Bahnsen and RTS question

Discussion in 'The Law of God' started by Edm, Feb 26, 2016.

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  1. Edm

    Edm Puritan Board Freshman

    I have been reading about Dr Bahnsen and searched old threads here. From what I have read, the consensus is he was not fired, his contract was just not matter the terminology, that's not my question. My question is, what was it about his view on theonomy, that caused such a stir and an uproar? I had not even heard of this topic until recently, but is/ was it really that divisive? I must be to shallow to see it.
  2. timmopussycat

    timmopussycat Puritan Board Junior

    The word Theonomy derives from two Greek words: theos (God) and nomos (law). Until recently, it has been used to categorize various views that see God as the source of ethics: using theonomy in this sense, Cornelius Van Til recognized that there “is no alternative but that of theonomy or autonomy.”

    Individual views within the category of theonomy differ, however, in a number of ways, one of which is their conceptions of exactly how the judicial laws of the Bible are meant to impact civil ethics today. At one end of the theonomy spectrum is Tillich’s existential encounter between an individual and a moral principle, an encounter that cannot be generalized to serve as the basis for state law. Next in line is the Dispensationalist argument that all of the Old Testament Mosaic law (Genesis to Deuteronomy) is irrelevant today unless particular stipulations stated there are reiterated in the New Testament. After that, we find the view put forward by Calvin and followed by the Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF), which posits that particular Mosaic civil laws may or may not apply today de- pending on whether the specific principle of justice underlying them may be justly applied the same way in the New Covenant era as it was in the Old. From the Reformation to the present day, the Calvin-Westminster view has been the dominant Reformed perspective on how to apply the biblical civil laws to post-Sinai contexts, and some less formalized derivatives of it seem to undergird a great deal of contemporary evangelical political activism ranging from tea partiers on the right to Sojourners on the left.

    Starting in the early 1970’s another view became somewhat popular. This view, the ethical perspective of Christian Reconstructionism, starts with the Calvin-Westminster continuity of the Mosaic judicial principles and to it adds the additional postulate that all Mosaic civil laws and punishments are also presumed to apply today, except where biblically amended by the Lawgiver. This view was best described and advocated by Greg Bahnsen, and over time it has also become known as Theonomy (with a capital T).

    The debate quickly became a matter of considerable importance for the following reasons. First, if Christian Reconstruction’s ethical perspective is correct, it is not only Congregationalists and Baptists whose confessions follow the WCF at this point, who must repent of their erroneous understanding of civil ethics and embrace the Reconstructionist ethical perspective. Since almost all Evangelical Christians—from Jim Wallace and Sojourners on the left to Christian “Tea Party” members on the right—use variants of the WCF principle to bring a biblical perspective to political activism, almost the entire American evangelical movement will find their views challenged, if not transformed, if the Reconstructionist ethical perspective is proven to be biblical. On the other hand, if the Calvin-Westminster view is correct, “the ethical perspective of Reconstructionism” now usually referred to as Theonomy must be abandoned.

    This was reinforced by the second factor. The theological consequences of choosing the wrong hermeneutic are far more serious. If applying all unamended Mosaic judicials remains a Christian duty, eternal consequences follow. For if Theonomy is scriptural, non-Theonomic Christians hinder their sanctification and add to humanity’s rebellion against God by not following, teaching, and promoting the entire corpus of Mosaic civil laws. On the last day, they will be found among the least in the kingdom of heaven—a judgment well worth avoiding, whatever the specific result of it may be. Yet, if the Reconstructionist ethic is unbiblical, Theonomists, by adding an unbiblical doctrine to their teaching, are hindering Christians from growing in grace, misrepresenting God’s New Covenant requirements to unbelievers, maintaining an unnecessary debate between Christians, and creating much unnecessary opposition to Christian evangelism. Finally, if Theonomy is unscriptural, its advocates are “generating God’s displeasure [by] taking an erroneous teaching position with respect to the details of the law” and risk God’s rebuke for adding to his word the thesis that obeying and promoting all unamended Old Testament civil laws is part of the Christian’s New Covenant duty when God has not so demanded it.

    In the subsequent debate many Theonomic advocates have promoted their view on the grounds that many Reformed worthies of former days have advocated the present validity of particular Mosaic judicial. But as Puritan Board member MW notes, post #163
    advocates of the traditional view
    Another tack CR advocates have tried is that of vacillating between advocating “the abiding validity of the [Mosaic] law in exhaustive detail” and advocating a principle of general continuity of the Mosaic statutes. As MW has also noted, this tactic has resulted in a good deal of confusion. post # 84
    The book mentioned in my signature line is a more detailed study of these matters.
    Last edited: Feb 26, 2016
  3. Edm

    Edm Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you. I will digest what you wrote and see if that answers my questions. Very detailed response.
  4. TylerRay

    TylerRay Puritan Board Senior


    It may be superfluous to note this, but I think that it's important to remember that the contention over theonomy in a confessional context is the meaning of this statement:
    The relevant questions are 1) What does it mean that the judicial laws expired, and 2) What is the general equity of the judicial laws?

    It is my opinion that Rushdoony introduced a new paradigm for understanding the judicial laws when he began to speak of them as moral case laws, and that this new paradigm, first, is inconsistent with the confession's teaching that the judicial laws were given to the Israelite Republic specifically and died with the Israelite Republic, and, second, that it is a misunderstanding of what was intended by the general equity of the laws (which is nothing other than the moral kernel contained in this or that judicial law).
  5. carygephart

    carygephart Puritan Board Freshman

    I am not advocating for a particular position, simply listing a resource that might be helpful in understanding what took place. This resource comes from a supportive perspective. American Vision are advocates for theonomy and Christian reconstructionism.

    Cary Gephart
    Preaching/Teaching Elder, Iroquois Valley Christian Church
    Rensselaer, IN

    'You are no saint,' says the devil. Well, if I am not, I am a sinner, and Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. Sink or swim, I go to Him; other hope, I have none.
    - C.H. Spurgeon
  6. Edm

    Edm Puritan Board Freshman

    Thank you. I have seen the site and read Dr Bahnsens paper on it. I know there are disagreements, I just don't understand the depth and why of these. Like I said, it is a new subject to me.
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