Pre-Debate Thoughts, Post-Debate

I decided to give some of my pre-debate thoughts, post-debate. I’m sending this to Landon for him to put on the website:

Why? There’s a fair amount of chest-thumping machismo that I’ve seen by theonomic advocates in regard to this debate, and I wish to avoid any semblance of that. I don’t feel that kind behavior is edifying to the saints, and want to avoid it. I’ve also been relatively silent in spite of the pretty incessant goading for interaction among certain theonomists because, after all, I’m debating this topic in a formal, moderated debate. Answering critics of my criticism in 140 characters of less seems like a bit of a step backward.

First, I want to explain why I’m addressing this issue and debating this topic.

Knowing that movement is tiny, almost insignificant, filled with various types and degrees of troublemakers, and that the benefits of engaging it would likely be minimal, many people asked me why in the world I would invest my time and energy like that.

That’s what Joel McDurmon said about debating Don Preston on the topic of full-preterism. It was a tiny and insignificant movement, full of troublemakers, with minimum tangible benefit. I know the feeling of what I think Joel was trying to convey, here. Theonomy is no doubt a small movement. One of Rushdoony’s laughably outrageous exaggerations (he was prone to many) is that there were 20 thousand theonomic reconstructionists in the United States. Even in the hayday of the movement with Greg Bahnsen at the helm, even with Rushdooney’s millionaire backers, the movement did not come close to that estimation. I’ve seen the venues of theonomy events in recent years, and they’re not exactly crowded. So, why give credibility to theonomy by debating it? This is why most reformed scholars have not debated the topic in so long – the movement is dying (in spite of a spark in the embers from the rapid advance of social media, which frankly, can make the smallest of movements appear bigger than they are). Why kick a dying dog? Let it be. Well, the truth is that if I was any more notable a personality than I am, I probably wouldn’t have taken the debate.

If you need a better proof of the shrinking influence of the theonomic movement, one need look no further than this debate. I am no Roger Nicole or Meredith Kline, and Joel McDurmon is no Greg Bahnsen (I think we would agree with that). Joel really is, however, the best and brightest that the movement has. Oh, sure. North is still out there writing homeschool curriculum somewhere, but his candle fades faster than Y2K predictions. Gary DeMar still has some spring in his step perhaps, but his particularly political focus these days is hardly the fire of theological apologetic that the movement needs. McDurmon, as the son-in-law of North and protegé of Demar at American Vision, really will be holding the keys to the theonomic Kingdom in short order. And who are they debating? Me. They’re debating a rural church pastor from the Montana prairie, who’s best well-known for a podcast and for starting a blog. My chief intellectual contributions to the world are a home catechism manual and a children’s book on Calvinism. If this is any reflection of the state of theonomy in 2015, it does not bode well for theonomy’s future.

So why debate the topic? I debate it for the following reasons, and perhaps not all of them will be able to come out in the debate:

1) There is a great deal of misinformation regarding what theonomy is that would lead people who believe in a traditional and biblical worldview to call themselves theonomists when, in fact, they are not. Sadly, I do not see theonomic leaders correct these misinformed souls as to what theonomy actually teaches. When theonomy is defined by theonomic leaders, it is often explained without the distinctive marks unique to theonomy, that would differentiate it from a Biblical worldview. This, I believe, is deceptive.

2) Theonomy is antinomian. There is more than one way to be antinomian. One way is to disobey or disregard a binding law that solicits obedience. Another way to be an antinomian is to diminish the law and minimize what it requires. In the appeal to Deuteronomy 28 that requires total and flawless obedience to the laws preceding that chapter to reap the blessings promised in that chapter, theonomists change the requirements of the law from do to try. The covenant of Moses has become strive. Try to keep these laws and you’ll receive these promises, they tell us. Not only have theonomists reduced the law that required perfection to mere effort, but they have strip-mined the commands of the Old Covenant for legal principles that minimize the law given.

3) Theonomy is hyponomian™. No, I’m not really trademarking that term but I did make it up. I hope to show during the debate that the typical theonomic assertion that Matthew 5:17 supports their position, does violence to Matthew 5:20 and puts us under the law (hypo = under). This tendency to re-submit ourselves under the law and its curse is evidenced in much theonomic writing and teachings.

4. Theonomy is divorced from the historic confessions. Among Bahnsen’s most radical claims is that the Westminster Confession agrees with the theonomic system, whereas Rushdoony and others were more honest in the admission that it certainly doesn’t. How many self-pronounced theonomists are aware that their understanding of law does violence to their own confession?

5. Theonomy makes the Dispensational error. And yes, I realize I’m making both dispensationalists and theonomists angry with this claim. Dispensationalists (often) fail to see the church as spiritual Israel, of whom the nation of Israel stood as a typological prototype. This is the theonomic mistake. Yes, they may give creedance to the church as spiritual Israel, but theonomists fail to put this belief into practice or let it inform their understanding of Israel’s Civil Code.

What do I hope will happen on Friday night? I hope God will be glorified. I hope Saints will be edified. I hope everyone will be perfectly cordial and brotherly to one another. I hope that truth is put on display.

As a final word, let me state that I’m going into “frienemy territory” Friday. I doubt few non-theonomists will be there because it’s a conference, well…for theonomists. The price of admission into the debate is the same as the adjoining conference, and I think this will keep certain non-theonomists away. I haven’t helped to promote this conference because I don’t agree with the content and, frankly, it’s not my conference. That’s in June and will take much time from here on out for me to promote. So even though I’m aware of a certain number of supporters who will be there, we’ll be outnumbered probably 10-1 (just guessing). No matter what, those in attendance will declare instant victory (as they already are, before the debate has happened). Wait until the audio is out to reserve judgement, not from what you’ll see on various Twitter feeds.

Concerning Joel McDurmon, he’s a lovely guy. He’s been gentlemanly, hospitable, and kind. He seems genuinely like a great fellow. But he is wrong. His doctrine on this issue is aberrant, and I intend on demonstrating the difference between his views and the teachings of Scripture this Friday night.

Semper Reformanda,

JD

[Contributed by: Landon Chapman]

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