If asked to compare Rousas John Rushdoony to a character from Scripture, it would have to be Ezra. Ezra, like Rush, came from a line of priests. Ezra is known as "The Scribe," certainly a fitting appellation for Rush, whose writings, voluminous already, won't finish being published for years to come. And Ezra was a prophet, who understood the times in which he lived, instructing Israel to obey and apply the Word they had received from God.
For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel. (Ezra 7:10)
Rushdoony bears strong resemblance to Ezra. According to the rabbis, Ezra "restored and reestablished the Torah that had been almost completely forgotten." His heart was so bound up in God's law that Psalm 119 is, by tradition, oft attributed to him. Surely Ezra spoke for Rush when he said, "Rivers of waters run down mine eyes, because they keep not thy law" (v. 136).
It is difficult to be a prophet, to be granted insight into the Word and into a culture which violates that Word on the wholesale level, bringing sure judgment upon itself. Solomon, that wisest of mere men, said it plainly: "With much wisdom comes much grief." It seems to be God's way to allow this sort of pain in the souls of called individuals as a preparation for reformation, even for epochal changes.
Ezra said, "Horror hath taken hold upon me because of the wicked that forsake thy law" (v. 53). Such an intense, intestinal approach to God's Word is a precondition of reform. Ezra, humanly speaking, out of his passion helped save Judaism from extinction. So too, St. Paul was, above all things, passionate and wholly given over to "the cause." Luther had his internal upheaval out of which was born the Reformation of the sixteenth century.
And Rush who, contrary to popular myth, was an extremely emotional man was either blessed or chastised with a painfully keen insight into God's requirements and Israel's, i.e., the church's, modern failings to abide therein. And he felt it. He knew, in his very breath, the life of the blessings enumerated in Deuteronomy 28, and the dread of the cursings which form the ever present second edge of the covenant sword.
The result of Rush's insights found embodiment in a simple, recurring theme: Return to the whole Word of God or be enslaved to the State. There was no abstractionist thinking in Rushdoony: if we failed to gaze reverently and obediently into "the perfect Law that gives freedom," we would be looking up at the boot of a tyrannical pretender to God's throne, the modern savior-State.
Returning to the whole Word is not accomplished by speaking of God's law as is traditionally done as having but "three uses." Sure, the law can drive us to Christ. Yes, the law can restrain civil evil. Certainly, the law is the pattern for sanctification.
But to speak of "the three uses of the law" is to come up way short. For the same law that convicts of sin also delivers from sin through the Christ therein revealed. The law that restrains evil in the civil realm does the same in the familial, the ecclesiastical, the commercial, the artistic, and the epistemological realms. And the law that patterns our sanctification also governs our relationships. Better than "three uses of the law," we should speak of three thousand uses.
Rush's burden to our generation: Your law is too small because your Bible is too small (dispensationalism did away with two-thirds of it!) because your God is too small. How artful of God to send such a big message in such a petite package!
Throughout his entire ministry, Rush made it clear that such small thinking would have big and unwelcome consequences. His very first "Position Paper," in 1965, explained that "as the church begins to revive and resume its required ministry, the result is conflict with the humanist state. The roots of the ancient conflict between church and state are religious. It is Christ versus Caesar."
"Truer words," as they say. These words continued to be heard even unto his Chalcedon Report column published in the month of his passing: "In the pre-Christian world, apart from Israel, the state was the central and saving institution. Man's hope was a statist hope. This twenty-first century will see the collapse of the statist faith. It will be a disaster for Christians to pin their faith in non-Christian politics. They will then die with the statist culture."
One message from beginning to end: Christ or Caesar? Life or death? Which shall you choose, O House of Israel?
In keeping with Rush's warnings, Christianity is today being rejected while anti-Christianity is embraced. The Boy Scouts, Christian in only the remotest sense, are banned from churches while gays and lesbians are affirmed. Twenty-five San Francisco Bay area churches including Episcopal, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Congregational, and Lutheran, among others have launched a "pro-gay series designed to focus attention on anti-gay discrimination."
Universities are now making massive accommodations to the religious views and practices of Islam, e.g., but when a Temple University student recently protested the on-campus portrayal of Christ and His apostles as homosexuals, he was forcibly brought to a mental ward for psychiatric examination.
It is quite obvious that the need for Rushdoony's message is greater than when his ministry began. We must regard his labors as a kernel of wheat that has fallen into the ground, leaving to us its dissemination. Rousas John Rushdoony husband, father, grandfather, friend, author, prophet has died. But his works, insofar as they faithfully explain the Word and ways of God, must live on. The prayer attributed to Moses in Psalm 90 is surely expressive of the sentiment of Ezra and R. J. Rushdoony: "Lord, establish Thou the work of our hands the work of our hands establish Thou it."
The death of Rousas John Rushdoony marks a deep personal loss to the Schlissel household. "Rush," as he called himself and asked others to call him, was more than an instructor to us.
I was first introduced to Rush's writings by Rev. Robert Hall, a missionary colleague laboring in the Bronx. Though Robert and I were connected through a relationship with a dispensational organization, he had become Reformed after spending time with Francis Schaeffer at L'Abri. Through Rush, it became my turn.
I was thoroughly undone by Rush's writings. It was not the doctrine of salvation (I had already been taught, and had embraced, Reformed soteriology). It was the worldview! The first thing I read was Politics of Guilt and Pity. In the first chapter Rush shows that the need for atonement is inescapable. If it is not discovered in Christ, it will lead to all kinds of sinful and destructive behaviors.
I was hooked. We began a friendship through correspondence which led to phone calls and visits to our respective coasts. Two of the most memorable events in our relationship are 1) the letter he wrote to my son, Jedidiah, when he was born nearly 14 years ago, welcoming Jed to God's world and Christ's covenant, and 2) when Politics... was reprinted, Rush asked me to write a new introduction. Full circle.
In modern Judaism, a Rabbi is a teacher competent in the law. A Rav is a Rabbi par excellence. A Rebbe is a Hasidic Rabbi who serves as a spiritual guide, leading his disciples into a fuller appreciation of God and covenant.
Rebbe Rushdoony, you will be missed. Thank God that your writings live on.
- Steve M. Schlissel
Steve Schlissel has served as pastor of Messiah's Congregation in Brooklyn, New York, since 1979. Born and raised in New York City, Schlissel became a Christian by reading the Bible. He and Jeanne homeschooled their five children and also helped raise several foster children (mostly Vietnamese). In 2003, they adopted Anna (who was born in Hong Kong in 1988, but is now a U.S. citizen). They have eight foster grandchildren and fourteen "natural" grandchildren.