Saturday, January 31, 2009

By This Standard

I have hesitated in writing about the recent book I have read for the simple reason that from what I have seen on the internet the mere mention of theonomy raises the hairs on many people’s necks. I am fairly sure that most of this distaste comes from a lack of understanding of what theonomy is as I am quite certain that many have learned what they know not from the sources of theonomic writings such as Greg Bahnsen but from others teachings about theonomy second hand.

I have said all this to say that I have just read Bahnsen’s shorter work on theonomy, By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today. As with my understanding of the doctrines of grace much of what I read in this book is what I had already deduced from scripture beforehand but had not categorized it other than simply seeing a call to obey all of God’s law. How that is done I still need to work through but it was clear to me as it seems clear from Bahnsen that the standards of God in all His word are to be obeyed.

In the first chapters of this book Bahnsen sets out that the goal of this work is to seek to convey that to not see God’s entire word as our standard for ethics is faulty.
In Chapter 20 Bahnsen sets out what the Law can and should do:

1) The law declares the character of God
2) The law displays the demand of God on our lives
3) The law pronounces blessing upon adherence to its demands
4) The law provides a definition of sin
5) The law exposes infractions and convicts of sin
6) The law works to incite rebellion in sinful man
7) The law condemns all transgression as deserving God’s wrath and curse
8) The law drives us to Christ for salvation
9) The law guides the sanctification of the believer
10) The law servers to restrain the evil of the unregenerate

Then in Chapter 21 he speaks of how the reformers broke the use of the law down to three categories or uses. These were: 1) The political use of the law, 2) The pedagogic use of the law, convicting of sin and creating a senses of spiritual need, 3) The didactic use which supplies a rule for the life of the believer. Of these three both 1 and 2 are very often argued against today.

As I had never read Bahnsen before but had read much comment on the evils of theonomy I was surprised to find so little to be able to argue against in his book. Again my guess is that many have not read his works but have instead based opinions on a misunderstanding of the basic position of theonomy or have take a particular segment of these that hold to theonomy and applied to all aspects of theonomy. I would encourage those that have not read this book to do so. As this is only a sort of brief overview, if you want a deeper understanding you would need to read Bahnsen’s larger work: Theonomy in Christian Ethics.

Daniel Ritchie at Reformed Covenanter has written a good post, Differences among Theonomists on the Modern Application of the Law of God. In his post he looks at five areas and explains the difference in each that exist among Theonomists. The five areas are:

1) A difference of opinion arises as to whether or not all the death penalties are mandatory, how many are mandatory or are they merely maximum punishments
2) There are differences of opinion as to what was, and what was not, circumstantial to Older Testament Israel.
3) There are differences of opinion over whether the New Testament has modified certain penalties so that they may be punished differently from what they were in Israel.
4) There are differences of opinion whether there is an increased number of crimes in the New Testament than there was in the Older Testament.
5) There is also confusion surrounding the term “judicial law.”

But as Daniel says: “The important thing in all this is not to agree with me, or with Greg Bahnsen, or with the Puritans, but to accept that the Bible alone is our only objective standard for socio-political justice.” I cannot agree more with this statement. It is not a matter of disagreeing with any particular person but one must take the texts that they apply and seek to see what they truly say.

Does this make me a theonomist, I don’t know? What I do know is that before I ever read a word from Bahnsen, Calvin or others I had seen clearly in scripture that God has commands he demands of us and that He has equipped us by His sprit to follow and we need to do so.

Another book I Highly recommend that I have written on before, Bolton on the Law, is The True Bounds of Christian Freedom by Samuel Bolton. From whence comes one of my favorite quotes:

“The law sends us to the Gospel for our justification; The Gospel sends us to the law to frame our way of life”

Next on my list to read will need to be: 1) Theonomy in Christian Ethics and 2) No Other Standard:Theonomy and Its Critics both by Bahnsen

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