Friday, July 22, 2005

Theonomy

1.Some readers may find my position confusing. The explanation is that, when it comes to the sacraments, I’m closer to the Baptists, but when it comes to politics, I’m closer to the Presbyterians. So why don’t we split the difference and classify me as a Bapterian?

2.Did I take umbrage at being called a theonomist? No. If someone wants to call me that, I can live with that. Doesn’t bother me.

3.Am I a theonomist? Is that what I’d call myself?

I suppose that’s a matter of definition. It’s true that my views aren’t much different from those of Bahnsen and Rushdoony. So I suppose you could call me a theonomist.

But, then, my views aren’t much different from those of John Frame, John Murray, and B. B. Warfield. So I suppose you could call me an old school Presbyterian.

And my views aren’t much different from Kuyper or van Prinsterer. So I suppose you could call me a Kuyperian.

And my views aren’t much different from those of John Cotton, John Winthrop, Cotton Matter, and William Bradford. So I suppose you could call me a Pilgrim.

And my views aren’t much different from those of Oliver Cromwell, John Owen, and Samuel Rutherford. So I suppose you could call me a Puritan.

And my views aren’t much different from Calvin, Knox, and du Plessis Mornay. So I suppose you could call me a Calvinian.

In terms of historical Reformed theology, my position is pretty mainstream. It’s the idiosyncratic and contraconfessional views of Meredith Kline and his epigones that are out of the mainstream of Reformed tradition.

That came out loud-and-clear in the Irons’ trial. Lee Irons is a brilliant and consistent protégé of Meredith Kline. Now, there were many twists and turns to that trial, but setting to one side all of the evasive, hair-splitting nuances, it came down to two things:

i) Irons is of the opinion that redemptive-historical theology has superseded the traditional Reformed view of the law as it bears on believers and unbelievers alike. And he also embraces, with a vengeance, Kline’s desacralized view of common grace.

On the role of the law and, relatedly, church/state relations, Irons is of the opinion that traditional Reformed theologians did the best they could, but they were children of their time, and did not have the benefit of the revolutionary insights afforded by redemptive-historical theology. The work of Vos and especially of Kline is said to have rendered that paradigm obsolete.

Kline’s position on the role of the law is no more confessional than Shepherd’s. It’s just counterconfessional in a different way.

ii) And if you want to tabulate the cash-value of this paradigm-shift, just look at Lee’s tacit endorsement of same-sex marriage--which was what got him into hot water in the first place.

And if the state doesn’t have the right to draw the line then and there, where, if at all, does it draw the line?

4.The problem I have with Chad is that he is doing the same thing as the liberals do. The liberals substitute labels for arguments. If you disagree with then over, say, sodomy, they brand you as a homophobe, end of discussion. Chad is resorting to the same tactic.

And his proof-by-labeling isn’t limited to disciples of Bahnsen or Rushdoony. Notice that Jus denied he was a theonomist. Instead, he identified his own position with the position of the Westminster Divines, which—incidentally—is the position taken by Paul Helm, the Reformed Baptist philosopher and theologian.

But, for Chad, that makes him a theonomist. And, for Chad, once you’ve assigned the label, then that absolves you of having to defend your position from Scripture.

Notice that Liefeld comes in for the same silent treatment. Now, in some respects, Liefeld is decidedly left of center. On the one hand, he’s no Calvinist. On the other hand, he is an egalitarian. And he also denies church office. This hardly puts him in the same camp as Bahnsen or Rushdoony.

5. Speaking of “camp,” is Camp an Anabaptist? Well, he doesn’t live like an Anabaptist. On the other hand, what I’ve quoted from him sure sounds like classic Anabaptist theology on church/state relations and the role of the law.

So it’s six of one and half a dozen of another. Either he’s a confused Calvinist or else he’s a confused Anabaptist! Either he’s a Calvinist with an Anabaptist view of the law or else an Anabaptist with Calvinist view of grace. Take your pick since his inconsistencies don’t select for one classification over another. I’ll leave others to sort that one out.

6.Finally, forgive me for interjecting a reality check, but I can’t help noticing the disconnect between the airtight bubble into which Camp and his defenders withdraw and the world out the window, where child molesters and suicide bombers are running amok.

10 comments:

  1. Hello. I came across your blog through Pyromaniac. You know, Phil Johnson, has Steve Camp in his blogroll, in a positive category. PHil Johnson also says many good things about you.
    So what do you think of what Phil thinks of what you think of Steve Camp?

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  2. Phil Johnson also has Albert Mohler in his blogroll, in a positive category. So what do you think of what Phil thinks of what I think of Albert Mohler?

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  3. It has been interesting to see this "theonomy" thread unfolding throughout this corner of the internet in the last week or two. I got a newsletter a few days back from a reconstructionist with a link to an article by Steve Hays at the Chalcedon Foundation, and I remember thinking, "that Steve Hays?" And right then your first post about Steve Camp showed up too.

    I need to do some reading before I can take a meaningful position on this, but in the meantime I was wondering if you could make a few comments about Sam Waldron's assessment of theonomy, or if you had in some other place already?

    I've learned a great deal from reading your posts; thanks for all the effort.

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  4. Charles Sebold said:

    "I was wondering if you could make a few comments about Sam Waldron's assessment of theonomy..."

    Holy cow! That's 77 pages long, and almost 35,000 words. How long are you willing to wait? :-)

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  5. jc wrote:

    "So what do you think of what Phil thinks of what you think of Steve Camp?"

    Uh, has Mr. Johnson ever *said* what he thinks of Mr. Hays' views in this area?

    As for the blogroll, all that can be inferred is that Mr. Johnson thinks Mr. Hays' blog is "interesting," while Mr. Camp's blog is "entertaining". Sort of hard to squeeze a specific commentary out of _that_ :-)

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  6. Jus Divinum rhetorically asked, "Has Mr. Johnson ever *said* what he thinks of Mr. Hays' views in this area?"

    To answer the rhetorical question: No. In his blog, at least, Mr. Phil Johnson has never wrote specifically what he thought about this matter. But Mr. Johnson has written, "Steve Hays always writes stuff I wish I had said anyway." This is what led me to believe that Mr. Johnson and Mr. Hays think similarly.

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  7. Charles Sebold asked about Waldron's critique of theonomy.

    OK, it seems to me that one doesn't have to render a verdict on the postmillennial issue in order to render a verdict on theonomy, since the issues are distinct. Therefore, it's best to focus on Waldron's "Section 3: Theonomy, Theocracy and Society." If you do a search on this string in the document, you'll get to it fairly quickly. So this cuts things in half.

    Now, Waldron begins by giving Bahnsen's ten point summary of theonomy. Waldron goes on to _agree_ with the first eight. Re: the controversy over ECB and Mr. Camp, it's interesting that Waldron agrees with:

    7. Christian involvement in politics calls for recognition of God's transcendent, absolute, revealed law as a standard by which to judge all social codes.

    In fact, Waldron says that (7) above is "the inescapable demand of any consistently Christian and especially any Reformed perspective"!

    But anyway, here are the two theses that Waldron has a problem with:

    9. The general continuity which we presume with respect to the moral standards of the Old Testament applies just as legitimately to matters of socio-political ethics as it does to personal, family, or ecclesiastical ethics.

    10. The civil precepts of the Old Testament (standing "judicial" laws) are a model of perfect social justice for all cultures, even in the punishment of criminals.

    Now, when Waldron comes to discussing "The Theocracy in Redemptive History," he discusses the Davidic covenant and concludes: "Such data requires the rejection of all divorcing of the Davidic covenant and Mosaic covenant whether exegetically or theologically motivated."

    I don't understand this. As a Reformed Baptist, Waldron believes that the Decalogue is in force today, but the ceremonial and the civil case laws are not in force today, and neither is the Davidic covenant in force. Does not _that_ position "require" the "divorcing of the Davidic covenant and Mosaic covenant"? After all, one portion of the Mosaic covenant survives on Waldron's view (namely, the Decalogue), but the Davidic covenant does not. Why is _this_ view not a divorcing of the Davidic and Mosaic covenants?

    The fact is that the difference between Bahnsen and Waldron is not absolute, but a matter of degree. The question is not whether some aspects of the Mosaic covenant are as obsolete as the Davidic, but _which_ aspects are thus obsolete. So Waldron's appeal to some general principle like "don't divorce the Mosaic from the Davidic," if carried through consistently, would rule out Waldron's Reformed Baptist position on the continuity of the Decalogue, _as well as_ Bahnsen's theonomy. So this doesn't look like a good argument to me.

    It's true that Waldron later argues that "God clearly distinguished the Ten [Commandments] from the rest" of his laws. But the question is whether God has _separated_ the Decalogue from the civil law, in the sense of abolishing the latter but not the former.

    Moving on, Waldron says this under "The Destruction of the Theocracy":

    "The Theocracy is the nation of Israel as constituted by the institutions and blessings of the Sinaitic and Davidic covenants made with them by Yahweh, their king. The destruction of the Theocracy implies, therefore, nothing less than the destruction of the nation of Israel. It implies the reversal of the Sinaitic covenant and the Davidic covenant, the removal of the peculiar institutions and blessings granted to Israel under these covenants. The land, the laws, the temple, the Davidic dynasty-Zion-, all go in the destruction of the Theocracy."

    The problem with this argument is that it assumes what is to be proved. In particular, Waldron refers to "the removal of the peculiar institutions and blessings granted to Israel under these covenants". But the whole question is what exactly _are_ the institutions "peculiar" to theocratic Israel? No other nation received the Decalogue on tablets of stone from Mt. Sinai. So are we to believe that, because the Decalogue is "peculiar" to theocratic Israel, it too gets abolished? But that is contrary to Waldron's own position. So once again Waldron is appealing to broad principles that are too general to adjudicate the rival positions.

    Continuing on, Waldron says:

    "If the Theocratic disruption continues, the Church's relationship to civil government will be governed by the principles which governed Israel subsequent to the Exile."

    This makes it look like theonomists are saying that they envision all governments everywhere to be playing the role in history of the Israelite theocracy. They do not believe this. In addition, Waldron makes it sound like, during the Exile, God revealed _new_ "principles" for the people of God which were normative during the Exile. Unfortunately, Waldron makes no exegetical defense of this idea. He simply appeals to it. Indeed, as evidenced by Ezra and Nehemiah, one of the pious goals of the Israelites _during the Exile_ was to return to Israel to re-establish the theocracy! In the last paragraph of "1. The Medo-Persian Restoration," Waldron makes it sound like, because the Israelites were _in fact_ in subjection to pagan authorities, that therefore such a situation _ought_ to have been the goal of the Israelites. But if that's the case, why did they so zealously seek to re-establish the theocracy under the reformers God had appointed? Why indeed did God _appoint_ such reformers if simple subjection to the pagan rulers sufficed?

    In the rest of his critique, Waldron keeps identifying the Israelite "Theocratic kingdom" with what theonomists say is the ethical duty of the civil magistrate. Why make this identification? One might as well say that since we believe the Decalogue is for today, that therefore we believe the "Theocratic kingdom" is for today. Again, the question is not whether there is continuity, but the degree of it. Waldron apparently wants to turn this into an all-or-nothing issue, but that contradicts his own settled position on the matter.

    One of the things that theonomists like to point out is that, even in the days of the Israelite theocracy, in the Psalms and prophets God clearly holds _the surrounding nations_ to account for upholding principles of righteousness in their civil law. Since it would be absurd to say that God considered these nations to _also_ be the "Theocratic kingdom," what this means is that the theonomic position with respect to civil government is compatible with the historical uniqueness of Israelite theocracy. The problem with Waldron's excessively diachronic analysis of the matter is that he misses this synchronic datum in the OT itself. _At the time of the Israelite theocracy_, the theonomic position held with respect to other nations.

    All of this has a bearing on Waldron's subsequent analysis of the NT data. He persists in arguing that since the "Theocratic kingdom" doesn't obtain in the interadventual period (i.e., from Christ to the Consummation), that therefore theonomy is falsified. But this is an invalid inference. No theonomist identifies the ethical duty of the civil magistrate with the Israelite "Theocratic kingdom," nor does he have any reason to do so.

    Finally, in his "alternative" to theonomy, Waldron argues that "the judicial laws as part of the civil state of Israel. (Cf. Lk. 21:20-24, Acts 6:13-15.)" are "temporary aspects of the Old Covenant," and therefore abolished by Christ. However, I cannot see the relevance of Waldron's proof-texts for his claim here. They don't seem to do what he wants them to do.

    I know none of this can do justice to 77 pages and 35,000 words. But it's a start. I tried to focus on those claims which Waldron thinks directly undermine the theonomic position.

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  8. Steve wrote, "So what do you think of what Phil thinks of what I think of Albert Mohler?"

    You lost me in this brain-twister. I gotta think about this for a while.

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  9. Hi jc,

    You say: "In his blog, at least, Mr. Phil Johnson has never wrote specifically what he thought about this matter. But Mr. Johnson has written, 'Steve Hays always writes stuff I wish I had said anyway.' This is what led me to believe that Mr. Johnson and Mr. Hays think similarly."

    I think you're taking this a bit too far. I don't think Mr. Johnson meant his "always" to be taken as exhaustive in scope. I doubt he puts his imprimatur, in advance, on everything Mr. Hays writes :-)

    And I'd highly doubt if the editor of MacArthur Jr.'s books would be a theonomist.

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  10. Hey crankmonster,

    I notice that you don't actually _cite_ any theonomists in order to support your claims about what they "consistently leave out". Until you do, what is there to respond to in your comment, really?

    If you think that stoning rebellious children is inherently incompatible with love for God and neighbor, then your problem is with the OT, not with theonomy. Obviously the two greatest commandments of the law to which Jesus drew our attention were explicitly _OT_ commandments, and they obtained in precisely the same era as the stoning of rebellious children.

    So is it that you believe that the OT economy as God set it up was contradictory? Or is it that you believe that the two greatest commandments were not commanded in the OT?

    You say: "Theonomy conists in claims that fall into the category Calvin put certain things: too loony to even deserve being refuted."

    This isn't an argument; it's a caricature. It would be easier to take you seriously if you actually _interacted_ with Mr. Hays' posted arguments on the subject of theonomy. Since you're aware of:

    http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2004/08/ot-today.html

    ...why don't you take a crack at interacting with it, rather than taking random potshots devoid of intellectual content?

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