Here, I’m going to do a summation an analysis of Bodjidar Marinov’s article on “Putting the Claim that “Theonomy Is Like Shariah” to Presuppositional Rest” – Parts One and Two.
But before I do that, let me lay out my starting point.
First, even in my younger days I was swiftly disillusioned with the laws of men, grounded as they are in who has power over whom (see: Lenin’s “Who? Whom?”), and not what’s objectively right and wrong.
(Of course, Our Masters despise the concept of an unchanging, objective code of wright and wrong: it restrains their will to power far too much!)
Moreover, an ever-changing legal code means that men can never be assured that they are free – regardless of the will of the powerful – nor can they ever be sure that they truly own their property, and can use it/dispose of it as they wish.
It was Rushdoony’s Institutes (Volumes One, Two, Three) which pointed the way, with a boost from Gary North’s free book Victim’s Rights. I would also add Rushdoony’s Law & Liberty as a useful primer, as well as North’s 75 Bible Questions as a useful tool to dispel the ‘baptized humanism’ that makes up most of today’s dying Western Christian Church.
(…and I forgot Rushdoony’s By What Standard?, where his thoughts on Cornelius Van Til are expanded on.)
After taking a look at a few of the primary sources, it became obvious that Sharia is a disorganized, unsystematic mess of a legal system (but it took Marinov to reveal why it’s such a mess.) I was (and am!) unimpressed with it’s use of terror to inspire obedience, instead of a measured, balanced justice as God spelled out through Moses.
(Chopping a man’s hand off for stealing a piece of fruit? Banning women as lawful witnesses in court? Open contempt for the concept of equality before the law? Demanding seven men as witnesses for any conviction of rape?
And they say that this is the law of God!
I thought that slandering and blaspheming God’s name was a specialty of Atheism, ever-seeing to Exalt the Will of Men Over All.
I am obviously wrong.)
“You know that bit about Atheism?”
“You should really read it as: Exalt the Will Of the Right Sort of Men Over All, with a special emphasis on Ruling Those Men Not of the Right Sort.”
“Well, that part’s traditionally kept secret, until an appropriate time comes.”
Marinov spends the first five paragraphs outlining Christian opposition to Theonomy, and how it’s being forced back step by step, conceding more and more to Theonomy.
Over the years, the opponents of Theonomy, ironically, have been moving closer and closer to Theonomy, despite their professed disagreement with it, while Theonomists have become even more consistent with their teaching. Opposition started in the 1970s with “The Law is not for today, we are under grace.” In the 1990s it was “The Moral Law is valid, but only for the church; the common kingdom is under the natural law.” About a decade ago “natural law” was defined already as “the moral law of God written on the hearts of men.” And in our day, as the debate between Joel McDurmon and Jordan Hall demonstrated, the opponents of Theonomy have moved so close to Theonomy that they now bicker over whether the civil laws are “obligatory” or “practical,” while the justice of the Law for today is accepted for granted. Forty years ago, these were discussions between Theonomists. (In fact, these were some of the discussions on the ICE Forum just 20 years ago.) Now, as Theonomists have become more consistent, anti-Theonomists have adopted the position of the former “moderate” Theonomists. We can safely extrapolate where this is going.
There is an alternative route, simply throwing in the towel and going full humanist: but Marinov doesn’t waste time on this. You have to cleanse the temple first, before going into society…
Well, OK: there is a third alternate route, which is simply lying…
This gradual surrender to Theonomy, however, has to be disguised somehow in order for the critics to keep face, so the same old tactics is used of false statements, misrepresentations, fabricated quotes or quotes out of context, etc. The McDurmon/Hall debate I mentioned above was full of those, and Joel McDurmon has documented many of them here. In addition to those, we have the good old technique of base rhetoric and false analogies: Theonomy has been compared to both anarchy and fascism at the same time, and sometimes by the same authors, and sometimes within the same article (no kidding!). Recently, however, with the hype about the rising danger of Islam in the secular media, another false analogy has become the fad of the day for anti-Theonomists: “Theonomy is like Shariah.” Spiffy, heh? No need to explain your position, no need to explain Theonomy. Actually, no need to study Theonomy at all. Just use the impression of those images in the media of decapitated prisoners to create the emotion, and then direct the emotion against Theonomy. Why bother actually studying Theonomy?
This is exactly what James White of Alpha & Omega Ministries did in this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-eUsjNH93ck&feature=youtu.be.
One useful thing about the lies of men: it provides the opportunity of God’s people to actually spell out for the record what is the truth, to make the necessary distinctions before the public.
(It also spells out the quality of the opponents of God’s Law-Word… rather on a low scale, I must say.)
No Middle Ground, No Neutrality
An interesting comment Marinov regarding presuppositionalism (footnote deleted):
There were quite a few statements by White in that video that rather disproved the notion that he was the “expert” so highly praised by my friends. Without going into too much detail, the main disappointment was in the area of presuppositionalism: At some point in the video, in his comments on Theonomy, White went on to defend the “excluded middle ground,” and declare his position to be that “middle ground.” Obviously, when it comes to ethical/judicial issues, Biblical presuppositionalism doesn’t allow for a middle ground; its battle cry has always been “Push the antithesis!” No matter what brand of presuppositionalist one is, Clarkian or Vantillian, there is no way to imagine Van Til, or Clark, or John Robbins, or Greg Bahnsen, or any other presuppositionalist arguing for a middle ground, ethically/judicially. This is a major blunder for one who claims to be a “presuppositionalist”; White either doesn’t have a clue what presuppositionalism is, or he doesn’t care to employ it in his thinking.
The very point of presuppositionalism is that There Is No Neutrality. You either stand with Christ, or stand against Him. There is no ‘above the fray’ position where Sovereign, Rational Man can coolly judge between the claims of God and (various) Men, and decide ‘oh, God might be right here and here, but Men are definitely right here and here.’
God has laid down His Commands. Either obey Him, or disobey Him: but there is no dispassionate, objective point where we can judge God. It just doesn’t exist.
A presuppositionalist must always approach every analysis, every analogy, every policy recommendation starting from . . . well, the basic presuppositions, of course. He can’t afford to rely on superficial and trivial arguments. To remain faithful to his position, a presuppositionalist must examine every idea down to its deepest philosophical foundations, to the level of its “basic commitments or assumptions.” Without such examination, there can be no real logic, no real analysis, no real debate, because there would be no real interpretation of facts. And without interpretation of facts, facts remains silent. (Footnote deleted – AP)
There are no such things as ‘brute facts’. We see every fact, every truth from a lens, a set of beliefs, presuppositions that act as our viewpoint.
Therefore, a comparative analysis between Shariah and Theonomy must—if it is to be done within a presuppositionalist framework—go back to the very foundational question of both systems, a question that is ultimately an issue of faith: What is the nature of the God behind each system?
It is generally assumed that, both being theistic religions, Christianity and Islam have similar views of the nature of God. In fact, most misunderstandings between the two religions come from this assumption. On the Christian side, many Christians vehemently deny (rightfully) that Jehovah is Allah, but they see the differences mainly in the fact that Jehovah is a loving God while Allah is a vengeful, bloody god (wrong). On the Muslim side, Muslims are positive that Jehovah and Allah are the same God, but they see in Christianity a mild form of polytheism, having three gods rather that one. Other than the ethical nature of God and the arithmetic of his Persons, most people can’t see a deeper difference.
The difference, however, is much deeper. It is an ontological difference, having to do with the very nature of God as He is. It goes to the original question of any cosmology, Is God—and therefore reality—ultimately One or Many? And then to the question that is essentially the same as the first one, Is God ultimately transcendent or immanent? Translated in layman’s terms, the question means, Is God ultimately remote, separated from the reality of facts and experience (transcendent), or is He intimately present in that reality in every part of it (immanent)? Related to this question about the nature of God are almost all other questions and problems of our knowledge and interpretation of ourselves and the world. What we believe about logic, science, technology, society, economics, law, time, man, family, etc., will ultimately hinge on the answers we give to these questions about the nature of God. (Footnote deleted – AP)
Christians recognize the Trinity, and so know that both the members of the Trinity are all God, and that the unified Trinity is God. This closes off the paths to either a monolithic tyranny, or a lawless chaos. See Rushdoony’s The One and the Many for details.
God doesn’t simply “reconcile” unity and plurality in Himself. They are both integral characteristics of His very Being.
Following from that, and even more relevant to our discussion, Christianity believes that both transcendence and immanence are ultimate in God’s nature. God is ultimately transcendent: He is perfectly distinct from His creation, absolute, self-existent and self-sufficient, and in no way can be said to be dependent on, or identified with, His creation or with any part of it. At the same time, God is ultimately immanent: He is intimately present with, and involved in, every single detail and part of reality.
It is on this premise that the central doctrine of the New Testament is based: the Incarnation.
God is God: but He can come down to us, in Christ.
Jesus is the perfect representation of God: those who see Him, see the Father.
Jesus is God. “Before Abraham was, I am.”
Marinov now expands on the nature of the Christian God, powerful enough to be in Creation as well as above it:
…the nature of Christ is the pivot of the Christian faith. In Christ we see God the way we can’t see Him directly; God is revealed in Christ. And in Christ, even His Divine nature is revealed to us, in all the glory that our eyes can bear to see. Christ has in His Person both the transcendence and the immanence of the Father, both the absoluteness and the concreteness of God’s relation to the world. He reveals that God is not restricted to His heavenly realm, unable to relate in a meaningful way to His creatures; to the contrary, God can become like His creatures and share their created nature, and be above His creation and yet, in His creation, distinct from His creatures and yet, fully like them.
and then turns to the limited and restricted Allah, forever isolated and sterile, which can never, ever, ever be part of the Creation:
In opposition to the Trinitarianism of Christianity (God is ultimately One and Many) stands the most fundamental doctrine of Islam: Tawhid, or the Oneness of Allah. Allah is one. Muslims scholars insist, when the word “one” is used for Allah, it is a not a number, for then it would sound as if he is one of many. “One,” when used for Allah, is an expression of nature, both internal and comparative. He is one, there are no parts in him, but also, he is “single” as in compared to no other. So far there is nothing that Christianity would disagree with, but then comes the negative aspect of tawhid: Allah’s oneness is his ultimate description of his nature, and therefore he can’t be said to be many in any sense of this word. There is no distinction in him in any possible sense; thus the Christian distinction between the Persons of the Trinity sounds idolatrous to a Muslim, for it is by definition shirk, that is, idolatry or polytheism, the opposite to tahwid. Allah is such a strict unity that even his 99 names—upon which not all Muslim scholars agree—must be considered one name, describing one nature. A large part of Islamic apologetics is devoted to proving the unity of Allah. The awareness of his unity is a spiritual requirement; and Muslim “evangelization” is simple: testify that Allah is one. With a god who is such uncompromising unity to the exclusion of any identification or distinction, the Muslim creed can’t but be very simple: “Allah is one.” Thus, even people in history before Mohammed who have never heard of Islam, are considered good Muslims if they have acknowledged in a simple way that God is one (Abraham, for example). The OT and the Gospel are thus Muslim holy books for the same reason (but, according to the Quran, they were corrupted).
The more relevant part of our analysis comes when we move to the logical conclusions from the oneness of Allah to his relation to the world. Obviously, Allah who is perfectly one and never many, can’t be present in any meaningful real sense in his creation. The creation is always, by definition, subject to fragmentation, and therefore the presence of Allah in any particular part of it would subject him to fragmentation.
This leads us to a very important conclusion about the nature of Allah: He can’t share his character and his attributes with his creation. The creation is not a true revelation of Allah in any meaningful way. It can not contain any of the attributes of Allah. Unlike the Christian God, Allah has no communicable attributes. He is loving and merciful, but he doesn’t share his love and mercy with his creatures; whatever love and mercy they show, must be radically different from his. Same with his patience, and knowledge, and wisdom, and any other trait of his character. His character is his only, and will remain his only.
And indeed, an integral part of the doctrine of tawhid is the concept of shirk, which as a term can be translated “idolatry” or “polytheism,” but etymologically means . . . “sharing”! It is an unpardonable sin in Islam to allow the notion that Allah can share his character or his attributes with anyone.
This Allah is always and forever remote… unknowable… silent… seperate.
Just the way men prefer to have their gods, if they must tolerate their existence.
In contrast, Christ draws close to us. He is the very Word of God.
We’re talking about two very different religions, folks.
Our presuppositions about the ontology (that is, the being) of God will by necessity have bearing on our view of the nature of God’s revelation. Revelation, obviously, is a necessary condition if a god is to be relevant; after all, a god who doesn’t reveal himself to man is as good as a god who doesn’t exist at all, from man’s perspective. What is man supposed to do with an unknown and unknowable god? How is he to worship such a god? Is he to worship him at all? Could it be that such a god wants to be dishonored or opposed? (You never know, after all, what could be pleasing to an unknown god.) Therefore, a real god is only that god that wills to reveal himself to man; any other deity would be irrelevant, and a worship of such deity would be really a worship of man’s imagination.
But will to reveal himself is not enough. That god must also have the capability to reveal himself to man. Such capability will depend on the nature of such a god, and on the nature of his relation to reality in general and man in particular. If such a god is too deeply immersed in reality (ultimate manyness and immanence), to be identified with it, he would struggle to distinguish himself from reality when it comes to revelation. After all, if god is to be identified with the material universe, then there is really no difference between knowing god and knowing the material universe; then there is no real revelation, as in uncovering things previously hidden. On the other hand, if that god is too distant from reality (ultimate oneness and transcendence), his attempts to reveal himself may fail because man will have no way to relate meaningfully to such a god, not having any shared ground of knowledge with him. Again, then, man will have to resort to his imagination, at least in interpreting the revelation.
The presuppositionalist, then, is not only interested in what the nature of the god behind a system of thought is, he needs to discover how the nature of that god defines and conditions the revelation that god gives. Is it a revelation that really reveals anything hidden, anything of value? Does it set god apart from the rest of reality? Does it bridge the gap between human and divine, giving man a real opportunity to know god? Etc., etc. A god whose nature prevents him from delivering meaningful revelation to man is no better than a god who is silent, and therefore is no better than no god at all. For all practical purposes, the choice before us is between meaningful revelation and practical atheism.
If the mysterious and unknowable nature of Allah has a distinctly atheistic stink about it… well, let’s just say that you are not imagining things.
(For one thing, you’d be surprised at just how popular atheism is getting in Saudi Arabia. I wonder what’s going to happen when the oil money runs out… and you might want to take a look at Iran and its collapsing birthrate too, while you’re at it…)
….God talked to men, walked with men, ate with men, wrestled with men, and revealed Himself to men on men’s terms, and at the same time He was the Great I Am, Who needs nothing and depends on nothing.
It is rather humorous when atheists try to make the argument that the God of the Bible can’t possibly be real since He is revealed in primarily in anthropomorphic terms. The answer to this is, “Well, duh, that’s what He said he was going to do, for He created man in His image.” We have a unique God: He can be God and yet He can take on human body and characteristics, and still remain God. He can be incomprehensible and inaccessible, and yet He can reveal Himself to man to closely, as His closest friend.
The Christian God is actually all-powerful. His fundamental restriction, inherent in His being, is not about power, but about ethics: that He is always and forever Holy, Just, and Good.
(With the emphasis put on Holy. He is the Creator: we are the creatures. He was here before Time, and is everlasting: we are born, and we die. He can provide eternal life: we are dependent on Him for this gift, and have no ability to gain eternity by our own power. His Name is to be glorified by us, and not vice-versa.)
In sharp contract to the God of the Bible is Allah of the Quran. Not only doesn’t he reveal himself, but asking him to reveals himself may have dire consequences. The most glaring example of the Quran’s view of Allah’s revelation is Al-Araf 7:143 where Mohammed gives his twisted version of Ex. 33:18-23, mixing in elements of Elijah’s experience in 1 Kings 19:11-13:
And when Moses arrived at Our appointed time and his Lord spoke to him, he said, “My Lord, show me [Yourself] that I may look at You.” [ Allah ] said, “You will not see Me, but look at the mountain; if it should remain in place, then you will see Me.” But when his Lord appeared to the mountain, He rendered it level, and Moses fell unconscious. And when he awoke, he said, “Exalted are You! I have repented to You, and I am the first of the believers.”
Notice, the very request to see Allah is sinful enough to require repentance. So he reduces a mountain to dust and renders Moses unconscious in the process to make his point. A Christian who is carefully reading the Quran will stop here and ask the question, Why unconscious? The Bible doesn’t have a single example of a person who encounters God and falls unconscious, losing his senses. Neither does the Bible contain an example of someone who wanted to see God, or know God, and had to repent for it later. God always responds positively to the desire of His creatures to see Him and know Him. The knowledge of God is a basic aspect of Christian piety (1 John 4:8) and not knowing God is sin (1 Thess. 4:5; 2 Thess. 1:8). But for a Muslim, such desire to see Allah and to know him personally would mean that either man will have to be elevated to divine status, or that Allah will have to be demoted to the status of creature.
The previous Surah, Al-Anam, lists the numerous ways in which Allah supposedly has revealed his existence to the unbelievers. The signs he lists are taken from the Bible, but they never personally involve Allah: physical phenomena and natural disasters, sending prophets and angels, historical curses and blessings, etc. Nowhere does Allah point to or promise any personal appearance similar to the Biblical Emmanuel, “God with us.” The faith in him is supposed to remain blind faith, one that is not supported by Allah’s personal and unmistakable intervention in history. Believers may know that Allah exists but they can’t know him personally. Unbelievers will never be faced with any fact about Allah in history that is personal, special, compelling, unique, and close to the heart and mind of man. There is no incarnation, whether special (as in Jesus Christ) or general (as in the indwelling of the Holy Spirit).
That Allah’s knowledge and Allah’s mind are entirely impossible for humans to grasp or know or follow is additionally attested by an element of the Quran which is rather curious for Christians: the “mystery verses,” or muqatta’at (“abbreviations”). In the Quran, 29 Surahs start with combinations of letters which make no sense whatsoever in Arabic. For a Christian whose God not only gladly reveals Himself to His children, but has intended to do so as the very essence of His redemption of the world (Jer. 31:34; Heb. 8:11), adding such “mysteries” to a holy book makes no sense whatsoever. But for a Muslim who always expects his encounter with Allah to lead to some form of “unconsciousness” (as in the example above with Moses), they are perfectly natural and expected.
Thus, in Christianity man faces a God who is personal—and therefore knowable—at every level, and in both realms, divine and human, heaven and earth. In Islam, man faces Allah whose personhood and character can’t cross the central line and be revealed to man. For all practical purposes, from man’s perspective, Allah is as impersonal and irrelevant as the god of deism: a Creator who can’t communicate meaningfully to His creation, and therefore leaves men to figure out for themselves the issues of moral character and personhood.
Why would anyone choose to worship this Allah, this Unknown – and Unknowable – god?
Outside of the endless stream of threats of murder, genocide, social isolation, rape, exclusion from legal protection, etc…
Prediction: as the power of centralized governments, power-seeking oppressors, and controlling tyrants dwindle and fade away, both Secularistic states and Islamic theocracies will crumble into relics of the past.
In contrast, Theonomic Christianity – which puts the importance of political power last, after self-governance, church, and family (and even businesses & the free market!) – will fill the earth. There is no substitute for having the Laws of God engraved on our hearts: all the Saudi Religious Police and American NSA spy agencies in the world can only be pathetic, failing sticks, rooted in power-lust and fear of the unknown and the uncontrolled, compared to willing obedience from genuinely grateful hearts.
Had [White] made such analysis, he would know that Theonomy and Shariah not only do not belong together, but they are actually polar opposites; and in fact, it is his own anti-Theonomy that is much closer to Shariah, and that Shariah is in fact consistently applied anti-Theonomy with a vengeance. It would be obvious to him that the two systems, Theonomy and Shariah, having absolutely opposite presuppositions, will inevitably have absolutely opposite concepts of law, and therefore opposing legal systems; and in fact, given that anti-Theonomy shares some presuppositional points with Shariah, they are much closer to each other.
One set of laws reflects God’s thinking: and we are intended to learn to follow His thoughts, to think as He does. The other simply does not.
True: no man will never be able to create something out of nothing: some things are reserved for God Alone. But it is also true: Christian believers can be as ethically perfect as Christ, always choosing good, and never choosing evil. Islam insists that Allah is essentially unknowable: so who knows what Allah’s ethics is?
God wisely values ethics, justice, and mercy far, far above mere power. Remember: Christ perfectly imaged God even off the throne, when He was a sinless carpenter and homeless preacher without any political authority recognized by men. This is obviously in stark contrast to Secularists and Muslims: as sinful men dominated by lust and fear, everything must eventually be sacrificed in the name of the only real god in their eyes, POWER!
More police… more spies… more rules… more prisons… more secrecy…
To push the antithesis at the beginning of the discussion on the law: A God Who is both One and Many, transcendent and immanent, Who can and wills to deliver revelation that is perfectly representative of His character (Heb. 1:3) and yet perfectly meaningful to man (2 Tim. 3:16-17), will deliver a radically different law from a god who is only unspecified and distant oneness, who can’t be known to man, whose character remains hidden, and whose presence is only detected through mystical and vague “awareness.” Thus, while both deities will use revelation to give their respective covenant communities a system of ethical/judicial rules, the two systems will have no fundamental resemblance to each other. On the surface, certain visible features may look similar. In reality, there won’t be even basis for comparison.
In our analysis, now, I will include anti-Theonomy as well, to make it clear which of the two teachings, Theonomy or anti-Theonomy, is closer to Shariah.
The nature of the Lawgiver shapes the Law.
Theonomy: The Law Is Theocentric
As we said, the God of the Bible not only can represent His very character in terms meaningful and accessible to man, He also wills to do it. But the way the Bible starts its revelation of God, it presents Him as primarily an ethical Being: a Being, that is, primarily concerned with the issue of good and evil. Now, of course, other aspects of knowledge and experience are also hidden—and revealed—in God: beauty and harmony, rationality and logic, order and the cause-and-effect principle, etc. In the hidden nature of God, neither of these aspects is ultimate or primary; such an idea would violate the principle of indivisibility and simplicity of God’s Being. But as far the revealed nature of God is concerned, He chooses to reveal to man His ethical nature as foundational and defining for His Covenant with man. God’s assessment of His creation, “It was good,” indicating that ethics is the aspect through which God will communicate to man, and through man will communicate back to God.
Since man was created in God’s image, this focus on the ethical aspect of God’s nature speaks about the fundamental nature of man as well: man is an ethical being, too. The fundamental questions of his existence are not ontological, rationalistic, aesthetic, scientific, etc.; they are ethical, questions of good and evil. Man’s origins, existence, and future state will all hinge on how closely man conforms to the ethical nature of God; everything else will be subject to it. The Kingdom of God—the summum bonum of man’s existence—will belong to men who are righteous and just, not to men who are smart, logical, artistic, harmonious, powerful, mathematical, athletic, etc.
I can already hear the money-n-power types – and their bought-and-paid-for big brains in Academia – scream in horror…
We should expect then that of all possible topics in the Bible, the topic of the Law to be prominent, and revealed in a most systematic, detailed, and practical way compared to all other topics. God is the Great Mathematician, but there is no systematic treatment of mathematics in the Bible; He is the Great Artist, but there is no textbook on art in the Bible. But God is an ethical Being, and the Great Judge, and the Bible contains the Law of righteousness and justice of that Judge, in a systematic form. The foundational principles of ethics are stated in the two greatest commandments (Luke 10:27; see Deut. 6:5; Lev. 19:18). Then they are broken into chapters, the Ten Commandments (Exo. 20:1-17; Deut. 5:1-21). Then case applications are developed to illustrate the principles of application, enforcement, and sanctions (Exo. 21—Deut. 34). Then historical examples of ethical/judicial practice are presented in the historical and prophetic books of the Old Testament. And finally, the complete manifestation of God’s moral character is presented in the New Testament, adding the application of the ethical/judicial code to the new covenant community.
There are quite a lot of Christians who absolutely despise the concept of God as Judge. Fortunately, they are slowly being squeezed out of the Church, and into the welcoming arms of today’s Establishment.
Deciding who will still be standing two centuries from now: today’s Masters, or God’s Law-Word… well, the decision is easy.
…the Law would reveal not only a God who is eternally an ethical Being (transcendence), it would also reveal a God Who is historically an active Provider (immanence). Thus, when a theonomist studies the Law to discover which parts of it are for specific time and place, and which parts are eternally valid, he always puts the Law in the context of God’s character, not in the context of time, place, or people. For every precept of the Law he asks, “Does this reveal God’s moral character in eternity, or does this reveal His redemptive work in history?” Only thus he decides which laws are still valid and which are changed.
The Law then, is the full revelation—in a systematic, knowable, searchable, and practically applicable form—of God’s moral character. To put it differently, it would reveal how God would act if He came down to earth and became a Man. And, guess what: He did come down to earth, and He did become a Man, and He did perfectly obey the Law! How was He capable of perfectly obeying the Law? Well, it was His very character, that’s how. But this applies not only to His personal walk, it applies to His judicial walk too: How would God act if He was an earthly king, or a judge, or a businessman, or a military leader? The law tells us about this as well, for Israel was supposed to be under God as King, and for this they had the Law. In all respects, the Law revealed God’s character.
It is for this reason that theonomists always start their analysis of every precept in the Law with the assumption that the chief victim of every civil crime is God Himself, and then look to the human victim. Thus, murder and kidnapping and sodomy are crimes against God’s image in man; adultery and theft are crimes against God’s order for society; false witness is a crime against God’s judgment and justice; etc. The punishments then are punishments that reflect God as the chief victim, and therefore His interests are the first to be defended, as expressed in His Law.
Theonomy, thus, is always theocentric, that is, God-centered, when it comes to its concept of the Law. The Law is always viewed in the context of God: Its origins, its purpose, and its application always start with God and His place in society. Every single part is related to God and His character, and His redemptive work in history. Theonomists do not take in account historical or humanitarian considerations when discussing the Law; neither do they judge the validity of the Law by such considerations. To the contrary, they form their opinions about historical and humanitarian factors and case applications on the basis of the Law. This is the most fundamental characteristic of Theonomy.
TL:DR? “It is the Law of God that is supreme, and not the Will of Man.”
Anti-Theonomy: The Law Is Partially Anthropocentric
Anti-theonomists, of course, share the same view of the origins of the Law: There is no Christian who would deny that the Law is the Law of God, and it was given by God, and it is holy, righteous, and just. It is for this reason many of them resent when called “antinomians”: After all, they all have a “high view of the Law,” right?
As we saw above, when analyzing the specific parts of the Law, the theonomist asks, “How does this specific part of the Law relate to God and His character? Does it reveal God’s ethical/judicial character, what God would do if He was a man, a king or a judge? Or does it reveal the historical dynamics of God’s redemption, before and after the Cross?” The theonomic analysis of the Law is always God-centered, and always assumes God as the point of reference.
The theonomic analysis of the Law is always God-centered, and always assumes God as the point of reference. The question what laws are still valid in their direct meaning, and what laws are fulfilled in Christ, is resolved entirely based on the distinction between God’s immutable character and God’s redemptive work in history. When a theonomist sees discontinuity in the application of the Law, that discontinuity is only revelatory (Christ hidden vs. Christ revealed), not ethical/judicial (old justice vs. new justice). Theonomy, thus, is theocentric at every step of its analysis of the Law.
The anti-theonomist, on the other hand, when discussing the specific parts of the Law, always first asks the question, “To what group of men was this part of the Law given?” Based on that, then, assumptions are made as to whether the same part of the Law would have been applicable to another group of men, or another generation of men, or another polity of men. Certain parts of the Law—what is incorrectly called the “civil code”—are judged then to be applicable only to the group to which they were given, without any regard to what of God’s character or historical work they represent. That applies even to laws that are acknowledged to be judicial (pertaining to justice, issues of good and evil), not ceremonial (pertaining to issues of historical dynamics of revelation of redemption). Thus, anti-Theonomy’s discontinuity is not simply “old revelation vs. new revelation,” it is now “old justice vs. new justice.” It’s an ethical/judicial discontinuity, and it is anthropocentric, centered on man, or groups of men, or cultures of men, or man’s historical circumstances.
It is for this reason the anti-Theonomist seeks to modify certain judicial laws: they need to fit the modern humanistic concept of justice, as opposed to the Biblical, revealed concept of justice consistent with the revelation of God’s ethical/judicial character. God was a legitimate member of society only in the Old Testament Israel; and therefore His ideas of justice were fully applicable only there. Outside Israel, He is rather distant and detached, and His character is present in the justice system only in a vague, general way: as in “general equity,” for example, by which anti-theonomists rather mean vague equity.
“The vaguer and unknowable we can make God’s word, the better!”
“You think Secularism is good at this? Just wait till you meet Islam!”
“The god that cannot speak? That can never be known? Perfect!”
Thus, the anti-theonomic view of justice is a dialectical mixture of two components: (1) God’s general moral principles in His Law, which excludes His specific judicial applications; and (2) man’s specific judicial applications based on man’s judgment of the demands of his situation. Man can use the specifics of the Law of God, but is not obligated to do so, being at liberty to change the rules where he sees fit.
“To the everlasting glory of MAN!”
…and the entire Ruling Establishment jumps to its feet, applauding for hours…
And, we need to add, since in this undertaking man loses the divine authority that goes with the Law of God, his new “practical system” now needs another source of authority to establish itself. If the Bible, for example, declares double restitution as the proper judicial punishment for theft, and the anti-theonomist claims it is not obligatory, but a “practical solution” must be sought based on “general equity,” he must back his claim with some authority equal to the clear Biblical text. The only available such authority is the authority of civil government—which has the additional benefit of being powerful enough to impose its sanctions over the Biblical sanctions. Thus, Romans 13:1-7 and 1 Pet. 2:13-14 are invoked to declare that authority as trumping God’s Law on the matter of justice, as opposed to the theonomic interpretation which sees in those verses a command to rulers to obey God’s Law. In the final account, by being anthropocentric, anti-Theonomy by necessity becomes political and power-oriented.
“And now, the circle is now complete.”
“I love seeing how the actual goal of anti-Theonomy only becomes apparent at the end of the story.”
“It reminds me of all those delusional Arab Christians, who really truly believed that ‘if we would just pay the taxes and submit like good little slaves, the Muslims really will let us live, just like they promised.'”
“Yeah? Well, remember when all those liberals said over and over ‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.’ ??”
<Insert gales of laughter HERE>
Islam: The Law Is Entirely Anthropocentric
As we saw, when it comes to the nature of revelation, Islam is, for all practical purposes, a deistic religion: It has a distant god who may have created the world, may be running the world, but is incapable of communicating to man a specific, practical, applicable revelation of his character. Knowing Allah is impossible; asking to see him is sin that requires repentance; the attempt to know him leads to a loss of consciousness. Man, then, is left to his own devices to decide what ethics is and what justice is, with only minimal help from Allah.
All deism eventually leads to some form of dualism in the area of ethics and justice, as expressed in the words of Montesquieu in his The Spirit of the Laws:
We ought not to decide by divine laws what should be decided by human laws; nor determine by human what should be decided by divine laws.
Islam is even more dualistic than the European classical deism, for it can’t account for the origin of “divine laws.” What is a “divine law” for a Muslim? Does it represent the moral character of Allah? If so, it can’t be known by men. Does it represent Allah’s advice to men how to conduct themselves morally? If so, then it can’t be more than general, vague moralism, for Allah can’t cross the central line and fully identify with man as the God of the Bible can (Heb. 2:17). In fact, Muslim scholars point to the fact that Allah is “insensitive,” he can’t even feel the emotions humans feel, and so he wouldn’t be able to share in their indignation and revolt against injustice.
“Umm… why are these people worshipping this unfeeling Allah again, who has no real interest when it comes to injustice?”
-> Points to the latest spasms of beheadings and crucifixions.
“Oh, yeah. Just another Power-religion.”
We shouldn’t expect, then, the Quran to contain anything close to the Biblical Law: a distinct body of fundamental ethical principles and systematic case application of them. There are no Two Greatest Commandments in the Quran, no Ten Commandments, and nothing even close to the Law of Moses, let alone its Prophetic applications. At best, the Quran can offer a vague collection of isolated pieces of moralistic advice, and a few isolated judicial rulings which can’t be demonstrated to be related in any logical way to any consistent system of ethics. (And in certain cases those judicial rulings contradict each other.) But what is called “civil code” is lacking. There isn’t one. And, given the nature of Allah, there can’t be one.
It is at this point where Shariah comes in, and its nature and purpose become clear: Shariah is not, and was not meant to be, a systematic ethical/judicial system expressive of Allah’s moral character; it is, and was meant to be, a haphazard patchwork to make up for the inherent dualism of the Quran’s doctrine of ethics and justice. To claim authority, it has to be loosely based on the vague moral rules in the Quran; to be practical, it has to develop its specific judicial rules based on what is habitual, practical, specific to groups of people, or expedient in view of the agenda of the ruling class.
And indeed, this is what Shariah is: It is a combination of (1) general moral rules based on the Quran (with only a scant interest to the few judicial laws found in it), and (2) the Sunnah, a motley, disorganized collection of thousands of specific ethical and judicial pronouncements based on extra-Quranic human jurisprudence, or supposed sayings of Mohammed overheard by his contemporaries. To this, another element is often added which is often overlooked by commentators, and it is (3) the customs and habits of the local tribes and communities which, even if not related to the Quran or to Mohammed, have been sanctified by time. Most of the time, human jurisprudence in the Sunnah overrules the teachings of the Quran, based on issues of practicality, expediency, or tradition.
Man, what a mess.
An example would be the Shariah’s view of punishment for male sodomy. (Female sodomy is not considered a crime or sin in Islam, given that a sexual act is defined as penetration only.) The Quran, while it has some strong words to say against the “people of Lut” (Sodom and Gomorrah), doesn’t prescribe death penalty for it in the only verse that speaks about “illegal intercourse”—which would include sodomy as well as adultery—in An-Nisa:
If two men among you are guilty of lewdness, punish them both. If they repent and amend, Leave them alone; for Allah is Oft-returning, Most Merciful. (4:16) (Footnote deleted – AP)
No matter how we choose to interpret the word “punish,” and no matter how we choose to define the punishment, one thing is clear: the Quran is much “softer” on sodomy than the Biblical Law. For this reason, for most of the history of Islam, Islamic jurisprudence has been reluctant to declare judicial punishment against sodomy. It wasn’t until the 19th century, under the influence of Victorian England, that most Islamic societies introduced systematic legislation against sodomy. Thus, what the Holy Book says must be complemented and modified by human laws, which at times were less severe, and at times more severe than the Quran, depending on the decisions and circumstances of men.
“It is men who determine the law, and not God.”
“So said every tyrant in all of time, from the far past to the far future. Regardless of the symbols and blather they are waving about today.”
“Real tyranny is what the Bible is all about!”
“So said the people with the money and the power… who all share a deep, abiding hatred of being lawfully call into account for their actions… and a unshakable lust for more controls, more spy agencies, more laws, more supervision…”
Shariah, then, is fundamentally anthropocentric; it doesn’t acknowledge Allah as a full-fledged member of the society in any meaningful way. Present, yes; a member, no. All civil disputes are between human beings; Islamic jurisprudence—very much like anti-Theonomy, and contrary to Theonomy—doesn’t acknowledge Allah as a party of a civil suit; all civil suits are between humans. The above mentioned punishment for sodomy is one example. Another example would be the Quran’s punishment for murder, in Al-Baqarah:
O ye who believe! the law of equality is prescribed to you in cases of murder: the free for the free, the slave for the slave, the woman for the woman. But if any remission is made by the brother of the slain, then grant any reasonable demand, and compensate him with handsome gratitude, this is a concession and a Mercy from your Lord. After this whoever exceeds the limits shall be in grave penalty (2:178).
Notice the difference: In the Bible, murder is a crime against God’s image (Gen. 9:6), and therefore there is no mercy for a murderer, for only God as the true victim of the crime can show mercy—in the Final Judgment. (Footnote deleted – AP) But Allah has no image in man, and therefore he has no real participation in the society, and therefore he can’t be a victim of a crime. The victims are always human; in this case, the relatives of the slain. So they are allowed to ask for money and thus the murderer can avoid the qisas (“equal retribution”) and obtain mercy by paying them. Again, even in the case of murder, the Quran itself is anthropocentric; when we move to the Sunnah’s application of it, it becomes even more so.
Allah has no image in Man, and is fundamentally separate from the creation: this god can never be a victim of a crime.
This god also has no relation to the God of the Bible. That’s for sure!
As we saw with anti-Theonomy above, when a system is anthropocentric, it has to face the issue of legitimacy: By what authority?
“By the WILL of (the Right Sort of) MEN!”
…and the entire Ruling Establishment jumps to its feet, applauding for hours…
In the case of anti-Theonomy, the authority used most frequently is the concept of “natural law,” often vague and undefined enough to include anything; but in the final analysis, power is transferred to the state, and Romans 13 is used to confer authority to tyrannical civil governments to apply any laws they decide. Islam, like anti-Theonomy, does the same. Islamic jurisprudence has—and has always had—a rich “natural law” tradition. (Footnote deleted – AP) I won’t go into detail about that tradition, but the readers can go to Prof. Anver M. Emon’s article, “Natural Law and Natural Rights in Islamic Law,” in Journal of Law and Religion Vol. 20, No. 2 (2004–2005), pp. 351-395, for a full treatment on the issue. But since “natural law” in itself doesn’t bestow authority on interpreter of it, in the final account, Islam has to adopt a view of the state that make it quasi-divine and fully authoritative in legislation and enforcement. Just like anti-Theonomy, by being anthropocentric, Islam by necessity becomes political and power-oriented.
Q. 1. What is the chief end of man?
A. Man’s chief end is to glorify the Sacred State, and to obey it forever.
“FINALLY! Something that the most hard-core Secularist and the most hard-core Muslim can agree on!”
“Well, they were never that far apart….”
“The only question is: what makes the State Sacred? The Will of the People? Or the Will of the Unknowable God?”
“I have no doubt that in the future, some bright, young, intelligent Frenchman or German – perhaps just starting school now, or maybe in his early university years – will reconcile the two views, bringing Peace and Unity to both Europe and the Middle East.”
“And when that day comes, he will be 100% backed by an Establishment desperate to regain control, with the coming death of the Welfare State bribes…”
“You heard it here first!”
To summarize the characteristics of the three systems when it comes to the Law and the application of the Law:
Theonomy: The Law is fully encoded in the Bible, moral principles and judicial case applications, and both the origin and the purpose of it are centered on God, His character and His work in history. All institutions are obligated to obey it, and an institution that doesn’t obey it loses its legitimacy and can be legitimately opposed.
Anti-Theonomy: The Law is encoded in the Bible as moral principles but its judicial applications must be modified by human intervention, because while its origin is centered on God, its application is centered on man and his circumstances. The standards for modification must come from other sources (“general equity”) which, even if morally related to the Bible, are nevertheless different from it in the principles of application. The civil government, then, as the most powerful institution, assumes the right to decide on the modifications, and it can’t be legitimately opposed by Christians even if it is outright tyrannical and unjust.
Shariah: The Quran contains no comprehensive system of ethics, personal or judicial; the origins of the law can’t be centered on Allah because Allah can’t reveal His true ethical character to man. Therefore the Law must be man-centered, with man taking the initiative to make judicial laws, based on “general equity,” expedience, “natural law,” etc. The civil government, as the most powerful institution, is uniquely capable of supplying the necessary authority for any law created by man on the vague moral principles of the Islamic religion; therefore, opposing the authorities is opposing Allah.
There are people who stand with God, all the way.
And then… there are people who would rather stand with the men with the badges and the guns.
(I think we all know where practical, sensible rationalists stand on the issue. Especially when their pensions and pay stubs are on the line…
…but God expects more from Christians.)
Had James White made the effort to do such a thorough presuppositional analysis of Islam and Theonomy, he would have clearly seen that of the two systems, Theonomy and anti-Theonomy, it is anti-Theonomy that is much closer to Shariah. Shariah is, in fact, anti-Theonomy taken to its logical conclusion. Even the thought of comparing Theonomy to Shariah shows that White’s knowledge of presuppositionalism is, at best, at a high school textbook level. Or, if he knows presuppositionalism, he has decided to not use it. Or, he simply doesn’t understand Theonomy, and speaks about what he has no clue of. Or, to cover all possibilities, he is simply dishonest. I’ll let the reader take his pick.
All the possibilities are on the table!
(Hint: concerning men, betting on humility is very unsafe.)
Part II: The Acts 15 Postscript
I always suspected that Sharia was a random, disorganized pile of unconnected moralisms – not very dissimilar from the Koran – but I had to wait till Marinov to spell out just how chaotic this ‘legal system’ is.
What is even more distressing, though, are White’s claims to be an expert on Islam, compared to his claim that “Islam doesn’t have Acts 15 but we do.” It is here where it becomes clear that even if he has learned a lot of data and facts, he is clearly short of understanding of Islam as it is.
That he is misapplying Acts 15 when relating it to Theonomy is clear enough, and it has been pointed out by others.
(Footnote to “Bahnsen and Rushdoony answered the Acts 15 concern 40 years ago” deleted here.)
But let’s turn to that part of his statement that concerns Islam. It is true enough that Acts 15 still speaks about some discontinuity. If taken in its most honest meaning, White’s statement would mean that Islam doesn’t believe in any kind of discontinuity, that there is full continuity between Islam and an older “covenant,” which in his view would place Islam closer to Theonomy than to anti-Theonomy.
Nothing could be further from the truth.
Our analysis here needs to start with the fact that the Quran views itself as the last of several words of revelation in history. (Footnote deleted – AP) The previous revealed words are the Tawrat (the Hebrew Torah), the Zabur (the Psalms of David, possibly also the Prophetic books of the Old Testament), and the Injil (the Gospel of Jesus). Thus, while the Quran claims to be the perfect, unadulterated revelation—as opposed to the earlier ones which have been supposedly changed over time—it is still only a continuation from previous revelations and covenants, an heir to their religion. If we take the Christian division of Old and New Testament, the Quran thus claims for itself the status of a Newer New Testament.
This is an important fact to our discussion here. For, while the Quran claims revelational continuity, in reality, its view of discontinuity is much stronger. And this view is summarized in the Islamic doctrine of abrogation. Abrogation of previous revelations is a fundamental doctrine in Islam, and it will take another article like this one to explain to Christian readers the full meaning of it. It is related to many other topics and doctrines in Islam, like Allah’s unknowability and oneness, the nature of prophetic revelation, the nature of the faith and testimony, etc. For our purposes here, I will only mention a few points.
Marinov provides clear and compelling evidence of “Acts 15-style discontinuities”, which believing Muslims would agree with (in Ali-Imran and l-Baqarah).
This should be enough for the average Christian to conclude that James White doesn’t know what he is talking about. But the Islamic doctrine of abrogation doesn’t stop there. Prepare for the real surprise:
The Islamic doctrine of abrogation applies to discontinuities within the Quran itself! Yes, you read that right, the Quran contains certain verses which abrogate other verses of the very Quran itself! And the very Quran, in An-Nahl, defends this as a testimony to the sovereignty of Allah, without giving the reason for such abrogation:
And when We substitute a verse in place of a verse—and Allah is most knowing of what He sends down—they say, “You, [O Muhammad], are but an inventor [of lies].” But most of them do not know (16:101).
So not only does the Quran have Acts 15 in relation to previous revelations, it has Acts 15 in relation to itself. And this is not some trivial small problem which has no bearing on the Islamic religion. To the contrary, a significant part of Muslim religious studies is devoted to deciding which verses in the Quran are abrogated by other verses. The discontinuity is within the Quran itself.
And it doesn’t stop there. The abrogation continues with the Hadith, that is, the post-Quran stories of the life of Mohammed. The Hadith is believed to contain sayings which legitimately abrogate verses of the Quran itself. There is no agreement as to what abrogates what; the only real agreement between Islamic Muslim scholars is that the doctrine of abrogation must be applied across the board to everything. On the surface, it seems the Islam is a religion of unified, consistent, fixed religious truths; in reality, it is nothing more than situational ethics or worse, a religion where today’s emotions of man can abrogate all the moral principles stated yesterday.
TL:DR Islam is a lawless mess. A murderous, lawless mess.
Any relationship to Secularism, Marxism, Communism, etc is not coincidental.
As Justice in all these systems fall far, far behind the Need for More Power and Control.
(And to get God to Just Shut Up.)
Part II: Summary
It is obvious that James White hasn’t done his presuppositional homework in comparing Theonomy to Shariah. Had he done it, he would see that his comparison was not only incorrect, but also dishonest. Because, in reality, it is White’s own anti-Theonomy that is like Shariah, in its religious presuppositions.
The analysis must start by looking at the nature of the two Sovereigns, God and Allah. The former is a Trinity, both One and Many, transcendent and immanent. The latter is ultimate oneness and transcendence, detached from his world, unable to enter it as a person. God, therefore, can deliver a detailed, valid, applicable, meaningful message to the world, by simply entering it an taking on the body of a human being; His Word is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, the imprint of God in the world. Knowledge of God is not only possible, it must be desired by men and lacking such knowledge is a sign of the unbelievers. Allah can’t reveal himself in any positive and meaningful way, for by doing so, he will either have to descend to human level, or elevate humans to divine level. Men can relate to Allah only through an “awareness” of his presence; knowledge is impossible, and the request for knowing Allah is sinful, and ultimately leads to destruction of matter or conscience.
The law systems will be radically different, therefore. Since God reveals Himself fully (though not comprehensively), we should expect that in His Law He will reveal His moral character: How God would act in all situations if He was a man. Thus, we should expect His Law to be complete and functional without having to resort to outside sources or human legislation. Theonomy takes this principle seriously, and sees in the Law of God a sufficient basis for justice which only needs faithful application, not changes; it interprets the Law of God in the framework of God’s character and work in history. Anti-Theonomy interprets the Law of God against historical and cultural backdrops, and looks for extra-Biblical sources for complementing the Law’s system of justice for our times; while the Biblical revelation of the Law is used only for moral instruction.
Allah is not able to deliver such a systematic and full law; there is nothing that such a law would reveal about Allah. Therefore the law in the Quran is a fragmented mess of isolated moralisms, and a few judicial statements without any solid fundamental principles behind them. In the final account, Islam needs human traditions and decisions to build its system of law. It’s system, therefore, is similar to that of anti-Theonomy: moral instruction from the book, judicial laws from “general equity” or “natural law.” In the final account, both anti-Theonomy and Islam resort to giving more power to the state, as the only institution that can back their law systems with sufficient power and authority.
Therefore, it is not Theonomy that is like Shariah. Presuppositionally, Shariah is consistent anti-Theonomy taken to its logical end. So let’s put the ignorant claim that “Theonomy is like Shariah” to its presuppositional rest. Our honesty, and our responsibility as teachers demand this of us.
God expects His followers to use their brains as well as their feet, when striving to better follow His way.
A blind faith in an unknowable god isn’t the goal: a living faith, a faith that listens and obeys a God who speaks, a faith that is substantially logical, reasonable, a faith in a God that is knowable and wishes to be known, that has an actual impact on the world…
That is the goal.