A Comprehensive Faith:
A Festschrift for R.J. Rushdoony
by John M. Frame
If readers are surprised to find me writing in this volume, I am at least equally surprised to have been invited. Over some years, I have been known, not as an advocate for the Christian Reconstruction Movement, but as a sympathetic critic. This is, however, not the time for critical analysis, but for a tribute. And as Rousas John Rushdoony reaches age 80 (1996), I find that I earnestly want to bring such a tribute. Indeed, I want him to know that his work has been profoundly appreciated, even by many of us who agree with his distinctive ideas only 80% of the time rather than, say, 95%.
First, I am profoundly grateful to God that Rushdoony introduced so many of us to Cornelius Van Til. When I was a philosophy major at Princeton University, a representative of Westminster Seminary gave me a copy of Rushdoony’s By What Standard, which I have used and recommended to others many times since. It was a wonderful eye-opener. Van Til’s own writings are for the most part technical, somewhat disordered, and rather daunting in their style. Rushdoony put Van Til’s thoughts in good order, added some great illustrations (I’ll never forget “The Emperor’s New Clothes”), and made Van Til available to a great many people that Van Til himself could not have reached. I still hear of people in communions far removed from conservative Reformed and Presbyterian circles who are ardent Van Tillian’s because of Rushdoony’s work.
Not only did Rushdoony introduce Van Til to a wider audience; he also applied Van Til’s thought to a number of subjects that Van Til himself ignored. Van Til’s “one and many” became the key to politics and economics, not only theology and metaphysics. In society, too, Rushdoony taught us, the one tends to eat up the many (totalitarianism) or vice-versa (anarchy), when that society is given over to false gods. Only the word of the true God, the Trinitarian Lord, can provide both order and freedom.
And so, second, as Rushdoony would say, I am also grateful to him for teaching us the law of God. At Westminster Seminary, I received good teaching in many areas of Biblical content: Old Testament history, poetic and prophetic books, gospels, Acts, the epistles, and Revelation. There was one utter vacancy in the curriculum: the Mosaic law. This was a very serious omission. The Torah is central to the Old Covenant, and no part of the Bible can be well understood without a good knowledge of it. Rushdoony filled that gap for many of us. For all my disagreements in detail with Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law, the overall thrust of it left me amazed at the wisdom of God’s statutes. It again became possible to understand why the Psalmist would meditate in that law, day and night (Ps. 1:2). And it was certainly Rushdoony’s book which provoked all of our more recent discussions of the law at Westminster. Without Rushdoony’s Institutes, for example, Poythress’s Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses could not have been written.
We are, I think, still a long way from understanding in detail how the law of God is now to be applied to church and state. But Rushdoony’s work has been a giant step in the right direction. That direction is a direction of love for God’s law, a passion for God’s holiness and righteousness, a heart desire that God’s will be done on earth as it is in heaven. I am convinced that no “view of the law” will prove Scriptural unless it motivates us to that praise of God’s law which fills Ps. 119.
Third, I am grateful to Rushdoony for giving us the courage to resist the evil trends of our time. In my early years as a Reformed Christian, I was never taught that there was anything wrong with public schools, or the welfare state, or the dishonor shown to parents and families in the public media. But Rushdoony has shown us that the antithesis between belief and unbelief takes some very concrete forms in our society and that as Christians we cannot be content to practice our faith on Sunday and then melt into the crowd for the rest of the week. And his testimony in court on behalf of harassed and persecuted Christians has been a great encouragement.
My wife and I are home schoolers today; I doubt if we would even have considered that option if it were not for Rushdoony’s work and for the work of others inspired by him. There is no doubt that the growing resistance of Christians to the tyrannical secularism of the cultural and political establishment owes a great deal to Rushdoony. He has taught us that in this area also, the emperor has no clothes.
Which leads to my fourth and final observation, that Rushdoony has taught us not to accept defeat in the spiritual warfare. It has sometimes been assumed as a matter of course that Christians are doomed to failure in any attempt they may make to influence society. But if God has elected a vast multitude from every nation to glorify Jesus, and if he regenerates those to make them new creatures, is it conceivable that they should not make a large impact upon culture and upon history? A study of history itself (especially under Rushdoony’s remarkably insightful guidance) shows us that Christians have in fact had a vast impact for good upon the culture and institutions of human society. Of course, Christians have been persecuted for their faith and have died for it — defeat of a sort, but only in the eyes of the unsaved world. In the long run, Jesus wins his battles — not only at the last judgment, but constantly through history.
Questions do remain, I think, about how those battles are to be fought, how we can love our enemies while defeating their aspirations. But surely we cannot go back to spiritual pacifism. God has used Rushdoony to awaken us from that slumber, and we return to it at our peril. To put it more positively, there are wonderful blessings which await the faithful and their children —with persecutions, as Jesus says in the wonderful balance of Mk. 10:29-31— both in the present age and in the age to come.
These four emphases, and doubtless others, have profoundly influenced many of us who are not normally considered Christian Reconstructionists. There is a new spirit in the church universal today, a passion for learning God’s word in detail and applying it seriously, without compromise, to the world in which we live. Rushdoony has been one of the earliest and most powerful voices motivating that spirit. For that we honor him and pray that God will give him many more years of effective witness.
[Rousas John Rushdoony (1916 – 2001) died at 84 years. He was a Calvinist philosopher, historian, Theologian; known as the father of Christian Reconstruction and Founder of Chalcedon Foundation; (www.chalcedon.edu).]
[Originally published by Ross House Publications, 1996.]
John Frame is Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Seminary in California. He holds degrees from Princeton, Yale, and Westminster Seminary in Pennsylvania. He has written several books and numerous articles.