Late this past Thursday evening, Rousas John Rushdoony, founder and long-time president of the Chalcedon Foundation, was ushered into His Lord’s presence after several months of rapidly declining health.
The Christian world has lost a giant.
I first encountered Rushdoony in what most consider his magnum opus, Institutes of Biblical Law. I was a young intellectual fundamentalist (yes, there are such people), pastor of a small Baptist church in the Midwest, and committed to a system of doctrine called dispensationalism. This theology taught, among other things, that the spiritual and moral conditions of the present world are destined to get worse and worse. The implications of this view had worked themselves deeply into my consciousness and ministry. As I read Rushdoony’s Institutes, I recall thinking to myself, "I don’t understand much of what this man is saying; but whatever it is, it surely is important." In time, Rushdoony’s writings rekindled in me a vision of earthly victory (theologically called postmillennialism); and it reoriented my entire life.
Rushdoony gave me back my hope.
And he gave the Christian world much more.
Central to Rushdoony’s thought was the authority of Biblical law. He did not mean by this just the law of the Old Testament, essential though it is, but the entire Bible, which he saw as God’s binding word for man, His creature. In fact, Rushdoony often used the expression, "the law-word of God" to refer to the whole Bible. He believed that man’s main problem was sin, human autonomy, the attempt to play God by rebelliously establishing his own, depraved moral standards. The Bible (all of it), Rushdoony believed, was given to man by God to govern his entire life.
Despite, or rather, because, of his commitment to the binding authority of God’s Word, Rushdoony was an unflagging advocate of liberty: political, religious, and ecclesiastical. Two of his books from the 60s, The Nature of the American System and This Independent Republic showed that the United States’ heritage of freedom is anchored squarely in the Bible and the Christian Faith. He considered himself a "Christian libertarian," and he believed that sustained political liberty was impossible apart from orthodox Christianity. He hated with a passion every form of statism (including "Christian" statism), and he was almost as hard on secular libertarians as he was on statists, since both, he was convinced, manifested a sinful autonomy toward God that guaranteed the tyranny of man by his fellow man.
Perhaps no man was more responsible for the 70s revival of Christian political action than Rushdoony. He held that the Christian Faith cannot be limited to Sunday church meetings, but must work its way out into the marketplace and society on Monday. Amid the ravages of the Cold War (Rushdoony was not a pro-militarist conservative) and the moral breakdown of the 60s, Rushdoony boldly proclaimed that Christians must apply the Faith in all areas of life, including politics, and that meant dismantling the mammoth state. He wanted political government replaced with church government, family government, and especially self-government. If these governments did their job, there would be little use for the state.
Most importantly, R. J. Rushdoony was a man of faith. Like all other great Christians, his faith was simple, and therefore, profound. He simply took God at His word. If the Bible taught it, he believed it, no matter how odd or silly it seemed in the eyes of the modern world. He was a man who absolutely abhorred the theologically liberal dictum that Christians must conform the Bible and the Faith to the modern culture. He believed just the opposite: Christians must conform the modern culture to the Bible and the Faith. He loved God, he loved the Bible, and (therefore), he loved liberty.
One of the great privileges of my life was his request that I join him at Chalcedon in his work. His life and thought have made an indelible impression on me and on countless others, many who have known him only through his writings.
He will not be forgotten, and his work will stand the test of time.
February 12, 2000
P. Andrew Sandlin is Executive Vice President of the Chalcedon Foundation which since 1965 has been dedicated to applying historic, Biblical Christianity in today’s world. He is the author of Christianity: Bulwark of Liberty and several other works.