I recently wrote an article entitled “Inescapable Theocracy” in which I argued that everybody is a theocrat. Everybody serves somebody; everybody serves a god. There’s no value-neutral place in all of the universe. There is no god-free zone in all the earth. And while it would seem to follow that this also means everyone is a theonomist, applying the standards, rules, and laws of their god/s to every area of life, I feel quite sure it would be helpful and generally edifying to everyone if we just came out and said it plainly. Everyone is a theonomist. There you go. I’ve said it. Write that down. Let’s say it together: Everyone. Is. A. Theonomist. I’m a theonomist, you’re a theonomist, Scott Clark is a raving theonomist, Donald Trump is a yuge theonomist, and Bernie Sanders is a wicked weeeahd theonomist.
Now you might be tempted to think I’ve watered down the term, that applying it so broadly and liberally, I’ve effectively emptied the term of all meaning. But I beg to differ. Theonomy means “God’s law,” and it means applying God’s law to the real world, to the whole world, to the church, to families, and to nations and civil magistrates, and urging all men everywhere to submit to it. And so I do. This is what Jesus is Lord means. It means that His law, His standards are goodness and light. They are sweeter than honey; they are more precious than gold. Nothing you may desire compares with the law of God.
Where’d You Get that Yard Stick?
Just because you’ve rejected Jesus as your Lord doesn’t mean you have somehow escaped theonomy. No, you’re just in the process of replacing the true God’s law with a false god’s law. Man-made law is always a claim to transcendence and godhood. Every human law aims in some way to uphold justice, protect the innocent, or in some way do good. And by now you should know the question to ask: By What Standard? How do you know what justice is? Where did you get that measuring stick? What is innocence? What is “good”? And all of those claims, if they mean anything at all, are claims to transcendent value and virtue, and well, God or gods.
So humanism, even so-called “secular” humanism, is just another form of theocracy with its own form of theonomy, full of nails and needles and hatchets ready to steal, kill, and maim. This is what idolatry always does, and it does it by divine fiat, by the word of the gods, by the demands of the idols, by the torah of the demons, by the powers of Wall Street, and the peer-reviewed papers of that sexy goddess SCIENCE (peace be upon her). And what do the gods demand? They demand blood. Every one of them. To hate God and His wisdom is to love death. To reject God’s law and the blood of Jesus is always to embrace tyranny and murder. It is not a question of whether you will have a death penalty. The only question is by what standard will the death penalty be imposed, and whether the death of the only innocent man in history will overshadow it all or not.
Helpful Memes Inc.
And all of this is partially related to recent doings on the interwebs where critics of yours truly and my esteemed associate Douglas Wilson were painted as [gasp] theonomists, and to their credit, they chose a fine line from CrossPolitic’s recent show at the G3 Conference to memefy, where I was in the middle of making something of the same point I’m making here — that theonomy is inescapable. And I was correctly quoted as saying that the immediate come back question, if you stand by God’s entire Word unflinching and unapologetic and unconcerned, whistling your favorite hymn with your thumbs in your suspenders — the come back is always: What about the command to stone adulterers or the death penalty for the rebellious son? (And this is always said with that ha-gotcha smirk, but apparently word hasn’t gotten around yet that we’ve heard that one before and they haven’t got anything.) But I said on that show that the first thing we must do is stand there without a twinge of guilt in all the world. We must stand there and keep whistling that favorite hymn, and let’s hope it’s one of those good Puritan ones with 10 verses or so. They aim to shame us for some portion of God’s holy word, and as far as we are concerned nothing doing.
For far too long, Christians have cowered right there on the spot. They have grimaced or winced and in some small way admitted the God-hater has a point. But he doesn’t have a point. He doesn’t even have a small one. If you got out the most powerful microscope in the world and examined the spot his fat, sweaty finger was pointing at, there’d be a vast blankness. There’s nothing there, and this is because there are no problems with God’s Word. There are no “problem passages.” There are only problem people — us — rebellious, blind, difficult, confused sinners. God is good and merciful and just and loving and holy. And He does whatever He pleases, and our only response to His acts, to His word is worship, praise, and deep gratitude. And this must include the holy war in Canaan, the death penalties in the law, those fun bits about menstruation and shell fish and mixed fabrics, and the world wide flood, and most importantly the most awful event recorded in the whole book: the crucifixion of the Son of God.
And for some reason they never bring that part up. If they are so concerned with cruelty and justice, why do they never bring up the worst part? Why do they never bring up the part about the only innocent man, the only good man to ever walk this planet and how sinful mouths condemned Him, mocked Him, spat on Him, how sinful hands struck Him and pulled out His beard and drove nails into His hands and feet? And this is why we are not ashamed of any of it. Because the Eternal Living God sent His Only Son to take on our shame, to bear our sin in our place, to set us free, to make us completely clean, to give us eternal life. If He saved us like that, how can we be ashamed of anything He has said or done?
But the Death Penalty?
But very kindly, the meme also included the fact that I immediately added that having affirmed the goodness of God’s Word, we needed to get to work studying it carefully in order to apply it with wisdom. So what about the death penalties? How shall we then apply them? We must apply them the way the Bible teaches us to apply them, which includes studying the entire law code carefully and not merely picking and choosing laws at random. We must study the entire law code in context of the entire Old Testament, noticing how the laws were actually applied by wise and godly kings and prophets. And of course, most importantly, we must study the entire law code in the context of the fullest revelation of God’s law and character: Jesus Christ and the New Testament. Jesus did not come to reveal to us that the god of the Old Testament was His grumpy uncle and sorry about all that blood and violence. No, Jesus came to do the will of His Father, the one who spoke Exodus and Leviticus and Deuteronomy. And Jesus came living by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.
Some of you are still reading because you simply want to know whether the death penalty is ever an option for adultery or rebellious sons. And the answer is absolutely yes. Otherwise, we accuse God of injustice. Was it ever just to put adulterers to death? Then under those circumstances it would be just today. Justice doesn’t bend, doesn’t change, doesn’t shift — that’s the whole point of justice. And it is rooted in the unchanging holiness of God. He does not shift or change. And those Christians who want some kind of work around, free pass from having to deal with the laws of God in the Old Testament really do have a problem. And it’s a gospel problem if I can put it that way: If God’s standard for justice can change over time, if the death penalty might have been just in 1400 B.C. but not in 2020 A.D., then you have a gospel problem because our salvation hinges on the death penalty executed on Jesus Christ for our sins. Did Jesus perfectly obey the law of God? Which law? Has justice been done in the cross of Christ? Have our sins been fully paid for? Has the death of Jesus satisfied the wrath of God? Has the obedience of Jesus been fully credited to you? Obedience to whom? Obedience to what standard? If God’s standard for justice has ever changed, then it can change again, and you have no eternal security, not now and not when we’ve been there 10,000 years.
But to the practical questions — how should we apply the death penalty today? One of the things we see running through the Old Testament is that most of the death penalties were maximum penalties. Only capital murder requires the death penalty — life for life. But all of the other death penalties were maximum sentences depending on degrees of severity and aggravation. And for some reason all the #metoo-ers and Christian feminists all up in their virtual-holy-panics are the ones upset with biblical theonomists? We’re the ones that think the serial child rapists would be very good candidates for the death penalty. Who are the ones enabling abuse now? But most Mosaic penalties were paid in restitution, and biblical justice knows virtually nothing about prisons. Most penalties meant putting things back as much as possible in this fallen world. Asa, Jehoshaphat, and Josiah suppressed sodomy and exiled sodomites in Judah during their righteous reigns, and we reason from this that the death penalties associated with sodomy in the law were maximum sentences (cf. 1 Kgs. 15:12, 22:46, 2 Kgs. 23:7). Turns out there were laws on the books of most states for most of American history criminalizing sodomy and adultery. How do we apply God’s law to our day? How about we start by honoring our most immediate fathers in this land, our founding fathers, and work for the sort of gospel Reformation that upholds the laws they gave us that were enforced in our land until about five minutes ago?
So there is no escaping theonomy. The question is not whether you will have a law from a god, the only question is which god and whose law? And the answer is necessarily the same. Whichever god you go with, that is the law you have chosen, whatever your stated caveats and exceptions and fine print in the footnotes. The gods brook no deals, and they break all rules. They laugh at their victims. They swallow them whole, and they do not remember the names of their servants. And by the same token, whichever law you have chosen, no matter what is announced at the press conference, whoever wrote that law, that is the god you are serving. If it is the law from Mt. Sinai, the one revealed in complete fullness on Mt. Golgotha, then you are serving the Living and True God, the Father of the Lord Jesus Christ who was crucified for sinners and rose from the dead to make all things new. But if it is the law from Mt. Olympus, you have chosen to serve Zeus and his pantheon of chaos and strife. If it is the law from Mt. Demos, you have chosen to serve The Man and his deranged, careening hubris who has thus far demanded the blood of 61 million babies executed on the altar of his lusts and whims. It’s not whether there will be a death penalty, it is only who will be executed and by what standard.
Don’t give me your ridiculous panicky hysterics about theocracy and death penalties. We live in a theocracy. We are under the regime of the theonomy of false gods right this minute. And these gods are far more bloody and violent than the strictest application of Old Testament law. Give me the law of God every day.
For further Reading: By This Standard, Greg Bahnsen; The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses, Vern Poythress; God and Government, Gary Demar
And there’s a 10 part video series by Gary Demar available for Fight Laugh Feast Club Members.