Theonomic Dreaming: President Obama Gets Religion

One of the recurring criticisms of 2k is that it denies the authority of God’s word for the civil magistrate. In some cases, the assertion is simply that the state should enforce both tables of the law. But since God’s word is filled with teaching that is binding, the anti-2k view does not lead necessarily to a narrow view of God’s law – as in only what Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai. In fact, among the theonomic critics of 2k, the laws of Israel are as much part of God’s law as the Decalogue.

So, let’s see what happens when President Obama is having a quiet time (after recently speaking at the National Prayer Breakfast where he gave his testimony: “My Christian faith then has been a sustaining force for me over these last few years”). He orders one of Max Lucado’s books sold by his former church in Chicago, where Jeremiah Wright was pastor, and begins to read through parts of Scripture on his own. He comes to the conclusion that murder is absolutely wrong and that abortion in many cases seems to be at odds with God’s law. He calls for a meeting of his cabinet to address the matter, calls the Speaker of the House about drafting legislation, and may even decide to address the nation during prime time.

Is that enough for the critics of 2k, or do they want President Obama to go farther and read the New Testament as well?

So let’s say the President continues to read the Bible daily and comes to the conviction, after counsel from nearby pastor, Mark Dever, that infant baptism is sinful. He knows that many churches, both Roman Catholic and Protestant, practice infant baptism. But he still believes that God’s word teaches only people who have made a credible profession of faith are eligible for baptism. So he calls another round of meetings with cabinet officials, members of Congress, and church leaders to begin to draft legislation that would prohibit infant baptism. Let’s also suppose that he gave the churches a year to stop their practices and if they did not the government would shut down all congregations that still used a baptismal font.

This scenario is not so hard to imagine since Presbyterians in Scotland and Northern Ireland experienced from Oliver Cromwell the kind of repression that President Obama might visit on Reformed churches if he got evangelical religion. According to Crawford Gribben, The Irish Presbyterians Puritans:

In May 1653, the English elite decided to remove the leading Presbyterian ministers and lay families [from Northern Ireland] by force to a remote part of Ireland. This plan, the goal of which was described as sending Presbyterian “to hell or Connaught”, was so breathtaking that it was never actualy carried out. Leading Catholics were removed instead.

The fact that this plan was adopted by leading Irish Independents shows the betrayal that existed at the heart of the Puritan alliance. . . . These Puritans believed that, with the end of the Stuart monarchy in the execution of King Charles, the fourth monarch was being swept away, and would be replaced by the millennial kingdom of God.

The Fifth Monarchist vision of the kingdom was grounded in Old Testament law. They believed that the coming kingdom . . . would see the restructuring of civilization. All over the world, nations would be brought into submission to King Jesus, who would govern them with a “rod of iron”. The evidence of his rule would be that the nations would abandon their old laws, and be governed instead by the laws of the Bible . . . . English policy in Ireland was governed by this type of millennial interest. (pp. 101, 103)

Is this the kind of magistrate that anti-2kers want? Is this the kind of eschatology that anti-2kers affirm? If they don’t, how do they distinguish between a magistrate that enforces only part of God’s word and one who follows Scripture in everything, both national and ecclesiastical policy? I know I have raised this point in other ways before. But it does seem mightily selective to think that magistrates need to pay attention to sexual sins but need to mind their business when it comes to liturgical infidelity.

Can you really have a godly magistrate without having a ruler with powers that restrict the church? Is it really possible for the separation between church and state to apply only to the first table of the law and not to the second also? If Israel is the model, and if Old Testament Israel was biblical – duh – then those questions would seem to answer themselves.

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  1. Posted February 13, 2011 at 2:01 pm | Permalink

    DGH: But they also do not consider that the theology of theonomy is not the same as attributing to Geneva the powers of King David.

    Spin that out a bit. What are the precise differences you see?

    DGH: …most notably the Covenanters and theonomists. But the latter have no ability to adjust to the modern state post 1776.

    How are Covenanters different from theonomists in outlook? I see both as post-mil, kingdom of God is ruled by the state, over-realized eschatology types. You’ve hinted in the past that you give more latitude to the Covenanters, so you clearly see a difference.

  2. Lily
    Posted February 13, 2011 at 3:50 pm | Permalink

    Dear DGH,

    Many thanks for the thoughtful and helpful explanation. Definitely underrated at 1 cent value. :)

    May you, your wife, and kitties be extra blessed with grace and wisdom in the days ahead.

  3. Posted February 13, 2011 at 4:23 pm | Permalink

    Jeff, here’s how I understand it. Calvin did not consider Geneva to be operating under the civil and ceremonial laws of Israel. He recognized that Christ brought an end to the Mosaic economy. The theonomists over at Green Baggins seem to vacilate wildly between following the OT and following Geneva. Plus, the idea that the magistrate should enforce both tables is not the same as the magistrate trying to institute a government that prosecutes the redemption of God’s people.

    Both Covenanters and theonomists seem to be attached to a particular historical moment that is well beyond the OT political order. It might be Geneva in 1555 or Scotland in 1581. Someone needs to explain to me at least in the case of the Covenanters how the covenant King James VI made with parliament is in anyway binding on citizens of the United States or Canada for that matter. Plus, those who pine for Geneva need to square that political order with a “Christian” America that recognizes Baptists and Methodists as legitimate churches. Geneva was not about tolerance for a range of Protestant denominations. Calvin did not know denominationalism.

  4. Lily
    Posted February 13, 2011 at 5:49 pm | Permalink


    You explain this so beautifully. I am baffled how the Covenanters and Theonomists could miss the examples of James VI and Geneva.

    There is also the example of the Anglicans where the Monarch is co-head with the Archbishop of Canterbury. Parliament is now in the process of deciding the controversy over allowing women to become Bishops in the Church of England. It seems that parliament has the power to do this for the CoE and enforce it. It seems that these kinds of things were behind the Anglo-Catholics in England defecting to Rome. (This news story was in one of your recent posts)

    What are these Theonomists going to do if the government rejects their plans for Christianizing our laws to their tastes and decides we should starting incorporating Sharia law instead? Will they want to repeat history and relive the religious wars in Europe or will they obey the God ordained government. Kyrie eleison!

  5. Posted February 13, 2011 at 8:19 pm | Permalink

    DGH: plus, those who pine for Geneva need to square that political order with a “Christian” America that recognizes Baptists and Methodists as legitimate churches.

    Well, I agree there. Bahnsen’s No Other Standard (ch. 10) argues simultaneously for retaining punishments for apostasy AND for tolerating differences amongst Christian denominations. I find that easy to see if one’s reference point is Owens (as his is); but hard to see as a point of logical consistency. Do Catholics count as Christians? Arminians? Socinians? Open theists?

  6. Posted February 14, 2011 at 8:55 am | Permalink

    DGH said: “Where I believe Reformed and Lutherans differ on this is that Reformed may have better theological grounds for being 2k. Lutherans seem to get it mainly from justification and I do think this is a strong point. But the covenant theology among the Reformed, which notices the important redemptive differences between Israel and the church, strikes me as richer material from which to construe 2k.”

    I would agree with this statement and Van Drunen flushes this out very convincingly in both his NL and 2K and Living in God’s Two Kingdoms books. What I have never heard a Lutheran theologian talk about is the covenant with Noah the way Reformed theologians do- especially those of a 2K stripe. And how they see this covenant as a modified form of the cultural mandate (Gen. 1:26-28) after the fall of Adam. Man, even after regeneration, is not supposed to take up this cultural mandate again and become a second Adam type. Christ was the second Adam and completed what the first Adam failed to do and thus won for those who believe in him (Jesus) the “world to come” and eternal life.

    I also find it ironic that Mormons and other Gnostic types point to the cultural mandate and “taking over” the culture as part of their becoming “little gods.” Many religions have a type of teaching which borders on the gnostic idea of apotheosis. As a believer becomes more entrenched with this type of sanctification he is making himself into a god. Another good reason to believe in justification priority.

    I could go into a section of scripture in Mathew 19 which kind of relates to this topic but I will save it for later because I have a commitment I have to go to now.

  7. Lily
    Posted February 16, 2011 at 3:22 pm | Permalink

    Dear DGH,

    I have continued to ruminate on your thoughtful answer – especially this part:

    You wrote: “Where I believe Reformed and Lutherans differ on this is that Reformed may have better theological grounds for being 2k. Lutherans seem to get it mainly from justification and I do think this is a strong point. But the covenant theology among the Reformed, which notices the important redemptive differences between Israel and the church, strikes me as richer material from which to construe 2k.”

    Now that I’ve had some time to think, is it too late to ask some questions?

    From my point of view, I cannot enter God’s kingdom without justification through faith. With justification as my central or controlling doctrine, it always drives me to Christ and the solas (grace alone, faith alone, Christ alone). This is the only way I know to judge doctrine.

    I don’t see how the Reformed 2k will not have the same kinds of problems as Union with Christ (UWC) does if justification is not the clear central or controlling doctrine in 2k. Like UWC, it seems the differences between Israel and the Church would be helpful for fleshing things out, but where are the safeguards and boundaries to keep it from having problems similar to UWC? Both may be rich doctrines, but people seem to slide off the road with them because justification is not central. Where in Reformed 2k does the doctrine drive you back to the solas to keep Christ clearly central like justification by faith does?

    I hope my concern about the Reformed 2k makes sense. At this point, I don’t see how it won’t have similar problems as Union with Christ if justification is not central. What is the controlling or central doctrine in Reformed 2k?

  8. Posted February 16, 2011 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    Lily, technically speaking Reformed do not have a central doctrine (at least that’s what we say). I do agree with you on the import of justification and I see it as crucial to 2k — it’s the only way to distinguish between the righteousness God requires and the righteousness we’d like to see in the city of man. But I do think that covenant theology reinforces and deepens this distinction by giving law and gospel the covenantal context of the covenant of works and the covenant of grace.

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