Theonomy is a sub-Christian teaching that teaches that the Judicial Laws of ancient Israel (including Mosaic penology) are obligatory for all nations and peoples. Theonomy is not to be confused with theocracy, which is a government led by religious officials. Theonomy is not to be confused with adhering to the “general equity” of Mosaic judicial law as laid out in Chapter 19 of the Westminster Confession of Faith (the general equity is not the judicial law, but moral and universal principles found within the judicial law). Nor can theonomy be defined by its etymology, meaning “God’s Law,” as theonomy teaches much more than just basic affirmation of Old Testament Law.
Theonomy was founded by RJ Rushdoony in 1973 with the publication of Institutes of Biblical Law. Rushdoony and theonomists to follow him, like Greg Bahnsen, Gary North, Joseph Morecraft, Gary DeMar and others, advocated the necessity for all nations to follow the “exhaustive detail” of the laws given to ancient Israel, including the penologies (punishments for various crimes). There was some disagreement among the theonomic founders whether or not the penologies – like stoning – had to be carried out by the method described by Scripture, or if a more modern form of capital punishment could be used.
Theonomists try to draw parallels from their beliefs to those of the Westminster divines, the Puritans and many others, but there is simply no real evidence that anyone held to the distinctives of their position prior to RJ Rushdoony. Most theonomists leave the movement in a period of years, or like Joel McDurmon, cling to the name theonomy while denying its most basic tenets.
Older and wider-spread than theonomy is its sister movement of Christian Reconstruction, which is a post-millennial construct that desires and attempts a takeover of government and culture, and led to the creation of the charismatic Dominionism movement through a very intentional partnership between theonomic reconstructionists and charismatics in 1987.
Whereas most theonomists hold to orthodox Christian doctrines like the Trinity, for example, there is no shortage of statements made by theonomic founders that obscure salvation by faith alone, hinge blessings upon obedience to the judicial law and diminish the importance of the Gospel through an appeal to societal change.
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