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Village Apologists: The Economy of Theonomy

Seth Dunn

There are five primary schools of Christian Apologetics.  Classical Apologetics relies on philosophical arguments to demonstrate God’s existence.  Evidentialist Apologetics relies upon demonstrating the truth of Christianity through the evidence of history and science.  Reformed Epistemology relies upon the reasonableness of “properly basic” indefeasible internal beliefs to prove God’s existence.   Presuppositional Apologetics presupposes the truth of scripture and relies upon it to demonstrate that nonbelievers have a contradictory worldview.  Cumulative Case apologetics utilizes all the four of the previously mentioned schools.  Many in the reformed community, holding to an appropriately high view of scripture, are fond of using presuppositional apologetics.  To use this school of apologetics, one needn’t have a vast knowledge of history, science, and philosophy.  Rather, one must only know the Bible well.  For faithful Christians, this is the easiest type of apologetics in which to engage because faithful Christians spend their lives studying and learning God’s word.  It’s not a lazy form of apologetics; it’s just one that is easier for Christians to use.  Unfortunately, Theonomists seem to have gotten intellectually and theologically lazy in the use of presuppositional apologetics.  A typical argument between a Theonomist and a nonbeliever will go something like this:

Theonomist: Do you believe in God?

Nonbeliever: No.

Theonomist: Do you believe people shouldn’t murder others?

Nonbeliever: Yes

Theonomist: You’re borrowing from my worldview.

Nonbeliever: No, I am not.

Theonomist: Yes, you are.  The Bible says so and the Bible says murder is sin.

Nonbeliever: I don’t believe in the Bible or God.

Theonomist: Yes, you do.  The Bible says you do.

Nonbeliever: I just told you, I don’t believe in God.

Theonomist: Yes, you do. You are lying.  The Bible says you are lying.  Scripture is the foundation for all truth.

Nonbeliever: Okay, do you eat Shrimp?  The Bible says not to but I see Christians eating shrimp all the time.  You Christians just pick and choose what you want out of the Bible.  Murder is still bad but shrimp is now okay?  I don’t think so.  If the Bible is the foundation of all truth then you can’t reject any of it.

This is the point where frustrating tedium would begin for one who holds to orthodox Christian theology.  Such a person is in the position of attempting to explain the intricacies of Biblical genre, God’s purpose for the nation of Israel, and the difference between moral, civil, and ceremonial law to a lost person who doesn’t understand scripture.  To make matters, worse, this kind of shrimp argument is often employed by thick-headed village atheists.   Evangelists and Apologists know all too well the frustrations of dealing with this type of argument.  Fictional television character, President Josiah Bartlet provided an excellent example of a typical shrimp argument on an Episode of The West Wing


Here’s how the Theonomist handles the shrimp argument:

Theonomist: I don’t reject Old Testament laws.  They are still applicable.

Nonbeliever: Well okay, I guess you win.  I still don’t believe you.  You don’t reject ancient laws that require people to stone their own children.  You want to pass them as laws in America.

At the expense of sound doctrine, the legs have been taken out from under the shrimp argument.  The Theonomist wins the argument but at a very high cost.  Winning this argument this way employs lazy apologetics and bad theology.  It also produces a need for Theonomists to develop an entire systematic theology of judaizing.

If not intellectual laziness then what drives the Theonomist bent towards legalism?  Sadly, for some with the kind of mindset susceptible to Theonomic thinking, there could be an even darker path than Theonomy itself.   Avowed atheist and daughter of Christian Apologist Matt Slick has published the story of her journey from theism to atheism:

“I ran away from home when I was 17 (due to reasons not pertinent to this post) and went to college the following year. I must have been a nightmare in my philosophy and religion classes, raising my hands at every opportunity and spouting off well-practiced arguments. Despite this, my philosophy professor loved me, and we would often meet after class, talking about my views on God. Even though he tried to direct me away from them, I was insistent about my beliefs: If God didn’t exist, where did morality come from? What about the beginning of the universe? Abiogenesis? There were too many questions left by the absence of God, and I could not believe in something (godlessness, in this case) that left me with so little closure. My certainty was my strength — I knew the answers when others did not.

This changed one day during a conversation with my friend Alex. I had a habit of bouncing theological questions off him, and one particular day, I asked him this: If God was absolutely moral, because morality was absolute, and if the nature of “right” and “wrong” surpassed space, time, and existence, and if it was as much a fundamental property of reality as math, then why were some things a sin in the Old Testament but not a sin in the New Testament?

Alex had no answer — and I realized I didn’t either. Everyone had always explained this problem away using the principle that Jesus’ sacrifice meant we wouldn’t have to follow those ancient laws. But that wasn’t an answer. In fact, by the very nature of the problem, there was no possible answer that would align with Christianity.

I still remember sitting there in my dorm room bunk bed, staring at the cheap plywood desk, and feeling something horrible shift inside me, a vast chasm opening up beneath my identity, and I could only sit there and watch it fall away into darkness. The Bible is not infallible, logic whispered from the depths, and I had no defense against it. If it’s not infallible, you’ve been basing your life’s beliefs on the oral traditions of a Middle Eastern tribe. The Bible lied to you.

Everything I was, everything I knew, the structure of my reality, my society, and my sense of self suddenly crumbled away, and I was left naked.

I was no longer a Christian. That thought was a punch to the gut, a wave of nausea and terror. Who was I, now, when all this had gone away? What did I know? What did I have to cling to? Where was my comfort?  I didn’t know it, but I was free.

For a long time I couldn’t have sex with my boyfriend (of over a year by this point) without crippling guilt. I had anxiety that I was going to Hell. I felt like I was standing upon glass, and, though I knew it was safe, every time I glanced down I saw death. I had trouble coping with the fact that my entire childhood education now essentially meant nothing — I had been schooled in a sham. I had to start from scratch in entering and learning about this secular world. Uncertainty was not something I was accustomed to feeling. Though I had left Christianity intellectually, my emotional beliefs had yet to catch up”.

Rachel Slick left Christianity over the shrimp argument to enter into a life of sin.  Theonomists, using the same thought process as Rachel but coming to a different conclusion, doubled-down on Christianity and enter into a life of legalism.  Their doing so could be the result of intellectual laziness or overly wooden thinking, call it either one, but call it Theonomy.

The Theonomist ends up being the Village Apologist.

[Contributed by Seth Dunn]

*Please note that the preceding is my personal opinion. It is not necessarily the opinion of any entity by which I am employed, any church at which I am a member, any church which I attend, or the educational institution at which I am enrolled. Any copyrighted material displayed or referenced is done under the doctrine of fair use.