Thesis: anti-theonomists have an insurmountable difficulty in giving a normative ethic which content is clearly defined. And if they don’t know what that sentence means, then they have no business even critiquing theonomy: they aren’t ready for ethical discussions. I am not including in the label “anti-theonomy” those movements which reject theonomy but are fairly close to it, anyway (Covenanters, most Clarkians, etc). Normative ethics seeks to define what I ought to do and why. It is my contention that theonomy’s critics have a hard time supplying a workable alternative to theonomy. Below are several attempts:
- natural law: Surprisingly, I don’t reject natural law. I utilize it as a grammar for ethical and political discussions. That means I have no problem using Thomistic distinctions to clarify biblical categories, even to apply them (I am fully in line with Bucer, Rutherford, and Cargill on this point, who was Rutherford’s student). On the other hand, I thoroughly reject natural law as a normative ethic: what is the content of natural law? If two natural law theorists disagree, who is right?
- common grace ethic: (If I misrepresent this position, that’s not my fault; common-grace ethics by definition are impossible to define). Basically it goes something like this: common grace is God’s goodness to the reprobate (making the rain fall on the just and unjust). Therefore, this world-age should be ruled by common-grace. There are several problems here: no definition was ever given of common grace. For example, my former neighbor was a meth-addict. It is by the common grace of God that he was a good enough chemist that he didn’t blow up his house (and mine by extension). Shall I infer from this that he *is* a good chemist and I should judge all chemistry on his success? But you say, “That’s absurd.” Of course it is, but why is it suddenly worthy of tenure when a seminary professor says it? The other problem is the naturalistic fallacy: the common grace ethicist has moved from is to ought with no warrant in doing so.
- Pluralism: This is getting less and less popular in American Christianity. People could advance nonsense like this when Bush I, even Clinton, and Bush II were presidents. America still had some modicum of social decency in government (and for all of Clinton’s evils, he wasn’t a Marxist; he was an old-fashioned neo-liberal). Christian pluralists assumed that the current American order, which for all its degeneracy still functioned with the remnants of Christian civilization, would be the standard order for all time. With this presupposition they could argue silly things like all religious philosophies and actions are tolerated. As America steadily became neo-pagan this became untenable. (I can’t help but point out with savage irony that I was attacked by Reformed Christians for my criticisms of the Bush regime as statist. As soon as Obama became president, these same attackers of me started saying the same things!).
In the next post I plan to say where the first and second generation Reconstructionists got it wildly wrong.