Friday, August 8, 2014

A Ride in the Reconstruction Zone, Part 1

From the July 2011 E-Block.


At reader request, we’re now having a look at the teachings of R. J. Rushdoony, whose name is associated with a movement sometimes called Christian Reconstruction. I have never looked into this movement before, though I have been given all manner of negative reports, ranging from accusations that Rushdoony wanted to reinstitute stoning as a death penalty form to charges that he was a racist. 

Are any of these charges true? Well, if they are – they didn’t get any verification in the four small books I picked up this past month. In fact, none of the four books contained anything that radical – or a great deal disagreeable to, beyond a rather staunch Calvinism, and some factual errors of a common sort I’ve seen before. (Though admittedly, much of what Rushdoony deals in is also beyond my scope of knowledge.) 

How’d it go?

Law and Liberty -- this one’s just a basic apologetic for God as the source of moral law, hardly different from what we might find in C. S. Lewis. There are errors in fact; Rushdoony seems to assume modern romantic love was dominant in the ancient world [106-7], and he finds an idea of private property in the OT (which really doesn’t cohere with the notion of God as owner, and humans as tenants).

Revolt Against Maturity -- again, mostly non-controversial, though at times it was like reading a political book by George Will, not a religious book. Rushdoony makes the odd implication that the Hebrews held to modern ideas of what constituted conscience, though oddly, he is aware that the Greeks and Romans viewed it as external, not internal! His data on the meaning of image-language related to God and man is also in error, though these errors are not so great as to affect his arguments substantially.

God’s Plan for Victory -- an advocacy of postmillennialism and Calvinist predestination. This has some excellent discussion of the “rapture generation” and their indifference to improving things, which we can see paralleled in teachers today as well. There’s only one paragraph at the end that hints at what I have been told in the past to be Christian Reconstruction: “God has a plan for the conquest of all things by His covenant people. That plan is His law. It leaves no area of life and activity untouched, and it predestines victory. To deny the law is to deny God and His plan for victory.” But the details of that “plan” and what we’re supposed to do about it aren’t specified.

Christianity and the State -- this contains a great many political and historical essays, sometimes about obscure topics, and like the rest, is long on description and short on prescription. For example, one chapter favorably describes cities of refuge in the OT, but doesn’t say what we’re supposed to do with it. I was left wondering if Rushdoony was going to advocate setting up cities of refuge in modern times, but it never got as far as “do this.” One sentence does sum up things well [84]: “There can be no separation of religion and the state. The question is simply, which religion will undergird law and society?” He also has some very poignant criticisms of churches and hymns [114] that emphasize experience over doctrine, but also a rather outlandish statement in favor of Calvinism [115]: “Arminianism does not eliminate predestination; it denies it to God, and the state seizes it. Every denial of predestination leads to subordinationism (in Christology).” It does? Not that I can see.

My next task with Rushdoony will be to read two of his larger books -- The Roots of Biblical Reconstruction and Institutes of Biblical Law. It is the latter that I have seen targeted as a racist, bigoted source now and then; whether that is indeed true, I will find out on my own – though based on the above, it would imply that Rushdoony was either a dual personality, or cautious about hiding his prejudices. (For that reason – I’d ask readers not to unduly reveal to me anything they know about Rushdoony….for now.)

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