Theonomy and R. J. Rushdoony have never been so popular. Ever since Ryan Lizza’s piece on Michele Bachman in the New Yorker appeared, bloggers and columnists had been taking shots at the journalist for allegedly writing a hit piece on the congresswoman from Minnesota. The latest to weigh in is Michael Gerson, George W. Bush’s speech writer, and a columnist for the Washington Post. According to Gerson:
The Dominionist goal is the imposition of a Christian version of sharia law in which adulterers, homosexuals and perhaps recalcitrant children would be subject to capital punishment. It is enough to spoil the sleep of any New Yorker subscriber. But there is a problem: Dominionism, though possessing cosmic ambitions, is a movement that could fit in a phone booth. The followers of R.J. Rushdoony produce more books than converts.
So it becomes necessary to stretch the case a bit. Perry admittedly doesn’t attend a Dominionist church or make Dominionist arguments, but he once allowed himself to be prayed for by some suspicious characters. Bachmann once attended a school that had a law review that said some disturbing things. She assisted a professor who once spoke at a convention that included some alarming people. Her belief that federal tax rates should not be higher than 10 percent, Goldberg explains, is “common in Reconstructionist circles.”
The evidence that Bachmann may countenance the death penalty for adulterers? Support for low marginal tax rates.
Since theonomists recently dismissed me and other 2kers as infidels for not supporting the death penalty for adultery, Gerson’s words have a certain poignancy. As I argued at Front Porch Republic, the word Dominionism is proving to be a real distraction from a much bigger issue for Protestants who may not be as obscure as the Dominionists (wherever they are — do they have a website, journal, or institution?). Theonomy or Reconstruction may be acquired tastes among Reformed Protestants who hold neo-Calvinism dear, but a wide swath of conservative Calvinists — some whom Gerson knows — defend the Kuyperian view of the antithesis in ways that make the world safe for Michele Bachmann and many evangelicals who also see the social world in black and white categories. The reason for this convergence owes to a rejection of appeals to the light of nature in favor of special revelation and regenerate interpretations of the Bible alone (to be interpreted by regenerate people, mind you) for arriving at Total Truth. Such conservative Protestants may not follow theonomists in supporting the death penalty for disobedient adult covenant children, but they do believe the Bible should be the basis both for the public square and arguments about how the best way to run the public square.
As I pointed out in one comment at Greenbaggins:
. . . there are at least three different critiques of 2k but those critiques are also at odds:
1) the 16th century view of the magistrate and his duties to promote the true religion is one critique. (But this critique is marginal to contemporary Reformed communions because all the Presbyterian and Reformed churches of which most of us here are members have repudiated those views and revised our confessions).
2) the generally Kuyperian view that Christ is Lord of all things which reads the relationship between general and revelation in a particular way against 2k. (This is generally Kuyperian because this view is only implicit in Kuyper who also rejected the 16th century view of the magistrate and who also held up the ancient philosophers as models of political philosophy despite their lacking special revelation.) If someone could actually explain the Kuyperian view it would be very helpful and I have ask Mark many times for it and he keeps avoiding an answer.
3) there is the theonomist critique which is a reading of the law of recent vintage (though it may pull from earlier Reformed thinkers) and which has no standing in any of the Reformed churches represented here (as in people asking for the magistrate to execute adulterers).
These three critiques are not in agreement and the third would actually have to take as much issue with the first two as with 2k because those other positions don’t follow the law any more than 2k does (as theonomists understand the law).
So with all of this hostility, it would be useful for the critic to identify himself and what the model or standard is for which he stands. The first two critiques hold up part of a historical example and use that against 2k to show that 2k has departed from a certain standard. But the entire Reformed world has moved from those earlier expressions. So the first two critiques need to explain what the new model is now that Reformed churches have moved on.
Theonomists don’t really need to identify themselves. I generally get their objection. I just don’t see why theonomy is as much a problem for Calvin as it is for Kuyper.
In other words, the one position available to conservative Protestants for demonstrating that they do not hold a view of biblical law comparable to sharia — the 2k theology and its use of the order of creation and the moral sense that all people have — is anathema or nonsensical to many who call themselves neo-Calvinists, evangelicals, and theonomists. As I (the one in all about me) have also argued, at least the theonomists are consistent. But what folks like Gerson seem to be in denial about is the working assumption that prevents most evangelicals folks from embracing 2k — that God’s truth only comes from the Bible and the regenerate who alone have the capacity, through the lens of Scripture, to understand the created order aright.
This doesn’t make Bachmann or Keller, or Kloosterman, or the Baylys dominionists — the Federal Visionaries are another matter. But they are all using the same play book — an understanding of worldview that relies on the basic distinction between the redeemed and the lost. For that reason, outsiders like Lizza and others outside the Christian camp, may have trouble knowing when a Christian entering the public square is going to follow Scripture or not. I am still waiting to hear the argument that says we will follow biblical teaching for civil laws on marriage, sex, and murder but not on idolatry, blasphemy, or the Sabbath. Until the critics of 2k start to criticize each other — sort of the way that conservatives were wondering when feminists would turn on Bill Clinton for his dalliance with Monica — knowing how to distinguish Dominionists from the rest of the Bible-onlyists will require a special playbook.