Theonomy and the Hobart grapevine 3

Angry Priest

Heresy rolls off the tongue. It’s orgasmic to discernment bloggers. Those who step outside the fundamentalist unbiblical tunnel vision are instantly castrated. Unfortunately, a few Hobart Christian leaders have evidently bathed in those blogs, or should I say bogs. Elements of two-kingdoms (2K) and radical two-kingdoms (R2K) theology seem to undergird at least some of the thinking of these leaders. A number of these men strongly oppose Theonomy. Goo was well and truly spat over our recent conferences. Some do not understand the position; while others continue to misrepresent it. Elements of 2K and R2K theology obscures everything.

Two-kingdoms

So what is 2K or R2K theology? For the purposes of this discussion, those who espouse these views, to lesser or greater degree, hold that the church and Christians cannot apply Scripture (in particular the Law of God) to the civil government. And yes, there are caveats. In the right corner, in the blue trunks and weighing in at 250 pounds is: give to Caesar everything that he demands. And in the left corner, in the red & yellow trunks, weighing 235 pounds is: dare ye resist the civil government? These budding theologians refuse to apply the Law of God to the civil magistrate. Law is pure legalism. Theonomy is thus the annoying fly buzzing in the honey jar of grace. We are told: Australian society is secular and political pluralism is the order of the day. As citizens of our great democracy we are to shut up and submit to the political pluralism of our day, or ship out. God’s Law is dead. Long live political pluralism. Didn’t you get the memo, the Law of God was crucified on the cross and passed away with socio-political Israel. So get over it you legalistic Theonomists. Easy there! We know that a man’s theology comes out of his fingertips. Religion in politics is unavoidable. All laws rest atop religious presuppositions. Theonomy’s Hobart antagonists live inconsistently within their little semi-theonomic bubble. In theory God’s Law is held as legalistic, but in practice bestiality, abortion, same sex mirage, theft, murder, kidnapping (etc.) are universally morally wrong because…well never mind, I think you catch my drift.

Popes and heresy hunters

Many well-meaning Christian Hobartians stand upon the Law of God to throw stones at Theonomists. Thanks. Perhaps they are closet Theonomists after all. Give em time, give em time. The issue is that many of these Christian men of good standing treat their Theonomic brothers in Christ as a cancer. With scalpels ready conferences are boycotted, threats/warnings made and Kingdom work is hampered. Why? Because some local sitting popes have called Theonomy a works salvation heresy. My first two articles (one and two) dispelled such uncharitable nonsense and established that the Theonomic position falls within the pale of reformed theology. The magisterial reformers had a high view of the Law of God. They did not despise it. My next article will establish this point extensively.

Theo what?

Definitions are important. To win a debate you must control word definitions. That's why so much mud has been thrown at the Theonomic name in Hobart. It's important not to confuse the mud with the position. Don’t let your local Theonomy antagonist muddy the water through building a straw-man to set ablaze with the zeal only previously witnessed in the declaration of papal bulls. We have uncharitably been labelled extremists and many other things. Read the literature for yourself. Go to primary sources to make up your mind.

So, to set the record straight again..

"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, 2016, pp. 12 & 24.

Theonomists do not teach works-salvation. Not even by implication. Leading Theonomist, Dr Greg L Bahnsen, said this; “using the law as a means of salvation is high-handed flattery and disdain for God’s grace. On the other hand, willing submission to every ordinance of God as actually revealed, and obedience in gratitude for God’s gracious salvation, are recognition of a creaturely position before God and honoring to His name.” He even said that in his book Theonomy in Christian Ethics (p. 92), the book/thesis that ruffled feathers and knotted knickers in the 1970s. Time to pause. Reflect a little, hug a Theonomist and slowly re-read Bahnsen’s passage. Ahh, that’s right, if you read what Theonomists actually say you cannot conclude the position encourages man earning his salvation. Theonomy is consistent with reformed Christianity - salvation is by grace alone through faith alone, not by man’s works.

Know thy enemy - principles of Theonomy

The creation of make believe Theonomic ogres who want blood to run in the streets should be left for those in asylums. To disagree with a position, you must understand the position. My challenge to Hobart Theonomy antagonists is: don’t be intellectually dishonest, understand what Theonomy is before demonising Theonomists in our Christian communities. You have done much damage via false assertions. If you have an issue with your brother, go to him and discuss. Baring false witness is still sinful. The heartfelt desire of every Theonomist I know is that Christians is this State would love God by loving His Standard (aka all of Scripture) and seek to apply that Standard to all of life.

The following 12 points were part of Greg Bahnsen’s summary principles of the Theonomic position. They make an excellent summary of the Theonomic position:

  1. The Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments are, in part and in whole, a verbal revelation from God through the words of men, being infallibly true regarding all that they teach on any subject.

  2. 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; commitment to obedience is but the lifestyle of faith, a token of gratitude for God's redeeming grace.

  3. 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; this word naturally includes God's moral directives (law).

  4. Our obligation to keep the law of God 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.

  5. We should presume that Old Testament standing laws continue to be morally binding in the New Testament, unless they are rescinded or modified by further revelation.

  6. In regard to the Old Testament law, the New Covenant surpasses the Old Covenant in glory, power, and finality (thus reinforcing former duties). The New Covenant also supersedes the Old Covenant shadows, thereby changing the application of sacrificial, purity, and "separation" principles, redefining the people of God, and altering the significance of the promised land.

  7. God's revealed standing laws are a reflection of His immutable moral character and, as such, are absolute in the sense of being non-arbitrary, objective, universal, and established in advance of particular circumstances (thus applicable to general types of moral situations).

  8. Christian involvement in politics calls for recognition of God's transcendent, absolute, revealed law as a standard by which to judge all social codes.

  9. Civil magistrates in all ages and places are obligated to conduct their offices as ministers of God, avenging divine wrath against criminals and giving an account on the Final Day of their service before the King of kings, their Creator and Judge.

  10. The general continuity which we presume with respect to the moral standards of the Old Testament applies just as legitimately to matters of socio-political ethics as it does to personal, family, or ecclesiastical ethics.

  11. The civil precepts of the Old Testament (standing 'judicial" laws) are a model of perfect social justice for all cultures, even in the punishment of criminals. Outside of those areas where God's law prescribes their intervention and application of penal redress, civil rulers are not authorized to legislate or use coercion (e.g., the economic marketplace).

  12. The morally proper way for Christians to correct social evils which are not under the lawful jurisdiction of the state is by means of voluntary and charitable enterprises or the censures of the home, church, and marketplace - even as the appropriate method for changing the political order of civil law is not violent revolution, but dependence upon regeneration, re-education, and gradual legal reform.

Greg L Bahnsen, No Other Standard, pp 10-13. You can download the entire book here.

Ignorance and all that

You now have a summary of the Theonomic position. Ignorance is bliss. However, you are no longer an ill informed Theonomy antagonist. Please honestly represent the position in the future. More hot air over Theonomy is really uncalled for.

Those Hobartian leaders who oppose Theonomic position with such vigour and semi-anonymous prestige ought to re-examine the short falls of their own Biblical worldview. A culturally impotent Gospel is exactly that. When the crown rights of King Jesus are not applied to the civil government, when Jesus' Law is not the standard by which our magistrates are to rule we are well down the road to serfdom. When the church will not call the civil magistrate to repent and bow the knee to Christ, she is silenced and becomes irrelevant. Hobart Christianity has very little cultural/public impact. Why? I get that the answer is multi faceted and that I am not answering fully. However, for decades we have been told that Christianity is only a heart issue and that love for God and neighbour is not defined by the Law of God. Velvet covered words from Tasmanian pulpits have encouraged and enticed Christians to truncate the Gospel. We have been taught that legalism is when Christians love God's standard (His Law) and desire to apply it to every realm in our society. Loving Jesus in your heart and living lives largely defined by our hearts and culture has been espoused as the Christian norm. "Man's chief end is evangelism" has been shoved down our throats for years. Many a good man has been coaxed/guilt manipulated out of his godly vocation to enter into large amounts of debt in order to study and eventually enter "full-time ministry." Biblical qualification for eldership/leadership and skill seem to be trumped by enthusiasm and a willingness to tow the truncated Gospel line.

Secular humanism ripped the heart out of modern evangelicalism in this State. Culturally we are a mess, largely due to the Church falling for this Christianised dualism. The road back is not more dualism, more loving Jesus autonomously defined by our hearts. We need the comprehensive Biblical worldview that Theonomy affirms. A consistent worldview that starts with the authority of Scripture period, and then applies it as the foundation stone to every area of faith and life, is sorely required. No exceptions. God defines love in His Law, not us or our deceived hearts/emotions.

Theonomists are not satisfied with the mantra of merely plucking souls from the fires of hell. We see something more in the Scriptures. The Gospel will succeed in the world. Christ is king. He rules all of this world now from heaven. All of His foes will be subdued through the work of the Spirit by the means of the preaching of the Gospel. All thoughts will be taken captive to the obedience of Christ and His rule will shape every nation on this earth. The Church has work to do. Long term and inter-generational discipleship is needed. Our pulpits need to thunder the grandiose vision of the glorious Gospel; the power of God that transforms hearts and minds and reshapes States and nations to the glory of the Messiah. We aren't here to divide into ever smaller Christian ghetto church groups. Rather we are about the Gospel business of building cultures that glorify Christ in everything through faithful obedience to the Law of God. Tasmania is in need of more godly businessmen, plumbers, accountants, builders, electricians, mothers, home keepers, lawyers, etc who take up their cross and faithfully pursue their vocations to the glory of their Saviour. Anything short of this simply won't do. This friends was the worldview of the Magisterial Reformers. Our freedoms today sit atop that worldview. You are reading this on your high speed internet while sipping a coffee in an air conditioned room due to the Reformers view of the applicability of the Law of God, the Scriptures, to all of faith + life.  

In the next article you will see how this Theonomic position can be found amongst the writings of heroes of the Reformed Christian Faith.

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