In the middle of my seminary studies I am glad I missed this, or, even more to the point, passed it by

Here is an article on Rousas John Rushdoony from UC Berkely, from which Rushdoony graduated.

Rushdoony was becoming a big deal at my seminary, Westminster Theological Seminary, which I attended 1975-79. His books and teachings were emerging big time as well as those of his son-in-law, Gary North. The school of thought was called Theonomy. It was a theocratic movement raging through the conservative ranks in the heyday of the re-engagement of Evangelicals with the political process, guided by such as Jerry Falwell and Pat Robertson. I am not adequate to state its central teachings. I got enough to stay very far away. But from time to time it would come up in class, pressed by a few eager students and mostly dodged by the seminary faculty. Israel was seen as the model for a nation state, what it looked like for a country to be ruled by the laws of God. There was modification to make room for New Testament dynamics, but those dynamics seemed edged out in the enthusiasm to be a nation under God.

Just a couple of observations:

1. Van Tillian apologetics gave Rushdoony his theological and apologetical firepower. Van Til, faculty at Westminster, made much of asserting that there is no real point of contact between the Christian and the nonChristian other than the message to repent. The nonChristian was viewed of using his powers in all ways and at all times to rebel against God and that any societal constructs he attempted would in all ways be opposed to Christianity. While I do buy into what I perceive of as the biblical teaching that all parts of us are infected by and affected with sin, I do not posit that all human constructs must be fully anti-God. I make much more room for the role of reason and the image of God in man to provide platforms for human society that contain some of the good that God would do. As Reinhold Niebuhr put it, there is both the Christ Against Culture model and the Christ in Culture model. We are incurably spiritual and have desires that are not thoroughly quenched by possible human utopias, per the Tower of Babel in Genesis 10.

2. I believe in a theocracy a la NT Wright, Jesus is God becoming King through the church which by God is planted in the middle of human history, not that the church may rule but that the church may save. But I do not essentially see this in the conversion of nation states but in the thorough “saltiness” of the church in human society in such a way that the loaf is leavened. I believe there is sufficient basis by means of common grace for society to be preserved by the best of human aspirations, subject as they all will be to the pervasive presence of evil and that just when things seem at their best in human history humans will often do their worst.

3. Theonomy encourages conflict where no conflict need exist. It is an all or nothing proposal, something that we do not get in this world – unless you are more radically postmillenial, which I am not.

4. Theonomy ultimately leads to the marginalization of the church, not its influence. We, the church, are not so divinized that I trust the church to rule in the affairs of nations. Has church history taught us nothing?

The susceptibility to theonomy by Reformed theology was surprising to me. It seemed to have more in common with Bob Jones University, a culture from which I was fleeing, having been raised in such as a child. And here it was again in the very place where I least expected it. Note the transformation of Francis Schaeffer into a culture warrior, a most disappointing turn of affairs for me.

I have some confidence in the power of natural theology to sway culture and politics as long as the church in itself is being transformed by the Gospel into serious “Kingdom Come” realities. We preach the Gospel but we also reason with people who by virtue of their sin have not become demons! God is able to enliven His image in sinners and quicken them in conscience, even if not unto new life.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s