Book Review: 'Christian Reconstruction'

By Ian Clary - Posted at Reformation 21:

Michael J. McVicar, Christian Reconstruction: R. J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism. Chapel Hill, NC: The University of North Carolina Press, 2015. xiii + 309 pp.
"McVicar's book is exemplary for its depth of analysis, setting its subject in his cultural context, with deft handling of the religious and political ethos of post-war America. It should be of great interest to those who, like I once did, got into Reconstruction through various avenues. Christian Reconstruction reveals the genius of Rushdoony, yet should warn the would-be theonomist of adhering to the movement wholeheartedly. It also serves as a rebuke to those whose hand-wringing over the theonomic overthrow of the church or society--the true nature of Rushdoony's influence is both more and less than the fear-mongers realize, and as a failed movement, there is ultimately not much to fear. Students of American evangelicalism are also given an important look into the era with a book that has uniquely filled a gaping void. It will remain the standard socio-historical interpretation of Rushdoony for many years to come."
As with many others, I suspect my first exposure to Christian Reconstruction was through an interest in presuppositional apologetics. It was in the pages of a Festschrift for the Dutch-American theologian Cornelius Van Til (1895-1987) that I first read of Rousas John Rushdoony (1916-2001). This led me to Rushdoony's book-length study of Van Til and a head-long fall into the world of theonomy. To this day I maintain a hefty collection of back-issues of the Journal of Christian Reconstruction and the magazine Faith For All of Life and have a goodly number of their books on my shelf. My theonomist of choice was Greg Bahnsen (1948-1995), whose skills at debate were impressive. But I also appreciated Rushdoony and his son-in-law Gary North, largely for their critical--and entertaining--engagement with a wide range of interesting subjects. My self-identification as a theonomist waned after sitting under the teaching of Douglas Vickers, a former economist who had been a friend of Van Til and John Murray (1898-1975), and who writes Reformed theology and apologetics. In his Sunday School class, Vickers' godliness and theological acumen were clear, and I was bewildered when North uncharitably attacked him as a "Keynesian" in the preface of the book, Baptized Inflation (1986). It was then that I realized that the tone of many theonomists was not only off-putting, but sub-Christian. That experience removed my rose-coloured glasses and allowed me to look at the movement with more objectivity, which led to a greater appreciation of their Reformed critics. My interest in Christian Reconstruction has remained over the years, so I was quite expectant when I heard of Michael J. McVicar's work on the subject, first as a doctoral dissertation at Ohio State University, and now as the published monograph under review. 

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