I’m tough on Reconstructionists, but I will give credit where credit is due. North nails it:
Again and again in my writings, I return to this theme. The essence of biblical religion is ethics. The ethical self-government of the redeemed man is the foundation of society. God’s law, not the autonomous laws of the universe, or the mind of man, or the dreams of men, is the basis of all order, including social order. 117 It is from ethics that we proceed to dominion.
This world view is future-oriented and confident. It sees man’s primary struggles as ethical, not metaphysical. We struggle against powerful forces, but we use biblical law as our guide, and call upon God’s Holy Spirit to enable us to apply that law successfully in our lives and institutions. Progress is ethical, intellectual, and also cultural and external. Progress is real, but it is necessarily progress in terms of a permanent standard: biblical law. 118 Self-discipline is of greater importance than precise ritual.
The world of the sorcerer is the mirror image of the dominion religion’s conception of God’s world. It is a world inhabited by powers. These powers battle against man in terms of ritual; any ritual error on man’s part, or any flinching, leads to disaster. Men try to harness these powers: by ritual, by subservience, or by calling even strongerpowers against them. Ethics is irrelevant.
Unholy Spirits, 158.
Why is this important? North simply puts into practice what I have been saying, too. Metaphysical religion/chain-of-being religion = magic. Ethical religion (and corollary: salvation) = dominion by the godly, regenerate man.
Here is another difficulty with theonomy. Maybe it’s not with theonomy the idea, but it does invite young theonomists to reflect more deeply on what they are actually saying. Here is Deuteronomy 25:11
“When men fight with one another and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, 12then you shall cut off her hand. Your eye shall have no pity.
There are several problems here if we take it at face value and apply it to a modern Western law code:
- Just think about it: how likely is something like this ever going to happen? I am a school teacher and I break up fights all the time. It’s not that easy to get between two people in a fight (and I’ve been hit before, though I was so pumped up with adrenaline I didn’t feel it).
- If two guys are moving rapidly and throwing punches, how likely is it that a woman is going to go low and grab the private parts of the other guy?
- And would you really apply this? If a bad guy broke into your home and the wife was able to help out by “disabling” him (and for the sake of argument, save your life), are you really going to reward her by cutting off her hand? Really?
Someone could say, “Well, that applies to the Mosaic covenant when it was important to provide an heir.” Maybe. The text doesn’t say anything about that, so it’s just ad hoc and speculation. There is still the justice of the matter, covenant heir or no.
And then there is the equity of the matter. Well before that: is this law moral or civil/judicial? It’s obviously judicial since there is a penalty attached to it. So what’s the equity for today for theonomists? Remember, on the theonomic gloss the “judicial law abides in exhaustive detail.” The Reformed Confessionalist does not have this problem. The Confession only says “allows” the equity and no more. Which is a nice way of saying that this law would never be applied. The theonomist has to apply the law.
Good luck with that.
Of course, by Torah we mean after Christ, apart from works of Torah. I am saying that seeing the “Law” as Torah and not theonomy provides a better model for understanding Scripture. Theonomy runs into difficulties because it assumes the legal categories of late Western modernity. That’s not necessarily its fault. Everyone has to apply the word in the culture he lives in. But a quick perusal of the Pentateuch will show that it was not written with late Western modernity in mind. In fact, seen in our categories, much of it is quite bizarre.
That’s not to deny its importance. If anything, the strange ways in which Torah is organized should invite the reader to reflect even deeper about reality and the way that God’s world works. Let’s consider a few and ask how these can possibly work on the theonomic thesis:
- While there are covenantal-sequential patterns and typological motifs (riffing off of the days of creation–Ex. 25-40), many of the laws are apparently haphazardly organized together. This should alert us to the fact that maybe God didn’t intend for these laws to be understood in a post-common law framework.
- If you find a bird’s nest on the ground, you are given certain commands on how you can gather the eggs. Is anyone in the modern Western world really going to do this? Is this law judicial or moral or both?
- Torah is also story. In Paul’s use of Abraham in Romans Torah is not functioning as a list of dos and don’ts, but as story. How do you put story into a law code?
Daniel quotes Jus Divinum on the Mosaic Judicials (the following is my inference, not necessarily his).
We answer, the Laws of the Jewish Church, whether Ceremonial or Judicial, so far forth are in force, even at this day, as they were grounded upon common equity, the principles of reason and nature, and were serving to the maintenance of the Moral Law. … The Jewish Politie is only abrogated in regard of what was in it of particular right, not of common right, so far forth as there was in their Laws either a typicalness proper to their Church, or a peculiarness of respect to their state in that Land of Promise given unto them. Whatsoever was in their Laws of Moral concernment, or general equity is still obliging …
Conclusion: Whatever else 19.4 might mean, it clearly states that the use of the judicials in today’s society presupposes some understanding and application of natural law and common sense equity. This doesn’t mean theonomy is necessarily right or wrong. However, it does shed some light on how American theonomists tell the narrative. If one adds to the mix a hyper-presuppositionalism and a fear of all things Thomistic, then there is no way he or she can read the judicials in the way that the writers of the Confession intended.
Equity is a natural law concept, full stop. The anti-scholastic theonomist of today is borrowing from Thomistic categories in order to reject Thomistic categories (the irony of this somewhat Van Tillian sentence is thick).
Some other places where studying Orthopraxis helped me in theological development:
Theonomy: In case you don’t know, you simply cannot out-argue a theonomist. They have a million counter-arguments to anything you might say. You will not win. They will not let you. But when I was studying the fathers and different socio-cultures, along with the New Perspective on Paul debate, theonomy just didn’t seem important anymore. I think I understand now what Paul meant when he warned of those who “wrangle over the law.”
Eschatology: Some might say, “But Jacob, you are premil. Orthodoxy, like Reformed amillennialism, holds to an Augustinian-Origenist framework on the millennium.” Yes, I know. One thing I never considered in earlier millennial debates is that the world, come the advent of Antichrist (which many in the rugged Russian tradition are very clear on, much to the chagrin of some ecumenists), the world will not be under his thumb in some Matrix type fashion. Fr Raphael Johnson was very helpful in showing how some nations will rally around Christ (postmillennialists, there is your cue!) and others will submit to the New World Order. That realization was breathtaking. Apply that to a sounder exegetical model and you’re in business. In the bio on Seraphim Rose Hieromonk Damascene connects a lot of dots on the UN. I might post if I get around to typing all of that out.
High Culture: Reading Rose’s bio got me more interested in Dostoevsky. From Rose I listened to Bach’s “Ich habe gennug.” Fr Raphael Johnson got me interested in Vivaldi and Handel, which I then absorbed into my soul.
Theonomists seek to alleviate secularists’ fears of an armed theocratic take-over which will institute God’s law by saying, “It will happen when the gospel takes wide effect.” In other words, they won’t be imposing a Shariah-type law because most of the populace will be Christian and will gladly accept it.
I grant that they make such a distinction. I just don’t think it matters. If postmillennialism ends up being true and the people accept Christ and Christ gives them His Spirit, then what’s the deal with the law anyway? You already have a godly society. There are Christians today who are very godly yet reject theonomy. Banner of Truth, for one. The point is this: if the only way in which “godly law” will be instituted is when most of the populace is Christian, then why are you even focused on reconstruction? By your own admission you can’t do anything about it in the near, foreseeable future. And if society is converted, then they are going to be living godlily (sp?), Moses’s law or not.
We can all find problems with everyone’s “local church.” Some are even pretty bad. But reviewing the Vision Forum debacle one thing kept coming up in my mind: a local church in network (presbytery?) with other churches can minimize the danger of cult figures hijacking the show. This is especially true with “start-up” denominations, for while having the form of presbyterial government, they are often run by a Pope-figure. By contrast, established, perhaps even “bourgeoisie” networks generally have a way of stifling wacky ideas that come up (and this is a good thing!). I’ve sat in Presbytery meetings where word got out that such and such church is starting to follow the teachings of a certain Federal Vision guru and they were summarily investigated. (I don’t know what happened in the end result, but since this was an OPC presbytery it’s not hard to imagine how they handled it, and good for them).
This reminds me of an excellent tape by David Chilton on the Ecclesiastical Abuse of the Tyler People. I realize the article is by John Robbins, but it’s accurate enough. If anyone is interested in the audio, let me know.