9Marks Journal, Spring 2023
Theonomy: A Definition
Before engaging with theonomy, we need a good definition. At the level of etymology, the word “theonomy” simply means “God’s law,” coming from θεος, which means “God,” and νομος, which means “law.” In this article, however, we will be dealing with theonomy in a more technical and historical sense.
Theonomy asserts that the judicial laws of the Mosaic covenant are normative for all geopolitical entities. Civil governments are obligated to enforce the old covenant judicial laws, together with their penalties, and any law not included in the old covenant judicial code should be considered out of bounds. Theonomy understands that God has given the universal blueprint for civil government in the Mosaic judicial law. As T. David Gordon wrote, “Theonomy wishes to see every nation conform its civil practices to those revealed in the Mosaic legislation… Theonomy does not wish merely a return to a biblical ethic, or a Judeo-Christian ethic, but to the ethic of the Sinai covenant.”
Our definition squares with the writings of the earliest and most influential theonomists. Others have offered similar definitions. It is good for the reader to recognize that theonomy often comes packaged with Christian reconstructionism and a particular flavor of postmillennial eschatology. Theoretically, it is possible to isolate theonomy from these other two, but practically that doesn’t occur at street level.
The argument of this article is that theonomy is incompatible with confessional Baptist theology.
For those who may be unfamiliar, at least with the term “confessional Baptist,” allow me to offer some clarification. Confessional Baptists hail from the Reformed tradition and the Puritan stream of that tradition, in particular. Confessional Baptists have: a theology, piety, and practice that is articulated by the Second London Baptist Confession (2LCF); a theology, piety, and practice that is grounded in the objective realities of Christ’s saving work in the place of the sinner, by virtue of the covenant of grace; a theology, piety, and practice that is grounded in the local church and realized through the ordinary means of grace.
For the purpose of this article, confessional Baptist doctrine defends against theonomy in at least three ways. First, confessional Baptist doctrine maintains a threefold division of the law, as well as the distinction between moral and positive law. Second, confessional Baptist covenant theology—particularly that of 1689 Federalism—affirms the historic covenantal framework of Scripture but upholds the uniqueness of the new covenant as the establishment of the covenant of grace. Third, a confessional perspective on the sufficiency of Scripture, two-kingdoms doctrine, the mission of the church, and the Christian as pilgrim runs counter to the assertions of theonomy.
Acknowledgement of Others
Before moving on to the body of this article, I want to make very clear that I have been greatly helped by the writing and teaching of others. Much of what follows is my own articulation and understanding of what numerous faithful men have taught; in everything that follows, I am sitting on their shoulders. Especially to be acknowledged, in no particular order: Samuel Renihan, Pascal Denault, Tom Hicks, David VanDrunen, R. Scott Clark, and D. G. Hart.
I. THREEFOLD DIVISION OF THE LAW AND THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN MORAL AND POSITIVE LAW
Confessional Baptist theology maintains a historical threefold division of the law, as well as the distinction between moral and positive law, neither of which square with theonomy. I am beginning here because confessional Protestants of various stripes agree on this subject matter, most notably Baptists and Presbyterians.
Threefold Division of the Law
Chapter nineteen of the 2LCF (on the Law of God) articulates the following:
1. God gave to Adam a Law of universal obedience, written in his Heart, and a particular precept of not eating the Fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; by which he bound him, and all his posterity to personal entire exact and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it; and endued him with power and ability to keep it.
2. The same Law that was first written in the heart of man, continued to be a perfect rule of Righteousness after the fall; and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in Ten Commandments and written in two Tables; the four first containing our duty towards God, and the other six our duty to man.
3. Besides this Law commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel Ceremonial Laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly holding forth divers instructions of moral duties, all which Ceremonial Laws being appointed only to the time of reformation, are by Jesus Christ the true Messiah and only Law-giver who was furnished with power from the Father, for that end, abrogated and taken away.
4. To them also he gave sundry judicial Laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution; their general equity only, being of moral use.
The law of Moses can be divided into three categories: moral, ceremonial, and judicial. The moral law was written into creation and in the heart of man. It is summarized in the Ten Commandments, which the Lord gave to Moses on two tablets of stone. As we will consider more below, the moral law is binding for all human beings at any time and in any place. The ceremonial law contained many typological ordinances, all of which prefigured Christ, along with various instructions of moral duties. The ceremonial laws were fulfilled and abrogated by Jesus. The judicial law was given specifically to the nation of Israel and expired when that nation-state, under the old covenant, ceased to exist. It is now the principles of general equity (i.e., general justice) in the judicial law that are of value.
Theonomists, however, advocate for a twofold division of the law: moral and ceremonial. Again, we look to Greg Bahnsen, who writes:
The most fundamental distinction to be drawn between Old Testament laws is between moral laws and ceremonial laws… This is not an arbitrary or ad hoc division, for it manifests an underlying rationale or principle. Moral laws reflect the absolute righteousness and judgment of God, guiding man’s life into the paths of righteousness; such laws define holiness and sin, restrain evil through punishment of infractions, and drive the sinner to Christ for salvation. On the other hand, ceremonial laws—or redemptive provisions—reflect the mercy of God in saving those who have violated His moral standards.
As others have noted, the conflation of the moral law and judicial law is a critical point to the exegetical arguments of theonomists. Bahnsen collapses the categories of moral and judicial law wholesale. “The moral law of God can…be seen in two subdivisions, the divisions having simply a literary difference: (1) general or summary precepts of morality…and (2) commands that specify the general precepts by way of illustrative application…” Bahnsen is saying that the judicial law of Israel is the moral law, just illustratively applied. This is how he and other theonomists argue for the continually binding nature of the judicial law.
Moral Law and Positive Law
There is a distinction between moral law and positive law—a distinction that helps us better understand the various kinds of laws in the Mosaic covenant and how they would or would not apply in the new covenant era.
Moral law is necessitated by God’s immutable character and reflects it. Moral law is revealed in nature and in Scripture. It is written into creation and pointedly into the human race. People know God’s moral law innately because it is written on their consciences. This is Paul’s argument in his letter to the Romans:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse (Romans 1:18-20).
For all who have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law… For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts… (Romans 2:12, 14-15a).
Again, consider the language of 2LCF (chapter nineteen on the Law of God):
2. The same Law that was first written in the heart of man, continued to be a perfect rule of Righteousness after the fall; and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in Ten Commandments and written in two Tables; the four first containing our duty towards God, and the other six our duty to man.
5. The moral Law doth for ever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof, and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator; who gave it: Neither doth Christ in the Gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.
Positive law is different from moral law. Positive law is posited by decree or kingly fiat. It is more revelatory or governmental. It is also tethered to the covenant in which it is given. It is not inherently moral; it is God’s word attached to the positive law that makes it a moral issue. People would not know they should obey a positive law if not told (e.g., eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, circumcision, etc.). Very important for our consideration is that Israel’s ceremonial and judicial laws were positive laws. Israel would not have known its ceremonial or judicial laws if God had not revealed them.
Samuel Renihan is very helpful here when he writes:
Among the laws by which God governed Israel, there are two basic kinds. Israel was governed by moral laws and by positive laws… moral laws transcend transcription. They are known by nature, though suppressed by fallen nature. God delivered the moral law to Israel, summarized in the Ten Commandments. In addition to moral laws, God gave positive laws to Israel. Positive laws are added laws, additional laws. These laws are not morally right or wrong in and of themselves. Circumcision, how to build the tabernacle, which animals to sacrifice for which sins, and what foods you can or can’t eat are positive laws. They were added by God to Israel’s covenantal obligations. Every covenant has its own positive laws that govern the people of that covenant, like the trees in Eden. The Moral law and the positive laws of Israel governed the people. That was their function. Israel’s positive laws are often split up into two groups: the civil law, and the ceremonial law.
Pulling All of This Together
God’s moral law abides. It existed at creation, before any unique era of redemptive history, before any covenant was made in time and space. And so, it transcends any one era of redemptive history or any one covenant made in time and space. It is summarized in the Ten Commandments. Its requirements are fulfilled by Christ in our place. It guides our living in Christ.
The ceremonial law of the Mosaic covenant contained many typological ordinances, all of which prefigured Christ, along with various instructions of moral duties. The ceremonial law was fulfilled and abrogated by Christ.
The judicial law of the Mosaic covenant ceased to be binding when the nation of Israel (under the old covenant) ceased to exist. On this point, it is very obvious that the structure of the kingdom of God on earth changed from the old covenant to the new covenant. The institutional form of the kingdom of God on earth in the old covenant was Israel; the institutional form of the kingdom of God on earth in the new covenant is the church. Israel was a geopolitical entity. The church is not in any sense a geopolitical entity. It certainly is not a nation-state. It spans the globe and is comprised of people from every tribe, language, people, and nation. This significant change provides a simple and straight-forward rationale for the expiration of the Mosaic judicial law.
Regarding the judicial law, its principles of general equity are of abiding value. God’s moral law is the basis for many of the judicial laws in the Mosaic law. And so, we conclude that “general equity” means that what is contained in the moral law—more particularly, the second table of the law—is for the determination of general justice, broadly. We do not go to a judicial law and ask, “What principle is contained here that we need to apply today?” This is exactly what theonomy says we should do. Rather than doing this, we appeal directly to the moral law.
As opposed to matters of general equity, matters of particular equity are those laws that only pertain to the people of Israel in the land of Canaan. There are many (e.g., division of land, provision of a kinsman redeemer, regulation of polygamy, particular rules of property and inheritance, requirement for the resting of fields, etc.). In the next section, we will consider how the judicial law given to Israel was unique to Israel’s situation and circumstances—and to the purposes of God through Israel. The judicial law has a positive, temporal element that is bound to a particular era of redemptive history; and there are judicial laws that are undergirded by moral laws. The key for us is to remember that it is the moral law that abides, not the specific judicial law given specially to Israel in a specific circumstance in a specific era of redemptive history.
II. COVENANT THEOLOGY (1689 FEDERALISM)
Confessional Baptist covenant theology (1689 Federalism) is incompatible with theonomy.
An Overview of 1689 Federalism
Let me attempt to give the reader an overview of 1689 Federalism from 30,000 feet. We begin with the covenant of redemption made in eternity past, amongst the persons of the Godhead, most pointedly between the Father and Son. In this covenant, it was determined that the Son would be the covenant head of an elect people. He would become a man to represent men. He would keep the law of nature (God’s moral law). He was tempted by Satan just as Adam was. But he did not fall. He would keep the Mosaic law to fulfill all righteousness (moral, ceremonial, and civil). He would give his life to fulfill the law’s penalty, to endure its curse. His reward for accomplishing this work would be his people, who would be resurrected to live with him forever in a new heaven and a new earth.
We now move on to the two covenants made in time and space: the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. God made the covenant of works with Adam in the garden of Eden. In this covenant, Adam represented the entire human race. He could earn blessedness and life through obedience, for himself and all of his posterity; he would receive death (spiritual, temporal, and eternal) through disobedience, again, for himself and all of his posterity. In the covenant of grace, Jesus freely grants the salvation and new creation inheritance he earned in the covenant of redemption to all who receive him by faith. All the merits of Christ are mediated to his elect people by faith, apart from works. The covenant of grace is first promised in Genesis 3:15, when God states that the seed of the woman would bruise the serpent’s head. The rest of the Bible is the unfolding of the accomplishment of that promise.
God made a covenant with Noah after the flood. He promised he would sustain the common kingdom of the earth. All human beings were represented in Noah and would benefit from this covenant, believers and unbelievers alike. Along with sustaining the creation, God would sustain its cultural activities, most pointedly, procreation and the securing of proportionate, retributive justice. It is important for us to see that, beyond his purposes for the common kingdom of the world, God would sustain the creation via the Noahic covenant so that the Savior could come—so that God the Son could take on flesh and enter the creation as a human being in order to accomplish salvation.
Now, back to the covenant of grace. It is promised in Genesis 3:15. It is revealed by farther steps throughout the Old Testament, in and through covenants that are subservient to it (i.e., the Abrahamic covenant, the Mosaic covenant, and the Davidic covenant). It is established and accomplished through Christ in the new covenant.
Drilling Down on the Old Covenant
It is important for us to understand that the old covenant is composed of the covenants made with/through Abraham, Moses, and David. In other words:
Old Covenant = Abrahamic Covenant + Mosaic Covenant + Davidic Covenant
In the old covenant, God was doing something uniquely in and through Israel. The culmination of this unique work of God was the coming of Christ and the establishment of the new covenant (covenant of grace). Jesus—and the new covenant in him—is the goal and aim of everything God did in and through Israel. It is in this sense that the old covenant must be understood typologically. The covenants with/through Abraham, Moses, and David were significant in and of themselves. They served a real purpose in their own era of redemptive history. And they pointed to something other and greater that was coming. This exposes a crucial error of theonomy: it misunderstands the biblical covenants. The judicial laws of the Mosaic covenant were uniquely fitted to the nation of Israel under the old covenant. Once the new covenant is established in Christ (the goal of the old covenant), it does not follow that uniquely situated old covenant categories (the judicial law, in this case) would be directly imported into the new covenant. This was not God’s design in establishing the old covenant, in general, nor in giving the Mosaic law, in particular.
In the Abrahamic covenant, we see the beginnings of Israel. God promises Abraham a people and a land. Most pointedly, the Christ would be a descendant of Abraham, and he would come through this people in this land.
Then there is the giving of the law through Moses. The Sinai covenant was a kind of covenant of works—a type of it. There is an echo of the covenant of works in the Mosaic covenant with its “Do this and live” paradigm. It is clear that the law of Moses was given by God to govern, regulate, and guide the people of Israel, as well as to prescribe their worship. What is perhaps not as clear to many Christians is that God gave the Mosaic law with a redemptive purpose. After the fall, God did not give the law so that human beings could be justified by it. The first and greatest use of the law is to show human beings our sin and drive us to Christ who kept the law for us.
This brings us to the Davidic covenant. God promised David that he would have a son whose kingdom would be established forever. This son of David would be God’s son, and he would sit on his throne forever (2 Samuel 7:12-16). God then told David’s son, Solomon, that he and his offspring would represent the nation of Israel:
And as for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my rules, then I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father, saying, ‘You shall not lack a man on the throne of Israel.’ But if you turn aside form following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land that I have given them, and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight, and Israel will become a proverb and a byword among all peoples (1 Kings 9:4-7).
As goes the king, so goes the kingdom. The principle of representation (i.e., covenant headship) runs throughout the Scripture. Adam represented the human race in the covenant of works. The Davidic king represented the people under the old covenant. And Christ represents all of his people in the new covenant. This makes all kinds of sense of the witness of the prophets regarding the servant of the Lord and the righteous Branch that would be raised up for David:
Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all… by his knowledge shall the righteous one, my servant, make many to be accounted righteous… (Isaiah 53:4-6, 11b).
Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In his days Judah will be saved, and Israel will dwell securely. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:5-6).
Behold, the days are coming declares the Lord, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.” For thus says the Lord: David shall never lack a man to sit on the throne of the house of Israel, and the Levitical priests shall never lack a man in my presence to offer burnt offerings, to burn grain offerings, and to make sacrifices forever (Jeremiah 33:14-18).
Thank God for Jesus Christ! He is the fulfillment of the entire old covenant. This is the witness of the prophets. This is the argument of the book of Hebrews. Jesus has reversed Adam’s curse. He has fulfilled the requirements of the Mosaic law for righteousness. He has fulfilled the ceremonial law—the priesthood, the sacrificial system, all of it. May we never seek to go back to the law now that God has established the new covenant through the blood of Christ.
But what about the judicial law? How did it serve the unique purposes of God in and through Israel? It was given to govern this people—a particular people in a particular place at a particular time for a particular purpose. It was given to make Israel unique, so that other nations would say, “If only we had a God like Yahweh.” This is massively important: it was given to preserve the nation that would give birth to the Christ. The people of Israel were a disobedient and stiff-necked people. The Lord needed to give this people the judicial law to restrain them and to protect the line of promise until the coming of Christ.
The judicial law, as a part of the Mosaic law, also typologically pointed to the kingdom of Christ and the eschatological purposes of God. A couple of examples will make this point. First, consider the curses and blessings of Deuteronomy 28. God promised material blessing and prosperity to Israel for obedience to the law; he threatened curses for disobedience. This was temporally true and significant for Israel, and it points to God’s righteous judgment at the end of the age. Second, consider the punishments of the judicial law. The death penalty was fairly common in Israel under the Mosaic covenant. One was executed, in many cases, for adultery or for breaking the Sabbath. This is different than the standard of proportionate, retributive justice articulated in the Noahic covenant. These punishments were typological. They served to show the gravity of sin against God’s moral law and to, again, point to the severity of God’s righteous judgment at the end of the age for all those who have not trusted Christ.
The Mosaic judicial law was specific and circumstantial. It was perfect for what the Lord intended to do through the nation of Israel in the land of Canaan moving toward the birth of Christ. The judicial law was ideally suited to do what it did—for the people of Israel living in the land God promised them. Yet, it was circumstantial. It was an outworking of moral law uniquely accommodated to a particular people in a particular era of redemptive history. That nation of Israel had a particular purpose in God’s economy of redemption. So did its judicial laws. Now that the nation has served its purpose (i.e., to bring the promised offspring of Abraham who would save the world), the nation’s judicial laws have served their purpose, as well. We don’t need to be drawing straight lines from Canaan to California. In fact, we shouldn’t.
The Newness of the New Covenant
The new covenant is a better covenant than the old covenant. It is enacted on better promises. It is a different substance than the old covenant. This is the argument of Hebrews:
This makes Jesus the guarantor of a better covenant (Hebrews 7:22).
But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises (Hebrews 8:6).
In speaking of a new covenant, he makes the first one obsolete. And what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away (Hebrews 8:13).
Therefore [Jesus] is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant (Hebrews 9:15).
There is one covenant of grace in all of Scripture. The Scriptures are a cohesive whole. The point of the Bible is God’s plan of redemption accomplished through Christ. And yet, there is significant discontinuity between the old and new covenants. This is critical when it comes to carrying over old covenant paradigms into the new covenant era.
In particular, we would not carry over positive laws—ceremonial or judicial—from the old covenant into the new covenant. Positive laws are tethered to the covenant in which they are given. Confessional Baptist covenant theology does not understand that the covenant of grace was established with Abraham. For our purposes here, that means the Mosaic covenant is not the covenant of grace. And so, the positive laws of the Mosaic covenant are not binding in the new covenant (the covenant of grace established). The ceremonial law has been fulfilled by Jesus, and therefore, abrogated. The judicial laws ceased to be binding once the nation to which they were given (i.e., Israel under the old covenant) ceased to exist. The principles of general equity in the judicial law that are inherently tethered to the moral law still have value.
Theonomy is prone to the error of what could be called a naked biblicism, meaning it is chapter and verse (proof texting) without an appropriate undergirding hermeneutic. It is devoid of a sound hermeneutical framework. Often, the rhetoric from theonomists goes something like, “It’s either God’s law or man’s law. Which are you going to choose?” Of course, we choose God’s law. But we choose God’s law rightly understood in the context of the biblical revelation. Theonomy misunderstands the biblical covenants, and thereby, misunderstands God’s law.
III. A CONFESSIONAL PERSPECTIVE
Confessional Protestantism is a distinct tradition within the broader Protestant tradition. This is especially true in the United States. A confessional perspective on the sufficiency of Scripture, two-kingdoms doctrine, the mission of the church, and the Christian as pilgrim runs counter to the assertions of theonomy. I will consider each of these in brief
The Sufficiency of Scripture
Theonomists often appeal to the sufficiency of Scripture in order to contend for the continually binding nature of the Mosaic judicial code. The argumentation goes something like:
God has given us everything we need to know in his holy, inspired word. We need to know how to function in the arena of civil government, so the word of God must provide us with that instruction. We can call agree that the one place where God himself engages in the project of civil government is in the Mosaic legislation. And so, God has in fact given his perfect, inspired take on civil government. He has given us the blueprint for statecraft. Now it is up to us to decide. Will we go with God’s law? Or man’s law?
This is a misguided understanding of the sufficiency of Scripture, as defined by the confessions. Consider the language of 2LCF (chapter one on the Holy Scriptures):
6. The whole Counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own Glory, Man’s Salvation, Faith and Life, is either expressly set down or necessarily contained in the Holy Scripture… Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God, to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word, and that there are circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church common to human actions and societies; which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.
In his word, God has revealed everything necessary for his own glory, as well as for man’s salvation, faith, and life (i.e., spiritual life in the church). God has not revealed everything there is to know about everything in the world. What is striking in the above paragraph is how the framers of 2LCF acknowledge that even in matters concerning the worship of God and the government of the church things are to be ordered by the light of nature (i.e., general revelation and natural law). If that is true in the church, how much more so in civil society?
God’s word is sufficient for the purposes for which he gave it. In any of our appeals to the sufficiency of Scripture this must be taken into consideration. The assertion that Scripture is sufficient for everything, or even the assertion that the Scripture is sufficient for the governing of civil society, à la theonomy, misunderstands the doctrine of the sufficiency of Scripture and diminishes the legitimacy and helpfulness of the light of nature.
A Reformed understanding of two-kingdoms doctrine serves as a safeguard against theonomy, in that it helps us understand God’s rule over the world and especially over the church. This has significant ramifications for how we understand the church’s engagement with the broader culture. Two-kingdoms doctrine can be briefly be outlined as follows:
The common kingdom is established by the Noahic covenant. God will sustain the world, along with its cultural activities (e.g., procreation and securing justice). The redemptive kingdom is established through the promise of the covenant of grace and its accomplishment. Christians live under the Noahic covenant, along with non-Christians; only God’s people live under the covenant of grace. Christians live in the common kingdom, along with non-Christians; only God’s people are a part of the redemptive kingdom. Christians belong especially to the church. As David VanDrunen writes:
Through the church [Christians] are citizens of heaven even now. This church—God’s redemptive kingdom in the present age—has a distinct membership, faith, worship, and ethic. Its way of life displays a counterculture to the cultures of this world. The church awaits the coming of Christ as a day of glorious consummation, when the bride will see her bridegroom face-to-face as she is ushered into the wedding banquet of the Lamb.
The redemptive kingdom of the church and the common kingdom of the world are not one and the same. Many, however, mistake God’s rule in one sphere for his rule in another. God rules the whole world, no doubt. But his rule over the redemptive kingdom is different than his rule over the common kingdom.
The Bible is a story of two Adams—and we are not one of them. Only Jesus can accomplish what Adam failed to accomplish. We are not little Adams. We are not called to pick up where Adam failed and carry the mission on through. We will not, through our cultural activities, usher in the new creation. The new creation has been earned and attained by Jesus, and he is the one who will usher it in. Our cultural obedience does not contribute to building the new creation. Only the work of Christ has done that. To be clear, we should engage in cultural labors. God has not taken us out of the world. We have a range of responsibilities and callings in the world. This is a good thing! But we are not called to engage in cultural labors in order to build the world-to-come.
In all of this, we must remember that Christ’s kingdom is not of this world. As Jesus said before Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews. But my kingdom is not from the world” (John 18:36). The zeal to rebuild Christendom or establish Christian geopolitical entities on earth may be sincere, but it is misplaced. The church does not need Caesar to do its work. And the church is not called to do the work of Caesar. Caesar is to attend well to Caesar’s kingdom; the Lord will attend to his.
The Mission of the Church
Theonomy tends to redefine the mission of the church to include: civil governments adopting and enforcing the old covenant judicial code; building a Christian society; rebuilding Christendom; Christianizing the nations.
We are under the new covenant. There is a mandate, but it is not one of dominion. It is a mandate to rightly preach the word of Christ and rightly administer the sacraments for the salvation of God’s people. The church of the Lord Jesus Christ will be built through word and sacrament, through the preaching of law and gospel—in other words, through the ordinary means of grace.
Consider 2LCF 1.7 (on the Holy Scriptures):
All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for Salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of ordinary means, may attain to a sufficient understanding of them.
Also, 2LCF 14.1 (on Saving Faith):
The Grace of Faith, whereby the Elect are enabled to believe the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts; and is ordinarily wrought by the Ministry of the Word; by which also, and by the administration of Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, Prayer and other Means appointed of God, it is increased, and strengthened.
The only solution to man’s condition is not the establishment of civil laws in accord with the judicial law of Moses; it is the work of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of men through the gospel. It must be said that most, if not all, theonomists would agree here. The plea is for them to reason consistently when it comes to the mission of the institutional church.
The Christian as Pilgrim
Confessionalism rightly understands the Christian life to be one of a pilgrim. We are sojourners and exiles in this world. This is a thoroughly biblical understanding. And it significantly impacts our thinking regarding the ministry and mission of the church. We have been promised a homeland, but we are not there yet. And between here and there, we face thousands of spiritual dangers. There is trial and temptation on every side. And so, we need nourishment, sustenance, and protection. This is precisely what the ministry of the church is meant to provide. D. G. Hart writes beautifully of this:
For confessionalism a good bit of the Christian life includes a recognition of the spiritual dangers that still afflict believers and their consequent need for spiritual help and sustenance that the ministry of the church is designed to provide. Being a Christian, then, means participating in churchly rites and ceremonies, not simply as means of inspiration for evangelism and Christian activism, but primarily to learn dependence on grace and to persevere through life’s doubts and temptations… Confessionalism’s understanding of the Christian life as a pilgrimage…assumes the weakness and frailty of believers and measures success by the degree to which they continue to trust in God and hope for the world to come despite the trials and suffering of this life.
I trust it is clear how this posture runs counter to the ethos and emphasis of theonomy, particularly reconstructionist theonomy. It is important that we understand the countries in which we live are still Babylon. The common kingdom, as a whole, is still Babylon. Our calling in the church is not to turn Babylon into the new heavens and the new earth. We are to concern ourselves with the ministry of word and sacrament and the living of ordinary lives in the covenant community of the church. Through us and in spite of us, Christ will build his church. He will save his people. And one day, we will receive a kingdom. Then we will see the activities and products of human culture destroyed and re-created, things to which we contributed and in which we participated. We will be given the kingdom by the Father. It will be his delight to give it, by the way. We will be welcomed into the holy city, new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from God (Revelation 21:2).
In the meantime, may we take heart that what was written of the saints of old is also true of us:
These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city (Hebrews 11:13-16).
“For here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Hebrews 13:14).
Confessional Baptist theology provides buttresses against theonomy in three significant areas. First, confessional Baptist theology maintains a threefold division of the Mosaic law, as well as the distinction between moral and positive law. These principles demonstrate that the judicial law of Moses is no longer binding on any geopolitical entity. Second, confessional Baptist covenant theology—particularly that of 1689 Federalism—affirms the historic covenantal framework of Scripture but upholds the uniqueness of the new covenant as the establishment of the covenant of grace. This theological framework makes plain the unique purposes of God in and through the nation of Israel under the old covenant. The Mosaic judicial law served a unique purpose for a unique people in a unique era of redemptive history. The nation has served its purpose in God’s economy of redemption (i.e., bringing the promised offspring of Abraham who would save the world), and so, the nation’s judicial laws have served their purpose, as well. Third, a confessional perspective on the sufficiency of Scripture, two-kingdoms doctrine, the mission of the church, and the Christian as pilgrim run counter to the teaching and the ethos of theonomy.
Editor’s note: this article was originally published by 9Marks and is republished with their permission.
 Gordon, T. D. “Critique of Theonomy: A Taxonomy.” Westminster Theological Journal, 56 (1994): 23.
 For example, one of the earliest and most influential voices in the theonomic and reconstructionist movement(s) was Greg L. Bahnsen. In his book, Bahnsen, Greg L. By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today. (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2020), he writes the “New Testament does not teach any radical change in God’s law regarding the standards of socio-political morality. God’s law as it touches upon the duty of civil magistrates has not been altered in any systematic or fundamental way in the New Testament…” He continues, “we must recognize the continuing obligation of civil magistrates to obey and enforce the relevant laws of the Old Testament, including the penal sanctions specified by the just Judge of all the earth. As with the rest of God’s law, we must presume continuity of binding authority regarding the socio-political commandments revealed as standing law in the Old Testament” (2-3). He goes on to say, “It is advocated that we should presume the abiding authority of any Old Testament commandment until and unless the New Testament reveals otherwise, and this presumption holds just as much for laws pertaining to the state as for laws pertaining to the individual” (5). In another volume, Bahnsen, Greg L. Theonomy in Christian Ethics. 3rd ed. (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2002), he writes, “God’s law as revealed in Scripture ought to direct society and the civil magistrate today. A society which is to reflect Christian morality is a society which has the full, distinctive law of God for its direction” (xlii). Bahnsen’s concern is to “show from God’s word that the Christian is obligated to keep the whole law of God as a pattern of sanctification and that this law is to be enforced by the civil magistrate where and how the stipulations of God so designate. That is to say, ‘theonomy’ has a central and irradicable place in any genuinely Christian ethic… Theonomy is crucial to Christian ethics, and all the details of God’s law are intrinsic to theonomy” (36).
 I refer the reader to Hicks, Tom. “Why Is Theonomy Unbiblical?” Web log. Ask the Pastor, Tom Hicks (blog), 2022. //pastortomhicks.com/2020/11/17/why-is-theonomy-unbiblical/ and VanDrunen, David. “Theonomy: A Theological Critique.” Web log. The London Lyceum (blog), July 1, 2022. //www.thelondonlyceum.com/theonomy-a-theological-critique/.
 To deal with the contemporary, pop-level mash-up of theonomy, reconstructionism, and optimistic postmillennialism is beyond the scope of this article. I have aimed to engage theonomy in a theological, exegetical, and historical sense. It is also of note that theonomy and theonomists have been heavily influenced by the presuppositional apologetics developed by Cornelius Van Til, as well as the writings of Abraham Kuyper, but a consideration of the development of theonomy is also beyond the scope of this article.
 The text of the Second London Baptist Confession was written in 1677 and formally adopted in 1689. It was adapted from the Savoy Declaration of Faith and Order (1658), which was a Congregationalist confession itself adapted from the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), a Presbyterian confession. These three confessions of faith effectively represent the Puritan stream of the Reformed tradition (i.e., the English Reformation), the other stream of the Reformed tradition being the continental stream (i.e., Three Forms of Unity).
 For an excellent consideration of Reformed confessionalism, see Clark, R. Scott. Recovering the Reformed Confession: Our Theology, Piety and Practice. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008.
 The third category can be called “judicial” or “civil.” Those terms are used interchangeably.
 Reformed theologians (along with Thomas Aquinas) have articulated this threefold division of the law. For a good, brief summary, see again “Theonomy: A Theological Critique”. More pointedly, in Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Edited by John T. McNeill. Translated by Ford Lewis Battles. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006, Calvin articulates the threefold division of the law (4.20.15). On the moral law, he writes, “It is a fact that the law of God which we call the moral law is nothing else than a testimony of natural law and of that conscience which God has engraved upon the minds of men” (4.20.16). Regarding the judicial law, having already acknowledged that the judicial laws were taken away, Calvin goes on to say, “For the statement of some, that the law of God given through Moses is dishonored when it is abrogated and new laws preferred to it, is utterly vain. For others are not preferred to it when they are more approved, not by a simple comparison, but with regard to the condition of times, place, and nation; or when that law is abrogated which was never enacted for us. For the Lord through the hand of Moses did not give that law to be proclaimed among all nations and to be in force everywhere…” (4.20.16).
 I continually refer to Bahnsen because he is an early voice in the theonomic and reconstructionist movement(s) and is possibly the most deliberate and exegetical in his argumentation.
 By This Standard, 97.
 By This Standard, 98.
 Moral law is often referred to as natural law.
 The reference here is to Matthew 5:17ff, in which Jesus expounds the moral law to the hearts of men. He turns up the temperature as to what the law requires—at a spiritual level. He, of course, is preaching this as the one who came to fulfill all of the law’s requirements in the place of his people.
 Renihan, Samuel. The Mystery of Christ, His Covenant, And His Kingdom. (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2019), 118.
 This is precisely what Bahnsen says when he writes, “The Puritans termed these case-law applications of the Decalogue ‘judicial laws,’ and they correctly held that we are not bound today to keep these judicial laws as they are worded…but only required to heed their underlying principles… The Old Testament required that a railing be placed around one’s roof as a safety precaution, since guests were entertained on the flat roofs of houses in that ancient society; with our sloped roofs today we do not need to have the same literal railing, but the general underlying principle might very well require us to have the fence around our backyard swimming pool—again, to protect human life” (By This Standard, 98-99).
 1689 Federalism is the oldest view amongst confessional Baptists. On this and all the subject matter regarding Baptist covenant theology, I would strongly commend (in addition to The Mystery of Christ): Coxe, Nehemiah, and John Owen. Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ. Edited by Ronald D. Miller, James M. Renihan, and Francisco Orozco. Palmdale, California: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2005; and Denault, Pascal. “By Farther Steps: A Seventeenth-Century Particular Baptist Covenant Theology.” Essay. In Recovering a Covenantal Heritage, edited by Richard C. Barcellos, 71–107. Palmdale, CA: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2014.
 God causes the sun to rise on the evil and the good; he sends rain on the just and the unjust (Matthew 5:45). He gives the nations rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying their hearts with food and gladness (Acts 14:17). He gives to all mankind life and breath and everything (Acts 17:24).
 I make the with/through caveat because the Mosaic covenant was not actually made with Moses; it was made with the people of Israel. Moses was the mediator of the covenant.
 See, for example, the argument of Paul in Galatians 3:10-14, 4:21-26.
 See Romans 3:19-20, 5:20, 7:13, 9:30-10:4; Galatians 3:19. Jesus also uses the law this way repeatedly in his ministry (e.g., Matthew 5:17ff, Matthew 19:16-26, Luke 10:25-37).
 To argue that God gives life, glory, and prosperity to nations (any nation other than Israel under the old covenant) who enforce and keep his law is a misunderstanding of the biblical covenants.
 It is the Noahic covenant, not the Mosaic, that provides the basis for the function of civil government. The proportionate, retributive justice articulated by the Noahic covenant was “an eye for an eye.” If you harm someone physically or financially, the civil authorities should exact an equal and just penalty for the sake of the victim.
 Circumstantial should not be understood to mean arbitrary. The Mosaic judicial law was not arbitrary, but it was certainly circumstantial.
 This is where 1689 Federalism differs from Westminster Federalism, which understands that the old and new covenants were one covenant under different administrations—in other words, the old and new covenants are the same substance.
 The Westminster Confession of Faith, in chapter eight, does make it clear that the one covenant of grace is administered differently in the new covenant and the old. There also chapter nineteen on the law of God, as in 2LCF (considered above). To be clear, according to the Westminster Confession of Faith, theonomy is not orthodox or confessional. That said, when it comes to theonomy, there are inherent pressures in Westminster Federalism. If the covenant of grace is the same substance in the old and new covenants, and is similarly administered in the new covenant, then we should expect the laws and paradigms of the old covenant to continue into the time of the new covenant—unless expressly repealed. This is one of the substantial arguments Presbyterians make for infant baptism.
 For a historical-theological analysis of confessionalism in America, see Hart, D. G. The Lost Soul of American Protestantism. Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002.
 It is my understanding (and the understanding of many others) that the light of nature (i.e., natural law) is the thing that should guide human beings in the arrangement and government of civil societies.
 For an excellent, accessible treatment of Reformed two-kingdoms doctrine, see VanDrunen, David. Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture. Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010.
 Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 30.
 A common assertion amongst theonomists is that we are fulfill the mandate that was given to Adam. Sometimes this is referred to as “Dominion Theology.” This is related to several theological problems, not least of which is mono-covenantalism, in which the covenant of works is categorically denied and is functionally collapsed into the covenant of grace.
 This is contradictory to the teaching of reconstructionist theonomy.
 While this is true of theonomy, in general, it is especially true of reconstructionist theonomy.
 The Lost Soul of American Protestantism, 171-172.