By Shane Kastler
After having watched the first part of the recent Theonomy debate between Joel McDurmon and J.D. Hall I offer a few preliminary thoughts. For those unaware, Theonomy is a belief system that contends that Mosaic civil law is still obligatory and is the ideal for nations today. Theonomy literally means “God's Law” (Theos + nomos). So the Theonomist would contend that all of the Old Covenant Law is still in effect and should be incorporated today, unless a law has been specifically abrogated in the New Testament. Homosexuals should be stoned. As should disobedient children and adulterers, etc. My disagreements with Theonomy are many, but I will get to this in a moment. Joel McDurmon of American Vision ministries represented this position.
On the other side of the coin was Jordan (J.D.) Hall, a Reformed Baptist pastor who holds to the 1689 London Baptist Confession of Faith. While I would have more agreement with him, I had much to differ with him on as well. As a New Covenant Theologian myself, I was baffled as I saw two men trying to argue about the validity (or lack thereof) of Old Covenant Law. The debate itself reminded me of two hunting dogs that keep chasing their own tails and tripping over each other......all the while thinking they've succeeded in treeing a coon. In other words I think they're both wrong.
The debate was somewhat entertaining though extraordinarily painful to watch at times. On the one hand you had a Presbyterian Theonomist who sometimes came across as smug. He looked like a cross between Caiaphas the High Priest, Moses, and a long lost cousin of the Duck Dynasty gang. And of course as a Theonomist, he would like to bring public stonings back to the market square. Opposite him was a 1689 Confessional/ Reformed Baptist who looked and sounded terrified (probably afraid of getting stoned by the Theonomists) and who kept wanting to defend the “moral law” but could only use the Westminster Confession and John Calvin writings to do it. All of this was moderated by a sophomoric, bad comedian who repeatedly yelled, trying to pump up the crowd. Even though a camera pan revealed there were about 20 people present. Must see TV indeed!
But back to the debate. In my humble opinion, McDurmon came across as somewhat arrogant in his opening statement and in his postures, scoffs, and guffaws thereafter. I say this with a grain of salt, because I don't know him. He might be the most humble man on earth. But he certainly came across bad. He argued that all of the Law is still valid and “just” therefore it must be the bar we all reach for as a society. I agreed with his refusal to divide the law into “civil, ceremonial, and moral” and indeed see this as an Achilles heel for the 1689 Baptists. But McDurmons' conclusions are erroneous, not to mention bizarre. Theonomy argues that since the Law should not be divided, then all of it is obligatory to modern societies, unless a law is specifically abrogated in the New Testament. While McDurmon is certainly right in his refusal to divide the Law (since the Bible never does), his conclusion is odd. Several verses could be cited to argue that all of the Law, in it's entirety has been fulfilled in the New Covenant work of Christ and thus ALL of the Law is “abrogated” (to use his word). Jesus declared the Law to be fulfilled (Matt. 5:17) and he didn't indicate any were still “obligatory” – a fact that might irritate McDurmon. Nor did Jesus declare that only portions of the Law were fulfilled (civil, ceremonial) – a fact that might irritate Hall. I've addressed Matthew 5:17 elsewhere so I won't re-hash it here. Suffice it to say, Jesus makes the temporal nature of the Old Covenant Law quite plain.
Furthermore, Paul makes it very clear that he does not consider himself under the Law in any way, shape, form, or fashion declaring that he is “not under the Law myself.” (1 Cor. 9:20) And again as he declares to the Romans: “For sin will have no dominion over you, since you are not under law but under grace.” (Romans 6:14) If Jesus claimed to FULFILL IT and Paul claimed to be FREE FROM IT and exhorted the Romans that they were NOT UNDER IT. Then why on earth would we still consider it “obligatory” as McDurmon and other Theonomists do? Certainly the above verses should fulfill McDurmon's opening statement declaration that “unless anyone can prove these laws are abrogated they are still obligatory and indeed just.” Of course whatever God says is “just”.....is just. But clearly God changes what He considers “just” at different times. If God says “don't eat pork” then it would be unjust to disobey him and eat pork. But later God says “eat anything you want” and thus his standard of justice has clearly changed regarding pig consumption. In the case of dietary law, the New Testament clearly abrogates the Old Testament. The very fact that abrogation takes place at all should be a clear enough indicator to McDurmon that God is allowed to change (or fufill) law as he sees fit. This was most definitely Jesus' position as he was repeatedly accused of breaking the Sabbath. He didn't simply argue that the Pharisees were wrong in their interpretation; He declared Himself to be greater than the Sabbath. It's strange that the Theonomist will gladly dive into a pork chop, then turn right around and scream about the “just law” of stoning certain sinners, while the pig juice is still dripping from his teeth. Based on the already cited verses, at the very least we have a clean slate regarding the Law and should look to Jesus and His apostles to direct us in terms of Law (i.e., the Law of Christ).
Of course the 1689 Baptist knows I'm right, but only believes it is partially so. The rub is always there for the Theologian who knows the New Testament declares the Law to be fulfilled. Yet also knows that some of the Old Testament commandments (adultery, murder, idolatry) are still somehow valid. How do we account for this? Thus enters the mythical “moral law” that the 1689 Baptist and Westminster Confessors will cling to in an effort to have their theological cake and eat it to. While Hall and other Covenant Theologians are certainly right in seeing part of the Mosaic code as “non-binding.” Why would they stop at the so-called civil and ceremonial laws? Why not declare it all fulfilled as the New Testament writers do; and start with a clean slate? The 1689ers know the Theonomist is wrong; yet they cannot accurately show why they are wrong. In dividing the law and declaring it “partially fulfilled” they unwittingly put one foot in bed with the Presbyterians by clinging to the Old Covenant; all the while criticizing the Theonomist for taking the natural Covenant Theology viewpoint to its logical extreme. The Theonomist says, “If you can't divide the Law, then it all still applies.” Whereas the New Testament says: “Since Christ fulfilled the Law, then none of it applies. Let us look to the Law of Christ for direction.” And the Covenant Theologian doesn't have a clue what to say, so he takes a goofy middle ground by declaring partial fulfillment.
In a figurative sense, the Theonomist is like a charging grizzly bear that the Covenant Baptist tries to beat away by grabbing a stick......when he unknowingly has a bazooka at his disposal. The New Covenant Theology position is that bazooka. NCT is the only explanation that both points out the unbiblical extremes of the Theonomist AND the shoddy exegesis and unwarranted divisions of the Covenant Theologian.
As proof positive that Hall and the Covenanters stand on shaky theological ground, notice how often Hall cites the Westminster Confession and the writings of John Calvin to defend his position. Why not cite Scripture? Because Scripture can't defend the “division of Law” argument. But Westminster can.
As of yet I haven't watched the entire debate. I'm not sure I can. It was a painful sight to behold. Maybe it got better. Obviously, as a New Covenant Baptist I would prefer to side with Hall against Theonomy. But watching him try to fight off Theonomy with the Westminster Confession left me frustrated and flummoxed. Put down the stick Bro. Hall; and grab the bazooka. The Law has been fulfilled in Christ. Stop clinging to a “moral law” that the Bible never cites. Of course that isn't to say Christians have no moral standard or “law” if you will. But it is clearly not Mosaic in nature.
As for McDurmon, I can sympathize with him in this regard. As a Calvinist, a Libertarian, and a New Covenant Theologian (with a beard) I frequently have people who look at me and hear my views and think I'm totally crazy. I'm sure McDurmon gets the same reaction. The difference is that I think most people assume me to be crazy because they don't really understand my position. With McDurmon, I think I truly DO understand his position. I just think he's crazy. Or at least many of his theological views are. In all honesty, the beard probably doesn't help the image of either of us. (Ha Ha)
McDurmon and Hall both dropped the ball in this debate, as far as I'm concerned. McDurmon is more eloquent but his theological conclusions are extreme and unbiblical. Hall appeared nervous and couldn't defend his position from the Bible. Two hunting dogs chasing their tails.....repeatedly tripping over each other...... while both thinking they've treed a coon. Admittedly my conclusion betrays my rural Oklahoma roots; but this is my conclusion nonetheless. A painful debate to watch, that gets nowhere, because both men take odd theological positions, that the Bible itself will not defend.