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On Spontaneity

By R. J. Rushdoony
June 01, 1998

One of the highly prized characteristics of the modern era, especially since the rise of Romanticism, has been spontaneity. The idea has ancient roots; as it developed, it saw the writer, artist, or poet as a man governed by spontaneity and therefore a superior person, to some degree above the law and especially "middle-class virtues." Shelley, Byron, Blake, and others were intense romantics dedicated to spontaneity.

For a Christian, this form of the concept is wrong, dangerous, and evil. The Bible defines unregenerate man as fallen and evil, and his spontaneous self-expression will be the same. The infant urinates and defecates at will; he requires feeding at his demand, and he expects the world to revolve around him. The process of civilization requires the inhibition of spontaneity. Mario Praz, in The Romantic Agony, showed clearly that the Romantic quest led into a world of perversity and evil. To stress spontaneity, as our modern culture does, is thus to undermine civilization. Not surprisingly, the student rebels of the 1960s urinated and defecated on public premises in their protests against civilization. Spontaneity is a modern fetish of a dangerous kind. We have seen too much spontaneity and too little civilization.

There is, however, a spontaneity of another kind. Unlike fallen man, Christian man develops another kind of spontaneity as he grows in faith. Psalm 119 gives us an account of this. The psalmist does not see God's law as a restraint but as a delight. He loves God's law, and his delight is in knowing and obeying it. It is a light and a lamp to him, and his joy. The spontaneity of the Psalmist is not that of the natural man but is of a God-governed one.

At present, modern culture is dying because of the evil infection of its fallen spontaneity, which makes it the "culture" of sin and death. Henry Van Til very aptly defined culture as religion externalized. Fallen man exalts his spontaneity because he glorifies his fall, his rebellion against God. In so doing, he exalts both sin and its consequence, death. Modern child-rearing stresses spontaneity to the destruction of the young. Legislation exists to punish parents who discipline a child. To do so is seen as harming the child's spontaneity in development. Some sixty years ago, I read one educator's then "advanced" belief that if a child decided to throw an inkwell at the teacher, he should not be frustrated. Since then, I have heard adults and even elderly people justify misconduct because it represented freedom and spontaneity. "Christian" colleges stress courses in "creative writing" that glorify spontaneity. One English professor in a Christian college denounced a fine sonnet by an established writer because its form was "traditional" and not "spontaneous." Too many of our "Christian" colleges are really versions of humanistic and anti-Christian ones.

The question of spontaneity is a very obvious and simple one. The prevailing lack of comprehension as to its meaning gives clear evidence of the extent of our apostasy.


Topics: Biblical Law, Culture

R. J. Rushdoony

Rev. R.J. Rushdoony (1916–2001), was a leading theologian, church/state expert, and author of numerous works on the application of Biblical law to society. He started the Chalcedon Foundation in 1965. His Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) began the contemporary theonomy movement which posits the validity of Biblical law as God’s standard of obedience for all. He therefore saw God’s law as the basis of the modern Christian response to the cultural decline, one he attributed to the church’s false view of God’s law being opposed to His grace. This broad Christian response he described as “Christian Reconstruction.” He is credited with igniting the modern Christian school and homeschooling movements in the mid to late 20th century. He also traveled extensively lecturing and serving as an expert witness in numerous court cases regarding religious liberty. Many ministry and educational efforts that continue today, took their philosophical and Biblical roots from his lectures and books.

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