McAtee Contra Dewey Roberts in Defense of Bahnsen and Theonomy

What then are Bahnsen’s fundamental flaws with respect to the law? His emphasis on being obedient to the law in exhaustive detail brings about a possible conceit that such obedience is actually possible for the believer…. The moral law is the rule for the obedience of the believer, but no Christian can perfectly fulfill it. To the unbeliever, the law is a fearful threat of impending doom.”

Dewey Roberts

Federal Vision and Historic Christianity — p. 196

Roberts really jumps the shark in this chapter titled, “Federal Vision and Theonomy,” from his book “Historic Christianity and the Federal Vision.” In this chapter Roberts seeks to tie Federal Vision to theonomy and in doing so Roberts reveals that he is a clown, who on this subject is NOT to be taken seriously.

Keep in mind that I write all of the below as a adamant opponent of Federal Vision.

Regarding the quote above,

1.) Bahnsen never taught the necessity of obedience to God’s law in exhaustive detail. Bahnsen taught the necessity of obedience to God’s law in exhaustive detail in the context of the law’s general equity. Roberts is wrong.

2.) Would Roberts have clergy so emphasize the inability of God’s people to honor God’s law that it becomes possible that God’s people no longer bother even paying attention to God’s law?

3) Bahnsen never came close to teaching that the believer could keep God’s law in its exhaustive detail so that the believer ended up conceited. Bahnsen understood the necessity of the law to convict and expose as well as the necessity of the law as a guide to life.

4.) If I were to avoid preaching on every subject wherein my hearers might possibly come to carnal conclusion I would never preach a word. The same was true for Bahnsen. What people might possibly do upon Bahnsen emphasizing the truth is not the same as what Bahnsen (or anybody) intends for them to do.

5.) Is Robert’s desire that we preach the law in such a way that all believers say to themselves, “Well, since I can never keep God’s law perfectly therefore I shall never try to keep God’s law.” Clearly Roberts preaching on the law so emphasizes the believers inability to keep the law perfectly that it is possible that some people will hear that they shouldn’t ever bother seeking to honor God’s law.

6.) Bahnsen never denied that to the unbeliever God’s law is a fearful threat of impending doom.

Elsewhere Dewey Roberts writes,

“Second, he (Bahnsen) emphasized obedience to the law so strenuously that he often comes close to the dangerous Pelagian spectrum of errors. Pelagius, as we have seen, taught that mankind could live in obedience to God’s requirements. ‘Theonomy in Christian Ethics’ often makes it seem that the believer can fulfill all of God’s laws. There is very little emphasis on the threatening aspect of God’s law…. Concerning the law, Pelagius taught;

‘But we do praise God as the Author of our righteousness, in that He gave us the law, by the teaching of which we have learned how we ought to live.’


Pelagius, likewise, almost completely discounted the threatening aspects of God’s law and saw the law as a gracious act of God which revealed the way the righteous should live.”

Dewey Roberts
Historic Christianity & The Federal Vision — p. 197

1.) Look Dewey, just as a woman is either pregnant or not pregnant so someone is either a Pelagian or he is not a Pelagian. The whole idea that someone is “close to the dangerous spectrum of Pelagian errors” is like a woman being close to being pregnant. Either she is or she isn’t. Either Bahnsen is Pelagian or he is not. If he is not then shut your ignorant trap. I mean if you don’t your close to committing libel. (Did you get the joke in that last sentence Dewey?)

2.) I read Theonomy in Christian Ethics. I did not put it down upon finishing it, thinking, “Wow, now I can go out and perfectly fulfill all God’s laws.” So, I guess we should say Dewey, that when YOU read “Theonomy in Christian Ethics” that YOU wrongly came away from it thinking that it SEEMED to teach that the believer could not fulfill all God’s laws.

3.) Now, about that weasel word “seemed.” Seemed to whom? Seemed to whom by what standard? It seems to me that on this score you’re an idiot. But it only seems that way. In reality it might not be that way.

4.) There is little emphasis on the threatening of God’s law in ‘Theonomy in CHRISTIAN Ethics,’ because Bahnsen was writing to Christians. Christians have already been delivered by Christ’s work on the Cross from the threatening of God’s law and so arise as a people who are zealous for good works. Bahnsen in his book is instructing the believers who are zealous for good works as to what those good works look like. As the Heidelberg Catechism teaches Dewey;

Question 91: But what are good works?

Answer: Only those which proceed from a true faith,5 are performed according to the law of God,6 and to His glory;7 and not such as are founded on our imaginations or the institutions of men.8

Tell me Dewey, is the Heidelberg Catechism here, because it does not threaten with the law here, “close to the dangerous spectrum of Pelagian errors?”

5.) I don’t care who talked about “the law as a gracious act of God which revealed the way the righteous should live.” whether it was Pelagius, Socinius, or Fosdick, if they were talking about the law in its usage as a guide to life they were or would have been absolutely correct and for anybody to deny that makes them a full blown antinomian.

6.) And speaking of Antinomianism, honestly Dewey, these criticisms sound to my ear to be the criticisms of someone close to the dangerous spectrum of Tobias Crisp or John Saltmarsh errors.

Author: jetbrane

I am a Pastor of a small Church in Mid-Michigan who delights in my family, my congregation and my calling. I am postmillennial in my eschatology. Paedo-Calvinist Covenantal in my Christianity Reformed in my Soteriology Presuppositional in my apologetics Familialist in my family theology Agrarian in my regional community social order belief Christianity creates culture and so Christendom in my national social order belief Mythic-Poetic / Grammatical Historical in my Hermeneutic Pre-modern, Medieval, & Feudal before Enlightenment, modernity, & postmodern Reconstructionist / Theonomic in my Worldview One part paleo-conservative / one part micro Libertarian in my politics Systematic and Biblical theology need one another but Systematics has pride of place Some of my favorite authors, Augustine, Turretin, Calvin, Tolkien, Chesterton, Nock, Tozer, Dabney, Bavinck, Wodehouse, Rushdoony, Bahnsen, Schaeffer, C. Van Til, H. Van Til, G. H. Clark, C. Dawson, H. Berman, R. Nash, C. G. Singer, R. Kipling, G. North, J. Edwards, S. Foote, F. Hayek, O. Guiness, J. Witte, M. Rothbard, Clyde Wilson, Mencken, Lasch, Postman, Gatto, T. Boston, Thomas Brooks, Terry Brooks, C. Hodge, J. Calhoun, Llyod-Jones, T. Sowell, A. McClaren, M. Muggeridge, C. F. H. Henry, F. Swarz, M. Henry, G. Marten, P. Schaff, T. S. Elliott, K. Van Hoozer, K. Gentry, etc. My passion is to write in such a way that the Lord Christ might be pleased. It is my hope that people will be challenged to reconsider what are considered the givens of the current culture. Your biggest help to me dear reader will be to often remind me that God is Sovereign and that all that is, is because it pleases him.

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