“Oh I heard it through the grapevine. Oh I'm just about to lose my mind.” Classic Marvin Gaye. Often Christians hear and discern "truth" via the Marvin hermeneutic. It is not a good thing. Gaye style gossip is sinful (Exodus 23:1, Psalm 34:13, Proverbs 20:19, Romans 1:29, Titus 3:2, James 1:26,4:11, etc). We are warned; “the first one to plead his cause seems right, until his neighbor comes and examines him” (Proverbs 18:17). Should the grapevine be your source of truth?
Concerns over fellow Christians’ theological positions are serious and should follow due process. Love for neighbor (Matthew 22:39) should shape how we treat fellow believers. Jesus tells us to make the effort and talk with our brother (Matthew 18:15-17). Paul publically resisted Peter (Galatians 2:11-16). Gentile believers and their relationship with the Ceremonial Law of God was elevated to the Jerusalem Council (Acts 15:1-29) after discussion in the local church. Dialogue happened. Discussions were had around first century meals and coffees. Iron sharpened iron, the Scriptures were searched and God was glorified.
Perhaps I need to repent of being publically unclear in what I believe to be Biblical Christianity. Not sure. Please enlighten me with questions if you have them. I generally accept the original Westminster Confession of Faith and its Catechisms as my understanding of Christianity. Go here for more info. If you have questions, ask. I do not bite. The introductory image does not represent me; although my eldest son (mini-boss) is a little dubious of this when we wrestle! Discussion over coffee, whiskey, and or cigars are all welcome. Anytime. Make contact, shout out.
It's time to take the bull by the horns. What exactly is Theonomy and exactly what are some in Hobart so concerned about? The former question is easier to answer than the latter due to a lack of openly expressing specific theological concerns. I will deal with some of the concerns I have heard on the grapevine. Hopefully this will lay things to rest a little.
Short definitions are tricky. They leave room for misunderstanding. But they are needed. Sound bites are important but we ought to take the time to understand the context of the 30 second definition. This is a great brief definition of Theonomy:
“The word ‘Theonomy’ comes from two Greek words, theos (God) and nomos (law). Together, these words simply mean ‘God’s law’…Theonomy is the biblical teaching that Mosaic law contains perpetual moral standards for living, including some civil laws, which remain obligatory for today” (Joel McDurmon - The Bounds of Love, pp. 12 & 24).
This is a good shorthand definition to work with. It is not extensive, a book is needed for that. Dr McDurmon soundbites the theonomic position well.
If you are going to be critical of a position it is a good idea to understand the position well and represent it fairly. These are basic ground rules for open, honest and God honoring debate. It is simply uncharitable to misrepresent or half represent a position that you are critiquing. This means reading source material.
If you don't know anything about Theonomy I strongly recommend the following reading (hyperlinks open a free PDF version or other version):
Dr McDurmon - The Bounds of Love: An Introduction to God's Law of Liberty;
Dr Gary North and Gary DeMar – Christian Reconstruction: What it is and What it Isn’t
I will work through various arguments that I have heard around the traps over the last 13 or so years. Some of these have been re-ignited over the past few weeks. The first two are addressed in this article.
Reformed, Calvinist Protestants are rightly concerned over the doctrine of justification. Sola fide. Faith alone. Sola Gratia. By grace alone. Man is saved by grace alone through faith alone. This faith is gifted by God to man so that no one can boast over salvation (Ephesians 2:8-9). The salvation of man is the monergistic work of God resurrecting spiritually dead people to a living and active faith (John 3:5-8, Ephesians 2:1-5, Colossians 2:13). Salvation was accomplished by the work of Christ alone, not our own. Our justification was accomplished and applied through the death, resurrection and ascension of Jesus. Salvation is by grace through faith plus nothing, zippo (Ephesians 2:8-10). The works of the Law save no man (Galatians 2:16).
Theonomists heartily agree. I have not heard of nor read a single Theonomist who advocates works based salvation or justification. Theonomists vehemently proclaim salvation by grace through the God given gift of faith. Don’t trust me, hear it from some of the heavy weights.
RJ Rushdoony; “the church proclaims the fact of the atonement through Jesus Christ is the only means of justification and as the necessary concomitant to personal regeneration” (Sovereignty, p. 44). “Man’s justification is by the grace of God in Jesus Christ…” (The Institutes of Biblical Law, p.4).
Greg Bahsen; “Theonomy is not a scheme for personal self-justification. God’s grace, expressed in the accomplished and applied redemption of Jesus Christ, alone can save us. The Savior is not embraced but by faith; one’s works cannot earn his salvation.” “To use the law as a means of justification is an unlawful use of the law.” “[T]he law is neither able to justify a man nor able to give men requisite spiritual power…Thus anyone who seeks justification before God out of obedience to the law lies under the law’s curse…Grace (the promise) and law (the demand) cannot be mixed together as ways of salvation; the man who is saved by grace cannot have anything added to his salvation by law. The promise grants what the law could only aim at: righteousness and salvation” (Theonomy in Christian Ethics, pp. 37 & 127, 133-134).
Gary North; “The primary need today, as always, is the need for widespread personal repentance before God. We therefore need a Holy Spirit initiated Christian revival to extend the Kingdom of God across the face of the earth” (Tools of Dominion: The Case Laws of Exodus, p.39).
Theonomy is consistent with John Calvin's words; “man is saved unto the good works that God foreordained him to walk in (Ephesians 2:10). I wish the reader to understand that as often as we mention Faith alone…we are not thinking of a dead faith, which worketh not by love, but holding faith to be the only cause of justification. (Galatians 5:6; Romans 3:22.) It is therefore faith alone which justifies, and yet the faith which justifies is not alone: just as it is the heat alone of the sun which warms the earth, and yet in the sun it is not alone, because it is constantly conjoined with light” (John Calvin - Acts of the Council of Trent with the Antidote, Cannon 11, https://www.monergism.com/thethreshold/sdg/calvin_trentantidote.html).
Theonomists do not advocate justification by works of the law or any other good work. Sola gratia, sola fide. Let’s stop with the whole works righteousness accusation please. Theonomists explicitly teach that man is dead to his sins and cannot save himself; man needs to be resurrected by God and given a new heart in order for him to repent and believe. Works salvation cannot be inferred from the Theonomic position.
So what Theonomic distinctive rubs some the wrong way then? It is over the application of the Law of God to individuals plus every sphere of life. The theonomic position demands that there is no neutrality. All of life is under the Lordship of Christ and must be shaped by His Law-Word. Dutch Theologian Abraham Kuyper was right on the money; “there is not a single square inch of the entire cosmos of which Christ the sovereign Lord of all does not say, ‘This is mine.’” Amen.
Theonomy advocates that “the law does not save a man, but it does show him why he needs to be saved and how he is to walk after he is saved” (Greg Bahnsen, Theonomy in Christian Ethics p. 129). Ok, but what’s the really sticky pudding? “Theonomy is the biblical teaching that Mosaic law contains perpetual moral standards for living, including some civil laws, which remain obligatory for today” (Joel McDurmon - The Bounds of Love, p. 24). Many Christians struggle with the distinctive that the Law of God contains binding moral standards for civil government. Please note that "some" is very important in the context of Dr McDurmon's statement. Many miss that bit altogether. But this position seems a hard pill to swallow. Perhaps it is for many who have been raised on the milk of political pluralism who are sitting atop centuries of natural law.
Paul says when we use the Law of God lawfully in all areas of life it is according to the glorious gospel of Jesus (1 Timothy 1:3-11). The Theonomic position is that the Law of God is the tool for sanctification of the individual and man’s Christ centred dominion over the world. The Holy Spirit does not work apart from the revealed Word-Law of God. This is exactly where things get heated. Theonomy asks “by what standard” at every step. Theonomists drive questions back to presuppositions. We keep asking pesky “why” and “who says” questions in areas of life that many have given to secular humanism or emotions. Theonomy unequivocally asserts that Christians must search the Scriptures for the blueprints for all of societal life. The Scriptures are the only rule for all of faith and life.
Theonomy does not advocate a top-down, by raw man centred force, implementation of God’s Law in society. Revolution is not wanted. Theonomists seek to transform societies through the preaching of the Gospel and applying it to all of life. Preaching the gospel of the kingdom is central to Theonomy. Regeneration of individual sinners through repentance and faith is essential to any abnd every societal transformation. All of Christ for all of life.
“Productive social transformation takes time and lots of it…I want to encourage Christians to begin their patient labors. It is easy to tear down a society; it is not easy to rehabilitate one. The road to the comprehensive peace of God begins with the transformation of the covenant-breaking heart. Personal regeneration must precede comprehensive social reconstruction” (Gary North, Political Pluralism, pp.19-20). Personal regeneration is key to societal change. Theonomists do not want to install a Christian government with the click of fingers. Long hard yards of evangelism and discipleship are needed. Men and women turning to Christ as savior and Lord is the precursor to real God honoring societal transformation. The flesh cannot please God (Romans 8:7-8).
Theonomy does not advocate a top-down revolutionary installation of some sort of Christian civil government. It advocates discipling the nations to faithfully obey the commands of Christ in every area of life. This societal transformation and reconstruction is preceded by personal regeneration. The order is important. Societal transformation is the outworking of individual redemption. God first saves His people from Egypt and then He lays down the covenant stipulations for all of life. The horse before the cart. Theonomists believe that the Law of God gives the handbook on how to love God and neighbour (1 John 5:1-5, cf. Matthew 22:36-40, Deuteronomy 6:5, Leviticus 19:9-18).
**first image attributed to: https://mpasho.co.ke/angry-man-2/**