Tuesday, July 26, 2011

By What Standard? pt. 2

The following is a brief dialogue with a friend and faithful pastor. He and I agree on many, many things. Theonomy is not one of those things. He respectfully disagreed with my last blog, and the following is my response to his two stated objections. The discussion was irenic, and I think, beneficial.

For clarity, my friend’s words appear bold and italicized. May God add His blessing to your reading.
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“[Theonomy] is an error and leads to further error [sic] you only need to see the influence it has ...exerted in Kinism, Federal Vision, and NPP."
I'm sure there are theonomists in each of those camps. However, I cannot see how theonomy per se necessarily results in these positions. (I've certainly never read anything of the like from Bahnsen, et. al.) That is, the notion that theonomy leads to error may be somewhat of a slippery slope fallacy.

Also, I'm thinking that the idea that these groups are the consequence of theonomy per se, is a kind of post hoc fallacy. Just because there are theonomists within these positions, it does not follow that they are there BECAUSE of or even in connection to theonomy. For example, I've heard Dispensationalists argue that Amillennialism results in anti-Semitism. Or, many Arminians allege that Calvinism results in being non evangelistic. Now, while there may be such offenders in both camps, I do not for a minute believe Amillennialism or Calvinism necessarily result in or are responsible for such things.

In other words, it seems to me that a person can be consistently theonomic and not countenance the aforementioned errors.

"In the end I see no logical way for theonomy to achieve its goal without adapting an Islamic like stance..."
This, in my mind, is a more substantial concern. Thus far, I tend to think of theonomy as being more of a criticism of godless government, rather than a worked out system of governance. (I hope you understand what I'm trying to express here. I'm speaking more of theory than practice perhaps?) That is, I share your consternation as to the "practical reality" of theonomy taking root in a nation which is hostile and opposed to God's Law.

As to the concept of "theocracy." Bahnsen, and other theonomists I've read deny the allegation that they advocate theocrcacy. Bahnsen is quite clear that the form of government is not the central issue at all. Also, he points out, I think rightly, that both Testaments strongly advocate the separation of civil and religious authority.

That being said, I don't see how a civil government, adhering to God's Law, would be "Islamic like." I see nothing in holy scripture which is prescriptively oppressive or cruel--as is found in Shariah. Do you? I should think civil government, fettered to God's Law, would not in any way correlate to Islam.

I keep going back to Romans 13. The magistrate is God's minister. He is to punish "evil" and reward "good." How is the magistrate to know what is evil and what is good--if not from God's Law? What is to be the government's standard for determining what is evil and what is good? Majority vote? Tyrannical whim?

God judged Israel for her iniquities. But not only Israel. God judged even the pagan nations for their iniquities as well. In other words, all nations, not just Israel, were judged according to God's Law. (What is iniquity but the breaking of God's Law?) Do we not fear God's judgment on our nation because of our breaking His Law with impunity? (Are we not experiencing His judgment even now?)

For me, the question is: How should the believer desire to be governed? By God's Law or man's "law"? What are we to make of Deut 17:18-20?

Also it shall be, when he sits on the throne of his kingdom, that he shall write for himself a copy of this law in a book, from the one before the priests, the Levites. And it shall be with him, and he shall read it all the days of his life, that he may learn to fear the LORD his God and be careful to observe all the words of this law and these statutes, that his heart may not be lifted above his brethren, that he may not turn aside from the commandment to the right hand or to the left, and that he may prolong his days in his kingdom, he and his children in the midst of Israel.
Doesn't God in this passage command civil authorities to rule according to His Law? (Have sinful legislators improved upon God's Law?) What are we to make of the numerous times that the book of Judges decries: "everyone did what was right in his own eyes"?

Think of it thus. What is the basis for our absolute rejection of “abortion on demand” and gay "marriage"? Aren't our objections to these things moral objections? And don't we appeal to the higher authority of God's Law contra man's "law" when discussing such sins?

It seems to me that the civil government which seeks to govern according to God's Law would be far and away better than the government which wants absolute power/authority to do as it wills--without regard to any moral authority other than its own. (It would not be perfect of course, but better.)

Should governments rule according to God's Law? (If not, what "law" or standard should they use?) Will God judge, and does God judge, all the nations? Does He judge them by His Law? (If God will and does judge us by His Law...shouldn't the nations be ruled by His Law?)

I close with saying once again: In my mind theonomy is a critique of corrupt governments ruling as though they are absolute and autonomous--a "law" unto themselves. The further a nation distances itself from God and His Law, the more the nation morally declines.
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Next week: “By What Standard?” continues in a spirited debate with an Evangelical Lutheran Church in America minister.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

By What Standard?

Citing an essay by John Piper, a brother posted on FaceBook that so called “Dominion Theology” [what I refer to as “theonomy”] is dangerous. While I have heard much of the “dangers of theonomy” I have seen very little of it. Often, theonomy is equated with “theocracy.” Theocracy is the idea that secular and sacred power are to be held in the same hand or hands. (Much like what we see in Muslim countries.)

But whereas theocracy is not biblical, theonomy is. There has always been a separation of powers--the sacred and the secular--in the Bible. Both Testaments present two spheres of authority. When Jesus said to give to Caesar what belongs to him and give to God what belongs to Him; He was not speaking a new truth. Rather, He was applying an old truth. While there are two spheres of authority--sacred and secular or church and state--both of these spheres should be ruled according to God’s Law. And that’s what theonomy means: God’s Law.

The following is a short respectful dialogue concerning theonomy. My friend’s words are bold and italicized for clarity. May God add His blessing to your reading.
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The closer we get to Dominion Theology, the closer we get to living by the sword. Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world my disciples would fight."

I don't find Piper's treatment of theonomy, in this short article, to be accurate. The theonomists with whom I am familiar are in no way in favor of putting "the sword into the hands of the priests."

The New Testament recognizes the distinction between the church and the state, as does the Old Testament. Typically, kings were not priests (remember King Saul's sin in offering a sacrifice) and priests were not kings. Thus, the distinct spheres of church and state are not new with the New Testament.

However, theonomy does biblically state that civil government is to act as God's minister or servant (c.f. Rom 13). The government or magistrate is to punish evil and reward good. The question is: How does the government, as God's servant, know what is "good" and what is "evil"? The theonomist insists that God's Law [not man's autonomous "law"] is the standard by which civil government should rule.

A good book on this subject is "By This Standard" by Greg Bahnsen.

Well, Jesus said, My kingdom is not of this world; if My kingdom were of this world, then would My servants fight. In fact, when Peter tried to use his sword, Jesus had to tell him to put it away. The way I see it, civil government is not the issue here. We can be living in a peaceful nation that is still not a Christian nation...besides, some governments are good and some governments are bad.

There's no conflating the two kingdoms. Theonomy recognizes the distinction between the church [the power of the keys] and the state [the power of the sword], as do both Testaments of scripture.

While we recognize two spheres, church and civil, we also affirm that Christ is LORD over both spheres. The civil magistrate is under the authority of the LORD Christ [though the magistrate may not acknowledge this fact]. That is, the power of the government is NOT absolute.

The power of civil government is derivative. Civil government gets its authority from God, as God's servant [Ro 13], and is accountable to God for how it uses the granted powers. (Recall Christ's words to Pilate: "You could have no authority at all unless it had been given to you from above.")

Because civil government gets its authority from God and is answerable to Him, the civil government OUGHT to govern righteously. That is, the magistrate OUGHT to punish "evil" and reward "good." What determines "good" and "evil"? Majority vote? Hardly! The whims of a dictator? Not at all.

God Himself determines "good" and "evil." Therefore, civil authorities OUGHT to rule according to the Law of God. All laws or statutes are moral [or immoral]. The further a civil government moves away from God's Law, becoming an absolute "law" unto itself, the more immoral that government, and that nation, become.

Yes, "some governments are good and some governments are bad." But, "good" or "bad" based upon what standard? What objective standard for "good" or "bad" do we have, if not God's Law?

Well, I just posted a story about a "bad government"...and the death of many believers...etc.

Yes, I ran across this story the other day. Tragic. Thanks for posting it. We must pray daily for God to preserve and protect, to deliver from evil, our persecuted brethren. I pray that God will save their loved ones and their adversaries; and that His Gospel will banish all the godless philosophies of men which war against Him.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Two Ways to God

For the law was given through Moses, but grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (John 1:17). Here we find the Apostle John placing before us two very distinct categories. These categories we may biblically refer to as “Law” and “Gospel.” Christians today, for the most part, seem to have lost their capacity to think categorically, hence the all-important distinction between Law and Gospel seems to have all but disappeared from our preaching [evangelism], teaching [discipleship], literature, and consequently; from our understanding as a whole. I refer to Law and Gospel as categories, but we may just as well understand Law and Gospel as approaches--approaches to God. By approaches I mean “ways” or “means” to God.

The question staring down all men [expressed variously] ultimately goes something like this: “How is sinful man to approach or please a holy God?” or, “How can man and God be reconciled?” No man, be he atheist or agnostic, can avoid the question because no man, be he living or dead, can avoid God. There are two ways, and only two ways, to God: the Law or the Gospel. One is the way of condemnation and death and the other is the way of justification and life. Sadly, most prefer the former. “[W]ide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it...narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matt. 7:13-14).

Make no mistake, there is no combining of the two ways, into a third or middle way. We either come to God via the Law or by way of the Gospel. Why do so many take the way that leads to destruction, viz. the way of Law? Because Law is the natural religion of man. Law is the natural religion of man because man is prideful and filled with self righteousness.

Simply put, those who take the way of Law say to God, “I come to You, God, on the basis of my own goodness and worthiness. No, I may not be perfect, but I am basically a good and moral person. I don‘t hurt others, if I can help it, and I try my best to live by the ‘Golden Rule.’ And, of course, I believe in You, God. I even go to church more than is necessary.” These may not be the exact words, but we’ve all heard them and we’ve all spoken them. Law or “works” truly is the natural religion of man.

All those who come to God by way of Law and works, i.e. on the basis of their own goodness, have absolutely no hope of obtaining salvation. They do not understand the holiness of God nor the sinfulness of man. Rest assured, the problem of approaching God by way of Law, lies not with the Law. “The law of the LORD is perfect...the law is holy, and the commandment holy and just and good” (Psalm 19:7; Rom. 7:12). The Law of God is not the problem--we are. “For we know that the law is spiritual, but I am carnal, sold under sin...Therefore, by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin” (Rom. 7:14; 3:20).

Let these words of Paul the Apostle sink in, dear reader. No matter how hard you or I may try to live up to God’s standards in His Law, “no flesh” will be saved by attempted obedience to the Law of God. It is impossible for sinful man to keep God’s Law for we are morally unable. God’s Law does not demand our best. If it did, Christ need not have come. God’s Law does not demand our best, it demands perfection. “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). We cannot hope to give God what He justly requires of us.

The purpose of the Law is not, nor has it ever been, to save us or to commend us in the sight of God. Rather, the Law convicts and condemns us, exposing our sin and stripping us of all excuses and self righteousness. “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God” (Rom. 3:19). What is man to do? What is sinful man, justly condemned before a holy God, to do? Look to Christ. Look to Christ and to no other.
But that no one is justified by the law in the sight of God is evident, for ‘the just shall live by faith.’ But the Scripture has confined all under sin, that the promise by faith in Jesus Christ might be given to those who believe. Therefore the law was our tutor to bring us to Christ, that we might be justified by faith (Galatians 3:11,22,24).
We are justified, not by works or self righteousness, but by grace through faith alone in Jesus Christ alone. This is the Gospel: Justification by faith. We are saved or put right with God, not on the basis of what we have done, but solely on the basis of what Jesus Christ did on our behalf. He lived the perfect and sinless life and now His perfect righteousness is credited to or imputed to all those who come, by faith, to Him.

The Gospel is not about us. It’s about Him. Christ did not come to make bad people good or to make good people better. Christ came to make dead people live.
But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love...when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ...For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast (Eph. 2:4,5,8-9).
Forsake the broad way of good works and come to the narrow gate called Christ. Come to Christ with the empty hands of faith. He is the only way, the only door, to life everlasting.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

More End Times Madness

I was kindly asked to provide more Q & A from this discussion/debate concerning eschatology. These are the remaining questions and comments which I could salvage without sacrificing meaning [due to a lack of context]. May God add His blessing to your reading.
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Is it possible that more of the early church fathers would have been more inclined to Dispensationalism had they seen Israel become a country again?
Is it POSSIBLE? Maybe. Is it PROBABLE? Not at all. We shouldn't interpret the Bible through the lens of the newspaper. Such a hermeneutical method is deplorable. (This has been the habit of many Dispensationalists. Men like Hal Lindsey--who've made so many awful "predictions" and are the major purveyors of end times madness--have little or no shame. They've been proven wrong time and again yet they keep cranking out books and updated theories...and Dispensationalists keep buying them. They're not much different than the neo pagans who are all a flutter about 2012 and the Mayan calendar.)

How do you explain Satan’s use of Hitler?
I do not see anything in the Bible pertaining to Hitler. Do you have a verse or passage which teaches “Satan used Hitler…” No. Therefore, to speak of such things is nothing more than speculation. (You know…the Pat Robertson technique.) Such speculation is very common among Dispensationalists. I do NOT presume to speak for God apart from Scripture.

When [do] you feel that the book of Revelations was written? Pre or Post 70 AD?
I believe Revelation was written prior to 70AD. An EXCELLENT and scholarly treatment of this subject is a book by Ken Gentry, “Before Jerusalem Fell.”

What about the 12,000 sealed out of each tribe of Israel in Revelation 7? If this is the church, which tribe are you in? And why is the tribe of Dan omitted?
I’ve no idea which “tribe” I’m in. But I’m almost positive…it’s not yours. Just kidding! Yes, why is Dan omitted? While we’re at it…why is Ephraim omitted? Also, what is this “tribe of Joseph” (Rev 7:8)?? I don’t recall any tribe of Israel being known as the “Tribe of Joseph.” Do you? Can you show us in the Old Testament where the tribe of Joseph lived? What they did? Anything? (Be sure to NOT “allegorize”…I want to see in the Old Testament the LITERAL tribe of Joseph.) Happy hunting!

Replacement Theology grew to maturity in the Catholic church, which denies assurance any way. Interesting, eh?
First of all, "Replacement Theology" is a pejorative term. No Covenantalist refers to himself with this inaccurate moniker.

More importantly, this is known as the logical fallacy of "poisoning the well." You are attempting to discredit historic eschatology by associating it with the Roman Catholic church. (I am assuming you mean "Roman Catholic" because "Catholic" means "universal." I belong to the Catholic church but not the Roman Catholic Church.) Because you know that Protestants tend to negatively react to the Roman church, you are attempting to associate the views which oppose yours to the Roman church, and thereby skew opinions.

The other logical fallacy present here is known as the "genetic fallacy." This is the irrational idea that says a position must be wrong because of its origin. You suggest that because historic eschatology "grew to maturity" in the Roman church--it must be wrong. Of course, this is fallacious reasoning. I wonder if you would apply this "standard" to other doctrines with roots in the Roman church--like the doctrine of the Trinity, for example?

On Matthew 24, do you believe this entire passage to have taken place with Titus in 70 AD?
Yes. I lean towards a Preteristic understanding of this passage.

Why were only 1.1million killed in 70 AD but 6million in the holocaust?
[Note: This was asked with reference to Matthew 24:21 which supposedly supports the idea of a yet future “Great Tribulation.”]
I probably wouldn't word it as "only" 1.1 million. Nor would I be anticipating even more than 6 million Jews being slaughtered in the future. (Again, I marvel at the Dispensationalists who label those who disagree with them as being anti-Semitic!)

But, how are we to understand Mtt 24:21? Like any other verse in the Bible, CONTEXT is essential to interpretation. Thus, we should ask ourselves: From the context of the verse, what is the universe of these remarks?

It is abundantly clear that the universe of Mtt 24:21 is 1st Century Judea. Why do I say this? Well, because Mtt 24:16 reads: "then let those who are in JUDEA flee to the mountains." In other words, this verse has NOTHING to do with the Holocaust, located mostly in Europe, of the 20th Century.

[What sense would it make to "warn" Jews--2000 years in the future and living in Germany--to "flee" into the "mountains" from "Judea"?? Dispensationalists are supposed to be LITERALISTS, remember?]

Notice also, these Jews are fleeing Judea and hiding in the mountains. And, from the context, this running from Judea is LITERALLY "running." They seem to be fleeing on foot. (Thus Christ speaks of "woe" to the nursing/pregnant women and of "winter" and "Sabbath.")

If this "great tribulation" [always shown as "Great Tribulation" in Dispensational literature] is world wide--why the reference for folks to save themselves by fleeing JUDEA to the mountains? [Josephus' account, however, accords quite nicely with Jesus' prophecy.]

If this "great tribulation" is world-wide and in the 21st Century [or later?], why are they fleeing on foot? How will this running to mountains save them from mechanized warfare? [Here, some Dispensationalists will argue that perhaps the world is no longer "mechanized" and has reverted back to primitive ways/means. Of course, this kind of end times madness is based more upon Hollywood movies than scripture.]

In summation: The universe of Mtt 24:21 [according to the immediate context] is limited in its scope to Jews living in Judea. And if we're going to interpret the context LITERALLY, it is obvious that it deals with ancient ways/means of warfare and transportation. Thus, it would be wrong to infer that Jesus is claiming that there would be no greater [in the sense of "worse"] wars/loss of life, ANYWHERE in the world at ANY time of history. Rather, we interpret Christ within the limited context of His own words.