Sunday, March 24, 2013
Theonomy Explained??? Background and Definitions (Part 2)
It goes without saying that proper and precise definitions are crucial, yet in many theological and philosophical discussions that I have been in and have observed (internet), I, along with those I have observed, have fallen victim to not identifying and using proper definitions.
"Theonomy" simply means "God's Law." It is a compound of two Greek words; "theos", meaning God; and "nomos", meaning law. So, everyone who is a Christian is a theonomist. However, due to the nature of polemical debates, Theonomy (with a big T) is normally what people think about.
Simply speaking, theonomy involves understanding civil functions of the law of Moses must be applied by the civil magistrate of any nation today. Especially with seminaries such as Westminster Seminary California, where they absolutely detest theonomy, it really does confuse me a little bit as to why theonomy is detested so much. (I am speaking more rhetorically at this point.)
What is important to understand within this debate is the understanding of what exactly the law of God is today:
WCF XIX:III and IV state it very succinctly:
III: "Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, His graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly, holding forth divers instructions of moral duties. All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the New Testament.
IV: To them also, as a body politic, He gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the State of that people; not obliging under any now, further than the general equity thereof may require.
While I think that the WCF is helpful in delineating to us what the law of Moses is, I think that the tri-fold division of the law has probably brought upon more distinctions than is helpful in this debate. In other words, I agree with what the WCF is saying concerning the law of Moses, but I think that the understanding of the law could have been formulated in a different way that would better help this debate in properly defining terms.
What do I mean?
First, I think that instead of saying moral law, civil law, and ceremonial law, it is probably better to say moral functions or aspects of the law, civil and ceremonial functions etc... The reason I say this is that I don't see that the OT or the NT understands the law in three sharp distinctions as the WCF understands it. To put it in terms what we can understand,we sometimes talk about active and passive obedience of Christ. This may seem like a minor quibble, but I never really felt comfortable talking about Christ's obedience in terms of active or passive. The Bible never bifurcates Christ's obedience in this way. The way in which we use those terms, it would seem to suggest that there were two obediences of Christ, when in fact there was only one obedience with active and passive elements to it.
I understand the great need for systematicians to make distinctions etc... So, I think that understanding the law as a whole unit with three different aspects or functions, is a more biblically consistent way of looking at the Mosaic law. This actually does help us understand this theonomy debate more clearly in my opinion, and this is why I am laboring to have folks understand how I view the law.
For further study, Douglas Moo has done some great studies about this, and I agree with his formulation of the law (modified lutheran view).
Next time, a quick exposition of what I mean concerning the law.