October 19th, 2012

Book Review: “By This Standard,” by Greg Bahnsen

“God’s Law or Chaos. God’s Law or Tyranny. God’s Law or God’s Judgment. For over a century, most conservative Christian social thinkers have denied all three of these assertions. Some of them have even gone so far as to argue that God’s law is inherently tyrannical. But God’s law is not only just and sufficient, it is obtainable and ideal for civilization. Christianity has the opportunity to overcome all evil with good, and the basis for all good is in the richness of God’s law.
God’s law is Christianity’s tool of dominion. This is where any discussion of God’s law ultimately arrives: the issue of dominion. Ask yourself: Who is to rule on earth, Christ or Satan? Whose followers have the ethically acceptable tool of dominion, Christ’s or Satan’s? What is this tool of dominion, the biblically revealed law of God, or the law of self-proclaimed autonomous man? Whose word is sovereign, God’s or man’s?
Millions of Christians, sadly, have not recognized the continuing authority of God’s law or its many applications to modern society. They have thereby reaped the whirlwind—cultural and intellectual impotence. They implicitly have surrendered this world to the devil. They have implicitly denied the power of the death and resurrection of Christ. They have served as footstools for the enemies of God. But humanism’s free ride is coming to an end. This book serves as an introduction to this woefully neglected topic.” — from the back cover

This is a fantastic book. Using the words of Jesus Himself, the God-breathed words of the Apostles and others, and the general attitude of Scripture regarding the law, Dr. Bahnsen clearly and cogently shows from Scripture that the New Testament supports the continuing validity of certain aspects of the Mosaic Law.
He describes the tripartite classification of the Law—moral, judicial, and ceremonial—and shows how the first two categories are still valid. Moral laws—those laws regarding our personal behavior, such as “Thou shalt not covet”—are still binding on all men. No man in his right mind will say otherwise. Judicial laws—those laws which, while also moral, have civil implications, such as tax laws and penal sentences—are likewise binding on all men, but in principle. That is to say: many of these laws had cultural aspects to them which obviously are not quite the same now; so while a man should still receive the death sentence for homosexuality, it is not necessary for stones to be employed. But it is necessary that his death be a public example, as a warning for other would-be malefactors.Ceremonial laws—those laws which relate to the sacrificial system—are no longer binding, because of Christ’s atonement. To continue keeping these laws would be sin. Another division, arguably part of the ceremonial laws (as opposed to its own category) is that of the cultural separation laws—such tassel laws, beard-cutting laws, blended-fabric laws, dietary laws, etc. These no longer apply, either.
Here is an excellent quote taken from the book, pages 16–17:

…There is no word from God which fails to tell us in some way what we are to believe about Him and what 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 part 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 to provide moral instruction for us today, so that we can demonstrate justice, holiness, and truth in our lives.
It is important to not 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 scriptures, 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.

But what are we to make of the dismissals of the law in the New Testament? Dr. Bahnsen deals with these alleged dismissals as well.
Truly the conclusions Dr. Bahnsen reaches in this book are logically inescapable.
A must-read.
AGE RANGE: Starting with as young men and women as can understand it.

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