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a Biblical Worldview Ministry
Updated: 5 hours 45 min ago
Todd Friel of Wretched Radio recently revisited the issue of Theonomy. He posed us a few respectful and genuine questions. I would like to offer him a few answers.
I respectfully asked the question of my theonomic friends: those people who believe that somehow, in some way, shape, or form, Jewish law from the Mosaic Covenant—pretty much the stuff you read about in Exodus, Deuteronomy—all of those laws—and I mean all [of] it—eating, dietary laws, civil issues, ceremonial issues—that they somehow should be brought forth and applied to America.
I would like to thank Todd for asking questions (to be seen in a moment) rather than starting with accusations and assertion that are indefensible as so many do. I appreciate him approaching the subject earnestly and respectfully, rather than with a hidden “gotcha” agenda. And I appreciate his viewing us as friends rather than heretics, like some other people.
The preface to the question here, however, does carry an assumption doesn’t it? By “theonomic friends” he says he means those who want to apply “all of those laws—and I mean all of it,” including “dietary” and “ceremonial issues” in America today. This, of course, is not our position. No theonomist believes in imposing the ceremonial laws. No theonomist believes in “all of those laws” continuing today. No theonomist believes—contrary to popular belief!—that the dietary laws remain binding laws today (more on this later).
There may be some in the Christian Hebrew Roots movement that believe in these things, but they are separate and distinct from theonomists.
That cleared up, then what are the questions exactly? Todd says,
My question was along the lines of, ok, well then what about adultery? Do you get stoned for adultery? What about naughty children? Do we stone those? And if Jesus, Rabbi Jesus, said, “You’ve heard of old, ‘Thou shalt not commit adultery,’ I say if you look with lust you commit adultery in your heart.” Then should we stone people who lust?
As will be clear below from the answer someone else submitted to Todd, while these are valid questions, it is not clear where Todd’s emphasis is. Is he asking about stoning as a method of execution, or is he asking about whether the death penalty still abides for certain crimes? Or both?
A Kinder, Gentler Penology
One person who responded, according to Todd, assumed the former: is stoning still required as opposed to other forms of execution. Todd related:
I asked the question genuinely. I received an answer from “Tom,” who said regarding stoning: “One theonomist advocates stoning as continuing; that somehow, stoning should be the punishment because if God instituted [it] then it must be the best thing.”
Todd answered the guy:
And I would answer that and say, I would agree with that at that time—under that Covenant. You see, stoning at that time was about the kindest thing that you could do—maybe not for the guilty person, but for the executioner. Because, you see, to have to kill somebody is a tough thing. This is why firing squads—everybody would shoot; some would have blanks, some would have bullets, so that you wouldn’t know who actually killed the person. Because that can weigh heavy on an individual. The same thing was true with stoning: if everybody threw a rock from the town—demonstrating, by the way, it was also a crime committed against your people—you wouldn’t know who threw the death stone, if you will. So, at that time it was kind, but I think there are kinder ways of executing people.
Todd’s answer is interesting, but it confronts us with an unusual hermeneutical principle: in any given historical era, God institutes penal sanctions according to that which is “the kindest thing you could do . . . for the executioner.” There are several problems with this assumption. First, the concept of “kindness” is subjective. Much like how the romantic idea of “love” as a feeling devalues marriage and relationships, so introducing such an emotive basis for penology undermines social ethics and law, too.
Later in his discussion, Todd restates the point by saying today’s methods are more “humane”? Again, this is merely subjective, and it throws the discussion outside of God’s will and into the realm of human valuations. In short, autonomy instead of Theonomy.
Second, there is no Scriptural warrant for Todd’s position. Where in either Old or New Testament does God reveal to us that criminals shall be punished by whatever sanction can be deemed “kindest” for the executioner(s)? Where is this penological or heremenutical principle in the Bible? Where is that standard in Scripture? Indeed, by what standard do we determine what is more loving, kinder, or more humane? Does God’s Word tell us, or do we decide based on creaturely sentiments, reason, and emotions? If not God’s Word, then what? Without a Scriptural standard, the only answer to that question is a humanistic one by default.
This is why we see most Christians today—despite whatever degree they would otherwise assert God’s absolute sovereignty over every area of life and affirm sola Scriptura for every area of life—turning to humanistic answers for government, penology, economics, education, etc. What’s worse than abandoning God’s standards in these areas is the fact that these Christians, and Christian leaders, honestly believe humanistic standards should be preferred because they are “more humane.”
Third, there is Scriptural warrant against such a view. The law specifies, in certain circumstances, that the primary executioners be the witnesses against the criminal (Deut. 13:9; 17:7). In some, perhaps many, there would have been as few as two witnesses, which means it would be absolutely clear who threw the stones—possibly the fatal ones. The principle here is not “do whatever is kindest for the executioner,” but that the executioner must be the witnesses for the prosecution, that they be up front and foremost in the act, and that they bear extra and even primary responsibility for the execution.
Fourth, Todd’s particular analogy to firing squads does not hold up. Maybe firing squads were designed with some gunmen shooting blanks so as to disguise who in fact fired the actual shots, but this can hardly be true with throwing stones, can it? Did some people throw pretend stones? Were some stones replaced with Styrofoam rocks? No, everyone threw a stone-stone—a real rock—and that rock hit skull and flesh. It was a visceral, upsetting, and difficult experience, and it was meant to be. And no executioner escaped it.
Granted, you could still say that even though people are all throwing stones, you cannot tell exactly whose stone did the actual killing. Nevertheless, each stone still did damage. If the intent was, as Todd says, to prevent the psychological burden of having killed someone, that is only a matter of degree less than knocking the sense out of them with a stone, or injuring them corporeally. Those engaged (and some required) to throw stones could not escape the existential moment. The analogy just simply does not hold up here.
Fifth, Todd’s “kindest” principle is not only subjective in general, but specifically subjective per historical era. He repeatedly emphasizes “at that time.” This is the classic liberal progressive argument—one which, unfortunately, Christians buy into all the time. Currently, the thin edge of the wedge is homosexuality and homosexual marriage. Fifty years ago, it was women’s ordination and no-fault divorce. A hundred years ago it was government schooling and welfarism. If judicial and ethical values change per historical era, will we see Todd defending homosexual marriages in ten years? Women’s ordinations? Why not? A lot more could be said pro and con in regard to this point, no doubt, but there is also no doubt that appeals to “that Old Testament principle is outdated” are fraught with dangers which we have realized over and over already in other areas.
These problems aside, there is still a legitimate discussion to be had regarding the mode of capital punishment. Note that Todd’s respondent said “one theonomist” holds the view regarding stoning as “best.” This is hardly a widely accepted view among theonomists, so it is hardly the touchstone (no pun intended) position to address. The legitimacy of the discussion, however, should not revolve around unbiblical and humanistic concepts, but an attempt to ascertain the biblical reason for certain punishments, and it should seek to replicate those biblical principles in modern settings as closely as possible.
The more important issue, however, is whether certain crimes such as adultery should indeed still receive capital punishment. It seems this is what Todd originally wished to address anyway. So let’s hear it.
Capital Punishment for Adultery
Toward this end, Todd continues,
Now what about for the different—what about for the naughty child? What about for the adultery? I just don’t think that those laws should be forced on to our government. Now we say to them what we think is wisest, but for us to say those things should be taking place now—those people, that time, for a particular reason—to be a set-apart people so that the nations would look to them and want to know who their God is, because God promised to bless them for obedience to whatever laws He put in place, whether it was a fence around roof, whether it was how you dealt with an ox that gored somebody. God said I’ll bless—you follow these rules, I’ll bless you. And they were moral, because anything God does is moral because what He says is right. But that does not mean that those need to be laws for—in perpetuity. We don’t have a lot of issues of ox-goring these days. . . .
But that still does not answer the question, “For what laws would the theonomist say somebody should be stoned?” Look, I get that really naughty child can wreak havoc on a culture. I get that. I also believe that putting somebody in jail for the rest of their life is a barbaric thing to do—if they’re not a threat to culture directly. If they are, would there be possibly more humane ways of dealing with people like that, maybe with mental issues, emotional issues? I just don’t see us being underneath that system anymore.
These are essentially the same arguments used against stoning above: the Old Testament penalties were for a special people, special time, and were fitting only for a distant culture and time in the past, and we have more “humane” ways of addressing crime today. There are actually two separate arguments intertwined here. One is about ancient Israel as a special typological and eschatological people. The other is more simply chronological or “progressive,” as already addressed.
Among these arguments, only the “for a special people” argument is new. We have already seen that appealing to emotion, humanistic standards, or historical relativism (what C. S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery”) in order to argue that Old Testament laws are outdated and inhumane fails on several grounds. The “special people” argument at least has some biblical warrant. But it has its own problems as well: I assume Todd still accepts the Ten Commandments as abiding. I assume he accepts the “love” commandments (Duet. 6:4; Lev. 19:18; Matt. 22:37–40) as still abiding. Yet these are just as much part of that special. typological Mosaic Covenant given to that “special people” “at that time” as anything else. It is easy to draw shock from modern culture by referring to the Mosaic death penalty for adultery, but this penal sanction is in the exact same category as widely accepted laws such as the death penalty for murder and rape, or restitution for theft. So why choose some to accept and not others? By what standard do we choose which Mosaic laws are good and which “inhumane”?
Either God’s Word itself tells us the standard, or we impose our own standard on God’s Word in order to decide what we shall pick and choose from it, and what we shall discard. If we are to look for a biblical answer to this question, we shall find that the New Testament clearly and openly sets aside the ceremonial law due to Christ’s coming to replace it (Hebrews), yet it says nothing at all about setting aside the civil standards of that law. It would seem from this that, if we are to avoid imposing humanistic reasons to pick and choose, we must accept those civil standards as applicable today. While these may not cuddle certain modern sentiments all warm and fuzzy, and may put us in a position of defending an unpopular truth, Christians need to ask what their ultimate standard will be: modern sentiments or God’s Word. In this consideration, I am afraid Todd’s personal musings of “I just don’t think. . . .” and “I just don’t see. . . .” just don’t approach a biblical standard.
Todd refers to what is certainly one of the most notoriously-cited passages from Old Testament Law: the execution of a rebellious son. The first problem here is that Todd seems to adopt a common secularist misconstruction of the passage. He asks, “What about naughty children? Do we stone those?” The problem is, Deuteronomy 21:18–21 is not talking about “naughty children.” It is speaking of a habitually incorrigible son, most likely of late adolescent or early adult age.
Jordan Hall made this same exegetical mistake in his early criticisms of Theonomy. In a podcast from September 30, 2014, he claimed that theonomists want to “start killing children” because “little Johnny disobeyed his mother,” and we want to “suddenly start killing people through cruel and unusual punishment and stoning . . . ten-year-olds when they’re disrespectful or insolent to their parents.”
What many non-theonomists and anti-theonomists don’t realize is that this is not a rebuke of Theonomy, but an open insult to God Himself. This is not a refutation of God’s Law in the modern world, but a mocking of God’s Law itself. God’s Law did not call for little children to be executed for back-talk or disobedience. The relevant law involves, for example, the following complaint from the parents against their rebellious “child”: “This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard” (Deut. 21:10). This is obviously not talking about a little child, and obviously not speaking of simple disobedience of a ten-year old. It is speaking of a grown son who is absolutely incorrigible.
Even strongly non-theonomic resources like MacArthur’s Study Bible acknowledge this. Its comment on this passage says, “The long-term pattern of rebellion and sin of a child who was incorrigibly disobedient is in view. No hope remained for such a person who flagrantly violated the fifth commandment (Ex. 20:12), so he was to be stoned to death.”
Once we get the actual meaning of the passage correct, we can make a better analysis. Should such a law remain in effect today? I have heard that was not so long ago in our nation’s history that repeat criminals, once determined “incorrigible,” could receive the death penalty. One could simply ask whether humanistic standards of life-imprisonment—which Todd agrees is barbaric—meets God’s view of how a society should deal to deal with true incorrigibility. The many evils of the unbiblical prison system deserve their own treatment. It is enough to draw the obvious comparison here. God could have called for imprisonment or some attempt at remedial detention for incorrigibility even in those ancient days. He did not.
Again, however, once we realize that the passage is not about a “child” or mere disobedience, the liberals’ attack on Scripture—for which so many Christians like Todd have succumbed on this point—totally loses its sting. Folks, let’s just do some exegesis to start, shall we?
Adultery of the Heart
Finally, Todd raises the seemingly hairy issue of “heart sins” in a theonomic society. Are we going to institute a “thought police” to charge people with heart sins, and then execute people based on that? Or as Todd puts it, “If Jesus, Rabbi Jesus, said, ‘You’ve heard of old, “Thou shalt not commit adultery,” I say if you look with lust you commit adultery in your heart.’ Then should we stone people who lust?”
One very simple way to answer this question would be to ask if “heart sins” or “lust” were likewise punished in the Old Testament. Even though there was an obvious commandment (the tenth) against lust, was there a criminal sanction enforceable by the civil government against it? Obviously, no. While the act of adultery itself warranted the sanction, breaking the tenth commandment did not. So why would this change in the New Testament? (Remember, Jesus was not adding anything new in Matthew 5. He was merely explaining the true meaning the law had always had, and which the Pharisaical glosses had popularly neglected.)
In a modern theonomic society, the answer is just as simple as that. Lust itself was never penalized by the civil government under Old Testament law, and it would never be so in modern theonomic government. Nevertheless, the act of adultery should still remain a criminal offense. Thus, heart-sins are dealt with in the church, and criminal acts dealt with by the civil government—two separate and distinct jurisdictions and sanctions.
But I wonder if Todd would be open to this biblical distinction. He does not seem to be based on his reaction to his respondent:
Now he goes on to say regarding adultery and lust: “the civil code has to do with sin that was externalized, and that not only demonstrated outward rebellion against God, but rebellion against the people of God. This would be why belief in another god was not punished, but worshipping another god or proselytizing for a false religion was punished.” You know what? That’s. . . I would have to say my friend, that’s clever, but I don’t think that I would go digging into the Bible to say, “See, that’s why we don’t stone people for thoughts.” Because I think a part of believing in your god is worshipping your god. So I think that you’re drawing a pretty fine line there that just doesn’t exist.
It is one thing to argue whether “belief” and “worship” are so equivalent, but note the real problem here. Todd’s criteria shows the following contrast: he calls a distinction based upon biblical law “clever,” while his own methodology would begin by departing from Scripture. He says, “I don’t think that I would go digging into the Bible” for such judicial criteria.
Again, where else shall we go? Any other standard is humanistic. To the degree that we neglect digging into God’s Word, we depart from His standards of justice.
And irony of ironies, it is when we depart from God’s standards of crime and punishments that we begin to see humanistic standards imposed even on things like alleged thoughts and lusts. We see heightened “hate crimes” imposed for racial or sexual speech. We see Christians in business forced by law to bow to the homosexual agenda. We see “the rich” taxed disproportionately because they are allegedly “greedy,” among other things. We see guilt, fear, and pity used as political levers to redistribute billions, start wars, and erode freedom. In short, what we see are endless permutations of the things these anti-theonomists claim to despise in civil government, yet they condemn the only position that has any biblical answer to oppose it: Theonomy. Instead, they fight God’s Law, flee Scripture in this area, and as you can expect, the liberals take over.
Todd closes his position by making the same argument against Theonomy that liberals have made against the Bible in general for a long time:
I think the theonomist finds himself in a challenging spot to try to institute those laws on our culture today in a consistent way that makes sense. I just don’t think that you can do that. And I don’t think there’s a need to do that when we understand for those people, at that time, underneath that Covenant. And I grant you, those laws were best—for those people, at that time, underneath that Covenant, because they had a specific purpose. It was to be a schoolmaster to lead people to Jesus. We already have Him. It was for those people, at that time—stoning versus, say, a firing squad? They didn’t have the option. Furthermore, it was to be a light to lighten the Gentiles—a nation that was different, that would be blessed by God, so that people would want to know who their God was, so it was evangelistic. We don’t have that necessity anymore. We have the Gospel, and we’re supposed to go and make disciples not by asking our government to impose laws from the Old Testament on a twenty-first century people, but by using the law and using the Gospel.
In short, as we noted above: those laws are old. Those laws are outdated. This is the twenty-first century. We have better options. Anyway, those laws pertained only to that people in that time. They were only a schoolmaster to lead us to Christ. We are no longer under the law anymore. Christ freed us from it.
Now, there are still major exegetical problems lurking under these arguments. I will deal with them separately later. For now it is enough to see that Todd has provided nothing here that really challenges the Theonomic thesis. He has provided little more than emotional arguments that do nothing but make the case, ultimately, for liberal progressivism. It is no wonder, then, that after a century or two of Christians arguing like Todd we have the liberal progressive society we do.
I am glad Todd asked some serious questions about Theonomy. I am glad he has addressed it genuinely. I think it would have been far more instructive to bring such questions to someone like me instead of first making a show about it, but at least this is a genuine start.
I hope he will as genuinely be able to see that his answers don’t move much beyond the facile, though admittedly powerful, emotional appeals made by liberals. I hope he would be willing to consider looking into something more exegetical in regard to biblical standards for society, crime, and punishment. God spoke clearly. He did not rescind what He spoke regarding civil law like He did ceremonial law. Time and chance, people and technology simply cannot change God’s Word so easily, no matter how much modern sentiment may pressure us to say so. What God hath enjoined, let no man put away.
As I mentioned before, Fuller seminary man Richard Mouw fired shots at Christian Reconstruction based on a new book detailing R. J. Rushdoony. The book is Christian Reconstruction: R. J. Rushdoony and American Religious Conservatism, by Michael McVicar, now assistant professor of religion at Florida State University. I have not read the whole book yet, so I will reserve comment to the section about the brief career of Greg L. Bahnsen at RTS. While McVicar’s book appears thorough and has an impressive bibliography—including access to many private papers—he is missing some key details that render his presentation incomplete, and thus key conclusions in regard to Bahnsen fail as critically uninformed.
Since I have recently arranged and posted nearly 300 pages of Bahnsen’s collected documents in regard to how his RTS career ended, I was particularly keen to see how McVicar might portray it. Mouw’s shot gave plenty of warning as to what to expect:
Bahnsen was not reappointed to his faculty position, largely because he was seen by his colleagues as too confrontational. Those negative assessments of his controversial relations are narrated in McVicar’s book, where Bahnsen does not come off as an attractive figure.
Mouw’s assessment is accurate. According to McVicar, “Bahnsen’s personality created as much ill will as his theology,” and this, on top of “his combative defense of the concept” of Theonomy (p. 157). When RTS called its hostile faculty interrogation of Bahnsen in 1978, Bahnsen is described as having “aggressively defended himself and insulted several of the faculty” (p. 158). Bahnsen is accused of “impropriety” for soliciting support from other professors and churchmen (p. 159). Further, he is accused of having “encouraged his supportive students to attack the positions of other faculty members” (p. 157), as well as needing to be restrained from harassing students whom he allegedly “regularly abused in class” (p. 159).
All of this is laid to rest in the documents American Vision recently published. There will be more to say on specific topics as occasion has it, but for now note well that the best refutation to the charges comes above from the Seminary itself in its letters of recommendation for the departing Bahnsen. I quote briefly from two such letters. The first one comes from the then-acting president of RTS, Sam C. Patterson. In that final parting note, he wrote to Bahnsen:
Your personal commitment to Christ, Godly character, ability as a scholar and as a teacher command my highest respect and confidence. . . .
You have earned and won the respect of students and proven yourself to be a most competent and versatile communicator.
You have practiced integrity, openness and a cooperative spirit in working with me and others in seeking to resolve problems we have addressed. . . .
Likewise, the Executive Committee commended Bahnsen’s high moral character and interpersonal compliance:
Your moral character and manifest desire to serve the Lord were unquestionable, and these attributes of yours are all of the highest quality, and we commend you for them. Moreover, you have evidenced a desire, to the best of your ability, to comply with the requests of your superiors as those requests have been communicated to you, and your desire to work with and your interest in the students has been of the highest order.
So, was Bahnsen fired for character issues? No. Was he let go for combativeness, insulting faculty, abusing students? It should be clear from these letters that this is nonsense.
And please note, there is no reference to these key letters, or to any of the other documents here made available, in McVicars’s presentation. This is a crucial lacuna in the evidence—crippling to the portrayal.
There is one troubling reference, however, that does appear. A late letter—five years after the fact—from a former student of Bahnsen, James B. Jordan. This needs to be reviewed.
James B. Jordan 1984 vs. James B. Jordan 1979
McVicar mistakenly says this letter appears “nearly a decade later,” when in fact it was half that. Minor detail. It is the content that matters. According to McVicar’s account, Jordan wrote to the RTS faculty in 1984 apologizing for having taken Bahnsen’s side at the time. He now tossed Bahnsen under the bus, saying he had been “vocal and belligerent,” and that “Had the faculty addressed Bahnsen primarily on the question of his personal deportment, who could have defended him?” (p. 159).
It would be helpful, of course, to see the full letter to examine for context, but the excerpts McVicar presents seem clear enough. Five years after the fact, Jordan returned to the issue in order to distance himself from Bahnsen’s legacy at least to some degree.
What’s troubling about this is not the letter we don’t have, but the one we do. Our package includes a substantial letter from Jordan written in the midst of the conflict, dressing down the faculty and relevant committees for perpetuating absolutely false rumors about Theonomy and Bahnsen’s students. Relevant excerpts of Jordan’s 1979 letter include the following matters:
First, Jordan left RTS in order to enroll at Westminster Theological Seminary. He waited to write until after switching schools because he feared faculty reprisal at RTS and “did not wish to jeopardize my degree by making this protest.” After all, he had experienced the same faculty attacks as Bahnsen already, and wrote complaining of “the way I have been treated, both in this Resolution and by certain faculty members (one of whom has compared me to Hitler).” You tell me who was “vocal and belligerent.”
The faculty had, after all, begun its attack on Bahnsen by attacking Bahnsen’s students as unruly and disruptive on campus. The Student Affairs Committee drafted a “Resolution” detailing their grievances against these students and “Theonomy” that had allegedly caused the disruption. Jordan fired back:
I have three objections to the way you have dealt with me and my fellow “Theonomists.” First, that no due process was undergone in making these charges. Second, that these charges are in fact utterly false. Third, that on the basis of these charges the faculty has engaged in vicious and tyrannical manner toward students, both on campus and in discussions with off campus persons.
In supporting the first objection, Jordan notes that no semblance of biblical or administrative process was followed in addressing the alleged offending students. Instead of confronting any particular student, Jordan and others found out only as their alleged offenses were broadcast behind their backs.
In the second objection, Jordan addresses five enumerated charges leveled against these allegedly offending students. On the first charge of “exerting pressure on other students to conform to their thinking,” Jordan interviewed “many, many” students from a large cross-section of theological views and “Not one of them corroborated your charge.” They “uniformly” reported just the opposite. Jordan concluded, “This charge is false.”
On the second charge of “showing disrespect in certain classes,” Jordan’s interviews of professors turned up empty again. “I must conclude that this charge, however widely rumored, is false.”
Likewise, as you can see the pattern, Jordan goes on to refute the other charges as well. The most interesting among them is number 4, the complaint that the theonomic students were “giving R.T.S. the beginning of a poor image among the churches, thus raising the spectres of future recruiting difficulties and possible decline of support from our constituency.” Jordan not only noted the sell-out pragmatism of such an attitude that would place politics and prospective money over principle, but noted the following:
It is surely true that RTS has begun to acquire a bad name among the churches, but this has nothing to do with “Theonomy.” It has to do with reports of classes in which little is taught. . . . It has to do with reports that some professors seem to hedge with respect to the doctrine of inerrancy. It has to do with the fact that some professors deny six-day creationism. It has to do with the fact that a large gymnasium has been built, while the library is understocked.
He cites his own experience (sadly, not one exclusive to seminary classes at then-RTS) for which he left the seminary:
I was not prepared, however, to be read to from assigned texts hour after hour in classes by professors who did not have any lectures to offer, but who demanded attendance anyway. I was not prepared either for dry chapel messages devoid of any application, nor for be-bop entertainment during chapel. I was not prepared for a baptized Marxism parading as “Theology of Liberation,” nor for a number of other theological oddities.
He concluded, “I fully believe that this charge, that ‘Theonomic’ students have conspired to discredit RTS falsely, is a false charge.” He further concluded that all five charges were “wholly untrue,” and that their provenance by the faculty and others was “a great evil.”
Jordan goes on to note that “The faculty continues to insist that there was some great conflagration on the RTS campus in the Spring of 1978 over ‘Theonomy.’ Every student knows that this was not the case” [emphasis added].
Now, while this 1979 letter from Jordan is regarding the students primarily, and not Bahnsen himself, it should be clear that since the seminary’s attack on Bahnsen began and was founded upon this alleged uprising and disruption among the students, the fact that Jordan says it never happened ought to be telling.
And whatever Jordan may have thought to write five years after the fact should be examined in whatever attitude, agenda, purpose, or context he was writing that later time, and not with the same import as the real-time response of what he wrote in the midst of the battle. Jordan ended that earlier letter by calling the seminary to repent of its treatment of proponents of Theonomy. I cannot say this call has ever been answered, or that it should ever be rescinded until met with such respect. I say rather that it ought to be expanded further to a lot more people.
Briefly flipping through McVicar’s book this morning, Gary DeMar noted some inaccuracies just on the surface level. While the book is certainly well footnoted and has an impressive bibliography, do not let that deceive you into thinking it is therefore automatically objective. No book is completely, of course, but some serve more pointed agendas than others. As I said in a companion piece, the arrangement of the publication of this dissertation and the manner in which his been introduced is highly suggestive of a larger agenda.
While it appears that our critics show selective concern for what sources they do or do not cite, the Christian cannot be so cavalier. Our agenda is not set by men. Our agenda is to serve the Truth in all of life in every detail. Let us be examples of reading the whole truth before we form judgments, let alone go on the offensive attack.
A couple months ago, Fuller Seminary personality Richard Mouw placed a shot across the bow of Christian Reconstruction, and also took a couple cheap shots at Gary North and Greg Bahnsen before the smoke cleared. A new “fine” academic book was coming out detailing R. J. Rushdoony and Christian Reconstruction, Mouw would be reviewing it in the near future, but in the meantime, he just had to share a couple anecdotes of his own.
I’ll address some of that “fine” book and its treatment of Greg Bahnsen in a separate post. Briefly, let’s consider for a moment the nature of what’s really going on here. It looks merely like another book reviewed by another academic figure. But it is so much more! Look at all the pieces and put them together: a liberal academic imprint (UNC Press), a prominent neoevengelical seminary name (Mouw), a secular religion professor (the new author, Michael McVicar), and the premier neoconservative public-policy publication in the country (First Things) have all joined hands in a great drum circle to create a united front against the dreaded enemy of God’s Law and its modern proponents.
But I thought Theonomy was dead? I thought Christian Reconstruction breathed its last? What’s going on here? Have these great media forces of American religion and politics joined together merely to beat a dead horse? Don’t get me wrong, I understand that’s what they do for mere politics every four years, but fringe religious movements? That can’t be anywhere near as profitable as campaign puff. This seems terribly out of proportion. And bringing prominent liberals, neoevangelicals, and neoconservatives (sorry, did I repeat myself there?) together for such an endeavor seems, well, ecumenical—but for such a allegedly marginal thing. Who knew Christian Reconstruction had such power to unite like-minded folk! Well, you’ve heard that politics makes for strange bedfellows. I’d say the same applies to the socio-theological mélange opposing us, but there are enough homosexuals quietly harbored among all those groups that someone would take “bedfellows” seriously, and Right Wing Watch might do a nasty write-up about American Vision.
Add to all of the above the fact that the new book is a fresh Ph.D. dissertation which the Press picked up and published as a book. While some academic presses public dissertations regularly, getting selected in such a process is either a matter of luck or knowing someone.
No, this is not business as usual. There is an agenda here. It is a concerted agenda between several self-interested anti-theonomy groups.
The message that follows in this concerted effort is bad enough, but in this case, the event is far more telling than the anti-theonomy propaganda they want you to swallow. One great irony here is that we have been told year after year about how Theonomy and Reconstruction are dying, dead, dwindling, demoralized, fractured, factious, and yes, dead and dying again. And yet, for a movement that is supposed to die out any day now, our opponents are legion, and they can never shut up about us. By the quantity of criticism, you would think we’re a bigger threat to American society than terrorism, liberalism, or Hillary Clinton’s email. Whether it’s the White Horse Inn, Westminster Escondido, R. Scott Clark, Michael Horton, First Things, Richard Mouw, UNC Press, or Brannon Howse, Todd Friel, or Chris Rosebrough—the list could go on and on—the attacks keep coming.
But again, I thought we were dead, marginal, fringe—nothing? Why all the attention. Why all the dire warning? Why the innuendo, lies, and outright hate?
Don’t get me wrong, while liberalism, secularism, and paganism creep up on us steadily from all sides, our opponents never have an answer to social ills much beyond “I’ll Fly Away,” but while it burns, they sure do want everyone to stay away from that one great danger of preaching God’s Law in modern society.
The joke with Mouw is that his entire moralizing piece is emotional. It revolves around a personal grudge he’s held against Gary North for 37 years because—get this—Gary allegedly did not shake his hand at the airport. Because Gary allegedly refused to exchange pleasantries, Mouw levels the charge of “irreverence,” and proceeds to remind us how much he himself prays for his enemies despite considering our theology “deeply offensive.”
Well, Mouw does best what seminary presidents are too often hired to do: not so much theology, but public relations. Let’s use images and anecdotes to create the impression that we’re the good guys because we’re nice, and our theological opponents (whom we can’t answer very well) are the bad guys because, we’ll, they’re not nice.
And, in a testimony to the state of the modern evangelical mind, the donors line up. (Or do they still? Hmm.)
North has nicely responded by taking Mouw’s coat for him—as well as the rest of his clothes. Read the debriefing here.
What concerns me even more, however, is Mouw’s underhanded portrayal of Bahnsen, and its reinforcement in the “fine” new book. More on that here.
What follows are chronicles and supporting documents compiled by Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen during and immediately after his unfortunate and groundless termination at Reformed Theological Seminary (RTS), Jackson, MS, in 1978-79. You will find that common rumors, assumptions, and even recent publications (more on this soon) are demolished by the material collected here. You will also find what must, by any objective review, be considered startling unfairness, evasion of Scripture, bylaws, and rules, and resort to cowardly and unjust attacks and tactics used toward the effort of attacking, censoring, and removing Professor Bahnsen.
Without multiplying editorial comment too much, a few notes are necessary. First, the arrangement of material is essentially Bahnsen’s own as expressed in the Introduction. Were I have added to it, I have attempted to comply to his original design.
Second, it is unfortunate that not all of the material Bahnsen intended to include has survived in our possession. On page 4 of the Intro he lists six sets of documents for the section “The Theonomy Debate at RTS.” Sets 4, 5, and 6 are not with us, and for set 3, only Strong’s Critique exists (not Bahnsen’s response to it). If anyone has access or copies of any of these relevant documents, please contact us and we will remedy the deficiency.
Third, making up for the deficiency, however, Bahnsen did include three substantial Responses to additional critics not listed in the Intro: to Aiken Taylor (then-editor of The Presbyterian Journal), Professor O. Palmer Robertson, and Banner of Truth Trust founder and author Iain Murray. I find these three reponses among the most helpful Bahnsen has written. It is my current hope to provide these particular essays along with a few others in a hardback book edition in the near future. They are available here, in this format, for free.
Fourth, some of the material has been processed to make the text searchable. Most have not, yet. As we are able to make more of it available in this format, we will update the list.
Finally, from the Intro it appears that Dr. Bahnsen did not immediately intend for this compilation to be published to the general public, but only made available to those who asked and knew whom to ask. Some may object, then, to making it generally available now. Considering, however, the persistent rumors and the reignition of negative perceptions of Greg Bahnsen’s service at RTS due to certain recent books and articles, the time has come to let what was once for a limited audience ascend to its rightful place as an historical record available to the public. To this end, I have secured the permission of the executors of Greg Bahnsen’s material.
Without further ado, please read and consider carefully the following documents and note well their implications. And please stay tuned for more detailed engagement of this material to come.
—Dr. Joel McDurmon
What Really Happened at Reformed Theological Seminary
Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen
(Download The Bahnsen File as a single PDF here.)
For your consideration: one of scores of great essays by R. J. Rushdoony collected in Roots of Reconstruction, soon to be republished in multi-book format. Posted here with permission from Chalcedon.edu. —JM
THE NEW RACISM
Chalcedon Position Paper No. 14
By R. J. Rushdoony
Racism is a relatively new fact on the world scene. In earlier eras, not race but religion was the basis of discrimination. Although religious history has been marred by ugly violence against other religious groups, and the history of the Christian church is no exception to this, there is a notable fact which is often forgotten. Missionary faiths, and supremely Christianity, normally seek to win other groups, not oppress them, and this missionary impulse has also provided, in many eras, a favorable cause for a friendly approach.
In the modern era, as Christianity’s influence receded, and science began to govern together with humanism, biology came to predominate over theology. The differences between men were seen increasingly as biological and racial rather than religious. The earlier physical anthropologists made very precise and detailed physical studies of all peoples in order to establish the physical differences between races.
The theory of evolution fueled this developing scientific racism and added still another important factor. Many theories began to hold to a multiple origin for the human race. Whereas in Scripture all men are descendants of Adam, in evolutionary thought, all men are possibly descendants of very differing evolutionary sources. Common descent in Adam meant a common creation, nature, and responsibility under God. The idea of multiple origins proved divisive. The human race was no longer the human race! It was a collection of possibly human races, a very different doctrine.
It is important to recognize that racism was in origin a scientific doctrine. Whenever a scientific doctrine is discarded, as witness the idea of the acquired inheritance of environmental influences, the old scientific doctrine, as it lingers on in popular thought, is blamed on religion or popular superstition! The origins of racism are in very highly respectable scientific theorists. The fact that men like Houston Stewart Chamberlain (1855-1927), a British admiral’s son and son-in-law of Richard Wagner, took this scientific literature to develop what became the foundation of Nazi thought does not eliminate its scientific origins.
The defeat of the Nazis did not end racism. Instead, it has again become respectable and widespread. We must remember that studies of Hitler’s Germany indicate that his support came from liberals, democrats, socialists, and the intellectual community. Scholars like Erik von Kuehnelt-Leddihn have ably exposed the myth of a conservative or rightist origin for Hitler’s support. The fact of Hitler’s antipathy to Christianity helped enlist support for him.
The new racism is widespread and common to many peoples and to every continent. It has now become a part also of the religious vocabulary of many churchmen. Thus, in almost every seminary today, pompous professors rail against a missions program which would export “the white mentality” and European modes of thought. What is the white mentality, and what is the European mode of thought, as against the human, common to all men? If it is specifically white and European, it must be common to the pre-Christian European as a racial factor. The pre-Christian Saxons, for example, practiced human sacrifice, and more. Much more could be said about pre-Christian Europeans, but I have no desire to be flooded with angry letters (which I will discard without answer). No race born of Adam has a good history: this is the biblical fact, and the historical fact.
The Western mind, common to Europe and the Americas, is a product, not of race, but of culture, religious culture. Elements of it, none too good, go back to the barbarian peoples of Europe. Other aspects are from Greek philosophy, again none too good. (The Greeks described all non-Greeks as barbarians on cultural, not racist, grounds. They gave brilliant and inventive slaves a Greek name and status.) The Western mind and culture, in all its advances, is a product of biblical religion. It is a religious, not a racial, product.
A generation ago, a pope with humane intentions said, “Spiritually, we are all Semites.” Despite his humane intentions, he was wrong. Arabs are Semites, and we are not Arabic in our faith and culture. He would have been equally wrong had he said Hebrews or Jews. The culture of the West is not the property of any race or people in its origin. It is biblical. True, much sin is present in Western culture. True, such sin needs to be condemned. But the mind of the West bears the imprint of the Bible. It is not understandable on any other terms.
Today, however, men speak of the white mentality, the Asiatic soul, and the African mind. Some educators are insistent on the need to recognize and give status in the schools to what they call “black English.”
Implicit in all of this is a racist view of man. Races are seen as the sources of varying kinds of logic and reason. To deny the validity of the concept of a white mind, an African mind, or an Asiatic mind is seen as reactionary, imperialistic, and evil.
The mentality of a people, however, is not a product of race but of religion, and the culture of that religion. The key factor is always religion. There is a hidden but insane pride among those who oppose exporting the white mentality. Although such men would never dare say it explicitly, or even think it, what they are saying implicitly is that other races are not up to comprehending the white mentality. (One brilliant black student told me, with wry humor, that he could always count on a high grade for minimum work from a white liberal professor. The man would regard him as inferior, but would never have the courage to admit as much, and would accordingly give him a good grade!) All talk of differing mentalities has a patronizing perspective; it also says that race, not sin, is the problem of other peoples and their cultures.
Because of the new racism, we now have a growing body of religious literature, aimed at the seminary student, pastor, and missionary, which talks about contextualization. Supposedly, the only way to communicate the gospel to other races is by giving priority to the context over biblical faith and confessional statements. The impetus for contextualization has come from the Theological Education Fund, set up in 1957 by the Rockefeller Foundation. Contextualization calls also for an emphasis on the struggle for justice in terms of “liberation theology” (a form of Marxism) and existentialistic responses to the historical moment in the Third World. Contextualization places a heavy emphasis on human need rather than God’s infallible word. Its mission is thus contemporary and social, not theological and supernatural. Contextualists of all theological stripes shift their language from that of Scripture to the jargon spawned by the Theological Education Fund.
Closely related to this in the area of Bible translations is the dynamic equivalence theory, now common to most Bible societies and translation groups. This doctrine, of which Eugene A. Nida is an exponent, “translates” the Bible into a culture and its ideas. This can mean giving an historical account a psychoanalytic or mythological meaning. Instead of reshaping the culture, the Bible is “translated” into the culture. (Such a doctrine makes the culture in effect the unerring word, not the Bible. The culture thus corrects or amends the Bible, not the Bible, culture.) As Jakob van Bruggen, in The Future of the Bible, points out, “the dynamic equivalence translation theory owes its influence and effect to the blending of modern theological prejudices regarding the Bible with data borrowed from communication theory, cultural anthropology, and modern sociology rather than to insights from linguistics” (Thomas Nelson Inc., 1978, p. 151).
The implications of this new racism are far-reaching. Instead of working to change a people, we have a static and racist view of a people and their culture. It is the Bible and the mission which must change, not the people! We must teach a “black English” if any at all, and a black, brown, or yellow Christianity, if any at all. It takes only a brief excursion into “liberation theology,” contextualization, and like doctrines to realize that it is not Christianity at all which is taught, but a counterfeit. Relevance is sought, not to the Lord and His word, but to fallen man and his racial heritage. Such is not the Gospel; it is the new racism.
The new racism passes, however, for vital, relevant Christianity. It is widely promoted by seminaries and missionary organizations. It encourages races, like individuals, to trumpet the existentialist (and hippie) slogan, “I want to be me!” The historical goal is racial realization! Providentially, the early missionaries to Europe, coming from North Africa, Asia Minor, and the Mediterranean world generally, had no such regard for the European mind. They regarded it as unregenerate and in need of being broken and redeemed. All the plagues and evils of “the European mind” are products of the fallen man and the relics of barbarian cultures, not of Christ and His word. All that is good in “the European mind” is a result of Christian culture, not of race.
The words of Paul are a sharp rebuke to all who want men to glory in their blood, race, or history: “For who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that didst not receive? now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7).
Learn more about the work of R. J. Rushdoony at Chalcedon.edu.
Find further resources on biblical worldview and culture at AmericanVision.com
Last (for now), but certainly not least, in this series of misrepresentations and fallacies from the debate may in fact be the worst of the lot. It appears by all measures to be another utter fabrication. Like previous examples, because this falsehood is used to attribute a direct charge of “heresy,” we need to view it with severity indeed.
This instance is similar to a previous example regarding “restitution,” and it hinges upon the concept Rushdoony calls “civil atonement.” First, let’s see how Jordan presented it in the debate. In a dire warning to the world of what Theonomy “leads to,” Jordan referenced R. J. Rushdoony like this:
It is the church that is, quote, “left to civilly atone for Adam’s sin.”
Then he added, “Friends, that’s heresy.”
The problem is, after electronic searches of all of Rushdoony’s major works, after consulting others more versed in his works than myself, and after opening the search to anyone of 17,000+ followers of American Vision on our Facebook page (and offering a reward), no one has been able to locate this alleged quotation from Rushdoony. In addition, a Google search for the phrase “civilly atone” turned up a grand total of two (2) instances on the entire world wide web—and those are where I posted the alleged quotation and reward offer on American Vision’s Facebook page. (The number of Google hits will increase, of course, once I post this article.)
I contacted Jordan immediately after the debate asking him to document this quotation. I was first told he would be on vacation for two weeks. After waiting the requisite time and then some, I asked again. No answer. There is now no answer forthcoming at all. Perhaps he’s sitting on the reference for a surprise reveal or something. I don’t know. But as far as I can tell, this is another utter fabrication of a quotation by Jordan Hall.
Further confirming this great likelihood is the fact that such a statement about the church civilly atoning for Adam’s sin would directly contradict what Rushdoony actually did write in regard to so-called “civil atonement.” In Law and Society: Volume II of the Institutes of Biblical Law, pp. 264 and 265, he wrote:
The totality of the government of all things is now focused by the triune God in the person of Christ. In Him, the religious atonement is manifested, and in His government and law alone is there any true civil atonement. . . .
Christ as the incarnate Son of God, very God of very God, and very man of very man, is alone able to provide religious atonement. As the sovereign King and Lawgiver, whose law alone is true law, He alone is able to provide civil atonement.
So, not only can no such quotation as Jordan presented be found in Rushdoony, what we do find says exactly the opposite. Conclusion: Jordan is again playing fast and loose with the literature, attributing things to Rushdoony he never said and of which he taught the opposite, and then using such means to charge Rushdoony with “heresy.” This is irresponsible, reckless, and ridiculous to say the least.
Rushdoony on “civil atonement”
What in the world is “civil atonement”? You probably have only considered the word “atonement” within the context of Christ’s work on the cross, and perhaps the Old Testament ceremonial sacrifices that foreshadowed that work. But we should point out that the word for atonement—the Hebrew word kopher, sometimes translated “ransom” or something similar—also had other applications throughout the Old Testament. Sometimes these are mundane instances, sometimes they are more typological or expressive of God’s government among the Hebrews. But they exist nonetheless, and they exist in addition to the traditional spiritual sense of religious atonement.
It’s actually not a difficult concept, really. The word is very similar to “restitution” in that it involves generally paying a debt that is owed. Of course, we can never pay back our debt of sin to God, and we can never earn righteousness by works of the law, etc. This is a truth that Rushdoony and other theonomists have always taught. Nevertheless, there is still a social restitution that is exacted of a criminal, for example, not merely by the spiritual atonement of Christ for sin, but which the offender himself must pay. A thief, for example, is still required to pay back what he stole and then some as a further punitive measure. It is in this sense that Rushdoony spoke of “civil atonement”—in general, he’s merely speaking of certain aspects of civil government being enforced in the social realm.
His concept of this finds expression in his treatment of what he called a poll tax, in Exodus 30:11–16. In the Institutes of Biblical Law, he wrote,
Israel already had a poll tax, that required by God’s law in Exodus 30:11–16. Its purpose was to provide for civil atonement, i.e., the covering or protection of civil government. Every male twenty years old or older was required to pay this tax to be protected by God the King in His theocratic government of Israel. This tax was thus a civil and religious duty (but not an ecclesiastical one).
As an aside, I believe this may be the passage from which Jordan drew his contorted version in the debate. It just so happens to occur in Rushdoony’s section on Caesar’s coin—a topic we had occasion to treat elsewhere in regard to another misrepresentation by Hall. I suspect that while he was poking around Rushdoony’s Institutes in this section on that topic, he gleaned this “civil atonement” nugget he thought he could use to present us as heretics. It just so happens he would have to make it say just the opposite of what Rushdoony actually teaches in order to do that. After all, even here—which is a less detailed version of what he teaches on it elsewhere—Rushdoony still says this is not an ecclesiastical duty, and says nothing about “Adam’s sin.” Thus, it is not the “church” that must do this, and it has nothing to do with our salvation and justification before God. Jordan’s version thus makes no sense compared to the actual context.
Here’s how Rushdoony addressed it in his commentary on Exodus:
Second, the atonement or ransom term, kôpher, is used to describe the tax [again, Ex. 30:11–16]. Again, however, the term has a civil reference. Restitution for sins which we now call criminal offenses is called in Scripture a form of atonement and is a means of civil forgiveness. God sees all offenses as requiring atonement, restitution, and forgiveness, and this atonement is sometimes man-ward where the offense involves men. If a man steals $100, he must make restitution or atonement by paying $200 to the man robbed, this apart from the theological aspect of his status. Thus, a tax for civil atonement means that we recognize that this is a fallen world, and, in Adam, we are all members of a fallen humanity. Our ransom or covering against the evils of that world requires a civil tax to provide for officers of state who will be a terror to evil-doers (Rom. 13:1ff.). Other countries are not lacking in evil, and so a civil tax also helps protect us from enemies without, from the plague which is “slaughter in battle.”
This source actually does make reference to Adam’s sin, but the reference to the civil realm is again obviously not speaking of salvation or the church, but to taxes paid to maintain a civil government and the punishment of crime in society. This is merely a biblical justification for paying taxes to maintain civil government.
While some may object today to the use of the word “atonement” for such a topic, Rushdoony’s point is simply that this is the word the Bible used in Exodus 31, and thus we are warranted to use it in such a frame of reference if we qualify and define it properly. Those who object to the mere use of the word in this context are objecting to Scripture, not Rushdoony.
Rushdoony explains it even more clearly in Volume II of the Institutes, as we mentioned earlier.
Christ as king therefore declares His sovereignty: “All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18). The totality of the government of all things is now focused by the triune God in the person of Christ. In Him, the religious atonement is manifested, and in His government and law alone is there any true civil atonement. Apart from the justice and law of God, civil governments degenerate, as St. Augustine saw, into bands of robbers. . . .
Christ as the incarnate Son of God, very God of very God, and very man of very man, is alone able to provide religious atonement. As the sovereign King and Lawgiver, whose law alone is true law, He alone is able to provide civil atonement.
Now, while we may agree or disagree with Rushdoony here, one thing is clear: Rushdoony did not say the church must “civilly atone for Adam’s sin.” He said clearly the opposite. While he did use the phrase “civil atonement,” it is clear he did so with an entirely different frame of reference and meaning. He said,
1. This is not an ecclesiastical (church) duty
2. This not about Adam’s sin (original sin), but the maintenance of civil government and punishment of crime
3. Only Christ (not man, not the church) is able to provide for true civil atonement
Not only is there nothing close to “heresy” here, there is really not that much controversial for an average evangelical. After all, the vast majority of Christians believe it is necessary to pay taxes, maintain civil government, punish crime, and maintain an army—and most of the church believes this is the case because we live in a fallen world tainted by Adam’s sin. So what’s the big deal?
The only controversy that arises in relation to the topic is actually among theonomists! And this is only because some of us think Rushdoony was not being theonomic enough in this particular instance!
An Alternate View
I won’t take the space to cover the entire disagreement and necessary exegesis here. Those interested can read the more detailed version argued in Gary North’s Authority and Dominion, Volume 4, pp. 1171–1181. There he argues, I believe rightly, that what Rushdoony called a “poll tax” in Exodus 30:11–16 and made the basis of a justification for civil taxation, was actually a tax paid only by the Israeli militia when numbered for war. This was a tax tied directly to a census (“numbering”) (Ex. 30:12, 14; Num. 1:2–3), and the Israelites were only to number the people for purposes of raising a militia. For example, when David did so during peacetime as an act of regular government, God judged the nation severely for this sin (2 Sam. 24). Thus the tax had a very limited purpose and application. It had nothing to do with regular civil taxation.
This is one example of legitimate disagreement among theonomists. I believe North is correct here. Some people stick with Rushdoony’s interpretation. Even under North’s view, however, a category of “civil atonement”—if defined like Rushdoony did as merely the role of the civil government punishing crime—would still not be out of line. In fact, it is a necessary category, whatever we decide to call it.
For our purposes in this article, we can confidently say, therefore, that whether Rushdoony or North is correct, it does not matter. Rushdoony’s view is so well qualified and clear as to prevent any honest reader from drawing the conclusions Jordan attributed to him. It is no wonder we cannot find, anywhere in Rushdoony’s writing, the quotation Jordan presented. What we do find is just the opposite view of what Jordan claimed as a “quote” and condemned as “heresy.”
Until we are given the actual citation, the reader will be well warranted with the suspicion that Jordan made it up. And until we see better responses to Theonomy in general, we’ll be well warranted in continuing to refer to biblical law for standards of civil atonement overall.
[Author’s note: I still am open to the possibility that Jordan could produce this quotation and reference. He can do so whenever he likes. If he ever does, I will analyze it in context and amend this chapter as necessary.]
 Law and Society: Volume II of the Institutes of Biblical Law, 264, 265.
 Institutes of Biblical Law, 719.
 Exodus: Commentaries on the Pentateuch, Volume 2, 444.
 Law and Society: Volume II of the Institutes of Biblical Law, 264–265.
As we have seen so far, Jordan’s second opening statement particularly was filled with strings of boogeyman quotes in an attempt to portray Theonomy as a dangerous and anti-Christian system of works righteousness and social meanness. In one particular string of such quotations, Jordan wrongly portrayed Theonomists as condemning all non-Theonomists as non-Christians, and misunderstood a point Gary North made about the moral law (ten commandments) in general somehow as a point about civil punishment for idolatry. In that same string, Jordan also cited North as allegedly saying Baptists would lose their citizenship in a theonomic society. We will address this point here.
Punctuating that particular string of quotes, Hall raised the question, “What about Baptists? Would I be able to stay?” Hanging his head and with the expert whimper of a Jimmy Swaggart, his voice quivered, “No.”
What about Baptists? Would I be able to stay? No. North writes in Political Polytheism page 87: “Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant—baptism and holy communion—must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel.” No fear: you won’t be executed Baptists. You’ll just be denied citizenship.
For a moment, I expected to see a tear. It was expertly delivered.
It was also dead wrong.
The quotation comes from North’s book Political Polytheism, pages 86–87. Here is the quotation with it larger immediate context (please give particular attention as to whether or not this says anything at all about differences between Christians on the mode, form, or nature of baptism):
This same principle applies to the civil covenant. Christians are not to be unequally yoked with non-Christians. There is only one way to achieve this goal: withdrawal from politics. The question is: Who should withdraw, covenant-keepers or covenant-breakers? Pietists answer that covenant-keepers should withdraw; biblical theocrats insist that covenant-breakers should withdraw. One side or the other must eventually exclude its rival. (Political pluralists argue that both groups can make a permanent political covenant.) The long term goal of Christians in politics should be to gain exclusive control over the franchise. Those who refuse to submit publicly to the eternal sanctions of God by submitting to His Church’s public marks of the covenant—baptism and holy communion—must be denied citizenship, just as they were in ancient Israel. The way to achieve this political goal is through successful mass evangelism followed by constitutional revision.
As you can see, this statement is distinguishing between Christians (in general) and non-Christians. The whole point is, “Christians are not to be unequally yoked with non-Christians.” It has nothing at all to do with differing beliefs about baptism among Christians.
Indeed, the quotation is in a chapter about how God’s people are held in bondage to pagan masters politically. The chapter argues that political expressions are at root religious, and that ultimately religious values manifest either God’s kingdom or Satan’s. The point made in the quotation above has direct reference to this context: God’s kingdom versus Satan’s manifesting in history—particular in suffrage. The Christian’s goal for political society ought to be successful mass evangelism (Jordan, like so many of our critics, always leaves this point out, too) such that a majority of Christians can gain control of political franchise—i.e., the vote.
The conclusion to that chapter makes this a point of emphasis:
What I want the reader to understand is that he cannot legitimately avoid the religious problems associated with politics. Whose voice should be heard in history, God’s or Satan’s? Who is autonomous, God or man? . . . Whose sovereignty should Christians preach, whose hierarchies—Church, State, and family—should be dominant in history, whose law should they affirm, whose sanctions should they recommend that the State enforce, and who will inherit the earth?
If they refuse to affirm the covenant of God, they will inevitably affirm some other covenant. There is no neutrality. When Christians present the gospel to someone, they may say: “Remember, no decision for Christ is still a decision. It is a decision against Jesus Christ.” This statement is true, but it is also true in every area of life, including politics. “No biblical covenant” means another god’s covenant, in Church, State, and family. There is no neutrality.
Now, you may disagree with this thesis and outlook. That’s fine. But to misconstrue it as a point about radical Presbyterians attacking Baptists is a case exercise in decontextualization and imagination.
Now, Jordan may retort a couple of things here. First, he may answer that when Gary North says “covenant marks,” he’s speaking only of covenant baptism—i.e., infant baptism. The obvious answer has already been supplied by understanding the context. The comment is about Christians as opposed to non-Christians, and the fact that there is no neutrality between these two groups. It has nothing to do with, and no application to, differences among Christians. And since the comment goes on to say that the way to achieve this is through successful mass evangelism, Baptists ought to recognize considerable overlap with their evangelical views. The emphasis is conversion, which would be followed by baptism, teaching, etc. The emphasis is not about different views of baptism itself.
If your point is only that Gary North is a Presbyterian, the answer is hardly controversial: Yes. If your point is that Gary North wants you to be a Presbyterian, too, the answer is still probably Yes, and still noncontroversial. If your point is that Gary North wants to Presbyterian views of Baptism by law, then you’ll need more evidence than this quotation to prove anything close to that (hint: it doesn’t exist).
Secondly, Jordan may offer as an objection that he found a group of people using the label “theonomists” who did in fact say this: Baptists would be stripped of citizenship in a theonomic society. But consideration of the evidence here shows why the objection is inapplicable. The proof usually reduces to a handful of screenshots taken in a Facebook forum. The comments came from a tiny handful of people who are in a tradition distinct and separate from the main writers within that movement. These few commenters stand in the old Covenanter tradition, and understanding the difference between some of them and modern theonomists (Rushdoony, North, et al) will tell you all you need to know.
First, some of these Covenanters believe that theological orthodoxy is defined strictly and solely by the original Westminster Confession and Catechisms. Any profession of faith that falls outside of these documents, for some of these men, would constitute reason for denial of citizenship. But this would include not only Baptists, but those who deny things such as strict sabbatarianism, exclusive psalmody, prebysterian church government, six-day creation, and much more. You can see the problem. What Jordan is failing to relate is that this particular expression of the Covenanter tradition is actually condemnatory of all things that does not line up with their interpretation of the WCF. It has nothing to do with what Gary North or any of the main Reconstructionist Theonomists have written or believe.
Second, those who interpret the Westminster Standards in this way do not even speak for all who embrace the Covenanter tradition. I cannot speak for all of them, but I certainly know some who would not extend the denial of citizenship to other Christians, even if the doctrinal distinctives of such Christians do not agree with the WCF on certain points.
Third, even if all Covenanters held to such a view, they do not speak for the modern theonomic views of North, Rushdoony, et al. If indeed it is the case that a discussion by a couple radical Covenanters in a Facebook group gave Jordan the impetus to attribute these views to Gary North, and by extension all theonomists, then it is yet another case example of radical misattribution on his part. What in the world would make anyone think it is acceptable scholarly (or even journalistic) practice to take quotations from one person in an obscure corner of social media, remove them from their meaning and context, and attribute them to a completely different published work in a different context?
Not only is this wildly inappropriate in general, it is ethically dubious in that it is not just taking expressions from a different tradition, it is taking statements from a particularly radical expression of that tradition, made by proponents who cannot be said to be representative even of that tradition necessarily, and yet attributing them to someone outside that tradition.
Finally, we must note here that North did indeed dedicate this particular book to the members of the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America (i.e. “Covenanters”). But this is clearly only in reference to the fact that both he and they are critical of the United States Constitution on religious grounds. To draw any further conclusions beyond this one hat-tip would be unwarranted and irresponsible—especially without strong evidence.
From the quotation and context alone, it should be clear here that North made no such point against Baptists and their citizenship as Jordan has attributed. I have given the additional attention to potential objections here only because I have heard Jordan, post-debate, returning to this point with some of them.
With this type of illegitimate quote-mining and attribution of views of obscure Facebook commenters into contexts those views do not belong, the question arises, “Who speaks for Theonomy?” What Jordan has attempted to do here is to misrepresent Theonomy by ignoring the meaning of its main proponents and attributing to it the views of the most objectionable expression found among those who are least representative of it. But ask yourself how you would accept being treated in the same way: if you are a Baptist, would you stand quietly by as some critic of yours quoted the most objectionable views of Westboro Baptist Church and attributed them to you? After all, this is what being a Baptist is all about right? If you are Pentecostal, could the views of Tony Alamo represent you? We could, of course, make a long list of such examples. People, however, who argue with integrity do not represent anyone, let alone their brethren, in this way.
Greg Bahnsen actually addressed the question of “Who speaks for the Position [Theonomy]?” in a section of the book No Other Standard. He drew the following conclusions:
- To criticize the specific ethical conclusion reached by a specific theonomist (that is, the particular application of theonomic principles) is not at all the same as criticizing the theonomic view (that is, those underlying principles themselves).
- Theonomists may readily disagree with each other on particular issues in normative ethics, and yet all be genuine adherents of the theonomic perspective and agree on essential points about how we should reach ethical conclusions.
- Not everything taught by someone who calls himself a “theonomist” thereby becomes an essential part of the theonomic school of thought or even (as such) compatible with its essential principles.
More poignant to the immediate discussion are these further considerations:
- The proper target of criticism ought to be views which are representative of what most recognized theonomists teach and which are essential to the position.
- Where someone chooses to criticize a particular application of theonomy (instead of theonomy itself), the critic ought to focus upon the strongest reasoning offered for that opinion or, where theonomists disagree, upon the particular opinion most readily defended.
From what we have seen, Jordan refused to follow pretty much any of these principles—even when criticized for doing so in the past. This stubborn negligence is especially clear in the example of Baptists and citizenship above. I find this persistent problem on Jordan’s behalf to be troublesome, to say the least.
As I rebutted in the debate itself, Baptists are by definition Christians who have indeed submitted to the covenantal mark of baptism. Since I regard Baptist believers who have professed their faith by submitting to baptism indeed to be Christians, then according to Gary North’s teaching above (not even in spite of it!), they would indeed be considered part of the voting commonwealth. In my opinion, even to suggest otherwise is preposterous.
 Political Polytheism, 86–87.
 Political Polytheism, 109–110.
 Greg Bahnsen, No Other Standard, 20–21.
 Greg Bahnsen, No Other Standard, 23–24.
Sometime around AD 405, a sixteen year-old boy strolling the English seaside was attacked by pirates. They kidnapped him and sold him on the slave market to a chieftain in Northern Ireland who forced him to herd pigs. The young man endured filth, the elements, separation from family, and years of servitude.
Yet the open air and solitude gave him precious time for spiritual reflection, and he saw in his miserable condition a mirror of his own sinful soul. His nominal boyhood faith grew into a vibrant hope and a longing for freedom. After six years of bondage, he escaped. He boarded a nearby ship, but did not end up in his home country. Instead, it landed in what is today France. He came in contact with a monastery. He stayed for a while, deepening and enriching his faith. He profited so much he stayed for a few years; but he still missed his home. Eventually, he returned. There was a great celebration and he was treated as if he had risen from the dead. In a way, he had.
Around the same time, he experienced powerful dreams in which he received hundreds of letters each bearing the message, “We beseech thee, holy youth, to come and walk with us once more.” The young man interpreted the dreams as a call to missions, and he returned to the very same land where he had formerly been enslaved. This time, however, he would become a much different kind of shepherd. He preached the gospel that inspired his freedom. He made converts. He baptized thousands, ordained clergy, founded churches and monasteries. Eventually he converted rulers, confronted pagan Druids and witches, changed the laws of the kingdoms he influenced, and according to legend performed healings and miracles. He was often in peril: he was imprisoned several times by rival clans, and threatened with death by the pagan leaders he opposed; yet he was always rescued. The monasteries he founded trained the missionaries who would carry the gospel back to England and to much of the greater Western world.
The man died in peace, advanced in age. Tradition says it was on this day, March 17, somewhere in the latter part of the AD 400s.
His name is Maewyn, but he’s better-known as Saint Patrick.
The life of St. Patrick displays the type of faith that Christians sorely need today: it is a faith that is not merely private. It is a faith lived out, that has great vision, big goals, that confronts tyrants, gives people hope, and transforms the world around it.
We, too, live in slavery, though ours is largely self-imposed. We, too, are surrounded by druids (often called “liberals,” but sometimes “evangelicals,” today too) and impinged by various herds of social swine. There are plenty of pirates, pigs, and tyrants; wiccans and warlords abound. But these are not so much the problem. The greater problem is that Christians too often fear the type of confrontations necessary to drive out these demons and change society.
Patrick didn’t. He had the vision and he took the first steps for which that vision called. The rest came in history. It would be good this St. Patrick’s Day to make a commitment to yourself and to God, if you have not done so already, just to begin to change your mind-set. Just begin asking the questions: What would a Christian society look like? What would it take to get there? What am I willing to sacrifice to make it happen? That would be a good beginning. I have done this exercise in detail myself. You can start reading my outline here.
And then, Go thou and do like St. Patrick.
What follows is a sort of master index to the articles published so far merely on the misrepresentations of Theonomy by Jordan Hall. These I consider little more than extensions of the ridiculous level of argumentation from his original podcasts that began this whole debate between us (I have included a link to my original response, with Bahnsen’s refutation of them from twenty-five years before they occurred).
There is, of course, much more to come on the topic in general, but for those wishing to make sense of merely the documented misrepresentations and outright nonsense, here is the master list. You will note there are a couple more to come yet. The list will be updated when they appear. This list will become one of about four sections in a book on the topic in the near future (just as fast as I can write it).
Hall of Shame 1.0
Hall of Shame 2.0
1. “Theonomy is Dead”
2. William Perkins? Never Heard of Him.
3. The Logic of “Theonomy vs. Autonomy”
4. An Utter Fabrication
5. Bahnsen on “Latent Antinomianism”
6. Rushdoony and North Say Non-Theonomists are Not Christians?
7. Spurgeon Agrees with Bahnsen on Matthew 5:17
8. Was Spurgeon a “works-righteousness” heretic, too?
8. Something Old, Something New. . . .
9. Gary North “Shatters the Covenant of Grace”
10. Caesar’s Coin Tricks
11. No Baptists Allowed?
12. Another Utter Fabrication (a little bit louder, a little bit worse)
In one of the more entertaining misstatements in the Theonomy Debate, Jordan attempted to use my own book Biblical Logic against me—particularly against the theonomic motto of “Theonomy or autonomy”? As you will see, Jordan utterly confused what was written and turned it 180 degrees on its head. As a result, what he intended to present as a fallacy against me using my own words turned out to be a strong confirmation of the position.
The “Fallacy” of Excluded Middle
The reference is to a fallacy sometimes called “excluded middle,” but more commonly called “false dichotomy.” In his first rebuttal, Jordan drew from my book apparently hoping to peg me with a violation of “excluded middle.” Here is how he stated it:
That idea that was just presented—God’s law or man’s law . . . that’s God’s law, and man’s law has to be inherently wicked therefore. My opponent wrote a book on biblical logic, and on page 48 he mentions a logical fallacy called the “excluded middle.” “And then on page 80 of that book he gives an example of what the excluded middle is: and he gives the example of having to choose between something that is natural and something that is supernatural. That’s a fallacy.”
Well, no it’s not. In reference to my book here, “fallacy” is not quite accurate. In fact, it is quite completely backwards. My reference on page 48 of Biblical Logic is not to a “fallacy,” but to just the opposite: one of the classic three laws of logic. Here’s what I wrote:
Finally, the law of excluded middle traditionally claims that something must be either true or false. Just as something cannot be both, it also cannot be neither. Something must be either “A” or “not-A.” This law reminds us again that reality is objective, but it also reinforces the fact that there is no ultimate neutrality. Either something is, or it is not; it is either true or false. No “middle” option exists. God expects us to witness accordingly, “yes” or “no.”
As Aristotle classically put it: “there cannot be an intermediate between contradictories.” Again, this is a law of logic, not a fallacy. This is how logic actually works, not an instance of how it is violated. Jordan did not, apparently, pay very close attention when he read my book.
He repeated the mistake in referencing me again on page 80. In that section, I was beginning to refute the fallacies of the worldviews of naturalism and materialism. These are instances of human autonomy in defiance of God. I was laying the presuppositional groundwork for the refutation. Here’s what I wrote (pp. 79–80):
Beneath every autonomous worldview secretly rests a belief about reality. This belief masquerades as an assumed answer to the question, “What is real, ultimately”? The assumed answer can only take two basic forms: supernaturalism or naturalism (excluded middle: S or not-S). All worldviews ultimately fall into one of these two categories, each category containing many fallacious varieties.
By invoking “excluded middle” here, I was referring to the law of logic explained previously on page 48, as we have already read. The point here is to demonstrate that there can be no neutrality in worldview—particularly, here, in metaphysics. I actually go on to say that “In one sense we could categorize all worldviews under the two headings, ‘Christian theism,’ and ‘Human autonomy,’ . . .” There are only two options and no more.
My point here is, of course, that according to the laws of logic, a worldview must either be one or the other: Christian theism or not-Christian-theism. Worldviews with either line up with God’s revelation or not. My point was explicitly not to say that it is a fallacy of “having to choose” between the two, but rather that there is no neutrality here: you must choose between the two. This is merely an application, again, of one of the classic laws of thought.
Jordan failed to see the vital difference, and instead turned the laws of logic on their head. Indeed, he said “that’s a fallacy.” Not it’s not: that’s a law. I suppose such an act could be taken as among the highest of expression of human autonomy in rebellion against the laws of thought—were it not to chalked up merely to elementary carelessness.
As with all of these misrepresentations, I wanted to give Jordan an opportunity to correct his errors himself. So I contacted him very early about this—it was the first instance of misrepresentation I noted. This occurred back when he was actually returning my emails. He indicated he is not interested in public defense of his errors, but did provide me with a public statement (on this one) that he would make if he really had to. He wrote:
Yes, I looked at the page numbers referenced, and I certainly had your reference to the law of excluded middle and the subsequent example confused with the “fallacy of excluded middle,” also known as a “false dilemma.” Isn’t it strange one man’s law is another man’s fallacy? Feel free to correct me on the citation.
Well, it is good that Jordan acknowledged the error, but the self-serving addition is irrelevant and misleading. Is it the case that one man’s law is another man’s fallacy? When it comes to the laws of logic, only a radical postmodernist would argue such a fact. No, if something is a law—such as the law of excluded middle—then it is a law for everyone. It does not change according to time, circumstance, or person.
A False Dichotomy Even?
If Jordan’s point is instead about particular applications of logic, then perhaps we can move on to further examination of those. (without further input and desire to have intellectual exchange, it is difficult to discern one’s point.) In accepting my correction, he did say, as I pointed out earlier, that he had confused the law of excluded middle with a fallacy called “false dichotomy” or “false dilemma.” This fallacy occurs when someone attempts to force a choice between two options when, in fact, other options exist.
This could possibly be what Jordan actually intended with his point against the phrase “God’s law or man’s law,” but since he made the argument in reference to statements on the laws of logic, it is not clear. It is certainly true that theonomists maintain God’s law as their standard, and argue that when men depart from this standard they will inevitably be engaged in some form of human autonomy—i.e. “man’s law.” In order to show that this argument commits the fallacy of “false dilemma,” Jordan (or anyone else) would need to show what other options exist. He did not.
In fact, not only did he not, he actually argued for an option that only confirms the logic of the theonomic motto. He referred to 1 Peter 2:13: “Submit . . . to every human ordinance.” We will address the argument for this standard itself more thoroughly in its own place. For now, it is enough to note just exactly what Jordan is offering as the option which would expose the alleged false dichotomy of “God’s law or man’s law”: “human ordinance.”
I don’t think it needs to be pointed out that that which is called by Scripture “human ordinance” (literally “man’s creations”) would fall under the category of “man’s law.” Thus the choice between “God’s law or man’s law” would hardly be challenged at all, let alone exposed as a fallacy. Rather, it is once again confirmed.
Jordan only muddled matters further when he commented in reference to 1 Peter 2:13: “Here’s a human ordinance which seems to accompany what God has spoken in the moral law.” This itself falls hard against the legitimate measure of the law of excluded middle: God’s law or man’s law. If a “human ordinance” “accompanies” God’s moral law in the sense of being congruous with God’s moral law, then it falls quite logically under the category of God’s law, not man’s. If, on the other hand, it “accompanies” God’s moral law in the sense of incongruous additions, then it logically falls into the opposite category. So attempting to use 1 Peter 2:13 to avoid the choice does not work.
Now, the fact that God does call us to submit to human ordinances is an important point—and it is one that theonomists have always accepted and taught within our paradigm. We demonstrated this already when addressing Jordan’s use of my article on rendering to Caesar. But the relationship to ungodly governments in history is an entirely different matter from that of what the law ought to be.
As we have noted several times already in this “misrepresentations” series, it is incumbent upon critics to get their facts straight, especially when purporting to say what your opponents believe. This particular instance carries the added burden of having come from a book about logic and logical fallacies. When attempting to use your opponent’s own words on logic against him, it is vitally important not to make blunders of representation (as an aside, I have an entire section in Biblical Logic on “Fallacies of Representation,” pp. 103–219, Jordan may want to review).
In cases of extremely elementary blunders like this, your argument may end up defeating your own position instead.
 Cited in the Wikipedia entry on “Law of thought”: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Law_of_thought#The_law_of_excluded_middle
It is one of the classic canards against Theonomy that we teach “works righteousness.” We have already seen this charge leveled against Bahnsen and seen it refuted twice when considered in context. The same holds true for the next quotation presented by Jordan apparently in attempting to maintain the same charge against Theonomy, this time against Gary North in particular.
During his second opening statement, Hall asserted that North “took the covenant of grace and shattered it into a thousand pieces” by writing, “Evangelism was teaching people to obey God’s law.” Jordan went on to elaborate his characterization of North:
Evangel. Good news. That’s what evangelism is: it’s share the good news. And the “evangel” in evangelism is not “here’s good news: follow the law.” That’s a distraction from what the Gospel is; but that’s what it [Theonomy] leads to.
That does certainly sound a bit scary when presented and explained this way. What in the world was North thinking when he made such a crazy statement?
As with the other examples we’ve seen, context makes a world of difference. Thankfully, while Jordan threw out many of this type of decontextualized fragment from a Theonomist that I could not check on the spot, I was actually familiar enough with this one from pre-debate banter on Facebook that I was able to say something about it during the debate. Nevertheless, having the exact context will be further helpful to the reviewer.
As Jordan actually mentioned when he quoted this, but apparently did not catch the relevance of it, this quotation comes from the “Publisher’s Foreword” to Kenneth L. Gentry’s book, The Greatness of the Great Commission. Some people mistakenly think the Great Commission is merely a command to go witness and save souls. The point of this book is to consider actually what the text of Matthew 28:18–20 says and to consider it in its fullness. Thus, the Greatness of the Great Commission.
That “Foreword” begins with a Scripture quotation of that very passage:
And Jesus came and spake unto them, saying, All power is given unto me in heaven and in earth. Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you: and, lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world. Amen (Matt. 28:18–20).
North and Gentry (and all theonomists) would have us pay attention to the actual commands being given: 1) go, 2) teach, 3) teach all nations, 4) baptize them, and what? Stop there? Just pray a lot? No. 5) teach them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded.
It is this last criterion of the Great Commission which theonomists often emphasize in this context: teaching the disciples all of God’s commandments.
With this in mind, let’s consider what North actually wrote:
There is a tremendous need today for evangelism. . . . What is needed today is a comprehensive program of worldwide evangelism that brings the message of salvation to every individual on earth, in every walk of life.
Having brought people into the kingdom of God through conversion, God then asks them to begin to make a difference in their world. He does not mean that they should spend day and night passing out tracts or the equivalent thereof; He means that they should reform their lives, their families, and their daily walk before Him and men. Evangelism means teaching people to obey God’s law, through the empowering of God’s Holy Spirit. Evangelism means obedience. This is the message of John, who wrote the Gospel of John: “If ye love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him (John 14:21).
The broader message is simple: if the Great Commission can be considered as the task of evangelism—and for most people it is synonymous in common speech—then the comprehensive task must involve teaching obedience to Christ’s commandments. This is, after all, exactly what the passage teaches us to do.
Note a couple things here: First, North is not saying, “Here’s good news: follow the law.” This is not taking the announcement to sinners of God’s redeeming grace and free offer of salvation and instead transforming it into a works-righteousness scheme of following the law. It should be clear to anyone who considers the rest of the context that North is speaking of something that occurs after offering “the message of salvation” and disciples being born again by God’s Spirit: he says explicitly that this occurs after the fact of “conversion.”
Likewise, North is not speaking of the works of man or merits of man in any sense like that. Instead, even with evangelical obedience, North has in mind good works that follow salvation and only come about through the power of the Holy Spirit.
What should be clear to Christians who are well-taught in basic Bible verses is that this teaching is not only a direct application of the fullness of what Matthew 28:18–20 actually says, but also what classic “grace” passages like Ephesians 2:8–10 teach as well:
For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them.
Such good works which necessarily flow from true conversion are the same as what James taught: “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead” (Jam. 2:26).
The same is no different than what Gary North, like all theonomists, has in mind with the Great Commission.
Now, it might be objected on the grounds of etymology alone that the word “evangel” literally means “good news,” and thus adding even the necessary following of good works and obedience makes North’s statement somehow heretical. But this standard would place the arguers in the uncomfortable position of denying that the Great Commission as given by Christ Himself can properly be called “evangelism.” In their view, only a small portion of that Commission could ever be alluded to by the label. While there is a sense in which we can speak of the word in the more limited, narrow way, we more commonly also make room for the broader sense that encompasses the whole of the preaching of the Kingdom of God, and that must include the teaching of Christ’s commandments, the obedience of faith (Rom. 1:5), and obedience to the truth (1 Pet. 1:22–25).
It is not clear why Jordan decide to present this quotation without its context in the way he did. Whether he copied the truncated quotation from some anti-Theonomy source that already had it wrong, or whether he edited it that way on his own, it is unfortunately wrong. And either way, it is unfortunate because he is using such a misrepresentation for the purpose of presenting someone (or a whole movement) as heretical on the Gospel. You would hope a critic would actually double-check his facts and contexts before making such drastic mistakes (especially when the conclusions draw imply eternal consequences). It does not appear that Jordan took that step.
As it is, we can state with certainty that North was not even saying anything very controversial, let alone “shattering the covenant of grace into a thousand pieces.” Instead, North is calling us to take the whole of Scripture, and all of Christ’s commandments, seriously, just as the Commission calls us to do. The fact that this makes some modern evangelicals uncomfortable probably says more about the pietism of our time than anything.
 Pp. ix-x.
Several years ago, I published an article entitled, “Render unto God what is God’s. You too, Caesar,” which is an explanation of Jesus’ famous interaction with the Pharisees and Herodians regarding paying census tax to Caesar. The point of that article was to discuss, among other things, the central issue of the passage: God’s authority versus man’s authority—i.e. a version of Theonomy vs. autonomy.
Concerning the nature of authority in general, R. J. Rushdoony wrote,
All authority is in essence religious authority; the nature of the authority depends on the nature of the religion. If the religion is biblical, then the authority at every point is the immediate or mediated authority of the triune God. If the religion is humanistic, then the authority is everywhere implicitly or explicitly the autonomous consciousness of man.
This fact was central to the discussion over Caesar’s authority. While the Roman government was certainly legitimate in its time and place, Caesar was also a living blasphemy: claiming for himself the titles “Son of God” and “High Priest.” He claimed a power and authority he did not have, even though his office itself was ordained of God. He was executing that office in a satanic way, yet God used it in His Providence to judge much of the world, including Israel in AD 70. Caesar’s authority, however, was certainly also religious—it was just the religion of rebellious and God-defying man. This conflict of religions was certainly at the heart of the Pharisees’ question to Christ about His “authority.”
The Article Rehashed and Mangled
My “Caesar” article was featured in my opponent’s closing statement of our recent debate. Sadly, it was among his many misrepresentations of theonomic writings and thought. In what follows, I will show not only the misrepresentation, but use the occasion further to relate solid theonomic teaching on the issues that have been raised due to it.
Jordan claimed that the Pharisees denied the authority and legitimacy of the Roman government because it was pagan. He said, “They didn’t want to recognize the authority of a government that didn’t implement the exhaustive detail of the Mosaic Law.” He then argues against Theonomy:
And yet, what does Jesus tell them? You see, under a Gentile regime, Jesus did not expect Caesar to uphold the first table of the Law. . . . These are things that were belonging to God.
But Caesar did have civil authority—and he does have civil authority today, in spite of the pluralistic nature of government. Was Caesar implementing a tax authorized under Israel’s civil code? No, it was not. And yet, did Jesus recognize the legitimacy of the government that would tax them contrary to the civil code of Israel, and the answer is “Yes!” And Jesus didn’t take the opportunity to lecture the civil magistrate otherwise.
Jordan then moved to contrast this understanding with my theonomic comments on the passage in an attempt to show my deficiency, and thus to demonstrate how poorly theonomists fare in the face of this passage. Indeed, Jordan mocked theonomic explanations of this passage as “hermeneutical backflips” in a “desperate attempt” that “ranges from comical to farcical.” And then, apparently to justify that mockery, he quotes me.
To that end, he quotes from the article I wrote on this subject. This is how he quotes me: “Second, notice they asked a legal question, ‘Is it lawful….’ The word itself leaves it unclear whether they meant Roman law or God’s law. . . . Does Caesar have legitimate authority to demand tribute?” Jordan retorts,
Let me ask the question: “Is that really the question? Were they really approaching Jesus as a lawyer? . . . They knew that it was legal. The question was, was it moral? Was it right?
Two things are of note here: The first is a deceptive edit of what I said. This gives illegitimate room for the immediate question Jordan asked. Second is the larger fallacy that he would build upon it.
First, the unscrupulous edit. If he had carried over the rest of the quotation, Jordan would not have had occasion to set up the question and retort, “Were they really approaching Jesus as a lawyer? . . . They knew that it was legal.” Here is the full quotation with the parts Jordan excised in bold:
Second, notice they asked a legal question, “Is it lawful….” The word itself leaves it unclear whether they meant Roman law or God’s law, but since it was already Roman law to pay the tax, the question certainly aimed at the law of “the way of God.” The question, again, and the Greek [exestin; cp. exousia, Matt. 21:23] makes it clear that the issue is one of fundamental authority. Does Caesar have legitimate authority to demand tribute? Do we have authority from God to pay to Caesar?
By leaving these out, Jordan created the impression that he had come up with this qualification and was throwing it back at me in retort. With this ploy, he presented the quotation as if I had missed the point, when in fact I am the one who made the point to begin with.
Then Jordan moved in to create an even worse false impression. Upon this edit quotation, Jordan then chose an almost tangential fact in my article to present as if it were what I intended to be the main point of it. He said,
My opponent says this: “Well, it wasn’t a sales tax or an income tax. That’s the issue. It wasn’t a sales tax or an income tax. Because if it was a sales tax or an income tax,” he says, “obviously God . . . Christ wouldn’t have been for that.” But he says, “It was a head tax or a poll tax relating to the census.”
Theonomy has all the answers, doesn’t it?
It has nothing to do with what kind of tax it was. It had everything to do with whether the government had this authority, and secondly, whether the government was legitimate that didn’t enforce the civil code of the nation of Israel. And certainly, it was.
When I heard this in the debate I was utterly shocked that anyone could read my article and walk away thinking that the side-note about taxation is what I said “the issue” was. I did indeed note, almost in passing, that the tax spoken of here is a poll tax. I hardly said anything that could give the impression that this was “the issue” and that the whole interaction regarding Caesar’s coin hinged upon what type of tax it was. It was a relevant point, to be sure, since this particular tax was required by Roman law to be paid by Roman coin—and thus Jesus was able to expose the Pharisees and Herodians by virtue of the fact they were carrying around an idolatrous coin in the temple nonetheless. But the type of tax is hardly “the issue,” and the article indicates nothing of the sort.
Instead, the article is very clear up front as to what the issue is. It occurs very early in the article under a subhead, in bold typeface, entitled “The Context.” An astute reading might have found that section important. In that section, I wrote:
The whole narrative in which this story sits deals with this theme of the greater authority of heaven versus earthly authority, and the inability of the Jews to tell the difference. This is the very issue Jesus uses to confound the temple leaders when they ask Him about His authority. But the issue is that heaven has authority which man does not; man’s authorization pales in comparison to God’s.
If this were not clear enough, I made it even more explicit, with reference to the particular passage, near the end of the article:
Yes, the people had something of a legitimate debt to Caesar, but Jesus’ lesson was a far cry from saying that the authority of the State is separate or removed in some way from the authority of God, or that we must wait until the end of time until the State comes under God’s authority and judgment. The lesson here is much more challenging, much more comprehensive.
The lesson is, more fully, that all men bear God’s image and God’s inscription. We are all God’s coinage. We all belong wholly to God. All men must “render to God what is God’s.” All men. The Pharisees, Sudducees, the Herods, the masses, and even Caesar himself. Caesar has as much obligation to “render unto God”—bow and submit to God—as everyone else. He as has much obligation to love his neighbors and to obey God’s law as everyone else. He is not a god or a high priest, he is not the source of law and providence; he, like all men, is a man subject to God Almighty’s providence, and God’ Law, and God’s High Priest, Jesus Christ. He has as much obligation to obey; in fact, he has a greater obligation to obey because he represents multiple people in a public office.
So does this sound like an article in which I argued that “the issue” was merely what type of a tax it was? Not only is this not the case, I can’t think of a more ridiculous way anyone could misrepresent it.
The Legitimacy of Unjust Governments
But the story continues. After all, when you tell one whopper, you often have to tell another to cover it up. Jordan continued to develop his argument:
Was Caesar implementing a tax authorized under Israel’s civil code? No, it was not. And yet, did Jesus recognize the legitimacy of the government that would tax them contrary to the civil code of the nation of Israel, and the answer is “Yes!” And Jesus didn’t take the opportunity to lecture the civil magistrate otherwise. . . .
It’s God’s moral law, or else Jesus is telling the Pharisees to do something, frankly, that theonomists would never tell you to do: recognize the legitimacy of that government.
The problem here is two-fold. First, theonomists, on the contrary, have no problem acknowledging the legitimacy of a government despite its unjust laws. Indeed, we have done so in many places—in ironically relevant places, as a matter of fact, as we shall see. Second, Jordan’s argument here commits the fallacy of double standard.
First, is it true that theonomists “would never tell you to . . . recognize the legitimacy of that government”? No. The statement involves a fundamental misunderstanding of Theonomy and unjust government, and theonomists have made this clear often. For example, in the very article of mine from which Jordan was quoting, I made the point he denies to us:
This was an acknowledgement of several things, all of which would have angered the Jews to have to admit: 1) Caesar owns the coin, it is His; 2) the usage of Caesar’s property to your own benefit implies your debt to him to the extent that you do; and 3) Caesar’s enforcement of the recalling of this money (the tax itself) meant that the Jewish people were not free as they pretended, but under foreign bondage still (a clear implication that God’s judgment was still upon them).
They profited by the means, so they had no right to refuse the tax on the means on economic grounds. They enjoyed the order of the Roman Empire, so they had no right to refuse on political grounds. They carried his money right into their own Temple despite the implications, so they had no right to refuse on theological grounds (at least not without repentance). So the Pharisees stood before Jesus and before the crowds, themselves entangled by His words: “Give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s.” . . .
Yes, the people had something of a legitimate debt to Caesar. . . .
The facts speak for themselves.
Part of the problem here is that our opponents often insist on presenting us as radical revolutionaries who stubbornly desire only to take over the government. Despite the fact we have dispelled this notion countless times, it provides an easy way for some critics, who are otherwise corners by the facts, to dismiss us before their credulous followers and escape accountability. So they often present us as inflexible, unyielding radicals who think the government is illegitimate and must be opposed and replaced for that reason. Not only is this dispelled already in the very article Jordan was referencing, other theonomists have made the point even more clearly.
For example, R. J. Rushdoony wrote more than once about the topic. Ironically, some very relevant teaching in this regard appears in his comments on this very passage about Caesar’s tribute money:
Two kinds of taxation exist, and Christ requires our obedience to both. The world of Caesar seeks to create a new world without God, and without regeneration; it exacts a heavy tax and accomplishes little or nothing. We are, as sinners, geared by our fallen nature to seeking Caesar’s answer. We pay tribute to Caesar thus, in our faith and with our money. The answer to Caesar’s world is not civil disobedience, the final implication of which is revolution. This is Caesar’s way, the belief that man’s effort by works of law can remake man and the world.
The answer, rather, is to obey all due authorities and to pay tribute, custom, and honor to whom these things are due. This is the minor aspect of our duty. More important, we must render, give back to God what is His due, our tithes, first-fruits, vows, and sacrifices. The regenerate man begins by acknowledging God, the author and Redeemer of his life, as his Lord and Savior, his King. At every point in his life, he renders to God His due service, thanksgiving, praise, and tithe. His salvation is God’s gift; the bounty he enjoys is God’s gift and providence; the regenerate man therefore renders, gives back to God, God’s appointed share of all things.
Not only is it clear here that Rushdoony advocated submission even to unjust and ungodly governments, but the teaching is actually quite profound. Here is one of the many places the theonomic reliance on God’s work—regeneration—is contrasted with a humanistic order which attempts to accomplish the purposes of God through man’s effort. Rushdoony clearly affirms the biblical model of salvation and rejects the idea that the restoration of even society can come through “man’s effort by works of law.” As such, even civil disobedience—for example, against unjust taxation—should be eschewed as an answer to wicked government (though I am sure this point would be qualified in other ways per Acts 5:29).
Rushdoony generalizes the point in a section titled “Power and Authority” and makes it more explicit. He writes,
Power is strength or force; power can and often does exist without authority. The power of Odysseus and Telemachus, and the powers of the Roman Empire, were real powers, but, in terms of God’s law, they lacked authority, although they had a formal authority merely as legitimate governments in their societies. . . .
Power, when divorced from godly authority, becomes progressively demonic. Authority can be legitimate in a human sense, resting on succession or election, and yet be immoral and hostile to God’s order. Thus, the authority of Nero was somewhat legitimate, and Christians were required to obey him, but his authority was ungodly and implicitly and explicitly satanic in its development. True order requires that both power and authority be godly in their nature and application.
Thus you can see that Theonomy does not require one to reject the legitimacy of an unjust government. Just the opposite. While we may be highly critical of governments, officials, or laws, we nevertheless recognize the legitimacy of such a government even when it is wicked.
Second, the argument would cut just as hard against Jordan’s asserted view that “wicked” government should indeed be reformed—not according to the “civil code,” but according to “God’s moral law.” He argues:
So much of Theonomy is bent on the fact that we should transform government, and with you I am. We should transform . . . it’s wicked; it’s corrupt. But the question is, is it the civic or civil code of the nation of Israel that is the one and only standard?
I suppose what Jordan didn’t recognize is that this argument undermines the previous point he just made about theonomists not being able to recognize the legitimacy of an unjust government. On the one hand, if the theonomic call to reform governments according to the judicial law prevents recognizing those governments as legitimate, then what difference would it make to say we must reform them by God’s moral standard? The problem in this particular argument is not the standard of legal reform itself, but how Christians ought to view a wicked, corrupt government in general no matter what standard by which they wish to reform it. If the argument denies Mosaic judicial Theonomy, it denies Jordan’s “soft Theonomy” as well.
On the other hand, therefore, if Jordan were to maintain the allowance for his own call to reform wicked governments according to God’s moral law as a legitimate call to reform, then he would have to allow the same standard for those of us who also submit to wicked governments in the meantime, acknowledging both their legitimacy and their wickedness, and simply call for reform according to the more particular standard of God’s judicial laws given through Moses.
As it stands, Jordan is engaging in the fallacy of double standard. Jordan can’t have it both ways.
In this installment of debunking Jordan’s “boogeyman quotes” from my debate, we have seen him engage in rather deceptive editing of my words in order to make a point against me. Once the rest of the quotation is supplied, the substance of the point returns to my side, not his, and the force, and well as the integrity, of his argument is lost.
Likewise, the argument built upon that selective quotation falls when we realize it had nothing to do with the main point of the article. The main point, as it turns out, affirms the very thing Jordan accused us of denying.
Further, the fallacies give us occasion to point out that the argument Jordan tried to sustain upon them have been addressed by theonomic writers since Rushdoony. Our written statements in more than one place teach just the opposite, again, of what he presented us as holding.
Finally, discussing the actual theonomic position to date has been instructive also to assess Jordan’s point about reforming wicked civil governments even today. While we have seen him engage in an unfortunate double standard, it is encouraging to hear such a plea for such reform in general. While we may argue over the particular biblical standard by which this ought to proceed, it is nevertheless hopeful to hear him uphold the general Theonomic and Reconstructionist distinctive of reforming modern civil governments according to the law of God.
It is our firm belief that when readers make honest efforts to read our material free from the fallacious misrepresentation so often promulgated by critics, they will arrive at positions, like Jordan’s expressed here, that are actually very close to it. It is then that a meaningful discussion can begin.
 Institutes of Biblical Law, 212.
Sorry for the title. No, that’s not a precursor for any kind of wedding bells, I can assure you. This is, instead, yet another in the seemingly eternal series of misquotes and misrepresentations by Jordan Hall in our recent debate. This one occurred during cross-examination when he asked me whether I thought Theonomy is “an old thing or a new thing.” I suspected some kind of fallacy was lurking behind the question, and as you will see, that suspicion was more than correct.
I answered Hall, “I would say it’s a combination of both.” Anyone with a basic understanding of the history of teaching concerning God’s judicial precepts in the Old Testament would understand why this is the case. Whether any particular government has ever perfectly implemented such a standard or not, some teaching of Theonomy has existed at least since the early Reformation, and probably before. Thus it would clearly be an “old thing.” Nevertheless, considering that modern proponents—Rushdoony, North, Bahnsen, and others—have certainly given it much greater refinement, distinction, fullness, and detail, it could thus be said to a degree that it is also a “new thing.”
Jordan took my response as an opinion that Theonomy is indeed “older”—which is, of course, acceptable, since I do in part see it that way. But it was at this point that Jordan stood ready to spring a trap. He quoted Gary North to prove that just the opposite of what I thought is true! He referenced North’s Backward Christian Soldiers?, page 267, saying this:
Theonomy is quote: “a recently articulated philosophy. It is unquestionably new, a major break in church history, a theological revolution.”
Wow. Now that sounds like a slam dunk. The only problem is, this quotation does not exist. It is made up, fabricated, in that it is a Frankenstein quotation cobbled-together from disparate sources, with different referents, with differing nuances, and in different contexts.
First, let us begin with the source Jordan actually cited. Page 267 of Backward Christian Soldiers? begins the glossary of that book. The first term in that glossary is not “Theonomy” as Jordan claimed, but the more complex body of thought known as “Christian Reconstruction.” This is what North’s entry actually says:
CHRISTIAN RECONSTRUCTION A recently articulated philosophy which argues that it is the moral obligation of Christians to recapture every institution for Jesus Christ. It proclaims “the crown rights of King Jesus.” The means by which this task might be accomplished—a few CR’s are not convinced that it can be—is biblical law. . . . The founders of the movement have combined four basic Christian beliefs into one overarching system: 1) biblical law, 2) optimistic eschatology, 3) predestination (providence), and 4) presuppositional apologetics (philosophical defense of the faith). Not all CR’s hold all four positions, but the founders have held all four. . . .
Note a couple things about this. First, this is not a statement about “Theonomy,” but about the broader and more complex system of “Christian Reconstruction.” Why Jordan neglected this I don’t know exactly. It’s not like you could miss it—that is, if you actually read it. North even put the glossary term in BOLD TYPEFACE and ALL CAPS for just such an occasion.
Second, it’s not like Jordan didn’t know the difference between the two and, in fact, he personally accepts the difference. Indeed, in the Q&A session at the end of the debate, he himself leveraged this very distinction in order to answer a question regarding Paul’s treatment of the reported incestuous sinner in 1 Corinthians 5. It is often argued that since Paul did not call for the death penalty here, therefore the civil penal sanctions are no longer in effect. The obvious answer to this is that Paul was not a civil magistrate and was not dealing with the matter in a civil court; not to mention, it’s an argument from silence. Jordan responded to the question in part by saying the following:
You may be able to hang on to the fact that Paul is still a Theonomist, but you couldn’t hang on to the thought that Paul was a Reconstructionist, because he would be like a terrible Reconstructionist. Because, aren’t you supposed to try to change things? . . .
So clearly Jordan not only acknowledges the distinction between Theonomy (the subject of God’s law proper) and Christian Reconstruction (the broader set of teachings including eschatology and activism), but he also clearly understands the distinction, accepts it, and even applies it in an argument.
Why then did he not take care to inform the audience in the prior instance that he was quoting North on Reconstruction and not on “Theonomy” as he claimed? (As you’ll see in a minute, it’s quite possible he did not even read it from the original source.)
Third, you may be inquiring yourself, what is the difference between “Theonomy” and “Christian Reconstruction.” While the terms are sometimes used interchangeably, they are nevertheless distinct. “Theonomy” means “God’s law” and refers to that topic alone. “Christian Reconstruction,” however, refers, as North said above, to a system of thought that includes Theonomy (“biblical law”), but also includes presuppositional apologetics, Reformed theology, and postmillennialism (usually). In short, Theonomy is a subheading within Christian Reconstruction—but it is in no way logically or historically dependent upon it.
While it is certainly true that the packaging together of these four sets of beliefs constituted a new outlook in the twentieth century, the same could not be said about advocates of biblical law alone (Theonomy)—which is what the question (and the debate, by the way) was about. That topic had, as we noted, been taught and promoted at least as early as the Reformation. We find references from critics of the position beginning already in the early 1520s. So, it is not only incorrect to misquote North in allegedly saying “Theonomy” is recent, the fact is also easily debunked historically as well.
The rest of the quotation
While it is clear enough already that Jordan was engaging in some misrepresentation here, we have not yet even examined the rest of the Frankenstein quotation he presented. Upon examination, it is further clear that the remainder of it does not appear at all in the source Jordan cited—Backward Christian Soldiers?, page 267. The glossary entry there contains nothing like the second half of the quotation allegedly regarding “Theonomy”: “It is unquestionably new, a major break in church history, a theological revolution.”
So I did what any academic researcher would do in this situation. I went to Google. And behold, what was revealed? Just as with the “quote mining” we discovered in dealing with Jordan’s second-hand quotations from William Perkins and others, so we found another such example here. This one comes from an exposé written by a former Reconstructionist Greg L. Durand. The first sentence of that document reads thusly:
The influence of the Reconstruction movement, also known as Theonomy, is quite broad despite the admission of one of its founders that it is “a recently articulated philosophy,” “unquestionably new,” “a major break” with two thousand years of Church history, and a “theological revolution.”
Sound familiar? Someone’s been caught with their hand in the cookie jar again. The problem, however, is not only the charade of it all, but the fact that the original article actually cited its sources for the rest of those lines, and Jordan mistakenly only related the first one. The first footnote referred to a glossary entry not only relating to a different subject that the narrower topic of “Theonomy,” it was an incomplete reference, leaving other people to do Jordan’s homework for him.
So, what does that homework reveal? The source for the latter quotations is North’s Tools of Dominion, page 7. In the Introduction to Tools, Gary does indeed use those phrases, but they are certainly nuanced in a context other than Durand, and Jordan citing Durand, portrayed. Here is North’s context:
What I want to stress from the outset is that writing this economic commentary has been very nearly a bootstrap operation. For almost two thousand years, Bible commentators—Jews and gentiles—have simply not taken seriously the specific details of Old Testament law. Despite the fact that John Calvin did preach about two hundred sermons on the Book of Deuteronomy, including its case laws, and that the Puritans, especially the New England Puritans, did take biblical law seriously, they did not write detailed expositions showing how these laws can be applied institutionally in New Testament times.
I found only two exegetical books repeatedly useful in writing this volume: R. J. Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law (1973) and James Jordan’s Law of the Covenant (1984). Both are recent studies, and both are written by people who share my view of how the Old Testament case laws should be read, interpreted, and applied in New Testament times. This exegetical approach is unquestionably new, especially when coupled with Cornelius Van Til’s presuppositional apologetics. This is why the Christian Reconstruction movement does represent a major break with recent church history. On this point—and just about only on this one—Reconstructionism’s critics are correct. We represent a discontinuity in church history. Christian Reconstructionists alone have gone to the Bible’s legal passages in search of permanent authoritative guidelines (“blueprints”) for what society ought to do and be. In this sense, we Reconstructionists are theological revolutionaries. . . .
So, even here, while North could be understood as making reference more directly to Theonomy, he doesn’t even use the term. Instead, he is making a very nuanced point about his commentary. It is not that Theonomy in and of itself is a new thing, it is that the more detailed, exegetical approach taken to actually apply that to which others gave lip-service, or only preached through more generally, that can be understood as something new. But even here, is this a criticism? After all, since when is more detailed exegesis considered a bad thing?
It should be clear, however, that the more general approach to Theonomy has certainly existed, since North is able to cite Calvin and the Puritans as general forerunners. In fact, in light of more recent research into the study of Hebrew political thought following the Reformation and extending into the eighteenth century, this list would have to be greatly expanded. By my own count—and this is based only on one single private library inventory from 1739—there were at the very least 27 major works on Old Testament polity between 1546 and 1710. Many of these are lost, buried, obscure, or simply forgotten today—time, chance, and pietism happeneth to all—but some are remembered, and some are being resurrected and studied. More will surely come to light. What this means is that “Theonomy” has a much more entrenched historical pedigree than even we thought before (and it was not hard to find before!).
Most importantly, however, for the quotation from North’s Tools, is that he was not talking about Theonomy itself being new, but about the level of detail in exegesis and specific application to specific intellectual disciplines, e.g. economics. And even then, he spoke about it as new and revolutionary especially when coupled with Van Til’s apologetic, and in reference to the movement of Christian Reconstruction, not all by itself. So here once again we have context and nuance showing us a different point than Jordan was trying to foist upon us.
In light of the foregoing points, I feel even more vindicated in my final debate answer to Jordan on this issue. After providing the mongrelized, Frankenstein, non-existent quotation from North, he tried to put me on the spot with, “would you disagree with that?” Even without being able to check all the citations for veracity and context on the spot, I responded:
If it was qualified to mean the modern expression of Theonomy as it’s come forth, I would agree with him; but if you mean “Have there ever been times in the past where people tried to institute the Mosaic code, or upheld the same principles in some way?” I would say, no, it’s old.
What you see here is an example of how scholars, especially Christian scholars, are supposed to act and think. I don’t say this merely to pat myself on the back. The point is that Christian scholarship must be conducted with integrity, veracity, and concern for the truth no matter what else is going on around you.
The public discourse of theology is not about artifacts to be cut and pasted according to one’s own agenda and with disregard for facts. It is a custodianship—a stewardship. And as Paul says, “it is required of stewards that one be found trustworthy” (1 Cor. 4:2). When confronted with a quotation that struck me as odd and untrustworthy—and which, it turns out, did not even exist in the way it was presented—I responded with condition, nuance, and suspended judgment. For those who care to seek the truth, answers will await them in due time. I rely upon this belief quite often.
Those who don’t care, however, will rush ahead with fallacy without checking—but worse, they will rush ahead in condemnation of their brethren without verifying their condemnations first. And, they will reap the rewards of fallacy. Those who persist in fallacy even after being corrected will further reap the deserts of dishonesty.
So is Theonomy new or old? It is both. It depends mainly upon the fame of reference for the question. Let’s learn to respect the frame of reference and answer accordingly. Let us not seek to impose our own agendas upon the words of others and misrepresent them in the process.
Chris Rosebrough has posted a retraction from the “hand chopping” gaffe of last week. I told him I would post an update to my article on the subject. I want to make clear that, as I understand it, Chris had already been alerted that his statements were untrue and he had already recorded the show with the following retraction before I posted my article. There was some technical or scheduling problem that kept the show from being posted in a timely way. Good enough. But I still have some concerns remaining even after Chris has posted this retraction. This includes, among other things, the need to respond to a further challenge he presented which still does not quite properly understand theonomic teaching, and thus created another unnecessary straw man.
First, here is his retraction transcripted:
I need to issue a clarification—somewhat of a retraction, if you would—because I think it could be totally misconstrued. . . .
I gave a hypothetical example of how to answer a theonomist, and in my example I said something, well, that’s not true or accurate regarding the Mosaic covenant. Basically what I said was that the Mosaic covenant teaches that you have to cut off the hand of somebody that’s caught stealing. Now, that’s actually not what the Mosaic covenant teaches at all. The Mosaic covenant teaches that somebody that’s caught stealing needs to return what they’ve stolen and then some—you know, there’s a little bit of an extra that they have to give back. That’s what the Mosaic covenant teaches.
Now, the reason I need to issue the clarification, though—or the retraction—is because I don’t want you to think, number one, that’s not what the Mosaic covenant teaches, number two it was in the context of a kind of hypothetical argument—how to you argue with a theonomist. But there’s something really wrong with that argument as I laid it out—aside from the obvious “well that’s not what the Mosaic covenant teaches”—and that’s this: theonomists actually believe that sharia law’s requirement, you know, to cut off the hand of somebody who’s caught stealing, they argue that that’s actually unjust. And so I’m afraid the way I put that forward—especially, you know, saying the wrong thing about the Mosaic covenant—it would create a false impression regarding theonomists, and that’s not right.
First, I would like to express thanks that Chris posted a retraction. So often, when public ministries make such mistakes, they either ignore it and move on to the next thing, brushing their errors under the rug of time and cyberspace. Or worse, sometimes they actually delete comments or posts with no explanation, no retraction, and no apology. Chris transcended this unfortunately common practice and posted an actual retraction. This is strongly towards an example of humility and concern for truth even at the expense of what so often is confused for good “public relations.” Thanks to Chris for this.
Second, I am glad he called it a “retraction.” That said, however, I do feel that he went a little soft on himself. Such a retraction should only be called a retraction and nothing else, and accompanied by an apology. Even though the word “retraction” was there, also included were more blame-shifting or ameliorating descriptions like “clarification,” “it could be totally misconstrued,” “create a false impression.” None of these are applicable to this particular error at all. Nothing needed a “clarification”: the claim was a direct falsehood. That was what was clear, and it was indeed clear. It needed only to be rejected, replaced with truth, and apologized for in as far as it was attributed to theonomists and to God’s law. Likewise, this was also not a matter of potentially being “misconstrued.” This would imply that the error was in the hearer—as if it was even possibly their own fault for not representing what he said correctly. This is the opposite of what happened. The claim was an outright falsehood (not a deliberate lie, but a false claim nonetheless). The problem was not one of not construing what he said correctly, but of him misconstruing the teachings totally to begin with. Likewise with the “false impression” note: there was no false impression. On the contrary, it was a very clear impression made due a false statement. It is the statement alone that needed remedying.
Likewise, at the end of the subsequent discussion below, Chris adds the idea that “sometimes you just reach in and grab the wrong thing!” Again, this is not worthy. The problem was not drawing the wrong thing out of Mosaic law or theonomic teaching—this would imply it was actually in there!—instead, it was inserting something wrongly that was never there to begin with.
And finally, in all of this, there was no apology offered at all to those he offended (and I use the word in the objective sense) through the attribution of a clear falsehood.
Then, after posting the retraction, Chris doubled-down on his position with what he considered a stronger version of the same type of argument. Here is what he offered:
The point of this though is—kind of going back to the segment if you would—the point is that my argument with theonomists has to do with the fact that, you know, they’re saying unless a law—unless the penal portion of the civil law of the Mosaic covenant—is in force, that somehow a law is not just. And so let me give you a slightly different modified version—a better argument, if you would—that actually correctly portrays what’s in the Mosaic covenant, and that would this.
The Mosaic covenant expressly states that the person who breaks the Sabbath is to be put to death. This is true. This is not an overstatement. I know a little bit about the Sabbath; I debated Jim Staley [a Hebrew Roots movement proponent] on this topic. So the question that I think would be the better question to pose: is it unjust for the United States of America, or for any nation-state, to not execute Sabbath-breakers? I think that would be the better question to ask, if you would, for obvious reasons: number one, the Mosaic covenant does call the death penalty for Sabbath-breakers. It does—that’s part of the penal code of the Mosaic covenant, if you would. And on top of it, by asking that question rather than the one I asked on Tuesday, you won’t end up creating a false impression regarding theonomists or Mosaic covenant via your question. . . . Make sure you dot your “i”s and cross your “t”s. Don’t get your lines crossed when you ask your questions. You want to make sure you know your Bible when you ask your questions—and sometimes you just reach in and grab the wrong thing! . . .
While it is true that the Mosaic code did include such a penalty, is it also true that, as he say, “you won’t end up creating a false impression regarding theonomists . . . via your question”? Well, at least he goes far enough to put it in the form of a question. But to assume it would accurately represent theonomy still does not fly. That would only be true if theonomists believed no fundamental transformation to that law occurred with the Advent of Christ and the New Testament.
As it turns out, such a fundamental transformation has been taught by theonomists from the very first day. All Chris or his listeners would need to do would be to read the actual writings of theonomic authors on the subject. Here’s Rushdoony’s take, in a couple of relevant excerpts:
Now to examine the sabbath laws more specifically, it is at once apparent that, while the principle of the sabbath remains basic to biblical law, the specific form of sabbath observance changed radically in terms of the new covenant in Christ. . . .
St. Paul was emphatic in stating that the sabbath regulations no longer had their old binding force: “Let no man therefore judge you in meat, or in drink, or in respect of an holy day, or of the new moon, or of the sabbath days: Which are a shadow of things to come; but the body is of Christ” (Col. 2:16-17). None will argue that the old death penalty for violations of the sabbath is still binding, or ever has been since Christ. The whole of the New Testament forbids such an interpretation. . . .
Likewise, North’s take:
A key question then has to be considered: Why in the New Testament times has the church never advocated such a harsh penalty [death]? I hope to answer this question at the end of this appendix. The fundamental answer is that there has been a shift in the locus of sovereignty for Sabbath enforcement: from civil government and ecclesiastical government to self-government (the individual conscience). . . .
The church has admitted the following changes in the day of rest: 1) the seventh day to first (eighth) day; 2) the abandonment of sundown-to-sundown timing; and 3) the abolition of the death penalty imposed by the civil government. . . .
These alterations are of monumental importance. They represent a sharp break with the Mosaic law. . . .
With respect to the day of rest-worship, the external sanction of the Old Testament economy, the death penalty, has been abolished. It has been abolished along with the duty of the civil government to impose sanctions on individuals or firms that choose to work on the Lord’s day. . . .
So, it should be clear that it is not a proper representation of theonomists to assume the Sabbath-penalty question is a proper challenge to our position.
Granted, Chris is moving in a great direction. He has found an Old Testament legal principle which at least constitutes a valid point of inquiry. But it is not representative of theonomic teaching, as you can see. I would suggest, as I always have, that if you intend to challenge theonomy, you first engage theonomy. First, read theonomy. But don’t stop there. Make an effort to comprehend theonomy. Then, when you’re ready, 1) quotes us, 2) quote us in context, 3) base your inquiry or challenge on something genuinely reflective of what you discover in 1) and 2).
 Institutes of Biblical Law, 130, 133.
This post continues the series debunking Jordan Hall’s misrepresentations of Theonomy in the recent debate. While there are certainly some, I am sure, who are tired of me merely exposing fallacy after fallacy, there are nevertheless others who benefit from these exercises tremendously. I will try to offset some of this rebuttal material with more positive material, but this needs to be completed as well.
Part of the problem is that it is simply unfortunate that there are so many such misrepresentations, and that there is hardly a quotation Jordan provided that he did not misconstrue in some way. Nevertheless it is also very fortunate that these fallacies are so easily debunked by simply reading the selective quotations in their own contexts. This type of exercise is very helpful for those just learning the positions, those who are challenged and confused by the misrepresentations, and especially those who need a good example of how falsehood can be made to sound persuasive, and subsequently how to remedy such fallacious persuasion through suspended judgment, patience, and recourse to the actual literature. In the end, people who care will learn who they can trust and who they cannot on this issue.
The two selections in this post are no different in all these regards. Let us, therefore, examine the two claims at hand:
“Antinomians” including Jordan himself cannot be considered Christians?
Jordan alleges that Rushdoony essentially anathematized all “antinomians.” Here is how Jordan represented the quotation:
Now Rushdoony impugns so-called antinomians—which would include me—he says that that cannot be called “Christian” (Institutes of Biblical Law, 709).
The charge actually does not sound that grievous until you realize Jordan apparently intends the phrase “antinomians” to include all non-theonomists—including himself, for example. He is thus asserting essentially that Rushdoony anathematized all non-theonomists as “antinomian” and thus not “Christian.” If Jordan meant any else by this charge, it is unclear; and further, if he did, the charge would not makes sense as a critique.
The short assessment here will be that Jordan is guilty of equivocation and of an illegitimate transfer of reference. Not only that, but a careful reading will show that Rushdoony’s view is exactly the opposite of what Jordan insinuated.
Based on his assertion, I am not sure if Jordan considers antinomianism a doctrine of true Christianity or not. It seems that perhaps he does, or else there should be no reason to be upset about this quotation—especially not in context. Rushdoony is simply examining the doctrines of the Pharisees and condemning their creativity with unbiblical traditions (read: autonomy) as genuine antinomianism. He then remarks that antinomianism itself cannot be called Christian.
Here’s Rushdoony’s quotation and context:
Several issues divided the religious leaders from Jesus. They rejected His implicit and explicit declaration of His calling as Messiah; they denied His unique status as the Son of God; they rejected His demand for a religious reformation in terms of Himself; and they resented strongly His attack on tradition. As champions of the law according to their religious and civil tradition, the leaders of the people resented Jesus’s accusation that they were in fact lawless. Tradition was for them the vital and necessary development of the law; priority was thus given to tradition over the law. The Pharisees, however, saw their tradition as inseparable from the law. Jesus, on the other hand, attacked their traditions as a perversion of the law. . . .
The Pharisees were environmentalists; that which came from without defiled the man. As against this, Jesus emphatically stressed the heart of man as the source of defilement. Environmentalism leads to antinomianism, because it denies responsibility in favor of environmental conditioning. The law of God stresses responsibility and allows no man to escape it. Purity for the Pharisees was progressively becoming a ceremonial matter, a question of isolating themselves from a contaminating world. According to Jesus, however, every man is his own source of contamination; “from within,” He declared, as against the Pharisees, not from without, comes the defilement. Because of this antinomianism, the Pharisees were logically developing a new law, the tradition of men, to escape from the antienvironmentalist force of God’s law. Their ceremonial washings were thus not harmless: by such washings they assumed that the world was the source of contamination, not their own fallen nature. It was inescapable, therefore, that they preferred their tradition to the law of God. In attacking the Pharisees, Jesus was therefore condemning every form of antinomianism in every age. Antinomianism can thus never legitimately call itself Christian.
If the world is the basic source of contamination, the logic of law requires environmental reconditioning; the world must be remade in order to save man. If the basic source of defilement is, as Jesus declared, “from within, out of the heart of men,” then the salvation of man is conversion or regeneration. Man must be remade if the world itself is to be saved. We have thus two opposed doctrines of salvation and of law.
It should be clear here that Rushdoony’s condemnation of antinomianism is not referring to persons at all, but only the doctrine of “antinomianism” when he says it cannot be called “Christian.” Thus he is not talking about individuals—for example, anyone who could be labelled “antinomians” in any way or to any degree—as Jordan’s representation mistakenly assumes. As with any false doctrine, an individual may be affected, deceived, confused, or mistaken to some degree because of that doctrine without themselves drawing the condemnation of “non-Christian” that would nevertheless rightly fall upon the false doctrine itself in a black-and-white fashion. Thus, by switching Rushdoony’s claim from a statement about the doctrine to a statement about individuals—blanket “antinomians” in general, and himself specifically—Jordan is illegitimately transferring the reference of Rushdoony’s assertion. This is a classic type of misrepresentation.
Second, Jordan is guilty of equivocation here—that is, unless he is classing himself among the Pharisees. Rushdoony’s immediate context for the doctrine of “antinomianism” is clearly the teaching of the Pharisees who made void God’s law by following their own traditions. The larger context is a section devoted to that very topic (pages 706–709). Jordan, however, assumes he himself is swept up in Rushdoony’s assessment of what cannot be called Christian (and thus, by implication, everyone else should fear!). Yet we know from Jordan’s introduction that he has a very high view of biblical law, including the civil code of Mosaic Law as “God-breathed” and “thoroughly relevant” to every nation today. I think he was attempting to strain the meaning of “antinomian” as anyone who denies the obligatory nature of the Mosaic judicials, and then illegitimately to impose that strained definition upon Rushdoony’s context here. But simply reading the context will make it clear that will not fly.
Finally, it should be clear that Rushdoony’s point about what is and is not “Christian” is set against the wholesale works-righteousness and self-righteousness of the Pharisees. The last paragraph included above shows that over against what he is condemning as “antinomianism,” Rushdoony follows Jesus in asserting that salvation only comes through “conversion and regeneration.” His point is that any view of law (or anti-law, i.e. “anti-nomianism”) that defies this principle cannot be called “Christian.”
If this is what Jordan was opposing when he misread Rushdoony and readily stated “that includes me,” then he was really denying salvation by regeneration and classing himself among the Pharisees. I don’t think this is what he meant to do, but in order to escape such self-condemnation, he would need to represent Rushdoony’s teaching accurately. He did not.
“Gary North says the same thing”?
Jordan followed the last mistaken assertion with the statement, “Gary North says the same thing.” I can only assume he meant by this that Gary North also asserts that antinomians—“that would include me [Jordan]”—cannot be called “Christian,” or at least some variation of this claim that could be considered “the same thing.” Then Jordan quotes the following from North’s Sinai Strategy, page 21:
[T]hose who proclaim a law-order alien to the one set forth in the Bible are thereby proclaiming the validity of the word of some other god.
Jordan then asserts that he himself is an idolater and a proselytizer of a false God (he does not say, again, by what standard he is presuming this), and since that is a “capital offense” in biblical law, Jordan assumes that he would be put to death according to this statement by Gary North. Indeed, it seems to me that he went on to imply that all non-theonomists would suffer this fate under the same standard.
Problem: Gary North was merely commenting on the moral law which Jordan himself upholds as applicable today fully. Indeed, Gary’s book Sinai Strategy is not even about the civil code, but is a commentary on the Ten Commandments—what Jordan would agree constitutes the foundational revelation of the “moral law.”
So what is the actual context and meaning of North here? The quotation is taken from chapter 1 of Sinai Strategy which covers the preamble and First Commandment, “Thou shalt have no other gods before me” (Ex. 20:1–3). Perhaps the reader can already see where this is going? In that chapter, Gary is making the point that God’s Law (the Ten Commandments) are tied directly to the sovereignty and nature of the God who gave them. Jordan would not object to this—hardly any solid Bible-believer would, either.
The effects of this doctrine are profound, yet simple: deny the legitimacy or truth of the Ten Commandments, and you are simultaneously denying the Sovereign God who gave them. In other words, proclaiming a law-order opposed to God’s moral law is in essence proclaiming a rival god. For example, to proclaim the legitimacy of homosexual marriage or abortion today would be to deny the sovereignty and authority of God who forbids them, and thus would be to assert some rival sovereignty and authority—that is, another god—implicitly in the very act. This much is inescapable, and the vast majority of Christians across the board would agree.
Well, this is all Gary North was saying. His context reveals this broader point in commenting on the First Commandment, “no other gods”:
Those who worship any god other than the God who reveals His standards in the Bible are worshippers of a false god. No other god, no other goal, no other standard is to replace men’s faith in the living God who delivered Israel. God is primary; there is no secondary God. From this it follows that those who proclaim a law-order alien to the one set forth in the Bible are thereby proclaiming the validity of the word of some other god. They have become idolators—perhaps not conscious idolators, but idolators nonetheless. They are aiding and abetting the plans of men who worship another god. A god’s personal (or impersonal) attributes are revealed by its law-order. To proclaim a rival law-order is to proclaim a rival god.
Again, this is a commentary on the First Commandment in a book primarily about the moral law. Jordan would agree with everything North says here if he appropriately represented it in context. Just as with the quotation from Rushdoony above, by setting his own position in contrast to North’s point here, Jordan would be asserting that he actually does deny the Ten Commandments and the God who gave them. I don’t think he wants to go there in order to sustain his point; but correcting that error will require him to drop his misrepresentation of North.
Jordan punctuates this brief but fallacy-packed section of his second opening statement by condemning theonomists with this slight: “How far we’ve come from understanding that there is a new covenant that is mediated by Jesus. . . . not by Moses.” But when you consider how badly he has misrepresented the quotations, the whole charade becomes a tremendous irony. Not only are we left asking why Jordan systemically misrepresents us, but we are left wondering why he does so to the degree that he forbids the clearly Evangelical nature of theonomists’ positions—which was right there immediately within the context from which he was selectively quoting—to see the light in his presentation.
The irony is this: Rushdoony speaks of conversion and regeneration first, and North also opened the section of Sinai Strategy under review with this comment: “Does such a high view of biblical law in any way compromise the Christian doctrine of salvation by grace through faith? Not at all” (p. 20). As they done so clearly in so many places, both of these men in the very spot they are being unfairly attacked have upheld the doctrine of salvation by grace, regeneration, conversion, etc.
Why is it that when our opponents misrepresent us, they not only attribute sinister motives and implications to us, but strip from our teachings the Reformed and Evangelical expressions in it? Why is it that they not only misrepresent us, but do so in a way that portrays us as the exact opposite of what we teach and in terms that most Christians would consider a denial of Christianity?
I don’t have a ready answer to that question, but it needs to be considered. As much as I disagree with these brothers, I consider them brothers, and would never distort their views, especially in public, in any as to present them as, or even suggest they are, outside the faith. Ironically, while accusing us of doing that to him, illegitimately, Jordan is attributing to us positions that accuse us of the same thing.
I hope to have cleared up another couple of such misrepresentations here. I hope also that our opponents will soon be not only more informed, but also willing, to correct their ways.
 Institutes of Biblical Law, 706, 709.
An uproar occurred recently when James White addressed theonomists in two partial segments of his show The Dividing Line. The upset occurred when many people listening thought they heard a comparison made between theonomy and Islamic Sharia. Since such a simplistic misrepresentation is not only false but seemingly increasing in popularity among the generally less knowledgeable of our critics, the backlash White (who is not less knowledgeable) received to such an apparent comparison was understandable. He, however, then used that uproar to further condemn theonomists for a variety of faults (mostly not worth detailing here for various reasons).
I am including here two transcripts from the Dividing Line: first the explanation James gave on 3-6-2015, followed by the original statement on 3-4-2015. The reader can take what he or she desires from these. My point is only to get to the heart of James’ concern regarding Acts 15 and the difference between Christianity and Islam, and how that compares (or doesn’t) to Theonomy. I am providing transcripts only to make sure to have James’s actual words and context included for consideration. I do not wish to misrepresent or misunderstand him in any way. If you already are familiar with these statements from White, you may desire to skip them.
James’ Concern and Explanation
I tried to raise an important issue on Wednesday [3-4-2015]. I think I did so fairly. I think I did so with clarity. I am deeply concerned that one theonomist—one, singular—even bothered to listen to what I said. Every single other one that has responded missed it completely—completely! [His emphasis.] Folks, that should not oughta be. What did I say? Well, I used the term “sharia.” *Gasp*—“you’re saying we’re like Muslims!” I even got an email from a leading theonomist: all it said was “Sharia? Really?” That’s all it said. [That was me.—JM.]
If you go back and listen, I spent a fair amount of time explaining one of the key issues that I have been explaining to audiences globally for years. And I asked the question, I said, it seems to me that some theonomists—I used the term “some”—doesn’t seem to matter to most, if you say one, I mean, talk about wagon-circling—persecution complex again—oh! can’t disagree at all . . . you’re going after . . .C’mon! Think! I said, it would seem that some theonmists, given their perspective, would have to disagree with the fundamental assertion that I’m making, and that is that one of the primary differences between the approach of Christianity in the proclamation of the Gospel to all the world, and Islam, because of the centrality of sharia—they’d have to say I’m [James White is] wrong. I’m saying because of Acts chapter 15, we do not bring cultural artifacts, or we shouldn’t, and if you fail to recognize that there are certain aspects to the Mosaic code that only had application to the theocratic state of Israel, the you are bringing cultural artifacts along with it and forcing that upon any culture that you encounter. That’s what you’re doing.
So, what would be the proper response to that statement? From thinking people? From truly Reformed Christians? What would be the proper response? Knee-jerk reaction? “How dare you”? Is that the proper response? No, it isn’t. What would be the proper response? Here’s the proper response:
A) You might want to learn something about Sharia—and maybe not depend on Fox News for it.
I haven’t seen one person that has criticized what I said about that that has this much [inch between fingers] knowledge of what Sharia actually is in any fair fashion at all. In any fair fashion at all. . . . I had conversation with an Islamic scholar—I was actually defending him because he was being misrepresented, I knew he was being misrepresented—and as we were going back and forth he said, well I really wouldn’t put it that way, and I said, well, explain to me how you would understand this. And so, he recommends to me an entire book on Fiqh—Islamic jurisprudence—I had it within a week and read it. My critics don’t do that. Not a one of them that I’ve seen would have any earthly idea what I just said—they just don’t. They might pretend to, but they don’t.
What you might want to do is, first of all, learn something about Sharia and its centrality to Islamic thought, the relationship that exists in Islamic thought between Sharia and the very essence of Islam, and what it means to be in submission to Allah. . . .
If you were offended by my statement, then it would have been, “Well, what do you mean by Sharia?” And, “What do you see as the problem with your statements about Acts chapter 15?” “What do you mean by ‘cultural artifacts’?” That would’ve been the proper response—would’ve been, well, you know, We need to look at how God’s Law represent God’s being, and then that means we’re going to have to make proper distinctions between, well, the moral law represents His perfect will, and it cannot be separated from that; and one of the key differences with Islam is the fact that God’s law can be separated from His being because He can forgive sins without the reparation of His law—without atonement, without punishment of sin. . . . And you know one of the places you can go to learn about these things? My opening statement in the mosque in Erasmia, South Africa because that’s what I was talking about. It actually might have started some meaningful discussion getting to the key issue: and that is being able to map what was given to the theocratic nation that could only be relevant to them and could only be practiced by them without fundamentally warping and twisting the intention of the law in the first place. That would’ve been good. Didn’t happen. Didn’t happen.
This was all in reaction to the reaction to his original comments, which went like this:
I have, for years now, been giving as an illustration of the fundamental difference between Christianity and Islam, the fact that we had Acts 15, and they never have. [Explanation of Jew-Gentile relations, ceremonial law, etc.]. . . . And the application I’ve made is, one of the fundamental differences between Christianity and Islam is that because of Acts chapter 15, we do not bring a cultural context with the Gospel and identify the two together. That has happened [i.e., English imperialism]. . . . Because we had Acts chapter 15, the Gospel can cross every linguistic, geopolitical boundary and border that man can put up. And so, we don’t have to bring Sharia, but Islam has to. Because Islam is a religio-political system, there are certain elements of Islam that are fundamentally cultural but have been enshrined within Sharia, and that’s what’s causing the problem. We don’t have to do that because we had Acts chapter 15. But listening to some theonomists makes me wonder just what they think happened in Acts chapter 15. . . .
I think some people are sensitive to the fact that the Muslims have this concept of Sharia, and we don’t want that. What are the differences? And I did look at an article online of someone who was saying, “What’s the difference between theonomy and Sharia?” And I’ll be perfectly honest with you: the article that I read missed the point completely—maybe due to a lack of understanding of Sharia? I don’t know. . . . I think there’s a great danger in missing the freedom the Gospel has to enter into every possible context of the world. We’re to go into all the world. And we’re not called to turn them into Jews before we turn them into Christians—that’s what Acts 15 said. Well, what does that mean when it comes to such things as exhaustive penology and all the rest of that stuff? So there are some things that concern me. . . .
Now, there is obviously a lot that could be addressed in all of this. I do not intend to get sidetracked with certain issues—for example, the concern that we need a detailed understanding of Islamic jurisprudence before we can understand James’ concerns about Acts 15. I just don’t see why that is necessary to address the simple concern regarding the exegesis of Acts 15 and, for example, the concern of turning people into Jews before we make them Christians. Considering Islam did not exist at the time of the Jerusalem council, what makes it relevant to the biblical understanding of that passage and biblical law? Seems like more of a distraction and complication to me—which is not to say that understanding differences between sharia and fiqh, etc., aren’t helpful in other ways. (And for the record, I never watch Fox News. I don’t even have cable.)
One thing that needs to be pointed out, however, is that I attempted to conduct a private discussion with James about these concerns before his second DL. After backing up and making a transcript for his approval of that original DL so that it would be clear that I was working only with exactly what he said, he decided for some reason not to pursue the discussion and instead went the following day on the DL with the public rebukes above.
Noteworthy in this regard is James’ argument that the “proper response” would have included questions like, “What do you mean by ‘cultural artifacts’?” He said this type of response “Didn’t happen.” Very noteworthy, then, is the fact that I, in the early morning before he did the DL that afternoon, continued our private dialogue in an email with that very question: “I would only ask you to define exactly what you mean by ‘cultural form.’”
That email was never answered or acknowledged.
Now, I don’t know how he can say, therefore, in blanket fashion, “Didn’t happen. Didn’t happen.” I tried to have this discussion just as he says would have been proper. It did happen.
Now, what about Acts 15 and Theonomy? If the “proper response” to controversial issues is to ask questions and seek knowledge, then why not seek an answer to the question of what theonomists think about Acts 15 before even speaking about it? Before suggesting that “some” theonomists appear to . . . what (?), violate it, ignore it, require “cultural artifacts” (whatever that may mean)? Why not ask the question before dragging in a context—sharia—alien to biblical law, whether any direct comparison was intended or not? Why even risk the confusion that could result, and did, among both theonomists and anti-theonomists alike—especially when it is a common misrepresentation engaged-in among anti-theonomists?
(As an aside, I see anti-theonomists, fans of James White, having listened to James White’s DL on this issue, responding to that very DL in ways like this: “I agree with White too. And I was surprised that he brought up Sharia. I have often thought to myself that if the Theonomists goals were realized that they would look like the radical muslims… Hunting down sinners and killing them all. That pretty much leaves nobody left alive.” Apparently, theonomists were not the only ones who understood White to be making such a simplistic comparison, whether he meant to or not. And if theonomists are to be blasted for understanding White this way, will he level the same heightened rhetoric and rebuke to his own sympathetic followers?)
Stated within a context in which Acts 15 Christianity is set primarily against Islam and the dragging of “cultural artifacts” into the spread of the Gospel, what is any serious, thinking person supposed to take away from this? Especially when it itself is an assertion and not a question seeking knowledge?
Why not, instead, seek an answer to the question before launching public suspicion—“listening to some theonomists makes me wonder just what they think happened in Acts chapter 15”—?
So let’s seek the answer to the question.
Bahnsen and Rushdoony on Acts 15
Those who do desire the answer to James White’s concern need only to use that profound modern invention called an “index” to find a ready answer. The passage is addressed in both Rushdoony’s Institutes of Biblical Law (pp. 732 ff.) and Greg L. Bahnsen’s Theonomy in Christian Ethics (which James was holding and reading at the beginning of the second DL quoted above).
Let it be understood clearly that both of these works agree on the fundamental principle of Acts 15: circumcision is not required for Gentiles to become Christians and salvation does not come through works of the law or cultural trappings. In other words, we all agree 100 percent with White: we don’t make people Jews before we make the Christians. Both Rushdoony and Bahnsen clearly agreed on this, clearly stated it, and included these passages in their Scripture Indexes. Why this should be a question suspected against theonomists all of the sudden is therefore a surprise to us.
Due to the lingering influence of the Pharisees among Christians, especially as manifest in the teaching of the Judaizers, the New Testament Scriptures gave a great deal of space to refuting the view that the law is a way of justification, especially in Acts 15, Galatians, Hebrews, and Romans 8. The first general assembly of the Christian Church was occasioned by the heresy of the Judaizers (follow Acts 15). These false teachers were requiring observance of the ceremonial law for salvation; in particular, they taught that the Gentiles had to be circumcised (v. 1). Justification must be by the law according to the Pharisaical converts (v. 5); this squares with what we know about the doctrine of the Pharisees elsewhere. Reminiscent of our Lord’s words in Matthew 23:4, Peter says that the Pharisees are known to lay heavy and grievous burdens on the people; but neither the believers under the Older Testament nor the New Testament Christians were able to bear this load. So since these believers had not been able to justify themselves by the law, why should this yoke be laid upon the Gentiles (vv. 10-11)? James sums up the issue by saying that they must refuse to require legalistic justification from the Gentiles. All men who are saved must be saved by God’s free grace; the only yoke they must accept is that easy one given by Christ (cf. Matt. 11:29 f.).
But there was still a practical problem to be dealt with: how can the Jewish Christians who were brought up to detest certain things cope with Gentile believers who do not share this disapprobation? In order to facilitate harmony among believers, therefore, James recommends that the Gentile converts respect their Jewish brethren’s scruples. The things which James says should be avoided, then, are not to be viewed as the only portions of the law which are still binding on New Testament Christians. These things would not be morally binding at all due to their ceremonial nature. Yet expediency called for the Jerusalem Council to request the Gentiles to avoid meat which had idolatrous associations or which was not drained of its blood as well as to conform to the Jewish social code respecting the relation between the sexes. That is, while neither Jew nor Gentile are required to keep the ceremonial law as a way of justification, in Acts 15:20 three stipulations are set forth in order to improve social relations between believers of widely divergent cultural backgrounds. Therefore, the Judaizers who had taught that the Gentiles must keep the ceremonial law in order to be saved were unorthodox; they subverted and unsettled these Christians (v. 24). On the other hand, at the Holy Spirit’s guidance, and in order to smooth the path of fellowship between Jewish and Gentile Christians, the Gentiles were requested by the Jerusalem Council to abstain from certain things (vv. 28–29). This is wise and expedient advice, but it does not imply that believers are obligated to keep the ceremonial provisions of the Mosaic law as such, much less that justification requires it. With respect to justification, the Jerusalem Council ruled out the works of the law as its proper ground.
Now, James White can attest for you that this is nothing more and nothing less than the consensus view among commentators on Acts 15 as to how Acts 15 Christianity looks. And you can read for yourself right here how Bahnsen’s theonomic outlook upheld that same view—forty years ago.
Rushdoony has a different take on the four requirements for Gentiles, but he was also just as absolutely clear on the basic meaning of the council’s issue and decision: “The issue was justification. . . .” And the decision included this:
There is a significant change, however. In Acts 15:5, the demand of the Pharisees in the church was also for circumcision. This demand, the Gentiles were told in the encyclical, was “subverting your souls, saying, ‘Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment’” (Acts 15:24). Circumcision was thus dropped, and Peter’s baptism of the Gentiles sustained, as the mark of the renewed covenant; the keeping of the law in pharisaic sense of being justified by the law (Acts 13:39) was rejected. . . . The issue was plainly raised by the Pharisees in the church with a false view of law and of justification.
Personally, studying Rushdoony’s view, I believe more discussion needs to be had regarding the nature of four criteria as well as the discussion of so-called “cultural artifacts” or “cultural forms.” Since such terms will need to be defined going forward, there is plenty of work to do—as theonomists have always said. Then again, since such terms can only be defined as arising from a process of exegesis and application of the law, provided any systematic definition up front would likely prove unhelpful in the long run. Such a process will need to be an ongoing discussion—a discussion I already tried to start with James.
Whatever else may be made of this in extended discussion, one thing is clear: theonomists have for 40 years already had an explanation of “what happened in Acts chapter 15.” Theonmists’ view of the Gospel transcending all cultural and geopolitical boundaries is the same as the bulk of all other Evangelical Christian commentators on Acts 15. I think this would be a great place to start in discussing the nature and application of God’s law—a great place to start, especially since theonomists already started it 40 years ago.
 Note, these are partial transcripts: I believe I have included all that is relevant to this particular discussion. If you feel I have left out anything relevant, then please let me know and I will consider it. I don’t think I have done so, however. My point is to include all that is relevant and especially to let it be included in James’ own words. Secondly, these are also rush transcripts. Please forgive any typos. If you feel they are inaccurate in any way, please bring this to my attention and I will try to amend it asap.
 Theonomy in Christian Ethics, Third Ed., 132–3.
 Insititutes, 732.
This is just a quick note to dispel another unfortunate misrepresentation by the opponents of theonomy. This one is propounded by critic Chris Rosebrough who has only recently come to the subject of theonomy but decided to critique it on his podcast. For those of you who don’t know, Rev. Rosebrough is a pastor in the American Association of Lutheran Churches and hosts a popular podcast called “Fighting for the Faith.”
From what little I’ve been able to listen, Rev. Rosebrough spends most of his time combatting popular movements, word-of-faith-style theology, Osteenism, etc. He has a considerable following on social media and is considered, from what I am told, a leader in the “discernment” ministry camp. For some reason, probably personal his affiliations with Jordan Hall, Rev. Rosebrough chose to comment on my recent debate and the subject of theonomy.
I don’t mind at all comments on the debate in general or on specific arguments — let genuine criticism fly! And everyone will have their opinion. What bothers me tremendously, however, is the careless treatment of something we said, and that carelessness leading to a misrepresentation that has us saying the exact opposite of what was said in the debate, and worse.
In his March 3, 2015 show, “Law & Gospel, Theonomy & Mysticism,” Rev. Rosebrough, after accusing us of “bad exegesis,” made the following comments:
“The question that I ask theonomists is, well, let’s take a look here: God’s law and the civil penalties in the Mosaic covenant, they demand that somebody who steals, that they should have their hand cut off. You know, but here in the United States of America in the Twenty-First Century somebody caught stealing may end up spending a few years in prison. Are you saying literally that it is unjust to not cut off their hand? And they would argue that well, yes, it is unjust to not cut off their hand.”
I am not sure how he arrived at this backwards idea, but as the informed reader can surely see, it is not only a misrepresentation of theonomy, it demonstrates profound negligence of Scripture itself, particularly the Law. Not only has no theonomist ever suggested this penalty, the Law itself contains no such standard. It’s simply not there.
The only thing I can think is that Rev. Rosebrough heard the “hand chopping” example in a different context, totally misunderstood it, and applied it as a positive belief that theonomists want to implement. But even this will not do: After all, his claim is that the civil penalties of the Mosaic covenant themselves “demand” this punishment. This can be nothing short of a case of a man who has little familiarity with the actual text of Scripture.
Even if he relied only on the examples mentioned by us, it is unimaginable how he came away thinking that when it comes to hand-chopping, theonomists “would argue that well, yes, it is unjust not to cut off their hand.” Here is what I said during the Q&A segment of the debate:
“What happens when you have a culture where a person is punished for theft by having his hand chopped off? Is that just? By Jordan’s definition, you have to say that it is; because you are to [follow] 1 Peter 2:13: whatever the human ordinances are, you must submit to them.”
My point is that such a law would be overtly unjust. Theonomy would correct this injustice. The worldview argued by Jordan Hall and the Lutheran Rev. Rosebrough would have to accept it and submit to it. Theonomy insists on God’s standards of equitable punishment. Anti-theonomy must entertain various levels of inequitable barbarism, perhaps even as “just,” in society.
I think it should be clear to the reader just how upside-down and backwards Rev. Rosebrough’s thinking is here. What’s worse however, is that he misrepresents God’s Word itself — and this, from someone taking to the airwaves in the name of the Word of God, the study of the Word of God, and regularly criticizing sermons preached by other ministers.
I just listened to John Crawford’s talk from the Conference. It was entitled “Out of the Stands and Off the Sidelines.” John is a gifted communicator with a very down-to-earth perspective and delivery. His message regarding theonomy is one of practical force, and you should listen to it. One of the basic points on which he challenged us is the simple practice of Bible-reading. He shows a survey statistic in which 90 percent of Christians claimed they want to “fully honor God.” The same survey revealed that only 19 percent of those same believers read their Bible daily. Disconnect much?
John Crawford concluded, therefore, regarding the debate over God’s law: “There’s a general unfamiliarity in our Church with the Scriptures that makes it difficult to even initiate a productive discussion on these topics.”
Absolutely. We need more people simply to read and understand God’s Law. And this seems to be just as big a need among our critics: even some of the ordained ones apparently are not familiar with the simple tenets of God’s Law. Perhaps they have waived off Old Testament Law so much they no longer read and study it at all? I don’t know. But if this is what passes for discernment today, please just erase my memory and put me back in the matrix.
Now, I and others have tried to contact Chris, but we have had absolutely zero response. I personally messaged him in private and had no response at all. We would expect that some type of correction and apology be given either in print on social media, or in a subsequent podcast.
As we noted yesterday, Charles Spurgeon affirmed the same interpretation of the critical term pleroō in Matthew 5:17 as Greg. L. Bahnsen later did: what is normally translated as “fulfill” is better understood in the sense of “confirm” and “establish.” Today we shall see that Spurgeon did not only see the translation of the word pleroō in the same way, but he understood the meaning of the text in the same way as well. As we consider this passage, we will also be able to clear away yet another misrepresentation of Bahnsen promoted by Jordan Hall in our recent debate.
As we noted yesterday, it is clear that Spurgeon believed that the word pleroō should be translated as “confirm” and “establish,” and even as “reassert.” He wrote,
Our King has not come to abrogate the law, but to confirm and reassert it (p. 53; my emphasis).
I like that word: “reassert.” This is exactly what Jordan ridiculed on a later podcast as allegedly the exact opposite of what Jesus did: “So Jesus came down to say, ‘OK, y’all: that law you’re supposed to be following, keep doing that. Keep it up.”
Well, while a theonomist would hardly say this is the totality of what Jesus meant, and we would also be quick to dismiss certain unnecessary implications that some critics would attach to it, is this thought in-and-of-itself completely out of the question for the Christian?
Spurgeon didn’t think so.
Spurgeon’s view helps answer the question that seemingly puzzled Jordan during our first cross-examination, but which he bypassed before I answered. Jordan had argued, “So Jesus fulfilled the law—pleroō—it would not mean therefore He came to establish and confirm the law.” When I suggested that this dichotomy was not necessarily true, he seemed puzzled and asked, “How does the word mean ‘Jesus fulfilled it’ and at the same time also mean, as Bahnsen translates the word, or interprets the word, “to establish and confirm,” thereby saying . . . quote ‘You are to follow this in exhaustive detail’?”
Had I been able to answer that question, I would have answered very similarly to Spurgeon does in his commentary on Matthew. What Jordan put in absolute, irreconcilable dichotomy—i.e., it must be either fulfill or confirm/establish—Spurgeon had no problem understanding as multiple facets of the same work of Christ. He wrote,
Hence the Lord Jesus does not set up a milder law, nor will he allow any one of his servants to presume to do so. Our King fulfills the ancient law, and his Spirit works in us to will and to do of God’s good pleasure as set forth in the immutable statutes of righteousness (p. 53).
It is clear from just this that, for Spurgeon, the passage carries both connotations: fulfillment of the law for us and establishment of the standard by which we are to live. It is clear that it applies to both justification in Christ and the standard for the Spirit-led sanctification of the believer.
This is consistent with his views on verse 20. Jordan pressed us on the concept of our righteousness exceeding that of the scribes and Pharisees as if this were a novel and unacceptable view. But Spurgeon expressed that very view as well:
We cannot even “enter the kingdom” and begin to be the Lord’s, without going beyond the foremost of the world’s religionists [the scribes and Pharisees]. Believers are not to be worse in conduct, but far better than the most precise legalists. In heart, and even in act, we are to be superior to the law-writers, and the law-boasters [i.e. Scribes and Pharisees]. The kingdom is not for rebels, but for the exactly obedient. It not only requires of us holiness, reverence, integrity, and purity, but it works all these in our hearts and lives. The gospel does not give us outward liberty to sin because of the superior excellence of a supposed inner sanctity; but the rather it produces outward sanctity through working in our inmost soul a glorious freedom in the law of the Lord (p. 54).
I started to highlight sections of that statement in bold, but realized I was bolding the whole thing. So just read it again carefully. Spurgeon is teaching that Jesus’ establishment and confirmation of the law is not only as a schoolmaster to show us our incapacity to keep the law perfectly, and thus to drive us to Christ for our justification. He is going beyond the condemnatory purpose of the law and into the normative use of the law—as a standard of living the Christian life. Spurgeon is saying that the gospel works within us and “produces outward sanctity” according to the standard of the law, and that by keeping the standard, our righteousness will go beyond that of the scribes and Pharisees.
With Spurgeon’s assessment, Bahnsen and I agree.
Jordan, however, does not seem to share this view. He at least was not willing to allow that Bahnsen did. This is where he created one of these classic “boogeyman” quotations. He quoted Bahnsen from Theonomy in Christian Ethics, p. 91:
Why must one practice and teach the details of God’s law? Because then your righteousness will exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees.
It was Jordan’s point to present this as if Bahnsen was teaching works-righteousness. In fact, he went on, as we noted yesterday, in a later podcast to assert that this is “the best example I can give you of the danger of theonomy.” He and his hosts concurred in calling this works-righteousness. But was this really what Bahnsen meant?
Well, in the debate, when Jordan asked me if I agreed or disagreed with this statement, I answered: “I would want to read the full context first and see what he was actually saying before I said I agreed or disagreed.” And you can bet: read the full context I did!
First, Jordan didn’t even read the full sentence from Bahnsen. It reads: “Why must one practice and teach the details of God’s law? Because then your righteousness will exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees who have no part in the kingdom” (my emphasis). While this is a minor point, it would have helped to signify that whatever Bahnsen meant, he was setting it in juxtaposition to those excluded from the kingdom. As it is, it’s another truncated quotation from Jordan Hall.
Secondly, and more importantly, the immediate context clarifies that Bahnsen was not promoting the absurd notion of works-righteousness. He explains:
A righteous observance of God’s holy standards for human behavior would far surpass the righteousness and “legality” of the scribes. Jesus repudiates the perverse externalistic interpretations of the Pharisees, their exegetical distortions of the law, and their works-righteousness scheme of justification.
If a man is to be truly law-abiding, he must keep the law as delivered by God and in the way specified by God. A smorgasbord approach to the law is abusive; it leads to externalism, self-righteousness, and autonomy. Twisting what the law says is a satanic pretension and slanderous to God’s revelation. Using the law as a means of salvation is highhanded flattery and disdain for God’s grace.
So it is clear that Bahnsen is not promoting works-righteousness or salvation by works. He is merely upholding the standard of the law against the lawless distortions of the Pharisees in both their view of justification and their view of what the law contains. Christians, however, are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone, and yet our standard of holy living is the law which He established. By living according to that law, we can in fact exceed the scribes and Pharisees, as Spurgeon said, in “outward sanctity.” Why? Not only because of being justified in Christ and filled with His Spirit, but also because we seek to conform to the actual standard of the law and not a watered-down, diverted, distorted, traditionalist version of it as the Pharisees did.
It would have helped, therefore, if Jordan would have read and considered just the few sentences of Bahnsen following the one he quoted, once again, in truncation. The context would have saved a lot of trouble for me, and would have saved the unfortunate deception many of his followers are now under if they accepted him at his word and will not seek to read further articles like this one.
It would have helped Jordan further to dispel the error had he continued to consider the very next chapter in Theonomy in Christian Ethics entitled, “The Law’s Inability to Justify and Empower.” Much context, that.
And if there remains any doubt about understanding Matthew 5:17–20 as teaching the confirmation and establishment of the standard of the law for New Testament Christian worldview and living, let us consider a final review from Spurgeon. In a sermon entitled “The Perpetuity of the Law of God” (No. 1660), preached May 21, 1882, he explained:
The law has to be fulfilled in us personally in a spiritual and gospel sense. “Well,” say you, “but how can that be?” I reply in the words of our apostle: “What the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh,” Christ has done and is doing by the Holy Spirit, “that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us who walk not after the flesh but after the Spirit.” Regeneration is a work by which the law is fulfilled; for when a man is born again there is placed in him a new nature, which loves the law of God and is perfectly conformed thereto. The new nature which God implants in every believer at the time he is born again is incapable of sin: it cannot sin, for it is born of God.
Regeneration is, therefore, a work by which the law is fulfilled in us (definitively: justification), and it involves the creation of a new nature which loves the law and conforms thereunto (in history: sanctification). In both of these works we exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees, or as Spurgeon put it, “going beyond the foremost of the world’s religionists.”
I don’t see how or why Jordan missed the clear context Bahnsen provided. It was on eth every same page from which he quoted, and the one following. I also don’t see how anyone can understand Bahnsen’s position any differently than Spurgeon’s once the actual context is taken into account.
I hope this helps clear up an unfortunate misrepresentation of Theonomy and set the record straight again. Else, I’ll be waiting to hear Jordan declare Charles Spurgeon a heretic, too.
 References are to Spurgeon’s The Gospel of the Kingdom (Grand Rapids, MI: Revell, 1987 [reprinted 1995]).
 Page number from the Third Edition.
 TICE, p. 91.
[Note: In response to the popular question, as of late, “What is Theonomy?,” I thought it fitting to post this old introductory statement from Greg L. Bahnsen. Not only does it answer the question in a brief, clear, and biblical way, it also clears away some of the mischaracterizations in which certain critics seem determined to persist—i.e., the mistaken and repeatedly refuted idea that theonomists believe in “works salvation.” Bahnsen’s simple and clear statement here serves as a good entry point to the topic for earnest inquirers and critics alike. The article is also available for free from Covenant Media Foundation where you will also find countless other great resources from Greg L. Bahnsen and many others.—JM]
Dr. Van Til taught us that “There is no alternative but that of theonomy and autonomy.” Every ethical decision assumes some final authority or standard, and that will either be self-law (“autonomy”) or God’s law (“theonomy”). While unbelievers consider themselves the ultimate authority in determining moral right or wrong, believers acknowledge that God alone has that position and prerogative.
The position which has come to be labeled “theonomy” today thus holds that the word of the Lord is the sole, supreme, and unchallengeable standard for the actions and attitudes of all men in all areas of life. Our obligation to keep God’s commands cannot be judged by any extrascriptural standard, such as whether its specific requirements (when properly interpreted) are congenial to past traditions or modern feelings and practices.
Jesus My Savior
When any of us come to Christ for salvation, it is with a sense of our sin and misery before God. Our very need of the Savior arises from a conviction of sin, brought home to our hearts by the Holy Spirit showing our guilt for violating God’s commandments. As Paul wrote, “I had not known sin except through the law” (Rom. 7:7). The law defines what sin is (1 John 3:4). As such the law cannot be our personal vehicle for gaining favor with God. It rather aims at Christ as our only righteousness, tutoring us that justification must be by faith in Him (Rom. 10:4; Gal. 3:24).
So theonomy teaches that since the fall it has always been unlawful to use the law of God in hopes of establishing one’s own personal merit and justification, in contrast or complement to salvation by way of promise and faith. As Paul said, it was “through the law” that he learned to “die to the law” as a way of self-salvation (Gal. 2:9). Commitment to obedience is but the lifestyle of faith, a token of gratitude for God’s redeeming grace. “By grace you have been saved through faith . . . not of works. . . . We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God previously prepared that we should walk in them” (Eph. 2:8–10).
In What is Faith? J. Gresham Machen urged that “a new and more powerful proclamation of that law is perhaps the most pressing need of the hour. . . . A low view of laws always brings legalism in religion; a high view of law makes a man a seeker after grace. Pray God that the high view may again prevail.”
Jesus My Lord
After coming to Christ in faith and repentance we all naturally ask how a Christian should live. A. A. Hodge answers: “While Christ fulfilled the law for us, the Holy Spirit fulfils the law in us, by sanctifying us into complete conformity to it.” Paul wrote in Romans 8:4–9 that unregenerate men are enemies of God who cannot submit to His law, but those who walk by the Holy Spirit subject themselves to that law. Paul himself endorses that we should “delight in the law after the inward man” (Rom. 7:22).
The Christian confesses that Jesus is the Lord, thus looking to the directives of Jesus to guide his life. Jesus said “if you love me, you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15). Moreover, we will strive to teach others to observe whatever He has commanded us (Matt. 28:18–20). Such healthy and necessary moral standards are surely not burdensome to the believer who bows to Christ as the Lord (1 John 5:3).
As our Lord, moreover, Jesus teaches us that man is to live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God (Matt. 4:4). We have no right to edit God’s commandments for ourselves, deciding to follow those which agree with our preconceived ideas and rejecting the others. James teaches that we are not to become “judges of the law,” but rather doers of that law (4:11–12); to break even one point of it is to be guilty of breaking it all (2:10). The whole law is our duty, except where the Lawgiver and Lord reveals otherwise. God forbids us to diminish His commands on our own authority (Deut. 4:2). “Every scripture” (even the Old Testament) is profitable, said Paul, for “instruction in righteousness” so that we would be thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Tim. 3:16–17).
Accordingly theonomy views God’s laws directing moral behavior to be a reflection of His unchanging character; such laws are not arbitrary, but objectively, universally, and absolutely binding. It is God’s law that “you are to be holy because I am holy” (1 Peter 1:16, citing Leviticus). The law may not be criticized or challenged by us. It is “holy, righteous and good” (Rom. 7:12). This moral law was revealed to Israel in oracles and ordinances, but even the Gentiles show the work of the law upon their hearts and know its ordinances from the natural order and inward conscience (Rom. 1:32; 2:14–15). Who, then, is under the authority of God’s law? Paul answers “all the world” (Rom. 3:19).
The law revealed by Moses and subsequent Old Testament authors was given within a covenantal administration of God’s grace which included not only moral instruction, but gloriously and mercifully “promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come.” God’s revelation itself teaches us that New Covenant believers, who have the law powerfully written on their hearts (Jer. 31:31 ff.; Heb. 8:8–12), no longer follow the foreshadows and administrative details of the old covenant. They are obsolete (Heb. 8:13), having been imposed only until the time when the Messiah would come (Heb. 9:10; Col. 2:17). Thus, for example, on the basis of God’s own instruction, we no longer resort to animal sacrifices at the temple and a Levitical priest (Heb. 7–10); the cultic dietary laws have been set aside, for God has cleansed the unclean meats (representing the Gentiles) from which Israel was to be separate or holy (Acts 10).
Theonomy teaches, then, that in regard to the Old Testament law, the New Covenant surpasses the Old Covenant in glory, power, and finality. The New Covenant also supersedes the Old Covenant shadows, thereby changing the application of sacrificial, purity, and “separation” principles, redefining the people of God (e.g., Matt. 21:43), and also altering the significance of the promised land (e.g., Rom. 4:13; 1 Peter 1:4).
What is crucial to notice here is that theonomic ethics comes to these conclusions on the basis of Biblical instruction. Men have no right to alter or spurn Old Testament laws on their own say-so, social traditions, or preconceived ideas about what is morally appropriate or inappropriate in the Mosaic law. They have no right to include more in the discontinuity between old and new covenants than can be warranted from divine revelation.
Theonomy thus teaches that we should presume that Old Testament laws continue to be morally binding in the New Testament unless they are rescinded or modified by further revelation. Theonomy’s methodology stands squarely against that of dispensational theology which maintains that all of the Old Testament commandments should be deemed—in advance of exegesis—to be abrogated, unless they are repeated in the New Testament.
On this issue the words of our Lord are definitive and clear in Matthew 5:17–19. Jesus declared that he did not come not abrogate the Old Testament Law and Prophets, but to give them their full measure. John Murray wrote that Jesus’ “fulfillment” of the law “refers to the function of validating and confirming the law and the prophets.” With respect to the Old Testament’s moral standards, Jesus went on to insist that until the end of the physical cosmos, not the slightest stroke of the law will pass away. “Therefore whoever shall break one of these least commandments and teach men so shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.” Jesus confirmed the validity of the law, even down to its least commandment, and censures anyone who dares to teach otherwise (without authorization from the Lawgiver Himself). New Testament Christians must operate on the presumption of continuity with the Old Testament moral code.
King of Kings
That general continuity which we presume with respect to the moral standards of the Old Testament applies to political ethics. John Murray called it a fatal error “if it is thought that the Christian revelation, the Bible, does not come to the civil authority with a demand for obedience to its direction and precept as stringent and inescapable as it does to the individual, to the family, and to the church”
In addition to being the Head of the church, Christ has been made King over all other earthly kings (1 Tim. 6:15), the “ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev. 1:5); to Him by right they owe allegiance and obedience. He has been invested with all authority in heaven as well as on earth (Matt. 28:18), and it is to be our prayer that God’s will be done on earth just as perfectly as it is in heaven (Matt. 6:10). Jehovah has established His Son as King upon His holy hill, and thus the kings and judges of the earth are now required to submit reverently to Him and serve the Lord (Ps. 2:6–12).
So theonomy teaches that civil rulers are morally obligated to enforce those laws of Christ, found throughout the Scriptures, which are addressed to magistrates (as well as to refrain from coercion in areas where God has not prescribed their intervention). As Paul wrote in Romans 13:1–10, magistrates—even the secular rulers of Rome—are obligated to conduct their offices as “ministers of God,” avenging God’s wrath (compare 13:4 with 12:19) against criminal evil-doers. They will give an account on the Final Day of their service before the King of kings, their Creator and Judge. Christian involvement in politics calls for recognition of God’s transcendent, absolute, revealed law as a standard by which to judge all social codes and political policies. The Scottish theologian, William Symington, well said: “It is the duty of nations, as subjects of Christ, to take his law as their rule. They are apt to think enough that they take, as their standard of legislation and administration, human reason, natural conscience, public opinion or political expediency. None of these, however, nor indeed all of them together, can supply a sufficient guide in affairs of state.”
The Apostle Paul affirmed that one of the uses of the Old Testament law which we know to be good is the restraint of criminal behavior (1 Tim. 1:8–10). Jesus endorsed the penal sanctions of the Old Testament law, condemning those who would make them void by their own human traditions (Matt. 15:3–4). Paul likewise upheld the penal standards of the Mosaic judicial law (Acts 25:11). The author of Hebrews leaves us no doubt about the inspired New Testament perspective on the Mosaic penalties, saying “every transgression and disobedience received a just recompense of reward” (2:2). God requires that judges not punish too harshly or too leniently, but assign a penalty proportionate to the crime (cf. “an eye for an eye”). To uphold genuine justice in their punishments, magistrates need the direction of God’s law. In observing the law which God revealed to Israel, all nations should respond “what great nation is there that has statutes and ordinances so righteous as all this law?” (Deut. 4:8).
Although Israel as a political body has expired—and along with it its judicial law as a constitution—the general equity of those judicial laws is still required. Similarly, when a public library goes out of business (and your library card thus expires), the truth of what was written in its books is not abolished or changed. Political codes today ought to incorporate the moral requirements which were culturally illustrated in the God-given, judicial laws of Old Testament Israel. George Gillespie, widely regarded as the most authoritative theologian at the Westminster Assembly, wrote: “the will of God concerning civil justice and punishments is nowhere so fully and clearly revealed as in the judicial law of Moses. . . . He who was punishable by death under the judicial law is punishable by death still.”
Those who do not favor taking God’s law as the ultimate standard for civil morality and public justice will be forced to substitute some other criterion. The civil magistrate cannot function without some standard of good and evil. If that standard is not the revealed law of God, then in some form or expression it will have to be a law of men—the standard of self-law or autonomy. Men must choose in their civil affairs to be governed by God’s law (theonomy), to be ruled by tyrants, or acquiesce to increasing social degeneracy.
 Christian-Theistic Ethics, p. 134.
 Pp. 141–142.
 The Confession of Faith, p. 251.
 Westminster Confession of Faith, VII.5.
 Principles of Conduct, p. 150.
 Messiah the Prince, p. 234.
 Westminster Confession, XIX.4.
 Wholesome Severity Reconciled . . . , 1645.