Theonomy and Federal Vision: Separated at Birth?

The question comes concerning the relations between Theonomy and the Federal Vision. There is reason to think that there is some connection between the two movements. several well-known theonomists are also proponents of the FV. One of the FV leaders recently described the current FV controversy as a renewal of the theonomy argument. Interpreters on both sides have seen connection between the two controversies and movements.

There are good reasons for seeing connections between the two movements. Both movements date to the mid-1970s. In the early phase of the argument, Norman Shepherd found much support among theonomists and the FV movement today finds considerable support among theonomists. There are ambiguities, however. There is open debate among theonomists about WWBD? (What would Bahsen do?) Would he support the Federal Vision? Support for Norman Shepherd is a point of connection between the theonomists and the Federal Visionists. In turn Shepherd, though not overtly identified with theonomy, shares their neo-postmillennial eschatology. Further, not all theonomists are Federal Visionists nor are all Federal Visionists theonomists. At least one theonomic denomination (the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the US, not to be confused with the Reformed Presbyterian Church in North America) has been highly critical of the FV.

Though not identical movements, Theonomy and the Federal Vision movements are analogues. Both movements reflect a similar pathology in the Reformed corpus. Both reflect what I call the Quest for Illegitimate Religious Certainty (QIRC). The FV does it by making the doctrines of covenant, justification, and perseverance, a little more “reasonable,” by reducing the scandal of the cross and the offense of the gospel. As it turns out, according to the FV, it’s not really filthy sinners that Christ justifies, but those who are sanctified, who cooperate with grace. As we’ve seen, in the FV, the sentence “A justified man is sanctified” becomes, “A man is justified because he is sanctified.” The elect, as it turns out, are those who have cooperated with grace. That’s just a little more “sweetly reasonable” than the confessional Protestant alternative.

Theonomy represents another side of the same quest. It offers a kind of ethical precision and a kind of ethical authority that reduces ambiguities to certainties and, on its premises, makes Christian ethics a little more “reasonable.” In contrast, non-theonomic ethics aren’t nearly as attractive. First, we non-theonomists don’t have any catchy slogans. Our ethic, like our eschatology, is paradoxical. Theonomy is attractive because it flattens out the tension between what is and what shall be. For theonomy there is a continuum between the now and the not yet. For non-theonomic amillennialism there is a sharp disjunction between “the now,” or “this age,” and the “not yet,” or “the age to come.” They are two different types of existence. The consummate state exists in heaven and is interjected into this life in small ways, but, for the most part none of us seems to have a plan to bring out the Kingdom of God on the earth. The theonomists definitely have a plan and Americans like a plan. Do most American Dispensationalists really understand the complicated eschatological charts? Probably not, but they do have implicit faith in  leaders, that someone has figured out what the news means and what is going to happen.

In contrast, Non-theonomic, Amillennial, types confess that all 613 Mosaic laws were civil, ceremonial, and moral and at the same time, that the moral law, grounded in creation, continues to obligate all creatures before, during, and after Moses. That creational law is a set of general principles (embodied in the Decalogue and in the golden rule and taught throughout Scripture and revealed in nature [Rom 1-2]) not an extensive civil code. Thus, confessional Reformed folk must seek wisdom as they attempt to apply the moral/creational law to difficult civil problems, but without the certainty that any particular application is necessarily is the correct “Christian” application.

Theonomy, however, under the slogan, “abiding validity of the law of God in exhaustive detail,” seems to offer “the” Christian answer to difficult problems. Unsure about “the general equity thereof” in a given case? Put the quarter in the slot, pull the handle and out comes the correct ethical and civil answer to one’s particular question. They even have ready-made civil code in Theonomy in Christian Ethics and in the Institutes of Biblical Law.

That both movements came to prominence in conservative Reformed circles at the same time, during the years of the post-Nixon, post-Haight-Ashbury period, the time of disco and cocaine propelled self-indulgence, during the moral “malaise” of the Carter administration, suggests that they may both be reactions to the same stimuli. Neither movement was driven by the Reformed confession. Rather, when these movements were born attention to the Reformed confessions was at a nadir. In an autobiographical passage in his essay, “In Defense of Something Close to Biblicism,” John Frame comments that his seminary education wasn’t marked by sustained, focused attention to the Reformed confessions. The attitude of the period seemed to be that as long as one had a high view of Scripture and divine sovereignty, everything else was negotiable. I remember reading things from the period that said, in effect, “we all know what we believe about justification,” let’s get on with applying the Scriptures to every area of life.

Both Theonomy and the Federal Vision are theologically and socially conservative. Both movements have in common a deep concern for the collapse of the culture and our place in it. Some versions of theonomy/reconstructionism envision the culture being gradually regenerated through Christian influence and some expect a cataclysm out of which arises a Reconstructionist phoenix. The FV wants to regenerate the culture through sacerdotalism (baptismal union with Christ whereby all baptized persons are, ex opere operato (Rich Lusk has spoken this way), temporarily, historically, conditionally united to Christ). Both are visions aimed at the restoration of Christendom. One is primarily ecclesiastical and the other primarily civil. These common attitudes, interests, and approaches, however, help explain why so many theonomists have been attracted to the FV and vice-versa.

Update on Monday, January 22, 2007 at 01:12PM

I’m editing a chapter on Olevianus’ Pauline commentaries for a collection of essays on the Reception of Paul in the 16th Century. As part of that project and others, I’m working through Olevianus’ commentary on Romans. There some interesting comments about natural law and the natural knowledge the same.

“Indeed, there was one moral law from all times written on the hearts of men, and then consigned to letters.” (Olevianus, In Epistolam Ad Romanos Notae, Ex Gasparis Oleviani Concionibus Excerptae, 3).

All humans have had “ab Adamo” (since Adam) a natural knowledge of the difference between “honest and dishonest dealings” (honestarum et turpium), ibid.

UPDATE 17 June 2008 The collection of essays on the reception of Paul in the sixteenth-century is to be published around Christmas by Brill. The case for analyzing the pathologies in the Reformed body in terms of QIRC and QIRE is to be published this fall by P&R as Recovering the Reformed Confession: Our Theology, Piety, and Practice.

Since this post first appeared, the FV theology has been roundly rejected by most of the major NAPARC denominations/federations including the PCA, the OPC, the URCNA, the RCUS, and the OCRCs. For an orientation to the FV controversy start with the essay, “For Those Just Tuning In.” There are more FV related resources on my WSC site. For a brief popular explanation of the FV doctrine of baptismal union with Christ see this booklet. For a more thorough treatment of the controversy see Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry.

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  1. Dear prof. Clark,

    Really appreciate the work you have done, especially against the NPP and the FV.

    I came to the faith in the beginnings of the 1990’s, and the brother who literally picked me up from the gutters, and taught me “salvation by grace through faith, without ANY of man’s works” past, present or future … were a full blown reformed CR (christian reconstructionist). We started with the book of Romans, not Exodus.

    I started reading all the ‘famous’ CR books, like Institutes of Biblical Law and Theonomy in CE, and the basic message I got was: “now that we are saved by grace, we must live a thankful life in obedience to God’s law through His Spirit, also by grace.

    I was impressed with the godliness and christian example of men like Rushdoony, Gentry and esp. dr. Greg Bahnsen. I never picked up in any of their writings a ‘gospel’ of ‘faith and works’ as it seemed to be in Wright, Shepherd, NPP and the FV’s of today.

    Maybe I did not read carefully enough, but I could say that it was via these men, that I came to know and love the Reformed Faith and Confessions again, especially the doctrine of grace. These authors also introduced me to the greater reformed world of writers. I also become convinced, as I read them, their shortcomings in certain areas of theology (which we all have), but one of them were not theri soteriology.

    Every now and then the name Shepherd ‘popped up’ in the forwards, but I did not know him or his works, at least until the FV-controversy opened up.

    What I am trying to say, is that if we want to say there is a ‘clear connection’ between the ‘justification controversy’ and theonomy, then we need to prove it from their works. Just saying there is, because of certain people and names occuring together, are not very good arguments, IMO.

    I would really appreciate it if somebody can prove this ‘connection’ not by names only, but by quoting from their works (RJR, Bahnsen, Gentry) that they have a connection with FV’s false teachings.

    Another problem, I see, is that it seems to me that you are reading the whole theonomy ethics perspective through the lenses of one of their ‘prophets’, that is Gary North. I agree that North made some ridicilous statements of the position of CR and theonomy, and were very aggresive. I think he did more harm to the ‘movement’ than helping them.

    But, when I read, for example, Bahnsen’s books on the topic of God’s Law and ethics, it never came across to me, at least, that he is arrogant and says he has all the final answers, and is THE solution to all ethical problems.

    That was North’s way of selling books, not Bahnsen’s or Rushdoony’s approach.

    I found dr. Bahnsen, and dr. Gentry as reformed brothers who were gracious in all discussion, whether theonomy or postmill. (I do not know what Gentry’s view is on the FV ?)

    Like I mentioned, I could have missed something, but it will really be a great loss if we influence people negatively for the wrong reasons, to not read classical books such as IBL and TCE on God’s Law. I think it is good books to study ethics, regardless whether you are a theonomist or non-theonomist.

    That is why I would urgue that we do clearly distinguish between theonomy and the ‘justification controversy’, because we have pro- and anti- theonomist on both sides.

    I would like to add, if one reads Rushdoony’s book “By what Standard” ‘Salvation and Godly Rule’ and “The Great Christian Revolution” (he was a co-author, the orginal version), then I think he would have rejected NPP and FV wholeheartedly, together with other current theonomists like Joe Morecraft and Brian Schwertley.

    I really hope someone would one day do a booklength study on this topic, and proof from the CR’s leaders books itself, whether they would have supported or rejected the FV movement.

    If this is not done, saying there is a ‘bad connection’ between theonomy and FV, is like saying there is a ‘bad connection’ between the reformers and the romanists, because they both baptize babies ….

  2. Slabbert,

    Thanks for this response. When I posted this the first time I got similar responses.

    There are several problems.

    1. Most of the theonomists/reconstructionists just aren’t very concerned about justification sola fide or they are ambiguous about it. This is my point about Bahnsen. It’s a fact that he supported Norm Shepherd, that he saw Shepherd’s critics as “antinomian.” Thus, formal affirmations of sola fide by a few theonomists don’t interest me when there is so much support for the FV in the theonomic/CR movement. Sandlin is a case in point. He opposed the Shepherd movement before he supported it.

    2. It is an historic fact that many of the same persons who gave us theonomy also gave us the FV.

    3. This paragraph:

    Further, the other such case here I want to mention concerns the curious case of the Rev. James B. Jordan, late of the Tylerites, still somewhat associated with North, but now based in Florida at the head of his Biblical Horizons ministry, and most associated with people like the Revs. Peter Leithart (now an elder at the Doug Wilson Idaho Church), Jeffrey Myers, Ralph Smith, and Rich Bledsoe. It is indeed true that Jordan has for some years disavowed reconstructionism and especially Rushdoony-style theonomy, calling himself a “post-theonomist,” but this term is hazily defined and clearly recognizes Jordan’s long-term status as a theonomist. Also, most of his readership are theonomists and their sympathizers; the degree of his distance from the movement is not astronomical and his case does show the kind of thing that has happened at least somewhat regularly with theonomists, and it also shows what kind of teaching is frequented by theonomists. Put simply, Jordan emphasizes what he calls a “maximalist” biblical interpretive hermeneutic; Abshire perhaps better labels Jordan’s eclectic theological speculations “bizarro.” Jordan has done some excellent work writing North’s Biblical Chronology essays answering hard questions of historical OT chronology.

    from this site makes a similar point.

    4. To be clear, the expression “bad connection” is yours, not mine and isn’t a very accurate way of characterizing my argument. You confuse formal similarity for common sources. Rome and Protestants baptize babies but they do so for different reasons whereas Theonomists and Federal Visionists advocate two sides of the same theocratic coin for the same reasons. What animates the FV is social transformation. What animates the CR/Theonomic movement is social transformation.

    5. I suspect that lots of folks missed the connection because they weren’t reading the CR/Theonomic movements to learn theology but to figure out how to transform society.

    6. I appreciate the fact that many have benefited from the CR/Theonomic movement. Many have appreciated Norm Shepherd’s piety. Fine, but when it comes to the standing and falling of the church, well, some things are more important than social transformation and piety.

  3. Dr. Clark,

    For this discussion I believe that Jim Jordon is effectively nothing but essentially a strawman. As for Gary North, Greg Bahnsen is known to have distanced himself from him near the end of much too short life. Even more so I still do not think guilt-by-association arguments have much of a real validity when linking men who are dead (RJR and GLB) with recent phenomena. What in their writings belies this specifically? Can research be done to prove it? Bahnsen in his major work on Van Til’s Apologetic gives a very Orthodox word to Christ’s redemptive work on pg. 428-29.

    I have a feeling that some of this is a back-door attempt to do what Theonomy: A Reformed Critique failed to do.

  4. Prof, I was reading CR/Theonomy books, because I wanted to be thankful to the Lord (in line with the third point of the HC), not only in my personal, home and church life, but also In each area of life and thought.

    Or are only justification part of ‘theology’ and not also ‘sanctification’ ?
    HC Sunday 34-44 confesses that sanctification are part of ‘theology’.

    I nowhere read in any of the CR’s books that ‘social transformation and piety’ were more important than salvation, home or church life. What they taught was that the implications of the Gospel also transform how we do business, economics, politics, etc. which I think is an old reformed concept (BC art.36, Kuypers teaching, etc.).

    I think as reformed brethren, ‘they’ would agree with ‘us’ that God’s honor and the salvation of men are most central to our calling here on earth.

    If Bahnsen supported Shepherd in his confusing view of faith and works, then I am disapointed by this. I agree with prof. Palmer O. Robertson’s views on the Shepherd case.

  5. Slabbert,

    When you say “Or are only justification part of ‘theology’ and not also ’sanctification’ ? HC Sunday 34-44 confesses that sanctification are part of ‘theology’.” it suggests that we are using different categories.

    Of course sanctification has everything to do with theology but sanctification has next to nothing to do with social transformation! That’s the point. To assume that sanctification = social transformation is begging the question. I don’t see any doctrine of social transformation in the NT.

    I don’t think you’ll find them arguing on surface (prima facie) that justification isn’t important but the effect of their theology is to marginalize justification.

    As to “salvation,” that’s a broader category.

    If you’ll read the history of the Shepherd controversy (phase 1) from ’74-81 you’ll see that the theonomists were squarely on the side of the moralists.

  6. Ben,

    it’s not guilt by association. Once more, I’m arguing that they tend to have a common hermeneutic, a common soteriology, and a common interest.

    Bahnsen’s strong support for Norm Shepherd is undoubted. Thus far I don’t think any defender of GB has produced any unequivocal evidence demonstrating that he was on the side of the angels (i.e. Shepherd’s critics) in the first phase of what is now the FV controversy.

    It will behoove those folks who want to be theonomists and orthodox on justification (it can be done but it won’t be easy because the spirit of theonomy is not really the spirit of the Reformation) to admit their ambiguous past, face it squarely, or else the doctrine of justification will once more go by the boards in the interests of the social questions as it did leading up to the FV crisis.

  7. Dear prof Clark,

    Maybe we miss each other. I do not want to debate ‘theonomic ethics’, whether it is biblical and reformed or not.

    What is at stake, IMO, is the main issue of the FV, namely, that they teach justification by faith and works.

    Your article seems to want to tie this error with theonomists as such.

    Let me therefore ask the question then more straightly:

    Do you believe that Bahnsen (to take him as one example) taugh salvation by ‘faith and works’ as do Shepherd and the FV’s ?

    I am not asking whether they were friends or that Bahnsen choose his side or whatever, but whether Bahnsen himself taught such a view ?

    In Bahnsen’s thesis, TCI, he has one chapter called “The Law’s inability to justify and empower”, wherein he writes about the law and justification.

    As in reading Scripture, one must read the lesser clear passages in the light of the more clear passages on a certain topic.

    I want to ask you to please go and read only this one chapter, only 12 pages long, and tell me if what you read there, could in any sense lead to the false view the FV’s has about justification today ?

    Thank you very much, I really appreciate it.

    ps. I can copy and paste that chapter, with your permission on you blog, if you do not have a copy of his book ?

  8. Slabbert,

    You’re asking a different question than I am.

    Let me be clear. I have never claimed that GB was directly teaching the FV. As far as I know he was never charged in the courts of the OPC with any such error. At the same time, he also supported Norm Shepherd’s radical revision of the doctrine of justification. The support did a great deal to advance the views that became the FV. I don’t think that Bahnsen can be exculpated from being partly responsible for the FV merely by appealing to orthodox passages in books. A minister of the gospel is supposed to be orthodox on justification! That’s his vocation before God. What he’s not supposed to do is to give aid and comfort to those who are fundamentally revising the doctrine of justification.

    I’m quite familiar with TCE. I bought and read it years ago. I’ve been an occasional student of theonomy since about 1980.

  9. Dear Prof. Clark,

    have never heard anyone say what you say here. Lots of things argue against it.

    First, after Shepherd went off into his strange views of justification, he no longer wrote any papers like he did before that, such as the whole man as the image of God, the christian philosophy of history, etc. He was really good back then, and one of his papers was published in the Journal of Christian Reconstruction. His defection is a real shame because he contributed stuff before that and could have contributed more by doing research into stuff we don’t know or understand very well. Instead he did a really stupid thing and diddled around with a very elementary thing that was figured out a long time ago, namely justification. You should not waste time on stludying something we already know or questioning something very obvious that was figured out long ago — what Shepherd did is just as stupid as a mathematician wondering about the multiplication tables, when there are all these great frontier things to explore.

    Second, after Andrew Sandlin went into the false justification view, he LEFT Christian Reconstruction. He resigned his editorship of the Chalcedon Report. This too was a very great loss — Sandlin had done some really good thinking before he went off into FV land. And his attitude changed — he had a really great attitude pre-FV.

    Third, I did not know about Jordan until I read what you posted about him. Now, there is another example. When they go over into FV they leave CR behind.

    Finally, FV and CR are incompatible with respect to logic. CR involves very careful thinking, not the sloppiness and vagueness and confusion in FV.

    You did say one true thing, though, and that is that around the 70s there was not a whole lot of concern about traditional Reformed stuff. I was shocked when I was a Th.M. student at WTS and found out the teacher and all but one member of a class I was in did NOT know the correct definition of supralapsarianism! I was so shocked, Finally I said, “well, what I say is what Berkhof says!” They all shouted, “Noooooo”. I said, “Look it up in Berkhof”, which we then did by the whole class marching into the Library getting Berkhof off the shelf and reading it and the Prof, who was doing the reading, was really embarrassed! !



  10. Forrest,

    So, having left Chalcedon, Sandlin is no longer a theonomist/CR-ist in any sense? He’s abandoned the whole project?

    Do you deny the historical connection between the leading lights of the FV and the theonomic movement in the 70s? You seem be focusing only on the CR wing of the movement.

    Aren’t you missing the fact that the theonomic movement in the 70s served as a sort of primordial soup for the current FV movement?

    You’re suggesting that there’s a strict doctrinal, confessional test to be in the CR movement? Who’s in charge and who’s issue the tests? Most importantly, who’s grading them?

  11. This is a response to Prof. Clark’s June 17th 6 point response to Slabbert.

    Point1: What actual evidence does Clark have that any or all Theonomists are “just aren’t very concerned about justification sola fide or they are ambiguous about it.”

    What if one were to similarly assert that Presbyterians or Calvinists “just aren’t very concerned about justification sola fide or they are ambiguous about it.”? Would that also be an acceptable assertion without proof?

    And what documented evidence exists that Dr. Bahnsen ever supported Shepherd’s controversial views? Clark claims this as a “fact”but offers no proof. And how does Clark explain the fact that when Andrew Sandlin wrote a scathing critique of Shepherd over 15 years ago (which was subsequently published in 3 different Theonomic journals at that time) Dr. Bahnsen said absolutely nothing about it.

    Nor is there any evidence provided for Clark’s fantastic claim that “there is so much support for the FV in the theonomic/CR movement”. In fact, it rather contradicts his own earlier accurate reference to the theonomic RPCUS’s well known criticism of FV.

    Clark makes one truthful statement. “He [Sandlin] opposed the Shepherd movement before he supported it.”. But fails to mention that when Sandlin was a Theonomist for many years, he opposed Shepherd, and then when he later left Theonomy behind, he then choose to support FV.

    In response to Clark’s Point 2, this is a genetic fallacy. Although perhaps it might be considered a reversal of the genetic fallacy since he is trying to sink Theonomy with the FV stone. But Clark fails to mention the fact that these same alleged bringers of FV were also Calvinists, so perhaps Clark should be more concerned about “Calvinism and FV being separated at birth?” But then that would only undermine his personal propaganda war against Theonomy.

    In response to Clark’s Point 3. I will say that Clark is making the very same kind of fallacies and errors that the writer of the article he unfortunately references. I have responded to that writer on another forum a few years ago. Clark IMHO simply loses academic credibility by seeking historical support from such a source.

    Point 4: “Theonomists and Federal Visionists advocate two sides of the same theocratic coin for the same reasons.”

    This is statement is a clear example of a begging the question fallacy. If such a statement were true, then why have there been a Theonomic RPCUS opposition to FV? Why have there been 3 Theonomic journals publishing rebuttals to Norman Shepherd? Why has one Theonomic minister [John Otis] written a major book against FV? Clearly both groups do not share the “same theocratic coin” at all.

    Clark writes: “What animates the FV is social transformation. What animates the CR/Theonomic movement is social transformation.”

    This above seems to be a mere psychological argument and a bad one at that, especially with no evidence is given. Has it ever occurred to Clark that what might “animate the CR/Theonomic movement” is simply faithful personal obedience to their Saviour and King, regardless of whether any social transformation ever takes place in their lifetimes?

    Also another consideration. One could well argue quite correctly that Calvinism has historically been “animated” by social transformation especially since there are no limits to God’s sovereignty (cf. “Calvinism in History” by N.S. McFetridge). So one could say, “What animates the FV is social transformation. What animates the Calvinist movement is social transformation”? Its just that FV has the wrong theology for such a transformation, while historic Calvinism (AKA Theonomy) has the correct one.

    Point 5: “I suspect that lots of folks missed the connection because they weren’t reading the CR/Theonomic movements to learn theology but to figure out how to transform society.”

    Clearly Clark doesn’t like the very notion of “transforming society”. And if that’s really the case, then he shouldn’t be a Calvinist to begin with.

    But to address his comments more fully, Theonomists have in their books and sermons and bibliographies and footnotes provided more than enough theology that anyone reading CR cannot avoid learning about the historic Reformed faith.

    Furthermore, if learning “Theology” does not lead in some way to transforming society or even transforming one’s personal family life, then its merely dead intellectualism. Clark’s implied sharp dichotomy between learning theology and social transformation is an attitude fit only for Roman Catholic monks.

    Point 6: “when it comes to the standing and falling of the church, well, some things are more important than social transformation and piety.”

    Clark is greatly mistaken if he thinks that CR or Theonomists think otherwise. What evidence does he have which would support the insinuation that Theonomists as a group or individually think that social transformation is “more important” than Sola Fide or other truths of the gospel of which the church stands or falls?

    I am disappointed that a reformed theology professor such as Clark would make many unwarranted and sweeping accusations against Theonomists and try to connect them and its Theology to the FV heresy.

    Lastly, to show the real absurdity of many of Clark’s posted comments, just substitute the word “Calvinism” for “Theonomy”. Clark is not just against Theonomy per se, he is rather against the historic Reformed faith as taught by the major Reformers and Puritans, who all rightly believed that salvation by faith alone leads inevitably to some degree of social transformation by the standard of God’s reveal law since Christ is King over all things.

  12. Colin,

    I think some of these same complaints occurred the first time I posted this so I’m not surprised they appear again. I approved your post because I think it’s a good example of Gary North’s “bury them” dictum. Every time someone criticizes theonomy/CR it’s proponents try to bury the critics in prose.

    Some responses:

    1. The history is pretty clear. I was around for the tail end of the first phase of the Shepherd case and I have copies of most of the primary documents. The trail of theonomic/CR support for NS is pretty clear.

    2. There’s no question whether GB supported NS. What is ambiguous is whether he would support the FV today. That’s the problem.

    3. This is a blog not an academic journal so I don’t do a lot of footnoting here. Sue me. (I’m kidding. Don’t sue me. Some of the theonomists I’ve known tend to the literal and litigious!).

    4. We just disagree about transformationalism. I’m arguing history here, however, and not prescriptive ethics.

    5. Good point about the RPCUS. I concede that they test (“prove”) the rule. Isn’t their critique and rejection of the FV unusual among CR/FV types?

    6. Once again, I’m not claiming any direct causal relation. I’m saying that the same kind of hermeneutic and personalities and concerns gave rise to both movements. The involvement of key Theonomic/CR types in both is indisputable. This is not a genetic fallacy. It’s history. It’s fact. It may not be brute fact but it’s still fact.

  13. And I thought that I was the only one who pondered and speculated these things but without all the necessary facts and language with which to articulate it.

    I’ve read some of the writings of all of these Theonomists/FVers/etc. and some more deeply than others with Bahnsen somehow appealing to me the least (though my husband loved his writings). They all seem to be great efforts to make sense of all things in a meaningful way, but at some point in reading, I have a fantastic urge to put them down and pick up the Bible and read a Gospel or two. Though I never got anything at all out of FV writers, even before they got really bizarre.

    For different reasons and from a different perspective (from the underside of the effects of FV related so-called “Biblical patriarchy”) I definitely agree that in practice (cold-hearted focus on the letter of the law with a sad lack of concern for the spirit of it), the “hermeneutic and personalities and concerns” are quite common. And I would also agree from my odd perspective that it is history and brute fact (fitting turn of phrase) and not genetic fallacy.

    There’s a semi-pelagian flare to it all, oddly, through this weird dominionism twist. I think that there also might be different types of theonomist as well. Perhaps what Robbins calls the “Ersatz Calvinist” (my new favorite buzz term as it is shorter than “brave new angry Calvinist/Theonomist”) which I am told by friends of Rushdoony would likely not qualify as Christian.

    It would be curious to see Bahnsen’s reaction to Federal Vision, though, in my idealism, I will tell myself that he would have hated it.

    But what do I know? I wear a skirt. I should get back to my sphere of the home… (big grin)

    I’ll have to re-read this about 10 more times and then reference it to get the heat of me for saying SOME have turned Calvinism into what amounts to pagan karma.

  14. Dear Prof. Clark,

    Indeed, you shouldn’t be surprised if repeated erroneous criticisms such as yours are met with rebuttals repeating the same complaints and repeating the same ignored answers. And I certainly wasn’t trying to “bury you in prose”. I was only exposing the obvious weaknesses of your unwarranted allegations against Theonomy/CR.

    Point response:

    1) Having read nearly all of the published and unpublished documents by Theonomists over the past 19 years, I have found literally nothing by them that would support NS’s reformulation of Sola Fide. As for the Shepherd case itself, Theonomists were not even involved with it at the time (Dr. Bahnsen for example, was at RTS seminary and later in California during that time, Rushdoony was also in California and far from being involved in the Shepherd case. Only James Jordan was at WTS in those days and there is no hint of any Shepherdism in his writings during that time. Besides, even if you think James Jordan as an early Shepherd supporter, bear in mind that he was a Calvinist and a presbyterian at that time too. So again, why not write about the Calvinist support for NS?

    2) There is infact no question that GB did NOT support NS theologically. This is well documented by Rev. John Otis. And also by the primary works of GB himself. While GB may have personally sympathized with NS on some emotional level while his former teacher’s credentials were being called into question by WTS, GB certainly did not “support” NS the same way he is being supported by the FV crowd. I think its very debatable just what level of alleged “support” GB had or did not have for NS and how one precisely defines “support” in this case.

    3) Some Non-Theonomists I’ve known tend to be literal and litigious so your comment really cuts both ways.

    4) Its not just “we” who disagrees. Rather its you who is at odds with the historic reformed faith on the topic of cultural transformationalism. Have you not read of Knox’s Scottish Reformation? Calvin’s Geneva? Cotton’s New England? The protestant reformation did not just reform and transform the institutional church, it also transformed whole societies by the promotion of the gospel and the spiritual confidence in God’s immutable moral and civil laws. This is a historic fact, one which some Amillennialists prefer to ignore or suppress.

    5) First of all, there is no such thing as any “CR/FV” types. Andrew Sandlin is proof of that when he publicly rejected CR for FV in 2002, thus demonstrating their inherit incompatibility. And there is nothing unusual about the RPCUS’s critique and rejection of FV, since Sandlin in the 1990’s was critiquing Shepherd a full ten years before the RPCUS did. And not just Sandlin was opposing NS, but also all those who had published Sandlin’s anti-NS article, which included Rushdoony’s “Chalcedon Report”, and Stephen Perk’s “Calvinism Today” journal (since renamed, “Christianity & Society”).

    6) Dr. Clark, you are still attempting to use a guilt by association fallacy. One that is easily refuted by simply pointing out the fact that the “key Theonomic/CR types in both” were also Calvinists, so if you link FV to some “Theonomists”, then you also must on the same basis, link FV together with some Calvinists too. And they were also Van Tillians as well. So its simply not fair to talk about some Theonomic “personalities” being linked to the rise of FV while not also referring those very same people as Calvinists and Van Tillians too. No one is likely identified or should be identified by a single theological label. We all carry many theological labels, some good, some perhaps not so good.

    But the real fact remains that Theonomists as a whole had nothing to do with the rise of FV, any more than Calvinists as a whole did. While at the same time it is conceded that some few EX-Theonomists and perhaps, ex-Calvinists have unfortunately been involved. (e.g. James Jordan and Doug Wilson).

    So every time you attempt to criticize Theonomy or Theonomists along the lines you have been doing, you are only undermining the credibility of Calvinism and Calvinists as a whole. This too is a fact.

    Lastly, its interesting to note, that in Dr. Ligon Duncan’s widely read 1994 sociological analysis of the CR/Theonomy movement (“Moses Law for Government”), he made no mention of Norman Shepherd. Neither did Dr. Bruce Barron in his scholarly 1993 sociological book on Dominion Theology (“Heaven on Earth?”).

  15. Prof. Clark wrote:

    “I don’t think that Bahnsen can be exculpated from being partly responsible for the FV merely by appealing to orthodox passages in books. A minister of the gospel is supposed to be orthodox on justification! That’s his vocation before God. What he’s not supposed to do is to give aid and comfort to those who are fundamentally revising the doctrine of justification.”

    Dear prof,

    Until you cannot give written proof or cite documents that GB openly and formally agreed with NS’s view of justification, all you say is only damaging another reformed brother’s good name, which is against what we confess in HC, q/a 112, esp. because he is not around to defend himself.

    You have a problem with me mentioning his ‘orthodox passages’.

    But then, I urge you, mention or cite from his ‘unorthodox’ passages, wherein he supported NS in his false view of justification ?

    ps. read also the following chapters in TCE: “Pharisaism Reproved” and “An exegetical Study of Galatians 3:15-18”

    Just one quote from the latter (my emphasis, capital letters):

    “The fundamental concern of the book of Galatians is the gospel
    of justification by faith ALONE; it is this gospel which Paul was maintaining
    against the influence and teaching of the Judaizers who would place
    an unbearable yoke upon the neck of Christians (Acts 15:10) by requiring
    that faith be placed on equal footing with meritorious law-works,
    especially circumcision (Acts 15:5). Because Paul held that salvation
    was wrought only through the grace of Jesus Christ and that this salvation
    was intended for the Gentiles as much as for the Jews, the Judaizers
    would allege that Paul’s gospel entailed God’s abandonment of His
    people and the breaking of His covenant with them (cf. Rom. 9:6;
    11:1-2); they would argue that if salvation is by faith ALONE, then what
    advantage has the Jew? But Paul responds as an accurate ecclesiastical
    lawyer that it is rather the Judaizers who fail to defend the fidelity of
    God by representing Him as going back on His promise. In the midst
    of his defense of his own apostleship Paul begins his structured polemic
    against the Judaizers by referring to his rebuke of Peter for withdrawing
    from the Gentiles; this transition is effected in the second
    chapter of Galatians, and the third chapter begins Paul’s heaviest argumentative appeal to the Galatians. He first refers to their experience of
    faith (verses 1-5) and then declares its harmony with Scripture (verses
    6-9); next Paul discusses the impotence of the law to secure God’s
    promised salvation (verses 10-14). At this point, and before Paul’s wellknown discussion of bondage and freedom, Paul argues from the history of salvation and the law’s relation to the promise that no one can
    make fulfillment of the promise dependent upon law-keeping.”

    This is anti-NPP and anti-FV stuff, don’t you agree ?

    I am also for ‘defending the (reformed) faith’ against any enemies of the gospel, but we must make very sure of our facts, who is the ‘enemy’ and who are our reformed brothers and friends.

    Yes, I say it again, we can have problems with dr. Bahnsen on theonomy and eschatalogy, but I do not think his problem is soteriology.

    I cannot explain his ‘aid and comfort’ for NS, but if he did it in a brotherly fashion, without agreeing with NS’s theology, then I respect him for that.

    While I do not have the historical facts of that time and the whole debate, I am not to be the judge of GB and his motives. That is why we must judge theologians teachings finally by what they wrote and taught, and not what they did, because we all fall short of perfection in our manners.

  16. Prof. Clark: What do you mean by “Our ethic, like our eschatology, is paradoxical.” How so?

  17. Prof. Clark,

    Thanks for exhibiting the blogging “courage” to write about the connection. Anybody who has entered these waters on the internet knows what they are in for. I can’t say I recommend the enterprise but I commend you for it. As an W2K, amillenialist I know I should “pony up” and support the claim but I already know it’s time I can never get back. I do have a nice collection of t-shirts from past forays to validate my stripes. “Bury them in prose” that’s a new one on me, it explains a lot.

  18. Hi Slabbert,

    1. Norm Shepherd also denies “meritorious law-works,” in fact, he denies any merit whatsoever, even Jesus’ merit for us.

    2. As I conceded from the beginning people have quoted GB on both sides of this issue. This, of course, means that it’s easy to quote supporting, ostensibly, the orthodox view on justification but, if I recall correctly, Roger Wagner believes that GB would have supported the FV.

    3. None of this can make the fact go away that GB supported Norm Shepherd — but so did a lot of people. In the mid- to late-70s’s people saw the Shepherd case in terms of “conservatives” v “liberals” or upholders of the law v antinomians (even though no one has ever seriously called Bob Godfrey an antinomian!). One, now glorified, OP pastor wrote a poem about Shepherd entitled, “The Last Reformed Theologian.” There was fairly widespread support for Norm in the OP (and I guess, there are still strong pockets of support). It’s clear to me that a lot of folk did not understand the issues as clearly then as we do now. Back then Norm was saying that he was upholding the WCF and now he’s at least ambiguous about that. He hadn’t yet openly denied the imputation of active obedience and lots of people took him only to be insisting on the logical necessity of sanctification. In other words, lots of people misunderstood him, sometimes willfully, sometimes because of Shepherd’s own vagueness.

    As far as I know, Bahnsen, however, supported Shepherd’s view that faith, in the fact of justification, entails more than simply resting and receiving. That’s the crux of the matter. So, to quote him advocating faith alone is interesting but not definitive if he assumed Shepherd’s definition of faith in the act of justification. What would be more interesting is some repudiation of Shepherd’s definition of faith in the act of justification, some overt denial of justification through faith and Spirit-wrought sanctity. The problem that existed then and now is that folks think that so long as one attributes the work of sanctification primarily to sovereign grace then it’s okay to build into the definition of faith in the act of justification.

    The broader point, however, that I want folks to keep in mind is that the same soup that gave us the FV gave us theonomy. They are twin sides of the same coin. They are animated by the same spirit.

    I don’t expect to be able to convinced hard-core theonomists of this. They have too much invested in the social transformational movement to be able to accept any criticism of the movement. They’ve been trained to react, to attack, to make ad hom arguments etc. I’ve been talking, intermittently, with theonomists since 1980 and that’s the way it has almost always been. You’ve been pleasant and I appreciate that Colin’s approach is typical.

    My goal is to warn the uninstructed and uninitiated and the confused.

  19. Eliza,

    Our ethic and eschatology are paradoxical because neither is rooted in “this age.” Paul makes a distinction between “this age” and “the age to come.” Even though he casts them in temporal terms he’s not really taking about time. He’s talking about two different modes of existence. He’s talking about the fact that, though we are citizens in the earthly, civil kingdom we are also citizens of the heavenly kingdom. These two ages co-exist.

    Put in other terms, we are in the world but not of it. Jesus is king of all but his kingdom is not of this world or else he would call down legions of angels. We have a genuine interest in this world, we serve the king here, but our loyalties ultimately lie elsewhere. We’re not just polishing brass on a sinking ship and yet we are undeniably pilgrims.

    This is only a way of expressing the Protestant distinction between the theology of the cross and the theology of glory. The latter is rationalist and moralist. The latter uses one “truth” to lever all others, to flatten out all paradox and ultimately destroys Christianity with it. Though we don’t want to unnecessarily multiply them there are paradoxes in the faith: One God, three persons; two natures, one person; divine sovereignty and human responsibility.

    All versions of the theology of glory flatten out or wipe out one or more of these paradoxes. They don’t always do so at first. The Remonstrants (Arminians) didn’t begin by denying the Trinity but the later R’s did and joined the Socinians. Why? They started in the same place. I’m not saying that will happen necessarily with theonomy/CR but it is interesting to see the migration of several leaders into the FV and ecclesiastical and soteriological forms of the theology of glory.

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