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Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Theonomy: A Summary of Vital Teachings

by Greg Bahnsen, from "Preface to the Second Edition," Theonomy in Christian Ethics (Covenant Media Foundation, 2002, Third Edition, pp. xxv-xxviii, words in brackets added by GentleDove, parentheses in original)

1. Since the Fall it has always been unlawful to use the law of God in hopes of establishing one's own personal merit and justification, [either] in contrast or complement to salvation by way of promise and faith; commitment to obedience is but the lifestyle of faith, a token of gratitude for God's redeeming grace.

2. The word of the Lord is the sole, supreme, and unchallengeable standard for the actions and attitudes of all men in all areas of life; this word naturally includes God's moral directives (law).

3. Our obligation to keep the law of God cannot be judged by any extrascriptural standard, such as whether its specific requirements (when properly interpreted) are congenial to past traditions or modern feelings and practices.

4. We should presume that Old Testament standing laws* continue to be morally binding in the New Testament, unless they are rescinded or modified by further revelation.

5. In regard to the Old Testament law, the New Covenant surpasses the Old Covenant in glory, power, and finality (thus reinforcing former duties). The New Covenant also supercedes the Old Covenant shadows, thereby changing the application of sacrificial, purity, and "separation" principles, redefining the people of God, and altering the significance of the promised land.

6. God's revealed standing laws are a reflection of His immutable moral character and, as such, are absolute in the sense of being non-arbitrary, objective, universal, and established in advance of particular circumstances (thus applicable to general types of moral situations).

7. Christian involvement in politics calls for recognition of God's transcendent, absolute, revealed law as a standard by which to judge all social codes.

8. Civil magistrates in all ages and places are obligated to conduct their offices as ministers of God, avenging divine wrath against criminals and giving an account on the Final Day of their service before the King of kings, their Creator and Judge.

9. The general continuity which we presume with respect to the moral standards of the Old Testament applies just as legitimately to matters of socio-political ethics as it does to personal, family, or ecclesiastical ethics.

10. The civil precepts of the Old Testament (standing "judicial" laws) are a model of perfect social justice for all cultures, even in the punishment of criminals.

This summary highlights the fact that theonomic ethics, proceeding in terms of salvation by grace alone, (1) is committed to developing an overall Christian world-and-life view (2) according to the regulating principle of sola Scriptura (3) and to the hermeneutic of covenant theology (4) instead of dispensationalism (where Old Covenant commandments are deemed abrogated unless repeated in the New Testament). Changes in covenantal administration that are warranted by Scripture (cf. 4) are recognized with the coming of the new and better covenant in Christ (5). Relativism (situationism) is repudiated, and the divinely revealed ethic is not reduced to a parochial or tribal perspective in the evolutionary history of ethics; (6) God's word advances universal justice, not a double-standard of morality.

Rejecting legal positivism, theonomic ethics favors the idea of a "law above the (civil) law" as a protection against the tyranny of rulers and anarchy of reformers (7). Because Christ is Lord over all (cf. 2), it follows that even civil magistrates are His servants and owe obedience to His revealed standards for them (8). There is no justification (cf. 4) for exempting civil authorities from responsibility to the universal standards of justice (cf. 6) found in God's Old Testament revelation (9). Therefore, in the absence of biblically grounded argumentation that releases the civil magistrate from Old Testament social norms (cf. 4, 5), it follows from our previous premises that in the exercise of their offices rulers are morally responsible to obey the revealed standards of social justice in the Old Testament law (10). The New Testament explicitly confirms this inference by making magistrates avengers of wrath on evil-doers (Rom. 13:4), making it a lawful use of God's law to restrain the publicly unruly (1 Tim. 1:8-10), and saying that in this law, "every transgression and disobedience received its just recompense of reward" (Heb. 2:2)...

* "Standing law" is used here for policy directives applicable over time to classes of individuals (e.g., do not kill; children, obey your parents; merchants, have equal measures; magistrates, execute rapists), in contrast to particular directions for an individual (e.g., the order for Samuel to annoint David at a particular time and place) or positive commands for distinct incidents (e.g., God's order for Israel to exterminate certain Canaanite tribes at a certain point in history).

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