Undermining the Theonomist Syllogism

It seems to me that the Theonomist argument can be boiled down to the following Syllogism:

P1) God does not change.

P2) If the Law has been abrogated, then God has changed.

C) The Law has not been abrogated.

The Reformed Libertarian objection is with P2. This is not necessarily true. If the purpose for giving the law in the first place was so that it would be a typological and eschatological foreshadow of things to come with the intention all along that it would be abrogated when those things came to fulfillment, then it is not a matter of God changing for him to abrogate the law now that those things have come to be. Rather it is a symptom of God NOT changing that he would be faithful to fulfill that plan.

For example, when Israel committed the sin of the golden calf at Mount Sinai and God was going to wipe them out, Moses interceded for them. He reminded God of his promises, and God appears to change his mind. It almost looks like God is a nearly unhinged human person who Moses talks sense to until he calms down. It even uses a word that is very similar to “repent” for what God does here.

So did God change? Certainly his course of action did! Does this mean he is no longer immutable? No longer simple?

Of course not. It meant that his purpose all along was to evoke this intercessory ministry from Moses. He never really intended to destroy Israel because he knew and sovereignly ordained what would happen. One major reason for this was because it gives us an amazing picture of Jesus’ intercessory work for us.

The same idea or pattern holds here. The judicial/civil Mosaic Law for Israel was meant, in large part, to foreshadow the coming greater Kingdom of Christ. That Kingdom is now here in a different sense, and that sense clearly does not involve using the sword against outsiders (1 Corinthians 5).

So the theonomist argument is not proven by this syllogism. Rather it begs the question of whether God’s purpose was for the law to be a type/foreshadow or whether it was intended to be set in stone for all ages.

And the answer to that question will inform our interpretation of what Jesus means by what he says in Matthew 5:17-18.

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

What is meant here by these words “abolish”, “fulfill” and “accomplish”? What we understand the original purpose of the Law to be will inform the definition of those terms, won’t it? It will lead us to a certain view about whether and to what extent Christ’s life, death and resurrection fulfilled and accomplished some or all of it.

The Reformed Libertarian position, from considering the whole of Scripture and especially the whole of the New Testament, is that yes the Law is typological. It has indeed NOT been abolished, but has been, in large part, fulfilled and accomplished by Christ and the New Covenant which it was foreshadowing. There are nuances to this view, but the overall point is the same: The New Covenant is the Covenant of Grace, the Old Covenant (including Abraham’s) were all Covenants of Works with Grace coming retroactively from the New as a foreshadow. All the preceding Covenants were typological of the New and all must be interpreted in light of that typology, including elements like the Law of Moses.

No the Law has not been abolished. Certainly the moral principles of the Law (the standard of God’s holiness it sets forth for all people and especially his covenant people) is very much the same today as it was then, and the Law is inestimably valuable at teaching it to us, for it is God’s holy, infallible, inerrant, and sufficient revelation of it.

Yet it’s application to the New Covenant must take into account the ways in which Christ has fulfilled and accomplished the typology of the way it was applied in the Old Covenant. Therefore the practical application will of necessity look different today (1 Corinthians 5 gives us a hint of this).

And whatever else we believe about baptism or sabbath keeping or the second commandment or whatever…. One thing is crystal clear to us Reformed Libertarians: the standards of the Law are no longer to be enforced in exhaustive detail with the sword by the civil magistrate. For God’s covenant community no longer takes the form of a civil nation. Instead, the purpose of the sword bearing magistrate is to defend the life, person and property of those who “do good” (Romans 13).

Genesis 1:26-28

I have written much on this blog and have expounded on many topics and in many ways. My usual mode is to respond to objections to Libertarianism I come across online or in discussions with people. This can be good, but I think what is better is to look to the Scriptures. The Word of God is thrown around quite a lot and can be made to say whatever you want it to say. Like any evidence, it can be interpreted through a bias of presuppositions that lead to error. So I really dislike argumentation that says “Well the Bible says <insert systematic doctrine without proof text.>”.

I’m well aware that I do the same thing. We either do this as an attempt to shoehorn the Bible into the discussion as a lazy appeal to authority, or we are simply trying to be direct and avoid verbosity. Whatever our intentions, at some point these systematic doctrines must be put to the test of Biblical Exegesis. We must be noble Bereans who search the Scriptures to know what it does and does not say so that when we promote some teaching and say it’s from the Bible, we are accurately representing it.

This is my aim. I want to cut through the clutter and the chaff and get to the text. I want to throw out Systematic Theology for a bit and dig into some Biblical Exegesis. This way we can see what the Scriptures actually teach. This way we will know whether a given claim really is from Scripture.

For this reason, I embark on a trek through the Word. I plan to exegete a list of passages that have application to this topic of Civil Government. I’ve already sort of started this with Romans 13, and I think it would be helpful to go through other texts as well. I have a selection of passages that are relevant to the topic that I plan to deal with. If you have any suggestions, I would love to add them to my list.

I will try to keep these brief, and they will in no way be exhaustive. I do not aim to write full dissertations, or even full sermons on each. I do not want to get bogged down into the Greek and Hebrew any more than is necessary. I don’t believe it is all that necessary for the most part. I intend to use the grammatical-historical method to observe what the text says and to draw applications for the arena of Political Philosophy from it. By Political Philosophy, I mean the ethics of human interaction and how society is most justly to be ordered. Some of these may be direct. Others may be indirect.

So let’s dig in and start with Genesis 1:26-28

Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”

So God created man in his own image
In the image of God he created him;
Male and female he created them.

And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”

You might be asking, “What does this have to do with politics?” Quite a lot actually. We see here taught a few key truths about the nature of man that are critical to our discussion. But let’s set aside the question for now. Let’s simply let the text speak plainly to us.

Here on Day 6 of creation, God steps back for a second, looks around at his good creation and says, “Let’s kick this up a notch.” So he creates man and the result is that the creation goes from “good” to “very good”. What’s so special about man? Well, there’s both an ontological and a teleological difference between man and the rest of creation. Ontology deals with the nature of things. Teleology deals with the purpose of things. God reveals both in his statement “Let us make man in our own image.”

But the question is, “what does it mean to be made in the image of God?” There are a lot of ways of trying to answer that question. Many people say “free will”, others say “reason”. But there’s a more foundational reality here that must be the bedrock of any answer we give: Man is God’s self-portrait within the tapestry of his creation. This sets him apart from the rest of creation. Ontologically, man is different from the rest of creation because he bears the likeness of God. Teleologically, man is different from the rest of creation because he has a specific purpose: to bear God’s image.

In what way does man bear God’s image? I find most attempts to answer this question overlook the obvious answer from the text. Man images God by having dominion over creation.

The dominion mandate is given twice in this text. The second time, it comes in the form of a command spoken directly to the man after his creation. But the first time, it is a purpose statement that God speaks to his Triune self while planning the creation of Man. In this purpose statement, he says that man will be made in God’s image and that he will have dominion over the rest of creation. These are not two separate realities. They are inextricably linked. The most basic and direct meaning of being made in God’s image is that we have dominion! This makes sense doesn’t it? God is revealed throughout Scripture as the Sovereign King of all the Universe. Indeed, he created the universe and all that is in it and rules over it all (Psalm 103:19).

So this text reveals man’s primary duty. It is stewardship. Man, in order to glorify God by accurately representing him to his creation, rules over creation on God’s behalf. Man’s dominion over creation does not replace God’s authority over it, but is and ought to be an act of worship and service to God.

The other interpretations of how man images God are valid, but I maintain that these are merely supportive of the primary goal. God rules his creation in wisdom, so man is given wisdom. God has a will, so man is given the power to choose.

Another key aspect is this idea of reproduction. This passage reveals that reproduction is part of this image bearing nature of man. Right in the middle of this discussion of image bearing and dominion, God reveals that he made man male and female. Then he tells man to “be fruitful and multiply.”

Much can be said about this in other respects, but its impact on the dominion mandate is that man would fill the earth in order to subdue it. The procreative act of childbearing is both an imaging of God’s creative power and a means to the end of having dominion over creation. This is a large earth, and no one man can subdue all of it, even in the pre-fall state. So he needs the help of other men so they can divide and conquer. Thus the purpose for procreation is bound up in man’s Ontological nature and Teleological responsibility to image God.

There are several implications of this dominion mandate.

First, the earth and all that is in it, while being God’s property as his creation (Psalm 24:1), is also available for man to treat as his property. Indeed it truly belongs to God, but man’s duty as God’s steward is to subdue and dominate it. More than being just permission for man to take property from the earth, this is a commandment.

Second, since the property is ultimately God’s and man’s dominion authority over this creation is a stewardship of the property for God, then our dominion must be exercised according to God’s wishes. We must rule creation the way God would rule creation and follow his laws if we are to image him appropriately. If we rule creation in a way that is contrary to God’s wishes, then we are in effect telling a lie about who God is. Much can be said about how God wants us to subdue creation, but that is beyond the scope of this analysis.

Third, mankind is conspicuously absent from the list of things dominated. God lists what we are to dominate: the earth itself, fish, birds, and land animals. Nowhere in this does it list dominating other men. This is because mankind is separate from the rest of creation. He is not a thing to be dominated. He dominates.

So what does this have to do with Political Philosophy?

Many have interpreted the dominion mandate as a pre-fall institution of government. I can only agree to this if we accept a certain definition of government. If government is broadly defined as the act of exercising dominion, then okay. But if we limit our definition of government to the exercise of dominion over other men, then I have to disagree. I don’t see that in this passage. It may be objected that we need government to organize a society so we can cooperate to subdue this large planet, but that’s not even remotely true.

First, it doesn’t say that here. Anyone who says this is eisegeting the presuppositions that government schooling has indoctrinated into them. Second, are we really to believe that, before the fall, men with no sin nature and a common language could not have voluntarily and peacefully organized to dominate an earth that was not plagued by the curse without dominating each other? Even the voluntary association of fallen men at Babel was so effective when they had a common language that God himself said, “nothing they purpose to do will be impossible for them.”

I will get into Babel in a later post. For now, I want to confine myself to this text, and I do not any institution of civil government in it. I define “civil government” as men having dominion over other men. We may try to move the goalposts and redefine government. As mentioned, I can agree to government if we define it as having dominion over creation. But I cannot agree to government that includes dominion over other men. In the interest of clarity, I will constrain my use of the term to the act of having dominion over men for now.

A civil government may or may not be a Biblical institution. We will see whether it is in future study. We can’t know that from this passage. But one thing is clear to me. If civil government is a Biblical institution, then it is a post-fall institution. It’s purpose is to deal with the realities of the fact that man is now sinful and the creation is now cursed. We will discuss what those realities are and the ways in which civil government deals with them later.

This is the final implication of Imagio-Dei: Since each man bears God’s image and since men are not, by created natural order, under the dominion of other men, then each man must be left free to carry out his own part in the dominion mandate as his own conscience dictates. We have a duty to respect God’s image in our neighbor. He has a right to life because he receives this from God. He has a right to liberty because he is God’s steward who answers only to God. Even if civil government is a Biblical institution, it ought not violate these rights. As we will see, its very purpose is to uphold these. When we leave men free like this, they will use this freedom to sin. That is unavoidable. He will answer to God for this. What are we to do about it? Is there no space for civil government to restrain such sin? We will see in future studies.

What Is The Goal Of Parenting? Discipleship.

Click for more in this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

Introduction to Part 2

In my previous article, I began a Review of the practice of spanking from my seemingly unique perspective. I am a Reformed Baptist. I am a Libertarian. As a Reformed Baptist, I believe that the Scriptures clearly teach that spanking is a necessity in parenting. As a Libertarian, I believe the Scriptures clearly teach that coercive aggression is a sin. I therefore find myself in the crux of a difficult dilemma. These two truths that I hold seem to be in direct conflict. So I have been seeking for a satisfactory resolution to this dissonance. Since these things have been in my mind, and since I recently came across the article I critiqued in Part 1, I have embarked on this series to discuss my thoughts on the matter.

Part 1 covered the ground of most primary importance: What does the Word of God actually say about spanking? It took the form of a rebuttal to an article which attempted to reinterpret the Biblical teaching on the subject. I interacted with the arguments and believe that I have shown definitively that the Word clearly teaches spanking.

In today’s installment, I seek to answer the generically foundational question: “What is the goal of parenting”? This will influence our choice of methods and naturally lead us to “When do we spank?” and further to “How do we spank?” which will bring to light some critical misunderstandings about Biblical spanking which will begin to set the stage for Part 3.

In Part 3, I plan to bring this all together and attempt to resolve this apparent tension between the Non-Aggression Principle and this seemingly coercively aggressive abuse.

What Is the Goal of Parenting?

There are many ways to summarize it. Ephesians 6 says to “bring them up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.” One of my Elders likes to define it as “raising a godly seed”. But what does that actually mean? Let’s look a little more closely at what the Word teaches.

Continue reading What Is The Goal Of Parenting? Discipleship.

Spoil The Child? No really, the Bible DOES Command Spanking. Here’s What it says

Click for more in this series: Part 1, Part 2Part 3

Introduction

I am probably going to get myself in a heap of trouble with this one, so I have to start with a disclaimer: I mean none of this personally. There that ought to about cover it.

So I thought I would take a break from my typical rants about homosexuality and taxation and the police state and what-not and talk about something completely different: The Larch.

No really, I want to discuss spanking. This is a topic of considerable import to me because I have young children, so I must of course have an answer to the question of spanking. Well, depending on who you are, it may or may not surprise you to know that I spank my children. I hope child protective services isn’t reading this… ahem…. No, but really we do spank our children and this is because of the instruction we have received from the Word of God through our elders and the ministry of Paul and Tedd Tripp. See, I’m a good little Reformed person aren’t I?

So why write about this? I usually use this platform for controversial topics – at least those topics that are controversial for those I tend to rub shoulders with, and this would not seem to be one of them. Well believe it or not, this is one of those issues in which it came to me that I need to be ware of a potential loophole in my thinking. I mean. I’m a Libertarian. I quote the non-aggression principle right and left. And spanking would seem to be a form of coercive aggression wouldn’t it? Have I missed something? If the Bible commands spanking and spanking is a violation of the non-aggression principle, then perhaps the NAP is not all it’s cracked up to be! Or does the NAP truly prohibit spanking in God’s economy, and have I been wrongly dividing the truth? In short, how can I be a staunch Libertarian AND spank. It would seem that something has to give. And if by some miracle the Libertarian Revolution does actually happen, how can I stand and defend the practice of spanking to the atheists who don’t hold to the authority of Scripture and believe spanking to be an outright violation of the NAP, which would decidedly make it criminal? So there is quite a lot at stake here, not the least of which are the souls of my children and the glory of God. These are not things I take lightly, and so I have given them much thought and have wanted to write about them for some time.

Then the other day, I came across this article which is an exert from the book Jesus the Gentle Parent: Gentle Christian Parenting by L.R. Nost. In this exert, she attempts to make an exegetical argument against the Biblical teaching of spanking. So having felt a bit of momentum from reading this article, and in the interest of providing a Biblically sound response for my friend who posted this on Facebook, I feel led to finally get myself in gear and write these things down.

I am going to do this in three parts. Today, I am going to interact specifically with Nost’s article and deal with what the text of Scripture actually says, particularly in the texts that she uses. Part Two will be a synthesis of my own study of the Word, the teaching of my Elders, and what I have learned from the Tripps to answer a very important question: What is the goal of parenting, which will have drastic implications for what methods we use and how we use them. Then in Part Three, I will deal with the Non-Aggression Principle and see if I can reconcile it with the teaching of Scripture. Rest assured, if I cannot, the NAP is what goes!

So for starters, go read her article so the things she says are fresh in your mind as you consider my response.

Continue reading Spoil The Child? No really, the Bible DOES Command Spanking. Here’s What it says

Biblical Government: Anarchy, Minarchy, or Statism? A Response

Click for more in this series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5

I ran across a series of articles lately on a blog called “The Kuyperian Commentary.”

The Article in question is titled “Biblical Government: Anarchy, Minarchy or Statism?” and was written by Adam McIntosh, a former missionary kid, and currently a pastoral intern in Southern Illinois. It is my intention over the next series of articles to interact with the ideas McIntosh presents in his article. Before, I get into it, though, I would encourage you to read the entire thing for yourself. It’s a bit long – a five parter – but it’s well worth it, and you’ll have a much better context for what I am going to say.

Continue reading Biblical Government: Anarchy, Minarchy, or Statism? A Response

Legislate Morality?

I read these comments from Al Mohler on Facebook:

“The argument for removing polygamy laws was simple: the state has no business legislating morality. But every legislature legislates morality. Every code of laws is a codex of morality. The law is itself inherently and inescapably moral, even irreducibly moral. The law can’t be anything other than a moral statement.”

In my early days, I made that argument rather vigorously, but have now come to modify my position. It is not so much that I have abandoned what I once believed, but that I now understand the nature of that belief with greater clarity. Continue reading Legislate Morality?

Systematic Theology vs Biblical Theology – Cage Match!

Did you know that it’s technically impossible to tune a piano? No, Really. It seems that the octave cannot be divided into 12 equal semitones without there being some dissonance. Ancient tuning systems would focus on making certain of the intervals as in-tune as possible, stashing the dissonance into lesser used portions of the scale. This gave rise to things like the “wolf note” or the “devil’s interval”, which were particularly dissonant sounding notes or intervals. An instrument tuned in this way would sound very good in certain keys, but absolutely miserable in others.

Bach introduced the idea of “Well Temperament” which was the precursor of the modern “Even Temperament” which are tuning systems designed to spread the dissonance out evenly throughout the scale with the result that “technically” none of the notes are perfectly in tune, but the dissonance is hardly noticeable (especially to our 21st century ears that have never heard anything else) and the instrument can readily play in any key with equal proficiency.

This, to me, forms a great analogy of Systematic Theology vs. Biblical Theology. Study Theology for any length of time and you will realize that we just don’t have all of the answers. There are certain things in Theology, even the most Biblically Accurate Systematic Theologies, where there seem to be competing realities that we can’t seem to reconcile. How do we reconcile God’s Sovereignty with Man’s Responsibility? How do we explain the Trinity? What is going to happen in the Last Days? Study any of these issues for long enough and you will come away with your head spinning – but hopefully in a good way.

The classical approach to these issues is Systematic Theology which is an attempt to resolve as many of the tensions as possible by putting forth a framework upon which to hang the answers to all of these questions. By doing this, the theologian builds a structure on a foundation that appears very solid. Every question has an answer, and there appear to be no contradictions.

By contrast, Biblical Theology would be more like Equal Temperament. It’s purpose is not to spread tension out, directly, but it’s effect is much the same. Biblical Theology is exegetical in nature and builds its theology out of the text, relying on the historical-grammatical hermeneutic, and not requiring an interpretation to fit into any previously chosen system in order to properly interpret its meaning. Biblical The0logy allows the text to speak for itself, drawing from it to discover whatever theological realities it teaches. Rather than attempting to solve (or hide) the tensions in various things, Biblical Theology embraces them, allowing the richness of God’s revelation to come through as God intended to communicate it. The result is that there are no ignored texts, but there are questions that don’t have straight-forward answers.

Which is better? I think both are important, but due to both the finite nature and fallen nature of man’s mind, there are weaknesses to both. The biggest danger I see with Systematic Theology is that, left unchecked, the System can take on a higher authority than the Word of God. This is never the intent, but it can happen nonetheless. This can lead to certain problems, not the least of which being eisegesis. A lesser problem may be that you’ll find that certain of the answers that are given are based more on reasoning that is clearly intended to keep things within the parameters of the system than on the Scriptures. Press for direct Biblical support on these particular questions, and you’ll be met with hems and haws. You’ve found the wolf note. This is fine if it is understood what question is being answered by these answers. The question is not “What is X Y or Z,” the question is “Given Premises A and B, what would X, Y or Z logically be?” Systematic Theology can be really valuable in helping us evaluate and formulate rational understanding of what is logically derived from the Word of God, but the System ought always be evaluated to ensure that the foundation is built on is Biblically accurate and Biblically prioritized.

By contrast, Biblical Theology has direct Scriptural support for everything, but it doesn’t always fit together into a cohesive whole that resolves the tensions the way the Systematic Theologian desires. But even more dangerous, it can lend itself to having too narrow an interpretation of any given passage, missing the forest for the trees, so to speak.. Each passage must be interpreted within its historical and textual context if the full richness of its meaning is to be exegeted, which requires answering certain questions: What happened before? What happens next? What is the Big Picture? How does this passage fit into the big picture? Answering these questions would seem to require a certain degree of Systematic Theology!

So we seem to be in a Catch 22! What’s the solution? Don’t try to tune the piano perfectly! It can’t be done! Embrace the tension. We need to let God be God, and accept the fact that we can’t answer every question. There are times when Systematic Theology is extremely useful, and there are times when we just need to wrestle with what the text right in front of us is saying, even if we can’t seem to figure out how it fits into our system. And it’s even better when we use both Biblical and Systematic Theology to refine each other, with the goal of better understanding what God’s Word says, and what that means for us, but our hearts need to be receptive to what his Spirit will teach us through the Word.

I write this on the heels of doing some informal research into New Covenant Theology, as espoused by Tom Wells and Fred Zaspel, along with the similar, but slightly different, ideas communicated in Kingdom Through Covenant (a book that, actually, I have not yet had the time to read for myself), and the more historical Baptist Covenant Theology of 1689 Federalism. This post was a bit of an epiphany (which I like to call a BFO – Blinding Flash of the Obvious) as I watched this video trying to critique New Covenant Theology and I realized that New Covenant Theology and the Kingdom Through Covenant approach has arisen mostly out of Biblical Theology. It’s heavily dependent on exegesis of Matthew 5 and Hebrews 8, among other passages. On the other hand, 1689 Federalism is a well developed Systematic Theology that takes into account certain questions that Biblical Theology doesn’t quite address directly, leaving these scholars with a sense of incompleteness and inadequacy about NCT. I find that many my exegetical Biblical observations leads me to the NCT idea, but that if I had to hold to a System, I would feel right at home in Federalism.