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Still Asking the Question: By What Standard?

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As we get deeper into the reasons for our collapsing culture where evil has become good and good evil, the question remains, “How shall we then live and by what standard?”

Woe to those who call evil good, and good evil;
Who substitute darkness for light and light for darkness;
Who substitute bitter for sweet and sweet for bitter! (Isa. 5:20).

That “woe” is very important. In God’s eyes, moral actions have consequences, and they can be severe. Here’s the latest. Drag queen performer Maxwell Elias Helle, who goes by “Miz Cracker,” has been a contestant on RuPaul’s Drag Race show. He has called for kicking “down traditional family values’ this Christmas season…. The way of thinking about family is old and tired and we need to reinvent it.” We are living in a new ethical era where anything goes because a vocal and influential minority are “doing what is right in their own eyes” (Judges 17:6; 18:1; 19:1) and many others are indifferent to the ascent of evil, afraid or unwilling to do anything about it, or believe it’s a prophetic inevitability and they’ll be rescued from its consequences.

The following is from the film The Wednesday Morning Breakfast Club (2013) where a survivor of the Nazi tyranny said the following:

There’s a fine line between marrying and breeding. During the war among the Nazis, these two often met and shook hands with one another. These things always happen when God’s creatures do things He did not want them to do. And things He intended for them to do for the good of man become cold and calculated. The love God meant for a man and a woman to have for each other becomes less important. Marriage becomes a joke, unnecessary.

What’s the fix? Redemption accomplished and applied. It’s the applied part that I want to discuss.

By What Standard?

God is the Creator of all things. He is their only valid principle of interpretation, in that they derive both their existence and meaning from His creative act. This belief is herein set forth in terms of various aspects of human thought.

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The late Charles Colson (1931-2012) was critical of Christian Reconstruction, the application of God’s Word, including His law, to every area of life. He expressed his criticisms on the Bill Moyer’s God and Politics segment dealing with Christian Reconstruction (Dominion Theology), “On Earth As It Is In Heaven,” first aired in December 1987. Colson’s book Kingdoms in Conflict briefly addressed Christian Reconstruction. A comparison of “theonomy” in Kingdoms in Conflict with statements about the law in an article published in Transforming Our World, with the title “The Kingdom of God and Human Kingdoms,” makes one wonder if Mr. Colson either was not aware of Reconstruction distinctives or was unwilling to study them thoughtfully. Consider the following from him:


Recently I addressed the Texas legislature…. I told them that the only answer to the crime problem is to take nonviolent criminals out of our prisons and make them pay back their victims with restitution. This is how we can solve the prison crowding problem.

The amazing thing was that afterwards they came up to me one after another and said things like, “That’s a tremendous idea. Why hasn’t anyone thought of that?” I had the privilege of saying to them, “Read Exodus 22. It is only what God said to Moses on Mount Sinai thousands of years ago.”[1]

Comment: Colson does not take the legislators to natural law. Rather, he refers them to the Mosaic legislation, a set of laws that dispensationalists tell us were unique to Israel. These laws are not for the Gentile nations, say Scofield and company. According to dispensationalists, they are Israel-specific case laws.[2] Even Ted Koppel seems to agree with Colson and (maybe) Reconstructionists against (maybe) dispensationalists:

What Moses brought down from Mt. Sinai were not the Ten Suggestions. They are commandments. Are, not were. The sheer brilliance of the Ten Commandments is that they codify in a handful of words acceptable human behavior, not just for then or now, but for all time. Language evolves. Power shifts from one nation to another. Messages are transmitted with the speed of light. Man erases one frontier after another. And yet we and our behavior and the commandments governing that behavior remain the same.[3]

H. Wayne House and Thomas Ice and their “wisdom” approach want to make the Old Testament commandments “suggestions” since they are not obligatory. Colson seems to believe that Exodus 22 is more than just suggestive. He tells us that it is “the only answer to the crime problem.”


[T]he citizens of the kingdom of God living in the midst of the kingdoms of the world provide a respect for the Law that stands beyond human law. It means the presence of a community of people whose values are established by eternal truths. There is no other place that a culture can find those values.

* * * * *

“How about the revealed propositional truth of Scripture, because that is the Law that is beyond law?” The Bible provides a basis for absolute truth, for true right and wrong. It is only the citizens of the kingdom in the midst of the kingdoms of man that make that discovery possible.[4]

Comment: Notice that Colson does not distinguish between the “Law of Christ” and Old Testament Law as some do. Colson sees the whole Bible as the standard. He has shown this by quoting Koppel and Exodus 22.


“[W]e must apply God’s laws.”[5]

Comment: Does this mean that God’s law should be applied in the area of politics? It seems so. Which laws ought to be applied? Can God’s law be applied to non-Christians? As we’ve already seen, Colson told a group of Texas legislators to dust off their Bibles and look at the Mosaic legislation regarding restitution found in Exodus 22. How can Wayne House and Thomas Ice call upon the endorsement of Chuck Colson for their book Dominion Theology: Blessing or Curse? when he seems to be advocating something different from their approach to the law? Colson appears to go beyond the “wisdom” approach advocated by House and Ice.


In his Kingdoms in Conflict, Colson decries a “utopianism” that he says, “is often articulated today in contemporary Christian circles.” He tells us that “such preoccupation with the political diverts the church from its primary mission” for the salvation of man’s soul. But there is another risk, particularly among “those on the political right where many want to impose Christian values on society by force of law.”[6]

Some, such as those in the theonomist [God’s law] movement, even want to reinstate Old Testament civil codes, ignoring Christ’s teaching in the parable of the wheat and the tares in which He warns that we live with the good (the wheat) and evil (the tares), and cannot root out the tares. Only God is able to do that and He will—when the Kingdom comes in its final glory.[7]

Comment: Colson would be hard pressed to find a Reconstructionist who believes in utopia or that the Christian’s concern should be for the world rather than the salvation of souls. Can’t it be both, with the salvation of man’s soul a priority? The Bible does say that God “so loved the world.” Reconstructionists want to know how the saved should act in the world before “the Kingdom comes in its final glory.” This is the message of Paul’s epistles to the early churches. The Pauline letters were designed to show these new Christians how to live “in this present evil age” (Gal. 1:4). Aren’t values like prohibitions against theft and murder imposed on society? One of Colson’s heroes is William Wilberforce. Wilberforce was concerned with slaves as they lived in this world. Why not just preach the gospel and then tell them to remain in the condition in which the gospel found them? The State, according to the Bible, has the power of the sword to enforce these values (Rom. 13:4). But it’s Christian values that Colson objects to. Or is it? He just told us in his article on “The Kingdom of God and Human Kingdoms” that Exodus 22 is a great example for prison reform. In another place he tell us that we should “apply God’s laws.” The application of God’s law to society does not conflict with the theology of the parable of the wheat and the tares. According to Colson’s logic, nothing should be done to restrain evil based on the theology of the parable of the wheat and the tares.


Charles Colson also endorsed Benjamin Hart’s Faith & Freedom: Recovering America’s Christian Heritage, saying that “the American experiment in ordered liberty is historically rooted in convictions and moral habits ultimately derived from Christian faith.”[8] But Hart espouses what some might consider to be Reconstructionist ideas. Consider the following:

Under the doctrine of pure pluralism—to which many secularists say they subscribe—all lifestyles are permitted. Thus, in the end, cannibalism, human sacrifice, group suicide, the Manson Family, polygamy, and kiddie porn would have to be allowed. “Who are we to say what is right and what is wrong?” is the common refrain. Clearly, society cannot long survive if this principle is pushed to its logical conclusion and everyone is free to write his own laws. Thus, we subscribe to pluralism within certain limits. We allow a wide range of behavior, even though we don’t always approve of it. But we do not permit all behavior. We do not even allow all so-called “victimless” behavior — such as prostitution, drug addiction, drunkenness, and the like. The reason we don’t is that our laws presuppose certain truths. Pure freedom of conscience, then, can never really be tolerated. Government neutrality on matters of religion and morals is a modern myth. We can never escape the question: Whose faith, whose values, whose God undergirds the civil laws of a nation?[9]

Comment: Anyone familiar with the writings of R. J. Rushdoony will recognize Hart’s last sentence as being the cry of Christian Reconstructionists: “What is our standard; by what standards shall we approach the problems of philosophy and problems of everyday life?”[10] Greg L. Bahnsen’s By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today[11] answers the questions raised by Hart. Now, I recognize that Colson and Hart probably would not go as far as Reconstructionists in the area of application. But the thesis is the same. Identical questions are being asked. If people like Hart and Colson do not turn to the Bible for specific applications, then where do they go? The New Testament does not outline specific civil legislation. The Noahic and Abrahamic covenants are even less specific.

By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today

For over a century, most conservative Christian social thinkers have denied the continued validity of God’s law. 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.

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[1]Charles Colson, “The Kingdom of God and Human Kingdoms,” Transforming Our World: A Call to Action, ed. ed. James M. Boice (Portland, OR: Multnomah, 1988), 154-155.

[2]H. Wayne House and Thomas Ice write: “The Christian is to love the law of God. Grace does not free the believer from obedience to the will of God. However, Christians are not under the expression of the law as it was given to Israel. Instead, we may use the Mosaic legislation as examples of how we may respond individually and corporately; we main gain wisdom from it [as suggestions for godly living?]. Christians are, however, to obey the will of God as it is expressed in the New Testament — the law of Christ — and the law revealed in the Adamic and Noahic covenants. House and Ice, Dominion Theology, 118-119.

[3]Ted Koppel, The Last Word, Commencement Address at Duke University, Durham, North Carolina (May 10, 1987). Quoted in Robert H. Bork, The Tempting of America: The Political Seduction of the Law (New York: The Free Press, 1989), 164.

[4]Colson, “The Kingdom of God and Human Kingdoms,” 151.

[5]Colson, “The Kingdom of God and Human Kingdoms,” 154.

[6]Charles Colson, Kingdoms in Conflict (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1987), 117.

[7]Colson, Kingdoms in Conflict, 117.

[8]Benjamin Hart, Faith & Freedom: The Christian Roots of American Liberty (Dallas, TX: Lewis and Stanley Publishers, 1988), back cover.

[9] Hart, Faith & Freedom, 357.

[10]Rousas J. Rushdoony, By What Standard?: An Analysis of the Philosophy of Cornelius Van Til (Tyler, TX: Thoburn Press, [1958] 1983), 203.

[11]Bahnsen, By This Standard: The Authority of God’s Law Today? (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, [1985] 2022).

American Vision’s mission is to Restore America to its Biblical Foundation—from Genesis to Revelation. American Vision (AV) has been at the heart of worldview study since 1978, providing resources to exhort Christian families and individuals to live by a Biblically based worldview. Visit for more information, content and resources


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