Christian Reconstruction: R.J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism
Michael J. McVicar
University of North Carolina Press, 309 pages (paperback, 2015)
I have a deep psychological problem likely related to my being an 8-week preemie that causes me to be attracted to minority, underdog figures and root for perennial losers.
Unfortunately, this personality trait is exacerbated when I am told that I should not listen or like such with reasons which either do not match the reality of the situation or stink of a desire to keep ones rep with the cool kids and not lose face with the country club clique.
This is especially the case with those authors and thought leaders with the unfortunate problem of being right in the face of the moderate, “go along to get along”, and respected class.
No one wants to hear truth when power and relevance are at stake.
Rousas J. Rushdoony is one of these men. Deeply flawed, brilliant, legendary, one-of-a-kind. No one has read more, or more widely. Few can match his written and spoken output.
This book begins with an examination of the tumultuous childhood and early ministry of Rushdoony. From his parents very close escape from the Armenian genocide (denied by the American government for weaselly political reasons), his life-changing experience in providentially coming across a copy of Cornelius Van Til’s The New Modernism which radically changed the trajectory of his life and work, to his first pastorate on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in Owyhee, Nevada, then his first wife’s mental breakdown and their divorce and raising six kids often by himself the first one hundred pages go by very quickly before settling into the major section of the book which covers the political and social activities of R.J. Rushdoony.
As the subtitle indicates while this book is loosely a biography of Rousas J. Rushdoony it really is better described as a look at the effect of Rushdoony’s work on American conservative thought and practice through Christian Reconstructionism. Well-known politically conservative names like William F. Buckley, Jr., Richard Weaver, Russell Kirk, etc… and the central figures of the neo-evangelical post-war movement including Carl Henry, J. Howard Pew, and Nelson Bell feature prominently in the very quick rise and fall of Rushdoony’s place in the organization of both the Volker Fund and Christianity Today.
A prominent reality in the reviewers life is the fact, as McVicar notes, if you homeschool your children you only do so because RJR made it possible, and that is no exaggeration. The good that Rushdoony did in popularizing Van Til and presenting the Westminster professor to a wider audience cannot be underestimated. There are a number of other things which McVicar lists in the book which speak to his other groundbreaking work.
All this being said the truth of the matter is Rushdoony was often his own worst enemy.
His lack of political skill (or want of that skill) cost him the backing of many people who were his earliest champions that limited his long-term viability and success. This also included causing rifts within his own family, most notably with his son-in-law (and most able disciple) Gary North. There seems to be a correlation between genius and a lack for social graces. Though this same man was known by thousands as a gracious and doting father and grandfather, a gentle teacher and godly preacher.
In closing, I highly recommend picking up this book, whether you think Rushdoony is a Saint or Satan incarnate. There is so much fascinating behind-the-scenes information about the conservative movement (especially why southern California seemed to be the genesis for a lot of it in the 50’s and 60’s) that it is itself worth the price of the work. McVicar writes very well and that makes the book a quick and satisfying read.