"YOU CAN'T BEAT SOMETHING WITH NOTHING"
This is a fundamental law of politics. It applies equally well to theological debate. A critic who challenges the worldview of a rival needs to present a developed, workable alternative. It does no good to label a rival theological position as deviant, heretical, peculiar, and so forth unless your own position is specific, comprehensive, and practical.
The faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary ignored this basic rule of confrontation. In the fall of 1990, their collective effort at long last appeared in print: Theonomy: A Reformed Critique. It included sixteen chapters, fifteen of which were on the topic. Like a team of paid accusers who failed to coordinate their testimonies in advance, Westminster's faculty attacked theonomy from mutually irreconcilable positions. They challenged theonomy with a jumbled mixture of Dooyeweerdian jargon, Anabaptist politics, "hermeneutic multi-perspectivalism," and Gordon-Conwell Dukakisism. Rejected by a Reformed publishing firm, the book was published by Zondervan, the main publishing arm of modern dispensationalism. "The enemy of my enemy is my friend."
Theonomy: A Reformed Critique reveals a startling decline of theological scholarship at Calvinism's premier academic seminary. This decline accompanied a quarter century of institutional drift. The seminary has still not recovered from the ideological and theological disruptions of the late 1960's. By the time the Vietnam War ended in 1975, Cornelius Van Til had retired, and the seminary no longer spoke with a unified voice, or spoke much at all, for that matter. Theonomy: A Reformed Critique is the seminary's theological self-justification for not having presented a systematic challenge to the humanist order in this generation. It is a defense of pietism's thesis: a forthright rejection of the Bible's judicial relevance in a morally disintegrating secular world. This is why Zondervan was willing to publish it. Biblical law is an offense.
Theonomy: An Informed Response is a mopping-up operation. It completes what Gary North began in Westminster's Confession: the Abandonment of Van Til's Legacy and Greg L. Bahnsen extended in No Other Standard: Theonomy and Its Critics. The authors challenge the Westminster's faculty's assertion that biblical civil law is no longer binding in the New Covenant era, especially its mandated negative civil sanctions against convicted criminals. The authors ask the faculty: What does the Bible require of civil government if a resurrected Old Covenant law-order is not applicable? What is the Bible-sanctioned alternative? In short, "If not God's law, then whose?" Westminster needs to answer.
"If not God's law, then whose?"
Since 1973, members of a theological movement known collectively as theonomy have been asking this question: "If Bible-revealed law is not good enough for fallen man and his institutions, what else is?" In short: By what other standard should men rule and be ruled?
The theologians and public representatives of traditional Christianity have yet to answer this question forthrightly. It is as if the question were illegitimate, and embarrassing breach of etiquette. No one had asked it since the late seventeenth century, and it is considered to be in very poor taste to ask it today.
Yet the question of law is increasingly relevant today, for we live in a world of collapsing moral values. Civil law is a manifestation of society's moral order. It is the voice of society's god. Whenever a society loses faith in its legal order, it is on the verge of a revolution.
After 1988, Communist regimes in Eastern Europe and the Soviet Union could no longer delay this revolution. This had been preceded by a generation of growing doubt regarding the moral legitimacy of Marxism-Leninism. In 1991, European societies that have been built in terms of left-wing Englightment thought collapsed.
A similar crisis is facing the West today, a society built in terms of right-wing Enlightenment thought. Faith in autonomous man is now waning fast. When men lose faith in the moral foundation of the laws that govern them, they begin to search for a legitimate alternative.
There is only one alternative approved by the God of the Bible His revealed law. This has been the assertion of the theonomists ever since the publication of R. J. Rushdoony's Institutes of Biblical Law in 1973. A first, the theonomist were ignored, They kept publishing. Then a systematic blackout of their position began in the major seminaries. They kept publishing. When the blackout broke down in the late 1980's, the dispensationalists launched a series of book-length attacks. Within months, the theonomists replied, point by point. Fundamentalists had a problem: Who was left who could refute these "legalists"?
The faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary came to the rescue of the theologically outgunned fundamentalists in the fall of 1990 with a collection of essays, Theonomy: A Reformed Critique. Fundamentalist applauded.
Within months, Gary North had responded: Westminster's Confession. Then Greg L. Bahnsen offered his challenge to the critics: No Other Standard. They showed that the Bible has positive, realistic answers to real-world, life-and-death questions. Case by case, they demonstrated that their critics have imported alien humanist concepts as substitutes for God's infallible Word. One by one, the criticisms were considered in detail and answered by an appeal to the Bible.
Now comes Theonomy: An Informed Response.
Gary DeMar traces the background of the opposition to theonomy within Reformed Presbyterianism, despite the fact the theonomy is consistent with the "world-and-life Calvinism" that he was taught at Reformed Theological Seminary in the late 1970's.
Greg Bahnsen challenges Westminster's defense of "neutral" civil law and politics.
Kenneth L. Gentry challenges Dennis Johnson's view of civil law and Richard -Gaffin's view of eschatology.
Ray Sutton shows that theonomist have concern for the poor, plus workable solutions to poverty, which Timothy Keller denied.
Gary responds to Vern Poythress' challenge to theonomist to present uniquely theonomic principles of biblical interpretation.
John Maphet shows how Theonomy: A Reformed Critique was used by his critics to reject the very concept of church authority and then drive him out of the ministry.
For those who still think that the theonomists were answered by Westminster Seminary, here is a third volume of proof to the contrary. Here is more evidence that God's law is still valid. Here also is hope for the future: a vision of victory for God and His church in history.
In Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, the faculty of Westminster Theological Seminary (1990) responded in print to theonomists. The essays in Westminster's book largely consist of misunderstandings and muddled theology. In Theonomy: An Informed Response Gary North, Greg Bahnsen, Gary DeMar, Ken Gentry and others answer the criticisms in the Westminster volume. The theonomists demonstrate convincingly that God's law is still applicable today.