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).

“The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you”

There is much blasphemy running around the world these days, and while there is no outright persecution in the United States, at least, there certainly is a writhing sense of loathing seething under the surface. They malign us as bigots who are responsible for all the woes of society that their progressive humanism has cured and that promoting the standard of God’s Word, we are trying to “roll back the clock” and are “on the wrong side of history.” And because of this tension and conflict, many unbelievers have come to view God unfavorably.

Is there a problem with that? Not necessarily, no. The unbeliever walks in darkness and the standard of God’s law is the light. As it is written, “the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed.” (John 3:19-20)

So when we shine the light of God’s Word on the world, we should expect them to experience a certain amount of discomfort. We should expect a certain unpleasant response from them. This is all normal and a part of what Jesus told us to expect when he said, “If the world hates you, know that it hated me before it hated you… If they persecuted me, they will persecute you.” (John 15:18-20)

Unfortunately, that’s where a lot of people seem to draw the line. Because there is more to be said. Consider this passage from Romans 2:17-24

…if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve what is excellent, because you are instructed from the law; and if you are sure that you yourself are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, an instructor of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth – you then who teach others, do you not teach yourself?

While you preach against stealing, do you steal? You who say that one must not commit adultery, do you commit adultery? You who abhor idols, do you rob temples?

You who boast in the law dishonor God by breaking the law. For it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

Here Paul brings light to the fact that hypocrisy has a damaging affect on one’s witness for God and actually causes the world to blaspheme on our account. What a terrible thing! We would never be guilty of this in our day and age, would we?

Except I think that we are in the realm of politics. It’s too easy to take pot shots at the Mainstream Christian Right, but I would even include the Theonomist in this charge. In fact, I think the Theonomist is most directly in focus here – not that Paul was speaking about politics, mind you. The Theonomist certainly boasts in the Law (not in the salvific sense… please don’t misunderstand…)

So what is my charge? It is this: That in our quest to uphold the Law of God and use it as God’s standard for our lives and to commend it as God’s standard for others lives, to the degree that we use politics and government as our means to achieve those ends, we have transgressed God’s law by committing violence against people without just cause. In doing so, we have caused people to blaspheme God. Whether you’re a theonomist or one of the looser versions of the Christian right, if you support the State, you are guilty of trying to use violence to force people into the mold of God’s law.

This is not to say that God’s law is not the right mold! This is the trap of the Theonomist. You start denouncing them like this and they say, “if not God’s law, then who’s?” God’s Law of course! But that really isn’t the point. It’s a red herring at best. Our contention is not that the Law of God is wrong, it is that the Law of God is what defines the role of civil justice. And on this we agree with the Theonomist that governments are not free to violate God’s law. No individual, group, government agent our government agency has that authority. Further, civil magistrates are not the king themselves, they are servants of King Jesus. Thus the scope of their authority is defined by his Law.

Here is where we critically diverge from the Theonomist. The Theonomist would have the full scope of God’s law, moral and judicial, enforced by the civil magistrate. We reject this, not to reject God’s law, but becasue of different exegetical conclusions from our study of the Law itself. Here we find a critical misunderstanding of the purpose of the law itself in light of redemptive-historical and covenental typology has led the Theonomist to expand the role of the civil magistrate beyond the bounds that King Jesus has defined in God’s Law defines. And it is entirely my point that the Theonomists error leads him to violate God’s Law itself, causing the Gentiles to blaspheme God.

Those are fighting words, so before I show my work, I have to back off a bit. I have no intent to sow any sort of dischord or disharmony in the church. In fact, I think it wise to consider you Theonomists as allies right now, because your understanding of God’s Law is so close to correct that we agree on the vast majority of it and are certainly in agreement that the modern, humanistic, progressive state is an abomination and an idol that should be opposed and torn down. So I think we need to be united more than divided. Yet, in light of the recent debate in which I would have laid this charge directly before McDurmon’s feet, I think that Thenomists need to be shown the error of their ways. I fully believe they have no ill will in this. I believe they are sincere in their fear of the Lord and respect for his Word and his Law. However, I think they are sincerely mistaken and I think this has put them on the wrong side of God’s law – ironically.

So, in brief, what leads me to this interpretation of God’s Law? I start with Genesis 9:6.

Genesis 9:6 established the principle that violence is punishable by violence. It leaves no room for any other just use for violence by virtue of the fact that you should expect a violent response every time you use violence other than to punish the use of violence. The use of equal force to punish the unprovoked use of force leaves no logical room for the initiation of force without justly deserving retaliation. Genesis 9:6 speaks only specifically about the crime of murder, but we can also see in the Mosaic law where this is fleshed out further through case law in Exodus 21. Thus, the civil magistrate’s jurisdiction of authority us over those sins which bring harm to victims.

Now the Theonomist thinks he has me beat because I have quoted from Exodus. That’s God’s Law, isn’t it? I must rely on God’s Law so therefore he has won. Well no. I rely on God’s Law, just not the theonomist’s interpretation of God’s Law. His error lies in incomplete exegesis of the passages in question, and a failure to ground his hermeneutics in the proper redemptive-historical and covenental context.

The Theonomist is confused by the fact that there are other portions of the law of Moses that appear to be in the domain of the civil magistrate by virtue of their civil penalties, but this is an exegetical error. It is important to observe three things.

  1. These two bodies of law (judical and moral were given in a completely different section of the law from one another.
  2. The language that is used in their commandment is drastically different from each other.
  3. Whereas in the Exodus 21 Civil/Judical case law there is an identifiable civil victim, this is not the case in any of the laws in Leviticus.

So there is a clear, exegetical distinction between the laws given in Exodus 21 and those given in Leviticus and other places. We can use this as a pattern, in fact, for determining what is civil and what is moral. Civil laws deal with the fact that there is a human, civil victim who has been harmed by some violence, fraud or gross negligence. Moral laws deal with sins involving only the person himself or another willing participant and is not, therefore, civil crime, but moral impurity.

So having established a clear exegetical distinction between the civil and moral laws, we are left with a further question: Does the scope of the civil magistrate’s authority prescribed by God’s law include the enforcement of the moral laws as well as the civil laws? Here we diverge from the Theonomist. The theonomist, if he admits that there is such a distinction, relies on the fact that there were civil penalties in Israel for these things, and so therefore, in his mind, civil penalties must be God’s prescription.

Here is where his hermeneutical expands into contextual considerations. He has failed to set the law of Moses within its proper redemptive-historical and covenental context and has failed to consider typology.

Remember, the question is not whether God’s moral law is the right moral law, but whether there is authority for men to enforce the moral law with civil penalties. God does not command this prior to Moses. Instead, he commands that the use of violencce be restricted to the punishment of those who initiate violence, giving us the non-aggression principle. It was not until the Law of Moses that there were civil penalties prescribed for these moral sins. So we must ask, by what authority were the moral laws enforced by the civil magistrate in Israel? The answer is: by the same authority that commanded the conquest of Canaan and the utter destruction if Jericho. God himself was their king (1 Samuel 8:7). So tell me, Mr. Theonomist, are land conquests and city destruction just? If not, then by what standard to you make that judgment? If not, then how is the civil enforcement of the moral law just?

But surely that’s not convincing enough. So let’s point this out another way that makes this situation even clearer. The Theonomist loves to use the argument from silence that if the New Testament hasn’t repealed something then it’s still in force. So is there anything to break this silence? Certainly there is. Consider 1 Corinthians 5. Here we see one of the moral laws from Leviticus (incest) enforced in the very specific context of church discipline using the same language from Leviticus “purge the evil from among you.”

It’s important to note some things that Paul says here. He says in verse 9 and following:

I wrote to you in my letter not to associate with sexually immoral people – not at all meaning the sexually immoral of this world, or the greedy and swindlers, or idolaters, since then you would need to go out of the world. But now I am writing to you not to associate with anyone who names the name of brother if he is guilty of sexual immorality, or greed, or is an idolater, reviler, drunkard, or swindler – not even to eat with such a one

For what have I to do with judging outsiders? Is it not those inside the church whom you are to judge? God judges those outside. Purge the evil person from among you.

Notice here that Paul does not say that God’s moral standard has change, nor that those who practice these evil deeds here are going to escape judgment. Instead, he is making a very clear point about the jurisdictional authority of God’s moral law. The scope and means of human enforcement of the moral law is the church discipline applied to the church.

We can connect these dots back to the Old Testament by way of covenant topology to see that Israel was a shadow of the church and God’s coming eternal kingdom. In Israel there was a historically unique blend of church and state that has never been divinely sanctioned before nor since and will not recur until Christ returns.

Now that the church has come and has been decoupled from the state, the scope and means of human enforcement of the moral law has been changed. What was once a matter of civil enforcement for the purpose of maintaining the purity of a covenant people living in the presence of the Shakinah glory, is now a matter of discipline for a people in whom the Spirit of God dwells individually and collectively.

This leaves the civil magistrate concerned only with those matters that are purely civil along the principle established in Genesis 9:6 and fleshed out in Exodus 21. That is to say: only those sins that cause harm to others. Those sins that have a civil victim. Those matters in which the life, liberty or property of someone is harmed through aggression, force, the threat of force, fraud, gross negligence, etc.

For a civil magistrate to do anything else is to step outside the jurisdictional authority given to him by King Jesus, to claim authority he does not have, and to violate God’s moral law by committing aggression against those who have done no harm to any victim thereby becoming the criminal.

Now I’m aware that there’s a logical issue going back to 1 Corinthians. My own brain alerts me to a potential weakness in my argument, or perhaps a chink I might use were I to debate against myself. Surely someone will say that God’s means of judging those outside is through the civil magistrate. They’ll rely on Romans 13 for this. I have been working on an exegesis of Romans 12 and 13 that will cripple this notion straight from that text, but suffice it to say this: that God does not consider the civil magistrate part of his kingdom. He uses him as he once used Assyria to judge Israel, and judges him for his sinful use of coercion in doing so, as he judged Assyria for conquering Israel, but he does not anywhere give moral blessing to him. The civil magistrate is certainly one of the tools in God’s hands that he often uses to accomplish his purposes of judgment. But we must consider carefully what the Christian might do if he found himself in the position of the civil magistrate, which is of particular relevance to our discussion of the prospect of shaping government. How ought the Christian rule as the magistrate while remianing in obedience 1 Corinthians 5:12-13? I believe he would NOT use his sword to judge those outside the church for violations of the moral law. He might use his position of authority as a platform to preach the gospel to them, certainly, but he would not use coercion. He would leave that judgment up to God who does not need the civil magistrate in order to give out just punishment to those who sin. They will get their due at the last judgment even if they escape any harm in this life. The Christian would not dare to ascend to God’s seat of judgment, but would instead leave the scope and methods of human enforcement of the moral law right where God has put it.

So when we consider Romans 2 in light of all of this, I think it should become clear that at least a certain percentage of the angst directed our way by the World has come from the fact that they feel attacked by us when we attempt to use government to direct the course of their lives. It doesn’t matter the specific issue. When governments, which are the embodiment of violence by nature, initiate force against people for any reason whatsover, they are committing criminal acts. When that is systematically directed toward whole groups of people based on some common chracteristic, they call that persecution. When we attempt to classify homosexuality as a civil crime, we are guilty of this kind of persecution, and cause people to blaspheme God because of us.

So. Should we outlaw homosexuality, or some other morally deviant behavior that does not do harm to civil victims? And cause people to blaspheme the name of God? I’ll have no part in it.

Christianity AND Libertarianism! RE: Bill Muehlenberg

I came across this blog post by a guy name Bill Muehlenberg. I know nothing about Mr. Muehlenberg and have read nothing else that he’s written. I only know this post. But I thought I would rebut. This is yet another opponent to Libertarianism who does not understand Libertarianism. Why do I bother rebutting them? Because hopefully by setting the record straight, I can help those” the fence make a more informed decision, potentially convince some to be libertarians, and maybe even convince a guy like Murhlenberg. At the very least, I hope to help him refine his arguments into something more relevant to the topic at hand. Stylistically, I sort of write this in steam as I read his article.

I initially wasn’t going to go into great length on this. I stopped reading his article in the first paragraph when I read:

I have almost zero tolerance for those so-called Christian libertarians who spend all their time trying to justify all those lousy activities”

At that point, I commented:

Respectfully, you do not understand Libertarianism. I must admit, I stopped reading when I read [the above quote]. If this is your definition of Libertarianism, then the rest of your article is not worth reading.

Christian Libertarianism is not about justifying sin. It is about opposing the sin of using violence to make people stop sinning. How do you justify this lousy activity?

Indeed that is the entire issue if this debate. Theonomists and Christian statists alike accuse Christian libertarians of having a low regard for God’s law. We are called worldly, humanist, and antinomian. But that is not even remotely the case.

We have a such a high view of God’s law and his standards for conduct that we consult his word on questions of how he would have us to promote his standards. In this way, we believe we have a higher view of God’s law than the theonomists!

We insist that violence is a violation of God’s standard, and that violating God’s standard in order to uphold God’s standard is illogical, immoral, and counterproductive.

Unfortunately, I may have played right into his hand, as he later describes people like me as being “as belligerent, ornery, argumentative and troll-like as many angry atheists or homosexuals.” So I suppose perhaps a more full and reasoned rebuttal is in order here. Continue reading Christianity AND Libertarianism! RE: Bill Muehlenberg

Clay Jars, Vines and the Cultural Collision

So apparently, David Haseltine of Jars of Clay has come out as supportive of same-sex marriage via Twitter. Here’s a few soundbites:

Queue the controversy! Michael Brown posted a lengthy response to his comments at Charisma News. My reaction on Facebook was:

Sigh, as usual, we can’t seem to realize that there are two different issues at play here. What homosexuals do or call their relationships have no substantive effect on us. Us not attacking them for their behavior would not be to condone it. Why is this even a debate?

Oh yeah, because of that thing called government that possesses a monopoly on coercive aggression and has declared that we may not use the word “marriage’ without their express consent sought before hand. This issue isn’t really about marriage or homosexuality. It’s about the first amendment. The proper Biblical position is to oppose government licensing and definition of any marriage, returning that role to the church where it belongs, and to commit to only perform Biblical weddings.

Interestingly, Charisma’s article has prompted Haseltine himself to try to clarify himself, so it appears that there’s more to this story, though I haven’t read all of the particulars of it, because I’m not actually here to discuss Haseltine. I mention him because he’s a hot topic, and because he marks the next advance in an ongoing trend in which the enemy is sinking his teeth into the church’s stance on Biblical Authority. It comes in the wake of Al Mohler’s book rebutting Matthew Vines’ assertions that the Bible does not actually teach that Homosexuality is a sin, and it is this issue that I actually want to interact with.

If you’ve read much of my blog, you may know where I’m going, but please stay tuned anyway. This is one of those issues where I feel stuck in the middle, but not really. I don’t side with either Mohler or Vines. I have to confess that I’ve not read Mohler’s book yet, nor have I even had a chance to read through this quasi debate between them, but I’m familiar enough with Mohler that I can guess his position. (by the way if it seems like I pick on Mohler, I can’t give an explanation. I don’t particularly dislike him on a lot of things, but several of his statements lately, such as…., have required comment. Actually, I haven’t commented on that one, have I? Oh well…. Add it to the To Write list….)

I actually watched Vines’ video a while back and wanted to post a rebuttal, but never got around to it, and now that Mohler has come out with his own, I figure the time is right to put it out there. I think this needs to be written and this is the time to do it, because there is a third side to this debate; one that is hardly ever argued; one that is actually Biblical.

In the interest of full disclosure, and for the purpose of context, here is Vines’ lecture in full. Be warned. This is an hour long. You might want to pop some pop corn first, and definitely have your Bible handy. I would also encourage you to get and read Mohler’s book at some point, or at least read through the debate I posted above.

Continue reading Clay Jars, Vines and the Cultural Collision

Dividing Moral Law from Civil Law

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

This is the third installment of my counter series to Adam McIntosh, a man I have been picking on for a couple weeks now. If you are unfamiliar with his work, please visit The Kuyperian Commentary.

This article focuses on the second of my three critiques of McIntosh, which is that he provides a rubric for dividing between civil and moral laws that I believe to be incorrect. McIntosh says

God distinguishes between sins and crimes. If a command is given without an attached punishment, then it does not constitute as a civil law. It’s a moral law that you should obey but not a law that civil rulers are to regulate.

I plan to interact with this in today’s installment and to show where I think he is wrong, and to suggest a better rubric for dividing between criminality and private morality. In fact as we do, we may find out that McIntosh doesn’t really disagree with me, but we’ll have to see.

Unfortunately for you, the reader, I have to take a slightly windy path to get there. I do apologize. Please stick with me. There’s a gold star in it for you if you do.

Continue reading Dividing Moral Law from Civil Law

A Christian Defense of the Non-Aggression Principle

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

This is the second installment in my series responding to the series by Adam McIntosh posted at The Kuyperian Commentary. This article specifically deals with the second part of his analysis, “A Christian Critique of the Non-Aggression Principle.”

My first installment focused on the massive amount of agreement I have with McIntosh. However, I must now turn my attention to the points of disagreement. I have three.

First, I believe he is too quick to dismiss the Non-Aggression Principle. Having exposed Rothbard’s philosophy as being unsurely founded on Natural Law, he seems to set the Non-Aggression Principle aside and disregard it’s legitimacy and the importance of its application.

Second, I disagree with the very brief glimpse he gave into his rubric for extracting Biblical instructions for determining what sins should be considered criminal, and what sins should not. This is the crux of my disagreement with Theonomists, Minarchist or Statist, and I must clarify. If you read my series on a Biblical Theology of Civil Government and Human Authority, you will know that I left this as an open end. I intend to close it in this series.

Finally, I believe he suffers from a faulty understanding of property rights, as demonstrated by his contrived island example. I intend to provide a thorough analysis of his island analogy and demonstrate how property right solves every single one of the proposed problems he raises.

And if you can make it through all of that, I intend to round the series out by going back to the issue of public vs private law enforcement, and explain my idea for how we might solve the problem of funding the criminal justice system without stealing from citizens and without going full on anarchy.

I really do hope you stick around.

In this article, I intend to rebut his dismissal of the Non-Aggression Principle. You may have noticed that I gave a very brief synopsis of his critique in the first installment. I kept it so brief because Part 1 was running rather long, and I didn’t want to drag it out any further. So perhaps it would be good to start this rebuttal with a recap of his argument.

Continue reading A Christian Defense of the Non-Aggression Principle

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