AN INTERVIEW WITH R.J. RUSHDOONY
Conducted by Joseph McAuliffe
Transcribed and edited by Jay Rogers
Rousas John Rushdoony, born in 1916, the son of Armenian immigrants, was ordained as a minister in the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and distinguished himself as a missionary on the American Indian reservations. One of his early books, The Messianic Character of American Education, was a major influence in the fledgling home school movement in California. During the 1960s, Rushdoony was called upon in court cases as an expert historian on home schooling as a legitmate alternative to public education. Rushdoony was primarily influenced by the teachings of Cornelius Van Til's Presuppositional Apologetics and began to work to restore the historic Christian doctrines of Postmillennialism and Christian Dominion in the church. Not until 1973 with the publication of R.J. Rushdoony's The Institutes of Biblical Law was there an attempt at a Biblical social philosophy that uncompromisingly affirmed the validity of biblical law. Since then over 100 volumes have been published elaborating the details of Calvinistic social philosophy from a "theonomic" perspective. Led by Rushdoony, Gary North, Greg Bahnsen, James Jordan, and Gary DeMar, theonomic authors have expounded the Mosaic law with a fullness of application to modern society never before seen in Church history. Rushdoony passed on in 2001. The work of the Chalcedon Foundation is carried on by his son, Mark.
Question:-- Was the New Testament Church really a "New Testament" Church as we think of it today? In what ways was their situation different from ours?
R.J. Rushdoony: The New Testament: Consider what Paul was doing: offerings to alleviate the poverty of the saints during the famine in Palestine; counseling that the needy be cared for, but "He who will not work, let him not eat." We do know that anyone who became unemployed was given three days income. After that they found work for him. Another Christian would hire him, but at lower than his normal pay so there would be no incentive to stay under that diaconal care. We know from 1 Corinthians 6 [paraphrase] that Paul said: "Don't go to the civil courts. They're ungodly. Create your own courts." And they did. They were so efficient that after a while pagans were coming to the church courts and saying: "Adjudicate our problems for us. It takes years to get a case heard in the civil courts and it bankrupts us and then we don't get justice. Would you do it for us?" When Constantine became Emperor, he called in the bishops and he said, "The courts of the Empire are failing. We have cases that have been in the courts forty years with no justice. I want you men when you go out in the streets to wear the garb of a Roman magistrate by my orders so that the people of Rome and of the Empire will no that they can come to you for justice. Well, that's where the bishop's garb comes from. Unless a bishop has heard me lecture on the subject, he doesn't know where his own bishop's robe originates.
Then the deacons took care of the sick, the poor, the orphans and the widows, of needy people in general, of captives, because as the Roman Empire began to breakdown, pirates and lawless bands would take men for ransom, hold men captive. One bishop in the early church ransomed 15,000 captives. When Rome fell, for six centuries, the only courts of Europe were the church courts for arbitration. When Rome was gone, the government, the state was gone, but Europe had justice because the church provided it. This was the pattern through much of the Middle Ages. It was the pattern of the Reformation. I have written of Calvin and Geneva and of the work of the diaconate. There were two offerings taken every Sunday: one for the work of the deacons so that all of the needy were cared for so that apart from crime, the church through these diaconal courts and through various independent Christian agencies provided for the basic government of the community.
Question:-- How did Christian philosophy influence our form of civil government?
R.J. Rushdoony: One of the things most people don't understand about Christian Reconstruction is that first it is nothing new. It has been the historic position of the Christian church over the centuries. In Western Europe and the America it has receded in the past century or two, but it has been the Christian way of life. Then what we have to understand is that in our time, we've had a totally false picture of reality -- a top-down view of whatever faith it is that people hold -- that we have to capture the upper echelons of society, or the machinery of the state, and impose something on the people.
We have never had a more top-down culture than for about 1500 years, than since Rome fell. Rome fell because it confused simplicity with efficiency. They simplified the state and centralized more and more as if that were the answer. The more they centralized, the more they destroyed the fabric of society. We are following the Roman pattern. We are centralizing as though that were the answer and we are destroying the pattern of society.
Now as Christians we believe that the basic starting point is the regeneration of man. Then man takes and applies that faith. For Christians the basic government is the self-government of the Christian man. Then the basic governmental unit is the family. This means that every father and mother will be more important in the sight of God than heads of state, because He controls children, property and the future. Then the third is the church as the government, fourth the school as a government, fifth your job governs you, then sixth society governs you with its ideas, beliefs and standards, and seventh, one among many forms of government, is the civil government.
Today, we are implicitly totalitarian. We speak of the state as the government. That's totalitarian. So we have to rid ourselves of such things. The Christian theonomic society will only come about as each man governs himself under God and governs his particular sphere. And only so will we take back government from the state and put it in the hands of Christians.
Question:-- Can we really legislate the biblical standards of morality on non-Christians? The non-Christian doesn't even believe in the Bible, so how can we even talk about building a society based on the Law of God?
R.J. Rushdoony: The Council of Chalcedon in 451 AD declared that Jesus Christ was "very God of very God and very man of very man, truly man and truly God, two natures without confusion but in perfect union." Now what this did was to block the possibility of any other incarnation of God. The most common such incarnation was in the state. The state either through its office or through its ruler or through a particular line was held to be divine, god walking on earth. So that the Prime Minister, like Joseph in Egypt, was a high priest. That's why he married priest's daughter. He could not be the Prime Minister and the high priest of Egypt without that marriage. With the Council of Chalcedon the church made clear that there could be no confusion. Jesus Christ is the unique Incarnation. Since then, we've had Hegel tell us that the state is God walking on earth. And whether you are a member of one of the parties on the left or right, you are Hegelian. Republicans and Democrats each in their own way are Hegelian.
Then the Church has seen itself in ancient pagan terms as a continuation of the Incarnation. Protestants reject that doctrine, but it's creeping into Protestantism on other grounds. The Church is the Body of Christ and therefore somehow the Church is God's voice on earth. But the Body of Christ refers to the humanity of Christ. The regenerate of Christ are the new humanity of the new Adam, the last Adam, Jesus Christ. We were born in the old humanity of Adam; we are reborn in the new humanity of Jesus Christ. The Church as the Body of Christ is not divine. It represents the new humanity, the Body of the last Adam, Jesus Christ, not His deity.
Question:-- But wouldn't a Christian Republic run according to God's Law become oppressive to non-Christians?
R.J. Rushdoony: Law is the will of the sovereign for his subjects. Thus Law represents the word of the God of the society. Now whose Law you have, He is your God. So if Washington makes our laws, Washington is our God. As Christians we cannot believe that. For centuries, God's law has functioned wherever God's people have been, whether in Israel or in Christendom. This is a new and modern thing that we turn to the state's law. One professor of law, the dean of a law school, told me that he found that even into the 1840s, courts in the United States, decided cases out of the Bible -- out of God's Word, out of His Law -- because He is God.
Now we do not recognize God as God over the United States. The oath of office for the president of the United States used to be taken on an open Bible on Deuteronomy 28 invoking all the curses of God for disobedience to His law and all the blessings of God for obedience to his law. Now basically you can have two kinds of law: theonomy -- God's law, or autonomy -- self-law. That's what it boils down to and autonomy leads to anarchy, which is what we are getting increasingly.
Question:-- What about the idea that the government should be neutral and should recognize that we live in a democratic, pluralistic society?
R.J. Rushdoony: Our Lord said, "Occupy until I come." We are told that the kingdoms of this world must become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ. The Old Testament if rife with prophecies concerning the nations being under the Christ the Messiah. Now this is clearly an important aspect of our faith. Some years ago, Weingarten wrote a book made up entirely of the texts of the Old Testament that predict the triumph to come in Christ, how all the nations shall be His. Isaiah says that even in Egypt, being a type of the unregenerate world, five cities out of six will call upon the name of the Lord, an image of great victory. So if we are going to fight with an eye towards winning, we've got to have a postmillennial faith. Now you can go to heaven without it, but you'll do better in this world and in the world to come, if you stand in terms of the fact that we are to bring everything into captivity to Christ.
All our thinking is presuppositional. We begin with axioms of thought, premises that we believe, and we think in terms of that. As Christians we think in terms of the fact that God is, and all things must reckon with God and make an accounting to God. If we do not believe, we begin with the premise, God is not and I am alone in this world. It's a dog-eat-dog world. It's survival of the fittest. So you live accordingly and the world goes to hell in a hand basket. It becomes trashier. So ideas do have consequences. To believe that we are the people of victory that Christ is going to triumph and only when all things are put under His feet will the last enemy, death, be destroyed.
Question:-- Didn't the Apostle Paul say that we are no longer under law but under grace? If so, then what is the use of the Law of God under the New Covenant?
R.J. Rushdoony: I am glad you used that word: "covenant." Covenantal thinking has all but disappeared. That's why in my Systematic Theology, I gave it particular space, because it is foundational. The Bible is divided by two covenants, really one Covenant, the original renewed again and again, in the New Testament from a nation to the Church, the nation symbolized by twelve tribes, twelve Apostles now in the church, as the new Israel of God. Paul refers to the Church in Galatians 6:6 as the new Israel of God. This means that we have a duty. We have to occupy the whole world. The Great Commission is to make disciples of all nations. To bring them all into the fold together with all their peoples because Christ is the ordained King of all creation. We have a magnificent calling. I don't believe God programmed us for defeat.
I know that some of my premillennial friends in the ministry feel a little bit out of sorts because of our stress on victory. They say, "It has an unfortunate appeal for our people. They don't like to be losers. As amils or premils, they feel that they are on the losing side. And you talk about victory and it has a real tug on their heart-strings. They like the idea." And they should. I believe that the impulse in all their being is God-given. We are a people called to victory not defeat. "This is the victory," the Apostle John tells us, "even our faith."
Question:-- In a Christian republic based on biblical law, would non-Christians be banned or would they have as much freedom as they have now?
R.J. Rushdoony: Calvin in Geneva there are points where I would disagree with him Calvin was born and raised a Catholic. The Catholic model was still in the minds of the reformers. They wanted to reform the Catholic Church. That was their goal. So they began with the belief that the society had to be Christian. Now Calvin in Geneva never commanded the city. He was an outsider brought in as kind of an efficiency expert to make a city that was a business community function. Prior to his coming, drinking, gambling and fornication occupied too much of the people's time and efficiency was going down hill. They liked Calvin because he brought about efficiency. He made people sober, God-fearing. But they didn't like it for themselves. The rulers of Geneva were happy with the results, but unhappy that Calvin expected the same type of behavior of them. The libertines were really very close to controlling the city most of the time. They brought in Servetus to challenge and oust Calvin. During the time of the trial, Calvin actually had his bags packed ready to leave. But the Catholic model was still in the background there.
With Cromwell it was different. Cromwell was faced with churches who wanted an established national church still the old Roman model. The Presbyterians, who were the most powerful group, were emphatically for an established group. That to them was salvation. The Separatists disagreed with them, but the other groups wanted to command the establishment. Cromwell wanted not a church establishment, but a Christian establishment. He wanted England committed to a Christian faith, not to a church. That's what he worked for. He had to fight the churches. It was the churches that defeated Calvinism and most of all the Presbyterians. It's the great blot in Presbyterian history that they brought in Charles II, a thoroughly degenerate man, and believed he would keep his word to them that he would go along with their idea of an establishment. Of course, he broke his word to them and 2000 clergymen had to leave the Church of England. Over a course of time, the Presbyterians virtually died out in England.
Question:-- What about the "establishment of religion" clause in the U.S. Constitution? Doesn't the U.S. Constitution forbid the display of religion in the civil sphere?
R.J. Rushdoony: Among the early colonists were separatists or independents or people who maintained the form of establishment but really wanted no part of it. The Congregational Church of Massachusetts was the established church of Massachusetts and legally part of the Church of England. They never broke with the Church of England. The actually had Church of England men in some of the pulpits. In fact, the man at Salem whose family was deeply involved in the witchcraft trials was Church of England. It was only subsequently that they came to a belief that there should be a Christian establishment rather than a church establishment. However, with the Constitution it was believed that legally and on good grounds, the states if they chose could establish a church or several churches or simply say that Christianity is the established faith, but not impose it on the states and counties. In many cases, they settled down to a county by county establishment.
Even in my lifetime, especially in the west, you could go to a county in Nebraska, Minnesota, Wisconsin, and everything would be controlled by a particular church which was the dominant church in that area it could be Catholic, Lutheran, Presbyterian, Reformed they were not intolerant of each other. In some places, where I spoke, the priests or the nuns would ask me into the parochial schools to talk about my work among the Indians. Or the Lutheran pastor would ask me into the public schools to speak. He ran it. In some cases the priests ran the public schools and the nuns taught. No one saw anything wrong with that, they were not intolerant one of another. It worked out beautifully on the local level. But we shattered all of that because of Madelyn Murray and her lawsuit.
Question:-- What can Christians begin to do from a practical standpoint to begin to rebuild their nation according to the standard of the Law of God? What would a Christian nation look like?
R.J. Rushdoony: At the beginning of this century, 80 percent of the world's Christians were in the Americas and Europe. Now only 40 percent, because more and more of the new Christians are in Asia and Africa. We have today a country in Africa that is Christian Reconstructionist. Now here are blacks running a country trying to reorder everything according to the Word of God. We don't hear these things because we feel that we are the center of the world and what we are and what we do is all important. But things are happening very dramatically.
The media isn't given to reporting on Christian successes or Christian martyrdoms. They act as though Christianity is dead and we are too stupid to lie down and be buried. But the reality is much different. That's why there is so much animosity to what we are doing. They know it is catching on. When the President and Vice President of a country in Africa have affirmed that they believe that God's law should rule the country, that is major news, but the media won't touch it.
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