Law & Gospel

“Everybody must get stoned” Rainy Day Women, by Bob Dylan.

An article by Frederick Clarkson, Dominionism Is The New Religious Freedom, (Political Research Associates, February 16, 2016), provides an opportunity to talk about my new book, Galatians—Backstory/Christory (Pilgrim Platform, Marietta, Ohio, 2016). Clarkson’s concern is Dominionism, which I don’t mention by name in the book but for which I provide both a defense and a correction.

Clarkson’s understanding of Dominionism, a branch of Reconstructionism, is that it intends to take over the U.S. government by taking top-down control of the Seven Mountains of culture—government, religion, media, family, business, education, and arts/entertainment. I am less familiar with the charismatic arm of the Dominionist movement, and more familiar with its theological, biblical source: the late R.J. Rushdoony, a prolific Christian writer whose work is at the heart of the movement.

As with most areas of Christianity, those with a charismatic bent tend to take a few easily graspable ideas and work them up into an enthusiastic lather. Dominionism proper is guilty of this as charged, and my book intends to provide some correction to their enthusiasm—not to dampen it, but to direct it to more biblically faithful and fruitful channels. The other hand of the Reconstructionist movement is strictly Old School Presbyterian in character, which makes for a theologically odd relationship between the two wings of Rushdoony’s readers.

My book does not mention Rushdoony by name (several other books of mine do), but labors in the same biblical fields and themes as he did. My work attempts to offer some clarification and correction (God willing) regarding some of the issues that have caused confusion and division among his readers—including reactionary liberals like Clarkson. The issues are decidedly theological, and require a working familiarity with the Bible, though Galatians will challenge many commonly accepted beliefs about the Bible.

One of Rushdoony’s insights is that theology cannot be avoided, not in government nor in any other area of human endeavor. Everyone operates out of a theology, sometimes called a worldview. Even atheists operate out of a belief about God: they believe that God doesn’t exist, which constitutes a theological position or view that is dependent on God. Their guiding belief is that God does not exist, just as the guiding Christian belief is that God does exist. Both beliefs are theological in that they issue from an idea about God.

Another important element of Rushdoony’s theology is that while human societies do utilize various kinds of authoritative hierarchies, and that the general idea of law is hierarchical by definition and necessity, God has chosen to work through Jesus Christ from the bottom up, not from the top down. This is evidenced by the fact that Jesus appeared as an ordinary man who was crucified as an outcast criminal. He was not a pontifical king. In fact, Jesus rejected the invitation to take the reins of political power. This however, does not eliminate the fact that ordinary people, including Christians, are legitimately involved in politics today.

Clarkson is afraid that Dominionists are working to take control of government, while the Dominionists that I know are only working to gain a seat/voice at the proverbial democratic table. In this regard, most major Christian denominations and groups work to have their Christian beliefs and practices become part of the larger culture(s) in which they live. As an example, consider the Unitarians, whose theology tends to dominate modern American society and government. There is nothing new about this tendency, it’s at least as old as Constantine, and has been part of Christianity from the beginning, with history that traces back into the Old Testament to the dawn of civilization itself. The contemporary world can no more rid itself of various theological views being involved in government than can the sun rid itself of heat.

Galatians labors to correct the understanding of the history of the Old Testament provided by the Jews and the Second Temple establishment. Jesus and then Paul operated from a different understanding of that history. Theirs was not a history that the Second Temple Jews were familiar with, in that it challenged the idea the Jews had about reestablishing the Davidic Kingdom as a Jewish monarchy. Jesus’ teaching about the kingdom of God challenged the commonly held ideas about how such a kingdom would function—it still does! Jesus and Paul understood the Old Testament to teach that the rebuilding of the Temple following the Babylonian captivity was problematic and wrong-headed. Jesus countered the idea of the Jerusalem Temple with the idea of the Temple as His Body. The Old Testament was not a testament to Jewish faithfulness, but to their faithlessness. Galatians develops this theme.

One of Clarkson’s concerns is the idea that Dominionists want to reinstate Old Testament Biblical law, to include the stoning of homosexuals. No doubt, some of them do! To address this, my work in Galatians supports those who are committed to maintaining the veracity of the Old Testament, but not in the way that the Second Temple establishment believed. What I argue in Galatians is that the Old Testament must be understood in the light of Christ. This means that the teaching of Christ impacts and provides a greater refinement of the teaching of the Old Testament. The failure to understand the Old Testament in the light of Christ is a huge error that undermines the very crux of Christianity.

The teaching of Christ provides protection against the harshness of Old Testament law, and reveals God’s grace, which trumps God’s law for those who are “in Christ,” those who take advantage of Christ’s teaching. To read the Old Testament apart from the light of Christ constitutes a grave error for us who live on the resurrection side of the cross of Christ. Rather than dealing with the emotionally and politically charged idea of stoning homosexuals, Galatians engages a similar teaching found in Deuteronomy 21:18-21, the story of the stoning of the disobedient son. The approach suggests how the light of Christ should effect our contemporary application of the story.

My effort and commitment is to maintain the veracity of the Bible in the face of modern scholarship that has worked to undermine the trustworthiness of the Bible. What liberal scholars generally do is to demonstrate that various fundamentalist Bible beliefs are simply untenable in the light of what science knows about the world today. But what they don’t do is to provide a reading or interpretation of those same biblical texts that do make sense. They simply undercut the fundamentalist reading of Scripture without acknowledging that there are other ways to understand such texts that do make sense in the light of contemporary science. I labor to bring some of these to light, in this case in Paul’s letter to the Galatians.

The central issue of Galatians is the relationship between law and grace, which I find to be misrepresented on the one hand by the fundamentalists (the law side), and on the other hand by the liberals (the grace side). And yet Paul does not work to strike a balance between law and gospel, but rather works to demonstrate that while grace trumps law, it changes our understanding of it. Grace does not eliminate law, it incorporates and assimilates it. Thus, the teaching of Christ transforms Old Testament law by understanding it through or in the light of Christ’s teaching in the New Testament, which is provided by all of the New Testament writers (not just Jesus).

Galatians-cover-2The scholarly practices, procedures, and mindset inherited by Western Christianity have produced the idea that the Bible can be best understood by dissecting it and placing it in its original context. However, this produces a fragmented and archaic understanding that ignores the reality of the Holy Spirit resulting in factious divisions in the Body of Christ. This does not mean that the scholarship is wrong, only that it is wrongly understood and applied. What I do is not biblical scholarship, but biblical discernment, discretion, and/or sagacity by utilizing the light of Christ to bear upon both the Old Testament and the contemporary world.

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