My father, Rousas John Rushdoony, a reader and a scholar, always understood the enduring power of books. If you asked him what his legacy was, he would have told you it was his writing. In the days before his death in 2001 at the age of 84, he was giving me instructions regarding his unpublished manuscripts. As much as I then felt an overwhelming inadequacy to be at the helm of the Chalcedon Foundation, I was at least grateful that one aspect of that responsibility was obvious. I began with the clear understanding that my father’s writing had to be published and then kept available. My father’s greatest influence is still future, I believe. I never felt that what he termed “Christian Reconstruction” was a new idea that I had to make palatable. I saw it, rather, as a necessary message of the Christian’s responsibility as a citizen of the Kingdom of God, Jesus’s most frequent subject of discourse. Call it what you will, what Chalcedon calls “Christian Reconstruction” is no more than an understanding of Christian duty in the confidence that the Kingdom of God and His Christ will prevail. It is acting in terms of what we believe the Bible teaches about the course of that Kingdom.
Who Is Hearing Chalcedon’s Message?
The reaction to Christian Reconstruction has been varied. Some see a small organization such as Chalcedon at the forefront of the “movement” and declare it dead, ignoring that more people than ever before now adhere to it. This is always a problem when we look at institutions and organizational structure as the model of success; Christian Reconstruction is an idea, though, so its influence must be measured by the extent to which its ideas influence individuals.
Our Lord gave us a parable about the varied reactions to His own message. It is often called the Parable of the Sower (Matt. 13:3-9, 18-23), but it is more descriptive to call it the Parable of the Soils because its purpose was to examine the varied response shown when the “gospel of the Kingdom of God” (Mark 1:14) was presented to various people.
In that parable, some seed (the message of the gospel of the Kingdom of Heaven preached by Jesus) was sown in good ground and produced a harvest. Other seed was sown in types of ground that produced no crop, and for various reasons. Some was eaten by the birds; this obviously means there was no response. Many, in fact, who heard Jesus preach and perform miracles did not believe in Him.
It is important to note the other two reactions to Jesus. They were illustrated as being “stony ground” and as “among thorns.” In both instances the seed “sprung up.” This has led many to assume there was some sort of confession of faith or even regeneration. Since the new growth quickly “withered away” this cannot be the case. The springing up was merely some positive response to Jesus. Many likely hoped He was the Messiah of Jewish expectation about to usher in a new golden age for Israel, one of strength, independence, and economic prosperity. The miracles and exorcism alone caused “all the people” to ask, “Is not this the son of David?” (Matt. 12:23). In the context of the Jewish Messianic hope, this positive opinion might have been no more than an optimistic view that the “good times” were again coming to Israel.
The optimism in the stony ground soon withered and the budding hopes of those who never separated from the “thorns” of the world were choked out. Positive thoughts can quickly dissipate while the regeneration of the Holy Spirit cannot. Men need to believe in more than themselves and their own personal hopes. If they will not believe in the hope presented in Jesus Christ, they will look elsewhere for a sense of hope. Because there is no hope outside of Jesus Christ, however, they often seek to imitate it.
Faking Alternatives to the Kingdom of God
Men in rebellion against God still want some larger purpose, some glorious and unifying umbrella that will give their life and work a larger meaning. Statism is the oldest means by which men seek to accomplish this. In statism men borrow the strength of others by political control. As soon as he was condemned for the murder of his brother, Cain “builded a city” (Gen. 4:17). Five generations later, Lamech bragged that no man could stand in his way (Gen. 4:23-24). Those of Noah’s day were “mighty men,” a description meaning they were warlords. After the Flood the Tower of Babel (Gen. 11:1-9) was an attempt to build a centralized empire, the tower likely intended to represent their grandeur. Empires such as Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, and Rome dominated the region in the historical period covered in Scripture. Much modern political rhetoric is little more than a humanistic revival meeting calling men to one statist agenda or another, with votes the necessary altar call of the faithful.
One of my father’s early works was The Messianic Character of American Education (1963) in which he documented that the early progressive educators’ purpose in government education was primarily social planning. Their intent was to create the type of citizen they thought necessary. It was messianic in that they believed they would create a great society by remaking the American mind.
The Clash of Kingdom Loyalists
When we identify with an order, whether family, nationality, nation-state, or religion, we are protective of it and either cold or hostile to any other order which might compete with it or seek to supplant it altogether. Jesus warned us to guard against those who would harm us, whether externally (such as Satan in I Peter 5:8 prowling as a lion “seeking whom he may destroy”) or internally (the wolves in sheep’s clothing in Matt. 7:15). All kingdoms defend themselves, identify aliens, and watch for enemies. Their self-preservation requires such vigilance.
As ambassadors of the gospel of the Kingdom of our Lord, we are quick to point out the dangers represented by its counterfeits. Our opponents do the same. Convinced their order must be protected and enlarged, they see the claims of the Kingdom of God as an illegitimate, alien incursion that must be resisted at all costs. One kingdom is attacked as a threat to another. It should come as no surprise that men, organizations, and even ideas which represent the antithesis of the spirit of the age will be resisted with ferocity, and most fights are not engaged under enforceable and refereed rules of competition. They most often resemble street fights, where winning is more important than the means, so the attacks are not always truthful or fair.
Early critics of Christian schools, for instance, criticized them repeatedly as racist. The accusation was that they only existed because parents used them to avoid integrated government schools. Even “conservatives” felt this accusation was such a political “third rail” they perpetuated the accusation. In 1982 my father was one of several Christian leaders at a White House meeting with Reagan Presidential Counsel (later Attorney General) Ed Meese over proposed regulations on private education in the name of “civil rights.” Interestingly enough, Christian schools forty years later are often disproportionately represented by minorities, a trend also reflected in homeschooling.1
For years my father’s reputation has been slandered by misrepresenting his views. In the 1980s a Sacramento tabloid attacked him for his statement in The Institutes of Biblical Law I (1973) that homosexuality was an offense subject to the death penalty in Scripture. In a private conversation he asked me a rhetorical question, “I wrote a book about what the Bible says. What did they expect me to say?”
He was commonly portrayed as a man who sought to wrest political control and impose a theocratic regime beginning, such scaremongering often suggested, with the imposition of capital crimes. They said he would institute an “American Taliban,” though his actual views of civil government tended rather to an extremely limited function of the civil magistrate and decentralized spheres of jurisdiction. The accusation was intended to make him seem a threat to the democratic process. When that system was best advancing statist humanism, any attacks on my father, theonomy, and Christian Reconstruction in its support seemed justifiable.
Again, when the Republican Party seemed ascendent in the early 2000s, it became a target of the left and attacks on it were often presented with some surmised tie to my father and Christian Reconstruction. Again, the inaccuracy of this is not the point; the left felt all was fair in this street fight. When George W. Bush and the “fight against terrorism” was at its zenith, the left felt its gains were crumbling. The “religious right” was seen as a dire threat. In looking at the leaders of that movement, they saw a loose assortment of one-issue individuals and organizations. My father, on the other hand, had a “big picture,” overarching view that incorporated “all of faith and life.” Moreover, a simple Google search “proved” he wanted to end democracy and impose a Taliban-like theocracy on America. Bingo! That was a powerful talking point, a knife they could take to the street fight. The entire narrative then became less about R. J. Rushdoony and more about the political traction that could be gained by the claims. Thus, one political candidate after another was associated with my father to smear them with the charge of extremism. Many had no contact with (and possibly no knowledge of) my father at all.
A very recent attack was an article on MSNBC (May 12, 2022).2 It assumed government schools were a positive social good, so it attacked homeschooling as its antithesis. Again, one kingdom was protecting itself against the incursions being made by another. Author Anthea Butler lost no time referring to private schools as “segregation academies … designed to keep African American children and undesirable immigrant groups away from white children.” This “should come as no surprise” the author says, apparently assuming all her readers are onboard with that decades-old slander that ignores census data.
Bulter’s principal attack, notice, is on alternatives to public education, so she wasted no time in deploring the influence of my father because, she wrote, “He saw homeschooling as a way to cut the government out of educating Christian children and to prepare them to take their place in a theocratic government.” Butler had to frame Rushdoony as a boogeyman to rally faithful statists, so she could not resist warning her audience that his influence was prominent in Donald Trump and former Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.
At this point, the name Rushdoony is, like the words theonomy, Christian Reconstruction, Calvinism, Puritan, and many others, merely a pejorative thrown around warning people to “stay away” or they, too, will be subject to vicious misrepresentation.
What R. J. Rushdoony and Chalcedon Represent
In 1965 my father first used an analogy that soon became the “brand” of his ministry, the distinctive representation of his message. That brand is “Christian Reconstruction.” Its simplest meaning reflects an assumption that Christian civilization needs to be rebuilt, reconstructed. When we speak of such work done on a building, we know we must assess its basic soundness and the value in any changes made to it over the years. The terms redecoration, refurbishing, renovation, remodeling, and historic preservation all convey different levels of work/change that is anticipated will be necessary.
Christian Reconstruction must also make assessments of the work that is most needed to rebuild a Christian culture that will be a faithful contributor toward the Kingdom of God. Our reconstruction efforts, moreover, must be distinctly “Christian,” that is, based on the certainty of the Lordship of Jesus Christ, the advance of His Kingdom, and His revealed law-word. Our method is a studied obedience, a self-conscious submission to that word.
There is an adage that you can judge a man by his enemies. I believe that is generally true when we look at the opposition to godliness spoken of in Scripture. We are in a street fight, and we need to face that fact. Our opponents know they are in a fight. Do we?
1. See Cato Institute (cato.org) commentary: Karry McDonald, “MSNBC Claims Homeschooling is Driven by ‘Insidious Racism,’ but the Facts Show Otherwise.” The percentage of black homeschoolers alone rose to 16.1%, according to numbers from the 2020 Census.
2. msnbc.com See Anthea Butler, “How the conservative Christian right is hijacking homeschooling.”