Theonomy and Social Justice

Biblical justice applies to the individual, the family, the church, and the civil magistrate and any other institution over, in, and under the earth.

Evangelical social justice warriors are trying to deal with the issues raised by modern culture wars.  Social justice warriors perceive that something has been missing in the Evangelical and Reformed churches.  The church got the gospel right, but something was deficient.  That which was missing was the application of the Law of God to all of life. Social gospel warriors are now dealing with the results of this failure.  Theonomy has been dealing with this for years. 

 

One of the old country-music songs goes “I was country before country was cool.”  It could be said that theonomists believed in social justice long before social justice was cool.  The Church is beginning to wake-up, sadly, not out of obedience to God’s Law, but out of a sense of guilt as they react to the culture wars in our nation.  Culpability has finally overwhelmed the social justice warriors, and they are responding primarily by confession of sin.

Of course, everything depends on definitions because those who control the language control the conversation. Because of the power and confusion of language, and also because of the misrepresentation of theonomy in Reformed and Evangelical circles, let me make a few things clear.

  1. Social justice is not a term theonomists have used in the past (although some use it today). Biblical justice as it applies to all of life is a better reflection of our terminology. Biblical justice applies to the individual, the family, the church, and the civil magistrate (and any other institution over, in, and under the earth). Theonomy simply means “God’s Law.” It pertains to all of life, but never replaces the gospel of grace.
  2. Theonomy does not identify the Kingdom of God with the Church. The Church preaches the gospel and administers the sacraments. The Church also teaches Christians the law of God whereby they seek to exercise dominion in whatever sphere of influence they have on this earth. If Christ does not rule over all, then he does not rule at all.  The Kingdom of God results from the influence of Christians beyond the church. Most modern evangelicals identify the Kingdom of God with the church, and therefore truncate the power of the gospel beyond ecclesiastical walls.
  3. Theonomy believes in a bottom-up biblical justice.  It hates tyranny, including political tyranny.  As men are converted, they will begin to exercise dominion over all the earth.  The spread of the Kingdom will be gradual and voluntary as men accept the gospel of grace.
  4. Theonomists have spoken for years on the issues related to sexism, critical race theory, intersectionality, gender identity, abortion, homosexuality, prisons, education, medicine, economics, just wars, and other issues including immigration. We have not always agreed on everything, but we have been willing to deal with all of these issues from a biblical perspective, at least since Rushdoony wrote his “Institutes of Biblical Law” in the 1970s. In some ways, we are a work in progress.  There is a storehouse of literature available. See http://www.christrules.com/biblical-law/.
  5. Theonomists disagree on the application of Old Testament penology in modern society. Most theonomists support capital punishment (North, Morecraft), but some do not (McDurmon).  Those opposed to Theonomy over the issue of penology fail to understand that a capital conviction in the Old Testament depended on at least two or three eye-witnesses, and that victims (or those legally connected to the victim) had the right to reduce the penalty or forgive the offense (Joseph and Mary).
  6. The goal of theonomy is not to “inform” society, but to transform society. The word “inform” has become the buzzword of modern evangelical parlance critical of social justice. The Kingdom of God is more than information.  It is about the power of God to change people’s lives who go out from the Church to be the salt of the earth.
  7. The concept of “Pilgrim Theology” is popular in both the Evangelical and Reformed churches. The idea of Christendom (Christ’s Kingdom beyond the local church) died not long after the introduction of American religious pluralism (now polytheism). The goal of the modern Christian is to escape from this earth.  They have no responsibility for generations who will follow them. Covenantalism is dead too.  Remember that Abraham was an alien not because he was in the flesh on this earth, but because he lived among a strange and ungodly people.  His righteousness made him a stranger, not his physical body.

No theonomists would say that we have the final word on all of the issues.  However, we have been working on the issues for years, seeking to apply the law of God to all areas of life. We have laid a foundation for future generations.

Evangelical social justice warriors are trying to deal with the issues raised by modern culture wars.  Social justice warriors perceive that something has been missing in the Evangelical and Reformed churches.  The church got the gospel right, but something was deficient.  That which was missing was the application of the Law of God to all of life. Social gospel warriors are now dealing with the results of this failure.  Theonomy has been dealing with this for years.

Larry E. Ball is a retired minister in the Presbyterian Church in America and is now a CPA. He lives in Kingsport, Tennessee.