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a Biblical Worldview Ministry
Updated: 3 hours 22 min ago
One of my favorite things about being a Christian scholar is the opportunities for spiritual growth that comes from scholarly exchange, even debate. As the Proverb says, “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another” (Prov. 27:17). I cannot count the number of times in my little career that God has used everyone from Ivy League law professors to average laymen, homeschool moms, and even little children to sharpen and hone this often dull edge.
It was with some level of hope, therefore, that I read a recent blog from one of John MacArthur’s employees regarding my recent debate. And in an odd way—an ironic way—my hopes were not disappointed. For while the post was written in a somewhat derisive tone, its criticism does very little to detract from the very point of mine it wished to dismiss.
First, let me thank Mr. Butler for taking the time to listen to the debate and to respond to it publicly. It takes either a brave man or a foolhardy one to charge into tense public discussion like this one, so such a step is either very carefully thought out or not. Butler surely has good intentions in clearing the name of his employer and setting the record straight.
While it would not be completely without profit to respond line-by-line to Mr. Butler’s post, time and chance leave only the opportunity to address a couple.
First, let me briefly note a couple points about the rhetoric. I am, of course, a great lover of wit and barbed satire. I have dished out some in my day, and have taken a bit. I probably deserve way more than I have received so far, probably because the sort of people who are very talented at that sort of thing are too busy to worry about Joel McDurmon, or are not present among our opponents.
There is also another consideration: that is parity. When the Mr. Butlers of the world decide to turn their ire and fire upon someone with inflated rhetoric, they need to make sure the substance of their arguments really matches up with the level of rhetoric used. Else, the disparity could open the door to a variety of embarrassments.
The blog in question is called “Hip and Thigh”—named after the great battle prowess of the biblical Samson. In fact, the tag line boasts: “Smiting Theological Philistines with a Great Slaughter.” The particular post in question, however, itself is more sardonically titled, “Beyond Fabrication: Putting the Vision into Revision.” This is a play on the name of my associated ministry, a joke with which Mr. Butler leads: “American Revision.” Judging by such rhetoric, then, this thing could really have some serious whetting potential.
Or, possibly not. Let’s put this in perspective: here you have a guy positioning himself as an intellectual Samson, ridiculing another ministry for alleged revisionism, “beyond fabrication,” “scare quotes,” “surgically revised” comments, and “conveniently” leaving out details. But wait! The proof of this must follow, or else. . . .
Or else one may start to look a bit overly-exercised at a rather disproportionate set of facts. Readers may then think that this is just case of a particular loyal member of John MacArthur’s payroll, smitten, overreacting in an attempt to exact vengeance, vindicate his man, and/or turn the tables. Isn’t it odd, after all, that Mr. Butler is suddenly accusing me of all the infractions I’ve been documenting on his side of the debate over, and over, and over again, and with promises of much more to come? Without answers to any of these embarrassing episodes, my opponents try a tu quoque attack—and as we shall see shortly, a toothless one.
But what unfortunate strategizing leads with the over-the-top rhetoric before it makes sure to have the substance in place? Does Mr. Butler not realize that by making the name of my ministry the subject of ridicule he invites readers to judge his own the same way? Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t do that, but there are plenty of people out there who may.
I mean, when people perceive this is merely about uncritical props for his favorite theologian and employer, some bright young satirist may change the name of Mr. Butler’s blog from “Hip and Thigh” to something like “Lip and Thigh.” I wouldn’t do that, but someone might.
Moreover, what if people perceive Mr. Butler’s whole objection to be an exercise in unfounded rhetoric—yet vaunted as the slaughterings of a self-proclaimed intellectual Samson: “smiting theological Philistines”? Someone much wittier than I may retort to Mr. Butler: “Yeah, and with the same jawbone.”
I would not deliver a kill-shot like that myself, but there is no doubt some reader who will.
So before we pour on the rhetoric, let’s make sure the substance measures up, or else we may end up with the intellectual equivalent of leaving the bathroom with toilet paper stuck to your shoe.
Enough of rhetoric, where is the proof? The allegedly “surgically revised” comments in question were read in my final rebuttal, starting at 2:22:04 in the video. Here is where I read quotations from Phil Johnson, and primarily John MacArthur regarding the execution of “homosexuals” (as MacArthur put it).
Since Mr. Butler did not see fit to include my actual version of the facts, here is the transcript from me during the debate:
Let’s not just stick with the old guys, let’s talk about the new guys. Well, here’s a discussion between two Reformed Baptists in modern times discussing the role of civil penalties for homosexuality. Now, I would nuance it more like that, but they use the word “homosexuality,” I’ll go with that. Discussing the roles of different categories of law: “And this is one that sort of ties together the civil and the moral, isn’t it?”—talking about homosexuality—“Because you cited a verse that prescribes the death penalty for the practice of homosexuality.”
And the other discusses that there were death penalties: yes, there were civil penalties in Old Testament Israel, and yes, there were death penalties; and if we were under that government today, we would have the same penalty. And he says,
So in this theocratic kingdom, God established penalties for violations of His moral law. And this was a model of a perfect environment, a theocratic kingdom. Thirty-five . . . different moral violations were punishable by death. One of them was homosexuality. Just to spread that a little bit, another one was disobeying your parents.
That’s not quite true, but we all know what law he’s talking about, so we’ll hang with him.
Now immediate swift death to juvenile delinquents would have a tremendous impact. Immediate swift death…
The other chimes in and says, “It would certainly cut down on the number of delinquents, wouldn’t it?” And the other one explains,
It certainly would. It would…and the same with homosexuality…swift judgment. And I will tell you this, if there were today a theocratic kingdom and we were in that theocratic kingdom, those sins would be punished the same way because that is a just punishment…that is a just punishment.
But oh, he’s talking about the theocratic kingdom, right? That’s only when it comes in the future. Well, he skips on down and he applies it to America:
And so the question might be asked, “If we did what was right in America, what would happen to homosexuals?” And the answer is, they would be executed. But before you rush to make that law, that would also happen to adulterers and juvenile delinquents, those who disobeyed their parents. And if that had been the case for the last 50 years, this room would be a lot emptier than it is now. But that doesn’t change God’s standard.
“If we did what was right in America,” we would execute them. That’s all I’ve been arguing tonight—or, that would be an application of what I’m arguing tonight. And that is none other than John MacArthur in dialogue with Phil Johnson.
Now, if the theonomic question would [be] pushed in that mix, they would distance themselves from us so quickly. But if they are forced to say “what are God’s standards of this?”—to be applied in society even by civil governments today—it would be a “just punishment” and if we did “right” we would do it.
The comments were all taken from a post and audio from Grace To You called “Answering Key Questions About Homosexuality.” Despite disagreement with the eschatology presented there, as well as some disagreements with interpretation of the law, I recommend it to the reader.
Now I was sure that quoting the part about God’s standard of judicial law and punishment would send some of MacArthur’s loyal followers into damage control. Some response would have to come forth. So here it was. And what was the great objection to my use of MacArthur calling Old Testament civil punishments “just” and even “right” for America today? As best I can tell, Butler is upset that I did not note that MacArthur is a dispensationalist. He writes:
John wasn’t saying the punishment of death was unjust. Not even JD was saying that in the debate. The punishment meted out by civil magistrates, however, is applicable in a theocratic kingdom ruled by God. And seeing that a physical, national, theocratic kingdom currently does not exist yet because Christ has yet to come to establish it for a 1,000 years, we don’t execute people for the sin of homosexuality. At this time and place, during this *GASP* dispensation, there is a reprieve that God grants.
It is true that I did not, for good reasons, include everything John MacArthur said in that dialogue. It was after all, not necessary or relevant. But this was noted in my talk, at least once, with the phrase “skips on down.” I also actually did note that MacArthur was speaking of the future theocratic kingdom (in his view). Butler also has no problem with me saying, per MacArthur, that such punishments are “just.” He admits this, and I appreciate that. So he can only be objecting to my focus on the fact that MacArthur said if we did right in America, we would enforce that just punishment, and that even though the various penalties would result in a more sparse congregation, nevertheless, that doesn’t change God’s standard.
But this is an argument about God’s standard, which MacArthur did uphold and said was unchanging. To turn around, then, and argue based on eschatology that the time is not right for civil governments to do so is to have your cake and eat it too. This is what theonomists have for years now called “intellectual schizophrenia.” Far from being “surgically revised” comments “conveniently left off” on my part, this is rather a case of John MacArthur’s left hand taking away what John MacArthur’s right hand upholds.
Mr. Butler’s objections in regard to eschatology are absolutely irrelevant to my argument of theological standard for law. Aside from that, I cannot help it if 1) Dr. MacArthur is intellectually schizophrenic, and 2) I was not debating eschatology that day, but judicial standards, which MacArthur says very clearly have not changed. (As a side note, I believe we have tried in the past to get a debate between Dr. MacArthur and Gary DeMar, but to no avail.)
If, however, it will satisfy Mr. Butler, I will again openly concede that John MacArthur is a dispensationalist. As I said in the debate, however, when the issue is God’s standard, he sounded an awful lot like a theonomist. As I said in the debate, if you bring the question of theonomy into the room when these guys speak this way, they flee from it. What I might have added was, “because of their eschatology.” But nevertheless, they flee with theonomy on their lips.
I had no illusion that some response would come from the MacArthur camp in some way. I didn’t think he would send his Butler to do the job, but then again, I didn’t expect him to do it himself either. I am not sure exactly what Mr. Butler’s actual responsibilities for John MacArthur are, but I don’t think it is either slaying Philistines or sharpening the iron.
Sometimes, when iron sharpens iron, sparks fly. Sometimes, too, there can be smoke. Let me encourage the reader not to get caught up in the smoke, and to avoid the sparks, by focusing on the sharp edge of the issue at hand. In the end, all that really matters is the sharpening. Let the fire fly where it may, and the jawbone, too, because in the end, the iron won’t care.
Finally, again, I would like to thank my brothers for taking the time to engage in this exchange.
As promised, today I intend to continue to examine for veracity the many referenced quotations from Theonomists that were used in apparent condemnation during my recent debate on the topic. I know some of you would like me to move on the other material. Trust me, that will come in due time (probably in book form). For now, the classic and enduring misrepresentations of our position must be thoroughly established in print for this generation. This will be helpful to a lot of people—and we’ve got all the time in the world here. I saw someone say something about this debate being the last word on the issue—to which a whole generation of young inquiring souls with things called “internet connections” responded, “LOL!” So let’s get to it.
In both of his opening statements—segment one and segment two—as well as in cross examination and rebuttals, Jordan Hall quoted from theonomic authors to establish certain points ranging from noncontroversial claims (a few) to declarations of heresy against theonomy. I don’t have an exact count on me, but there were several substantial quotations given. I have already addressed two of them, here and here. Today I begin addressing the remaining one I see as outstanding in their severity (though this varies among each misrepresentation as well). The first arises in reference to Bahnsen’s view of “latent antinomianism.”
In his first opening statement, Hall stated: “Theonomists, though, as you are aware, tend to think of a two-fold division [of categories of the law]. As a matter of fact, according to Bahnsen, to think of a division between the civil code and the moral law, he says, is quote, ‘latent antinomianism’ (Theonomy in Christian Ethics [TICE], 310).”
Here Jordan was arguing, as he did later as well, that theonomists only see two categories of law (moral and ceremonial) and apparently strongly disallow a three-fold distinction (moral, ceremonial, and civil/judicial). The claim here is that Bahnsen called the attempt even to “think of” the latter view, in which the civil law is also divided out apart from the moral law, “latent antinomianism.”
The passage in question is actually found on page 304 of the latest printing of TICE, under a section heading called “Unwarranted Compartmentalization.” Bahnsen wrote,
Latent antinomianism expresses itself in different ways. Sometimes it comes in the form of multiplying distinctions and qualifications which are not enumerated in God’s word. Some people (e.g., Charles Hodge) try to draw a line between “moral” and “civil” laws with the intention of giving the impression that the latter class are mere matters of time-bound administration which are irrelevant today; in this way they can shave off those laws of God which have social and punitive application. Yet Scripture recognizes no such demarcation. God’s law does and should have public implications, for He alone can be the sole legislator with respect to issues of crime and punishment. When people get so accustomed to doing things in a secular way because they live amidst a secular society, they bring themselves to believe that there simply is no other way to do things; it is not surprising, then, they are recalcitrant to having God’s law transform the society and its traditionalism or “progress” (take your pick). The concealed presumption in eliminating commandments from God which directly apply to social matters (e.g., the execution of certain types of criminals) is that a law from God is only valid if I can find a good reason for it or if it does not shock my general “Christian” feelings. Such an approach does not live under the sovereign authority of God but is a reversion to rationalism and inclination.
While it is clear that Bahnsen did speak of an expression of “latent antinomianism” in relation to a particular unwarranted compartmentalization of “civil” apart from “moral” law, it should be clear to any reader that this was not an absolute statement in any regard. Instead, Bahnsen is speaking specifically of people to make such a distinction for a particular purpose unwarranted by Scripture: that is, “with the intention of giving the impression that the latter class are mere matters of time-bound administration which are irrelevant today.” In other words, people who categorize the law in this way for the purpose of denying their application today entirely.
Well, I don’t see why Jordan would actually disagree with this description since not even he holds that position. After all, remember, he opened the debate by arguing that he believed the civil code of Old Testament Israel was “thoroughly relevant” to every nation today (even if not therefore, according to him, obligatory). This qualified statement from Bahnsen, then, not only does not apply as a general statement to all people who make a three-fold distinction of the law, it does not even apply to Jordan himself.
It is clear from this then that Jordan once again misunderstood and misrepresented what Bahnsen wrote.
Further, it is not true that Bahnsen held only to a two-fold distinction, nor is it true that most theonomists do. This would have probably been clear to Jordan had he considered what Bahnsen wrote elsewhere concerning a three-fold distinction. For example, in the Preface to the Second Edition of TICE, page xxx, Bahnsen created a list of common misconstructions which had been answered in various ways already, and by which he considered it “mean, illogical, and inexcusable propaganda” to dismiss theonomy. Among this list was misconception #3: “denying any distinction between moral and judicial laws.”
Likewise, Bahnsen has a whole chapter on “Categories of Old Testament Law” in his book No Other Standard (pp. 93 ff.). On page 94, he writes:
The second line of criticism comes from the opposite direction. It not only recognizes the legitimacy of a ceremonial category of Old Testament laws, but it wishes to assert a further classification of laws which, just like the ceremonial laws, are categorically abrogated under the New Testament—namely, the civil or “judicial” laws of the Mosaic revelation. Therefore, according to this thinking, the only Old Testament commandments which would remain binding in the New Covenant would be the “moral law,” which is allegedly only the ten commandments (Exodus 20:1-17). Theonomic ethics challenges this understanding of the Old Testament civil or judicial laws, arguing that they are theologically distinct from the ceremonial laws, that the moral law cannot be reduced to the decalogue (its summary), and that the difference between judicial laws and the moral law which they apply is not principal but literary in character. Theonomy taught that we need “to apply the illustrations given in the Old Testament case laws to changed, modern situations and new social circumstances.” For instance, with respect to the requirement of a rooftop railing “Thus the underlying principle (of which the case law was a particular illustration) of safety precautions has abiding ethical validity” (pp. 540-541).
Thus you see again that Bahnsen is not denying a distinction of a “judicial” or “civil” category in general, but rather the use of that distinction in such a way as to abrogate totally the judicial law as a whole category.
It was this irresponsible practice which Bahnsen labeled “latent antinomianism”—not the mere position of a three-fold distinction in itself, as Hall mistakenly stated. Toward this end, it would be further helpful to ask what exactly Bahnsen meant when he used the phrase “latent antinomianism.” He did provide a whole chapter by that title TICE (pp. 301–308). In distinction from “outright” antinomianism, which sees any recourse to God’s law in the Christian life as repugnant (see Berkhof, Systematic Theology, 615), Bahnsen describes “latent” antinomianism like this:
The latent brand of antinomianism is also quite prevalent today among Christians. Although there is an evident concern for God’s law, this attitude still feeds upon the polluted stream of autonomy. Latent antinomianism gladly accepts the place of God’s law in the Christian life, and so on the surface it does not appear—and in many cases is not intended—to be antinomian in its outlook. Then enters the difficulty. Having paid courtesy to the law of God, the latent antinomian proceeds to arbitrate which of God’s laws he deems appropriate to the Christian life today. That is, the latent antinomian agrees that a Christian must follow God’s law, but he looks to himself to choose how much of God’s law he will consider as binding. In the final analysis the latent antinomian is actually his own moral authority; in taking upon himself to delimit the extent to which the Older Testamental law applies to him he is not really submitting to God’s will but rubber-stamping it where it parallels his own feeling. This brand of antinomianism is subtle, for its proponent will defend the sanctity of God’s law; however, he will not recognize all of God’s law as his obligation. Without clear scriptural justification he will presume to nullify portions of that law. This is eventually (even if unwittingly) nothing other than self-law; the difference between it and non-Christian autonomy is that “latent antinomians” take their moral principles from among the set of commandments given by God, but they take a smorgasbord approach to that set.
What’s even more helpful is that Bahnsen goes on to qualify this even further: he says we should be careful not to be too cavalier in applying this label:
[T]he type of antinomian we are referring to here should be distinguished from Christians who legitimately see that not every ordinance of the Older Testament applies in the same manner to the New Testament Christian (i.e., the ceremonial law). These two are distinguished by the fact that the latter bases his qualified circumscription on the immediate teaching and direction of God’s word, while the former goes beyond this and uses the razor of his own ratiocination to shave off further demands of God’s revealed law.
With the exception, perhaps, of those holding strongly to a classic dispensational ethic or New Covenant theology, I think we can all agree that anyone entirely and categorically dismissing the validity of the judicial laws should indeed be considered guilty of “latent antinomianism.” And again, since Jordan Hall himself holds a view in which the judicial laws are seen as “good,” “righteous,” “God-breathed,” and “thoroughly relevant, and always has been, to America and to every other nation under the Sun,” we can rest assured that his position actually, in large measure, agrees with Bahnsen on what “latent antinomianism” is, as well as how and to whom the label should be legitimately applied.
Now, as I can see that just this one refutation has taken a good space, I suppose I will have to address others in serial fashion over the next few days.
If I were to categorize material from the debate as “the good,” “the bad”, and “the ugly,” what I am about to relate to you would fall into a category far beyond hideous. I mean, if the ugly step-sister were this bad, you’d be looking for a basement with a lock on the outside.
Unfortunately, however, this is no joke. This is very serious. Theonomists have for years dealt with quotations out of context—that’s nothing new. We have even dealt with misconceptions built on quotations out of context. But this may be the first time I’ve seen a critic stoop to the level of utter fabrication of a quotation for the purposes of maligning a theonomist. Yes, I mean utter fabrication, as in, “Jordan made it up.”
The quotation in question comes near the end of Jordan’s opening statement for the second segment. This is where the “boogeyman quotes” began to fly in an effort to show that theonomists really believe in salvation or sanctification by works. The granddaddy of all boogeymen was then released from his closet. Jordan stated that “Rushdoony said this in Institutes of Biblical Law, page 463” [my emphasis]:
Salvation is inseparable from restitution, and man must pay restitution for the sins of Adam by taking dominion over the earth.
[My emphasis. See the debate video at 1:30:47 and forward.]
Jordan used this quotation to bolster his insistence that theonomy subjects the Gospel under the law—and thus constitutes heresy.
The problem, however, is that the quotation is utterly made up. It doesn’t exist. Here’s what Rushdoony actually says on that page 463:
Salvation is inseparable from restitution, because God’s redemption of man and of the world is its restoration to its original position under Him and to His glory. Man’s work of restitution for the sin of Adam, for his own original sin as it has worked to mar the earth, is to recognize that, as a new creation in Christ, he must make the earth a new creation under Christ. The work of Christ in man is this work of restitution.
Nowhere in this quotation is the damning statement Jordan fabricated and attributed to Rushdoony, that “man must pay restitution for the sins of Adam by taking dominion over the earth.”
This, in itself, is false witness. Rushdoony did not say this, and to attribute it to him as a quotation is unconscionable. We need progress no further to establish the point.
But the thought conveyed is also fabricated. Rushdoony was obviously not speaking of man paying restitution by his own works by taking dominion. No, the context says just the opposite: “Man’s work” only comes by first being “a new creation in Christ,” and this restitution is actually “God’s redemption” and “the work of Christ in man.” In fact, if there were any ambiguity about this “work” Rushdoony says man must do, he clarifies plainly that it is all of Christ working in us: “The work of Christ in man is this work of restitution.”
This is, of course, nothing less that James teaching that faith without works is dead, and thus that true faith will have good works that necessarily follow (James 2:14–26).
The larger context makes this even clearer. Nevertheless, I don’t want to belabor the point any further than the basic fact that Jordan not only engaged here in misrepresentation, but in open and outright falsehood in his direct attribution of a non-existent statement. Now, Jordan may attempt to blame this error on his assistants who compiled notes for him after he allegedly read the material. This is no excuse. The buck stops with Jordan. He is the one responsible for presenting the material, and he should be held to the standard of basic Christian ethics in doing so. He did not meet that standard. This must be remedied.
Let me clear: it’s bad enough when people say, “theonomists believe [fill in the blank]” and it’s a mere misrepresentation. But when you attribute something as a direct quotation, you had better be accurate and honest about it. Your integrity hangs in the balance at this point. And when you spread utter falsehoods as quotations, you are guilty of bearing false witness against your neighbor. And when you do this for the purpose of calling your neighbor a heretic, you have compromised anything that could be called integrity.
Nor is this by any means all. I will be posting a review of every quotation Jordan made of theonomists in the debate. Pretty much every single one was out of context and distorted for his purposes, as you shall see for yourself. This one just happens to take the cake in terms of its clear fabrication. This one merits singular attention.
And I mean serious attention. In fact, some authority in the Montana Southern Baptist Convention may need to look into whether someone demonstrating this level of ethics ought to remain in his pulpit.
Whether this happens or not—and I’m dead serious, it should—what remains to be seen is if Jordan’s loyal friends following will hold him accountable for even this: will Phil Johnson hold him accountable? Will Fred Butler hold him accountable? Will the Sola Sisters, the Wingnut, Chris Rosebrough, Brannon Howse, and the rest of the discernmentsphere hold him accountable? Will they actually get their buddy champion to come clean, or will they remain silent in the face of a clear malignance?
Only time will tell. But that’s not all that will tell. Silence from these parties will signify tacit consent and implicit approval. Will these crusaders for truth instead move to cover and excuse falsehood?
This act on Jordan’s part is unacceptable, irresponsible, egregious, and sinful. I hereby call upon Jordan to make an open and full admission and retraction of this false quotation against Rushdoony—and by extension, theonomists in general. He may maintain his disagreement with us, and opinion of us, if he will. But he may not do it on false pretenses with impunity.
I have, as you can imagine, been asked several times who I thought won the debate. While one party to the debate has been making clear suggestions as to his victory in the name of not chest-thumping, I have remained quiet on this point, until the video’s release. The listener or viewer will now be able to see for themselves, although, I admit, it may slip by unnoticed if you don’t pay close attention (something most of the critics associated with my opponent seem unwilling to do). But the winner is absolutely crystal clear for those with an ear to hear.
And the winner of the Theonomy Debate is. . . .
Theonomy and the Westminster Divines
That’s right. William Perkins was the unexpected star of this show. Here’s how:
In an effort, I suppose, to show that theonomy is unconfessional and aberrant from the Reformed tradition of biblical understanding, Jordan did what many critics of theonomy have done: he referred to the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter 19 section 4, which says:
To them [“the people of Israel”] also, as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging under any now, further than the general equity thereof may require.
To the modern reader, divorced from the context of the Divines themselves, this sounds like a cut-and-dried case. But not so fast.
Like many of our modern critics, Jordan emphasized “not obliging under any [State] now,” and only when later called out on it, explained the obligation through “general equity” (quoting from the Oxford English Dictionary, a late-nineteenth century standard, in an attempt to prove what the Divines meant by the term “equity” (not even the whole phrase “general equity”) two hundred and forty years earlier in a different context) in a pietistic, spiritualized way. Those of us who know the background, however, know this will not do.
For this reason, in cross examination I asked him if he was familiar with the views of certain men who wrote or influenced the writing of the Confession. The first name on the list was William Perkins, the man who taught theology to many of the Divines. Out of a list of about 25 or more names (and we could add more), he admitted he was not familiar with any except one, Samuel Rutherford.
In my closing for the first segment, I therefore related how these Divines really understood the judicials and general equity. It was not a phrase that reduced Old Testament laws to vague, general principles, denuded their penal sanctions, and limited them to church and personal-piety applications only, as Jordan seemed to argue. Instead, the Divines argued for a distinction within the category of judicial laws: those that had “general equity” (meaning that they are expressions of moral law in general, and therefore apply generally to all peoples of all times), and those have merely have “particular equity” (meaning, they were tied particularly to aspects of Israel’s position in the land, such as the land itself, the temple, priesthood, tribal separations, etc.), and these latter alone are those which expired with the State of Israel. These latter were also referred to by the Divines as judicial laws which were merely “Mosaical,” as opposed to other judicial laws and punishments which had universal scope (even though these too were mostly exclusively revealed through Moses).
It was with a couple chuckles, then, that I sat listening to his closing statement after that very cross-examination: Jordan pulled out his pre-prepared notes and began to quote Divines in an effort to show they believed only in a pietistic “general equity” as he defined it. The first chuckle came when the men he began to quote were mostly Divines of whom I had just asked if he was familiar (more on this disconnect momentarily). The second and real chuckle came when he actually quoted William Perkins stating exactly the view I had just argued theonomists believe, and yet he thought he was offering it as a refutation of our views.
That quotation says this:
Therefore the judicial laws of Moses according to the substance and scope thereof must be distinguished. . . . Some of them are laws of particular equity, some of common equity. [ . . . ] Judicials of common equity, are such as are made according to the law or instinct of nature common to all men: and these in respect of their substance, bind the consciences not only of the Jews, but also of the Gentiles: [ . . . ]
Note that even from this it is clear that Perkins was expressing my view not Jordan’s. Perkins is not distinguishing between judicial laws and moral laws as separate categories (with the former now gone and the latter only remaining), but rather a distinction within the sole category of “judicial laws of Moses.” Within these, there are some that have only particular equity and others that have common equity, apply to “all men,” and are binding upon both Jews and Gentiles.
That should be enough in itself to establish that it is not that theonomists have introduced a new distinction or view of Mosaic judicials, but that modern critics like Jordan have not understood what the Divines actually taught in this regard. Indeed, they have been so far off as to read these very distinctions thinking they refute theonomy when they in fact establish a view perfectly consistent with a theonomic thesis.
What’s even more amazing, however, is that Jordan provided only part of the quotation from Perkins, and it still elucidated my view clearly. The rest of the quotation (with the parts Jordan neglected appearing in bold) makes my theonomic view even more obvious:
Therefore the judicial laws of Moses according to the substance and scope thereof must be distinguished. . . . Some of them are laws of particular equity, some of common equity. Laws of particular equity, are such as prescribe justice according to the particular estate and condition of the Jews’ Commonwealth and to the circumstances thereof: times, place, persons, things, actions. Of this kind was the law, that the brother should raise up seed to his brother, and many such like: and none of them bind us, because they were framed and tempered to a particular people. Judicials of common equity, are such as are made according to the law or instinct of nature common to all men: and these in respect of their substance, bind the consciences not only of the Jews, but also of the Gentiles: for they were not given to the Jews as they were Jews, that is, a people received into the Covenant above all other nations, brought from Egypt to the land of Canaan, . . . but they were given to them as they were mortal men subject to the order and laws of nature as all other nations are.
There you have it: some judicials are particular to Israel, others are common and binding to all nations. Thus the truth about what the Divines taught is clear, and thus the truth of what their language in WCF 19.4 originally meant as well. And therefore, theonomy is vindicated in relation to it, for this is what theonomists have generally taught all along, and exactly what I argued in the debate.
The only question left for us, then, in the big picture, is not whether the Mosaic judicials are obligatory, but which ones are obligatory as being common laws. Thus, the task is to determine which laws are particular and which common—not an easy task admittedly, though a necessary one—and then to proceed to preach and teach those obligations of the state in regard to Old Testament judicial law.
The Dangers of Quote-Mining
Because Jordan initially said he had no familiarity with the views of Perkins (and the others), it seemed funny to me that he almost immediately turned around and quoted them. I don’t believe he was directly lying to me in cross-examination. He had obviously at one point compiled anti-theonomic notes which included this quotation from Perkins. It is also obvious he did not bother to study much the actual context and meaning of Perkins (and all the others). But he apparently, therefore, assumed that the anti-theonomic source from which he retrieved the quotations accurately reflected what they meant. This is always a risky mistake. That aside, he was surely as surprised by his own notes as I was when he brought up Perkins confidently after he just said he was not familiar.
It became clear to me in the debate that Jordan had done some quote-mining leading up to it. Quote-mining is when you search the internet for keywords and phrases hoping to find material you can use against an opponent. The great danger of quote-mining is that if you don’t read the context of the original source yourself and try to ascertain its meaning, then you are relying on 1) the limitations of the quotation as presented by the secondary source from which you got it, and 2) that assumption that the secondary source is presenting the meaning accurately.
Considering that Jordan presented five names in that rebuttal—Samuel Bolton, William Gouge, Samuel Rutherford, Paul Baynes, and William Perkins, in that order—I think I have found the source he relied on. It is this article from an anti-theonomic, Free Church of Scotland, website. It has a section in which the author gives the exact same quotations from Bolton, Gouge, Rutherford, and Perkins, and in the same order, as presented by Jordan—with only Baynes being out of order, but nevertheless present. The article also actually introduces Rutherford the same way Jordan did, as a “Scottish commissioner to the Westminster Assembly.” It even goes on to define “equity” by recourse to the Oxford English Dictionary, just as Jordan did in his talk. I think we have a hit here.
Now, I don’t know if plagiarism is as frowned upon in debates as it is in general scholarship, but at least I know where Jordan got his material. The benefit of this is that I can see why Jordan misunderstood WCF 19.4: he relied upon the work of others, uncritically, not checking the original sources himself, and those others had already misunderstood the works themselves. As the old saying goes: garbage in, garbage out.
Moreover, since I am fairly certain of the source Jordan used to derive the quotation from Perkins, I know he had to have read the whole quotation as presented. The question is, why did Jordan feel the need to drop out part of the Perkins quotation? I won’t speculate as to why, but that he did is clear, and that the final product per Jordan still supports the theonomic thesis and he didn’t even realize it, is equally clear. Either way, the result is still damaging to the case he tried to impress upon us.
In another post we will discuss further details in relation to the distinction between judicial laws of particular equity (applying to Old Covenant Israel only), and those of common equity (those of universal and timeless application). We will see how writers subsequent to the WCF era applied the same understanding, although not necessarily using the phrases “particular equity” and “common equity.” We will also discuss how modern theonomists have applied almost exactly the same distinctions—including, though in different ways, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, and especially North, who provides the only thoroughly exegetical model along these lines.
For now, the substance here should work to clarify some of the comments made in the debate, and to show which side was more correct in their understanding of the biblical, systematic theology of the Westminster Divines. As such, it should be clear who was right in the debate in regard to the continuing obligation of the civil laws of Moses.
And from that, it should be clear who won. It was William Perkins—and thus, since we both relied on his explanation of the distinction, it was the one who understands the judicial distinction in the way Perkins did. This will become even clearer as we proceed in the next installment. It will also be just as clear as you watch the debate for yourself:Watch the Debate Here.
On February 20, 2015, Dr. Joel McDurmon and Jordan D. Hall engaged in a debate on Theonomy. The debate resolution was: “Mosaic Civil Laws are Obligatory for Civil Governments today“.
Dr. McDurmon argued in the affirmative and Mr. Hall in the negative.
In consideration to recent needs, American Vision has decided to make the full conference and debate video available for free. Those of you who are able, please consider giving a DONATION to help offset costs of production which are considerable. No amount is too small to help. As further conference talks become available, they will be posted here as well, for free. We hope you appreciate and benefit from the ministry and products of American Vision as we appreciate your support.
With thankfulness we announce that we have spoken as brethren dwelling together in unity and have reached a mutual accord regarding our current dispute. We regret that the spirit and tone of the current discord we have caused has been unworthy of the body of Christ. We seek above all to restore His glory in our relations and to demonstrate the purity and peace of His church.
Toward this end, we first offer mutual apologies. Joel takes responsibility for certain misunderstandings regarding transmission of audio files to Jordan, and for this he sincerely apologizes. Jordan apologizes for allowing the dispute to be made public and for certain unnecessary tweets and posts regarding Joel. Accordingly, we agree to remove all offending posts, tweets, and articles from our respective websites as far as reasonably possible, and consider each other’s faults washed as white as snow.
As men, we admit our fallibility. As Christians, we seek to demonstrate the spirit of forgiveness which Christ showed to us, and commanded us to show to one another. As leaders of Christian ministries, we seek to exemplify the love and manliness He demonstrated for us.
A primary concern of us both from day one was to ensure that our debate will be available in full and without substantial or unfair editing. We both affirm this goal without hesitance or reservation, and have agreed that American Vision will meet this goal with video and audio products in a matter of days. Jordan has acquired certain rights to the audio as an assurance of this goal.
We would like to take this opportunity to thank all of you who support us and share in our ministries. We hope you will join us in this statement by also demonstrating forgiveness and reconciliation to those who, in the midst of this brief furor, you have offended unnecessarily. Remove those posts, delete those tweets, make that needed apology, and in doing so, demonstrate the greatness of our God and Savior Jesus Christ.
In His Service,
American Vision, Inc.
Jordan D. Hall
Pulpit & Pen
The tough lesson I learned this week is this: Theonomy is dead. This was the assessment of Jordan Hall during our debate, and was what his helpers live-tweeted during the debate. And after the debate, I am now forced to admit it. I succumb: Theonomy is dead.
Of course there is a context for all things, and here is the context for this: the “Theonomy” described and presented by Jordan Hall never existed to begin with. So I have no problem admitting it is dead.
The debate actually started off well for a minute. Any Theonomist listening would have agreed with his very first comments. He said:
The civil code that was given to the commonwealth of Israel is good. The civil code that was given to the commonwealth of Israel was righteous. The civil code that was given to the commonwealth of Israel is God-breathed. The civil code that was given to the commonwealth of Israel is thoroughly [his emphasis] relevant, and always has been, to America and to every other nation under the Sun. The civil code given to the commonwealth of Israel, honestly, provides laws that we should stop, and consider, and compare them to modern laws today that more times than not cater to human depravity. . . . In short, The civil code that was given to the commonwealth of Israel matters, and it matters tremendously. And finally, as to the question, “By what other standard?”, I say by God’s standard, and by God’s standard alone.
Now, this is enough to make even the most stone-faced Reformed stalwart jump and shout “Amen!” like a charismaniac. After all, JD is here talking about the “civil code” and not merely the moral law (to which he switched for virtually the rest of the debate).
Yet Hall expressed “great despair” that people who agree with these statements call themselves “Theonomists.” He argued that these beliefs in-and-of themselves do not make one a Theonomist. It was news to us of course. Instead, he argued, these beliefs only make you a “Christian with a biblical worldview.”
We can thank Jordan for at least demonstrating, unwittingly, that Theonomic belief is nothing less than Christianity with a biblical worldview. But he had a job to present it as otherwise.
The defining difference, as he expressed it, comes when you add the word “obligatory.” But I can’t see how this was really the defining difference. After all, how can what is “good,” “righteous,” “God-breathed,” and also “thoroughly relevant” not be obligatory in the big picture. The task therefore is only to distinguish between those Old Testament laws that share these qualities in an abiding and universal way, and those that were tied directly to the temporal elements of Jewish temple, land, and tribes, etc. This is what many Reformed theologians in the Westminster strain have believed, including more than one prominent Reformed Baptist.
But here’s where the lug nuts flew and the wheels fell off the bus all in one shot. Jordan quoted one sentence from Bahnsen in order to establish his definition of “Theonomy”: “Every single stroke of the law must be seen by the Christian as applicable to this very age between the advents of Christ” (Theonomy in Christian Ethics, 84).
It seems to be Jordan’s insistence that the only thing that qualifies to be called “Theonomy” is a view that takes a statement like this from Bahnsen, absolutizes it, places it in solitary confinement from any context or qualification in the rest of that book or the corpus of Theonomic literature, and demands that it allows no distinctions or discontinuities at all from any jot or tittle of Old Testament law.
And if that were indeed what Theonomy is, I would join Jordan in pronouncing it not only dead, but DOA.
But we all know it’s not. And that was the greatest tragedy of the debate. It was Jordan Hall’s attempt to pigeon-hole Theonomy with—dare I say it once more—a misprepresentation, ignoring totally all that has been said, written, exegeted, and proven to the contrary.
Absent from his insistence was any attempt to say, “What did Bahnsen mean by this statement? What is the point of the context in which he was making it?” Even a cursory attempt to ascertain the answer would reveal a highly nuanced perspective within a very narrow exegetical context in the process of developing the overall meaning. Bahnsen was considering the exegetical meaning of the phrase “eos an panta genetai” (“until all is accomplished”—Matt. 5:18). This was only a small part in a huge process of detailed exegesis of Matthew 5:17–19. Here he was focused on a small portion of that exegesis as a small part of the larger task of arriving at an overall meaning. In short, the quotation is taken and applied out of context.
So, Bahnsen was not here deriving a definition of “Theonomy,” and to say otherwise is simply irresponsible in terms of both scholarship and brotherliness. Yes, I know, Hall did the responsible thing by referencing the page number, showing he had actually read at least part of the book. But that’s only one step along the way of actually representing an opponent faithfully. One is obliged also faithfully to reproduce the meaning as it was in context.
It was this type of opposition that Bahnsen endured throughout his career, especially at the outset. This is why he moved to stem this type of portrayal when he published the second edition of his book. Thus he wrote in the Preface to that edition:
Before offering an outline, we must be warned that some people have been kept from an accurate analysis of theonomic ethics—sometimes by the author’s manner of expression, sometimes because the order of discussion (especially qualifications) is not that expected by some readers, and sometimes because the book has simply not been read, or read completely, or read at a safe distance from distorting preconceptions and prejudices. For instance, a combination of such factors has misled some to maintain that Theonomy, because it often speaks of our obligation to the exhaustive details of God’s law (“every jot and tittle”), cannot allow any change or advance over the Old Testament at any point, even by God Himself, and must follow without exception every single Old Testament precept strictly, literally (even the cultural trappings necessitate verbatim application), and without qualification or modification.
These false depictions cannot be justified from a careful reading of the book. There are no fewer than seventy pages that refer to the progress of revelation and redemptive history, God’s right to change the law, exceptions to general continuity, laws which are laid aside, or advances over the Old Covenant. I mentioned “radical differences,” “legitimate and noteworthy discontinuities,” and laws which have “become obsolete.” What is championed is “the presumption” of moral continuity between the Testaments. It was clearly spelled out that “if we are to submit to God’s law, then we must submit to every bit of it (as well as its own qualifications).” Because “only God has the authority and prerogative to discontinue the binding force of anything He has revealed,” we should live by the Old Testament law “except where expressly indicated otherwise.”
Does Theonomy therefore profess that we are stuck with every jot and tittle with no discontinuity, with no qualification, and in a rigid 1-to-1 way? The thought is preposterous. Bahnsen continues regarding the application of “general principles” rather than the ridiculous idea of 1-to-1 woodenness:
Furthermore, it should be perfectly plain to any student of Scripture, theonomic or not, that God requires obedience to the underlying principles illustrated by Scripture’s cultural expressions. Theonomy plainly observed: “the case law illustrates the application or qualification of the principle laid down in the general commandment,” and it is “the underlying principle (of which the case law was a particular illustration)” which “has abiding ethical validity.” We are not bound to the cultural details of flying axheads and rooftop railings, but to the principles about unpremeditated homicide and safety precautions, etc.
But this is not enough for Jordan (if he actually read these passages). He actually sat, pope-like—indeed, full Inquisition-like—demanding that we hold the view he says we hold, and not what our own people have professed and exegeted over 40 years and thousands of pages, and not once otherwise.
Indeed, I consider one of the most telling parts of the debate a brief exchange that occurred in my first cross-examination of him. I asked that if Bahnsen was sitting here right now in person stating that he believed in a three-fold distinction of the law, would Hall finally acknowledge it. Hall answered, “I would not believe him.”
Indeed, Jordan goes so far as to say Theonomists are being “deceptive” because we do not teach as “Theonomy” what he says it must mean.
Folks, I am not sure what else to say. This is not a person interested in veracity. Not only does he present us by quoting dis-contextualized snippets, but he forthrightly says he will not believe what we say unless we confess to believe the results of his smear job. Either we submit to his truncated presentation, or else we are liars.
Now you ask yourself whether this standard of interaction is even worth continuing at this point, let alone fair or acceptable.
Now, I am glad that I prepared the conference audience for this level of nonsense by simply reading Bahnsen’s Prefaces here and in other places in talks prior to the debate. As a result, several people came to me afterward shaking their heads saying, “He did exactly what you predicted.”
I am glad that this practice is now easily documented, not just for critics 30 years ago, but today also. Our critics want to make our insistence on their misrepresentations into some kind of meme—as if repetition implied some moral judgment in itself (perhaps our critics really do believe in PR more than accuracy). But as I have written elsewhere, there is a good reason why we continually say this. Unfortunately for Hall, he did not demonstrate the capability—or God forbid, the will—to rise above such behavior.
To my great satisfaction, however, young non-theonomists are beginning to see this. One person in a Facebook thread commented thusly:
As someone who is not a theonomist, I find the consistent dishonesty, and attacks by the anti-theonomists disturbing, it’s getting very hard to take some of you seriously on any issue, because of your actions on this issue.
Now, I know, you desperately await the audio and video for your own judgment. Great! That is in production and you will just have to be patient for several days. In the meantime, there are many more things to say and address, including the contributions of the self-appointed popes and popettes in the “discernment” blogosphere who actually discern as much about some things as a fish does about the world outside her bowl. I hate to be the one who pops the discernment bubble, which I unfortunately perceive to include Hall as well, but there are much better critics and theologians out there to whom interested parties should pay attention.
As this post has already reached a goodly length, I’ll talk more about that and much more later. Trust me there is much more to come.
I’ll conclude by saying this: a man came up to me afterwards and said, “You got the wrong guy.” He explained that his point was that Hall was not interested in honest intellectual exchange, but in publicly smearing Theonomy for his own purposes. And I believe he was right. Unfortunately, I believe this is also right in regard to a segment of independent Baptists in his broader circles. I don’t expect to get a fair treatment from any of them based on what I’ve seen so far.
The proof of this will be that you will probably soon see one of them post the first paragraph of this post without context as my capitulation after the debate. I’m taking odds on how long it will take.
Well, I’ll reiterate: Theonomy is dead, if you regard Jordan’s portrayal of Theonomy as accurate. But it is nowhere close. In order to maintain his position, he has to dismiss us as liars. In doing so, he dismisses himself from the realm of serious discussion.
So why debate under these conditions? I have reasons, some which were fulfilled in the debate, others which were not. For now, I will only repeat that I believe the younger generation wants truth, and is willing to read further and not take the insults and demanding pontifications of our opponents uncritically. That is my hope. I truly believe the seekers will be guided into the right answers—and in truth, we are seeing a tremendous response in this direction. But those who entrench themselves in falsehoods will reap the rewards of it: a following of dupes, drones, and the deceived. I don’t know how anyone could be proud of that.
In the meantime, Jordan’s opening comments are perfectly consistent with Theonomic belief, even if he insists otherwise. The real difference between him and Theonomists is simply that we actually take those comments seriously. We write commentaries on them, write about how the civil laws that are indeed “thoroughly relevant” should actually apply therefore, and then we preach about it. Our opponents give lip-service to the thorough relevance of Mosaic civil law, but only to avoid dealing with the Theonomy it entails. Where are their commentaries on these aspects they allegedly embrace? Where are their sermons? On the contrary, I actually deal with this task. You can fault me on that, I guess.
So, sure, “Theonomy” is dead. But long live Theonomy.Watch the Debate Here.
A new child welfare services expansion and alleged sex-trafficking prevention bill is making its way rapidly through the Georgia State Assembly led by Republican, and some Christian, lawmakers. It is euphemistically titled the “Safe Harbor Act,” but it ought to be titled the “Welfare and Strip-Club Establishment Act,” for that is effectively what it will accomplish in the name of doing good. It is short-sighted, antibiblical, and constitutes an attack on the family and the church—all in the name of a righteous cause.
This bill is a classic example of why conservatives and Christians continue to lose in politics. They tinker with liberal tactics and leftist-statist institutions hoping to effect conservative values.
Christians, listen up: God will not honor this.
Under the guise “to protect a child from further victimization” (yes, this is a classic “it’s for the children!” pitch, from conservatives) the bill proposes to establish a new Fund and a new Commission to expand services through Child and Family Services. This expansion of the administrative-state complex is bad enough in itself. The expansion of the welfare state and its wealth-redistributing evils is bad enough in itself. The state has no business getting involved in matters the Bible leaves to the family, the church, and private agencies of charity and mercy. This is where the bill is simply anti-biblical. In fact, establishing and expanding the state’s power in these areas is to encroach further on the roles of family and church, and is thus an attack on those God-ordained institutions as well.
But the worst of the bill is how it intends to pay for this expansion of the state behemoth—and this is the most distorted part of it. The bill proposes a yearly fee on strip clubs: 1 percent of gross revenue, a minimum of $5,000.
What’s so bad about that? After all, the bill itself notes up front that both prostitution and sexual exploitation of children are among the “deleterious secondary effects . . . associated with” such adult institutions. So why not make them pay through the nose to maintain the state prevention and treatment of it?
Because instead of eliminating the problem of strip clubs, this bill actually virtually establishes the problem by giving the state an incentive in its income.
Some critics of the bill have rightly noted that imposing such a high fee on strip clubs will eliminate some of them—the smaller ones who can’t afford to pay. Jessica Szilagyi, a brilliant young public policy mind writing for the Peach Pundit, noted this well:
$5,000 or 1% of gross revenue (lines 296-300) will effectively close the doors of small establishments with less traffic and cripple the larger ones.
Her article is great and I encourage you to read it, but I disagree with that last part. This new fee will not “cripple” the bigger establishments. It will simply eliminate their smaller competitors, sending all the business their way. These establishments will thrive as a result. A 1-percent fee will be a small price to pay for a government-imposed quasi-monopoly. Think of it as a new public-private partnership.
Worse, these artificially-propped strip clubs will now be more powerful in regard to future legal challenges. With their newly centralized wealth, they will be more able to lobby and afford lawyers.
And since the main source of funding for the new welfare program will be the strip club fees, the state will have an incentive to make sure the clubs stay open. Thus, this will be a virtual state-establishment of strip clubs. The subsidy is not direct, of course; it is indirect, through the elimination of competition and the nature of the state’s new dependency upon revenue from the ones that make the fee cut.
If this sounds far-fetched or abstract, consider a practical example of when this actually played out (there are actually many examples when all economic sectors are considered, but this is regarding adult entertainment in particular). In 1987–88, the Reagan/Bush administration attempted to crack down on the porn industry. The “National Obscenity Enforcement Unit” began “Project Postporn,” attempting to make legal examples through targeted lawsuits for postal violations. From a politician’s perspective, the result was a smashing success. Many porn businesses were forced to close and others dissuaded from entering the market. They could go back and tell their constituents what great good they’d done.
But from a reality perspective, the plan did nothing but centralize the industry: the larger companies could afford the legal challenges and the fees and fines where applicable, but they also benefited from the fact that all their smaller competitors had been driven out of business. Men like porn-industry “godfather” Philip Harvey paid heavily in court, but thrived even more so in business. Eric Schlosser, author of Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market, reports the facts:
Although battling the Reagan and Bush administrations cost Harvey more than $ 3 million in legal fees, Project Postporn actually helped his company. It wiped out many of his mail-order competitors and dissuaded others from entering the business. About 30 million copies of the Adam & Eve catalogue are now distributed each year in the United States, attracting more than 2 million customers.
Harvey not only profited hugely from the scheme, he also got a book deal on top of it. He published The Government vs. Erotica, in which he was able to portray the conservatives behind the raids and lawsuits as buffoons who are nevertheless still dangerous to freedom of speech.
In unwitting Orwellian fashion, the “National Obscenity Enforcement Unit” became just that—a government agency ensuring obscenity would be enforced.
Not much will be different in Georgia if this bill passes, and most conservatives behind it have no idea how short-sighted their victories will be if it does.
The sad part is that it’s almost political poison for a conservative to oppose it. If they do, they can be accused of supporting strip clubs and the sex crimes associated with them, and worse, they can be accused of indifference to suffering child victims. “This guy hates the children!” Only this time it won’t be the liberals with that tired canard, it will include his fellow Republicans.
Who wants to be in that position? But in reality, when they vote yes, they will be supporting an attack on the family, an attack on the church, and a provision for the greatest long-term support for which the big-dogs in strip club industry could ask.
Moreover, the bill will also allow funds to be used to fund “a person, entity, or program devoted to awareness and prevention of becoming a sexually exploited child.” This will almost certainly lead to some kind of program equivalent to D.A.R.E. (Drug Abuse Resistance Education), which many critics note has done more to introduce children to drug abuse than it has prevent it. If this is expanded into an equivalent sexual-abuse awareness program, you can expect equivalent unintended consequences.
But if some local agency attempts to get such a subsidy to expand such a program from these fund, I propose we call it S.C.A.R.E.—Strip Club Abuse Resistance Education. Or better yet, S.T.A.R.E.—Sex Trafficking Abuse Resistance Education—because “staring” is apropos to both what patrons of strip clubs do, and what conservative politicians do to you when asked to stand on principle when the PR will make it tough.
The bill, on my reading, will also expand civil forfeiture powers. Anyone who understands the evils of civil forfeiture ought to oppose all instances of its expansion, no matter how emotional the issue attached.
Szilagyi noted the better way: we have a nonprofit sector to deal with issues like this. The theologian agrees. It is not the government’s job. It’s the job of families, churches, private entities, and nonprofits. The government’s job is to punish crime. Keep it out of the markets, and let the organizations devoted to charity do their job.Give us a bill to encourage these things, not form a state partnership with the sin. Fees don’t bring solutions; they only centralize the problem and make the government dependent upon it remaining.
Christians ought to steer far clear of any legislation like this altogether.
The Georgia Senate votes today. The House bill still has time. Interested parties can find their representatives here.
 Eric Schlosser, Reefer Madness: Sex, Drugs, and Cheap Labor in the American Black Market, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2003, Kindle Edition, 190–191.
Join Apologia Radio and American Vision for the God, Governments, and Culture 2015 Conference #GGC2015 to discuss Scripture’s authority over all of life, concluding with the much-anticipated debate between Jordan Hall and Joel McDurmon.
Join speakers Joel McDurmon, Jeff Durbin, Sye Ten Bruggencate, John Crawford, Marcus Pittman and IV Conerly for presentations on understanding and applying biblical law in worldview, apologetics, the arts, and all of life.
The conference will conclude on Friday, Feb. 20, at 6:30 p.m. MT with the “Theonomy Debate.” Joel McDurmon of American Vision will defend the resolution “Mosaic civil laws are obligatory for civil governments today” against JD Hall of Pulpit and Pen and Reformation Montana.
Thursday and Friday, February 19–20, 2015, at Arizona Community Church, 9325 South Rural Road, Tempe, AZ 85284.
Each registration will receive free mp3 audio of the full conference and debate.
Debate-only registrations are not available.Register now.
A discussion that arose immediately after my upcoming debate was announced centered on the meaning of Luke 16:16. Some understand this to be a “death blow” to Theonomy because they think it means “the law and the prophets” allegedly ended with the ministry of John. The comment was something like, “I have not seen a single Theonomist deal with this verse.”
The quick and obvious response is simply to read verse 17. There is much more to it, of course. I also recalled at the time my commentary on it in Jesus v. Jerusalem which follows below.
One of the things that is an absolute must when interpreting the Gospels is to see the larger contexts in which they relates their various scenes. Luke almost always cues us as to Jesus’ immediate audience. Sometimes Jesus is talking to only his disciples, sometimes to the Pharisees directly, sometimes to the people around him in general. These are important cues and Luke gives them regularly.
In this passage, the relevant larger context begins already in 15:1—Jesus befriending sinners, eating with them, and preaching parables about reaching and receiving the least (or worst) of them. Then in 16:1–13, Jesus turns to his disciples and teaches a parable that justifies building relationships with the heathen–even at the loss of personal capital. Then follows the relevant immediate context—still part of the same larger context—when the eavesdropping Pharisees pipe up. From here to the end of Chapter 16, Jesus is pressing them regarding judgment upon them according to the Law. It is in this immediate context that the relevant verses appear.
Not only does verse 17 indicate that the monumental, world-altering transition mentioned in verse 16 does not mean discontinuity of “the Law and the Prophets,” this larger context does the same, in various ways. In particular, I want you to pay close attention near the end of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus: what is the standard by which these men are to be judged? What is the revelation these men are expected to believe and which is expected to be sufficient for them? Resurrection from the dead—miracles? Not here, according to Jesus/Abraham. The standard would be “Moses and the Prophets.”
“If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (16:31).
Luke does not refer to the Law or Moses directly often. That these two references appear here together in the same discussion of Jesus shows a remarkable unity of context—in fact, the tie together the two ends of Jesus’ response to the Pharisees in 16:15–31. Thus, 16:29 and 31 reinforce what is said in verse 17 said well. Jesus is thus hardly invoking discontinuity of the Law in verse 16. That would make nonsense of the rest of the context. In fact, it would make nonsense of the whole larger context of Jesus’ lawsuit against Israel/Jerusalem that begins in Luke 9:51. No, Jesus teaches here that the Law will remain as the standard at least until the Day of Judgment.
The question remains, of course, of how the Law functions and is to be used during this age of the Kingdom since John (and since Jesus has fulfilled it—Luke 24:44). But the transformation and new application of the Law is a different question altogether from the alleged abrogation of it in 16:16. That allegation, we can safely say, is disproven.
I leave you now to the larger excerpt from the commentary (pp. 92–99). It is longish. Print it out and take your time. Or hey, go for the whole book instead.
And don’t forget to REGISTER for the conference and debate.
Divorce and Disinheritance (Luke 16:14–31)
It is clear that the Pharisees understood what Jesus was saying, for they “ridiculed him” (Luke 16:14). Surely they understood Him to be defending His fellowshipping with sinners and tax collectors, and then telling the disciples to nourish relationships among the “unrighteous” wealth as well. “Ridiculed” here translates the Greek exemukterizon. A mukter is a nose. The verb literally refers to turning up one’s nose, though it was apparently a colloquialism for scorning and mocking in general. But here it could have a more literal application: the Pharisees thought themselves too pure, too righteous to mix with those “sinners” who didn’t meet their standards. They literally walked around with their noses turned up at these people, and now they did the same thing to Jesus who practiced befriending sinners.
Kingdom and Divorce
Jesus’ response shows that such pride and arrogance was the very sin of these Pharisees. The response is two-fold: the first part is direct application of the Law, the second part parable. In the first, He tells them,
You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God. The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached, and everyone forces his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void. Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery (Luke 16:15–18).
Jesus then proceeds directly into the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. We will discuss this parable in a moment; for now, it is important to acknowledge the continuity of the response from verse 15 through 31. In fact, the full context of the whole scene stretches from 15:1 through 17:10, and the reader should seek to interpret everything in that section as part of the same context. But Jesus current interaction with the Pharisees covers verses 14 through 31, and should be understood as a single coherent response. This may seem a bit troubling in that Jesus appears to be jumping between different topics rapidly: first on the Pharisees’ pride, then the Law and prophets, then the seventh commandment, then a parable about heaven and hell. But to see it this way is to miss the thread of meaning that ties the whole response together, and in fact, is to charge our Savior with a lack of coherence we should not expect from the Author of the Law itself. Instead, we need to see the common theme on which all of this hangs, and it is this: the Pharisees (indeed Israel) ignore God’s Law in the name of being the only keepers of the Law, and there is a judgment coming in which God will judge them according to the true depravity of their hearts. To see how this theme holds throughout, let us examine the first part of Jesus’ remarks:
First, Jesus responds by rebuking their covetousness. The text has already told us explicitly that they were “covetous.” The word is literally “lovers of money” (philarguroi), the same word used in 1 Timothy 6:10: “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils.” They had, after all, just been provoked to ridicule Jesus because they eavesdropped on the parable of the unjust manager: Jesus had just told the disciples that sometimes it is better to lose money than not have friends. Who in the world would teach that we should sometimes forgive people’s debts? (Luke 11:4.) These Pharisees had no idea how profound the issues of money and debt really are. They lived only by surface appearances, and now Jesus exposed that: “You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is exalted among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (16:15).
Second, Jesus rehearses the true nature of the Kingdom Law (again). The law and the prophets were until John, but since then, the Kingdom of God is preached (v. 16). Jesus is not teaching an “end of the Law and a beginning of something nicer” lesson here, for that would contradict the very next verse: “it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one dot of the Law to become void” (v. 17). No, Jesus is arguing that the Kingdom that was announced long since in the Law and prophets has arrived since the ministry of John the Baptist. It was here now. It was time to understand the fullness of the Law and the Kingdom now, and yet so few did. Instead, “everyone forces his way into it.” The RSV captures the spirit of this verse slightly better: “everyone tries to enter it by force.” This recalls the image of the many standing outside beating on the door of the narrow gate (13:25). Instead of repenting, the Pharisees ridicule and impose burdens on others. By forcing down others, they vaunt themselves as the heirs of the Law. Had they understood the true spiritual depth of the Law (see Matt. 5–7; Luke 6:20–26), they would have understood that God’s Law demands perfection of the heart; they would have therefore seen that they themselves were also wretched sinners and needed repentance.
Despite their shallow external treatment of the Law, God judges the depths of the heart (v. 15). And that perfect Law is eternal: it would be easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for the slightest part of that Law to fail (v. 17). Indeed, the Jews were about to witness the passing away of their “heaven and earth,” Jerusalem. And the passing away of Jerusalem would come as a result of judgment according to the very Law they had for so long ignored and abused. And while to some it may seem a stretch to refer to Jerusalem as “heaven and earth,” Jesus will more explicitly make this application in Luke 21:32–33: after describing the coming destruction of Jerusalem vividly, Jesus adds, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.” This is a clear reference to Jerusalem that would in fact (“will”) pass away, and would do so within Jesus’ generation. The meaning is certainly the same in Luke 16:17. The Law itself was eternal, and would stand as the bar by which Jesus would sue that generation’s adulterous expression of the Law.
This is why the very next verse jumps to the seventh commandment. Jesus is not switching topics randomly; this is perfectly consistent with His message. This is a divorce lawsuit against Israel. She has adulterated the Law; she has prostituted herself in exchange for the things highly esteemed by men, but which are condemned by God (v. 15). She was an adulterer. She was also a blasphemer since she had left her true love in the name of her true love—ignored God’s Law in the name of the purest expression of the Law. She was prostitute disguising herself as a pure virgin. Jesus brings the true Kingdom and with it the true Law. True inspection and judgment of that adulteress had come. The threat to this generation who left their love to find another was the verdict of adultery. This is what verse 18 is about.
And this is why a parable about heaven and hell follows immediately. Jesus will drive home the point about the eternal nature of the Law and the coming judgment.
The Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19–31)
There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. And he called out, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” But Abraham said, “Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.” And he said, “Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” But Abraham said, “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.” And he said, “No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” He said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 16:19–31).
Apart from the obvious context in which Jesus delivers this parable, there are two highly revealing details in it that tell us it pertains to His immediate situation. One of these ties the parable directly back to His preceding comments about the Law and the prophets and the Kingdom of God. This is Abraham’s response to the rich man near the end of their discussion. Burning in hell, the rich man finally realizes that evangelism would be a good thing—perhaps his family should be warned about this awful place. “But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them. . . . If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead’” (Luke 16:29). In other words, “The Law and the Prophets were until John; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is preached” (16:16). This is a very clear connection that shows continuity in Jesus’ discourse. The message is clear throughout: the day of judgment has come: if you do not truly believe the Law and the prophets, you will be judged by them (cf. John 5:39–47). And that judgment would not consider outward appearances—the rich man’s display of status and wealth were no indication of God’s Kingdom blessing—but would be a judgment of the heart (16:15).
The second revealing detail is less direct yet even more interesting: the clothing of the rich man in the parable. “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen” (16:19). While it is possible this is merely meant as a general description of wealth, the rich biblical theology of Jesus’ teachings spur us to dig more deeply. Purple and especially fine linen were the well-known distinctive dress of the priesthood and of the Temple. This is verified, of course, directly in the Law itself (Ex. 25–28; 35–39) and in many other allusions in the history and the prophets. In the parable, these are no casual details. They identify the rich man directly with the chief representations of old covenant Israel, the high priest and the Temple.
These “priestly” details also play a central identifying role indirectly in other places of the New Testament. They clearly help identify the Great Whore of Revelation 17–18 as Jerusalem: “The woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet” (Rev. 17:4). “Alas, alas, for the great city that was clothed in fine linen, in purple and scarlet, adorned with gold, with jewels, and with pearls! For in a single hour all this wealth has been laid waste” (Rev. 18:4). This idolatrous city was a false priest of God; she was laid to waste. But the true Bride will be pure and worthy of the clothes of the priesthood. The same book tells us, “Hallelujah! For the Lord our God the Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure” (Rev. 19:6–9). The harlot has no right to wear the priestly clothing, “for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints” (19:9), and unbelieving Jerusalem had no righteousness (Rom. 10:1–4).
But the New Bride’s righteousness was not her own, it came from Christ. Christ is the true High Priest, the one who truly has the right to the priestly clothes. For this reason, He is dressed in purple (Mark 15:17, 30; John 19:2, 5) and scarlet (Matt. 27:28) during His sacrifice, though the soldiers had no idea what they were really doing; and He is wrapped in fine linen at His burial (Matt. 27:59; Mark 15:46; Luke 23:53; 24:12; John 19:40; 20:5–7). The Gospels thus present Jesus as the true High Priest, the true representative of true Israel, throughout the time of His sacrifice and offering of Himself to God.
So both directly (in the Law and prophets) and indirectly (in biblical theology) we have a solid witness that purple and linen refer to the representative priesthood of Israel. It is fitting, then, that as Jesus rebukes the Pharisees—pretenders to the inheritance of Israel—He would make sure they saw themselves (indeed, all of Israel) as the rich man in the parable.
It would be interesting, even more, if the Lazarus here refers to the real Lazarus whom Jesus loved and who had died and was resurrected by Christ in John 11. I doubt this highly, though. Some people have denied that this story is a parable due the fact that it does not begin with an explicit “and he told them a parable.” But this is lazy reasoning: neither the parable of the prodigal son (15:11–32) nor the unjust manager (16:1–9) which He had just told begins with an explicit designation as a parable, and more examples are not hard to find. The rich man and Lazarus is a parable, and we should resist the temptation to read more into Lazarus than the parable itself provides.
With that said, Lazarus would clearly not have been a candidate for ruler of the synagogue. He was a beggar, had no wealth, nothing, was probably diseased since he was covered with sores, and thus by all measures was a social outcast. Yet, just as the rich man’s wealth, Lazarus’ poverty was no measure of his election. Has Jesus not just painted these Pharisees a picture of Job in his misery (Job 2:7–8)? And yet we know that God restored such a man to be the wealthiest man of the east by double in the end (Job 1:3; 42:10–17). So such a man could indeed be part of the elect remnant of God’s Kingdom. Indeed, this is where Lazarus’ name becomes important: it comes from the Hebrew Eleazar, meaning “Whom God Helps.” This man has God’s grace.
The story plays out that both die: Lazarus is carried in Abraham’s bosom—a true son of Abraham—but the rich man is in Hades suffering torment. Looking up from his position, the rich man begins the dialogue with Abraham. First, he begins with a command: “Send Lazarus to give me water” (16:24). The fallen rich man, even when burning in hell, thinks he deserves to be served by others. Even in judgment he is ignorant of being judged. He remains so arrogant as to think even Abraham should obey his commands. He assumes to impose his own will in place of the will of the patriarchs, and of God. As is usual with the Pharisees and lawyers, they seek to place burdens on the backs of others in order that they themselves may be helped (cf. Luke 11:46).
Abraham refuses the request for two reasons: 1) each of their (Lazarus and the rich man) positions now was just as it should be. Judgment had come for each, and the reckoning was that God had now exalted the humble and cast down the proud. Lazarus in Abraham’s bosom and the rich man in torment was all a perfectly just outcome. Besides, 2) there was a great chasm fixed between the two parties over which none can pass (v. 26). The point here is clear: the judgment is final. The application is clear, as well: Israel had her chance while Jesus was there, but once judgment comes there would be no turning back. Judgment is final, and irreversible.
The rich man, however, is not done. He makes a second request, this time less commanding but more desperate: “Send Lazarus back to warn my five brethren” (v. 27–28). He still thinks Lazarus should serve his interests, but at least he is now concerned for others besides himself. Yet Abraham refuses this request also. There is no need for sending Lazarus, the rich man’s brethren (the Jews) already have the best witness that can be given: “They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them” (29). The answer is a mini-lesson in itself: the Jews were entrusted with the oracles of God, and yet had ignored them and would continue to ignore them to their own destruction. The rich man himself knew them and had ignored them. It was the greatest indictment the Pharisees and indeed all of Israel could receive: that they held God’s own Word in their hand, heard it preached in their synagogues, looked the Word incarnate in the face, heard Him teach in their streets, ate and drank with Him (Luke 13:26), and yet never heard Him, never received Him.
In their unbelief, the Pharisees—the rich man—did not believe this. They demanded something more than the Word. The Word alone was not powerful enough to teach them of the truth to come, to warn them of the wrath to come. “And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’” (19:30–31). Just as the Pharisees and the multitudes had already demanded a sign from Jesus, the rich man demanded a miracle (Matt. 12:38–39; Luke 11:16, 29–30). The Pharisees could not have missed the clear references to themselves all through this parable. Here Jesus portrays their unbelief of the Law-Word of God with masterful irony: these Pharisees who esteem themselves the highest example of Abraham’s children in the land, are here placed in hell, arguing with father Abraham over the power of the Law. The punch line, of course, is that they had been opposing Abraham all along (John 8:33–47). Abraham ends the discussion affirming the sufficiency of Scripture: “If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead” (Luke 19:31).
The overall meaning is clear: the Pharisees had totally ignored God’s Law and would be judged accordingly. Indeed, Israel had ignored the very oracles with which she was entrusted. Jesus had come—the Kingdom had come—and He was gathering the remnant of the elect from among them, even the lowliest sinners among them. These Lazaruses would be saved; the covetous, unfaithful priests would be damned. Thus, Jesus did not mind mingling among the sinners and tax collectors, nor teaching His disciples to befriend them as well.
There are enduring spiritual lessons here worth mentioning; they pertain to fallen human nature: First, we tend to overlook our obvious duties and opportunities for charity in this life (vv. 20–21). Second, fallen men cry for mercy after the fact of judgment; by this we see that fallen man thinks he deserves mercy even after he has been judged (v. 24). We learn that after judgment, however, is too late, and God will no longer grant mercy to the unjust (v. 25–26). Third, even in begging mercy, fallen sinners burning in hell think that they should be served by other people (v. 24). Fourth, even when rebuked for their self-deceptions, they still think other people should serve their interests somehow (v. 27). Fifth, fallen sinners burning in hell quickly develop an interest in evangelism (vv. 27–28). Sixth, fallen man wrongly thinks that displays of power or miracles will convert men’s souls (v. 30). Seventh, when fallen man has finally exhausted his own devices, he learns that he never once considered the Word of God (v. 28–30) which was right in front of him the whole time. He also learns that dogs were more merciful than he (v. 21).
The announcement of my upcoming “Theonomy debate” with Mr. Hall has provoked a flurry of discussions on the topic all across Facebook and some on Twitter. It’s been encouraging, but it’s also been quite crazy actually.
It got so crazy the keepers of Reformed Pub actually set down beers for a minute to ask Pubsters not to post on theonomy anymore for a while. Everything’s cool, though. No beer was harmed in the process.
Corresponding with this has been an increase in the activity of critics who still can’t get it, but pretend they do. Brannon Howse’s latest is a good example. He prompted his guest, John Whitcomb, to attack this composite demon known by various names as “Social Gospel” and “Dominion” but was left largely undefined. Whitcomb trashed the postmillennial worldview and efforts at “bringing in the kingdom” by commenting, “Everywhere we see this happening we see failure, failure.”
The irony is strong with this one. Had he truly believed since 1960 when he first wrote The Genesis Flood, he would never have sought to publish it. Why? What could he have stood to gain by challenging the prevailing evolutionary scientific establishment? “Failure, failure.” No, not failure. How about 300,000+ copies sold.
And irony of ironies, it was a Postmillennial, Christian Reconstructionist, Dominionist that convinced Charles Craig at P&R to publish Whitcomb’s book. It was none other than R. J. Rushdoony himself.
When it comes to vision and outlook, never send a premil to do a postmil job.
There are others out there getting crazy, too. Todd Friel got teachy in addressing Old Testament law, but not for much more than a soundbite. But then, after previously calling Reconstructionists “pharisaical moralists” who are engaging in political activism “without the Gospel” and “trying to impose a worldview,” promptly turns around and does a spot on Colin Gunn’s new documentary on Socialized Health Care and Obamacare because these things have “theological considerations.”
Yes, they do: theological considerations like . . . the role of God’s law in society.
And I think it is safe to say, by the way, Colin Gunn is a Reconstructionist.
Everywhere you look, you see critics of Reconstruction who, when they wish to advance Christian worldview in a particular realm, cannot escape Reconstruction. Then they turn around, standing on the shoulders of Reconstructionism, and trash Reconstructionism.
In order to distance themselves from the position of theonomy inherent within Reconstruction, they trash it. But since they’re actually practicing it to some degree, they cannot really dis the true thing. So they create the caricature, the straw man—the ugliest version of a straw man possible—name it “theonomy,” and trash that.
The problem is that the young people in these various discussions are seeing through the straw men. They want things straight, they go to the sources, and this leads to honest discussions. The truth is getting out. Surprise! Theonomists don’t eat babies after all. And sometimes, we’re even gentlemanly about not eating babies.
Gentlemanly!?! What? Yes, and when gentlemen proceed, and the critics pound their podia even more vehemently shouting and publishing the same straw men, the newly informed young head will quickly begin to see who the real angry, dishonest, jaybirds really are.
But enough about tone. What’s most important here is the insistence of some leading critics of theonomy, Christian Reconstruction, or postmillennialism to continue presenting these ideas in straw man form—and the consequences that will result from this theological quackery.
Here is the consequence: when you persist in fallacy, you only harm yourself. To the true level-headed seeker, you only look dishonest, stubborn, and foolish. The seekers will go elsewhere, and at the very least, their hearts will be.
There is a consolation prize, but it is nothing to brag about. When fallacy succeeds, those people who do stick around will be either those who can be duped with fallacies, who maintain utmost uncritical trust in the fallacy-factory that is the critic, or those who really just don’t care. In which case, the critic can sleep well at night knowing he has a large following of dupes, drones, and the detached.
Congratulations. You just won the prize for the best worst arguments.
Instead, we need to make a point to engage in the highest level of intellectual integrity possible. In this regard, Christian students, scholars, critics, and debaters ought to be models for the world.
I speak to this point at the outset in Biblical Logic: In Theory and Practice:
One of the most pressing concerns for scholars, students, debaters—and everyone actually—involves the question of representing the truth. By this, I mean both how we present our own arguments to the public and how we represent the arguments of those with whom we disagree. Representation plays a vital role in the Christian faith, and we must make every effort to treat God and others fairly and faithfully in what we speak and write. . . .
This means presenting our opponents’ arguments in their fullest, strongest, and most positive light possible. The Reformed scholar Loraine Boettner speaks strongly to this point. As he criticizes some enthusiastic prophecy writers for presenting their own theories with an authoritative air while ignoring competing views, Boettner writes, “True scholars do not hesitate to state the position of an opponent, and then expose the errors, if there are any.” In fact, he adds, “It has often been said that a person really does not know either side of a question until he knows both sides.” Many have noted that the influential medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas presented his opponents’ arguments better than they themselves did. Part of his success and fame certainly derives from this fact, and he no doubt earned the respect of many of his opponents for it, even if they disagreed with his conclusions. . . .
[I]n the end, the Christian intellectual position and your personal faith can only grow stronger through your practice of patient, humble honesty. If we set up our opponents’ arguments as weak (as Straw Men) and then defeat them, what have we accomplished? Not much. If we aim at the weakest parts of our opponent’s case, and bring that part down, how far have we progressed? On the contrary, if we present our opponent in his best light, and allow him his strongest case, and then defeat that case, we have not only made much progress, but we have dealt the other side the greatest possible blow. If we aim at the most impenetrable part of his armor and still break through, then we have achieved a triumph, and we leave the enemy with little defense, if any. (Pp. 11, 13.)
This is a lesson, of course, for young Reconstructionists and theonomists just as much as our critics. None of us should ever be guilty of such fallacy, and thus also the suspicion of cowardliness, incompetence, pride, etc., that goes naturally along with it. Again, we should be exemplary in our conduct as scholars.
The hopeful point is that I am seeing more of this laudable spirit among the young inquirers these days. In fact, I see it more among them than among the generation of leaders ahead of them (who purport to lead them). This is a very encouraging sign—one by which the audience of Christian Reconstruction, even while bearing the insults and burdens of fallacious representation, can only stand to improve and grow.
I have been greatly encouraged by the response to the announcement of my upcoming “Theonomy Debate” and the larger God, Governments, and Culture Conference that will host it. This is just a quick note this morning to remind all procrastinators and those waiting for whatever reason: Early Bird Registration ends tomorrow. Don’t wait if you want the discount. Register now.
The announcement of the debate appears to have started discussion and debates all across the Social universe, which means that there is a terrific amount of interest in the topic. This is great.
While there has, as you can imagine, been the typical amount of snark and smear from several quarters, and while there have been a few young hotshots who think their latest Facebook comment put the final nail in the coffin of Theonomy before they have even read any of our books, most of the discussion is taking place among young people with level headedness who read, learn, and interact earnestly.
These young critically-thinking types especially seem to know when people are trying to snow them over with fallacies and bombast, and they especially hate attempts at bullying. They want it straight, and when some religious pundit grandstands or misrepresents someone else for their own gain, these young people ignore them. They know that the whole truth is only a click away, or at most a few minutes away in the actual book where you can actually let the author speak for himself. I’ll post more on this Monday.
This kind of helpful discussion is especially happening among young Reformed folk, and especially, for some reason, among young Reformed Baptists. Whatever this means, I don’t know. I do know that it is exciting to watch Christian Reconstructionist thought grow among new audiences, and I am both humbled and honored to be a small part of it as it goes.
And I am absolutely excited to lead such discussions and debate in just a few weeks! I am thrilled and look forward to interacting in person with friend and friendly “foe” alike.
A lost-and-found treasure: When America’s pastors boldly preached politics, resisted tyranny, and founded a nation on the Bible
I would like today to introduce you to one of the more remarkable books I have read recently. It is an old and largely forgotten book, but vital to understanding the role the Bible ought to play in politics and government, in national issues—in fact, a role the Bible did play directly in the shaping the American mind and laying the foundations for American resistance to tyranny, and the willingness to fight and die for independence and the rule of law. I would like to introduce you to Alice Baldwin’s The New England Pulpit and the American Revolution, the lost and nearly buried history of when America’s pastors openly preached politics, resisted tyranny, and founded a nation on the Bible.
A few older scholars I’ve talked with knew of this book, and they all love it. But none of the younger generation had ever heard of it. When I told them some of what it contained, it blew their minds. “Wow,” was the common reaction.
The book was originally published in 1928 under the title The New England Clergy and the American Revolution. Dr. Baldwin was one of the few female academics of her day, and she shined in the role. The scholarship is top-notch, and the message absolutely compelling and convicting. One of the many remarkable aspects of it is that Dr. Baldwin was not a partisan and had no religious or political agenda. She was largely a secular academic who had only a family interest in congregational history. She worked from the perspective of a secular academic, and since part of her book was originally her doctoral dissertation, it had to meet the rigorous standards of that guild. Nevertheless, this “secular” version of the history, because it thoroughly and honestly considers all of the original sources, could almost pass today for Christian Reconstruction propaganda. What we have here is a secular, academic witness to the truth of the influence of biblical law in American history.
The book was long out of print, and the original printing was poor to begin with. Our new edition is completely re-typeset, and when you see the length and depth of her footnotes, you’ll understand the crazy amount of work I went through to get this to you in a modern, readable version. But it was a labor of love: the scholarship and the message are far more than worth it.
This book is an absolute must for homeschool curricula. But it is far more than that: anyone interested in the Bible’s influence in American history must absolutely start here. And anyone, like me, interested in recovering full-orbed, biblical worldview preaching in American pulpits today needs to read through this to get a view of what we have lost, and to see something of how full biblical preaching and teaching ought to look. Any comparison to our own time will be highly convicting indeed—and we need that badly.
To get just a flavor of the scholarship and message, here is an edited excerpt from my Foreword:
We have a terrible problem in our land today, and the truth contained in Dr. Baldwin’s book is a welcome antidote—should we be willing to take it. The problem is that our pulpits and preachers today have abandoned the fullness of what Christ commanded us: to disciple nations and to teach them all of His commandments. That Great Commission includes the call, which our forefathers ably demonstrated, to speak truth to the public realm: to call out rulers, governments, laws, abuse, and to demand liberty and justice. In all our preaching today about iniquity and sin, we neglect to address inequity and tyranny.
And worse: should one dare to mention that broader social and political scope of the Great Commission today they are likely to be harangued not only by humanists and leftists, but by the vast majority of Christians and clergy. The response will be almost unanimous, almost in perfect chorus: “Christians should not preach politics!” “We should preach the ‘Gospel’ only!” . . .
Dr. Baldwin’s wonderful book illustrates how preachers of a bygone, but crucial and formative, era thought and practiced just the opposite. After mountains of research in colonial sermons, tracts, pamphlets, and other publications, she relates how the substantial pulpits of colonial America rang constantly with teaching on all aspects of the public square: good rulers, good laws, good forms of government, the blessings of liberty. We especially hear of those choice values of biblical order that became the hallmarks and battle cries of American independence. These are best summarized in Baldwin’s own Conclusion:
Out of reading and discussion, preaching and practice there had grown up a body of constitutional doctrine, very closely associated with theology and church polity, and commonly accepted by New Englanders. Most significant was the conviction that fundamental law was the basis of all rights. God ruled over men by a divine constitution. Natural and Christian rights were legal rights because a part of the law of God. . . .
Probably the most fundamental principle of the American constitutional system is the principle that no one is bound to obey an unconstitutional act. The present study reveals that this doctrine was taught in fullness and taught repeatedly before 1763. . . . No single idea was more fully stressed, no principle more often repeated, through the first sixty years of the eighteenth century, than that governments must obey law and that he who resisted one in authority who was violating that law was not himself a rebel but a protector of law.
She in fact goes so far as to note that we cannot properly understand the nature of the American system without understanding the message preached by the American pulpit constantly over the decades leading up to independence. Commenting on the classic paraphrase of “life, liberty, and property,” she proclaims,
No one can fully understand the American Revolution and the American constitutional system without a realization of the long history and religious associations which lie behind these words; without realizing that for a hundred years before the Revolution men were taught that these rights were protected by divine, inviolable law.
And it will surprise many . . . just how these great preachers derived their doctrines.
The Bible and the Law of God
Baldwin’s work is a phenomenal way to learn of the true influence of Christianity and the Bible in the founding of this nation. It serves as a flat refutation of the critics of secularists who wish to eradicate and bury our Christian heritage. Baldwin writes,
It must not be forgotten, in the multiplicity of authors mentioned, that the source of greatest authority and the one most commonly used was the Bible. The New England preacher drew his beliefs largely from the Bible, which was to him a sacred book, infallible, God’s will for man. Of necessity it colored his political thinking. His conception of God, of God’s law, and of God’s relation to man determined to a large extent his conception of human law and of man’s relation to his fellows. If his ideas of government and the rights of man were in part derived from other sources, they were strengthened and sanctioned by Holy Writ. This was of course especially true of the clergy. They stood before the people as interpreters of God’s will. Their political speeches were sermons, their political slogans were often Bible texts. What they taught of government had about it the authority of the divine.
This reality leads Baldwin into a study of the political and governmental concepts these men actually derived from Scripture, as summarized above, and chief among them is the application of God’s Law to life. . . . [T]he preachers turned to the written revelation of God’s Law, including Old Testament law, to make it clear:
The revelation in the Old and New Testaments helped to make clear the law of nature and to disclose its full extent. In the Old Testament God gave to man a “positive law.” It was true that some of its statutes applied to the Jews only, but there were also great moral principles which applied to all phases of man’s activity, now as formerly, and were equally binding. Thus even in that part of Old Testament law which no longer applied to Christians and in the history of God’s dealings with His chosen people there were many examples for men of today.
To be sure, the relationships between terms, and the uses to which they were put, were not always uniform or even purely biblical, but in large measure, the most important doctrines of American liberty arose from a biblical understanding and application of God’s Law. Thus Baldwin could conclude that “There was no conflict in their minds between the divine and natural law. They were the same”; and thus, “from the law of God they derived their political theories.”
Application of Biblical Law
These men held the Bible in high esteem, and as a result, they expected to see it applied in all areas of life, including politics and government. As such, they required their governing officials to be Christians, and not only Christians, but ardent students of that divine book, the Bible, and its laws. Baldwin relates this understanding and how the preachers of the era were at the forefront of making it a real-world demand:
Rulers must study carefully the law of God, both natural and revealed. In the Bible are found all the maxims and rules of government: there the natural laws are made clearer, there the ruler learns his due authority and its limitations, there the people learn how far they must submit.
[R]elationships between God and government, between God and people, and between government and people, were established through the biblical concept of covenant—a theme which surfaces frequently in this study. This, too, was derived directly from Old Testament revelation, and formed the basis of both theology and government for the New England minister:
His theology depended upon it, it was the foundation of his church government, he believed it to be at the root of all God’s dealings with men. When he searched the Bible he found, so he believed, that even the Jewish government, which was peculiarly God’s own, rested on compact. . . . The charters were considered compacts, and when men set up new towns they drew up a town covenant.
She further relates how this concept had deep historical roots going all the way back to the covenant theology of the earliest colonists. Yet even as late as 1780, one of the more prominent preachers, Samuel Cooper, was preaching this doctrine—with explicit reference to the ancient Hebrew republic—before the Massachusetts House of Representatives and Governor John Hancock.
But the application of biblical law did not stop at theoretical constructs or generalities. Preachers routinely went on to preach on specific principles with real-world consequences—including armed resistance and civil disobedience where necessary. In fact, echoing the teachings of Reformers from centuries before them, many of these preachers decreed laws, or even whole governments, invalid should they defy biblical order or biblical laws. For example, as Baldwin summarizes, Elisha Williams preached in 1744 that
[G]overnments which did not originate from the people and in which they did not make their own laws were not, properly speaking, governments at all, but tyrannies and “absolutely against the Law of God and Nature.”
Examples abound. Stephen Johnson’s Fast Day Sermon of 1765 was one of the more potent. As Baldwin relates it, “No obedience was due to any edicts which were unconstitutional. . . . Where executive and legislative authority exceed the bounds of the law of God and the constitution, then their acts are ipso facto void.” This was hard-core nullification doctrine long before it was cool.
A Call to America’s Pulpits
As we compare, once again, their day and ours, we can hear an eerie note of correspondence, and it is not flattering. The harmony with our own day comes not in the fierce cries from the pulpit against tyranny, courts, taxes, and legislation, but rather from the loyalists who supported the tyranny! And what was their demand of the clergy at the time?
It was none other than the cry of our own clergy today: “Don’t preach politics!” Stick to “the Gospel” only! Indeed, [one loyalist writer] complained that “The Clergy had quite unlearned the Gospel, & had substituted Politicks in its Stead.” Likewise, a sermon by Boston preacher William Gordon elicited loyalist pamphlets in response, one of which scolded the “reverend politician” and sighed, “I most heartily wish . . . that he and many others of his profession would confine themselves to gospel truth.”
It is understandable that a tyrant would wish to censor the whole counsel of God, especially as it moves populations to resist tyrants. But the sadness of our time is that we do not even need tyrants to intimidate us into silence. Our pulpits do it readily to themselves.
We need instead more men like Jonas Clarke. A couple months before the fateful July 4, 1776, Clarke declared from the pulpit: “From this day will be dated the Liberty of the world.” From “this day”—referring to the day of the Battles of Lexington and Concord, in which British soldiers attempted to raid the artillery and disarm the American people. Preachers had been preparing those soldiers for years prior, preaching on rights, arms, politics, law, and government, tyranny and war. And it was at that Battle that, reportedly, the preacher himself—the same Jonas Clarke—had led riflemen to repel the British.
Where are such preachers today? What do we hold dear? For what are we willing to fight and die? Are we willing even to preach the doctrines of government, liberty, and God’s Law? Where are the sermons, tracts, and pamphlets circulating today from America’s preachers condemning taxes and tyranny? Preachers in the 1760s spoke out, and some spilled their blood, to fight the erosion of jurisprudence and the onset of admiralty courts! Today we have a vast array of this type of court tyrannizing nearly every area of life, and hardly a pulpit even knows, let alone cares, let alone preaches. We had ministers leading men in the sacrifice of their lives and money over intrusive search warrants and seizures of property. Today where are even the sermons on these things?
Pulpits across this land should be ringing with denunciation of warrantless wiretaps, extrajudicial drone strikes, no-knock warrants, militarization of police, civil forfeiture, the surveillance state, the welfare-warfare state, fiat money, tyrannized markets, executive orders, national emergencies, and a thousand other infractions so extreme and overt they would have driven King George III to join the rebellion himself. And the pulpits are silent.
The pulpits are silent, the flocks left untrained and unmotivated, and liberty all but dead. And we have no one to blame but ourselves.
If liberty is ever to be restored in this, or any, nation, it will only come through a return to the message enshrined in Christ and His commandments. God may see fit to circumvent the rebellious and stubborn clergy who stand idle and cower today. It may please Him to replace them with a more faithful movement in some way. Yet it is most natural for us to call the preachers to repentance, and back to faithfulness, in hope that the pulpit will once again fulfill its role as the voice of liberty in the land.
A substantial first step toward that end would be to recover the lost, and nearly buried, history of our pulpits—of a time when America’s pastors preached politics, resisted tyranny, and founded a nation on the Bible. Dr. Baldwin’s nearly-forgotten book is a very helpful source from which to start relearning. I recommend it to every pastor and every Christian—and I recommend they follow the example of its subject matter even more.
 Pp. 212–213.
 P. 51.
 Pp. 16–17 below.
 P. 21 below.
 P. 29 below.
 Pp. 46–47 below.
 Pp. 32–33 below.
 See Eran Shalev, “‘A Perfect Republic’: The Mosaic Constitution in Revolutionary New England, 1775–1788,” The New England Quarterly 82/2 (June 2009), 2435–263, for this and many more examples of the application of Old Testament Law to the American formative era.
 P. 41 below.
 Pp. 128–129 below.
 P. 154, footnote 1 below.
 P. 164, footnote 30 below.
Deflated footballs are in the news. In fact, the story is so popular that all the major networks led with the story even though almost nobody in the United States will be financially affected by the outcome. No one will lose any freedom, be forced to pay a tax, or have a pile of new regulations stacked on them.
“On Thursday night, the ‘big three’ of ABC, CBS, and NBC each covered the news that the United States-backed government in Yemen had fallen after rebels stormed the capital city of Sana’a and surrounded the presidential palace on Tuesday. While the networks gave this story airtime, they only gave it to the tune of one minute and 59 seconds and avoided any mention of how President Obama had, just months prior, declared Yemen to be a success story for the United States in fighting terrorism.
“In comparison, the three networks devoted 11 minutes and 16 seconds on Thursday evening to the growing controversy surrounding the NFL’s New England Patriots and their use of deflated footballs during the AFC Championship Game on Sunday.”
It’s amazing to see so much time and conversation devoted to a story where the average American has nothing to do with the outcome. Sure, there might be some city and regional pride at stake, but nothing you can take to the bank unless you’re betting on the game.
While I enjoy all types of sporting events, I don’t talk incessantly about them or care one way or another who wins or loses. Sure, I the moment I was disappointed that the Steelers lost the first game in the playoffs, but in ten seconds the disappointment was over.
There’s a scene in the film A Bronx Tale, set in the 1960s, that stars Robert De Niro as Lorenzo Anello and Chazz Palminteri as Sonny. The son of De Niro’s character, who goes by the name “C,” is talking to an up and coming gangster played by Palminteri.
The 1960’s World Series comes up. It was a heart breaker for the Yankees. Bill Mazeroski, in the bottom of the ninth, hit a walk-off home run winning the 7-game series 10-9 (see video below).Bill Mazeroski coming home after his game-winning home run in the 1960 World Series against the New York Yankees
“C” says, Mazeroski “made Mickey Mantle cry. The papers said the Mick cried.” Here was Sonny’s response:
“Mickey Mantle? Is that what you’re upset about? Mickey Mantle makes $100,000 a year. How much does your father make? You don’t know? Well, see if your father can’t pay the rent go ask Mickey Mantle and see what he tells you. Mickey Mantle don’t care about you, so why should you care about him? Nobody cares.”
And I can assure you that politicians only care about people when they vote to keep them in power. And what do they do with that power? Deflate our freedoms.
Americans are being called on to sacrifice their freedoms in the belief that they will get more freedoms. Impossible.
Free healthcare . . . free education . . . free food . . . free homeland security . . . You name it, and the government will promise it . . . for a price: Our freedom!
It’s an old story that few people comprehend:
“Roman emperors and tribal chieftains, King George III and French revolutionaries, 20th-century dictators and 21st-century American presidents all have asserted that their first job is to keep us safe, and in doing so, they are somehow entitled to take away our liberties, whether it be the speech they hate or fear, the privacy they capriciously love to invade or the private property and wealth they salaciously covet.
“This argument is antithetical to the principal value upon which America was founded. That value is simply that individuals — created in the image and likeness of God and thus possessed of the freedoms that He enjoys and has shared with us — are the creators of the government. A sovereign is the source of his own powers. The government is not sovereign. All the freedom that individuals possess, we have received as a gift from God, who is the only true sovereign. All of the powers the government possesses it has received from us, from our personal repositories of freedom.”
Whoever comes to power promising to take away our freedoms? Nobody. They promise us security and prosperity.
William L. Shirer, in his book The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich, writes that German chancellor Otto Von Bismarck’s policies gradually made the German people “value security over political freedom and caused them to see in the State, however conservative, a benefactor and a protector.”(1)
And Adolf Hitler took advantage of that mindset.
- William L. Shirer, The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1960), 96, note.
On this anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the GOP just aborted a pro-life bill that would have passed, and instead, substituted a redundant bill that prohibits taxpayer-funded abortions. “Hey, look at us stalwart pro-lifers! We did something! (cough, cough, something that’s already pretty much been done).”
Let’s be clear: this is not throwing a bone, it is a slap in the face.
By this move, pro-lifers will be expected to see a small step forward and be grateful. Those who object will be reminded of this and of the need to take “incremental” steps. Serious pro-lifers, however, have taken many such increments with their GOP courtiers over the years, and yet we still seem to be in the same place. The question is, when will the pro-life movement get the picture that they are being used for Republican votes, made to feel guilty if they withhold from the Grand Old Pretense, and then forgotten like a casual hook-up when the election night is over.
But it’s even worse. Support for this bill failed after two Republican congresswomen withdrew sponsorship over a requirement to report rapes. It was a measure to close an obvious loophole that works like this:
Woman: I’d like to get an abortion.
Abortionist: You’re past 20 weeks. At this stage, abortion is only legal in cases of rape.
Woman: [Pause. Blank stare.]
Abortionist: Is this pregnancy the result of rape?
Woman: Umm. Umm.
Abortionist: You were raped, weren’t you [wink, wink].
Woman: Umm. Yeah. Sure. That’s it.
Abortionist: No problem. [Checks box for “Rape” on official form.]
To stop this, the bill would have required cases of rape to have been reported to the police. It’s one of those things that the pro-life movement—heck, conservativism in general—has always been about. You know: accountability. But apparently, a couple women in the party got cold feet over it. Perhaps it sounded too much like the GOP thought the “rape” issue could lead to illegitimate reports. It’s fear of “legitimate rape” all over again.
Mollie Hemingway of thefederalist.com has a great piece on the caving and selling-out led by these two GOP women. She points out that both women—Renee Ellmers of North Carolina and Jackie Walorski of Indiana—supported this bill without objection in 2012. She is worth quoting:
These women are claiming to all of a sudden be concerned about the reporting requirement — the requirement that has nearly two-to-one support among voters and the one they had no problem with just a couple of years ago. This reporting requirement would keep late-term abortion doctors like Kermit Gosnell or Leroy Carhart from simply checking a box before going ahead with the procedure. . . .
In fact, even Democrats who think late-term abortion should be legal with no restrictions didn’t make an issue of the reporting requirement in the last two elections. Last year, support for late-term abortion hurt Democratic candidates. But now Ellmers created a controversy where non[e] existed, hereby handing Democrats a way to fight a broadly popular bill.
This sabotage of the pro-life movement over what may have been a power struggle happens at a time when many pro-life activists have grown weary of being used by the GOP for electoral victory only to be forgotten weeks later when it’s time to vote.
Right, except I question whether the pro-lifers really have grown weary. Maybe so, but have they grown weary enough to do something about it?
This is especially true not only because the GOP is a repeat offender, but also because the nature of the offense in this case is so egregious. The 20-week limit is an issue, as Hemingway notes, which polls show women support more than the general population. Others have noted the same about young people. So what are these Congresswomen really worried about? The war on women does not apply here: this could be a war of women.
Hemingway notes the evil portents:
Newsflash to the geniuses in her policy shop: there are few issues the Republicans can have with as much support, much less as much passionate support. If you’re cowering in fear on popular stuff, what are you going to do when the going gets tough?
Indeed. It’s tempting to say it smacks of incompetence and cowardice. But I doubt this is the case. The politicians, you can be sure, are not ignorant of the polls. They understand perfectly well, and they know they have no reason to fear.
No, this must be about something else. A sabotage of this magnitude on such a slam-dunk case speaks of unwillingness, not inability. And if it’s not due to fear of polls, we can only suspect it’s really an issue of sincerity.
Pro-lifers, you’ve been played. You’ve been used and abused for so long now, I wonder if you can bring yourself to admit it. I wonder if you can face your lover as the abuser he really is. One may even call it the rape of the pro-life movement—legitimate rape that is.
Perhaps that’s too much. And I will say that a bill with rape exceptions is itself compromised enough not to deserve the brand “pro-life.” But what this little consultation with the bill-abortionists in Congress tells us is that the GOP won’t fight for you—not even when it’s easy to do so.
And that ought to make start looking for other answers. If it doesn’t, then you should start looking in the mirror.
Cornelius Van Til usually did not express his view on politics and government. But in one place that he did, it came as a worldview tidal wave. I would like to share that with you today. It is not just political, it is crazy political—and in perhaps the most profound way it could be done, by anyone.
Previously we discussed the question of presuppositionalism and Christian Reconstruction, or theonomy, particularly in regard to certain claims by John Muether, Greg Bahnsen, and especially the work of Cornelius Van Til. I gave you one of the few examples of where Van Til’s worldview trumped Van Til’s amillennial profession, and erupted in a profusion of the triumph over sin and darkness worldwide and in history. Using Greg Bahnsen’s phrase, we called it Van Til’s “spirit of reconstruction.”
This study began a few days ago when Gary North dropped by my office for a visit. He reads Van Til every Sunday afternoon, “Just to make sure I didn’t miss any,” he said, as I recall. And he found this time he had missed something. Buried deep in the Van Til corpus is a selection of essays on education, given probably in the early 1930s. They were published in two places: once in a book on foundations jointly-authored with Louis Berkhof, and then again in a collection of only Van Til’s essays on education. The essay in question is, “The Full-Orbed Life.” North quipped, “I have never read anything like this.”
He went on to relate how Van Til covered the past three hundred years of intellectual history with fiery metaphoric descriptions of how intellectual history manifests as real history. The whole becomes a sweeping panorama of how worldview and all areas of life are inseparably intertwined, and how a Christian worldview ought to interpret the various historical manifestations.
Even though Van Til didn’t express his political opinions often, the way he uses particular historical and political concepts in this essays provides an insight into how he viewed them. As it was with the previous article on how reconstructionism logically flows from his worldview, so here we can see that several of the assessments implied in his analyses fall clearly in line with even the most radical of Christian Reconstruction views.
What follows are some of the highlights. Van Til begins early on by singling out “modernism” and its great hope of pacifying the savages of mankind through Enlightenment:
Modern men said they knew where they were going. They claimed to have a definite objective in mind. If only the human intellect was given freedom in its exercise it would carve out for itself a marvelous estate of bliss in the unlimited and ungoverned territories of space and time. The few “Indians” that would be there could easily be subdued. Given full freedom the human intellect could educate the rising generation into complete happiness.
Thus, roughly stated, ran the slogan of the eighteenth century. It was the revolutionary war of intellectual independence that then was fought. And the battle was won. Rationalism gained control in many of the institutions of learning. There was traditionalism still, but the colony of rationalists was large enough to give their principles a fair trial. And a fair trial these principles of Rationalism had. Did they enable man to live the full-orbed life? We need but follow the course of events to find the answer.
But what of this “revolutionary war”? Was it to bring about the freedom which it promised? Some thought it did, but there were other factors involved that lent momentum to a more ambitious faction. Van Til notes the factor inherent in too many such wars:
It was soon discovered that the struggle against a common foe had furnished the only cohesive principle binding the Rationalist colonies together. When the common foe had disappeared, the principle of cohesion had also disappeared.
There are, unfortunately, people for whom the loss of hegemony politically is a great threat. These will be the first and loudest to proclaim the virtues of “Union.” And we had such, beginning as early as the 1780s, notably under the federalist wing of the American framers, famously in Washington’s own Farewell Address. Intellectually speaking, the era was one of debate between freedom at the expense of government—more Jefferson style—or “strong energetic government” at the expense of individual liberties. Van Til speaks:
Some seemed to tremble whether the intellect of man even when untrampled and free was equal to the vastnesses and deeps of reality. Friction soon arose. A national constitution had to be adopted and no one had power or authority to do it. In desperation the drivers of the intellect when met in Constitutional Assembly exceeded all their delegated powers and provided for a government strongly centralized. The states could not secede at will or whim. Why then should they join? For the sake of life itself. To be or not to be that was the question. Thus it came about that self-contradiction based upon negation furnished the mortar for the imposing capital of Rationalism. It was a modus-vivendi nothing more; the civil war was in the offing when the revolutionary war was scarcely over.
There were other intellectual manifestations attendant to the political ones, but here is the metaphor Van Til applies to them all: a constitutional convention which exceeded its delegated powers and created a strong, centralized government.
This was, of course, the objection of the losing faction at the time. Today it is conceded in some scholarly forums that the Convention exceeded its powers, but it is almost universally applauded as necessary for national survival—just as Van Til said satirically above. Today, also, this fact is lamented only by the more radical of reconstructionists: Gary North, myself, and in addition to us the Covenanter tradition, some Southern Presbyterians, and the perhaps less religiously-motivated League of the South.
But Van Til knew, and his criticism of the Rationalism of the era assumes that he accepted the anti-federalist view of that event. And just as many of them had predicted as early as 1787, Van Til noted that the settlement entailed “the civil war” from the beginning.
But, as Van Til goes on, what followed the Rationalist settlement was Romanticism, and it was not the antidote. It only meant further trouble of the same sort:
But when once more the time for reconstruction came, the apostles of the heart had great difficulties facing them. The eighteenth century Rationalism had fought against a certain universal law, but the nineteenth century fought against all universal law. The Constitutional Assembly of Rationalism had to overstep its rights in order to frame a constitution, but the heroes of the heart were not even able to call a convention. No one would delegate any authority at all; all feared the capitalists of the intellect. The spectre of petrification stared them in the face whenever any renegade dared to speak of constructive thought. They believed in the future, not in the past. They wanted to live themselves out, not to be cramped in once more. Zola became the literary hero of the day; Walt Whitman’s terrific sympathy surged in their bosom.
You can see several decades passing in this paragraph: from the Romantics through Marxism/Socialism all the way to early Progressivism. Van Til does not linger. He moves right on into the evils Progressivism became. It is one of the most powerful passages he ever wrote:
Then that Titan Time turned the hands of the century clock once more. A new generation arose that knew not its Moses who had led their fathers out of the Egypt of traditionalism into the desert freedom of Rationalism nor its Joshua who had led them into the promised land of the swampy freedom of the heart. And as their fathers before them had been unable to see the symbolism and the typology of things so these secularists in a sacred land were baffled and dismayed. Were they not the chosen people of God? Why then did the Canaanite still dwell in the land? It seems that all the resources were exhausted.
It was in Theodore Roosevelt’s era that America experienced this very intellectual shift with a corresponding socio-political shift. Van Til is right: Rationalism and Romanticism had tried everything, and yet the world was still full of unreconstructed savages, beasts, evil men, oppression, and so much more. Did we not just the previous century vanquish Napoleon, slavery, and, finally, the Indians? Now Spain, Cuba, Philippines, Bankers, Corporations, and more. Yet men would not turn to God’s law, only man’s legalisms. Rationalism and Romanticism grew into Progressive Humanism. But this meant even greater centralized tyranny for the very mankind that mankind was claiming to enlighten and liberate.
Van Til thus relates, “Dictators appeared suddenly and everywhere upon the scene.” And just listen to who those dictators were:
Wilson in politics and Stalin behind politics; Barth in theology and Heidegger behind theology; Dewey in education and Dewey behind education—all of them spectres suddenly appearing in the gruesome shape of the Laocoon seeking in vain to escape and to help escape from the coils of the strangling serpent of despair. Never before have the eyes of men beheld such a scene. Democracy recalls the tyrants in order to accomplish its tyranicide. Theology storms the very heaven for transcendence in order to free the world from the “otiose deity” who once did rule the skies. Education begs for the shackles of the slave to set its freedom free.
It is clear from this awesome expression that Van Til’s point here is not only intellectual, not only metaphorical, not only political—but comprehensive of all of them. While the main idea is a grand metaphor for intellectual movements, he is nevertheless applying them in such a way that the intellectual movements themselves are only part of the metaphor. This is a comprehensive worldview that includes the intellectual, but only as expressed in all areas of life: politics, theology, education.
Thus, Van Til goes on to describe the outworking of these dictators in every area of life in very practical terms. Here, I think he has partly stepped outside the metaphor, and is speaking very plainly:
As to task, the dictator must rationalize the irrational. He must show meaning in a system of politics and social life or education which by its own presuppositions has no meaning. As to program, the dictator must be inconsistently inconsistent. He must go in all directions at once in the name of strategy; he must be either wiser than all men or a greater fool than any man.
Yet the dictator is not to be blamed particularly; he is but the fruit of an epoch; the surging sea has brought him forth. In an age that feeds upon the negation of all that is called absolute you may expect the strangest combinations of freedom and tyranny. Life is then no longer as a river following a certain course but as a shoreless ocean without direction. The freedom of the swimmer suddenly becomes the anguish of the drowning man. If all reality is but a temporal mass of fluidity, there may be sharks in it unbeknown to the innocent rowboat pleasure-seeker. Hence the appearance of the huge ocean steamers, the trust, the labor union, the chain stores; hence the syncro-mesh transmission from the wildest libertinism to the most rigid standardization of the machine; hence above all, the mob spirit and the power of the demagogue such as has never been seen before.
Then hope turns into fear. Men turn hither and thither in frantic fear lest the ship will sink. Thousands flock to this man here or to that man there saying, “Be thou king over us and lead us out of this.” Says Paul Elmer More, “Futility is the final word: the literature and art most characteristic of the day are criticized as chaotic, joyless, devoid of beauty, comfortless, fretfully original, or feebly conventional, impotent, futile.” Intellectual defeat and spiritual dismay stalk about everywhere.
It’s all Nothing.
It’s all a world where bugs and emperors
Go singularly back to the same dust.
Thus the humanist malaise manifests in art and literature, too. You bet it does. Van Til concludes the section:
The novelists offer no program of reform; as vultures they gloat over the carrion of modern life. And as for the philosophers, they too are “sicklied with the conscious depression of futility.” Man is seen “as a slave of his temperament, or as a mechanism compelled by complexes and reactions, or a vortex of sensations, with no will to govern himself, no centre of stability within the flux, no direction of purpose to rise above the influences that carry him hither and thither.” A la Mencken “they have come to realize that the morons whom they sweated to save do not want to be saved and are not worth saving.”
Just think of the nihilism of Hemmingway. Think of the gloating agendas and activism of Sinclair and Steinbeck. In philosophy, no one in the early twentieth century overcame Nietzsche, and few even in the late twentieth realized they still hadn’t escaped him entirely. Mencken, quoted last here, was the most Nietzschean of Americans, and saw none of them worth saving. He was fairly ahead of his time that way.
It was at this point, when the head of Rationalism and the heart of Romanticism had run together into nihilism, that human progress seemed to turn lastly to the works of the hand—Pragmatism. This uniquely American worldview is a conglomerate of American experience: Can-do meets assembly line meets the various techniques of mass communication and control which began somewhere between the public school movement and the efficiency strictures of Big Industry. No, really, which began in the supply lines of the Civil War.
But another specter had arisen when America (and the West) shifted from Nihilism to “the hand.” This meant war—real war. Progressive Humanism brought with it Empire, and with empire comes war. When it seemed that all the grand visions humanism had envisioned from the beginning failed, it was blamed upon those other guys. The only solution to these new Indians, savages, barbarians, Canaanites, was war—war against the enemy, and war against anyone who disapproved of the war.
Thus the easy victories that seemed to be in sight have receded into the far distant future. Thus also the sword has been thrust into every hand; a nation, not merely an army mobilizes now. Never before have free citizens realized “how irresistibly a modern government could impose its ideas upon the whole nation and, under a barrage of publicity, stifle dissent with declaration, assertions, official versions, and reiteration.” New Espionage and Sedition Acts were passed to make any criticism of the war program illegal now. If any one will not follow the educational dictator, John Dewey, if any one dare to hold that evolution-theory is not the gospel truth to be poured down the children’s throats, let him be anathema.
Thus with the grand centralization that came with our new dictators in school, church, and state, Empire and War meant total war—every man, woman, and child must be brought into the service of the Empire and the War. And the means of doing this included mass propaganda, circled through mass public schooling to churn out progressive humanist children who will consume the propaganda with less questioning.
Referring to any opposition of the new schooling/propaganda as an “Alien and Sedition Act,” Van Til shines. During WWI, Wilson had passed these Acts which made it criminal to publicly criticize the war effort, and especially criminal to do anything that could be perceived as hindering recruitment. Massive fines and imprisonment loomed for offenders.
Ironically, here at one of his most overtly political references, he has moved back in to metaphor pretty squarely. He goes on to note how anyone questioning the faith in Evolution pouring into the schools as violating these Acts. In other words, the intelligentsia had moved into the realm of full coercion to eliminate their intellectual opponents, despite the vacuity of their own position.
But even here the criticism of the intellectual positions does not stand unless we accept the analogy as a criticism of the Alien and Sedition Acts themselves, too. Van Til’s overall point is, I believe, that the grand tyrannies a nation imposes are directly related—symbiotically related—to the degenerate and non-Christian worldviews the society embraces.
More importantly, this is even more lamentably true for those Christians who know better, but sit idle, do nothing out of the mainstream—no matter how degenerate it is—and even lend their own children to the vampires of Progressive Humanism to be “educated” in godlessness. Over time, these Christians are merely feeding the beast until it grows to consume them, too:
Surely Modernism, the heir to all this patrimony, has a message to bring to us. Do not marvel that its preachers sometimes wax impatient at our recalcitrance. Why still over forensic concepts of Luther and Calvin when art has replaced morality? Why not join Fosdick in preaching the holiness of beauty instead of beauty of holiness? It is all a matter of the tuned string, a matter of cosmic rhythm and resonance. If God himself has joined the union without fear of losing his creed then why do you stand back? For remember that if you do not join on your own initiative you will eventually join on the initiative of someone else. The intricacy of modern life ought to teach you that. This gospel of organic union and cosmic resonance must be taught unto the children of the nation. Suppose then that you refuse to have your children taught these doctrines; you would become dangerous to the state and would have to be dealt with accordingly. The state will have to extend its kind paternalistic hand to you to lead you gently and irresistibly into line.
Join, or die. Welcome to the society you let happen. Welcome, Christian—public enemy number one, you “danger to the state”—welcome to the society you let happen.
Is there a way out? North mentioned that Van Til’s pessimism triumphed ultimately in this essay. Perhaps so, I won’t argue the point. But there is a glimmer of practical hope, should we take it. It begins by realizing that the biblical Christian worldview already has what these various humanist movements—Rationalism, Romanticism, Pragmatism, Progressivism, and if there be any other ism—sought in vain. We must start by acknowledging the fullness of the biblical worldview applying to every area of life:
What else, then, can we do but take the sword as well as the trowel? We are driven to a defense of our faith. The full-orbed life, that which the world has sought in vain, is in our possession. We have an absolute God in whose fellowship we have even now the full-orbed life. We have an absolute God who alone can give meaning to all our strivings for advancement. We have an absolute God who alone can guarantee that that which we have in principle now will be fully realized hereafter.
Is our position modern? If the principle of the organism is a modern one we have been modern for all these years and centuries that it took “modern thought” to become modern, for we have never separated head and heart and hand. And as to setting man in his environment we have never sought the full-orbed life by separating man either from the cosmos or from God. If then our brief review of modern aspirations has shown that our opponents themselves have felt, have admitted and have shouted from the housetops that the full-orbed life can only come in a union of man with his total environment, why should we fear to proclaim that we have the full-orbed life inasmuch as we have that total environment in our concept of God and of the world?
And then he moves into the first practical expression of this for our setting in the midst of our enemies. It is exactly where I started Restoring America, and I still believe it must be an utmost priority.
It is this point too that we will have to keep in mind when shaping our educational policies. Our educational ideals and those of our opponents are as the poles apart. How impossible, then, for us to inculcate our ideals in any satisfactory way unless we have the educational influence all to ourselves. The modern emphasis upon environment is itself a warning to us not to be satisfied with injecting a grain of religion here and there in cooperation with an educational program that is radically opposed to our own. Then too, the fact that the emphasis is no longer upon the liberation of the head or the hearts or the hand alone but upon the liberation of the whole personality, and the boldness with which this liberation is proclaimed ought to make us realize anew the extent to which the secularism of our age has advanced. The questionnaires that indicate a decrease in references to Deity in the readers used in schools today find their explanation in the movement we have traced above. How glorious a task it must be then to teach in a Christian school. In the educational field it is that the struggle for or against God is being decided today. Teachers fight on the most dangerous sector of the front.
Van Til agrees: pull your kids out of public schools. This is the warfare we must begin against our humanist masters. Christian children need Christian education, not secularism, and not even secularism mixed with a little bit of Christianity on weekends. And this is not just the warfare we need to fight, it is, Van Til says, the front line.
The long decline of Christianity in America and the West is laid at the feet of Christians who have allowed secular forces free enterprise, then to take leadership, the finally to become our taskmasters in school and in state. And we still sacrifice our children to their care—today, almost unhesitatingly so and without question. The propaganda has done its job. The hope is that we still have the ability to remove them. As Van Til says, the task of education is “impossible” unless we have the full influence to ourselves. Let us be at least interested enough to want to save our children from an impossible Empire and War. We have the goods, and we have every reason to fight for them.
 All quotations intra are from Cornelius Van Til, “The Full-Orbed Life,” in Essays on Christian Education (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed,  1979), 169–184.
A few years ago I wrote “A Beginner’s Guide to Bible Prophecy.” It’s in four parts, and it’s illustrated. It’s the very beginning of trying to understand the topic.
Some of what’s included in the guide are points I make during some of my talks on the subject.
You can download it here: A Beginners Guide to Bible Prophecy
Feel free to pass it around.
“The one who conquers, I will make him a pillar in the temple of my God. Never shall he go out of it, and I will write on him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which comes down from my God out of heaven, and my own new name” (Rev. 3:12).
It has been asked recently whether Cornelius Van Til was a theonomist, and more importantly, is there a link between presuppositional apologetics and theonomy.
The first question is easy to answer: no, Van Til was not a theonomist, at least not in the sense of Rushdoony, Bahnsen, etc. He personally disavowed both theonomy and postmillennialism—if not openly and in public, certainly in private correspondence. His letters to this effect are referenced by John Muether, Cornelius Van Til: Reformed Apologist and Churchman. I would personally like to read the full context of those letters before being fully certain myself, but for now I’ll take them at face value.
Muether, however, also states that Greg Bahnsen “remained unconvinced and was unwilling to concede” Van Til’s amillennialism (despite what most consider Van Til’s well-known position, even if not publicly developed, and one also acknowledged by Gary North and other theonomists). Muether adds, “In Bahnsen’s own work on Van Til, . . . he claimed in a footnote that Van Til ‘certainly had the spirit of reconstruction.’” Muether’s citation, however, I don’t feel is as upright as it should be.
Muether’s edit gives the impression that Bahnsen felt Van Til “certainly had the spirit of reconstruction” in general. But Bahnsen’s footnote reveals a more nuanced point being made. Bahnsen was not saying that of Van Til in general, but about one quotation he had excerpted from Van Til’s book, Christianity in Conflict. The quotation reads,
There is not a square inch of space where, nor a minute of time when, the believer can withdraw from the responsibility of being a soldier of the cross. . . . Satan must be driven from the field and Christ must rule.
This quotation is thus qualified by its context.
That context makes Bahnsen’s remaining “unconvinced” and “unwilling to concede” much more understandable, too, and this gets to the more substantial question of whether Van Til’s system of thought—or “presuppositional apologetics”—itself entails Reconstructionist (or theonomic) thought. That very footnote of Bahnsen’s seeks, I believe, to broach this issue with strongly suggestive way nuggets for thought.
That footnote (and Muether might have done well to note this) is a massive footnote (spanning three pages, 20–22) on Van Til’s use of Abraham Kuyper’s famous phrase “Pro Rege”—“For the King.” Van Til used the phrase in his little pamphlet My Credo, which was perhaps Van Til’s simplest statement of his apologetic. The relevant part of the excerpt in question reads:
All of my life, my life in my family, my life in my church, my life in society, and my life in my vocation as a minister of the gospel and a teacher of Christian apologetics is unified under the banner Pro Rege! I am not a hero, but in Christ I am not afraid of what man may do to me. The gates of hell cannot prevail against the ongoing march of victory of the Christ to whom all power in heaven and on earth is given.
The phrase “All of my life” as applied to family, church, and society, and given utterly to the authority of Christ to whom all power in heaven and on earth is given, sounds just a bit like Christian Reconstruction. And it comes as a direct consequence of Van Til’s worldview and apologetic.
This consequence is not lost on Bahnsen, who quickly notes that Kuyper’s term “functions as a brief maxim for a thoroughly Christian world-and-life view, where all of our thinking and activity in every area of life is pursued in submission to the Lord Jesus Christ speaking in His word.” Bahnsen goes on to note that “Van Til did not consistently develop” this view, but rather it does “characterize the distinctive ‘Reconstructionist’ extension and application of Van Til’s thought.”
Bahnsen then takes the opportunity to alert his readers to the fact that Van Til more than once spoke this way when dealing with worldview, ethics, and other matters. The fact that Van Til expressed agreement with Vos on amillennialism when explicitly asked about theonomy or postmillennialism simply, to Bahnsen, raises a question of inconsistency. The fact that Van Til never published his views on eschatology indicates for Bahnsen, I surmise, that his published statements on ethics and the pervasive application of God’s Word in all of life, for all time, and in this earth, stands as the more definitive outworking of his view.
It was definitive enough for Bahnsen—not to remain totally unconvinced and unwilling to acknowledge Van Til’s profession of amillennialism (which Muether offers)—but rather specifically to deflect North’s assessment that Van Til was a “‘self-conscious amillennialist’ with a progressively pessimistic view of history.” In Bahnsen’s suspended judgment, Van Til was not self-conscious in the sense that his system of thought entailed such pessimistic amillennialism. The triumphant notes of virtual conquest quoted from several of Van Til’s works are proof that when he was logically consistent with his theology and ethics, he was essentially Reconstructionist.
Toward this end, Bahnsen cites Van Til in Defense of the Faith, Christianity in Conflict, Introduction to Systematic Theology, The Case for Calvinism, Protestant Doctrine of Scripture, and some of these multiple times. (As I said, this is a long footnote.)
While Bahnsen did not dwell on this too much, especially in this locus, the point he was at least hinting at is worth considering. Van Til argued “no neutrality.” This applies to all areas of life, and there is no reason to pick and choose some and not others. While Van Til did not apply it to government, law, and politics (not much anyway), he also gave no good reason why it should not. To the average onlooker, it seems only logical to extend it so.
Van Til also argued “theonomy or autonomy.” As there is no neutrality in any area of life, this distinction applies to every area of life. Of course, “theonomy” here can be taken in a different sense, and we must take that into account. Van Til’s non-theonomic supporters are quick to criticize Bahnsen for using that particular quotation on the face page of Theonomy in Christian Ethics. “That’s not what he was talking about!” they argue. Well, from one perspective they’re right. But Bahnsen would say that from the perspective of the logical extension of Van Til’s worldview, it is at least arguable, if not acceptable—even if Van Til himself did not extend it, or even disagreed with those who did.
Bahnsen’s point, I believe (or at least my version of it), is that Van Til’s thought so logically led to Reconstructionism that Van Til found himself speaking like a Reconstructionist on many occasions. Even if Van Til himself were a self-conscious amillennialist, his thought drove him into expressions of Reconstructionism and postmillennialism. Thus, he could disavow these beliefs when asked specifically, but in practice, he could not suppress the truth in amillennialism. Some call this intellectual schizophrenia. Yeah, I guess it is. But we are merely thankful that Van Til laid the groundwork he did so that the next generation of his thought could be developed by others.
So is there a link between the two? I think there is. One need only read between the lines a bit, take Van Til’s “Reconstructionist” outbursts at face value, and then extend Van Til’s thought where he did not.
I am going to add to Bahnsen’s footnoted contributions a longer excerpt demonstrating “Reconstructionist” language in Van Til in a moment. For now, let the reader know that this connection between Van Til’s apologetic and the logical outworking in Christian Reconstruction is not only my opinion (and probably Bahnsen’s opinion as well), but is attested by the above critic himself, John Muether, who acknowledged the connection in history. Muether writes:
If Van Til was no theonomist, his Reconstructionist followers at least deserved credit for carrying the torch for Van Til when others seemed less willing. By the time Van Til reached seventy, he feared that a generation in the church did not understand him, and few quarters in the church beyond the Reconstructionist camp unabashedly championed the Reformed faith as Van Til expressed it.
It is helpful to remember that Muether was one of the original anti-theonomists who contributed to Westminster’s royal-rumble attempt, Theonomy a Reformed Critique, in 1990. He certainly goes out of his way to remind us that Van Til disapproved of theonomy, some colleagues criticized, and he himself sees the connection as driving “Van Til’s antithesis into excessively this-worldly extremes.” That’s his opinion. He carefully avoids, therefore, inquiring whether the connection may be logical and not just historical. But even just the historical connection, coming from an avowed critic, is pure music to me—especially considering there were few others connecting.
As for the logical connection, it remains for us to decide for ourselves. Toward that end, here’s a helpful section from Van Til’s own work on ethics, Christian Theistic Ethics, excerpted, edited, and annotated by yours truly. Van Til speaks openly about the task of destroying the works of the evil one. He does so in those exact words, he does so by mentioning that this task must be done on this earth, in history, and he does so in faith that “our victory” in this task “is certain.” Let us examine:
Van Til writes,
The Task Of Destroying The Works Of The Evil One
We turn now to the third characteristic of biblical ethics spoken of above, namely, that it is only in biblical ethics that the destruction of evil within man and round about man, moral and physical, is set as a part of the ethical ideal of man. It goes without saying that if evil is what all non-theistic ethics says it is, namely, an unfortunate circumstance in which the universe somehow exists, it cannot be duty for man to seek to destroy it. It can at most be a wise thing for himself to seek to get as far as possible away from this evil.
On the other hand, if man was created perfect and placed in a perfect universe so that sin is an insult on the part of man against the living God, with the result that all evil, natural as well as moral, violates the holiness of God, it must be a part of the task of man, once he has been redeemed, to seek to destroy that evil in all its forms, and wherever found. The destruction of all evil everywhere is the negative but unavoidable task of every member of the kingdom of God. Wherever the believer sees evil, he sees insult to God, to his God who has graciously saved him from evil. This does not mean that there is no gradation in evil. It does not mean that man must everywhere use the same method in seeking to destroy the evil which he sees. There is undoubtedly gradation. The natural evil is the result of man’s moral deflection. Accordingly the believer will not seek in all sorts of foolish ways to destroy the natural evil without relating it to moral evil. On the contrary, the believer will seek to eradicate the root of evil first of all in the heart of man.
To me, “all evil everywhere” leaves no stone unturned. But this is task of destruction is not indiscriminate (which is to say, by implication, that it must be done according to wisdom and according law.) Van Til starts with the most basic Christian commitment: personal ethics. (This is exactly where Gary DeMar starts God and Government: self-government.)
And even so he will not fight indiscriminately. It is his task first of all to overcome evil in himself. We cannot speak of this in detail at this point. We speak of it here only as an aspect of man’s summum bonum.
There are many of us who wish he would have spoken of this in detail! But he moves on. Here we learn that the task is based up all of Scripture. He writes:
It is important to note that both the Old and the New Testaments do as a matter of fact regard the destruction of all evil as a part of the task of man. It is equally important to note that as a matter of fact Scripture throughout considers it man’s first task to overcome evil in himself.
That the Old Testament considers it a task of the people of God to destroy evil is so obvious that it is often made the basis of unfavorable criticism of its ethics.
One may mistake such a position for much that was written in Bahnsen’s Theonomy in Christian Ethics. Many critics of this work have neglected the larger perspective which Bahnsen pleas: theonomic ethics must be based upon the whole of Scripture, not just certain parts. Critics focus on elements of Mosaic law, and Bahnsen continually had to remind them that his view was fuller than that.
Nevertheless, the mere inclusion of Old Testament ethics disturbs many Christians. I think much of the nonsensical and overly emotional criticism theonomy received early (and which is still perpetuated by its less-educated, but for some reason not less-eager, critics) relates to what Van Til describes next:
It is said that it is an evidence of the rudeness and non-Christian spirit of Old Testament ethics that it requires of the people of God that they shall destroy their enemies. Christian apologists all too often practically admit this criticism by giving no better defense of it than that we must figure with the general characteristics of the times.
But, while giving proper understanding to the role of historical circumstance, Van Til will not stand for this crude position in general:
What shall we say with respect to this? . . . It does not mean that the absoluteness of the standard has been lowered when we read of God’s allowing certain things on account of the hardness of men’s hearts. Nor do we allow that the standard has really changed with the coming of the New Testament. It is only the mode or manner of bringing about the realization of the goal that has been changed. In the Old Testament times this goal had to be reached in an externalistic fashion, while in New Testament times this goal is reached in more spiritual or internalistic ways. The goal was the same in both instances.
Some critics of theonomy will be quick to leverage Van Til’s language of “more spiritual or internalistic ways” in order to dismiss theonomy, and to be sure, I think Van Til would have argued in that fashion himself. But this would all be to the neglect of all else he has written here regarding the eradication of evil from this earth being the task of redeemed mankind as an aspect of his highest good. (And I would be quick to note that “more internalistic” does not logically exclude externalistic measures, either.) And Van Til quickly returns to his apologetic in defense of the Old Testament standard. It speaks more of continuity with the New Testament than it does the opposite.
[T]he commands of complete extermination of the enemies of the people of God marks off the Old Testament ethics as being essentially one with New Testament ethics rather than the contrary. Instead of apologizing for this aspect of Old Testament ethics we should glory in it. It is the best proof of the genuinely theistic character of the Old Testament that one could desire. If God is what the Christian theist says he is, sin must be absolutely destroyed, and it is naturally to be expected that God would order his people to destroy evil. It is equally natural that this should be done in an externalistic way in the Old Testament times when the whole of the divine revelation to man was given in an externalistic way.
While he will, again, qualify his view of the mode of this task of destruction for New Testament times, the goal nevertheless remains for all times, he says:
It is at all times a part of the task of the people of God to destroy evil. Once we see this we do not, for instance, meanly apologize for the imprecatory psalms but glory in them. We rejoice that God is setting before man, even after he has become utterly unworthy of it through his sin, the ideal of a perfect earth in which only righteousness shall dwell, and in which there shall be nothing whatsoever of sin and evil.
He then goes on for a few pages to criticize C. S. Lewis’s view of the imprecatory psalms. I do not consider that here. But near the end of that section, he returns to the theme the destruction of evil in this world. It is here that his most obvious distinctions between Old and New Testament modes come to the fore. I concede these, of course, as Van Til’s stated views. But it is also here where his most passionate calls to eradicate that evil, and its clearest universality in scope, are expressed:
Further, what is true of Israel as a nation is true in the New Testament of individuals. And what is true of the Old Testament in an externalistic sense is true of the New Testament in an internalistic sense.
The individual believer has a comprehensive task. His is the task of exterminating evil from the whole universe. He must begin this program in himself. As a king reinstated it is his first battle to fight sin within his own heart. This will remain his first battle till his dying day.
Mark those words: “comprehensive task,” “whole universe.” This “begins” (i.e. “does not end”) with self-government. But, you say, this task beginning with self-government will last his whole lifetime. How will he have time to do anything else? Van Til does not stay there:
This does not mean, however, that he must not also seek to destroy evil in his fellow Christians and in his fellow men while he is engaged in destroying evil within himself. If he had to wait till he was perfect himself to seek to destroy evil within the hearts and lives of others, he would have to wait till after this life, when there will be no more evil to be destroyed.
But, you say, this is still only talking about personal sins within the church, among brothers. Van Til does not stay there, either:
We must go one step further. It is our duty not only to seek to destroy evil in ourselves and in our fellow Christians, but it is our further duty to seek to destroy evil in all our fellow men. It may be, humanly speaking, hopeless in some instances that we should succeed in bringing them to Christ. This does not absolve us, however, from seeking to restrain their sins to some extent for this life. We must be active first of all in the field of special grace, but we also have a task to perform with respect to the destruction of evil in the field of common grace.
Notice that Van Til’s view does not apply only to believers and church discipline, but to those who will never come to Christ as well, and those in what he views as the realm of “common grace” (for him, this includes the realm of civil government). Van Til argues that we are not absolved from seeking to restrain their evil, either, despite their being outside the church.
Now we have question. Now the Van Tillian method and analysis (“pushing the antithesis”) comes around to inquire of its namesake: “By what standard shall we do this?” There is no neutrality in standards in this life. How does one choose between “theonomy” and “autonomy” in the realm of externally restraining the external sins (crimes?) of other people, including unbelievers, in this life?
Van Til does not answer. It was left to Rushdoony, Bahnsen, and others to draw the conclusion. But Van Til was clear that this task exists, it is pervasive, and should be applied throughout “this world”:
Still further we must note that our task with respect to the destruction of evil is not done if we have sought to fight sin itself everywhere we see it. We have the further obligation to destroy the consequences of sin in this world as far as we can.
He then moves on to a practical application of his view, and it is not small. The abolition of war is our “plain task.”
A particular point is that of the Christian’s attitude toward the abolition of war. Some would hold that since the Bible tells us that there will be wars till the end of time, it would be flying in the face of providence if we should try to outlaw war. But there is a difference between a commandment of God and a statement of what will come to pass. God commands us to be perfect but tells us that none of us will ever be perfect in this life. So it is our plain task to do what we can, in legitimate ways, to lessen the number of wars and to make them less gruesome.
Van Til even dismisses the discordant note of pessimism—“flying in the face of providence”—that some may have expected from him, or indeed from any amillennialist. But that view could not overcome the note of defiant optimism with which Van Til ends the section. There is a task, it is part of man’s “highest good” (summum bonum), God’s sovereignty and Word give us courage to do it, and it involves the utter destruction of evil:
Such then is the third aspect of the summum bonum. We have an absolute ethical ideal to offer man. This absolute ideal is a gift of God. And this gives us assurance that our labors shall not be in vain. This gives us courage to start with the program of the eradication of evil from God’s universe. We cannot carry on from the place where God first placed men. A great deal of our time will have to be taken up with the destruction of evil.
And then comes indomitable optimism: we must see through the negative, the impasses, the enormity of the task and of the enemy. We must push ahead, knowing that even apparently hopeless efforts are laying vital foundations, making progress, and moving toward ultimate victory in the habitable universe:
We may not even seem to see much progress in ourselves or round about us, during our lifetime. We shall have to build with the trowel in one hand and the sword in the other. It may seem to us to be a hopeless task of sweeping the ocean dry. Yet we know that this is exactly what our ethical ideal would be if we were not Christians. We know that for non-Christians their ethical ideal can never be realized either for themselves or for society. They do not even know the true ethical ideal. And as to our own efforts, we know that though much of our time may have to be taken up with pumping out the water of sin, we are nevertheless laying the foundation of our bridge on solid rock, and we are making progress toward our goal. Our victory is certain. The devil and all his servants will be put out of the habitable universe of God. There will be a new heaven and a new earth on which righteousness will dwell.
“The habitable universe.” “The devil will be put out.” “Our victory is certain.”
There is little any postmillennialist could say that would make this more postmillennial. Couple this with “no neutrality” and “theonomy or autonomy” in the civil realm, and Christian Reconstruction is likely if not inevitable. Here Van Til certainly does have “the spirit of reconstruction.”
Now don’t get me wrong. I am not trying to argue that “Van Til was one of us.” I am not even sure what ultimately would be gained by proving that. My point is that even if Van Til was not a professing postmil theonomist, Van Tillianism pretty much is, especially when extended to the realms of government which Van Til only ever so slightly broached here.
For those who have seen the power and truth of presuppositional apologetics in general, continue the same principles and inquiries into every area of life—like Van Til said but did not fully do—and you will not be far off. You may indeed find yourself testing the waters of theonomic thought very quickly. Keep saying with Kuyper and Van Til, Pro Rege!, and you will eventually have to let your theology say it, too.
 (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008), pp. 216–219.
 Muether, 218.
 Quoted in Greg L. Bahnsen, Van Til’s Apologetic: Readings and Analysis (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 1998), 22n65.
 Bahnsen, 20n65.
 Bahnsen, 21n65.
 Bahnsen, 21n65.
 Muether, 219.
 Muether, 219.
 Cornelius Van Til, Christian Theistic Ethics, In Defense of Biblical Christianity III (np, 1974), 82.
 Van Til, 82.
 Van Til, 83.
 Van Til, 83.
 Van Til, 83.
 Van Til, 83.
 Van Til, 84.
 Van Til, 86–87.
 Van Til, 87.
 Van Til, 87.
 Van Til, 87.
 Van Til, 87.
 Van Til, 88.
 Van Til, 88.
Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain;
for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain (Ex. 20:4-6).
You’ve probably heard the question, “What’s in a name?” Remember that it comes from that famous dialogue between Romeo and Juliet? The maiden from the window above says,
O Romeo, Romeo! wherefore art thou Romeo?
Deny thy father and refuse thy name;
Or, if thou wilt not, be but sworn my love,
And I’ll no longer be a Capulet.
…which was her surname. Romeo mumbles to himself, listens on; Juliet continues:
‘Tis but thy name that is my enemy;
Thou art thyself, though not a Montague.
What’s a Montague? it is nor hand, nor foot,
Nor arm, nor face, nor any other part
Belonging to a man. O, be some other name!
What’s in a name? that which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet;
So Romeo would, were he not Romeo call’d,
Retain that dear perfection which he owes
Without that title. Romeo, doff thy name,
And for that name which is no part of thee
Take all myself.
In Juliet’s view, names are, or should be, so meaningless that they can simply be switched whenever convenient. The problem is, society just doesn’t work that way. In fact, her own woe, you may recall, derived from the fact that her and her lover came from feuding families, and those families having detested each other for generations, could not even stand the name of the other for all that it entailed. She argues that the substance of the thing, or of the person, and not the label, should determine why we value them. But when long use establishes a certain character with a certain appellative, then to overturn that relationship will cause a great social shift. Sometimes, perhaps, that shift needs to take place, other times it necessarily should not. And nowhere is that relationship between character and name more important that at the very foundation of society—religion.
The concept of “God’s name” so closely pertains to His Being and Nature that any affront to any of God’s attributes is subsumed under the very mention of His name. Calvin writes of the Third Commandment, “It is silly and childish to restrict this to the name Jehovah, as if God’s majesty were confined to letters or syllables. . . . God’s name is profaned whenever any detraction is made from His supreme wisdom, infinite power, justice, clemency, and rectitude.” The reference to God’s name invokes all that God is and stands for.
We have similar references in the New Testament: of Jesus Paul says, there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12). God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow (Phil. 2:9-10).
So the idea of the majesty of God as represented by God’s name confronts mankind at every turn of life. And so, the commandment against taking God’s name “in vain” fairly warns us against all forms of action, or neglect, concerning the very nature of the God we serve. It means that the Biblical doctrine of God (Who is He?, What is His nature?, What has He done in history?) must inform every act and every decision we make. If the foundations of society rest upon anything less than that God, when we act in the name of God Almighty (for example, the presidential oath including “So help me God”), we have violated the Third Commandment. Conversely, when society begins to denigrate, curse, or swear at the name or mention of God, then we have an even worse situation in which society has attacked God Himself, and has sought to replace Him with something else as the foundation.
Consider for a moment the language of the Commandment. What does it mean to “take” in this passage? We can understand the word in the sense of “carry” or “bear.” Think in this sense of the priests bearing the Ark of the Covenant, or of the Israelites pitching their tents beneath respective standards which bore their identities as children of YHWH. Think of the label “Christian,” first given in Antioch (Acts 11:26), and which we bear today. How do we “carry” that label? How do we present that label to the world, and what justice do we do it? Do we bear it in any degree of vanity or emptiness? Implicit in this Third Commandment is a condemnation of hypocrisy—of wearing a label to which we don’t measure up in substance. And in not measuring up, we prove ourselves hypocrites, and we dishonor—in a way, we can even say blaspheme—the name of the God whose name we bear.
We have such a low view of taking the Lord’s name in vain today. This results from the overall decline of the religion and the influence of the church in society in general. Today the idea of cursing seems to have much less to do with God’s name than with more mundane forms of vulgarity. This always happens when religion wanes in society. The Oxford scholar Christopher Hill, a renowned expert on the Puritan era, notes the phenomenon long after the end of that age of piety. Speaking of the power of swearing and oaths he writes,
They survive in industrialized and protestant countries, but as shadows of their former selves, and often the users are unaware of the original significance of swear-words which they employ every day. Blasphemy is no longer a fine art. The live swear-words in such societies are those which offend against something which has much more social reality than God—respectability. Sex and the lavatory have replaced deity, saints and devil as the source of live expletives to-day, because their use breaks a taboo that is still worth breaking.
This has always been my experience. I personally don’t remember a time when cursing didn’t refer to bodily acts, and I was always taught, of course, that these certain words are the curse words, these words are “bad” words and you don’t say them. And while all of that may be true, there was always this great disconnect between the idea of taking God’s name in vain, and what I understood as cursing. That list of bad words, of course, included instances in which the word “God” or the name “Jesus Christ” served as expletives—as we hear all over the radio and TV today—but this only caused me greater confusion. Were these instances the actual sin of taking God’s name in vain? If so, why were the other words bad? Later in life when I actually thought about these questions, and grew a little more biblically literate, I decided that the distinction didn’t matter, because St. Paul went well beyond merely the Lord’s name and said, “Let no corrupt communication proceed out of your mouth, but that which is good to the use of edifying” (Eph. 4:9). “No corrupt communication,” pretty much covers it all. But this was a sort of happy state of ignorance for me, since I still really didn’t understand what it meant not to take the Lord’s name in vain.
So what was this “original significance” that Hill mentions above? He gives us a hint of it with an introductory quotation from that same chapter. The following appears in an anonymous tract written in 1614:
The safety of the King himself, . . . every man’s estate in particular, and the state of the realm in general, doth depend upon the truth and sincerity of men’s oaths. . . . The law and civil policy of England, being chiefly founded upon religion and the fear of God, doth use the religious ceremony of an oath, not only in legal proceedings but in other transactions and affairs of most importance in the commonwealth; esteeming oaths as not only the best touchstone of trust in matters of controversy, but as the safest knot of civil society, and the firmest band to tie all men to the performance of their several duties.
Proper, honest, godly oath-taking, forms the mortar of healthy society. At the bottom of all is the foundation of allegiance to God; and the commandment does not forbid swearing period, but swearing in vain. Bearing God’s name in truth—not in vain, but in truth—is the bedrock of religion and therefore of social health. In fact, the very word “religion” means “to bind” in the sense of binding allegiance. Such language fills the Bible: the whole concept of being God’s servant relates to this idea. Paul was a servant of Jesus Christ (Rom 1:1). I hear St. Patrick singing his hymn, “I bind unto my self today, the strong name of the Trinity.” With it all I hear a Scripture passage that Christians hardly ever quote:
Thou shalt fear the LORD thy God, and serve him, and shalt swear by his name (Deut. 6:13).
How often do we as believers exhort each other actually to swear? Swearing, we’ve been taught, is a “no-no” across the board. And yet God commanded the Israelites to do so—to swear by His name. The point is that at the bottom of every way of life, of every religion and every society, stands an ultimate oath. You have to serve somebody. Somebody is your god and you have sworn allegiance to him (or her) already whether you know it or not. You cannot escape worship, authority, or oaths. If you zip-your-lips, and lock the door and swallow the key, and refuse to take any oath whatsoever, you just took one. The question is not “oath or no oath.” The question is Whose name did you take it under? Here we must follow the example of God Himself, “For when God made the promise to Abraham, since he could swear by no one greater, He swore by himself” (Heb. 6:13). No wonder He commands us to swear by that name, too.
To refuse to swear allegiance to God is to profane His name and put yours in place of it. The misuse or abuse of God’s name is an act of rebellion. In society, it represents revolt and revolution. “All swearing is religious, and false swearing represents a subversive drive in society.” This fact manifested once in a debate between atheists and Christians at Cape Town University on the subject of blasphemy. The atheist professor who agreed to debate backed out two hours before the event started, leaving Peter Hammond of Frontline Ministries alone to lecture from a Christian viewpoint and then field questions. One atheist young lady expressed the myopia of humanistic reasoning in trying to denigrate religion while exalting man: “To call me stupid would be hate speech and be illegal; however, to call Jesus stupid is not illegal and is a religious issue not a legal one.” Another added that hate speech “should of course be illegal,” yet Blasphemy given free reign “because unlike hate speech against homosexuals, no one is going to get hurt.”
The first argument, of course, begs the question, assuming up front what it intends to conclude: that religious issues don’t count as legal issues, therefore blasphemy is not “hate speech.” Christians, rather, should argue that blasphemy is the most fundamental and most serious and subversive form of hate speech, and should carry requisite legal sanctions when appropriate.
The second argument simply ignores the facts, that
every year over 200,000 Christians are murdered worldwide for their Faith. Over 400 million Christians in 64 countries live under governments which do not allow religious freedom. Every year government sponsored hate speech in these countries leads to mob violence against Christians, the burning of churches, often with the congregation inside it, the beheading of Christians, even of young teenage girls, the stoning to death of Christians, crucifixions, mutilations, enslavements, etc.
Logical and factual blunders aside, both arguments display the implicit attack on religious faith that humanism entails. When man sets a higher legal standard for speech against man than he does for speech against God, He explicitly rejects God as King and sets himself in the place of God. Legalized blasphemy represents treason to God. It also represents treason to any country founded upon that God. George Washington, spying the revolution of atheists, radicals, and deists in France, devoted a portion of his “farewell address” to warn our nation of the consequences of such blasphemy. In this passage—often quoted merely for its positive reference to religion—notice the emphasis on reputation (name) and oath:
Of all the dispositions and habits, which lead to political prosperity, religion and morality are indispensable supports. In vain would that man claim the tribute of patriotism, who should labor to subvert these great pillars of human happiness, these firmest props of the duties of men and citizens. The mere politician, equally with the pious man, ought to respect and to cherish them. A volume could not trace all their connexions with private and public felicity. Let it simply be asked, where is the security for property, for reputation, for life, if the sense of religious obligation desert the oaths, which are the instruments of investigation in courts of justice? And let us with caution indulge the supposition, that morality can be maintained without religion. Whatever may be conceded to the influence of refined education on minds of peculiar structure, reason and experience both forbid us to expect, that national morality can prevail in exclusion of religious principle. It is substantially true, that virtue or morality is a necessary spring of popular government. The rule, indeed, extends with more or less force to every species of free government. Who, that is a sincere friend to it, can look with indifference upon attempts to shake the foundation of the fabric?
Atheists and humanists begin with man and wish to derive “hate speech” from that standard. This devolves into a state where individuals, culture, law, and art can curse and mock all religion, virtue, sexuality, and all transcendent standards, and seek legal protection for such acts. Thus, homosexuality, for example, which incarnates a gross perversion of the sex act—indeed the ultimate mockery of it—seeks legal protection from even criticism. Even to decry homosexuality as a perversion is to practice “hate speech” according to such a worldview, and in some so-called liberal democracies that boast of so-called “free speech,” a preacher who even reads the Bible’s condemnation of homosexual perversion publicly can find himself in jail.
Mankind, you see, cannot escape “blasphemy” laws: the question is of who determines what constitutes blasphemy.
Meanwhile, to highlight a degenerate society’s social hypocrisy, the standard interpersonal curses themselves pertain to sexuality: listen to any rap radio station and you will drown in a deluge of racial slurs interspersed with epithets of maternal incest, while any given foul-mouth on the street finds his readiest curse in willing a forcible sex act upon his annoyer: “f— you.” Humanism wishes legally to protect its perversions while in practice admitting them to be perverse, employing them as curses.
When society displays such characteristics, it reveals the depth of its rebellion against the Creator. The proper way to protect name, reputation, and human rights in general, is not to profane God and exalt man, but just the opposite. Unless men first revere God and honor an ultimate allegiance to the divine origin of mankind, and protect these beliefs by legal consequence, they shall denigrate everything glorious that man can be, and then protect their perversions and obscenity by recourse to legal force (as we have begun to see now).
And so, as with many others of the Ten Commandments, the Third presents us with something that sounds elementary and perhaps even almost trivial on the surface, but in reality reaches to the most profound depths of human experience. Based on something that we take for granted every day—a name—God shakes us to the very core of our identity. “What’s in a name?” If you’re talking about God, the answer is “everything.”Endnotes
1 Shakespeare, “Romeo and Juliet,” II.ii.33–49.
2 Quoted in R. J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Law, 116.
3 Christopher Hill, Society and Puritanism in Pre-Revolutionary England (New York: Schocken Books, 1967 1964]) 419.
4 Hill, 382.
5 R. J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Religion, 110.
6 Reported by Peter Hammond, “Blasphemy Debate at University,” rontline Fellowship News, 2009 Ed. 2, 7.
7 Peter Hammond, “Blasphemy Debate at University,” Frontline Fellowship News, 7.
8 Partially quoted in R. J. Rushdoony, The Institutes of Biblical Religion, 112.
[Article originally posted June 5, 2009.]