VIDEO: How to Understand Greg Bahnsen

GregBahnsenportraitIn 1985, the Great Debate on “Does God Exist” was held at the University of California-Irvine campus.  Defending the atheist position was Dr. Gordon Stein.  Defending the Christian/theist position was Dr. Greg L. Bahnsen.

It was historic.  Like Ali-Frazier.  “The Thrilla in Southern Californilla.”  To say that Bahnsen cleaned Stein’s non-intelligently-designed clock is to put it mildly.  He took Stein to school and put on a debate clinic for the audience.

You can watch (listen to) the entire debate here:

This was vintage Bahnsen.  An intellectual-academic heavyweight delivering philosophical and apologetic knock-out punches in rapid-fire succession against any and all non-Christian, non-biblical worldviews and arguments against God, the Bible and the doctrines of the Bible.

He was a world champion/gold-medalist in the arena of Christian apologetics.  Nobody could beat him.  (Only complications from a heart-valve surgery in 1995 would finally end his brief and brilliant but turbulent career as a pastor and academic superstar.)  Nobody could beat him on the debate stage.  So his real enemies — fellow Reformed Christian ministers and academics — simply kicked him out of their confessionally-conflicted, ethically-challenged clubs

Bahnsen embraced Van Til’s apologetics.  Unfortunately for his academic and ministerial career, he also embraced theonomy.  And his peers in the denominational world — which was his “first love” (as a good friend of his eulogized on the 20th anniversary of his death) — made sure that he paid dearly for this unpardonable sin.

He was betrayed both by his church brethren–the Orthodox Presbyterian Church–and by his scholastic brethren–Reformed Seminary and Westminster Seminary.  Joel McDurmon has compiled a collection of documents having to do with Bahnsen’s unfounded termination from Reformed Seminary.  Gary North wrote a book (Westminster’s Confession) that was occasioned by Westminster’s fateful decision to abandon Van Til’s legacy by refusing to hire Dr. Van Til’s hand-picked replacement — Dr. Greg Bahnsen — to head up the apologetics department there, on the unofficial grounds that Bahnsen was now a theonomic powerhouse, a forceful proponent of what Dr. North called “a positive judicial alternative to natural law theory,” and Westminster’s president Edmund Clowney would have none of that, especially with so formidable an advocate as Bahnsen.  So in the end nepotism won out over God’s law, and Clowney hired his uniquely underqualified (and non-Van Tillian) son to take over Van Til’s chair.

Bahnsen’s road through life was no primrose path.  The champ took a beating.  But he kept on defeating, apologetically speaking.  He remained undefeated.  He “fought the good fight,” and he kept the faith.

His legacy lives on through the Bahnsen Conferences, Covenant Media Foundation, and through his numerous books and articles.  In early 2016, Kenneth Samples gave a brief vignette of Dr. Bahnsen in this talk that was recorded at Branch of Hope Church in Torrance California.

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Why Our Ethics Should Be ‘Biblical’ and Not Merely ‘New Testament’: Greg Bahnsen

Greg Bahnsen pointingHere is another Blast from the Past reprint!  Taken from the archived newsletters of the Institute for Christian Economics.  This is the Oct. 1978 issue (vol. 1, no. 2) of BIBLICAL ETHICS.  It is Greg Bahnsen’s article, “The Entire Bible, Our Standard Today.”

If you remember Dr. Bahnsen, he was a talented and articulate speaker, and a skilled and devastating (to the atheists and antinomians!) debater.  His works were among those which laid the intellectual and rhetorical foundations for all future Reconstructionists and theonomists.

This article has been carefully and scrupulously extracted and restored to its original integrity from primitively scanned (1990s OCR technology!) images of the paper newsletter.  Believe me when I say, this was no simple matter of copy-and-paste!  But it was a rewarding endeavor to have to read very closely this well-expressed and intelligently written essay.

Read and savor the wisdom of Dr. Bahnsen, as he talks about why our Christian ethics should be ‘biblical’ and not just ‘New Testament’…

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BIBLICAL ETHICS

2 Timothy 3:16-17

 Vol. 1, No. 2                    © Institute for Christian Economics                    October 1978

The Entire Bible, Our Standard Today

By Greg L. Bahnsen, Th.M., Ph.D. 

All of life is ethical, and all of the Bible is permeated with a concern for ethics. Unlike the organization of an encyclopedia, our Bible was not written in such a way that it devotes separate sections exclusively to various topics of interest. Hence the Bible does not contain one separate, self-contained book or chapter that completely treats the subject of ethics or moral conduct. To be sure, many chapters of the Bible (like Exodus 20 or Romans 13) and even some books of the Bible (like Proverbs or James) have a great deal to say about ethical matters and contain vary specific guidance for the believer’s life. Nevertheless, there will not be found a division of the Bible entitled something like ‘The Complete List of Duties and Obligations in the Christian Life.” lnstead, we find a concern for ethics carrying through the whole word of God, from cover to cover — from creation to consummation.

This is not really surprising. The entire Bible speaks of God, and we read that the living and true God is holy, just, good, and perfect. These are attributes of an ethical character and have moral implications for us.  The entire Bible speaks of the works of God, and we read that all of His works are performed in wisdom and righteousness — again, ethical qualities. The world which God has created, we read, reveals God’s moral requirements clearly and continuously. History, which God governs by His sovereign decrees will manifest His glory, wisdom and justice. The apex of creation and the key figure in earthly history, man, has been made the image of this holy God and has God’s law imbedded in his heart. Man’s life and purpose take their direction from God, and every one of man’s actions and attitudes is called into the service of the Creator — motivated by love and faith, aimed at advancing God’s glory and kingdom. Accordingly the entire Bible has a kind of ethical focus.

Moreover the very narrative and theological plot of the Bible is governed by ethical concerns. From the outset we read that man has fallen into sin — by disobeying the moral standard of God; as a consequence man has come under the wrath and curse of God — His just response to rebellion against His commands. Sin and curse are prevailing characteristics, then, of fallen man’s environment, history, and relationships. To redeem man, restore him to favor, and rectify his wayward life in all areas, God promised and provided His own Son as a Messiah or Savior. Christ lived a life of perfect obedience to qualify as our substitute, and then died on the cross to satisfy the justice of God regarding our sin. As resurrected and ascended on high, Christ rules as Lord over all, bringing all opposition into submission to His kingly reign. He has sent the Spirit characterized by holiness into His followers, and among other things the Holy Spirit brings about the practice of righteousness in their lives. The church of Christ has been mandated to proclaim God’s good news, to advance His kingdom throughout the world, to teach Christ’s disciples to observe everything He has commanded, and to worship the Triune God in spirit and in truth. When Christ returns at the consummation of human history He will come as universal Judge, dispensing punishment and reward according to the revealed standard of God’s word. On that day all men will be divided into the basic categories of covenant-keepers and covenant-breakers; then it will be clear that all of one’s life in every realm and relationship has reflected his response to God’s revealed standards. Those who have lived in alienation from God, not recognizing their disobedience and need of the Savior, will be eternally separated from His presence and blessing; those who have embraced the Savior in faith and submitted to Him as Lord will eternally enjoy His presence in the new heavens and earth wherein righteousness dwells.

It is easy to see, then, that everything the Bible teaches from Genesis to Revelation has an ethical quality about it and carries ethical implications with it. There is no word from God which fails to tell us in some way what we are to believe about Him and what duty He requires of us. Paul put it in this way: “Every scripture is inspired by God and profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, in order that the man of God may be perfect, thoroughly furnished unto every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). If we disregard any portion of the Bible we will — to that extent — fail to be thoroughly furnished for every good work. If we ignore certain requirements laid down by the Lord in the Bible our instruction in righteousness will be incomplete. Paul says that every single scripture is profitable for ethical living; every verse gives us direction for how we should live. The entire Bible is our ethical yardstick, for every bit of it is the word of the eternal, unchanging God; none of the Bible offers fallible or mistaken direction to us today. Not one of God’s stipulations is unjust, being too lenient or too harsh. And God does not unjustly have a double-standard of morality, one standard of justice for some and another standard of justice for others. Every single dictate of God’s word, then, is intended as moral instruction for us today if we would demonstrate justice, holiness, and truth in our lives.

It is important to note here that when Paul said that “every scripture is inspired by God and profitable” for holy living, the New Testament was not as yet completed, gathered together, and existing as a published collection of books. Paul’s direct reference was to the well known Old Testament Scripture, and indirectly to the soon-to- be-completed New Testament. By inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul taught New Testament believers that every single Old Testament writing was profitable for their present instruction in righteousness, if they were to be completely furnished for every good work required of them by God. Not one bit of the Old Testament has become ethically irrelevant according to Paul. That is why we, as Christians, should speak of our moral viewpoint, not merely as “New Testament Ethics,” but as “Biblical Ethics.”  The New Testament (2 Tim. 3:16-17) requires that we take the Old Testament as ethically normative for us today. Not just selected portions of the Old Testament, mind you, but “every scripture.” Failure to honor the whole duty of man as revealed in the Old Testament is nothing short of a failure to be completely equipped for righteous living. It is to measure one’s ethical duty by a broken and incomplete yardstick.

God expects us to submit to His every word, and not pick and choose the ones which are agreeable to our preconceived opinions.  The Lord requires that we obey everything He has stipulated in the Old and New Testaments — that we “live by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God” (Matt. 4:4). Our Lord responded to the temptation of Satan with those words, quoting the Old Testament passage in Deuteronomy 8:3 which began “All the commandments that I am commanding you today you shall be careful to do” (8:1). Many believers in Christ fail to imitate His attitude here, and they are quite careless about observing every word of God’s command in the Bible. James tells us that if a person lives by and keeps every precept or teaching of God’s law, and yet he or she disregards or violates it in one single point, that person is actually guilty of disobeying the whole (James 2:10). Therefore, we must take the whole Bible as our standard of ethics, including every point of God’s Old Testament law. Not one word which proceeds from God’s mouth can be invalidated and made inoperative, even as the Lord declared with the giving of His law: “Whatever I command you, you shall be careful to do; you shall not add to nor take away from it” ( Deut. 12:32). The entire Bible is our ethical standard today, from cover to cover.

But doesn’t the coming of Jesus Christ change all that? Hasn’t the Old Testament law been either cancelled or at least reduced in its requirements? Many professing believers are misled in the direction of these questions, despite God’s clear requirement that nothing be subtracted from His law, despite the straightforward teaching of Paul and James that every Old Testament scripture – even every point of the law –has a binding ethical authority in the life of the New Testament Christian. Perhaps the best place to go in Scripture to be rid of the theological inconsistency underlying a negative attitude toward the Old Testament law is to the very words of Jesus himself on this subject, Matthew 5:17-19. Nothing could be clearer than that Christ here denies twice (for the sake of emphasis) that His coming has abrogated the Old Testament law “Do not think that I came to abolish the law or the prophets; I did not come to abolish.”  Again, nothing could be clearer than that not even the least significant aspect of the Old Testament law will lose its validity until the end of the worfd: “For truly I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the slightest letter or stroke shall pass away from the law.” And if there could remain any doubt in our minds as to the meaning of the Lord’s teaching here, He immediately removes it by applying His attitude toward the law to our behavior: “Therefore whoever annuls one of the least of these commandments and teaches others so, shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven.”  Christ’s coming did not abrogate anything in the Old Testament law, for every single stroke of the law will abide until the passing away of this world; consequently, the follower of Christ is not to teach that even the least Old Testament requirement has been invalidated by Christ and His work. As the Psalmist declared, “Every one of Thy righteous ordinances is everlasting” (Ps. 119:l60).

So then, all of life is ethical, and ethics requires a standard of right and wrong. For the Christian that yardstick is found in the Bible — the entire Bible, from beginning to end. The New Testament believer repudiates the teaching of the law itself, of the Psalms, of James, Paul and Jesus himself when the Old Testament commandments of God are ignored or treated as a mere antiquated standard of justice and righteousness. “The word of our God shall stand forever” (Isa. 40:8), and the Old Testament law is part of every word from God’s mouth by which we must live (Matt. 4:4).

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Here endeth Dr. Bahnsen’s article.

If you enjoyed reading this, please feel free to like it, share it, tweet it (and comment on it)!

Be Careful Not to Turn the Sword of God’s Law into a Machete

Nathaniel Darnell has written a brief epistle of admonition in the form of a loving rebuke directed at his fellow theonomists.

He tells them, in a word, Guys, don’t screw this up for the rest of us!

Well, he didn’t exactly say it that way.

But, he does remind us, in his recent post, that those who profess to love God’s law and respect it and cherish it and desire to implement and emulate it in our lives, had better make sure that our handling of that sharp, two-edged sword of God’s law and Gospel with respect to our brethren in Christ does not end up putting our own foolishness on display rather than the wisdom of God who wrote it, in that we wield it more like a machete!

It is not a plea for ecumenism or doctrinal compromise.  Just a plea for good sense and good will.

That was the heart and soul of the message of one of Christian Reconstruction’s most beloved, most gifted spokesmen, a highly-educated and articulate pastor, teacher and writer, Dr. Greg Bahnsen.

Bahnsen did not shrink from ardently defending orthodox, theonomic Christianity against its detractors, mainly those within the Reformed, Calvinist academic camp:

But he did warn the rest of us, make sure your zeal is powered by love and wisdom and a godly confidence in the truth, and not by arrogance, belligerence, and especially, ignorance.

Darnell’s warning is the same.

Greg Bahnsen Speaks on Wielding God’s Law with Wisdom

“Be affectioned to love one another with brotherly love. In giving honor, go one before another.” Romans 12:10

Why does it often seem that there are more divisions between fellow Christians than fellow unbelievers? Why does it seem oftentimes that Christians have a harder time getting along with fellow Christians—that theonomists have a harder time getting along with fellow theonomists even!—than with the ungodly?

The truth is that unbelievers actually do have just as many disagreements and divisions as Christians (often more so), but these are not often as obvious because unbelievers are frequently not as self-conscious about their worldview and faith as many Christians are trying to be. We are more likely to talk about our differences up-front because we are trying to be self-conscious and internally consistent, whereas most non-Christians don’t care whether they are self-conscious and consistent. Indeed, many of them have adopted post-modern philosophies that shrug off concern with contradiction and inconsistency. Relativism is the flavor of our day.

But there is another, deeper reason for why Christians often have a harder time getting along with fellow Christians—even ones with whom they have far greater doctrinal agreement than with most other people. As the late Dr. Greg Bahnsen would say, they simply lack wisdom.

mqdefaultWhen the history of Christendom is chronicled, Dr. Greg Bahnsen will no doubt be ranked as one of the “founding fathers” of Christian theonomy. Along with Dr. R.J. Rushdoony, Dr. Bahnsen left behind a body of messages and books that have been foundational in helping the Church of Christ return to a sound Biblical perspective on civil government. He’s been called Mr. Theonomist by some.

As zealous as Dr. Bahnsen was for the Law of God, even he realized before he died that there were some disturbing characteristics rising to the surface among the growing number of Christians willing to call themselves “theonomists” or “reconstructionists.” They were becoming often characterized by belligerence, back-biting, slandering, and arrogance.

Galatians 5:15 warns: “If ye bite and devour one another, take heed lest ye be consumed one of another.” That passage goes on to list the “fruits of the Spirit”—against which, it says, “there is no law.” Those fruits are “love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperancy” (Galatians 5:22-23, 1599 Geneva Bible).

In 1994 at the church Dr. Joe Morecraft serves as an elder at in Cumming, Georgia, Dr. Greg Bahnsen shared this message embedded below, expressing the need for those Christians zealous for a sound Biblical orthopraxy and worldview to do so with charity, justice, peaceableness, and humility — not back-biting or sowing discord among the brethren. It’s a message on genuine Christian piety (not pietism) in the midst of promoting a Biblical morality. He speaks about how the problem is not with the Law of God. The Law of God reflects the holy character of God! But he stresses that the Law of God in the hands of the foolish can become a frightening tool for much hurt and destruction.

Please take one hour from your day to listen to this message from Dr. Greg Bahnsen. I believe in will truly bless you. (If for some reason it is not appearing, click here to listen to it.)

Often those new to the faith, or new to a particular teaching, are the most zealous to see it promoted. It’s encouraging to see this zeal in action, to be sure. But this zeal must always be tempered with wisdom. Wisdom that will lead the zealous to thoroughly study the Bible and their Christian predecessor’s scholarship carefully before they begin to get dogmatic on the subject themselves. (See James 1:19; Proverbs 18:13, for example.) I Timothy 3:6 warns that a Christian leader should ”[n]ot [be] a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil” (KJV).

bahnsenAs I observe much of the debating going on among my fellow Christians, and even fellow theonomists, on various issues, I often observe them debating over things that were studied and addressed by Christian scholars and leaders of previous generations long ago. Rather than consulting with the Christians of the past, they are trying to re-invent the thenomic wheel, as it were, and thus they are personally recapitulating the maturity process Christendom as a whole has undergone over the last 500 years since the Reformation. They are arguing and dividing over many matters godly men like Luther, Calvin, Baxter, Cromwell, Witherspoon, Kuyper, VanTil, Rushdoony, and Bahnsen answered and honed over the course of many years. If we all exercised the humility to listen and read before we jump to write or speak on a particular controversial topic, we might experience more harmony in our discussions. Of course, everything we take in from a respected Christian teacher should be subjected to careful Biblical evaluation. (See Acts 17:11.)

In the end of the day, we must remember that we are reconstructionists, not merely deconstructionists (no matter how many times my computer’s auto-spell corrector says otherwise!). We are not trying to merely tear-down. We are wanting to build up a way of life that reflects God’s virtue in every arena. But we cannot be building up the Body of Christ when we are biting and devouring one another. Building a godly culture must begin with me personally putting my life under the unconditional submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ—even if He requires me to be just, gracious, and longsuffering to someone who is dead wrong about an important matter of orthopraxy.

Reprinted with permission from the author.  Read the original article here.