Saturday, December 31, 2011

Review of R.J. Rushdoony, To Be as God

Rousas John Rushdoony, To Be as God; A Study of Modern Thought Since Marquis de Sade. Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books, 2003. 253 pages, with index.

Rev. Rushdoony's son, Mark, notes in his introduction that his father had left his book incomplete at his death in 2001. Nevertheless, a book there was and a book we have, despite the author's inability to finishing writing all he had in mind.

R.J. Rushdoony was a prolific, often profound, and equally-often idiosyncratic Christain scholar, writing on topics as varied as epistemology, history, psychology and eschatology. I know. I read about thirty of his books (including the 890-page "Institutes of Biblical Law") from the late 1970s to the early 1990s--and I have dipped back into three of his later works--including this one--in recent years. A Westminister Standards man of the Reformation, Rushdoony also championed reconstruction: the doctrine that the institution of comprehensive biblical law would be a key factor in establishing the (post-millennial) Kingdom of God on earth. The epistemology and apologetic behind this was Van Tillian presuppositionalism: one must give no inch of common ground to the unbeliever in apologetics, but must, rather, presuppose the entire Reformed worldview and use that perspective as the foundation from which to critique alien worldviews.

I was much influenced by this grand and compelling vision for several years. While I remain a Calvinist on soteriology, I have abandoned reconstructionism, although I retain a "Christ transformer of culture" model, to use Neibuhr's typology from Christ and Culture. Nor do I accept Van Til's apologetics in its entirely, as I point out in my book, Christian Apologetics. 

Yet Rushdoony, the disciple of Van Til, aptly employs his mentor negative apologetic and key theological insight throughout this book: people want to be their own gods at the expense of the one true God of Scripture. In so doing, they erect impotent (if noisy) idol which ultimately turn against them and all they influence, since those who hate God love death. In some cases, they are blatant in this confession (Nietzsche); in others, the idea must be traced out through analysis. And this is what Rushdoony does by critiquing an impressive list of thinkers, including Marquis de Sade (a perverted thinker far more important than most realize), Walt Whitman, Nietzsche, Marx, and others. He was also able to apply theological categories to social and philosophical thought in way that uniquely illuminated their true roots and fruits. In addition to his deep historical knowledge and philosophical insights, Rushdoony had broad pastoral and personal experience--sources from which he draws many illustrations, some humorous.

For these reasons, the book is worth reading as an apologetic against autonomous modern thought. However, like most of Rushdoony's works, it is poorly edited, given that he seldom wrote for established publishers who would rigorously prune and purify a manuscript. Nevertheless, the book, like all of his works, is deeply footnoted. His son-in-law, Gary North (another prolific author and Reconstructionist) claims that the man read a book a day for decades. Having seen his library and read so many of his books, I believe it.


Jean Hoefling said...

Remember the night we two went and heard the great one speak on CU campus? He really got the brain cells going for me.

Douglas Groothuis, Ph.D. said...

I don't, actually!