Election in the New Testament – Part 1

Posted by Bob Mattes

The Federal Vision folks like to say that their view is more Biblical, that they use words in a more Biblical way than classic Reformed formulations. Seven orthodox Reformed denominations have found otherwise, yet the Federal Vision myths persist. Dr. R. F. White wrote a comment on another thread that again struck at the heart of Federal Vision’s defective hermeneutic. In response to Jared, Dr. White wrote:

You [jared] say, “The only manner in which a reprobate can call himself elect is to the extent and duration that he is a member of the visible body.” – I reply, But we would agree that the most important issue is, does God call a reprobate person elect to the extent and duration that he is a member of the visible body, or, for that matter, does God call a reprobate person elect to any extent or duration at all?

This cuts to the heart of Federal Vision’s mythical “objective covenant” and reminded me of a post that I started over a year ago but never finished – until today. Bottom line question: Are there indeed people who are “elect” for a time by virtue of their membership in the visible church but lose that “election” through covenant unfaithfulness? In two letters or less, NO. The New Testament knows no such category of temporary “election,” either inside or outside of the visible church. Allow me to back up that statement.

Read the rest of this entry »

Intramural Disagreement?

Well, it’s been a long journey again. My hope and prayer is that my interactions with Doug have clarified in people’s minds the real issues surrounding the Federal Vision. Clarity is at a premium in a conversation where there has been much confusion. I dare say that both Doug and I have failed at points to provide perfect clarity for people. For that I certainly apologize (and I’m sure Doug would, too). In this post, I will look at the areas of intramural disagreement as well as respond to Doug’s last two posts.

The last segment of the Joint Statement has to do with areas that the FV claims are not integral to the definition of what the Federal Vision is. These areas include the imputatin of Christ’s active obedience to the believer, certain issues regarding regeneration, the relative “height” of covenant renewal liturgy, the relationship of justification to final judgment, and the relative worth of using the term “merit.” It is important to note these things, as it is fairly certain that some people have made some of these issues into a blanket statement concerning the FV as a whole, when not all of the FV advocates believe what has been imputed (!) to the movement as a whole. It always behoves critics to be extremely careful in this regard, and to be pinpoint accurate in what they say. This has been my goal, and it seems that Doug acknowledges that generally I have succeeded in being accurate. Some of the other FV advocates might want to take note of that assertion.

I have some questions regarding these areas of intramural disagreement. Firstly, with regard to imputation. Would Doug agree that the IAOC is not the same thing as imputation in general? After all, there is the view of Piscator, who firmly believes in imputation, but not the IAOC. What some of the critics are concerned about is not even the IAOC (although we are certainly concerned about that, as well), but whether some (notice the important qualifier there) advocates of the FV even believe in imputation at all. For instance, Rich Lusk, in his retraction of his infamous “imputation is redundant” statement (for which retraction see especially pp. 19-21), still denies that imputation should be viewed as an extrinsic transfer term. For Lusk, the fact that faith unites one to Christ precludes the “alien righteousness” of Luther. This guts imputation of all meaning, and fails to account for the fact that union does not erase the distinction between the Head and the body, that Christ and the believer are still distinct people, such that something can be transferred from one to the other. Imputation is inherently an extrinsic transfer term. That is how it has universally been understood not only by the Lutherans, but also by the Reformed. It is certainly the meaning of logizomai in Romans 4. So, presupposing that the question of imputation itself is distinct from the more specific question of the IAOC, again I ask the question, isn’t imputation itself at stake in some of the FV writers? Doug does not seem to me to be denying imputation, but then I have never viewed Doug as speaking for the other FV writers on this issue, either. Now, to answer Doug’s two recent posts.

In Doug’s first reply, there are several issues that need to be addressed. Firstly, about Wilkins’s views. I am well aware that he qualified his views in his discussions with the LA Presbytery. I have read the full record of the case (having been an assistant prosecutor in that case) several times. However, his qualification has no substance to it, in my opinion. He acknowledged that there was a qualitative difference, not just a temporal distinction, between the elect and the non-elect within the church. However, he was completely unable to state what that difference was. This indicates to me that he was not willing, for instance, to state that the elect were regenerated and the non-elect were not. That wouldn’t be the difference, would it? Could it really be that simple, I wonder? What, after all, is the value of a distinction that not only cannot be specified as to its definition (is it then really there?), but point-blank refuses to say what the Reformed faith has always said about the difference between the elect and the non-elect? I will answer Doug’s brief point about Matthew 18 with an equally brief response: it doesn’t mean what Doug seems to think it means.

On the point of imputation, I would actually refer people to the third paragraph above. I would only add that imputation as a transfer term is a non-negotiable in Reformed soteriology. It is precisely where the Catholics and the Protestants disagreed in the 16th century. And it is precisely what is meant in Romans 4 and Philippians 3, Psalm 32, Isaiah 53:11 and many other places. If one disagrees with the transfer sense of imputation, one automatically exits the entire Protestant camp. Now, I do not believe that the transfer sense of imputation (as Christ’s alien righteousness being reckoned as ours) in any way contradicts or is incompatible with union with Christ. It is union with Christ that ensures that imputation is not a legal fiction. But union with Christ, as I have mentioned before, does not mean that the distinction of persons between Christ and the believer is thereby erased, which is what Lusk seems to think. There is still a Head and a body, and righteousness which is not inherent in the body can be reckoned judicially to the body.

On the CoW/CoG issue, I will only say this. As I have said many times, the Mosaic economy is part of the Covenant of Grace. This is true regarding the ordo salutis. I am becoming more and more convinced that the CoW aspect of the Mosaic economy has to do with the corporate aspects of Israel in the promised land, although the hypothetical possibility of earning one’s salvation by works was still there (as it is today), provided someone could be sinless, which only Christ has been. To me this is clear and nuanced.

On the aliveness of faith, I believe that Doug is confusing a sine qua non with a causa. If I say that ice has to be solid in order to be ice, I am not thereby saying that ice is ice because it is solid. Ice is ice because it is cold, indeed, specifically, below 32 degrees F. It is ice, because the atmosphere has caused it to dip below that threshold, not because ice is solid. In other words, ice would not be ice if it wasn’t solid. Indeed, that is part of the definition of ice. But ice is not ice because it is solid, but rather because of the outside temperature forces which are acting on it. Similarly, true faith is alive. How could it be otherwise? But even the aliveness is dependent on something else, which is the true connection to Jesus. And the aliveness of faith is not a causa in justification, but a sine qua non. Faith justifies because of faith’s object, on which faith lays hold. The problem with saying that faith’s aliveness is a cause of justification is in defining faith’s aliveness. This is where such formulations begin to sound suspiciously like “faith formed by love justifies,” which plainly reintroduces works in the back door. No doubt Doug would deny that his formulation does this (and he has repeatedly denied that his formulation does this). All I am saying here is that there are category mistakes going on here. When we talk about what causes justification, the Reformers were very careful to distinguish among the various kinds of causes. The ultimate cause is the glory of God. The material cause of justification is the righteousness of Christ imputed. The instrumental cause is faith. The immediate cause is the Holy Spirit working faith in the believer. The only one of these causes to which the aliveness of faith is directly related is the instrumental cause. But there, faith’s aliveness is a sine qua non, not the substance of the cause. The instrumentality of faith is in laying hold of Christ, which can be distinguished (though, of course, never separated) from the fact that such faith is alive.

In response to Doug’s second post, we need to discuss exactly what we mean by assurance, and what feeds into it. Doug believes that this is my position:

In other words, decretal election with my name on it is in the premises, from which I derive the conclusion that I am saved.

I do not believe that he has read me correctly on this. This is my position: assurance of salvation is a broad category. Lots of things funnel into this category. Perhaps most importantly, all the means of grace funnel into this category. Specific special revelation that my name is written in the book of life isn’t one of the means of grace. We live by faith, not by sight. Rather, it is the Word, prayer, sacraments, fellowship that are the means of grace. That is one (and probably the largest) strand that funnels into assurance of salvation. Another large strand is the fruit that comes from faith. This one is obvious: fruit is evidence (though, of course, not absolute) of salvation. If we see fruit, then our assurance is greatly helped. And, furthermore, the doctrine of election in general (knowing that if I am saved, it is because God has planned this from before the foundation of the world, and has accomplished it in history) also funnels into the assurance of salvation. I believe that knowing that I personally am elect is synonymous with assurance of salvation. Hope this is clear. It seems to me that Doug has read a fair bit more into my one sentence there than is warranted by the evidence. Indeed, the way I meant the sentence in question was this: the knowledge of assurance of salvation consists in knowing that I am decretally elect. Is this kind of assurance possible?

On Augustine, I think we need a bit more in order to answer the question. What specific aspects/quotations of Augustine does Doug have in mind here?

On Being Presbyterian

Posted by Bob Mattes

Dr. Sean Michael Lucas, Chief Academic Officer and Associate Professor of Church History at Covenant Theological Seminary, wrote the excellent book On Being Presbyterian some time back. He has condensed it down to a set of very nice Powerpoint briefing slides. These provide an excellent summary of the material suitable for new members’ classes or Sunday school. Ideally, of course, members would read the book before class and the briefing slides would be good jumping off points for discussion.

On Being Presbyterian: Our Beliefs, Practices, and Stories makes a great read for new believers, those who transfer from non-Presbyterian or liberal denominations, as well as for those whom God brought into the Reformed faith many years ago. Dr. Lucas has a talent for condensing the essence of the Reformed faith and Presbyterianism down to its core truths. He covers the Reformed faith, worship, the sacraments, church government, and a brief history of the Presbyterian churches, relying heavily on Scripture and the Westminster Standards – all from the perspective of historical Reformed orthodoxy.

I believe that On Being Presbyterian would be a valuable read for all members, new and old, and officers in Presbyterian churches, especially the PCA. These Powerpoint slides will provide a handy means of teaching through the book.

Posted by Bob Mattes

Sale Until Saturday…

On this new book, you can get for only $4.88, which is %65 off the cover price. Any book that Tripp endorses this warmly will be sure to be worth the price. Buy it for all the parents and ministers of teens you know.  With this book and Tripp’s own book Age of Opportunity, you will have solid biblical help in raising teens in the nurture and admonition of the Lord.

Assurance and Apostasy

Doug has, of course, been very busy lately, what with blogging through Calvin’s Institutes added to the AAPC conference. So, just to help him remember where we are, this is my last post in the series, which is as yet unanswered. In the current post, I will examine the last two areas of positive theological statement. My last treatment of the sections is here.

I can be exceptionally brief with this section, as my previous treatment still gets to the heart of the matter. I will phrase the question this way: can a believer be absolutely assured of his own salvation in knowing that he is decretally elect? It should be noted here that Cardinal Bellarmine, the foremost Catholic apologist for the Council of Trent, once said that the worst sin of the entire Reformation was their doctrine of assurance.

On the section on apostasy, I think I will simply quote what I said before, as I don’t think I can improve on it:

The section on apostasy is much more problematic. Now, it is important to note that they use the term “Christian” of someone who is baptized, not of someone who is decretally elect. We do use the term this way when we say that a certain percentage of the world is “Christian.” Usually those figures that we use are quite a bit higher than we would allow if we were talking about just the decretally elect. Nevertheless, the statement does not make it easy here to distinguish among the various uses of the term. One gets the distinct impression that that use is the only use they want to use. But in evangelicalism, surely the more common use of the term is of someone who is born again.

The real problem (the above paragraph is only a small quibble about a term) is with what is ascribed to the apostate before he apostatizes. They say that such people were united to Christ in His covenantal life, that they fall from real grace, and that the connection to Christ is not merely external. Let’s break this down, claim by claim.

Such people were united to Christ in His covenantal life. Almost certainly they have their interpretation of John 15 in view here, especially as they use the branch metaphor in this very paragraph. So, whatever the NECM has, he has life. Chapter 14 of John is usually ignored in FV discussions of John 15. There is not only no mention of apostasy in John 14, but the life that Jesus speaks of is clearly eternal life (look at verses 3, 4, 6, 12, 13, 15, 17, 19-20 (!), 27). Therefore, the non-fruit-bearing branches do not have the kind of life that Jesus speaks of in verse 14. They have an external connection only (contra the FV statement). Particularly, they have the “cut off” kind of life. They are already as good as dead. Plainly, verse 1 of John 15 is speaking of the visible church, not of the invisible church. It is only in that sense that Jesus speaks of the branches being “in me.” FV advocates really front-end load that phrase. They want to read covenantal life into that phrase. But if Christ is talking about true life, then the FV understanding is Arminian, even if they affirm decretal election. You cannot have a little bit of salvation. You cannot be a geep or a shoat. You are either a sheep or a goat. Period. There is no mutation or tertium quids. What is the difference between a fruit-bearing branch and a non-fruit-bearing branch? It is that they do not sustain the same relationship to the vine. The non-fruit-bearing branch is a sucker, a parasite. He is only externally related to the vine. The fruit-bearing branch sustains an ordo salutis relationship to Christ, and the other does not. The FV stresses that these branches are not stuck onto the vine by scotch tape. No, they are not. But the vine is not salvation, either. It is the visible church. It is not covenantal salvation, either. These branches never bear any fruit. I think I have dealt with the external thing as well.

No one can fall from saving grace. You cannot simply say that apostates fall from real grace, without defining what that grace is from which they have fallen. This is the same kind of ambiguity that has plagued FV teaching from the start. What kind of grace is it? Is it common grace, special grace, or a tertium quid? I suspect they would call it covenantal grace. That’s a big help. What does it do? Does it save or not? Wilkins says yes in his article in the Federal Vision. It just doesn’t save permanently. This is still Arminian, and it doesn’t matter in the least that he affirms decretal election also. To say that anyone has temporary saving grace and then loses it is Arminian. Leave decretal election out of the picture for a moment. Let’s just talk about those who will fall away. If you define what they fall away from as real salvific benefits, then it is an Arminian scheme, however much it may be juxtaposed with a more Calvinistic scheme. Affirming Calvinism in one spot isn’t enough. It has to be thorough-going. I suspect that there is division in the ranks of FV here, although Wilson was willing to put his name on this horribly ambiguous statement.

BibleWorks 8

This newest version is simply astounding. There is no other word for it. It has the early church fathers (Schaff) fully integrated, so that you can see what any church father (in that set) said about a particular verse simply by scrolling down and clicking on each occurrence. The same is true of the Babylonian Talmud, and the English translations of the targums. Also included in the new release is Waltke/O’Connor’s Introduction to Biblical Hebrew Syntax, Joüon/Muraoka’s Hebrew grammar in the 2006 revised edition, and Wallace’s Syntax of Greek. These things together are worth the entire price of admission, especially in how smoothly they are integrated into the system. Also, take note that the free updates include fully integrated versions of the standard Protestant confessions!

William Graham Tullian Tchividjian

Grandson of Billy Graham, guest blogger on Justin Taylor’s Between Two Worlds, pastor of New City Church (EPC), William Graham Tullian Tchividjian has been issued a call to be the next senior minister at Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church. The call is dependent on the two churches becoming one, according to the official statement released by New City Church.

Controversial Book

This book is now in at WTS bookstore. It represents a full-scale treatment of the relationship of the Mosaic covenant to the Adamic covenant of works. Agree or disagree, it will be essential reading on the subject.

Now In!

Defective, Diminished, and Truncated; a challenge to the FV on Baptismal Regeneration

This is a post offering a small challenge to the FV’s understanding of baptismal regeneration.

First, I recognize that the FV has denied it believes in the common misunderstanding of baptismal regeneration (BR). As described in the FV Joint Statement, I disagree with that BR position as well.

Second, the language here of the Joint Statement can be understood to mean that the FV does not reject all BR positions. Indeed, as one proponent demonstrates (outlining the “common” FV BR position), it is clear that the FV does indeed affirm a form of BR.

I have no intention to be pejoratively maligning here. You can take the most egregious of terms, and if you sufficiently redefine them, make them fit for use and agreement with Biblical truth.

No, I’m not interested in a detailed drawn out refutation of the FV BR position. Rather I want to offer one biblical challenge to it. Thus, for the sake of discussion here, I am going to deal with the FV on its own terms.

The FV’s BR position is best described as covenantal baptismal regeneration (their). That, not all baptized are presumed to be vitally regenerate (inwardly regenerated as in when the Spirit vitally unites the decretally elect to Christ). Rather they are to be presumed covenantally regenerate. Consistent with the FV’s “we-can-only-see-the external, i.e., covenantal” hermeneutic, the FV argues that the vital perspective does not come into play. All we have is the external, the covenantal perspective.

(I’m leaving aside the question of functional-equivalency, the appearance that the FV’s distinctionse between covenantal vs. decretal perspectives effectively disappear, so that the latter is in effect equivalent to the former).

Applying the FV’s BR position leads to the presumption that all baptized children are presumed (covenantally) regenerate. This (and some other reasons according to the FV) qualifies them for participation in the Lord’s Supper (LS). If the LS is for the Family of God, and baptized children are (covenantally) regenerate, then they are right recipients of the LS.

At least this is how the FV argument goes. Now to my challenge:

I think I’m safe in saying that the FV agrees that at least in terms of sacramental functionality, circumcision in the OT equals baptism in the NT. Given this, it would follow that if a baptized child in the NT is covenantally regenerate, then a circumcised child in the OT is also. (The FV support for padeo-communion from the OT practice of padeo-passover tangentially at leasts supports that this is a fair logical inference of the FV’s position).

Given this, then we should find evidence in the OT that circumcised children were presumed to be (covenantally) regenerate. Or at least, we should not find evidence challenging this presumption.

I refer you to 1 Samuel 3:7, “Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD,”

This is the passage in which Samuel, under the age of 13 at least (possibly much younger, still pre-K) was called by the Lord to the ministry of a prophet. Here is a par excellent example of an OT covenant child. Not simply circumsized, but raised from weening (3 or 4) in the tabernacle as an “adopted” son of the high priest. If anyone could be presumed to be covenantally regenerate, it was Samuel.

It is interesting to note that the language here is unambiguous. No FV “covenantal perspective” reading is allowed. In view in “knowing the Lord,” is expressly the decretal perspective. Samuel did not yet know the Lord as his Redeemer who had decretally regenerated him.

Now unless the FV wants to borrow from our credo-baptist brothers a discontinuity between circumcision and baptism, I offer that this biblical text effective contradicts the FV BR position.

If Samuel was to expect decretal, vital-regeneration before it could be said that he “knew” the Lord, how can we say that we are not to expect the same for our baptized children?

This, coupled with Romans 10:9-17 (profession of faith), is why I teach my children, and our congregation, to expect a profession of faith, that moment when they are able to voice their own affirmation, just like Samuel, that they have heard the voice of the Lord.

Note that this balances the covenantal and decretal perspectives as well. Of course we cannot know that the baptized child’s profession of faith does indeedflow from decretal regeneration. Yet this is the Bible’s way of coordinating the decretal and the covenantal perspectives. Baptized child are expected to offer a profession of faith because this is what the decretally regenerate children of God do. That reprobate baptized children can do the same does not eliminate the value of requiring this from our children.

In that the FV (at least) ignores this requirement it robs our children of an act of faith that God blesses. In that it has our children come to the Lord’s Table without such requirement, the FV exposes our children to the disciple (judgment) of the warnings associated with the LS.

In that the FV presumes (covenantal) regeneration, and ignores the need for evidence of decretal regeneration, it proposes we raise our children in a defective manner, at best offering them a diminished and truncated faith.

Samuel would be shocked and saddened.

Reed DePace

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