James Leroy Wilson's blog

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Theonomy isn't Statist Theocracy

I hope even atheist readers of this blog will appreciate this from Calvinist pastor Douglas Wilson. He founded the modern classical Christian school movement, edits (and writes a lot of) Credenda/Agenda, and basically founded a new denomination. Think Murray Rothbard with religion, and you get this guy's breadth, depth, and talent. He's been caught in the unfortunate entanglement of the "Christian Reconstructionist" movement, of which his ideas are often similar, and the maniacal and politicized "Religious Right" who vote for and make ridiculous excuses for the small-minded tyrant in the White House.

Anyway, here's a (large) excerpt of his reply to the latest charges against him:

A crime is identified in the Bible by the presence of an attendant civil penalty. Lust is a sin, but not a crime. Greed is a sin, but not a crime. Drunkenness in the Bible is a sin, but not a crime. Reasoning by analogy, drunk driving that injures someone else would be a crime. But all this is assuming a utopian biblical society, which does not at present exist.

So in our democratic and secular society, whenever we talk about sins and crimes, if we are thinking carefully, we have to ask ourselves, by what standard? How do we define a sin? How do we define a crime? And because we live in a town where some of our Intoleristas are hyperventilating about the looming prospect of living in a theocratic state set up by old yours truly, I need to spend a few minutes to allay some of their concerns (and perhaps to inflame others).

Theonomy is a word that simply refers to God's law. In the minds of many, this is nothing more than the Christian equivalent of Muslim law, which is (for various reasons) not really an accurate comparison. But over the years I have been asked a number of times if I am a theonomist. To which I have consistently replied, "Oh no, I hate God's law." And the point of that kind of reply is to show that every Christian who believes the Bible is some kind of theonomist. The only debates we Christians have are exegetical: "What does God want from us?" and not "Should we do wantever it is God wants?" Even a muddled Christian who argues for some form of what he calls "principled pluralism" can be asked if he thinks that this principled pluralism is what God wants as well. If not, then why does he want it? And if so, then isn't principled pluralism just another form of theonomy?

Every state is inescapably theocratic. Every state is theonomic. The thing that separates one state from another is the name of the god, the identity of the theos involved. In some societies it is Allah. In others (like ours) it is Demos. In yet others, it is still (nominally) Christ, as in the United Kingdom. Now, as a Christian, when a pollster comes and asks me for my input on which god we should serve, I will tell him. And here is a little hint: it won't be a god in whom I do not believe. If given an opportunity to say something about it, I would prefer the laws of the civil societry in which I live to reflect the standards of God as set forth in the (entire) Bible, and my desire is for Jesus Christ to be honored in the public square as the Son of God and Savior of the world. Of course I think this. I am a Christian.

Now as soon as I say this, the immediate response of panic will be to say, "See! They do want to take over!" No, not at all. If by "taking over" you mean a political mobilization and coercive manipulation of the current system to force our way in, we want nothing to do with that. We do want to persuade, and we want that persuasion to be the opposite of coercive. People think that Jesus Christ will be coercive because the current god is so coercive. Behold the god that is currently the Demos-cratic Theos-Cratic god of our system. His middle name is Coercion, and what we are doing is refusing to worship in that shrine anymore.


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