“After those days, saith the LORD, I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts; and will be their God, and they shall be my people” (Jeremiah 31:33).
In 1999, I spent four months interviewing on video tape and editing a presentation called God’s Law and Society. The bulk of these interviews, including those with the most noted theonomists, Rushdoony, Sandlin, DeMar, Gentry, Wilson, etc., are on a web site, The Second American Revolution, and comprise a four hour video set.
In compiling the video series, I noted that so much of what was said countered distortions by opponents of theonomy. Rather than basing their arguments on what theonomists believe, opponents will usually take a few extreme statements and distort them to their own ends. In this debate, I hope to give a clear explanation of what the theonomists who are writing and teaching today actually believe. This will be affected by my own opinion, of course, but I will refer to the dozens of hours of interviews we compiled on video tape — including some further interviews not presented in the video series, God’s Law and Society
In answering the question: “Is theonomy exegetically sound?” I need to clearly define what theonomists believe. I have probably spent as much time discussing theonomy with other theonomists as any Christian video journalist alive today. Sometimes I have gone to great lengths in arguing my views in order to discover how developed and stable is the theonomic position on certain issues. Some big surprises have come from several directions.
First, I found that many respected Reformed scholars hold a theonomic view on many civil laws, but do not like to label themselves as “theonomists.” I suspect that this is due to the distortions presented by enemies of theonomy. Many Christian social and political activists hold a viewpoint that approximates theonomy. Many are becoming more in tune with God’s Law as they study the Bible as it applies to civil government.
Second, it was emphasized in our interviews that theonomists do not believe that the civil law is based solely on the laws of Moses. None of the major theonomists believe the Mosaic law alone should be applied as the standard for civil government. Theonomists believe that biblical Law in its entirety is the standard. The history of Israel and the New Testament are read together with the Laws of Moses. In many cases, these scriptures enlighten or alter the application of a strict reading of the Mosaic Law.
Third, it was repeatedly noted that most of our civil laws today come directly from the Bible. Those that are not direct applications of biblical law are derived in principle from a biblical ethic. Since a few ungodly laws exist in western “Christian” nations, many Christian social activists focus on the extreme examples of national covenant breaking. However, we should see that about ninety percent of our laws are godly and are derived from a biblical ethic. The remaining ten percent ought to be reformed to a theonomic standard. We believe that in time they will be. It won’t come in one election cycle or perhaps even in our lifetime. But we believe that as history marches on, justice will increase as nations apply the standard of biblical law to civil policy.
My opponent critiques theonomy by arguing that theonomists teach: “We find holiness in Moses and forgiveness in Christ.” Of course, theonomists do not teach this. We do not make the dispensationalist dichotomy between the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ. When God spoke to Moses on Mount Sinai and gave him the Ten Commandments, Jesus Christ, the second person of the Trinity, was speaking to Moses. There is no fundamental difference between the Law of Moses and the Law of Christ. There is only the “moral Law of God.” This Law is binding on believers in both the Old and New Covenant. Forgiveness was available in the Old Covenant and the standard of holiness found in the Law is in the New Covenant. Further, the Old Covenant Law required God’s people to not merely obey the Law in an outward manner, but it required a heart of love towards God. “Serve the Lord thy God with all thy heart and with all thy soul” (Deut. 10:12). In the New Covenant, we are admonished that our love is borne out by obedience to the Law. “For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous (1 John 5:3).
My opponent has argued that Christ “abolished” the Old Covenant. Theonomists agree that we cannot look to the Law for our salvation. However, salvation in Christ was through faith even in the Old Covenant promise of the Messiah. In Hebrews 11, we read a long list of Old Covenant saints who were justified “by faith.” Justification by faith was part of the Old Covenant, just as obedience to the Law is part of the New Covenant.
Christians have wrestled since the first century with the Old Covenant and the New Covenant, the continuity between the two and where there may be discontinuity. Clearly, the Bible claims authority for every word, every “jot and tittle” (Mat. 5:18). Jesus makes it clear that there is not one word of all of the scriptures that has passed from authority or applicability in the life of the believer. So in that sense there is absolute continuity.
The Apostle Paul wrote to his young disciple Timothy, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished all every good works” (2 Tim. 3:16,17). What “scripture” does Paul refer to? Did Timothy have a pocket New Testament sitting on his desk when he read that? No, there was no other “scripture” available other than the Old Testament when the Apostle Paul wrote that. The canon of the New Testament had not yet been assembled. The Apostle Paul clearly stated that the Old Testament is authoritative. In that sense there is no discontinuity.
In another sense, there is absolute discontinuity for we have a “new and better covenant in Jesus Christ.” The cross of Jesus Christ is the focal point upon which all of history turns. Through the cross we see both the New and Old Covenant in a totally new light. The Old Testament and its standards are by no means abrogated. Yet they are transformed by the grace and mercy of God. The Law of God is the tutor or schoolmaster that leads us to Jesus Christ. In Christ, by His grace and mercy alone, we have the power to live unashamed before God with the righteousness of Christ’s perfection imputed to us.
No one, either under the Old Covenant or the New Covenant, is justified by Law. Nevertheless, the Law was and always will be a standard by which to measure our sanctification. There is grace in the Old Covenant. There is the Law in the New Covenant.
The Old Covenant was “fulfilled” in Christ, but Jesus in no way “abolished” the Law. When Jesus died on the cross, He fulfilled the Law. He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30). This is the consummation of the Old Covenant in several senses.
1. Christ died once for all, to atone for the sin of Adam, to break the power of sin in our lives, and to forgive every individual act of sin.
2. Jesus fulfilled all the requirements of the Law on our behalf. His sinless life was imputed as righteousness to us through our faith.
3. the sacrificial system of the blood of animals was abolished.
4. the veil in the Temple was rent in two (Mat. 27:51) signifying that the priesthood had passed to all believers through our one High Priest, Jesus Christ.
We have a New Covenant in Christ. That can neither be diminished nor denied. However, the Law of God has not passed away in terms of our guide for life in godliness. Jesus himself said that “Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in no wise pass from the law” (Mat. 22:27). Christ, the fulfillment of the Law, gives us the grace, which is divine almighty power effective on our behalf. He gives us the grace to live according to the Law, not to transgress the law. We see in Romans 6:1, “Shall we sin that grace may abound? God forbid!” And how is it we know that we sin? We have an unchanging standard in God’s Law.
Theonomists teach that there are portions of Old Testament Law that have been changed or nullified. The sacrificial system is no longer needed and is repugnant to God because Christ is the final and last sacrifice. The dietary laws have been modified and changed. But the moral Law is still binding. The laws against bestiality in the Old Testament are repeated no where in the New Testament. Yet no one will say that bestiality is now under grace. It is still sin. The standard for our conduct is in the Law of God. These laws are not options. They are commands. They have not been nullified or abridged in any way by Christ’s finished work. In fact, now the Law is written upon our hearts and minds (Jer. 31:33) and we are given grace to obey the Law in a way that was not possible in the Old Covenant.
Believers in Christ secure their salvation only by faith which is a gift from God. However, the Law still serves the believer in three ways. The Holy Spirit works through the moral Law as a means of grace to bring sinners to salvation. The moral Law of God always remains the measure of sanctification for the believer. The Law of God, when codified as a basis for civil law, restrains the passion of the sinner (for example, capital punishment is a deterrent to murder).
My opponent uses the argument that since the New Covenant’s glory is greater than the Old Covenant, the “Old Law of God” has faded away. He claims that the Old Law has been replaced by a New Law. Theonomists agree that the glory of God and the love of God are revealed to us in a greater way in the New Covenant. We have a “better covenant” in Jesus Christ (Heb. 8:6; 12:24). That is an indisputable truth. The writer of Hebrews is speaking mainly of the sacrificial system. We theonomists agree that the blood of lambs and calves has passed away and has been replaced by the blood of Jesus. We also agree that Christ’s love is magnified in His eternal sacrifice. But to say that the Old Covenant Law is not based in love or that the “New Law of love” has replaced the Old Covenant Law is not consistent with what the scriptures tell us.
My opponent argues his position by stating that Jesus told us to love God and love our neighbor. Absolutely! But love is the summation of the Law, not its replacement. “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Mat. 22:40). The law of love was not introduced for the first time in the Gospels; neither does the law of love nullify God’s commandments. We do not know how to love God or our neighbor unless we look to the Law to define our behavior.
We still need to look to the Law to see if we are growing in our love of God. If we are disobeying God’s commandments, then we do not really love Him. If we are obeying the Law of God, then we can know that we really do love God and our neighbor.
“By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God, and keep his commandments. For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments: and his commandments are not grievous (1 John 5:2,3).
Clearly, the Law is still the measure of our sanctification. The law of love does not replace the specific commandments of God. It merely motivates us to keep them.
Paul said, “And unto the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain the Jews; to them that are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain them that are under the law; To them that are without law, as without law, (being not without law to God, but under the law to Christ,) that I might gain them that are without law.” (1 Cor. 9:21).
Paul is demonstrating here his desire to act in love to win souls to Christ. However, he says, “I am not without Law to God myself, I am still under the Law to Christ.” Paul says clearly here that in all circumstances, He is under the Law, not as a means of obtaining salvation, but certainly as a standard of behavior. Is this “law to Christ” a new law? Has the Old Covenant Law passed away? Or is the Old Covenant Law eternally binding on our behavior?
“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil” (Mat. 5:17).
The glory of the Old Covenant faded in the face of Moses when Moses died, but the glory of the New Covenant, which includes the moral mandates of both Old and New Testament scriptures, is never fading. It is always being renewed as Christ lives eternally.
We are not under the Law as a means of obtaining salvation. The ceremonial and dietary laws of Israel have been altered. However, Jesus renewed all of the moral laws of the Old Testament with a clear emphasis on the laws instituted by Moses (Mat. 23:1-3). Therefore, the moral law of God — contained in the scriptures from Genesis to Revelation — is still binding on all of us.
CIVIL POLITICS AND THE MORAL LAW OF GOD
The dilemma presented in any debate on theonomy is usually not with the relationship of the Law to the believer. The attacks are usually not on our view that the moral law of God is still the standard for Christian conduct. Such a view is consistent with Protestant theology. The controversy comes when theonomists state their goal to use biblical law to reconstruct our society.
There has been a revolution in recent years among Christian social activists toward what I will term a “Neo-Puritan” ethic. Seeing the ungodly influences all around us that are growing each year, many Christians have forayed into social and political action. They have done this out of fear for their children and an awareness that Christians are slowly losing their freedom to practice their faith without hindrance from the civil government. The standard pietistic belief held by many evangelicals that the Christian faith is only private and personal is being swept away. Political and social action is increasingly being seen as the duty of the Christian.
Nevertheless, political and social action has been an ad hoc endeavor for many Christians. Many activists have adopted, lock, stock and barrel, the tactics of political conservatism. Some of these conservative agendas are biblically based, however, many conservative methods are humanistic. Understanding this, many Christian activists are forging a strategy based more along the lines of the theonomic model. In most cases, this can be as simple as recognizing that the Ten Commandments are the basis for our civil laws.
Ironically, in a relief in the United States Supreme Court building, we see Moses giving the Law to Israel. How is it that evangelicals today argue that the laws of Moses have nothing to do with our civil politics?
For many years, the truth that inner righteousness cannot be imposed on a person from an authority other than God has been used as an excuse to ignore the moral requirements God places on all men in society. When people use the slogan, “You can’t legislate morality,” they are ignoring the very nature of legislation itself. Legislation is merely the codification in law of someone’s standard of morality. “You can’t legislate morality” is a logical fallacy. If you can’t legislate morality, then you can’t legislate!
Where is the difficulty in looking to the Law of God as a norm for civil polity? The difficulty is not with non-Christians who don’t love God. We should not expect non-Christians to want the Law of God as a civil standard. So it is ironic when Christians who love the Lord oppose theonomy. Christians know Jesus. We know His goodness, wisdom and mercy. We know that we don’t know everything, but we know Someone who does know everything. If we begin with the fact that God knows everything, we can be assured that He knows what is best for governing a society.
The Bible says: “Thou shalt not steal.” Whether we believe the Ten Commandments or not, in our culture we adhere to this idea that taking someone else’s property is wrong. We didn’t come up with that idea ourselves. It is drawn out of the biblical commandment. “Thou shalt not kill” means exactly the same thing under the New Covenant as it did in the Old Covenant. Its meaning has not been altered at all. If we believe that the Ten Commandments are the basis for outlawing theft and murder, then we ought to consider that the punishments for violating these standards are also derived from biblical law.
If we say the Law is not relevant, then what about adultery, thievery, homosexuality and abortion? How can we propose to enforce morality in cases when the civil law is violated? We are left defenseless, directionless and standardless. There is no absolute left by which to make these civil judgments in the life of an individual or a culture.
Theonomy is applying biblical law to give a society maximum freedom and peace. We theonomists believe that biblical law is the standard for governing our families, churches and civil government. We look to biblical law in its entirety including the case laws found in the books of Moses.
In many cases, biblical law is already the norm. Take sexual deviancy for example. Rape is illegal in all western societies (Deut. 22:25). Incest is illegal (Lev. 18:6). Until recently, public nudity, pornography (Ex. 32:25), homosexuality (Lev. 20:13), bestiality (Ex. 22:19) and adultery (Deut. 22:22) were illegal. The civil punishments applied did not always mirrored those in biblical law (in some cases they were even more severe than what God prescribed). However, the sexual morality fostered in western nations through civil laws, especially in those nations most affected by Christianity, have been based on biblical commandments.
My opponent has falsely charged that the Law of God is joyless, loveless and lifeless. The Bible patently contradicts this. The Law of God expresses His character, nature and holiness. To love God and desire His mercy is to delight yourself in the law (Psalm 119:77).
When God brought His people out of bondage into glorious freedom, He commanded them to obey His Law. God told Israel that if they did what He told them to do, they would prosper in the land. If Israel obeyed the Lord, there would be rain, fruit, prosperity, abundance, and health.
“The LORD shall open unto thee his good treasure, the heaven to give rain unto thy land in his season, and to bless all the work of thy hand” (Deut. 28:12).
Do we believe that was the case? Do we believe that in the Law, God was giving His people the keys to living in happiness on the earth? Or do we believe that God was setting Israel up for inevitable failure? The Old Testament is clear on one thing: The Lord God gave Israel the Law in love. In Deuteronomy, God admonishes Israel repeatedly, “I love you. I am giving you this Law because this is the way to freedom and peace.”
“Wherefore it shall come to pass, if ye harken to these judgments, and keep, and do them, that the LORD thy God shall keep unto thee the covenant and the mercy which he sware unto thy fathers: And he will love thee, and bless thee, and multiply thee” (Deut. 7:12,13).
Now let’s apply this to today. How should we rule our lives? What laws should we have? God has spoken already. He has given a whole body of laws in history to a people that He loved and liberated and adopted as His own. He gave them laws, not to put them into bondage, but to keep them in freedom. Doesn’t it make sense that we should go to those laws to see how it applies to our culture today?
There will be some difficulties in understanding how to do this. There are of course some differences between us today and Israel. But in principle we should expect that given the wisdom of God, we should find those governing ordinances which will lead to maximum freedom, peace and prosperity. National prosperity comes from obeying our Father in heaven in what He tells us to do. If we do what He says, in time He will bless us.
Finally, I should address the image a lot of people must have of theonomists when they listen to the charges of our opponents. They charge that theonomists are stiff and legalistic. Yet I have talked to almost all the leaders of Christian Reconstruction and none of them are like that. They are celebrative people who have joy and enjoy life.
We have peace because we have parameters. There is an incredible amount of freedom in the Law. If we keep to the Law of God and refuse to alter or add to it, then we will have life, joy, peace and liberty in the Holy Ghost.
God gave us Ten Commandments. Man gives us ten thousand commandments. But the liberty we have under the Law of God is absolutely incredible.
|ROUND||Jay Rogers||Brad Finkbeiner|