Review of Christian Reconstruction by Michael J. McVicar

Christian Reconstruction, R. J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism by Michael J. McVicar, Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2015, 309 pp.
Christian Reconstruction is a thoroughly researched and well-written book about a theological and cultural movement and its founder, Rousas John Rushdoony. The writing captured my attention in part because I have some familiarity with most of the individuals mentioned. Though I had read bits and pieces of the Rushdoony story in other books, articles, and blogs through the years, this book nicely connected the various episodes and brought out the bigger picture of Rushdoony’s life and work. Neither profusely supportive nor overly critical, McVicar’s work is a sober and welcomed history of the Christian Reconstruction movement.
With his call to a serious and systematic Christianity I can see how many would find much to like in Rushdoony’s thought. The book helped me greatly appreciate Rushdoony’s work in support of the early home-schooling movement and his emphasis on family over both the state and consumerism. It also strengthened my resolve against his peculiar view of the applications of Biblical law.
Beyond Rushdoony—for the book really is first and foremost a history of the Christian Reconstruction movement—McVicar is informative about the various disciples of Rushdoony—Greg Bahnsen, “Scary” Gary North, and a number of lesser-known figures. The high watermark of the movement, McVicar notes, was the 1980s.
In the final chapter, McVicar chronicles some of the decline of the Reconstructionism. He focuses particularly on the “Tyler Group”—a collection of oddly extreme and extremely odd characters hardly matched in fiction. A schism finally occurs between the Tyler Group and Rushdoony leading him to never speak to them (Ray Sutton, Gary North, James Jordan) again. (p. 194) With considerable political and ecclesiastical backlash against Reconstructionism nationwide, and the deaths of Bahnsen, David Chilton, and R. J. Rushdoony, the movement has sputtered.
Christian Reconstruction is one of those books that will be cited by many other books in the years to come. Get a copy and read it.

6 thoughts on “Review of Christian Reconstruction by Michael J. McVicar”

  1. Something I forgot to mention in the review: the book gives almost no information on why Rushdoony left his OPC pastorate other than that he got the job he wanted doing full-time research. But were there issues at his church or denomination that led him to leave? I do not know. The book also fails to explain anything of his relationship with Van Til, which I understand to have declined over time. Anyways, it is still an excellent book.

    1. It did mention he fell afoul of some OPC pastors that condemned his “theological reasoning” regarding a filmstrip he made criticizing the Federal Reserve and they asked his presbytery to examine his political activities. This really tweaked my interest since the Fed Rev system is as inherently corrupt as it is immoral. So the OPC defends the Fed? It was weird and I would have liked more info on what the controversial filmstrip contained. I’m guessing it was probably pretty good.

  2. His son in law Gary North says (in Westminster Confession: the Abandonment of Van Til’s Legacy) that Rushdoony was not a member of a church and did not take the Lord’s Supper for some extended period ( I recall it being several years). North notes that he thought that problematic and l forget if he implied others should find that problematic too. But likely he does imply that. That was sad to hear. Their fractured relationship as in laws was already sad enough. 🙁

  3. The Rush/North split in the book was particularly strange as it came down North defending James Jordan’s insane take on the Passover claiming the blood splashed on the top and sides of the door frame “represented the hymenal blood of a deflowered virgin on her wedding night.” Rushdoony was wise to permanently sever ties from the Tyler nuthouse.
    The book was a great read and even has a passing reference to John Robbins’ odd decision in hiring North as his research assistant when he was Chief of Staff for Ron Paul. The book also gave me a much greater appreciation for Rushdoony. He did have some odd (bad) theological views, but I didn’t realize how singularly influential he was in helping homeschoolers break free from the state’s bureaucratic control. His work in that area was laudable and even heroic. It was also fun to see references to some of the players in the conservative movement from GOA’s Larry Pratt to Paul Wyrich. FWIW I was first tangentially introduced to Rush through the Schaeffers and John Whitehead. I did sense the relationship particularly with Francis Schaeffer was tenuous coming at basically the tail end of Schaeffer’s career.

    1. I like this reply by Mr. G. I agree with y’all that the homeschooling idea Rushdoony pushed was a good thing. Didn’t know it was Robbins who hired on North. That is a bit strange.

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