Was Pink a Theonomist?

Occasionally, a claim arises on the internet that Pink held to theonomy. This seems to have been initially raised by Dr. Joel McDurmon in a 2015 post on the American Vision website (the article has been since removed, but archived here.) However, the first challenge that this first presents is that theonomy (as it is understood today) is a theological framework that was developed after Pink’s life. Thus, to call Pink a theonomist is anachronistic. Further, and moving beyond that, the question must subsequently be raised — upon what criterion is Pink being assessed as to whether he held to a form of proto-theonomy?

Theonomy: A Working Definition

This requires us to first come to a fair working definition of theonomy. This itself presents an immediate problem. Theonomy has been articulated in different ways by different people. Consequently, having a concise definition of the position is not easy. While the name would imply that it is simply those who believe that God’s (theo) Law (nomos) has a place in the life of the Christian, this would be too broad a definition as generally all Christians, specifically those whose theology is derived from the Reformed tradition, would hold to this as being true. Even McDurmon’s attempt of a concise definition of theonomy is, evidently, not very concise (a point to which he concedes), wherein he states that theonomy is “the biblical teaching that Mosaic Law contains perpetual moral standards for living, including some civil laws, which remain obligatory for today.” However, if I had to try to define theonomy as specifically and concisely as possible, it would be this: Theonomy is a tangent from Reformed theology which, by use of a literal and specific trans-testamental approach, holds that that the Mosaic civil laws ought to be binding to civil governments today.

This position generally goes beyond the traditional Reformed understanding on the role of the Law in the life of the believer, whereby there is an understanding that the Old Testament law has been divided into Moral, Judicial (Civil), and Ceremonial (Religious) aspects. The moral law, alone, is understood by the Reformed tradition as being perpetually binding to all people due to it being based on natural and universal principles that existed prior to the giving of the Law at Sinai (as it was written on the heart (c.f. Rom. 2:15)). The Judicial and Ceremonial aspects, being understood as being peculiar to the theocratic nation of Israel, are held as no longer being obligatory today. To cite Chapter 19, paragraph 4, of the Westminster Confession of Faith (which is Pink’s Confession of choice): “To them also, as a body politic, he gave sundry judicial laws, which expired together with the state of that people, not obliging any other, now, further than the general equity thereof may require.” The way that Israel worshiped God (Ceremonial) and operated as a nation (Judicial) was seen as having “expired with the state of that people“, and were understood as being limited to the Mosaic covenant.

The only relationship that these laws, specifically the judicial, still held in the New Testament dispensation were regarding their relation to general equity. Effectively, these laws no longer had an intrinsic binding ability, but were dependent upon what could be deemed as fair, reasonable, and just by Biblical and natural principles.1)See Harold G. Cunningham, “God’s Law, ‘General Equity’ and the Westminster Confession of Faith,” Tyndale Bulletin 58.2 (2007) 289-312. Subsequently, the traditional Reformed position understood the Mosaic civil laws as only being binding inasmuch as they had a moral, vis universal, basis. This differs from the position articulated by most theonomists who, on the other hand, generally understand the civil laws as still being binding due, by virtue, of being authoritative interpreters of the moral law. As these civil laws served as supreme commentators of the perpetual moral law and civil governments are called, it is reckoned, to uphold God’s law, then, as Greg L. Bahnsen deduces, “It stands to reason that God’s objective and unchanging standards for civil government are found in the infallible, Inscripturated Word of God.2)Greg L. Bahnsen, “The Theonomic Reformed Approach to Law and Gospel,” in Five Views on Law and Gospel ed. Stanley N. Gundry (Zondervan, 1999), 124-125.. Effectively, according to Bahnsen and other proponents of this position, the civil laws are as applicable for modern governments as they were for Old Testament Israel. As such, Christians ought to work towards conforming, or reconstructing, society in such manner, whereby the judicial laws of our society would mirror those of Israel.

Therefore, to provide a bare-bones summary of the theonomist position:

  1. The moral and civil aspects of the Law are still binding today.
    • The civil aspect is binding due to being an authoritative commentator of the moral.
  2. Governments are called to obey God.
    • Governments obey God by adopting and obeying his civil law.

Pink’s View of the Law

Having now given an outline, as succinctly as I can, of the main differences between both the theonomist and the traditional Reformed views of the law, I will now make several observations about Pink’s view of the law.

1. Pink Held to the Traditional Reformed Tripartite Division

Despite being a dispensationalist for much of his earlier Christian life (The formal shift away from this position occurred in the early 1930s), Pink can be seen holding to the law’s tripartite division as early as his Gleanings in Exodus (1924-29) articles, whereby he states: “The law of Moses had three grand divisions: the moral, the civil, and the ceremonial. The first is to be found in the Ten Commandments; the second (mainly) in Exodus 21-23; the third (principally) in the book of Leviticus. The first defined God’s claims upon Israel as human creatures; the second was for the social regulation of the Hebrew commonwealth; the third respected Israel’s religious life. In the first we may see the governmental authority of God the Father; in the second, the sphere and activities of God the Holy Spirit’s maintaining order among God’s people: in the third, we have a series of types concerning God the Son.3)A.W. Pink, “Gleanings in Exodus,” in Studies in the Scriptures 5.7 (July, 1926), 154. Pink’s commitment to this position continued throughout his works. Such being evidenced, when Pink reiterates the division in his later Sermon on the Mount (1938-1943) articles, he puts it like thus: “The whole Jewish Law, which was threefold: ceremonial, judicial, and moral. The ceremonial described rules and ordinances to be observed in the worship of God; the judicial described ordinances for the government of the Jewish commonwealth and the punishment of offenders: the former was for the Jews only; the latter primarily for them, yet concerned all people in all times so far as it tended to establish the moral Law. The moral Law is contained in the Ten Commandments.4)A.W. Pink, “Sermon on the Mount,” in Studies in the Scriptures 18.2 (February, 1939), 27. For those who rejected this division, such as those still in the dispensationalism that he came out of, Pink maintained that they were “woefully ignorant of the vast difference there is between the commands and precepts of God which are special and peculiar and those which are general and universal“.5)A.W. Pink, “Dispensationalism,” in Studies in the Scriptures 13.6 (June, 1936), 134.

2. Pink Held to the Sole Perpetuity of the Moral Law

Thus, Pink’s own understanding as to the nature of the division was that only the the moral law was perpetual. He maintained a distinction between the Mosaic Law, which was “the entire system of legislation, judicial and ceremonial, which Jehovah gave to Israel during the time they were in the wilderness6)A.W. Pink, The Law and The Saint (Reiner Publications, n.d.), 9 c.f. A.W. Pink, “Gleanings in Exodus,” in Studies in the Scriptures 5.5 (May, 1926), 105., and the moral law. While the former was not “not binding on Gentiles7)Ibid., the latter was “binding to all men“. Yet, the relationship an individual had to the moral law changed when they became a believer, for when an gentile became a believer, they were no longer under “the curse of the moral law, and believing Jews [were] freed from the dominion of the ceremonial law as well.8)A.W. Pink, “The Covenant Allegory,” in Studies in the Scriptures 17.12 (December, 1938), 373. Whereas before coming to faith, believers were under the curse of the moral law, never being able to be justified by it, now they held to the moral law “as a rule of his Christian life, … under obligations to obey its moral precepts.9)A.W. Pink, The Law and The Saint, 17. Pink, following the Reformed tradition, was to also hold that the moral law was contained within the Ten Commandments, noting its supreme difference from the other laws due to the Ten Commandments alone being “written by the finger of Jehovah upon the tables of stone“.10)A.W. Pink, “The Holy Sabbath,” in Studies in the Scriptures 19.4 (April, 1940), 86.

But what about the relationship of the other divisions to the Christian? Pink states elsewhere “In Christ we “died” to the judicial threatenings and ceremonial requirements of the Law.11)A.W. Pink, The Law and The Saint, 18. According to Pink, the role of the ceremonial aspect of the law was intended to be an auxiliary, or supplement, to the moral. It was intended to reflect God’s love and grace and, most importantly, it, along with the whole Mosaic economy, “was introductory and preparatory to Christianity.12)A.W. Pink, “2 Corinthians 3,” in Studies in the Scriptures 17.11 (November, 1938), 341. It typified and pointed forward to Christ and His work of redemption, and after Christ’s work on the cross with the ushering in of the New Covenant, the ceremonial law had expired as the “Jews then ceased to be God’s peculiar people (nationally) and justice having expiated sin, and brought in everlasting righteousness, by Christ’s obedience unto death, all other sacrifices became unnecessary and vain.13)A.W. Pink, “The Right Use of the Law,” in Studies in the Scriptures 12.9 (September, 1933), 264. Indeed, Christ’s life, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension had ended the need of the ceremonial law to keep the Israel distinct from the other nations. Christ, to which the ceremonial law had pointed to as a shadow, had come. He upheld the requirements of the moral law perfectly, and it was in Him that all the shadows of the ceremonial law had been fulfilled. This is why Pink remarks, “The ceremonial law has not been destroyed by Christ, but the substance now fills the place of its shadows.14)A.W. Pink, “Sermon on the Mount,” in Studies in the Scriptures 18.2 (February, 1939), 30.

3. Pink Held to a Limited (and Non-Theonomic) Understanding of the Civil Law

While the moral law was perpetual and still had a role within the life of the believer, the same was not true concerning the ceremonial aspect of the law. However, what about the judicial portion of the law? Well, to circle back to the initial claim that Pink was a theonomist, we must deal with the argument that Pink “affirms the basic central tenets of Theonomy: that God’s law is the standard for human action in all areas of life, including those abiding standards for the civil magistrate revealed in the judicial law of Moses.” Whilst Pink, as is typical of those within the Reformed tradition, held to the perpetuity and binding nature of the moral law, it must be proven by those who make such claim that Pink held that there were “abiding standards for the civil magistrate [as] revealed in the judicial law of Moses.” Hence, we shall scrutinise Pink’s Sermon of the Mount articles, which seemingly are the extent to which Dr. McDurmon has read of Pink regarding this topic. McDurmon cites (and emphasises) the following from Pink:

The whole Jewish Law, which was threefold: ceremonial, judicial, and moral. The ceremonial described rules and ordinances to be observed in the worship of God; the judicial described ordinances for the government of the Jewish commonwealth and the punishment of offenders: the former was for the Jews only; the latter primarily for them, yet concerned all people in all times so far as it tended to establish the moral Law. The moral Law is contained in the Ten Commandments.

The ceremonial law has not been destroyed by Christ, but the substance now fills the place of its shadows. Nor has the judicial law been destroyed: though it has been abrogated unto us so far as it was peculiar to the Jews, yet, as it agrees with the requirements of civic justice and mercy, and as it serves to establish the precepts of the moral law, it is perpetual—herein we may see the blasphemous impiety of the popes of Rome, who in the canons have dared to dispense with some of the laws of consanguinity in Leviticus 18. While the moral law remains forever as a rule of obedience to every child of God, as we have shown so often in these pages.

At first glance, this may look compelling. However, a holistic understanding of Pink’s theology — rather than a quick theological drive-by — evidences that Pink’s understanding of the nature of the civil law fits more within the understanding of general equity than a theonomist position. Firstly, Pink’s understanding of the civil law as part of the tripartite division is always articulated as being predominately limited to the “the social regulation of the Hebrew commonwealth“. In the quote above, Pink also notes that whilst it is primarily for the Jews, it also “concerned all people in all times so far as it tended to establish the moral Law.” Effectively, what Pink is saying here is that there is a binding aspect of the civil law, but only as it is entrenched in (or establishes) the moral law. Or, to put it differently, a civil law can only binding if it is supported by, or harmonised with, a relevant binding moral basis. Pink fleshes this idea out further when he states that the judicial law “has been abrogated unto us so far as it was peculiar to the Jews, yet, as it agrees with the requirements of civic justice and mercy, and as it serves to establish the precepts of the Moral Law, it is perpetual“.

But what does Pink mean when he states “as it was peculiar to the Jews“? Elsewhere, when Pink is describing the nature of the moral law upon Israel, with its civic and ceremonial wrapping, he puts it this way: “The moral Law, to which was attached many statutes of both a civic and ceremonial nature, was made the rule of the government of Israel, as a holy nation under the dominion of God Himself as their King. Thus the whole Decalogue as given at Sinai had a political use, that is, it was made the principal instrument of the polity or government of the Nation as peculiarly under the rule of God. Their polity, as to the kind of it, was a theocracy, over which God in a special manner presided as their Governor, and this was peculiar to that people.15)A.W. Pink, “The Holy Sabbath,” in Studies in the Scriptures 18.8 (August,1939), 187. What Pink is saying here is that the Mosaic economy, which had the application and interplay of the three forms of the law, was something that was very specific for the nation of Israel in its role within redemptive history. Namely, that the Decalogue for Israel was more than just moral, due to having attached civic and ceremonial statutes, but this interplay was ultimately reserved, or peculiar, to “that people”. The civic aspects tied to the moral law and bound to a government — namely theocratic Israel — was utterly unique.

Indeed, Pink was well aware that the Church was under a different dispensation than Old Testament Israel, and, accordingly, emphasised that Christians were not under the rigidity of Judaism. The church was not simply a physical nation as was the theocratic nation of Israel and, consequently, the laws that were given to Israel to this end were not the laws given to the church. Note Pink’s words (emphasis mine):

In keeping with the vastly different character of the two dispensations, the “liberty” of the Spirit (2 Cor. 3:17) has supplanted the rigid legality of Judaism, and therefore has Christ supplied us with general principles (e.g., 1 Cor. 14:26, 40), which are sufficiently broad to allow of varied modification when applied to the differing circumstances of His people, situated in various climes and generations—in contrast from what was prescribed for the single nation of Israel of old.

In the New Testament we are furnished with a full revelation of all things necessary unto salvation, the knowledge whereof man by his own powers could never attain thereunto; yet there is much lacking there on other matters which was furnished under the old covenant. God not only supplied Israel with the ceremonial law, which was to regulate all their church or religious life, but He also gave them a complete code of precepts for their civil government, and no one pretends He has done this for Christians! In the absence of that civil code, why should it be thought strange that God has left many minor ecclesiastical arrangements to the discretion of His servants? Unto those who are indignant at such a statement, and who are still ready to insist that the Lord has made known His will on all things respecting church and religious affairs, we would ask, Where does the New Testament prescribe what marriage rites should be used? Or the form of service for a funeral? But enough.16)A.W. Pink, “The Epistle to the Hebrews,” in Studies in the Scriptures 16.11 (November,1937), 325-326.

Hence, rather than pushing individuals or civil authorities to adopt the Old Testament judicial laws, Pink believed that governments ought to adopt laws that were influenced by the “requirements of civic justice and mercy“. Like the Puritans and Westminster Divines before him, Pink held that the laws that should be adopted by those governing ought to be informed and based on natural and moral law.17)For a better understanding of the approach by the Westminster Divines, see Sinclair Ferguson, “An Assembly of Theonomists? The Teaching of the Westminster Divines on the Law of God,” in Theonomy, A Reformed Critique, ed. W. S. Barker and W. R. Godfrey (Zondervan, 1990), 315-52. Rather than providing a list of judicial Mosaic laws that civil authorities ought to adopt, Pink simply notes, “If the rulers of the nations acknowledge God in the discharge of their office, if their laws be equitable and beneficent, maintaining a balance between justice and mercy, if the Sabbath be duly enforced, if the Lord be owned in prosperity and sought unto in adversity, then the smile of Heaven will be upon that people. (Emphasis mine)”18)A.W. Pink, “God Governing The Nations,” in Studies in the Scriptures 22.11 (November,1943), 325. Contrary to pushing for a Christianisation of society, Pink instead argued for a pluralistic society where individuals had both freedom of worship and liberty of conscience: “Broadly speaking, the purpose of the State is to promote the welfare of the commonwealth, and to protect each individual in the enjoyment of his temporal rights; but it is entirely outside its province to prescribe the religion of its subjects. Rulers, be they civil or ecclesiastical, have only a delegated power, and are the agents and servants of the community, who entrust to them so much power as is necessary to the discharge of their office and duty.19)A.W. Pink, “Private Judgement,” in Practical Christianity (Baker Books, 1990), 169.

Pink was well aware of the history of the Early-Modern period, where religious coercion occurred notably towards the non-conformists. Rather than seeking a return to such a time, he believed that a government ought not to push religious precepts against people’s consciences. Indeed, all citizens were entitled to both civil protection and social esteem. Pink goes on to state that the: “early Reformers and many of the Puritans were for one uniform mode of worship and one form of temporal government, with which all must comply outwardly, whatever their individual convictions and sentiments. However desirable such a common regime might appear, to demand subjection thereunto was not only contrary to the very essence and spirit of Christianity, but also at direct variance with the right of private judgment. No man should ever be compelled, either by reward or punishment, to be a member of any Christian society, or to continue in or of it any longer than he considers it is his duty to do so. Any attempt to enforce uniformity is an attack upon the right of private judgment, and is to invade the office of Christ, who alone is the Head of His people. But alas, how few are fit to be entrusted with any measure of authority. When Anglicanism was supreme, at the close of the sixteenth century, anyone who failed to attend the parish church was subject to a fine! In the next century, when the Presbyterians held the reins, they proved to be equally intolerant to those who differed from them.20)Pink, “Private Judgement,” 171.

Conclusion: Pink – A Proto-Theonomist?

Needless to say, Pink’s position regarding the law snugly fits within the traditional Reformed understanding, both regarding the tripartite division and the singular perpetuity of the moral law. To claim or argue that Pink held to theonomy, or Christian reconstructionism, is not only a relatively severe form of theological projection, but is a highly selective marshaling of historical evidence. Indeed, any serious attempt to read Pink holistically, taking into account any theological shifts, would result in any serious inquirer in dismissing such claims. It is simply impossible to read Pink as being either a supportive of the notion of the continuation (and binding nature) of the judicial law for modern governments or of the enforcement of Christianity by the State.

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References

References
1 See Harold G. Cunningham, “God’s Law, ‘General Equity’ and the Westminster Confession of Faith,” Tyndale Bulletin 58.2 (2007) 289-312.
2 Greg L. Bahnsen, “The Theonomic Reformed Approach to Law and Gospel,” in Five Views on Law and Gospel ed. Stanley N. Gundry (Zondervan, 1999), 124-125.
3 A.W. Pink, “Gleanings in Exodus,” in Studies in the Scriptures 5.7 (July, 1926), 154.
4 A.W. Pink, “Sermon on the Mount,” in Studies in the Scriptures 18.2 (February, 1939), 27.
5 A.W. Pink, “Dispensationalism,” in Studies in the Scriptures 13.6 (June, 1936), 134.
6 A.W. Pink, The Law and The Saint (Reiner Publications, n.d.), 9 c.f. A.W. Pink, “Gleanings in Exodus,” in Studies in the Scriptures 5.5 (May, 1926), 105.
7 Ibid.
8 A.W. Pink, “The Covenant Allegory,” in Studies in the Scriptures 17.12 (December, 1938), 373.
9 A.W. Pink, The Law and The Saint, 17.
10 A.W. Pink, “The Holy Sabbath,” in Studies in the Scriptures 19.4 (April, 1940), 86.
11 A.W. Pink, The Law and The Saint, 18.
12 A.W. Pink, “2 Corinthians 3,” in Studies in the Scriptures 17.11 (November, 1938), 341.
13 A.W. Pink, “The Right Use of the Law,” in Studies in the Scriptures 12.9 (September, 1933), 264.
14 A.W. Pink, “Sermon on the Mount,” in Studies in the Scriptures 18.2 (February, 1939), 30.
15 A.W. Pink, “The Holy Sabbath,” in Studies in the Scriptures 18.8 (August,1939), 187.
16 A.W. Pink, “The Epistle to the Hebrews,” in Studies in the Scriptures 16.11 (November,1937), 325-326.
17 For a better understanding of the approach by the Westminster Divines, see Sinclair Ferguson, “An Assembly of Theonomists? The Teaching of the Westminster Divines on the Law of God,” in Theonomy, A Reformed Critique, ed. W. S. Barker and W. R. Godfrey (Zondervan, 1990), 315-52.
18 A.W. Pink, “God Governing The Nations,” in Studies in the Scriptures 22.11 (November,1943), 325.
19 A.W. Pink, “Private Judgement,” in Practical Christianity (Baker Books, 1990), 169.
20 Pink, “Private Judgement,” 171.

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