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?

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22 Comments

  1. Jeff Cagle said,

    January 26, 2009 at 11:40 am

    I agree that imputation as transfer is a sine-qua-non of Protestant theology. However, there are two different possible objects of transfer.

    It is possible to think of transfer in terms of quantified merit. The active obedience of Christ earns merit that is credited to our account.

    It is also possible to think of transfer in terms of unquantified, binary status. The obedience of Christ earned for him the status of righteous or justified (per Hebrews), which is then imputed to us.

    It is my understanding that either of these fits within the Reformed tradition. Is that correct?

    Also, it is my perception that (without using these words) the FV advocates have been specifically rejecting the first but accepting the second, though some additionally quibble over the term “earned.” Is that also correct?

    Jeff Cagle

  2. Ron Henzel said,

    January 26, 2009 at 12:43 pm

    Jeff,

    I am not aware that the concept of the active obedience of Christ earning a quantity of merit that is credited to our account has ever been considered tenable in historic Reformed theology.

    First of all, I can’t think of any text in Reformed theology that treats the merit of Christ as in any sense quantifiable. I don’t think such an idea occurred even in Roman Catholic theology until someone developed the commercial application of “stored righteousness” through the sale of indulgences (which extended even to the merit of dead saints)—but that’s another matter altogether. The idea that Reformed people go around quantifying merit has been impressed into service as a straw man in the battle against imputation, but where do you find it in classic Reformed texts?

    Second of all, it seems to me that the standard teaching on imputation in Reformed theology has always been that the whole of Christ’s righteousness is credited to the elect. This makes any quantification of it irrelevant.

  3. Jeff Cagle said,

    January 26, 2009 at 3:52 pm

    Ron (#2):

    I am not aware that the concept of the active obedience of Christ earning a quantity of merit that is credited to our account has ever been considered tenable in historic Reformed theology.

    I would be glad to hear that it’s not in the classic Reformed texts. I fully agree with you in preferring (2) above over (1).

    However, I will also say that standard gospel presentations within reformed circles — for example, Evangelism Explosion — often present Christ’s merit as good deeds done for us that cover up our bad deeds. We are reminded that if we sinned only three times a day, then we’ve sinned about 70,000 times in our lives.

    Understood correctly, that’s correct (I’m not accusing EE of heresy here!!!). But the expression is also easily misunderstood as a quantification of good and bad deeds.

    And it should be noted that N.T. Wright mistakes the Reformed position on imputation for (1) above.

    So Ron, back to you. Am I correct in understanding the FV to be advocating (2) above? Clearly, since you also do, then on this issue is there agreement or disagreement?

    Jeff Cagle

  4. January 26, 2009 at 5:39 pm

    [...] View post:  Intramural Disagreement? [...]

  5. Ron Henzel said,

    January 26, 2009 at 8:32 pm

    Jeff,

    The example you provide from D. James Kennedy does not speak to the issue of quantifying Christ’s righteousness, but rather that of quantifying our sin. I don’t know where you get “good and bad deeds” here. I’ve been through the EE materials, and it’s clear from the context that they’re simply trying to drive home how often we as sinners commit sin for the purpose of hopefully driving people to the conviction of sin.

    As far as N.T. Wright is concerned, R. Scott Clark has recently noted that Wright freely admits near total ignorance of how Romans (for example) was exegeted in the Reformed tradition beyond Calvin and a couple of others. I’ve always trusted Wright’s ability to accurately identify any given Reformed position about as much as I’d trust Noam Chomsky to fairly analyze American foreign policy motives. To say that Wright hasn’t spent a lot of time studying historical theology is kind of like saying that Adolf Hitler didn’t make a habit of attending bar mitzvahs.

    As for whether the FV advocates the position that “The obedience of Christ earned for him the status of righteous or justified (per Hebrews), which is then imputed to us,” I’m not sure that FV advocates would go even that far. Based on what I’ve read, they would shy away from the word “earned” and perhaps go as far as to say that His obedience qualified Him to be our sacrifice, thus gaining our forgiveness, but not a righteous status that is imputed to us (although I admit there may be some exceptions within the FV crowd).

    Even so, this does not go as far as saying that Christ’s whole obedience (i.e., both His obedience up until the cross and His satisfaction on the cross) is imputed to the elect, which is the classic Reformed position. Perhaps this may sound a bit pedantic, but to say that Christ’s work of obedience becomes mine through imputation is more than saying he obtained a righteous status for me—which, of course, He did, but since it goes beyond that to the point that his whole obedience, active and passive, is imputed to me, it is a status I cannot lose. I’m not aware of anyone in the FV who is willing to affirm that.

  6. David Gadbois said,

    January 26, 2009 at 10:34 pm

    Ron, I would say that the FV position, as expressed by Lusk, involves the transfer of verdict or status/identity, rather than the transfer of moral righteousness. Christ’s righteous verdict is ours, but because FV doesn’t like anything that reeks of merit, they won’t say that His righteousness is ours.

  7. Ron Henzel said,

    January 27, 2009 at 4:28 am

    David,

    Thanks; that confirms what I thought.

  8. January 27, 2009 at 9:11 am

    David,

    Yes, and FV is off the reservation there. There can be no status change or not-guilty verdict without the imputation of Christ’s perfect righteousness to the believer. Any such change posited without the totality of Christ’s perfect righteousness (passive and active obedience) credited to us WOULD be a legal fiction, declaring the guilty sinner as innocent with no underlying basis. Unless our righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, we will not enter heaven (Mt 5:20). The ONLY way that can happen is if the totality of Christ’s prefect righteousness is credited to us by God’s grace (Rom 4, esp. vv. 20-25).

  9. Pete Myers said,

    January 27, 2009 at 9:58 am

    Hey guys,

    Requesting a little help with understanding here if I may!

    OK, so I had thought that the non-imputation FV position on justification was that God sees us in Christ, and therefore sees us in his righteousness.

    Now, that doesn’t require any actual “transference” of righteousness from Christ to me. But it does still mean that the righteousness I now have is all of Christ and none of me.

    I can see how that position is wrong (i.e. I don’t think I share it), but I am struggling to see how it’s not Protestant. At the end of the day, my righteousness is still all of Christ and none of me in that system, despite the inherent inconsistencies within it.

    Can someone enlighten me please?

  10. Todd said,

    January 27, 2009 at 11:12 am

    Pete wrote:

    “I can see how that position is wrong (i.e. I don’t think I share it), but I am struggling to see how it’s not Protestant. At the end of the day, my righteousness is still all of Christ and none of me in that system, despite the inherent inconsistencies within it. Can someone enlighten me please?”

    Denying the imputation of Christ’s righteousness leaves room to lose the benefit of being declared righteous. If at the moment of faith the righteousness of Christ is imputed to my account, I, by virtue of my justification, have fully obeyed the Law, thus am already fit to enter heaven. There is no more work to be done. I cannot lose that status of being fully righteous. But if we say that through baptism we are united to Christ and share in his verdict of righteousness, that leaves wriggle room to lose that verdict of “righteous” if I through disobedience somehow separate myself from Christ. Subtle difference on paper, but dangerously wrong applied to people.

    Todd

  11. January 27, 2009 at 11:59 am

    Pete,

    OK, so I had thought that the non-imputation FV position on justification was that God sees us in Christ, and therefore sees us in his righteousness.

    And thereby sets up a legal fiction. My point in comment 8 was that we cannot be justified apart of the imputation of Christ’s perfect righteousness. Turretin explains in his question 3 on justification:

    Hence it follows that God cannot show favor to, nor justify anyone without perfect righteousness. For since the judgment of God is according to truth, he cannot pronounce anyone just who is not really just….Since this could not come from us who are guilty, it was to be sought in another, who (constituted a surety in our place by receiving upon himself the punishment due to us) might bestow the righteousness (dikaioma) of which we are destitute.

    That’s my point – no imputation, no justification. That’s been the Reformed position since the beginning.

  12. Vern Crisler said,

    January 27, 2009 at 9:32 pm

    Oh well, you guys still don’t understand the concept of legal fiction, even though I posted something on it previously. Look it up already.

    Vern

  13. January 27, 2009 at 10:18 pm

    You can relax, Vern. I’m taking a little poetic license here.

  14. Ron Henzel said,

    January 28, 2009 at 4:47 am

    You mean “legal fiction” is not a reference to John Grisham novels?

  15. January 28, 2009 at 9:39 am

    You mean “legal fiction” is not a reference to John Grisham novels?

    ROFL!!!!

  16. Jeff Cagle said,

    January 28, 2009 at 12:37 pm

    Ron (#5):

    I should have been more clear. Just as faithful gospel preaching can be confused for antinomianism by uncareful listeners, so also the EE materials can be confused for quantified righteousness by uncareful listeners. That was my sole point.

    Jeff

  17. Pete Myers said,

    January 28, 2009 at 6:33 pm

    #10 & #11,

    Thanks guys.

    However, your answers are demonstrating my point of confusion.

    Todd – denying imputation does indeed leave us open to saying that we can lose righteousness. But the problem your outlining is a potential consequence of denying imputation, not a necessary one.

    reformedmusings – what you’re saying demonstrates an inconsistency within the FV system. However, the presence of such an inconsistency doesn’t necessarily mean that the FV are denying that the believer’s righteousness comes from Christ.

    I heard a major critique of the FV given by someone over here in the UK recently. They gave two major reasons why the FV is gospel heresy. The denial of the Imputation of the Active Obedience of Christ was one – and that’s because by denying the IAOC I’m claiming that my righteousness is something that comes from me.

    You guys have both shown that the FV position on IAOC is wrong – I think I agree with you. However, I’m not convinced that denying the IAOC is ipso facto claiming that I earn/achieve/whatever my own righteousness. I don’t quite think either of you have shown me how that’s the case yet.

    Does this make sense? There’s a difference between (a) just being wrong, (b) being wrong in a way that potentially leads to gospel error, and (c) being in gospel error.

    Denial of the IAOC seems to be at (b) to me. And I haven’t read any FV stuff that yet puts any of them in (c) on this issue.

  18. Tom Wenger said,

    February 2, 2009 at 9:08 am

    Hey, Pete,

    Read the essay “FUTURE JUSTIFICATION TO THE DOERS OF THE LAW” by Rich Lusk and it will remove all doubt that at least his position is most certainly a flagrant gospel error. You can find it at the link below.

    http://www.hornes.org/theologia/rich-lusk/future-justification-to-the-doers-of-the-law

  19. February 2, 2009 at 11:55 am

    Pete,

    reformedmusings – what you’re saying demonstrates an inconsistency within the FV system. However, the presence of such an inconsistency doesn’t necessarily mean that the FV are denying that the believer’s righteousness comes from Christ.

    I see only three choices here for humans to be declared righteous: imputation of Christ’s righteousness, infusion of righteousness, or sin simply ignored. The former is Biblical and Reformed, the latter is an affront to God’s justice. The middle is the Roman Catholic view against which the Scriptures preach and the Reformation was fought. Some Federal Visionists have sworn to me that they hold to IAOC. Others simply mock it as redundant.

    WCF 11.1 is quite clear on this subject. Robert Shaw’s Exposition of the WCF provides an excellent commentary on this clause.

  20. Pete Myers said,

    February 6, 2009 at 3:07 am

    Ok, re-read Lusk on this several times now.

    It still doesn’t definitively make him heretical. He ends up having denied more things than he’s affirmed, which makes it very hard to pin down exactly what he thinks. But I can still read Lusk’s article and hear him saying:

    Having been justified by faith alone in the past, our future “justification”, or “vindication”, will be that we are in Christ – which is proven by our repentance.

    So again, the denial of the IAOC can lead to gospel error. And, when we work the logical implications of the denial of the IAOC out, it leads to gospel error. However, in and of itself it’s not necessarily a gospel error, and Lusk is not clearly in gospel error as a result of denying in the IAOC.

  21. Reed Here said,

    February 6, 2009 at 9:25 am

    No. 20, Pete: when I was in the process of being ordained, it was impressed upon me by two different presbyteries (licensure, then ordaination in a different presbytery), well over 100 fathers of the Church, that I was being called to the most important responsibility in the world, that the responsibility to feed God’s sheep knows no other competitor for seriousness of calling.

    Therefore, it was imperative that my faith believe a serious response was called for from me. Particularly, they impressed upon me the need to be clear, simple, and accurate with Scripture in all my teaching.

    As far as I’m concerned , the fact that the FV men are hardly understandable by their fellow shepherds, and that even after much “clarification”, it has only gotten worse, is reason sufficient to say these men should at best be ignored by the rest of us.

    Lusk in decidedly unclear, to be sure. At the vert least, such confusion is harming the sheep, and bringing one under the censure of Scripture.

    Look at what it took you to reach your conclusion. Now think about the poor sheep sitting under Lusk’s ministry on Sundays.

  22. Ron Henzel said,

    February 6, 2009 at 9:33 am

    Reed,

    Excellent point in comment 21!


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