Continuation of the Debate with Xon

This is a continuation of the discussion that Xon and I are having here. Since I believe that the comments will probably augment to quite a few more, I have decided to refresh the post by continuing in a new post. Also, since I believe that this has been quite the most fruitful discussion about the FV ever on my blog, I want it to have a bit more attention. So, for those who wish to understand what we’re talking about here, please read the comments in the post linked above.

But it’s all about being “in Christ”, and the question is whether it is possible to be “in Christ” for a time, or whether being “in Christ” is something that only happens to someone for keeps.

This is the nub of the issue, as I see it. It deeply affects how we interpret Romans 8:1. For the elect, we would have to say that they are united to Christ for keeps. This is the clear implication of LC 66: “The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband; which is done in their effectual calling.” Emphasis mine. Obviously, if nothing can separate us from the love of Christ, as Romans 8 says, then we are inseparably united to Christ. It is the clear implication of Scripture and of the LC. However, what of the NECM (again, that’s “non-elect covenant member”)? Question 68 deals with them directly (I think this is crystal clear): “others may be, and often are, outwardly called by the ministry of the word, and have some common operations of the Spirit; who, for their wilful neglect and contempt of the grace offered to them, being justly left in their unbelief, do never truly come to Jesus Christ.” Several points are of interest here. Firstly, we are dealing here with NECM’s. That is clear when one looks at the proof-texts used in support of the phrase “common operations of the Spirit.” The Westminster divines reference Matt 7:22, 13:20-21, and Heb 6:4-6. Secondly, the LC speaks of such NECM”s as unbelievers (“being justly left in their unbelief”). Thirdly, they are never truly united to Christ (“do never truly come to Jesus Christ”). Now, I can hear (or see) what Xon will do with this: plug in the “usage definitions” of “unbelief,” “truly come to Jesus Christ,” etc., and thereby limit the language of the WS to the description of the decretal understanding of NECM’s. Thereby he will probably say that such language does not say anything about non-decretal benefits that such NECM’s might receive. I am not saying this to slight Xon. I merely note that this has been his pattern of argumentation. I will respond in advance by saying that the WS are here treating of NECM’s. Period. Full stop. The subject of LC 68 is the NECM’s. They never truly believe, and they never truly come to Christ. That is (I think the WS would say), they never trust in Christ for salvation, and they are never truly united to Christ. Period. My point here is that the WS exclude any kind of temporary true faith, or temporary true union. I think the WS would view those categories as contradictions in terms. A temporary faith is not a true faith, by definition. A temporary union is not a true union, by definition. Wilkins wants to say that it is a true faith, a true union, only they are temporary. I simply don’t see the WS allowing for that category.

“No condemnation” doesn’t have to mean, as I see it, that I stand right now forgiven for all future sins.

However, I think the context does point in this direction. Here are some indicators: verse 2 says that are set free from the law of sin and death. We are no longer under its power. If we are no longer under its power, then sin has no more power to condemn us. That means that we are judicially forgiven of all our future sins. Secondly, we are heirs (verses 14-17). Being an heir means being a child. Being a child means that we are no longer under the judicial wrath of God. We call God “Father,” not “Judge.” This distinction in the various wraths of God is what you are missing here, Xon. There is God’s judicial wrath, and there is God’s fatherly displeasure. God’s judicial wrath is utterly appeased when we come to Christ in faith (by God’s grace). There is no judicial wrath left. God will never stop being our Father to again become our Judge of condemnation. That is a fundamental category mistake to say so. If God is our Father, then the only “wrath” left is God’s Fatherly displeasure. Our future sins need forgiveness in the sense of receiving God’s fatherly forgiveness. However, we are set free from the law of sin and death. That means that our future sin does not need the judicial wrath kind of forgiveness. We are never under God’s judicial wrath again, if we are God’s heirs. I think it is quite possible for Satan to deceive us into thinking that we have again come under God’s judicial wrath, when in fact we are only under God’s Fatherly displeasure. He loves nothing better than to try to convince us that we have sinned ourselves out of the kingdom. But it is a lie for the true child of God. The true child of God cannot sin himself out of he kingdom. That, of course, is not to be seen as any kind of an excuse for license to sin. Romans 6:1 “if we have died to sin, how can we live in it any longer?” If we are set free from the law’s judicial wrath, then we are also set free from sin’s ultimate rule over our lives. This is only saying that if we have been justified, then we are also being sanctified.

XW-justification is not the same thing as WS-justification!

Yes, I think you are forced to this conclusion if you are going to be consistent. However, I still think this runs foul of what I said here: : “WCF 15.1-3 says that no one may expect pardon of sins without true repentance and faith. The statement is explicitly unlimited by the “all sinners” right before the last phrase. In other words, for all sinners, no pardon may be expected without repentance unto life. The WCF had defined repentance unto life as an evangelical grace, namely, a saving grace of the Gospel. That is an absolutely essential condition for any pardon to come to a sinner. In other words, for your position to be correct, you must assume that the repentance of a NECM is a repentance unto life, the evangelical grace of WCF 15. Therefore, you must also assume that there is no difference except time between the NECM and the elect.”

Now, to deal with your claims about this section. You claim is that

There is actually a subtle slip in meaning when you go from (1) “WCF 15.1-3 says that no one may expect pardon of sins without true repentance and faith.” and then re-explain it as(2) “In other words, for all sinners, no pardon may be expected without repentance unto life. …That is an absolutely essential condition for any pardon to come to a sinner.”

You define this slip as the difference between “Saying that ‘no sinner may find pardon without x’ ((1), which is what WCF 15.3 actually says) is not the same as saying that a sinner may find no pardon without x’ ((2), which is not quite what it says).” Let me try to rephrase this: You are saying that the word “no” has a different connotation when placed before “sinner” as opposed to being placed before “pardon.” I readily grant this point. It is different to say that “no sinner receives pardon without x,” versus “a sinner receives no pardon without x.” I think I have your argument summarized here. You further conclusion would be that there is a kind of pardon that a NECM could receive that would not conflict with this section of the WS. Correct?

My answer is this: I believe that the WCF 15 includes both statements. I think we would both agree (and actually, you have already said this) that WCF 15 teaches the first statement “no sinner may find pardon without repentance.” But I would also argue that the WS teach the second statement: “a sinner may find no pardon without repentance.” To prove this, we need to go back to the definition of sin. The WS define sin as being two-fold: original sin and actual sin. This distinction is clear in chapter 6 of the WCF. Furthermore, 6.4 defines actual sins as having their source in the original sin, or original corruption. It is a categorical statement: “From this original corruption…do proceed all actual transgressions.” To put it negatively, there is no sin that does not proceed from original corruption. 6.6 further states that both original and actual sins are transgressions that bring guilt upon the sinner, making him subject to eternal death. Furthermore, 6.5 says that the original corruption is pardoned in those that are regenerated. Plainly, there can be no pardon of original corruption without regeneration. Regeneration, by definition, reverses original corruption (though not completely freeing us from it, as 6.5 indicates). To be more specific, regeneration means a new heart. Through Christ, those who are regenerated have their original corruption pardoned and mortified (6.5). That is what I mean by “reversal.” I am on safe ground, therefore, in saying that only the regenerate have their original corruption pardoned and mortified. The categories of regenerated and original-corruption-pardoned-and-mortified are the same in 6.5.

I would then argue that actual sin cannot be forgiven unless original corruption is also forgiven. If one needs to put it temporally, original sin is forgiven first, then actual sins. I actually believe that the forgiveness is simultaneous, but that’s another debate. The reason I argue this is Romans 5. The foundational issue for sin in Romans 5 is the sin of Adam imputed to us. That is original sin. In the architectonic importance of that passage, Christ’s work reverses original sin. Verse 19 “For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.” This interpretation is confirmed by the following context, where our being dead to sin means that we should not live in actual sins any longer. The logic goes from original to actual.

So, in propositional form, it would look like this: 1. There is no pardon of actual sins without pardon of original sin. 2. There is no pardon of original sin without regeneration. 3. Only the elect are regenerated. Therefore. 4. Only the elect have pardon. 5. No non-elect person can have any kind of pardon, since pardon involves pardon of original sin, which can only happen if regeneration is present.

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69 Comments

  1. Anne Ivy said,

    January 15, 2007 at 1:56 pm

    [respectfully] Wow. Beautifully, carefully, and lucidly explained, Lane.

    Wow.

  2. markhorne said,

    January 15, 2007 at 5:21 pm

    Lane, I have NOT been following all this, so take what follows with a grain of salt.

    1. Your syllogism is formally flawless. And elegant. But I think some readers (maybe me) will be afraid of an unstated consequence: “6. Therefore, all Scriptures that might look like they contradict this conclusion must not actually do so.” That can be a guide to what a text *probably* means, but it seems like the wrong way to go about proving what the Bible actually says. Many (on both sides) are going to want us to argue about what Scripture actually says, not about what it must say.

    (I’m not saying you haven’t show your concern about the latter, only that your syllogism sounds like a license to not deal with the text–however much your own treatment of the text is superior.)

    2. “any kind of pardon” sounds like a doorway for equivocation. Have you really proven that *no kind* of pardon can be attributed to a person without the pardon of original sin? I just don’t see how your argument supports such a universal demand on how we may speak. As for the WCF, one could simply argue that he agrees with the WCF regarding saving pardon (pardon1). But that the parable of the unforgiving servant gives us (pardon2). And the general exhortations to all professing Christians to forgive as we have been forgiven (pardon3, which may or may not be the same as pardon2).

    Just some thoughts.

  3. greenbaggins said,

    January 15, 2007 at 5:36 pm

    Regarding 1, I would say that I have hardly been reticent about dealing with the relevant Scripture texts. I have posted many times about the debated texts, engaging in fairly detailed exegesis. I am not afraid of the exegesis. I have posted on John 15, 1 John 2:19, Jude 5, Matthew 13, and Hebrews 10:39. I have yet to deal with Hebrews 6, but I will at some point. Furthermore, I would say that our ST must guide our exegesis. The WS must be our lense through which we view the Scriptures. Of course, the relationship must be two-way. We must also see the WS in the light of Scripture. This is non-negotiable for me. Both strands are essential.

    2. Let me rephrase the argument: all actual sin has its origin in original sin. Therefore, the actual sin cannot be forgiven without the original sin also being forgiven. Otherwise, the branch (actual sin) has been forgiven without the root (original sin) being dealt with at all. This is impossible. We have been over the parable of the unforgiving servant. I deny utterly that it offers an instance of actual pardon to an apostate. The whole point of the ending is that he was not in fact forgiven.

  4. Todd said,

    January 15, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    “The whole point of the ending is that he was not in fact forgiven.”

    Not forgiven by whom?

  5. greenbaggins said,

    January 15, 2007 at 5:40 pm

    By the master.

  6. Todd said,

    January 15, 2007 at 5:48 pm

    Not even forgiven for a teensy, little while?

  7. greenbaggins said,

    January 15, 2007 at 6:08 pm

    Look, if you are going to say that he was really forgiven, then you have to take that to its logical conclusion: the person who does not forgive his brother *at the first opportunity* will have his forgiveness taken away from him. Is this where you really want to go with this? I have indicated in previous comments about this parable that there are indications of hyperbole (especially in the amount owed) that point to a hypothetical situation. You are pressing the story into much too literal a framework here. Furthermore, you are not allowing other Scripture to interpret this Scripture. One does not lose one’s salvation, or forgiveness. One cannot lose one’s justification. Are passages that teach these latter truths to have absolutely zero voice in interpreting this parable? That seems to be what you’re suggesting.

  8. Todd said,

    January 15, 2007 at 6:27 pm

    I’m just uncomfortable summarizing the “whole point” of the parable in a way the directly contradicts one of the lines of the parable.

    “The whole point of the ending is that he was not in fact forgiven.”

    Right. At the end of the story, he is unforgiven. “And in anger his master delivered him to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt.”

    But earlier: “And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.”

    Of course we have to be extremely careful in how we apply this to questions of justification. Of course it’s wrong to “press the details” of the story.

    But it’s just as wrong to tamper with the details of the story and pretend it doesn’t say something that it actually says.

  9. greenbaggins said,

    January 15, 2007 at 6:48 pm

    Todd, you are absolutizing the first part of the parable. Is it not quite possible that the first part of the parable illustrates what the servant thinks is the real state of affairs, without actually being the real state of affairs? By your argument, one should go the passages that say “God repented,” and come away with an understanding of a changing God, because only that does justice to the details of the text.

  10. Todd said,

    January 15, 2007 at 7:09 pm

    “Is it not quite possible that the first part of the parable illustrates what the servant thinks is the real state of affairs, without actually being the real state of affairs?”

    Not quite possible, since it’s the narrator talking about the real state of affairs: “And out of pity for him, the master of that servant released him and forgave him the debt.”

    The forgiveness is not a matter of the servant’s point of view at all. The narrator states it as straight-forward fact.

  11. Todd said,

    January 15, 2007 at 7:43 pm

    I think it’s one thing to say that the fact that the servant was forgiven for a while is a detail that we shouldn’t apply to questions of justification. That’s worth debating.

    But it’s another thing to say that the real point of the story is that the servant was never really forgiven at all, even though the narrator says that the master forgave him his debt.

  12. Susan said,

    January 15, 2007 at 9:47 pm

    Hey, Lane, cool blog! Now if I can ever get back into the blogosphere–college has made me a little rusty!–I’ll keep an eye on this page. Hello to Sarah!

  13. markhorne said,

    January 16, 2007 at 1:42 am

    OK, I’m not going to dictate how this gets systemetized (and I do think it is not only legitimate but needful to do such a thing) but I am going to go out on a limb and say that the whole point of the parable was that the unforgiving servant had his forgiveness revoked. And the point is that professing Christians who are regarded as forgiven can lose that status.

    Now, I’m all in favor of making a distinction between the *ultimate* (or choose some other word) forgiveness experienced by those who are effectually called and whatever is experienced by those generally called. But if it were so important that we all know that no one who is not elect ever experiences anything that can, in any way, be described as forgiveness, then the parable is misleading. Since that is not the case (as everyone agrees) I think we need to insist on the distinction without prohibiting the use of the word, forgiveness, on both sides of that distinction.

    Lane, I feel the force of your arguments about original sin. But they could just as easily be used to prove that Jesus was wrong to tell the parable in the way he did. So I can’t really be persuaded by them.

  14. markhorne said,

    January 16, 2007 at 1:43 am

    “The WS must be our lense through which we view the Scriptures.”

    Well, the Westminster divines did OK without that lens.

  15. January 16, 2007 at 8:30 am

    Lane
    I fail to see how the FV, as advocated by Wilkens and Lusk( yes, I recognise that the FV is not monolithic) can harmonized the notion that the NECM actually do share in the redemptive benefits of Christ by virtue of their ‘ temporary’ union with Christ ( which they argue does include the forgiveness of sins) can remotely be squared with the Westminster Standards. If according to the Westminster divines’ language they( the NECM) never truly come to faith in Christ, how can their sins be forgiven for any period of time?

  16. Xon said,

    January 16, 2007 at 11:41 am

    Hey, Lane. More good stuff here!

    Re: LC 68, you mention that the Catechsim is speaking of NECMs and that it says they “are left in their unbelief” and that they “never truly come to Christ.” You then prognosticate:

    Now, I can hear (or see) what Xon will do with this: plug in the “usage definitions” of “unbelief,” “truly come to Jesus Christ,” etc., and thereby limit the language of the WS to the description of the decretal understanding of NECM’s. Thereby he will probably say that such language does not say anything about non-decretal benefits that such NECM’s might receive. I am not saying this to slight Xon. I merely note that this has been his pattern of argumentation. I will respond in advance by saying that the WS are here treating of NECM’s. Period. Full stop. The subject of LC 68 is the NECM’s. They never truly believe, and they never truly come to Christ. That is (I think the WS would say), they never trust in Christ for salvation, and they are never truly united to Christ. Period. My point here is that the WS exclude any kind of temporary true faith, or temporary true union. I think the WS would view those categories as contradictions in terms.(emphasis added)

    You got my response largely correct, but I would make some important (I think) modifications. First, you are right that the “subject” of LC 68 is non-elect covenant members, but the context is that that the LC is talking about things that only the elect get, as I’m sure you would agree. The question being answered in LC 68 is “Are only the elect effectually called?” And we already know that “effectually called” is a pretty technical theological term in the WS. But the answer to the question, in any case, is “Yes.” (short version) Only the elect are effectually called. But the Catechism tells us “Yes” by referencing NECMs and telling us that things like that they never “truly” come to Christ. The question is, what does “truly” mean? In the bold portion of what I cited above, you are essentially arguing for what “usage definitions” should be plugged in. You tried to anticipate what I would plug in, and are instead offering something better (so say you!) to plug in. If you were into putting your arguments in the propositional form that I have been (sometimes) using, then I think this would be the upshot of that bolded portion. (Sound right, or close enough?)

    So our disagreement is not over whether NECMs are the subject of LC 68, “full stop” or any other kind of stop. :-) Our disagreement is over what terms like “truly” mean in LC 68. We both have to argue for some “usage definitions” here. Unlike some of the previous stages of this discussion, where I think you largely agreed with my “usage definitions”, here we are having a dispute over what the “usage definitions” actually should be. In other words, this is just a long-winded way of saying that we are disagreeing on how to interpret LC 68 itself. You want words like “unbelief” and “truly” to mean that LC 68 is denying any sort of “coming unto Christ” whatsoever to non-elect people. I understand that reading, I really do, but I think it goes too far and would actually create problems for many critics of FV.

    This requires a detour to clear something up. The basic idea of LC 98, it seems to me, is to set NECMs up as a third group in the world, different from elect covenant members, certainly, but also different from rank pagans. There are many non-elect people who are never members of the Church at all (such as lifelong Buddhists, for instance). And there are elect people who undergo some sort of transformation during their earthly life which makes them God’s in a permanent, “deep” way. But NECMs are a third or even “middle” group. They are in some real sense a part of the community of God’s special chosen people, but in another real sense they are not a part of that community in the way that they really should be or could be. This seems to me to be the basic “map” of the terrain that the Confession is trying to lay out. I think we would all agree to this? Our disagreement is over exactly what sorts of benefits and responsibilities go to this third group in the “middle” b/w the elect and rank unbelievers. (For instance, can we say that they are in any sense “forgiven?”) Afterall, these NECMs receive “common operations of the Spirit,” which is something that rank unbelievers presumably do not receive.

    It seems to me that if anyone in this debate “flattened out” the kinds of people in the world into only two—elect and non-elect—then he would be against the Confession. And I don’t think that any of us are actually doing that. Many critics of FV, for instance, acknowledge that NECMs have some sort of “external” union with Christ. But when we talk this way we are still positing a “union” in some real sense. I mean, we just now did so posit when we said “external union”. “External” is the adjective, and “union” is the noun it modifies. Now, we can also say that an “external” union is not a “real” union, or not a “true” union, in line with what I said above. (i.e., it is not the deepest, most important, sort of union) But if LC 98 forces us to say that NECMs have literally no union with Christ to speak of, at all, then even Scott Clark’s “external union” talk (for example, and such talk is also common on the Warfield list from what I’ve seen) would be out of bounds with your interpretation of it. (Of course, Clark isn’t bound to the WS, but you get my point…).

    Now, I’m not saying “We all agree-la la la la.” Far from it. FVers are definitely going farther (or “deeper”) in the kind of connection to Christ that they are wanting to attribute to these NECMs. And, of course, a number of them (myself included) prefer to use different language than “external” (I would suggest something like “deeper”, for instance). But the basic upshot, details bracketed for later, is two propositions I think we can all affirm:

    NECM1: NECMs are connected to Christ in a way that rank unbelievers are not.

    NECM2: The connection that NECMS have to Christ is not as “true” as the connection which elect covenant members enjoy.

    Now, again, clearly we have ourselves a disagreement about the nature of this connection which NECMs possess. For instance, I think we can speak of this connection as involving some kind of forgiveness for sins, but you don’t want to say that. (This is the fuller context of our present discussion: your “Prong 1″ is that the Confession teaches there is only one kind of forgiveness of sins, which has led us into this discussion of LC 68.) But my understanding was that all of us would agree with the basic principles contained in both NECM1 and NECM2. Am I wrong in my understanding here? Lane, do you disagree with NECM1? If you do disagree with it, then this “re-contextualizes” my understanding of our debate, and it would be nice if I got clear on this as soon as possible. I’ve been assuming all along that you would affirm NECM1, and would see the Confession as affirming NECM1.

    ————————-

    Assuming that you agree with NECM1, that we all agree with NECM1, then your interpretation of WLC 68 is problematic because it would falsify NECM1. (If you actually disagree with it, then tell me so and I’ll try to respond to that.)

    If we don’t want to read the Confession as falsifying NECM1, then how else can we read it? In other words, let’s get back to the question “What does “truly” mean?” I think there is a fairly easy reading available to us. People today say things like, “If you were a true [they might also say 'real'] American, you would support the war.” I’m not testifying to the accuracy of that statement, but the point is we hear and say things like this all the time. Clearly what this statement means is that people who don’t support the war are not Americans in the “deepest” sense, that there is something incredibly important to being an American which these people are missing. But, at the same time, we don’t literally mean that the person is not an American at all. Clearly they are an American in some real sense—they are an American citizen, they have lived in America for a long time, they know and agree with the basic structure of the government, etc.

    We’d have to do some more detailed work in historical linguistics to really prove this either way, but my suspicion is that this usage of “truly” was even more common in post-Elizabethan England than it is today in 21st century America. At the very least, I’ll bet that mid 17-th century English admitted of this usage. (Think medieval warriors having a contest with a bow-and-arrow, and talking about whose shot was more “true.” Or asking the executioner to “be true” with his axe. Of course, if he’s not true, your head still comes off—eventually. Being “true” admits of degrees…) So, when the Confession says that non-elect people never “truly” come unto Christ, I think it is saying something like they don’t come to Christ in the deepest way, in the most important way, etc. I don’t think it is saying that they literally do not come to Him in any way whatsoever.

    I want to say that the statement by LC 68 that these NECMs are “justly left in their unbelief” should also be understood in a similar way. I mean, we’ve all seen that chart by Perkins, right, in which he talks about a “temporary faith” that NECMs have? Granted, Perkins predates the Westminster Assembly, so I suppose it is possible to say that the Assembly was making a break from that was of thinking, but I don’t think this is likely. Again, I think a number of divines would have spoken the same way. I admit to not being well-studied in puritan primary texts at this point in my life (though I’m not a complete neophyte, either), so I invite anyone to come in and give a more historically-sensitive account. (Of course, Joel Garver has done a lot in this regard already from an FV perspective.) But it is hard for me to imagine that, in about 40 years, the “Puritan movement” would have evolved in such a way (across all three of its major ecclesiastical manifestations) into something that simply refused to speak as Perkins would have spoken in 1600. This sort of historical consideration, I think, has to contextualize our understanding of the statement in LC 68 that NECMs are “justly left in their unbelief.” It means that they are left without having the “real” or “true” belief, that “deeper” or more important kind of belief which is actually effectual unto eternal life. But I don’t think it means to say that these NECMs never believe at all, in any sense. (And this doesn’t even get into biblical arguments from James, etc.) I imagine it means “belief” as a synonym for “faith”, and of course “faith” is a pretty technical theological term for the Confession which refers to that trusting upon the work of Christ in all of one’s life, which only the elect ever “truly” do. Obviously we all agree that NECMs never have this kind of faith, and thus never truly “believe” in this sort of way. I think we could turn all this into something like:

    NECM3: One way in which the connection with Christ enjoyed by elect covenant members is more “true” than that possessed by NECMs is that the elect covenant members have saving faith as a result of their union.

    So, I think that when the “usage definitions” are plugged in for things like “unbelief” and “truly come unto Christ”, then LC 68 is teaching something like NECM1 and NECM2 and is also probably adding NECM3 as a particular way in which NECM union with Christ differs from ECM union with Christ. But I it’s abundantly clear, I think, that Wilkins actively affirms NECM1 and NECM2, and I’m pretty darn sure that he at the very least never says anything which is contrary to NECM3.

    I’d like to respond to what you said about “judicial wrath” vs. “Fatherly displeasure” as well, but I’d rather wait until you tell me whether you affirm NECM1 or not.

  17. pduggie said,

    January 16, 2007 at 3:46 pm

    “Look, if you are going to say that he was really forgiven, then you have to take that to its logical conclusion: the person who does not forgive his brother *at the first opportunity* will have his forgiveness taken away from him”

    No you don’t. Jesus uses hype all the time.

    Or have you cut off your hand lately?

  18. greenbaggins said,

    January 16, 2007 at 4:12 pm

    Okay, Mark first. BOQ the whole point of the parable was that the unforgiving servant had his forgiveness revoked. And the point is that professing Christians who are regarded as forgiven can lose that status. EOQ

    Okay, here is the problem with what you said here: the first sentence implies that the forgiveness was real; the second sentence sees the forgiveness as only a “regarded” forgiveness. Which is it? Regarded by whom as forgiven? You have to admit, Mark, that this is highly ambiguous. What you are feeling, no doubt, is the tension that such an exegesis creates with Confessional statements. Are we Reformed or aren’t we? Do people keep their forgiveness or lose it? If we are Reformed, and believe that a person is always forgiven if truly forgiven, then either we have a problem with the parable (interpreting it absolutely all by its lonesome, with no other Scripture to help it, as you have done), or we ask how our understanding of the rest of Scripture’s teaching influences how we interpret this parable. I go with the latter option. You, Mark, seem quite happy with interpreting the parable absolutely, come what may, and too bad about the Confessional implications. I cannot ever go there. The divines would never go there either. By the way, before the divines created their document, they were not bound by oath to it. Obviously, there were significant problems in the church, or they would not have drawn up such a document. Furthermore, we are bound by oath to it.

    To Mr. Johnson, you are saying exactly what I am trying to say, I think. I don’t think the WS have any kind of category that fits “temporarily forgiven people.”

    To Todd, what you’re saying then is that forgiveness is not part of justification? Forgiveness is an integral part of justification! Which provides, interestingly enough, yet another argument for the idea that only the elect are forgiven. Only the elect are justified. I think that the parable cannot be divorced from justification. In which case, if the servant was forgiven, he was justified, and therefore can lose his justification. Thoroughly Arminian, folks. Period.

    Xon, BOQ It seems to me that if anyone in this debate “flattened out” the kinds of people in the world into only two—elect and non-elect—then he would be against the Confession. EOQ This is not true, I deem. Chapter 33 does not tell us that there are such things as shoats, or geep for that matter. ;-) There are only sheep and goats. Now, of course, that begs the question of what is happening *now.*

    Regarding NECM 1, I would cautiously agree, as long as it is firmly stated also that NECM’s have *none* of the saving benefits that ECM’s do. In other words, there are *zero* ordo salutis benefits that accrue to NECM’s. Zero, none, nil, zilch, null, and any other way of saying “nada.” The way you have put it does not guard this carefully enough, I think. Yes, there are things that NECM’s have that the world does not have: the preaching of the Word, the fellowship of believers, and access to the means of grace (although, since they never partake of them correctly, those are really judgment on them). But they have *none* of the saving benefits. From this perspective, the WCF certainly *does* view the whole world as sheep or goats, divided into two groups.

    It strikes me very forcefully here that we are dealing with a distinction about what is real as opposed to what is perceived. It seems that this might have the potential, actually, to clear up a lot of the problem here. When we simply look at the church, we cannot tell who is a sheep and who is a goat. That is certainly one reason why Paul addresses the church the way he does. We cannot read the heart. However, Scripture also speaks in terms of what is really the case. In that mode of expression, the differences between NECM’s and ECM’s are not only clear, but sharp. This is really another way of saying that, covenantally speaking, it is not easy to tell the difference between the two, but decretally speaking (and therefore hypothetically speaking, or abstractly speaking) there is an easy way to tell the difference.

    Another distinction that is helpful here is the difference between what we cannot see in someone else, versus what we can see in ourselves. We cannot see whether someone else is elect, for instance. But I can know whether *I* am elect. Just because we cannot read anyone else’s heart does not mean that we cannot read our own (this would have to be by the Holy Spirit enlightening us, since the heart is deceitful above all things).

  19. greenbaggins said,

    January 16, 2007 at 4:18 pm

    Paul, if Jesus uses hype all the time, then why is it impossible to interpret the “forgiveness” at the beginning as hype? You just shot yourself in the foot there, Paul.

  20. Todd said,

    January 16, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    “In which case, if the servant was forgiven, he was justified, and therefore can lose his justification.”

    You’re mixing your categories again here, Lane, like when you told us how certain you were that the servant had not really been forgiven *by God.*

    Are you really saying that if the servant was forgiven by his human master, then he was therefore also justified by God? That’s just silly.

  21. greenbaggins said,

    January 16, 2007 at 4:40 pm

    Why are you interpreting the master of the parable to be anyone other than God? Surely, on the fictional level, the master is not God. But on the metaphorical level, the master is God. Jesus Himself says that the point of the analogy is that the master at least behaves in the same way as God does. For all practical intents and purposes, we are to view ourselves in the position of a servant, and the master is God. Silly, indeed. I defy you to come up with one single solitary Reformation interpretation of this text that does not make that connection.

  22. Todd said,

    January 16, 2007 at 4:43 pm

    Of course I affirm the connection.

    But to mix the story and the theological application so sloppily — ““In which case, if the servant was forgiven, he was justified, and therefore can lose his justification.” — is silly.

  23. Xon said,

    January 16, 2007 at 4:56 pm

    Regarding NECM 1, I would cautiously agree, as long as it is firmly stated also that NECM’s have *none* of the saving benefits that ECM’s do. In other words, there are *zero* ordo salutis benefits that accrue to NECM’s.

    Sure, Lane, this is where we clearly disagree. Hence our disagreement about whether we can say that NECMs are “forgiven.” But my point was just that we do agree, in principle, with the category of people described by NECM1. We disagree as to what exactly to say about those people. I think we can describe their situation using some terms that are also used in the “ordo salutis”. You think we shouldn’t describe them that way at all. This is, precisely, the locus of our disagreement. But I needed to be sure, before we continued disagreeing over this, that we really did agree on the more rudimetnary category posited by NECM1. Now that I know that we do agree on that, we can continue discussing forgiveness and such. Is that clear?

  24. Xon said,

    January 16, 2007 at 5:05 pm

    It strikes me very forcefully here that we are dealing with a distinction about what is real as opposed to what is perceived. It seems that this might have the potential, actually, to clear up a lot of the problem here. When we simply look at the church, we cannot tell who is a sheep and who is a goat. That is certainly one reason why Paul addresses the church the way he does. We cannot read the heart. However, Scripture also speaks in terms of what is really the case. In that mode of expression, the differences between NECM’s and ECM’s are not only clear, but sharp. This is really another way of saying that, covenantally speaking, it is not easy to tell the difference between the two, but decretally speaking (and therefore hypothetically speaking, or abstractly speaking) there is an easy way to tell the difference.

    Two things in response to this, Lane, and it is interesting to me how divergent the two points are. Maybe you’ll agree?

    First, I think using the language of “perceived” vs. “real” doesn’t go nearly far enough in attributing benefits to NECMs, both in terms of how Reformed people have historically described them (which is not to say that these Reformed folks were “FV”, by any means) or in terms of how the Confession speaks. As I said earlier, I think a lot of the critics of FV would have trouble calling the NECM union with Christ only a “perceived” union. (Even an “external” union, which seems to be some of the favorite language out there for critics, is more than just a perceived union.) I guess this still makes it a little unclear whether you agree with NECM1 or not. I think it’s clear enough to move forward, though.

    The second comment is that your distinction between what we know covenantally speaking about people in the Church and what we know about them decretally really opens the door, I think, for a large amount of the “practical/pastoral” side of FV theology. Since I don’t know anyone’s decretal status but my own, as you say, but covenantally I know a lot about them–they are in the covenant, called to faith, etc.–then I treat them from the covenantal perspective. Which means reading Ephesians like it was written to them, etc.

    Gotta go, that’s crude. I’ll make it better later…

  25. pduggie said,

    January 16, 2007 at 5:10 pm

    Yeah, but you didn’t offer that option. I’ve often maintained that I could take down the FV better than most critics can :-)

  26. greenbaggins said,

    January 17, 2007 at 8:34 am

    Then do it, Paul. :-) Stop trying to shoot down all the arguments of people who have genuine, deep problems with the FV, and are not trying to slander, but to clarify the Gospel.

  27. greenbaggins said,

    January 17, 2007 at 8:39 am

    To Xon, here is my question. We want some kind of language to describe what NECM’s have that pagans don’t have, but which also does not encroach on the territory of the elect. My suggestion is to avoid the language of the ordo salutis entirely in describing this stuff. The WS have language to describe it that is clearly distinct from the ordo salutis, but which is also clearly distinct from what pagans have. I will die on this hill: *no* ordo salutis benefits come to NECM’s. Anyone who says differently is clearly out of accord with the WS, especially chapter 3.6. I am absolutely emphatically insistent on this point. Not only will no one budge me on this issue, but opposition to this point will only make me more insistent on it. It is the Scottish in me, I’m sure. :-)

  28. Xon said,

    January 17, 2007 at 10:23 am

    Lane, just so we’re clear. Are you saying that you want to be done with discussing this? Or are you just trying to drive the point home how firmly you believe in your position?

  29. Xon said,

    January 17, 2007 at 10:38 am

    Assuming you aren’t saying that you have tired of this debate altogether, a question about this:

    The WS have language to describe it that is clearly distinct from the ordo salutis, but which is also clearly distinct from what pagans have. I will die on this hill: *no* ordo salutis benefits come to NECM’s.

    There are two things I think you might mean by this.

    1. No ordo salutis benefits, as defined by WS, come to NECMs.

    2. It is inappropriate to describe NECMs using language that WS use to describe ordo salutis benefits.

    If your position is (1), then I think everyone here agrees. (Though we are in the middle of a discussion concerning forgiveness, and you have made an argument which is at least plausible that FVers actually do attribute forgiveness, as defined by WS, to NECMs. But the point would still be almost entirely granted by both sides: all the ordo salutis stuff that WS talks about, when defined as WS defines it, is stuff that only happens to the elect. Forgiveness would be, I think, an exception that proves the rule.)

    If your position is (2), which seems most likely since you are talking about the “language” we should use “to describe what NECMs have that pagans don’t have”, then this seems to be obviously incorrect. If (2) is correct, then we are right back to the idea that it is inappropriate to use words in ways different than how the Standards use it. (And insisting on this point is what will, ultimately, make one commit the word-concept fallacy.) I understand your point, if it is this: it is highly risky to carelessly use the same language of the Standards in different ways, without being really darn clear what you mean. But to say that we should simply avoid using this language altogether unless we mean it in exactly the way the Confession means it, even if it appears to us that Scripture does not follow this rule, seems highly problematic. And this argument doesn’t rest on Wilkins’ controversial interpretation of passages like Ephesians 1, but on more obvious passages that I didn’t think were in dispute by anyone–such as when Paul calls children “sanctified” simply because they have one believing parent. This cannot be the WS meaning of “sanctified”. What exactly does it mean there? I dunno for sure, but clearly the word isn’t being used the way the Confession uses it. So, when a pastor stands up to preach this particular text, can he use the word “sanctified” to talk about a mass of people, many of whom are not elect, or can’t he?

    My guess is that you mean something different than either (1) or (2), and that I am just missing it. Sorry I’m making you watch me critique thin air if that’s the case.

  30. markhorne said,

    January 17, 2007 at 11:07 am

    Lane, I appreciate your interaction but I am now interspersing my comments with yours, which means I have gotten too involved and need to stop spending so much time on this. So please feel free to have the last word

    ———————————-

    Okay, Mark first. BOQ the whole point of the parable was that the unforgiving servant had his forgiveness revoked. And the point is that professing Christians who are regarded as forgiven can lose that status. EOQ

    Okay, here is the problem with what you said here: the first sentence implies that the forgiveness was real; the second sentence sees the forgiveness as only a “regarded” forgiveness. Which is it? Regarded by whom as forgiven? You have to admit, Mark, that this is highly ambiguous.

    ++++++++++++++++++++++

    Right. The usefulness of ambiguity is probably one of the points of contention here. I think in ordinary language, referring to a congregations as “elect” is ambiguous and should be. Vague language is, in some situations, the best language to use. See Frame on the quest for theological precision in Doctrine of the Knowledge of God for some more on this.

    ———————————–

    What you are feeling, no doubt, is the tension that such an exegesis creates with Confessional statements.

    +++++++++++++++++++++

    I don’t think so. The tension is the result of trying to synthesize the whole Bible. The Reformed Confesions lay out some of the issues, but Scripture is the cause here.

    +++++++++++++++++++

    Are we Reformed or aren’t we? Do people keep their forgiveness or lose it? If we are Reformed, and believe that a person is always forgiven if truly forgiven, then either we have a problem with the parable (interpreting it absolutely all by its lonesome, with no other Scripture to help it, as you have done),

    ———————————————-

    Have I? Then why the ambiguity?

    +++++++++++++++++++++

    or we ask how our understanding of the rest of Scripture’s teaching influences how we interpret this parable.

    ———————————–

    Well, as you can see, I prefer this way of putting it. But claiming that the king did not really initially forgive the unforgiving servant is not allowing “our understanding of Scripture’s teaching to influence how we interpret this parable.” Rather, it sounds like allowing our understanding of Scripture’s teaching to deny what the parable says.

    +++++++++++++++++++++++++++

    I go with the latter option. You, Mark, seem quite happy with interpreting the parable absolutely, come what may, and too bad about the Confessional implications.

    ———————————————-

    Well, I’m not sure why you say this, especially since you noticed my ambiguity. I said of the parable’s interpretation “I’m all in favor of making a distinction between the *ultimate* (or choose some other word) forgiveness experienced by those who are effectually called and whatever is experienced by those generally called,” and that what we learn must be “systematized” a process I said was “not only legitimate but needful.”

    Thanks for your time. Over and out.

  31. pduggie said,

    January 17, 2007 at 4:02 pm

    Lane, recall chestertons quote that the insane man has not lost his reason, its rather the only thing he has left.

    I fear that reaction to the FV is pushing people to be supremely rational in their approach to theologizing along the lines of the decrees. So rather than take the FV down by applying only reason and starting to believe insane things that are implied by the logic of “mainstream” calvinism (I can KNOW I’m elect, Zwingli was right, John Robbins is right, “Outside the Camp” is right, William Young was right, etc) I prefer to assume that these things are supposed to retain an interderminate tension and quality to them.

    Jesus did give us a parable to explain it after all.

  32. greenbaggins said,

    January 18, 2007 at 10:41 am

    Xon, I am not trying to shut down the debate. I merely state what hills I am going to die on. That is one of them. If it is invalid to divide humanity ultimately into two groups, then Augustine’s _City of God_ should never have been written. He notes the two cities, the city of God, and the city of man. These two are always at war, the one with the other. The city of man even possesses some within the covenant community, like Ishmael and Esau. They were within the covenant, and yet were part of the city of man. That was their fundamental allegiance. I just wish the FV would acknowledge this. They are much more accurately described as being part of the city of man than they are as being part of the city of God.

    Regarding the arguments, I certainly hold to number 1, and also hold to number 2. Wilkins is being examined for his position vis-a-vis the WS. That means that he is being asked systematic questions. Yet he cannot keep systematic categories from being confused. Note: the way I avoid the word-concept fallacy is really quite simple: when we are dealing with systematic categories, then we need to use the language of the WS exclusively. In ST questions, we don’t mess with the vocabulary or the concepts. That is extremely unwise. Yes, exegesis does reveal that Scripture uses these words sometimes (much rarer than the FV posits) in a different way. I would argue, however, that the majority usage of biblical words and ideas is what makes the life-blood of the WS.

    As Mark Horne noted, the FV is almost enough to drive me to be a rationalist. I deny that I am doing that. I am simply holding to the language of the WS. I surely will admit that there is mystery in the Christian faith, things that I cannot understand. The Trinity, the hypostatic union, God’s love. These are beyond my understanding (and anyone else’s, too). But the ordo salutis is one thing that is so crystal clear in Scripture, that I will go into rationalism about this. What I mean, is that those things necessary for salvation are written down clearly, as the WS themselves say. If there is *anything* in the entirety of theology on which we must be clear and logical, it is the doctrines of grace in salvation. If there is anything in the WS that is clear and logical, it is salvation. On the one hand, rationalism as a defining method is certainly a danger to the Christian faith. I don’t see *any* of the critics of the FV falling into this trap, however. On the other hand, a certain mysticism that wants to cloud things over is an equal and opposite danger, into which several FV proponents have fallen, you, Mark and Paul, included. Paul, are you really saying that it is insane to say that we can know whether we are elect???? So what does “making one’s calling and election sure” mean? In WCF 18, it certainly refers to decretal election. And Paul, to put the first item in that series into the same series as the other claims is ridiculous. I claim equally vehemently that we can know whether we are elect, and also that John Robbins is a loose cannon. Contradiction? I don’t think so.

  33. Xon said,

    January 18, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    Xon, I am not trying to shut down the debate. I merely state what hills I am going to die on.

    Okay, that’s what I thought. Good to clear that up, just in case.

    If it is invalid to divide humanity ultimately into two groups, then Augustine’s _City of God_ should never have been written. He notes the two cities, the city of God, and the city of man. These two are always at war, the one with the other. The city of man even possesses some within the covenant community, like Ishmael and Esau. They were within the covenant, and yet were part of the city of man. That was their fundamental allegiance. I just wish the FV would acknowledge this. They are much more accurately described as being part of the city of man than they are as being part of the city of God.

    Everything you say here strikes me as being absolutely right, but it also doesn’t contradict (as I see it) what I said earlier about dividing humanity into three groups. How many categories of humanity are there, two or three? As Aristotle would say, yes and no. :-) You are right to say that there are two fundamental groups, elect and non-elect. But my plea for a third group is not a request for a whole new category besides these two, but rather is a claim that we can break down the non-elect into two further categories.

    Every person is either:

    Elect or Non-Elect (2 groups)

    But…..

    Every non-elect person is either:

    NECM or Non-Elect Never Covenant Member (3 groups)

    So, every person is either Elect, a NECM, or a NENCM. 3 categories, but also only 2 categories, depending on how you look at it.

    As to whether NECMs are “closer” to being part of the city of man or the city of God, if you are equating “city of man” with “non-elect” and “city of God” with “elect”, then obviously and certainly NECMs are “closer” to being non-elect than elect. After all, they are non-elect! How much “closer” can you get? (I’m not so sure that it is faithful to Augustine’s meaning to equate the terms this way, though, but there’s no need to go into all that.)

    Regarding the arguments, I certainly hold to number 1, and also hold to number 2.

    Just to remind everyone, here were the two propositions that Lane is affirming:

    1. No ordo salutis benefits, as defined by WS, come to NECMs.

    2. It is inappropriate to describe NECMs using language that WS use to describe ordo salutis benefits.

    (1) is rather uncontroversial, except perhaps for a few benefits here or there. But I don’t think Wilkins or anyone else would disagree, in general, with the claim that “sanctification” and “justification” and “glorificaiton”, as the Confession defines these terms, go only to those who are predestined by God to live eternally with Him in glory.

    (2) strikes me as just plain wrong, and in my earlier comment I explained a bit of why:

    “If (2) is correct, then we are right back to the idea that it is inappropriate to use words in ways different than how the Standards use it. (And insisting on this point is what will, ultimately, make one commit the word-concept fallacy.) …to say that we should simply avoid using this language altogether unless we mean it in exactly the way the Confession means it, even if it appears to us that Scripture does not follow this rule, seems highly problematic.”

    Now, Lane, in your latest comment you give the following as your argument for affirming (2):

    Wilkins is being examined for his position vis-a-vis the WS. That means that he is being asked systematic questions. Yet he cannot keep systematic categories from being confused.

    I’m not sure what you mean here. Do you mean that Wilkins ends up talking about WS-sanctification sometimes and Wilkins-sanctification other times? But what’s wrong with this, so long as the different meanings are understood? If Wilkins’ talk about “Wilkins-sanctification” ends up contradicting in substance something that the Confession says about sanctification (or about anything else), then I understand your criticism (and isn’t this what we have been talking about in this conversation, the question of whether Wilkins indeed does this sort of thing or not?) But tihs is something we can show using the propositional method I (we) have been using. There shouldn’t be any need to criticize him for using a particular word, but rather we should simply be able to plug in his “usage definitions” for the words he uses, and plug in the Confession’s “usage definitions” for the words it uses, and then show that Wilkins says A while the Confession says not-A (or vice versa). I don’t understand how you are making an argument for (2) here. (2) is a much more extreme position, which says that you are simply not allowed to use certain words in your theological talk unless you mean them exactly the way the Confession uses them.

    Note: the way I avoid the word-concept fallacy is really quite simple: when we are dealing with systematic categories, then we need to use the language of the WS exclusively. In ST questions, we don’t mess with the vocabulary or the concepts. That is extremely unwise.

    Okay, Lane, this puzzles me a bit because it seems to “go back” on the way we have been talking about these things (i.e., the whole reason you and I have found this way of debating these issues to be “promising”). It sounds now like you are, indeed, insisting that Wilkins use “ordo salutis” words in exactly the way that the Confession uses them, and in no other way. Before, you seemed okay with the approach I was using of plugging in “usage definitions” for both the Confession and for Wilkins, and then seeing whether there was a contradiction. This was the “promising discussion” that we were having. (And, for instance, we are still in the middle of a discussion in which this method of exploring things has actually revealed a place where Wilkins may indeed be contrary to the Confession, concerning forgiveness of sins.) But now you seem to be claiming that Wilkins is simply wrong, regardless of how he uses the term, for using the same terms as the Confession (regarding the “ordo salutis”, at least) in different ways. You don’t even care how he is using them, and you are not interested in plugging in “usage definitions;” you feel he is guilty of something simply because he uses these terms in different ways. Am I misunderstaning you?

    Assuming that this is your position, then let me lay out my criticism of it. (If it is not your position, then set me straight.)

    First of all, language evolves whether we like it or not. Unless you believe that God has promised to providentially preserve all words that occur in the Confession from ever taking on a different meaning in modern English, then there is simply no guarantee that these words are going to stay the same over 400 years. But if we recognize that words can change in their usage, at the very least taking on new usages in addition to the old ones, then we have to analyze the Confession’s language using something like my “usage definition” method. We cannot just say “The Confession says “Sanctification goes only to the elect”, period, and so every theological utterance that we 21st century Reformed people ever make has to use the word ‘sanctification’ in a way that is talking about an elect-only benefit.” I say we “cannot” say this, what I mean is that it strikes me as incredibly unresonable to say this, to make this demand on 21st century speakers.

    Why is it unreasonable to expect people to use language in only one way when language naturally changes over time? Well, for on thing, if you believe (2) to be true, then you are endorsing the arguing over words without regard to the content of those words. In other words, you are endorsing a pattern of reasoning which logicians would condemn as the “word-concept” fallacy. What you said in your last comment didn’t let you “escape” that charge, but rather it seemed to show (if I haven’t misunderstood you) that you just don’t care. This might be a reasonable position for you to take–logicians, after all, are not inspired by God and just becuase they think something is a fallacy doesn’t mean that it is. But, whether it is a fallacy or not, the basic pattern of reasoning which is labelled “the word-concept fallacy,” is exactly the pattern of reasoning you are employing. You are saying that the words used determine whether one is out of bounds with the Confession, rather than the way those words are used. This is what you have to say if you believe that (2) is true.

    Well, Xon, what’s wrong with saying this, then? Maybe the “word-concept fallacy” isn’t really a fallacy. What’s your response to that? My response to that is that it really seems like it is a fallacy, or else the following two statements are mutually exclusive of one another:

    US1: In 1835 the U.S. government sanctioned Christianity in certain ways.
    US2: In 1835 the U.S. government did not sanction Christianity in any way.

    Now, if “sanction” means the same thing in both US1 and US2, then these two statements cannot both be true. But if the meaning of “sanction” is different in US1 and US2, then both propositions are be true. And, of course, this is the answer, because “sanction” does indeed admit of diverse meanings. If in US1 “sanction” means “lend support to” or something like that, but in US2 it means “punish” or something like that, then there is nothing wrong with the same person saying both US1 and US2, or with one person saying US1 and another saying US2, or with some “confessional” document used to measure the propriety of people’s beliefs saying one and a person being measured saying the other. If we understand “sanction” to have different meanings in each proposition, then there is no contradiction. And, here’s the kicker, if we assume that the meaning is the same when it is quite obvious that they do not have to be, then we commit a fallacy. We “equivocate” on the meaning of “sanction”, or we commit the “word-concept fallacy.” (These two fallacies are not quite the same, acc. to most logicians, but for our purposes here it seems legit to just use them as roughly synoymous.) But this sort of equivocation is exactly what a rule like (2) would commit us to when comparing Presbyterian ordinands and the Confession. We cannot rationally assume that the meanings are the same, yet this is just what (2) requires us to do.

    Finally, you yourself admit that Scripture does not always use thse “ordo salutis” terms in the same way that the Confession uses them.

    Yes, exegesis does reveal that Scripture uses these words sometimes (much rarer than the FV posits) in a different way. I would argue, however, that the majority usage of biblical words and ideas is what makes the life-blood of the WS.

    The problem that I see with what you say here is that it does not matter how rare such occurrences are in Scripture. As soon as you admit that it happens even once, then (2) entails that we cannot use the same words that Scripture uses to describe certain situations. Surely this is an unacceptable position, and thus (2) is false. I asked you earlier about the usage Paul makes of “sanctified” to describe all children who have one believing parent: “So, when a pastor stands up to preach this particular text, can he use the word “sanctified” to talk about a mass of people, many of whom are not elect, or can’t he?” You haven’t answered this question directly yet, and I’m not trying to be a show off by pointing that out. Your answer is important for where we go from here, I think. So, can he or can’t he? If he can, then (2) is false. If you say that he cannot, then surely you understand why other people are skeptical. You are actually saying that a modern preacher cannot preach from Paul’s text and use the same word that Paul uses to describe these children? And you are saying this because of a 17th century document written by men? I know that this is not what you are saying, Lane, so forgive me for even considering it.

    But, since this is not your position, then (2) is false, even for “ordo salutis” words (since “sanctification” is an ordo salutis word). It is okay to use words differently than the Confession uses them, whether in a context of “systematic theology” or any other context. What is important is that we understand properly the ways the words are being used, and that we interpret both the Confession and the speaker/writer (such as Wilkins) accordingly.

    Again, I had thought that this was something we already agreed on, but now you seem to be saying that the mere usage of the same words in different ways puts Wilkins out of bounds with the Confession, which frankly undoes much of the “fruitful discussion” we have already had. I am a bit concerned about this, understandably.

  34. greenbaggins said,

    January 18, 2007 at 3:43 pm

    Yes, I think you have misunderstood what I’m saying, Xon, so, in setting the record straight, I hope you will see that I have not undone any of our fruitful discussion, even according to your own point of view. In endorsing position number 2, I am not using the word “inappropriate” in the sense of “contradictory.” I am using it in the sense of “extremely unwise.” The word itself is a bit ambiguous, of course. I do believe that Scripture does sometimes use words in additional ways to the WS. My point is that, *in systematics,* if one wants to avoid confusion, one should not change definitions of ST terms to something else. I further argue that the ST categories that we have are Scripturally and exegetically derived. It seems to me that Wilkins is erecting an entirely different set of categories (from the WS), making that his bedrock, and trying to keep his set of categories and the WS set of categories from eliminating each other. It’s a juggling act, in other words. The problem with juggling, of course, is that unless one is a master, one cannot hold up all the balls at once without dropping one. So, to sum up, I hold to number 2 as defined in the first part of this paragraph. To state it a bit clearer: “It is extremely unwise to describe NECM’s using the terminology that the WS only use to describe the elect.” While we might be able to keep words and concepts distinct, our sheep often cannot. The reason I hold to number 2 is that no ordo salutis categories can apply to NECM’s. You admitted this when you agreed that Augustine’s City of God places NECM’s in the fundamental category of non-elect. The question is: how solid is the boundary between ECM’s and NECM’s? I would argue that the boundary is completely impenetrable, solid, and firm. There is no crossing the boundary. I would also question whether Wilkins would agree with what you have said on the Augustine thing.

    So, do you think that Wilkins has crossed the line on forgiveness of sins? You seem to admit that I have at least a plausible argument. How plausible is it?

  35. January 18, 2007 at 5:44 pm

    Lane and Xon, if I could make a global comment about these discussions. At this point I literally don’t see how Wilkins could be outside WS even if HE WAS TRYING to be an Arminian, if we follow Xon’s logic. This is an indirect argument, but it is a good indication that Xon’s philosophical contortions are following an illegitimate hermeneutic of our confessions.

    After all, was not WS trying to exclude the idea of a justified/forgiven non-elect person as a category available in the various non-Reformed alternatives (Romanist, Lutheran, and Arminian)? That’s why Chap. 11 says that those who are justified, God continues to forgive. This statement would be redundant or a fairly useless tautology if it was not trying to exclude this idea.

    And I’m not going to let you take the “out”, Xon, in saying that Wilkins isn’t using those words in the same way as Westminster. The onus is absolutely on Wilkins to prove that in a meaningful way:

    1. He has provided no alternative definition of terms such as “justification.” It is not legitimate to posit the existence of such a concept if there is no propositional or cognitive content to it (and the substance of it’s distinction from WS’s term). Theological terms cannot just be empty containers, symbolic of nothing (or some yet-to-be-determined content).

    2. Saying that his term is qualitatively/ontologically different is not an answer. This, at best, a formal harmonization, but this is not a substantive explanation.

    3. Wilkins steps on a land mine when he uses Romans 8 in his ostensibly parallel soteriological scheme. The game is up when he does this, and shows his system to have substantive overlap with WS. This section of Scripture (and surrounding chapters) not only speaks of benefits such as justification – it defines and explains what these benefits are. And these are the benefits WS speaks of. So Wilkins cannot be attaching different definitions to these terms, since Romans is an extended exposition of what these benefits are. And it is using ‘justification’ here in the full sense – imputation of Christ’s righteousness, tied into other elect-only benefits, etc.). So Wilkins and Xon can’t just swap terms and definitions around to avoid formal contradiction, as if these terms were tupperware that you can store anything inside of as we interface with Scripture.

    Wilkins is putting WS’s goods into his tupperware, and slapping the label “qualitatively different” on the label.

    Nice for philosophical games, not so good for a coherent systematic theology.

    This also shows Wilkins to be an incompetent exegete. Assuming he would still stand behind his written teachings at this point, it probably disqualifies him as a competent Minister of Word and Sacraments anyway. I doubt my classis would ordain someone who “breaks” the Golden Chain of salvation and posits the category of a group who get some, but not all, of those benefits. Nor would we ordain someone who apparently answers “God can” to the rhetorical questions “God justifies us, who can condemn us?”

    And, no, Xon, I’m also not going to let you dodge the systematic difficulties of Wilkins’ position. If his position cannot be squared, in any basic manner, to the global system that WS presents, not just at a few areas here and there, then he cannot be in accord with the Standards. And it shows, also, that your interpretation of the Standards in those more narrow areas is probably wrong.

    The “double jeopardy” problem has been an insuperable difficulty for non-Reformed views on justification and the atonement, and it is just as much a problem for Wilkins’ non-Reformed scheme.

  36. Xon said,

    January 19, 2007 at 7:57 am

    [Lane, I thought I submitted this comment yesterday afternoon at about 5 EST. But now I checked the site on my home computer and it ain't there. So I guess the internet ate it. Anyway, this version was banged out more quickly, and might not be quite as carefully-worded as the earlier version.Caveat lector.]

    This is a big relief, Lane. Forgive me for mis-reading you so badly!

    I can sympathize with what you are saying about it being “unwise” to use words in a different way, though I wouldn’t go quite that far. Of course this can be fairly confusing to the sheep, but 1. I don’t think Wilkins’ own congregation is all that confused, and 2. many things are confusing ( i.e. hard to understand and “keep straight” in our minds) by their very nature. This is not to deny the Confession’s teaching that matters pertaining to salvation can be discerned clearly by anyone who reads Scripture attentively. FV matters have more to do with the complex interaction between saved and unsaved people known as “the Church,” and how to best understand the realities that exist for those in the Church who are not finally saved (i.e., elect). This is not quite the same as asking “How might I be saved?” That question has a fairly simple answer: trust in Jesus Christ alone to do for you what you cannot do for yourself. 3. In an age of evangelicalism run amok, our own Reformed categories of salvation–terms like justification, sanctification, glorification, and the sometimes complex discussions that Reformed thinkers give to these things–are rather “confusing” to people. But this doesn’t mean that we are screwing up the basics of salvation. Quite the contrary: we are explaining salvation in a systematic way which enables it to be better understood by those who are willing and able to understand it better. Very simple and profound truths often can be debated and discussed in ways that are more complex and confusing, but this doesn’t mean that the original truth in question isn’t simple. I dunno, I can say more about this later if need be.

    One final comment on Wilkins being confusing. Even if you’re right, I’m having trouble seeing how we could take the next step and justify defrocking him simply for being confusing. If you think that he himself keeps things straights, but he just teaches it in a way that is not all that clear, then he sounds like a lot of preachers I have known in my life (and I would say such preachers often still had very positive effects upon their congregations, for whatever that’s worth)! If your claim is that Wilkins himself gets things mixed up, then that’s what we’re here discussing. If Wilkins is himself confused about how salvation works, for instance, then obviously this is worthy of church courts. If Wilkins himself understands and affirms basic Reformed soteriology but then teaches it in a confusing way to his congregation, though, then this does not seem to be such a matter for church courts. But I’m not an expert on church courts. In any case, the charge would have to be different. Accusing a man of being a confusing teacher of orthodoxy is not the same as accusing him of being a heretic. Okay, moving on…

    You admitted this when you agreed that Augustine’s City of God places NECM’s in the fundamental category of non-elect. The question is: how solid is the boundary between ECM’s and NECM’s? I would argue that the boundary is completely impenetrable, solid, and firm. There is no crossing the boundary. I would also question whether Wilkins would agree with what you have said on the Augustine thing.

    This is a nice way to express the disagreement–how solid is the boundary between ECMs and NECMs? But I don’t see how we can doubt that Wilkind would affirm that NECMs are “closer” to non-elects than they are to elects: after all, they are non-elects! The real issue is whether Augustine’s categories of “city of man” and “city of God” actually line up precisely to “non-elect” and “elect”, which I don’t think they do. But if we stipulate that they do line up this way, then I don’t see anywhere (but maybe I’m missing it) where Wilkins is out of step with saying that the NECMs always belong in some real sense to the “city of man” and never to the “city of God.” NECMs are, after all, a type of non-elect person, and non-elect people (for Wilkins, just like for every other Reformed theologian) are predestined to Hell. No matter what blessings are showered upon them in this earhtly life through their connection to the visible church, the fact remains that God in His eternal decree has not predestined them to live with Him eternally in glory, and the fact remains that God’s providential activity in the world is actively working to bring that person to his final end of perdition, which ain’t good for that person. This has to color our perception of whatever blessings he experiences for a time. To perversely modify Newton’s great hymn, When he’s been there ten thousand years, bright burning as the sun, he’ll have trouble feeling like he was ever part of the “city of God.” And we would have trouble saying that he was, too, except perhaps temporarily, but a temporary membership only brings greater judgment upon you in the long run when you’re non-elect. This is all stuff that everybody (I think) in this conversation would say.

    So, do you think that Wilkins has crossed the line on forgiveness of sins? You seem to admit that I have at least a plausible argument. How plausible is it?

    All in due time, precious, all in due time!

    (“Due time” being….soon. And by “soon” I don’t mean it the way that most evangelicals take the “soon” in Revelation 1:1.)

  37. pduggie said,

    January 19, 2007 at 8:48 am

    I can be assured I’m elect, but I can’t know it in the same way I know brute facts.

  38. Xon said,

    January 19, 2007 at 8:50 am

    He has provided no alternative definition of terms such as “justification.” It is not legitimate to posit the existence of such a concept if there is no propositional or cognitive content to it (and the substance of it’s distinction from WS’s term). Theological terms cannot just be empty containers, symbolic of nothing (or some yet-to-be-determined content).

    Yet in the earlier thread (“Rejoinder to Barlow”), Comment #40, you argued like this about WCF 11.5′s use of “those that are justified”:

    Re-read WCF 11.5. The object is “those that are justified.” Theoretically (and I mean theoretically) that could refer to an elect person or a non-elect person. If they are justified, this passage applies to them, elect or non-elect, period. And what happens to this group? God CONTINUES to forgive them.

    So, when I tried to plug in “usage definitions” for 11.5, you told me what I was doing was illegitimate b/c 11.5 just talks about “those that are justified”, whatever exactly “justification” means. You said that it excluded non-elect people from being justified, but didn’t offer any particular definition of what that term means. It is simply excluding non-elect folks from “justification”, from the very word itself.

    I’m not trying to “get” you, and I’ll respond to the rest of your comment later. But for now this inconsistency jumps out at me. You insist that Wilkins always has to define his terms explicitly, and that if he doesn’t so then we are allowed to assume that he is a wolf in sheep’s clothing who is actually using the words in exactly the same way that the Confession uses them in order to subvert the teaching of the Confession. Aside from how ridiculous and uncharitable this is as a hermeneutical principle (and it is a principle I doubt you apply to anyone other than FV people), it is a principle that you yourself did not follow in the earlier discussion. In fact, you tried there to argue that my reading of the Confession was wrong because I was putting too precise of a definition into the Confession’s mouth. The Confession is actually just using “those that are justified” in 11.5 in a vague way that could theoretically include all kinds of people. The content of “justified’ is, we might say, yet-to-be-determined. So, in your opinion the writers of the Confession were allowed to speak this way, but Wilkins isn’t?

  39. greenbaggins said,

    January 19, 2007 at 9:53 am

    Xon, I appreciate the response, although it did not seem to me to add much to your other arguments. It seems to me that you need fundamentally to answer the plausibility argument of whether Wilkins fudges on forgiveness first (I know, all in good time). I think that his fudging on that really does make the boundary between NECM’s and ECM’s permeable and porous. The reason I think that is that he is applying an ordo salutis category to the NECM. I would add here that *any* of the ordo salutis benefits guarantee the whole chain. The chain is unbreakable. So Wilkins has to affirm that the chain is breakable.

    To add a bit to what I’m saying: forgiveness *cannot* be taken out of the realm of justification, which is most certainly an ordo salutis benefit.

    Awaiting your response to the forgiveness issue.

    Paul, are you just trying to get my Van Tillian goat here? ;-)

  40. Xon said,

    January 19, 2007 at 10:43 am

    Quoth David G.:

    Lane and Xon, if I could make a global comment about these discussions. At this point I literally don’t see how Wilkins could be outside WS even if HE WAS TRYING to be an Arminian, if we follow Xon’s logic. This is an indirect argument, but it is a good indication that Xon’s philosophical contortions are following an illegitimate hermeneutic of our confessions

    I don’t think this is a fair criticims of what I am doing here at all, David, “indirect” argument or no. There are very clearly things Wilkins could say which would put him contrary to the Confession, and these things are predictable. I am not offering some weird ad hoc rationalizations of his words that refuse to ever let him be out of accord, no matter what he says. The whole point of my “propositional” method is just to interpret Wilkins’ words (and the Confession’s words) in a clear way so we can all look at the various teachings and see what is going on for ourselves. We have spent a month of “Wilkins says x”, “No he doesn’t”, and Lane and I are trying to find a better way.

    For one thing, Wilkins might be contrary to the Confession concerning forgiveness of sins for non-elect people. I haven’t yet responded to Lane’s full argument on this point, but it is a plausible argument on its face. And I can certainly stipulate, right now, what it would look like if Wilkins were to be out of accord with the Confession. You can then hold me to this later, if you want. Like I said in #62 under the “Rejoinder to Barlow” thread, if Wilkins taught the following he would clearly be out-of-accord with the Confession:

    W7: Some sinners who do not have a repentance that only goes to permanently justified people receive the pardon that accompanies permanently justified people.

    So, there I am on record. If you can show Wilkins teaching W7, then you’ve got him being contrary to the Confession and he would, at the very least, need to take an exception concerning the Confession’s teaching about forgiveness of sins.

    I am not dictating that W7 is the only thing that would show Wilkins to be out of bounds with the Confession. You certainly might suggest something else. But clearly you can’t blame me for not listing out every possible proposition that would be contrary to the Confession if someone believed it, since there is an infinite number of such propositions! But you should feel free to suggest your own proposition that you think Wilkins teaches which is contrary to the Confession, and we can look at it together, or you should feel free to present evidence that Wilkins teaches W7 if you want to go that route.

    As to Arminianism, you keep going this way in our conversations for some reason, but even many of your fellow critics of FV (such as Rick Phillips) don’t think that calling Wilkins an “Arminian” (or just implying that he is an Arminian) is at all helpful. But, to each his own, and let’s respond. We could easily show an (honest) Arminian to be out of bounds with the Confession, because an Arminianism affirms (at least) the following propositions:

    A1: There is no group of people whom God has predestined from the foundation of the world, based on nothing within the people themselves, to live eternally with Him in glory.

    A2: Christ’s work satisfying the law of God and dying as the substitute for sin was meant by God to apply to every single person who ever lives.

    A3: There is no effectual call to faith in Christ which God makes to a person without that person cooperating with the call in a way that does not involve any assistance from God at all.

    And we could easily show that the Confession denies A1, A2, and A3. (These three cover the “U L I” of TULIP. The “P” and the “T” are more complicated, because some Arminians believe in the “P” and some (Wesleyans) believe in the “T” at least in a theoretical sense. We could still give propositions for these Arminian positions too, and these also would clearly contradict the Confession, but doing so would take more time and I don’t see the need.)

    The Confession’s teaching that there are elect people, chosen by God based on nothing in themselves, contradicts A1. Its teaching that Christ’s atoning work was intended only to apply fully to those elect people contradicts A2. And its teaching that God sovereignly and irresistably brings about faith in elect people contradicts A3. (Of course, for the full argument we would need to go to the relevant portions of the Confession and convert them into “propositions”, too…but I really don’t think that’s necessary here.)

    If Wilkins taught A1 or A2 or A3, David, then I would stand with you and charge him with being outside the bounds of the Confession. But of course he nowhere (that I’ve seen) teaches any such thing, neither by implication nor explicitly. The point, though, is that the way I have been arguing is perfectly capable of acknowledging that Wilkins goes awry from the Confession if he does so. The whole point of what I am doing, in fact, is to make it really clear what these skewed places would have to look like so we can go look and see if Wilkins fits what we would expect to see. So, in other words, I categorically reject your argument that I am making it impossible to find fault with Wilkins no matter what he says.

    After all, was not WS trying to exclude the idea of a justified/forgiven non-elect person as a category available in the various non-Reformed alternatives (Romanist, Lutheran, and Arminian)? That’s why Chap. 11 says that those who are justified, God continues to forgive. This statement would be redundant or a fairly useless tautology if it was not trying to exclude this idea.

    Hm. As I understand things, the non-Reformed alternatives hold to something like the following:

    Lutherans and Arminians: No people are justified in the WS sense of “justified”, because the WS sense includes an irrevocable promise of final salvation. But Lutherans and Arminians deny that there is any such declaration of God to a sinner during our earthly life.

    Romanists: Similar to Lutherans and Arminians above, but with a much different definition of “justification” (a declaration of God that is based at least in part on the works the person has done).

    Wilkins’ view is none of these, though. Wilkins believes that some people (i.e. all of the elect) are justified in the WS sense of justification. He also believes that non-elect people who are in God’s covenant community for a time can be said to be “justified” in some other sense. Wilkins could be wrong, but his view is not contrary to the Confession the way that Lutheran, Arminian, and Romanist views are. You are right that the Confession distinguishes the Reformed view from these non-Reformed alternatives, but Wilkins holds to the distinct Reformed view. He then adds something that is “adiophora”, something neither condemned nor required by the Reformed view, about non-elect covenant members. Of course, you don’t want to let me answer this way on Wilkins’ behalf as you’ve already made clear:

    And I’m not going to let you take the “out”, Xon, in saying that Wilkins isn’t using those words in the same way as Westminster. The onus is absolutely on Wilkins to prove that in a meaningful way:

    1. He has provided no alternative definition of terms such as “justification.” It is not legitimate to posit the existence of such a concept if there is no propositional or cognitive content to it (and the substance of it’s distinction from WS’s term). Theological terms cannot just be empty containers, symbolic of nothing (or some yet-to-be-determined content).

    2. Saying that his term is qualitatively/ontologically different is not an answer. This, at best, a formal harmonization, but this is not a substantive explanation.

    3. Wilkins steps on a land mine when he uses Romans 8 in his ostensibly parallel soteriological scheme. The game is up when he does this, and shows his system to have substantive overlap with WS. This section of Scripture (and surrounding chapters) not only speaks of benefits such as justification – it defines and explains what these benefits are. And these are the benefits WS speaks of. So Wilkins cannot be attaching different definitions to these terms, since Romans is an extended exposition of what these benefits are. And it is using ‘justification’ here in the full sense – imputation of Christ’s righteousness, tied into other elect-only benefits, etc.). So Wilkins and Xon can’t just swap terms and definitions around to avoid formal contradiction, as if these terms were tupperware that you can store anything inside of as we interface with Scripture.

    Wilkins is putting WS’s goods into his tupperware, and slapping the label “qualitatively different” on the label.

    Nice for philosophical games, not so good for a coherent systematic theology.

    As I have already argued, (1) is inconsistent with your own treatment of the WS in earlier discussion. Inconsistency aside, though, it is a thoroughly unreasonable rule to lay upon someone that they bear the “onus” of proving that they use words in a different way than some other usage. Everyone knows that words do have a variety of meanings (almost every word in the dictionary, in fact, admits of a variety of meanings…and when “common usages” that might not be reflected in the dictionary are factored in, we have even more meanings for words). So why on earth should a person have to prove that they are using a word in a different way from some other meaning? If they say they are, then they are, unless you have some really strong evidence that they are not. But this sort of evidence should be able to be trotted out for all to see and evaluate. There is no “default” meaning for words. They mean what the speaker or writer uses them to mean. If the speaker’s definition diverges wildly from any other known usage (think “Humpty Dumpty” in Alice in Wonderland), then of course the speaker needs to explain his different meaning or else communication will break down. But nothing in this conversation is so wildly divergent as all that–basic communication is not breaking down for us. Wilkins says that thinks we can use words like “justify” for people who don’t go to Heaven when they die. He also says he’s not exactly sure what the best way to explain this “justification’ is, but whatever it is it’s not the same “justification” that people who do go to Heaven when they die receive. This is all he needs to say to establish that he is using the word “justify” in an alternative way to the WS usage when he applies it to non-elect covenant members.

    This isn’t just some desparate interpretation I am making here to try to exonerate him. The whole point of his article in the FV book, in fact, was simply to list out various passages of Scripture where he believes that certain WS “ordo salutis” words get used in different ways than the way WS uses them. He could be wrong about those Scripture passages, but how can you accuse him of using these words in the same way as WS when his whole point, explicitly made again and again, is that they are not being used in the same way? You think he contradicts himself later on? Fine, but the onus is on you to prove that.

    I agree with you that terms cannot just be “empty containers”, but they never are. If I say, “I think there are meanings of “sanction” besides “punish”,” I am not using “sanction” as a mere empty container. I have put some meaning into it–not a lot of meaning but some. I have put into the term’s ‘container’ something that it does not mean, and this is still something. If you say “What do you think ‘sanction’ means besides ‘punish,’ Xon?”, and I say, “Gee, I dunno”, there is still nothing wrong with anything I have said. I have still given some content to the alternative use of “sanction”–namely, it is not the same usage as when “sanction” means “punish.” I do not have to know exactly what a word means in its alternative usage in order to posit that it does not always mean “punish.”

    This is not exactly what I think Wilkins is doing–I think he gives more content to terms like “justify” when applied to NECMs then just to say “it doesn’t mean what the Standards say”. But this only makes my argument for Wilkins stronger; if all he did was what I did above when “sanction”, your argument against him wouldn’t work. If he in fact does more than this, all the better for him (and all the worse for your argument against him).

    Again, consider my earlier argumetn to Lane about Paul’s usage of “sanctification” to talk about all children with at least one believing parent. Do I know exactly what “sanctification” means there? No (hypothetically…I do have my own ideas, and it’s not like this passage hasn’t been commented upon in the Reformed tradition or anything, I do not. But I do know that it doesn’t mean “sanctification” the way the Confession defines that term. It can’t be referring to the process by which God sets apart elect people to conform them more and more to the image of Christ, because not all children with one believing parent are elect. So, whatever Paul means here by “sanctification”, he doesn’t mean it in the WS way. But that’s okay, and I don’t even have to know exactly what he does mean to say that Paul is not violating the Confession.

    Regarding (2), Wilkins doesn’t say that “his term is qualitatively/ontologically different.” What it would mean for a “term” to be ontologically different? If you think I am being pedantic here, then I’m sorry, but the truth is that this is a key distinction to get and you are still talking about words and meanings of words as though they are the same. The fact that you worded yourself this way may just be a sign that you were typing quickly, or it may be a sign that you still aren’t properly grasping the distinction. I’m willing to be charitable here and interpret you in the latter way, but you should understand that when your own arguments fail to make clear these distinctions that to me are basic it is going to make me raise my eyebrow a bit.

    Moving on, then, what you apparently mean is that Wilkins (and myself) would claim that he uses these “ordo salutis” terms to refer to a reality that non-elect people experience which is qualitatively different than the reality which elect peole who are “justified” experience. You want to call “BS” on this claim, because “This [is], at best, a formal harmonization, but this is not a substantive explanation.” But this isn’t true, David. Wilkins does substantively explain the difference between the experience of NECMs and ECMs. He just doesn’t explain it by using “ordo salutis” terms exclusively for the ECMs. He explains it using other words. And, as we all know by now, the words aren’t what is important, right?

    Wilkins thinks that ‘ordo salutis’ terms can be used to describe NECMs, but he doesn’t think that the reality that the Confession is describing when it uses those terms can be said to go to NECMs. There is a reality experienced by NECMs which we can call “justification”, but it is not the same reality that the Confession is talking about when it uses the term “justification”. Nonetheless, we can use this word to talk about it.

    The only way to show that someone like Wilkins, who takes this sort of approach, is contrary to the Confession is to show a place where his use of these terms, when properly interpreted, actually go against a statement the Confession makes, when all of its terms are properly interpreted. Metaphors about empty tupperware and claims about the lack of a “substantive explanation” don’t do the argumentative work that you need to do here.

    Regarding (3), Wikins does not agree with your interpretation of what Romans 8 is talking about. He thinks it is an example of using “ordo salutis” words to talk about elect and non-elect covenant members together. He may be wrong in his interpretation, but you cannot impute to him the meaning that you think comes from these verses. That’s just silly.

    So, for all these reasons (and more), I think you are just wrong, and wrong in a striking sort of way, the sort of way that would probably embarrass you if you re-read this conversation after a lot of time has passed, in your claims that Wilkins is using terms in the Confessional defintiion by some sort of default, and that he is obligated to explain his meaning precisely to your satisfaction or else you are justified (pun! pun!) in imputing the WS meaning to him. This is, as you are fond of saying, a “train wreck” of an argument, David.

    This also shows Wilkins to be an incompetent exegete. Assuming he would still stand behind his written teachings at this point, it probably disqualifies him as a competent Minister of Word and Sacraments anyway. I doubt my classis would ordain someone who “breaks” the Golden Chain of salvation and posits the category of a group who get some, but not all, of those benefits. Nor would we ordain someone who apparently answers “God can” to the rhetorical questions “God justifies us, who can condemn us?”

    Well, this is a separate issue, and one worth considering in its proper place. Certainly if a minister makes egregious errors in the way he interprets the Bilbe, even if he remains in doctrinal conformity to the Confession, then that minister is rightfully subject to review by his presbytery or classis (if you’re into the whole Dutch thing). But this is a completely different charge than the original “FV is heresy.” A bad exegete might be perfectly orthodox. (An example I’ve given before: If a man somehow read Amos 1:1 as teaching predestination, then this would make him a bad exegete. But it wouldn’t put him out of conformity to the Confession, since predestination is a Confessional doctrine.) Of course, he might not be orthodox, but this is a separate question.

    And, no, Xon, I’m also not going to let you dodge the systematic difficulties of Wilkins’ position. If his position cannot be squared, in any basic manner, to the global system that WS presents, not just at a few areas here and there, then he cannot be in accord with the Standards. And it shows, also, that your interpretation of the Standards in those more narrow areas is probably wrong.

    David, you keep pitting “systematics” against what I am doing, but I don’t see the oppositon. Lane and I are having a very systematic discussion here. As to the second sentence of that paragraph just quoted, what do you mean by “global system” of the WS? Do you mean that there are lots of areas where Wilkins can be shown to be out of accord? Or are you referring to some sort of implicit meaning in the Standards that isn’t there explicitly?

    If the latter, then I don’t think you’re properly respecting the nature of confessional documents. We cannot hold men accountable to our understanding of what the document is really “trying” to say but for some reason didn’t actually say.

    If you mean the former, which is more likely I think, then you are just claiming what has already been claimed several times by your side, that Wilkins is out of conformity with the Confession in several places. Well, then, put up or shut up. This is the whole point of the discussion Lane and I are having–Lane presents a portion of the Confession that he thinks goes contrary to somethign Wilkins says, and then we look at it more closely. You are implying here that I have been “cherry-picking” certain select areas of the Confession to show that Wilkins is in confomrity wiht them. But that’s not right at all: I have been letting you and Lane pick the portions of the Confession that you think are contrary to Wilkins, and then looking at those portions more closely. (And, to be cleaer, I am not claiming that I am “winning” or anything. I think Lane has made some plausible arguments.) t is one thing to say “Wilkins doesn’t square with the global system that WS presents.” It is entirely another to actually show where Wilkins violates that “global system.” Can you show where? Then do so, please.

    The “double jeopardy” problem has been an insuperable difficulty for non-Reformed views on justification and the atonement, and it is just as much a problem for Wilkins’ non-Reformed scheme.

    You’ll have to say more about this. I don’t know exactly what you mean by “double jeopardy”. And I don’t know exactly why you think it is a problem. Sorry.

  41. Todd said,

    January 19, 2007 at 10:49 am

    Have we talked about 2 Peter 2:9 here?

    “8 For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. 10 Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to make your calling and election sure, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall. 11 For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

    Is the person described in verse 9 elect or reprobate?

  42. Xon said,

    January 19, 2007 at 10:49 am

    Lane, before we move on to the forgiveness issue directly, an we clarify one thing?

    Your answer to my question about a preacher using the word “sanctified” to talk about all children with at least one believing parent. I think your answer here is that you do think he is allowed to speak this way, but that when he starts doing “systematic theology” he needs to only stick to the WS usage of “sanctified”? Is this right?

  43. Xon said,

    January 19, 2007 at 10:52 am

    David G., my latest comment to you was “pricklier” than I intended it to be. Please accept my apology. I stand by the substance of what I said, though, ornery rhetoric aside.

  44. greenbaggins said,

    January 19, 2007 at 12:22 pm

    Xon, I think that is a fair way of representing the matter (comment 42). For the record, Todd, I’m sure you mean 2 Peter 1, not 2 Peter 2. I will deal with that passage in a separate post.

    Xon, in fairness to David, I think that David is arguing precisely what you stipulated he needed to argue: Wilkins argues for ECM benefits accruing to the NECM. I think that would be a fair estimate of David’s position. Why don’t you take specifically what David has said, and put it in the propositional form that you have been using with my statements, and see if these things be true. If that’s your language, then use it to “translate” David’s thought into it. I, for one, know that it is extremely difficult to see any point worth its salt if it is phrased in rhetoric that seems to attack me (David, this is not an attack on you, nor even a suggestion to tone down your rhetoric: Lee is right on this). However, the better part of wisdom is to translate such language into my language (your language), and see if the other side has a point.

  45. Xon said,

    January 19, 2007 at 1:09 pm

    Lane, like I said to David in the “Rejoinder to Barlow” thread, he and I in many ways seem to be two ships passing in the night. I admit that I have a lot of trouble translating David’s words into an argument I can grapple with. I don’t have any trouble doing this with your words. I don’t know exactly why this is, but it is.

    Plus, I have tried to construe David’s arguments in the past, and it doesn’t seem to take. Again, he and I just don’t seem to “click.”

  46. Xon said,

    January 19, 2007 at 1:18 pm

    I think that David is arguing precisely what you stipulated he needed to argue: Wilkins argues for ECM benefits accruing to the NECM. I think that would be a fair estimate of David’s position.

    Okay, but what is the argument for this position? Where does Wilkins substantively argue that some benefit which the Confession only gives to ECMs actually goes to NECMs? David mentioned a possibillity or two in the earlier “Rejoiner to Barlow” thread, and I responded to those possibilities. He has not responded to my response.

    Plus, remember that David is claiming that “my” way of reasoning through these things is not right. So David seems to me to be claiming that my entire effort to put things in a “propositinal” form is misguided because it allows me to be slippery and interpret Wilkins as in conformity with the Confession even if he is an outright Arminian. So, with this being David’s position (unless I have misunderstood it?), I’m not exactly feeling encouraged to take what he says and try to translate it into my way of arguing, especially since David thinks my way is illegitmate and is not going to reciprocate.

    Why don’t you take specifically what David has said, and put it in the propositional form that you have been using with my statements, and see if these things be true.

    Because David didn’t provide anything that can be “plugged in” to such a propositional form. He claimed that Wilkins is out of conformity with the Confession because he uses ordo salutis terms to talk about NECMs. Okay, so what precise passage of the Confession, and what precise passage from Wilkins are you pitting against each other here? Is it on me to dig through the Confession and find all its usages of ordo salutis terms and then see if these passages in the Confession conflict with anything Wilkins says? And then if I actually do all this work on my end and I come to the conclusion that Wilkins is okee-dokee by the Confession, is David going to accept this? No, he’s going to accuse me of missing something, and he will probably claim that it is obvious and that I am just doing “philosophical contortions” to get around the obvious meaning of the Confession, or Wilkins, or both. Well then, can we just skip all the middle steps and jump straight to the part where David actually shows me the place where he thinks it is obvious that Wilkins is contrary to the Confession? Why should I have to jump through the hoops of trying to interpret every Confessional passage that uses certain terms, when David is the one who made the claim that Wilkins is out of conformity with (at least some of) these passages? It is on David to provide the location of the contradiction. I don’t say this to be stubborn–I think I’ve gone the extra mile a number of times in this conversation. I say it so we can all stay sane–accusers have to provide the evidence for their own accusations. If it’s on the “defense” to prove every conceivable charge is false in advance, then we’ll all be pulling our hair out before long.

  47. Xon said,

    January 19, 2007 at 2:38 pm

    Xon, I think that is a fair way of representing the matter (comment 42)

    Okay, well then I have some follow-up questions. I don’t want to drag this out, but if I’m having trouble then I’m having trouble.

    First of all, when exactly do I cross over from appropriately preaching and speaking as the Bible speaks (hence calling all children of believers “sanctified”) into the dangerous/unwise/possibly-defrockable terrain of doing bad systematic theology? In other words, you say that I am allowed to say that all children of believers are “sanctified,” but that when I start doing “systematic theology” I need to only use “sanctified” in the WS way. But my question is when am I “doing systematic theology”, and when am I not? This is a vexing question, because as you and David have pointed out repeatedly over the last month or so (and FVish folks have agreed with you, but you have been the ones concerned to point it out) we cannot oppose ST and BT. But your answer here seems to presuppose that I can do “BT” without doing “ST.” This seems to be in conflict with what you have said before.

    But putting this aside, perhaps you mean that even though everything is ST in some sense, there is also “ST proper” that we do when we talk about Confessions and the like. It is here when doing ‘ST proper’ that we must only use terms with the same definition that the Confession gives them. There is still a practical problem with this too, though. Again, when does this crossover from “generic ST” to “ST proper” occur?. When am I doing “ST proper”? When I write a volume of systematic theology and try to get it published? When I participate in an online forum? When I am called by my presbytery to defend my views?

    You say that Wilkins (or whomever) is a-okay when he says “sanctified” to refer to all children of believers from the pulpit (or some situation like that). Presmably, then, he can also say it at the Church supper after the service, or while watching a football game. But now suppose someone comes up to him and says, “Okay, bub, let’s start talking some systematic theology about sanctification.”

    W: “Okay, I’m happy to talk about these things in a more formal way with you. The first thing we need to ask is, “What does sanctification mean?” It seems to me that it has at least two different meanings-”

    I: “Aha! I’ve got you now, scoundrel. ‘Sanctification’ can only have one meaning when doing ST!”

    W: “Well, that’s odd, because we’re alwasy doing ST and I’ve seen the word “sanctification” used in more than one way in real life and in the Bible. Just yesterday when you asked me how this week’s sermon was coming along, for instance, you seemed to approve of me using ‘sanctification’ to refer to all children with at least one believing parent. But this is not the usual way that we Reformed people use the word ‘sanctification’ when we are talking about ‘soteriology’ or what have you.”

    I: “Well, what I mean is that when we are doing “hard core ST” or “ST proper”, times like now where we’re about to really wonk on about sanctification, in these times ‘sanctification’ can only have one meaning.”

    W: “Um, well, okay, I still don’t really see why this is so. Why can we not use it with different meanings so long as we are clear on what those meanings are? I agree that here in this situation of “high ST” or “ST proper” that we need to be clear on what we are using words to mean. But why do we have to use them in only one way?”

    I: “Because the Confession does, and it will get confusing otherwise.”

    W: “There’s no reason it has to get confusing. If we keep our definitions straight, there shouldn’t be a problem.”

    I: “But you haven’t kept them straight. You have been confusing.”

    W: “When?”

    I: “When you said that non-elect covnenant members are sanctified.”

    W: “How was this confusing? I was saying that there is a sense in which we can say that these people are ‘sanctified.’ I did not say that they were sanctified in the way that WS defines ‘sanctified.’ In fact, I denied that they were sanctified in that WS way. How is this any different than when I say ‘sanctified’ from the pulpit this Sunday in my sermon on I Cor. 7?”

    I: “Because that’s not an ‘official’ ST context!”

    W: “No, it’s not, but so what? It’s an even less formal context than that. If I can use the word differently in a less formal context, when people don’t even expect every word to be defined, then why can’t I use it in the more formal context of ‘ST proper?’ The whole point of ST is to be precise and define our terms, but I’m doing that. So long as we recognize that words are being used in a different way, there shouldn’t be any problem with using the same word in different ways even while doing ST. If we can do it from the pulpit, we should be able to do it while doing ‘official ST.’”

    I: “But you have said that NECMs are sanctified.”

    W: “Right, but that’s because I see the Bible speaking about them that way sometimes. Children of believers are sanctified.”

    I: “But how do you mean that? Do you mean that systematically?”

    W: “I don’t know what that means exactly, but I mean it simply as a claim that the word ‘sanctified’ can be applied to non-elect children if they have at least one believing parent. Systematically, I realize that the Confession defines ‘sanctification’ in a very particular way, a way that can only happen to elect people. And I believe that this reality described by the Confession only happens to elect people, just like the Confession says. But I also believe there is another reality which happens to some non-elect people (those with at least one believing parent), and that this reality can also be called ‘sanctification.’ But obviously the word ‘sanctification’ has a different meaning in the two cases.”

    I: “I dunno. This is awfully confusing…”

    I guess I just don’t see the problem. Before the LAP, when Wilkins was being specifically questioned about how his views line up to the Confession, he very carefully pointed to different senses for all these “ordo salutis” words. In the Confessional sense, they only happen to elect people; in some other sense, they can be used to describe some non-elect people. This was a very “ST” context, and Wilkins did point out that there are different definitions of the same terms. It seems thought, that you are criticizing him for not just sticking to one meaning. But we can easily see how that would have gotten confusing.

    I: “Pastor Wilkins, remember that we are speaking systematically here, so define your words accordingly. Do you believe that sanctification only happens to the elect?”

    W: “Yes, I do.”

    I: “But this contradicts what you said in such-a-such sermon/article/lecture, where you said that some non-elect people are sanctified.”

    W: “Right, but there I was using ‘sanctified’ differently than the way I just used it.”

    I: “Whuh? Why would you do that? Are you trying to mislead us?”

    W: “Not at all. You insisted that in this conversation we are having right now that I only define the word ‘sanctification’ in the Confessional way. But I’m not always having these ‘systematic’ kinds of conversations, and so I don’t always use the word that way.”

    I: “Well, it looks to us like you are talking out of both sides of your mouth. You believe only elect people are sanctified; you believe some non-elect people are sanctified. Do you see why we are confused?”

    W: “Yes, it’s becuase you want to insist that we only use words in one way in this

  48. Xon said,

    January 19, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    W: “Yes, it’s becuase you want to insist that we only use words in one way in this

  49. Xon said,

    January 19, 2007 at 2:42 pm

    W: “Yes, it’s becuase you want to insist that we only use words in one way in this conversation, but then you aren’t remembering that I wasn’t follwoing that rule in the earlier thing you just quoted. Your confusion, I’m afraid, is of your own making.”

    I’m sure we can take issue with certain parts of this dialogue. I’m not claiming this is exactly how things have actually happened, although honestly when I listen to the mp3s of Wilkins’ exam by the LAP I think it’s fairly close. I’m just claiming that this is the way Wilkins seems to be putting all this together, and that as such I don’t understand the charge that he is being “confusing” nor do I understand the rule that says it is ‘unwise’ to use words in ways other than how the Confession uses them. Even in a ‘systematic’ context, what is called for is that we recognize that these words have different uses, not that we refuse to use them in more than one way.

    Perhaps my ‘propositional’ method is more convincing, though. I’m too poetic on Fridays.

  50. greenbaggins said,

    January 20, 2007 at 10:13 am

    BOQ when exactly do I cross over from appropriately preaching and speaking as the Bible speaks (hence calling all children of believers “sanctified”) into the dangerous/unwise/possibly-defrockable terrain of doing bad systematic theology? EOQ

    I do not feel comfortable with the question, for several reasons. The first is that it seems to drive too much of a wedge between biblical teaching and ST. ST *is* biblical teaching, isn’t it? When explaining a passage, I explain the passage, often using ST categories to do so. But if I use ST categories, I don’t change the category. I see equal danger in doing two things: twisting Scripture to fit ST, and twisting ST to fit exegesis. Both are dangerous. At the same time, they need mutually to inform one another. It is not an easy relationship to describe, I freely grant. However, the FV folks seem much more willing to engage in the latter danger than the former. IMO, when one is using ST categories, or even words that correspond to ST categories, he needs to be exceedingly precise and careful not to attribute too much to something. It seems to me that your question reveals some level of discomfort with ST categories, some disconnect with them that I simply don’t feel. There is so much to explore within ST for the sake of my people. I love, for instance, getting at ST *ideas* without using the precise terminology. What this accomplishes is teaching ST to the people without their realizing it. My people, at least, if one were to tell them that I am teaching them ST, would probably object, saying something like, “That’s for the professionals!” What I am doing, then, is getting at the same ideas with different terms. What I think Wilkins is doing is really the opposite of what I do: he is using the same terms to get at different ideas.

    I would still like to hear your definitive answer to my query about forgiveness in Wilkins; specifically whether he has crossed the line or not.

  51. Xon said,

    January 20, 2007 at 11:59 pm

    Lane, I promise I’ll get back to the forgiveness thing. But please bear with me on this issue of Wilkins being “confusing” and “unwise” first. I’m not stonewalling; I am genuinely confused. :-)

    I do not feel comfortable with the question, for several reasons. The first is that it seems to drive too much of a wedge between biblical teaching and ST. ST *is* biblical teaching, isn’t it?

    Well, this is my point I thought. You say that it is okay to use “sanctification” in a way other than the Confessional usage from the pulpit (say) when preaching on I Cor 7, but that when we do ST we need to only use the word one way. But since we are always doing ST, and since we can’t oppose “preaching” or “BT” or “just shootin’ the breeze about God” to ST, then when I say “sanctification” from the pulpit to talk about all children who have at least one believing parents, I am doing ST at that moment. I am always doing ST. ST and BT are not opposed, as you say. Therefore your rule that we can only use “sanctification” in the Confessional way when doing ST is false, since you admit that I can use it in a non-Confessional way from the pulpit. See my problem?

    IMO, when one is using ST categories, or even words that correspond to ST categories, he needs to be exceedingly precise and careful not to attribute too much to something.

    More precise than what “W” does in the dialogues I posted in #s 47-49? Pointing out that there are ways to use a word besides the way the Confession uses the word, and then talking about those two ways, seems to me to be a “systematic” exercise. I’m having a lot of trouble following what the problem is here.

  52. greenbaggins said,

    January 22, 2007 at 12:04 pm

    I see BT and ST as organically related, and overlapping to a great extent, though not completely. I would see all of theology, however (qualifying what I just said), as one discipline. What we say in one field always has implications for the other branches of theology. Sooner or later I am going to post my paper on the indivisibility of all theology: that theology is ultimately one even as God is one. Yes, there is also diversity, but there is an underlying unity. One could perhaps pursue a helpful analogy with the “one and the many” question wrt God and the relationship of that with theology itself. With God, of course, the one and the three are equally ultimate, neither “trumping” the other. So the analogy breaks down, perhaps, since I see theology as more ultimately one than many.

    How does this trickle down to our discussion? One cannot willy-nilly make statements in one branch of theology without considering its implications for other branches of theology. It is the better part of discretion and wisdom to wait on a new formulation until one can see how it interplays with the rest of the branches of theology. Wilkins seems to have plunged ahead with his BT without really stopping to consider all the implications for ST of his own statements. This is perhaps his greatest error.

    So, in my own church, for instance, if I decide that the exegesis of 1 Cor 7 insists that I use a term normally reserved for ST categories in a different way from that, then I need to be especially careful to guard the ST category from being vitiated. Wilkins does this in words, but not in substance, I deem. Again, I am not sure why this is so (whether from not knowing the problems, or not caring about them, or deliberately fudging). But I am reasonably certain that he does so. I hope this answers your question, so that we can move on to the forgiveness issue. If I had a preference, I would prefer you to clarify your position on this issue, and then move on.

  53. Xon said,

    January 22, 2007 at 3:18 pm

    Okay, in line with your preference that you would have if you had a preference :-) , I’ll close out my thoughts here and then move onto the forgiveness stuff.

    So, in my own church, for instance, if I decide that the exegesis of 1 Cor 7 insists that I use a term normally reserved for ST categories in a different way from that, then I need to be especially careful to guard the ST category from being vitiated. Wilkins does this in words, but not in substance, I deem.

    My problem here is that I think Wilkins has been perfectly clear that he is distinguishing between different usages. Not just “in words”, but also “in substance.” I don’t know what is more clear in Wilkins’ writings on this stuff than this.

    My real objection to your claim that it is “unwise” or “unclear” to use words in a certain way is simply that words by themselves are never the problem. I can contradict you using any number of words. If you say it is raining right now, I can say “No, sir, there is currently no precipitation outside” OR I can say “No, it’s not raining” or I can say “It never rains in this town”, etc. etc. The specific words don’t matter, it’s the meaning of what I am saying that constitutes our contradiction.

    But your “unwise”/”unclear” criticism of Wilkins takes us back to fussing over particular words, and this is my concern and objection. Certainly a person who uses words in wildly unconventional ways without indicating that he is doing so (again, think Humpty Dumpty), will be confusing, but Wilkins hasn’t done this. He’s just used certain words in un-Confessional ways, and has acknowledged this was what he was doing as he did it. He has always pointed out that the way he is using it is different than the Confessional usage (this isn’t just an ad hoc rationalization he made under ecclesiastical pressure; it is right there in his relatively brief comments at the original 2002 AA Pastor’s Conference).

    Wilkins could even use the same word to have two contradictory meanings (like the word “sanction”, for instance), and still this wouldn’t be particularly confusing so long as he pointed out that it had two different meanings (which he does). If I used “elect” to refer to people predestined to perdition (a completely contradictory definition to its Confessional meaning), then I am still not contradicting Westminster when I say that “God hates the elect.” B/c I am using “elect” to talk about a completely different group of people than the Confession talks about when it uses the same word. In fact, on this definition of “elect,” then I would contradict the Confession if I said, “God loves and cares forever for the elect.” !! Again, the words themselves don’t matter.

    Words just are this way, and while we do need to be careful sometimes we cannot make rules about how or when they can be meant in certain ways. We have to instead read people honestly and carefully and figure out what they are really trying to say, and then see if that contradicts the Confession. And this really does happen: an Arminian really does contradict the Confessional doctrine of election, for instance. Wilkins really does contradict the Confession regarding paedo-communion, for another instance (though he of course does this honestly and registers an exception).

    But I can’t for the life of me see any problem with the way Wilkins speaks about “sanctification”:

    (“CS”=”Confessional doctrine about Sanctification”)

    CS1: When God gives justifying faith to those whom He has predestined to live with Him eternally in glory, He also begins to conform them gradually into the image of Christ, setting them apart from the world and preparing them for the eternal life that it is.

    [We could go through the Confessional discussions of sanctification and be more precise, plug in a few more things, etc. I think this is a decent summary, though.]

    CS2: This process of conformity into the image of Christ is completed for all those whom God has predestined to live with Him eternally in glory.

    [i.e., all elect people are fully sanctified and do enter into glory]

    CS3: People who have not been predestined by God to live with Him eternally in glory do not go through this same process described in CS1 and CS2.

    [i.e., only the elect are sanctified in the way described by CS1 and CS2]

    Wilkins believes CS1, CS2, and CS3. He also believes some other things about the word “sanctification”, though, based on biblical passages (such as I Cor 7, but possibly others as well). Things like:

    WS1: Some people who have not been predestined by God to live with Him eternally in glory are nonetheless temporarily set apart from the rest of the world and are given many benefits from being so set apart.

    WS2: Eventually these people described in WS1 cease being “set apart” and return to the same sort of existence pertaining to the rest of the world, and at the last day these people are judges to be among the wicked with the rest of the world.

    All five of these propositions are mutually compatible. They can all be true. Thus there is no contradiction with the Confession here, nor is any of this particularly confusing (so far as I can tell). “I affirm “sanctification” as the Confession teaches it, and I also think we can use that word in a different way to talk about non-elect people.” This statement is a clear distinction between the two senses. I don’t know what more Wilkins needs to do here.

    You have said yourself, Lane, that you would use the word ‘sanctification’ as it is used in I Cor 7. But you would be careful to also explain the Confessional usage of the word, and would make sure that nothing you say about the I Cor 7 usage contradicts the Confessional usage. This is good and right, but it is also what Wilkins has done as far as I can see. I am still perplexed, therefore, as to what more Wilkins is required to do in order to be “wise” here.

    Again, if you think that Wilkins’ actual usage of the word ends up contradicting the Confession, then that’s what we’ve been discussing lately. But that’s a different charge than saying that Wilkins is “unwise” simply for using the word differently than how the Confession uses it (in an “ST” context).

    Now, on to forgiveness.

  54. Lee said,

    January 22, 2007 at 4:07 pm

    I have to admit that I am no longer following this closely, but Xon did you just say that words don’t matter, but rather meaning as if meaning and words were not connected? I would like to see you develop this idea further as it seems a bit of a sticky point. After all using your own example it is possible for ‘No it is not raining,’ to be true, but ‘There is currently no precepitation outside’ to be untrue at the same time. Those sentences communicate different things. One is broad and the other narrow. They may both contradict the statement that ‘it is raining outside’, but that does not mean they mean the same thing.
    Interested to hear your take.

  55. Xon said,

    January 22, 2007 at 4:51 pm

    Hi, Lee,

    I think this would be a bit clearer if you’ve read our entire discussion (here and also under the “Rejoinder to Jonathan Barlow” post), but that’s a lot to read and you don’t have to. :-) It’s okay that you’re asking about it without reading all that first.

    1. “It is not raining”

    and

    2. “There is currently no precipitation outside”

    do not have precisely the same meaning, you are right. But the “broader” proposition (2) “includes” the meaning of the narrower one (1). So we could certainly take (2) as a denial of the claim that “It is raining right now”, just as surely as (1) represents a denial of the same claim.

    So, for instance, when the Westminster Confession says that

    “There is but one only,[1] living, and true God,[2] who is infinite in being and perfection,[3] a most pure spirit,[4] invisible,[5] without body, parts,[6] or passions;[7] immutable,[8] immense,[9] eternal,[10] incomprehensible,[11] almighty,[12] most wise,[13] most holy,[14] most free,[15] most absolute;[16] working all things according to the counsel of His own immutable and most righteous will,[17] for His own glory;[18] most loving,[19] gracious, merciful, long-suffering, abundant in goodness and truth, forgiving iniquity, transgression, and sin;[20] the rewarder of them that diligently seek Him;[21] and withal, most just, and terrible in His judgments,[22] hating all sin,[23] and who will by no means clear the guilty.[24]” (WCF 2.1)

    we can turn this into “propositions” that are more narrow. So, for instance we could translate WCF 2.1 into the following propositions:

    WCF2.1A: There is only one God.

    WCF2.1B: God is invisible.

    WCF2.1C: God works all things according to the counsel of His immutable and most righteous will.

    And so forth. Obviously, WCF 2.1 says far more than these three propositions, and thus WCF 2.1 does not mean the same thing as (WCF2.1A + WCF2.1B + WCF2.1C). But suppose that you and I were having a debate about whether the Confession teaches that God is invisible. We could go to WCF 2.1, and “translate” a portion of it into WCF2.1B, and this would show that the Confession teaches that God is indeed invisible. We can “break the Confession” out into specific propositions in order to discuss specific topics.

    So, for instance, if we want to see whether Steve Wilkins is out-of-bounds with the Confession regarding, say, forgiveness, then we need to look through the Confession and find whatever it says about forgiveness and put this into a ‘propositional’ form. We then need to go through Wilkins’ writings and find something he says, put it into ‘propositional’ form, and then see if the two propositions are contraries. This is what Lane and I have been doing with various portions of the Confession and Wilkins’ writings in these two threads.

    When I say that “words don’t matter, but how they are used” I am trying to get at this idea of how we need to put things into a ‘propositional’ form in order to really see whether Wilkins (or whoever) is out of accord with the Confession. We need to look, not just at the specific words that are used by the two “documents” (the Confession and Wilkins), but at what those words are used to mean by the two writers.

    If Wilkins, for instance, used the word “elect” to mean “someone predestined to Hell” (just pretend; say that there’s a Bible verse where damned people are called “elect” or something and Wilkins picks up on this), then we might be tempted to think that he was out of bounds with the Confession when he says “God hates the elect.” We could try to argue like this–from WCF 3.5-6 we can clearly derive the following proposition:

    C1: God loves the elect.

    (Again, this is just ONE thing WCF 3.5-6 tells us, but it’s what is relevant to the current discussion of Wilkins so we’re focusing on it and not the other stuff).

    But Wilkins clearly says, in such-and-such article, that “God hates the elect.” So we have two contrary propositions, it seems:

    C1: God loves the elect.

    W1: God hates the elect.

    These cannot both be true, therefore they are contraries. Wilkins teaches W1 and the Confession teaches C1, therefore Wilkins is contrary to the Confession.

    What’s wrong with arguing this way? We still need to plug in the “usage definitions” of “elect”. Any time there is a controversial word, we need to make sure that we are clear on what the two people mean by the word or else we will just end up fighitng “over words.” This is what I mean when I say that the “words don’t matter.” We can easily clarify both of these propositions by defining what both the Confession and Wilkins (hypothetically) mean by “elect”. It would look like this:

    C1b: God loves those who have been predestined by Him to live eternally in glory.

    W1b: God hates those who have been predestined by Him to die forever in Hell.

    Now that we have plugged in the appropriate “usage definitions” for “elect” in both propositions, we see what C1 and W1 really “mean”. And we now see that these two propositions are not at all contrary to one another. In fact, they both seem to be Confessional! It’s just that the Confession calls the people described in W1b “reprobate” or “non-elect”, while Wilkins is calling them “elect.” But the words don’t matter. Doctrinally-speaking, Wilkins is not denying any Confessional propositions here. Does this make it clearer?

    (And please remember that Wilkins never actually uses the word “elect” to mean the damned. I was just using a stark example for an illustration.)

  56. Xon said,

    January 22, 2007 at 4:55 pm

    Let me rephrase the argument: all actual sin has its origin in original sin. Therefore, the actual sin cannot be forgiven without the original sin also being forgiven. Otherwise, the branch (actual sin) has been forgiven without the root (original sin) being dealt with at all. This is impossible. (from Comment #3, rephrasing an argument in the main post)

    I’m not sure that this is impossible. We still need to define what we mean by “forgiven.” You have spoken of WCF’s distinction between the judicial wrath of God and His fatherly displeasure. You associate “forgiveness” with the removal of the judicial wrath. I wonder why we cannot speak of a forgiveness that does not remove that wrath. Following Mark’s earlier suggestion, your sense of forgiveness can be forgiveness1 (or F1) and mine can be forgiveness2 (F2).

    If Bob is not elect, then no matter what happens to Bob in this earthly life, God will always view him in some sense as lost, as a rebel and an enemy and as someone who is just waiting for the Judgment. Bob can never receive F1 forgiveness. But, why can we not also say that if Bob joins a faithful church, is excited for a while by the Word, applies himself diligently to living peacefully among the believers, acknowledges many of his own shortcomings and seeks to be reconciled to other people (and receives that reconciliation), etc., then he also is “forgiven”? Albeit, his forgiveness does not include a removal of the judicial wrath of God–Bob has not walked into God’s courtromm and been declared “not guilty forever.” But still God might change the way He views Bob, in some sense. “For now, I give Bob protection and I free him from some of his sins and I enable him to live more freely with an eye towards righteousness, to be aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit and to benefit from that presence as a taste of the fruits of the world that is to come.” It seems to me that these sorts of things could easily be included under the “common operations of the Spirit” that NECMs receive, and that we could easily use a phrase like “temporary forgiveness” to describe them. This is forgiveness without the removal of judicial wrath. Call it F2 forgiveness.

    God’s “courtroom” can still be involved in F2 forgiveness. There can still be a sort of judicial proclamation, just not a complete removal of God’s wrath. In any case, though, it is obvious that the Confession doesn’t teach this sort of forgiveness. But, as we know by now, the question as far as Confessional orthodoxy is concerned is “Does the Confession deny the existence of this kind of forgiveness?” I don’t think it does.

    I’m sorry, I have to go home now. I’ll say more later.

  57. greenbaggins said,

    January 24, 2007 at 10:06 am

    BOQ Albeit, his forgiveness does not include a removal of the judicial wrath of God–Bob has not walked into God’s courtromm and been declared “not guilty forever.” But still God might change the way He views Bob, in some sense. “For now, I give Bob protection and I free him from some of his sins and I enable him to live more freely with an eye towards righteousness, to be aware of the presence of the Holy Spirit and to benefit from that presence as a taste of the fruits of the world that is to come.” It seems to me that these sorts of things could easily be included under the “common operations of the Spirit” that NECMs receive, and that we could easily use a phrase like “temporary forgiveness” to describe them. This is forgiveness without the removal of judicial wrath. Call it F2 forgiveness. EOQ

    Here we are getting to some of what I think is the real problem. I don’t see this as what Wilkins is saying. You say he says this. However, there aren’t any quotes here to back it up. I have provided quotations above (in the original post) that indicate that he believes in a temporary *judicial* forgiveness of sins. They are, after all, benefits that he says comes with union with Christ. Look again at page 57-60 of _Federal Vision_. If that is so, then the argument in the original post still stands: the WCF not only does not teach a temporary judicial forgiveness of sin, but positively rejects such a notion. Therefore, Wilkins is contrary to the WS.

  58. Xon said,

    January 24, 2007 at 1:30 pm

    Lane, first, please let me apologize for how slow I’m being lately. I’m pretty swamped, sure, but we all are in our own ways. I’m still feeling the love for this thread, and I still have a lot to answer. I promise to get there. (I bit off too many commitments for my “internet life” back over Christmas break, and now I’m having trouble keeping up. But this is still my “numero uno” as far as my passions are concerned, but I also have some other things that I don’t feel I can ignore even though I might want to.)

    Anyway, your point is well taken: I need to do some more work to show that this is actually Wilkins’ view. I need to interact more specifically with your argument from the article in the FV book. And I need (of course) to interact with the Confession in more detail as well.

    For now, though, I would just say that F2 forvieness can be “judicial” without entailing a complete removal of God’s wrath. God can make more pronouncements in His “courtroom” than just “you are forgiven forever, and my wrath is abated.” Or am I way off here?

  59. greenbaggins said,

    January 24, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    Xon, respond at your leisure. I am going to Presbytery starting tomorrow afternoon (through Saturday: it’s a long way away), and so I won’t be able to respond right away either.

    As to a judicial non-wrath forgiveness, I confess I have a hard time seeing it in the Scriptures or in the WS. It seems to me that every time the courtroom is invoked, there entire forgiveness is involved. The reason for that belief is the inseparable nature of forgiveness and justification. The former is an integral part of the latter.

  60. Xon said,

    January 29, 2007 at 4:14 pm

    Lane, I’ve been under the weather, my wife’s been under the weather, and my father came into town this past weekend. So, needless to say, I haven’t had much time or energy for blogging. I hope to get to this soon, though.

  61. Xon said,

    January 31, 2007 at 11:14 am

    I think this comment can be helpfully structured along the lines of this paragraph from #58:

    I need to do some more work to show that this is actually Wilkins’ view. I need to interact more specifically with your argument from the article in the FV book. And I need (of course) to interact with the Confession in more detail as well.

    So, this leaves me with three things to discuss.

    1. What is Wilkins’ view regarding NECM forgiveness?

    2. Where do I think Lane’s argument goes wrong concerning Wilkins’ article in the FV book?

    3. What does the Confession say about NECM forgiveness?

    Away we go….

    1.What is Wilkins’ view regarding NECM forgiveness?

    This question will require some work to answer. First a preliminary remark. I have ‘drifted’ in this conversation–at least on occasion–between (a) describing what I think Wilkins’ view is to (b) describing my own view to (c) describing some generic “possible” view that I don’t necessarily mean to impute to any particular person (including myself). I want to try to stop that now, and to be more clear as to what Wilkins’ own view actually is (since we are discussing whether Wilkins, in particular, is out-of-bounds with the Confession).

    In terms that have already been used (see # 56), our question is “What is F2 forgiveness for Wilkins?” I take it as abundantly obvious that Wilkins believes in some sort of F2 that is different than the F1 taught by the Confession but which can still accurately wear the name ‘forgiveness’. The question is, “What is it?”

    But there is a problem right out of the gate with asking this question, and that is that Wilkins’ own writings in a few places make it pretty clear that he is not claiming to have all this worked out. He is making, most basically, a claim about the word “forgiveness” and how it can be used to talk about various situations in the world. Just culling a few quotations from his written answers to the LAP:

    And, though I am quite certain that only the elect will be finally redeemed through the blood of Jesus and only the elect will receive the forgiveness of sins (and I’m sure Paul would agree), how can Paul state that this reality was true of the members of the Church in Colossae? These are the sorts of questions I’m seeking to address and to do so in a way that does no harm to God’s absolute, sovereign, predestination. (PDF p. 5)

    My question in light of what WLC affirms (and which I also affirm) is this, “How can Paul say that these things are true of the members of the church in Corinth and in what sense are they true?” Whatever our answer to this question, it seems clear then that Paul is not using these terms in the same way that the Westminster Confession defines them. My accusers may disagree with my interpretation of these passages, but clearly these statements by Paul are not based upon a denial of God’s sovereignty in salvation or a denial of the doctrine of unconditional election or the perseverance of the saints as the WCF defines these teachings (which I affirm most happily). (PDF p. 9)

    This seems to set forth a sort of “temporary forgiveness” (for lack of a better term) that is, in spite of its impermanence, real. (PDF p. 18)

    Wilkins is here summing up his purpose in this controversy: He thinks “realities” experienced by NECMs can be described with words like “forgiveness”. Words that also occur in the Confession to describe realities only experienced by the elect. Obviously, then, the usages of these words which can describe NECM realities have to be different than the usages found in the Confession. There is, in other words, a “forgiveness” that only elect people get, but there is also a “forgiveness” that NECMs receive. This leads us to want to ask “Okay, what exactly IS this “forgiveness” that NECMs receive?” But here Wilkins is clear that he doesn’t have all the answers:

    This is a difficult concept to express (and I don’t believe it is addressed in our Confession or catechisms) but it seems to me to be clearly taught in the Scriptures.

    However we might state this, we would have to maintain that the “forgiveness” received by such a person is not identical to that received by the elect. To repeat what I’ve said earlier: First, differs in its duration…And second, it differs qualitatively. The elect person’s forgiveness in time is an anticipation of his final vindication at the last judgment. The non-elect’s “forgiveness” is not. Although the non-elect person has standing for a time in the church which is “realm” of the forgiven, his justification is not the judgment he will receive from God at the last day. Ultimately, it seems to me to be impossible systematically to define and enumerate what all these qualitative differences may be. To the degree that we can even identify any differences, we can only do so retrospectively, after an individual has moved significantly along the path of rebellion and unbelief toward apostasy.

    This is a difficult concept to express, Wilkins says. But he does express one thing about it very clearly: it is a different “forgiveness” than that received by the elect. Wilkins is clear here, “however we might state this”, the two “forgivenesses” are different from one another.

    It might be frustrating to not get more from Wilkins on this point, but part of his point is that this not an easy doctrine to understand fully or articulate. He believes that we are Scripturally obligated to use words like “forgiveness” to describe NECMs. He is not claiming to know the best way to understand this; only that we have to do it based on Scripture. Now, his readings of the various Scriptural passages that lead him to this conclusion can be debated, but such a debate is irrelevant to our present discussion, because what we are discussing right now is whether or not Wilkins’ view is out of accord with the Confession. We are not discussing whether his reading of this or that passage of Scripture is correct. (In theory, he could read all these passages incorrectly and yet could still end up consistent with the Confession; logically, these are two separate questions.)

    Now if it’s not too rude of me to do so, I’d like to repeat what I said in an earlier comment regarding the word “sanction”. (# 40, which was actually directed to David G.) If I say, “I think there are meanings of “sanction” besides “punish”,” I am not using “sanction” as a mere empty container. I have put some meaning into it–not a lot of meaning but some. I have put into the term’s ‘container’ something that it does not mean, and this is still something. If you say “What do you think ’sanction’ means besides ‘punish,’ Xon?”, and I say, “Gee, I dunno”, there is still nothing wrong with anything I have said. I have still given some content to the alternative use of “sanction”–namely, it is not the same usage as when “sanction” means “punish.” I do not have to know exactly what a word means in its alternative usage in order to posit that it does not always mean “punish.”

    This is, more or less, what Wilkins is doing with words like “sanctified” “justified” and “forgiven” when talking about NECMs. This is his explicit claim, in a context of trying to explain his earlier remarks that proved controversial, about what he is doing. He is claiming that these words can be applied truthfully to NECMs, but at the same time he also says that such an application would have to be a different definition or usage of the word than the way these words are used in the Confession. This is his whole point. What exactly is this “forgiveness” that NECMs receive? What exactly does it mean for a NECM to be “justified”? I think Wilkins gives a bit more in answering these questions, but the basic fact remains: he has made it clear that he distinguishes the two usages of the term. There is a “forgiveness” that goes to NECMs which is different from the “forgiveness” that goes to the elect.

    We still need to discuss some of Wilkins’ other writings perhaps, but for now I just want to make it clear how things look based on his written comments to the LAP I quoted above. Prima facie, it seems to me that Wilkins has said all he needs to say in order to keep from contradicting the Confession. I don’t see how there’s anything more he needs to do. What he has said is as reasonable as the hypothetical statements about the word “sanction” mentioned above. But, like I said, we do need to look at some of his other writings, and at the Confession specifically, before drawing a final conclusion here.

    As to the “bit more” that Wilkins does, he actually does tell us a bit more about how the two types of “forgiveness” are different. (He gives the same answer for all these terms, so I am applying that answer to “forgiveness” specifically) They differ in duration, so F2 forgiveness is only temporary while F1 forgiveness is permanent. They also differ in quality/kind/essence, but here Wilkins admits that he thinks it is hard to know what exactly all these differences are. He says it is “impossible systematically to define and enumerate what all these qualitative differences may be. To the degree that we can even identify any differences, we can only do so retrospectively…” But please note that this is an affirmation that there are such differences, not a denial.

    Clearly the “TR” position (as represented on this blog by folks like Lane and David G.) differs with Wilkins at this point. The “TR” view is that we can define the qualitative difference between NECM and ECM using “ordo salutis” terms. Wilkins thinks we cannot define it in those terms, because those terms themselves can be applied to both NECMS and ECMs (though admittedly they have different meanings in the two applications—so the more precise way to say this is that Wilkins thinks we can define the difference using these terms but that we would have to modify them to show that they admit of different usages—so we can talk of F1 and F2 forgiveness, for instance). This is clearly a substantive disagreement over what words we can use to talk about NECMs. But this does not necessarily mean that anyone is out of bounds with the Confession. This is precisely the FV point: the Confession does not speak to this particular matter (of what terms can be used to talk about NECMs), or it only speaks to it very cursorily, and so there is room for FVish folks and their critics to disagree on this point while both remain true to the Confession.

    A disagreement over how to define the qualitative difference between NECMs and ECMs is not a disagreement over whether there is a qualitative difference between them. This confusion has cropped up in earlier conversations on this blog, I think. Now, part of your contention, Lane, is that the Confession does in fact speak to this issue (at least regarding forgiveness). The Confession does tell us that there is only one kind of forgiveness, and it tells us that this one forgiveness only goes to the elect. Thus the FV claim that this is an extra-Confessional issue and that there should thus be no charges of heresy over these matters is false. This is your argument, right?

    In comment # 56 I speculated as to how a non-elect forgiveness might work. I was not meaning to say that this was Wilkins’ view. Your response in #57 was to doubt that this was Wilkins’ view, and I accept your skepticism on this point. Wilkins’ view is not fleshed out enough to commit him to any particular model of non-elect forgiveness. His position is simply that there is such a forgiveness, and that it is different from elect forgiveness.

    So much, then, for Wilkins’ actual view of NECM forgiveness. Two more points to cover.

  62. Xon said,

    February 15, 2007 at 10:32 am

    2. Where do I think Lane’s argument goes wrong concerning Wilkins’ article in the FV book?

    In #57, Lane writes:

    I have provided quotations above (in the original post) that indicate that he believes in a temporary *judicial* forgiveness of sins. They are, after all, benefits that he says comes with union with Christ. Look again at page 57-60 of _Federal Vision_. If that is so, then the argument in the original post still stands: the WCF not only does not teach a temporary judicial forgiveness of sin, but positively rejects such a notion. Therefore, Wilkins is contrary to the WS.

    Before reviewing the argument in the original post to which you refer us here, I’ve got to harp a bit more on “judicial”. As I said in #58, “I would just say that F2 forgiveness can be ‘judicial’ without entailing a complete removal of God’s wrath. God can make more pronouncements in His ‘courtroom’ than just ‘you are forgiven forever, and my wrath is abated.’” To this you responded (in #59) thusly:

    As to a judicial non-wrath forgiveness, I confess I have a hard time seeing it in the Scriptures or in the WS. It seems to me that every time the courtroom is invoked, there entire forgiveness is involved. The reason for that belief is the inseparable nature of forgiveness and justification. The former is an integral part of the latter.

    My concern with this response is that a view doesn’t have to be “in” the WS in order to be consistent with the WS. I’m sure this was just an accidental slip on your part, but just for the benefit of anyone who might be reading let’s make it clear. If you are right that the WS always means to invoke “entire forgiveness” whenever it mentions God’s courtroom, then this only sets up my defense of Wilkins all the more. An FVer can agree that those sorts of (entirely forgiving) declarations take place inside God’s courtroom, but also think that other declarations take place there as well. Other declarations involving NECMs, a temporary “forgiveness”, but which do not involve any promise or declaration of permanence. The only way to argue that the FVer is not allowed to do this and still remain Confessional is to somehow argue that the Confession itself claims that the only kind of declarations that take place inside God’s courtroom are the “entirely forgiving” kind. But where does the Confession say this? (Saying that certain declarations occur in God’s courtroom is not the same as saying that only those declarations occur in God’s courtroom).

    So, even if you are right that Wilkins argues for a “judicial” (assuming “judicial” is roughly equal to “pertaining to God’s courtroom”) forgiveness for NECMs in his article in the FV book, I’m still not convinced that this would entail a break with the Confession. Of course, I’m skeptical (as my previous comment demonstrates) that Wilkins ever gets this specific in spelling out his understanding of F2 forgiveness. But my point is that even if he does, I still don’t see why a “judicial” forgiveness that goes to NECMs would entail a break with the Confession (but remember that I still have to discuss the Confession in more detail: this is for the next comment).
    But let’s look at your argument about Wilkins’ chapter in the FV book.

    Somewhere in “Rejoinder to Jonathan Barlow” thread (somewhere in the #20s), Lane said this in a comment:

    “Let me try to summarize what you are saying: WCF says that only the elect get a complete forgiveness of all sins. “Complete forgiveness” does not rule out “temporary incomplete forgiveness.” Wilkins teaches the latter in reference to NECM, but not the former.”

    I remarked then that this was a pretty good summation of my position concerning Wilkins’ position. Due to some of our ensuing conversation about “complete” as it applies to forgiveness, though (see, the last 20 or so comments in the “Barlow” thread, starting around #44), I think I should state my position a little differently. There is a forgiveness that all and only the elect people get. This is the “best,” “fullest,” “most complete,” “truest”, forgiveness that is possible. There is also a forgiveness which is less than this, not as good, full, complete, or true, and this lesser forgiveness is received temporarily by non-elect covenant members. I’d rather not be tied down to a word like “complete”, since that word is also open to a few interpretations, and I don’t think that Wilkins spells it out in these terms anyway.

    So, my position about Wilkins is that he is arguing that there are two different kinds of forgiveness (we might call them F1 and F2, as I have been doing more recently). F1 is the Westminster-Standards-kind of forgiveness, it is total and it “lasts” forever. People who are forgiven in this way always end up going to Heaven. F2 is a lesser kind of forgiveness—people can receive this kind of forgiveness and still go to Hell. Wilkins gets his belief in F2 from his reading of certain passages of the Bible. But the two kinds of forgiveness are not in logical conflict with each other. Logically, there is no reason that both kinds of forgiveness cannot co-exist, that some people cannot receive F1 while other people receive only F2 (and others receive neither). The definitions of F1 and F2 are not all that detailed in Wilkins’ writings, but this is by design. Wilkins isn’t claiming to have all of this “worked out,” he is just claiming that, Biblically, it seems like we have to be willing to use the word “forgiven” for people who end up going to Hell. But this does not conflict with the kind of “forgiveness” that the Confession speaks of, which is also very true and real and describes a reality that goes only to those predestined for Heaven. That’s my view on what Wilkins is teaching (and I laid all this out more fully, I think, in the previous comment).

    Now, with my view of Wilkins’ position clarified, Lane is arguing that Wilkins attributes something to F2 forgiveness that can only go to F1 forgiveness. He hasn’t put it in those terms (F1 and F2), because I’ve introduced those terms rather recently, but this is what Lane would need to show to find a problem with Wilkins and it is what I think Lane is trying to prove. I think Lane will be “clicking” with me here as I write this. His argument is rooted in the chapter Wilkins contributed to the FV book (published by Athanasius Press in 2003), and it is the argument I cited above. Let’s look at that argument in more detail. I’ve numbered the statements from Wilkins to make it easier to talk about them.

    However, it is still a helpful logical exercise to establish what Wilkins teaches about the kind of forgiveness that a NECM receives. Again I will go to his article in the Federal Vision. (1) Pg. 55 “At baptism we are clothed with Christ, united to him and to His Church which is His body;” (2) pg. 55 “By virtue of our union with Him, we are made recipients of *all* (emphasis mine) that is His;”(3) pg. 56 “As we abide in Him, *all* (emphasis mine) that is true of Him is true of us;” (4) pg. 58 “Because being in covenant with God means being in Christ, those who are in covenant have *all* (emphasis mine) spiritual blessings in the heavenly places. Union with Christ means that *all* (emphasis mine) that is true of Christ is true of us;” (5) pg. 59 “They have been washed (or baptized) which has brought about sanctification and justification in the name of Christ, by the Spirit of God;” (6) pg. 60 “All in covenant are given all that is true of Christ;” (7) pg. 61 “Thus, when one breaks covenant, it can be truly said that he has turned away from grace and forfeited life, *forgiveness,* (emphasis mine), and salvation.”
    Now, let’s fill in a few of the gaps here. Baptism means union with Christ. Union with Christ means that all that is true of Christ is true of those united by baptism to Christ. If all that is true of Christ is true of those baptized into union with Christ, then *all* Christ’s righteousness is imputed to the believer. Otherwise, they would not have *all* spiritual blessings (see pg. 58). By metonymy, having Christ’s righteousness is the flip-side (irrevocably connected) of being forgiven of all one’s sins (see Romans 6:6-7 and how Paul quotes David). If we have all that is true of Christ, then we have His righteousness as well, which means that all our sins have been forgiven. If we only have part of Christ’s righteousness, then we don’t have all that is true of Christ, which Wilkins says we do have. Therefore Wilkins is teaching a temporary, complete forgiveness. (“Rejoinder to Jonathan Barlow,” #28)

    Let’s look at this.

    Quote (1): This is from the beginning of the particularly controversial section of Wilkins’ article. (spanning pages 54-64). Wilkins is here just getting started, and is trying to set up the basic foundation of salvation as being found in Christ (something we all agree with, no doubt!):

    “In order to restore man, sin must first be dealt with. The curse of the covenant that hangs over mankind and all creation must be removed if man is to be reconciled to God and restored to His favor. Thus, the job of the second Adam is to undertake redemption by making atonement for sin, and through death and resurrection, to restore all things. This task was undertaken by the Second Person of the Godhead.

    (A) All the blessings and benefits of salvation therefore are found ‘in Christ.’ In the first Adam there is only death. In the second Adam there is life and peace. By virtue of union with the Second Adam we have wholeness and restoration….A new humanity is re-created in the Second Adam.” (p. 54, emphasis added) (I’m labeling quotes that I choose to use with letters, to go along with the numbered quotes from Lane)

    The italicized sentence is the first occurrence of the phrase “all the blessings” in this chapter. At this point, it is clear that all Wilkins is doing is establishing the foundational point that salvation only comes through, or more properly “in”, Christ. Whatever blessings and benefits come from being rescued from Adam’s plight, these blessings and benefits can only come to those who are “in Christ.” So far so good.

    All salvation, whatever exactly that entails, can only be found “in Christ.” This is the general point that Wilkins is establishing first, before he goes on to give more details. His discussion seems to continue operating at this “general” level for the next couple of pages, until a key passage on p. 56. (On which more in a moment.) Wilkins continues in the next paragraph on p. 54 to describe the “general” way in which salvation—reconciliation with God—takes place. “To be reconciled to God is to be restored back into covenant communion with Him…In Him we are granted all the promises of God and everything necessary for life and godliness.” I think it would be a big mistake to read this passage as saying that all people who are in this “covenant communion” with God have full salvation. Wilkins isn’t going there. He’s just establishing that the way we come to be saved as by being “in Christ”, and the way we come to be “in Christ” is by being in a renewed “covenant relationship” with God. Whatever the blessings and benefits of salvation are, they come to people who are in this covenant relationship. Nothing is being said here about whether ALL people in that covenant relationship get all the same blessings and benefits, or whether some people receive a more complete or full “salvation” than others. (Wilkins’ position is the latter, but he doesn’t say here one way or the other.) The point is just that, the “way” to be saved is to be in covenant with God by being “in Christ”. Perhaps some people can be “in Christ” in this way and not receive the full salvation, but the point is that being “in Christ” is the only “road” that can lead to the full salvation. Not everyone on that road might reach the end, though. I’m just pointing this out as a logical distinction in where Wilkins could go from here—the hermeneutical point is that he isn’t getting into these questions at this point. He’s still setting up the “basics.”

    And this brings us to quote (1) from your argument, Lane. I don’t think Wilkins is saying here that baptism automatically takes you to Heaven. Rather, he is simply pointing out “how” we can come to be “in Christ”. We have to be “in Christ” to be saved in any sense (even if there are different kinds of salvation for different people, you have to be in Christ to get any of them); and the way to be “in Christ” is to be in a renewed covenant communion with God, a communion that was broken by the first Adam. So the next logical question is, “How do we come into this covenant communion?” Remember that we are talking about a covenant communion here, not necessarily “full salvation/going to Heaven when you die.” This leads us directly into quote (1), which follows immediately from the last quote I gave on p. 54. Here is the full paragraph, which starts at the very bottom of p. 54 (the portion Lane quotes, which occurs on p.55, is in italics):

    (B)The Bible teaches us that baptism unites us to Christ and His body by the power of the Holy Apirit (1 Cor. 12:13). Baptism is an act of God (through His ministers) which signifies and seals our initiation into the Triune communion (we are ‘baptized into the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit’). [fn7] At baptism we are clothed with Christ, united to Him and to His Church which is His body (Gal. 3:26-28). The Church, therefore, is not to be divorced from Christ and the blessings of covenant. [quotes Eph. 5:30]. It is for this reason that the Westminster Confession states that outside the Church there is no ordinary possibility of salvation (WCF 25.2). This is true simply because there is no salvation outside of Christ.

    Okay, so notice here that Wilkins is talking about how baptism brings us into “communion” with God. This seems related to the “covenant communion” with God he discussed on the previous page. That “covenant communion”, remember, is what puts us “in Christ,” and being “in Christ” is necessary to be saved. Baptism, then, puts us in covenant, which gives us a kind of communion with Christ. As Wilkins says immediately after the quote we gave above, “All that man must have is found in Him.” (p. 55) He goes on to discuss how Christ is the Elect One and the Justified One in whom sinners are elect and justified. Notice that he isn’t spelling out exactly who is elect or who is justified, or what exactly these words mean at this point. He’s just pointing out that election and justification are some of the benefits that can only come to sinners “in Christ.”

    Now, what exactly is the nature of this communion? In terms of logic, we might still wonder whether being “in Christ” in this way is sufficient to be saved, whether it saves us in the fullest possible sense, etc. Wilkins has not addressed that question yet. But he will. Where? On page 56, where we come to the “key passage” I mentioned earlier. There Wilkins makes it clear that what he has been talking about up until now is a “weaker” kind of election than what Calvinists are used to talking about:

    (D) Salvation is relational. It is found only in covenant union with Christ. As we abide in Him, all that is true of Him is true of us. It has been the common practice in Reformed circles to use the term ‘elect’ to refer only to those who are predestined to eternal salvation. Since God has ordained all things “whatsoever comes to pass” (Eph. 1:11), He has certainly predestined the number of all who will be saved at the last day. This number is fixed and settled, not one of these will be lost. The Lord will accomplish all His holy will. But the term ‘elect’ (or ‘chosen’) as it is used in the Scriptures most often refers to those in covenant union with Christ who is the Elect One.

    So what Wilkins has been talking about up until now when he said that “all that is Christ’s belongs to us” is this “covenantal” kind of election. (I’ll address the apparent problem of saying “all” below.) He then spends the next several pages (the rest of the article, really), trying to argue from Scripture that this kind of “election” is what is being described in a whole bunch of passages. Notice that Wilkins does not deny the “common” understanding of election, in fact he affirms that there are a fixed number of people predestined for final salvation. But this just isn’t the topic of this article. This whole article is basically about this “covenantal” election that Wilkins believes in. That’s the subject he is talking about. I think this fact contextualizes most if not of all of the quotes you have used in your argument, Lane. If you read his words as though he is applying them to “decretal” election, then you’ll misunderstand what he is saying (and I would have to stand with you in condemning Wilkins if that was what he meant). For instance, to use a quote that other critics (such as the CCP) have made a lot out of:

    (E) The elect are those who are faithful in Christ Jesus. If they later reject the Savior, they are no longer elect—they are cut off from the Elect One and thus, lose their elect standing. But their falling away doesn’t negate the reality of their standing prior to their apostasy. They were really and truly the elect of God because of their relationship with Christ. (p. 58)

    The CCP Memorial interprets these words as though every occurrence of “elect” has “decretal” in front of it, so that Wilkins is saying that people who are predestined to go to Heaven can reject the Savior and no longer be predestined. But this is not what he is saying. Wilkins is talking about “covenantal” election here. Now, if a critic doesn’t agree with Wilkins that there is such a thing as “covenantal” election, then that’s worth talking about, but you can’t read Wilkins as though he’s saying something he’s not.

    Again, we know from lots of other places in Wilkins’ writings and speakings (including in this same article) that he also believes in the “decretal” kind of election that Reformed people usually like to talk about. We already pointed out earlier quote (D) from page 56. But there also the following towards the end of the article:

    (F) “The Calvinist embraces this implausible interpretation [of John 15] because he (understandably) does not want to deny election, effectual calling, or the perseverance of the saints.” (p. 63)

    (G) “We must embrace this straightforward covenantal framework and allow it to direct our understanding of God’s work of salvation as it unfolds in time. We cannot judge men based upon the secret decrees of God or the hidden operations of the Spirit…We are to be concerned with those things that are revealed. The questions of when a man is “regenerated,” or given “saving faith,” or “truly converted,” are ultimately questions we cannot answer and, therefore, they cannot be the basis upon which we define the Church or identify God’s people.” (p. 66)

    (H) “We can preserve the sovereignty of God’s grace in salvation [in context he clearly is talking about decretal election here] without promoting pietism or legalism.” (p. 67)

    These are short and sweet, but that’s because this article isn’t about decretal election. It’s about the controversial covenantal election that Wilkins also believes in. We shouldn’t be surprised that he doesn’t dwell on decretal election. But he does affirm it, and this should be enough in the context of what he is trying to argue.

    And an exactly analogous interpretation will need to be employed of those places (like in quote (7), for instance) where Wilkins uses other traditional “ordo” words such as “justification”, “forgiveness”, etc. We have to undersrtand these words to be referring to a kind of “weaker” justification, or fogiveness, that goes to covenant members. He is not talking about the same thing that Reformed people mean when they usually use these “ordo” words. Read (D) from p. 56 again, and change out “election” for whatever word of your choice. Wilkins’ understanding of election trickles down into all these other topics, too. The common usage of “justified” in Reformed circles, for instance, is to refer to a declaration of God concerning a sinner that that sinner is being brought from death to life in a permanent and irrevocable way. (I’m not trying to slip in something “funky” here; I’m just trying to put things in a very general way.) This is the kind of declaration God makes for the decretally elect and them only, and this is what the Confession teaches. Wilkins believes that this kind of declaration happens, and he agrees with calling it “justification”. But he also wants to argue that the Scriptures use the word “justification” sometimes to talk about people who are not decretally elect. So, apparently there is some kind of declaration of God concerning some decretally non-elect people that they too have been brought from death to life, but not in an irrevocable way. We can call both of these different declarations “justification”, though, because Scripture does (acc. to Wilkins). This is Wilkins’ argument, not that all covenant members receive exactly the same “justification,” full stop.

    Now, about that word “all.” This is clearly one of your biggest objections, Lane, to the things Wilkins says, and I understand why you are upset. If Wilkins is trying to posit a “weaker” kind of election in addition to the “final salvation” election we Reformed people are used to, then why does he describe that weaker covenantal election with such “strong” terms like “all the blessings of Christ?” This might seem confusing. For instance, if we take Wilkins seriously that this covenantal kind of election does not guarantee final or “decretal” election (and this is clearly what Wilkins says he believes), then he acknowledges that all these covenantally united-to-Christ people are not going to go to Heaven when they die (and, honestly, it never occurred to me that this was what he was saying when I first read this article, for whatever that’s worth). Not all covenantally elect people end up going to Heaven—i.e., they are not all “decretally” elect. But isn’t “going to Heaven” a blessing of being in Christ? Or, to put it another way, isn’t perseverance in the faith a blessing of being united to Christ? So how then can Wilkins say that we have “all” the blessings in Christ by virtue of our covenantal union with Him? We don’t have perseverance, and isn’t perseverance a blessing found in Christ? So why does Wilkins say “all?”

    Perhaps this isn’t the best way to speak, but we as Calvinists should be somewhat used to funky senses of “all.” We possess all the benefits in Christ that it is possible to possess in the present. Of course we don’t “possess” perseverance or “final salvation” simply by being united to Christ in baptism, because not all baptized people are decretally elect. But we can still call this union something that gives us “all” benefits, so long as we understand this to mean that it “holds out” all the benefits to us by a promise. We are united to Christ, we are under the umbrella of God’s protection in Him, we are recipients of the promise that if we cling to Christ in faith we will be saved all the way to the end. What more can we ‘possess’ during our earthly life?

    Look at the way Wilkins expresses the same idea a few pages later: “…the covenant is union with Christ. Thus, being in covenant gives all the blessings of being united to Christ. (p. 58)” This makes it clear, I think. Consider an analogy of my own making. If we say that “investing with Xon and Bros. Investment Group brings all the benefits of having the world’s best investment plan,” are we saying that everyone who invests with Xon and Bros. ends up retiring at age 60? No, we’re not, right? But one of the benefits of having the “world’s best investment plan” would probably be that you are able to retire at age 60. So why don’t some people get to do this? Because they, for whatever reason, don’t stay “in” the Xon and Bros. Investment Plan. Perhaps they get nervous and start hiding all their money under their mattress, or perhaps they foolishly pull all their money out when they’re 50 to go into a doubtful business with their brother-in-law. For whatever reason, these people don’t make it to “final” enjoyment of the retirement plan. But can’t we still say of them that, back when they were “in” the plan, that hey had “all” the benefits of the plan at that time? Retiring at age 60 is not a benefit anyone can literally “have” or “possess” (in the present tense) until they actually reach age 60. Before that time, they have a promise or guarantee of that future possession. But a future possession is not a present possession. This is true for both those who end up retiring at 60, and those who screw it up. Neither of them “possessed” retirement at age 60 when they were only 45.

    So anyway, this seems like a perfectly natural way to speak of people who are only temporarily united to Christ through the covenant of grace. Even though this union will not last, we can still say that while they are “in” they have “all” the benefits that such a union can bring. In the final analysis, it’s not really such a weird way of talking.

    So, to sum this up and then stop. As I see it, the problem with your hermeneutical argument about Wilkins’ chapter in the FV book, Lane, is that all those references to “all the blessings” are in context really only referring to the kinds of blessings that come from being covenantally, not decretally, elect. Being predestined into the covenant of grace brings you a temporal possession of Christ Himself. Whether this temporal possession also turns into a permanent possession depends on whether you are also decretally elect. (And, no, the difference between a covenantally elect and decretally elect person is not just a matter of chronology, but chronology is one way to very accurately and effectively express the “world of appearances” in the covenant of grace. Of course we can also say that, in some sense, the person who is decretally elect posseses Christ in a “different way” from the beginning than the person who is only covenantally elect. Spelling out all the ways we can say this, though, isn’t what I’m supposed to be what I’m doing in this comment, though.)

    So, Wilkins is talking about covenantally elect people throughout the quotations you reference, not the decretally elect. And in terms of F1 and F2 forgiveness, this means that the “forgiveness” Wilkins talks about in quote (7) must be F2 forgiveness (the kind of “lesser forgiveness” that goes to decretally non-elect covenant members). There is no “mix-up” in anything Wilkins says from F2 to F1. He’s talking about covenant members, not people predestined to go to Heaven. He’s saying that covenant members have a certain kind of forgiveness (which we can call F2). Perhaps he is wrong here, but we need to understand the way in which he might be wrong. Your argument from his article claims that he is taking a benefit that can only go to decretally elect people and giving it to some decretally non-elect people (those who are covenant members). But this is not what he is doing. Rather, he is claiming that there are two kinds of forgiveness, one which goes only to the decretally elect and the other which goes to all covenantally elect (i.e., covenant members). You’ve mischaracterized his argument on this point. If my argument in this comment is right, then this means that my previous comment is better established, because now in addition to arguing for my own understanding of Wilkins’ position (in the previous comment) I have refuted your counter-understanding of his view (in this present comment).

    All of this is mere child’s play, though, if Wilkins’ view is contrary to the Standards. That’s the “real” issue. But we couldn’t have talked about that unless we first figured out what Wilkins’ view actually is. Hopefully that’s done now.

  63. Xon said,

    February 15, 2007 at 1:27 pm

    3. What does the Confession say about NECM forgiveness?

    Okay, so we were talking about WCF 15.3. Way back in the “Rejoinder to Barlow” thread you had suggested that WCF 15.3 excluded the decretally non-elect from receiving any fogiveness whatsoever. I questioned this interpretation by distinguishing between two subtly different statements:

    Saying that ‘no sinner may find pardon without x’ ((1), which is what WCF 15.3 actually says) is not the same as saying that a sinner may find no pardon without x’ ((2), which is not quite what it says).(Myself in comment # 62 of “Rejoinder to Barlow”)

    You responded in the main post of this thread like this:

    I readily grant this point. It is different to say that “no sinner receives pardon without x,” versus “a sinner receives no pardon without x.” I think I have your argument summarized here. You further conclusion would be that there is a kind of pardon that a NECM could receive that would not conflict with this section of the WS. Correct?

    Correct! So let’s burn rubber. Your full argument is rather lengthy (which is good, sayeth the philosopher). I think the clearest way to express my response in this case is to break it up into sections (I don’t always like to do this “farking” style of response, sorry…):

    My answer is this: I believe that the WCF 15 includes both statements. I think we would both agree (and actually, you have already said this) that WCF 15 teaches the first statement “no sinner may find pardon without repentance.” But I would also argue that the WS teach the second statement: “a sinner may find no pardon without repentance.” To prove this, we need to go back to the definition of sin. The WS define sin as being two-fold: original sin and actual sin. This distinction is clear in chapter 6 of the WCF. Furthermore, 6.4 defines actual sins as having their source in the original sin, or original corruption. It is a categorical statement: “From this original corruption…do proceed all actual transgressions.” To put it negatively, there is no sin that does not proceed from original corruption.

    Yes, this seems right. As the classical logicians would say, the Confession is giving us an “A” statement here on the square of opposition. “All actual transgressions are things which proceed from original sin.” All S is P.

    6.6 further states that both original and actual sins are transgressions that bring guilt upon the sinner, making him subject to eternal death. Furthermore, 6.5 says that the original corruption is pardoned in those that are regenerated. Plainly, there can be no pardon of original corruption without regeneration. Regeneration, by definition, reverses original corruption (though not completely freeing us from it, as 6.5 indicates). To be more specific, regeneration means a new heart. Through Christ, those who are regenerated have their original corruption pardoned and mortified (6.5). That is what I mean by “reversal.” I am on safe ground, therefore, in saying that only the regenerate have their original corruption pardoned and mortified. The categories of regenerated and original-corruption-pardoned-and-mortified are the same in 6.5.

    Well, clearly the Confession is here teaching that (to use another “A” statement) “All regenerates are things that have their original corruption pardoned and mortified.” But this isn’t quite the same as making the two categories “the same.” The question is whether only regenerates are things that have their original corruption pardoned and mortified. Why could we not say that:

    OCP1: There are also other people, not regenerate, who receive some kind of “pardon” for their original corruption.

    ? The “pardon” spoken of in (1) doesn’t have to be exactly the same as the “pardon” that the regenerate receive. There could, in theory, be two different kinds of “pardon” which both apply to original corruption (original corruption pardon, OCP), with one OCP going to the decretally elect/the regenerate and the other OCP going to the covenantally elect. (i.e., to covenant all covenant members). All that has to be done to make this position consistent with the Confession is to make sure that the covenantal kind of OCP is defined differently in some sense from regenerate OCP spoken of in the Confession. So, for instance, if the Confession defined regenerate OCP as w, x, y, and z; then we would just need to make sure that we didn’t claim that covenantal OCP possessed all four of those characteristics. As long as we denied at least one of them, the two OCPs would be distinguishable, and the Confession wouldn’t be speaking to the covenantal kind one way or the other.

    Even if we don’t buy this (and I admit this is not the most convincing argument I’ve ever given, either), there’s a further problem here:

    I would then argue that actual sin cannot be forgiven unless original corruption is also forgiven….

    Why, though? Actual sin all follows out of original sin, check. And we might even agree that only the regenerate have their original sin pardoned (ignoring what I said above). Double check. But where are you getting the idea that the only way to be pardoned for actual sin is to be pardoned for original sin?

    The Scriptures, for instance, seem to teach that there are circumstances in which God “overlooks” certain kinds of sins. These circumstances seem to involve people sinning without knowledge of the law, and so I’m not making a strict application to the FV position here. I’m not trying to build a complete theology of what happens to pagan unbelievers, I’m just trying to make sense of the apparently Scriptural idea that God “overlooks” certain sins for people who are not necessarily predestined to go to Heaven. Wouldn’t this qualify as a “pardon”? Couldn’t we call it that if we wanted to? And if it is possible that it can happen for pagan unbelievers, isn’t it also possible that God could “overlook” certain sins of decretally non-elect covenant members?

    Even more importantly to the logic of our respective cases, though, is your own positive argument for your position that the only way to receive pardon for actual sin is to receive pardon for original sin. Until you demonstrate that claim, I’m allowed to be skeptical. This is so even if you don’t buy the argument I gave in the preceding paragraph. So it’s important to look at the argument you’ve given.

    So looking at the argument in its more “flow chart” form (and quoting your more qualified version of it, which you gave in comment #3; as is my wont, I’ve added some labels to the propositions for ease of reference):

    Let me rephrase the argument: (1)All actual sin has its origin in original sin. (2) Therefore, the actual sin cannot be forgiven without the original sin also being forgiven. Otherwise, (3) the branch (actual sin) has been forgiven without the root (original sin) being dealt with at all. (4) This [i.e., (3)] is impossible.

    (4) really just means “not (3).” So we can construct the argument like this:

    P1: (1).
    P2: If not (2), then (3).
    C1/P3: Not (3). (From P1 somehow?)
    C2/P4: Therefore, not not (2) (P2, P3, Modus Tollens)
    C3: Therefore, (2). (P4, Double negation)

    P2 – C3 clearly form a valid argument. The question is whether it is sound. The questionable part is the third premise (also the first intermediate conclusion), that it is impossible to have the “branch” forgiven without the “root” also being forgiven. It appears that P1 is somehow supposed to make this impossible (which is why you have the “Therefore” in (2) immediately following (1). Somehow (1) is doing the main argumentative heavy lifting to give us (2).)

    The question is “How does P1 support P3?” Why should we believe P3 is true, based on P1? How do we get from “All actual sin has its origin in original sin” to “it is impossible for actual sin to be forgiven without original sin being dealt with at all?”

    Obviously, if the “root” (original sin) hasn’t been “dealt with at all”, then a person is still in big trouble. But why does this preclude him from being forgiven for some particular sin he commits? This forgiveness won’t solve all his problems, obviously, but it will at least “clear” him of some particular indiscretion.

    For an analogy, think of a father who knows he has a wicked son. His son has a deep problem with his nature—he is naturally disposed to lie, cheat, abuse, and exploit his way through life. Now say that this son commits a particular son against his father—he lies to him, let’s say, and gets caught red-handed. The son feels genuinely guilty about this (this is just an analogy), and asks for his father forgiveness. Can’t the father forgive his son for telling the lie without also forgiving him for his entire rotten disposition that led to the lie? “Son, I forgive you and will never mention this lie again, but you still have to get help. You have much deeper problems than that one lie. That one act was just a symptom. Please, get help and take care of the disease. Become a better person all around—don’t just feel bad about lying to me just now.”

    It seems that we could call this “forgiveness” of an actual sin, even though the “root” of his sin hasn’t been forgiven. Now, if this is possible for humans to do, then surely it’s possible for God, right?

    So, for now, I don’t see a good reason to accept P3. Certainly not based on P1 alone. And without P3, we can’t get the conclusion C3. So at this point I cannot agree that the Confession teaches that there is no forgiveness of any kind that goes to decretally non-elect covenant members. Which means that I also cannot agree that Wilkins is contradicting the Confession when he teaches that there is such a forgiveness for these NECMs.

  64. greenbaggins said,

    February 15, 2007 at 3:05 pm

    Forgive me if I don’t quote extensively from your rather detailed and lengthy argumentation. I am merely going to deal with the issues that I see as important. I have 8 issues. I may not get to all of these in one comment, but we’ll see.

    1. I have argued that the WS do indeed speak of NECM’s, and that the conclusion is that they receive no forgiveness of any kind. The argument needs to be clarified somewhat. I argue that there is an *inescapably organic* connection between original sin and actual sin. This is actually proved by 6.4, which says that all actual sins proceed from original corruption. The proof-texts are in James, which speak of original corruption being like a mother to actual sin. Obviously, the point James is trying to make is not that original corruption and actual sins are disconnected, but that they are intimately, and inevitably connected. This is what original corruption does; this is where actual sins originate. The connection is organic and whole. Original corruption leads inescapably to actual sin, which leads inescapably to death. It is one whole, just as God’s law is one whole. The whole kit and kaboodle needs forgiveness, *if any of it is to be forgiven.* That is why 6.5 says that the original corruption is pardoned and mortified. In fact, 6.5 says that actual sins are the “motions thereof” (that is; actual sins are the motions of original corruption). The closest possible connection is being established here between original corruption and actual sin. You cannot have one forgiven without the other. This answers your somewhat confusing argumentation (in one place, you argue for a partial forgiveness of original corruption; in another place you argue that actual sins can be forgiven without original corruption being forgiven; I view the second as being completely ruled out of court be my argumentation here. The first needs more consideration). To answer the first, I go to 6.6, which says that original and actual sin binds one over to the wrath of God, the curse of the law, and makes the person subject to death, with all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal. In order for your argument to work, you are going to have to argue that there can be a partial forgiving of the complete wrath of God, a partial removal of the curse of the infinite law, and a partial withdrawal of all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal. Good luck finding this in Scripture. But if a NECM has this, it does not save him from all miseries spiritual, temporal, and eternal, since, in order for that to happen, a complete forgiveness has to happen. I really and seriously question whether the WS is allowing (even by silence) anything in-between the all or nothing language of chapter 6.

    The argument from chapter 15 is still strong, because pardon is not limited either explicitly or implicitly in 15.3. It is not limited to complete and full pardon. It really is no stretch to add the word “any” right before the word “pardon.” Those two statements would say the same thing, in my judgment. Pardon for sin (any kind of pardon) is dependent on the evangelical grace of repentance (though not caused by it). Repentance was defined in 15.2 as turning from “them all” (sins) unto God. Therefore, repentance from all one’s sins is required for any pardon.

    2. BOQ My concern with this response is that a view doesn’t have to be “in” the WS in order to be consistent with the WS. I’m sure this was just an accidental slip on your part, but just for the benefit of anyone who might be reading let’s make it clear. EOQ This is in response to my statement: BOQ As to a judicial non-wrath forgiveness, I confess I have a hard time seeing it in the Scriptures or in the WS. It seems to me that every time the courtroom is invoked, there entire forgiveness is involved. The reason for that belief is the inseparable nature of forgiveness and justification. The former is an integral part of the latter. EOQ The problem with your position here is that you missed the phrase “in the Scriptures.” I am concluding that Wilkins’s views are not to be found either in the WS *or in the Scriptures.* Therefore your objection does not hold.

    3. I see a tendency in your argumentation to use words like “possibility” with regard to Wilkins’s view. You seem to be arguing that Wilkins’s view is possible. But to me, it sounds like you are trying to read the cracks of the WS, and basing your theology on what the WS don’t say, (which conclusion I would contest anyway) rather than what they do say. You will answer that it is just Scripture. However, I have argued rather extensively that all of Wilkins’s exegesis of passages is wrong. His exegesis leads him to a position which is not compatible with the WS. All of the statements regarding possibilities are not backed up by Scripture in your argumentation. They are not backed up by the WS, either. In short, you are not arguing from a position of strength, but you are arguing from the silences.

    4. You argue that the definition of “in Christ” means that in Christ one finds what is necessary to be saved. This is most definitely not Wilkins’s definition of being in Christ. Wilkins says that being in Christ means that one is saved, and that one actually has all the blessings of being in Christ. Let me put it this way: in order for Wilkins’s position to be true, there cannot be the least little bit of overlap between his covenantal scheme and the decretal scheme. There cannot be the least overlap between the partial justification, partial election, partial sanctification, etc. and the full version of each. Otherwise, there is a confusion of the categories of NECM and ECM. The line between NECM and ECM is hard, fast, and razor-sharp, Xon. It cannot be fudged in any way, shape, or form, or we are Arminian. Period. You speak of the benefits of being in Christ almost as being hypothetical; Wilkins does not. He argues that all of these things are given to all covenant members. Wilkins argues that being in Christ actually saves a person. I disagree that “covenantal union” qualifies every statement in that article in _Federal Vision_. He nowhere says that.

    To a certain extent, I am disappointed by the fact that you still think I am misunderstanding Wilkins’s position regarding election and other benefits. I know that what he says is that the election he is talking about is not decretal. I have known that for *ages.* The problem is that he nowhere makes explicit the distinction regarding justification, for instance. He does not qualify justification that the NECM”s receive as less than full justification. He does not do that in that article. I simply defy anyone to find that qualification. He has repudiated nothing of what he has written in that article. He defends everything. Furthermore, there is no possible way to find a less-than-complete justification in Scripture or in the WS. I defy any FV proponent to find it.

    5. What is the definition of “all” in Wilkins’s article? Again, the same thing applies here that it does in number 4. He does not qualify the word “all” in that context, nor does he anywhere in that article say, “‘covenantal union’ qualifies everything I’m going to say about saving benefits.” He simply doesn’t say it. Furthermore, no FV proponent has ever proved from the Scripture that every single saving benefit has a lesser shadow version that saves, but doesn’t save.

    6. When Wilkins uses that word “all,” he is advocating an undifferentiated covenant membership. He nowhere in that article qualifies that word “all” to mean merely covenantal, and strictly not decretal.

    7. The word “overlooks” is not equal to pardon. I’m not sure what Scripture passage you had in mind (since you didn’t quote it). However, in what sense is the word used? This is quite loose in your argumentation.

    8. You argue that a human father could have a wicked son, and forgive an actual sin without forgiving the sin nature. But this is to bring God down to our level, especially God’s justice. God cannot forgive actual sin without forgiving original sin (see my argumentation in number 1). That would not be forgiving actual sin. The entire category of a half-way forgiveness is completely foreign to the Scriptures, I believe. It is certainly foreign to the WS. Basing our theology on the cracks is not sound hermeneutically.

  65. Xon said,

    February 15, 2007 at 3:28 pm

    Lane, just curious. I know you’re busy. Do you intend to say more, or am I free to answer these points as they are written?

    Are you even wanting to keep continuing this? I do. But it’s cool if you don’t. It’s been a while. For whatever it’s worth, I’m fine with going however slowly meets both of our needs.

  66. Xon said,

    February 15, 2007 at 3:33 pm

    Hey, really quickly:

    This answers your somewhat confusing argumentation (in one place, you argue for a partial forgiveness of original corruption; in another place you argue that actual sins can be forgiven without original corruption being forgiven; I view the second as being completely ruled out of court be my argumentation here. The first needs more consideration.)

    Interestingly, I see these completely oppositely. First, sorry if that was confusing. I tried to clarify that I was only raising the first as a total hypothetical, but didn’t really want to pursue it. The second is what I think is my stronger argument. Forgiveness of (at least some) actual sins, without being forgiven for original sin, is a possibility I think the Confession’s language leaves open. I don’t see this view as being “comnpletely ruled out of court” by your argumentation at all; in fact, I think I did a pretty good job of breaking down your argument here. I’m not bragging, I’m just trying to quickly state where I think things stand at this point. The argument that you still say needs consideration is the one I’m least serious about; and the argument I’m most serious about is the one you think you’ve already refuted. Weird!

  67. Xon said,

    April 19, 2007 at 12:17 am

    Lane, some (relatively) quick responses to your 8 points (in # 64).

    2. Point taken.

    3. Perhaps this is in the eye of the beholder, but I’m not following your claim that I’m arguing from silence at all. Yes, you’ve posted to this blog exegetical argumentation about lots of passages, but you and I haven’t really talked about much of that. I disagree with most of your arguments, but that’s all for another day as far as I’m concerned. We’ve been focusing more on looking at stuff Wilkins (in particular) says and comparing it to stuff the WS say, and seeing if they are logically compatible or not. It is not “an argument from silence” for me to point out that they are logically compatible. An “argument from silence” normally refers to arguing that, because P has not been proven true (or false), P is false (or true). This is not what I am doing; I’m arguing that Wilkins’ teachings and the WS teachings are logically compatible, which means that Wilkins can (and, in all cases I’m aware of that we have discussed, DOES) affirm them both.

    Confessions aren’t meant to tell us all the stuff we can say, so there is no “extra” justification required if someone (like Wilkins) wants to say something that the Confession is “silent” on. The Confession’s silence regarding P does not add up to a presumption that P is false. If the Confession says Q, and Wilkins says he believes Q, and Wilkins also says P, and P and Q are not logically incompatible, then as they say my work is done. Not an argument from silence.

    4. This is hard to answer quickly, but when you say “I disagree that “covenantal union” qualifies every statement in that article in _Federal Vision_. He nowhere says that.” we may just be at an impasse. Wilkins CLEARLY says on p. 56 that he

    a. believes in “decretal” election/predestination of a fixed number to glory,

    b. that the word “elect” is often used in Scripture to refer to other people besides those who are predestined to glory; namely, to those who are baptized into a covenantal union with Christ.

    He then goes on for the next several pages to talk about a whole bunch of Scripture passages that talk about “election” in (he says) this covenantal sense. All of his conclusions about “election” from this point on are thus about the “covenantal” kind of election. This is the only natural reading of the article (and it is the only reading that ever occurred to me when I first read it; I didn’t find this confusing at all.)

    I recently blogged about this regarding the Central Carolina Presbytery Overture/Memorial, which was kind enough to make the argument in a very straightforward and fallacious way. Part II of my “Anti-FV challenge” series. (http://www.afterdarkness.blogspot.com) I worry that this Overture, as well as the MVP Report from 2005, have tainted people’s opinions of Wilkins’ article before they really read it. This is not an insult; it’s just how the human mind often works. If I’ve already heard someone tell me what an article “really means,” then I’m going to have a harder time reading that article in a different way when I actually read it for myself. In any case, I’m not sure what more can be said about the article. You’re disappointed that I still think I you’re misunderstanding, but I’m just as disappointed that you still don’t see what Wilkins has actually said. :-)

    You claim that for Wilkins there can be no overlap between “his covenantal scheme and the decretal scheme.” But I don’t know why you would think this. You keep claiming that Wilkins contradicts himself, but this is actually something you’ve never shown. Wilkins says,

    A. “Wilkins says that being in Christ means that one is saved, and that one actually has all the blessings of being in Christ.” (acc. to you, in point 4)

    B. He also says that this kind of salvation is “covenantal” in nature, and that there is a decretal election which is “stronger” than this (this is my own gloss on what he says, not an exact quote).

    You seem to want to say that A and B are mutually contradictory, but that’s not a given. I have talked at length about what Wilkins means by “all,” which is the big hang-up here. You seem to be arguing that, since he says “all” the blessings are possessed by the “covenantally” saved people, then there can’t be any “greater” salvation for the decretally elect. So Wilkins has contradicted himself. Am I missing your argument?

    But “all,” as I have argued, can be taken in a more modest sense. Several more modest sense, actually. We Calvinists qualify “all” all the time. (ha!) All could mean “all the blessings it is possible to have in the present,” or “all the blessings, but in a weaker way”. That “all” by itself does not mean that Wilkins has to be contradicting his claims elsewhere that not all covenantally elect people end up being saved because they’re not all decretally elect.

    “The problem is that he nowhere makes explicit the distinction regarding justification, for instance. He does not qualify justification that the NECM”s receive as less than full justification. He does not do that in that article.”

    He doesn’t do this in that article b/c that’s not the point of the article. The point of the article is basically to discuss the Biblical usage of the word “elect”. And Wilkins thinks the Bible talks about a group of “covenantally elect” people who receive a whole bunch of benefits, including justification, etc. Wilkins is just pointing out (in that article) that the Bible uses those words. A fuller, more systematic explanation of what all those words mean is not the goal in that article. In later comments (like his answers to the LP), Wilkins clarifies for those with concerns that he thinks the non-elect receive blessings which must be different somehow from the blessings received by the elect, even though many of the words to describe those respective blessings in Scripture are the same. He thinks they must be different because the elect persevere and the non-elect don’t, and perseverance is itself a “teleological” reality which effects the kinds of blessings you enjoy now. (I’m trying to sum up fairly quickly here…)

    5. Leaving my comments about “all” as they have already been put above and elsewhere, I’ll address this claim:

    Furthermore, no FV proponent has ever proved from the Scripture that every single saving benefit has a lesser shadow version that saves, but doesn’t save.

    I think FVers have done a decent amound of exegesis here, but like I said already this has not really been a topic between you and I. The only example you and I have talked about at all is “sanctification.” The Scriptures clearly use the word “sanctify” (or “holy”) to describe all children with at least one believing parent. All such children are not decretally elect, so this is clearly an “extra-Confessional” use of “sanctification” (or a closely related concept) by the Scriptures.

    It is at least a plausible argument, and similar ones can be made for other usages of “ordo salutis” words in Scripture. (Again, I’m trying to answer fairly quickly right now…)

    7. Re: overlooking and pardon, my point is just that, if God overlooks a particular sin someone commits, it seems reasonable to me to call that a “pardon”. I’m not saying that if you looked the two words up in a dictionary that they’d be exactly the same. The particular passage doesn’t matter, because as I said it refers to pagans anyway. I only used it for illustrative purposes.

    Again, my example of the father who forgives his wicked son for an individual discretion seems relevant and solid to me. I don’t understand why you don’t think this sort of thing is possible. (i.e., to forgive an actual sin while leaving original corruption untouched). This brings us to 8, where you say

    8.

    You argue that a human father could have a wicked son, and forgive an actual sin without forgiving the sin nature. But this is to bring God down to our level, especially God’s justice.

    No, it’s simply pointing out that ifa person can do it, then God can do it. It would be wrong if I argued that some human experience is what God HAD to do, or (even worse, an argument I used to hear from Arminian friends at my Wesleyan college all the time when I was an undergrad) that because a human being cannot do such-and-such that God cannot do it either. That would be a horrid, blasphemous inference to make. But my inference seems irrefutable: whatever man can do, God can do (sin excepted, of course).

    God cannot forgive actual sin without forgiving original sin (see my argumentation in number 1). That would not be forgiving actual sin.

    But my example of the father forgiving a particular sin of his wicked oin is meant to refute that earlier argumentation in number 1, so you cannot simply re-appeal to it in the face of my response.

    Your argumentation in number 1, though “clarified” from things you said earlier, is still fundamentally the same argument I think, and thus I think I already responded to it fairly decisively in # 63. There I asked the question, and your clarification under point 1 does not answer it that I can see, of how you are getting from “All actual sin has its origin in original sin” to “it is impossible for actual sin to be forgiven without original sin being dealt with at all?” In your clarified argument under point 1, you speak of the connection as being “organic”:

    (1)This is what original corruption does; this is where actual sins originate. The connection is organic and whole. (2) Original corruption leads inescapably to actual sin, which leads inescapably to death. (3) It is one whole, just as God’s law is one whole. (4) The whole kit and kaboodle needs forgiveness, *if any of it is to be forgiven.* (Numbers added)

    It still is not at all clear how you are inferring (4). Original corruption does indeed lead inexorably to actual sin and to death. As a mother gives birth to children (though perhaps you shouldn’t draw such attention to that analogy; children can be “dealth with” without also “dealing with” the mother, can’t they?). But this “organic” connection is all about the origins of actual sin. The fact that all actual (postlapsarian) sin traces its origin, unavoidably and necessarily, to a corrupt character does not mean that we can automatically apply all operations equally to the two organically-connected things.

    Chickens come from eggs, necessarily and unavoidably and organically. But you can break a chicken without breaking the egg it came from. So I still don’t see what the argument is for statements like (4), or like (P3) from # 63.

  68. Xon said,

    April 19, 2007 at 12:19 am

    I don’t know what an “oin” is, but it’s supposed to be “son”. :-)

  69. Xon said,

    April 19, 2007 at 12:55 pm

    And obviously I wish I had picked a slightly different example than breaking chickens vs. breaking eggs. How about cooking chickens versus cooking eggs? Despite their organic and necessary connection, you can cook a chikcen without thereby cooking the egg it came from. Or something.


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