Theonomy

In a recent response to Nick Gier, I wrote that all sins are deserving of death. And in the sight of God they are deserving of death, which is why all of us, being sinners, eventually die. But not all crimes should be treated equally by the civil magistrate. Murder and stealing someone’s lawn flamingo are both crimes, but it would be horrendous for the magistrate to apply the death penalty in the latter instance.

Factor into this the additional distinction between a sin and a crime. Covetousness is a sin, but ought not to be a crime, because the civil magistrate is not competent to deal with issues of the heart like that. Other sins, like adultery and pedophilia, ought to be crimes as well. A crime is identified in the Bible by the presence of an attendant civil penalty. Lust is a sin, but not a crime. Greed is a sin, but not a crime. Drunkenness in the Bible is a sin, but not a crime. Reasoning by analogy, drunk driving that injures someone else would be a crime. But all this is assuming a utopian biblical society, which does not at present exist.

So in our democratic and secular society, whenever we talk about sins and crimes, if we are thinking carefully, we have to ask ourselves, by what standard? How do we define a sin? How do we define a crime? And because we live in a town where some of our Intoleristas are hyperventilating about the looming prospect of living in a theocratic state set up by old yours truly, I need to spend a few minutes to allay some of their concerns (and perhaps to inflame others).

Theonomy is a word that simply refers to God’s law. In the minds of many, this is nothing more than the Christian equivalent of Muslim law, which is (for various reasons) not really an accurate comparison. But over the years I have been asked a number of times if I am a theonomist. To which I have consistently replied, “Oh no, I hate God’s law.” And the point of that kind of reply is to show that every Christian who believes the Bible is some kind of theonomist. The only debates we Christians have are exegetical: “What does God want from us?” and not “Should we do wantever it is God wants?” Even a muddled Christian who argues for some form of what he calls “principled pluralism” can be asked if he thinks that this principled pluralism is what God wants as well. If not, then why does he want it? And if so, then isn’t principled pluralism just another form of theonomy?

Every state is inescapably theocratic. Every state is theonomic. The thing that separates one state from another is the name of the god, the identity of the theos involved. In some societies it is Allah. In others (like ours) it is Demos. In yet others, it is still (nominally) Christ, as in the United Kingdom. Now, as a Christian, when a pollster comes and asks me for my input on which god we should serve, I will tell him. And here is a little hint: it won’t be a god in whom I do not believe. If given an opportunity to say something about it, I would prefer the laws of the civil societry in which I live to reflect the standards of God as set forth in the (entire) Bible, and my desire is for Jesus Christ to be honored in the public square as the Son of God and Savior of the world. Of course I think this. I am a Christian.

Now as soon as I say this, the immediate response of panic will be to say, “See! They do want to take over!” No, not at all. If by “taking over” you mean a political mobilization and coercive manipulation of the current system to force our way in, we want nothing to do with that. We do want to persuade, and we want that persuasion to be the opposite of coercive. People think that Jesus Christ will be coercive because the current god is so coercive. Behold the god that is currently the Demos-cratic Theos-Cratic god of our system. His middle name is Coercion, and what we are doing is refusing to worship in that shrine anymore.

Jesus said that when He was lifted up on the cross, all men would stream to Him. He promised that through His death He would draw all men to Himself, and as Christians we believe He is keeping that promise. Quickened by the Spirit of God, the movement of the human race to Jesus Christ is entirely voluntary, and we don’t want to herd anyone toward Him through any coercive means whatsoever. The way Christ will come to be honored in the lives of others is through us honoring Christ in our lives. This will be implemented through Christians worshipping God faithfully on the Lord’s Day, baptizing our little children and educating them accordingly, and living faithfully in our respective communities as diligent Christian husbands, wives, students, children, mechanics, educators, and so on. The only place where we will make any kind of trouble at all is in our refusal to bow down to the current gods. But in every other respect we will be model citizens, driving faithfully on the right side of the road. Precisely because we will not honor Caesar as god, we will be the best subjects he ever had. Following the model set by the Lord Jesus, the only kind of dominion we want comes through giving ourselves away through sacrificial service in our communities, service that imitates Jesus Christ.

So the only authority we have as Christians is the death, burial and resurrection of Jesus Christ. If that didn’t happen, you have nothing to worry about.

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