As I write this, I’m tempted to say “this is my last word on theonomy and theonomists,” because as JD Hall rightly stated on our program, “Theonomy is a distraction.” Anyone who listens to Bible Thumping Wingnut and doesn’t live under a rock knows what a distraction it has been to us, and many of you have practically begged us not to talk about theonomy anymore. Yet, as I write this, I know that is quite unlikely to be the case.
Today, I want to show you something that I believe gets right to the heart of the disagreement between us (Tim and I) and several prominent theonomists with whom we once had dear fellowship. Below is a screen shot from a public conversation that Tim and Sye Ten Bruggencate had on Tim’s Facebook wall.
I want to take this comment and break it down. First, Notice what Sye said that is highlighted in blue. Sye says that “Gospel” and “Salvation” are not the same thing, but Paul would beg to differ when he wrote the to the Romans,
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.“
Two words in Sye’s highlighted sentence above are at the heart of the division between Tim (and myself) and Sye (and many theonomists, I suspect); we don’t. Theonomists, according to Sye, don’t see the Gospel being inseparable from the necessity and centrality of Salvation, but historical, orthodox, Reformed Christianity has never divided the two, at least not in any meaningful way. The Gospel is clearly defined Paul:
Now I would remind you, brothers, of the gospel I preached to you, which you received, in which you stand, and by which you are being saved…For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures… (1 Corinthians 15:1-4 ESV)
It is at this point I can just hear the semantic word game objection coming from theonomists, saying something like “The gospel *isn’t* salvation – the gospel is *the power of God unto* salvation. That doesn’t mean that they are the same thing. The gospel is the good news that brings with it salvation, when applied to the convert by the Holy Spirit. Essentially, the gospel is an informational message (i.e., good news) and salvation is a regenerating action performed by the Holy Spirit upon hearing that informational message. As such, they are technically two different things.”
Agreed, but what else has such power? What is the power of God unto Salvation? The Gospel alone and NOT the application of the Mosaic civil, ceremonial or moral law which; by the way, Paul called a ministry of death and condemnation.
It is at this point I want to be exceedingly clear, when it comes to soteriology there is NO question in my mind that Sye, Marcus Pittman, Jeff Durbin & Luke “The Bear” believe that salvation is by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone. That is what they profess, at least.
Our concern comes from the conflation which arises from Theonomy/Reconstructionism as the “Full Gospel” as many of us witnessed their assertion to be. But what does the scripture say? There is one Lord, on faith, one baptism and one Gospel. To separate the Gospel from Salvation is to do violence to the Gospel, for the Gospel is our ONLY HOPE for Salvation. Furthermore what did Paul say in Galatians?
I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different gospel—
Paul didn’t say another salvation, did he? No, he would never dare separate the two. It is an issue on the part of those within the modern theonomic movement to call their doctrine the “Full Gospel” that leads to the confusion that has ultimately led to a sad division among brothers who once labored together for the cause of Christ.
Second, notice that Sye accuses Tim of wanting to create controversy over this issue. But the controversy is not on the side of the non-theonomist. It are theonomists who dare to drive a wedge between the Gospel and Salvation and add to it adherence to the civil code. Tim is not being divisive or controversial to point that out and call it into question. Tim is, in fact, being downright orthodox, and many outside of the theonomic camp looking in cannot help to observe the controversy inside it’s own walls running roughshod over social media and anathematizing those in disagreement with them, using labels such as antinomian and schizophrenic to refer to those who believe that the civil code passed away with the body politic of Israel. They accuse us of hating God’s law, while they themselves redefine what obedience to the law looks like as “trying” instead of actually “doing” as was commanded of the ancient Israelites to whom the law was given, giving the promises of Deuteronomy 28 while only following certain of the requirements of Old Testament Law necessary to receive the blessings of those promises. In fact, when facing criticism by one of the world’s greatest living Christian scholars, theologians and apologists, Dr. James White, some had the nerve to say that “he has no idea what he’s talking about.” It is this kind of radical unteachability that undermines the movement and why its implosion is likely just over the horizon. When receiving criticism from the likes of James White, one would be wise to be a bit introspective, but that’s not what I’ve observed. In fact, it has been quite the opposite.
Thirdly, notice that Sye accused Tim of being “an ill-informed discernment podcaster.” This couldn’t be further from the truth. Tim is hardly “ill-informed.” If you recall, we had a co-host on our podcast for nearly 40 weeks – who we were friends with before the podcast started – who is a theonomist. We listened carefully and we asked questions. We listened to podcasts like Apologia Radio and we listened to interviews with Gary DeMar, Marcus Pittman, Joel McDurmon and Bojidar Marinov. If Tim is “ill-informed,” then all of these people must be incapable of representing theonomy with any type of clarity. Rather than deal with the objections and engaging the issue, Sye resorted to an ad hominem attack, cutting the legs out from under the credibility of his own argument.
Tim and I believe theonomy is an error. Even though we weren’t always gracious during these discussions, and even though our critiques probably came across as harsh at times, all we have done on this podcast and in social media is ask for logical and consistent answers for problems which we see in theonomy and we challenged the underlying presuppositions, as presuppositionalists are taught to do. When we challenged the assertions and pointed out the logical fallacies and inconsistencies the reaction has been vitriolic and been followed by blocking and public scorn.
Finally, Sye asked Tim to remove all “his” videos from Tim’s YouTube channel. Not only that, but Sye asked that we delete all podcast episodes he appears in. Those videos and podcasts are not Sye’s intellectual property and he has no right or claim to them, and it’s this kind of bullying that is becoming the defining characteristic of the modern theonomic movement.
Tim has perhaps a dozen videos on his primary YouTube channel featuring Sye and he has made 3 appearances on the podcast. Sye wants them removed. Why? Because in Tim’s disagreement with theonomy, and in an effort to point out what is seen as error by Tim, he is now labelled an “ill informed discernment podcaster.” Sadly, Sye would rather have total separation from Tim over this disagreement, even if it means robbing the church of tools to equip and edify the body of Christ and that have potential to reach lost souls for generations to come. And what is Tim’s sin that led to this separation? Tim dared to say that theonomy; as taught by many currently in the movement, teaches a false gospel. But remember the two critical words at the heart of this division: …we don’t.
Soteriologically, they BELIEVE the true gospel, as salvation by grace alone through faith alone in Christ alone, yet on social media they fight for a Gospel with no saving power because included in it is an imperative to obey the Mosaic civil code. To use a phrase I’ve heard Sye and Jeff Durbin use when engaging atheists on morality…Brothers, “you don’t live that way.” You don’t live as if anything other than the perfect life, propitiatory death, burial and glorious resurrection have the power of God unto salvation, so why would you call anything else the gospel? This is an honest question I would appreciate an anwer to.
The day before the “Great Theonomy Debate,” Sye was on Apologia Radio and he said:
“That brings something up to me, there’s gonna be some hot shots; okay, asking some questions. Where were they? Why is this the first debate (we talked about that a little bit in the break), where have they been? And you know what my question is after this debate? Where have they gone? Because they’re gonna be taking pot shots but I doubt anyone is gonna be the next person to step up and debate this. Where have they been? Where have they gone? Come on, let’s talk about it brothers. And let’s honor Christ when we do it. Let’s not be jerks about it because the thing that I see the opposition doing this to theonomy, it’s an opposition to theonomists, there’s jerks out there.”
I’m so thankful Sye recognizes that there are jerks out there. Some of them he embraces whole heartedly, those who have been a wedge of division between theonomy and non-theonomy for longer than I’ve been in Christ. Jerks who agree with Sye are not Sye’s problem though. It is “jerks” like me and Tim who must be shamed and shunned, marked and avoided, who dare to ask the tough questions and point out the problems.
Let me answer the question you asked on Apologia the day before the debate, Sye. We’re right here. We haven’t blocked you on social media; you blocked us because we dared to be Bereans – to go to the scripture and see if what you, as theonomists, are saying is true and to point out the irreconcilable separation between Gospel and Salvation and that redefining the Gospel to infuse it with law-following or to confuse justification and sanctification is sin. You asked the question of who would be the next to step up and debate. And yet, Sye, I don’t remember any theonomists of notable reputation calling in to our show when we opened the phones to allow theonomists to call in unscreened and discuss where JD went wrong during or since the debate.I have a feeling I know why…cross examination.
Theonomy makes for an impressive monologue, but in dialogue with those who understand the problems it cannot survive cross examination. Rather, it degrades into accusations of hating God’s law and being antinomian. In fact, the one theonomist who showed up on our live call in show took him only 8 minutes to anathamatize us live on the air. And you’re right Sye, there are plenty of jerks out there, on both sides of this discussion (one sits at this keyboard typing). But only one side is being held to any level of accountability by those who agree with them. I’ve been confronted by many non-theonomists for my misconduct and sin in this discussion over the last couple of months and I’ve sought repentance from the Lord in that sin, but where is that coming from on the other side? Again, we look in and we see with almost no exception theonomists in lock step with radicals such as Bojidar Marinov and Colin Pearson who will from one side accuse their detractors of slander all the while participating in slander themselves. Where is the accountability?
Until theonomy removes the log from its collective eye, I simply don’t see how it dares to point out the splinter in anyone else’s. Until theonomy has an official confession, one that can be nailed down and put under the light of scrutiny and measured by the scriptures as every confession of faith historically has been, you cannot accuse non-theonomists of misrepresenting you as you ride atop ever-moving goal posts.
In closing this post, I want genuine reconciliation with all of the theonomists who we once had dear fellowship with, one of whom occupied the now-empty third seat of this little, “obscure podcast” (as Joel McDurmon called it). I want unity. However, unity is not lock-step agreement, neither is it silence in the face of disagreement. Brothers should be entitled to disagree with one another, and to do so passionately, with all the zeal and personality that God has uniquely endowed them with, so long as the line of sin isn’t crossed.
So Sye, do what you told me you would do at Ohio Fire and unblock me from social media, respond to my Skype messages, and let’s talk, like brothers. And let’s honor Christ when we do it. Let’s not be jerks about it.
I’m thankful for Len’s candor’s in the above open letter. Theonomy certainly seems to be a costic and vitriolic division among two sides that (we hope) are a part of the universal church. Ever since the doctrine of the obligatory perpetuity of ancient Israel’s civil code for all nations and cultures (known as “theonomy”) was developed by RJ Rushdoony, it has proven to be a disagreeable and divisive doctrine – as false doctrines often are. Len is not the first to point out that aggressive hostility and divisiveness are characteristic of the theonomic movement. The very first Reformed opponents of this aberrant theology had pointed out this idiosyncratic distinctive of the movement from the beginning, such as Roger Nicole, Meredith Kline, and professors at Westminster Theological Seminary. The first two truly theonomic leaders, Rushdoony and North – forming a sort of “Batman and Robin” of the Chalcedon institute – anathematized one another even as they were father-in-law and son-in-law. Since then, divisiveness has proven to be intrinsic and innate within the movement.
Some of the context of Len’s post, which he did not fully explain, is that in a closed and private Facebook group, Colin Pearson had handed out what he believed to be Tim Hurd’s pastor’s phone number so that theonomists could call him and ask that he be disciplined in his church for speaking out about this aberrant theology. Then, Marcus Pittman – who works now for Jeff Durbin’s Apologia Radio – passed out the correct phone number. Of course, Pittman denied he was encouraging anyone to call (he just didn’t want them to call the wrong church – he’s such a thoughtful fellow) and Durbin denied having any knowledge of the way his yoke-mate and ministry co-laborer was behaving. In the thread to follow, Len, Tim and others were accused of being “nasty” and “mean-spirited” for calling out the closed-group conspiring of these “leading” theonomists to sow discord in Tim’s local congregation. Interestingly, one of the few surviving “grandfathers” of the movement, Gary DeMar, came into the thread and encouraged their behavior and the calling of elders over these theological disagreements.
But as the thread continued, it was interesting to see the closed-group Dominionists intent on taking cyber-dominion over a person’s church turn into public victims who were so sorry and sad that they had been accused of any wrong doing or that their theology was anything less than characteristically Reformed. All of their major theonomic writings call us antinomians and haters of God’s law. Their private or closed group behavior does the same – and even worse – like when their champion Bojidar Whats-his-name called Dr. White and I “drunks.” I’ve been called a “blasphemer of God’s Law” more times than I can count. You let your opinion be known just one time that their views are inconsistent with both Reformed confessions and the Holy Bible and suddenly they’re a persecuted minority and you’re a big, bad bully.
Personally, I’ve had enough of that. Here’s a comment on the BTWN thread I feel is a great summary of this tactic:
I cannot speak for Tim Hurd or JD Hall, however I can speak on the issue of my camp, that being the theonomy camp. Although I don’t hold to the theology of the likes of Bojidar Marinov and his cohorts at American Vision, Chalcedon and Apologia Radio, we are only as strong as our weakest link. While I don’t condone the condemnation and actions of either side of this conflict, I do blame those who are misrepresenting theonomy and the Presbyterian and reformed faith. We are the ones who should be setting the example of the law of God in action through the taming of our tongues in quiet discernment and love for the saints. It is through the poor example and leadership of the heretic Bojidar Marinov and the lack of disciplinary action via the faithful leadership of our camp that we have becom a a byword and a stench to our reformed baptist brothers.The issue at hand is the issue of guilt by association. Normally this claim would and should be dismissed based on the merits of each individual. However, when it concerns ecclesiastical jurisdiction we are held to a higher standard.The source of all of this division and strife brought forth on Facebook and other social media lies squarely on the doorstep of Mr. Bojidar Marinov and those who allow him to continue unabated. He is a self proclaimed adherent and leader of the modern day theonomic and reconstruction movement.Mr. Marinov is a an unrepentant blasphemer, a hater of the brethren and a heretic (see my open letter below). Mr. Marinov has done several articles, conferences and speaking engagements including a fall conference in 2011 sponsored by my local church.Through his several venues and speaking engagements, he has made close associations with the likes of Mark Selbrede and the Chalcedon Foundation, Gary Demar, Joel McDurmon and the American Vision, and finally Pastor Jeff Durbin and Apologia Radio.
“A disciple is not above his teacher, but everyone when he is fully trained will be like his teacher.” – Luke 6:40
Bojidar has a large following and has great influence over a large group of professing evangelicals who are mostly uninitiated in reformed and confessional orthodoxy. On his Facebook page he has demonstrated and taught this very spirit of confrontation and division that we have seen demonstrated in various threads including this one.
The Order of Battle (as perceived by me)
1. Bojidar Marinov (aka Joel McDurmon’s pit bull) – Public strong arm, hired thug and head propagandist of the modern theonomic and reconstruction movement. Mostly tolerated, but kept on a long leash. Very impressive to the uninitiated, but ultimately he is a snake oil salesman and con-artist.
2. Joel McDurmon (aka the Paper Tiger) – Educated, well spoken published author and front man for The American Vision para church organization. He is an arrogant, self-righteous coward who is quick to pick a fight yet even quicker to backtrack from his words and run when the going gets rough even deleting entire threads and or opposing viewpoints when his arguments are exposed. He is the resident scholar of the modern theonomic and reformed movement and Federal Vision sympathizer.
3. Gary Demar (aka Head in the Sand) – Head of the American Vision para-church organization. Had a falling out with Mr. Marinov and professes to have distanced himself from Mr. Marinov, yet he continues to support him by keeping Mr. Marinov’s written work on the American Vision’s website and occasionally liking his comments on his Facebook page. When confronted with this matter he tends to claim no association and ignorance.
4. Martin Selbrede (aka – the Empty Suit) Front man for The Chalcedon Foundation another para-church organization that has abandoned its mission of a grass roots Gospel transforming reconstruction movement for the grass roots of political and social expediency of the Libertarian movement.
Why have I spoken about these well known professing “brothers” of the faith in this manner? Because they are dangerous men. Wolves in sheep’s clothing. Individually they are mostly just a nuisance, but collectively they represent a clear and present danger to the Gospel of Christ and the propagation of his kingdom here in the United States.
Together they make up the new “modern” theonomic and reconstruction movement which has abandoned its confessional and Van Tilian foundations. Along with that, they have embraced those who practice the heresy of the Federal Vision movement.
Many will object that some of the names on this list have never been outspoken supporters of these errors. This is where ignorance abounds. The scriptures give clear instruction on how we are to treat unrepentant heretics like Bojidar Marinov, and how we are to confront his public sins. Each one of these men have refused to publicly confront Mr. Bojidar Marinov and his public sins and heresies. Many of these men have turned a blind eye to him and to the proponents of the Federal Vision heresy, even to preaching within Federal Vision churches within the CREC denomination and the upsetting of many households.
It gives me no joy in confronting these men in this manner, however their actions of late, their arrogance, and lack of repentance must be met with an equal amount of zeal in rebuke, a jealousy for the jealousy of God akin to Phinehas (Numbers 25). This is what consumes me when I see the destruction left in the wake of Bojidar Marinov and his associates.
I have confronted all of these men both publicly and privately through one form or another. Some through ecclesiastical channels and others via faithful intermediaries. Collectively all have been confronted by faithful brethren via Facebook at one time or another. Yet time and time again each man has followed in the footsteps of their teacher Bojidar Marinov in arrogant denial, justification of actions and unrepentence. They are all guilty by association, even willing association with the heretic Bojidar Marinov. This is why they are called out on Facebook when it seems that they have done nothing at the moment.
“Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters.” – Matthew 12:30
An Open Letter to Bojidar Marinov:
The Problem with the Christian Reconstruction Movement:
A Critique of the Federal Vision Heresy:
I’m in general agreement with that comment and am thankful to the writer of it. There is a systemic problem in theonomy in the divisiveness and ungodliness it breeds in its adherents. Chiefly, Rushdoony is wrong and the followers of theonomy prove it; sanctification is not by law.
A final piece of evidence for submission that might have been better placed in Len’s post to make it make more sense to in regards to the Gospel vs Salvation issue…in a now-deleted thread, a theonomist named “Fred” made this comment:
Following the civil laws IS a part of the Gospel…
The reason I know the quote, even though the thread was deleted, is because I asked Sye about it in a message and whether or not he agreed. I won’t go into our personal conversation, but needless to say the theonomist’s assertion that following the Mosaic civil code is a part of the Gospel is bold, brash, and in the plainest of terms…a false gospel. This is what Tim and Len’s argument with Sye was about. Theonomic leaders who may be more sensitive to heretical language and who are more intent on appearing orthodox may follow up such statements with, “the Gospel should give us a reason to obey God” or some such argument. But frankly, that’s not what’s been said and that’s not what is being said.
In Len’s post above, he’s pleading for reconciliation with theonomist friends and unity on wider issues. I applaud him for that. But after having a front-row seat to historically characteristic theonomic behavior both toward me and others, I suggest that the best cause of action with this peculiar, small and aberrant branch of theonomic reconstructionists is take heed the words of the Apostle Paul in Romans 16:
Now I beseech you, brethren, mark them which cause divisions and offences contrary to the doctrine which ye have learned; and avoid them.
[Contributed by JD Hall]
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