I See Your Theonomy — and Choose our Republic

I begin today’s post by acknowledging that I have yet to write a necessary follow-up to my previous blog post on Christian Nationalism. I know. I probably should, since the essence of that post was: “Leftists are calling evangelicals ‘Christian Nationalists’ out of nowhere, but there really aren’t any,” and now I will have to update that claim by adding: “Oh, no, some postmillennial theonomists and ragtag cultural opportunists actually have decided to embrace the trap-title ‘Christian Nationalists,’ and some are already going so far as to advocate for an American version of Spanish dictator Francisco Franco to save our nation. These people are insane!”

But I must be honest here. My life has been busy this summer, and while I’m up on the more important CN developments of the last few months, I’m admittedly behind on a lot of the intricate particulars. This is largely by choice, as I’d rather wash all my floors with a Teletubbies toothbrush than read the truly deranged sputterings of some of these people. Also, it’s one of those stories that has multiple layers and would require an exhausting boatload of individualized digging on various people, laborious podcast dredging and very carefully curated rhetorical distinctions to do justice to the whole subject. And I just don’t have that much have time or energy.

I do, however, wish to comment on one Christian Nationalist idea that’s been floating around on the Internet of late — either genuinely by true theonomists or as a psyop by avatar-agitators pretending to be from that crowd (you never can tell). That is the view that because America is collapsing, our Constitution must be flawed — and the only remedy is a new form of government.

For many of the self-proclaimed “Christian Nationalists,” the answer is theonomy, which means simply “the law of God” but was explained as a political concept by theologian Greg Bahnsen this way: “Theonomy teaches that civil rulers are morally obligated to enforce those laws of Christ, found throughout the Scriptures, which are addressed to magistrates (as well as to refrain from coercion in areas where God has not prescribed their intervention).”

Thomas Jefferson, of course, addressed this very issue of establishing new forms of government in the Declaration of Independence, writing: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

Others wiser than myself have written some excellent critiques on the theological and practical political problems with theonomy (and there are various forms of theonomy out there, to be sure), but I have some pretty simple thoughts on why I don’t like these “just change the government and create a Christian nation by fiat” rumblings.

First, theonomy is a pipe dream. As a Christian, I love the law of God. And yes, rulers everywhere derive their power from God and are subject to Him and His law, regardless of whether they are Christians themselves. In fact, America has never been able to get away from basing a good number of its laws on God’s laws, simply because they are self-evidently just and right. Yes, the best possible way to govern would be to have a solid Christian at every leadership helm and the Bible itself as every leader’s guiding light. But this is a fallen world full of unbelievers who also have strong and opposing political ideas and opinions. You’re never going to get Americans, even most American Christians, to sign onto any form of theonomy as a replacement for a constitutional republic that has worked well for most of our nation’s history. Not even if tyranny is the inevitable outcome of a republic that fails.

Second, the Constitution did not cause America’s moral and spiritual decline, and theonomy wouldn’t arrest or solve it. Why? Because rebellious people who are largely in open rebellion against God and His Word already certainly wouldn’t become any better if God’s biblical laws became the laws of the land. Nor, as I just stated, would they ever allow such a system to be put into place. Recall how many of our Founding Fathers were adamant that a republic only works when there is a virtuous and religious people to prop it up. Turns out they were right, as they were about so many other things.

As our first president, George Washington, put it: “Human rights can only be assured among a virtuous people. The general government . . . can never be in danger of degenerating into a monarchy, an oligarchy, an aristocracy, or any despotic or oppressive form so long as there is any virtue in the body of the people.”

The national degeneration we see all around us is the result of a critical spiritual and moral degeneration among Americans, not a lack of good laws (though, admittedly, we have our fair share of bad laws, too). Our present decline as a nation also has been hastened by an elite class that has marched Cultural Marxism through our institutions and a thoroughly corrupt political class that has both manipulated the decline and used it to its own strategic globalist advantage. Absent a virtuous people keeping its families intact, its morals in check and its elected representatives accountable, no republic can stand. And if Americans have essentially given up on their republic, why would they ever want theonomy? Furthermore, even fewer would ever want to turn back the clock to some new divine right of kings.

What’s more, the gospel of Jesus Christ is what changes hearts and minds. But with biblical illiteracy at record levels even inside our churches and solid biblical exposition largely missing from our pulpits, a sudden burst in home missions, door-to-door evangelism and open-air preaching seems, at best, highly unlikely in the near term. That’s got to change. If it does, it’s our best shot at saving the republic. Crying out to God for mercy is always the smartest thing we can do in a situation like ours. Is anyone doing it?

Third, theonomy pitched as a fix for saving America from tyrants is rooted in a pie-in-the-sky — and, I would argue, unbiblical — eschatology. As pastor and Ligonier Ministries editor Nicholas Batzig noted: “The Apostles never taught the fledgling New Covenant churches to labor for the implementation of the Old Covenant civil law into the government.” Furthermore, he adds, “Theonomy is utterly dependent upon the embrace of a postmillennialism that inevitably demands the implementation of a Christian theistic ethic into the fabric of every society. This makes nearly every form of theonomy a present non-reality that is dependent on a misconstrued eschatological hope.”

Notable theologian John Walvoord also has noted that the previous inclination toward postmillennialism in the early 20th century quickly fizzled out once WWII became a reality. He observed: “The second World War with its brutality and world tension which followed stilled, apparently forever, the idea of anything comparable to a millennium on earth. As postmillennialism had risen in an atmosphere of scientific and educational progress, so it declined in an atmosphere of war and world chaos.”

In light of postmillennialism’s recent history (and putting its theological and biblical interpretation problems aside), isn’t now a rather weird time to be anticipating some kind of glorious Christian future on earth? At least the 20th-century postmillennialists embraced their optimistic view of the world in good times and abandoned it when the global situation radically dimmed its plausibility. Instead of holding onto the untenable view that a golden age of Christian earthly dominance is right around the corner, the postmillennialists should be embracing and proclaiming the Bible’s literal end-times prophecies and encouraging the saints with the hope of the imminent return of Jesus Christ (1 Thess. 4:13-18). Our Lord could return for His church at any time!

Moreover, it needs to be reiterated for those suffering from U.S. civics amnesia: Our system of government in the United States, outlined in our Constitution, is arguably the greatest form of government ever conceived by men. Per the Heritage Foundation, the average life span of national constitutions is 17 years. Yet ours has lasted 247 years, in large part because “the Framers’ brilliant design provides a structure and articulates a set of stable principles that provide a timeless guide for good governance that is enduring and worth preserving.”

Even so, we know our republic — with fewer “virtuous people” all the time — is in crisis. Degeneracy is on the rise at every turn. Families and our institutions everywhere are falling apart. Our leaders are more corrupt than ever. Confidence in our government and our justice system is shattered. Adherence to our constitutional principles is under unprecedented threat, even from our government itself. It may be tempting, therefore, to see the form of government itself as the problem. But even the best governmental system of men is always in danger of possible collapse because of the sinfulness of man. That is what we are witnessing. And by the way, if you need a biblical example of a perfect political system that was ruined because of sinful men, look no further than ancient Israel. Do we really think theonomy is going to work when we consider how ill theocracy fared among God’s own people?

A constitutional republic is what we have — if we can keep it. Only the Lord knows if we will. Until the verdict is in, let’s stop wasting our time on the theonomy talk and be about our Father’s business. We have to repent of our own spiritual apathy, our shameful biblical illiteracy and our maddening preference for moral therapeutic deism over biblical truth.

If we really had the conviction that millions of Americans are headed for eternal hell, and not just the hell of a collapsed country, we’d get out there are do something about it. We’d share the gospel. Make disciples. Build churches that aren’t silly circuses but serious havens of rest for saved sinners who really believe that Jesus is Lord and that He is coming soon.

And because we do live in a constitutional republic, we still have the religious freedom — today and now! — to do these things. We can redeem the time rather than play fanciful games of: “Let’s establish a new governmental system that virtually no one wants but will get me some attention online.”

Which way, theonomists?