Thursday, October 30, 2008

A law unto themselves

steve hays said,
October 28, 2008 at 11:51 am

Foolish Tar Heel,

At what level does your objection operate? Are you equating the divinely inspired Torah with Sharia law? Or do you simply object to how some theonomists would apply the Torah to modern penology?

steve hays said,
October 28, 2008 at 11:53 am

tim prussic said,
“Changes: The Constitution of the United States would have to be rewritten, if a Reconstructionistic paradigm were to hold sway. For starters (and every Christian should hoist their pint to this), the preamble should include that the Absolute Monarch who rules this Republic is Jesus Christ, the everliving Lord of the whole universe.”

I disagree. The Establishment Clause prohibits a national church. But the states were free to have established churches—and some of them did.

steve hays said,
October 28, 2008 at 11:57 am

Todd said,
October 28, 2008 at 9:57 am
“I never understood how theonomists can look at history and say to themselves; I know what we should do - ensure that Christianity is state sponsored and enforced! Let’s see - we have the Holy Roman Empire, Cromwell’s England, the Spanish Inquisition, the American Puritans torturing, imprisoning, and at times executing Baptists, Quakers and Catholics.”

Cromwell was pretty tolerant by the standards of the day, and the American Puritans generally represented the Reformed and Presbyterian tradition. We’re free to evaluate and reject various aspects of that tradition, but this is a Reformed and Presbyterian blog.

steve hays said,
October 29, 2008 at 7:54 am

Jeff Cagle said,
“The Puritan system in Massachusetts started from a far greater advantage than we. The median knowledge of Scriptures was great; the cultural assumptions were more amenable to Christian thought; the church was generally trusted. And yet, the Puritan experiment failed miserably, if we measure by the relative density of Gospel-preaching churches in New England today. On a societal level, the fruit of Puritanism was apostasy (I’m not speaking of their writings, which are of great value; I’m speaking only of the cultural trending: Harvard, Yale, the Old Lights who became Unitarian, the New Divinity of Dwight, etc.).”

i) Do you think it’s reasonable to judge Colonial Puritanism by contemporary New England? Most Christian institutions liberalize over time, including Reformed institutions. Reformed colleges, seminaries, and denominations tend to liberalize over time.

ii) How do you judge the current status quo? Is that a success or failure? Is modern-day New York or Boston or Berkeley CA a resounding success or a miserable failure in your book?

steve hays said,
October 29, 2008 at 8:08 am

Todd said,
“I never understood how theonomists can look at history and say to themselves; I know what we should do - ensure that Christianity is state sponsored and enforced! Let’s see - we have the Holy Roman Empire, Cromwell’s England, the Spanish Inquisition, the American Puritans torturing, imprisoning, and at times executing Baptists, Quakers and Catholics. Please show me where this idea has worked and/or lasted more than one or two generations?”


Foolish Tar Heel said,
“Wow, some of this really scares me. From a sociological point of view, how exactly is what you advocate (Daniel and, perhaps, Tim P.) different than the most radical caricatures of Islamic fundamentalist regimes? What, are your ideas and goals different because you are ‘right’? Funny how every extremist person and group so legitimates their practices and ideal practices…”


Luke Evans said,
“My goodness, what a reminder of how disturbing and troubling consistent Theonomy is.”

One of the problems I have with these moralistic objections to theonomy is that critics could (and do) raise the same objections to OT ethics generally. Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens love to attack the Christian faith through whatever they find objectionable in the OT.

Now, even if we take a pure Anabaptist position of total discontinuity between the Testaments, there was a time when OT ethics did apply. This was a divinely inspired and divinely mandated code of conduct. Christians need to come to terms with that.

If we subscribe to the inerrancy of Scripture, then we need to uphold the morality of the OT system—even if we think it doesn’t apply to us.
I wonder how some critics of theonomy view OT ethics on its own terms. Do they affirm its essential justice?

steve hays said,
October 29, 2008 at 9:51 am


You’re using your version of typology to erase the totality of OT ethics. Your all-or-nothing argument fails to draw traditional and elementary distinctions between the moral law, civil law, and ceremonial law.

For example, Reformed theology according to the Westminster Standards still regards the Decalogue as applicable to men and women living in the church age.

Likewise, standard Reformed and Presbyterian arguments against abortion typically appeal to OT prooftexts as well as NT prooftexts to make their point. And they go beyond the Decalogue to do so.

As Liefeld points out in his commentary on the Pastorals, 1 Tim 1:9-10 is a summary of the Ten Commandments (in Deut 5:6-21). It is therefore illicit for you to invoke “typology” as an exegetical shortcut to disqualify OT ethics in toto.

The purpose of the law is not to dispense eschatological justice. That’s a straw man argument. Try again.

Finally, the textual authenticity of Lk 23:34 is quite debatable. You need to find a more secure prooftext to establish your contention.

steve hays said,
October 29, 2008 at 11:56 am

Foolish Tar Heel said,
“Steve Hays,_You have dismissed but not answered my sociological question. It is not, as it were, a charge, but a question. It only becomes a ‘charge’ if you assume several things, both about the question and the implications of certain answers. The fact that I do assume such thing is immaterial, however, to my desire to hear your answer. How, from a sociological standpoint, are some of the versions of ideal-Theonomy articulated here different from the most over-the-top caricatures of radical Islamic regimes and society? Is your answer simply that Theonomy is ‘right.’ Then I give you another sociological-anthropological-and ethnological question, do you realize that all (what I will call) ‘extremist’ cultural-producers and ‘groups’ so legitimate themselves? How might such realizations impact this discussion.”

i) If you think that people are merely “caricaturing” Islam, rather than accurately representing it’s teaching, then it’s unclear why you also think your comparison between Islam and theonomy is even problematic.

Any comparison would be fatally equivocal if it’s based on a caricature.

ii) That aside, why should I submit to your sociological framework? Unless you think that OT ethics is morally equivalent to Sharia law, how is that a comparison? And how is it the least bit relevant to someone who respects the moral authority of Scripture? You’re shifting the issue from normative questions to popular opinion. How is that germane to Christian ethics?

steve hays said,
October 29, 2008 at 8:20 am


I have a question for you. Back in 1971, the 38th General Assembly of the OPC issued a report on abortion (which is posted at the OPC website). I’m sure you’ve seen it.
It staked out a strong prolife, antiabortion position. I believe that became the official position of the OPC. I believe this report was also influential on other Reformed denominations as they had to formulate their own position on abortion.

In making its case for a prolife/antiabortion position, the report relied heavily on OT ethics.

Question: Do you agree with the methodology of the report? Do you think it was appropriate for the committee to anchor so much of its argument in OT ethics?
Do you think it would be possible to present an equally strong, exegetical argument against abortion if we excluded all of the OT prooftexts from consideration?
Depending on how you answer the question, how does that affect your evaluation of theonomy?

steve hays said,
October 29, 2008 at 11:46 am

greenbaggins said,
“Let me ask these questions: first of all, how does one determine which judicial laws are of general equity and which are not? How does one determine which judicial laws relate directly to the moral law as case law and which do not?”

Good question. There’s no precise answer to that question, although ethics is often imprecise (e.g. borderline cases)—so that’s nothing new.

In chap. 19 of his classic commentary on the WCF, A. A. Hodge lays down some criteria.

Likewise, Gordon Wenham, in Story as Torah, lays down some criteria. Those would be two good places to start.

“Most treatments of the judicial law that I have read (which are admittedly non-theonomic) argue that ALL the judicial law is application of the Ten Commandments in one way or another.”

I don’t think that’s necessary. Some case laws are timebound injunctions, tied to the specific, socioeconomic conditions of the ANE.

Other case laws, while culturally conditioned to some degree, involve timeless principles which are applicable to a modern situation as long as we abstract the generic norm and modernize it accordingly.

The process isn’t fundamentally different from the way we analogize from NT ethics to contemporary situations. There’s always an element of recontextualization when we apply Biblical ethics to modernity.

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