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The Reformed Patriarch

When I reflect on Rousas Rushdoony, I am reminded of how the apostle Paul identified himself to the church at Corinth: "Although you have countless tutors in Christ, you do not have many fathers" (2 Cor. 4: 15-16).

  • Joseph R. McAuliffe,
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When I reflect on Rousas Rushdoony, I am reminded of how the apostle Paul identified himself to the church at Corinth: "Although you have countless tutors in Christ, you do not have many fathers" (2 Cor. 4: 15-16). Rush was my spiritual father. It wasn't that he led me to the Lord, but it was the developmental work he began to provide for me as a young charismatic pastor continuing my studies at Bowling Green University in the mid-seventies. The church I was leading had recently become a part of the now defunct "Discipleship Movement" and one of its better leaders, Bob Mumford, suggested I read The Institutes of Biblical Law by this oddly named man Rousas Rushdoony. Rush's book subverted my antinomian, premillennial, dispensational belief system and introduced me to Biblical law, postmillennial eschatology, and the cultural implications of the Great Commission. The Lord also used that book to connect me with the author whom five years later I would meet in California and engage in intimate mentoring relationship that lasted until the day the Lord took him home.

I have been blessed with both a great natural father, Jack McAuliffe, and a spiritual father in Rousas. They both were born in the same year and they died five weeks apart. My dad was a hard working commercial real estate salesman from Syracuse, New York who loved his family, the Democratic Party, J&B Scotch, and the Catholic Church. He truly excelled in what he loved. Rush's family was from Armenia steeped in the Armenian Orthodox Church and he came to know the Lord at an early age. The affections of his life were his family and the call of God upon his life, especially the knowledge of the Word of the Lord.

The first time I met Rush was in the fall of 1979 when I was a part of a leadership staff in San Jose, California. I had ordered some books from Chalcedon and to my amazement, Rush would actually answer the phone. He invited me to come to his home in Vallecito for a visit. So my wife Kay and I made that winding, carsickness ride high up in the Sierras to his lovely rural ranch home. We were both amazed to find the home completely decorated with books galore. Kay, knowing that this was how I wished our home was so adorned was understandably aghast. "That which I feared has come upon me," she uttered. I, meanwhile, was envious.

An hour later, Rush once again amazed us by suggesting we visit his library. Library, we mused, where have been for the past hour? He escorted us down a path to another ranch style building that consisted of one great room that housed over 33,000 books. It was in the context of the "how many of these have you read?" question that Rush disclosed a revelation from his childhood. He said that when he was around 10 years old, "The Lord impressed upon me that I was called to be a scholar for God." He subsequently began the cherished habit of reading voraciously, averaging nearly three books a day up to his seventies.

What a lexicon of knowledge he deposited and stewarded in that fertile mind! I once commented my admiration for his uncanny ability to accurately extemporize on a vast array on historical personages, obscure philosophical disputations, theological profundities, or miscellaneous bits of peculiar information to his wife Dorothy. An astute woman in her own right, she commented, "It's a gift Joseph and a marvel I never tire of. He still in his late sixties can recite footnotes of books he read over thirty years ago."

Rush was a multifaceted man with a wide diversity of interests who distinguished himself in numerous ways throughout his life. He served in the mission to field to Native Americans, he pastored churches, he worked in think tanks, he taught in universities, he was an expert court witness in church state issues, he lectured in conferences, and he is recognized as an architect of the Christian political right and the spearhead of the Christian home school movement. He did so much because he really believed that Christ is Lord over every area of life and that the Bible has the blueprint for every cultural activity.

He also liked to write. He wrote history, theology, philosophy, apologetics, Bible commentaries, educational curriculums, and social critiques. His writing style was clear, concise, and erudite and without a word processor. His audience was not the ivy-towered professorial recluse, but the everyday Christian who desired to take his faith seriously. Many pastors, including myself, used his books in small group church studies.

Perhaps the distinguishing features that a father imparts to his children are security, identity, and authority. These qualities are the fruits of spiritual fatherhood as well and best describe the influence of Rousas in my life in terms of my relationship to Christ. The security of the believer is significant not only in terms of our eternal inheritance but also our standing and experiences this side of the veil. Rush's faith was unswerving in terms of the absolute love and favor of God on our behalf in spite of temporal afflictions, diseases, and trials. Amidst the intense physical ailments that he and his wife have encountered during the past five years, rarely would he finish a conversation with me without asserting the goodness of the Lord. Rush was the consummate Calvinist to the end in his refusal to accept any condition of life as being detached from the always-meaningful purpose of God "Who ordains all things after the counsel of His will."

The post World War II abdication of fatherhood has contributed to the "identity crisis" pop pathology rampant with baby boomers. What the lead singer of the classic rock group The Who, Roger Daltrey, addresses in their hit song, "Who Are You?" strikes a contemporary chord in a generation reared without fathers telling them who they are. Central to Rush's ministry was his accentuation of the New Covenant believer having been recreated in the image of Christ with a calling to subdue the earth, take dominion in his calling, and to reign with Christ. Prior to Rushdoony, I, too, was a typical escapist evangelical whose only hope was in a raptured afterlife. Most of my sermons echoed Hal Lindsay's eschatology which can be summarized by the sixties band, Eric Burden and the Animals refrain: "We've gotta get out of this place, if it's the last thing we ever do." Even a cursory reading of Rushdoony's works confronts one with the earthly implications of the believer's responsibility to take dominion over the earth in terms of one's calling under God. Christians have a profound calling in this life because of the magnificent fruits the exalted Christ has bestowed upon them as new creations filled with His Spirit and laden with overcoming grace.

Lastly, fathers impart authority to their children. Our heavenly father has equipped us with extraordinary gifts and graces to carry out the work He has called us to. Christians have authority over the spiritual forces of darkness through the Word of God as well as authority over our carnal nature through the revelation of the crucified Christ of Calvary. Rush saw the law-word of God combined with the empowering Holy Spirit as the authoritative tools of dominion for the believer. The impact of his ministry has been to transform men and women from being world-escapers to world-changers.

Rush is gone but his ministry carries on through Chalcedon, his books, tapes, and his spiritual descendents. I will also treasure the memories of my many times with him: the conferences, seminars, church meetings, phone conversations, letters, and the visits to Vallecito.

I'll always cherish when he and Dorothy came to our home in San Jose shortly after my first son died from a chromosomal disorder in 1980. They simply showed up to be a support to a young couple who were hurting. We realized then that Rush was much more than one of countless teachers; he truly was a patriarch. I have a picture of Rush and my father when we dedicated our new sanctuary in Bowling Green, Ohio that was taken after a dinner we shared in our home in 1985. Few men were ever more politically diverse, but I remember the sweet fellowship we enjoyed together that evening. I remember looking at them at dinner while they exchanged their life experiences with such relish and under my breath giving thanks to God for gracing me through them. It has been very difficult for me to lose both of them my two closest friends within such a short period, but I know from Rush that God is to be praised and it does somehow accord with the Sovereign's perfect will.

  • Joseph R. McAuliffe
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