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Rushdoony Centennial 1916-2016

By Martin G. Selbrede
February 22, 2016

The hundredth anniversary of the birth of Chalcedon’s founder, Dr. Rousas John Rushdoony, falls on April 25, 2016. This milestone comes just one year after the Chalcedon Foundation had celebrated its fiftieth anniversary (1965–2015). This is, no doubt, an auspicious event—one that will go unnoticed by most of the world, but one marked by those who’ve felt the impact of this man’s work upon their lives.

Dr. Rushdoony was not one for tributes—he knew too well the dangers of flattery as laid out in Scripture, and he didn’t need that any more than the rest of us do. He was focused on the work of the Kingdom, and decried any and all distractions from that work (excepting, of course, the Sabbath rests God had ordained to show us that the results are in His hands, not ours).

If Chalcedon had been all about Rushdoony, all about the man, then of course the Foundation would die with the man. There were quite a few who expected Chalcedon to become the chaff of the summer threshing floor after February 2001. It would be a very stern test of the proposition that Chalcedon was built on an idea and not on a personality. (Of course, some wags would argue that there was never any danger of building a cult around Rush’s personality since there was no personality there to build on. Some have never forgiven him for protecting his privacy and the sanctity of home and hearth in this way.)

No, for Rush, the big idea concerned God’s Kingdom and our calling in it under Christ. Even on his eightieth birthday, the thing he appeared to treasure most (as much as he appreciated friends and family) was sitting in his proverbial easy chair and cracking open the new book presented to him by the Friends of Chalcedon: A Comprehensive Faith. This was a festschrift, a series of essays written in his honor by men and women intent on extending Christ’s Kingdom over everything, their contributions showing how the faith applies to a broad range of topics. This was his chief joy: to see people applying the faith and growing the Kingdom. It’s certainly not something that should only happen once, on a birthday when his age was evenly divisible by ten.

When Dr. Rushdoony talked about history, he made one of the most profound points of all: to understand the currents of history from a Biblical perspective is to understand what makes men tick. This was the essence of many of his analyses: what makes the men (or women) in this or that situation tick? What drives them? Motivates them? Grounds them? What faith determines their steps? If the Chalcedon Foundation continues to help Christians answer those same questions, it can readily show how Scripture speaks to all of life. Sometimes, the Bible is open and clear about what makes people tick (e.g., Judas didn’t care ought for the poor, but objected over the spikenard because he was a thief who stole from the disciples’ treasury).

But when things aren’t clear … what then? Here is where the correct definition of “prophet” is important. A prophet is someone who reveals something that is hidden. This has been narrowed to mean “revealing something hidden because it is in the future.” But this was but a small part of the work of God’s prophets: their primary function was to reveal the truth hidden under a façade of lies, to expose the heart when men look on external appearances. Christ acts as prophet when He tells the Laodiceans that while they were externally rich, far-sighted, well-clothed, the internal reality was that they were “miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked” (Rev. 3:17). But Christ doesn’t leave the situation there, with an irrevocable indictment. He provides counsel (v. 18) on accepting His clothes, His eye salve, His gold, to cure their nakedness, blindness, and poverty.

It is in this primary sense that Rushdoony is regarded as a prophet: he could see clearly how the Scripture applied, and what made men and nations tick. In retrospect, it’s sanctified common sense anchored in Scripture, and nothing more. But these being rare things these days, he was hailed as a prophet. And because he saw what made men tick, he could see what their inevitable end would be as God governs His world according to the counsel of His own will. We distort the picture when we say, “Rush predicted that would happen!” which makes him into a predict-the-future prophet. He only “knew” the future because he understood where men’s commitments would ultimately lead. And he knew this because he regarded God as true, but every man a liar.

We must make clear that the mission is about the message, not the man. Dr. Rushdoony’s wife, Dorothy, made it her business to see that Rush was positioned to be, in her words, “a scholar for God.” So Chalcedon’s job will remain precisely that: scholarship for God, or more accurately, equipping the saints for the Kingdom in both mind and heart.

Nonetheless, we take delight in filling out the picture of Dr. Rushdoony’s personal and ministry background in a series of articles being published in Faith for All of Life this year by Mark Rushdoony. Such an emphasis would not conflict with Rush’s insistence that we focus on the weightier matters of the law. Why? Because as he pointed out when discussing all the lengthy genealogies in the book of Numbers, “family is important to God.” The fact that our edification from his pen has its origin in the age of Isaiah is, in that light, no less important.

On his eightieth birthday, Rush delighted in the labors of those who were taking every thought captive to Christ, tokens of which were published in A Comprehensive Faith. On his hundredth birthday, when we can no longer present him with a new festschrift, it falls to us to become living epistles. This would please Rush because he knows it would please the Savior to see His people being willing in the day of His power.


Topics: Christian Reconstruction, R. J. Rushdoony

Martin G. Selbrede

Martin is the senior researcher for Chalcedon’s ongoing work of Christian scholarship, along with being the senior editor for Chalcedon’s magazine, Faith for All of Life. He is considered a foremost expert in the thinking of R.J. Rushdoony. A sought-after speaker, Martin travels extensively and lectures on behalf of Christian Reconstruction and the Chalcedon Foundation. He is also an accomplished musician and composer.

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