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Sunday, January 30, 2011

Keith Mathison on Theonomy

Keith Mathison of Ligonier Ministries reviewed David VanDrunen’s Living in Two Kingdoms. In that review Mathison demonstrated his ability to reaon fallaciously by drawing a gross and obvious hasty generalization. Mathison impugns a class of people, theonomists, of having a tendency of being guilty of a practice that is not integral to theonomy, nor a trajectory of theonomy. What's worse, most theonomists, being Reformed, actually confess a doctrine (liberty of conscience) that opposes that which Mathison hastily indexes to theonomists (conscience-binding tendencies).

Mathison writes:
Van Drunen’s emphasis on Christian liberty is also to be appreciated. Many transformationists, particularly of the theonomic stripe, have a tendency to bind Christians’ consciences on a whole host of matters that the Word of God does not clearly address. I remember to this day one of the first debates I heard in a student break room after transferring to Reformed Theological Seminary. Two students, one of whom was strongly influenced by theonomy, were having a lengthy and heated debate over infant feeding practices: demand feeding vs. schedule feeding. The theonomist participant insisted that schedule feeding was the biblical view and required of all Christians. But does the Bible really give us a clear answer to this question? No, but there are some who would love to bind our consciences with a Christian Mishnah.

That one theonomist in the hearing of Mathison defended scheduled feeding for babies is hardly evidence for the erratic assertion that theonomists have a tendency to bind Christians’ consciences, let alone on a whole host of matters. Now, of course, I trust that Mathison might be able to reach back into his experience and find another such dubious example, but is it at all rational (or charitable) to index a tendency to a position that nicely comports with the opposite tendency, in this case liberty of consicence? At the very least, if the conscience-binding theonomist was debating a Muslim, wouldn't it be equally irrational for a Buddhist to attribute such legalism to Trinitarians?

Theonomists are generally Reformed in their theology and without contradiction affirm a robust doctrine of liberty of conscience as found in the Westminster Confession of Faith. Amusingly enough, probably the furthest Christian “stripe” from theonomy is dispensationalism and as far as I know, the greatest emphasis on scheduled feeding that has come forth in the evangelical church was brought to us by the “Growing Kids God’s Way” curriculum created by dispensationalists Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo while attending Grace Community Church, whose pastor is Dr. John MacArthur. Since I have known several dispensationalists that would passionately defend “scheduled feeding” as the biblical position and since we can trace the roots of this idea to a dispensationalist, maybe we should attribute this one theonomist's tendency to his living within a kingdom that is filled with dispensationlists. No, that would not be right. In fact, it's always wrong to arbitrarily pin sinful tendencies on groups of people with whom we have some apparent axe to grind. Shame on you, Keith Mathison.

Mathison also writes:

VanDrunen is right in his rejection of theonomy and in his rejection of the misguided practice of confusing Christianity with civil religion (American or otherwise).

Mathison describes “civil religion” thusly:

There are far too many Christians who are confusing biblical Christianity with civil religion. The Patriot’s Bible is merely one of the more recent and disturbing (if not blasphemous) examples of this kind of confusion. I have been in church services where the American flag surrounded the pulpit, the Pledge of Allegiance rather than the Creed was recited, the National Anthem rather than a Psalm or hymn was sung, and a political platform rather than the Word of God was preached. I love my country, but this kind of thing is a serious problem. I appreciate the insistence of two kingdoms proponents that these things should not be confused.

Mathison is at best uninformed and is not being truthful. Theonomy does not embrace what Mathison calls “civil religion”. Nor does the theonomic thesis lend itself to any tendency of substituting man's opinions for God's; though I can understand such a tendency of substituting man's opinions for God's word springing from a radical 2K theology given its emphasis on the wax nose of natural law.

In the final analyses, Mathison has simply demonstrated himself to be careless if not also uncharitable, but it would be hasty of me to conclude that all non-theonomists are as muddled as Mathison has demonstrated himself to be, at least on this particular matter.

On a somewhat related matter:

For a more thoroughly presuppositional treatment of natural law as it relates to culture, see John Frame’s article. I’d also recommend John Frame’s critique of Van Drunen’s work on natural law.

It remains a mystery to me how this natural law craze can attract mature Christians, but it has always been mysterious to me how a mature believer could favor an outright autonomous approach to apologetics as opposed to the nuclear strength approach that entails a revelational epistemology and presuppositional defense of the faith. I'm convinced that these matters cannot be ones of pure intellect, but rather I find them to have grave spiritual implications.

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Anonymous said...

...and the list of theonomy critiques who don't understand theonomy continues to grow.

Especially puzzling given the large number of theonomy texts that are available for free on the Internet.

Thanks for the post, Ron.

God bless,

Joel (Quibbles from the DW board)

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...

There are many Joels out there but only one Quibbles. DW need not even be mentioned for me to know the one and only Quibs! How's Shane? :)

Pastor said...

Ron: I appreciate your consternation with Mathieson's use of one example to make a generalization.

That being said,what do you say to the observation that Mathieson's one example rings true multiple times in the ears of many who read what he said. I.e., his one example reminds many of their own examples.

You've not been such an example in my experience. Yet I must admit my first reaction in reading Keith's words was to say, "yep, an ordinary experience for me too."

Now, I'm mature enough at this point to recognize that this is not a unique behavior characteristic for theonomists. Frankly, it is so widespread that I've concluded that the problem is not at its core a theological defect, but one flowing from the fallen human condition.

Because of that I take Keith's observation with some caution. I agree with the experience (its been mine quite a few times). I don't end up discrediting theonomy because of that.

Ronald W. Di Giacomo said...


What thoughtful remarks! Thank you for visiting again.

"Frankly, it is so widespread that I've concluded that the problem is not at its core a theological defect, but one flowing from the fallen human condition."

Yes, I'm inclined to think along those same lines. I find great comfort in a twisted sort of way to know that most legalism I see is in the Arminian community, which is usually not theonomic. It makes perfect sense to find it more pervasive there because I believe that legalism comes mostly from an impoverished understanding of our imputed righteousness, which might cause one to try to establish his own righteousness, maybe by making up laws about scheduled feedings etc. Not sure, but I certainly don't think it's peculiar to one's view of the case laws.