Free Book Just Posted!
gnorth at moregti.net
Sat Jul 5 15:11:13 GMT 2003
Note: you may already have received this report. I am
having trouble with my mail server. I am sending it out
another time, since two-thirds of my list failed to receive
it on July 3. My apology for technical problems. Blip
this letter if you have already received a copy. To make
it up to you, I'm using this letter to let you know that I
have just placed a revised edition of my 1988 book, "Is the
World Running Down: Crisis in the Christian Worldview," on
my Freebooks Web site. It's in a long PDF file. In that
book, I debunked the left-wing activist Jeremy Rifkin. I
also argued that there is a major flaw on the Creation
Scientists' use of the concept of entropy. It leads to
radical pessimism regarding the possibility of Christian
social reform. To download a copy, click here:
In this issue, I report on the latest efforts of
followers of Meredith G. Kline to push their agenda. One
of them hit a judicial brick wall this week. He was
suspended from the ministry.
July 3, 2003
Dear ICE Subscriber:
I offer you a challenge. Guess where the following
statement appeared. It is from an article, "The
Insufficiency of Scripture."
Wisdom does not come easily or quickly, but
through a lengthy, prolonged effort. More
importantly, it does not come exclusively, or
perhaps even primarily through Bible study.
This was published in
[ ] "The Christian Century"
[ ] "Christianity Today"
[ ] "Decision"
[ ] "Modern Reformation"
The author is a
[ ] United Methodist minister
[ ] Congregationalist minister
[ ] Southern Baptist minister
[ ] Presbyterian Church in America minister
He is a professor at
[ ] Harvard Divinity School
[ ] Union Theological Seminary (New York)
[ ] Bob Jones University
[ ] Grove City College
If you checked off the fourth box in each list, you
are looking through a glass, clearly.
The author, T. David Gordon, goes on to make his
theological position clear. I have been waiting 30 years
for anyone with his views to make his position equally
clear. Now someone has. I keep thinking: "I wish Greg
Bahnsen were still alive." Of course, if Dr. Bahnsen were
still alive, Dr. Gordon almost certainly would have decided
not to make himself equally clear.
THE DEBATE THAT NEVER WAS
Assume that there is only one copy of an audiotape of
a public debate: T. David Gordon vs. Greg L. Bahnsen. The
topic: "The Validity of Theonomy." The debate was held in
a large auditorium at Grove City College. Dr. Gordon led
off. He announced to the audience:
Theonomy is not merely an error,
though it has manifestly been regarded
as erroneous by the Reformed tradition.
It is the error de jour, the
characteristic error of an unwise
generation. It is the error of a
generation that has abandoned the
biblically mandated quest for wisdom on
the assumption that the Bible ITSELF
contains all that we need to know about
life's various enterprises. It is the
literalist, error par excellence. It
is not merely the view of the unwise,
but the view of the never-to-be-wise,
because it is the view of those who
wrongly believe that Scripture
sufficiently governs this arena, and
who, by this reason, will never
discover in the natural constitution of
the human nature or the particular
circumstances of given peoples what
must be discovered to govern well and
Then Dr. Bahnsen would have replied, point by point.
Then Dr. Gordon would have attempted to rebut Bahnsen.
Then Bahnsen would have concluded the debate. The word
"concluded" would not begin to describe his rebuttal.
What would you pay, right now, for that audiotape?
I'll put it this way: you couldn't afford it. I would out-
bid you. But I would let you buy a copy of it, cheap.
Some of you may have heard a tape of Bahnsen in a
debate somewhere with this or that professor of this or
that subject. You know what happened to his opponent. The
same thing happened every time he debated.
I recall one case where the self-sacrificial lamb
actually signed a contract allowing the sale of the
audiotape. This was before the debate, which was on
abortion. Immediately after the debate, he told Bahnsen
that if Bahnsen ever dared release the tape, he would sue
Bahnsen for everything he owned. Bahnsen asked, "But what
about the contract?" Professor X told him what he could do
with the contract. Amazing. Here was a man publicly
advocating the murder of babies for convenience's sake, yet
he did not uphold the terms of the contract. It makes you
wonder about his ethics.
I know all this because Bahnsen came to me years later
to let me have the opportunity of releasing the tape. I
declined the honor. Someday, I suspect, that tape will be
posted as an MP3 file on some Web site hosted in some
nation whose view of copyright law rivals Dr. Gordon's view
But, back to the hypothetical debate. Let your
imagination run wild. Think of what would have taken
place, in full public view, during that hour.
Think about the question-and-answer period.
Then think about the Green Bay Packers playing
Hawthorne Country Day School.
THEONOMISTS AS POORLY READ BIBLE-THUMPERS
I had not noticed that our generation's primary error
had anything to do with "the assumption that the Bible
ITSELF contains all that we need to know about life's
various enterprises." On the contrary, I had noticed
precisely the opposite, i.e., the widespread assumption
that the Bible contains nothing that we need to know about
life's various enterprises. But, then again, I am not
personally consumed by a hatred of a literal reading of
Genesis 1 or the theology of the 119th psalm. Call be
blinded by bias.
Think about the accusation: "all that we need to
know." This accusation implies that R. J. Rushdoony spent
his days reading nothing but the Bible. Yet the fact is
that Rushdoony read a book a day for over half a century,
marking each one in the margins and making an index of its
main ideas in the rear. Can you think of any contemporary
Christian scholar whose books reflect an equally broad
background? I can think of one: F. N. Lee, another
theonomist. Who else? Have you ever read any other critic
of theonomists whose basic complaint was that we have not
done enough reading?
I have read a few books, too. You might also take a
look at Bahnsen's footnotes in "Theonomy and Christian
Ethics." Recall that he completed the manuscript of that
book at age 25. He did not stop reading thereafter.
Rushdoony's masterpiece, "The Institutes of Biblical
Law" (1973), called on Christians to recover the lost art
of casuistry: the application of biblical principles to
real-world decision-making. Parallelling the rapid and
unresisted rise of Newtonianism in the late seventeenth
century and its complete conquest of the intellectual world
in the eighteenth century, casuistry disappeared in both
Protestant and Roman Catholic circles. What Richard Baxter
attempted to do in 1673 in "A Christian Directory," by
combining the Bible with the categories of natural law
theory, Rushdoony did without natural law theory,
substituting the presuppositional apologetics of Cornelius
Van Til. His goal was to train Christians to apply the
Bible to their own areas of responsibility. To demonstrate
his point, he gained a working knowledge of more areas of
intellectual life than any of his critics. Look at his
footnotes. In fact, I noticed from the beginning of my
association with Rushdoony that the more academically
accomplished a critic was, the more guarded he was in his
Dr. Gordon conforms to this tradition. Here is a
professor of theology at a PCUSA-affiliated college, who
has yet to write his first book, despite having taught for
13 years at Gordon-Conwell Seminary and four years at Grove
City College, who implies that men such as Rushdoony and
Lee have been strangers to the world of academic
scholarship and modern culture. This is nothing short of
astonishing. It reveals that a consuming personal hatred
of God's Bible-revealed law is an emotional pathway to
visibly poor judgment: literally, an inability to assess
evidence. Of course, we theonomists have been saying this
about our published critics for decades. But then along
comes someone with dual credentials -- PCA ordination and a
PCUSA paycheck -- who goes into print almost in order to
prove our accusation beyond any shadow of a doubt. That he
was once a professor at Gordon-Conwell Seminary along with
his mentor, Meredith G. Kline, is simply icing on the
But why on earth would an editor publish such an
article? What is his agenda? I will get to that subject
later in this report.
IF NOT BIBLICAL LAW, THEN WHAT?
Dr. Gordon is forced to deal with an age-old problem.
He has to answer this inescapable theological question: "If
not biblical law, then what?" Bahnsen's answer is found in
the title of his 1985 book, which ICE published: "By This
Standard." It's posted free of charge here:
Most theonomists are followers of Cornelius Van Til,
who made it clear in everything he ever wrote that the mind
of self-proclaimed natural man is not to be trusted. In
one of his choicest analogies, he compared the mind of
natural man with a buzz saw that is set at the wrong angle.
No matter how sharp it is, it will cut crooked.
Dr. Gordon has not accepted this view of autonomous
man's mind. He has not accepted Van Til's presuppositional
approach to apologetics. He writes:
We appear to have lost the historic Protestant
understanding of the importance of natural
revelation, and have tended to function as though
such revelation were not necessary.
Excuse me, but this is also the historic Roman
Catholic understanding -- specifically, Scholasticism. It
was to refute this view of man's mind and nature's
testimony that Van Til devoted his career.
Here is Van Til's position. Fallen man is a sinner.
His mind has suffered the noetic (knowledge) effects of
sin. Nature is cursed (Gen. 3:17-19). He who would use
nature as his guide without the Bible to correct him shares
his philosophy with the Marquis de Sade, who used bloody
nature to justify his own personal revolt against
Not to put too fine a point to it, but how does
natural revelation tell us how to approach the question of
human reproduction? You may think this question is naive,
but then ask yourself: To which two themes do cable network
animal shows keep returning? I'll give you a hint: one of
them is evolution.
On his own authority, natural man can know nothing
accurately. "But the natural man receiveth not the things
of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him:
neither can he know them, because they are spiritually
discerned" (I Cor. 2:14). Only because God restrains
fallen man in his rebellion can natural man know anything
This was Van Til's primary apologetic point.
Autonomous man is not autonomous in any area of life or any
aspect of his being. Ours is a world of cosmic
personalism, for God created it and sustains it. God
therefore interprets it. The Bible, and only the Bible,
provides the correct principles of interpretation.
As Van Til said so often, autonomous man's rejection
of God is like a child who slaps her father's face while
sitting on her father's lap. She could not reach his face
if she were not on his lap.
Dr. Gordon says that he is bothered by the fact that
divorce rates are as high among evangelicals as they are
among pagans. This fact bothers me, too. I suggest the
1. Pagans control the civil courts.
2. Pagans control the tax-funded schools to which
evangelicals send their children.
3. Pagans control the tax-funded universities to
which evangelicals send their children.
4. Pagans control the accrediting agencies that
certify the non-Ph.D-granting Christian
colleges to which evangelicals send their
5. Pagans control the media.
6. Evangelicals think like pagans.
But these are not Dr. Gordon's suggested explanations.
On the contrary, the problem as he sees it is this: the
Bible is insufficient.
I would suggest that part of the reason our
unbelieving friends succeed as often in marriage
as we do is that they are never hoodwinked by any
misunderstanding of the self-sufficiency of
Scripture. They are never counseled to "read two
verses and call me in the morning."
Is this clever, or what? Can he zing pastors, who
spend much of their time in marital counselling, usually
free of charge?
My conclusion: It is a lot easier to give lectures at
a humanist-accredited, PCUSA-run college than it is to give
counsel to couples about to divorce.
OK, let's get down to specifics. Let's go to the
Bible. Here are my two verses. Dr. Gordon can call me in
And the man that committeth adultery with another
man's wife, even he that committeth adultery with
his neighbour's wife, the adulterer and the
adulteress shall surely be put to death (Lev.
But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away
his wife, saving for the cause of fornication,
causeth her to commit adultery: and whosoever
shall marry her that is divorced committeth
adultery (Matt. 5:32).
A theonomist says, "Let's put one and one together."
An anti-theonomist says, "Let's not."
Dr. Gordon is worried about high divorce rates. I
have a solution to this problem. Re-write the civil laws
governing adultery so that the victimized spouse can have a
civil court order the execution of a convicted adulterous
spouse and his/her consort. The divorce rate would drop --
dare I say it? -- like a stone.
Dr. Gordon worries about divorce. But why should he?
What is wrong with divorce? By what ethical standard can
we discover the answer? "If not biblical law, then what?"
He recommends that Christians surrender to non-
Christians the judicial authority to determine which view
of marriage and divorce is morally and judicially valid,
without any consideration of the Bible's two or more
verses. But if the Old Testament is not a valid place to
begin a search for the divorce law and its required civil
sanctions for adultery, how is a Christian supposed to
determine which non-Christian view of divorce is correct?
Christian ethics then becomes smorgasbord religion: "I'll
take this, but I don't want any of that. I never touch the
This is exactly what Dr. Gordon and his intellectual
peers have said that they want: Christian ethics without
biblical law. Well, they got it, good and hard. So did
the rest of us.
Churches impose no meaningful sanctions against
divorce. How many times have we seen the following? A
marriage breaks up. One of the partners marries someone
else. Is there a church trial? Of course not. If there
were, would it do any good? Of course not. The offending
couple would walk across the street and join another church
-- yes, an evangelical church. The pastor in that church
would not ask to see a letter of transfer. He would not
honor the other church's sanctions even if he did find out.
Churches want new members' money, support, and pew-filling
warmth. Divorce? "Everybody's doing it."
This happens all the time: divorce, transfer of two
memberships separately, re-marriage in the new
congregation. Somewhere during this procedure there is
usually adultery going on, but this is rarely ascertained
by anyone. It is considered impolite for a minister to
ask. The minister left behind thinks, "I have no authority
over this case now." The new minister doing the
officiating at the wedding thinks, "If there were a moral
problem here, their previous minister would have dealt with
it." The cancer of adultery spreads.
When a convicted criminal flees to another
jurisdiction -- county, state, or nation -- he may not get
away. Most jurisdictions have mutual extradition treaties.
They take seriously each other's authority. The law-
breaker cannot easily escape lawfully imposed sanctions.
In contrast is God's church. Pastors pay no attention
to sanctions imposed by their fellow pastors. Then they
complain that "nobody takes the church seriously." Well,
why should anyone be expected to take the church seriously?
Churches don't take each other seriously.
The issue is law. The question is: Whose law? Dr.
Gordon has made it clear what law it had better not be:
biblical law. Yet he worries about the consequences of his
recommended judicial policy, which society has adopted and
for which he takes no responsibility. He has told the
world that it can safely ignore biblical law. This is
exactly what the world has done. Why should he complain
IS YOUR GIRLFRIEND A REAL DOG?
I offer, once again, my favorite example of the
problem with any principle of biblical interpretation that
insists, "No Old Testament law is valid unless it is
confirmed by the New Testament." Here is the problem:
And if a man lie with a beast, he shall surely be
put to death: and ye shall slay the beast. And
if a woman approach unto any beast, and lie down
thereto, thou shalt kill the woman, and the
beast: they shall surely be put to death; their
blood shall be upon them (Lev. 20:15-16).
I can't find this law repeated anywhere in the New
I raised this hermeneutical point in my 1984 book, "75
Bible Questions Your Instructors Pray You Won't Ask." I
asked in Question 26, "Isn't It Immoral for People to Have
Sex With Animals?" I keep waiting for Meredith G. Kline to
provide a "New Testament-only" answer in print. I have
waited a long time. I raised this issue again in 1991 in
my response to Westminster's Dan McCartney's essay in
"Theonomy: A Reformed Critique." No response.
Anyone who thinks this issue isn't relevant hasn't
checked his e-mail box lately. When the spammers say
they're interested in animal husbandry, they're not
Dr. Gordon's article was published in the Feb. 2002
issue of "Modern Reformation." What, you may ask, is
"Modern Reformation"? It is published by the Alliance of
Confessing Evangelicals (ACE). (This acronym mentally
calls forth some unfortunate slogans. "Ace up his sleeve."
"Ace in the hole." "Dead man's hand: aces over eights."
"An ethical man is a Christian holding four aces." -- Mark
Twain. "How ya doing, Ace?" There is even Ace Hannah, the
murderous gambler in the movie "Vera Cruz," whose memory is
invoked by the presence of John Hannah on ACE's Council.)
The chairman of ACE is Michael Horton, who is a
professor at Westminster Theological Seminary (West).
Council members include the president of Westminster
Seminary (West), W. Robert Godfrey, along with R. C.
Sproul, and J. A. O Preuss.
But why would ACE publish an article with the title,
"The Insufficiency of Scripture"? Wasn't the primary point
of the Reformation an assertion of the interpretive
principle of sola Scriptura? I suggest that an answer can
be found in the chairman's positive attitude toward the
role of natural law theory in the establishment of a new
ecumenism. He sees theonomists (correctly) as spoilers.
Dr. Horton has done us the great favor of going public
with his agenda. With respect to his earlier acronym
organization, CURE, which merged with ACE in 1994, he wrote
in 1995: ". . . we are building a cooperative effort
between Lutheran Christians in an effort to restore a
Reformation witness." This testimony appeared in
"Christian News" (Nov. 13, 1995), a tabloid newspaper
published by Herman Otten, a conservative Lutheran.
Certain questions should always arise regarding every
joint ecclesiastical venture. Among them are these:
Which is Jonah, and which is the whale?
Have similar attempts failed before?
If so, why?
Who laid down the original ground rules?
What are these ground rules?
Which issues are ignored for cooperation's sake?
What is the organization's goal?
Who is the common enemy?
I have a theory about ecumenism. It comes in two
varieties: liberal and conservative. Liberals are driven
to corporate unity by a theology of unification, which
extends to eternity, and by the theology of power: bigger
is better, especially administrative budgets. In contrast,
Conservatives are driven to corporate unity by the desire
to settle old scores with groups outside the coalition and
by the desire to become respectable. Liberals, being the
establishment, control access to it. Conservatives, tired
of life in the howling social wilderness, want in. To get
in, you must get bigger.
Conservatives unite for purposes of settling old
scores far more often than they unite to achieve great
goals. So, when you see conservative ecumenism, your first
question should be: "Who is the common enemy?"
With respect to Prof. Horton's Calvinist-Lutheran
agenda, there is a major problem. It goes back to 1536.
It has to do with Calvin's "Institutes of the Christian
Religion." Martin Luther didn't accept its theology. His
followers have not accepted its theology. For that matter,
his followers have not even accepted Luther's "Bondage of
the Will," let alone Calvin's "Institutes." The doctrine
of predestination doesn't sit well with them.
Then who is the common enemy? Theonomy is on the
You know what Lutherans think about the New Testament
authority of Old Testament law. As for Westminster
Seminary, you also know, at least if you have read
"Theonomy: A Reformed Critique" (1990), a joint effort by
the WTS faculty. For three book-long rebuttals to their
book, published by ICE in 1991, visit www.freebooks.com.
North (ed.), "Theonomy: An Informed Response"
North, "Westminster's Confession"
Bahnsen, "No Other Standard"
There was no follow-up volume from WTS. There was not
even a mimeographed reply. I recall no book reviews in
"The Westminster Theological Journal." There was only
silence -- what there had been prior to "Theonomy, A
Reformed Critique." (Zen Buddhist koan: "When a seminary's
faculty falls in a deserted forest, does it make a noise?")
It is clear to me what Dr. Horton regards as the
common ground between Lutheranism and Calvinism. It isn't
the doctrine of predestination, which was the topic of his
first book, "Mission Accomplished." His preferred common
ground is the doctrine of natural law: the two-kingdoms
view of Martin Luther (one law for Christians, another law
for non-Christians) and the natural law tradition of
rationalistic Calvinism, sometimes called Protestant
Scholasticism. These traditions share a common enemy:
biblical law. In short:
Theonomy is not merely an error, though it has
manifestly been regarded as erroneous by the
Reformed tradition. It is the error de jour, the
characteristic error of an unwise generation.
AN EXPERT WITNESS
It is worth noting that Rev. C. Lee Irons of the
Orthodox Presbyterian Church brought in Dr. Gordon as his
expert witness at his trial before the Southern California
Presbytery last fall.
Rev. Irons had made some curious comments about the
insufficiency of Scripture, namely, the Ten Commandments.
He then illustrated his viewpoint regarding biblical law by
placing a link on his Web site to his wife's Web site, an
essay in which she argued for the legalization of
homosexual civil marriage.
Rev. Irons -- former Rev. Irons, to be more precise --
is a disciple of Meredith G. Kline. The first entry on his
Web site is "Intro to Kline."
You will also find entries for "Covenant Theology and
the Gospel" and "Theonomy." But you won't find the link to
his wife's essay. That link came down last year.
Discretion, as usual, proved to be the better part of
valor. He should have shown greater discretion earlier.
He would still be employed had he done so. But there is a
tendency for radicals to push to the limits of
institutional toleration, i.e., to overplay their hand.
Ex-Rev. Irons' hand was aces over eights.
The presbytery tried and convicted Rev. Irons, and
then imposed the sanction of suspension from the ministry.
The General Assembly of the OPC upheld his conviction this
week by a vote of 72 to 46. This was after hearing the
case argued from early morning until late at night, one of
the longest appeals cases in OPC history.
Perhaps this will send a message to OPC pastors who
share ex-Rev. Irons' views on the Ten Commandments. I
sincerely hope so. But to those who don't get the message,
let me say in advance: I've got just the expert witness for
you to bring in.
Let me make a prediction. I have made it in private
for eight months. I will now make it in public. If ex-
Rev. Irons decides to get back into the ministry, which is
likely, he will transfer his membership to some officially
Reformed denomination, such as the Christian Reformed
Church or the United Reformed Churches. He will be
welcomed. As I said, churches do not honor each other's
sanctions. He will probably take his congregation with
him. They'll take his Web site, too, now that he has
removed the link to his wife's essay.
Who knows, he may even have regained the courage of
his convictions. He may put that link back on-line. I
doubt it, though. Discretion is the better part of valor.
Here is the rule: "No sanctions ==> no law." Anti-
theonomists don't like the Mosaic law's sanctions, so they
don't like the Mosaic law. They prefer natural revelation,
natural law, and doing what comes naturally. The modern
church generally agrees. "None of that Old Testament
stuff! We're under grace, not law!" (In fact, we are
under humanist lawyers.)
Pretty soon, the church starts looking just like the
world. Dr. Gordon says he can't understand this. But he
knows what not to do: take two verses and call Gary North
in the morning.
As the humanist West drifts into ever-greater
debauchery, as the West's family structure steadily breaks
down, as prime time American TV becomes a moral cesspool
and an idiot's delight, and as Muslims immigrate by the
millions to Europe, evangelical professors in humanist-
accredited institutions of higher learning recommend
natural revelation, as if this were some major intellectual
breakthrough. "See how progressive we can be!"
What do they think the Protestant West has lived on
for the last three centuries? From Newton's mathematical
unitarianism to Madison's political pluralism to Darwin's
biological naturalism to the university's philosophical
relativism to California's multiculturalism, Protestant
defenders of natural revelation have stood on the sidelines
of society and either verbally baptized the latest
development as "authentically Christian" or else wrung
their hands in pietistic despair. Both approaches have
been equally ineffectual in altering the speed of our
civilization's drift toward the falls.
T. David Gordon and C. Lee Irons want more of the
same. They will surely get it.
In conclusion, let me say that I do appreciate Dr.
Gordon's remark regarding theonomy: "It is the proof-
textual, Bible-thumping, literalist, error par excellence."
If that is an error, then I stand rightfully accused. I
throw myself on the mercy of the court: God's, not ACE's.
P.S. To elders of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church: guys,
you had better set up your own on-line seminary while you
still have the votes to enforce your own theological
standards. Don't expect others with very different agendas
to haul your academic wood and draw your fully accredited
water. A word to the wise is sufficient. So is Scripture.
For a free subscription to this newsletter, send a blank e-
mail to: ice at kbot.com.
Visit my Web site, where you can download over 90 books
free of charge: http://www.freebooks.com
If you wish to cancel your subscription, simply click once on the link below.
More information about the samba-technical