Theonomy Gets it Wrong? “A Response to Matthew Tuininga”

by Felipe Diez III

This blog post is a response to Mr. Matthew Tuininga’s blog post (the blog bearing his name) entitled “Why Theonomy Gets it Wrong.” (June, 2013). Here is his post: Because of the small aim of this post (to simply respond to Mr. Tuininga), this will not be a significant defense of any theonomic position. Because this gentleman is a licensed preacher and also due to the fact that I do not know him personally, I will remain as respectful and friendly as possible in the discussion. Tuininga refers to Nick Batzig’s Reformation 21 article concerning Theonomy, citing it approvingly. I have not read it yet, but I will only respond to Tuininga’s usage of a couple of quotes from Batzig’s article, since that is the only purpose of my post. I argue as a theonomist in general, yet not as a fully-orbed Christian reconstructionist.

I assume that both Batzig and Tuininga posit that all of Israel’s civil laws were typological in nature and therefore abrogated during the eschatological breakthrough of the messianic administration of the covenant of grace (the New Covenant). If this is true, then both men must admit that such an abrogation is not explicit in the NT but implicit, if this is in fact the case. (I argue here generally that it is not the case that the whole civil code has been abrogated). Since they aver that the whole civil code of Israel has been abrogated, there are no explicit verses that they are able to appeal to in the NT to sustain this assertion. Also, it is important to note that not all theonomists believe that the whole civil set of codes has continuity. Hence, the Westminster Divines as well as subsequent theologians have appealed to a rule named “general equity.” It is usually the stronger Reconstructionists which embrace the whole of the civil code and argue for the strictest continuity from the OT to the NT. There are, however, other varieties of theonomists. We wonder if Tuininga and Batzig are aware of this. (For example, Covenanter theonomists and general theonomists would usually disagree that some laws that peculiarly pertained to national Israel would still be in effect in every commonwealth. However, certain laws that pertain to all peoples such as the power of the civil magistrate to execute people for various capital offenses is still binding. Standards of “choosing” cannot be discussed here now since the topic is quite complex).

The title of Mr. Tuininga’s article is provocative, namely, “Why Theonomy Gets it Wrong.” One would, then, expect a series of arguments that prove destructive to any theonomic or reconstructionist position. (Not all theonomists are reconstructionists). This is not the case, however. We liken the blog post name to an imaginary consumer report with a title “Ford Focus Fails Miserably,” wherein an automobile has received an imprecatory review, yet said reviewer fails to make a meaningful argument as to why the vehicle has so offended him.

Tuininga’s first paragraph reads: “In a helpful essay published last [May 2013, brackets mine] month by Reformation 21, Nick Batzig draws attention to a point not often appreciated or discussed among Christian theologians. When Paul talks about the curse of the law satisfied by Christ in Galatians 3:13, he is talking about Israel’s civil law.”

It is obvious that when Paul elucidates concerning Justification by faith, that “the works of the law” means anything a person would do to attempt to establish a righteousness before God. This, by necessary deduction, includes Israel’s civil law, since the civil law is deduced from the 10 commandments. This is what Batzig argues and we agree. We agree that it includes the civil law. Why would we not, since Paul speaks of all works of the law when he teaches on justification. Yet it includes the moral law. It includes all possible law. Paul is stating that any law is unable to justify. Theonomists agree. That matter is not in dispute. We then wonder why the doctrine of justification is even brought into the picture here since all parties posit justification by faith alone. This is an uncanny argument. Tuininga then cites Batzig, and I cite him directly as well:

An important biblical theological idea emerges out of Paul’s use of Deuteronomy 21:23 in Galatians 3:13. In the middle of the most polemical book in the New
, Paul made the astounding declaration: “Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us (for it is written, ‘Cursed is everyone who hangs on a tree’).” The immediate context shows that the curse to which Paul is referring is the curse of the law (Gal. 3:10-11). Returning to Deuteronomy 21, out of which Paul takes the command for capital punishment and applies it to Christ, we discover the theological riches of Gal. 3:13. In Deuteronomy 21:23 we read:

“If a man has committed a sin deserving of death, and he is put to death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day, so that you do not defile the land which the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance; for he who is hanged is accursed of God.” (Deut. 21:22-23)

The civil law, given to Israel in redemptive-history, was meant to prepare God’s people for the coming Redeemer. Just as the moral and ceremonial laws pointed to Jesus and our need for Him, so too did the judicial principles of the civil law. The civil law as a redemptive-historical guide is one that has often been neglected–and yet it is one of the richest in all the Scriptures.”

Since I have not read Batzig’s article, I will not make the assumption that he has brought the charge that since Paul’s discussion on Justification includes the civil law, that this leads us to conclude that the whole of it has been abrogated. But Tuininga seems to be using this odd reasoning. Such an argument is a red herring since by those same standards, the whole of the law would have to be abrogated as well given Paul’s mention of its impossibility to justify any human being. Such sweeping assertion of total abrogation would be a  violation of Jesus’s words in Matthew 5:18

For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished.”

One would have to be a progressive dispensationalist to state that the whole of the law has been abrogated, including the moral and civil ones, if one attempts to argue that the whole civil law has been abrogated because Paul includes it in the “works of the law” as an impossibility to be justified by. No works of any law justify men forensically. Since this is so, what exactly is their argument? Unless I am dreaming or have misunderstood their intentions, these men have confused what theonomists have been stating applies to today with the issue of justification (which is not related at all to continuity or discontinuity of law). They seem to be thinking of this as an issue of justification when clearly it is an issue of the law’s role in government and society. Tuininga’s citation of Batzig’s use of Deut. 21:22-23 is, again, odd, since it does not pertain to theonomy. The issue of being under a curse for having tried to observe the law is made clear by Paul in the books of Galatians (3:24) and Corinthians (2nd 3:9) wherein he states that the law is a ministry of condemnation that points one to their sin, and therefore their need for Christ. Whether this includes the civil code is irrelevant. The fact that we are in need of grace for having failed to keep any of the commandments perfectly is understood to be the case already. What does this have to do with any abrogation of any law, especially the civil code?

Tuininga continues in his blog post, commenting on Batzig’s use of Scripture:

“Nick notes an important point, not often recognized by those Christians who think that contemporary political authorities are obligated to enforce Old Testament Law. Even Israel’s civil law was typological.”

Again, what does Paul’s usage of the law have to do with theonomy? How can one use this argument to conclude with the assertion that “even Israel’s civil law was typological?” (I speak of the whole of the civil law as being fully typological and therefore fully abrogated in the NT. the OT is also Scripture, as I am sure our friends would agree with). The question is, do theonomists seek to be justified by observing the law? Not at all. The issue is one of hermeneutics. Which laws are to be enforced and why? What principle of interpretation encompassed in the continuity of the moral law are we using? Does a great part of the civil law stem from the moral law? Are the 10 commandments and even many of their subsequent deductions to be treated as ordinances today?

Tuininga ends the post with a citation from Batzig’s article:

“When we come to the New Testament we do not find the apostles insisting on the church’s implementation of civil law into the governments. Rather, we find them applying it spiritually to the life of the New Covenant church.”

Now Tuininga is bringing a relevant issue to the fore through Batzig. Notice, however, that this is an argument from silence and is also incorrect. Paul writes in Romans 13:3-5:

For rulers are not a terror to good conduct, but to bad. Would you have no fear of the one who is in authority? Then do what is good, and you will receive his approval, for he is God’s servant for your good. But if you do wrong, be afraid, for he does not bear the sword in vain. For he is the servant of God, an avenger who carries out God’s wrath on the wrongdoer.”

Although Paul is speaking of the secular rulers of his day, the standard for what a civil magistrate ought to abide by in order for his service to be pleasing to God is a righteous law, not a pagan law. How are pagan laws pleasing to God? How is any authority other than the Scriptures pleasing to God as an ultimate standard for the civil magistrate to enforce? We wonder.

If the whole civil code has been abrogated, we ask Mr. Tuininga to produce an argument as to how this is so instead of simply assuming it. We also wonder how both men would react to the Westminster Confession of Faith, chapter XXIII section II (partial citation):

“It is lawful for Christians to accept and execute the office of a magistrate, when called thereunto: in the managing whereof, as they ought especially to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth.”

Granted, this portion of the chapter does not explicitly state that Israel’s civil code is to be applied in order to maintain piety, justice, and peace, according to the wholesome laws of each commonwealth. As an aside, the Westminster Divines usually made the distinction of juris communis (meaning that part of the civil code pertaining to all people everywhere) and juris particularis (certain socio-cultural laws prohibiting intermarriage and also a brother having to “raise up seed for his brother”). We would shudder, though, to think that these Puritans would deny the whole of the civil law which includes statements that various capital offenses ought to be punished with execution. We would state that they believed in a great deal of continuity (juris communis).

In conclusion, we  are baffled to witness fellow Reformed brethren appeal to the Pauline theology of justification in order to make assertions concerning theonomy when this doctrine has little to do with theonomy. It is unclear what these men are arguing against, and unless I am misunderstanding Mr.Tuininga, it appears that he has not made his case.

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3 Responses to Theonomy Gets it Wrong? “A Response to Matthew Tuininga”

  1. Reblogged this on BLOGerigorian and commented:
    Good thoughts from Felipe!

  2. SLIMJIM says:

    Over the years I have found that many arguments thrown against Theonomy is…just, well, bad.

  3. Pingback: Weekly Roundup: Everything Else That We Didn’t Get Around To Posting | The Confessing Baptist

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