Am I a Theonomist?

Discussion in 'The Law of God' started by AV1611, Aug 22, 2007.

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  1. NaphtaliPress

    NaphtaliPress Administrator Staff Member

    Just treat them as Daniel's argument. If you want to say, that is just like some other person's argument that is fine, but I didn't want this to turn into engaging Colin by proxy through Daniel.
  2. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    The disputes between Tim and Mr Tayler can be carried on elsewhere; I put them up but Colin can defend them at length in another context. In hindsight I regret putting them on as it has caused confusion, and will not do so again.

    As for epistemology:

    Tim, I am afraid that you have completely missed the point; you have not dealt with the sovereignty of God and civil law. Theonomy is the only position that consistently holds that God and His law-word is sovereign in civil law. Hiding behind a few quotes or mis-quotes from the Reformers or Puritans does not alter this fact.

    Moreover, this thread started as discussion over whether or not Richard was a Theonomist, not to debate the issue. It seems that certain PB members are determined to hijack every thread where Theonomy is mentioned rather than sticking to the topic at hand (this was done on my WCF vs Blind WCF following thread). Thus out of respect for Richard - and the subject he wanted to discuss - I will withdraw from this thread.

    We have established that Richard is a Theonomist; if we want to debate Theonomy further can that not be done on existing threads? Obviously it is the moderators decision to close a thread; but I notice a pattern emerging that is not helpful to Christian discussion.

    If someone started a thread asking whether or not they were a Baptist, I think it would be inappropriate to then use this as a pretext for pointing out to them the error of their ways.
  3. timmopussycat

    timmopussycat Puritan Board Junior

    The Sovereignty of God and Civil Law

    Daniel, Theonomy is not the only position that consistently holds that God and His law-word is sovereign in civil law. The Reformers, Puritans, WCF men and myself all hold that God and his word is sovereign in civil law, but we do not follow Bahnsen's hermeneutic for applying God's word to this age. And you should not call a quotation a misquotation unless you go on to demonstrate that it is one.
  4. Reformed Covenanter

    Reformed Covenanter Puritan Board Doctor

    No, Theonomy is the only position that consistently holds that God is the only Lawgiver to the state. Other positions - by rejecting Biblical penal sanctions - deny this. All other views deny that God ALONE has the sovereign right to determine what constitutes crime and what constitutes a just penal sanction. Others may tip their hats to the sovereignty of God in civil affairs, but they deny it by their rejection of Biblical law.

    The point of that statement was that the issue is NOT a historical one. Now is not the place to determine whether or not something is a quote or mis-quote as their are other threads in which this may be done.

    May I recommend Tim that you devote more of your time to refuting the disastrous ethics of humanism, rather than waging war on those who wish to uphold the holy laws of God. This would be a much more profitable use of your time. If you don't agree with me, then I have to respect you as a brother in the Lord, but things need to be kept in proportion: there are bigger battles to fight.
  5. Blueridge Believer

    Blueridge Believer Puritan Board Professor


    The hope of postmillennialism, particularly in its "Christian Reconstruction" form, is a "Jewish dream." This was the express judgment of the early Reformed creed, the Second Helvetic Confession (A.D. 1566):

    We further condemn Jewish dreams that there will be a golden age on earth before the Day of judgment, and that the pious, having subdued all their godless enemies, will possess all the kingdoms of the earth. For evangelical truth in Matt. chs. 24 and 25, and Luke, ch. 18 and the apostolic teaching in II Thess., ch. 2, and II Tim., chs. 3 and 4, present something quite different (Chap. 11, in Reformed Confessions of the 16th Century, ed. Arthur C. Cochrane, Westminster Press, 1966).
    The carnal kingdom of postmillennialism, particularly as painted by "Christian Reconstruction," is exactly the kind of Messianic kingdom dreamed and desired by the Jews in the days of Christ's earthly ministry. This was what the Jews of John 6 wanted: Christ as the king of an earthly kingdom and a temporal future bright with the prospect of political power and earthly glory.
    The damning judgment upon postmillennialism by the Second Helvetic Confession reflected the theology of the early Reformers, Luther and Calvin, as well as Bullinger, author of the creed. More importantly, it is the stand of the confessions that bind Reformed and Presbyterian churches and Christians today.

  6. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    I am sorry. I cannot take anything written by Engelsma seriously. His "resurrection of the soul" view is heterodox. He has slandered theonomists for a decade now.

    The quotation from the Second Helvetic COnfession is a joke and out of context (I am not saying the confession is a joke, just using it to tar theonomists is way below the belt and unworthy of rebuttal).

    And I am getting really tired of this "copy/paste" style of argumentation. My next post will be a mile-long thread refuting Engelsma's strawmen.
  7. Blueridge Believer

    Blueridge Believer Puritan Board Professor

    NO offense meant brother. Just thought I'd add a link to another point of view.
  8. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    Engelsma's attacks represent sloppy scholarship that really isn't worthy of refutation. But since people take him seriously, I will respond.

    The first chapter, “A hope of the saints,” begins what quickly becomes recognizable as an unusual approach to a familiar subject, with a specific end in mind. The hope that Engelsma discusses is not the resurrection of the dead and eternal glory, which he is right to call the hope of the saints. Rather, this chapter is about a lesser hope, namely “the hope of conscious life and glory with Christ in heaven at the moment of death.” He tells us, “I believe in the resurrection of the soul.” At this point the reader will be forgiven for finding such language unfamiliar – the resurrection of the soul? Engelsma says that when the soul leaves the body and goes to heaven, this is a resurrection. As it turns out later in the book, the only reason such a strange terminology is used here is to lay the foundation for interpreting Revelation 20 by saying that the “first resurrection” is the resurrection of the soul into heaven.

    But this seems, on the surface at least, to militate against ordinary usage of the term “resurrection.” Resurrection, one would think, involves a dead thing coming to life. But in the case of the soul going to heaven, the Reformed confessions to which Engelsma repeatedly refers are absolutely clear: this is not resurrection at all. In the Westminster confession of faith chapter four paragraph two we read that God endowed human beings with “immortal souls,” which clearly indicates that they never die at all. In 22:1 of that same confession, we read of the righteous and the wicked alike, “The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption: but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them,” the righteous going to heaven and the wicked going to hell. In fact, Prof. Engelsma fails to make his case even from the Reformed confession that he cites most often, the Heidelberg Catechism, question fifty seven: “my soul after this life shall be immediately taken up to Christ its head.” But this says nothing about resurrection. Engelsma wants to avoid saying that the soul survives death because it is immortal, insisting that on the contrary “the explanation of the Christian’s being with Christ in his or her soul immediately upon dying is resurrection.” But in saying this he rejects the Reformed tradition he so often lays claim to by citing the confessions. He also, I daresay, violates common sense. If one believes, as Engelsma does, that the soul of the believer goes to be with Christ upon death, it can only be because resurrection has not yet taken place, and hence the saint must wait patiently.

    Engelsma rejects the teaching of the Reformed Confessions further when he claims that it is proof that the everlasting future life has nothing to do with the soul’s immortality to point out that the damned will go to hell and suffer forever, even though they are not immortal. But the Belgic Confession says precisely the opposite, saying that the lost “shall be made immortal but only to be tormented in the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” I say this not to defend the Reformed Confessions, but only to point out that Engelsma seems to be having it both ways, in many places insisting that nobody who differs from them should minister in Reformed Churches, but rejecting their teaching outright when it comes into conflict with his own.
    In short, Engelsma must give up his loyalty to the Reformed confession, or he must give up his view of the first resurrection. This is because the Reformed confessions teach that the soul is immortal and never dies (hence ruling out the need for resurrection of the soul). Now, it may be that he would be willing to reject the Reformed confessions, but this means he is then put in the position of having to show that Scripture teaches that when the body dies, an invisible event occurs that can be called resurrection (and of course he cannot appeal to Revelation 20 at this point, since that would be begging the question). He would have a much easier task if he instead identified our spiritual resurrection in the same way the Apostle Paul did, when he declared in Ephesians 2 that “because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.” Not only would this not conflict with his view of the thousand year reign as spiritual in nature, but it would be much more defensible on biblical grounds – and it would also not bring him into conflict with the Reformed confessions he cherishes so much.

    Unfortunately Engelsma does not end the chapter there. He goes on (pp 4-5) as though he were about to seriously tackle the claim that the immorality of the soul is an intrusion of Greek pagan views into Christianity (even though Engelsma himself has said, in conflict with the Reformed confessions, that the departure of the soul from the body has nothing to do with the soul being immortal). But instead of doing so, he decides to identify a learning institution that was at one time associated with a person who made this accusation (namely the conservative Herman Dooyewerd), and point out that another person (a theological liberal) who now works there a century later has endorsed a book written by a homosexual, as though this discredits the view expressed a hundred years ago by a different person! Tactics like these are something to be ashamed of, rather than published.
  9. BayouHuguenot

    BayouHuguenot Puritan Board Doctor

    These quotes are from a book review of his book on Christ's Neo-Platonic Kingdom

    Throughout the book Prof. Engelsma frequently misrepresents the views of the postmillennial theologians he disagrees with. For example, in a chapter entitled “Jewish dreams,” he calls the postmillennial vision a “carnal” kingdom, “exactly the kind of Messianic kingdom dreamed and desired by the Jews n the days of Christ’s kingdom” [emphasis added], and he adds that postmillennialists want “Christ as the king of an earthly kingdom and … political power and earthly glory” (p 8). He goes so far as to begin slinging mud by saying that for any postmillennial brother in Christ, “Christ’s coming is not his hope, the carnal kingdom is” (p 11). It is, in fact, difficult to count the number of times Engelsma uses the term “carnal kingdom” in his book to describe the postmillennial view of the kingdom of God.
    Engelsma is either badly confused or blatantly dishonest. It is possible that he is simply muddling up different eschatologies here, since what he is describing is not postmillennialism, but rather a kind of premillennialism known as dispensationalism, where the kingdom of God is literally an earthly kingdom with Christ in the throne here on earth ruling over a political body from Jerusalem. But no postmillennialist has ever asserted any such thing, and it is hardly likely, given the number of postmil authors that Engelsma claims to have read, that he could have made the mistake honestly. It is worthy of note that Engelsma sees no need to actually quote any postmillennial author to substantiate his claim. If he had attempted to do so, perhaps he would have discovered that he was attacking a straw man all along. Such sloppy scholarship (assuming that this is not dishonesty) is inexcusable. Engelsma even goes so far as to respond to a letter from postmillennialist Gary DeMar and directly state that Gary DeMar believes that the kingdom of God on earth is “political,” in spite of the fact that he quoted the whole letter in the same chapter, enabling the reader to see that DeMar said no such thing.
    Postmillennialists clearly say that Christ’s kingdom is not an earthly kingdom but a spiritual kingdom. It is not a worldly political body but rather Christ reigns from heaven over his church on earth. This is everywhere affirmed by all the postmillennialist writers of every stripe. Lorraine Boettner stated it clearly, “in short, postmillennialists set forth a spiritual kingdom in the hearts of men.”3 No postmil could agree more heartily. The issue is whether or not an increase in the world of those who believe in Christ will make any worldly difference at all. If faith translates into action (as it surely must), then no political kingdom of Christ would be necessary, provided those who are members of His spiritual kingdom (including politicians, lawmakers, clergy, butchers, bakers, accountants and so forth) act accordingly. Gentry spells that matter out in a way that clearly illustrates how false and misleading Engelsma’s comments are, when he describes the postmillennial view of God’s kingdom:

    [T]he fundamental nature of that kingdom is essentially redemptive and spiritual rather than political and corporeal. Although it has implications for the political realm, postmillennialism is not essentially political, competing with temporal nations for governmental rule. Christ rules His kingdom spiritually in and through His people in the world (representation), as well as by His universal providence.4
    In addition to so obviously misrepresenting his theological opponents, Engelsma in this chapter stoops to almost unbelievable tactics when he makes the claim that postmillennialism “in some quarters” leads to social passivity. For example, he says, some in the British Isles are so sure that the government will become more godly when society becomes more godly that they are happy to let the state educate their children instead of establishing Christian schools. Just imagine how this argument works in reverse! Amillennialists like Engelsma, who are so certain that things are doomed to get worse, the Gospel is doomed to fail to transform society and our social task is ultimately a futile one, would have the reader think that the alternative view leads to social passivity. It is no accident that the bulk of early Christian homeschooling material in the United States was written by reconstructionists, and virtually all those who hold to Reconstructionist ethics are themselves defenders and practitioners of homeschooling.
    In his very next breath, Engelsma demonstrates that he has not read the work of his opponents, or that he has not read it carefully. He again makes the mistake of saying that Reconstructionists believe the kingdom of God is an earthly kingdom, and then he claims, based on no evidence at all, that they believe that the future earthly millennial kingdom is the fulfillment, the typological fulfillment, as it were, of the Old Testament nation of Israel! His response is predictable (p 12):
    The enormous, and obvious, blunder of Christian Reconstruction that results in such bondage, as well as in innumerable hefty tones of instruction in and controversy over this Reformed “utopia” – this “no-place,” this “never-never-land” – is the failure to understand that the fulfillment of Old Testament Israel is not a future, earthly Christian world power, but the church. The fulfillment of Old Testament Israel as a nation is the church – the present, spiritual church.
    The reader is left with absolutely no idea who Prof. Engelsma is referring to. This is always what postmillennialists have said. In fact it is ironic almost to the point of being hilarious (were it not so ignorant or misleading) to see a Reformed amillennialist say this about postmillennialists, given that postmillennialists (including reconstructionists) are criticized by the premillennialists precisely because they do teach that the Church is the fulfillment of the nation of Israel, whereas the premillennialists (specially dispensationalists) see the temporal political nation of Israel taking once more the role as keepers of the kingdom in the future, as an earthly kingdom of God. At least the dispensationalists understand what they are criticizing! Premillennial authors attack postmillennialism just because it does teach what Engelsma teaches about the relationship between Israel and the church, a view that dispensationalists label “replacement theology.” Engelsma could have saved time by doing a small amount of homework (although this would have robbed him of some of his more sensational remarks).

    Aggravating his errors in this chapter is the fact that there is only one kind of evidence that Engelsma offers in this chapter against postmillennial hopes. The Second Helvetic Confession, written by one Heinrich Bullinger, says that such progress will not be made on earth. Secondly, the Engelsma says that the “three forms of unity” (that is, the doctrinal basis of Reformed Churches: the Canons of Dordt, the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession) condemn postmillennialism. He says that the Heidelberg Catechism and the Belgic Confession both say that the kingdom of Christ is the church, which is actually something all postmillennialists accept. He adds to this the claim that the Heidelberg Catechism denies that the church will ever gain dominance in the world, but will be a persecuted church. As evidence, he makes no quote, but refers to question 52 of the catechism. For the sake of clearly exposing the quality of evidence used, let us see what this question and its answer say:
    Question 52. What comfort is it to thee that “Christ shall come again to judge the quick and the dead”?
    Answer: That in all my sorrows and persecutions, with uplifted head I look for the very same person, who before offered himself for my sake, to the tribunal of God, and has removed all curse from me, to come as judge from heaven: who shall cast all his and my enemies into everlasting condemnation, but shall translate me with all his chosen ones to himself, into heavenly joys and glory.
    Now that the question and answer are clearly presented to the reader instead of a mere footnote with no content, we can see that Engelsma is just wrong in thinking that the catechism teaches against postmillennialism. The question is about what comfort we receive from knowing that Christ will return. The question has nothing at all to do with whether or not the church is doomed to always remain a persecuted minority, as Engelsma suggests. If he wants us to imagine that because the person answering the question himself has “sorrows” and “persecutions,” this is supposed to indicate an entire eschatological scheme, he is attempting to build far too much on much too little. He also adds a reference to the Belgic confession, article 37, on the last judgment. But here too he is inserting teachings that simply are not there. The only plausible reference in this statement to what Engelsma has in mind is the declaration that all those who “tyrannized, oppressed, and tormented” Christians in this world will receive God’s “terrible vengeance.” But postmillennialists do not deny any such thing!
    Then comes Engelsma’s attack: “For this reason, it is unfaithfulness on the part of office bearers bound by the “Three Forms of Unity” to permit the advocacy of the postmillennial dream in the churches for which they are responsible.” But Engelsma is just wrong about what the three forms of unity teach. Moreover, Engelsma is a Protestant. The watchword of the Reformation was sola scriptura – the Scripture alone! In this chapter written to refute postmillennialism, Engelsma has not once appealed to Holy Scripture, but expects the reader to accept Heinrich Bullinger’s authority as an infallible rule of faith. It is time for Engelsma himself to come face to face with the Belgic Confession, article 7:
    Article 7: The Sufficiency of Scripture
    We believe that this Holy Scripture contains the will of God completely and that everything one must believe to be saved is sufficiently taught in it. For since the entire manner of service which God requires of us is described in it at great length, no one-- even an apostle or an angel from heaven, as Paul says-- ought to teach other than what the Holy Scriptures have already taught us. For since it is forbidden to add to or subtract from the Word of God, this plainly demonstrates that the teaching is perfect and complete in all respects.
    Therefore we must not consider human writings-- no matter how holy their authors may have been-- equal to the divine writings; nor may we put custom, nor the majority, nor age, nor the passage of time or persons, nor councils, decrees, or official decisions above the truth of God, for truth is above everything else.
    For all human beings are liars by nature and more vain than vanity itself.
    Postmillennialist build their case on Scripture, and plenty of it. But where is the response built upon Scripture? Apparently for Engelsma, creeds settle doctrinal matters. Well, not all the creeds. He admits that some Reformed Creeds and a great many Reformed theologians were postmillennial. For some reason, these ones do not count. Texts like Daniel 2:29ff, Isaiah 11, John 12:23 (cf. Micah 4 and Hebrews 12:22), Matthew 13:31-33, and so forth, are never dealt with at all. Apparently the words of men (very few selected men, actually) take precedence over Scripture, which the Reformed confessions regard as the very word of God, when it comes to settling theological disputes for Prof. Engelsma.

    Ok, you get the point.
  10. AV1611

    AV1611 Puritan Board Senior

    Let us not forget that the issue of postmillennialism is not the same as the theonomic issue :)
  11. timmopussycat

    timmopussycat Puritan Board Junior

    One of the things I have found in discussing these matters in the last 7 years is that Theonomists almost invariably misunderstand the historic reformed position at both epistemological and historico-theological levels and attack straw men versions of it. The classical Reformed view does not reject Mosaic civil stipulations: while it recognizes that they have expired as the law code for Israel, a nation state in national covenant with God, it does not draw the false conclusion that those laws are irrelevant for today. Rather, it specifically recognizes that any Mosaic civil stipulation may or may not be valid depending on whether or not general equity will apply in that case. And although he didn't like the way WCF 19:4 expressed the matter, no less a Theonomist than Rushdoony has recognized the issue as legitimate. For Rush has observed that God's:

    Rousas J. Rushdoony, Law and Society, p 28.

    From this premise, Rushdoony wonders whether the nature of some offenses changes depending on the type of relationship with God that underlies the situation.

    Rousas J. Rushdoony, Law and Society, p. 685.

    Notice that Rushdoony recognizes that there are some questions about the applicablility of Mosaic judicials that are resolved at the hermeneutical level. And notice too, that by parity of reasoning Rush's argument (if correct) invalidates and decriminalizes all Mosaic crimes that are offenses against the first table and nullifies all Mosaic penalties for the same. So the real division is not between a simon pure Theonomy that advocates all biblical laws unless amended, but to what extent must hermeneutical considerations be allowed to influence results.

    Given that almost all major Reformers, a majority of the Puritans, and the WCF clearly utilize a different hermeneutic from that of Bahnsen, the issue is both epsitemological and historico-theological.

    I agree that there are other, and bigger battles to fight. But those battles have other people fighting them; nobody else As far as I know is challenging Bahnsen's disciples on the internet when they present his view as if it is the Reformed view. If Bahnsen's Theonomy is an error it is more serious than you realize. Here are the consequences:

    Although the difference between the reasoning processes of the two groups seems irrelevant when both advocate the adoption of given Mosaic civil laws or punishments, significant problems arise when the different approaches arrive at different conclusions.

    Erring in this matter impacts Christian political activity. Lacking an agreement on the correct hermeneutic, Reformed and Evangelical Christians working in politics will have to fight a two-front war; while trying to persuade their electorates to take a righteous position on second table commands, they will have to deny that they have a hidden agenda to institute Mosaic first table crimes and penalties while Theonomists proclaim the contrary, a confusion that will hinder effective Christian political witness.

    The theological consequences of choosing the wrong hermeneutic are far more serious. If applying all unamended Mosaic civil laws remains our New Covenant duty, certain consequences inevitably follow. As Bahnsen correctly noted;

    Yet if Theonomy errs, its advocates are adding an unbiblical element to their teaching of sanctification thus hindering Christian growth in grace. In addition, by misrepresenting God's New Covenant requirements to unbelievers, they will have launched an unnecessary debate between Christians and created a considerable amount of unnecessary opposition to Christian evangelism. Finally they will be liable to God's rebuke (Prov. 30:6) for adding to His word the thesis that obeying and promoting all non-amended OT civil laws is part of Christians’ New Covenant duty when God has not so demanded it.

    If Bahnsen has put forward an unbiblical hermeneutic based on a misreading of both Scripture and history that has led to another division among God's people, shouldn't somebody make the effort to stop it?
  12. BrianLanier

    BrianLanier Puritan Board Freshman

    This brings up the philosophical issue of penology. The reasoning here is clearly an example of a consequentialist theory of punishment (utilitarian) based on prevention or deterrence. [Roughly restated from your post] Punishment for crime C receives punishment p based on perceived problem P in society S. I think (as do many philosophers) that this theory is numerously flawed. Even a secular version of a deontological theory (retribution), such as found in Robert Nozick's work Anarchy, State & Utopia and Philosophical Explanations(not to mention many modern philosphers [H.L.A. Hart, Michael Davis, etc.), is to be preferred to a deterrence theory of punishment. The retributive theroy is basically: The punishment deserved for a crime C is r X H, where H is the amount of harm (done or intendend) and r is the person's degree of responsibility for bringing about H. Of course this is spelled out much more, but you get the idea. Anyway, just some comments for what they're worth.
  13. timmopussycat

    timmopussycat Puritan Board Junior

    New thread location

    Further posts on whether Theonomy is biblical or confessional may be found in the topic
    "The sovereignty of God and civil law."

    Returning to the original topic of defining the term theonomy.

    The problem is that the word has at least two meanings. Pre -Bahnsen it was a category label identifying ethical views having their source in God rather than man. It was in this sense that Van Til opined that there is no alternative but theonomy or autonomy. Bahnsen agreed with this usage listing a number of "theonomies" in his Introduction to "Theonomy in Christian Ethics." Within this category one finds a number of views ranging from Tillich's existential encounters with moral principles, through Dispensationalism, Roman Catholic civil ethics, the Calvin/Westminster view of the majority Reformed, then "the ethical perspective of Christian Reconstruction, and finally Pelagianism.

    The second main meaning of the word is "the ethical perspective of Christian reconstruction". I usually capitalize this meaning because it is the proper name of this view while theonomy is a category label.

    So I am a theonomist but not a Theonomist.
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