Re: Rehabilitating Theonomy
Peter J. Leithart
Bill Chellis raises some large and important issues in his first post on “Rehabilitating Theonomy.” I look forward to future installments.
I am not filing a brief on behalf of what Bill rightly describes as a simplistic form of theonomy. Theonomists have always been more nuanced and complex than their slogans suggest. Rushdoony and North, after all, are well-known for their cinder-block sized books, books that truly merit the venerable label “tome.” But the theonomist slogans are there and, like all slogans, they are as misleading as they are illuminating.
Yet, I have little hope that Bill’s suggestion is going to be taken up by those who describe themselves as theonomists, or those who (like myself) think of ourselves as chastened post-theonomists. Why won’t it work? Natural law theories, of course, come in all sorts of shapes, sizes, and styles. But Bill’s citation of Rushdoony is apt: Theonomy in its simplistic and in its more sophisticated forms has always been a polemic against natural law theory, in its Reformed guise as much as in its Thomist guise. An effort to find common ground for theonomists and anti-theonomists in natural law is like trying to find common ground for Republicans and Democrats in the Republican Platform.
Beyond making that point, I only offer questions, which I trust Bill will take up in future posts. My general question is, How are the ethical and political principles of natural law arrived at? More specifically, What, if any, is the role of special revelation in formulating the principles of natural law? Very specifically, What is the natural law argument that supports the specific requirements of the Ten Commandments? What is the natural law argument that supports “You shall have no other gods before Me,” that is, before Yahweh, God of the Exodus? What is the natural law argument for saying, “You shall not bow down to graven images”? What is the natural law argument for saying, “You shall not take the name of Yahweh your God in vain”?
And, to conclude for the moment: Is it really possible to see the Ten Commandments as a summary of the natural law without smuggling special revelation in through the back door?