The Reformed Patriarch
Rev. Joseph McAuliffe
When I reflect on Rousas Rushdoony, I am reminded of how the
apostle Paul identified himself to the church at Corinth: "Although
you have countless tutors in Christ, you do not have many fathers"
(2 Cor. 4: 15-16). Rush was my spiritual father. It wasn't
that he led me to the Lord, but it was the developmental work
he began to provide for me as a young charismatic pastor continuing
my studies at Bowling Green University in the mid-seventies. The
church I was leading had recently become a part of the now defunct
"Discipleship Movement" and one of its better leaders,
Bob Mumford, suggested I read The Institutes of Biblical
Law by this oddly named man Rousas Rushdoony. Rush's book
subverted my antinomian, premillennial, dispensational belief
system and introduced me to Biblical law, postmillennial eschatology,
and the cultural implications of the Great Commission. The Lord
also used that book to connect me with the author whom five years
later I would meet in California and engage in intimate mentoring
relationship that lasted until the day the Lord took him home.
I have been blessed with both a great natural father, Jack McAuliffe,
and a spiritual father in Rousas. They both were born in the same
year and they died five weeks apart. My dad was a hard working
commercial real estate salesman from Syracuse, New York who loved
his family, the Democratic Party, J&B Scotch, and the Catholic
Church. He truly excelled in what he loved. Rush's family was
from Armenia steeped in the Armenian Orthodox Church and he came
to know the Lord at an early age. The affections of his life were
his family and the call of God upon his life, especially the knowledge
of the Word of the Lord.
The first time I met Rush was in the fall of 1979 when I was
a part of a leadership staff in San Jose, California. I had ordered
some books from Chalcedon and to my amazement, Rush would actually
answer the phone. He invited me to come to his home in Vallecito
for a visit. So my wife Kay and I made that winding, carsickness
ride high up in the Sierras to his lovely rural ranch home. We
were both amazed to find the home completely decorated with books
galore. Kay, knowing that this was how I wished our home was so
adorned was understandably aghast. "That which I feared has
come upon me," she uttered. I, meanwhile, was envious.
An hour later, Rush once again amazed us by suggesting we visit
his library. Library, we mused, where have been for the past hour?
He escorted us down a path to another ranch style building that
consisted of one great room that housed over 33,000 books. It
was in the context of the "how many of these have you read?"
question that Rush disclosed a revelation from his childhood.
He said that when he was around 10 years old, "The Lord impressed
upon me that I was called to be a scholar for God."
He subsequently began the cherished habit of reading voraciously,
averaging nearly three books a day up to his seventies.
What a lexicon of knowledge he deposited and stewarded in that
fertile mind! I once commented my admiration for his uncanny ability
to accurately extemporize on a vast array on historical personages,
obscure philosophical disputations, theological profundities,
or miscellaneous bits of peculiar information to his wife Dorothy.
An astute woman in her own right, she commented, "It's a
gift Joseph and a marvel I never tire of. He still in his late
sixties can recite footnotes of books he read over thirty years
Rush was a multifaceted man with a wide diversity of interests
who distinguished himself in numerous ways throughout his life.
He served in the mission to field to Native Americans, he pastored
churches, he worked in think tanks, he taught in universities,
he was an expert court witness in church state issues, he lectured
in conferences, and he is recognized as an architect of the Christian
political right and the spearhead of the Christian home school
movement. He did so much because he really believed that Christ
is Lord over every area of life and that the Bible has the blueprint
for every cultural activity.
He also liked to write. He wrote history, theology, philosophy,
apologetics, Bible commentaries, educational curriculums, and
social critiques. His writing style was clear, concise, and erudite
and without a word processor. His audience was not the ivy-towered
professorial recluse, but the everyday Christian who desired to
take his faith seriously. Many pastors, including myself, used
his books in small group church studies.
Perhaps the distinguishing features that a father imparts to
his children are security, identity, and authority. These qualities
are the fruits of spiritual fatherhood as well and best describe
the influence of Rousas in my life in terms of my relationship
to Christ. The security of the believer is significant not only
in terms of our eternal inheritance but also our standing and
experiences this side of the veil. Rush's faith was unswerving
in terms of the absolute love and favor of God on our behalf in
spite of temporal afflictions, diseases, and trials. Amidst the
intense physical ailments that he and his wife have encountered
during the past five years, rarely would he finish a conversation
with me without asserting the goodness of the Lord. Rush was the
consummate Calvinist to the end in his refusal to accept any condition
of life as being detached from the always-meaningful purpose of
God "Who ordains all things after the counsel of His will."
The post World War II abdication of fatherhood has contributed
to the "identity crisis" pop pathology rampant with
baby boomers. What the lead singer of the classic rock group The
Who, Roger Daltrey, addresses in their hit song, "Who
Are You?" strikes a contemporary chord in a generation
reared without fathers telling them who they are. Central to Rush's
ministry was his accentuation of the New Covenant believer having
been recreated in the image of Christ with a calling to subdue
the earth, take dominion in his calling, and to reign with Christ.
Prior to Rushdoony, I, too, was a typical escapist evangelical
whose only hope was in a raptured afterlife. Most of my sermons
echoed Hal Lindsay's eschatology which can be summarized by the
sixties band, Eric Burden and the Animals refrain: "We've
gotta get out of this place, if it's the last thing
we ever do." Even a cursory reading of Rushdoony's works
confronts one with the earthly implications of the believer's
responsibility to take dominion over the earth in terms of one's
calling under God. Christians have a profound calling in this
life because of the magnificent fruits the exalted Christ has
bestowed upon them as new creations filled with His Spirit and
laden with overcoming grace.
Lastly, fathers impart authority to their children. Our heavenly
father has equipped us with extraordinary gifts and graces to
carry out the work He has called us to. Christians have authority
over the spiritual forces of darkness through the Word of God
as well as authority over our carnal nature through the revelation
of the crucified Christ of Calvary. Rush saw the law-word of God
combined with the empowering Holy Spirit as the authoritative
tools of dominion for the believer. The impact of his ministry
has been to transform men and women from being world-escapers
Rush is gone but his ministry carries on through Chalcedon, his
books, tapes, and his spiritual descendents. I will also treasure
the memories of my many times with him: the conferences, seminars,
church meetings, phone conversations, letters, and the visits
I'll always cherish when he and Dorothy came to our home in San
Jose shortly after my first son died from a chromosomal disorder
in 1980. They simply showed up to be a support to a young couple
who were hurting. We realized then that Rush was much more than
one of countless teachers; he truly was a patriarch. I have a
picture of Rush and my father when we dedicated our new sanctuary
in Bowling Green, Ohio that was taken after a dinner we shared
in our home in 1985. Few men were ever more politically diverse,
but I remember the sweet fellowship we enjoyed together that evening.
I remember looking at them at dinner while they exchanged their
life experiences with such relish and under my breath giving thanks
to God for gracing me through them. It has been very difficult
for me to lose both of them my two closest friends within such
a short period, but I know from Rush that God is to be praised
and it does somehow accord with the Sovereign's perfect will.