Of all the wicked heresies and threatening movements facing the church in our day, when Westminster Seminary finally organized their faculty to write something in unison, they gave their determined political efforts: not to fight socialism, not to fight homosexuality, not abortion, not crime and mayhem in our society, not subjectivism in theology, not dispensationalism, not cultural relativism, not licentiousness, not defection from the New Testament, not defection from the Westminster Confession of Faith, all of which are out there, and they could give their legitimate efforts to. Boy the thing they had to write about - was Theonomy!
The Emperor Has No Clothes...still!
In 1973, Greg Bahnsen graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary (Philadelphia, PA) with two Master’s degrees (M. Div, Th.M.). His thesis, approved by the overseeing faculty, was “The Theonomic Responsibility of the Civil Magistrate,” in which he set out to establish the theological premise that unless otherwise indicated by further revelation from God Himself, God’s law, including the civil penal sanctions, has moral abiding validity. From the encouragement of his professor John Frame, he reworked this thesis so that it could be published as a book. In 1977 it was published as Theonomy in Christian Ethics. You can see my review for that work here.
In 1990 a book titled Theonomy: A Reformed Critique was published as a joint venture from the faculties at both Westminster Theological Seminaries (Philadelphia, PA and Escondido, CA) to establish a “Reformed answer” to Greg Bahnsen’s work (it took 17 years - from the date of his thesis - to formulate a “response”). In 1991, Bahnsen himself responded to their “critique” with this book, No Other Standard.
If you’ve ever wondered if there were any gaping holes in the Theonomic perspective of theology, this book will settle the matter. In his normal fashion, Bahnsen applies the doctrines of Scripture with rigorous logical skill to show that God’s Word must be our standard in all matters of life - including politics and socio-political ethics.
Chapter after chapter he demonstrates, in loving appropriateness, that the “critique” offered by the Westminster Seminaries are either not Biblical, not logical, or not meaningful. They either don’t use the Bible as the authority for their critique of the theonomic perspective (and so negate that they’re putting forth the “Reformed” answer), or when trying to use the Bible they entangle themselves in logical fallacies, or they end up not critiquing theonomy at all - either by ultimately agreeing with it or destroying only straw-man arguments.
By going through Theonomy: A Reformed Critique Bahnsen shows once again that when the Bible is not presupposed as the authority for all of life and faith, we really are left with no other standard. It can’t be overstated that Bahnsen didn’t really say anything “new” in Theonomy or his other works on the subject. It’s basic Puritan Reformed Theology. The thing that Bahnsen brings to the table is his exegetical skill, his theological depth, and his logical rigor in applying that theology to modern life.
Of all the works by Bahnsen Theonomy in Christian Ethics was by far the most helpful to me in seeing God’s Word applied. But if there is any thought after reading that great work that the theonomic position might not be tenable, this book will show that it is, at the very least, more tenable than any other system of socio-political ethics, but better yet it will more probably encourage you in your thinking that theonomy truly is the only Biblically tenable position to take.
Indeed, in reading through Bahnsen’s works on this perspective and listening to his teaching on the subject, I’ve experienced the same sentiments expressed by Dr. Kenneth L. Gentry, Jr. (one of Bahnsen’s students when he taught at Reformed Theological Seminary - Jackson, MI):
“Initially I resisted Bahnsen’s unusual positions. In fact, I set about to challenge those positions... But anyone who has experienced Bahnsen’s instruction, knows that he was so careful in his presentation, so logical in his argumentation, so quick in his thinking, so Biblical in his foundations, and so forceful in his conclusions that all hope of credible resistance was futile. I eventually was swayed by his presentations and adopted his positions. And I have never regretted having done so.”
I believe if you carefully read through Bahnsen’s works on these matters, with Bible in hand, you’ll come to the same conclusion as so many have done before - to the glory of God.