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American ReVision: AW Pink a Theonomist? Hogwash.

News Division

Every Saturday, Pulpit & Pen posts the Bunker Intelligence Report, which references you to some really good, some really bad and some really, really bad articles from around the Internet. Last week we posted articles on Miley Cyrus’ profanity-laced rant toward Christians, Perry Noble’s own set of 7 deadly sins, and Tony Campolo affirming sodomy. The point is, there are some really stupid things said by religious people on a regular basis. And yet taking the absurdity cake last week, in my opinion, was a post by Joel McDurmon at American ReVision claiming that renowned Calvinist scholar, AW Pink, was a theonomist.

Yes – you read that right. Imagine my surprise to hear that AW Pink was a theonomist, having read the man for years and never having the inkling of an idea that he believed the civil code given to Commonwealth Israel was obligatory. Forsooth! Could it be?!

Well, it turns out that in spite of Pink’s many faults, he was not a theonomist and any claim of such is patently absurd and could be debunked with even a modicum of academic effort.

Of the brilliant scholar, Pink, McDurmon writes…

After reading selections from A. W. Pink’s The Sermon on the Mount, I have no problem identifying Pink as a theonomist.

Way to pick on the dead guy there, Joel. The man can’t defend himself against this ludicrous charge, and so I will. To clarify, Joel is claiming that he can accurately deduce from Pink’s interpretation of Matthew 5, that Pink is a theonomist. I just want to make it really clear that is what Joel is claiming…Pink was a theonomist, who believes the Sinaitic civil code is obligatory for nations today and that the civil magistrate should be enforcing the first and second tables of the law.

Before I begin filleting this ugly fish, let this be a case-in-point regarding the historic revisionary tactics of American Vision. As I said in the debate, theonomists are theological orphans. They have an ugly posterity (kinism, federal vision, the Christian identity movement and so on), but their parents can’t be found. It’s an illegitimate theological movement with no real or tangible historic roots, and there are no parents beyond Grandpa Rushdoony to show for it. Watch closely the revisioning that Joel does in this article, and let’s compare it to, well…reality.

After reading selections from A. W. Pink’s The Sermon on the Mount, I have no problem identifying Pink as a theonomist.

That’s an impressive claim. Joel has no problem identifying Pink as a theonomist. Well, please…do-tell.

…let the record show that Pink’s work affirms the basic central tenets of Theonomy: that God’s law is the standard for human action in all areas of life, including those abiding standards for the civil magistrate revealed in the judicial law of Moses.

Alright. So, this is the criterion for Joel to identify Pink as a “theonomist.” That’s good to know. Let’s look at Joel’s “evidence” that Pink believed the “judicial law of Moses” was the standard to be enforced by the civil magistrate. He quotes Pink in his commentary on the Sermon on the Mount:

Our passage begins at 5:17, in which our Lord made known in no uncertain terms His attitude toward the Divine Law. False conceptions had been formed as to the real design of His mission, and those who were unfriendly toward Him sought to make the people believe that the Lord Jesus was a revolutionary, whose object was to overthrow the very foundations of Judaism. Therefore in His first formal public address Christ promptly gave the lie to these wicked aspersions and declared His complete accord with the Divine revelation at Sinai. Not only was there no antagonism between Himself and Moses, but He had come to earth with the express purpose of accomplishing all that had been demanded in the name of God. So far was it from being His design to repudiate the holy Law, He had become incarnate in order to work out that very righteousness it required, to make good what the Levitical institutions had foreshadowed, and to bring to pass the Messianic predictions of Israel’s seers.

“Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil” (Matthew 5:17). Well did Beza say upon this verse, “Christ came not to bring any new way of righteousness and salvation into the world, but to fulfil that in deed which was shadowed by the figures of the Law: by delivering men through grace from the curse of the Law; and moreover to teach the true use of obedience which the Law appointed, and to grave in our hearts the force of obedience.” On the dominant word “fulfil,’ Matthew Henry pertinently pointed out, “The Gospel is ‘The time of reformation’ (Heb. 9:10)—not the repeal of the Law, but the amendment of it [i.e. from its pharisaical corruptions, A.W.P.] and, consequently, its re-establishment.“

Then, McDurmon writes…

Just as we’ve seen with Charles Spurgeon…we now see Pink favorably quoting Theodore Beza and Matthew Henry in support of the idea that “fulfill” in Matthew 5:17 includes within its definition the concept of “reestablishing” the Law as a standard of living, and that Spirit-led sanctification means being given both the learning and the power to obey that standard.

Well, just like Bahnsen conveniently left out all of Matthew Henry’s alternate definitions for “fulfill” in his book, Theonomy in Christian Ethics (Bahnsen quoted Henry’s sixth and least-likely possible definition of πληρόω), but McDurmon doesn’t give the American ReVision readers the full scope of Pink’s definitional breadth. Pink wrote in this chapter of his exposition on the Sermon on the Mount…

To these arguments we would add this forcible and (to us) conclusive consideration: the term ‘fulfill’ was here placed by Christ in direct antithesis from ‘destroy,’ which surely fixes its scope and meaning. Now to “destroy” the Law is not to empty it of meaning, but is to rescind, dissolve or abrogate it. But to ‘fill out’ or complete the Law obvously presents no proper contrast with ‘destroy’ or render void. “To fulfill,” then, is to be taken in its prime and natural sense, as meaning to perform what they (the Law and the prophets) required, to substantiate them, to make good what they demanded and announced. Merely to rescue the Law from the corrupt glosses of the Jews and to explain its higher meaning was business which could have been done by the apostles, but to bring an ‘everlasting righteousness’ no mere creature was capable of doing. Law can only be ‘fulfilled’ by perfect obedience.

Joel, like Bahnsen’s omission of Henry’s exhaustive treatment of πληρόω, doesn’t share Pink’s multifaceted definitions of this word. Their focus is on one plausible use of term in the attempt to add one more dead guy to their hopeful lineup. And yet, when you look closer, you see the sins of omission in regard to how the theonomy apologist represents classical works.

Joel tries to twist Pink’s endorsement of Westminster-style general equity into a theonomy pigeon-hole, again, quoting Pink…

The ceremonial law has not been destroyed by Christ, but the substance now fills the place of its shadows. Nor has the judicial law been destroyed: though it has been abrogated unto us so far as it was peculiar to the Jews, yet, as it agrees with the requirements of civic justice and mercy, and as it serves to establish the precepts of the moral law, it is perpetual—herein we may see the blasphemous impiety of the popes of Rome, who in the canons have dared to dispense with some of the laws of consanguinity in Leviticus 18. While the moral law remains forever as a rule of obedience to every child of God, as we have shown so often in these pages…

This is classic general equity – not theonomy – as demonstrated by Pink’s reference to consanguinity in Leviticus 18. This chapter contains 12 (or so, depending upon you count) prohibitions relating to sexual relations between relatives. There are no punishments prescribed in Leviticus 18, as this chapter isn’t about civil punishment or penology. Rather, the moral principle that father-in-laws should not be sexually active with their daughters-in-law or men with their sisters-in-law is the classic general equity of the civil code. There’s absolutely nothing “theonomic” about Pink’s interpretation. But as discussed previously at P&P, theonomic-ish is good enough for American ReVision to claim virtually every Christian scholar a theonomist (at least after they die).

This brief review of one small part of the American ReVision article is only meant to demonstrate the absurd lengths to which theonomits go to stake their flag into the graves of Reformed scholars and claim some kind of theonomic-ish tendency. But, instead of me going through a point-by-point on Pink’s exposition on the Sermon on the Mount (which would be easy enough, but would consist of many unnecessary words), how about I just slam-dunk this thing and we can all go home? Sound fair?

Was AW Pink a theonomist? Was he theonomic? Was he theonomic-ish? Remember what Joel said…

After reading selections from A. W. Pink’s The Sermon on the Mount, I have no problem identifying Pink as a theonomist.

Great. Let’s see if any of Joel’s conclusions about what Pink meant were true and if Pink could be identified as a theonomist. In chapter 11 of Practical Christianity, Pink writes…

The early Reformers and many of the Puritans were for one uniform mode of worship and one form of temporal government, with which all must comply outwardly, whatever their individual convictions and sentiments. However desirable such a common regime might appear, to demand subjection thereunto was not only contrary to the very essence and spirit of Christianity, but also at direct variance with the right of private judgment. No man should ever be compelled, either by reward or punishment, to be a member of any Christian society, or to continue in or of it any longer than he considers it is his duty to do so. Any attempt to enforce uniformity is an attack upon the right of private judgment, and is to invade the office of Christ, who alone is the Head of His people.

Folks, that’s about as opposite of theonomy as what one could possibly be. To further drive home his point, Pink quotes historian, Daniel Niel, in his History of the Puritans

“Each party agreed too well in asserting the necessity for uniformity in public worship, and of using the sword of the magistrate for the support and defence of their principles, of which both made an ill use whenever they could grasp the power into their own hands. The standard of uniformity according to the Bishops was the Queen’s supremacy and the laws of the land; according to the Puritans, the decrees of provincial and national synods, allowed and enforced by the civil magistrate; but neither party was for admitting that liberty of conscience which is every man’s right, so far as is consistent with the peace of the civil government”

In a stunning put-down toward those with a theonomic-ish spirit, Pink writes…

Most of us, if we are honest, must acknowledge that there is quite a bit of the pontiff in us, and therefore we should not be surprised to learn that there have been many popish men in most sections of Christendom, and that a spirit of intolerance and uncharitableness has often marred the characters of real Christians. It has been comparatively rare for those of prominence to insist that “Every species of positive penalty for differing modes of faith and worship is at once anti-Christian, and impolitic, irrational and unjust. While any religious denomination of men deport themselves as dutiful subjects of the State, and as harmless members of the community, they are entitled to civil protection and social esteem, whether they be Protestants, Papists, Jews, Mohammedans, or Pagans” (Toplady). That and nothing short of that, is a true Christian and Catholic spirit.

Wow. Yeah. That’s not exactly theonomy. In fact, that’s downright hostile to it. Pink not only wasn’t a theonomist; he advocated a government of religious pluralism. Pink also claims boldly that the civil magistrate must not enforce its religious precepts…

In writing upon the freedom of the individual, it is our design to shun as far as possible anything which savors of party politics; yet, since the scope of our present theme requires us to say at least a few words on the right of civil liberty, we cannot entirely avoid that which pertains to human governments. But instead of airing our personal views, we shall treat only of those broad and general principles which are applicable to all nations and all ages, and restrict ourselves very largely to what the Holy Scriptures teach thereon. God has not left His people, or even men at large, without definite instruction concerning their civil and spiritual duties and privileges, and it behooves each of us to be informed and regulated thereby. Broadly speaking, the purpose of the State is to promote the welfare of the commonwealth, and to protect each individual in the enjoyment of his temporal rights; but it is entirely outside its province to prescribe the religion of its subjects. Rulers, be they civil or ecclesiastical, have only a delegated power, and are the agents and servants of the community, who entrust to them so much power as is necessary to the discharge of their office and duty.

I think the case is clear. Calling Pink a theonomist is beyond insane, and doing so reveals the length that theonomists will go to to find somebody, anybody, of renown who might agree with them. They had better keep looking, for as Pink wrote in this piece

If Paul would not, then how absurd for any man to attempt to exercise a spiritual dominion in matters of faith or practice!

American ReVision should seriously stop mistreating history.

[Contributed by JD Hall]