Hermeneutics and Confessions

Last time I went through the FV Joint Statement, I dealt with paragraphs 5-6 together. A word on the rhetoric of that post: what I mean when I say “in other words” is that this is the consequence of what is being said. I still do think these two paragraphs are the weakest section in the whole document. I really want to ask several questions, however.

Could Doug please explain what “hyper-specialized terminology in the regular teaching and preaching of the Church has the unfortunate effect of confusing the saints?” Especially since it appears he is talking about hyper-specialized terms that have broader biblical usage (“biblical use of the same language”). What is his target here? The terms justification, sanctification, propitiation, expiation? Oh wait, those are biblical terms. Election, predestination, fore-ordination? Oh wait, those are biblical terms, also. Maybe he is talking about the terms that the church has been forced to use because of heresies (such as the Arian heresy). Words like “homoousias,” which can be translated as “of the same essence.” I’m not sure how that term could be confusing, though.

Second question: is such language (let’s talk about the Dordtian use of the term “election,” which might very well be what Doug is talking about) not biblical? Is “good and necessary consequence” a legitimate way of using terms as summaries of biblical teaching? Oftentimes, I think the question comes down to exegesis of such passages as Ephesians 1: is Paul using the term “election” there in what could be described somewhat anachronistically as the Dordtian way, or is it the FV “covenantal election?” Here it is clear that I believe that the FV has not proven their case exegetically AT ALL. I have yet to see a detailed exegetical discussion of why they interpret Ephesians 1 of covenantal election rather than decretal election. Look at the benefits that come from election in Ephesians 1: adoption (vs 5), redemption through Christ’s blood (vs 7), forgiveness of sins (vs 7), obtaining the inheritance (vs 11), the hope in Christ (vs 12), belief in Him (vs 13), and the seal of the Holy Spirit (vv 13-14). These people are true believers, not just covenant members according to the FV definition of covenant. Unless the FV is willing to say that all these benefits are losable, then it seems rather clear that Ephesians 1 is talking about election in the decretal way, not a supposed covenantal way.

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20 Comments

  1. Thomas Keene said,

    June 30, 2008 at 1:12 pm

    I may be mistaken, but I think the highly specialized terms he is referring to are the biblical terms that you mention, “justification,” “sanctification,” etc. No one, of course, doubts that they occur in the Bible. But that does not mean that they are technical terms in Scripture, as they are in the confession. Sanctification, for example, is used to refer to different things in different verses. In the confession they have a single specialized definition, in the Bible they do not. The claim is that to argue otherwise is to commit the word-concept fallacy.

  2. greenbaggins said,

    June 30, 2008 at 2:42 pm

    That is not the issue I have with the statement, Thomas. My problem with the statement has to do with the assumption that the way “election,” say, is used in the confession seemingly has no basis in Scripture at all.

  3. jared said,

    June 30, 2008 at 4:13 pm

    Lane,

    No one in the FV department will deny the biblical basis for the WCF’s usage of those terms. It seems to me that what the FV’ists deny is that the WCF usage is the only usage. If our understanding of the WCF leads us to the conclusion that its usage of those terms is the only way they can be understood, that is what is unbiblical (and, perhaps, confusing); not the usage per se.

  4. Thomas Keene said,

    June 30, 2008 at 4:38 pm

    Yes, I think Jared is right. Or, to put it another way: I have not seen a FV guy claim that the usage of the Confession “has no basis in Scripture at all,” only that the confession uses these words with a technical precision that cannot be imputed back to each and every occurrence of the respective term in Scripture, and that it can cause confusion to do so. If someone can produce such a FV quote, I am more than willing to stand corrected.

  5. tim prussic said,

    June 30, 2008 at 4:53 pm

    Any serious study will eventually generate specialized terminology – no exceptions. Theology, far from being an exception, can be a pretty daunting field to enter. It’s true that this can be tough on some of the saints and can confuse them. The solution to this is not to have theologians cease the use of technical terms, but to have pastors who are 1) educated enough to understand what the theologians are writing and 2) are skilled communicators that can translate all the theology into easily accessible sermons, teachings, and exhortations.

    I think I agree with Jared, too, as to the FV critique. However, the specific definition of the technical term in the theological work will never be as broad as its use in the primary sources. Again, welcome to the real world. The solution here is the same: education and careful communication, not a gag order on the theological enterprise.

  6. Thomas Keene said,

    June 30, 2008 at 4:57 pm

    Agreed.

  7. Vern Crisler said,

    June 30, 2008 at 6:14 pm

    Re: #5
    How about no gag order unless the theological enterprise is teaching something contrary to the theology of the Standards? When you say this, I hear a “back to the Bible” or “speaking the way the Bible speaks” approach, which to me is really just a cover for a denial of good and necessary consequences. In addition, it seems to me that the Reformed denominations have spoken against the FV precisely because they believe in education and careful communication, not something that could confidently be said of the FVists.

    Vern

  8. Thomas Keene said,

    June 30, 2008 at 6:30 pm

    Vern, could you clarify your statement for me? I’m not sure I understand what you are arguing. Are you saying that FVers do not believe in education and careful communication?

  9. Vern Crisler said,

    June 30, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    Hi Thomas,
    Perhaps a re-reading would help clarify it. Re-reading is the most basic step in education.
    Vern
    :-)

  10. Thomas Keene said,

    June 30, 2008 at 8:12 pm

    Ok. Let me provide my understanding of your last sentence, and you can correct me where I am off.

    “In addition, it seems to me that the Reformed denominations have spoken against the FV precisely because they [presumably you are referring to "reformed denominations" here] believe in education and careful communication, not something [I take the referent of "something" as "belief in education and careful communication"] that could confidently be said of the FVists.”

    The sentence as I read it therefore means something like “Reformed denominations, in their commitment to education and careful communication, have objected to the FV, which is not as committed to either.” In could also mean “Reformed denominations have objected to the FV because the FV is committed to education and careful communication,” but I doubt that is what you mean.

    Not to be antagonistic, but “careful communication” often requires clarification when someone like myself does not understand. Condescending comments like “just re-read what I said” rarely add to the conversation.

  11. jared said,

    June 30, 2008 at 8:46 pm

    Vern,

    I also find it strange that “speaking the way the Bible speaks” is described as a cover for denying “good and necessary consequence.” Why does the former entail the latter? Should we simply be lazy and accept the way the Standards speak without question? Such laziness is rather unconfessional if you ask me. I would think that as the body of Christ matures so does her understanding of Scripture. I’ve always considered the Confession (and any developed systematic theology) as a starting point rather than an ending point. I suppose what I’m really getting at is why it should be considered bad and unnecessary for one to endeavor to speak the way the Bible speaks and to let such speaking to be theologically (and spiritually) informative.

    And, to be antagonistic, isn’t listening the most basic step in education?

  12. Vern Crisler said,

    July 1, 2008 at 12:23 am

    Re: 10 & 11

    Hello Thomas,
    You missed my smiley emoticon after my name. I was suggesting rereading as a way of joshing Tim, not as an attempt to patronize you. However, I see that you did reread my statements and I believe context and word usage are easy enough to follow, so that no great effort need be expended in understanding what I said. Perhaps my meaning would be made even clearer if I just said that FVists are not educating but miseducating people.

    Jared,
    Why is it “lazy” to accept the Standards? It takes a lot of time and study to understand Reformed theology. It seems to me that “speaking the way the Bible speaks” is the lazy man’s theology.

    As regards “listening” I’d say no, it’s not the most important step in education. You can listen and listen all you want to lectures, documentaries, or what have you, and you’d still know very little. What’s needed is active study, reading, rereading, note-taking, researching, following arguments — in short, an energetic application of your mind to the issues at hand. Sitting back and listening is the lazy man’s way of learning.

    Vern

  13. jared said,

    July 1, 2008 at 12:50 am

    Vern,

    It’s lazy to just accept the Standards for the same reason it’s lazy to just listen. Learning to speak how the Bible speaks is simply adding another layer to one’s theology; just as learning Reformed theology does. However, I would not value one way over (or against) the other. I don’t read only FV books, I don’t read only Reformed books, I don’t read only Catholic books, I don’t read only secular books, I don’t only try to learn how the Bible speaks and I don’t just accept the Standards.

    And since you decided to bite on the education bit: listening is the most important activity in education, but it isn’t the only activity in education.

  14. Dave Lort said,

    July 1, 2008 at 6:25 am

    Lane,

    You ask: Is “good and necessary consequence” a legitimate way of using terms as summaries of biblical teaching?

    Before answering that question, a good and necessary question might be: “what constitutes good and necessary?” What level of demonstration is required to meet the standard? Are we talking the syllogistic certainty of formal logic, or the more common case in theological discussion where one is weighing arguments and evaluating evidence, where a definition may be assumed to have a certain validity, but more importantly to make some useful distinction for the sake of advancing clarity of discussion? At what level of demonstration does what may be judged by some to be warranted from the evidence presented (“good” but not necessary?) cross over to necessity for all (“good AND necessary”)? And further, how do unarticulated differences over what meets the standard in this familiar phrase from the confession impact theological discussion such as goes on here regularly?

    Just pondering.

    Dave

  15. RBerman said,

    July 1, 2008 at 11:48 am

    Lane, you have hit upon a great concern with the FV as exemplified by its treatment of Ephesians 1, which goes like this:

    (1) Paul speaks to the Ephesian church without distinction or qualification.

    (2) Paul intends all of his words to apply to all of his audience.

    (3) Paul describes the elect body there as having, in Lane’s summary, “adoption (vs 5), redemption through Christ’s blood (vs 7), forgiveness of sins (vs 7), obtaining the inheritance (vs 11), the hope in Christ (vs 12), belief in Him (vs 13), and the seal of the Holy Spirit (vv 13-14).”

    (4) There must be a meaning of each of those terms which applies even to those members of the Ephesian church who will eventually apostasize.

    (5) WCF speaks of those terms in a way which cannot apply to apostates.

    (6) WCF and Paul are not using these terms in the same way.

    I believe (2) to be a false statement, which is why I reject (4)-(6). Discourse, both within the Bible and without, is laden with unspoken qualifications. If I say, “If you fall off the roof, you will get hurt,” I am speaking normatively, not to the special case (though surprisingly common in cinema) in which there’s a truck full of foam matresses to break your fall. Similarly when Paul speaks to the church as elect, he’s speaking to the normative member, not the exceptional case of future apostates.

  16. tim prussic said,

    July 1, 2008 at 1:04 pm

    Vern, I agree that sometimes folks speak of using language as the Bible does not only to undermine g&n consequence, but also to undermine historic Reformed theology, which I believe to be the best human representation of what the Bible actually says. However, I think there’s a good and necessary (pun, anyone?) call for us to remember biblical terminology in our theology, and not every call to use language as the Bible does is an undermining campaign. I think your caricature of the FVist as not interested in education is silly and borders on slander. How does your church compare to, say, Christ Church in Moscow, ID with reference to education? Truth be told (which it should be), I’ve found that there are good men who think well and educate soundly on all sides of the FV debate. I’ve also found men (even high-profile men) on all sides that don’t. Amusingly, with reference to your comment # 7, most of the speaking against the FV done by denominations publicly hasn’t been very instructive (the OPC being an exception).

  17. Vern Crisler said,

    July 1, 2008 at 7:01 pm

    Re: 13
    Jared,
    One does not “just accept” Reformed theology (i.e., the theology of the Standards and other Reformation creeds). As I said, it takes time and effort to understand it, the opposite of laziness, as you claimed in your original post: “Should we simply be lazy and accept the way the Standards speak without question?”

    Moreover I disagree with you that the Standards are merely the “starting point.” For anyone who holds to the Reformation (and biblical faith), they are the constant guide and corrective to one’s theological endeavors.

    Every heretic in creation says he is “speaking the way the Bible speaks.” In addition, this approach is used to justify fanciful and arbitrary interpretations of the Bible, seeing through new eyes, seeing “connections” and symbolic structures that other theologians cannot detect with telescopes. Not to mention, the use of this concept to support FV distinctives vis-a-vis Reformed theology.

    You say, “However, I would not value one way over (or against) the other. I don’t read only FV books, I don’t read only Reformed books, I don’t read only Catholic books, I don’t read only secular books, I don’t only try to learn how the Bible speaks and I don’t just accept the Standards.”

    But one would expect a Reformed minister to close his Calvinistic mind to denials of the principles of the Reformation. Else why did he become a Reformed minister? I’m happy that your reading is eclectic, but that is not always the best qualification for a theologian, no?

    You wrote: “And since you decided to bite on the education bit: listening is the most important activity in education, but it isn’t the only activity in education.”

    True enough. One can learn some things by listening. But not much. Whom does Paul praise? Those who merely listened to his preaching, or those who searched the Scriptures daily (researching and studying no doubt) to see whether his message was true?

    Vern

  18. Vern Crisler said,

    July 1, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    Re: #16
    Hi Tim,
    You said, “Vern, I agree that sometimes folks speak of using language as the Bible does not only to undermine g&n consequence, but also to undermine historic Reformed theology, which I believe to be the best human representation of what the Bible actually says.”

    Couldn’t have said it better myself.

    You said, “I think your caricature of the FVist as not interested in education is silly and borders on slander. How does your church compare to, say, Christ Church in Moscow, ID with reference to education?”

    Ironic that you mention Christ Church, Moscow ID? Ever heard of the southern slavery book? Fine instance of education that.

    “Amusingly, with reference to your comment # 7, most of the speaking against the FV done by denominations publicly hasn’t been very instructive (the OPC being an exception).”

    You had originally said, “Again, welcome to the real world. The solution here is the same: education and careful communication, not a gag order on the theological enterprise.”

    I took your meaning as that the Reformed denominations were not educating and communicating but were instead issuing gag orders. And my point was that they WERE teaching and communicating. As Scott Clark said, the problem may be in the reception, not in the teaching and communicating.

    Vern

  19. tim prussic said,

    July 1, 2008 at 7:39 pm

    Vern, I won’t be diverted. I know few if any churches that have dedicated the resources to education that Christ Church in Moscow has. You betray your radically closed mind that you can’t even grant that much, but bring up one book published long ago, as if that has anything to do with Christ Church’s education work. Very bad form, sir.

    As to the teaching and education thing, I had folks like Steve Schlissel in mind, not the American Reformed denoms. You’re right, the problem maybe in reception! :) Don’t forget that reception is part of teaching.

  20. jared said,

    July 2, 2008 at 10:44 am

    Vern,

    Thanks for the response; I largely agree with the bulk of what you have written. I agree that one does not “just accept” Reformed theology, but that is different from “just accepting” the Standards, which one is capable of doing without even cracking open a Bible. It is possible to have a blind allegiance to Reformed theology where nothing outside is allowed to contribute to one’s understanding. Such blindness is a cover for both pride and complacency, in my opinion. I also agree that the Standards are not merely a starting point; but they are a starting point, just as Scripture should be a (or the) starting point, and the creeds can be a starting point, and Church history can be a starting point. I never meant to imply that they were only (or merely) a starting point, just that I don’t see them as comprehensive and/or exhaustive (or even compelling in some instances). Moreover I agree that most heretics do believe they are speaking the way the Bible speaks, but generally it is not terribly difficult to demonstrate that they are not.

    I do disagree, however, to the describing of my reading as “eclectic”, though; I see it more as diverse. And, as a counter point, one would (or should) expect a theologian to be well read, whether eclectically or diversely (preferably the latter, I should think). There’s a difference between having a Calvinistic mind that is closed as to Reformed principles and one that is closed as to Reformed theology. If all one ever studies is Reformed material then such an individual will have quite a limited (though not necessarily narrow) understanding. In the Bible courses I took at Covenant we were required to read other perspectives in addition to learning the Reformed perspective.


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