The announcement of my upcoming “Theonomy debate” with Mr. Hall has provoked a flurry of discussions on the topic all across Facebook and some on Twitter. It’s been encouraging, but it’s also been quite crazy actually.
It got so crazy the keepers of Reformed Pub actually set down beers for a minute to ask Pubsters not to post on theonomy anymore for a while. Everything’s cool, though. No beer was harmed in the process.
Corresponding with this has been an increase in the activity of critics who still can’t get it, but pretend they do. Brannon Howse’s latest is a good example. He prompted his guest, John Whitcomb, to attack this composite demon known by various names as “Social Gospel” and “Dominion” but was left largely undefined. Whitcomb trashed the postmillennial worldview and efforts at “bringing in the kingdom” by commenting, “Everywhere we see this happening we see failure, failure.”
The irony is strong with this one. Had he truly believed since 1960 when he first wrote The Genesis Flood, he would never have sought to publish it. Why? What could he have stood to gain by challenging the prevailing evolutionary scientific establishment? “Failure, failure.” No, not failure. How about 300,000+ copies sold.
And irony of ironies, it was a Postmillennial, Christian Reconstructionist, Dominionist that convinced Charles Craig at P&R to publish Whitcomb’s book. It was none other than R. J. Rushdoony himself.
When it comes to vision and outlook, never send a premil to do a postmil job.
There are others out there getting crazy, too. Todd Friel got teachy in addressing Old Testament law, but not for much more than a soundbite. But then, after previously calling Reconstructionists “pharisaical moralists” who are engaging in political activism “without the Gospel” and “trying to impose a worldview,” promptly turns around and does a spot on Colin Gunn’s new documentary on Socialized Health Care and Obamacare because these things have “theological considerations.”
Yes, they do: theological considerations like . . . the role of God’s law in society.
And I think it is safe to say, by the way, Colin Gunn is a Reconstructionist.
Everywhere you look, you see critics of Reconstruction who, when they wish to advance Christian worldview in a particular realm, cannot escape Reconstruction. Then they turn around, standing on the shoulders of Reconstructionism, and trash Reconstructionism.
In order to distance themselves from the position of theonomy inherent within Reconstruction, they trash it. But since they’re actually practicing it to some degree, they cannot really dis the true thing. So they create the caricature, the straw man—the ugliest version of a straw man possible—name it “theonomy,” and trash that.
The problem is that the young people in these various discussions are seeing through the straw men. They want things straight, they go to the sources, and this leads to honest discussions. The truth is getting out. Surprise! Theonomists don’t eat babies after all. And sometimes, we’re even gentlemanly about not eating babies.
Gentlemanly!?! What? Yes, and when gentlemen proceed, and the critics pound their podia even more vehemently shouting and publishing the same straw men, the newly informed young head will quickly begin to see who the real angry, dishonest, jaybirds really are.
But enough about tone. What’s most important here is the insistence of some leading critics of theonomy, Christian Reconstruction, or postmillennialism to continue presenting these ideas in straw man form—and the consequences that will result from this theological quackery.
Here is the consequence: when you persist in fallacy, you only harm yourself. To the true level-headed seeker, you only look dishonest, stubborn, and foolish. The seekers will go elsewhere, and at the very least, their hearts will be.
There is a consolation prize, but it is nothing to brag about. When fallacy succeeds, those people who do stick around will be either those who can be duped with fallacies, who maintain utmost uncritical trust in the fallacy-factory that is the critic, or those who really just don’t care. In which case, the critic can sleep well at night knowing he has a large following of dupes, drones, and the detached.
Congratulations. You just won the prize for the best worst arguments.
Instead, we need to make a point to engage in the highest level of intellectual integrity possible. In this regard, Christian students, scholars, critics, and debaters ought to be models for the world.
I speak to this point at the outset in Biblical Logic: In Theory and Practice:
One of the most pressing concerns for scholars, students, debaters—and everyone actually—involves the question of representing the truth. By this, I mean both how we present our own arguments to the public and how we represent the arguments of those with whom we disagree. Representation plays a vital role in the Christian faith, and we must make every effort to treat God and others fairly and faithfully in what we speak and write. . . .
This means presenting our opponents’ arguments in their fullest, strongest, and most positive light possible. The Reformed scholar Loraine Boettner speaks strongly to this point. As he criticizes some enthusiastic prophecy writers for presenting their own theories with an authoritative air while ignoring competing views, Boettner writes, “True scholars do not hesitate to state the position of an opponent, and then expose the errors, if there are any.” In fact, he adds, “It has often been said that a person really does not know either side of a question until he knows both sides.” Many have noted that the influential medieval theologian Thomas Aquinas presented his opponents’ arguments better than they themselves did. Part of his success and fame certainly derives from this fact, and he no doubt earned the respect of many of his opponents for it, even if they disagreed with his conclusions. . . .
[I]n the end, the Christian intellectual position and your personal faith can only grow stronger through your practice of patient, humble honesty. If we set up our opponents’ arguments as weak (as Straw Men) and then defeat them, what have we accomplished? Not much. If we aim at the weakest parts of our opponent’s case, and bring that part down, how far have we progressed? On the contrary, if we present our opponent in his best light, and allow him his strongest case, and then defeat that case, we have not only made much progress, but we have dealt the other side the greatest possible blow. If we aim at the most impenetrable part of his armor and still break through, then we have achieved a triumph, and we leave the enemy with little defense, if any. (Pp. 11, 13.)
This is a lesson, of course, for young Reconstructionists and theonomists just as much as our critics. None of us should ever be guilty of such fallacy, and thus also the suspicion of cowardliness, incompetence, pride, etc., that goes naturally along with it. Again, we should be exemplary in our conduct as scholars.
The hopeful point is that I am seeing more of this laudable spirit among the young inquirers these days. In fact, I see it more among them than among the generation of leaders ahead of them (who purport to lead them). This is a very encouraging sign—one by which the audience of Christian Reconstruction, even while bearing the insults and burdens of fallacious representation, can only stand to improve and grow.