Contend Earnestly: Theonomy Discussion

Friday, January 12, 2007

Theonomy Discussion

I was surprised, showing my ignorance of some issues, to find out a view I did not know was growing with popularity: Theonomy: theos = God + nomo = law. As a theological expression, it means the abiding authority of all of the Bible's teachings, unless the Bible itself asserts that those teachings have been fulfilled or rescinded.

It first came out in our discussion on Calvin vs Servetus and then "the gloves came off." I found an article that I have just started to read, but before I finished, I thought I would go ahead and supply the link for all to read. Enjoy.

Theonomy, A Reformed Baptist Assessment
by Sam Waldron

ummm...go read the article...I have nothing else to say


Kymanika said...

We cant read it, its on your C drive.

Gomarus said...

It can be found here:

gracevet said...

Thanks for this article - I too am beginning to read it and on first time reading must admit it answers a lot of my own concerns wrt theonomy/reconstruction movement. (probably why I am reformed baptist). I see that the subject must have absorbed thousands of hours of thought and writing by many people. I wonder whether Satan is having a field day on dividing the church .... but one stronger than Satan has already broken into his house and he indeed is now bound...

Seth McBee said...

Jim...thanks for helping out...

I have now fixed it on the main page as well

Daniel Ritchie said...

I've had a look through Sam Waldron's article. There are a couple of problems with it.

1. He equates theonomy with postmillennialism, but there is not logically any connection. I differ from other Reconstructionist, in that I am a moderate postmillennialist - I believe the church will always face persecution this side of eternity.

2. He is failing to represent both sides of the issue with regards to the debate over whether the Westminster Confession is anti-Theonomic. Martin Foulner has a booklet called 'Theonomy and the Westminster Confession' which consists of over 50 pages of quotes by the Puritans calling for the OT penalties to be enforced.

3. If other nations outside Israel are not to be theocracies, how could David say 'God is king of all the earth'? Surely it is a sin for nations not to submit to Christ's kingship (Psa. 2)?

4. If the Old Testament penal sanctions have been abrogated then what has replaced them as the objective standard of socio-political justice? How is the church to know what sins the state should punish as crimes? You can't beat something with nothing! When I put the above questions to a Reformed anti-theonomist he replied 'common sense'. Whose common sense? Your's or Adolf Hitler's.

kymanika said...

Bahnsen connected Postmill and Theonomy.

Here is a good read, it was compiled by Bahnsen in his defense after the RTS faculty meet with him in disagreement over his position.

Daniel Ritchie said...

I heard Greg Bahnsen say in a lecture that theonomy and postmillennialism were pshcologically, but not logically, connectd; meaning that, a postmillennialist is more likely to be a theonomist, though it does not logical follow that all postmillennialists will be theonomists or vise-versa.

kymanika said...

I can see that. Theonomy leads into a
Postmill view, while they are not directly theologically connected.

Davidponter said...

G'day all,

Regarding theonomy, a few years I wrote a paper interacting with Oliver O'Donovan. My prof said I should try and get it published. Anyway, Josh can host the paper someone for folk to download and read. For the best rebuttal of the assumptions of theonomy, see Oliver O'Donovan's Desire of the Nations, and his other work, Resurrection and the Moral Order. What I do is add some ideas and points to O'Donovan's polemic based on the writings of Roger Williams from the 17thC.

Basically what O'Donovan argues for that its okay to have the Christian society, but as long as one does not invoke coercive measures to maintain it: which all theonomic positions have to resort to at some point.

Anyway, I will email my paper to Josh and he can host it somewhere.

Take care,

Josh said...

I enjoyed reading that. Here are some clips.

"The idolatry of the heart is to find social meaning in ways that avoid God. This is the profound condemnation against secular man’s attempt to construct the good society. It is the sin of Nimrod, it is the same sin of Locke."

"It is O’Donovan’s keen insight that highlights the roles of men like Ezra and Daniel (and Esther and
Mordecai). Neither man were obligated to seek the theonomic enforcement of the moral law upon the very pagan
communities they were appointed to govern. For example, Daniel, as cited by O’Donovan,9 lived as one in a foreign land.
His heart, like that of Ezra’s, was set on the return to Jerusalem, never upon instantiating a parallel Jerusalem of Gentile
citizenship. We can add to this the example of Nebuchadnezzar,...."

The problem with the theonomic approach is that it seeks to lay down a case that the Mosaic law and covenant
contained within it universal axioms which bind all men. This position saw the Covenant of Works as somehow
underpinning the Covenant of Grace. The Covenant of Grace was seen as true, exactly because it was an extension of
the Covenant of Works, legally speaking, and penologically speaking. This collapse was due to the attempt to synthesise
self-evidencing principles with Christianity. This concept is not easy to articulate. It does seem intuitively true that it is
wrong, say, to torture babies for the fun of it, or that I should do as I would have others do to me. The problem is that
Natural Law theory sought to ground these intuitions as self-evidencing universal laws, vis a vis Aristotle et al. The 17th
century theonomists merged Natural Law, thus understood, in, through and under Kingdom law, that is, they conflated Nature and Grace.

I hosted it here:

Daniel Ritchie said...


The examples you cite are arguments from silence, and arguments from silence prove nothing except silence. The fact is that Israel's civil law was an example to the pagans of socio-political justice (Deut. 4:6-8) and therefore the obligation does not need to be repeated. How many times does God have to say something before it will be believed.

Can anyone name me a system of political justice that was better than what God graciously gave to Israel?

Daniel Ritchie said...


Theonomists do not seek to uphold a Christian society by standards that are unduly coercive. In other words, theonomy does not believe in converting pagans with the sword (that is Romanism). What theonomy believes is that a Christian nation is required to punish those who openly propagate a false religion (Deut. 13), not those who merely hold a private opinion.

David Ponter said...

Hey Daniel.

Nothing I said indicated that theonomists are committed to using voilence to instantiate or create the theonomic state. But what is undeniable is that theonomists are committed to maintaining the state by coercion.

Its an important distinction. For men like Sam. Rutherford, the theonomic state was not created by the power of the Sword, enforcing both tables of the law, but that nonetheless the sword is used in maintaining the theonomic state, and is by enforcing both tables of the law.

To be clear, I am not talking about a non-theonomic forms of post-millennialism.

Hope that helps,

Daniel Ritchie said...

Thanks David, just checking. I would suggest though that every society must use coercive force to preserve itself.

David Ponter said...

G'day Daniel,

errrhh, well thats true, but is the justification for the respective acts and/or certain claims for coercion that are up for grabs in the theonomic debate.

My reply was to point that that theonomists cant completely distance themselves from coercion as they are often want to do.

The issue is not is coercion necessarily entailed in the theonomist position. We can get passed that: as it is. The issue is, what is the biblical support for the justification of theonomic penology in society today? etc etc.

Take care,

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