Should Doug Be Pole-Axed?

I always enjoy reading Doug’s rhetoric. It is always creative and colorful. One criticism that could never be levelled against Doug’s writing is “boring.” In this instance, it is the language used to describe his astonishment that I have apparently given Lusk a free and clean bill of health (perhaps unknowingly). Let me set the record straight on this issue. I have never criticized Lusk for saying that union with Christ is the central soteric benefit. I agree with him (and have always agreed with him) on that issue. I do not think that this is the heart of the disagreement between Lusk and myself, or between Lusk and his critics. The problems come in when discussing the relationship of justification to union with Christ, the place of baptism in relation to union with Christ, the relationship of perseverance to union with Christ, etc. I find it somewhat ironic. There are critics of the Federal Vision, of course, who may indeed criticize Lusk on this point, and may even lay the Federal Vision at Gaffin’s feet. I am not one of them (fairly obviously, I think). Could it be that Wilson is lumping all the critics of the Federal Vision together, when, in fact, they do not all come from the same viewpoint? Is assuming a monolithic critical stance happening for people who hate charges of monolithicity? Isn’t this ironic? Can I end another sentence with a question mark? Okay, I’m done being silly now (and please take this in a light-hearted manner. One of the things I have noticed is that the atmosphere being charged the way it is, humor is thought to be serious, especially my humor. A great pity.).

I really challenge the assertion that repentance and faith are only indirectly from God. What else does the Holy Spirit accomplish in us but repentance and faith? Just because we are the ones who exercise faith does not mean that faith is indirectly from God. Ephesians 2 says that our faith is a gift from God. That sounds a bit direct to me, but maybe I’m off. Maybe there is a middle-man in the direction of faith from God to us. I don’t know yet who or what that would be. Maybe Doug can enlighten us on how faith is only indirectly from God and not directly from God. The troubles I seem to be having saying that faith is obedience are mirrored by Doug’s trouble in saying that faith is a direct gift from God. If faith is a direct gift from God, then that challenges his assertions that faith is obedience, and yet Scripture plainly indicates that faith is such a direct gift from God. I am not asserting, however, that God exercises faith for us. I am saying what Scott Clark said: the categories of law and gospel help us out here, as does the gift-character of faith. Obedience is a law term, whereas faith is a gospel term. And since all sorts of confusion arise when law and gospel are confused, I will stick with the Reformed tradition on this one. I really think the bottom line on this one is that Doug does not accept the hermeneutical law-gospel distinction (against the whole Reformed tradition), and I do. My syllogism to answer Doug’s looks, therefore, like this: 1. faith is a gift of God; 2. obedience is not gift; 3. therefore faith is not of the category of obedience, but rather of gift. QED Of course, Doug would contest premise 2, and not premise 1 (although see the question of directness above). He would probably say that obedience can be gift. But obedience as I am using the term means obedience to the law. From whence does the impetus come for us to have faith? It cannot come from us (as the law would command). It can only come from God.    

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7 Comments

  1. Ron Henzel said,

    June 25, 2008 at 12:28 pm

    Lane,

    You wrote:

    Just because we are the ones who exercise faith does not mean that faith is indirectly from God. Ephesians 2 says that our faith is a gift from God. That sounds a bit direct to me, but maybe I’m off. Maybe there is a middle-man in the direction of faith from God to us. I don’t know yet who or what that would be. Maybe Doug can enlighten us on how faith is only indirectly from God and not directly from God.

    Just a thought here: in the Roman Catholic church the priest who administers the sacrament on behalf of the church is technically the middleman. So, given Wilson’s views on sacramental efficacy—I mean, if the Roman collar fits (and we all know what a fashion statement that is in the FV)—perhaps he is heading toward a position in which the church itself, represented by its ministers, is the middleman for the faith of individual believers. This view would seem to fit congenially into his overall thought, such as it is.

    Meanwhile, as far as your syllogism is concerned:

    1. faith is a gift of God; 2. obedience is not gift; 3. therefore faith is not of the category of obedience, but rather of gift.

    I’m comfortable with it as long as it’s clear that the “faith” in point 1 refers specifically to saving faith (what else could it be in this context?), and thus the “obedience” in point 2 refers specifically to hypothetically saving obedience (which, as we know, is impossible). The reason for my nit-picking on this point is that in a very real sense the obedience of the believer is also a gift from God, as Paul wrote:

    For it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.

    [Philippians 2:13, ESV]

  2. greenbaggins said,

    June 25, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    Points well taken, Ron, and I agree with you all the way here.

  3. Jared said,

    June 25, 2008 at 1:21 pm

    This is partially on topic:

    I’m at the RPCNA synod right now in Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania; I thought your readers would like to know that we took action this morning concerning the justification controversy. You can see the specific motions passed at my blog or at deregnochristi.com.

  4. greenbaggins said,

    June 25, 2008 at 1:23 pm

    Thanks, Jared, for this encouraging news.

  5. Roger Mann said,

    June 25, 2008 at 2:36 pm

    I really think the bottom line on this one is that Doug does not accept the hermeneutical law-gospel distinction (against the whole Reformed tradition), and I do.

    I think you are correct. While I don’t share the same aversion to calling saving faith an act of “obedience” (e.g., Romans 1:5; WCF 11.1) as you do, the problem created by the FV’s use of “obeying the gospel” or “the obedience of faith” is that they reject the biblical Law/Gospel distinction — the Law in its character as a covenant of works, and the Gospel in its character as a covenant of grace. Obedience to the Law as a covenant of works “earns” the promised reward (Romans 4:4), while obedience to the gospel as a covenant of grace passively “receives” by faith what Christ has already earned by His obedience to the Law in our stead (Romans 5:17-19). That’s why Paul writes:

    “For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes. For Moses writes about the righteousness which is of the law, ‘The man who does those things shall live by them.’ But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:4-10)

    In other words, “obedience” to the gospel command to believe in Christ (1 John 3:23) is of an entirely different nature than “obedience” to the commands of the Law as a covenant of works. The latter contributes to our justification before God; the former contributes precisely nothing to our justification, but merely receives the “abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness…through the One, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17).

  6. jared said,

    June 25, 2008 at 6:11 pm

    Lane,

    You say,

    Just because we are the ones who exercise faith does not mean that faith is indirectly from God. Ephesians 2 says that our faith is a gift from God. That sounds a bit direct to me, but maybe I’m off. Maybe there is a middle-man in the direction of faith from God to us. I don’t know yet who or what that would be. Maybe Doug can enlighten us on how faith is only indirectly from God and not directly from God.

    Perhaps I can help pave the way. When Doug says that faith is indirectly from God, he does not mean there is some other medium through which faith must pass before it reaches the individual. Or, more accurately (I think), you are the medium through which faith must pass. Maybe a better phrasing of it would be that repentance and faith are indirectly of God. Doug’s point (which it seems you missed) is that God does not believe for us. Roger Mann is on the right track with pointing out the different natures of obedience as they relate to the gospel and the law respectively. Obedience in relation to the gospel can only come from grace whereas obedience in relation to the law comes from self. According to the former it is God who saves whereas according to the latter it is the self that tries to save. What you need to do to make your argument more solid is to show that “repent and believe” is not an imperative/command (and this should be distinguished from “law”); this is the only way you can eliminate obedience from the equation.

    As for an example of an imperative/command that is not law see Jonah 1:1-2 and ask whether or not Jonah was being obedient even though law is not involved. I’m sure there are many more examples but that was the first one that popped into my head.

  7. July 28, 2008 at 9:54 am

    [...] message to Doug telling us where we are. There are currently two posts of mine for Doug to answer. One is in response to his pole-axing that occurred over the issue of union with Christ, and the other is my post on the [...]


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