Recently a Dr. Andrew Walker took aim at Theonomy at the Gospel Coalition site.
American Culture Is Broken. Is Theonomy the Answer? (thegospelcoalition.org)
Dr. Walker is a Baptist and no Baptist, if they are consistent with their errant hermeneutic is going to be a fan of Theonomy. (We recognize and rejoice in the fact that many Baptists are theonomists and are felicitously inconsistent with their Baptist hermeneutic.) Baptists especially don’t like Theonomists if the Baptist in question owns either a premillennial or amillennial eschatology which Dr. Walker most certainly does. So, entering into this fisking of Dr. Walker’s article we get it that Baptists don’t like Theonomists.
What is interesting is that Theonomy, which admittedly only exists as a comparatively small number of individuals, is such a threat to the Gospel Coalition that they felt it necessary to run another hit piece on Theonomy. This gives me great hope because it communicates to me that Theonomy remains the same threat to these people as it was when Meredith Kline went on the warpath against Greg Bahnsen almost 45 years ago in the Westminster Theological Journal. Kline was not triumphant then in snuffing out Theonomy and Walker, hardly the genius of Kline, is about to have the can of ass-whupping opened on him that Bahnsen opened on Kline’s “critique” those many years ago.
Theonomy, though definitely diminished from its heyday of Rushdoony, Bahnsen, North, and others still remains a force. That is the nature of truth. I am convinced it is for that reason that guys like Walker show up on platforms like the Godless Coalition. They just can’t stand the idea that Theonomy continues to live on even if it only lives on as a spark to the flame it was 45 years ago.
Before we begin fisking Walker here, let it be noted that Theonomists come in all shapes and sizes. Theonomists understand that there are always going to be varying understandings of how God’s law should be implemented and applied in a social order. However, theonomists prefer disagreeing among themselves on that subject than being with the antinomians as they disagree and argue over how God’s law should not be implemented and applied in a social order. So, we get it that we Theonomists have a hard time agreeing at times on God’s law. We just prefer that to having a hard time agreeing on humanist, pagan, and anti-Christ law such as we find among our enemies in the church; the Antinomians.
Finally, by way of introduction, as a theonomist, I am more than glad to admit that when Theonomy goes to seed it can partake of the Judaizing heresy. I have seen that. I am also more than glad to admit that the anti-theonomists routinely fall into the antinomian heresy. Indeed, I’ll say it right up front; “I believe those in the church fighting theonomy are almost routinely antinomians.”
Andrew Walker (AW) wrote,
“The laws God laid down with Israel were meant to enforce and protect the exclusivity of that relationship. Israel thus played a singular role that other nations aren’t called to replicate down to the level of their judicial laws.”
Godless Coalition Article
Bret (BLMc) responds,
1.) First of all, AW is incorrect when he informs us why God laid down His laws, or at the very least AW does not give us the whole reason why God laid down His law with Israel. God’s word informs us why God laid down His laws with Israel;
Deu 4:5 “See, I have taught you statutes and judgments just as the LORD my God commanded me, that you should do thus in the land where you are entering to possess it. Deu 4:6 “So keep and do them, for that is your wisdom and your understanding in the sight of the peoples who will hear all these statutes and say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and understanding people.’ Deu 4:7 “For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as is the LORD our God whenever we call on Him? Deu 4:8 “Or what great nation is there that has statutes and judgments as righteous as this whole law which I am setting before you today?
Where in the New Testament does it teach that Nations today who are converted, by God’s grace alone, should not likewise as Israel in the Old Covenant, embrace God’s law so as to be a light to the other nations which remain outside of Christ?
Did Christ die so nations might no longer be a testimony to the greatness of the God who has called them? Did the death of Christ end the idea of nations being converted and so no longer walk in terms of God’s law word thus being a light to the nations? Somebody better tell me what the Great Commission is all about if the nations are not to be taught to observe all things that Christ commanded.
2.) Wait … so what you are saying Andy is that God isn’t interested now in all the nations being called to be to Him what Israel was to Him in the OT? You are saying that God is OK with nations being set against Him? God doesn’t want an exclusive relationship with all the nations that is based upon them bowing to his character as seen in God’s Law Word?
God wants the nations today to have laws that are inconsistent with His mind made known in the OT case laws?
Then why the great commission to “Disciple all the nations teaching them to observe all that Christ commanded them?”
And be careful dear Seminary prof AW. Don’t you go all Marcion on me by saying that Jesus has a different law than God’s law.
“Believing that Israel’s civil law serves as a model for contemporary civil government, Theonomy tends to downplay the moral law’s existence predating Israel and Ten Commandments. But murder, for instance, wasn’t permissible until the sixth commandment prohibited it. It was wrong from the beginning (Gen. 1; 4; 9) because it destroys an image-bearer of God. It is rooted in who God is and his purposes for creation, as revealed from the very beginning.”
Godless Coalition article
1.) Show me where theonomists have downplayed God’s law at any point in the progress of redemption. In point of fact, Theonomists hold that God’s moral law is eternal and predated the giving of the Law at Sinai. There was nobody surprised when the finger of God wrote, “Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery.”
Theonomists merely hold that the law first given by God to the patriarchs was passed down orally from the patriarchs forward and then became Inscripturated w/ the giving of the law at Sinai.
2.) I think what is being argued here is that the 10 words were deduced from natural law and if that is what our Seminary Professor is doing then I say “prove it.” Prove that God’s law was deduced by Natural Law and not given by God to the Patriarchs from the fall forward.
3.) Keep in mind that if it is Natural Law that AW is thumping for that even the great Blackstone argued that man was not capable, because of the corruption of sin upon his conscience and reason, to deduce revealed law from what was considered natural law; hence the necessity for the Law of Nature’s God, or Holy Scripture, His direct and immediate revelation. Natural law champions always denigrate the noetic effects of the fall.
4.) Of course, God’s law is rooted in His character. Who said otherwise?
The eternal law, evident in the natural law, comes to be expressed in divine law. While the Decalogue is, I believe, a timeless representation of natural law, its contents existed before they were formally codified. Theonomy gets hung up on the form and practice of the commandments as they functioned in the Israelite theocracy and how they apply today. But this approach mistakenly places the onus of the law on a particular time and place, rather than the law’s moral substance, which predates Israel.
Godless Coalition Article
1.) I thought the Decalogue was a timeless representation of God’s character? Silly me.
2.) Theonomists gladly conceded that Natural law exists. What Theonomists don’t concede is that fallen man can build social orders based on their apprehension of Natural law. That view fails to follow the confessions,
Since man became wicked and perverse, corrupt in all his ways, he has lost all his excellent gifts which he had once received from God.5 He has nothing left but some small traces, which are sufficient to make man inexcusable.6 For whatever light is in us has changed into darkness,7 as Scripture teaches us, The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it (Jn 1:5); where the apostle John calls mankind darkness. Belgic Confession of Faith (Article 14)
3.) Does AW prefer getting hung up on the form and practice of the putative Natural law as it functions in modern theocracies today as well as application? (And all Governments are inescapably Theocratic.)
Walker wants to condemn theonomy for getting hung up on the form and practice of the commandments as they functioned in the Israelite theocracy and how they apply today but he seems to fail to understand that getting hung up is inescapable. Either one will get hung up on God’s civil law and how it applies today or one will get hung up on Natural law and how it applies today. Since I can’t go to the library and get an agreed-on volume of Natural law and its application I’ll stick with getting hung up on God’s revelation and on how it applies today.
“The Ten Commandments remain relevant today, especially considering that the New Testament affirms nine of them. Moreover, Theonomy is notorious for wanting to apply civil penalties today. This isn’t to say that Israel’s penal system was wrong (of course it wasn’t), but that Theonomy wrongly tries to apply what was unique to the Israelite theocracy. The hermeneutic is thus static, wishing to copy for today what Scripture considers, in the full sweep of redemptive history, to be temporary.”
Godless Coalition Article
1.) Baptist hermeneutic — God has to repeat in the NT what is in the OT or it is not valid. Allegedly, the 4th word isn’t repeated in the NT, and therefore it is not valid. A Reformed hermeneutic teaches that unless God repudiates an OT word in the NT it remains applicable.
2.) He has nowhere proved that the civil law was unique to Israel’s society. He has asserted it but he has not proven it. The Westminster Confession of Faith is clearly a theonomic document. Even the arch-enemy of Theonomy Meredith Kline agreed with that;
“At the same time, it must be said that Chalcedon is not without roots in respectable ecclesiastical tradition. It is in fact a revival of certain teachings contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith – at least in the Confession’s original formulations.”
The same is true for the Heidelberg catechism as it shows its theonomic slip clearly in question 110. Notice how it invokes the judicial law to substantiate its claim regarding “false weights and measures.”
Q. What does God forbid in the eighth commandment?
A. God forbids not only outright theft and robbery1 but also such wicked schemes and devices as false weights and measures, deceptive merchandising, counterfeit money, and usury;2 we must not defraud our neighbor in any way, whether by force or by show of right.3 In addition God forbids all greed4 and all abuse or squandering of his gifts.5
1 Ex 22:1; 1 Cor 5:9, 10; 6:9, 10. 2 Deut 25:13-16; Ps 15:5; Prov 11:1; 12:22; Ezek 45:9-12; Lk 6:35. 3 Mic 6:9-11; Lk 3:14; Jas 5:1-6. 4 Lk 12:15; Eph 5:5. 5 Prov 21:20; 23:20, 21; Lk 16:10-13
3.) Understand the implications here. If bestiality, as one example, isn’t condemned in the NT then per Walker, bestiality no longer is condemned by God unless natural law condemns it and I’m pretty sure that we are moving towards a majority of people who could well say that Natural law does not condemn bestiality. (And the only way Natural law has legs is by majority vote.)
4.) God’s Word considers God’s Word to be temporary?
5.) AW accuses theonomy of having a “static hermeneutic.” Theonomy accuses AW and antinomians of turning God’s Word into a Word of flux. We see proto-Marcionism in what AW and all antinomians champion. Remember… the Church considered Marcion a heretic. We see the way that the anti-theonomists invoke natural law as just so much wax nose.
“Other problems relate to theological posture. Martin Luther expounded on the differences between a “theology of glory” and a “theology of the cross.” The former is a theology of enthronement and triumph; the latter a theology of suffering and loss. Theonomy is, fundamentally, a theology of glory.”
Godless Coalition Article
1.) More assertions without proof.
2.) No Theonomist I’ve ever read (and I’ve read most of them) has embraced that their theology is a “theology of glory.” All Theonomists recognize that entering into Christ’s victory is through suffering and loss. We suffer and lose because we fight for the crown Rights of our great Liege-Lord Christ. Walker’s statement is a caricature born of his pessimistic eschatology.
3.) Note in complaining about theologies that embrace Christ’s resurrection and ascension triumph and victory Walker is teaching us that Christians instead should embrace a theology that is characterized by Christianity being trampled and shattered at every turn. Christians should expect to lose and indeed to be consistent should glory in being martyred, persecuted, and destroyed. Christians should mildly acquiesce to their children to be taken from them by the state because, after all, losing is just what it means to be Christian. Christians should not try to get Pastor Coates out of jail because that is where Christians belong. People like Walker complain about theologies of glory but all I see them doing is glorying in all their loss. How is that not the real theology of glory?
One thing is sure though. Walker ought to be happy with the beating I’m giving his article because it definitely demonstrates that he is living his theology of suffering right now.
4.) Note, that all of this is being driven by eschatology. Walker owns an eschatology that demands that he teach that he loses. Theonomists own an eschatology that teaches not only a Crucifixion but also resurrection and ascension. Theonomists recognize that there are seasons of dying with Christ but they also insist that just as Christ was defeated in space and time history so he will demonstrate his Victory in space and time history and that the Church is called to enter into His resurrection and ascension concrete victory. All that Walker writes is really a contest between pessimillennialism and postmillennialism.
“Whether explicit or not, Theonomy implies that the church’s faithfulness is measured by the culture’s adoption of Christian norms. It may make temporary peace with being on the margins, but on the whole, it isn’t a theology that speaks to the church on the margins.”
Godless Coalition Article
1.) Again … Walker gives assertion without proof. There have been plenty of Theonomic theologians. Can not Walker give one quote proving that theonomy believes what he asserts?
2) It is just utter nonsense to say Theonomy measures the Church’s faithfulness by the culture’s adoption of Christian norms. Theonomy realizes that the Church can be faithful when the culture stinks. Theonomists would be giddy though if only the Church’s faithfulness was seen by the Church’s adoption of Christian norms. Theonomists understand that in this world we will have tribulation. Theonomists understand that if we would reign with Christ we must suffer with Christ.
3.) What Theonomists desire is that the Church would quit insisting that the Church should be living on the margins as if Christ’s Kingdom and Christ’s people are required by an iron-clad theological and supernatural law to be on the margins. To listen to Walker any Church that isn’t on the margins is a shameful “theology of glory” church and should lament that God is using it to influence and shape men, both individually and in their social orders.
4.) Theonomy does speak to a Church on the margins. It speaks comfort and encouragement but it also says “arise and fight ye men of God.” It says to the Church on the margin, “Fear not, Christ has overcome the world.” It says to the Church on the margin, “Tears may last for the night but joy cometh in the morning.” It says to the Church on the margin, “Christ shall reign until he puts all enemies under His feet” and that Christ shall use His Church to disciple the Nations as the means by which His enemies will be put under His feet.
Jeepers … next to Walker I look like Mary Sunshine.