Christian Reconstruction (Biography of Rushdoony)

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Let’s get one thing clear. Rushdoony’s last name is spelled “Rushdoony.” There is no “e” in it. If you want to be Armenian about it, you can spell it Rushdouni, as in his father’s name. His family’s history is really neat. His father, Y.K. Rushdooni, was connected to the Armenian Orthodox Church until the Turks (like they do today) slaughtered his village in 1886. The elder Rushdouni later converted to Presbyterianism.

Whatever Rushdoony’s other problems were, you can’t fault his reading of the Bible. He learned to read English by reading the King James under kerosene lamps. By the time he was a teenager, he had read it through many times.

This book is outstanding. If you hate Rushdoony, you will love this book. If you love Rushdoony, you will love this bio.

Vickers notes the difficulties Rushdoony and his first wife, Arda June, had. Arda wasn’t meant for mission life on the reservation. Rushdoony’s journals give some evidence of the “Wild West” life:

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Introducing Chalcedon

While Rushdoony’s interpretation of Chalcedon omits several key aspects–okay, he avoided almost all of the key metaphysical concerns–his political interpretation isn’t entirely far-fetched. Ancient man would never have separated ontology from politics.

Funny Problems with Christianity Today and Faulkner

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Observations

* Rushdoony was one of the first to galvanize the “militant conservative housewife” population.

* While I am severely critical of much of his theology, Rushdoony on capturing the “dominion” aspect of the imago dei is pretty good.

Rushdoony and Bahnsen

It seems Rushdoony threw Bahnsen to the wolves after the RTS debacle.

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Tyler Theology

Downplayed the family and emphasized the church. They were also concerned with material survival in the post-apocalyptic world. However, the Tyler church had a habit of “excommunicating dissident members.”

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While Gary North had his own problems to deal with, it is ironic that Rushdoony accused the Tyler guys of “blasphemy” and urged “they recant their positions.” This coming when Rushdoony had divorced himself from the church and fed himself communion.

The Lost World of Torah (John Walton)

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This book isn’t as “revolutionary” as perhaps Walton’s critics and fans think it is. There are a number of things he isn’t saying:

a) He isn’t saying the Torah doesn’t apply today.
b) He isn’t promoting sexual freedom.
c) He isn’t saying Israel copied from ANE cultures.  In fact, he specifically rejects that idea.

In short, Torah revealed Yahweh’s order in society.  It addressed threats to order, and in that revelation it teaches wisdom, not a format for OSHA codes.

Thesis: Order is achieved through the wisdom of those who governed society.  Our primary task in studying Torah is not to make it an updated version of the Congressional Register, but to see how it embodies (or is embodied) order in society.

Proposition 1: The Old Testament is an Ancient Document

Walton faces a stiff challenge:  he correctly notes the embeddedness of much of Torah, yet he wants to affirm its relevance for us today.  Can he do that? He suggests the use of a “cultural broker,” a person an analogue who can help us make sense of commands like “Do not wear clothes of wool and linen woven together.”

Proposition 2: The Way we think about Torah today is conditioned by how we think law and legislation work.

Walton notes, correctly I think, that Hebrew “legal sayings” include legislation and instruction.  These are two distinct speech-acts with different expected responses.

Proposition 3: Legal Collections in the Ancient World are not Legislation

Key idea: What did legal sayings in the ANE look like?  Does the “Law,” whether Hammurabi’s or Moses’s, cover every legal aspect of society? Walton argues that judges in the ancient world, more often than not, used their intuition.

Proposition 4: ANE Legal Collections teach wisdom

These lists are aspective.  They contain a wide variety “of aspects pertaining to a topic.” A collection of legal lists would teach the king or judge how to be wise in a ruling.  Walton suggests it is like the “practice problem” in a math textbook. It teaches you how to do something, but the individual problem isn’t the standard for all further deductions.

Proposition 5: Torah is similar to these legislations and therefore teaches wisdom

An example that Torah functioned also as wisdom is David’s (unwitting) response to Nathan’s parable.  He says the man must die but he also must pay fourfold.

Terminology

None of these terms refer to codified legislation.  But does not the command to “obey” imply that Torah = legislation?  Not necessarily. The command to “obey” almost always has “voice” as its object, not Torah itself. I think there are some exceptions, though.

We are told to keep (smr) his commands (mitzwot). These commands occur often in Wisdom literature, which is concerned with order.

Proposition 6: The Israelite Covenant functions as an ANE Suzerainty Treaty.

Thesis:  these treaties sought to teach wisdom and explain what the regent may or may not do; it wasn’t a comprehensive legislation.  The suzerein’s stipulations were more of “extending his identity” than imposing a piece of legislation (Ezek. 36:22-24).

Proposition 7: Holiness is a status, not an objective

In Lev. 19:2 God’s people are called to be holy (indicative, not imperative).  It is more along the lines of “You Will Be Holy.” The Hebrew qds can mean:

* a constellation of all that is associated with Yahweh (the ark, temple, Mt Sinai, etc).

* God’s patronage (Ex. 6:7).

Proposition 8: ANE rituals served to meet the needs of the gods

Thesis: rituals provide the means by which order is maintained.  I agree with what he is saying but he didn’t offer any argumentation or have any textual support.

Proposition 9: Israelite ritual maintains to preserve covenant order because Yahweh has no needs

At this point there is a clear break between ANE societies and Israel.  Yahweh doesn’t need to be pampered. Therefore, the ritual exercises maintain a different status quo.  These rituals serve the role of a tribute. It served the purpose of revelation: it revealed (among other things) Yahweh’s order to the world.

Walton points out, but does not develop, that kipper rarely has “person” or “sin” as its object.  It is rather to restore the cultic equilibrium.  It’s not so much that it forgives sin but it allows a person to be forgiven.

Proposition 10: Torah is similar to other ANE codes because it embodies the same cultural context.

This is tricky.  On one hand, it is true by definition.  We don’t live outside space and time. It also makes sense that legal wisdom (or wisdom in general) would bleed through national boundaries.  On the other hand, as Walton admits, establishing that x borrowed from y is very difficult.

Proposition 11: The differences between Torah and ANE codes are found not in legislation, but in establishing order

Unlike other law codes, Torah is concerned with holiness and covenant.  Yahweh, who is holy, has taken to himself a people who are now holy. How should they live?  He gives them Torah to define the nature of the order which reveals himself.

Proposition 12: Torah is situated in the context of the ancient world.

Proposition 13: Torah is situated in the context of covenant.

For many laws in Torah, even if they are functioning as law, they are apodictic, not casuistic. 

Proposition 14: Torah is situated in the context of Israelite theology regarding God’s presence residing among them

Propoition 15: Discussions of the law in New Testament context do not tell us anything about Old Testament Torah in context.

Proposition 16: Torah should not be divided into categories to separate what is relevant.

Speaking of the debt-slavery in the Old Testament, Walton notes,

Taxation in Torah times was based on goods-and-barter system, as coins weren’t minted until the Persian period. Therefore, Torah isn’t talking about monetary taxation, giving principles for or against, but warning rulers not to trust in their own strength (as measured by goods).

Proposition 17: Torah was never intended to provide salvation.

Proposition 18: Divine Instruction can function as a metaphor for health rather than law

Proposition 19: We cannot gain ethical knowledge by reading Torah apart from its culture.

His basic claim is the difficulty in finding out which passages contain moral (and only moral) principles and which are ceremonial.  The immediate counter is that “Thou shalt not kill” seems fairly moral.

Proposition 20: Torah cannot provide prooftexts for solving problems today.

He isn’t saying we shouldn’t go to Torah for ethical wisdom.  He means only that many of the passages don’t neatly fit today.  He has an excellent discussion on Deut. 24:1-4. 

Some Thoughts on the “Ten Commandments.”  

Torah actually doesn’t call them that. They are the “Ten Words” (Ex. 20:1’ 34:28).

 

Review Hodge Systematic Theology

Charles Hodge is the highpoint of American theology. While Dabney searched deeper into the issues, Hodge’s position (if only because the North won) allowed him a wider influence. Thornwell was the more brilliant orator and Palmer the greater preacher, but Hodge was the teacher and systematician.  Of the Princetonians Hodge is supreme.  His writing style is smoother than Warfield’s and he is deeper than his predecessors.

We rejoice that Hendrickson Publishing is issuing these three volumes at $30.  Even with the page-length quotations in Latin, Hodge is strong where American Christianity is weak.   A renaissance in Hodge would reinvigorate discussions about epistemology, the doctrine of God and God’s knowledge, justification, and God’s law. We will look at Hodge’s discussion of epistemology, doctrine of God, human nature (including both sin and free volition), soteriology, and ethics.

Common Sense Realism

 Far from stultifying the gospel, Hodge’s position safeguards the reliability of “truth-speak” and if taken seriously today, adds another angle to the “convert” phenomenon.   A properly basic belief is one that doesn’t need another belief for justification.  I’m not so sure if Hodge is making that claim.  However, he does anticipate some of Plantinga’s positions by saying that God so constituted our nature to believe x, y, and z.  My aim is to show from Hodge’s own words that our cognitive faculties are (1) reliable and (2) made so by God.  I will advance upon Hodge’s conclusions:  a commoner can read the Bible and get the general “gist” of it apart from an infallible interpreting body.  Secondly, to deny the above point attacks the image of God.   Thirdly,  to deny the above point is to reduce all to irrationality.   The practical application:  Those who deny this position often find themselves looking for “absolute” and infallible arbiters of the faith.    Such a position denies a key aspect of our imago dei.

“Any doctrine [and Hodge is using this word in the technical sense of philosophic and/or scientific beliefs], therefore, which contradicts the facts of consciousness, or the laws of belief which God has impressed upon our nature, must be false” (I: 215).

“Our knowledge of mind, therefore, as a thinking substance, is the first and most certain, and the most indestructible of all forms of knowledge; because it is involved in self-knowledge…which is the indispensable condition of all knowledge” (I: 277).

It is interesting to note his reference to self-knowledge.  One is reminded of Calvin’s duplex cognito dei.

Doctrine of God

…[S]tart with the revelation that God has made of himself in the constitution of our own nature and in his holy word.  This method leads to the conclusion that God can think and act, that in him essence and attributes are not identical (I: 564).

It’s also interesting to note Hodge’s comment about God constituting our nature in a certain way.  Shades of Thomas Reid.

“To say, as the schoolmen, and so many even of Protestant theologians, ancient and modern, were accustomed to say, that the divine attributes differ only in name, or in our conceptions, or in their effects, is to destroy all true knowledge of God…If in God knowledge is identical with eternity, knowledge with power, power with ubiquity, and ubiquity with holiness, then we are using words without meaning (I: 371-372).

The attributes of God, therefore, are not merely different conceptions in our minds, but different modes in which God reveals himself to his creatures…just as our several faculties are different modes in which the inscrutable substance self reveals itself in our consciousness and acts (I: 374).

Following Turretin, Hodge writes,

The attributes are to be distinguished not realiter, but;”virtualiter, that is, there is a real foundation in the divine nature for the several attributes attributed to him (I: 370).

What does virtualiter mean?

Richard Muller defines it as “literally, i.e., with virtue or power” (Muller 371).

It’s interesting that Muller mentioned “power.”  This corresponds with Radde-Galwitz’s interpretation of Gregory of Nyssa.  Alluding to Michel Barnes he notes that divine power is the causal capacity rooted in the divine nature; inseparable from the divine nature and gives rise to the divine energies (183; Barnes).  Further, each “Good” (or attribute, in our case) entails another.

Human Nature

Charles Hodge’s key argument regarding the free will controversy is this:   does infallible certainty of a future event destroy human liberty?  He answers no.  Hodge gives a lengthy explanation that the Reformed tradition can maintain free agency, yet God’s foreknowledge of future actions is not threatened (Hodge, II: 296-304).  Part of his discussion is labored and a bit confusing, for he realizes that “free will” has as many glosses as it does adherents.  He explains what is and is not meant by “free will.”

I do not always agree with his defining of the terms.   He lists the three options:  necessity (fatalism), contingency (free-willism) and certainty (Reformed and Augustinianism).  My problem with Hodge’s list is that traditional Reformed orthodoxy made a distinction between the necessity of the consequent (absolute necessity as pertaining to God ad intra) and necessity of the consequent thing (conditional necessity). My problem with his term “contingency” is that it risks confusion:  God is a necessary being; man is a contingent one.  It is evident, though, that Hodge makes clear he means the semi-Pelagian options.   He does advance the discussion forward, though, with his use of the term “certainty.”  Hodge is content to show that opponents of the Reformed system cannot demonstrate a contradiction between the proposition “all events are foreknown by God and will happen with certainty,” and the proposition, “Man can make rational choices apart from absolute necessity.”  Hodge lists several metaphysical and biblical examples.   God is a most perfect being.   This is a certainty (else we are doomed!), yet few will argue that God’s liberty is impinged.   Jesus’s crucifixion was foreknown in the mind of God, yet the Roman soldiers sinned most freely.

This raises an interesting issue:  many semi-Pelagians try to duck the Reformed charge by saying, “God simply foresees who will believe and elects them based on his foreseeing their believing.”  Besides being a crass works-righteousness, does this really solve the problem?  Is their belief any less certain?   If the semi-Pelagian argues that election is God’s foreseeing their faith, then we must ask if this is a certain action?   It’s hard to see how they can say no.  If they do affirm that it is certain, then they must at least agree (hypothetically) with the Reformed gloss that certainty does not destroy free agency.

So what does it mean for a man to act “freely.”  Few people on either side ever define this satisfactorily.   Hodge loosely follows the standard Reformed gloss:  the will follows the intellect (which is assumed to be fallen).  Man can be said to act freely if he acts naturally:  man acts according to the way he was created (II: 304).

Imputation

One of the objections to the doctrine of the satisfaction of Christ is that the transfer of guilt (ours/Adam’s) and/or the transfer of righteousness (Christ’s) is morally and legally impossible.  Hodge answers:

“The transfer of guilt or righteousness, as states of consciousness or forms of moral character, is indeed impossible.  But the real transfer of guilt as”a responsibility to justice, and as righteousness which satisfies that justice,’ is no more impossible than that one man should pay the debt of another.  All that the bible teaches on the subject is that Christ paid as a substitute our debt to the justice of God” (II: 540-541).

Justification

Vol. 3: 114ff

Hodge gives a wonderful and penetrating treatment on justification.  He notes that The nature of the act of justification Does not produce subjective change.  It is an Act of God not in his character of sovereign but in character of judge (speech-act?)

Includes both pardon and declaration that believer is just in the sight of the law.    It is not saying that the believer is morally just in terms of character.  The believer is just in relation to the law–guilt is expiated (120).  It is not mere pardon: sinner’s guilt is expiated (125).  Mere Pardon does not produce reconciliation (128).

Scriptural usage:

Dt 25:1.  Judge pronounces a judgment.  He does not effect a character change. Condemnation is the opposite of justify.  A sentence of condemnation does not effect an     evil character change.  Thus, if sentence of condemnation is judicial act, so is justification (123).

Romanist Views

Infusion of righteousness does nothing for guilt (though possibly they would say the guilt is washed away in baptism).  Accordingly, justification does nothing for the satisfaction of justice.  Even if the Romanist claim that justification makes me holy were true, I would still be                       liable to justice (133).

Satisfaction of Justice

An adequate theory of justification must account for satisfying justice (130). Nothing “within” me can do that.

Works of the Law

Scripture never designates specifically “what kind of works” (137).  The word “law” is used in a comprehensive sense.  Nomos binds the heart–law of nature.  Not ceremonial.  Paul says “thou shalt not covet” as the law that condemns me (Romans 7).  Not ceremonial.  Grace and works are antithetical. It doesn’t make sense to subdivide works (138).

Ground

The Ground of justification is always what is done for us, not what is in us

  • justified by his blood (Romans 5:19)
  • by his righteousness (5:18)

If just means “morally good,” then it would be absurd to say that one man is just because of another (141).

  • We say that the claims against  him are satisfied.
  • When God justifies the ungodly, he does not declare him morally godly, but that his sins are expiated.

Hypothetical Objections Proves Protestant View

Why object over possible antinomianism if faith alone not true (Romans 6; p. 140)?

The Law of God

Like older Reformed systematics, Hodge has a treatment of the Decalogue.  Much of it is common fare.  What is interesting is the way he handled it. By reading his arguments we see a commentary on problematic cultural issues.  Of particular importance, which I won’t develop here, are his expositions of the 4th and 7th commandment.  In the latter he specifically deals with Romanist tyranny in marriage.

Throughout the whole discussion he is combating Jesuitism.  We do not see that today.  Modern systematics, even conservative ones, are scared of appearing “conspiratorial.”  Hodge’s age was a manlier age.  They called it for what it was.  They knew that Jesuits swear an oath to destroy Protestant nations by any means necessary. And they knew that only the Law of God provides spiritual and political liberty.

Hodge is not entirely clear, though.  When he wants to prove the Levitical prohibitions as binding today on sanguinuity and close-kin marriage, he argues like Greg Bahnsen. Almost word for word.  If he did that today he would be fired.   But when he wants to argue against more theocratic penalties, he sounds like a dispensationalist.

Sacraments

Keith Mathison’s book on Calvin’s view of the Supper is now something of a classic, and deservedly so.  I am in large agreement with most of the book.  I certainly lean towards Calvin.  That said, I think one of the unintended consequences of the book is a slighting of Charles Hodge among the “Young Turk Calvinists.”  It’s not that I disagree with Mathison or Calvin, but I am concerned about the new interest in Nevin.  I used to be a hard-core Hegelian for 3 years.   Nevin was also an Hegelian.   Granted, Nevin pulled back from the worst of Hegel.  I am not so sure Nevin’s modern interpreters fully understand that.  I hope to give something of a modified defense of Hodge on the Supper:

“really conveying to the believing recipient, Christ, and all the benefits of his redemption…There must be a sense, therefore, in which believers receive the body and blood of Christ” (III: 622).

However,

Anything is said to be present when it operates duly on our perceiving senses” (637).  I am not so sure Hodge is able to dodge Mathison’s charge.  I agree with Hodge’s common sense realism, but I don’t think Hodge’s next point follows:  “In like manner Christ is present when he thus fills the mind, sheds abroad his love into our hearts…” (638).  I suppose the question at issue is this:  we grant that Christ fills the mind.   We grant that sensory operations also fill the mind, but it does not necessarily follow that Christ is present in the Supper in a sensory manner.   In some sense I think all Reformed would agree with that.

Hodge makes the common Reformed point that “what is affirmed to be present is not the body and blood of Christ absolutely, but his body as broken and his blood as shed” (641).  This is a decisive point against High Church traditions:  when they insist upon a literal reading, “This is my body,” the Reformed can point that Christ’s wasn’t sacrificed yet, so the “body” at issue can’t be the sacrificial body.

Hodge concludes his exposition of the Reformed teaching with “There is therefore a presence of Christ’s body in the Lord’s Supper; not local but spiritual; not to the senses, but to the mind and to faith; and not of nearness, but of efficacy” (643).

The Problem with Nevin

Throughout the work is a running attack on Nevin’s theology.  Hodge makes a point that isn’t always grasped by Nevin’s defenders today: if we accept Nevin’s platonic essentialism, especially with regard to the Eucharist and Christology, then we run into huge problems.  If Christ assumed the universal humanity, then he also assumed the rules of predicating of genus:  the more universal a genus, the less specific it is.  If Christ is the universal humanity, then there is nothing specifically human about him!

Evaluation

It is superfluous to sing of Hodge’s greatness.  That is a given.  I do have some issues with his treatment.  Hodge routinely appeals to the “received consensus of the church” for many of his doctrines.  There are several problems with this. Aside from the most general teachings from the Creeds, appeals to the Patrum Consensus are problematic and question-begging.  Further, the Eastern Orthodox Church, to which Hodge sometimes appeals, would not share his assumptions about Adam’s imputed guilt, for example.