Book Review: The Biblical Philosophy of History [R. J. Rushdoony]

Introduction

Because of modern approaches to historical research, we are accustomed to thinking of history as simply the reporting of chronological events whereby the historian holds neutral his underlying presuppositions that form the basis of any interpretation of historical events. History then is more or less a journalistic reporting of events without bias. Indeed, according to some historians, history should not entail an interpretive process that looks to understand the meaning of events. But can historians simply report events without any underlying presuppositions? The very facts they choose to chronicle involves a choice on their part of some material while bypassing other material. In his book, The Biblical Philosophy of History, R. J. Rushdoony provides a different picture of history. He challenges us with questions like, What is history? What are the underlying presuppositions of various historiographies (historical method)? Can there really be a neutral approach to history? On the basis of these questions Rushdoony then proceeds to proffer a Biblical philosophy of history. In his various writings, Rushdoony posits the contrast of a Christian worldview with other worldviews that he designates as humanism. Whether those worldviews entail Greek philosophy,  medieval scholasticism, Enlightenment rationalism, positivism, or existentialism, they have in common their antagonism toward a Christian worldview because at their core they are all humanistic in that they view man as the determiner of all things. A Biblical Philosophy of History is a work meant for those who believe in a historical Jesus, who offers salvation to those who place faith in Him as called by God. 

History and Meaning

A popular movement emerged in the 1960’s that had its roots in the 19th century and the writings of Frederich Nietzsche. The movement was a philosophical one and anti-theological one known as the God is dead philosophy. Following Nietzsche, theologians such as Thomas J. Altizer held that the era of Christian civilization had come to an end, and all morals and values generated by a Christian worldview had collapsed. Historically, then Christianity became nothing more than a myth to be reported in the annals of historical research. What this meant for human beings was that they were then immersed in the process of historicity, thereby the search for a transcendental meaning in history is a meaningless pursuit. In contrast to this philosophy, Rushdoony brings forth a Biblical Philosophy of History. Throughout this work, Rushdoony pits a view of history as grounded in Biblical truth against various humanistic philosophies of history, including the Greek view of history, medieval scholasticism, Enlightenment rationalism, the positivism of Comte, pragmatism, Marxism, Fabian socialism, scientism, and relativism. Rushdoony’s first chapter, with the same title as the book, lays the groundwork for the entire work. 

The Biblical Philosophy of History

In his opening chapter, Rushdoony goes straight to Genesis and the Biblical perspective of creation as the foundation to the Biblical philosophy of history. He delineates nine implications for historical understanding if we accept the Biblical claim of God as Creator. 1) The doctrine of creation asserts that the universe, time, history, man, and all things are the handiwork of a sovereign, omnipotent, omniscient, and triune God (p. 7). 2) This means that the meaning of history is to be understood primarily and essentially in terms of that God (p. 7). If God created time and history, then they are determined by Him. Hence, as human beings we are not immersed in time without recourse to any transcendental meaning. History is not caught in time but proceeds from eternity. 3) Creation is described by all of Scripture as a creative act of God, in six days, and thus it must be understood as an act, not of process (p. 7). 4) The Biblical doctrine of creation not only asserts that creation is the creative act of God, but also, because it is totally His creative act, creation is totally under His government (p. 10). 5) The source of energy and power is radically different in the Biblical faith from that in the humanistic creed. For the orthodox Christian, who grounds his philosophy of history on the doctrine of creation, the mainspring of history is God (p.12).God’s sovereignty and providential control give history meaning because history unfolds on the basis of His eternal decrees. 6) The Biblical philosophy of history is grounded not only on the doctrine of creation, but also on the doctrine of the infallible Scripture (p. 13). 7) The Biblical philosophy of history means that time does not come out of a primeval past, but from eternity (p. 15) 8) The doctrine of creation has reference to the nature of man (p. 16). Human beings are not caught up in the process of time and historicity; they are passive in their relationship to God, but active agents in relation to time and creation. 9) All factuality is . . . made personal, because it is the handiwork of the personal triune God, and it derives its meaning from His personal, creative act and eternal decree (p. 18). Rushdoony builds the theme of his book, The Biblical Philosophy of History, as he expounds on these nine principles while also contrasting the Biblical philosophy with humanistic philosophies throughout history from ancient Greece to the modern era. 

The Structure of the Book

Given the nine implications for the Biblical Philosophy of History from the premise that God is creator, Rushdoony takes Christian readers on a journey of how these implications relate to what Orthodox Christians hold as basic truths of Scripture. Hence readers will delve into what it means for history if we accept what Romans 9 says about inescapable truths seen in creation. What does the Incarnation and the Virgin Birth mean for our understanding of history? What does regeneration of the believer mean for our understanding of history and our place in history? Rushdoony takes Orthodox believers into these discussions and others. Two appendices to the book delve further into historiography and Rushdoony’s plea for the need of Christian scholarship in this area, as one means of Christian Reconstruction where all spheres of life are taken captive for the name of Christ.

Conclusion

As stated, The Biblical Philosophy of History is written straightforwardly for the Reformed Orthodox Christian. It provides the believer with a firm foundation for why we should study history, whether we pursue it as a professional, a student, or a layperson. History has meaning and purpose. The Christian interpretation of history is at odds with all humanistic approaches to understanding history, if indeed there is any understanding to be had from humanistic presuppositions. 

[Rushdoony, R. J. (2000). The Biblical Philosophy of History (originally published in 1969; reprinted in 2000). Vallecito, CA: Ross House Books.] [All page numbers refer to the Kindle edition.]

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D./November 14th, 2022

BOOK REVIEW/CHRISTIAN THOUGHT

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