- Bounds of Love – Review, Part 1: Summary
- Bounds of Love – Review, Part 2: Strengths
- Bounds of Love – Review, Part 3: Weaknesses
- Bounds of Love – Review, Part 4: Moving Forward
The greatest strength of McDurmon’s book is his willingness to change his mind. When God grants us the grace to admit we were wrong he humbles us. Humility breaks down barriers, enables relationships to grow, and provides an example for all to follow. May God grant us all humility as we seek to properly understand his Word and apply it to all of life, allowing others to sharpen us in the process.
While all of these sexual sins—adultery, sodomy, and bestiality—remain abominable sins, with the coming of Christ and the abolition of the Old Covenant administration, they can no longer be said to be capital crimes. As revolting as any of them they may be, the reasons they were earlier given the death penalty was not merely sexual perversion, but for violating sacred boundaries that at the time were placed under the jurisdiction of the civil government. With these boundaries now removed, the civil government no longer has authority to impose death. In light of this, I have revised my earlier published views that adultery and homosexual sodomy are punishable by the death penalty. (65)
This presents an about-face from McDurmon’s strong stance just a year ago in his debate with J.D. Hall. In our analysis of the debate, we said
McDurmon cited the example of Thomas Granger’s hanging for buggery [sodomy] in the Massachusetts Bay Colony in 1642 and asked “Was his hanging just?” He later asks again, “That is God’s standard and you have to show why that standard is now unjust and I haven’t heard an answer to that question.” We would like to answer as clearly and directly as possible: Thomas Granger’s hanging was unjust. As were the hangings of Quakers and adulterers and witches in that colony.
(Note, however, that McDurmon’s language is not as strong as ours. Though he says civil government “no longer has authority to impose death” for sodomy, he doesn’t refer to such a punishment as unjust. We’ll come back to this point in the next section.)
McDurmon was not only willing to admit he was wrong in his interpretation of the law, but that other theonomists, notably Bahnsen, did not give due weight to their critics.
I have waded into a sort of “no man’s land” between what, in the past, were unfortunately seen as warring factions. While the vast majority of critics of Theonomy past and present have been of a knee-jerk and even dishonest variety, a few talented, considerate, and largely sympathetic critics provided careful exegetical responses that took Mosaic law seriously, even for modern civil governments, yet saw biblical theological reasons to drop several of the death penalties and make other modifications. I see my own analysis lining up with a good portion of theirs. Some of the foundational authors of modern Theonomy took too much exception to such analysis too readily, and their intransigence, while certainly earnest, led to division rather than scholarly engagement. This hindered the textual exegesis, analysis, and application that remained. The division led some to drop the label “theonomist,” as if another’s rejection of their qualifications demanded it. This is unnecessary. (136)
Having listened to Bahnsen’s numerous taped lectures responding to his critics, I completely agree. While he very well points out where many of his critics’ arguments fail, at other times he misses the forest for the trees. He was often so focused on demonstrating the philosophical and logical errors of their criticism that he was not willing to listen to anything they had to say. He was too defensive to work together with others. Now, of course, such defensiveness was understandable given the treatment he received by many, and most were not exactly eager to work together with him in his project. But McDurmon is right that this hindered textual exegesis. As we have said previously, “Theonomy’s strength is its commitment to presuppositionalism – the belief that political philosophy must be derived from Scripture. Its weakness is its actual exegesis of Scripture.”
McDurmon notes “I think Bahnsen’s category of ‘standing laws’ laws was primitive and needed much development”. (142) I heartily concur. But this primitive, simplistic understanding of God’s law has defined theonomy over the last 40 years. It is the very problem with theonomy. Here is a typical example from Bahnsen:
It is written, you shall be holy, for I am holy. Now, does God have a holiness, a standard of ethics of perfection that is changing? Did God see beastiality as wrong in the wrong but indifferent in the New? Did he say it was wrong to allow a witch to live in the Old Testament, but in the NT it’s wrong to execute a witch? Does God change his mind about these things? Malachi 3:6 we read “I am the LORD, I change not.” Remember what we said last hour how God keeps citing that word LORD or Jehova when he wants you to get the implications of his character and the way he functions in this world. One of the things it is to be the LORD is not to change, not to be fickle. I want you to think how dreadful it would be if you had a fickle, changing God – a God who promises one thing and delivers another. A God who says ‘Yeah, this is wrong, but I changed by mind about it.’ Well, we all know what it is in this area, if you drive around, to go from a dry county in the South to a wet county – a county that prohibits liquor to a count that allows the sale of liquor… Now, is God like that? Does God say, ‘Well, within certain boundaries here, let’s say the land of Palestine, or in certain days, like say ancient Israel, having sexual relations with animals was terrible, it’s abominable, indeed it’s a capital crime, but over in this county, if you just come over here or wait for a few years to pass, then the law will change.’ If you have that kind of a God, not only is ethical confusion created… but the very assurance of our salvation is taken away, not because we are saved by the law, but because we’re saved by an unchanging God.
Thankfully, McDurmon acknowledges that “‘the law of God’ is a large and complex set of doctrines which is made more complex by the change in administrations between the Old and New Covenants.” (20) and his book demonstrates some of the necessary nuance that Bahnsen lacked. For example, while Bahnsen ridiculed the idea that the land of Canaan was in any way relevant to the continuation of Mosaic civil law, McDurmon recognizes it as the key to discerning discontinuity. This is encouraging.
But it raises an important question. McDurmon tries to characterize his revisions as simply addressing questions that prior theonomists never got around to.
theonomic writers since have often not thoroughly engaged important Old Testament passages to exhaust some of their most pressing questions. In some cases, writers have not addressed them at all, and in others have addressed them in a clumsy or inadequate way. In the light of calls for a return to Old Testament law in general, this predictably (though unfortunately) led to some writers and readers assuming that death penalties for things like blasphemy and apostasy carry into New Testament times without much thoughtful analysis or exegesis.” (116) […] Bahnsen himself made this clear at the outset of his seminal work, Theonomy in Christian Ethics, acknowledging first in the original “Preface” that he had not even attempted to address specific details of God’s law, only the formal general obligation to it, and second, that his work left “a great deal to be explored” and “extensive room for disagreement in the area of exegeting, understanding, and applying God’s law in specific situations. (137)
What are we to make of this? Well, we have two options:
1) Bahnsen did the exegesis.
In which case his exegesis was wrong.
2) Bahnsen did not do the exegesis.
In which case he disturbed the church of Christ for 20+ years teaching as doctrine the commandments of men that he never bothered to find in Scripture.
Make no mistake. Bahnsen never said that theonomy might imply the death of idolators. He said that it absolutely did. He did not say “I think Scripture must be the foundation of all civil ethics, but I’m not certain yet what that looks like.” He said “I think Scripture must be the foundation of all civil ethics. Therefore idolators must be put to death.” (paraphrasing)
If Bahnsen had been willing to define theonomy as McDurmon now does (“the biblical teaching that Mosaic Law contains perpetual moral standards for living, including some civil laws, which remain obligatory for today.”) then I believe there could have been much more fruitful dialogue. If Bahnsen had limited his definition to the presuppositional level, then he could have joined together with many of his critics to reject the position of many reformed theologians who deny political philosophy must be deduced from Scripture. Once that was settled, they could then discuss what exactly is deduced from Scripture when we study it. But because Bahnsen insisted not only on his presuppositional foundation, but on his flawed hermeneutic as well, he found critics of his presuppositionalism and his exegesis united against him.
And thus theonomy, a term established/popularized by Bahnsen, became defined by Bahnsen’s hermeneutic. As such, it has failed. However, if McDurmon and others are willing to reject Bahnsen’s hermeneutic in favor of something closer to Meredith Kline’s1 , while retaining Bahnsen’s presuppositionalism, then I think real progress in this discussion is possible. I mention Kline specifically because in his Bibliographic Essay, McDurmon notes
Two non-theonomists deserve special mention. After reading some of their contributions in comparison to my own conclusions here, I would, in fact, rather describe them both as almost-theonomists rather than non-theonomists, for we are virtually on the same page. The two are John Frame and Vern Poythress. Frame’s relevant contribution is his article, “Toward a Theology of the State,” originally in Westminster Theological Journal 51:2 (1989), 199–226.3 More important than this, however, is Poythress’s fairly thorough book, The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses (Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed, 1995). While I disagree with some of his conclusions, I find myself agreeing in most cases. This now-25-year-old work makes a great beginning point for further discussion, and quite frankly should have spawned such discussion seriously years ago. (143)
In his book, Poythress notes
In this book I disagree with theonomy on some significant matters of detail, but I affirm much of its principial concern regarding the value of the Old Testament.* Let us first be more specific about the disagreements. I repudiate the view that state penalties for false worship are ever just or appropriate within this age. But I do so on the basis of my understanding of the Mosaic law and of the penalties for false worship in Deut. 13:1-18 and 17:2-7 in particular. Hence I affirm what is often regarded as the essence of the theonomic view, namely the abiding value of the law. I affirm with great vigor the continuing value and relevance of the whole Old Testament, on the basis of the fact that it reveals our Lord Jesus Christ. Its law and its tabernacle imagery express the righteousness and holiness of Christ.
Thus the most significant disputes between myself and theonomy concern not the question of whether the law is binding but what the law means. The law is indeed binding on Christians. For example, we should obey the principles articulated in Deut. 13 and 17 and other Old Testament passages. But to obey them properly we must understand what they mean and how they foreshadow the fullness of righteousness and holiness found in Jesus Christ. Once we have that understanding, we can see that keeping the law means following Christ.
*My expressions of sympathy for theonomy must not, however, be understood as disagreements with the major competing position, that of Meredith G. Kline. I have learned much from Kline and it is arguable that my approach owes even more to him than to the theonomists.
Poythress’ disagreements with Bahnsen line up very closely with McDurmon’s and Poythress explains the reason for his disagreement with Bahnsen is his agreement with Kline’s hermeneutic and view of typology – something Bahnsen vehemently rejected (see “No Other Standard” p. 115ff & the Appendix in “Theonomy in Christian Ethics”).2 McDurmon implies that theonomy has never interacted with Poythress’ book, but Bahnsen actually wrote a thorough analysis of it as an appendix in “No Other Standard: Theonomy and Its Critics” wherein he states
Although Poythress is fundamentally a theonomist, the version of theonomy which he sets forth in his book suffers from certain avoidable shortcomings… A […] major flaw in Poythress’ book is his willingness to incorporate incoherence into his position by claiming that he can hold fundamentally to the theonomic perspective and yet “Paradoxically, I can also agree with a good deal in Kline’s intrusionist approach” (p. 343; cf. p. 399). It is an understatement to deem this paradoxical. It is rather evidence of logical inconsistency, for Kline’s position is in principle antithetical to theonomy… The incoherence of claiming to agree with both theonomy and Kline’s intrusionist position has, in principle, devastating consequences for Poythress’ theology. As logicians know very well, from contradictory premises one is able to prove anything whatsoever (by means of logical addition, then disjunctive syllogism)…3
Often enough the diilerences between Poythress and theonomy are simply matters of emphasis and expression. There are, nevertheless, considerable differences as well in hermeneutical method and in conclusions reached about the law… What I cannot endorse at many points is the actual manner in which he handles or interprets the law. As Poythress puts it, we are sometimes separated by our hermeneutical approach and by our different understanding of Old Testament details (d. pp. 344, 349)… [T]heonomists cannot readily endorse the practical outworking of Poythress’ approach to interpreting the law today because in crucial ways it employs unreliable reasoning…
Bahnsen’s statements line up with what we have said above. Theonomy is both the presuppositional argument concerning civil ethics and a particular hermeneutic.
Poythress feels he may transform God’s sacrifices for Israel into Gcd’s holy war against Israel simply because in some way both involve “consecration to utter destruction” (herem). This one point of contact becomes the crux for turning one concept into the other… He attempts to erect some rather momentous theological and ethical conclusions on the basis of that confiused and unwarranted premise (pp. 145-153). To put it briefly Poythress assimilates the legislation of Deuteronomy 13 (punishing a rebellious Jewish city for idolatry) to God’s holy war against the Canaanites – which God also pursued against the Israelites (by sacrificial substitu tion) – which “prefigures” Christ in His dying as our sacrificial substitute and waging war against Satanic hosts today – in which case Deuteronomy 13 (and everything Poythress hopes to “connect” to it in later discussions in his book)4 should not be applied by civil magistrates after the coming of Christ! The imaginative symbolism of treating sacrifices as holy war is simply too thin and too hermeneutically fallacious a reed on which to rest such a weighty and broad theological judgment.5
He says Deuteronomy 13 described “continuation of holy war in the land once it is conquered” (p. 148) and on this basis he eventually applies the legislation today to excommunication of those guilty of idolatry within the Christian church…6
Perhaps the best example of all, though, is found in the way Poythress treats the notion that certain crimes were punished in the Old Testament because of the special holiness or redemptive experience of Israel as a nation. He alludes to this notion repeatedly in his book (for instance, pp. 123, 162, 166, 181, 188-189, 205-206, 209, 211, 213, 217, 218, 229). More often than not, this is the rationale to which he turns when he disagrees with theonomists about the use of particular Old Testament civil penalties today. It is a crucial point in his theological reasoning. And yet it is so capriciously understood and applied by him as to be of virtually no argumentative value.
So not only had Bahnsen considered and rejected Poythress’ book, it would appear Bahnsen had already considered and rejected McDurmon’s as well. Bahnsen did affirm the use of typological interpretation, and he did affirm that Deuteronomy 13 could hypothetically place a limit on civil punishments today. But he specifically rejected the cherem principle as a valid argument.
It is much safer and Biblically sound to presume continuity with Old Testament moral demands (Deut. 4:2; Matt. 5:17- 19) – as properly understood through exegesis of their own original text and context — and then allow specific, relevant texts in the rest of Scripture to amplify or transform or even put aside those requirements, given the inauguration of the radically new age of salvation brought by Christ (e.g., the paradigm of Acts 10). This does not exclude the use of topological interpretation, nor does it prevent reasoning by analogy (regarding classes of laws). It simply demands that the premises of such arguments be justifiable on the basis of textual exegesis…
I should make clear that my point is not to insist that Deuteronomy 13 must be applied by civil magistrates today. Perhaps there is good Biblical reason to think that it should not. My point is simply that the interpretive procedure of Poythress has certainly not provided it. The defects in Poythress’ discussion are magnified by the fact that he attempts to make the difficult case the paradigm for understanding the less controversial cases of Old Testament penology (p. 139) – Something which is neither justified nor wise in theological procedure.
On this point, I think Bahnsen is mistaken and McDurmon is correct. Bahnsen was simply too focused on finding flaws to reason soberly at times. Consider his comments in response to Poythress and McDurmon’s (correct) belief that the cherem principle is applied by Paul ecclesiastically.
One arrives at the extremely odd conclusion, following the line of thought offered by Poythress, that the Old Testament prescription for false worship is to be applied today in the form of excommunication, remembering that the excommunicated person “is to be treated with love and respect” (p. 150). One must really strain his interpretive imagination to see the requirement of not not showing pity to a criminal but rather brutally stoning him to death (Deut. 13:8-9) as analogous to (connected to, related to, applied as) treating someone under church discipline with compassion! Multiple symbolic interpretation can make black and white out to be the same color.
As Bahnsen would affirm, an analogy is not an equivalent. In an analogy one particular point of similarity is emphasized amidst other points of dissimilarity. In this instance, the similarity is the concept of purging evil from a holy place. In the Old Covenant, the holy place was the land of Canaan, made holy by God’s presence, as McDurmon correctly explains. In the New Covenant, the holy place is the spiritual kingdom, the church of Christ, where God dwells within individual believers. Thus as various sins warranted one being purged from earthly Canaan by death, various unrepentant sins warrant one being purged from the spiritual kingdom by excommunication.
Bahnsen highlights the discrepancy between death in the one case and the allowance for repentance in the other as disproving the analogy. But all that proves is that the analogy is not equivalent on every point. That is to say, it’s an analogy. The point of difference is precisely related to the difference between the Old and the New Covenants. As McDurmon says (echoing Paul), the Old letter killed, while the New Spirit gives life. The Old Covenant was a covenant of works for life in the land of Israel and the penal sanctions were specifically said to be curses for failure to keep the law (Lev 18:5, cited in Gal 3:12 & Rom 10:5; Deuteronomy 27:26 (cited in Gal 3:10); Deuteronomy 21:22-23, cited in Gal 3:13 – this is a point McDurmon needs to develop more consistently, as we will see later). The New Covenant is the covenant of grace wherein Christ has perfectly kept the law and all who trust in him through repentant faith are freed from the curse of the law.
So McDurmon is correct when he says
It is clear that Paul is still applying the cherem/anathema principle in relation to First Table offenses, but the only sanction here is ecclesiastical. This in itself does not prove that the civil penalties no longer apply, but when taken together with the lessons from Hebrews, the change in the nature of administration of the covenants, and the transfer of temple/priesthood/land to Christ in heaven, it is illustrative. (58)
McDurmon winds up agreeing with one of the conclusions from the 1983 PCA Constitutional Inquiry on WCF 19.4.
QUESTION 5: ‘Are the penal sanctions of the judicial laws of the Old Testament, such as those found in Deuteronomy 13, part of the general equity and, therefore, are they to be applied today as they were to the State of Israel, assuming the government as a righteous government according to the truth of God?’
ANSWER: All laws of the Old Testament were equitable for the era for which they were designed. But great care must be taken to determine precisely how they apply to the present era. In the case of Deuteronomy 13, in which the state is directed to execute any individual who attempts in private to lead someone to worship another god, and to annihilate all members of a community that worship another god, it is the interpretation of the Eleventh General Assembly that the legislation applies to the distinctive era in which Israel was established by specific divine revelation as His theocratic nation, and should not be enforced by the state in the present era.
He also winds up agreeing with the critique I wrote of theonomy in 2014.
Sin was not allowed in this holy land because God’s presence dwelt there externally. In the words of Abraham Booth:
By the latter [God’s divine presence among them], they had a kind of local nearness to God, which conferred a relative sanctity; as appears by various instances… Thus the holiness of the people, equally as that of places, was derived from the external presence of God.” Now, as the Divine Presence had a local, visible residence over the mercy-seat, which was the throne of Jehovah ; as that Presence among the Israelites had such an extensive operation upon their state, both in respect of privilege and of duty ; as the whole nation was a typical people, and a great part of their worship of a shadowy nature ; we need not wonder, that in such an ecclesiastico-political kingdom almost every thing should be esteemed, in a relative sense, holy.
When Christ established His Kingdom, this Old Covenant was abolished and the holy land it governed was made common. The borders of this promised land were not expanded to cover all nations. No, Christ said His Kingdom is “not of this world.” His presence is no longer external, but is only internal. The establishment of this spiritual kingdom as an institution within and throughout physical kingdoms ultimately led to the undoing of the establishmentarian position (even if it was delayed for a millenia by the dark ages).
Rather than civil enforcement being carried over to the New Testament, what we see is civil enforcement (typological) being replaced with church enforcement (antitype)… The church is now considered holy, rather than any earthly kingdom. Thus unrepentant sin is not tolerated in the church and it must be purged. Paul specifically applied a civil judicial law to the church, and in so doing he proved that civil enforcement was a particular/positive aspect of the judicial law, not part of it’s general equity.
(We will discuss the “general equity” terminology in the next section).
In sum, McDurmon’s arguments are generally not new points for theonomy to consider. What is new is that theonomy is actually considering them. And for that we are very thankful.
That of course raises the question as to whether McDurmon can still be called a theonomist. To that I will have to answer both yes and no. Bahnsen was clear that theonomy was fundamentally the presuppositional argument that all civil ethics must be deduced from Scripture. In this sense he affirmed that “Poythress is fundamentally a theonomist.” And thus so is McDurmon. In his lecture on Church State Criticisms of Theonomy, Bahnsen said
It has been argued by some critics as well that the Old Testament theocracy was against the concept of freedom of religion, and therefore there’s a difference between Old and New Testament. Well, perhaps there is. If the New Testament teaches something that alters the idea of freedom of religion, then what I say as a theonomist is we must honor what it says. There’s nothing in theonomy that says there can be no changes. But theonomy says any changes have to be exegetically founded. (@51:00)
However, as we have seen, Bahnsen also believed that theonomy was more than this fundamental philosophical position. Theonomy is also a particular hermeneutic, a particular exegesis of the text.
Poythress is at base a theonomist in theological outlook, although he has reservations about the application of the position…
Often enough the differences between Poythress and theonomy are simply matters of emphasis and expression. There are, nevertheless, considerable differences as well in hermeneutical method and in conclusions reached about the law… [T]heonomists cannot readily endorse the practical outworking of Poythress’ approach to interpreting the law today because in crucial ways it employs unreliable reasoning…
Thus it would appear Bahnsen would affirm that it is theoretically possible for McDurmon to remain a theonomist, but he would argue that McDurmon’s actual position is an abandonment of theonomy. It is worth noting that McDurmon’s new definition of theonomy means he would now answer in the negative if he were to re-do his recent debate, which was over the belief that “Mosaic Civil Laws are obligatory for Civil Governments today.” The debate resolution would have to be revised to “Some Mosaic Civil Laws are obligatory for Civil Governments today,” at which point anyone who believes in capital punishment for murder would seem to be able to affirm.
I will leave it to theonomists to decide how to deal with their label. As for me, I have always defined theonomy by both its presuppositional argument and by its hermeneutic, and I have thus refused to call myself one, though I share the belief that civil ethics must be deduced from God’s law as revealed in Scripture.
Briefly, two further strengths of McDurmon’s book are his belief that “A properly theonomic society in terms of civil government would be closer to classic libertarianism than any other common political position” and his criticism of English Covenanter polity as “New presbyter is but old priest writ large.”
On the first point he argues to outlaw the military draft, get rid of state marriage licenses and leave divorce to private courts, that prison is an unjust form of kidnapping, and that taxation is theft. His insistence that the moral law applies to all individuals, including magistrates, and therefore limits their use of the sword is in agreement with our foundational view (though we come to different conclusions).
In a recent post on what books have been the most influential on him, McDurmon said
[W]e should acknowledge that sometimes just an article can be more influential than a book. (Heck, a proverb can be more influential than that even.) For example, Murray Rothbard’s essay “The Anatomy of the State” has been more influential to my understanding of statism than most other works on civil government, like, say, Willson’s The Establishment and Limits of Civil Government, or Gary DeMar’s God and Government, although I would side with Willson and DeMar on some points over against Rothbard. The influence of the former, however, is greater to the point of being worth mentioning… [Y]ou may shriek in horror at the thought that reading certain anarchistic writers has influenced me in different ways in regard to the correct interpretation of faithfulness to Old Testament law. I am sure that’s too much for some people to accept; others will delight; for others this will be confirmation that Joel McDurmon is indeed of the devil. Sorry. None of these overreactions will be acceptable. It’s almost purely heuristic.
Interestingly, Bahnsen similarly praised proto-Reformed Libertarian J. Gresham Machen for his political views. Bahnsen spent 15 minutes quoting and praising Machen in this lecture, noting that if he could meet one person from history, it would be Machen (he says even above Calvin or John Cotton).
On the second point, McDurmon agrees with a point I made earlier. Westminster Covenanters who sought justification for religious offenses looked to the common law of nations in order to understand the obligations of moral/natural law with regards to civil law. They were polluted by Constantinianism and were not thoroughly reformed according to sola scriptura. I will add that this is true of their ecclesiology as much as it is true of their civil polity. It is worth noting, however, that this included men like William Perkins, who said
A judicial law may be known to be a law of common equity, if either of these two things be found in it. First, if wise men not only among the Jews, but also in other nations have by natural reason and conscience judged the same to be equal, just, and necessary: and with all have testified this their judgment by enacting laws for their commonwealths, the same in substance with sundry of the judicial laws given to the Jews: and the Romans and Emperors among the rest have done this most excellently, as will appear by conferring their laws with the laws of God.
If you recall, McDurmon appealed to Perkins in his debate and wrote a subsequent post claiming that Perkins determined who won the debate. Since Perkins was a theonomist, theonomy won the debate. Well, since McDurmon has now written an entire chapter called “What is not Theonomy” referring to Perkins’ view, it would appear that theonomy lost the debate.
I will also add that McDurmon would appreciate John Owen’s rebuke of these men on the basis of Mosaic law. Owen also argues that their ideas were derived from Roman practice, which was originally used to suppress Christianity. However, take note that Owen was rebuking John Cotton, one of Bahnsen’s theonomic heroes (Bahnsen includes Cotton’s writing on the subject as an appendix in his book and says he is one of the few men he would like to go back in time and meet – the others being Calvin and Machen). McDurmon may also be interested in Increase Mather, John Cotton’s son-in-law who later in life repudiated Cotton’s view of Mosaic law because of his understanding of Canaan as holy land.
- Bounds of Love – Review, Part 1: Summary
- Bounds of Love – Review, Part 2: Strengths
- Bounds of Love – Review, Part 3: Weaknesses
- Bounds of Love – Review, Part 4: Moving Forward
While I think that Kline generally has a much more biblical understanding of the Old Covenant than Bahnsen, I sympathize with Bahnsen’s criticism of Kline’s arguments against theonomy. I do not believe Kline was correct on all of his points, and I do not think he articulated his argument as carefully as he could have. But Bahnsen’s focus on demonstrating the errors of Kline’s argument distracted him from grasping Kline’s correct biblical insights. To be honest, Bahnsen really was head and shoulders above most of his critics when it came to logical, deductive analysis. I just wish that Bahnsen had recognized this and, rather than pounding his opponents into the ground by demonstrating their logical errors, stooped down to understand what they were trying to argue and reconstructed their arguments upon more logical lines to see if they held any merit. That is essentially what I endeavor to do: demonstrate in a logical, deductive manner how a more biblical understanding of the Old Covenant undermines theonomy ↩
I can sympathize with Bahnsen’s rejection of vague appeals to typology in general without accompanying detailed deductive arguments, but typology is not at all necessarily vague or non-deductive. ↩
I agree with Bahnsen’s criticism of Poythress’ perspectivalism. “A related major flaw in Poythress’ book is its tendency toward an unwitting, yet unnerving, theological relativism. Poythress would have his readers believe that the stark differences between theonomists and intrusionists when they interpret the Old Testament law do not arise from any genuine codict of theological principles or exegetical reasoning. Rather these disagreements arise from, and reduce to, the differing conceptual frameworks which the two schools bring to the text of Scripture (pp. 316-335) – which in turn are tiected by the personalities of the individuals involved (PP. 350-351). Making those kinds of remarks lays a congenial basis for appealing to both sides to understand each other sympathetically and not polarize the debate – to “listen to each other” and appropriate each other’s insights (p. 352). But if Poythress is not cautious, the price he pays for that social rapprochement will be theological skepticism.” (296) But, contrary to Bahnsen, Poythress’ perspectivalism is not at all necessary to his position. ↩
See chapter 10, pp. 178-179, 181, etc. The entire discussion in Appendix A (“False Worship in the Modem State”) is skewed by the erroneous and unwarranted premises that Deuteronomy 13 reflects a theology of holy war, that Israel is the offended party in Deuteronomy 13, and that the penalty prescribed there foreshadows the work of Christ. ↩
I should make clear that my point is not to insist that Deuteronomy 13 must be applied by civil magistrates today. Perhaps there is good Biblical reason to think that it should not. My point is simply that the interpretive procedure of Poythress has certainly not provided it. The ddects in Poythress’ discussion are magnified by the fact that he attempts to make the difficult case the paradigm for understanding the less controversial cases of Old Testament penology (p. 139) – Something which is neither justified nor wise in theological procedure. ↩
One arrives at the extremely odd conclusion, following the lime of thought offkred by Poythress, that the Old Testament prescription for false worship is to be applied today in the form of excommunication, remembering that the excommuni- cated person “is to be treated with love and respect” (p. 150). One must really strain his interpretive imagination to see the requirement of not not showing pity to a criminal but rather brutally stoning him to death (Deut. 13:8-9) as analogous to (connected to, related to, applied as) treating someone under church discipline with compassion! Multiple symbolic interpretation can make black and white out to be the same color. ↩