Back in the eighties, the debate over theonomy and Christian Reconstruction was a “thing.” It is still a thing, and in proof of what I say I offer the evidence that virtually no one thinks so.
The day of common sense shared assumption is clean over. We live in a day when decent folks can find themselves cudgeled by the state for maintaining that we should have restrooms for men and women. Imagine trying to explain our political controversies to Dwight Eisenhower. In order for Christians to open their mouths about any of the current issues, they have to be ready to answer the two great questions of theology, asked on playgrounds everywhere. They are, “Why?” and “Who says?”
The church is like a college sophomore sinking in his math courses, and who needs to back to the basics of how many two and two make. This book by Joel McDurmon is a wonderful place to start our remedial work. Here it is: The Bounds of Love.
This is an introduction to “theonomy,” God’s law, and there are two great takeaways from the book.
First, he carefully shows that these are issues that all Christians need to deal with. In line with that, he then goes on to show that the theonomic answer to the challenge of Old Testament/New Testament relations is a responsible exegetically grounded one.
Over the years, my joking answer to the question “are you a theonomist?” has been “oh, no. I hate God’s law.” What this reveals (or rather should reveal) is that all Christians are theonomists. We all agree that we should do what God directs us to do in His Word. We differ on the exegesis, and on the hermeneutic that drives much of it. What does God in fact require of us, and how can we know? McDurmon does a good job parsing out how members of different camps are perhaps not as far apart as they think.
The second great takeaway is this — when we hear that conservative believers want to institute modern adherence to laws contained in a sacred book that is thousands of years old, this conjurs up images of ayatollah weird beards chopping off hands. But in a great number of cases, biblical law is a brake. It restricts the state, prohibiting tyranny. Too many people are freaked out by the concept of divine law without having looked at the actual content of divine law.
This book is a gracious, thoughtful, and much needed invitation to Christians who are engaged in the political process, and who have realized they need a fixed place to stand. The perennial question is always “by what standard?” This is a very good book, which I recommend that all pastors get. In addition, I would recommend that the book be advanced somewhere near the front of your “to read” list. Try to get it done before we are trying to stop the marriage of Miss America to a donkey in the National Cathedral. That’s not the time to be asking yourself, “Where’s that book?”
In light of the nature of this invitation, there are three areas that I would like to see McDurmon follow up.
The first has to do with incrementalism. Given the post millennial assumptions of the yeast working through the loaf slowly, and given the fixed nature of God’s unchanging standards, it seems to me that we must be incrementalists because God is an incrementalist. What is an all-or-nothing proposition theologically is not all-or-nothing historically and eschatologically. In other words, I would argue that when Constantine put an end to the pagan sacrifices, it was an enormous step forward for human liberty — even though many pagan standards were carried forward into the Christianized empire. The question is how incrementalism fits with biblical law.
Second, I would like to see McDurmon develop a case for marriage, biblically defined, as a foundational part of any civil society. He did a good job showing what biblical law no longer requires for sexual sins (e.g. stoning), but should there be any penalty for adultery? Is the state neutral when it comes to who the guilty party was in a divorce? How is neutrality even possible? Marriage is the current battleground, and it is here we have a pressing need for theonomic answers. I really don’t think we can resolve it with libertarian contract law. This is not a difference with McDurmon so much as it is a request for a more detailed treatment.
And last, just as McDurmon has urged a return to a discussion of theonomy without that task giving us nightmares, so also I would like to see a return to a much needed discussion of natural revelation or natural law. I get (and agree with) the concerns of theonomists who do not want to see natural law adopted in a solo role when Scripture is present and available. But I am equally concerned about those who despise natural law in the name of biblical law. I am afraid it is a set up for the ever present temptation to “retreat to commitment,” which retreats to an enclave in which our faith community treasures our sacred text, a text which we do not consider binding on the infidels outside. But everything God says, regardless how He says it, is spoken for the sake of Everyman. God commands all men everywhere to repent, and He does this through he sun, moon, and stars, through the whispering conscience at 2 am, and through Leviticus, Psalms, and Romans.
All this said, together with these requests for more discussion, The Bounds of Love is a really worthwhile book. For many evangelicals in the eighties, the theonomic reconstructionists were really scary. But they were not nearly as scary as what we actually wound up with through not paying better attention.