the truly great thinkers of this past century, no one has been more neglected, or ignored, than Rushdoony. Yet, his system of thought provides us with a Christian Reconstructive Analysis (CRA) by which we can powerfully undermine humanistic presuppositions in every area of life. Therefore, in this article, I’m attempting to create an outline that seeks to answer a single question: “What real difference, and what real advantage, does the CRA offer to those seeking the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and called to be salt and light?”
First, a Caveat
One can, I suppose, be either embarrassed or angry when faced with the dearth of Reconstructionist perspective in the hundreds of books published during the last forty years, dealing with the decline of Christianity in Western Civilization or the concomitant degeneration of Christian orthodoxy (Protestant-Reformed) in the “evangelical” church. Dr. Rushdoony was often very supportive of works which, while not Reconstructionist, promoted ideas or propositions that complemented the Reconstructionist framework.
Notwithstanding, many Christians seem unable, in popular literature, to cross beyond a certain point. Every study, no matter how eloquent or scholarly, ends at the same place—where all of our problems are reduced to some form or combination of secular humanism, multiculturalism, Darwinian naturalistic evolution, secular psychology, deconstructionist-postmodernism, environmentalism (globalism), syncretism, Gnosticism or the New Paganism (Eastern, New Age or native).
It doesn’t matter anymore what new “insight” or “discovery” we encounter in the pages of popular Christian criticism. Even if the scholarship is excellent (which is many times the case), the argument is repetitious and stale and
can’t be used effectively to “overcome evil with good.” There’s usually a great deal of smoke, but little fire behind the haze.
Proverbs 26:5 says, “Answer a fool according to his folly, lest he be wise in his own conceit,” but Christian critics are often hesitant to use such a Biblical pejorative. This betrays an equal unwillingness to Biblically challenge unbelieving systems where the critique is most needed—in the area of neutrality. And this is where CRA is strongest. But, is anyone really listening to us? Can CRA move us beyond the current state of affairs? Or will we continue circling the wagons and not answer the fool according to his folly, and thereby become like him (Prov. 26:4)?
A Specific Framework from which a Compelling Analysis Can Emerge
What follows is not a formula, nor a screen through which every argument must pass (I pray that I am not guilty of the same kind of reductionism that I criticize in others). Rather, what I believe gives Christian Reconstruction its compelling analysis is that it is grounded in the triune God and His revelation to us, i.e., it’s the foundation to Christian thought, and therefore, the framework by which we analyze opposing systems. Although I’ve understood this theoretically for a good many years, I solidified the outline for CRA within the past few years.
In 2005, at Chalcedon’s 40th Anniversary Conference in Georgia, Mark Rushdoony gave a presentation that marked a turning point in my maturation as a Reconstructionist. He outlined what he believed were eight major points that gave Christian Reconstruction, as it was propounded by his father’s work, its distinctive emphasis and character. I reflected on these points for many months.
For me, they became a kind of shorthand, not unlike the way “TULIP” functions to summarize Calvinistic soteriology. TULIP doesn’t summarize Calvinism; it is merely one aspect of the great Reformer’s work. Yet without acknowledging the distinctives of Calvin’s soteriology, his system as a whole is fatally undermined. My proposal has a similar purpose. Instead of eight points, I have changed the number to five, seeing the other three as subsections of a broader, more inclusive principle. To help explicate the application, I have chosen the realm of education to demonstrate how CRA is both distinctive and compelling as an analytical tool.
Number One: In the beginning … God
The distinctive taught by CRA goes beyond merely tracing an idea to its philosophical point of origin. For Christianity, God is not merely “first,” but more importantly, He is the “Uncreated Being.” All factuality, all predication proceeds as created being from God as Uncreated Being. No other religion posits a Creator God who is Uncreated Being, utterly transcendent over all reality whether visible or invisible. This means that not only is the God of Genesis the starting point of all things, it means that every idea, every subject has its own essential reference point in what the will and purposes of the Creator God has revealed for it.
Another way of saying this is that everything in creation, in reality, is contingent on the Creator God. When man in his sin denies or corrupts this inescapable contingency, he makes it impossible to receive the truth or the truth-value reflected in God’s decree.
When Christians speak of education, yet ignore, or minimize, this foundational doctrine, they fail to truly understand its nature. It is God as Uncreated Being, God the Creator, who can and does claim an exclusive prerogative over all factuality, all reality, and all knowledge, i.e., all education. Therefore we should not be surprised when the Bible says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Prov. 1:7). Such a God deserves our fear or ultimate respect, and man must intellectually subordinate himself to the prior claims of his Creator. Subordination and humility are here synonymous, and without humility, or the “fear of the Lord,” real education is impossible.
This is the “presuppositional approach” pioneered by the great Dutchman, Cornelius Van Til, in the early 20th century, and utilized by Rushdoony as the epistemological foundation for Christian Reconstruction. This is why a great place to begin reading Rushdoony is his first book, By What Standard?, which serves as a concise analysis of Van Til’s thought. It’s interesting to note, in light of this article, that Rushdoony’s next two books would focus exclusively upon education (c.f. Intellectual Schizophrenia, and The Messianic Character of American Education).
What are the ultimate presuppositions of education as God Himself declared it? As the Westminster Confession states, “The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for His own glory, man’s salvation, faith, and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture” (Ch. 1, Sec. 6). Therefore, a compelling Christian argument cannot ignore the presupposition of all of God’s Word for all of life. Thus, when a Christian criticizes modern education, or any other sphere governed by humanism, does that criticism truly begin (literally) with the acknowledgement of Christ speaking infallibly in His Word?
For example, a great deal of criticism has been leveled at the Prussian educational system imported by American educators in the 19th century to replace the Biblically based curriculum that dominated early American education. The goals of the Prussian system are clearly statist, and that is where much of the critique is focused. However, unless attention is called to the alien presuppositions working in the Prussian system, then what godly purpose does such a critique serve? If we do not seek the glory of God by determining the boundaries of knowledge by God’s Word, then our critique is merely pragmatic.
As Van Til would often say, what is “behind every fact is the Creator God”—”Neither is there any creature that is not manifest in His sight, but all things are naked and open unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (Heb. 4:13). Therefore, there is nothing compelling about criticizing an educational system solely on its utility. This is because we have removed the Creator from our critique, and made His authoritative Word irrelevant in the area of education. The point of a CRA is to express our obedience to God in terms of His law-word in as many ways as possible.
Number Two: Ultimate Authority
It is a characteristic of sinful man that he exercises his autonomy by rejecting the obligations imposed on him by God’s Word—obligations for every area of life and thought. For Rushdoony, and the CRA, the phrase “to be as God” is not a general statement but a definitive one. In Genesis 3, the context is the temptation for man to “know good and evil,” or as Rushdoony insisted, man “determining” what is good and evil. This has reference to what liberates or constrains the will of man to think, say, and do as he wills.
Again, the phrase “good and evil” is not a generalized statement, but in Scripture it becomes definitive. “Good and evil” refers to what will later be termed what is moral and ethical, that is, what constrains or liberates the will of man to think, say, and do what he wills. This was epitomized in the satanic epithet of the 20th century’s most notorious Luciferian, Aleister Crowley, “Do what thou wilt, for that is the whole of the law.” In other words, sinful man must arrogate to himself the authority to determine his own law-word.
Authority has been defined as, “the power to require and receive submission: the right to expect obedience: superiority derived from a status that carries with it the right to command and give final decisions…” While this definition is generic, it complements Rushdoony’s application of it in his Systematic Theology, where he teaches that for God to assert His power and will, He first ascribes to Himself the exclusive and unlimited authority to do so. Thus, when we say that our God is sovereign, we are establishing the unconditional, non-contingent nature of this attribute. Moreover, we are conjoining the doctrine of authority and sovereignty because they are coterminous. For the CRA, the fact of sovereignty is essential because it’s based upon Him who has ultimate authority.
The purpose of CRA is to highlight the source of man’s basic problem—sin. Whether the issue is intellectual, social, cultural, or personal, man cannot escape the noetic effects of sin upon the totality of his existence. We will always be tempted to take our critique no further than pragmatism, but that offers no lasting solutions for society. Only an ethical emphasis—alongside sound gospel preaching—can produce the regeneration that creates godly civilization.
Here is one example—a very onerous one—that illustrates CRA in action. One of the key issues homeschoolers faced in the early 1990s was a state’s use of compulsory attendance laws which legislated that “every child between the ages of 7 and 17 must attend a state school.” Private and parochial schools would be allowed to operate, provided they received an exemption from the state for this requirement. If a child of school age was not enrolled in a public, private, or parochial school during school hours, that child could be charged with truancy and the parents charged with negligence.
This was precisely the case in my home state of Michigan, and I was deeply involved with many homeschool leaders in opposing this legislation while attempting to rectify it. Biblically, it would be natural for us to say that the state was exercising sovereign control and an abuse of power. We eventually made this argument in opposing all compulsory attendance laws. But the method we used began with challenging the Board of Education with the question, “By what authority do you claim that this control is legitimate?” There was no question as to where this line of reasoning would end: the state was acting as “God,” exercising sovereignty that made their power illegitimate.
What was interesting (and encouraging) was that we were able to frame this argument with non-Christian homeschoolers (to gain their support) by showing the connection between what they understood to be their rights (as parents to direct the education of their own children) with ideas not immediately associated with such rights—authority, power, and sovereignty. When we structured the problem in this way, the religious element was easily revealed and the issue moved from being merely a political or social problem to being a moral and ethical one. Even non-Christian parents could see the logical extension of this state of affairs: In time, the very foundation of our social order would be threatened if the state were allowed to impinge on God's exclusive prerogatives to exercise sovereign authority, which authority is the only source for our “inalienable rights” as acknowledged by the Declaration of Independence.
A Christian Reconstructionist Analysis insists on bringing forth, as the core issue, the sovereignty of God when it can be shown that God’s authority is being usurped by man’s lawmaking or man's autonomous and arbitrary direct action (such as when county prosecutors act with no legal justification or limits). Many anti-statist books and articles were written in the early 1990s, but their appeal was to justify civil action on practical grounds, pragmatic grounds, some secularized notion of the “social contract” or other like argument. Such reasoning and evidence did have a certain appeal, but such displays of “neutrality” didn’t motivate Christians to make the sacrifices necessary for change.
Only when it could be reasonably shown that the glory and righteousness of the triune God was being attacked did this moral issue generate public and effective response. This is the distinctive that a Christian Reconstructionist Analysis brings to the table because within the CRA is the issue of ultimate authority, the exclusive sovereignty of God as an imperative, a non-negotiable item.