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The Just Shall Live By Faith: A Review of R.J. Rushdoony’s Romans and Galatians

By Abby Oberst
February 01, 1997

It is not unheard of in the publishing world to re-title an existing work, add a different dust jacket, and draw new audiences in the process. Occasionally, target-marketing gurus will even distribute a new book under multiple titles simultaneously—thereby extending its reach. Would that R. J. Rushdoony and Ross House Books could accomplish this feat. Romans and Galatians is a must-read book, and it should not be “limited” to those who recognize the Rushdoony name and genius.

The “popular” title of this soon-to-he released book should be The Just Shall Live By Faith, and it should be read by non-Reformed Christians as well as Rushdoony readers. With this more-inviting imprimatur (bound to appeal to pietist, evangelical, Word-Faither and Calvinist alike), the unsuspecting reader will never consider the words “just,” “live” and “faith” the same again; that is, after reading Rushdoony on the subjects. Even the most seasoned student of the Word will be surprised by the fresh insights into these two Pauline epistles to the church.

Those who have cut their teeth on the Chalcedon Report, Rushdoony’s Institutes or Systematic Theology will no doubt eagerly devour the book Romans and Galatians. There will be countless others, however, who will pass it by with the assumption that it is a scholarly work (among other scholarly works) for the ivory-tower set of theologians and wannabe preachers. Scholarly it is, in that it is well-researched and annotated. But it is so much more. Romans and Galatians ministers to the ordinary reader in a pastoral manner that only amplifying the Word of God can do.

Penned in the mid-1980s and awaiting publication until recently, it is prophetic both in its timeliness and timelessness. This book may well stand as the definitive exegesis on these two “difficult” pastoral letters. If a case is to be made for aggressively assisting with financial support the work of Chalcedon and Ross House Books, it is to read this book and realize that others of Rushdoony’s completed books are awaiting publication. Pity that they are not in distribution already.

In Romans and Galatians, Rushdoony covers much theological ground and uses an astonishing number of sources. He cites Jewish, Greco-Roman, Protestant, Roman Catholic and secular sources spanning history and geography. Although, as in the epistles he is examining, there are many “themes” addressed, the preeminent message of the book is that the believer is not “saved” by his faith, but shall live by faith. It is Rushdoony’s patient explanations of just how this works that provide the rich rewards of the reading.

The author proves the unequivocal unity of Scripture and of the church with Israel. He unearths autonomy and antinomianism in likely and unlikely places. He relates the anti-law link with legalists in provocative new ways. He is, correctly, harsh with the enemies of orthodoxy. He makes us think about where we place our faith and in what. For example, in his explication of Paul’s teaching on the efficacy of baptism and circumcision, Rushdoony takes our eyes off what we do, and directs them properly:

The fallacy of ecclesiasticism is that it gives priority to what man does rather than to what God does. It associates salvation with circumcision, or baptism, or going forward in a revival meeting, and so on. In brief, the church or man binds God by an act, whereas the true order is that our rites acknowledge either what God has done or what God requires. It is God’s act and order which gives efficacy, not what man does.... There is a faith foundation to all things rather than a ritual foundation. That faith foundation means that man’s strength comes from God, not from rites performed in the name of God. The moral and religious power at work in a society is God’s act of grace and blessing, not the church’s creation. The faithfulness of the church is an aspect of God’s grace, power, and mercy at work.

With his two-edged talent for kind edification and piercing conviction, Rushdoony—by his sheer honesty—challenges the reader to consider personal sins of presumption as he exposes principles that have been abused for centuries. It doesn’t take the proverbial rocket scientist (or Bible scholar) to see, as we read, that we are often guilty of the Phariseeism of Rome and Galatia, or that we nurse our precious dialecticism with the best of the Hellenists, in spite of our protestations. Rushdoony has a way of demolishing our foolish pride—even as we think we are reading him for “enrichment.”

Only very rarely does the author insert himself into his treatise, keeping our eyes fixed—or rather, transfixed—on the glory, majesty, genius and grace of God. We can say with Isaiah that we are “undone,” as the character and purposes of the Living God are revealed. The utter presumption that any of us has made the slightest contribution to the providence of God in our lives is rendered absurd. Rushdoony absents himself from the conversation, and instead shines a light on the Word and lets it do its work.

Presuppositions about the covenant are turned upside down as we are led to see that “the promises of God are not primarily to Israel nor to the church but to Jesus Christ.” Intrigued? Your viewpoint on this and a number of other comfortable ideas are likely to be readjusted with Romans and Galatians. Your understanding of the Persons and work of the Godhead will certainly be reinforced.

One aspect of Rushdoony’s gift is in presenting his theses in manageable, bite-sized pieces. The chapters are short, and encourage absorption one precept at a time. Except for the eureka moments when one might be overcome with brand-new insights to once-familiar passages of Scripture, the book does not overwhelm. Risking disrespect with the use of a homely metaphor, Rushdoony’s exposition is like a choice artichoke. Each bite has its own merit, and then the heart of the matter is exposed—deliciously.

Romans and Galatians would be an excellent introduction to Rushdoony, especially for those who—through ignorance or prejudicial second-hand information—assume that his brand of theonomy would bring us the Spanish Inquisition revisited. His constant emphasis is on the abundant grace found in the law and in the irrefutable presence of the law in “grace.” He explodes the dichotomy between these two principles—a dichotomy that continues to plague the church today.

For serious Bible scholars, pastors and pedagogues, Romans and Galatians will not disappoint. Rushdoony has seamlessly integrated his sources and has documented them so thoroughly as to encourage further line-by-line study of both epistles. More importantly, this readable book will clear the fog for the rank and file—perhaps once and for all—on themes that have needled the church for eons. Make Romans and Galatians your required reading in the coming weeks. And when you finish, find some slick paper and write The Just Shall Live by Faith on it with a wide-tipped marker. Cover the book. Give it as a gift to the person you most want to rescue from pietistic or antinomian gridlock, and tell him that this is the best present you could think of. That is, if you’re willing to relinquish your copy.


Topics: Biblical Commentary

Abby Oberst

Abby Oberst is currently serving on a free-lance basis for Cleveland-based Christian Endeavors and Reformation Bible Institute, and for writers and publishers in Christian Reconstruction, including Ross House Books. After extended terms in marketing communications, non-profit organizations and teaching, her role as bulletin editor for Shiloh Christian Church provides the medium for much of her writing. For more information about Shiloh Christian Church write to: P.O. Box 638, Painesville, Ohio 44077 or [email protected]. Shiloh's home page can be found at http://www.shilohcc.com/index.html/.

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