An Overlooked Chapter of Recent History, Part 1

I recently finished reading one of the most important books published this year.  That book is Christian Reconstruction: R. J. Rushdoony and the American Religious Conservatism by Dr. Michael J. McVicar (published by the University of North Carolina Press). My greatest disappointment in this book was that it came to an end after about 300 pages.  Although I was only on the peripheries of the Christian Reconstruction movement, I relived parts of my life back in the 1970s–1990s.

I got to hear and meet Dr. Rushdoony on 3 occasions.  The last time was June 6, 1991.  That would have been my wedding day, but Stephanie and I delayed our marriage for a week so that we and others could go to Rockwall, Texas to hear Rushdoony speak.  I sent him a couple of books through the years (and always got prompt thank you notes); I talked with him on the phone twice; I read, quoted, borrowed from his books and ideas continually;  I listened to his taped lectures and talks for years;  and I self-consciously used his teachings, example, and readings in a way that has made him a key mentor in my life.

I realize that this important man and incredible book will not be as familiar or compelling to some of you.  Two things I would admonish you to do: be slow and be quick.

First, be slow to start Googling “Rushdoony, Christian Reconstruction, Theonomy,” and similar terms.  There are plenty of good websites that detail Rushdoony’s work.  The best, not surprising, is Chalcedon, which is the foundation that Rushdoony started in the 1960s.  By the way, the Chalcedon website is currently featuring Martin Selbrede’s review of McVicar’s book.  Selbrede is more focused on the details than I will be, and his review is outstanding.

There are, unfortunately, all too many websites that are devoted to Christian scalping.  There are mean and vicious things said on the Internet about Rushdoony, as well as about nearly every other prominent Christian preacher, theologian, writer, or thinker.  I try to avoid the shrill, attack dog web-sites.  I am not saying that there are not areas where faithful Christians can disagree with Rushdoony (I certainly don’t agree with him on everything) nor am I saying that he was without fault.  He spoke and wrote extensively for over 50 years.  All baseball players strike out sometimes, but Rushdoony’s homerun record is pretty impressive.

Second, be fast to actually read Rushdoony.  If someone is not familiar with Rushdoony, Christian Reconstruction, the rise of the conservative movement in the 1960s, and other related topics, this book would have little pertinence.  I have lots of friends and acquaintances who who would profit from the book, but many others who would be totally lost.  (I am currently reading Alister McGrath’s book titled Emil Brunner: A Reappraisaland so I know what it is like to be totally lost by a book.)

Perhaps, you need to read some of R. J. Rushdoony’s books, essays, and other writings.  He wrote over 50 books, and more of his unpublished works are being published every year.  He wrote some hefty and challenging theological works that might or might not attract you, but he also wrote lots of shorter works on all manner of subjects.  Rushdoony was not primarily a scholar, theologian, or weighty thinker, although he had those abilities. He was a preacher and teacher.  He took deep ideas and reduced them to one to five page essays.  He used lots of repetition.  He was simple without being simplistic.

Here are a few areas where Rushdoony’s ministry and writings have been influential:

1.  Rushdoony was a major factor in making Cornelius Van Til’s apologetic thought well known.  This may seem like the obscure leading the obscure, but the field of apologetics (the defense of the faith) is a major issue for Christians.  Van Til, borrowing from Abraham Kuyper, radically changed the approach that was being used to defend Christianity against other belief forms.  There are lots of past, present, and future debates regarding presuppositionalism (Van Til’s method) verses evidentialism (or traditional apologetics).  I borrow heavily from both camps, but there are great benefits from at least understanding that no area of life is neutral.  That was Van Til’s contribution, which Rushdoony echoed and broadened.

McVicar devotes a large portion of the book to detailing Rushdoony’s writings and interaction with Cornelius Van Til.

2.  Rushdoony was a major contributor, defender, and promoter of Christian schools and home schooling.  Rushdoony was advocating Christian education long before there was an audience ready to hear the message.  He wrote two of the most defining books on the topic back in the late 1950s and early 1960s.  Those books are Intellectual Schizophrenia and The Messianic Character of American Education.  During the late 1970s and 1980s, Rushdoony basically wore himself out traveling across the country to testify in court cases.  The scenario was like this:  A family or a small church school would be charged by the state with not obeying the laws regarding compulsory education.  Rushdoony would be asked to come to provide expert testimony.  Most lawyers had no idea what they were facing when this bearded, short man approached the witness stand.  Rushdoony’s knowledge of history, law, education, and theology was incredible.  Major battles were won by Christian educators and parents, thanks to Rushdoony.

McVicar covers this subject as well.

3.  Rushdoony was very influential in the growing and expanding of the conservative movement all the way back to the 1950s.  Along with men like William F. Buckley, Rushdoony sought out and educated a band of young thinkers who began building a nation-wide movement.  In contrast with Buckley and most of the broader conservative movement, Rushdoony wasn’t looking to Edmund Burke or other models from the past.  He was always convinced that only a truly Christian movement, built upon Scripture and guided by Reformed/Calvinistic theology, could provide answers.

MicVicar’s book is largely devoted to Rushdoony’s role in the conservative movement, as the subtitle attests.

4.  Rushdoony had a major–although often behind the scenes–influence on the Christian involvement in politics and culture that really took root in the 1980s.  At a key meeting in Dallas, Texas in 1980, a number of conservative Christians held a series of meetings that were called the National Affairs Briefing Conference.  While all 3 major Presidential candidates were invited, only Ronald Reagan came.  At some point during the conference, one of the speakers told Christian economist Gary North (Rushdoony’s son-in-law),  “If it weren’t for his (Rushdoony’s) books, none of us would be here.”  North then said, “Nobody in the audience understands that,” to which he responded, “True, but we do.” (McVicar, pp. 144-145)

Sometime later, after Reagan was elected President, Newsweek magazine referred to Rushdoony’s Chalcedon organization as “the think tank of the Religious Right.”  Rushdoony usually marched to a different drummer than most of the Religious Right, the Moral Majority, and Reagan Republicans, but he influenced them all.  (Sadly, the influence was not nearly enough.)

This part of Rushdoony’s work is covered in the book.

5.  Rushdoony had a major influence on Christian worldview thinking.  There are many books and proponents of Christian worldview thinking.  By that, I mean efforts to apply Christianity to all areas of life and thought, and not just to some limited spiritual realm.  Rushdoony continually emphasized the Lordship of Jesus Christ over every area of life.  He talked about government, history, economics, science, art, music, and other topics.  Although he does not get the footnotes and credits he deserves here, his books edged key people who wrote more popular books on these areas of thought.

This is in the book, although it is not McVicar’s main point of emphais.

6.  Rushdoony played a critical role in the development of a host of books, organizations, and people promoting Creation Science.  Being a six day creationist, after having shed more liberal theological views from his youth, Rushdoony was in a small minority because of his views.  Two men, John Whitcomb (a theologian) and Henry Morris (a scientist), wrote a book on the Genesis Flood.  After several conservative publishers rejected the book, they stepped outside their own theological comfort zones (they were Baptists and dispensationalists) and asked the Presbyterian Post-Millennialist Rushdoony to look at their manuscript.  Rushdoony read and like it, and then he persuaded Charles Craig of Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company to take a chance on this book.  Published in the early 1960s, The Genesis Flood is still in print and has spawned whole book shelves full of other books.

I know that Henry Morris talks about Rushdoony’s assistance in one of his books.  McVicar doesn’t deal with this since his major focus was on the conservative movement.  (I told you the book was too short!)

7.  Rushdoony played a central role in creating, promoting, and fostering a renaissance of scholarly Christian thought.  He himself wrote books on American history, education, politics, science, pyschology, Freud, church creeds, economics, the overpopulation myth, American Indians, philosophy, law, and theology.  But he promoted and wrote forewords to lots of other books on Christian topics.

Rushdoony wrote introductions to two of the first books in English that introduced American Christians to Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd.  Although many of Dooyeweerd’s followers today shy away from Rushdoony, his contribution to making this profound thinker known was immense.

Rushdoony promoted books by Gordon Clark, although Clark disagreed with Cornelius Van Til.

Rushdoony contributed 2 volumes to a series of books published by Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company that was called “The Modern Thinkers Series.”  These were outstanding short monographs on theologians, philosophers, and other thinkers, all written from Christian perspectives.  Rushdoony’s two books were on Van Til and Freud.

                                  Recent reprints of RJR’s books on Freud and Van Til

Rushdoony promoted the work of other Christians thinkers as economist Gary North, historian Gregg Singer, theologian Greg Bahnsen, historian Otto Scott, theologian and political thinker Francis Nigel Lee, and many others.  He influenced Francis Schaeffer, John Whitehead (whose work centered on law and legal justice), and countless others.  And among those he influenced was me.

Let us consider this as part 1 of my review of this book and man.

R.J. Rushdoony: The Bible is God's law-word which must govern every sphere of life and thought. thought, life, bible. Meetville Quotes

 

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ACCS Rock Concert

Yesterday, I came home from the yearly conference of the Association for Classical Christian Schools.  I was exhausted.  I had 3 days of depending upon coffee, cokes, and tea to keep going from one great lecture to another.  My mind was both racing with all the information and experiences and shutting down from overload.

There was not actually an ACCS Rock Concert.  But my experience was more like that of a 17 year old girl at a One Direction concert than that of a late middle aged man listening to lectures on educational subjects.  I got to hear and meet several authors I have read and long admired, and I have added a few more authors and many more books to my “to buy” and “to read” lists.

First of all, there were two founding fathers, granite pillars, and stalwart, steadfast warrior-leaders speaking at the conference.  The opening session began with Dr. George Grant speaking on “Dumpster Diving:  Recovering the Discarded Treasures of Our Inheritance.”  What an apt metaphor.  Our modern culture has thrown away treasures in order to make room for junk.  The great works of literature that formed Western Civilization were reduced to short selections in anthologies, then to trivial pursuit questions, and then to nothingness.  As always, Grant inspires.  No matter how much you have read, George Grant has read more.  But he is not just a bookish walking Wikipedia; he applies and delights in reading and learning.

Douglas Wilson is the most important modern figure in the classical Christian school movement.  It is a sign of his modesty that he did not speak in a plenary session (that is, a lecture given to the whole group) until Friday afternoon.  His talk was on the “Poetic Turn.”  Very few people would think that poetry has much value and even fewer would see it as essential to reclaiming and rebuilding civilization.  As part of the choir that Wilson was addressing, I still could say “Wow! and Amen!” to his talk.  I did not get to go to Wilson’s workshop on Beowulf, but I do have his recent translation of that powerful work and plan on listening to his talk when it becomes available on MP3.

Needless to say, I have and have read many books by Grant and Wilson.  It is easy enough for any reader here to Google their names and come up with a bevy of titles.  Doug Wilson has written some of the defining books on classical Christian education.  He was very influential in convincing me and others here in Texarkana to start a Christian school along these lines.  George Grant’s books and friendship have been defining to me over the past 15 years especially.  My blog post of nearly a year ago–found HERE–captures my appreciation and giddiness over Grant’s ministry.

    

Matthew Perman spoke on “Gospel-Driven Time Management in the World of Education.”  Last year, I read Perman’s book What’s Best Next: How the Gospel Transforms the Way You Get Things Done.”  During the lecture, I found myself resisting the content, just as I had resisted when reading the book.  Sometimes we need to read something or listen to someone simply because we like and delight in what they say.  But we often need to read and listen to someone when we don’t like what they say.  The last sentence defines me in relation to Matt Perman’s book and what was a basic summary of it in his lecture.  I needed the conviction that is still sinking in regarding time management.  I hope to re-read the book soon AND ACTUALLY START IMPLEMENTING what he says.

       

John Mark Reynolds, author of When Athens Met Jerusalem and general editor of The Great Books Reader, spoke on “Athens, Jerusalem, and the Christian School.”  This was an amazing talk regarding the fact that Christians and Humanists had contrasted Athens (the center of Humanistic Reason) and Jerusalem (the center of Theocentric Reason) for centuries; however, in our time, secular and non-Christian thinking has become so debased that it has rejected both Jerusalem and Athens.  As he pointed out, it is Christians who actually read Aristotle and Darwin (and as a matter of fact, we do read both of them at Veritas Academy).  On the bright side, Dr. Reynolds strongly believes that the next decade will be critical for Christians and Christian schools.  Civilization is collapsing all around us.  We should not despair.  Who would want a humanistic decadent culture to thrive?

Dr. Albert Mohler, president of Louisville Southern Baptist Seminary, has been described as the major evangelical intellectual in America.  He spoke twice at the conference.  The first talk was merely very good, while the second one was life changing.  I am glad that Dr. Mohler’s Calvinism and Augustianism prevented him from giving an altar call, but I would have walked the aisle if he had.  He alone was worth the cost of the trip.

(I don’t–yet–have any of Dr. Mohler’s books, but I have read quite a few of his web articles.  He is a genuine scholar with the amazing ability to correctly address and access the culture.)

Dr. Thomas Kidd is one of the brightest young Christian historians of our time.  He is a history professor at Baylor University (where one of our 2015 Veritas graduates will be attending) and is the author of several books. I only got to hear him during a panel discussion on American history where he spoke along side of Wilson and Grant.  I was in another meeting during Kidd’s lecture on George Whitefield.  Thankfully, I made enough money selling my book (Punic Wars and Culture Wars) to buy a copy of Kidd’s new biography of Whitefield.  I also bought his book on the Great Awakening.

    

And more!

On the last session on the last day of the conference, Nancy Pearcey, author of Total Truth and other books spoke.  This was yet another “worth the entire price of the trip” experiences.  Nancy Pearcey has been called the most important female evangelical intellectual of our time.  She was converted and trained through the work of Francis and Edith Schaeffer at L’Abri.  She has written on science, culture, and apologetics.  Along with Chuck Colson, she co-authored How Now Shall We Live.  I read Total Truth some years ago and was incredibly impressed.  From her extensive bibliography, I began restructuring much of my reading and thinking.  She has noted and footnoted the work of Herman Dooyeweerd, along with other Christian worldview thinkers.  Her session was on apologetics.  I was thrilled that I got to have a brief conversation with her after her talk.

I have saved the discussion of Louis Markos for last.  It was some years ago when I purchased the book From Achilles to Christ by Dr. Markos.  Later, I bought his lectures on C. S. Lewis.  Believe me, “Louis on Lewis” is quite a listening experience.  I have picked up several of his other books along the way, but I had never crossed paths with him until this conference.

I could have skipped Dr. Markos’ sessions on the grounds that I already knew quite a bit about his subjects (Lewis and Tolkien) or because there were plenty of other good sessions to attend.  But I am glad I did not skip him.  Louis Markos is a small framed, wiry, bald-headed, heavy-bearded Greek bundle of energy.  I know the country of Greece is suffering from economic problems right now, but if they all had Markos’ energy, Greece would be the predominate world power.  Markos was incredible.  He was funny, energetic, fast talking, profound, and all those things sometimes in just one story or anecdote.  When I attended his session that gave parallel biographies of Lewis and Tolkien, I carried a cup of Starbucks coffee to overcome a wave of late afternoon fatigue.  Believe me, hot, strong, caffeinated coffee (a redundancy, for sure) and Markos combined were atomic.

I managed to give a copy of my book to Dr. Pearcey and another to Dr. Kidd’s wife, but try as I might, I could not get past the fans of Dr. Markos to give him a copy.  Then as we were about to leave the conference on Saturday, I saw Dr. Markos and his daughter walking–briskly–back up to the hotel.  I grabbed a copy of my book and ran for Markos like I was a tackle on a football team.  Handing him the book, he insisted that I autograph it.  Then he began talking, again with energy and joy.  There were Lewis quotes, Chesterton quotes, stories about this and that.  I think he would have given me 3 college credit hours worth of information if I had stood there long enough.

Three final comments

1.  Most of you will not believe it is humanly possible for a finite being to meet, hear, and experience so many great Christian speakers and scholars.

2.  Besides all these folks, there were other outstanding presenters.  Some I heard; many I did not.  Most are not as well known, but are doing great work across the land.

3.  Being at the ACCS conference has convinced me that I need to start a Classical Christian School in Texarkana.  WAIT, that has already been done.  Veritas Academy is moving forward.

God’s Songbook, Prayer Book, and Daily Devotional

I began a project at the beginning of this year that I hope I never complete.  I am wanting to read more and more from the Book of Psalms.  While all of the Bible is God’s Word and is profitable for teaching, instruction, correction, and training in righteousness, there is an accessibility to the Psalms that is unsurpassed.

Whether a person is reading one psalm a day or more, that book of the Bible provides lots of direction, consolation, and encouragement.  On the one hand, there is the range of emotions and reactions of the psalmists, David and others.  These verses range from exuberant joy in serving God to severe depression, fear, and questioning.  Unlike the tendency toward the sentimental and syrupy in all too many modern songs and sentiments, the psalms are fresh, bold, manly, confrontational.  They have more the feel of Aslan than a kitty cat; they are filled with roaring, not purring.

The Psalms are also a prayer book.  We all fall into mindless repetition or self-centered want lists in our prayers.  On the one hand, God hears our stumbling prayers and the Holy Spirit corrects our spiritually mangled grammar and syntax.  On the other hand, we need to pray more Biblically.  The psalms are for praying.  When the enemies assailing the godly in the psalms don’t sound like the particular battles we are facing, we need to realize that quite often the psalms are prophetically describing what Jesus actually experienced.  The Book of Psalms in our Bibles may be several hundred pages away from the bitter details of Christ’s sufferings and death on the cross, but the experiences of the psalms are depictions (trailers, to use the movie term) of what Jesus endured on our behalf.

The Psalms are a song book.  For some churches and for many years, hymnals were Psalms recast into meter and music.  We tend to have a few songs in our hymn repertoires that emerge from the Psalms, most often Psalm 23.  But why do we not have 150 plus songs echoing the Psalms?

Near the end of last year, I received a copy of the Concordia Psalter from Concordia Publishing House.  The picture above doesn’t do this beautiful little volume justice.  Concordia is the publishing arm of the Lutheran Church Missouri Synod.  As such, they publish a wide range of conservative Lutheran books and study materials.  As most of you know, I am Presbyterian and Reformed and am not a Lutheran in the specifics of my theology or worship.  But I love and have profited greatly from the books and materials from Concordia Publishing House.  (I even like the Martin Luther action figure!)

The Concordia Psalter is a gem.  It is a beautiful, handy, leather-type collection of the Book of Psalms.  Each psalm is preceded by a few bars of music.  I suppose the idea is to be able to chant the Psalms.  We don’t generally quote Johnny Cash songs or Christmas carols; rather, we sing them.  I like the idea of singing the Psalms.  I reckon it would help us memorize the contents and internalize the words.

There are also brief prayers at the end of each psalm.  These prayers were compiled by the Reverend F. Kuegele.  As part of my morning devotions, I was reading one or two psalms a day along with these heart-searching prayers.

This book is perfect for mornings, evenings, family devotions, and other times we can carve out for hearing God’s Word.  The book is just perfect for taking on a trip.  It would also make a great gift.  There are several plans given in the beginning of the book to show how the Psalms can read over 30 days or read over a two week period.

Since this book is published by our Lutheran brethren, it is fitting to quote from Brother Martin:

The Psalter is the book of all saints, and everyone, whatever his situation may be, finds psalms and words in it that fit his situation and apply to his case so exactly that it seems they were put in this way only for his sake.

Amen, Dr. Luther!

As if this one new Psalter is not enough (God always overspends on our behalf!), Premier Printing, LTD, out of Winnipeg, Manitoba, has published a beautiful edition titled New Genevan Psalter.  This collection is a hymn book for singing the Psalms.  The Psalms are recast into meter and expanded into verses with music for singing.

I am  still getting acquainted with this volume.  But it doesn’t take much looking to see its worth.  It, too, is a beautiful small book.  (Books typically have aesthetic qualities.)  This book is rooted in Calvin’s theology and labors to inculcate psalm singing in his congregation in Geneva.  We have to remember that the Reformation was a revolution in church music as well as in theology.

For more on this Psalter and the history and use of Psalms in worship and Christian living, take note of this blog by Dr. David Koyzis, who is both a Christian political scientist and a strong advocate of the Psalms.

Let’s hear what Calvin himself says about the singing of Psalms:

What is there now to do? It is to have songs not only honest, but also holy, which will be like spurs to incite us to pray to and praise God, and to meditate upon his works in order to love, fear, honor and glorify him. Moreover, that which St. Augustine has said is true, that no one is able to sing things worthy of God except that which he has received from him. Therefore, when we have looked thoroughly, and searched here and there, we shall not find better songs nor more fitting for the purpose, than the Psalms of David, which the Holy Spirit spoke and made through him. And moreover, when we sing them, we are certain that God puts in our mouths these, as if he himself were singing in us to exalt his glory.

This can be found in Calvin’s preface to the Genevan Psalter he implemented in his congregations.

So, Calvinists and Lutherans of the world unite:  Let us sing, pray, and proclaim the Psalms.