One should be as charitable as the facts permit to Bahnsen and other Theonomists, but one must note that Bahnsen in particular created a couple of problems for the idea that his Theonomy distinguished between principle, fact and law.
First, his exegesis of Matt. 5:18 if correct established once and for all that no change whatsoever is legitimate until the end of the church age. Christ couched His statement in absolute terms and, contra Bahnsen, there is nothing in the immediate context that allows us to conclude that Christ here utters a general statement which He expected to admit of qualification.
Second, when Bahnsen reduces his Theonomy to axioms the distinction disappears and "the abiding validity of the law in exhaustive detail" is what remains. For example he wrote:
First, Christ himself made an *exception* to adultery laws. Thus it is wrong to say that he doesn't admit of qualification.
And, to be charitable, as you say you desire, one should also note that in TEC, which you site, he claims that his position doesn't rest on his exegesis on Matt. 5.
Furthermore, the corpus should be consulted. So, you need to read/listen to all he has to say on the subject, right? He makes my point in many places. I cited one. Here's another: "But then neither does theonomic ethics hold that such a theocracy is a kind of revealed prerequisite for the moral validity of the Mosaic laws" (Bahnsen, NOS, 114). Or, "[The puritans] correctly held that we are not bound today to keep these [Old Testament] judicial laws as they are worded, but only required to keep their underlying moral principles" (Bahnsen, BTS, 137-38). I have therefore refuted the notion that Bahnsen didn't employ the particular law and fact vs. underlying principle distinction. In response to the charges of "retreating" to this position, there is a ready answer: "Since the publication of TEC there have come along the way a fuller explanation and consistent refinement of the thesis, but this is usually not deemed as a fault, but a virtue" (Bahnsen, NOS, p.27).
In all of its minute detail, (every jot and tittle) the law of God down to its least significant provision should be reckoned to have an abiding validity- until and unless the Lawgiver reveals otherwise.
(Greg Bahnsen, "The Theonomic Position" in God and Politics, Four Views on the Reformation of Civil Government ed. Gary Scott Smith, Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. 1989,
pp. 40, 41.)
And Bahnsen can say that even the principle which underwrites the smallest law is still valid. Therefore that principle should be applied today. It would be ridiculous to assume that Bahnsen meant that one still needs to put fences around roof tops. If you grant me that it would be ridiculous to assume that, then you tacitly grant me my premise: Bahnsen distinguished between historical law and underwriting principle.
Bahnsen would also hold that although the Mosaic judicials expired in the sense of their validity for the body politic to which they were given, he also holds that all of them would remain valid by "general eqity" (as he understands the term) unless amended by God for any jurisdiction today.
Non-Theonomists define general equity somewhat differently than Theonomists do.
Here is what Bahnsen takes to be GE:
"However, the confession is careful to remind us that "the general equity"
of this illustrations - that is, the underlying moral principle - is still "required" of us" (emphasis supplied). (Note that this justifies my specific law/principle distinction I've made.)
Wasn't Sherman Isbell's article touted here?
Isbell states, "The Confession uses the term general equity to identify the element in the judicial laws which is of enduring obligation. The meaning of this term is evident from the chapter in which it appears. There is an equity or righteousness which on four other occasions in this chapter is said to still oblige, amidst all the changes in redemptive history. That equity is the moral law,"
Now, it is true that Bahnsen doesn't take the Decalogue to *exhaust* the moral law of God as expressed in certain principles either explicitly or implicitly instantiated in the Bible, he claims that they *summarize* them. Is he wrong? "The moral law is summarily comprehended in the ten commandments" (LC 98). And John Murray, "[T]he summary does not obliterate or abrogate the expansion of which it is a summary" (Principles of Conduct, p. 192).
So, there is a *basic* agreement, even if some *factual* disagreement is present. This is not sufficient to show that there are two *different* ethics. Just as in my illustration above about eating cows. When we disagree with the Hindu, we *are not* disagreeing in our *ethic.* We *both* agree that it is immoral to eat grandma. So, the disagreement here isn't enough to show a difference in ethic.
For non-Theonomists (theonomists), ge is the abiding rules of justice (the decalogue and good and necessary reasoning from it) which determine whether or not a given Mosaic stipulation will remain valid in the differeing age from which the stipulation was given. Bahnsen would deny that general equity reasoning from the decalogue could be so used. For him the only grounds on which a law could be amended are a) explicit Scriptural statement and b) good and necessary consequence of Scriptural statements that a particular stipulation is no longer in effect.
Right. And the problem here is that you sound like a theonomist. You are saying that man needs to look to God's revelation to determine the moral precepts men are obliged to follow today. If you say that *the Bible* tells you that X law isn't applicable today, then you agree with Bahnsen.
Indeed, didn't you quote Bahnsen above thusly:
In all of its minute detail, (every jot and tittle) the law of God down to its least significant provision should be reckoned to have an abiding validity- until and unless the Lawgiver reveals otherwise. (Greg Bahnsen, "The Theonomic Position" in God and Politics, Four Views on the Reformation of Civil Government ed. Gary Scott Smith, Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. 1989,
pp. 40, 41.)
Thus Bahnsen would *agree* with you that if the Bible tells us that X law isn't applicable today, then it isn't applicable today.
So I'd say that, at the very least, a critique of a position that is consistent with that position, isn't much of a critique. I take this to be a plausible assumption, for obvious reasons.
The time to abandon the old debate about theonomy is well overdue, since most of its original adherents qualified their position to such a degree that the term itself became virtually meaningless. Theonomy is a good term when used in opposition to autonomy, and should be used to distinguish the Christian belief that God's will alone determines what is good and evil from the non Christian belief that morality is relative. It is, however, an inappropriate term in the context of discussing the extent to which OT judicial laws apply to modern states. The stubborn maintenance of this one term dooms all discussions to the quagmire of mutual misunderstanding.
AMEN!!! Matthew, may I add the above comments to my book? You have just said exactly what I have been trying to get some Theonomists to see for years now.
If you do, just remember that Bahnsen covered this charge of "qualifying" in NOS (among other places) pgs. 19-29.
Also, if you want to make demonstrably false claims that all non-Christian ethics are relativistic, then you can include the quote. I don't think that will bode well for your book, though. Usually, stating falsehoods isn't good for establishing reliability or intellectual honesty.
I'd also make sure you really want to affirm a DCT theory of ethics. This is implied in the post