Note: What follows is my synthesis and impression of the whole thing based on a lot of reading and thinking. That does not imply that I’m speaking authoritatively or even accurately. If I’ve boned it up in here, I’d like to know, especially since some of my impressions of this are probably not going to receive much happy-claps from theonomists or historians. I don’t think I’ve come up with anything original, just my own opinions and words on what’s probably been hashed over by better men than me. What I did conscientiously attempt to do is avoid the ad-hominem and straw-man thing that seems to be the theonomists’ biggest beef with their detractors.
So did the Puritan utopia work out?
Nope. Here’s why I think so, and I have some references to back this up.
Something that sort of fits, a session with Albert Mohler on his Thinking In Public podcast entitled Christianity and Worldview on the Geopolitical Stage: A Conversation with Walter Russell Mead
And another is Peter Leithart’s “Defending Constantine” to which I’ve referred a little before.
And the White Horse Inn gang on The New Covenant
I understand that these are all recent, but I see that often my studies sort of circle around each other and providence is most likely involved in the curious ways external source themes arise that apply to what I’m working on.
First, the utopia ended. There must be a reason. Some will say that it was a breakdown of the covenantal union of the people in the society. Some might say that they were repressed into failure. I think, based on my reading, that more likely the system, honorable and well-intended as it was, was doomed to fail. And had it not failed in the way that it did, we’d have a little sister version of the Roman Catholic Church in our backyard. I can’t back up this last statement much, but if you read the Leithart book, you just might see the hints therein. I suspect that, rather than lending credence to the idea of theonomy being good for society, the fallout lends itself to indications that it is not feasible. Notice that I didn’t claim theonomy is outright wrong as a system of government, just that it isn’t going to work.
As Christians, we are to be peacemakers.
John 18:36: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world.”
Matthew 5:38-52 “You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist the one who is evil. But if anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if anyone would sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well. And if anyone forces you to go one mile, go with him two miles. Give to the one who begs from you, and do not refuse the one who would borrow from you.”
Matthew 5:9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God”
God has demonstrated this policy even in the “horribly warmongering” Old Testament. He visited peace and mercy on many, many of His enemies and taught Israel the same thing. His directives for conquest and violence were not the only way our God dealt with His creation. Keep this thought in mind as I go along.
My thought here is that the colonial “theonomic” form of government failed because of doctrines, conflicts and plenty of other things that eroded the unity and integrity of the society. It proves (to me) the inability of a state of Christendom to sustain itself. If not internal strife and error, there is no question of the capitulation of leaders who had to maintain peace with their neighbors. I refer directly to the ideas discussed in the Mohler piece above. Christians of particular traditions have had to change their theological language, practice and priorities in order to coexist with the surrounding friendly, yet different groups. They have been dispersed by disease or war over and over again. Sometimes disease or war caused by their own systems.
I’d hazard a guess that, in fact, to militantly adhere to the idea of theonomic society is to promote conflict. The idea that God’s law should be the standard for a secular government implies a call for Christians to “bear arms” for their faith-society which results in Christians dying for their faith – sort of. I mean that martyrs in the Biblical sense won’t be made, rather something more similar to extremist “martyrs” today. I do not write this in order to stir up or provoke, it is frankly how I see it. If you take unregenerates, give them God’s Law, they at most become a legalistic system that unavoidably has a skewed understanding of the what-and-why of the whole thing. Compare to what happened in Oslo recently. Extrapolate to what other, non-Biblical cultures have developed for their systems of law and the philosophy of action that ensues (extremists are not all that extreme if you take the Biblical concept of total depravity).
Look, Christians are pictured as humble, suffering people who are at peace, as much as possible, with all and who submit to not only their elders but the states to which they belong. It should not be wrong to think that a Christian can fight to defend his land and people from danger – nobody has said he cannot do this. But for him to arm and fight against politics and philosophies? Are those not the battle of the church, whose weapon is the Word of God?
Romans 12:14-21 “Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse them. Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight. Repay no one evil for evil, but give thought to do what is honorable in the sight of all. If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all. Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”
In reading Leithart’s Constantine, it is apparent that in creating a society that is entirely under God’s law, both cult and culture – church and politics, war is going to erupt or compromise is going to be engaged. It is apparent that the theonomic ideology is flawed, not because God’s Law is abrogated or obsolete, rather because it was not codified as a government system with the pagan world in mind. In fact, the only way for God’s law to work might be if one loks to the millennium of dispensational theology wherein, after the tribulation, 1,000 years of the good-life is happening on Earth as a “restored” literal kingdom under Christ the King (which, of course, is not restored in any sense, since there hasn’t been a literal physical kingdom of Christ anywhere in temporal history).
Let me say it again. The failure of theonomy is not that God’s Law is wrong. It is actually the fact that God’s Law is prescribed in morals for all of God’s children. The penal system was for Israel. There is, however, a corresponding penal system for the Church which is known as church discipline which is carried out in the context of the church, never the state, nor from the church to the state.
Another recent discussion of the Law issue is this one from the White Horse Inn: “Why Can’t I Own Canadians?”