Is there one book that you would recommend that sums up the views of the Reformed Rebels? Good question. I’m glad you asked. There is indeed a book like this. And it is a wakeup call. The Mission of God by Dr. Joseph Boot lays out the case for what the author calls a “new puritanism” which involves “a rigorous examination of the details of the law-word of God in both testaments, and their application to every area of life; both public and private, church and state, personal and familial, in terms of the absolute sovereignty of God” (27). The key aspect of the church’s mission for Boot is the ‘Kingdom reign of Jesus Christ and its extension throughout all creation” (531). In an age where the Church has largely retreated from its surroundings Dr. Boot defends the Church’s mission and biblical calling in our contemporary culture. In its 683 pages he touches on the major issues facing modern evangelicalism. If as a Christian you are gazing on our cultural landscape with foreboding and not quite sure what to do; this book will cure you from your paralysis. I believe it will cure you in three areas: our forgetfulness of our Christian past, our failure to cultivate a holistic Christian worldview, and the neglect of the Law of God. There is no question that many readers will find this book challenging. I would encourage you, however, to take the time and read through this book slowly and multiple times. Its riches are worth the work it takes!
The Mission of God will cure you of your cultural paralysis by calling you to remember our Christian past. One of our refrains from us here at the network is that the postmillennial hope does not preclude ups and downs in culture and the church. Though there is a general trend upward towards the knowledge and glory of Christ, there can be downturns where a culture turns away from God and is thus judged for its disobedience. Boot surveys how our culture was not always God rejecting as it is now. In fact, our heritage was shaped by Calvinistic Puritans who had an optimistic view of the Kingdom of God on earth. Boot shows that there is a Christian view of history and a heritage that has been lost even to the church. The Puritans in Old England and the colonies, along with great men like William Wilberforce and Oliver Cromwell operated under the idea that God was king and they were responsible to His covenant. Boot points out that
because Jesus Christ is sovereign king and ruler over all things and since he calls all men and nations to covenant obedience (Matt. 28:18-20), the Puritans were concerned with the advance and spread of the gospel. The whole world was progressively coming under the dominion of Jesus Christ and so Puritan civilization served as a lamp on a hill for all to see and copy. Since Christianity as a whole and especially the post-millennial outlook (as common amongst the Puritans), is future oriented and not past-bound …, God is always calling his people toward a progressive movement of covenant faithfulness in history. For the Puritan, the gospel commission was not simply an announcement of sins forgiven through the atonement (though it must begin there), but the teaching of all God’s covenant requirements. This included the whole law of God if the mission of God was to be accomplished – this alone was true liberty” (64).
The Puritans did not retreat from culture but attempted to apply to the law of God to every area of life. We have largely abandoned these ideas. Boot points out various reasons for the church’s cultural retreat such as eschatological dualism, two-kingdom theology, antinomianism and false views of justice.
The book also shows how the post-Enlightenment west has increasingly attempted to bury our Christian past and replaced it with Utopian views of the state. Truly, the state has become our god. This resurgent paganism has largely come to define western political philosophy and in an even more troubling development, the missiology of a large part of the church. Utopianism is indeed its own worldview. It demands mankind become perfected through change and evolution brought on by state control (186). Boot points out that that this perfection is “only a potential point in the future, so man, as part of history and world substance, must re-divinize himself by bringing about the reunification of man with nature” (186). This new paganism is, “in biblical terms, man now seek[ing] vengeance against the God of the garden who drove him from paradise, by building the tower of Babel, and attempting to arrest history, as a monument to his own divinity – the city of man” (186). Instead of the goal of spreading the kingdom of God through the Great Commission, large sections of the Church have accepted that the city of man is the inevitable outcome of history. The Mission of God gives the antidote for this kind of thinking. It is the gospel of the kingdom of Jesus Christ. Boot explains that
the gospel awakens men from their sinful dream and quickens them to recognize that they are not God; they can never be omnipotent, omniscient, transcendent or sovereign. Rather, men are made noble in the image of God, created as his vice-regents to serve, obey and glorify God, and in this to discover their true joy and original humanity… In Jesus Christ the fragmentation produced by sin is undone, and man is made a new creation, restoring his fellowship not with nature, but with the living God and his fellow men, illustrated for us in the communion feast and the life of the church. Then, as the new humanity in Jesus Christ, people are called once again to exercise, not domination, but dominion under God, making creation a culture, to turn the world back into God’s garden by the ministry of the gospel and obedience to God’s every word (186-87).
This is the Puritan view of life that we have forgotten: all of Christ for all of life. We have lost their optimistic outlook for the Kingdom of God. Though our Puritan forefathers were not perfect, their general outlook and faithfulness to God’s word is worth emulating in our current cultural and societal decline.
The Mission of God will also wake the reader up to what constitutes a Christian worldview. It contains the biblical cure for the paralysis of the cultural malaise of the modern church. Boot focuses on three main aspects, namely: the family, education, and apologetics/evangelism. He counters the attacks against the institution of the family in our day from the social and sexual revolutions. Our godless society has been attempting to gain control of our children, our property, and our inheritance (420-421). The church must stand up for the family in these areas. The family must be encouraged to flourish and fulfill these duties (under the cultural mandate) which have been increasingly encroached on by the state. Boot puts it this way:
One critical key to the future and godly responsibility, which the church must understand in our time, is the need to develop and empower the Christian family, to recover the welfare aspects of the ministry of the family; to establish Christian schools and agencies, private charities and organizations to bring all things into captivity to Christ… The key to godly transformation, the key to the future, is in our homes, as individuals living in humble obedience to Christ and as families… This is the key to the flourishing of the kingdom of God (424).
The Christian family is to be protected by the church. The institution itself must be protected, but also we must be reminded that the Kingdom of God does not advance outside the home until the kingship of Christ has been acknowledged by the family.
Likewise, the church needs to stand up for Christian education. Boot argues correctly that there is no neutrality when it comes to education and in fact, all education is a religious enterprise. Modern state-based education teaches a form of humanism which tells the child that they are able to live as autonomous beings apart from God (434). The state views education as the primary means of moral reform and good citizenship. But it is not a moral reform according to the Scriptures, but according to an essentially pagan doctrine of man. The church must reject any notion that education can ‘save’ and reform the individual as an end in itself. All education must be rooted in ‘curriculum of Christ’ and His gospel (452). So the question is not if religion is being taught in our schools, but which religion. Is your child’s education rooted in a pagan, humanistic view of man? One which denies that we are made in God’s image and are responsible to our creator? Or is the education to be rooted to the true vine? Boot concludes his discussion on education by explaining that
our choice today in education, as in every other sphere, is between two claimants to the throne of godhood and universal government: the state which claims to be our shepherd, keeper, and savior, and the Holy Trinity, our only God and savior. Covenant faithfulness and disobedience remain the only choices. To choose the latter means the self-government (faithful obedience to the word of God) of Christian people under the lordship of Jesus Christ, beginning with the individual, the family and the school… And against all appearance what gives hope to us is the guarantee of the victory of God’s reign, no matter how long it takes; as the Lord’s Prayer reminds us in this connection to pray, “thy kingdom come” (Matt. 6:10) (456).
Evangelism and apologetics are also vital to a fully Christian worldview. Boot gives a summary of the reformed presuppositional method of defending the faith. He gives a useful outline of the apologetic schools of thought and argues that the Van Tillian method is the most biblical and thus the most useful for our age of pluralism and growing number adopting Godless worldviews. He also addresses problems in evangelizing in a pluralistic society. He argues against any inclusivistic forms of evangelism and confirms the exclusivistic message of Jesus as Lord. Boot does this by exegeting the Apostle Paul’s encounter at Mars Hill (used by many in the inclusivist camp) and showing that the book of Acts actually exemplifies the fact that preaching the gospel has to include the fact that knowledge and belief of Jesus as Lord is necessary for salvation. This view of apologetics and evangelism
will, by definition, bring competing narratives (worldviews) into collision. In the postmodern context of our day, the biblical story can take into account the narrative-born nature of meaning in general, being sensitive to it, but then critically engage, account for and reinterpret rival stories, bringing them to final resolution in the gospel. In this Augustinian and presuppositional model, the apologist retells the Christian account of reality in a fashion designed to ‘take in’ the reinterpreted non-Christian stories. This involves first showing the challenger that their non-Christian account of reality leads only into the abyss, and then inviting them to look at the biblical view of reality, and by the work of the Holy Spirit, captivate their hearts with an epic that soars into eternity. It then becomes clear that the challenger’s account of reality was only a minor subplot with incidental characters, in the script of God’s great theatre that is human history (492).
One needs to have a full-orbed Christian worldview while doing apologetics. If one does not, they will not be able to relate the big story of salvation, the grand narrative of God. Boot emphasizes the fact that all other interpretations of reality (narratives) need to be explained by placing them under the Lordship of Christ. Christ is the glue that holds all narratives together or otherwise proves competing narratives false. This section of Mission of God will encourage you to develop a Christian worldview when it comes to sharing the gospel with our postmodern, atheist, or inclusivistic neighbors, our education, and our view of the family. These three things are extremely important in our cultural situation today. One of the greatest strengths of this volume is the fact that it speaks into our current condition in the post-Christian west. It no longer will do for the church to ignore its responsibilities in these areas. We must develop again a full-orbed view of the Kingdom of God; all of Christ for all of life.
The most useful aspect of this volume, in my opinion, is how Dr. Boot deals with the Law of God. He lays out his version of a ‘theonomic Puritanism’ and tackles some of the difficult questions surrounding how the Bible applies to law, justice, and penology. Against Two-Kingdom theology, the emergent church, Marxist-leaning social justice theology, and the broad antinomianism existent in the Church today, Boot argues that God’s Law in the Old Testament is applicable to every area of life today. Though aspects of the law, such as Israel’s ceremonial laws, has been fulfilled in Christ and the New Covenant, the church needs to apply the law to every area of life. Though it is often not a straight 1:1 application of Israel’s civil laws, we must attempt to apply the law to our own situation and culture. Boot argues that it is because our culture has retreated from its Biblical legal foundations that we have seen our cultural decline. The Bible is our only source of true justice. There is no justice to be found outside of the Word of the living God. Boot rightly points out that this problem stems from a faulty or truncated view of the gospel because
we see that at the root of the biblical truth of the gospel is a cosmic worldview relating law, justice, restitution and restoration, but when this view of reality falls out of society, restitution, justice and true judgement also begin to disappear from the social order. Where hell and judgement fall out of the church’s theology, just punishment falls out of the justice system. Where the law of God diminishes and the meaning of the cross is undermined, restitution, retribution and restoration, as the basis for criminal justice, start to vanish. This is empirically observable in our society today. Since the church is salt and light in the world, where the church fails to uphold these truths of the gospel, society will inexorably tend to lawlessness. In such a context, sin and crime will steadily flourish with growing impunity and a professional criminal class will develop. Cheap grace then has the social consequence of producing expensive law – a costly proliferation of scientific planners, therapists, correctional systems, positivist laws and various techniques to try to justify and save man by another means; not because he is a sinner (lawbreaker) whose punishment must fit the crime, but because he is sick or maladjusted to his environment, fixable by manipulation, therapy and technique. The enforcement of law then becomes a massive cost because restitution and retribution are not delivered by the courts and system of justice. Instead, a pharisaic and legalistic scientific plan of justification is offered by man’s ingenuity. Thus without the biblical gospel, people do not govern themselves in terms of God’s law but become lawless (298-299).
In its views about culture and law, the church has largely lost its way. It is not just an argument the oft used clichés of ‘engaging the culture’ or the ‘culture wars’. It is the fact that there is no neutrality in any area of life. Everyone and every culture has a theology. The laws of the land reflect that theology. The church has largely forgotten its mission to be salt and light in our world. Part of the Great Commission, of course, was Christ’s instruction for the church to disciple the nations. In the vacuum of proper theology, and in many cases its surrender of the true gospel, our culture has turned to the antithesis; an ungodly Caesar and its proposed remedies. We can’t ignore the difficult questions about the how the bible applies to law, politics and culture. This book revive a biblical view of the law and justice hopefully begin to allow the church to deal with these difficult issues.
One question this brings up then is what does the bible say about just punishment? Aren’t there outdated laws in the Old Testament against adultery, rebellious sons, slavery and the like? Boot does the church a service by synthesizing older and modern day puritans and giving us an introduction in biblical penology. He doesn’t just leave the reader with broad principles, but attempts to give many practical examples of how biblical law and penology would play out in a modern society. He especially is helpful with some of these more difficult questions surrounding the death penalty which seem harsh to our modern-day sensibilities. This section is extremely helpful for those unfamiliar with the theonomic view of penology. It would take a too long to summarize these point by point so I will quote Dr. Boot’s summary of his view of biblical penology at length:
a) All human governments are ultimately held accountable to God, in terms of his law and standards, not their own arbitrary codes. However, biblical law cannot be imposed ‘top down’ by any authoritarian structure, but must be embraced by a society (the consent of the people) committed to Christ and his covenant law. Such a people will demand righteous laws.
b) Taking into account all of Scripture, biblical law upholds the death penalty as exemplary. It is either mandatory (in cases of murder), recommended, or potentially appropriate for a number of serious criminal offenses against the sanctity of the life, the family and marriage, as well as a flagrant and contemptuous assault on God and his social order by instigation and incitement to idolatry – constituting treason. All other offenses require monetary restitution, banishment or corporal punishment. Prison is not part of biblical law except for temporary custody whilst awaiting trial.
c) The death penalty is not mandatory in all capital cases, allowing for the considerable judicial flexibility, taking into account the aggravated nature of the offense, particular circumstances and various forms of restitution. It has also been modified by further revelation for certain offenses in the New Testament era (i.e. Sabbath violation).
d) The church does not bear the sword of the state, but must recognize (as St. Paul did) the validity of the death sentence and declare it spiritually by excommunicating unrepentant capital offenders from the life of the church. As modelled by the early church, in cultures which do not execute punishment against serious offenses against the law of God, repentant offenders can be restored to the fellowship of the body, but may be barred from the communion for a significant period of time.
e) A Christian culture, similar to those seen in historical precedents like Calvin’s Geneva, Zwingli’s Zurich, Bucer’s Strasburg, Reformed Scotland (John Knox), Puritan England (Oliver Cromwell), and colonial America (John Cotton), would uphold the death penalty as exemplary (the example of maximum sentence for violation) in capital offenses; bearing in mind that monetary restitution, corporal punishment and exile are also available to judges and magistrates in cases excepting ‘first degree’ murder.
f) Because of biblical laws of evidence being purposely rigid, securing convictions was, and would be, very challenging, and because of the serious character of penalties, judges and juries who had lingering doubts in a given case would commute the death sentence, as seen in Cromwell’s England with regard to laws against adultery.
g) Capital crimes would be extremely rare in a Christian culture because the law acts as a restraint upon wickedness and because the gospel transforms lives. Where certain sexual practices God deems worthy of the death penalty were indulged, the social censure would be such that those practices would be driven underground and neither celebrated nor endorsed by society, thereby eliminating their public influence (351-352).
These points counter the usual criticisms of theonomic penology. Boot notes that biblical law can only be enforced upon a biblical and Christian society. This cannot be a ‘top down’ imposition of the state. It is also helpful in pointing out the separate spheres of sovereignty of the family, church, and state. The church does not bear the sword of the state. The Medieval church often made this mistake numerous times in its history. The death penalty is not the only thing available to judges and there would need to be overwhelming proof of a conviction; therefore the death penalty would be rare in a Christian society. Boot offers and encouraging conclusion to this topic that we will use for our closing:
whilst I do not claim in this chapter that the Puritan perspective is the only one that can call itself Christian, I am convinced it is the best, most culturally pertinent and the most biblical expression amongst the Christian perspectives on law and penology. A theonomic missiology thus argues that the weakness and decline of the modern church and its relative ineffectiveness is directly related to its abandonment of the law. This in turn has undermined justice in the courts, contributing to the growing collapse of our society. All is not lost however. Christ is still on his throne and ruling at his Father’s right hand. Faithfulness amongst God’s people now can bring great change for the future if we will take responsibility and put our hands to the plough for the sake of future generations (358).
Joseph Boot. The Mission of God: A Manifesto of Hope for Society. Ezra Press; 2nd ed. edition (2016).