One More Time

Let’s try to clarify once more what we are talking about, because I feel that the third use of the law is not what we are talking about here.

I’ll ask the question this way: if there is no separation of law and gospel anywhere in the text of Scripture, then how is faith itself (speaking about the definition of it, now) not Golawspel? Douglas Wilson claims to hold to sola fide, faith alone. However, if faith is defined as both law and gospel, this gives away sola fide. On what biblical basis could one exclude law from justifying faith? On what exegetical or systematic basis could Douglas Wilson exclude law from justifying faith, in terms of how we appropriate Christ’s righteousness? We are not talking here about Jesus Christ, per se, either. We are talking about our appropriation of Christ’s righteousness in justification. So what exegetical justification (pardon the pun) is there for excluding law from our justification if there is no distinction in the text between law and gospel? How can the Bible be said to exclude law from our faith if there is no law/gospel distinction in the text? One can say sola fide, hoping that works are excluded. But if the law/gospel distinction is not present in the text, then faith itself is turned into Golawspel, by the Bible’s own definition. Faith becomes not mere grace, but also a work, since it would partake of both law and gospel. This is the nub of the issue. The Bible’s own definition of the nature of justifying faith is what is at stake here.

To head off another possible rabbit trail, we are not talking about sanctification here, only justification. Everyone in this discussion (including the infamous WSC faculty!) agrees with the third use of the law. Incidentally, not even all Lutherans deny the third use of the law. Witness article 6 of the Formula of Concord (see Schaff’s Creeds of Christendom, volume 3, pp. 130-131). Tomorrow, I will, Lord-willing, post a specific answer to Doug’s concerns, which are a caricature of my position, in my opinion.

A Treatise On the Law and the Gospel

Seeing as how the law/gospel distinction is becoming rather a hot topic on my blog, I thought I would direct readers to John Colquhoun’s magnificent treatise on the subject. Right at the get-go, he says this: “Every passage of sacred Scripture is either law or gospel, or is capable of being referred either to the one or to the other” (p. xxv). So much for the idea of law/gospel distinction being only Lutheran. Here is an entire treatise proving it. He goes on to say, maybe even more tellingly, “If they blend the law with the gospel or, which is the same thing, works with faith, especially in the affair of justification, they will thereby obscure the glory of redeeming grace and prevent themselves from attaining joy and peace in believing” (xxvi). This is a Presbyterian (Church of Scotland) minister who lived from 1748-1827, and was heavily influenced by the Marrow Theology, and the writings of Thomas Boston.

Jesus and the Believer

Douglas Wilson has responded to my post with this reply over on his blog. It is certainly a courteous reply, for which I am grateful. Heat is sometimes useful, but can often cloud the issues, when light is what is needed.

His counter-argument can be summarized this way: in Christ we find law and gospel integrated in perfect harmony. Even though he does not say this, he would probably agree that because it is integrated in the Head (Jesus Christ), so also it is integrated in the members (that’s us) by virtue of union with Christ. He didn’t draw an explicit line from Christ to the believer, but this probably how he would proceed. If he disagrees, I’m sure he will let us know.

He argues that it follows from this that the law and the gospel do sweetly comply one with another, and that if the giving of the law at Mount Sinai was part of the covenant of grace, then my position would be out of accord with the Westminster Standards, as well as with a few more recent theologians.

To the first part of the answer, I would reply that not everything that is true of the Head is true of the members. To get at this, we need to go back to the Covenant of Works/Covenant of Grace distinction. Adam and Eve were bound to perform the terms of the CoW, which were not only negative (in the command concerning the tree), but also positive (the cultural mandate, and the implied command to worship no other god but the one true God). This Adam failed to do, thus desecrating the CoW Sabbath structure (see Vos, Biblical Theology, p. 140). He failed to attain to everlasting life. This Christ rectified, and attained on our behalf. Hence the CoG is a Covenant of Grace for us, but it is not grace for Jesus. Hence, in the matter of how we obtain what Christ did, there is not a parallel between Head and members.

To answer the second part of the response, I would say that the law and the gospel do sweetly comply with one another…in sanctification. And they sweetly comply with one another in Christ’s obtaining justification for us, since by His law-keeping we obtain grace. But in the matter of our obtaining justification, the law and the gospel are utterly opposed. I don’t know how Paul can be any clearer on this than when he says that we are justified not by works (law-keeping) but by grace. Paul makes an absolute antithesis between law and gospel in justification.

One final comment on Westminster West. The Law/Gospel distinction is not the invention of WSC, nor is WSC’s take on sola fide. For proof of this, see these posts (part 1, part 2, part 3). I strongly encourage all readers of this blog to read those posts carefully. I will say this: if it’s Westminster West’s fault for “corrupting” me on this issue, then blessed be this “corruption.”

A Retraction

It gives me no pleasure at all to write this post, first of all. To come to this conclusion means thinking worse of a person’s theology, which person has at the very least commanded my respect, and has been very courteous to me throughout our debates.

But I feel that I need to retract an earlier statement I made about Douglas Wilson’s theology. I have come to the conclusion that the law/gospel distinction is essential to preserving sola fide. Here’s how this worked in my own mind. If there is no distinction in the text of Scripture between law and gospel (that is, if the difference between law and gospel is only in the application, and not in the text), then all the discussion of faith in the New Testament is both law and gospel, which we’ll call Golawspel. This means that, even in the apostle Paul’s most rigorous separation of faith and works, which occurs in his discussions of justification, Paul is not really claiming that law observance is separate from faith within the structure of justification. For the definition of faith itself must fall prey to the Golawspel muddlement. If faith, therefore, is not opposed to works in justification, then justification is no longer sola fide.

Put more positively, the definition of sola fide has always been dependent on the prior distinction between law and gospel, such that when God calls people to faith, this has nothing to do with law observance of any kind. It is pure gospel. Paul does not speak of faith-faithfulness in justification, but of faith as utterly opposed to works in justification. Who are we to turn around and call faith Golawspel?

This means that every proponent of the Joint Federal Vision Statement denies sola fide. They will, of course, claim the opposite. And they will also claim that denying the distinction of law and gospel in the text of Scripture does not mean that they deny sola fide in justification. This will have to be a difference between them and me. For if there is no difference between law and gospel in the text of Scripture, then faith is no longer what the Reformers said it was: which is opposed to works in justification.

No doubt, references will be thrown at me like Paul’s “obedience of faith” in Romans 1:5. But Paul is not talking about justification there. When he talks about justification, he utterly opposes faith to all obedience. Faith, in the Christian life, always results in obedience. But faith itself is not a work of the law. Instead, it is a receiving and resting on Christ for His righteousness.

Another possible objection thrown my way is that people will say I believe in justification by a dead faith. I believe in nothing of the sort. But faith’s aliveness means its reality, not the obedience that results from faith.

I am not particularly interested in getting into a huge debate over this. And as I said, it brings me zero pleasure to write this. But I feel that I must. I hope and pray that it will result in reformulation among the FV proponents, especially of the law/gospel distinction, but also in their tendency to connect faith to faithfulness, even in justification.

Great Historical Book

David Van Drunen has written a very important book on the history of two kingdoms theology and natural law. It doesn’t really matter in this case whether you agree with his position or not, this is a very important book for reckoning on the relationship of church and state. There are definitely some surprises for those who grew up on Neo-Calvinist positions, such as myself. I’m being forced to consider all these things afresh, which is a good thing, of course.

On Misunderstanding Dead Theologians

Just having seen this argument surface yet again on this blog, I thought I’d address it. The claim is sometimes made that one cannot properly understand or represent another theologian unless personal contact is made with that theologian to see if one is correctly representing their theology. If this is the case, we need to throw out all our textbooks of dead theologians, because there is no way that we can understand them. There is no way to contact them. We cannot possibly understand them, because we do not have access to their up-to-the-minute-yet-changeable-and-flighty-current-thoughts. To engage in church history is impossible. Heaven forbid we should think of words on paper as having any kind of stable meaning, maybe even (shocker!) more stable, more accurate, than personal conversation with someone else. Hmm.

On the Relationship of Truth and Love

There are many folks out there who believe that unity is the fundamental responsibility of the church today. The basis for this is usually 1 John 4:8, 16, which verses declare that God is love. It is often argued that these verses in particular are some of the very few to make such a close identification of an attribute of God with the very essence of God. Aside from the problematic theology this entails (i.e., that of separating the other attributes of God from the essence of God), it is also misleading.

1 John 1:5 (HCSB) says this: “Now this is the message we have heard from Him and declare to you: God is light, and there is absolutely no darkness in Him.” The very same letter that declares that God is love also declares that God is light. What does John mean by this? He goes on to explain that light equals truth, and darkness equals lying (verse 6). And then comes the capstone, verse 7: “But if we walk in the light as He Himself is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” The unity, fellowship, and love which believers are to have (for we do not deny that God is love, and that Christians must imitate that love in a creaturely, redeemed manner) must be a fellowship in the light, in the truth.

Many folks out there have a truncated view of Christian unity, which is that all must be in uniformity, and that all arguments concerning doctrine are inherently unloving. But if our fellowship and unity must be centered on the truth, this objection loses all force. The Bible says explicitly that two cannot walk together unless they are agreed.

This has particular force in the case of confessional denominations like the PCA. We have agreed to be a confessional denomination. If someone thinks that the PCA should not be a confessional denomination, then they are not agreed with those who think that we should be a confessional denomination. Therefore, they cannot walk together. The disagreement here has to do with how narrow the boundary should be for strict fellowship. Surely we can agree that all true Christians have a basic fellowship regardless of what denomination they inhabit. However, the differences among various Christian groups are of sufficient magnitude that worshiping apart for the sake of unity is necessary to the health of the church.

Those in the PCA who think that the Nicene Creed should be the only creed of the church, or should be a creed within a creed should not belong to the PCA. There are plenty of other denominations to which they can belong and be more than comfortable. The PCA has agreed that the Westminster Standards ARE our confession of faith, and that they DO summarize Scripture accurately. Why people who disagree with this still want to stay within the PCA is beyond my ability to comprehend. Do they seriously think that they are promoting unity within the church at large, by disagreeing with the confession so much, bringing strife to our denomination? No, instead, they hang on, seeking to discredit and attack those who think that the confession is is our confession of faith. I can only say that we haven’t moved from our doctrinal commitments on this. Others have, in which case they should leave.

Federal Visionist PCA Pastor Craig Higgins’ Vision for bringing the PCA under the Pope

Posted by Wes White, original article here.

Last week, the Aquila Report featured an article by John Otis detailing the Roman Catholic views of of PCA Pastor Craig Higgins. Now, I would not have been surprised if he would have said that Higgins believes in baptismal regeneration, wants to return to many Roman Catholic rituals, emphasizes the Church year, and sees Lent as a very important Christian practice.

What surprised me is that Higgins actually has proposed that the PCA return to diocesan bishops and go back under the leadership of the Pope. I’m not kidding. Yes, he does not hold to papal infallibility, and he wants the Pope to exercise authority only with a council, but let us remember that Higgins’ view was one of the major viewpoints within the Roman Catholic Church in the Middle Ages and was the view of many within the Roman Catholic Church long after the Reformation.

PCA Pastor Craig Higgins is Pastor of Trinity PCA in Rye, NY. Trinity is part of Tim Keller’s “Redeemer Network” and a part of the Metro New York Presbytery.

For readers who might be wondering if Higgins should be considered Federal Vision, Otis also writes:

As one delves into his [Higgins'] thesis, one soon finds that his views are hardly Reformed and Confessional. Moreover, his quotes from Calvin are totally misused. He will readily expose himself as solidly in the Federal Vision camp. At places, he will cite to his defense none other than the notorious company of N.T. Wright, Peter Leithart, Norman Shepherd, and Rich Lusk.

What I would like to reproduce here, though, is Higgins’ proposal for placing the PCA under Papal supremacy. Otis points to two different paragraphs in Higgins’ article on ecumenicity:

“Third, the unity we seek should be both conciliar and, yes, episcopal. While wholeheartedly agreeing with the position of all the Reformed churches that a corporate episcopate is (at least!) as faithful to the apostolic tradition as is monepiscopacy, and while agreeing that the latter was not practiced universally until centuries after the apostolic age, we in the Reformed churches must admit that the Church did become near-universally episcopal, and that the historic episcopate is an important witness to the Church’s unity. Therefore, if we are to work toward the visible unity of the Church, we should, I am increasingly convinced, defer to the wisdom of the majority in the Great Tradition and embrace the ministry of bishops.”

“One last comment:In Ut Unum Sint, Pope John Paul II has invited all the churches to discuss how the Petrine office should function in a reunited Church, and Reformed churchmen should welcome this conversation. Our idea of concentric circles of conciliar accountability would lead us to teach that, if the Church were visibly united around the world, there would need to be an ecumenical council, meeting as necessary to govern and guide the Church.The above argument for a (reformed) episcopacy would also lead us to teach that such a council would need a ‘presiding bishop,’ serving asprimus inter pares among his brothers, and historically such a position of honor has fallen to the bishop of Rome. How would we envision a Reformed(!) Petrine office? First, as argued above, any such primacy would need to be exercised in a conciliar fashion; the universal episcopate must be seen first as a pastoral, rather than a juridical, office. The idea that the pope has an authority that exceeds even that of an ecumenical council must be rejected. Second, we must humbly but firmly insist that the dogma of papal infallibility is not only foreign to the holy Scriptures but also is not a catholicdoctrine at all, but a sectarian one. The dogma of papal infallibility is a serious obstacle to true ecumenism, and another example of where the unity we seek awaits further reformation[6] (Emphases are from Otis).”

Posted by Wes White

The Hypostatic Union in Relation to Our Union With Christ

I was reading in Thomas Manton today and discovered some very interesting thoughts on the above topic. Here are the relevant passages:

In the hypostatical union, our nature is united with Christ’s nature; in the mystical union, our person with his person. In the hypostatical union, Christ matched into our family; in the mystical union, the soul is the bride…Thus Christ first honoured our nature, and then our persons; first he assumeth our nature, and then espouseth our persons…The hypostatical union is indissoluble; it was never laid aside, not in death; it was the Lord of glory that was crucified, it was the body of Christ in the grave. So it is in the mystical union; Christ and we shall never be parted…In the hypostatical union, the human nature can do nothing apart from the divine; no more can we out of Christ…In the hypostatical union, God dwelleth in Christ σωματικῶς, Col. 2:9 “In him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.” In the mystical union, God dwelleth in us πνευματικῶς, 1 John 4:4 “Greater is he that is in you, than he that is in the world.” The hypostatical union is the ground of all that grace and glory that was bestowed on the human nature…By the hypostatical union, Christ is made our brother, he contracted affinity with the human nature; by the mystical union he is made our head and husband, he weddeth our persons. Volume XI of his complete works, pp. 35-36.

Incidentally, I came across another quotation on baptism in Manton that cuts against the grain of the Federal Vision:

We are ‘baptized into Christ,’ Galatians 3:27. It is the pledge of our admission into that body whereof Christ is the head. God is aforehand with us; we were engaged to make a profession of this union, before we had liberty to choose our own way. Let us not retract our vows, and make baptism only a memorial of our hypocrisy, to profess union when there is no such matter. Emphasis added, p. 68 of the same volume.

Part 3

Of Dr. Scott Clark’s interview with me on the Heidelcast.

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