The Author’s Preface

Most of the rest of my review will not be as negatively phrased as the initial post was. Some of the chapters have some very thoughtful interaction with the WSC folks, and are less full of vitriol. I will acknowledge that, and take those chapters more seriously.

I am not actually going to write a long blog post on the author’s preface. WSC has already responded to these bullet points (pp. xxxvii-xxxix) by saying that they agree with none of the bullet points except one as a fair description of their positions, and even in that one case, it has to be understood correctly. Now, it is possible for a person to say that they are being misunderstood, when in fact they are being understood very well (the FV comes to mind). The Ninth Commandment can be just as much abused by the supposed victim as by the supposed offender. The question is this: is that what is happening here?

Take the first bullet point, for instance: “It is wrong to try to make the gospel relevant to its hearers.” As we will see when we get to the appropriate place, this claim involves equivocation on the word “relevant.” As I read Horton when he attacks “relevance,” what he means by “relevance” is an attempt to water down the Gospel in order to communicate it. As Frame himself notes, Horton is trying very hard to make the Gospel relevant in the other sense of simply trying to communicate the Gospel clearly and effectively. Frame is not clear as to which definition of “relevance” he is dealing with, or that Horton is using.

Take another bullet point, “The Gospel is entirely objective and not at all subjective.” Now, maybe this is just my subjective (!) view of what is going on in the WSC writers, but it seems to me that WSC writers have a specific target: an over-subjectivising tendency in modern evangelicalism, a sort of navel-gazing, which it cannot be denied does in fact exist. Surely, WSC folks would not claim that all evangelicalism does this. But are WSC folks really saying that there are no subjective aspects of the Gospel at all? I find that really hard to believe. Would WSC folks really deny that regeneration, for instance, is a Holy Spirit-induced change in the person’s heart? I have never seen them deny this.

The bullet points seem to be much more extremely worded than any WSC professor would himself express. Furthermore, the things that are typically taught at WSC seem to be either missing or only tangentially mentioned. Where is the Law-Gospel distinction in this list? Where is an explicit mention of the Two Kingdoms doctrine? The 26th bullet point hints at it, but does not come out and say it. Where is the Framework Hypothesis? Where is the Klinean definition of grace? Where is republication? This does not appear to be an exceptionally accurate list of what WSC actually teaches. This leads me to believe that the seminary is right in its estimation of the bullet points: they are off the mark.

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10 Comments

  1. Mark Van Der Molen said,

    March 5, 2012 at 5:00 pm

    But are WSC folks really saying that there are no subjective aspects of the Gospel at all?

    Wouldn’t Horton’s definition of the gospel as strictly an announcement of something “done” in the past {Jesus work on the cross} be entirely objective?

  2. March 5, 2012 at 11:12 pm

    I think I’ve heard it said that the Gospel is the announcement of an objective accomplishment; it is good news. However, it is objective reality which has profoundly subjective effects on those who, by grace, embrace its message in saving faith. This is the distinction between the Gospel proper (objective) and the benefits of the Gospel (subjective).

    OK, so far I’ve sounded very much like an enthusiastic WSC 2Ker, so I want to say that this post has pointed out some of my concerns:
    1. I reject framework hypothesis as an unfaithful and accomodating interpretation of Genesis 1.
    2. I am not comfortable with all aspects Meredith Kline’s covenant theology.
    3. I believe the third use of the law is under-emphasized by many at WSC and in the 2K camp.
    4. I believe “the law is spiritual” and thus is used by God as an instrument key in our redemption (bringing conviction of sin) and sanctification (showing us the path of God-honoring righteousness). Yet the fruit that comes into our lives through the instrument of the law are he produce of God’s grace not our own works or merit.

    But, who really cares what I think, right? I just find myself between the two camps, agreeing fully with neither. Yet I am convinced that what I believe and teach is perfectly in line with the WCF and the other Reformed doctinal standards. So does WSC and so do theonomists. I can see exactly where I think they have departed from the standards, and I’m sure they could point out my errors, too.

  3. Jed Paschall said,

    March 6, 2012 at 1:13 am

    Jason,

    I think you raise some fair points here. Part of the controversy just might stretch back into the confessional era, where the confessions themselves represented a catholic attempt to confess a very particular understanding of orthodoxy. Both the Continental (3 Forms of Unity) and British (Westminster Standards) confessions, catechisms, et. al. were framed and agreed upon by diverse bodies of Reformed clergy, and theonomists to 2kers and everyone in between can point to some elements within the early Reformation from which our school of thought comes, and obviously Reformed theology has continued to develop, and we find ourselves as confessing Christians with differing affinities amongst a very diverse body of theological reflection.

    So, my question to you is this: Since you have raised some fairly common areas of disagreement amongst those in our confessional communities, how do we deal with our very real differences in a way that doesn’t also upend unity in our Reformed churches? Obviously those who agree with the issues you raise, and those who would disagree would point to biblical, and historical reasons for their differences, but can these differences be bridged in the interests of a catholic and robust orthodoxy?

  4. Tom said,

    March 6, 2012 at 6:48 am

    Jed,

    The discussion clearly needs to take place within the context of church rather than in the somewhat rarefied air of independent seminaries which are free to maintain tighter control over who gets in and who doesn’t. E.g., it’s hard to imagine a theonomist being admitted to the faculty of WSC and allowed to participate in the dialog defining what constitutes genuine two kingdom theology.

    However, within the church all sorts of folks from a much broader and diverse spectrum of Reformed thinking can and do live and work together. Most churchmen come to appreciate a healthy, confessionally-defined diversity that makes the church what it is. It’s a much better arena for defining the parameters of what it means to be Reformed and the terms used to substantiate that definition.

  5. March 6, 2012 at 8:44 am

    Jed,

    I think each church body needs to decide clearly where the boundary markers are and then enforce them. In the PCA, where I serve, we have decided that Federal Vision is out-of-bounds. Now, we need to enforce that. But, we can have 2Kers and Cultural Transformation people who share much common ground, especially as we seek to understand each other more clearly. Neither clearly contradicts the WCF and Three Forms, at least not when they are carefully and Biblically articulated. Personally, I think true theonomy is also out-of-bounds, a clear violation of the WCF teachings on the nature and purpose of the Civil Law of the OT. Yet, theonomists occupy a spectrum and some on the more moderate end of that spectrum are not in clear violation, so we need to be willing to listen patiently.

    One thing we need to stop doing is changing defintions of terms to suit our own personal, idiosyncratic ways of thinking and teaching. This is what drives me mad about FV teachers. They use terms like “baptismal regeneration” and “justification” and “union with Christ” in ways that contradict their clear historic use and that even contradict themselves. They state something and then realize they’ve stated too much and try to take some of it back by re-defining terms. It is truly maddening and makes civil discourse impossible.

  6. Truth Unites... and Divides said,

    March 6, 2012 at 4:29 pm

    What’s worse: Escondido 2K (…) or Federal Vision?

  7. Martin said,

    March 6, 2012 at 6:01 pm

    I’m a graduate of WSC who began attending in 1998 and didn’t graduate until 2007 (ugh!). In my experience with both alumni and faculty (which changed over those years) the framework hypothesis and Kline’s covenantal distinctives are not as widely held among either group as seems to be the stereotype. Nor, in my experience, was the 3rd use of the law minimized or under-emphasized. The guilt-grace-gratitude paradigm was emphasized, with the frequent observation that the law is tied to gratitude in the Heidelberg. As for antinomianism, I guess I don’t see it any more prevalent in WSC grads as those from any other Reformed seminary, in my experience.

    The perception of WSC out there baffles me.

    I appreciate what Lane is doing in this series and anticipate it being very helpful and informative.

  8. March 7, 2012 at 9:59 am

    TUAD,

    Since I am very sympathetic to 2K theology myself, I would say that FV is much worse. Perhaps the question for me is, which is worse, cultural transformationalism or FV? These two theologies often seem to go hand-in-hand, though not always – Doug Wilson, Peter Leithart & Classical School movement is full of people who hold both, but George Grant is a cultural transformationalist without being FV, as are Keller, Sproul, Matheson, World Mag, etc. In my book, it’s not even a close call: Federal Vision is way, way worse than Cultural Transformationalism, as it corrupts the doctrine of justification by faith alone and substitutes a justification by baptism/faith/works hybrid monster that has two provisional justifications (at baptism and by faith before a final justification that is partly based on our own works). It’s such an awful mess of theological vomit that it makes even theonomy look like a shining example of solid orthodox Reformed theology by contrast.

    I have a deep appreciation for both WSC and WTS, even though I part ays with Kline on a couple of major issues, named above in #2. I know not everyone holds those. I also have a deep appreciation for Frame and the Van Til/Frame thinking on apologetics, theology and ethics. This latest book just makes me sad.

  9. Rich said,

    March 7, 2012 at 12:45 pm

    “I’m a graduate of WSC…Nor, in my experience, was the 3rd use of the law minimized or under-emphasized. The guilt-grace-gratitude paradigm was emphasized, with the frequent observation that the law is tied to gratitude in the Heidelberg. As for antinomianism, I guess I don’t see it any more prevalent in WSC grads as those from any other Reformed seminary, in my experience…The perception of WSC out there baffles me.”

    In talking to others, in my experience, it is the gratitude part that gets so many hung up on whether the third use of the law is emphasized enough. Some say that gratitude is not enough, and that a focus on duty and union w/Christ are also necessary in order to be fully emphatic of the third use. For others it is definitive sanctification. The implication being that gratitude as an overarching lens for motivation is at least partly antinomian, if not outright, then at least systematically. Some have even told me that the continental reformed (and thus the 3 forms, helvetic, etc.) were not fully reformed. The fully reformed are those who made the WCF and follow the Puritans on all issues. I do think there is sort of a reverse “Calvin vs. the Calvinists” going on in some circles, to the effect that it wasn’t scholasticism that ruined Calvin’s biblicism, but rather Calvin’s continental arena that kept him from the purity of the Puritans and pietism. I think this law-gospel “debate” stems from this historical revision. I get the impression that the Reformed faith did not exist until it was purified in worship and piety by the Puritans, and then purified in cultural/moral engagement by the Neo-Calvinists.

    I also think it is unwise to say that someone does not emphasize the third use of the law enough, without also clarifying how much is enough. What is the standard of comparison? Frequency? Depth of application? I mention it in 10 out of 10 books, while you only mention it in 6 or 7? Does Horton have to exposit the 10 commandments for believers, as he did in “The law of Perfect Freedom”, everytime he writes or says something? Do those who follow the 3 Forms always have to favor the language/perspective of the WCF (Belief-Duty) in order to be truly emphatic of the third use? Did the guilt(2nd use)-grace(gospel)-gratitude(3rd use) not sufficiently inform the piety of believers from the 1500′s till now? If so, then let’s toss out the 3 Forms, establish the WCF as the only true reformed confession (1600′s version of course) and revise it to say what degree is sufficient for one to be considered truly emphatic enough of the third use of the law. That way we will have a church consensus rather than an air of suspicion about our brothers because they speak differently than us.

    I personally never even heard of the third use of the law until I came across Horton, Clark, Godfrey, et. al. Until then, even in reformed circles, all I heard was the gospel as a way to get in, and the law is how we stay in. The second use was not only not emphasized “enough”, it was non-existent. Justification was a doctrine to be defended, but not to be central to the christian life. A form of cheap grace (no guilt before gospel), always leads to either a focus on law (no gospel) or a focus on license(no guilt or gratitude). Let’s not kid ourselves and think that cheap grace only leads to antinomianism.

    So from my perspective, these guys who are “crypto-Lutherans” and “inconsistent antinomians” (systematically), actually brought me out of antinomianism and legalism both. My experience since is that most of those who are so concerned about a supposed de-emphasis of the third use, not only de-emphasize the second use, but also throw it out entirely. As if the second use is only for initial faith, and not for the entire christian life. I also find these same people to overmphasize the first use. It seems to me the second use is the hinge for the first and third. Otherwise we are left with a focus on the law internally, socially, and politically, without a grounding in the gospel or what the law does to the self-righteous heart. Until then, the third use makes no sense, and hence it is strictly for believers.

    I think some people need to start clarifying with pure example their observations of de-emphasizing the third use. I think what we will end up finding out is that the concern is really just a comparison of how one views themself in relation to another’s degree of sanctification. Perhaps it is not legalists in the formal sense who have these concerns about WSC, but perhaps(?) it could be a legal spirit which doesn’t fully understand it is the cost Christ paid on the cross, and the freeness of that given to those with faith alone by grace alone, that motivates believers to obey out of gratitude for something so costly yet so free. If it comes down to motivation due to gratitude for what has been done for me, is being done in me, and will be done for me, or due strictly to my duty to obey the law, then I choose the former. But as I see it, I think that is a false dillemma. We ought to do our duty out of gratitude. The second and the third use teach me how to do that.

  10. Truth Unites... and Divides said,

    March 7, 2012 at 2:25 pm

    I sit irenically in the middle: A pox on both houses of FV and Escondido 2K.


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