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:
- 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.
- 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 for that.
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, which they and their posterity believed to be binding on future Anglo generations.
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 worshiping 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 Covenanted state? Secondly, the law punishes crimes, not private sins (which usually are quite unknowable to the outside world). The OT law made provisions for how foreigners were to be treated, and it was likely understood that these foreigners had not necessarily converted to the worship of Jehovah.
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 was actually called this in class.