The Pen

On Joel McDurmon's Abandonment of Theonomy

I explained to you in April how Joel McDurmon abandoned the major tenets of theonomy, and how now he denies most of the argumentation he presented in our Theonomy Debate. Oddly enough, McDurmon still claims the title of “theonomist,” even while redefining the term. Sadly, some followers of McDurmon and American (re)Vision haven’t caught on that while they’re still faithfully towing the theonomic line, their leader has wholesale abandoned them (but still gets their checks).
I also warned you that Theonomy was quickly dying when I wrote my post-mortem of the debate, Embers of a Dying Fire. I’m not the only one to notice that the current leader of theonomy is no longer a theonomist.
However, there seem to be nothing but crickets chirping in the theonomic blogosphere regarding McDurmon’s absconding from theonomy, and self-professed theonomists are still more than happy to share his posts extolling the virtues of Libertarianism (hint: Libertarianism is not theonomic) and attacking Dispensationalists for all the ills of society.
But please, don’t just take my word for it. I found this excellent 5-part review of McDurmon’s venture outside the not-a-theonomist-closet in the form of his book, Bounds of Love: An Introduction to God’s Law of Liberty. In his 5-part series, David Carlton – a longtime theonomist and active theonomic blogger at Faith and Heritage, explains the various ways that McDurmon has left theonomy. For full disclosure, Carlton (like many theonomists) is a also a Kinist (one who believes in race-based segregation), from the tradition founded upon the works of John Dabney and RJ Rushdoony. While Carlton’s Kinism will surely be a cause for McDurmonites to dismiss his findings, the fact is, Carlton’s is a pure-bred theonomist of impeccable theonomic credentials. If anyone would know what is and what is not theonomy, it would be David Carlton.
If you want to understand the vast departure of Joel McDurmon from true theonomy, you really must read all five parts of Carlton’s series.
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3
Part 4
Part 5
Below are excerpt from Carlton’s work:
What I find most interesting about McDurmon’s recent publication is that it represents such a dramatic departure from the position that he took during his quite recent debate over theonomy with Reformed Baptist pastor J.D. Hall that occurred in February of 2015. – Part 1
I only question the wisdom of publishing a book of this nature so soon after publicly defending a contrary position in debate. Did Joel change his mind after the debate had happened? Or was there already some doubt in his mind about the role of the civil magistrate when the debate took place? I say this because anyone who listens to the case that McDurmon makes during the aforementioned theonomy debate and reads this book will notice the stark contrast in the positions that Joel takes. Perhaps McDurmon could have used some additional time to ruminate over the issue before publishing a book that repudiates his own position that he took just over a year ago. – Part 1
McDurmon believes that civil magistrates are no longer required or authorized to enforce punishments against First Table offenses or against sexual sins. This position is certainly not congruous with the beliefs of recent theonomists. – Part 3
What is particularly interesting is that McDurmon used the example of Thomas Granger in his opening statement of his debate with J.D. Hall. Granger received the death penalty for bestiality in Massachusetts Bay Colony, and McDurmon asked Hall if Granger received a just punishment, challenging Hall to provide a standard whereby this punishment was unjust. Hall ultimately answered that the punishment was just because it was administered by a legitimate civil government against a grave sin. Now McDurmon’s position, that a civil magistrate could not deliver such a punishment, is actually less theonomic than the position taken by Hall in a debate over the truth of theonomy! Indeed this very point was recognized by J.D. Hall himself when he posted on his Facebook page: “After reading Joel McDurmon’s new primer on theonomy, in which he recants his belief that the civil magistrate should enforce the first table of the Law or punish by death certain laws such as idolatry, fornication, sodomy or bestiality, I can unequivocally rejoice that he has repented of his position and is no longer, in any meaningful way a theonomist. This is wonderful news.”13 Hall is correct. McDurmon cannot be considered a theonomist in any meaningful way. McDurmon’s position is easily contrasted with traditional theonomic luminaries such as R.J. Rushdoony or Greg Bahnsen.” – Part 3
Like any theonomist, McDurmon insists that God’s Law continues to have abiding validity today. This is particularly striking in light of McDurmon’s position from previous chapters in which he argues that punishments for First Table and sexual offenses are no longer binding today, a civil magistrate having no authority to punish these crimes except in certain “flagrant” cases. This is so dissonant with the historic theonomic position that non-theonomists like J.D. Hall have recognized this and asserted that McDurmon’s position cannot be called theonomy in any meaningful way. – Part 4
Aside from McDurmon’s rigorist approach to the enforcement of violent crimes, my concern as that McDurmon’s overall approach to the role of government in society is informed more by libertarian ideology than by a traditional Christian understanding of ethics informed by God’s Law. McDurmon himself seems to confirm this when he writes, “A properly theonomic society in terms of civil government would be closer to classic libertarianism than any other common political position.” This is disturbing in light of the fact that “classic libertarianism” or classical liberalism arose historically in opposition to Christian moral principles. – Part 4
McDurmon’s vision of a theonomic society is essentially just libertarian ideas packaged as though they derived somehow from the Bible. – Part 4
Perhaps the most surprising feature of McDurmon’s book is his virtually wholesale denunciation of historic Christian ethics. It is abundantly clear that McDurmon’s definition of theonomy is an innovation and entirely unique to his own position. The position that McDurmon has articulated in this book is in marked contrast to the modern formulators of theonomy such as R.J. Rushdoony or Greg Bahnsen. – Part 5
McDurmon assures his reader that those who might be inclined to define theonomy differently haven’t “thoroughly engaged important Old Testament passages to exhaust some of their most pressing questions” the way that he has. This is particularly interesting when we consider that McDurmon’s views expressed in this book are at variance with what has been classically understood as theonomy a la Bahnsen and Rushdoony. Now McDurmon is trying to tell his readers who is really a theonomist when he is the one who is redefining theonomy to suit his particular libertarian ethos. The problem for McDurmon goes far beyond the modern formulation of theonomy by men such as Rushdoony and Bahnsen in the mid-twentieth century. McDurmon’s views are essentially absent from the history of Christendom. – Part 5
Interestingly, in his debate over the topic of theonomy with J.D. Hall, McDurmon insisted that theonomy (before his understanding of theonomy was substantially revised along the lines ofThe Bounds of Love) was the historic Christian position. During his examination of Hall, McDurmon lists several theologians who he declares support his position.18 Ironically, McDurmon has now renounced many of the very same theologians that he defended in his debate with Hall not long before this book was published. Evidently McDurmon didn’t read the theologians that he once defended as faithful expositors of God’s Word well enough to detect their “pagan Roman establishment” views that he now denounces. – Part 5