Alternatives to theonomy in seminary—it wouldn’t have mattered

I suppose I probably could have spared myself a lot of grief in seminary by not taking the theonomy route.  I mean, I’m not a theonomist now, so it wouldn’t have mattered right?  Well, it’s not so simple.   Let’s consider:

  1. Under no circumstances would I have countenanced any political movement that did not kiss the feet of King Jesus.  Even so, there remain alternatives to theonomy.
  2. I even quoted published critics of theonomy (Poythress)to professors and they still said it was unacceptable.

On the other hand, had I grounded my political ethic solely in Rutherford, Gillespie, and the covenanters, my argument–or at least my rhetorical presentation of it–would have been indestructible.  The conversation would have gone something like this:

Covenanter:  Professor/teaching assistant, is it acceptable to employ Old Testament laws in constructing a political ethic for today?

Professor/teaching assistant:  No, for theonomy is wrong/marxist/homosexual/terrorist*/we fired Bahnsen.

Covenanter:  Did I say anything about theonomy?

Professor/teaching assistant:  No, but you mentioned Old Testament laws and that’s theonomic.

Covenanter:  I am glad to see you admit that much of the Bible teaches theonomy, but that is not what I was advocating.  Have you read Rutherford?

Professor/teaching assistant:  No.

Covenanter:  Rutherford based much of his argument on the validity of Old Testament ethical norms for today.

Professor/teaching assistant:  Well, the Reformed faith has come a long way since then.

Covenanter: But Professor, Lex, Rex was specifically written in the context of forging a distinctively Presbyterian identity, especially if you combine his argument with Gillespie’s, both of which are to be read against the background of the National Covenant of Scotland and the Solemn League and Covenants.

Professor/teaching assistant:  But we live in a democracy.  You can’t just expect everyone to agree with those rules.  That’s a theocracy!

Covenanter: I am glad to see you concede the theocratic roots of Presbyterianism.  I agree that such expectations are unrealistic for current America.  That’s quite irrelevant, though.   What God commands is often not contingent on what’s possible.  Isn’t that the point of Calvinistic evangelism?

Professor/teaching assistant:  So, you just want to go kill everyone that disagrees with you?

Covenanter:  No, don’t be silly.  My point is that for us to be consistent with our Presbyterian identity, we must come to grips with the ecclesiastical and political issues of those Covenants.   If that means we need to abandon key modern American ideas and structures like the 1st Amendment (which has already been repealed in the Patriot Act), American Idol, and MTV, then so be it.

Professor/teaching assistant:  Why do you hate America?

Covenanter:  I don’t hate America.   I want what’s best for America.

Professor/teaching assistant: But many aren’t Christians.  Doesn’t this mean they will be executed for worshipping false gods?

Covenanter:  Your objection presupposes something that is impossible on my system:  the only way a state could systematically do such things on a large scale is to be a large state.  Yet this is the very thing I deny.  But to answer your question–it could be death, but more likely it will be exile.  And quite frankly, why would a Buddhist or a Romanist even want to live in a Covenanter state?


The previous conversation never actually happened as stated, but it is a summary of a number of conversations I had with students and teachers.  After a while I stopped referencing Bahnsen and used the arguments of Rutherford, but to no avail.


*I had all of these terms used at me on my last day of class by a professor.


8 comments on “Alternatives to theonomy in seminary—it wouldn’t have mattered

  1. […] Read more… Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintMorePinterestRedditStumbleUponTumblrDiggLike this:LikeBe the first to like this. This entry was posted in Christian Heritage, Church History, Covenanters and Judicial Law, Jacon Aitken, Theocracy, Theonomy. […]

  2. “I don’t hate America. I want what’s best for America.”

    Having spent years debating with American Christians, I notice that they assume any criticism of their system amounts to an attack on their country. Once I was told by a certain cyber-acquaintance that I had an anti-American chip-on-my-shoulder because I said I did not like the American revisions to the WCF. Such defensiveness is hardly called for. As Paul said to the Galatians, am I your enemy because I tell you the truth?

  3. Moreover, the best alternative to compromised American theonomy is the theonomic theonomy of the Covenanters. They would have regarded the R2Kers, Principled Pluralists, and Libertarian Theologians (American theonomists) as Anabaptists.*

    * The reference to “American theonomy” is not an attack upon one nationality, as their are Scots who are American theonomists, and Americans who are Scottish theonomists. America is only used to highlight the country which it came from.

  4. Benjamin P. Glaser says:

    Good thoughts here. Thanks again for this and I have made the same/similar movements in my understandings as well.

  5. Evan says:

    Would you also be so strict on the Presbyterian distinctiveness with the Sabbath, images, , acapella worship, exclusive Psalmody, the Filoque, etc?

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