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Arriving at an Informed Faith

The year was 1974 when I first became aware of the man with the funny names. Neither “Rousas,” nor “Rushdoony” were words I had ever heard. Had it not been for the middle name of John, I might have doubted whether or not he was a real person.

  • Ben House,
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The year was 1974 when I first became aware of the man with the funny names. Neither “Rousas,” nor “Rushdoony” were words I had ever heard. Had it not been for the middle name of John, I might have doubted whether or not he was a real person. While C. S. Lewis’ Pevensie children entered Narnia through a wardrobe, I entered a far different world through an American history class. The world I entered into—by design and plan, as I now understand it—is called Calvinia.

The world of Calvinia I stepped into had only slight connections with the world I had grown up in. That world was a small east Texas town where I was a member of the local Methodist Church. While much of the preaching I heard was weak, the worship services had fortified me with the weekly reciting of the Apostles’ Creed and Lord’s Prayer, along with many solid hymns in the Wesleyan and evangelical tradition. After hearing some evangelistic and revival preaching in other churches, I had experienced salvation and had come to personally know Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior, to use the phrase common to many of us. 

I was a Christian, but terms like Protestant Reformation, Calvinism, Reformed, theology, soteriology, eschatology, apologetics, and others were a new language that I discovered in Calvinia. Along with that, I became aware of the words to describe the foes within this new universe.  There were Arminians, Pelagians, Semi-Pelagians, Deists, Evolutionists, Naturalists, Rationalists, Higher Critics, and others who I was being warned to be wary of or to avoid totally.

More terms would appear, more opponents, more ways of talking and thinking, but for a time, it was all a muddle. In Acts 8:30, Philip asks the Ethiopian eunuch who was reading Isaiah, “Do you understand what you are reading?” The Ethiopian answered, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” I was in the same boat, or the same chariot (Acts 8:31). The language, the culture, and the underlying worldview of Calvinia was beyond anything in my experience in church or school.

There were guides who then helped me learn the fundamentals of this new way of thinking in this life-changing universe. There was, first of all, my history teacher, Professor Henry Wood. While grumbling and lazy students often accused him of interjecting religion into his class, I quickly realized that he was primarily teaching about the actual history of colonial and early America. An earlier mentor had told me to take Mr. Wood’s class because he taught about Calvinism. She added, “And you will need to understand that to understand American literature.” She was right, but Calvinism explained much more than some of the participants in America’s history and literature.

Mr. Wood not only taught about Calvinism, but he embraced it—with zeal. Also, he really liked the man with the funny name, along with others, like C. Gregg Singer, Gordon Clark, and one simply called Spurgeon, and especially one who seemed to be a major leader of them all—John Calvin. He shared quotes from them all and used them to supplement his lectures. He introduced them and others to me. They became my guides and mentors for Calvinia.

These guides were authors, some still living at the time and others who had been dead for ages. Their messages were sent to me in books, many coming from a place called Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company; and deciphering the message of the books was always a challenge. One major breakthrough came from a man with a woman’s name—Loraine Boettner. His book The Reformed Doctrine of Predestination became the boot camp, the training ground, for me. Once read, there was no turning back. I have never left Calvinia after that book.

This journey to Calvinia, or this process of becoming Reformed, had many phases and angles. It all centered around redefining who God is. When I entered that world, I thought I had already found and figured out God. I then learned that it was I who had been found and much of what I figured out about God was wrong or inadequate. My views of God, based on misleading or incomplete understanding, underwent a revolution. I had tried to know God by being the judge in a courtroom or the scientist subjecting God to a microscope. The Sovereign, Omnipotent, Omniscient God was not to be a subject of my defining. The miniscule pedestal I was standing on to examine God collapsed as I began to see myself for what I was and wasn’t and caught a glimpse of who God is—as revealed in Scripture.

The book that I had thought was a self-help manual, filled with encouraging quotes, opened up to be the key to understanding far more. It was the very Word of God.

Doctrine became life; church life became central; and all areas of life begin whirling around a series of central concepts concerning God, the Word, and how we should then live.

I was a college student at the time:  A freshman when I first began reading the man with the funny names, a sophomore when I first embraced Calvinia, and a junior and senior as I began parallel studies of history and literature in college classes, all the while trying to connect and sometimes reject what I was learning in the classroom in comparison with what I was learning from the Bible.

The Mission of Calvinia

The world of Calvinia unveiled a sober truth:  My life in the classroom of God’s universe would never end. The vision revealed in Calvinia would be all consuming. Every area of life and thought would be called to account for interpretation and use for the furthering of a Kingdom not of this world, but to be implemented in this world. (“Thy will be done on earth, as it is in heaven” was and is still resonating in my mind.)

The mission would be impossible without the help of others. Reading would not just be a pastime, but a duty. But knowing what to read and who to read would be a major necessity. Rushdoony, the man with the funny names, was to be a key to both who and what to read. But I had to somehow get beyond the texts of the books he authored. The pictures of him on the back flaps of some of his books showed a rather stern-looking, unsmiling man, bearded like an Old Testament prophet. Intimidating, to say the least, Rushdoony from both his books and pictures appeared distant, aloof, highly cerebral, and unapproachable. Then I begin hearing voices. (Don’t stop reading; I will explain immediately.)

Gutenberg’s printing press changed the world of information flow in the late fifteenth century. He was a contributor, unknowingly, to the Protestant Reformation due to the flood of books that event spawned. In subsequent ages, both improvements in technology and newer technologies have continued the process. The information highway was given a gigantic boost by the development of the cassette tape. Created in the early 1960s, this short-lived technological breakthrough boomed during the 1970s and 80s. Cassettes were small, easily transported, easily reproduced, and explosive in terms of impact. Taped messages had previously existed in huge reel to reel formats. But cassettes were cheap and handy. It was there that I first heard the slow, deliberate, calming voice of R. J. Rushdoony.

My love of history drew me to his series of ten tapes on world history. My awe for the man increased ten-fold along with my desire to hear and read everything I could by him. Those ten lectures, given to a small gathering of people in the early 1970s, were packed with more information, insights, interpretations, and challenges than I had received in many of my college history studies. And the intimidating, lofty, unemotional image of Rushdoony vanished. He was warm, humorous, engaging, and human. Yet, when he would casually mention having read five or six biographies over some historical figure, I would realize why I would experience again the awe I had of him.

The Day of the Newsletters

Along with cassettes, there were publications that were increasing in number. (At one time, it was possible to keep up with all of the publications in a given area of interest.)  In those days before the Internet, Calvinists had to search far and wide for good reading materials. Rather than googling the topic of interest, you had to wait patiently for a magazine, a newsletter, or some other publication to arrive. Once a month, a fat envelope would show up in my mailbox coming from the far-off land of Vallecito (one of the primary towns in the land of Calvinia). It contained a newsletter called The Chaldedon Report, consisting of four pages, beginning with an article by Rushdoony. Over the years, a number of other names appeared and disappeared in the changing circumstances of this newsletter and foundation. Leaders of what was coming to be called the Reconstruction Movement contributed articles to the report. These included an economic commentary on the Bible written by Gary North and a series on apologetics written by Greg Bahnsen. Much later, Otto Scott began writing for the Report as well.

The newsletter began including more and more inserts. Around 1980, a series titled Position Papers became a regular feature of the mailing. These essays, authored by Rushdoony, covered the front and back of a page of print. While Christians, even those of us in Calvinia, were always hankering for some final word on a current event or news controversy, these Position Papers rose above the fray of the moment.

In other words, Rushdoony’s Position Papers were not journalistic commentary. Plenty of such writings abound. There are good articles, well written and convincing, dealing with some front burner issues. A few years later, such writings are of interest to the history students, and they might shed light on on-going concerns, but they are dated. They can be compared to the computer manuals whose covers show some huge dinosaur of a computer that has long since been scrapped. Rushdoony was not writing about the 1980s and 90s; rather, he was writing articles that are just as important today as when they were penned. As his readers often realize, his writings from decades ago are often so relevant that they appear to have been written in our own time.

Rushdoony’s Position Papers referenced historical events, recurring political ideas, sociological patterns, theological issues, and economic factors. Whatever the topic, it was then filtered through his own vast, well thought-out, and informed Christian worldview. Scripture references are often included, but the works as a whole reflect a broad Scriptural perspective. Calvin, Van Til, and a few other theologians were sometimes referenced or quoted, but the entirety of the Position Papers was conditioned by Rushdoony’s imbibing of the Reformed tradition and Van Tillian thinking which he had been cultivating for years.

As my collection of old Chalcedon Reports and Position Papers grew, I decided in the late 1980s to organize these materials. I put all of the Position Papers in order, punched holes in them, and then put them in a three-ring binder. Confession Time:  I would carry this official looking notebook into meetings I had to attend and would read from it when the meetings grew dull. I learned to give the appearance of the interested listener while I was secretly reading Rushdoony. Looking back now, I admit … that I should have read the Rushdoony articles even more diligently.

Rushdoony Lives

Rushdoony left the Christian world in February 2001 after having written a large stack of books over the course of his lifetime. Some were thin paperbacks, while others were weighty and hefty tomes. When the sad news came that he had died, most of us didn’t realize that, in addition to the many books we already had from him, there was still a whole library of writings to be published. It was like inheriting a massive intellectual trust fund. New books by Rushdoony continue to come off the press, but now more and more of the articles he wrote for newsletters are being reprinted and published in book form.

An Informed Faith is a packaged gift from Rushdoony to his readers (present and future). This three-volume set consists of the hundreds of Position Papers reprinted and put into order of categories. Rushdoony had an admirable and sanctified type of ADD (attention deficit disorder). He would write on one topic, then turn and write on a different one, only to follow that up with a completely unrelated subject. While many scholars have vast expertise in a limited subject area or two, the whole universe of history and thought was Rushdoony’s mental parish.

These essays range in dates from around 1979 to 1999. But there is no evolution of thought in the sense that Rushdoony believed one thing in the early papers, but had moved in a different direction later on. He had a well-grounded set of core principles. The sources are brought out in some of his definitive works such as The Institutes of Biblical LawThe One and the Many, and By What Standard. The foundation never shifted, but as he read (voraciously), talked and listened to people (constantly), and reflected (deeply), he would take one idea after another and test it in the light of his Biblical worldview.

Enriching this set of books is a collection of indices that include Scripture references and historical references. Then there is a list of the books that Rushdoony mentioned or quoted (some favorably, some not so favorably). I have already purchased one book—Renaissance Cavalier—that Rushdoony quoted from. The multiple indices enable the reader to find particular topics or people that Rushdoony wrote about.

Here is a set of books that really needs to be on the shelves, the desk, bedside book stand, or next to the easy chair of every Christian reader. I am currently reading through the books a few articles at a time. My son randomly opened one of the volumes last night and read Rushdoony’s article titled “Kenosis,” which he loved. Either method works. Open any volume anywhere and start reading. Or read the books through from beginning to end. Or look in the table of contents or index for a subject and read. It doesn’t matter.

Rushdoony Has No Peer

A final selling point:  I feel like I ought to be a peer to Rushdoony by now. He was born about forty years before I was. But he would have been about my age when many of these papers were written. Like Rushdoony, I have been a reader, teacher, pastor, and writer. Plus, I have read quite a few books that have been published since his death in 2001. I ought to be able to hold my own against the man. But reading Rushdoony always reminds me of how much I still need to learn. He runs circles around me. He casually mentions people, ideas, and events I am often totally unaware of. But he is not just a master of trivia. He makes connections from his readings, discussions, and experiences. He links whatever the topic is to how it relates to Christian thinking and living.

Reading Rushdoony can be the equivalent to going to college. (Ironically, he wanted to start a university for many years, before turning his energies to the mission of the Chalcedon Foundation.)  Enroll for a class with Rushdoony and you will be challenged to think, rethink, and apply. Take note of that last term—apply. Rushdoony never wrote with the academic goal of just advancing a bit of scholarship among a scholarly cadre of experts. His vision of history, philosophy, and theology was concerned about changing the everyday life of the Christian in the pew, home, and workplace.

With the Christmas celebration upon us, there needs to be thousands of pastors and laymen who are jumping for joy after unwrapping this beautiful set of books on Christmas morning.

  • Ben House

Ben House is the author of Punic Wars & Culture Wars: Christian Essays on History and Teaching and the the editor of HouseBlog.

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