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Chalcedon Report

July, 1977, No. 143

Book Notices [by R.J. Rushdoony]


Greg L. Bahnsen: Theonomy in Christian Ethics Nutley, New Jersey: The Craig Press, 1977 xvii
plus 619 pp.

The publication of this book, a Chalcedon study, marks Bahnsen as a major and central force on
the American theological scene. Cornelius Van Til in Christian Theistic Ethics, stated it clearly:
"There is no alternative but that of theonomy and autonomy." God's law or man's law. The
church, as Bahnsen points out, has been halting between two opinions and has leaned towards
autonomy by asserting the "heresy of easy believism", "under grace, not law" (p.163). The Spirit,
he shows, does not replace the law. "According to the Scripture the written word contains the
message from God; the function of the Spirit is to illumine the mind of the reader....The law
could not be against those who walk by the Spirit, for they are fulfilling the law." Gal. 5:14,23
(p.170f.) Moreover, "The primary requirement of the law was circumcision of the heart (Deut.
10:16) and seeking God with one's whole person (Deut. 4:29); fundamental to the keeping of the
law was faith (Deut. 1:32; 9:23; 10:12; especially 6:2)." (p. 186).

Bahnsen's analysis (p.51ff.) of the meaning of "fulfill" (Matt. 5:17-19) is especially masterly and
of central importance, as are his analysis of various texts in Romans and Galatians. He makes
abundantly clear that "sanctification necessitates the law" (p. 173ff.), that the attributes of the law
are also the attributes of God (p. 143ff.), that "the law of God is identical with the law of Christ"
(p. 195), that "law and grace are correlative to each other" (p. 235), that "any covenant
relationship demands obedience to God's statutes" (p. 187f.), and much, much more.

This reviewer (RJR) would differ with Bahnsen on the law of taxation, but the essential fact is
that this is a major work. Theologians who choose to by-pass or neglect it will do so at the peril
of irrelevance. In fact, it must be said that the growing irrelevance of the church to our world is
due to its antinomianism. This study is a powerful witness against that evil, and a work to be read
carefully and widely.