So I wrote an article arguing that Christians need to stop being bullied by accusations of theocracy and turn the point around and simply insist that everyone believes in theocracy. Theocracy is inescapable. As Bob Dylan put it, you gotta serve somebody. And whoever that Somebody is, that’s your G/god/s. And while there was a goodish bit of positive encouragement and enthusiasm, nobody really objected.
Then, as though the stars were smiling down upon me, a critic of mine made a meme of something I said at G3, breathlessly claiming that I was [gulp] maybe trafficking in (dread-the-thought) “Theonomy.” It was a good quote, if I do say so myself, and I shared it far and wide, causing some to wonder if it was an advertisement for G3, and let us hope it will be very soon.
But I took the whole thing as a sign from God and followed up with another article on the inescapability of theonomy. As I noted at the beginning of that article, it would almost seem to go without saying that if everyone serves a god, then everyone believes there is a law from their god/s that needs submitting to and applying to all of life. But turns out even though it should go without saying, the reason that’s the case is because you’re apparently not supposed to actually say it out loud. If you do happen to say it out loud, the Twitter elders will take you outside of the city and stone you with stones, socially speaking.
While I was called some names, the most common objection was to my introduction to the article in which I wrote: “Everyone is a theonomist. There you go. I’ve said it. Write that down. 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.” And the objection was that I was equivocating. One critic said it was a “cute little rhetorical game of equivocation.” Another said this was equivocation worthy only of John Frame, which I took as a high complement, seeing that John Frame is one of my theological heroes and he was my worship pastor when I was a kid. But the same thing came at me from a number of folks: if everyone is a theonomist, then no one is a theonomist. The claim was that if I defined the term that broadly, I had rendered the term meaningless. But, and I don’t mean to be offensive here, that simply doesn’t follow. I mean, I loved Pixar’s The Incredibles (the first one) as much as anyone, but it seems to me that a bunch of Christians mistakenly thought that the line “if everyone is super no one is” works on everything. But well, the fact of the matter is that it works on some things and not on others. An example: I’m male. Donald Trump is male. Whoopi Goldberg is male. Bernie Sanders is male. Everyone is male. The problem with this, and not to put too fine a point on it, is that it’s not true. This would be equivocation. To claim such a thing would be to render the term “male” meaningless because the very thing it is meant to distinguish is obliterated. There’s this fact of creation that our culture is busy trying to deny, which we call women and Whoopi Goldberg is in that class of people. I know I’ve just committed hate speech, but I’m over here busy not caring.
Another example: I’m a human being. Donald Trump is a human being. Bernie Sanders is a human being. Everyone is a human being. Have I rendered the term “human being” meaningless by defining everyone by it? I mean, I know Bernie Sanders is a bit borderline for some, but come on people, commies are people too, very confused people, but still human. And the point is that it’s only equivocation if it isn’t true, and so in order to prove it is actually equivocating, you have to, um, demonstrate that.
Now I have no interest in quibbling over words or terms. If there are brothers out there who take my point, embrace it, and have been run over four too many times by self-proclaimed theonomists and it wakes them up at night with cold sweats and they just can’t even, I would be the first to let them feel free to avoid my twitter feed and blog. I have no quarrel with you. Just let me know when you’ve come up with a better word. Dominionist? Christocrat? Biblical Hegemonist?
Now before I cis-splain myself further, I’d like to bring something else up and that is my working thesis that I presented somewhat on the fly in our recent CrossPolitic show with Hunter Baker. And that is: What would a truly biblical Protestant hegemony in the public square look like? (Yes, I’m going there.) I’m not talking about the PCA taking over congress with pitchforks – I hold to the separation of church and state. I’m talking about influence and worldview. What would a true biblical theonomy look like in action applied to a government? My answer/thesis: the founding of America. I’m not claiming it was perfect or sinless or that nothing could have been done better. I’m just claiming that it was a true instance and perhaps the best attempt yet in history at applying the law of God to the public square. Now the word “hegemony” is admittedly perhaps not the most winsome word we might use, but I think it serves a particularly helpful purpose here.
“And he said unto them, ‘The kings of the Gentiles exercise lordship over them; and they that exercise authority upon them are called benefactors. But ye shall not be so: but he that is greatest among you, let him be as the younger; and he that is chief, as he that doth serve…” (Lk. 22:25-26). Notice: Jesus is talking about civil magistrates, the kings of the Gentiles, and He specifically insists that His people be leery of that kind of power. He warns them particularly about taking titles like “benefactors.” Elsewhere, he says something similar: “Neither be ye called masters: for one is your Master, even Christ. But he that is greatest among you shall be your servant. And whosoever shall exalt himself shall be abased; and he that shall humble himself shall be exalted” (Matt. 23:10-12). And this leads to a second thing that we see in both of these texts: the dominion of serving, what we might call the hegemony of humility. Christ doesn’t say that ruling is stupid, or that it’s foolish and evil to want to be great. He simply says there’s a foolish way to try to be great and a wise way – a pagan way and a Christian way, a coercive way and an obedient way. And the obedient Christian way is to hate titles and manipulation, and to simply serve under Christ.
So what would happen if a culture of men, steeped in these Scriptures set about to start a new nation? What would happen if a bunch of Christians decided to apply God’s Word to establishing a new government? I submit that it would look a lot like the founding of America. A truly Christian hegemony would rule by serving, would pursue greatness and power by protecting against abuse of power and despising titles and seeking to restrain those who would exalt themselves and exercise lordship like the Gentiles. It would look like limiting the powers of the highest, most central government, it would look like separating those powers about fifteen different ways to Sunday, and then adding additional checks, balances, and tying up all the hoses of power with double and triple kinks to keep everything moving at about the pace of LA traffic, trying to keep those who exalt themselves abased and in gridlock, leaving as much as room as possible for the faithful to serve. And nearly 250 years in, and I’m still saying this stuff out loud and I haven’t been arrested yet.
Incidentally related, somebody on the interwebs decided to do their best WWF impression mocking theonomy and tweeted out “REAL XIAN THEONOMY HAS NEVER BEEN TRIED!” And his imminence R. Scott Clark helpfully replied, “The similarities to Marxism are striking.” But the hilarity of this is the fact that the last 2000 years are basically the history of God’s law being implemented more or less in cultures where the gospel has come. And here, I’ll plug Hunter Baker’s book yet again, End of Secularism, particularly as he traces the struggle to separate the institutions of church and the state, going back to Constantine and Augustine up to the present day. But the fact of the matter is that all Christians believed in theonomy until about 15 minutes ago. And the reason a bunch of Christians decided to go deer-in-the-headlights on this is largely due to the current hegemony of secularism, which means that kind of talk will get you canceled, mocked, and would therefore require something like courage. So many Christians prefer to huddle in their theological bunkers squawking if anyone says the “T” word.
It has been a long process, but Christian rulers successfully outlawed abortion, adultery, incest, sodomy, honored marriage, encouraged childrearing, protected private property, insisted that magistrates answered to God and His law, instituted checks and balances, and so on. The Edict of Milan was Christian theonomy in infancy. The Magna Carta was Christian theonomy in action. Even the Peace of Augsburg was Christian theonomy at work. The English Civil War and the Restoration were basically struggles over differing versions of how the law of God was to apply to the nation of England. And the great inversion of all of this was the French Revolution, which was just as theonomic as everything else, it was just the inevitable bloodbath that occurs when you are trying to enforce the laws of false gods. It was sharia law before the Muslims actually toppled Paris.
Back to the Equivocations
But the accusations of equivocation in good faith, I trust, come from those Christians who want nothing to do with Paul Hill, the man who murdered the abortionist back in the day. They want nothing to do with taking up the sword to establish a “Christian” Saudi Arabia in their own city or state. And let me be the first to join them in my utter disdain for vigilante justice and confusing jurisdictions. But this is precisely why we must have the law of God. It’s the Bible that prohibits that very thing. It’s the law of God that prohibits Christians from using guns to institutionalize Christianity. Arguably, the law of God warns heavily against the establishment of a national church, and hence the First Amendment. The word of God distinguishes between church and state and family jurisdictions and respects each one. You cannot get that from Islam. You cannot get that from secularism. You certainly cannot get that from Darwin. Ancient cultures knew nothing of this separation but even the roles of Moses and Aaron were the beginnings of this distinction. Even though the church and state were joined more closely in the Mosaic era than they should be today, because of God’s more direct revelation and governance in those days, there were already strong indications of different jurisdictions in the penal code: the Levites and priests had jurisdiction over access to God, requiring sacrifices and cleansing rituals, barring any who might try to enter the Tabernacle unclean, including tribal chiefs and elders. Other penalties required hearings before the elders in the gate and verdicts rendered issued in sentences of restitutions or sometimes even death. Even here the distinction between sin and crime, ritual cleansing and civil justice, was already in view.
When Saul tried to offer the sacrifice before Samuel arrived, he was rebuked and the kingdom was torn from his hand. When King Uzziah thought he might just saunter into the Temple and offer incense, God struck him with leprosy and the priestly bouncers escorted him out of the holy place. All of this is background to the even clearer teaching of the New Testament that civil magistrates are God’s deputies wielding the sword, and that the church is to submit to that authority while wielding the far sharper sword of the Word of God and the sacraments. True, biblical theonomy has no room for vigilante justice, mob justice, or lynchings. The law of God clearly insists that authorities be submitted to, and civil magistrates are God’s ministers of justice.
Perhaps related, are the fears of some that theonomy means that the mixed fabrics gestapo must be immediately formed and everybody must have a railing put up around the edge of their roof by next November. This is a fair concern, but first off, let me just point out that in the current secular theonomic regime we live in everyone is scrambling to separate their plastics and paper for the trash man and I’ve been told that everyone must get a gold star on their Driver’s License by this September if they want to fly anywhere. It’s not whether but which. As it turns out the ceremonial laws that designated Israel as a priestly people are fulfilled in Christ. They were not abolished, but their true meaning is now fully expressed in the priesthood of Jesus and His cleansing blood (See Acts 10, Galatians, and Hebrews). But what about railings on our roofs? That’s the question that’s nagging at everyone. I mean, putting up Christmas lights is difficult enough. But let me assuage your fears by citing that Arch-Theonomist of Everyone’s Worst Nightmares, Dr. Greg Bahnsen who had this (ghastly) opinion of those civil laws:
“The Puritans termed these case-law applications of the Decalogue “judicial laws,” and they correctly held that we are not bound today to keep these judicial laws as they are worded (being couched in the language of an ancient culture that has passed away) but only required to heed their underlying principles (or “general equity,” as they called it).”
There you have it. I have extra paper bags if you need one to breathe into. Place it over your nose and mouth, and secure with your hand, which you can adjust all by yourself to ensure a snug fit. The paper bag should fully inflate, as your oxygen is flowing. If you are traveling with a young child or infant, please remember to secure your own paper bag first before helping others.
Turns out Bahnsen is referring to the Westminster Confession of Faith which says this very thing: “To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people, not obliging any other, now, further than the general equity thereof may require” (WCF 19.4). The general equity is the Ten Commandments, the universal, abiding principles of justice and penalties. The particular law code in all of its details expired with the Old Testament Jewish state. But God’s justice does not expire. The law still reveals our sin, drives us to Christ, and teaches how to obey Him in every area of life.
Let me leave you with some questions to ponder. Should sodomy be a crime? It was a crime in most states for most of American history. If so, why? If not, why not? And if so, what should the civil penalty be? By what standard? Should adultery be a crime? It was a crime in most states for most of American history. If so, why? If not, why not? What penalty would a godly judge render for the crime of adultery? What about incest? It’s still illegal in most states to this day, but perhaps you’ve noticed that there are increasing stories about father-daughter relationships and such and it’s bound to only get worse. There really are no brakes on this thing. For hundreds of years, Protestant Christians have insisted on the God-given rights of individual consciences (against religious coercion) and the separation of powers while happily following God’s law and appealing to both Old and New Testament law and natural law to establish Christian cultures and defend themselves. I’m with those guys.