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

Morning & Evening: A Daily Devotional Through the Writings of C. H. Spurgeon

Introduction

Alistair Begg has provided a wonderful service through his updating of Charles Haddon Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening. Begg recast the daily devotional from the King James version of the Bible, which Spurgeon would have used in the late nineteenth century, to the English Standard Version (ESV). As a believer who studied Scripture beginning in the 1980’d, I”m of course familiar with the New American Standard Version (NASB). Recently, I purchased the ESV Study Bible. Although there is nothing wrong with the KJV, the language is strange and awkward at times to twentieth century English speakers. So I appreciate Begg’s updating of Spurgeon’s devotional, as well as his updating Spurgeon’s use of the 19th century English language for twentieth century readers. However, this devotional is not about various versions of the Bible. In his rendition, Begg has maintained the power of Spurgeon as a preacher, as well as his love and faith in our glorious and powerful God.

Charles Haddon Spurgeon

Spurgeon lived a short life of 58 years from 1834-1892; but in that short life span he displayed quite an impact for Christ on the Church. He was only twenty years old when he began preaching. For thirty-eight years he held the pulpit at New Park Street Chapel, later known as the Metropolitan Tabernacle. Without hyperbole, he was probably the most popular pastor of the 19th century. He credited his conversion to a snow storm that blew him off course where he was headed to Methodist church, leading him instead to a Baptist Church. After hearing the sermon there, he stated that he had to rethink his entire approach to Christianity. Although he never completed a specific degree, he strongly believed in learning and became an avid reader, especially of the Puritan Divines. His personal library totaled some 12000 volumes.

Spurgeon became known as a powerful preacher and writer whose words pierced the soul of his readers. The strength of his writing springs from the pages of Morning and Evening. What comes across in these devotionals is Spurgeon’s worshipful love of God, who he presents in all his splendor, glory, power, and providential sovereignty..The impact of Spurgeon’s short life is seen in the fact that when he died in 1892, some 60000 people lined the streets as his body lay in state. On the day of his funeral, as the hearse transported his body from the Metropolitan Tabernacle to the cemetery, approximately 100000 people lined the streets during the funeral procession. Flags flew at half-mast, and many London businesses closed.

Spurgeon’s life was not without other contributions to society. He established as alms house and an orphanage in London, as well as a Pastor’s College that is still open today. He preached his last sermon in June of 1891 and died January 1892.

Morning and Evening

As the title makes clear, Spurgeon’s Morning and Evening is a daily devotional that readers engage for a full year. The devotional provides a morning and evening reading each day. This devotional is most definitely geared to the committed believer. Spurgeon’s theology comes through loud and clear extolling the character of God, his just judgment, his free grace, and his lovingkindness. Human effort to please God finds no place in Spurgeon’s writings. The power of his preaching and oratorical skills grab hold of the reader’s soul and will not let go. Many will find joyous tears brought forth by some of the passages that Spurgeon supplies. I definitely recommend this daily devotional for serious and committed Christians. If you are a new Christian, engage this work as well. You’ll find that Spurgeon’s passion for God will take you into a deeper and worshipful understanding of the Triune God. But make no mistake about it, In picking up this work, you’ll read the thoughts of a passionate evangelical, one who believes in the inerrancy and power of God’s word, and a Calvinist who extols the providence of an omnipotent, omniscient, and all-wise God. The work is Christ-centered, and lifts up Jesus Christ as the Son of God, born of a virgin, who died and shed blood for our sins, and was raised on the third day as a sign of God’s good pleasure. Alistair Begg, once again, has provided an amazing service to the church in his rendition of Spurgeon’s daily devotional.

Reference

Sourgeon, C. H. (2003), Morning and Evening. [Updated and Revised by Alistair Begg]. Wheaton, IL; Crossway Press.

John V. Jones, Jr., Ph.D./October 14th, 2021

BOOK REVIEW