Book Review: The Institutes Of Biblical Law (Volume One)

The Institutes Of Biblical Law (Volume One) by Rousas John Rushdoony

My feelings about Calvinism are not very hidden.  I’m pretty open about them, and the thoughts tend towards the negative [1].  This book, at 850 pages, is a good reason as to why this is the case.  Few books are as frustrating as this one is, with a great deal of wisdom and insight on the level of broad theory and approach and such terrible interpretation of scripture and history on the specific level.  Few books combine such a pitiless and remorseless logic with such a nauseating lack of self-awareness.  This is a book all about condemning sinners of various stripes–and there are many–yet it manages at every turn to condemn the author and those who think like him, if that crowd was reflective enough to see it and take heed.  The author, and especially Gary North, who writes some of the supporting material at the end of this massive book, are the worst kind of antinomians in existence–first they try to overawe the reader with rhetorical blasts about supposedly having a so much more consistent and high-minded view of the law than everyone else, before seeking to wiggle out through fallacious reasoning from obedience to God’s laws, ending up being as disobedient as ordinary sinners but far more strident and harsh.

In terms of its contents, this book makes for a fairly good representative of the work of Christian reconstructionists in terms of its size and difficulty.  Most of the book consists of the author giving a discussion about the ten commandments and tying them to the author’s own political and economic agendas which are themselves not biblical.  In reading this book, one gets a lot more information about how the author feels about culture and politics than about the Bible, and where the Bible is discussed, the general rule of thumb to approach this book is that where the author is discussing broad overall themes and approaches it is quite good but when the author is discussing specific applications of biblical law then the approach is usually misguided.  A few examples should suffice.  The author, when talking about lying, chooses as his example the historical fact that six million or so Jews died in the Holocaust as being a lie by virtue of being an exaggeration, making a doubly unsatisfactory point in lying through Holocaust denial and minimization while simultaneously falsely accusing someone else of lying.  The author’s open admiration for the John Birch Society and the author’s conflation of coveting and stealing so as to deny the aspect of covetousness speaking to the heart are similarly poor efforts.  Gary North’s openly avowed antinomian approach to the Sabbath is one of the worst examples of biblical exegesis that can be found in any book pretending to be Christian, and all the more galling in light of the elevated claims for having a high degree of regard for God’s laws that can be found here.

So, what does one get out of this book?  Why would someone take the time to read 850 pages of densely argued and intellectually dishonest work?  I can see at least two reasons for reading this book and others like it.  First, this book offers some useful rhetorical arguments for obeying God’s law in the broad stroke, and offers some worthwhile criticism of many of the tendencies of both church and state in these corrupt days that are worthy of appreciation, however unworthy the author is at making those points given his own hypocrisy and blindness.  Even more to the point, though, this book is an object lesson in how unpleasant the self-righteous are.  In ridiculing and attacking the Pharisees, the author points at least as many fingers at himself and his associates as he points at those legalistic blind guides.  The way that the author beclowns himself through being blind to his own sins and faults while being unmerciful towards the sins and faults of others is a tendency that no would-be critic is immune to, and seeing how badly this book fares as an explanation of how to apply God’s timeless laws in contemporary society while also being loving and gracious to others is a reminder to every reader that without the grace of God, we could be Calvinists too.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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7 Responses to Book Review: The Institutes Of Biblical Law (Volume One)

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