Theonomy, or Christian reconstruction, is a relatively new movement and new way of interpreting Scripture. To be sure, some aspects of theonomy have been affirmed on a surface (or formal) level in the past. However, modern theonomy/Christian reconstruction is very much an American movement. One question I’ve had about Christian reconstruction, or theonomy, is “What’s the draw?” Another is: “Why would people want to reinstate many of the Old Covenant laws and penalties today?” John Muether answers these questions in an essay that focuses on sociological factors. It is found in Theonomy: A Reformed Critique (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990). I’ll give some highlights of his article below (emphases are mine).
Muether first talks about the external factors that draw people to the Christian reconstruction movement: 1) the changing landscape of American religion and 2) the cultural crisis. Some people are attracted to theonomy because the American culture is shoving Christianity off the playing field, and theonomy wants it to be central. Also, some people see America as falling apart morally and they believe a strong focus on biblical law will help restore America. “The threat of an increasingly hostile and secularizing culture goes far to explain the current interest in theonomy” (p. 248).
There are also internal factors that draw people to theonomy: “Theonomy is well suited to appeal to our contemporary culture because it is, in important respects, characteristically American, evangelical, and modern” (ibid.). It is American since it believes that America should return to its biblical foundations. It is also an American in that its millenarianism is a response to social crisis; dispensationalists are premillennial, theonomists are postmillennial.
Theonomy is an evangelical phenomenon because it has held hands with the charismatic movement and is a democratic movement that has grown in a parachurch manner. Muether also notes well that theonomy shares the evangelical “biblicist hermeneutic that depreciates the role of general revelation and insists on using the Bible as though it were a textbook for all of life” (p. 254). It is a modern phenomenon because it focuses on technique (biblical blueprints), because it is very much wrapped up in politics, and because it focuses on a better world here and now.
I think Muether makes some excellent points here; this is a helpful article. The book is out of print and a little expensive, but if my summary of Muether’s essay interests you, I recommend this book. There are also other good essays in it: Theonomy: A Reformed Critique ed. William S. Barker & W. Robert Godfrey (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990).