Among Christians seeking for biblical guidance about how to live as Christians in the political arena, Theonomy has been an attractive option. The reason is clear: Theonomists rightly hold God’s Word to be the ultimate standard for all of life.
Nevertheless, Theonomy is in serious error at its central point: the relation of the Christian to the Mosaic Law. The New Testament teaches that Christians are no longer under the Mosaic Covenant (Rom. 7:4-6; 1 Cor. 9:21; 2 Cor. 3:3).
This does not mean that the Mosaic Law is irrelevant to the Christian. Many of God’s commands in the Law translate directly to the Christian. For instance, murder always destroys and image bearer of God and is always wrong (Gen. 9:6). Adultery always violates God’s original intent for one man to be married to one woman for life (Matt. 18:4-5). Even laws that are not directly applicable to the Christian still remain relevant. The tabernacle, sacrificial system, and dietary laws still reveal vital truths about God, sin, and salvation. Various laws about human relationships still teach much about loving God and neighbor.
The shift from Mosaic Covenant to New Covenant, however, does mean that the Mosaic Code as a code of law is not the code that binds a Christian or even Christian nations today. Theonomists are therefore wrong when the insist that the penalties given in Israel’s law are binding on all nations today. The Mosaic law is really a concrete application of God’s creational law to a specific, special people in a specific place at a specific time. The Church finds itself in varied circumstances in time and place, and God has given it the greater responsibility of applying the law of Christ to our varied situations.
The matter of law and its relation to the Christian is complex. The following resources are helpful guides:
Casillas, Ken. The Law and the Christian: God’s Light Within God’s Limits. Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 2007.
This volume briefly surveys various approaches to the Mosaic law and then unpacks ways in which Christians are and are not under the Mosaic law. This may be the best book for orienting a newcomer to this discussion to the basic issues involved.
Moo, Douglas. “The Law of Christ as the Fulfillment of the Law of Moses: A Modified Lutheran View.” In Five Views on Law and Gospel. Counterpoints. Edited by Stanley N. Gundry. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.
Moo surveys briefly what the law cannot do, what the law was intended to do, and the relation of the law to those under the New Covenant. The treatment is brief but exegetically rich.
Theilman, Frank. Paul and the Law: A Contextual Approach. Downers Grove: InterVarsity, 2002.
Theilman works systematically through every treatment of the law in Paul’s letters to ascertain Paul’s teaching regarding the law. This is an excellent, comprehensive treatment.
Poythress, Vern S. The Shadow of Christ in the Law of Moses. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1995.
Appendix B may contain the best critique of Theonomy written. It is fair and sympathetic where appropriate. It is nuanced (far more so than the sketch I gave above). And it is critical of Theonomy’s exegetical and theological shortcomings. The book is available for free at frame-poythress.org