A 1689 Baptist Perspective: Confessionalism and Theonomy


As a pastor, I am greatly concerned about theonomy and its fallout.

Theonomy asserts that the judicial laws of the Mosaic covenant are normative for all geopolitical entities, whether directly (reconstructionists)[1] or in an adapted fashion (general equity theonomists).

This broadens the mission of the church to include building a Christian society by establishing the Mosaic judicial code or an updated version of it. It burdens the saints with a weight they were never meant to bear. Trusting in Christ and living “peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness” (1 Tim. 2:2) doesn’t cut it. Following Jesus requires transforming the culture and the civil government.

As a result, theonomy obscures the gospel—the forgiveness of sins, the imputation of Christ’s righteousness, and the guarantee of eternal life on account of him alone. Wherever theonomy wins the day, these truths get fuzzy, or at least downplayed.

Pastors must therefore engage theonomy with robust biblical and theological arguments. My aim in this article is to do so from a confessional Baptist’s perspective. Confessional Baptists hail from the Puritan stream of the Reformed tradition.[2] Our theology, piety, and practice are articulated in the Second London Confession of Faith (2LCF).[3] And our doctrine defends against theonomy in at least three ways. First, confessional Baptist doctrine maintains a threefold division of the law, as well as a distinction between moral and positive law. Second, it affirms the historic covenantal framework of Scripture but upholds the uniqueness of the new covenant as the establishment of the covenant of grace. Third, its view on the sufficiency of Scripture, two-kingdoms doctrine, the mission of the church, and the Christian as pilgrim runs counter to the assertions of theonomy.


Confessional Baptist theology maintains a threefold division of the law, as well as the distinction between moral and positive law, neither of which square with theonomy. I begin here because Protestants of various stripes can agree here, most notably Baptists and Presbyterians.

Threefold Division of the Law

Chapter nineteen of the 2LCF presents the threefold division.[4] It begins with the moral law and asserts that it was written into creation and man’s heart. It was summarized in the Ten Commandments, which the Lord gave Moses on two stone tablets. And it is universally binding for all mankind:

  1. God gave to Adam a Law of universal obedience, written in his Heart, and a precept of not eating the Fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil; by which he bound him, and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it; and endued him with power and ability to keep it.
  2. The same Law that was first written in the heart of man, continued to be a perfect rule of Righteousness after the fall; and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in the Ten Commandments and written in two Tables; the four first containing our duty towards God, and the other six our duty to man.

Next, the confession explains the ceremonial law. It contains many typological ordinances that prefigure Christ, as well as various instructions of moral duties. The ceremonial laws were fulfilled and abrogated by Jesus:

  1. Besides this Law commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel Ceremonial Laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, his graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly holding forth divers instructions of moral duties, all which Ceremonial Laws being appointed only to the time of reformation, are by Jesus Christ the true Messiah and only Law-giver who was furnished with power from the Father, for that end, abrogated and taken away.

Finally, the confession points to the judicial or civil law. God gave it to the nation of Israel, and it expired when that nation-state, under the old covenant, ceased to exist. It is now the principles of general equity (i.e., general justice) in the judicial law that are of value.

  1. To them also he gave sundry judicial Laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any now by virtue of that institution; their general equity only, being of moral use.

Reconstruction theonomists, however, advocate for a twofold division of the law: moral and ceremonial. Greg Bahnsen writes,

The most fundamental distinction to be drawn between Old Testament laws is between moral laws and ceremonial laws. . . This is not an arbitrary or ad hoc division, for it manifests an underlying rationale or principle. Moral laws reflect the absolute righteousness and judgment of God, guiding man’s life into the paths of righteousness; such laws define holiness and sin, restrain evil through the punishment of infractions, and drive the sinner to Christ for salvation. On the other hand, ceremonial laws—or redemptive provisions—reflect the mercy of God in saving those who have violated his moral standards.[5]

As others have noted, the conflation of the moral law and judicial law is a critical exegetical argument for theonomists. Bahnsen collapses them wholesale. “The moral law of God can. . . be seen in two subdivisions, the divisions having simply a literary difference: (1) general or summary precepts of morality. . . and (2) commands that specify the general precepts by way of illustrative application.”[6] In other words, the judicial law of Israel is the moral law, just illustratively applied. This is how he and other theonomists argue for the continually binding nature of the judicial law.

Moral Law and Positive Law

Why can’t we collapse the moral and civil law into one category, as Bahnsen does? Doing so overlooks the further distinction between the moral law (sometimes referred to as natural law) and positive law. The moral law is a property and reflection of God’s immutable character. Both nature and Scripture reveal it, meaning it’s written onto people’s consciences and is clarified by Scripture (see Rom. 1:18–20; 2:12, 14–15a).

Consider again the Second London (ch. 19):

  1. The same Law that was first written in the heart of man, continued to be a perfect rule of Righteousness after the fall; and was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in the Ten Commandments and written in two Tables; the four first containing our duty towards God, and the other six our duty to man.


  1. The moral Law doth forever bind all, as well justified persons as others, to the obedience thereof, and that not only in regard of the matter contained in it, but also in respect of the authority of God the Creator who gave it: Neither doth Christ in the Gospel any way dissolve, but much strengthen this obligation.[7]

Positive law, on the other hand, is different. It is posited by decree or kingly fiat and is tethered to its covenantal context. Such laws are not inherently moral but become moral by virtue of who is doing the asking. For instance, it is not inherently moral to refrain from eating a piece of fruit from a tree or to circumcise a newborn boy. These things are not written onto the conscience, as such. Rather, such commands only become moral when, in a particular time or place, God or someone authorized by God commands them. What’s crucial to recognize is, Israel’s ceremonial and judicial laws were all positive laws. Israel would not have known these ceremonial or judicial laws if God had not revealed them.

Samuel Renihan helpfully explains the distinction between moral and positive:

Among the laws by which God governed Israel, there are two basic kinds. Israel was governed by moral laws and by positive laws. . . Moral laws transcend transcription. They are known by nature, though suppressed by fallen nature. God delivered the moral law to Israel, summarized in the Ten Commandments. In addition to moral laws, God gave positive laws to Israel. Positive laws are added laws, additional laws. These laws are not morally right or wrong in and of themselves. Circumcision, how to build the tabernacle, which animals to sacrifice for which sins, and what foods you can or can’t eat are positive laws. They were added by God to Israel’s covenantal obligations. Every covenant has its own positive laws that govern the people of that covenant, like the trees in Eden. The moral law and the positive laws of Israel governed the people. That was their function. Israel’s positive laws are often split up into two groups: the civil law, and the ceremonial law.[8]

Pulling All of This Together

To summarize this first broad objection to theonomy: the moral law binds all humankind to God’s standards. The ceremonial law of the Mosaic covenant, on the other hand, was fulfilled and abrogated by Christ; it binds no one any longer. Similarly, the judicial law of the Mosaic covenant ceased to be binding when the nation of Israel (under the old covenant) ceased to exist.

As such, the structure of the kingdom of God on earth changed from the old covenant to the new. Its institutional form under the old covenant was Israel. Its institutional form under the new covenant is the church. Israel was a geopolitical entity. The church is not. Rather, it spans the globe and includes people from every tribe, language, people, and nation. This significant change provides a simple rationale for the expiration of the Mosaic judicial law.

To be sure, Israel’s judicial law offers abiding value to Christians today because God’s moral law is the basis for many of those laws. These are matters of general equity. The phrase “general equity” in both the Westminster and Second London Confessions refers to what is inherently moral in the judicial law and is for the determination of general justice broadly. What doesn’t appeal to Christians today are the matters of particular equity, which pertained only to the people of Israel in the land of Canaan—for example, the division of land, provision of a kinsman redeemer, the regulation of polygamy, particular rules of property and inheritance, requirements for resting fields, and so forth.


A Confessional Baptist’s version of covenant theology, also referred to as 1689 Federalism,[9] is also incompatible with theonomy.

An Overview of 1689 Federalism

Let me give a 30,000-foot overview of 1689 Federalism. In eternity past, the Triune God established the covenant of redemption. The Son would be the covenant head of an elect people, whom he would secure by becoming a man to represent men, keeping the Mosaic law (moral, ceremonial, and civil), satisfying the law’s penalty on the cross, rising to conquer sin and the curse, and drawing those people by his Spirit to live with him forever in a new heaven and a new earth.

God then made a covenant of works with Adam in the garden of Eden. Adam, also a covenant head, could earn blessedness and life for himself and his posterity, or he could earn death through disobedience. He earned the latter.

God therefore made a covenant with Noah, which promised to sustain creation and its cultural activities, including procreation, and to provide a mechanism for securing retributive justice, so that God the Son could accomplish salvation.

To that end, God established a covenant of grace, by which Jesus would freely grant salvation to all who receive him by faith. The covenant was promised in Genesis 3:15. It was explained and revealed in and through the covenants with Abraham, Israel, and David. And it was established and accomplished through Christ and the new covenant.

These three covenants with Abraham, Israel, and David together comprise what the Bible calls the old covenant, as in,

Old Covenant = Abrahamic Covenant + Mosaic Covenant + Davidic Covenant

Further, the old covenant was typological. It served concrete purposes in its era of redemptive history, but it also pointed to something greater and other. God promised Abraham a people, a land, and, most pointedly, a seed, who is Christ. God gave the law of Moses to govern, regulate, and guide the people of Israel; yet the law’s first and most significant use is to show human beings our sin and drive us to Christ, who kept the law for us.[10] God promised David that he would have a son whose kingdom would be established forever (2 Samuel 7:12–16). He then told David’s son, Solomon, that he and his offspring would represent the nation of Israel (1 Kings 9:4–7).

This principle of representation or covenantal headship runs throughout Scripture. Adam represented the human race in the covenant of works. The Davidic king represented the people under the old covenant. And Christ represents his people in the new covenant, which fulfills all the promises of the old. He is the servant by which many would be accounted righteous (Isa. 53:4–6, 11b). He is the righteous branch raised up for David who will save Judah and Israel (Jer. 23:5–6). He both sat on David’s throne and offered the Levitical offering (Jer. 33:14–18).

Thank God for Jesus Christ! He fulfilled the entire old covenant, as promised by the prophets and affirmed by the book of Hebrews. Jesus reversed Adam’s curse and fulfilled the requirements of the Mosaic law, including the ceremonial law—the priesthood, the sacrificial system, all of it.

What About the Judicial Law?

What about the judicial law? On the one hand, God gave those laws to govern a particular people in a particular place at a particular time for a particular purpose. They should have made Israel unique and attractive, causing the surrounding nations to say, “If only we had a God like Yahweh.” On the other hand, the people of Israel were disobedient and stiff-necked, and the Lord gave them the judicial law to restrain them and protect the line of promise until Christ came.

The judicial elements of the Mosaic law also pointed typologically to the kingdom of Christ and the eschatological purposes of God. A couple of examples make this point. First, the promises of curses and blessings for disobedience and obedience in Deuteronomy 28 were temporally true and significant for Israel,[11] but they also point to God’s righteous judgment at the end of the age. Second, the Mosaic covenant threatened the death penalty for much more than the Noahic Covenant, which limited punishments to the standard of retribution.[12] For example, one would be executed for adultery or breaking the Sabbath. Why? Because the Mosaic punishments were typological. They showed the gravity of sin against God’s moral law, and, again, they pointed to the severity of God’s righteous judgment at the end of the age for all who have not trusted Christ.

The Mosaic judicial law was specific and circumstantial. It was specific insofar as it had a narrow scope of sustaining Israel in Canaan as it moved toward the birth of Christ. It was circumstantial insofar as it only applied to that era of redemptive history. Israel served a purpose. So did its judicial laws. Christ is the fulfillment of both. We don’t need to draw straight lines from Canaan to California. In fact, we can’t.

Theonomy misunderstands all this, including the judicial law’s specific and circumstantial nature. Instead, it wants to apply the judicial elements of the old covenant. It fails to recognize that the judicial laws of the Mosaic covenant were uniquely fitted to the nation of Israel under the old covenant. Once Christ fulfilled the old and established the new, the uniquely situated old covenant judicial laws were no longer needed.

The Newness of the New Covenant

Theonomy also fails to recognize the newness of the new covenant. The new covenant is better than the old, says the book of Hebrews.[13] Jesus is “the guarantor of a better covenant” (Heb. 7:22); “it is enacted on better promises” (Heb. 8:6; also 8:13; 9:15).

One covenant of grace may unite all of Scripture. Yet significant discontinuity occurs between the old and new covenants.[14] This point is critical for any attempt to carry old covenant paradigms into the new covenant era.

Specifically, we should not carry over positive laws—ceremonial or judicial. Positive laws are tethered to their respective covenants, and the positive laws of the Mosaic covenant are not binding under the new covenant.

In these ways, theonomy is prone to the error of naked biblicism. It appeals to chapter and verse to make its argument, but it forsakes a sound overarching hermeneutic. So the rhetoric from theonomists goes something like, “It’s either God’s law or man’s law. Which are you going to choose?” Of course, we choose God’s law. But we choose God’s law rightly understood in the context of biblical revelation. Theonomy misunderstands the biblical covenants and therefore misunderstands and misapplies God’s law.


Confessional Protestantism is distinct within the broader Protestant tradition. This is especially true in the United States.[15] A confessional perspective on the sufficiency of Scripture, two-kingdoms doctrine, the mission of the church, and the Christian as pilgrim runs counter to the assertions of theonomy. I will consider each.

The Sufficiency of Scripture

Theonomists often appeal to the sufficiency of Scripture to contend for the continually binding nature of the Mosaic judicial code. The argument goes something like this:

God has given us everything we need in his Word, including the principles by which civil government should function. In fact, through Israel, God himself engaged in the project of civil government. His Mosaic Covenant stands as his perfect and inspired take on civil government for all nations. It’s his blueprint for statecraft. Will we go with God’s law or man’s?

This is a misguided understanding of the sufficiency of Scripture, as understood by the confessions. The 2LCF affirms that the Holy Scriptures provide us “Man’s salvation” and “Faith and Life.” Yet it also affirms that “there are circumstances concerning the worship of God, and government of the Church common to human actions and societies; which are to be ordered by the light of nature, and Christian prudence according to the general rules of the Word, which are always to be observed.” God has not revealed everything there is to know about everything in the world, even in matters concerning the worship of God and the government of the church. If that is true in the church, how much more so in civil society?

A right doctrine of Scripture’s sufficiency affirms that God’s Word is sufficient for his purposes in giving it. Outside of those purposes we must look to the light of nature.[16]

Two-Kingdoms Doctrine

A Reformed understanding of two-kingdoms doctrine[17] serves as a safeguard against theonomy. It helps us understand God’s rule over the world and over the church.

According to this doctrine, the Noahic covenant establishes God’s common kingdom by which God sustains creation and its cultural activities, like procreation and justice. At the same time, God’s covenant of grace establishes his redemptive kingdom. Christians live in both kingdoms along with non-Christians, but only God’s people live in the redemptive under the covenant of grace. As David VanDrunen writes,

Through the church, [Christians] are citizens of heaven even now. This church—God’s redemptive kingdom in the present age—has a distinct membership, faith, worship, and ethic. Its way of life displays a counterculture to the cultures of this world. The church awaits the coming of Christ as a day of glorious consummation when the bride will see her bridegroom face-to-face as she is ushered into the wedding banquet of the Lamb.[18]

The redemptive kingdom of the church and the common kingdom of the world are not coterminous. Many, however, mistake God’s rule in one sphere for his rule in another. God rules the whole world, no doubt. But his rule over the redemptive kingdom differs from his rule over the common kingdom.

Theonomy, however, blends these two kingdoms together. A common assertion amongst theonomists is that we are fulfill the mandate that was given to Adam, as if the two kingdoms are one. This “Dominion Theology” in effect denies the covenant of works, collapsing it into the covenant of grace.

Yet only the second Adam, Jesus, can accomplish what the first Adam failed to accomplish. We don’t just pick up where the first Adam left off and usher in the new creation and redemptive kingdom through our cultural activities. The new creation has Jesus as its guarantor, and he is the one who will bring it about. To be clear, God has left us with a range of cultural responsibilities and callings, and we do demonstrate and exemplify what the life of the redemptive kingdom looks like as we work within the common kingdom. But, again, that common kingdom work does not produce the redemptive kingdom. Only making disciples does.

As Jesus said before Pilate, “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would have been fighting, that I might not be delivered over to the Jews” (John 18:36). The zeal to rebuild Christendom or establish Christian geopolitical entities on earth may be sincere, but it is misplaced. God has work for Caesar to do since Caesar remains under God’s common rule. And Christians, insofar as they have a hand in Caesar’s work as voters or elected office holders, should seek to help Caesar rule by God’s common kingdom standards. Governments can make the church’s redemptive work harder or easier. Still, the church collectively does not finally depend on Caesar or any powers he possesses to usher in Christ’s redemptive kingdom.

The Mission of the Church

Theonomy tends to redefine the mission of the church to include adopting civil governments, enforcing the old covenant judicial code, building a Christian society, and Christianizing the nations.[19]

The new covenant, however, gives the church a narrower mission. We have a mandate, but it’s not dominionistic. Rather, Christ commands the church to preach the gospel and rightly administer the sacraments for the salvation of God’s people. He promises to build his church through Word and sacrament, through the preaching of law and gospel, through the ordinary means of grace.

The 2LCF observes that the grace of faith which saves souls “is ordinarily wrought by the Ministry of the Word; by which also, and by the administration of Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper, Prayer and other Means appointed of God, it is increased, and strengthened” (14.1, On Saving Faith).

Establishing civil laws by the judicial law of Moses will not rectify the soul problem each human faces. Only the Holy Spirit can do that work in the hearts of men. Theonomists will agree with the necessity of the Spirit’s work. Yet they fail to reason consistently when it comes to the institutional church’s mission.

The Christian as Pilgrim

The Christian life is a pilgrimage. We’re sojourners and exiles in this world, and we face thousands of spiritual dangers, with trials and temptations on every side. We have been promised a homeland, but we are not there yet. So we need nourishment, sustenance, and protection, which is what the ministry of the church provides.

This posture runs counter to the ethos and emphasis of theonomy, particularly reconstructionist theonomy. It reasons as if we could turn Babylon into Jerusalem. Yet our calling is not to turn Babylon into Jerusalem. We surely invite people into our heavenly city through evangelism, and we should live out the life of the heavenly city both together and in the midst of Babylon. Yet our nations are Babylon and will be until Christ returns and removes the curse. Therefore, we concern ourselves with the ministry of Word and sacrament and living peaceful and quiet and ordinary lives in the covenant community of the church.

Through us and sometimes in spite of us, Christ will build his church. He will save his people. And one day, we will receive a kingdom. We will see the activities and products of human culture destroyed and re-created, things to which we contributed and participated. The Father will give us the kingdom, welcoming us into the holy city, the new Jerusalem, which comes down out of heaven from God (Rev. 21:2).

In the meantime, we acknowledge that we are “strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland.” We “desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one” (Heb. 11:13–16). After all, “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come” (Heb. 13:14).


Confessional Baptist theology disputes theonomy in three areas. First, it maintains a threefold division of the Mosaic law, as well as a distinction between moral and positive law, which demonstrate that the judicial law of Moses no longer binds any geopolitical entity.

Second, confessional Baptist covenant theology—particularly 1689 Federalism—teaches that Moses’s judicial law represents a unique era of redemptive history. The nation to which the judicial law was given served its purpose in God’s economy of redemption by bringing the promised offspring of Abraham. It follows that the judicial laws themselves have also served their purpose.

Third, a confessional perspective on the sufficiency of Scripture, two-kingdoms doctrine, the mission of the church, and the Christian as pilgrim run counter to the teaching and the ethos of theonomy.

* * * * *

[1] One of the earliest and most influential voices in the theonomic and reconstructionist movement(s) was Greg L. Bahnsen. In his book By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today (Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2020), Bahnsen writes the “New Testament does not teach any radical change in God’s law regarding the standards of socio-political morality. God’s law as it touches upon the duty of civil magistrates has not been altered in any systematic or fundamental way in the New Testament. . .” He continues, “We must recognize the continuing obligation of civil magistrates to obey and enforce the relevant laws of the Old Testament, including the penal sanctions specified by the just Judge of all the earth. As with the rest of God’s law, we must presume continuity of binding authority regarding the socio-political commandments revealed as standing law in the Old Testament” (2-3). He goes on to say, “It is advocated that we should presume the abiding authority of any Old Testament commandment until and unless the New Testament reveals otherwise, and this presumption holds just as much for laws pertaining to the state as for laws pertaining to the individual” (5). In another volume, Bahnson writes, “God’s law as revealed in Scripture ought to direct society and the civil magistrate today. A society which is to reflect Christian morality is a society which has the full, distinctive law of God for its direction” (Theonomy in Christian Ethics. 3rd ed., Nacogdoches, TX: Covenant Media Press, 2002, xlii). Bahnsen’s concern is to “show from God’s Word that the Christian is obligated to keep the whole law of God as a pattern of sanctification and that this law is to be enforced by the civil magistrate where and how the stipulations of God so designate. That is to say, ‘theonomy’ has a central and irradicable place in any genuinely Christian ethic. . . Theonomy is crucial to Christian ethics, and all the details of God’s law are intrinsic to theonomy” (36).

[2] The text of the Second London Baptist Confession was written in 1677 and formally adopted in 1689. It was adapted from the Savoy Declaration of Faith and Order (1658), which was a Congregationalist confession itself adapted from the Westminster Confession of Faith (1646), a Presbyterian confession. These three confessions of faith effectively represent the Puritan stream of the Reformed tradition (i.e., the English Reformation), the other stream of the Reformed tradition being the continental stream (i.e., Three Forms of Unity).

[3] For an excellent consideration of Reformed confessionalism, see R. Scott Clark, Recovering the Reformed Confession: Our Theology, Piety and Practice (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2008).

[4] Reformed theologians (along with Thomas Aquinas) have articulated this threefold division of the law. For a good, brief summary, see again “Theonomy: A Theological Critique”. More pointedly, in Calvin, John. Institutes of the Christian Religion. Edited by John T. McNeill. Translated by Ford Lewis Battles. Louisville, Kentucky: Westminster John Knox Press, 2006, Calvin articulates the threefold division of the law (4.20.15). On the moral law, he writes, “It is a fact that the law of God which we call the moral law is nothing else than a testimony of natural law and of that conscience which God has engraved upon the minds of men” (4.20.16). Regarding the judicial law, having already acknowledged that the judicial laws were taken away, Calvin goes on to say, “For the statement of some, that the law of God given through Moses is dishonored when it is abrogated and new laws preferred to it, is utterly vain. For others are not preferred to it when they are more approved, not by a simple comparison, but with regard to the condition of times, place, and nation; or when that law is abrogated which was never enacted for us. For the Lord through the hand of Moses did not give that law to be proclaimed among all nations and to be in force everywhere. . .” (4.20.16).

[5] By This Standard, 97.

[6] By This Standard, 98.

[7] The reference here is to Matthew 5:17ff, in which Jesus expounds the moral law to the hearts of men. He turns up the temperature as to what the law requires—at a spiritual level. He, of course, is preaching this as the one who came to fulfill all of the law’s requirements in the place of his people.

[8] Samuel Renihan, The Mystery of Christ, His Covenant, And His Kingdom (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2019), 118.

[9] 1689 Federalism is the oldest view amongst confessional Baptists. On this and all the subject matter regarding Baptist covenant theology, I would strongly commend (in addition to The Mystery of Christ): Coxe, Nehemiah, and John Owen. Covenant Theology: From Adam to Christ, edited by Ronald D. Miller, James M. Renihan, and Francisco Orozco (Palmdale, California: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2005); and Pascal Denault, “By Farther Steps: A Seventeenth-Century Particular Baptist Covenant Theology,” in Recovering a Covenantal Heritage, edited by Richard C. Barcellos (Palmdale, CA: Reformed Baptist Academic Press, 2014), 71-107.

[10] See Romans 3:19-20, 5:20, 7:13, 9:30–10:4; Galatians 3:19. Jesus also uses the law this way repeatedly in his ministry (e.g., Matthew 5:17ff, Matthew 19:16–26, Luke 10:25–37).

[11] To argue that God gives life, glory, and prosperity to nations (any nation other than Israel under the old covenant) who enforce and keep his law is a misunderstanding of the biblical covenants.

[12] It is the Noahic covenant, not the Mosaic, that provides the basis for the function of civil government. The proportionate, retributive justice articulated by the Noahic covenant was “an eye for an eye.” If you harm someone physically or financially, the civil authorities should exact an equal and just penalty for the sake of the victim.

[13] This is where 1689 Federalism differs from Westminster Federalism, which understands that the old and new covenants were one covenant under different administrations—in other words, the old and new covenants are the same substance.

[14] The Westminster Confession of Faith makes it clear that the one covenant of grace is administered differently in the new covenant and the old (ch. 8; see also ch. 19). Theonomy is not orthodox or confessional by the standards of the WCF. That said, Westminster Federalism possesses inherent pressures toward theonomy that the 2LCF does not. If the covenant of grace is the same substance throughout the old and new covenants, and is similarly administered in the new covenant, then we should expect the laws and paradigms of the old covenant to continue into the time of the new covenant, unless expressly repealed. This is one of the substantial arguments Presbyterians make for infant baptism.

[15] For a historical-theological analysis of confessionalism in America, see D. G. Hart, The Lost Soul of American Protestantism(Lanham, MD: Rowan and Littlefield Publishers, Inc., 2002).

[16] I stand with the many folk in the natural law tradition who affirm that the light of nature is what should guide humans in arranging and governing civil societies.

[17] For an excellent, accessible treatment of Reformed two-kingdoms doctrine, see David VanDrunen, Living in God’s Two Kingdoms: A Biblical Vision for Christianity and Culture (Wheaton, IL: Crossway, 2010).

[18] Living in God’s Two Kingdoms, 30.

[19] While this is true of theonomy, in general, it is especially true of reconstructionist theonomy.

Justin Perdue

Justin Perdue is the lead pastor of Covenant Baptist Church in Arden, North Carolina.

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