Theological Perspectives on Theonomy Part 1: Theonomy and Dispensationalism -- By: Robert P. Lightner

Journal: Bibliotheca Sacra
Volume: BSAC 143:569 (Jan 1986)
Article: Theological Perspectives on Theonomy Part 1: Theonomy and Dispensationalism
Author: Robert P. Lightner

Theological Perspectives on Theonomy
Part 1:
Theonomy and Dispensationalism

Robert P. Lightner

[Robert P. Lightner, Professor of Systematic Theology, Dallas Theological Seminary]

One of the great issues affecting eschatological thinking of evangelicals is the current debate concerning theonomy-postmillennialism. Those exposing the inconsistencies of amillennial covenant-Reformed theology are not only premillennial, pretribulational dispensationalists; the severest critics are a lot closer to home. In fact they are of the covenant-Reformed, Westminster tradition, though they are not amillennial. Instead they are postmillennial, insisting that the Mosaic Law in its entirety is just as much God’s rule of life, His modus operandi, for the world today as it was in the days of Moses. They happily accept the designation “theonomists.”1

Dispensationalists have been known more for their forthright proclamation of “thus saith the Lord,” as they have understood it, than for their responses to criticism and accusations leveled against them. And yet there are times when issues challenging dispensationalism seem to demand response. Theonomy is such an issue. And it is past time for dispensationalists to reply to theonomy and its postmillennial emphasis.

Theonomy is a growing concern in both covenant and dispensational circles. Kline, a committed amillennialist, for example, in his review of Greg L. Bahnsen’s Theonomy in Christian Ethics, placed Bahnsen alongside Rousas J. Rushdoony as fellow theonomists. Kline expressed criticism of both theonomy and dispensationalism:

Their [theonomists’] special thesis is that the Mosaic law, more or less in its entirety, constitutes a continuing norm for mankind and that it is the duty of the civil magistrate to enforce it, precepts and penalties alike. To put the matter in a comparative perspective, this theory of theonomic politics stands at the opposite end of the spectrum of error from dispensationalism. The latter represents an extreme of failure to do justice to the continuity between the old and new covenants. Chalcedon’s [theonomy’s] error, no less extreme or serious, is a failure to do justice to the discontinuity between the old and new covenants.2

This article will seek to define theonomy and dispensationalism, and two forthcoming articles in this series will present nondispensational and dispensational responses to theonomy.


Until recently the word “theonomy” has been used comparatively little. But it is now becoming common in...

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