I've been in the Reformed Church all my life and didn't hear about Rousas Rushdoony until about 7 years ago.
After reading his introduction to The Institutes of Biblical Law, I can already see what makes him influential and controversial. Here are some of the comments I made in the margin, following words I underlined of his.
"One and the same covenant, under differing administrations, still prevails" (pg 4).
This is labelled monocovenantalism and many say it denies the basic Westminsterian view of two covenants, one of life or works before the fall, and a second of grace.
"The purpose of grace is not to set aside the law but to fulfil the law and to enable man to keep the law" (4).
Yes, and I preached that exact thing Sunday. But don't forget we can't keep the law without continued grace. It's not like grace is an unfortunate necessity for us to do the REAL work of keeping the law. Grace is as foundational to the relationship as law is.
"Civil law cannot be separated from Biblical law" (4).
But was the civil law of Ex 21-23 just for Israel? Were all nations around Israel required by God to adopt Ex 21-23? Are we today? I tend to think not.
"Law is in every culture religious in origin.... the source of law is the god of that society.... humanism... locates law in the state.... no disestablishment of religion as such is possible in any society... the change is simply to another religion" (4-5).
All very true.
"Every law system must maintain its existence by hostility to every other law-system and to alien religious foundation or else it commits suicide" (5-6).
Whoa. Disagree. This is a denial of common grace: that there are principles written on the human heart and in the law that all nations can agree to and legislate, even if they do not adopt the Mosaic law en toto.
"There is no contradiction between law and grace.... Judaism had made law the mediator between God and man.... It was this view of law, not the law itself, which Jesus attacked.... Jesus fully recognized the law, and obeyed the law. It was only the absurd interpretations of the law He rejected" (6-7).
Yes, all very good.
"The sacrament of the Lord's Supper is the renewal of the covenant..." (7).
"... so that the sacrament itself re-establishes the law" (7).
Whoa, again. That's just a strange way to put things. Love and covenant relationship is the point, more than the law. The sacraments re-affirm the ongoing relationship IN SPITE of our law breaking. They are sacraments of the covenant of grace. This phrase gives me a queer feeling that for Rushdoony the law is the end all and be all of religion.
He quotes Calvin: "some deny that a state is well constituted, which neglects the polity of Moses.... The dangerous and seditious nature of this opinion... false and foolish." Rushdoony calls this "heretical nonsense," as Calvin was too much of a humanist.
"Calvin wanted the establishment of the Christian religion; he could not have it, nor could it last long in Geneva, without Biblical law" (9-10).
See, here again, this kind of statement assumes that law is what really changes things, it is the truly efficacious agent of change. NO. It is a means of obedience and sanctification, but can go nowhere without grace and faith and love. Rushdoony over-reacts against anti-nomians and winds up putting too much weight on the law.
"If the state must exercise justice, how is justice defined, by the antions, or by God? There are as many ideas of justice as there are religions" (10).
Here again is a denial of common grace to reveal to all men in their hearts basic ideas of justice by which states can govern. Romans 2:14-15: "for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them)."
"Without case law, God's law would soon be reduced to an extremely limited area of meaning. This, of course, is precisely what has happened" (12).
This looks to be the most promising contribution of Rushdoony's to the law, as much as his view of the law with regard to the state may be the most damaging.
Stay tuned for more!
Labels: Reformed Theology