Rushdoony and Consistency?

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Robert Truelove

Puritan Board Sophomore
I have been returning to a study Theonomy a bit lately and continue to be perplexed by some of the major writings on the subject...

For instance, in Rushdoony's Institutes of Biblical Law, in the Introduction under the heading "2. The Law as Revelation and Treaty" he goes out of his way to establish that all civil law is religious in nature. I agree with this.

However, on page 398, where he deals with the woman caught in adultery in John 8 (please forget the textual concern for now) he says that Christ's forgiveness was a 'religious forgiveness, not a civil judgment'.

So...if the civil laws in Christ's day were biblical (which Rushdoony says they were not--to which I give much latitude) then this woman should have been put to death for her sin (which he appears to affirm); even though Christ forgave her 'religiously speaking?'.

Now, if all civil law is 'religious in nature' as Rushdoony affirms in the introduction, how is it that he has Christ separating the religious from civic in his dealing with the adulterous woman?

To put the concern bluntly, it appears to me that Theonomy as commonly articulated, fails to comprehend the concept of mercy, while it is a triumph for the concept of justice. But if we are to be conformed to the image of Chirst, how are we to receive a teaching of justice without mercy? This is where I struggle with the teachings of Theonomy. I have no qualms with much of what is taught under that label; but I perceive a total lack of understanding for the place of love and mercy under that same label.

It would seem to me that what Theonomy lacks is a solid dealing with how love and mercy should balance out the letter of the law in regards to its application to civil laws.

Thoughts?
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
You are dealing with one aspect of Christian Reconstruction (Rushdoony), then you made a blanket statement covering all of theonomy (which, according to Professor Frame, is a broad and diverse field). Rushdoony is different from Bahnsen; Bahnsen is different from Jim Jordan. Gary North is different from both. So, which aspect of theonomy are you talking about now?

The real question you should be asking is: when is punishment criminal? Its easy to talk about mercy to the criminal while at the same time denying justice to the victim.
 

Robert Truelove

Puritan Board Sophomore
Regarding aspects of Theonomy, I agree there are different understandings but I am speaking to what I perceive as a common theme between them all but also understand, I am still trying to get my hands around this subject.

As to your question, I do not deny the problem at all. Indeed, how do we speak of mercy to the criminal while denying justice to the victim? But should not mercy somewhere find its place? I honeslty dont have the answers here but I am not finding the theonomic literature I am reading (Rushdoony, Bahnsen for now) speaking of mercy in any other light than negative.

What are your thoughts?

You are dealing with one aspect of Christian Reconstruction (Rushdoony), then you made a blanket statement covering all of theonomy (which, according to Professor Frame, is a broad and diverse field). Rushdoony is different from Bahnsen; Bahnsen is different from Jim Jordan. Gary North is different from both. So, which aspect of theonomy are you talking about now?

The real question you should be asking is: when is punishment criminal? Its easy to talk about mercy to the criminal while at the same time denying justice to the victim.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
My thoughts:
Punishment is criminal when it is more severe than God demands
Punishment is criminal when it is less severe than God demands.

Is it loving to the rape victim to let her rapists out on the streets instead of executing him?
Is it loving to the family of a murder victim to let the murderer stay in prison for 20 years getting a law degree?

What kind of magistrate is he if he doesn't use the sword to terrorize evil doers? That's new testament, too, so that verse (Romans 13) is fair game.
 

Robert Truelove

Puritan Board Sophomore
I cannot nor do I deny the force of your examples. But you clearly present no case at all for where mercy would ever apply. Is there an example you can show me of mercy in your view?

You mentioned in another post that you thought I had an axe to grind with Theonomists. This is not the case, these are honest questions. I am still studying this issue out and am presenting some initial 'hurdles' I am having with it.

My thoughts:
Punishment is criminal when it is more severe than God demands
Punishment is criminal when it is less severe than God demands.

Is it loving to the rape victim to let her rapists out on the streets instead of executing him?
Is it loving to the family of a murder victim to let the murderer stay in prison for 20 years getting a law degree?

What kind of magistrate is he if he doesn't use the sword to terrorize evil doers? That's new testament, too, so that verse (Romans 13) is fair game.
 

ChristianTrader

Puritan Board Graduate
I cannot nor do I deny the force of your examples. But you clearly present no case at all for where mercy would ever apply. Is there an example you can show me of mercy in your view?

You mentioned in another post that you thought I had an axe to grind with Theonomists. This is not the case, these are honest questions. I am still studying this issue out and am presenting some initial 'hurdles' I am having with it.

Pastor Robert,
Do you deny that there is mercy in the law itself? When you are asking about mercy what exactly are you looking to find?

But one example is in the case of theft. The person robbed could forgive the debt (Or at least part of it, depending on the circumstances). The biggest problem that we find in soceity today is that separation of the victim and the mercy. One should not be allowed to offer mercy when t hey were not the one wronged.

CT
 

Robert Truelove

Puritan Board Sophomore
Pastor Robert,
Do you deny that there is mercy in the law itself? When you are asking about mercy what exactly are you looking to find?

I'm not sure I see mercy in the law. I understand it to be a system of strict justice.

What I am looking for are examples from those who have gone further down the theonomic road than I have that there is any place for mercy in their understanding of the law as it applies to the civil government. This is a hurdle for me because I cannot see how any view of the law that does not also have some sort of application of mercy can be right.

To be honest with you, everytime I ask this question my theonomic friends immediatly go on the defensive as if I am attacking the whole system (not a reference to this thread).

But one example is in the case of theft. The person robbed could forgive the debt (Or at least part of it, depending on the circumstances). The biggest problem that we find in soceity today is that separation of the victim and the mercy. One should not be allowed to offer mercy when t hey were not the one wronged.

CT

It would seem to me that this is an area to be explored and matches some of my own thinking.

What if, to use a prior example, a woman is raped but pleads for mercy for the criminal? While the criminal is worthy of death, could the plea for mercy by the victim allow for a lessor sentance? I dont think the letter of the Mosaic law would allow for this but it seems to me to be in line with the general equity of the Scriptures taken as a whole.
 

Contra_Mundum

Pilgrim, Alien, Stranger
Staff member
Divorce is an example of the Mosaic law giving room for mercy. As Jesus taught, fornication was about the only genuine "uncleanness" that Moses was talking about. But God both prescribed the death penalty for the adulter/adulteress, as well as providing divorce. Clearly the innocent party, if moved by mercy but unable/unwilling to sustain a marriage with a fatal breach, could take the divorce route. This was Joseph's decision, and he was a "righteous man".

A principle at work in one place in the law teaches a complete application (that would include appropriate/inappropriate disctinction).

The Puritans recognized the divorce as a mercy.
 

Robert Truelove

Puritan Board Sophomore
Hmmm. Very interesting points.

If you get a moment, do you think you could provide a few more examples or applications?

Thanks.

Divorce is an example of the Mosaic law giving room for mercy. As Jesus taught, fornication was about the only genuine "uncleanness" that Moses was talking about. But God both prescribed the death penalty for the adulter/adulteress, as well as providing divorce. Clearly the innocent party, if moved by mercy but unable/unwilling to sustain a marriage with a fatal breach, could take the divorce route. This was Joseph's decision, and he was a "righteous man".

A principle at work in one place in the law teaches a complete application (that would include appropriate/inappropriate disctinction).

The Puritans recognized the divorce as a mercy.
 

ChristianTrader

Puritan Board Graduate
I'm not sure I see mercy in the law. I understand it to be a system of strict justice.

The correct law has the correct balance of vengeance on the criminal and mercy on the criminal as well as mercy and restoration for the victim.

What I am looking for are examples from those who have gone further down the theonomic road than I have that there is any place for mercy in their understanding of the law as it applies to the civil government.

Again, I ask what does mercy look like. The penalty for stealing a candy cane could be the death penalty. So when it is not the penalty given by the civil magistrate is that an example of mercy?

This is a hurdle for me because I cannot see how any view of the law that does not also have some sort of application of mercy can be right.

You do agree that we should be careful on who gives out the mercy?

To be honest with you, everytime I ask this question my theonomic friends immediatly go on the defensive as if I am attacking the whole system (not a reference to this thread).

I have no doubt there. As a whole, Theonomists can feel a sense of being unfairly characterised and therefore strike out when we feel it happening again. (Especially when it is so clear that we are correct. :)

It would seem to me that this is an area to be explored and matches some of my own thinking.

Cool.

What if, to use a prior example, a woman is raped but pleads for mercy for the criminal? While the criminal is worthy of death, could the plea for mercy by the victim allow for a lessor sentance? I dont think the letter of the Mosaic law would allow for this but it seems to me to be in line with the general equity of the Scriptures taken as a whole.

I will have to look into it more, but as long as the victim, (In this case, the woman and her head) can forgive, then the penalty "could" be reduced to perhaps a fine.

CT
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
What if, to use a prior example, a woman is raped but pleads for mercy for the criminal? While the criminal is worthy of death, could the plea for mercy by the victim allow for a lessor sentance? I dont think the letter of the Mosaic law would allow for this but it seems to me to be in line with the general equity of the Scriptures taken as a whole.

Hard cases make bad laws. But this is a common situation. This would also set precedent that rapists could get off easier in the future.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
To be honest with you, everytime I ask this question my theonomic friends immediatly go on the defensive as if I am attacking the whole system (not a reference to this thread).

Case in point. There was a thread last year called "Theonomy/postmil/presup distinctions." It is the worst thread in the hsitory of puritanboard. It was a nine page violation of the 9th commandment. The slanders and hatchet jobs against theonomists were so bad that even the amillennialists were begging the moderators to shut it down.

And on this board, usually when someone mentions theonomy, a lot of people catch our breath and pray that the above doesn't happen again.
 

JohnV

Puritan Board Post-Graduate
I agree with Jacob, that there are threads already in existence that can be good reads.

It's not that new discussions should be discouraged, not that new members should first get 'caught up' on the history of the Board; but rather that this Board already has a history, and that some things have become shibboleths of sorts. Those that are Theonomists are Theonomists, those that are not are not. There are a lot of things to consider, more than just the law, more than just the law in relation to the gospel, more than just a NT application of OT laws. This thread if for those who are objectively searching it out. There are a lot of threads already existing that could be of great help.
 

Robert Truelove

Puritan Board Sophomore
Please let me clarify then! I am in not of of the pursuasion that Theonomists are heretics nor do I wish to engage in the typical rhetoric. Rushdoony's book for example, has been really challenging me lately; I just have some issues/questions regarding some of the particulars.

If this subject has been historically divisive here then perhaps as a new guy it is a bad first subject for me.


Case in point. There was a thread last year called "Theonomy/postmil/presup distinctions." It is the worst thread in the hsitory of puritanboard. It was a nine page violation of the 9th commandment. The slanders and hatchet jobs against theonomists were so bad that even the amillennialists were begging the moderators to shut it down.

And on this board, usually when someone mentions theonomy, a lot of people catch our breath and pray that the above doesn't happen again.
 

BayouHuguenot

Puritanboard Clerk
Please let me clarify then! I am in not of of the pursuasion that Theonomists are heretics nor do I wish to engage in the typical rhetoric. Rushdoony's book for example, has been really challenging me lately; I just have some issues/questions regarding some of the particulars.

If this subject has been historically divisive here then perhaps as a new guy it is a bad first subject for me.


I understand. There are a few nomian topics that I would still like to discuss but don't have time at the present. For instance, people on both sides throw out the phrase "general equity" but never define it.

I guess my original reaction to you might have been pointed. My apologies. I was called a heretic on that thread I mentioned so I was probably a little nervy then.
 
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