Rousas John Rushdoony – Father of Dominionism

So Calvinism is to blame for another evil in this world? This gentlemen is responsible for the line of thinking that permeates Joel’s Army, the Call, and the rest of the Dominionist movement. This is just a starting post – more will follow. It is worrisome because it presents Dominionism as more than a recent heresy, but shows that it was codified and has a base for thought.


Rushdoony was born in New York City, the son of recently arrived Armenian immigrants. Before his parents fled the Armenian Genocide of 1915, his ancestors had lived in a remote area near Mount Ararat for about 2000 years.[4] There are claims that since the year 320, every generation of the Rushdoony family has produced a Christian priest or minister.[5] Within weeks of arriving in America, his parents moved to Kingsburg, California, where his father founded an Armenian-speaking Presbyterian church. Except for a time when his father pastored a church in Detroit, Rushdoony grew up on the family farm in Kingsburg.[6]

Rushdoony attended public schools where he learned English.[3] He continued his education at the University of California, Berkeley, where he earned a B.A. in English in 1938, a teaching credential in 1939 and a M.A. in Education in 1940. He also attended the Pacific School of Religion, a Congregational and Methodist seminary in Berkeley, California, from which he graduated in 1944, the same year he was ordained by the Presbyterian Church (USA). Rushdoony then served for eight and a half years as a missionary to the Shoshone and Paiute Indians on the Duck Valley Indian Reservation in a remote area of Nevada.[6][2] In 1953 Rushdoony became pastor of a church in Santa Cruz, California, a small retirement town on the coast.[6]

It was during his mission to the Native Americans that Rushdoony began writing. His first book, By What Standard? was published in 1959. In the early 1960s he was active in the homeschooling movement, appearing as an expert witness to defend the rights of homeschoolers.[2] He moved to Los Angeles in 1965. That year he founded the Chalcedon Foundation; the monthly Chalcedon Report, which Rushdoony edited, began appearing that October.[3]

Rushdoony also had ties to the John Birch Society,[5] an anti-communist group whose organization he compared to the early church. Many others in the Reconstructionist movement have been members of the society.[7] Rushdoony was a lifelong opponent of socialism.[2]

Rushdoony had five children with his first wife, Arda June Gent Rushdoony, who died in 1977. He married his second wife, Dorothy Barbara Ross Rushdoony, who became the step mother of his children, in 1962. She died in 2003. His daughter Sharon is married to Gary North, a Christian Reconstructionist writer and economist. Rushdoony’s only son, the Rev. Mark R. Rushdoony, is the current president of the Chalcedon Foundation and editor of the Chalcedon Report. R. J. Rushdoony died in 2001 with his student and financial supporter Howard Ahmanson, Jr. at his bedside.[8]

Christian Reconstruction

See also: Dominionism and Christian Reconstructionism

Rushdoony’s most important area of writing, however, was law and politics, as expressed in his small book of popular essays Law & Liberty and discussed in much greater detail in his three volume, 1894-page magnum opus, The Institutes of Biblical Law. With a title modeled after Calvin‘s Institutes of the Christian Religion, Rushdoony’s Institutes was arguably his most influential work. In the book, he proposed that Old Testament law should be applied to modern society and that there should be a Christian theonomy, a concept developed in his colleague Greg Bahnsen‘s controversial tome Theonomy and Christian Ethics, which Rushdoony heartily endorsed. In the Institutes, Rushdoony supported the reinstatement of the Mosaic law’s penal sanctions. Under such a system, the list of civil crimes which carried a death sentence would include homosexuality, adultery, incest, lying about one’s virginity, bestiality, witchcraft, idolatry or apostasy, public blasphemy, false prophesying, kidnapping, rape, and bearing false witness in a capital case.[9] Although supporting the separation of church and state at the national level, Rushdoony understood both institutions as under the rule of God,[10] and thus he conceived secularism as posing endless false antitheses, which his massive work addresses in considerable detail. In short, he sought to cast a vision for the reconstruction of society based on Christian principles.

The book was also critical of democracy. He wrote that “the heresy of democracy has since then worked havoc in church and state … Christianity and democracy are inevitably enemies.” He elsewhere said that “Christianity is completely and radically anti-democratic; it is committed to spiritual aristocracy,” and characterized democracy as “the great love of the failures and cowards of life.”[5]

Due to the work’s perceived denial of the Holocaust and defense of segregation[11] and slavery,[12] it did not gain an immediate following. In the work, Rushdoony argued against “inter-religious, inter-racial, and inter-cultural marriages, in that they normally go against the very community which marriage is designed to establish.”[13] But his condemnation of inter-racial marriage appears to have been his personal view and not related to the biblical text; it was not shared by other Reconstructionists.[14] The book garnered more attention starting in the 1980s when Francis Schaeffer began espousing many similar ideas .[15]

Rushdoony’s work has been used by Dominion Theology advocates who attempt to implement a Christian theocracy, a government subject to Biblical law, especially the Torah, in the United States. Authority, behavioural boundaries, economics, penology and the like would all be governed by biblical principles in Rushdoony’s vision, but he also proposed a wide system of freedom, especially in the economic sphere, and claimed Ludwig von Mises as an intellectual mentor; he called himself a Christian libertarian.[16]

Rushdoony was the founder in 1965 of the Chalcedon Foundation and the editor of its monthly magazine, the Chalcedon Report. He also published the Journal of Christian Reconstruction and was an early board member of the Rutherford Institute, founded in 1982 by John Whitehead. He later received an honorary Doctorate from Valley Christian University for his book, The Philosophy of the Christian Curriculum.

Joel L. Watts
Joel L. Watts holds a Masters of Arts from United Theological Seminary with a focus in literary and rhetorical criticism of the New Testament. He is currently a Ph.D. student at the University of the Free State, analyzing Paul’s model of atonement in Galatians. He is the author of Mimetic Criticism of the Gospel of Mark: Introduction and Commentary (Wipf and Stock, 2013), a co-editor and contributor to From Fear to Faith: Stories of Hitting Spiritual Walls (Energion, 2013), and Praying in God's Theater, Meditations on the Book of Revelation (Wipf and Stock, 2014).

9 thoughts on “Rousas John Rushdoony – Father of Dominionism

  1. Whatever else we may say about John Rushdoony, and we may surely disagree often, he was a Christian man. Let us not forget that! I met Greg Bahnsen before he died in S. Calif. My brother lives near this Church.

    The Dominion movement has been pressed beyond even that of Rushdoony. But some of his ideas have merit for certain! The Church has been so compromised by the world, both modernism, and postmodernism. The Judeo-Christian world view hardly exists today!

    Fr. Robert

  2. Fr. Robert,

    I hope all is well. I have read just a smattering of Rushdoony, but as the ‘father’ of the Dominionism movement, his words will be examined. I believe it is a grand thought to have society bound to Christian servitude, but what has progressed from that – Joel’s Army, the Religious Right here in the States, the idea that the US must return to some idea of a ‘Christian’ nation, and the current trend to build upon seven moutains to control not just the US government, but international governments – it is worrisome to say the least.

  3. Dominion does not begin until the Son of Man has returned and is seated on His throne to judge the nations…Dominionism is an attempt to start it all without Jesus, that’s why all who speak of dominion, sounds right but not all right, because the centerpiece of Dominionism is missing..Jesus christ, back on earth reigning from Jerusalem for His millenium with His matryed saints…many of these theorists will not return anyway because they were never matryed. Better to concentrate and finish the preparations then to sit around with vain imaginators. Dr.Ed, a footstool of Jesus Christ

  4. What can be said about Dominionism is true for Christian Zionism. Christian Zionists seem to be committed to forcing the end times prophesied in the Book of Revelation by supporting political/”worldly” regimes that gather up the Jews in the land of historic Israel (although, to be truly historic would mean a continued expansion) and advocates a construction of the 3rd Temple on the Muslim holy site, the Dome of the Rock. This not only serves to oppress Palestinian Christians and Muslims, but in effect shows a mistrust in God, a petulant lack of faith, and goes against the Christian “good neighbor” philosophy. It’s also extremely anti-semitic at it’s core, despite the movement’s cult-like love of all things Jewish and total fixation on the Holocaust (I think in the minds of CZs, 6 million Jews could’ve been used to settle Israel…and then they could be wiped out.) Indeed, it’s using Jews and the people of the Levant as tools to “hurry up” the Second Coming, just as a belief in Dominionism seeks to force God’s hand in establishing his Kingdom on Earth (or their interpretation of God’s Kingdom). The way I see Dominionism working in the US, it’s bosom buddies with Christian Zionism and often they are the same people. They’re the Apocalypse Now crowd.

  5. Dominion Theology in the hands of Pentacostals is like a thornbush in the hand of a drunk.

    Which is to say, Joel’s Army is not remotely related to Dominion Theology as taught by Rousas Rushdooney, they just seem to have liked the ring of the name and have taken it for their own purposes.

  6. Ironic that Rushdoony, an Armenian, would have called his organization the “Chalcedon Foundation”. The Armenian Apostolic Church is non-Chalcedonian.

  7. Those who are saying that it is without Christ – he states clearly in one of the videos that it starts with each man being governed by Christ. Yes it would be incredible to have Jesus present ruling from Jerusalem, but as individuals we do not require that to be in place for our hearts to be totally bowed to the authority and reign of our saviour. read Colossians 1 – “to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross”. All things are to be reconciled to God through the cross, not a physical reign in Jerusalem.

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