The Pen

A Response to Joel McDurmon

It’s deer season in Montana, and it’s with no small annoyance I have to come in from the woods and make a rare and brief return to writing on the P&P (now faithfully manned by my contributors) to answer a volley of rebukes sent in my direction by American Vision‘s Joel McDurmon.

My regular routine of pastoral ministry and the marginal amount of time to devoted to my radio show each day is supplemented each October and November by the pursuit of the fruited plain’s four-footed menu. We are working out the details of an upcoming debate on the topic of Theonomy , and so I would prefer to save a back-and-forth until that time, both for the sake of precious time and because an edifying experience for the greater church will best be had if until that time we keep our powder dry. Nonetheless, a quick response to Dr. McDurmon, I feel is required.

Using my last name as a pun, Dr. McDurmon entitled his post, “Hall of Shame: New Critics of Theonomy; Same Old Fallacies.” In the article, McDurmon appears to release some steam that built up listening to Part 1 and Part 2 of my critique of Theonomy and Christian Reconstructionism. I certainly hope he feels better.

McDurmon writes, “As for his specific charges, for now I’ll just say there is a wide disparity between the air of confidence (several actually said “arrogance”) with which he exposed the ‘Errors of Theonomy’ and the substance of what he actually produced. To many of us listening to him, it was obvious he was not very much at all familiar with the literature or actual positions theonomists have taught; as a result he repeats straw men and misrepresentations so obtuse that did we not know he was serious we would think they were hyperbolic.”

It’s interesting that McDurmon’s first remonstrance is both ad hominem and subjective. While I whole-heartily pray that I have not been arrogant in my opining on the theonomic refusal to make orthodox distinctions between God’s immutable Moral Law and the civil code of ancient Israel, and while the majority of the theological world would characterize the modern theonomic movement as exceedingly arrogant, arrogance is not something to which I aspire and I pray God might temper my zeal with more graciousness. I hope that McDurmon would have the same prayer; might our zeal be tempered with graciousness?

Concerning McDurmon’s accusation of my ignorance regarding the teaching of theonomists, I can only humbly disagree and let the programs in question stand upon their own as a testimony. More importantly, our debate on this issue will lay bare any genuine ignorance that might exist. In the mean time, I would remind the reader that each and every critic of the modern theonomic movement has faced the primary charge of ignorance regarding the theonomic position. Considering this is the typical charge and no critic has ever escaped this charge, we might wonder if theonomists are the most inarticulate advocates of their position imaginable (considering no critic has ever understood the position to their satisfaction) but at some point the burden must rest upon the proponent to accurately describe their position. Sadly, as Bahnsen, North and Rushdoony disagree on theonomic theory (it’s never been put in practice), it’s difficult to argue the topic without seeming as the proverbial ships passing in the night.

McDurmon writes, “While Hall did admit he is not an ‘expert’ on theonomy, he also quipped, laughing, it would not be difficult to ‘read every single book that there is on theonomy,’ because there “is not much—there’s not very many books on it because it such a strange, peculiar belief and it’s actually not that old.” Considering that there are over a hundred volumes between North and Rushdoony alone (not even counting all the other authors, articles, and journals), a statement like that only reveals how out of touch with the issue he really is.

I feel strangely vindicated by this statement. How appropriate that McDurmon would acknowledge the works of North and Rushdoony – two-thirds of the modern theonomic movement’s notable theologians (and two who disagreed so vehemently on the topic). Imagine discussing a topic of Biblical doctrine like justification or sanctification or some other aspect of Christian theology that has been of historic significance to the church, and having two theologians to quote on the topic (to be fair, theonomists might have four or five, but are names neither you nor the average theonomist would recognize). Covering “hundreds” of volumes and some obscure journal articles, as I delve into Christian theology, is hardly a monumental task or herculean feat to conquer.

McDurmon adds, “And the worst part of this is that he is friends and associates with theonomists who warned him not to do this prior to doing it. They told him he was off base and not representing us accurately: please, read some our actual stuff before you do this!, they pleaded. But he did not listen.”

This is true. A friend of mine and Christian filmmaker offered to discuss theonomy over the phone. I found it unnecessary to discuss this theological topic with a documentarian and film critic, regardless of him being an excellent documentarian and film critic. I’m not sure what this conversation would have profited me, and a subsequent conversation resulted in much screaming. I love the brother, and have no ill-will, but shrillness is hardly productive for profitable discourse. Furthermore, each and every time I’ve heard the charge of “inaccurate” and “straw man” I’ve documented the hopeless endeavor of sanitizing the theonomic position by concealing the radical assertions of theonomic leaders. McDurmon continues…

At the behest of some, I moved to secure an opportunity to discuss these things with him on air sometime in mid-December (TBA). And it seems he has already begun to realize just how much homework he has not done, and yet needs to do. Last night he took to a Facebook group of his followers to announce our upcoming “debate” (I have not called it that), and announced his need for help: “I need 2-3 people to help do some research assistance.”

I have no hesitancy to call such an exchange a debate, and I hope that McDurmon does not shirk from that description. I understand McDurmon’s fear or timidity to use that term, preferring to think of such an exchange as a conversation over coffee, but I don’t think that will be the most edifying for Rosebrough’s listening audience. And yes, I have called on my loyal “pulpiteers” to brief me on McDurmon’s work in particular. McDurmon can read or hear everything I’ve written or said on the topic of Theonomy in a few hours. McDurmon, on the other hand, has written extensively on this topic for many years. Learning from Dr. White’s example of diligently reading and listening to the arguments presented specifically by those he’s debating, I hope Dr. McDurmon would take it as a sign of respect that I care enough to research his opinions on the topic rather than just those of North, Bahnsen, Rushdoony and more notable theonomists.

The rest of McDurmon’s post (so multitudinous in words that one seminarian friend said, “I honestly wondered when I could stop scrolling”) accuses me – and the rest of the critics of theonomy – of “ambiguous criticism.” Given the ambiguous, disjointed, disagreeing and contradictory positions held by the very leaders of the modern theonomic movement in trying to define and contend for their position, I can understand why McDurmon would have this perception. I pray that this misconception might be cleared up as we debate in December.

Back to hunting.

[Contributed by JD Hall]