Penpoint Vol. V:4 (May, 1994) © Covenant Media Foundation, 800/553-3938
By Dr. Greg Bahnsen
For over twenty years I have advocated a return to the Reformed view of God's law -- found in the Westminster Confession of Faith and Catechisms and championed by our Puritan forefathers -- as a needed and a promising solution to the ethical dilemmas of our culture in the late twentieth century. This "theonomic" view has gained considerable and growing positive interest, despite initial (and sometimes exaggerated) opposition from certain individuals and institutions.
A Scholar's Compendium of Essays
Most recently I have explained and defended the theonomic position in a book featuring essays from various perspectives on The Law, the Gospel, and the Modern Christian, edited by Wayne Strickland (Zondervan, 1993). This book represents quite a shift to a more reasonable, courteous, and serious interaction with the Biblical challenge of Puritan ethics in our day.
Although some absurd comments can still be found (for instance, Douglas Moo claims I equate God's law with only the Mosaic commandments, thus "Mosonomy"), the discussion is for the most part healthy and helpful. Gone are the outlandish, earlier accusations we used to hear that theonomy is a grotesque distortion of Scripture which can be readily refuted by any covenant child (even though Meredith Kline proved unable to do so). Competent scholars find they have a hard time escaping its force, unless they resort to a categorical rejection of the Old Testament which (as Dr. Kaiser says) sounds like the early church heretic, Marcion.
Asked whether Reconstructionism (i.e. theonomy) is heretical in the March, 1994, issue of Cult Watch (the newsletter of Logos Outreach in Denver), editor Greg Durand clears reconstructionists of common (and shameless) distortions and slanders. "It must be stressed that Christian Reconstructionists seek nothing more than to return godly principles to a rapidly disintegrating society.... Any person that believes that he will find favor with his Creator by living in a subjective netherworld between God's Law and raw humanism, should stop to reexamine the situation.... There is no middle ground; if the holiness of God is rejected as the standard by which the human race is held accountable, then lawlessness must and will replace it." New Horizons in the OPC
A similar note is struck by G. I. Williamson in the April, 1994, issue of the OPC publication, New Horizons, which featured four discussions of theonomy. (My brief lead essay, "What is Theonomy?," is a convenient summary you may which to get.) Dealing with the argument from "fear" -- that theonomy in politics would call for many violent and perverse activities to be punished with death -- Rev. Williamson says he is not impressed. "Admittedly, there would be killing. But there is killing now -- and plenty of it.... So the question is not Shall there be killing? but rather, Who shall be killed? Shall it be the innocent or the guilty? Today, it is too often the innocent." At the end of my own essay, I wrote: "Men must choose in their civil affairs to be governed by God's law (.op
A Monthly Update for theonomy), to be ruled by tyrants, or to acquiesce in increasing social degeneracy."
In the same issue Pastor Roger Wagner discusses the healthy influence theonomic views have on the life of a congregation. Professor Nelson Kloosterman offers an appraisal of theonomy, asking critical questions -- and yet (praise the Lord) in a cordial and courteous manner which should have characterized dialog on this important subject all along. This in itself shows we have come into a much better day for those of us who endorse theonomic ethics.
The Christian Statesman
Of course, not all vehemence is gone. John Robbins "reviews" one of my books in the most recent issue of The Christian Statesman (Sept-Oct, 1993), charging me with judaizing, neo-orthodox curbing of logic, and deliberate dishonesty. The good news is that Tony Cowley, new editor of the magazine, has apologized for these discourtesies and allowed me to reply to Robbins' misrepresentations (upcoming).
Quoting directly from my books, from earliest to latest, I demonstrate that -- contrary to Robbins' charge -- I have not been "quietly changing my mind." But I end the response with an appeal for peace: "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.'"
May God grant us all a spirit of charity and teachability in the church, that we might see our real opponents (the world) and options: theonomy or autonomy.