Grace and Glory is Back

This book has been out of print for awhile. These sermons are fantastic, and are models of good redemptive-historical, yet practical, preaching.

Law/Gospel Yet Again

Wilson responds to my post here. I would say that Wilson’s post definitely clarifies some issues on where Wilson stands on the law/Gospel issue.

First of all, I agree with Wilson that there is an aspect of the law/Gospel distinction that is in the heart of a person. I would disagree that the law/Gospel distinction is not also in the text. What Wilson says is “promises and imperatives” I interpret as Gospel and law respectively. Of course the law looks differently to a non-believer than to a believer. In the former situation, the law is the enemy. In the latter situation, the law is our friend. However, that does not change the law into the Gospel. One is reminded of T. David Gordon’s critique of Rich Lusk’s comment on this (Lusk had said that the Mosaic law was simply the Gospel in pre-Christian form): “This strikes me as analogous to saying: ‘Early-1944 Hiroshima was simply a Japanese city in pre-nuclear form.’” (See _By Faith Alone_, pg. 119).

Wilson hones in on my use of the word “use.” Wilson defines “use” as “It means that the same passage applies differently to different people in different situations.” However, later on he says, “We cut through all the confusion if we allow that there is a CoW use (for those under the law) and a CoG use (for those not under the law).” Does this not undercut his use of the term “use?” The latter sentence would seem to require fixed, exclusive categories (i.e., those under the law cannot use the law in a CoG sense, and vice versa). This is a tad confusing. Or is Wilson saying that the three uses are fluid in their application, whereas the categories he has introduced are fixed? Are not the three uses of the law biblical? Were the Westminster divines misreading Scripture?

I must confess that this sentence made no sense whatever to me: “Those not under the law are constantly reminded of their sinfulness by the holy law of God, and so the first use of the law applies to them provisionally, but not really and actually.” What is Wilson trying to avoid by using this qualification?

The similarity between the Garden and Sinai is paraphrased by Wilson as follows: “‘Always do what God says, the way He says to do it.’ That applies both in the Garden, and on the mountain.” To me this is a bit vague. Would it not be more accurate to say that God commanded Adam to love the Lord his God with all his heart, soul, strength, and mind, and love his neighbor as himself? Surely, to love God in this way would have been to obey the one prohibition given to Adam, and to obey the cultural mandate given to him. Also implicit in the Garden (though not difficult to see) is that the purpose for which God put Adam in the Garden must have been told to him. God put him there to tend the Garden (see Beale’s excellent book on what this means) and to guard it (presumably against intruders; again, see Beale, and now Fesko). FV’ers are fond of pointing out that the prohibition was the only command given to Adam, and therefore Adam didn’t have the moral law given to him as a Covenant of Works. But this is not true. The cultural mandate was given to Adam, as was the prohibition, as was the implicit command in the purpose statement of Genesis 2:15. Plainly, Adam’s motivation for doing these things was to be love for his God, and love for his wife (hence the moral law). By good and necessary consequence…

One point that keeps on cropping up in these discussions is the Tree of Life. I have no problem with saying that Adam and Eve ate from the Tree of Life in the Garden. Nor do I have any problem saying that it was a sacramental tree. But where I stick is in the inference usually drawn from this: that Adam could not have obeyed to obtain something further. The problem here is the assumption that, in the critics’ position, the Tree of Life symbolizes everything for which Adam was to strive. It doesn’t. 1 Corinthians 15 makes that very plain (again, see Fesko, building on Gaffin, for this argumentation). Adam would have obtained not “maturity,” but the glorified body. The glorified body was not symbolized by the Tree of Life. 1 Corinthians 15:44b (note: NOT verse 44a, which is still talking about the post-Fall corpses of believers) refers to the Adamic pre-Fall body (as is decisively proven by the fact that Paul proof-texts Genesis 2:7, which would be completely out of place if verse 44b was talking about the post-Fall body). Paul says that the pre-Fall body of Adam always pointed towards the glorified spiritual (not non-material!) body. This is that for which Adam was to obey the Covenant of Works and merit (by pact, not in any other way but agreement) not merely “eternal life,” as the WCF says, but a specific form of eternal life: the glorified body.  

Haven’t You Heard This Before?

This book may well be one of the most important books of this year. Why are we as Christians losing the war of perceptions? This study may have some answers for us. It is based on a Fermi-commissioned, Barna-conducted study of 16-29 year olds and their perceptions of Christianity.

Why The FV Is Wrong On Paul

Here is Daniel Kok’s excellent comment (originally posted here) that shreds the FV take on Paul:

[For the FV] every statement of scripture [necessarily] means the same for every person. FV advocates (Leithart etc.) would have us read Ephesians 1 as indicative for every person in the church. As outward, baptized members we are all part of Christ’s body and thus these words are true for us. But what about Amos or Galatians? If I preach from these books should I condemn the whole congregation because Amos speaks to Israel (the church/the covenant people) and roundly condemns them? Is there a remnant according to grace to whom I should speak to along with the reprobate, and say ‘you are false, and you shall die!’ Should I say “O foolish [congregation] who has bewitched you that you should not obey the truth?” Or do I believe that those who have faith (a gift for the elect: Ephesians 2:8) will respond, and that the rest will respond in unbelief? (“The elect obtained it and the rest were hardened” Romans 11:7) When Christ speaks to the church of Ephesus and says that they have abandoned their first love, does He mean to say all, or every person addressed, man woman and child have done so? What if there were some faithful among them? Are they to be condemned because the greater body has fallen away? I do not mean to be cute or antagonistic, but it seems to me that a consistent reading of scripture would determine that not all statements apply to every person in the same way.

So much for the FV’s wooden hermeneutic on Paul.

Big Sale!

The staff at WTS bookstore has a huge staff sale going on right now. Each staffer picked a book or several, which are currently at %50 off until Nov 2 (Friday). There are some really great deals there. Check it out.

Not Answering the Question

Wilkins does not answer the substance of the seventh declaration. The seventh declaration declares that there is no union with Christ except saving union. This plainly declares “temporary saving union” to be a contradiction in terms. Wilkins plainly holds that there is a temporary saving union. Even if the qualities of that temporary saving union are not the same as the qualities of the saving union, it does not matter. Temporary saving union is a contradiction in terms. Further, Wilkins obviously holds that temporarily saved people have benefits of Christ’s mediation that are either identical to or visibly indistinguishable from the benefits (that go by the same name) that saved people have. This is precisely the target of the seventh declaration. Wilkins says that he doesn’t believe that the communion that the elect have with Christ can be lost. Goodie. That isn’t the issue in the seventh declaration. Not one bit. The issue is whether someone can have some of the benefits of Christ’s mediation without having all of them. It’s funny that Wilkins uses the term “non-effectual union,” because that is directly contradictory to what he has said before in _Federal Vision_, pp. 58ff. I keep on directing people to those pages, because they are the most unqualified and worst pages in all of the Federal Vision corpus.

Further, Wilkins makes the difference between elect and non-elect to be in perseverance. It isn’t. The difference is in God’s decree. Of course, the decree of God will result in the elect persevering (or, shall I say, being preserved by God).

Wilkins repeats his tired old argument about the warnings. He really should have read enough of the critics by now to know that not only do they not buy this argument, but that it actually has several answers.

He says that the differences between elect and non-elect may not be discernible until the non-elect apostatize. What if they don’t in this life? How would Wilkins answer this? I know how Wilson answers this, and it is not consistent with his view of the church. Furthermore, I’m rather sure that Wilkins would answer differently from Wilson on this one. According to Wilkins’s own admission, if the differences don’t come out until one apostatizes, and someone never leaves the church, then what does differentiate them?

One last problem. Wilkins says that covenant relationships are dynamic. Theologians love to use this word, as it makes them seem “hip” and “relevant.” Does this dynamic quality extend to the covenantal relationships that the elect have with God? If so, how dynamic are they? Are they dynamic enough so that the elect can lose this relationship?

I just thought of a huge problem for Wilkins’s interpretation of the warning passages. If Wilkins wants these passages to apply to the entire church in the way he wants it to (namely, that it applies to all in the church the same way), then there is no foundation for assurance left. Since then the warnings must apply to the elect the same way they apply to the non-elect. If they do, then implicitly Wilkins is allowing for the possibility that the elect could fall. If they do apply to the elect in this way, then the elect must always be questioning their salvation. Therefore, this idea completely undermines any ground for assurance that any elect person might have.

New Book on Owen

This book, just out, is written by one of the foremost Owen experts in the world. I took a class from him on John Owen’s theology while at WTS, and it was a very helpful class for putting Owen in context, something about which Trueman is known for being a stickler. If you want a helpful introduction to Owen’s thought (and Owen is one of those writers for which an introduction is more helpful than for many other writers), then this is the place to go.

Finally Available

This commentary is now finally available. He is one of my very favorite OT commentators. His commentary on Genesis is spectacular, and his commentary on Exodus is one of the very best available.

New Book on the Atonement

This promises to be a blockbuster book on the Atonement. You can read Piper’s intro and chapter 1. The blurbs are incredibly glowing. And, WTS bookstore is offering %40 off until Nov 2 on this book. As Gary Johnson has now noted in the comments, this is the book that N.T. Wright loves to hate.

False Sons of Belial

Since the next two chapters of RINE (17-18) are both short and deal with pretty much the same issue, we will take them together.

Wilson’s concern is with those people who are not necessarily teaching false doctrine, but whose lives are not living up to their baptismal vows. He notes that the Bible calls such people “children of Belial” (pg. 147) and “false” (pg. 151). So, if the previous chapter dealt with false teaching, these two chapters deal with false living. I don’t have anything in the way of criticism for chapter 17. There is a good list of activities that the children of Belial tend to perform (pg. 148), as well as helpfully careful advice about how to deal with them (“we never discipline because someone might be a son of Belial in his heart. We discipline because his behavior has made it plain,” pg. 149, emphasis original).  Also good is the caveat to church unity: “Pursuing the peace of the Church does not entail silence when covenant members are defying the Word” (pg. 149).

For chapter 18, Wilson introduces some interesting categories to speak of false brothers. The first category is a variant of the law-Gospel distinction. I call it a variant because Wilson does not hold to the standard view of the law-Gospel distinction. He holds that the law-Gospel distinction is in the mind of the reader, not in the text of the Bible (pg. 152). But the distinction as applied to false brothers has one more qualification: the law-aspect of a false brother’s law-reading is “a certain pharisaical understanding of it” (pg. 152). In other words, a false brother is reading the text as law, but not with a correct understanding of that law. He is reading it in a legalistic fashion.

I challenge this view of the law-Gospel distinction. I believe that it erases the first use of the law, which is to drive us to the Gospel, to Jesus. Here are some very helpful words from the WCF. I wonder if Wilson would comment on them.

God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which He bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it: and endued him with power and ability to keep it. This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness, and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments…Beside this law, commonly called moral…(emphasis added, WCF 19.1-3)

Whatever else this passage is saying, it plainly asserts that the CoW did not end with the breach of it. The rule for the CoW was the moral law, the Ten Commandments, which was given to Adam (of course, in a more rudimentary fashion, although it could have been given to Adam in the form we find it in in Exodus 20: who is to say what form God gave it in to Adam? But the command to love God and to love his neighbor was surely implicit in the Garden, if not explicit). The CoW is equivalent to the first use of the law, since the perpetually binding nature of it (note: God bound Adam and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience. That means that we are still bound by the Ten Commandments as a CoW.  Thanks be to God, who has sent Jesus to fulfill that obligation so that the law is no longer our enemy but is our friend! Jesus sets us free from the law as a CoW, as section 6 says. But section 6 also implies that those not saved by Christ are still under the moral law as a CoW) is here said to be the moral law, the Ten Commandments, what was given to Adam. Section 6 also informs us that the first use of the law is by no means abrogated even for the believer. The law still points out our sin and drives us to Jesus, even if the third use of the law is now also applicable.

The previous paragraph is also applicable to the next major idea that Wilson introduces, which is a “two-covenant” idea (Wilson says “in effect,” plainly qualifying himself here). Wilson says that “one covenant consists of those who by grace ‘get it.’ The other ‘covenant’ is the sin-made covenant of falsehood, lies, and bondage within the context of surrounding grace. It is, in effect, a covenant that hard-hearted people have made to break covenant” (pg. 153, emphasis original). Wilson quotes Galatians 4:22-24 to prove his point. The question, given the previous paragraph, should be somewhat obvious: is not Galatians 4 talking about people who want to remain under the CoW as a legalistic way of self-righteousness? Yes, that results in breaking the administration of the CoG (I don’t believe that someone can break the substance of the CoG, since the true partakers of the CoG are the elect). I would have liked Wilson at least to address the possibility that Galatians 4 is talking about the CoW-CoG. At the very least, it is easy to see how Galatians 4 supports such a distinction. An important caveat must be made here (everyone, please note!): I do not believe that the Mosaic covenant can be simply equated with the CoW. The preamble to the Ten Commandments forbids that, in my opinion. Instead, I believe that the CoW has remnants in the Mosaic economy (“Do this and live”), but that the substance of the Mosaic economy is the CoG. In other words, the theoretical possibility of obeying the law perfectly still exists (otherwise, what benefit for us is there in Christ’s obedience of the law?), even if the reality is that all are sinners, and no one can obey the law. This is the clear teaching of WCF 19.

One final word on the Calvin quotation (pg. 155). Calvin does not advocate Wilson’s position. Calvin is plainly talking about the visible/invisible church distinction, as is clear from the immediately preceding context to the portion that Wilson quoted:

What, therefore, can be the meaning of Paul, when he denies that certain persons have any right to be reckoned among children, except that he is no longer reasoning about the externally offered grace, but about that of which only the elect effectually partake?

In fact, this quotation proves that Calvin believed that only the elect truly partake of the CoG. At the very least, Calvin believes in the “external-internal” distinction within the CoG.

« Older entries


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 301 other followers