PART 2: What does Theonomic Postmillennialism teach themselves from their own sources, in answer to CETE article’s accusations, according to the sources CETE uses but seemingly did not study?
by Slabbert Le Cornu
[PART 1: Introduction & The unscholarly uninformed method of CETE and the two crucial main questions in this debate that are also of big importance for the reformed community in SA]
“Abstract: Although the extreme form of Theonomism has only affected a small number of Reformed members in South Africa, it seems that Theonomist Postmillennialism has a greater underlying influence in the Reformed Churches in South Africa. General churchgoers in the Reformed Churches of South Africa generally confuse the Regulatory Principle (sic) with Theonomism and are uninformed about precisely what Theonomism is. Furthermore, signs of Theonomism as it developed in the USA are also visible in South Africa. Yet, there is great ignorance about the exact effect that Theonomism has on Reformed congregations in South Africa, especially regarding the eschatological views held by individual congregations.”
“The first one to plead his cause seems right, Until his neighbor comes and examines him.” (Proverbs 18:17)
Introduction to all 4 parts
The first quote above is the ‘abstract’ summary of dr. Morne Diedericks’s article, Critical evaluation of Theonomist eschatology, that were published in the the GKSA’s theological journal, In die Skriflig.
The second quote is from Proverbs 18:17, and is the goal of this and future articles.
There will be four parts in this response on ‘Critical evaluation of Theonomist eschatology’ article (abbreviation from now on: CETE).
Part 1: The unscholarly uninformed method of CETE and the two crucial main questions in this debate that are also of big importance for the reformed community in SA
Part 2: What does Theonomic Postmillennialism teach themselves using the sources CETE mentions in its ‘references’?
Part 3: Theonomic Postmillennialism reformed roots through history, also in South Africa.
Part 4: A Plea for biblical scholarship and brotherly relations among reformed brothers in our Kingdom callings here in Africa for now and the future
We deel with part two now, please read part 1 first to understand the context of part 2:
PART 2: What does Theonomic Postmillennialism teach themselves in answer to CETE article’s accusations, according to the sources CETE uses but seemingly did not study?
The purpose of part 2 is to show from the theonomic-postmillennial sources that the author of CETE (and the sources he used to reject reformed theonomic-postmillennial thought) did not study these original sources themselves or/either have just decided to maliciously misrepresent the reformed brothers they disagree with. What all the reasons could be for this I will leave in the hands of our Lord.
Now if the author did some solid objective research, reading the sources themselves and not only quoting from secondhand sources, some sources unfortunately very hostile indeed, he would have learned a lot from the reformed theonomic viewpoints and could have given a much better balanced critique that would have been helpful for both theonomic and non-theonomic brothers, also in South Africa.
I will first summarize and quote the major accusation from CETE, secondly, answer the accusation directly with some quotes from the theonomic postmillennial sources used by CETE, to show the opposite of the accusation. I deliberately give long quotes from the theonomic sources, to let themselves speak, please see the sources details in the references below. Thirdly, I give some comments in-between the quotes, specifically at the end to add some perspective (see the last page of CETE article for the sources used, emphases added), but my own view will be seen in part 4 of this series:
CETE ACCUSATION 1: All theonomists are postmillennialists
CETE states: “There is a common saying in eschatological circles that not all Postmillennialists are Theonomists, but all Theonomists are Postmillennialists (Kloosterman 1994:3).”
ACTUAL FACTS are:
Greg L. Bahnsen writes:
“A common error of some theonomy opponents is to assume that theonomy entails postmillennialism. The two theological constructs, however, are distinct; in no way do they stand or fall together. Postmillennialism is concerned with “what will be”; theonomy focuses on “what should be.” Many theonomists are amillennialists; few postmillennialists are theonomists.” (2002: XV, footnote 4)
CP Venema, a non-theonomist writes:
“Though not all postmillennialists are reconstructionists …” (2000: 341, 342, footnote 2)
CETE ACCUSATION 2: Theonomic postmillennialism has a worldly political view of the Kingdom of God, wants to force the Christian faith on society, establish the kingdom by politics, wants to ‘bring in’ the kingdom of God
“The Kingdom of God is not established by the application of judicial laws by social institutions, or forms of government. According to Amillenniastic eschatology, the Kingdom of God is something that has already come, and not something that still needs to come. However, the fullness and final establishment of the Kingdom of God is something that would only instituted after the return of Christ, by the union of heaven and earth (Venema 2000:233).” (p. 4)
“Theonomist Postmillennialism, as Bahnsen (2002:428) puts it, emphasizes material progress and the growth in power of Christ’s Kingdom on earth. In this, the nations that do not want to bow under the authority of the Christocracy, are forced to bow. Kline points out that millennial theories such as Theonomist Postmillennialism and Dispensationalism, which await the visible messianic kingdom on earth before the return of Jesus Christ, will be forced to deny or annihilate the sphere of the state in their social doctrine, because there will be no room for any other form of government on earth, except for the messianic kingdom.” (p. 5)
“The Church are strangers on this earth. The Church does not seek fixed structures and earthly foundations in the implementation of judicial laws. The Church clings in faith to the heavenly city, which has solid foundations, and of which God is the builder. Despite the opposition the Church is experiencing here on earth, the Church is not taking its eyes off Christ, who is already victorious.” (p. 6)
Comments: the author’s ignorant and plain false presupposition is that Theonomic Postmillenialism teaches the Kingdom a) have not been established already in Christ, b) yet has to bel established by laws now (‘we’ bring in the kingdom of God on earth) or in the future before the second coming without the gospel, and therefore theonomists do not believe c) in the fullness and final establishment of the Kingdom of God after the return of Christ.
The ACTUAL VIEW of Theonomic Postmillennialism about the nature of God’s Kingdom:
RJ Rushdoony writes in his magnum opus study of biblical law what the foundation and source is of the kingdom in Christ:
“The key to remedying the [modern] situation is not revolution, nor any kind of resistance that works to subvert law and order. The New Testament abounds in warnings against disobedience and in summons to peace. The key is regeneration, propagation of the gospel, and the conversion of men and nations to God’s law-word. Clearly, there is no hope for man except in regeneration.” (1973: 113)
Gary de Mar writes clearly:
“Reconstructionists as postmillennialists do not teach that we “bring in the kingdom.” The kingdom has come, is coming, will come, and one day will be delivered up to God the Father, when “He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet” (1 Corinthians 15:24-25). The Bible clearly tells us that Jesus’ reign is a present reality. He is sitting on David’s throne (Acts 2:22-36); He has been seated at the Father’s “right hand in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:20); all things have been put under Jesus’ feet by His Father (v. 22); and “He delivered us from the domain of darkness, and transferred us to the kingdom of His beloved Son” (Colossians 1:13).” (North, 1991: 97)
Kenneth L Gentry writes:
“Despite much confusion from detractors of theonomic ethics, the theonomic approach to moral conduct is not an attempt to offer a plan for works justification. Theonomy simply teaches that the Word of God is the supreme standard by which people will be judged. Having a revealed and objective standard takes the guesswork out of righteous living. Neither does theonomy involve an attempt to force Christianity on a nation by raw political, judicial, or military power. Though God’s Law sets the pattern for all of life (not just the inner personal sphere of human existence), the long-range implementation of God’s Law must follow, not precede, massive Christian revival. Then a nation of judicially righteous people will seek a judicially righteous government according to the standard of God’s righteousness, not fallen and sinful man’s.” (1993: 69)
Bahnsen writes in summary:
“Therefore, it is mean, illogical, and inexcusable propaganda for some theonomic critics to dismiss it as allegedly: (1) Judaizing the New Testament, (2) making the law our dynamic of sanctification, (3) denying any distinction between moral and judicial laws, (4) taking the civil use of God’s law as the way of bringing in His kingdom, (5) wishing to impose the kingdom by the sword, (6) asking the state to enforce all the Mosaic laws and curb all outward evil, (7) shifting emphasis from personal piety, evangelism, and the church so as to stress instead the cultural mandate, politics, and capital punishment, (8) demanding postmillennial eschatology, or (9) viewing America as God’s chosen nation.
Three more major misrepresentations, dealing with the status of Old Covenant Israel, deserve special mention. Some claim (10) that theonomists seek to establish a church-state today. Others allege the opposite: (11) that Theonomy says the Old Covenant form of the kingdom has not changed, wherein separation of the religious cult (strictly equated with the New Covenant church) from the state (which was no different from civil rule in any other nation) was total and rigid—making Israel’s church-state relationship identical with the relationship called for today. Finally, it has been pretended (12) that Theonomy overlooks or logically denies the typological character of the Old Covenant economy as a special redemptive-historical prototype of Christ’s coming kingdom.
Once again, however, a multitude of references from Theonomy disprove such false reports; for example, in a response to Kline I could allude to over fifty places in the book which countered his characterization. That is hardly acceptable performance for scholarly circles. Let it suffice to observe here that chapter 20 argues from Old and New Testaments in favor of an institutional separation of church and state; acknowledging “legitimate and noteworthy differences” between the Old Covenant order and the situation today, I maintained that “a parallel” exists with the church-state relation, but not an equation. Finally, “with respect to typology, it might be suggested that Israel as a nation is a type of the church of Christ. is certainly scriptural warrant for that comparison.” Such were the book’s own words. And these views falsely attributed to theonomic ethics are not logically essential to it (as analyzed above) to begin with, anyway.” (2002: foreword)
CETE ACCUSATION 2: Theonomic postmillennialism is ‘anti-state’ and churchly and politically ‘revolutionary and rebellious’
“This group is characterized by their ecclesiastical devotion, their strong opinions about the family, large families and their fiery devotion to home-schooling. The group is also known for its activism on social media, anti-state attitude, active involvement in community organizations that oppose the state and has a negative attitude towards the current state of the church (Ingersoll 2015:63).” (p. 1)
“Should the state not apply the judicial laws of the Old Testament for the purpose of establishing the Kingdom of God on earth, the state is not really a state, and that state should be opposed and replaced.” (p. 3)
“Theonomist Postmillennialism and Dispensationalism, which await the visible messianic kingdom on earth before the return of Jesus Christ, will be forced to deny or annihilate the sphere of the state in their social doctrine, because there will be no room for any other form of government on earth, except for the messianic kingdom. From this one can deduce that Theonomy advocates a type of Christianized state, an ideal state that acts on behalf of the Saviour on earth. Bahnsen (2002:426), however, is unable to identify his millennial Christocracy with the state. It is for this reason that the Theonomists also logically come to the rejection of the state as sovereign sphere.” [p. 5)
“From this one can deduce that Theonomy advocates a type of Christianized state, an ideal state that acts on behalf of the Saviour on earth. Bahnsen (2002:426), however, is unable to identify his millennial Christocracy with the state. It is for this reason that the Theonomists also logically come to the rejection of the state as sovereign sphere. In this, Theonomists in Reformed Churches find the dilemma regarding the confession of the Belgic Confession article 36, because they do not want to acknowledge the role of the state.” (p. 6)
The ACTUAL VIEW of Theonomic Postmillennialism on the State and ‘revolution’:
Gary North writes:
“Politics is a ministry of God. It is not the only ministry, but it is one. The civil magistrate brings God’s negative sanctions in history. In a democratic society, voters bring negative sanctions against civil magistrates. Thus, politics begins with the individual citizen, who is covenanted in a civil order under God. He governs himself, and then he executes judgment through politics. Politics is the means of establishing and controlling civil government. This does not mean that politics is central to government. It is one of the great heresies of our era that only civil government is “government,” and that the other, lawful, God-ordained governments are something less than government. There is self government, church government, and family government. It is this monopolizing of the concept of government by the State that is at the heart of the loss of liberty in the twentieth century.” (1991:44)
“… consider a situation where the state fails to enact laws which would coerce others to behave in the way Christians believe they should… our only moral option is to work for the [gradual (GLB elsewhere)] reform of our laws, rather than taking the law into our own hands to enforce our viewpoint like vigilantes.” (Schlissel, 2002: 145)
De Mar writes:
“as Gary North has recently pointed out, “Christian reconstruction depends on majority rule.” God uses lawful historical means to extend His earthly kingdom. Reconstructionists thus affirm that God’s laws should be passed and enforced according to the rules ofthe democratic process. Reconstructionists do not preach revolution or a top-down bureaucratic take-over. But Reconstructionists also do not believe that the will of the political majority is the final law in society. If this were the final law, then the will of the political majority would be the will of God. The democratic majority would then be God. What Christian could believe such a doctrine?” (North, 1991: 122)
“Modern postmillennial Reconstructionists are not revolutionary because they have a more consistently biblical view of the future. Reconstructionists generally believe they have time, lots of time, to accomplish their ends. Moreover, they are not revolutionary because they believe that Christians achieve leadership by living righteously. Dominion is by ethical service and work, not by revolution. Thus, there is no theological reason for a postmillennialist to take up arms at the drop of a hat. Biblical postmillennialists can afford to wait for God to judge ungodly regimes, bide their time, and prepare to rebuild upon the ruins. Biblical postmillennialists are not pacifists, but neither are they revolutionaries. Biblical postmillennialism provides the Christian with a longterm hope. Because of his long time-frame, the postmillennialist can exercise that chief element of true biblical faith: patience. Because he is confident that the Lord has given him time to accomplish the Lord’s purposes, the postmillennialist need not take things into his own, sinful hands.
The Lord will exalt us when He is ready, and when He knows that we are ready. Our calling is to wait patiently, praying and preparing ourselves for that responsibility, and working all the while to advance His kingdom. Historically, Christians who lack this long-term hope have taken things into their own hands, inevitably with disastrous consequences. Far from advocating militancy, biblical postmillennialism protects against a short-term revolutionary mentality.” (North, 1991: 141)
RJ Rushdoony writes on different governments:
“Christ’s words (Matt. 5:41) were thus a warning against revolutionary resistance. His warning was repeated by St. Paul in Romans 13:1,2, with the warning that resistance to duly constituted authority is resistance to the ordinance of God. At the same time, we must note that “Peter and the other apostles,” when forbidden to preach by the authorities, declared, “We ought to obey God rather than men” (Acts5:29). There is no discrepancy between these positions. Respect for duly constituted authorities is required both as a religious duty and a practical policy. The world is not bettered by disobedience and anarchy; evil men cannot produce a good society. The key to social renewal is individual regeneration.
All authorities are to be obeyed, parents, husbands, masters, rulers, pastors, always subject to the prior obedience to God. All obedience is under God, because required by His word. Therefore, ﬁrst, the covenant people cannot violate any due authority without taking the name of the Lord in vain. Disobedience at any level constitutes disobedience to God. Second, to strike a parent, or to assault a police oﬃcer, or any due authority, is thus to strike at God’s authority also and to use the right of self-defense for an aggression against authority. Third, to curse one’s parents is to attempt to place God on the side of rebellion against God’s central authority, the parent, and God’s central institution, the family. In murder, a man assaults and takes the life of an individual, or several individuals. In every anarchistic assault on authority, the assailant attacks the life of an entire society and the very authority of God.” (1973:121)
“That which is imitated is the divine government, the Kingdom of God. This kingdom existed in Eden; its laws governed Adam and Eve and were ﬁnally broken by Adam and Eve. Civil authorities, as well as the church, school, and family, were ordained by God as varying aspects of the abiding Kingdom of God; each bears the marks of the fall, but all are ordained by God. The direct government by God has since been mediated through various institutions, of which one is the state. … It is important to restate here the meaning of government in its historic Biblical sense. The basic government of man is the self-government of Christian man. The family is an important area of government also, and the basic one. The church is an area of government, and the school still another. A man’s calling is an area of government, and society at large governs men by its standards and opinions. The state is thus one government among many; it is civil government, and it cannot be permitted to usurp or claim areas which do not belong to it. Because of the Biblical understanding of government, many law spheres exist, and each has its inner authority, discipline, and requirements. These spheres are separate but interlocking.” (1973: 772)
CETE ACCUSATION 3: Theonomic Postmillennialism is racist
“Some of the criticism against the group is about their strict patriarchal attitude, strong nationalism, characteristic racism, and a view that the woman is seen as a material possession (Burack 2017:4).” (p. 1)
The ACTUAL VIEW of Theonomic Postmillennialism on racism:
“The revolutionists and the statists thus have a common cause, to destroy society, to wipe out community. It is important to understand the reasons for this. Men have tried over and over again to establish a community on the basis of blood. Modern attempts to do so include the national states, Nazi Germany, the Arab states, and Israel. Others have extended this racist idea of community to include all men, a one-world order [that is, liberal global government types S.H.].” R.J. Rushdoony, Institutes of Biblical Law: Volume 2, p. 83.
“Hitler’s anti-semitism was probably associated with his adoption of pagan gnostic beliefs. But Hitler was as anti-Christian as he was anti-semitic. The same can be said for Lenin and Stalin … The ones who enrage me most are the racists, who implicitly place genetics above the covenant as an explanation for social change. They are a fading influence today, but they still exist in right-wing circles. I am not charitable with these people. They belong on someone else’s mailing list. The sooner they are off of mine, the better.” (1991: 8,163)
“Paul’s concern is familistic and religious. He refers to ‘Israelites’ as ‘my brethren, my kinsmen according to the flesh.’ This does not mean a racial allegiance. Israel owed its origins to Abraham; of Abraham’s sons, only Sarah’s son, Isaac, was of the chosen line. When Abraham went to Lot’s rescue with 318 fighting men from his own household (Gen. 14:14), this meant that probably twice that number were too old or too young for warfare. Add to this another thousand females, old and young, and we have a household or family of some 2,000 persons, of whom only one, Isaac, was of Abrahamic blood. All these, however, were circumcised into the covenant (Gen. 17:10-14). Through the centuries, into medieval Europe, all converted slaves became Jews and covenant members. The family and the faith of the family was the governing fact, not blood.” (1997: 157, 158)
CETE ACCUSATION 4: Theonomic postmillennialism don’t do justice to the discontinuity of the Old to the New Testament and are therefore just as ‘extreme’ as the Dispensationalists
“This core element of Theonomistic eschatology lies in the Theonomistic hermeneutical principle of the continuity between the Old and New Testament covenant. This continuity of the covenant contrasts with Dispensationalists’ focus on the discontinuity of the covenant between the Old and New Testaments. Kline (1977) explains: ‘To put the matter in a comparative perspective, this theory of Theonomic politics stands at the opposite end of the spectrum from Dispensationalism. The latter represents an extreme failure to do justice to the continuity between the Old and New covenants. Chalcedon’s error, no less extreme, is a failure to do justice to the discontinuity between the Old and New covenants.’ (p. 3)
Comment: Kline (and others) try to create the false impression that theonomists do not see any kind of discontinuity between the OT and NT, and label them therefore as so-called ‘extreme’.
The ACTUAL VIEW of Theonomic Postmillennialism on continuity and discontinuity between the Old and New Testaments
“Our study of the New Covenant scriptures has shown us, in summary, that there are definite discontinuities between the New Covenant relation to the law and that of the Old Covenant. The New Covenant surpasses the Old in glory, power, realization, and finality…. The Covenantal administrations are dramatically different . . . but not as codes defining right and wrong behavior or attitudes.” (2002: 36)
“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. 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 supersedes 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. … 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.” (2002: 12, 13)
“The redemptive history and national covenant enjoyed by Israel certainly set the Old Testament Jews apart from modern nations as significantly unique” (p. 324). Again: “the redemptive dispensation and form of the kingdom in the Old Covenant has dramatically changed in the New.” Another example: the article stated that theonomy “brings forward into the new covenant age the same relation of Church and State that existed under the Mosaic covenant.” However, in my published views I say just the opposite: for instance, in the chapter on “Church and State” in By This Standard (and many other places) I indicate that “Of course there were many unique aspects to the situation enjoyed by the Old Testament Israelites…” (p.288).
I explicitly affirm the proposition that “there are significant. . . differences between our situation today and the church state situation in Old Testament Israel” (p. 331). The article goes on to represent theonomists as holding “that a nation today may be in the same covenant relationship to God as was Israel in the Old Testament” – a preposterous falsehood. No nation stands in special, redemptive covenant with God as did Old Covenant Israel, and that truth has never been compromised or questioned.”
“A similar attack on a straw man is found in Kline’s surprisingly vehement and vitriolic review article, where readers were misled about Theonomy’s view of Israel’s typological significance. Kline barely touched the actual theonomic position anywhere—and not at all when speaking of its “radical fault.” He seemed to reason fallaciously that some discontinuity between Old Covenant Israel and modern nations proves complete discontinuity and that any typological value in Israel’s civil policy meant it was merely typological (and not also definitive of justice). Kline’s major conceptual error is to speak as though civil “justice” in the same kind of case can be completely different in two cultures (“cultural relativism”). The critical arguments he advanced against theonomic ethics had already been answered in the book, and he attempted no biblical demonstration of anything contradictory to the book’s conclusions anyway.” (2002: xxxv)
“We must presuppose unity in the word of God, which stands to all generations, and not discontinuity, for who among men can presume to alter the word of the living God? Thus God alone can pronounce what is new about the New Covenant, and He has not revealed (in the pages of Scripture at any rate) that after Christ’s advent there is a new law. To approach the New Testament with the premise that only that which is repeated from the Old Testament is still binding is faulty procedure; everything God has said should be that by which man lives (Matt. 4:4), not simply those things which God has spoken twice (and at the right places). We must live by every Scripture unless God explains otherwise, and with respect to the law of the Older Covenant Scriptures we have no annulment, but rather an emphatic confirmation.” (2002: 194)
“The New Testament writers assumed that they built upon the foundation of the Older Testament teaching; Christ definitely ratified such an assumption by saying, “Do not begin to think that I came in order to abrogate the law or prophets, I came not to abrogate but to confirm; for until heaven and earth pass away not one iota or one horn shall become invalid, not until everything has taken place” (Matt. 5:17 f.). Only God has the authority and prerogative to discontinue the binding force of anything He has revealed; man, therefore, must live by everything which proceeds from God’s mouth (Matt. 4:4) without diminishing it (Deut. 4:2). Since the law is not against the promises (Gal. 3:21), we are not warranted to affirm discontinuity with the Older Testament except where expressly indicated otherwise; such a method would be backwards. We must live by every Scripture, not just those which God has spoken twice (and in the right places). The Christian is not to wield an “unwritten Torah” in opposition to God’s clearly revealed word. Continuity between the Testaments, not discontinuity, must be presupposed. “Whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction” (Rom. 15:4). If the Scriptures are seen as a progressive revelation, then the New Testament must be used to understand, not undermine, the Older Testament; again the presumption would have to be continuity, not contradiction. The attempt to cancel the obligation which Christians have to all of God’s law by introducing a hermeneutical principle not justified by the teaching of Scripture is simply an imposition of an autonomous requirement upon the canon of God’s word. “The supreme judge by which all controversies of religion are to be determined . . . can be no other but the Holy Spirit speaking in the Scriptures.” (2002: 321, 322)
“First, based upon the discontinuity between Old Testament practice and the “customary application” of God’s law, Kline has assumed that it is the Old Testament that needs some explanation or justification when in fact it should be the customary practice that is called into question; we should not assume that our ways are normal and that God’s ways are an abnormality which needs vindication.
Second, the assumption that God’s ways ever need justification according to some rationale or plan discernable and explicable by human intellect or patterns of thought needs to be challenged; simply in virtue of His status as Lord Creator our God has the prerogative to lay down commandments to which we are obligated and for which He need give no explanation. His ways are just by definition and so need not be related to an eschatological order to be congenial to us; even His “positive” commands (e.g., the conquest of Canaan) must be viewed as righteous in terms of the Lawgiver that stands behind them. Even if typological anticipations are appropriately found in God’s “positive” commands, such typology does not constitute legal justification for them; rather, one need only understand God in His person and authority—not God in His eschatological plans—to submit gladly to His stipulations. His goodness and justice have a presuppositional, and hence unquestionable, status (cf. Deut. 32:4; Isa. 45:9); that God offers us evidence of His goodness in Scripture and history does not justify the assumption that we must seek out and find some way to justify certain of His ways as congenial to the Christian religion!” (Bahnsen, 2002: 585, 586)
“Those critics of the Old Testament’s case laws who maintain, as dispensationalists do, that an Old Testament civil law is automatically annulled by the New Covenant unless formally reconfirmed by the New Testament, have a theological problem with this law. That dispensationalists hold such a hermeneutic is not surprising; their system is based on the almost total judicial discontinuity of each of seven different covenants in history. On the other hand, that non-dispensationalists also defend a hermeneutic of total judicial discontinuity is remarkable. It leaves them without a biblical theory of civil government. They are forced to appeal to some secular theory of civil law, most often a version of natural law – the assertion of the moral and judicial neutrality of the mind of covenant-breaking man. Yet this myth of neutrality is usually denied by most modern evangelicals. Thus, to acknowledge the continuing authority of the civil law against bestiality, those who deny judicial continuity between the two testaments must resort to strange exegetical gyrations. When they do, this question is legitimate: What about the law’s specified civil sanction, execution?” (1991: x, xxi)
“Dispensationalists often confuse themselves and equivocate regarding the expression “live under the law,” sometimes taking it to mean living under the terms of the Mosaic covenantal administration (called “the law”), but at other times taking it to mean living according to the moral standards revealed by Moses (also called “the law”). It is therefore easy to slide from an obvious truth (viz., that Christians are not under the Old Testament administration of God’s covenant) into an obvious falsehood (viz., that Christians have moral standards different from the Old Testament’s). Scripture does not present the law-covenant as fundamentally opposed to the grace of the New Covenant, thus exposing a false antithesis at the heart of dispensational thinking.
According to the theonomic position, the Old Covenant administration of law (or the Mosaic administration itself) did not offer a way of salvation or teach a message of justification which differs from that found in the gospel (the New Covenant). The Old Covenant was not a covenant of works which proposed salvation by works of the law. It was rather a covenant of grace which offered salvation on the basis of grace through faith, just as does the good news found in the New Testament. The difference was that the law-covenant looked ahead to the coming of the Savior, thus administering God’s covenants by means of promises, prophecies, ritual ordinances, types and foreshadows that anticipated the Savior and His redeeming work. The gospel proclaims the accomplishment of that which the law anticipated, administering God’s covenant through preaching and the sacraments. The substance of God’s saving relationship and covenant is the same under the law and the gospel.
Scripture does not present the law-covenant as fundamentally opposed to the grace of the New Covenant. For example, consider Hebrews 3-4. According to New Testament theology, why was God displeased with the Israelites so that they could not enter the promised land? The answer is that they were disobedient (3:18), but this is the same as the answer that they were lacking faith (3:19)! They had gospel preached to them, even as we do (4:2), but they failed to enter into God’s promised provision because they failed to have faith (4:2) – which is just to say, they were guilty of disobedience (4:6)! You cannot pit faith and obedience against each other in the Old Covenant; they are different sides of the same coin – even as in the New Covenant (James 2:14-26).
Paul asks quite incredulously, “Is the law then against the promises of God?” Should the grace of the Abrahamic covenant be seen as contradicted by the law revealed by Moses? The Apostle’s answer is “May it never be!” (Galatians 3:21). The law was never intended to be a way of works-righteousness, as Paul goes on to say. By her self-righteous effort to gain merit and favor before God by obedience, Israel “did not arrive at the law” at all! (Romans 9:31) And why not? “Because they sought [righteousness] not by faith, but as it were by works” (v. 32). Paul knew from his personal experience that he needed to die to legalism, to the use of the law as a means of merit before God.
And how did Paul learn that lesson? Listen to Galatians 2:19. “I through the law died unto the law, that I might live unto God.” It was the law itself which taught Paul not to seek righteousness and God’s acceptance through law-works! “Law” and “Grace” may be tags for different covenantal administrations (viz., Old and New Covenants), but they both were administrations of God’s grace as the way of acceptance before Him. Paul very clearly included the Mosaic covenant – the “law” covenant, which erected a wall between Jews and Gentiles (alienating the uncircumcision from “the commonwealth of Israel”) – as part of “the covenants of promise” (Ephesians 2:12).” (2002: 70-72)
CETE ACCUSATION 5: Theonomic postmillennialism shift the ‘focus’ of the church and spawns evangelical activism, it changes the missional task of the church
“The establishment of this Christocracy shifts the focus of the Church to the reconstruction of society. The agenda, task and focus of congregations should, therefore, according to Theonomistic eschatology, shift to an administrative plan for how the Kingdom of God is to be built on earth, according to Old Testament laws (Beed & Beed 2017:18). Kloosterman (1994) adds: ‘Probably contrary to the desires and intentions of modern theonomy’s best exponents, the movement as a whole has spawned a kind of evangelical activism within the church that is in danger of substituting a Christianized society for the church’s primary mission of preaching unto repentance and conversion.’ (p. 4)
“The eschatological view of Theonomist Postmillennialism changes the nature of missionary work. They believe that it is now the Church’s role to establish the Kingdom of God on earth, by implementing the Kingdom’s judicial laws. This causes their attitude towards missionary work to change to an aggressive Christocracy, where the Church forces the nations to live under the rule of the Christocracy. ‘For God’s commission to the civil magistrate, as understood in theonomic politics, stands in unmanageable tension with God’s commission to the church to evangelize the nations’ (Kline 1977:629).
From this, the great danger of Theonomistic Postmillennialism becomes visible, because according to Gaffin (1990:16) it undermines the core task of the Church, namely to proclaim the gospel to the nations, while being ‘aliens and strangers on earth’ (Heb 11:13). Theonomistic Postmillennialism tries to take over the work of the Holy Spirit by forcing unbelievers to live under a Christocracy (Gaffin 1990:17). It is precisely from this eschatological perspective that Reformed Church councils experience a lack of love among some Theonomists.” (p. 5)
The ACTUAL VIEW of Theonomic Postmillenialism on the central place, importance and calling of the Church (in distinction of the state)
“So, pietists have sharply separated the kingdom of God (narrowly defined) from the world. Separating the institutional church from the world is necessary, but separating God’s kingdom from this world leads to the surrender of the world to Satan’s kingdom. Thus, it is never a question of “earthly kingdom vs. no earthly kingdom”; it is always a question of whose earthly kingdom, God’s or Satan’s? To deny that God’s kingdom extends to the earth in history – the here and now – is necessarily to assert that Satan’s kingdom is legitimate, at least until Jesus comes again. But Satan’s kingdom is not legitimate, and Christians should do whatever they can to roll it back. Rolling back Satan’s earthly kingdom means rolling forward Christ’s earthly kingdom.
What Christian Reconstructionists argue is that this originally Protestant view of the kingdom of God in history has been steadily abandoned by Protestants since at least 1660, to the detriment of the gospel in general and Protestantism specific ally. They call for the recovery and implementation of the older Protestant view of God’s kingdom. This is what has made Christian Reconstructionists so controversial. Today’s Protestants do not want to give up their medieval Roman Catholic definition of the kingdom of God, and they deeply resent anyone who asks them to adopt the original Protestant view. Their followers are totally unaware of the origins of what they are being taught by their leaders.” (1991: 29, 30)
“Political reform should come only after the reform of the church and the reform of the family, in this order. The modern church hates the very thought of comprehensive evangelism. It hates the greatness of the Great Commission. Christians want to narrowly define evangelism in order to reduce their comprehensive responsibility before God.” (1991: 34)
“When God says to “evangelize,” He means we should tell the good news to the world: not easy news, or inexpensive news, but good news. The good news is this: Jesus Christ has overcome the world. “Ye are of God, little children, and have overcome them: because greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world” (I John 4:4). The Great Commission is a great victory …
“The institutional Church is the primary administrator of the Great Commission, for it alone controls lawful access to the sacraments. The family is the primary covenantal agency through which the dominion covenant is to be extended. The family supports the local church financially in most cases, except when there is an emergency for a particular family. Churches are not equipped, as non-profit institutions, to initiate projects under the dominion covenant. The task of the local church is to preach, give moral guidance, heal the sick, feed the destitute, and administer the sacraments. It is not designed to innovate businesses and other dominion-oriented projects.
The State is not a primary covenantal agency in either of these tasks, evangelism or dominion, although it imitates both Church and family when it becomes autonomous and rebellious. The State is required by God to defend both Church and family from physical attack. It not to become an initiating agency. Its task is negative: to impose negative sanctions against evildoers (Rom. 13~3-7). Socialism is the result of a pseudo-family State; empire is the result of the pseudo-Church State. We preach the centrality of the Church. But we also preach that there is a whole world to bring under God’s righteous rule.” (Gentry, 1993: xii en xiii)
“God has ordained three basic institutions in society: the Church, the family, and the State. A biblical understanding of their respective roles and inter-relationships is fundamental to developing a Christian worldview. The fulfilling of the Great Commission in history will require not only a proper understanding of each of these institutions, but also concerned involvement in each. … Church is seen as optional to the Christian life by too many Christians today. Many who profess to be Christians know too little of devoted commitment to Christ. They seem oblivious to the demands of the Great Commission regarding discipleship. What, then, should be the Christian’s approach to church life, as he submits himself to Christ under the Great Commission?
Principles of the Covenantal Church:
- Commitment to the local church. A major and indispensable aspect of our commitment to Christ involves our membership in, attendance at, worship in, and service through the local church. …
- Engagement to worship. Christ expects His people to worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24), corporately in the fellowship of God’s people. …
- Training in the truth. The Christian should seek a church, that promotes sound doctrine and the development of a Christian worldview based on biblical teaching. …
- Training in hierarchical covenantalism. The church is to be composed of a system of courts designed to locate responsibility and resolve problems, as Christ’s people have His authority ministered to them. …
- Promotion of Christ’s cause. In that the church is commanded to go into the world (Matt. 28:19a), it should do so in the name of the Triune God (Matt. 28:19b). There are a number of opportunities for local evangelistic outreach for the church: friendship evangelism, Bible conferences/seminars, radio and/or television ministry, tape ministry, campus outreach, newsletter ministry, and more. …
- Service in the world. Although the Church is not of the world, it is in it and must make her presence felt as “salt” in the earth (Matt. 5:13). This will involve organizing a truly functional diaconal ministry of social concern and outreach in the name of Christ.” (1993: 111-118)
“The church and state are separate realms with different functions; only the state has a warrant to use violence and the iron sword, but then it is not autonomous in so doing. All who use the sword must submit to God’s direction. The contrast between the state sword and the sword which has been given to the church for its use could not be greater. One is physical, the other is spiritual; one restrains the hand, the other converts the heart.
In Ephesians 6:12 Paul explains that our Christian struggle is not against flesh and blood enemies, but against spiritual forces of wickedness. The kingdom of Christ, which is not of this world, is set in direct opposition to the kingdom and Satan. Hence the Christian needs a weapon suited to his kingdom and its foe; the one and only weapon of the Christian panoply which Paul exhorts believers to put on is the “sword of the spirit, which is the word of God” (Eph. 6:17). This sword has true power from the Holy Spirit; we can have complete faith in its vitality and virtues. The sword of the Spirit, God’s word, harkens back to the Old Testament where Isaiah’s mouth was sharpened as a sword (Isa. 49:2), where the Lord is said to slay the wicked by the words of His mouth (Hos. 6:5), and where it is said that “He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the Spirit of His lips will He slay the wicked” (Isa. 11:4). In 2 Thessalonians 2:8 Paul assures us that the lawless one who opposes the kingdom of Christ will be slain with the Spirit of the Lord’s mouth. The word of God was written by the agency of the Holy Spirit; He is the one who gives internal conviction of its truth, and He is the one who can assure the efficaciousness of its preaching.
This is the sword to be used by Christ’s church: the gospel of Christ preached (based on the word of God written). This preaching of the gospel can bring life (John 6:63) or can induce spiritual death (2 Cor. 2:14-17; cf. 1 Peter 2:8); as such it is a “sword” which functions as the “keys” of the kingdom (Matt. 18:18)! Hebrews 4:12 elaborates upon the power of the Christian sword: “the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and spirit, and joints and marrow; it is able to judge the very thoughts and intents of the heart.”
This sword surpasses the sharpness and ability of the state sword. The word of God can bring conviction of sin (John 16:8), salvation (Rom. 10: 8-10), and power (Rom. 1:9). It is not a dead letter but a living oracle (cf. Acts 7:38) which abideth forever (1 Peter 1:23). This word of the gospel has the power of the New Covenant in it: it proclaims an accomplished redemption, writes the law of God upon the inner heart, and guarantees its own worldwide prosperity (cf. Jer. 31:31-34; Heb. 8). Nothing is hidden from the probing light of this word, for it penetrates to the deepest parts of man’s person (cf. 1 Cor. 14:24-25). The word of God is glorious for its efficacious power (cf. Isa. 55:11; 1 Thess. 2:13); it is an eschatological word, for it, as the coming day of the Lord, can bring to light the hidden works of darkness (cf. 1 Cor. 4:5). Like God its author, the word is “heart knowing” (cf. Acts 1:24; 15:8). By contrast to the sword of the state, which slays the body of the sinner, this word of God works akin to the circumcision knife of the Old Testament priest (cf. Josh. 5:2 ff.) by circumcising the sinner’s heart.” (2002: 430, 431)
“It is hard to avoid the New Testament witness that holiness is supposed to characterize not only personal and ecclesiastical aspects of life, but rather “all manner of living” (1 Pet. 1:15), that God’s glory is to be pursued not only in home and church but also in “whatsoever you do” (1 Cor. 10:31). Christ calls His followers to be the salt “of the earth,” not merely in the church! In the end, the critics of theonomy do not renounce any and all Christian involvement in social affairs and political reform after all. At best, their complaint is with the “wrong emphasis” found in theonomic ethics, and at best this complaint is slippery and poorly conceived. We may readily grant that socio-political reconstruction has less urgency than personal spirituality or the church, but this does not bear whatsoever upon the truth or error of the theonomic standard for politics. Theonomists do not, as theonomists anyway, diminish, undervalue or obscure the surpassing importance of personal salvation, a pious walk with God, and the life of the church. We would not for a moment suggest that the New Testament message of the accomplishment and application of redemption to God’s people by Jesus Christ – with a view to the individual’s standing before God and his eternal destiny – is of secondary importance or merely a means for getting to what is “really” important, namely social transformation. We cry out with Paul: “God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world” (Galatians 6:14).” (1991: 51)
“For instance, I do not disagree with Poythress, but have taught for years, that the manner of conquest seen in the Old Testament (viz., holy war) has changed in the New Testament (to proclamation and persuasion) – without arbitrary typologies, but on the basis of the Biblical text (e.g., 2 Cor. 10:3-5). I must, however, decry the way in which Poythress turns this theological truth into a shameful false antithesis, when he asks “Do we follow the Great Commission? Or do we use state laws to suppress false worship by force?” (p. 290) Likewise, he indulges in all-too-easy question-begging when he argues – as though it were theologically relevant – that obedience to Deuteronomy 13 today would make evangelism “more difficult” (pp. 306, 396-397). Theonomists who have concluded that this part of the law should ideally be applied by modern states have also made it abundantly clear that Deuteronomy 13 is not an evangelistic policy or appropriate to missionary situations.” (1991: 310, 311)
Prof. John Frame (2012), a helpful critic of theonomy writes:
“To his credit, Rushdoony emphasizes strongly man’s need of regeneration as the prerequisite for law-keeping (pp. 706, 709, 725, 43, 113, etc.). He also emphasizes eloquently and cogently the personalism of biblical ethics—the fact that Scripture treats man as a responsible person rather than as an environmentally determined victim (pp. 24ff, 272, 339, 434, 446, 467, 486, 507, 570f, etc.). He shows quite well in these sections how the fashionable “personalisms” of secular thought actually depersonalize man by denying his responsibility. We should note also Rushdoony’s refreshing defense of the passions as over against stoicized forms of Christianity (p. 635). Regeneration, personalism, a positive view of the passions—these are important first steps in the formulation of a biblical doctrine of moral agency.”
My own comments
Like I mentioned in PART 1 of this article series, if the result of these articles is that we all return to reading the sources on both sides of a debate, especially when it is among reformed believers, then I have reached my main goal.
It is one think to disagree, even strongly, with other reformed believers, not sharing someone’s view of the Mosaic civil laws applications for today or his eschatology, is is quite another thing, for whatever reason, if one grossly misrepresent or even distort other’s views to mean the opposite of what they actually teach.
And of course, theonomic postmillennial brothers are also sinners saved by grace through faith alone, and they also can err and sin in many situations, also in how they react to certain accusations send their way, or they can, like all of us, theonomic or not, not show a humble spirit or write in a unloving way, church schisms, and that should also be condemned. It is unfortunately true of both sides of this debate, it is true for all believers, also all who love the faith, see even Peter and Paul in Galatians 2.
But in saying that, we still have to look at the topic or issues itself objectively.
What theonomy teaches itself and postmillennialism, and test it all according to Scripture, we must study the sources in the light of spirit of Acts 17:11. And if we honestly do that, we will clearly see that the main teachings and teachers of ‘theonomic postmillennialism’ are:
1) not ‘extreme’ (whatever that means as a label weapon?), but within the reformed confessional history and tradition of the biblical reformed faith and ‘reformed ethics and eschatology’.
2) do not teach that ‘we’ as believers must still ‘bring in the kingdom by law or the state’, but believe the Kingdom has come definitely already in Christ alone, grows and bear fruit in and through history, and only comes fully and perfectly when Christ returns.
3) do not believe in salvation by politics, but believe like all reformed believers in salvation by grace alone, through faith alone. ‘Politics’ has a definite role to play, but are the fourth, not the main form of government.
4) are not anti-State or revolutionary, but do reject both Anabaptism and Statism, civil government is one of 4 governments: self, family, church, state. Theonomic postmillennialism stand in the biblical confessional tradition of theocratic-theonomy thought of ‘chruch and state’ as confessed in BC article 36 (see PART 3 of this series)
5) are not changing the ‘gospel focus’ mandate of the church, but emphasize it to see that it has worldwide and all of life implications for all of life (Matt. 13:31-33; 1 Cor. 10:31). Of course there are also non-reformed believers interested in theonomy and postmillenialism, but it’s main leaders are all reformed confessional believers, especially Bahnsen and Gentry, with a very strong emphasis on the crucial role and importance of the church in the Kingdom of Christ.
6) in line with Scripture and the reformed confessions they see both covenantal continuity and discontinuity between the OT and NT, and believe the Scriptures themselves must determine each.
In PART 3 we will look at the last of the accusations against theonomic postmillennialism:
CETE ACCUSATION 6: Theonomic Postmillennialism’s view of the judicial laws are not in line with the ‘traditional view of the Church’ (p. 2)
We will see that in part 3, the essence, of course not the detail, but the essence of theonomy in terms of specifically calling for a return to the wisdom of the Mosaic case/judicial laws and penalties for our day, is not a totally new 20th century or American reconstructionist idea, but has been there, from at least in the time of the Reformation until today.
What is actually ‘new’ in our day, is not the historical theonomic thought, but as seen in CETE’s critique, that more and more who says they are ‘confessional reformed’, are very hostile towards the usefulness and application of Moses’ civil laws ‘in their general equity’ (WCF 19.4; BC article 25), also for today. It could also be (hopefully!) because of a lot of ignorance of the history of the mosaic law as understood by reformed theologians and jurist in the past, and that could thankfully and hopefully be corrected.
Most important sources to read
Lastly, there are many theonomy sources available as can be seen in the references. If someone does not know where to start, my recommendation should be, read Bahnsen on theonomic ethics (Theonomy in Christian Ethics & No Other Standard), and Gentry postmillennial eschatology (He shall have Dominion) about postmillennialism. For these 3 main sources, some articles as introductions, see the following websites: cmfnow.com and kennethgentry.com
In Afrikaans, see my own article, a bit dated now, but could be helpful historic overview for some for a SA reformed perspective on theonomic postmillenialism:
Christus en Kultuur: Die kultuurbeskouing van RJ Rushdoony
Bahnsen, G.L., 1991, No other standard: Theonomy and its critics, Inst for Christian Economics, Tyler, TX.
Bahnsen, G.L., 2002, Theonomy in Christian ethics, 3rd edition., Covenant Media Press,
De Mar, G., 2017, Theonomy: an extension of Calvinism’s judicial theology. https://americanvision.org/14290/theonomy-an-extension-of-calvinisms-judicial-theology/
Diedericks, M., 2021, ‘Critical evaluation of Theonomist eschatology’, In die Skriflig 55(1), a2753. https://doi.org/10.4102/ids.v55i1.2753
Frame, J. 2012. The Institutes of Biblical Law: A Review Article. https://frame-poythress.org/the-institutes-of-biblical-law-a-review-article/
Gaffin, R.B., 1990, ‘Theonomy and eschatology: Reflections on postmillennialism’, in W.S. Barker & W.R. Godfrey (eds.), Theonomy, A reformed critique, pp. 197–224, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI.
Gentry, K.L. 1990. The Greatness of the Great Commission. Institute of Christian Economics, Tyler, Texas. https://christianreconstructionist.files.wordpress.com/2013/12/the-greatness-of-the-great-commission-kenneth-gentry.pdf
Gentry, K.L., 1993, God’s law in the modern world: The continuing relevance of Old Testament law, P&R, Phillipsburg, NJ.
Kloosterman, N.D., 1994, ‘Theonomy and Christian reconstruction’, in International Theological Congress at Noordwijkerhout, The Netherlands, June 2–24, viewed 21 July 2021, from https://www.academia.edu/362582/Theonomy_and_Christian_Reconstruction.
Le Cornu, S., 2000. Die Kultuurbeskouing van RJ Rushdoony. https://proregno.com/2010/02/01/verbondseminaar-2000-christus-en-kultuur/
North, G., 1976, ‘Common grace, eschatology, and biblical law’, Journal of Christian Reconstruction 3, Winter 1976, 77, 13–47.
North, G., 1987, Dominion and common grace: The biblical basis of progress, Dominion Press, Fort Worth.
North, G., 1988, Unholy spirits: Occultism and New Age humanism, Dominion Press, Waterbury Center, Vermont, VT.
North, G., 1991, Christian reconstruction: What it is, what it isn’t, pp. 80–82, Inst for Christian Economics.
Poythress, V.S., 1995. The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses. P&R Publishing. https://frame-poythress.org/ebooks/the-shadow-of-christ-in-the-law-of-moses/
Rushdoony, R.J., 1973, The institutes of biblical law, The Craig Press, Nutley, NJ.
Rushdoony, R.J., 1997. Romans & Galatians. Ross House Books, Vallecito, California.
Schissel, S.M. (ed.), 2002. The Standard Bearer – A Festschrift for Greg. L. Bahnsen, Covenant Media Press, Texas.
Strevel, C.B., Theonomic Precedent in the Theology of John Calvin, in: The Standard Bearer – A Festschrift for Greg. L. Bahnsen (Texas: Covenant Media Press), p. 319-368. https://proregno.com/2020/07/15/theonomic-precedent-in-the-theology-of-john-calvin/
Venema, C.P., 2000, The promise of the future, The Banner of Truth Trust, Edinburgh.
 Part 1: https://proregno.com/2021/11/15/an-informed-reformed-theonomic-response-on-the-extremely-uniformed-article-a-critical-evaluation-of-theonomist-eschatology-part-1/
 See also, RJ Rushdoony, Christianity and the State. https://chalcedon.edu/store/39917-christianity-and-the-state
 See: https://theonomyresources.blogspot.com/2010/07/r-j-rushdoony-versus-kinism.html
 See also, Exaggeration and Denial, here: https://chalcedon.edu/magazine/exaggeration-and-denial
 Bahnsen reference here is to one of CETE’s main (secondhand) critical sources against theonomy, see Kline (1977).
 Some of these books are free online here: https://christianreconstructionist.wordpress.com/free-books/
 See also http://theonomy101.blogspot.com/ https://theonomyresources.blogspot.com/p/downloads.html
Thanks for this article, imformative and helpful