“The Institutes of Biblical Law” A Review Article -- By: John M. Frame

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 38:2 (Winter 1976)
Article: “The Institutes of Biblical Law” A Review Article
Author: John M. Frame


“The Institutes of Biblical Law”
A Review Article

John M. Frame

[R. J. Rushdoony: The Institutes of Biblical Law. Nutley, N.J.: The Craig Press, 1973. vii, 890. $18.50.]

Encouraging me to take on this review assignment, a colleague said, “We’ll have to start taking Rushdoony more seriously.” Though Rushdoony is one of the most prolific writers in the Reformed camp, though his following is large and increasing, and though his writings contain able exposition and scholarly defense of the Reformed faith, we have pretty much ignored him. His books have not been regularly reviewed and his name has not been frequently mentioned.

I have come to regard this, however, as a premature dismissal of an important Christian thinker. Recent experiences with Rushdoony associates and recent reading, particularly in The Institutes of Biblical Law, have convinced me that we must indeed take Rushdoony more seriously. In other fields I have had trouble at many points with Rushdoony’s argumentation; his Institutes, however, has convinced me that, whatever may be said in criticism of his work, Rushdoony is one of the most important Christian social critics alive today. It is most necessary, therefore, that we see Rushdoony in perspective, noting both his strengths and weaknesses so that we may best benefit from his really substantial insights. I have noticed that most who know Rushdoony’s work are either passionately for him or passionately against him. This review will not please either group very much, but I am convinced that in our circles we need less passionate advocacy and more sympathetic critical analysis. My goal is not to please the partisans, but to help those who are willing to admit that they need help in these matters.

Let us begin positively: What is it that makes Rushdoony so important as a Christian social critic? Accordingly, to what criteria do

I make this evaluation? First, unlike some other “prophetic Christian voices” in modern society, Rushdoony is perfectly clear as to the source and basis of his social critique. In his view, God’s law for society is biblical law, pure and simple. He argues most cogently against any attempt to replace Scripture with “natural law” (pp. 679-693), human wisdom, or plain lawlessness as a basis for social order. The expression “law-word,” ambiguous in the writings of some Christian philosophers, causes no problems in Rushdoony’s Institutes, despite its frequent appearance there. The law-word is the law of Scripture. Therefore, Rushdoony’s method of social criticism is simply to expound the biblical law and to measure human societies by th...

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