Thursday, April 1, 2010

Law & Liberty

Cross-posted from my xanga blog:

I just finished reading R.J. Rushdoony's book, Law & Liberty. The book is a translation/transposition of radio addresses that Rushdoony gave during 1966-67. In many ways, his conclusions were ahead of his time, which is evidence of two things: 1) the enduring fixity of human nature, 2) the resultant need to know the past.

Two verses continually popped up in Rushdoony's analysis. One was Proverbs 8:36, which reads in the ESV "but he who fails to find me [Wisdom] injures himself; all who hate me love death. The other was Psalm 127:1, which reads in the ESV, "Unless the LORD builds the house, those who build it labor in vain." One might venture to say, upon these two texts the whole of Law & Liberty is built.

Consider the parallel implications. Those who renounce the wisdom of God, which Paul tells us in 1 Cori. 1:24 is Christ, do violence unto themselves and all those who become dependent upon them. Because they have rejected the Christ of God, the resurrection and the life (John 11:25), they pursue and even exalt death (Rom. 1:28-32). The epistemologically self-aware Christian must therefore recognize that any claims that do not trace their origin to God's Word, any claim that is not explicitly stated or deducible from God's commandments, can only and ever lead to self-destruction. This is true regardless of the expressed or hoped for, or ostensibly well-intended efforts of those whose work is constructed upon unbelieving presuppositions. The humanist who desires for the poor man to be well-fed and sheltered will nevertheless ultimately drive the poor man into slavery, destitution, and destruction because his methods and his means will be built upon principles derived from his autonomous sense of justice, rather than upon God's justice.

If one doubts this claim, he needs only to consider the parallel verse of Psalm 127:1. Unless God labors upon our behalf, all of our labors shall be in vain, for God is the owner of all Creation, and thus all Creation is subject to His bidding or determination. The short-term supposed gains of the evil man are the lament of the Psalmist in Psalm 73, yet when he comes into the presence of God in His sanctuary, he is reminded that God's justice, though often delayed, shall be made full--whether filled up by His mercy in the pouring out of His wrath upon our substitute Jesus Christ; or filled up upon the rebellious who refuse to bow the knee to the King of Kings. The Christian who sees the fruits of the wicked shall discern that whereas the appearance is all of glory, the substance is all of destruction--for God awaits the time, the right time, when He shall recompense all evil and make manifest the greatness of His mercy (Rom. 9:22-23). Thus, the epistemologically self-conscious Christian shall ever strive to direct his decisions according to God's expressed commands, not vainly pitting law against gospel--for we know that all our righteousness is in Christ, our legal representative--but rather walking blamelessly in the law, for even our missteps are washed clean by Christ's service to God on our behalf. Therefore we are freed from the condemnation of sin, in order that--in order that!--we may walk in obedience to God's Law (Rom. 6), expressed so elegantly, so comprehensively, so coherently in the two testaments of Scripture.

Those who wish to allow unbelieving men the optimistic hope of rightly interpreting the natural law fail to recognize the implications of the two verses at the head of the present exposition. Without God's wisdom, no structure can be maintained. Without God's wisdom, all pathways lead to destruction. Now natural law is said, by some, to be manifest to all men, as though God's general revelation is sufficient to teach men how they ought to live. However, the fact that Paul calls all unregenerate men dead in their trespasses and hostile to God, by what natural means will they seek to interpret the natural law in such a way that is pleasing to God? Rather, we should expect that unregenerate man's use of natural law will be consistent with his ontological perversion--original sin--which has already corrupted the image of God in man--his moral uprightness and intellectual understanding of and assent to God's Word. Therefore the natural law can only be used for the glory of God and the good of men when it is used upon the basis of God's revelation--a basis that all unregenerate men, by definition, reject in toto, for they reject the God who has delivered it and placed the seal of His Spirit upon it.

We must therefore never forget the stark antithesis that persists between belief and unbelief, which are the only two systems of thought or worldviews that Scripture declares to exist. Because there is but one Master, and because one can only serve God or one's own standard, there is no third choice between submission to God's authority or pursuit of one's own autonomy. All the various complications of the many thousands of individual philosophies of all unbelievers through all of time amount to nothing more than the simple rejection of God's commandments. All of the various Christian beliefs, if they remain Christian, are fundamentally committed (however consistently or inconsistently) with the desire to obey God's expressed commands.

Therefore, if we would see Christianity spread amongst our nations, if we would see Christianity thrive in our churches, if we would see Christianity perpetuated in our homes, we must dedicate our thinking to follow no further than where God Himself has directed it: to Christ, who is alone the Wisdom of God, and to His Law, which His Word alone commands. Therein lies the simple plan of reformation and revival. Therein lies the marching orders for the spread of Christ's Kingdom. Therein lies the joy for all of life: be it in times of flourishing faithfulness, or be it in times of widespread apostasy. Consider Christ this evening, on the eve of His own Great Suffering, that He counted it joy to do this and nothing else: the will of His Father in Heaven.


Jacob Haynes said...

Your (Rushdooney’s) argument is built upon several assumptions, two of which I disagree with:
1. Man is more often than not consistent with his philosophy and presuppositions
2. Total Depravity negates all effects of Goodness of God placed in and around the creature (man in this instance)

For number one, you would say that because a man has the wrong presuppositions about God and Scripture, he will consistently apply his wrong thinking all the way down to how he tries to help a homeless man on the street. My position is that most men will show inconsistency somewhere in how they perceive and act in their lives. And that this inconsistency can cause men with bad initial presuppositions to do God honoring acts and men with correct initial presuppositions to do evil in the sight of God. Our aim of course is to try to be as consistent as possible with correct initial presuppositions.

For number two, you make a stark contrast between the believer and the unbeliever based upon this assumption. You would say that since all men are under the curse of Sin, which is actively turning them to rebellion against God, and the only hope to throw off this Sin is belief in Christ (all of which I agree with so far); it follows that without Christ men are simply left to succumb to their depravity. The last assumption leaves out that they were still created by God who imparts His creation with goodness. There is still a battle in their spirit between the goodness of God and their curse of Sin. Sure they are not absolved of their sin by the Grace of Christ, but that doesn’t mean that they cannot see a measure of the goodness and truth within themselves and within creation.

It just seems that you turn too quickly to labeling believers as good people and unbelievers as wicked. There is part of me that wishes it were this black and white but I have seen no evidence that the world works this way. When you read Scripture you are automatically assuming that the LORD only builds the house of believers, that only believers can find Wisdom, and that God only labors on behalf of believers. I do think that there is (epistemological, practical, spiritual, etc.) benefit to being a believer but that God’s goodness is wider reaching then the church.

Listen Joshua, I know this is one of the fundamental rifts between our worldviews and honestly it amounts to a minor quibble that has rather large implications of how we view humanity. I like your last paragraph and it is my hope for this world that all creation will throw off its shackles of sin and embrace Christ, for it is only through Christ that full redemption is found. But I think that your assumptions blind you to complex and messy world in which we live and which will (in my humble opinion) ultimately lead you to only see the wickedness and be blind to the goodness that resides in a Fallen humanity.

Also know that I really appreciate the logical progression of your (Rushdooney’s) position, the clear articulation of it, and the fact that there are few weak links in it. I hate that it feels (to me anyway) that I am always disagreeing with you. I honestly have a much clearer picture of my own beliefs after reading yours - even if (especially if) I disagree with you. So once again I thank you for doing the reading and writing that you do.

Joshua Butcher said...


First, let me thank you once again for your willingness to comment and interact with my arguments. It demonstrates that you care for me as a friend, despite your frequent disagreement. I am thankful for that friendship.

Second, you will not be surprised, I think, when I say that you have erred in representing my assumptions.

It is not the case that I believe man is more often than not consistent with his expressed philosophy. I would argue that he is more often consistent with his presuppositions, for they form the substance upon which the will acts.

Here is how the distinction operates. The expressed desire of the humanist who helps the poor is that the poor man be healthy and whole. However, because the humanist presupposes that his own standards are sufficient to guide him to help the poor, he will inevitably only hurt the poor man, for he will make the poor man dependent upon himself, or the apparatus of his own choosing (e.g. the State). Because the unbeliever necessarily rejects God, his solution for the poor man shall never lead the poor man to God, which is ultimately death and destruction for the poor man--not freedom and well-being.

This implication applies not only to the eternal state of the poor man, but to how he lives in the world. Because the unbeliever rejects God, he must replace God with some other ultimate source of salvation, authority, and rule. God's Word is clear that all idols are self-destructive, therefore whatever source of salvation, authority, and rule that is set up by autonomous man cannot be of lasting benefit to him or to those he would help. Our own departure from Christian presuppositions in this country is sufficient evidence for we have departed from welfare being provided by family and church institutions to it being provided by the State, which steals from the people who produce wealth by their industry in order to enslave the poor who do not need to be industrious because the State suckles them.

Second, I do not assume that total depravity negates ALL effect of God's goodness in the world. If that were the case, no one would be saved, nor would the Holy Spirit restrain the sins of man. Rather, total depravity is a corruption of every effort in the sense that no effort can truly honor God as God, nor, therefore God's Law. When men obey God's laws, it is not because they love God or wish to pay homage to Him, but out of fear, or selfish desire. God is not concerned with mere outward conformity, but also with the inward condition of the will.

The Bible is clear that out of the heart proceed the actions of men. The heart in Scripture stands for one's thoughts and one's will. Also, the Scriptures state that as a man thinks in his heart, so he is. The clear teaching of Scripture is that what we believe will determine how we act. Therefore we should expect consistency in our actions with what we truly believe. It must be admitted that what we express to believe is not always identical to what is actually the case in our minds--for even Scripture declares that all men have a knowledge of God that they suppress in their unrighteousness. Even the atheist knows God, though he professes not to believe.

Your denial of this claim commits you to a view that man is fundamentally irrational rather than rational. This is itself a denial of the ontological claim that we are created in the image of God, bearing the ability to reason and therefore make moral decisions. I know you do not deny this, but your refusal to accept the basic rationality, and therefore consistency of the relationship between man's thoughts and his deeds means that your own thinking is confused on the matter. . . .

Joshua Butcher said...

The stark contrast between the believer and the unbeliever must also be considered from the standpoint of faith and not of profession. Many professing believers are a disgrace to the name of Christ by their unbelief and disobedience. They are worse than professing unbelievers and shall receive greater punishment in the Day of reckoning--all this the Bible testifies to.

Yet the Christian who has a Biblical understanding, who acts upon that understanding, must of necessity be in greater conformity to the commandments of God. The unbeliever, even one who acts in outward conformity to God's laws is inwardly hostile to God, for he considers his obedience to merit righteousness in and of itself, rather than as the result of God's grace and care as Creator.

Also, there is no battle waging in the unbeliever's heart between obedience and disobedience. Paul declares that none are righteous, nor seek to do good. He says that everyone who is not born of Christ is dead in their trespasses and sins. Dead men do not fight battles. Unbelievers, according to Romans 1, delight in the sins that they know to run contrary to God's commandments. Hence Augustine could recognize that in his trivial theft of a pear the greatest depravity--he only stole the fruit that he might relish in the sinfulness of the theft. Such is the condition of every heart that has not been transformed by the Spirit of God--and that transformation is instantaneous, not a process of debate within the mind of an unbeliever. What once was dead is quickened to life by an act of God and God alone.

Finally, while you may consider it a matter of small import, I actually consider this particular disagreement to be fundamental to one's understanding of God's Sovereignty in the plan of salvation. If one truly believes that men possess a spark of goodness, which the Lord may cultivate, then what is the need for God to sacrifice Christ on the cross? Why cannot the spark of goodness simply be cultivated by the combined effort of God and man? The remedy for such confusion is a Biblical understanding of the term "good." Good is not some intrinsic quality of an act, as though anyone's giving food to the needy is in itself good, for example. Good, because it is a value, is always defined in relation to some standard or criterion of measurement. That standard is God, and in particular, the quality of loving God and honoring Him as Sovereign Lord and Creator, ruler and commander of all life, including every decision we choose as men. No unbeliever can meet such a standard, for otherwise they would be believers in God. No believer can merit that standard in every case, which is implied in the standard of God's own perfection--which is why they rely upon the work of Christ on their behalf.

These are basic categories of the Christian faith, and are hardly minor quibbles. Please do not misunderstand me in this disagreement. I do not mean to question the basis of your faith, nor the quality of your obedience to God. However, I am concerned that you do not recognize the implications of your own stated arguments, which are quite a bit more serious that you admit.

May God be gracious to you and Laura, and may you find yourself always welcome on this blog, and even more so in our home.

Jacob Haynes said...

I was not meaning to state that these were trivial issues, I was just saying that I always feel like I agree with about 80% of what you are saying and focus on the 20% of disagreement. Though usually the 20% is pretty foundational and has effects on the other 80%. I agree, they are not inconsequential issues.

I’ll start with the idea the heart proceeds actions. I agree. But I think that the heart can be inconsistent. Which leads to inconsistent actions. This inconsistency is based in the conflict between the effects of Sin and the effects of the redemptive power of Christ.

Which brings me to the spark of goodness within everyman. It is true that Paul says that no one seeks righteousness. “No one” includes the believer. If God can receive worship from the heart of a believer, He can receive worship from the heart of an unbeliever. And about the necessity of the resurrection, I am agreed that it is fundamental to redemption and that if there were any other way to God then it would render it rather powerless. But I believe that the resurrection is the cause of “the spark of goodness” – for any measure of this Fallen world that looks back to God is due to the resurrection’s redemptive power. All good in this world will trace its origins in the resurrection. All things will be reconciled to Him.

So I agree that “good” is only intrinsic to God but it is made manifest, applied to all aspects of His creation. The act of men, the souls of men, even the buildings of men can be redeemed from their Fallen state and used to magnify their Creator. As a believer we are granted Grace in which to eventually have all aspects of our being redeemed. But there are unbelievers which give glory unto God with their thoughts and actions – and the only reason they do this is through the working of redemption through Christ. They just don’t have the privilege and the joy of knowing the full extent of what they are doing.

Does this inconsistency of the heart mean that man is fundamentally irrational?

You said: “This is itself a denial of the ontological claim that we are created in the image of God, bearing the ability to reason and therefore make moral decisions. I know you do not deny this, but your refusal to accept the basic rationality, and therefore consistency of the relationship between man's thoughts and his deeds means that your own thinking is confused on the matter”.

I do indeed deny this definition of “the image of God”. It makes all kinds of assumptions - first about the definition of rationality and then about God and man’s relationship to this version of “rationality”. That Humanity’s state is fundamentally conflicted between God and Sin doesn’t seem to be a state of irrationality but rather conflict.

I know we disagree on the rationality of God and man (and I am trying to avoid retreading that long road) but fundamentally the question of rationality doesn’t affect my worldview as deeply as it does yours.

More on topic: If unbelievers are not able to see the goodness and truth of God – if they don’t have any of their original “goodness” to them: how is it that they still can make things of beauty, think thoughts of profoundness, observe creation with wonder? Why read a novel written by an unbeliever, why listen to the music of an unbeliever, why contemplate Plato? Why love an unbeliever at all?