B is for Bahnsen
Greg Bahnsen was a 20th century theologian and philosopher. He lived from 1948-1995, a considerably short lifetime. However, in his 47 years, he accomplished a great deal. He was a seminary professor, public speaker, and prolific author. Bahnsen represents a reformed and Calvinistic school of thought. One of his main areas of influence was apologetics. He studied under Cornelius Van Til who was a brilliant theologian and advocate of pre-suppositional apologetics. (We’ll discuss Van Til more soon.) Bahnsen followed his line of thought and wrote much on the topic.
Bahnsen is notable for his advocacy of Christian Reconstructionism or Theonomy, the school of thought associated with John Rushdoony (about whom we will also write in the near future.) Theonomy teaches that the Mosaic Law ought to be followed by modern society. Typically, Christianity sees three divisions of the law: moral, civil, and ceremonial. Moral law is generally seen as still applicable to us today. Many think that the civil and ceremonial law is no longer in effect. However, Theonomy teaches that the civil law is still in effect and ought to be followed by everyone. Theonomy winds up embracing a postmillennial eschatology as they believe we should work in America to make this a thoroughly Christian nation through bringing our nation and all others under biblical law. So, they would see the moral law as appropriate today, the civil law as being a current standard, but the ceremonial law as being fulfilled by Christ and, therefore, no longer binding upon anyone. There is much that has been written on this viewpoint constructively as well as critically. Our current goal is not to critique this theological school, but to look at the individual influence of Greg Bahnsen.
Some of the most influential works of Bahnsen include: Van Til’s Apologetic, By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today, House Divided: The Breakup of Dispensational Theology, and No Other Standard: Theonomy and its Critics. By This Standard, is an excellent introduction to a theonomic understanding of Christianity. Some of his works are also associated with Kenneth Gentry, a well-known postmillennial theologian.
Bahnsen was a theologian who changed the world.
Bahnsen’s influence can be seen as positive or negative, depending on your vantage point. For instance, in arguing for the civil law, there must be an inclusion of the penal structure of the law. Example: since the civil law called for execution for adultery, we must abide by that standard today, a wild idea to many of us. There are many other Old Testamental sins that resulted in execution – adultery, homosexuality, disobedient children, and practitioners of witchcraft, In Theonomy and Christian Ethics, he contends that while the law has no power to cleanse from sin and no power to justify the believer, the law is a permanent, absolute standard of right and wrong. Bahnsen argues very impressively for the civil law still being valid today. In fact, that is his major contribution to the world of theology, though he has contributed extensively on apologetics, postmillennialism, and ethics. John Frame reviewed his book on ethics and had this to say: “For those who disagree with Bahnsen’s position—well, the ball is in their court; they must come up with an answer.” A scholar of the magnitude of John Frame has gone on record that Bahnsen is so brilliant in his exegesis and theological reasoning that those who disagree with him must find a way to answer his claims.
No matter what our viewpoint happens to be on theonomy, we must all admit that Bahnsen argues winsomely, exegetically, and logically. It would be easy to discredit this theology if Bahnsen’s position was irrational, illogical, or lacking evidence. This is simply not the case; he makes an impressive case for his viewpoint. There is certainly a difference between agreeing with his view on the law and implementing what he believes into our national and local governments, though. It would be interesting to see how Christian Reconstructionists would go about such a move. Will we see anything like this before the return of our Lord? We would say perhaps not even then, as it would be easily debatable as to whether we will see a return of the civil law. Most theologians see the moral law as binding upon us, certainly. We see the ceremonial law as having been fulfilled in Christ. Then the civil law is viewed as something that existed between God and specifically the nation of Israel – a national code to be followed by that nation – and restricted the ceremonial law to one people during one period of history. Most do not see this as extending to us today. However, Greg Bahnsen does see it that way. He was a pillar in the world of theonomy. In turn, he still has major influence on many followers today.
Bahnsen’s theology certainly is not the mainstream or majority opinion. However, it is a major theological emphasis that we ought to understand and either logically support or validly counter. If nothing else can be said, we can state that there is a strong influence in theology today because of the work of men like Greg Bahnsen. Was he correct in his theological presentations? You need to decide that for yourself. We will simply assert that if you disagree with Bahnsen, you should do so only after you have read some of his leading works so that you can make an informed appraisal his claims. No matter what position you hold, Bahnsen deserves respect and a careful read.
What do you think? We’d love to read your comments.