The Christian Statesman, Vol. CXXXV11:1 (Jan.-Feb. 1994), Covenant Media Foundation, 800/553-3938

“Greg Bahnsen Replies (to John Robbins)”



Dear Editor:


I want you to know of my prayers and brotherly affection for you all at The Christian Statesman.  Your endeavors to reform our nation according to God’s righteousness are to be commended highly and call for the unified support of God’s people. May god richly bless you in proclaiming the crown rights of Christ, our Savior and the King over the nations.  We especially ned each other’s help and support as brothers in the spiritual battle against the enemies of Christ’s kingdom all about us in our culture. That is why I lament the derogatory remarks, unnecessarily nasty spirit, and utter inaccuracies found in John Robbins’ review of my book No Other Standard.  This hostile commentary (hardly a “review” of my book’s contents) is actually recycled from the August 1992, issue of Robbins’ own newsletter, The Trinity Review – which I already publicly rebutted in the August 1992 issue of The Counsel of Chalcedon (Box 888022, Dunwoody, GA 30356).  Health criticism should always be welcome, but there is really no call for personal insults and slanted misconstrual of what another author has written.


Let me speak simply and from the heart.


1.       Theonomy is not “the idealogy of the Judaizers,” nor do I indulge in any “neo-orthodox habit of curbing logic.”  These are gratuitous insults and misrepresentations.


2.       In my book No Other Standard, I do not “deliberately” and “surreptitiously change terms” in some kind of “attempt to mislead” my readers.  Robbins’ accusation that my book “is less than intellectually honest” is shameful.


3.       Theonomic ethics has never held, contrary to the distorted portrayal given by Robbins (an inaccurate view brought to my books, not taken from them), that no changes in the Old Testament laws are allowed today.  Anyone who is willing to read general statements in context – a fundamental rule of hermeneutics – knows better than to try to pin such a bizarre, unqualified, and erroneous interpretation upon me.


4.       The general expression which I have used, “the abiding validity of the law in exhaustive detail,” actually comes from the mouth of our Lord Himself, who stated categorically that He did not come to abrogate the law, but until heaven and earth pass away, “not one jot or tittle” – indeed not “the least commandment – will pass away (Matt. 5:17-19).  All faithful theologians must come to grips with the absoluteness of Christ’s own declaration – as well as with the qualifications which the Lord Himself expresses elsewhere in Scripture.  If Robbins accuses anyone of self-contradiction who speaks categorically of the law’s continuing validity, then draws qualifications elsewhere, his accusation would need to be against Jesus Himself (not just theonomists).  Doesn’t this show the need for reconsideration on Robbins’ part?


5.       Maybe theonomic ethics is mistaken, but the way in which it handles the absoluteness of Christ’s declaration of the abiding validity of the law in exhaustive detail is to interpret it as laying down the theological presumption which we should bring to every Old Testament commandment.  Our operating assumption is that the law declared by God in the Old Testament continues to be binding until and unless the Lawgiver Himself tells us otherwise (e.g., Acts 10 regarding unclean meats). The general statement of Jesus is subject to qualifications Scripture announces elsewhere.  But apart from such biblical qualifications, we as readers of God’s word have no prerogative to alter the law.  Is that so unreasonable really?  If non-theonomists have a better solution, I have yet to see it.


6.       So then, the theonomic view is that we should presume continuity regarding Old Testament commandments (contrary to the dispensational approach which is so often taken in our day).  But you would never know this from reading reviews by Robbins.  He simply misrepresents theonomic ethics, and then outrageously accuses it of contradiction when it recognizes biblically-based qualifications on the general thesis given by Jesus.  This “presumptive” view of the validity of Old Testament laws has always been the position advanced in my books, which is obvious from the many qualifications and changes in the Old Testament law which are discussed and acknowledged there.


In Theonomy in Christian Ethics (1977), I wrote “only God has the authority and prerogative to discontinue the binding force of anything He has revealed . . . the presumption would have to be continuity, not contradiction” (pp. 312, 313).


In By This Standard (1985), I wrote “the presumption should be that an Old Testament law is binding in the New Testament.  This does not in any way preclude or reject many radical differences between Old and new Testaments” (pp. 3-4).


In No Other Standard (1991), I wrote “the theonomist maintains just here that there is a controlling presumption which should affect our conclusions about the New Testament view of the validity of the Old Testament commandments . . .: [namely] unless exceptions are revealed elsewhere, every Old Testament commandment is binding” (p. 68).


Robbins has written that “when compared to his earlier volumes, Bahnsen seems to be quietly changing his mind.”  From just the very few sample-quotes I have given here, the reader can judge for himself the accuracy and academic reliability of Robbins as a reviewer.  I am truly sorry he feels such a need to be abusive and hostile.


Thank you very much for allowing me to reply in your pages.  Let me close by appealing to Mr. Robbins – indeed to theonomists and non-theonomists alike in the Reformed community – to display that we are sons of God by being peacemakers (Matt. 5:9).  We are not really so far apart as many imagine.  We need to stop biting and devouring each other, so that vital attention may be turned to “the enemy at the gate.”