Truth Tribune has responded to my most recent post in which I addressed his objections against Kinism. TT has a few minor quibbles regarding what I had posted, but I think that what I originally wrote is clear enough, so I’ll leave it for our readers to consider our arguments as they stand. But I do want to briefly address the questions of Christian ethics that TT raises in his response. This issue is tremendously important and highlights the different approaches to ethics taken by Kinists and non-Kinists. TT believes that my understanding of general equity is not in keeping with the intention of the Westminster divines. TT suggests that I use a “loose definition of ‘general equity,’” and he outlines several statements from Reformed theologians to make his case.
There is no need to reproduce all the quotes that TT provides since they can be read within his response. First, what I would like to address is the threefold division of the law that is utilized by the WCF and has been used by theologians long before the Protestant Reformation.1 This conventional distinction is present in many Christian writers throughout the centuries, and for the most part these Christians considered the judicial or civil laws of Israel to be no longer binding. However it would be overly simplistic to conclude from this that most Christians, Reformed or otherwise, rejected the basic premise of theonomy. These categories are often defined differently by modern theonomists than they were by more traditional Christian thinkers.
An example of this is the theonomy of Thomas Aquinas, wherein Aquinas states that the civil laws of Israel have been abrogated, but in his discussion of the divine law argues that the principles taught throughout what would often be considered civil laws remain binding. Aquinas speaks of natural law in the same way that early Protestants like Martin Luther and John Calvin did, as the divine and eternal law manifested in God’s creation and able to be understood to a certain degree by reason. According to Aquinas, God gave the written divine law “for the correction of natural law . . . because the natural law was perverted in the hearts of some men . . . so that they thought those things good which are naturally evil, which perversion stood in need of correction.”2 Aquinas’ Summa is replete with quotations of case laws given to Israel in which he assumes their abiding validity. Aquinas clearly believes that the underlying principles of the civil laws are the written manifestation of the divine law, which is based upon universal eternal principles and clarifies what human reason is prone to distorting.
Most theonomists reject the language of natural law because over the course of time many natural law proponents have adopted a position that is overly optimistic in regards to the ability of human reason to properly ascertain moral and ethical principles. Many natural law advocates elevate human reason to the point where international moral consensus can seemingly trump the moral truths revealed by God. Fallen man often reasons his way to the wrong conclusions, and therefore any appeal to natural law is wrong if this consensus is opposed to what God has revealed. John Calvin’s appeal to “the common laws of nations” seems to be overly optimistic in light of the West’s post-Christian rejection of Christian morals. There was a far greater Christian consensus in Calvin’s day than there is today. It’s likely that Calvin simply never fathomed the degree of apostasy that has transpired over the past century. Western countries now allow abominations like sodomy, bestiality, murder of unborn children, theft through confiscatory taxation, etc. Calvin’s appeal to the “common laws of nations” is simply no longer applicable. I suspect that Calvin would acknowledge as much if he were alive today.
Many Christian writers throughout history have written about law in a way that suggests that the civil laws are not binding, but in context they almost always are referring to the particulars of these laws that uniquely apply to ancient Israel rather than the underlying principles. These same writers make frequent use of the Mosaic judicial case laws in establishing the truth of timeless principles. This isn’t a contradiction or a major disagreement with the principles of theonomy, but rather a difference in terminology. Where older authors seem to contradict theonomic principles, I believe that they were typically speaking of the particular political system of ancient Israel which was peculiar to them.
Today, most non-theonomists seem to categorically reject any application of the civil code to our present circumstances, and this includes Israel’s criminal code and other procedural laws. I believe this goes beyond the historic Christian position, which is to tease out the underlying moral principles from Israel’s case laws and apply them appropriately to the circumstances that we find ourselves in today. Mickey Henry has done a terrific job of explaining how the principles of the Law transcend time and are applicable in any society.
This leads me to consider the specific questions TT raises. TT suggests that the criminality of certain offenses (though not their sinfulness) is no longer binding upon society. TT uses sodomy as his example: “Those who cite the law against homosexuality (Lev 18:22) as a command for modern governments to execute homosexuals forget that nobody in the New Testament church seemed concerned with executing former homosexuals who came their way, but rather welcomed their repentance (cf. 1 Cor 6:9-11). The moral decree that homosexuality is a moral abomination is still binding upon the church; the judicial decree that those guilty of homosexuality should be executed is not.”
There are several arguments to be made in response. First, the fact that the apostolic church welcomed penitent sodomites, adulterers, and thieves into their ranks does not mean that they ignored their criminal nature. The church of the first century could easily have welcomed repentant sinners into their ranks while believing that crimes that had been committed still merited a civil response, even if one would not be forthcoming under a pagan government. Secondly, 1 Corinthians 6:9-11 does not say that any or all of these offenses are no longer crimes or that their criminal nature is simply left to the judgment of the particular civil magistrate. Can civil magistrates choose to decriminalize theft? Obviously not, but thieves are mentioned alongside adulterers and sodomites in this same passage. I believe that there is at least some latitude in how particular crimes are punished that can vary in different times and places, because Numbers 35:31 implies that all crimes can have a lesser penalty assigned to them saving premeditated murder. This would still oblige civil magistrates to actively root out vices that the Bible identifies as crimes.
The Westminster divines agreed with this application. In WCF 23:3 we read that it is not only the magistrate’s right and prerogative, but also his duty, to see that “all blasphemies and heresies be suppressed.” The Westminster divines cite several passages of the Old Testament that virtually all anti-theonomists would consider part of Israel’s civil code that has expired and is no longer binding, but the divines insisted that the underlying principle of protecting true worship is still binding. Idolatry and false religious worship are revealed by God to be not merely sins but crimes. Our circumstances are certainly different from ancient Israel, but the severity of false religions upon societies has not changed. The modern Enlightenment concept of absolute religious freedom violates this biblical principle as understood not only by the divines at Westminster, but by all Christians throughout history.
This is the same methodology that theonomists use in applying the moral principles of Israel’s case laws to our present circumstances. TT cites my example of how general equity would apply to Deut. 22:8 as establishing building codes to maintain a basic degree of architectural integrity. TT asks, “Is Mr. Carlton likewise telling us that buildings which are not ‘safe for ordinary human occupancy’ are likewise treason to God? Is it ‘intrinsically immoral’ to have improper railings on a building? Could OSHA rightfully claim that, in performing their task, they are merely doing God’s work?”
Yes, it is immoral to make buildings unsafe for ordinary usage. This particular case law falls under the sixth commandment, Thou shalt not kill. The modern application would be any laws that legitimately promote public safety. The Westminster Larger Catechism states, “The duties required in the sixth commandment are all careful studies, and lawful endeavors, to preserve the life of ourselves and others.” Erecting safe buildings preserves human life and prevents unnecessary death and injury. TT muddies the waters by mentioning OSHA, because there is no reason to believe that proper building codes or safety regulations have to be promulgated by centralized government bureaucracies like OSHA – which in any case deals fundamentally with workplace safety and not with construction, anyway.
The same applies to the laws that govern and protect Israel’s national identity as a people. Laws that regulate inheritance to prevent tribal dispossession are derivative of the fifth commandment, which promises that the Israelites would prosper in the land that God had given them. The Apostle Paul applies this promise to all Christians in their respective lands and estates (Eph. 6:2). Are we really to believe that the promise of the fifth commandment remains while laws that protect the inheritance that the fifth commandment promises are no longer applicable to today? The specific circumstances of ancient Israel have indeed changed, but the importance of ethnic and tribal identity has not. Christians throughout history have taken the necessary steps to safeguard the generational transference of their property within their families. The modern assault on property and inheritance is simply another manifestation of the rejection of biblical morality.
TT assures his readers that he opposes “Marxist views that say national or ethnic identity has absolutely zero value in any sense.” Phew! Unfortunately it does us no good when the nations of the West are experiencing treason from within and an onslaught of hostile foreign invaders who are euphemized as “refugees” and “migrants.” We are witnessing the curse of Deuteronomy 28:43-44 play out out before our very eyes. Being slightly to the right of the cultural Marxist zeitgeist without rejecting its major premises will do nothing to halt its progress. We who live among the ruins of Christendom must choose to either accept the status quo of white dispossession, or choose to resist and defend our ethnic and tribal identity as our Christian forebears once did. There is no middle ground.
- For example, this threefold distinction is also present in Thomas Aquinas’ Summa Theologiae. ↩
- Thomas Aquinas, Summa Theologiae, II. I. q. 94, art. 5. ↩