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The Westminster Confession of Faith:
A Theonomic Document?
1

Dr. Ligon Duncan
Senior Minister, First Presbyterian Church, Jackson, MS
& Adjunct Professor, Reformed Theological Seminary, Jackson, MS

 

A. The Case of Meredith Kline

It is not unusual to hear the claim occasionally voiced that the Westminster Confession of Faith is theonomic (at least in its original formulation). For instance, Gary DeMar contends that:

The men who drafted the Westminster Confession of Faith (1643-48) [sic] held that the moral standards of the laws outside the Ten Commandments (what are typically called "case laws" since the Ten Commandments are a "summary" of the whole law) were still binding in the New Testament age.2

 

Unfortunately, this claim has been given credence by an uninformed comment made by Meredith Kline in his article-length review of Theonomy in Christian Ethics. Kline asserted:

... Chalcedon is not without roots in respectable ecclesiastical tradition. It is in fact a revival of certain teachings contained in the Westminster Confession of Faith--at least in the Confession's original formulations. These particular elements in the Confession, long since rejected as manifestly unbiblical by the mass of those who stand in that confessional tradition (as well as by virtually all other students of the Scriptures), have been subjected to official revision. The revision, however, has left us with standards whose proper legal interpretation is perplexed by ambiguities, and the claim of Chalcedon is that it is the true champion of the confessional orthodoxy. Ecclesiastical courts operating under the Westminster Confession of Faith are going to have their problems, therefore, if they should be of a mind to bring the Chalcedon aberration under their judicial scrutiny.3

 

Kline, here, shows a lack of understanding of the historical context and theological significance of both WCF 19 and 23 (original and revised), and a misapprehension of the real weakness in the theonomic claim to confessional precedence. First, he starts off on the wrong track by discussing the issue of the modern civil magistrate's responsibility to enforce the first four commandments of the Decalogue (as found in WCF 23:3, original formulation).4 He hints that this (to him) smacks of Erastianism,5 but fails to recognize that the legitimacy of the magistrate's enforcement of first table commands is neither a distinctive view of Reconstructionism nor the most important issue involved in the theonomic appeal to the WCF. It should be said here in passing that when the Reconstructionist argues for the applicability of first table commands to the modern state, he is simply expressing a view held by the mainstream of the Reformed tradition (Calvin, major Reformed confessions, American Presbyterianism, etc.) and actually in practice in such nations as Great Britain to this day.

Second, he mistakenly thinks that the American revision of 23:3 intended to deny the magistrate the right to enforce first table commands.6 Actually, the revision was primarily intended to move the confessional position of American Presbyterianism from the "establishment principle"7 to "voluntaryism,"8 and to secure the church from unlawful government interference.9

Third, Kline's inquiry about WCF 23:3 modifying WCF 19:4 is irrelevant. The American revision of WCF 23:3 has nothing whatsoever to do with the coherence of WCF 19:4.10 There is no "crucial ambiguity" regarding civic implementation of first table commands inadvertently left in WCF 19:4 after the American revision of WCF 23:3, because WCF 19:4's subject is not the Decalogue but the judicial code.11 The real issue which separates the Confession's view of the law from that of Reconstructionism is to be discovered by simple exposition of WCF 19:4.

B. The Claims of the Reconstructionists

There have been basically two claims made in the attempt to show that the WCF favors (or is at least open to) the theonomic view of the law. First, Bahnsen maintains that WCF 23:3 (in its original formulation)12 sets forth a theonomic view of church and state.13 His argument is particularly dependent upon an appeal to the scriptural proofs14 attached to the section is question. He concludes:

An examination of the scriptural proofs offered for this second duty [enforcing the ordinances of God] makes quite clear that the Westminster divines expected the civil magistrate to rule according to the law of God (including its Old Testament stipulations), even to the point of its penal sanctions.15

Second, Bahnsen observes that though WCF 19:4 says that the judicial law has "expired," it also says that the "general equity" of these laws still apply. From this, he manages to conclude (by assuming that his interpretation of WCF 23:3 is correct and reading 19:4 in its light) that the WCF means that the civil law still remains authoritative, in principle, even though there may have to be modifications of the case law illustrations when we apply it to modern countries. Bahnsen resolves: "Perhaps the best interpretation of 19.4 is to see it as affirming the necessity to apply the illustrations given in the Old Testament case laws to changed, modern situations and new social circumstances."16

C. The Meaning of the Confession: Five Assertions which show it is non-theonomic

Whatever the claims of our Reconstructionist brethren, we are convinced that it can be conclusively demonstrated that the WCF does not support the peculiarities of the theonomic thesis. The WCF is clear and precise on the issue, and a careful reading of the relevant passages will expose the idiosyncratic reinterpretation which the Reconstructionists have imposed on the text in question.

1. WCF 23:3 (original or American revision) does not support Reconstructionism First of all, WCF 23:3, does not lend support to the theonomic thesis concerning the continuing binding validity of the case laws in either its original or American versions. The original formula reads:

The civil magistrate may not assume to himself the administration of the word and the sacraments, or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven: yet he hath authority, and it is his duty, to take order, that unity and peace be preserved in the church, that the truth of God be kept pure and entire, that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed, all corruptions and abuses in worship and discipline prevented or reformed, and all the ordinances of God duly settled, administered, and observed. For the better effecting whereof, he has power to call synods, to be present at them, and provide that whatsoever is transacted in them be according to the mind of God.

One phrase which seemingly supports the Reconstructionist interpretation is "that all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed." This provides evidence that part of the magistrate's duty in "taking order" is the censure of those in violation of the first four commandments.17

Perhaps these words seem strange to the Presbyterians of the new world, but they reflect a common seventeenth-century Puritan view of church-state relations and despite first impressions to the contrary, the Assembly did not intend to subjugate the church to the civil magistrate. A formidable body of work may be cited which shows that WCF 23:3 is not Erastian.18 What is in view here is the establishment principle: the state's obligation to assist the church in the advancement of Christ's kingdom. This however, as we have already pointed out, is not the distinctive element of the Reconstructionist view.

Bahnsen's claim that 23:3 is theonomic is based on two grounds: 1) that the text of the Confession makes the civil magistrate responsible for enforcing the first four laws of the Ten Commandments, and 2) the scripture references cited approve capital punishment for blasphemers. However, Bahnsen's reasoning does not follow. As Sinclair Ferguson puts it, his is an argument by synecdoche (i.e., Since the Divines appeal to the application of one Mosaic sanction, then they must hold the entire class of Mosaic civil sanctions to be valid).19 It is possible for one to believe in the obligation of the civil magistrate to enforce the first four commandments, and to approve the death penalty for certain crimes for which it is prescribed under the Mosaic code and yet repudiate the theonomic thesis in principle. Bahnsen, then, has failed to provide adequate or convincing evidence for his assertion the WCF 23:3 is theonomic.

We may note in passing that though Bahnsen is correct in his assertion that WCF 23:3 is not Erastian, he is mistaken in his contention that the change from original to the American version is cosmetic.20 Actually, there is a substantial ecclesiological shift. In the American revision, a form of voluntaryism is explicit. The Westminster Confession 23:3 in the American version reads as follows:

Civil magistrates may not assume to themselves the administration of the Word and sacraments; or the power of the keys of the kingdom of heaven; or, in the least, interfere in matters of faith. Yet, as nursing fathers, it is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the Church of our common Lord, without giving preference to any denomination of Christian above the rest, in such a manner that all ecclesiastical persons whatever shall enjoy the full, free, and unquestioned liberty of discharging every part of their sacred functions, without violence or danger. And, as Jesus Christ has appointed a regular government and discipline in his Church, no law of any commonwealth should interfere with, let, or hinder the due exercise thereof, among the voluntary members of any denomination of Christians, according to their own profession and belief. It is the duty of civil magistrates to protect the person and good name of all their people, in such an effectual matter as that no person be suffered, either upon the pretense of religion or of infidelity, to offer any indignity, violence, abuse, or injury to any other person whatsoever: and to take order, that all religious and ecclesiastical assemblies be held without molestation or disturbance.

 

Certainly the American revision intended to clear up any ambiguity about Erastianism and "persecuting principles" in the original. But primarily it sets forth a moderate voluntaryist position. That is, it intended the state to oversee for the welfare of all Christian denominations, not establishing one particular church, the support of each denomination being drawn from the free gifts of its adherents.21 It goes without saying that they did not propose that the state should be atheistic or neutral.

One observation concerning the relation of Reconstructionism to the polity of voluntaryism and establishment is worth mentioning in passing. Whatever one says about the nature of the church-state relationship under the Old Covenant, it is clear that it was the state's responsibility to support the church. Hence, the theonomic position, if it is to be consistent with both the Old Testament law and the original formulation of WCF 23.3 must advocate the establishment principle. There does accordingly seem to be an anomaly in theonomic thesis in that Bahnsen, while adamant about the implementation of the civil laws of Israel, is indifferent toward the establishment principle.22 This is a strange combination, for if the Old Testament church was anything, it was established!23 In fact, a large portion of the case law is devoted to the establishment of religion in the Old Testament. One may favor the establishment principle and reject Theonomy, but one cannot consistently be a Theonomist and reject the establishment principle.

2. WCF 19:3-5 clearly asserts a threefold division of the law

Second, WCF 19:3-5, clearly asserts a threefold division of the law following in the line of John Calvin and the church fathers, and contra Bahnsen.

It does so on the basis of inference from Scripture, taking into consideration both the nature of the laws themselves and the distinctive role of Israel in the redemptive economy. Moreover the WCF identifies the recipients of two of the three departments of law (ceremonial and judicial) as the people of Israel, while it extends the obligation of the moral law to all men. Accordingly, if Bahnsen is consistent in his criticism, the WCF must be classified as practicing "unwarranted compartmentalization" in its view of the law and therefore guilty of Bahnsen's charge of "latent antinomianism."24 It should be said that the WCF did not aim to say the final word on categories of the law of Moses or to rule out further discussion of the issue. But in regard to the issue of which laws are obligatory for New Covenant believers, its threefold division is definitive.

3. WCF 19:4 asserts that the judicial law has expired

Again, WCF 19:4 says that the judicial law has expired and is not binding ("obliging") on any nation-state now. It is entirely appropriate to ask two questions at this point. First, can a Theonomist really affirm that the civil law has "expired" and is "not obliging" any other nation-state now, and do justice to the plain sense, original intent and obvious emphasis of the statement? Second, if one were a Theonomist and writing a confession, is this how one would phrase a theonomic position which emphatically affirms the universally and perpetually binding character of the Mosaic civil code? The only rational answer to both these queries is an unequivocal "NO!" Bahnsen immediately counters, that in light of his interpretation of 23:3, "whatever 19.4 may mean, it cannot be understood as abrogating, say, the death penalty for blasphemers, and so forth."25 However, to interpret the confession in such a way that "general equity" cancels out the Assembly's declaration in the restrictive clause (which expired...) that modifies the direct object (sundry judicial laws) is to make a mockery of the English language. Indeed, Sinclair Ferguson comments:

it is difficult, to the point of impossibility—in this context in which the question of the continuation of the Mosaic judicial system had been long and heatedly discussed—to believe that the Westminster Divines would attempt to express a theonomic viewpoint by the wording we actually find in the Confession.26

The sentence structure of 19:4 yields a modern wording like this: "He [God] gave to them [the people of Israel] also, as a body politick, sundry judicial laws which expired together with the state of that people [Israel], not obliging any other [nation-state] now, further than the general equity thereof may require."27 To paraphrase and put in contemporary English: "God also gave to his people Israel, in their capacity as a nation-state, various civil laws. These laws terminated along with the extinction of the state of Israel and are not binding on any other nation-state now, further than the general equity (which lies behind them) may require."28

It is clear that there is no theonomic reading of WCF 19:4 which is capable of doing justice to its declaration of the judicial laws' termination. It may be asked in this context, what exactly the Divines meant by "further than the general equity may require?" This will be addressed shortly, but warrants one brief comment here. Undoubtedly, the WCF intended to allow for a broad range of opinion on the propriety of the application of various Mosaic judicial statutes in modern society.29 What it did not accommodate for, however, is the view that the judicials remain binding in principle.

4. WCF 19:4 assumes the ad hoc character of the civil laws

Furthermore WCF 19:4 recognizes the ad hoc character of the civil laws when it employs the phrase "as a body politick." A look at the structure of 19:3 and a comparison of it with 19:4 will serve to highlight the Assembly's view of the nature of the civil law. WCF 19:3 says "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." Compare now 19:4: "To them also, as a body politick, he gave sundry judicial laws." The precision of the Confession's language, as a legal document, is here to be noted.

Observe first, the ceremonial law is said to have been given "to the people of Israel" (19:3). So also, in 19:4 is the civil law given specifically to Israel ("To them"). This could, of course, simply be descriptive of the circumstances in which the whole law was publicly set forth. But it is possible to detect a more significant meaning in the phraseology when 19:3 and 4 are contrasted with 19:1,2, and 5. According to 19:1, in the garden, God gave Adam and all his posterity a law. That law, 19:2 says, continued to be the perfect standard of righteousness even after the fall, is identical to the Ten Commandments, and was promulgated at Sinai. It is intimated in 19:3 that this law is "commonly called moral" and 19:5 concludes the discussion of legal categories by asserting "the moral law doth forever bind all." We may note: a) the WCF never says that any law is binding on a Christian but the moral; b) while the WCF indicates that the moral law was intended for all men, it never implies the same of the ceremonial and judicial laws, and speaks explicitly only of their having been given to Israel; c) hence, it is possible to argue that in the phrase "To them" in 19:4 the WCF contradicts Bahnsen's view on both the unity of the law and the universal application of the Mosaic civil law.

Second, and more importantly, the ad hoc character of the judicial law is indicated by the Assembly in the phrase "as a body politick." As the ceremonial law had been given to the Old Covenant community in their capacity "as a church under age" (19:3) so also had the judicial law been given them in their role "as a body politic." Hence, the judicial code no less than the ceremonial, according to the WCF, was given in a unique situation, under temporary circumstances, to a particular people, serving in a special capacity. Thus when the nation-state of Israel expired, its civil code expired with it.

Now it will be complained that this view makes the civil law "arbitrary."30 At least two things can be said in response. The first is, that may be so. Nevertheless, it is clearly the view of the Confession. Hence, one may either attempt to vindicate the Confession from the charge of arbitrariness for not holding the theonomic view, or one may repudiate the Confession. But one thing is certain, and that is--the Confession's position is not the theonomic position. Second, it may be said that there is nothing whatsoever necessarily capricious about a law which is ad hoc. The maxim "what is ad hoc is necessarily arbitrary" is strange logic. To argue that it is arbitrary to take into account the peculiar circumstances of a given situation in the formulation of a legal code for a nation-state (or to suggest that it is inconsistent with the character of God to make a law which is temporal and limited in scope and purpose) is frankly, utterly bewildering.31

5. WCF 19:4 meaning of "general equity" is at odds with theonomic interpretation

Finally, as we have previously mentioned, Reconstructionists appeal to the phrase "further than the general equity thereof may require" as negating the force of the phrases "which expired" and "not obliging any other now." In that light, they interpret the statement as a whole as an indication that though the wording of the judicial law has expired, yet all its regulations and penology remain not only viable but obligatory for the modern nation-state. Now it goes without saying that this is a very dubious way of reading 19:4 indeed. Yet Bahnsen assures us:

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 a language of an ancient culture that has passed away) but only required to heed their underlying principles (or "general equity," as they called it)[emphasis mine].32

Bahnsen's identification of "general equity" with "underlying principles" is accurate, but his implicit relegation of the concept to the wording of the laws is misleading and ahistorical. Calvin and his Puritan successors, to be sure, believed that there were underlying principles to be gleaned from the Mosaic civil code. But they also believed that not only the form but the content (including the penal sanctions) of the law could be altered by the modern legislator in the pursuit of an equitable law.33 In this light, Ferguson correctly remarks "that the theonomic interpretation of the principle of general equity is not identical with that adopted by the Puritan writers."34 At any rate, the theonomic exegesis of WCF 19:4 is hopeless since the preceding parts of the sentence are ignored and "general equity" is made to be the main thrust of the sentence's statement about the judicial law.

These five assertions make it quite clear that the Assembly was not committed in principle to the theonomic thesis. Of course, this was always very clear to the father of the Reconstructionist movement. Rushdoony himself, commenting on WCF 19:4, said: "...in paragraph IV, without any confirmation from Scripture, it is held that the `judicial laws' of the Bible `expired' with the Old Testament. ...At this point, the Confession is guilty of nonsense."35 Rushdoony seems to have managed an objectivity in his reckoning with the clear meaning of WCF 19:4 which has escaped most of the Presbyterian proponents of Theonomy.

The fact that the Confession does not assert a theonomic view of the role of the Mosiac law in current civil ethics, leaves us with two options in determining the relationship of the theonomic theory and the view presented in the Westminster Confession. Theonomy is either extra-confessional or anti-confessional. That is, Theonomy is either not addressed by the Westminster Confession (and hence, neither affirmed nor condemned by it) or is contradictory of the teaching of the Confession.

The case for it being extra-confessional has sometimes been made, but fails for the following reason. The Theonomist (because of his view that the civil law of God is universally and perpetually obligatory, the promotion of which is part of sanctification) must consider fellow ministers, who are in hearty agreement with the Confession's teaching on the law, to be latent antinomians at best. This indicates that the confessional position is, in fact, at odds with Theonomy. Which brings us to other option.

Reflection on this matter will show that Reconstructionism's view of the continuing obligation to the civil law is antithetical (rather than supplemental) to the Confession's view of the law. No man can unreservedly subscribe to the Westminster Confession (or the Second London Confession of 1689 [a Particular Baptist creed]) and hold a Reconstructionist view of the law, because the Reconstructionist position on the continuing normativity of the civil law on priniciple (cf. Bahnsen, By This Standard, 301) postivel y contradicts the WCF in at least four points: 1) the threefold division of the law, 2) the assertion that the civil law has expired, 3) the recognition of ad hoc principles in the civil law, and 4) in its definition of "general equity." Thus, if the Reconstructionists are right in their view, the Confession must of necessity be declared antinomian in its view of God's law. This alone ought to make clear the fact that Theonomy is not extra-confessional, but anti-confessional.

Endnotes:

1. Sinclair Ferguson's superb article "An Assembly of Theonomists?" in 
Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, 315-349, is highly recommended for a more 
in-depth view of this subject.

2. Gary DeMar, The Debate Over Christian Reconstruction, 3. See also, 
Theonomy, 517-548.

3. Meredith G. Kline, "Comments on an Old-New Error," Westminster 
Theological Journal 41:1 (1978): 173. It is very important to note here 
that Kline does not, in his article, say that theonomic claims about the 
continuing normative authority of case laws have precedent in the WCF, but 
that theonomic arguments for the responsibility of the civil magistrate to 
enforce the first four commandments of the Decalogue have precedent in the 
WCF. Hence, DeMar misrepresents Kline's concessions in his reference to 
Kline's words in The Debate over Christian Reconstruction, 3.

4. See "Comments on an Old-New Error," 174.

5. For those not so familiar with the debates on church-state relations in the 
seventeenth century, Erastianism is the view "that the state has the right 
to intervene and overrule in church affairs," see Peter Toon's article on 
Erastianism in J.D. Douglas, ed., The New International Dictionary of the 
Christian Church, rev. ed. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1978), 351; see also 
William Cunningham's discussion of "The Erastian Controversy" in Historical 
Theology, (Edinburgh: Banner of Truth Trust, 1979), 2:557-587.

6. See "Comments on an Old-New Error," 175.

7. The "establishment" view of church-state relations (which should not be 
confused with Erastianism, as Kline unfortunately seems to do) is that the 
state should establish a particular church (e.g., in England--the Church of 
England [episcopal in form], and in Scotland--The Church of Scotland 
[presbyterian in form]) and work with it for the advancement of the cause 
of religion in the realm. We may paraphrase William Cunningham's 
description of the principle behind this view: the
obligation to advance the cause of God, and the Kingdom of Christ lies not 
only with individuals, but also with rulers and nations. See Historical 
Theology, 2:560.

8. Not the more extreme "voluntaryism" of British independency which 
operated on the principle that the responsibility for the advancement of 
the cause of Christ rests merely on individual men, rather than rulers and 
nations (see again Historical Theology), but a "moderate voluntaryism" 
which explicitly intended government to favor the Christian religion (but 
not one particular denomination), protect all denominations of Christians, 
pass no law hindering Christian ministers and church members in the due 
exercise of religion, and to uphold the moral law. Cf., WCF 23:2,3 
(American revision). We will discuss this point more fully later.

9. Bahnsen argues as much in "M.G. Kline on Theonomic Politics," 
Journal of Christian Reconstruction 6:2 (Winter 1979-80): 201.

10. Kline says, "The question that would have to be faced today is 
whether WCF 19:4 retains its original sense. Did the 1788 revision of the 
Confession in explicitly modifying 23:3 implicitly modify the meaning of 
the unchanged wording of 19:4?" "Comments on an Old-New Error," 175. The 
answer to that query is no. However, this is not the issue which needs to 
be dealt with at all.

11. It may be further added that the WCF's designation of a portion of 
the law as "judicial" was in no way intended to suggest "that the 
judicial-political aspect of Israel's life did not participate in the 
ceremonial-typological dimension of the kingdom of God in its old covenant 
form" as Kline claims in "Comments on an Old-New Error," 175, n.4. The 
Assembly had no intention of providing a detailed discussion of legal 
typology or denying the typological dimensions of the theocracy, but with 
the phrase "as a body politick" was concerned to provide a reasonable, 
biblical rationale for the abrogation of a part of God's law under the New 
Covenant, while maintaining the abiding validity of the moral law.

12. The American Presbyterian Church took exception to WCF 23:3 in 1729, 
then when the official standards were amended and adopted in 1788 this 
section was one of those amended.

13. Theonomy, 537.

14. Appeal to scriptural proofs to establish the views of the Assembly 
on any issue is problematic, since the Assembly originally submitted the 
Confession to Commons without them, was not in favor of their inclusion, 
and hastily attached them upon command of Parliament.

15. Theonomy, 537.

16. Theonomy, 540.

17. Bahnsen actually appeals to the phrase in 23:3 which indicates that 
it is the magistrate's duty "to take order, that ... all the ordinances of 
God [are] duly settled, administered, and observed," Theonomy, 537.

18. Including Bahnsen's own thorough discussion in Theonomy, 526-539; 
see also Cunningham, Historical Theology, 557-587; Neil Macleod, "Church 
and State" in Hold Fast Your Confession, ed. Donald Macleod (Edinburgh: The 
Knox Press, 1978), 45-72.

19. Sinclair Ferguson, "An Assembly of Theonomists?" in Theonomy: A 
Reformed Critique, 337.

20. Theonomy, 541-544; see also Sinclair Ferguson "An Assembly of 
Theonomists," Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, 323.

21. E.D. Morris, Theology of the Westminster Symbols, 572.

22. See By This Standard, 290-291; Bahnsen is unusually evasive here.

23. The validity of this assertion is not dependent upon determining 
the precise relation between church and state in ancient Israel. Even a 
cursory reading of the Old Testament confirms the intention of the Mosaic 
code to establish one body of believers as the sole earthly representation 
of the covenant community.

24. See Theonomy, 310-311.

25. Theonomy, 540; Bahnsen goes on to draw support for his argument 
from the Scripture references employed in 19:4.

26. "An Assembly of Theonomists?," 328-329.

27. Note how Kelly and Rollinson render 19:4, "God also gave the 
Israelites, as a political body, various judicial laws. These expired with 
the state of Israel and make no further obligation on God's people than 
seems appropriate in contemporary legal codes." The Westminster Confession 
of Faith: An Authentic Modern Version, rev. ed., (Signal Mountain, TN: 
Summertown Texts, 1984), 30.

28. Donald Remillard's contemporary translation puts it even more 
forcefully (if somewhat awkwardly): "God gave various statutory laws to the 
people of Israel for social order. When Israel ceased as a state, these 
laws were not obligatory for any other nation. However, these laws may 
instruct a community in common justice for all." A Contemporary Edition of 
the Westminster Confession of Faith, 4th ed. (Presby Press, 1988), 51.

29. Ferguson's comments in "An Assembly of Theonomists?," 329 and 
345-349 are well-taken. The WCF certainly allows for latitude in practical 
usage of the judicials in the modern state. However, the fact remains that 
Bahnsen's thesis is an all-or-nothing proposition (even if the Confession's 
treatment is not). If he is right, then one cannot choose to be more or 
less theonomic. The only alternatives are theonomy and autonomy. Hence, if 
the WCF is to escape Bahnsen's charge of "latent antinomianism" or of being 
"theologically mistaken" (see By This Standard, 301-302), it must be shown 
to be theonomic in theory, not simply open to a liberal contemporary 
employment of the civil law. But of course, this is just what cannot be 
demonstrated, for as Ferguson rightly concludes: "theoretical theonomy as 
such is not the teaching of the Westminster Confession of Faith," "An 
Assembly of Theonomists?," 348.

30. "Such is to allow God to be viewed as arbitrary" perhaps Bahnsen 
would say. See Theonomy, 310, n.1.

31. One may detect a pattern in Reconstructionist literature in which 
unity is stressed and diversity is denied, de-emphasized, or reduced to 
externals. This may be evidenced in their views on progress in redemptive 
history as well as their treatment of the law. Perhaps philosophical 
idealism has so taken control here that the one has been stressed at the 
expense of the many. For more thoughts along this line, see John Frame, 
"The One, The Many, and Theonomy" in Theonomy: A Reformed Critique, 89-99.

32. By This Standard, 137-138.

33. See Institutes, 4.20.16, 2:1504; and Ferguson, "An Assembly of 
Theonomists?," 329-334.

34. Ibid., 334.

35. Institutes of Biblical Law, 551.

 

J. Ligon Duncan III, PhD
Senior Minister, First Presbyterian Church
Phone 601 973 9104 FAX 601 353 9686 (direct lines to Ministers' Office)
Website: www.fpcjackson.org
Office email: lduncan@fpcjackson.org

 

 

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