McVicar's focus is the life and thought of Reconstruction's founder, R. Rushdoony, a man of remarkable industry and insight, and his relationship to American conservatism. A prolific author, Rushdoony wrote on a staggering array of subjects, from Reformed theology to the Marquis de Sade , from economics to education reform.
Yet in spite of the number of words that poured from Rushdoony's pen, it really was not until Christian Reconstruction that a clear and compelling picture of his life was offered for public consumption. Rushdoony was born to Armenian parents who had escaped genocide in the early twentieth century, coming first to New York, where Rushdoony was born in , and then making the trek to California, where the fields were fruitful. Rushdoony's father was a minister whose church catered to the Armenian diaspora in Southern California.
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Surprisingly he was originally of the political left, with an early membership in the American Civil Liberties Union. It was through his experience in the s as a missionary to the Paiute and Shoshone at the Duck Valley Reservation in Nevada that he began to see problems with socialism, as government handouts seemed to bring with it apathy, degradation and unrest. His missionary experiences, coupled with his discovery of Reformed theology, particularly of the Kuyperian variety, and the apologetic method of Van Til, helped Rushdoony develop a theological and ethical system that he dubbed Christian Reconstruction.
For Rushdoony, Reconstruction was a paradigm that sought to bring every aspect of life under Christ's Lordship, built on a theonomic ethic which subsumed reality under the law-word of Christ in scripture. At its founding, Reconstruction proved attractive to many caught in the burgeoning of American conservatism. Among this group of anti-statists conspiracy theories abounded, large sums of money were exchanged to fund think tanks, opposing factions developed, and at the center was Rushdoony, whose otherworldly look, whether in native headdress, or Saruman-esque white beard, adds to the film-noir veneer of the time.
Aesthetically, Rushdoony's world of Southern California religion and politics had the ambiance of a Roman Polanski film. It was a world of ex-hippies turned lawyers, and secretive billionaires, together striving to bring about grandiose political change. And there was Rushdoony, moving easily between bas bleu lectures hosted by conservative housewives in Southern California, and lawyers in courtrooms fiercely defending homeschoolers. At his height he took his outlook to the upper echelons of American politics, including visits to the White House.
When reading Christian Reconstruction one can almost hear the music of Jerry Goldsmith playing in the background. Beyond mere aesthetics, what makes McVicar's story so compelling is the range of source material he had at his disposal. This was largely provided by the access he was given to the archival material hidden away at the Chalcedon Foundation, the Vallecito, California, think tank founded by Rushdoony in and currently managed by his son Mark.
McVicar took "thousands of digital images" of Rushdoony's papers and manuscripts p. This trove of primary source material, along with his close and careful interpretation, and accessible prose, results in an admirable presentation. McVicar also gives readers an exceptional look into the intersection of post-war evangelical religion and conservative politics. Rushdoony was involved at some level in almost every major movement of evangelicalism and conservatism, and so McVicar's research has made an important contribution to studies of both. Though the book is primarily a social history, McVicar has a clear grasp of the basic elements of Rushdoony's thought.
Theonomy has been a controversial view within American evangelicalism so its basic elements have been muddied and misunderstood.
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Though brief, McVicar highlights Rushdoony's "anti-humanist" political thought, the role of the Mosaic Law in society and how it would apply in case-laws such as those requiring the death penalty, the kingdom of God and postmillennial eschatology. McVicar uses well the key sources of Rushdoony's thought, primarily his magnum opus, the Institutes of Biblical Law In spite of this, one wishes that McVicar had set Rushdoony more clearly in the flow of Reformed political thought, especially as Reconstructionists saw themselves as drawing faithfully from traditional Puritan theology.
An important question that is not answered is, Does Christian Reconstruction succeed as an inheritor of this earlier political theology?
The subject is hinted at in Rushdoony's involvement with the John W. Whitehead's Rutherford Institute, but is not developed in any detail. There is a great need for a study of late twentieth-century political theology, and this could have been a way to give such a discussion some impetus. Most helpfully, McVicar highlights a key element of Rushdoony's thought that set him apart from the later theonomic accretions of Bahnsen and North.
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As part of what he called Dominion Theology, Rushdoony cultivated within church and society the "dominion man," who ruled over the family, the primary governmental institution. Picking up on Abraham Kuyper's "sphere sovereignty," Rushdoony located the family alongside the church and civil government, giving it pride of place in this three-fold governmental structure. For him, the Garden of Eden pictures the family as the first government, with man as its head.
Rushdoony's emphasis on family was distinctly male-focused, with women serving as the helper to the dominion man who was busy enacting the cultural mandate outlined in Genesis Though women played an important role in Rushdoony's early political career--especially the housewives to whom he lectured--they were regarded, according to McVicar, as "a derivative instrument of dominion" p. He quotes Rushdoony as saying "a man's life is his work, not his wife" p. Paradise Restored. A Biblical Theology of Dominion. Dominion Theology. A Biblical Response to Ronald J.
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