The Law of God, Theonomy, and Pacifism

Posted on September 9, 2014

Gavel and Scales of Justice

Theonomy and pacifism are rearing their heads as the United States continues its efforts to build a coalition of nations to destroy the Islamic State. Two weeks ago I offered some recommendations for Christians in how we should be responding to the threat of IS and the impending war. While my position has found consensus with most Christians I’ve encountered, it has also been met with heated opposition by a few.

Over the last year or two I’ve been collecting future reads for when I would begin my study on the Law of God. I’ve desired to solidify my understanding of the Christian’s relationship to the Law of God under the New Covenant. Part of this desire has been driven by the rising theonomical influence in reformed circles, and wanting to have a firm grasp on the Law to counter the aberrant arguments from my theonomist friends. I’ve learned, however, that discussions about theonomy on social media is a near futile task for a number of reasons, not least of which is the lack of charity and grace demonstrated in these discussions, with very rare exception. But at root, we have fundamental, hermeneutical disagreements that lead to differences in our views of the Law of God and the biblical covenants, so a surface topic like theonomy is nearly impossibly fruitful.

I used to consider theonomy to be a benign theory, merely living in the postmillennial mind like a fantasy in hopes for a future Utopian society preceding the Lord’s return. But my concern now is the influence theonomy is having on Christians, pointing them back to the Mosaic Law instead of pointing to Jesus Christ and the Law of Christ under the New Covenant. Organizations like American Vision have made theonomical postmillennialism trendy, but I hope it will soon pass like all fads tend to do.

As our nation plants its war footing and the world’s volatility for war increases, the topic of war isn’t going away any time in the near future. How Christians respond to war is important, so now is an opportune time for me to enter into a study of the Law of God. Some of the questions I expect to be answered will include:

What is the standard for government?

What is the standard for justice?

Can a standard for war be found in the Bible?

What is the Christian’s relationship to the Mosaic Law?

What are the different uses/applications of the law in the New Testament?

What are the differences in how the law is defined in the New Testament?

Books for consideration will be the following in case you also have a desire to study this area:

The Law of Christ by Charles Leiter

40 Questions About Christians and Biblical Law by Thomas Schreiner

Politics – According to the Bible: A Comprehensive Resource for Understanding Modern Political Issues in Light of Scripture by Wayne Grudem

Five Views on Law and Gospel by Walter Kaiser, Douglas Moo, Greg Bahnsen, Stanley Gundry, Wayne Strickland, and Willem VanGemeren

Theonomy in Christian Ethics by Greg Bahnsen

Theonomy: A Reformed Critique by William Barker, Robert Godfrey

The Continuing Relevance of Divine Law by Fred Zaspel

Natural Law and the Two Kingdoms: A Study in the Development of Reformed Social Thought by David VanDrunen

Living in God’s Two Kingdoms by David VanDrunen

Here are some audio resources for consideration: 

The Sermon Series: Theonomy a Reformed Baptist Assessment by Dr. Sam Waldron (Reformed Baptist)

The Relationship of Church and State by Dr. Sam Waldron

Unbelievers, the Law, and Conscience by Pastor Gary Hendrix

Still Written in Stone? The Christian’s Relationship to the Mosaic Law by Dr. Richard Mayhue (Senior VP and Dean of The Master’s Seminary)

History and Theology of Calvinism #21: The Theonomy Movement by Dr. Curt Daniel (reformed theologian)

A Critique of Theonomy by Dr. David Coffin (Presbyterian)

An Assessment of Theonomy by Pastor Jim Savastio (Reformed Baptist)

The Christian and the Civil Magistrate by Pastor Jim Savastio

Theonomy and the Westminster Assembly by Rev. David Silversides (Presbyterian)

Christian Submission to Human Government by Pastor Andy Dunkerton

The Christian’s Responsibility in a Pagan Society Part 1 by Dr. John MacArthur

The Christian’s Responsibility in a Pagan Society Part 2 by Dr. John MacArthur

As I enter into this study, I plan to share my thoughts along the way and quote from various authors. As an intro, I’ll quote from Leiter’s The Law of Christ in his response to pacifism on pages 310-311:

Whereas Theonomy wants to make the Law of Moses the “law of the land,” pacifism wants to apply the Sermon on the Mount in a similar fashion. Neither position is biblical. As noted above, the Law of Moses was given to the theocracy (not all nations) in order to accomplish a particular purpose during a particular time. The Sermon on the Mount, on the other hand, is given to the church (not civil magistrates) and is intended to guide Christ’s regenerate sheep in their journey through the labyrinth of this world, where (according to the Sermon itself) they will face persecution and abuse “on account of” Him. Christ’s command to “turn the other cheek” was thus intended for Christians, not for civil government, which is specifically “established by God” to maintain order and justice as a “minister of God” through the use of “the sword.”

Thus, I don’t believe a biblical argument can be made for the United States government to strive to be a peacemaker regarding the Islamic State, unless of course one would like to argue destroying IS would bring peace to the U.S. and other nations afflicted by this antichrist group of barbaric terrorists. Neither can the United States “turn the other cheek” when it comes to al Qaeda or IS or HAMAS or Hezbollah or any other terrorist network. To apply this text to governments who bear responsibility in wielding the sword to preserve justice and peace, is to not only abuse the text but also exposes a warped view of biblical justice in a sinful world.

I see both pacifists and theonomists demanding a “just war theory” for the impending war against Islamism. Pacifism wants to see the U.S. government show IS love and compassion, while theonomy demands the Mosaic Law to be the absolute standard for Gentile nations. I have seen one person assert that the U.S. should refuse to help Iraq defeat IS because he opposes sending “our children” and “treasure” to help Iraq protect its citizens. This is an example of how one’s rigid application of an aberrant theology blinds one to a biblical application of mercy, justice, and love for neighbor. Such thinking is what compelled me to post the following on facebook last week:

Dear American Christian, if your theology posits war is only justified if the enemy is enslaving, raping, and murdering Americans on American soil, something’s not right in your theology, or your heart.

Ultimately, there is no absolute standard for government apart from the theocracy of Israel under the Old Covenant. So there is also no absolute standard for war for Gentile governments either. While governments would do well to search the Old and New Testaments so to determine how best to lead and govern their people according to just law and love for neighbor, prescribing the Mosaic Law to Gentile nations in such a way that it binds them reveals a very poor interpretation and application of Scripture.

We won’t find any rules of engagement for nations to declare war in the Bible. But what can be done is studying the Scriptures to determine how governments can govern and promote peace while executing justice for lawbreakers. Christians of political esteem are in a position to influence the government to do what is right, and that should be our hope and aim while we proclaim the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ and seek to do good to and for our neighbor.

Next time, we’ll be taking a brief look at theonomy from Thomas Schreiner’s 40 Questions about Christians and Biblical Law.

Current Articles in This Series

Thomas Schreiner on Theonomy

Sam Waldron on Civil Authorities

The Law of Nature Is the Law of God

God Rules Over All Civil Magistrates

Christian Submission vs Belligerent Discontentment Before Civil Authorities