After starting chapter two last week, we continue prodding along. In continuing to discuss the essence of God's law, I think it is safe to say that the law's nature is more important than the purpose. However, because many of the things falsely attributed to theonomist come from the realm of the law's purpose.
This section will hopefully go a long way towards laying the foundation for Mr Gentry's purpose position. Seeing that we haven't even begun the genuine exegetical arguments for the continuation of God's law, I hope that the presentation thus far has been met with more or less agreement.
Chapter 2: The Essence of God's Law
In the small space of introduction to this section Mr Gentry makes a couple remarkable statements. First he says that upon evaluating the law's purpose "nothing suggests that is should be inappropriate for our day." The other statement is that once understood "the argument against God's law should be over for those who believe the Bible."
Well those are some fighting words. Let's see how accurate they in fact are.
The Law's Purpose
The Law Defines Sin
Well this is an interesting starting point. Mr Gentry begins by stating that "man's fundamental problem is ethical." This might seem an odd way of putting it. But he is leading the argument. He is correctly leading the argument away from the idea that man's problem with God is ontological. God created us in relation to Him. There was nothing wrong with Adam and Eve ontologically. So what happened? And what is sin?
I think it interesting the way Mr Gentry describes is. He places the sin in the garden simply as Adam and Eve assuming they know best about ethics. Instead of accepting God's ethical standard of "don't eat from this one tree", they decided they could venture into the world of deciding between right and wrong themselves. Albeit they started off rather poorly.
With sin as our ethical problem and it being a pervasive problem, Mr Gentry is able to lay out a very strong argument from the book of Romans. Skipping over the finer details we arrive at the law being needed to determine sin (Rom 3:20; 4:15; 5:13; 7:7; 1 John 3:4).
Mr Gentry closes the section with a great argument that sin is almost directly equated with lawlessness (Ps 32:1; Jer 31:34; Heb 10:17). With many other texts, Mr Gentry make a strong argument that to retain the evangelical definition of sin one must determine a "law" by which to quantify sin.
The Law Convicts of Sin
This section is considerably more brief than the last. Mr Gentry builds a quick argument that the law is "spiritual" (Rom 7:14), "living oracles" (Acts 7:38) and subsequently "active and sharper than any two-edged sword" (Heb 4:12).
This conviction should not be seen only as spiritual conviction for the believer however. It actually stands in righteous conviction and condemnation of people who sin. This is why the law is associated with bringing power/life to the work of sin (Rom 7:7, 9-11, 13; 1 Cor 15:56). Mr Gentry takes this into talking how "the law condemns transgression" but we're going to skip the section for blog length.
The Law Drives Men to Christ
I don't buy the full package of what Mr Gentry is selling here. I don't disagree with his point at all. I appreciated his use of the law as a tutor (Gal 3:24) and that the law was never introduced to save (Acts 13:39; Rom 3:28; Gal 2:16; 3:11). But I think this is more of a theological statement than a Biblical one.
All that said, I find this point important to the defense of theonomy. The intent of the law is to point to Christ. Subjection to this law is purposed to bring about the gospel. In a hypothetical situation where a lost person was born under a country that obeyed God's law, the law would not work against the gospel being proclaimed to him in his home and church. However, there are many who find the law and God's gospel opposed to one another. It is true they are not the same thing but given the transitional purpose of the law to point to the gospel and Christian obedience to point back to the law this shouldn't be a cause for serious concern.
The Law Restrains Evil
This section has a strong possibility for misunderstanding. I'll start with the same words Mr Gentry uses "when the law is properly understood and its threats heard and feared, it exercises a restraining power within the souls of sinners". This is not the idea that the law restrains those who don't desire to obey the law. That idea is backwards.
But very practically we know this is be true in principal. The righteous are overrun by the unrighteous when the law is not enforced. Or even worse, when unrighteousness becomes the law. Paul speaks to Timothy about the importance of the law upon righteousness in 1 Timothy 1:8-11. Mr Gentry also points to Habakkuk 1:4 as a demonstration that the Bible supports this basic truth. This is not a special thing for just God's law. This is the natural order. What's unnatural is the special essence of God's law that we discussed last time.
The Law Guides Sanctification
Clarification: "the law does not have the power to sanctify". Thank you for the clarification Mr Gentry. Nothing is taken away from the power and purpose of the Holy Spirit by this statement. The law merely acts as a pattern for righteousness. This is no different then "be imitators of God" (Eph 5:1), "imitate us" (2 Thess 3:7), etc. Mr Gentry provides multiple OT texts to shore up this position (Lev 20:8; Psa 19:8; 119:105; Prov 6:23).
Some might conclude that things have changed in the New Covenant though. Only Christ, the gospel and the Holy Spirit work this way. But this ignores the very prophecy that the New Covenant is built upon (Jer 31:31-33).
It is my personal opinion that this verse more than any other pushes strong for some variety of theonomy. "I will put my law within them" is a promise. And to properly exegete that passage away from the Holy Spirit fulfilling that same law within us is patently false (Rom 8:3-4).
In conclusion, I don't think this chapter accomplished what Mr Gentry thought it would. For me it left much to be desired despite its excellent amount of information. In returning to these sections, it can be a valuable resource. In thinking this ends the argument, there are too many difficult texts in the New Testament that must be addressed. I'm sure Mr Gentry will address them later in his book.
Joshua Torrey is the sole proprietor of Torrey Gazette (don't tell Alaina) and the fullness of its editorial process. That means everything wrong with TG can legitimately be blamed on him.