Stellman, Leithart, and Wilson

Stellman has opined on the relationship of his struggles with the Leithart case. There have been many who have attacked Stellman for being a less-than-enthusiastic prosecutor of Leithart. Others think that he has been entirely hypocritical. I don’t see any reason to think this at all. For one thing, it is entirely possible (I would argue probable) that he was merely struggling with the issues during the Leithart case. He wasn’t sure what his position was. If that were the case, it would hardly be worthwhile chucking everything out the window. And it is quite conceivable that he could simultaneously be struggling with Sola Scriptura and Sola Fide while believing that someone else who denied Sola Fide should not be in the PCA. Given that he came to that conclusion about himself (that he should not be in the PCA), it seems actually more than consistent. So, I don’t see why people seem to be saying that the Federal Vision has been vindicated. If anything, it has become less stable in its claim to be in line with the standards.

Take Leithart’s post as an example. He believes that confessionalists have elevated their paper pope of the confession to a similar level as the Pope. Leithart would classify himself as more of a biblicist. But (leaving aside the erroneous rhetoric about the paper pope) doesn’t this prove the point: Leithart is NOT operating from a confessional paradigm? He admits that he is not!

Doug Wilson’s post is a bit harder to parse. The problem I have with it is this: I don’t think Jason limited himself to ultra-confessionalists as his dialogue partners. He has loads of commenters on his blog who disagree with parts and/or with the majority of his theology. I think he was fairly well aware of the “broadness” of the Reformed faith. Of course, he was a confessionalist himself, no question. However, the fact that he listened to Romanists for quite a while seems to indicate to me that he is not, and was not naive. I am not defending his decision. That should be clear enough from the last post I wrote on the subject. I just don’t think exposure to the supposed “broadness” of the Reformed tradition would have helped Jason much, primarily because I think he already had that exposure.

I have emailed Jason concerning the actual reasons why he has taken this route, and what triggered it. I have not yet received a response (hardly surprising, given the absolute avalanche I am sure that his inbox is currently experiencing). I assume that explanations will be forthcoming. In the meantime, I encourage people not to speculate.

Ceasing My Review of Frame

To all my readers, since 2K theology and related subjects seems to bring out the most viciously childish side of the commenters (WAY worse than any Federal Vision posts!), I propose to cease my review of Frame’s book. To tell you all the truth, I am embarrassed by it all. What should have been a substantive in-house debate and discussion turned into a mere screaming match. I suspect that those with substantive points to make were driven off by the mudslinging going on. And no, I will not allow comments on this post, because that will only result in more finger-pointing. It will be a very long time indeed before I allow any more 2K discussion on this blog.

Godfrey’s Second Address

The title of this address is “Ignorance Is Not Bliss.”

He focuses on Psalm 49. It is one of the great poems of literature. Life is a riddle, according to the Psalmist. there are many riddles. The Psalmist is focused on one riddle in particular: why do the wicked prosper? The wicked will always accuse Christians of a long list of offenses. However, what about how their ideas have worked out? A quick look at Stalin and Hitler reveals that a utopian, scientific, atheistic, evolutionary ideology doesn’t work. So, we have to recognize candidly what we have done wrong in church history. However, we can say that our offenses are due to a misuse and a misunderstanding of Christianity. However, were Stalin and Hitler failures at post-Christian thought? Did they misunderstand or misuse atheistic ideology? In their ideology, the strong kill the weak, and the fittest survive. They understood very well.

Of course, not every non-Christian is a Nazi or a communist. But those who are not have borrowed their morality from Christianity without any foundation. The question is: which shepherd will people follow? Jesus, the Good Shepherd? Or will they follow the Shepherd of death?

Kuyper said that we aren’t in the Middle Ages anymore. That means that Christians aren’t in charge anymore. So, how do we live in the modern age when we aren’t in charge? Individuals have to be changed. They need regeneration. He believed that individuals, ideas, and institutions were the loci of focus for Christians.

He believed that modern thought was going to result in either statist tyranny, or the tyranny of the individual that would destroy all institutions. How do we avoid these directions? First, we have to recognize that God alone is sovereign. God has established spheres of responsibility, in which the leaders are responsibility only to God.

Response to Steve Hays

Steve Hays has critiqued my critique of John Frame’s book here. I will respond to his points in order.

Firstly, Steve wonders what my disclaimer was intended to accomplish. My disclaimer was that I was not a WSC toadie. He doesn’t assume I am a toady. But he thinks the disclaimer is superfluous. My purpose in stating what I said was simple: I do not have a vested interest in defending WSC. Now, of course people may not believe that. I’d like to think that my readers wouldn’t have to be so cynical as not to believe that disclaimer. It would only be a superfluous comment (in my opinion) if all my readers were cynical.

As to discrediting whistleblowers, he may have a point. However, the last time I checked, I wasn’t an organization. I was simply stating what my impression of the book was. Secondly, as I think I made fairly plain (in stating that I agree with some of Frame’s critiques), I don’t discredit Frame’s opinions on this basis. I would rather state that I think the nature of the book has warped his recounting of WSC professors’ views.

Thirdly, he thinks I am being a bit one-sided as to whether people on WSC’s side are being gracious and fair. At this point, I must admit that I have not read enough of Darryl Hart’s work to get an idea of whether he is fair, gracious, irenic, etc. I have, however, read a fair bit of Frame, enough to know that he is normally gracious, irenic, and fair, but he isn’t in this book (and this is a bit more striking, in that the book is claimed to be gracious, irenic and fair). And maybe Hart (I will let him speak for himself) doesn’t wish to claim to be irenic and gracious. Maybe he wants to be a pugilist. My problem would not so much be with the lack of graciousness per se, but rather with the fact that the book is claimed (by George Grant, of course, but Frame allowed that part of the book to be published, so he most likely agrees with Grant’s assertions) to be gracious, and is not.

Fourthly, why would a “gentleman’s agreement” have morally invidious connotations? I’m afraid Steve lost me there.

Fifthly, I am not oblivious to the possibility of Frame being slandered by someone, even by Hart and others. If he has indeed been slandered by such, I would certainly not condone such behavior. Point me to such an instance, and I will research it. Even if that were true, however, one slander doesn’t justify another.

Sixthly, as to Meredith Kline, I was not offended nearly as much by what Frame said about him as what he said about Horton and Clark. I think what Frame said about Kline is a largely accurate statement of what Kline believes. Whether his critique of Kline is on target is a different story. But it is obvious that Frame respects Kline, even where he disagrees with him. I would certainly not want to claim a better knowledge of Kline than Frame has.

Seventhly, insider accounts can indeed be revealing. However, if personal bitterness gets in the way, cloudiness covers over everything. Bitterness tends to result in a narrow focus.

Eighthly, loss of respect is indeed a two-way street. The fact is, however, no matter what one might say about Frame, one would lose respect in some quarters. Is that why I am writing this? To gain respect? No, I am writing this because I feel that WSC has been unjustly attacked by Frame (I don’t believe that WSC is above criticism), and I wouldn’t want people to get their understanding of WSC from Frame’s account of it.

Ninethly, he worries about my use of time. I could ask the same question of Frame’s book. Was it the best use of his time to write this book? But he has written it. And despite its no-name publisher status, people will still read it. I am not going to defend what I write about. I am glad that Steve is concerned about how I spend my time. If he believes I am wasting my time (and I’m sure he is not alone in thinking that!), then it will surely be a waste of his time to either read my critique, or respond to it.

As to his questions: what would I say about these issues? In brief, I will respond.

1. The duties of the civil magistrate are primarily related to upholding justice, punishing criminals and praising upstanding citizens. I believe his purpose is to uphold the second table of the law, and that he should not force people to believe in Christianity, although he certainly should not shackle Christianity. This is brief, I know, and all my answers will be brief. However, I want to say something about each of these (definitely important!) issues.

2. The civic duties of American citizens are to obey the laws up until the point where they are forced to disobey God’s law. I believe that citizens should participate in the political process, and should seek to uphold natural law in the political arena. This will involve activism in such areas as abortion and marriage protection.

3. Should pastors preach on social ethics when such becomes politicized? I don’t know what Steve means by social ethics in this context. I believe the preacher should preach what is in the Bible and only what is in the Bible. He should not preach politics from the pulpit.

Then Steve raises some excellent questions about what I might say to people who have some issues regarding various things. I haven’t researched all the sermons I have on this blog with regard to these particular questions, but I think I have addressed some of these things in the Genesis and Ephesians sermons.

1. If a young man decides he wants to be in the military, I would tell him that he desires an honorable profession. I would certainly not seek to discourage him. However, I would tell him about some of the temptations that often come to people in the military.

2. I would counsel a young woman not to join the military, at the very least not to join in such a way that they might possibly be in the line of fire. Call me a chauvinist, but I firmly believe men should defend women, not vice versa. So, if she is bent on being in the military, and I could not dissuade her, I would tell her to join in such a way that she would not be in the line of fire, and I would also counsel her concerning the many temptations to which she would be exposed.

3. Reproductive technologies is a very broad term. I would probably want to get a bit more specific about that. I think some are unobjectionable (drugs to increase the number of eggs that a woman might drop cannot be objectionable), others are (I have a big problem with the morning after pill, as it can cause the death of a human being).

4. Sterilization I would definitely counsel against, because God may want a couple to have a child that has a disease. Why would that be the worst thing that could happen to a couple?

5. I think it is not permissible to lie ever. We need to tell the truth, and trust God for the consequences. What about someone in Holland hiding Jews when a German soldier comes knocking? I would hide the Jew (well!), and then tell the Germans to look, since they wouldn’t believe me whatever I said. I wouldn’t necessarily believe that everyone should be told all the truth all the time. But I think it is wrong to lie.

6. Regarding mothers working outside the home, I would suggest that their children need them, and that financially it is actually easier to have the mother at home (given all the hidden costs of two-income families). I would encourage mothers to be at home, although I would not go so far as to say that a mother is living in sin because she works outside the home.

Regarding education, parents are responsible for the schooling of their children. That is a decision they need to make. I think public schools are in general pretty awful. Their standards are generally very low. John Gatto’s book The Underground History of Public Education is a very eye-opening book. That being said, I don’t think that homeschooling is the answer for everyone.

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.

Review of _The Escondido Theology_, General Considerations

Before I get to the review of this book, let it be officially known at the outset that I am not a WSCal toadie, whatever that might mean. I do not believe in the Framework Hypothesis. I have serious questions about the republication theory of the Mosaic covenant, though I firmly believe this to be an entirely intramural debate. My political views are what I might call “mild” two kingdoms. I would acknowledge the distinctions that the two kingdoms make without taking them as far as some WSC folks take them. In certain places I even agree with Frame’s critique of some aspects of WSC’s teaching. However, I do agree with the Law-Gospel distinction, and reject utterly the notion that it is only a Lutheran position. That is historical nonsense. It is also Reformed, and commonly so. Ursinus taught it VERY clearly in his commentary on the Heidelberg Catechism. The Marrow of Modern Divinity taught it VERY clearly. The work of John Colquhoun teaches it VERY clearly as well. But I graduated from WTS Philly, and that does mean I have some differences from my WSC brothers. But I deeply respect them, and was therefore disturbed when I read Frame’s book, which amounts, in my opinion, to little more than a hit piece written by what appears to me to be an embittered former colleague.

John Frame has written a number of books that are helpful. I particularly found his The Doctrine of God to be helpful, as well as much of his book The Doctrine of the Word of God. So, I have found much that is edifying in Frame’s work. The Escondido Theology is not one of these kinds of works. It is not gracious, irenic, fair, or collegial, unless you already agree with his conclusions, as George Grant seems to do (I was very disappointed that Grant, for whom I hold a great respect, would put his name on this book). It is full of caricature and extension of arguments (I mean this in the logical fallacy sense). It is an embarrassment to the entire Reformed world. Only with this volume has a professor of one of the main Reformed seminaries descended to the level of attacking another entire seminary in the Reformed community. The gentleman’s agreement among the main Reformed seminaries has now been breached. I intend to get into specifics with a series of posts exposing the myriad slanders that Frame has leveled against the WSC folks.

For now, I would like to address two issues, and both in a general way. Firstly, is this book irenic, gracious, fair, and collegial, as George Grant claims (pp. vii, viii, xiv)? Consider the following quotation, given in context, though without Frame’s footnotes:


Horton has promoted the Escondido positions vigorously. His main contribution to the Escondido Theology is a great gift for communication. He is founder and editor-in-chief of Modern Reformation magazine and of the radio program White Horse Inn. He has written a great many books, both popular and scholarly, and has lectured and taught all over the world. In his popular books he writes with an engaging style. He is known as a forceful, if not always accurate, critic of modern American evangelicalism. It almost seems to me that anything a prominent evangelical says, Horton feels compelled to say the opposite, however implausible his argument may be. So, like Clark, Horton is something of a Reformed chauvinist (page 13).

So, in addition to being unaware of the implausibility of some of his own arguments when reacting against “prominent evangelicals,” Horton (and Clark, Frame meaning R. Scott Clark) is a Reformed chauvinist. Dr. Frame, how exactly is this comment gracious, irenic, fair, and collegial? Are the comments about Horton’s “engaging style” and “gift for communication” supposed to mask the comment about being a Reformed chauvinist? To someone not prejudiced against WSC, this strikes me as a sinful comment. Or was Frame unaware of how this comment would communicate (Frame being very concerned with how something communicates) both to WSC folks, and to those not biased against them?

Another example, this time on page 16 (Frame seems to have a particular aversion to Horton, as we will see, when Frame not only attacks Horton, but people Horton recommends, and people Horton has taught): “I would not be writing this book if it were not for another distinctive of the Escondido theology to which I have already alluded: the view that those who disagree with them are not orthodox, not to be considered Reformed. Here, see especially my review of Clark’s book. And on my analysis Horton’s Christless Christianity amounts to the claim that unless the evangelical church embraces (and ‘emphasizes’) the novelties and idiosyncrasies of the Escondido Theology, they are headed for Hell.” There are a number of problems with this quotation. Firstly, there are people on the faculty of WSC who don’t agree with the supposed distinctives of the seminary. Dr. Bob Godfrey is not a Two Kingdoms man, but is neo-Kuyperian. By the way, he’s the PRESIDENT of the seminary! Is Frame suggesting that the WSC folks are ready to throw Dr. Bob Godfrey out tarred and feathered? Secondly, have any WSC folks even remotely hinted at the idea that non Two-Kingdoms, non-republication, non-Reformed confessional, non-Law-Gospel-distinction folks are all headed to Hell? My impression is that WSC folks argue for certain positions from the conviction that the clarity of the gospel is at stake. That is a distinct question from whether said unclear views that WSC folk are opposing relegate their proponents to Hell. Frame appears not to understand this distinction.

The second general issue I would like to address about this book is the inclusion of Frame’s personal history at WSC. If Frame wished to avoid the appearance of bitterness at how he was treated, if he wanted to paint himself as a person in a good position to describe the Escondido Theology, why did he include these completely irrelevant details about how he left the seminary (they are irrelevant if Frame is supposed to focus only on the theological issues, which I believe he would be required to do in a book of this sort)? To prove that he knew what was going on there? His book reviews should prove by themselves that he had read these books (though not very carefully, as we will see) and knew what these guys were saying. Frame refers to his own credentials as a Reformed theologian way too often for this to be believable to me. Folks, this book is about revenge for how he was treated at WSC, make no mistake about that. That is my read of it, anyway. If he wanted to avoid that impression, he picked that absolute worst way of going about it. Most people would not have to dig too far to know that Frame once taught at WSC. If this book were only about the theological issues, then he should NEVER have dragged in his own story of how he was treated at WSC.

Is it a surprise that this book is not published by any mainstream publisher? I asked Horton about this on the phone. I asked him if he thought it likely that any WSC professor would EVER seek to get published by, say, P&R, if P&R had published this book. He said, “Absolutely not.” No mainstream publisher would have touched this book, you can count on that.

In short, folks, this book is an embarrassment to the Reformed world. I can’t imagine that Dr. Vern Poythress is pleased with this publication, either (Dr. Poythress and Dr. Frame share a website, on which they have published much of their work). The book is full of sin, and I call on Frame to repent of his sin. If you want a level-headed critique of some aspects of what is commonly taught at WSC, go to Dr. Cornelis Venema’s review of The Law Is Not Of Faith, published in the Mid-America Journal of Theology, year 2010. That is a truly irenic critique. He calls aspects of WSC’s teaching wrong. However, he does not caricature or extend what they say. He also doesn’t call them names like “chauvinist.” He deals with what they actually say.

I have condemned this book in strong terms. The fact is, I am both angry for WSC’s sake (hoping that this expose of Frame’s book will prevent any lasting damage to WSC in the future), and deeply saddened that Frame would do this. He will lose a great deal of respect for doing this, even among people who have serious reservations about WSC’s distinctives.

The Sufficiency of the Word Compared to “Christendom”

I was reading in J.C. Ryle today on the Gospel of Matthew for evening sermon preparation, and I came across this simple statement: “But the sword is not to be used in the propagation and maintenance of the Gospel” (p. 368). As I got to thinking about it, the natural comparison between the governmental sword, and the Sword of the Spirit (which is Scripture) came to mind. Then I saw it: the reason why the sword cannot be used in the defense and propagation of the Gospel is that such a use proclaims the Scriptures to be insufficient. The Sword that God has provided for the Gospel propagation is entirely sufficient. It does not need modern gimmicks, and it does not need old swords. The Holy Spirit keeps the Word ever sharp to break down defenses and penetrate to the very heart of man. What other sword does the Gospel need than the Sword of the Spirit? This might also have an indirect bearing on the Two Kingdoms discussion. God has two swords.

Secularism and the Church

John Sittema’s excellent book entitled With a Shepherd’s Heart has several good chapters on what he calls the “teeth of the wolves.” These are the ways in which Satan is generally attacking the church today. He lists five main attacks: secularism, materialism, relativism, pragmatism, and feminism (p. 49). I’d like to do a few blog posts on these “teeth.” It is crucial for us to recognize these enemies and not only be on guard ourselves, but also guard our flocks from these teeth.

So the first one is secularism. Sittema’s definition is quite excellent: “There is a timed-ness to God’s creation; and according to God’s own assessment, it is good! (par. break, LK) But when that timed-ness of creation, when the here and now of our creatureliness, gobbles up any sense of our eternity and occupies all of man’s heart and mind and attention, you have secularism” (p. 50). The upshot of it is that “Only if religion has value for the here and now is it of any real significance” (ibid.). The consequences for people’s thinking are several-fold: 1. instant gratification; 2. dualistic dichotomy (rather than a simple distinction) between secular and sacred, 3. obsession with relevance (pp. 51-52).

Sittema offers three suggestions for how to fight this enemy: 1. Point out the enemy of instant gratification (self-delusion and blindness are often key characteristics of secularism), 2. Teach the principles of biblical stewardship (especially equip the deacons to do this). 3. Ask people whether they have this rigid divide between secular and sacred, rather than a simple distinction. And a few more suggestions I would add: teach people the principle of pilgrimage. Noting the etymological connection of “secularism” to “this worldliness” or “this aged-ness,” I would strongly suggest pointing out the blessedness of the new heavens and the new earth, since this world is not our home. We are looking for a better country. Now, obviously, we should take care of this world as good stewards of what God has entrusted to us. Nevertheless, we are pilgrims, and that should color everything, and give us an eschatological perspective on life.

2k – Affirmations & Denials (3 of 3)

This is the third of three of Dr. Darryl Hart’s affirmations and denials on the 2K topic. Remember, please read the other two (theological, vocation) before posting comments. Thanks.

(Reed DePace)

Affirmations on Ethics

1) Affirmation: Christians have an obligation to submit to God’s laws as they are found in general and special revelation.
Denial: persons cannot obey God’s law truly apart from regeneration by the Holy Spirit.
Denial: non-Christians may not please God in their external observance of God’s law.
Denial: even if non-Christians may not please God, their civic virtue is crucial to a peaceful and orderly society.

2) Affirmation: Christians please God in their good works thanks to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.
Denial: the good works of Christians are not free from pollution (i.e. they are filthy rags).

3) Affirmation: the state and families have the responsibility for establishing and maintaining social order.
Denial: the church does not have the responsibility for establishing and maintaining social order.

4) Affirmation: church members have a duty to obey the laws of civil magistrates.
Denial: church members may not rebel against or disobey the magistrate.
Denial: church members must not obey the magistrate rather than God.

5) Affirmation: God has established a pluriformity of institutions (e.g. civil society) for the sake of social order.
Denial: the church has no calling to establish social order but will have an indirect influence on peace and order by encouraging godliness in her members.

DGH

2k – Affirmations & Denials (2 of 3)

This is the second of three of Dr. Darryl Hart’s affirmations and denials on the 2K topic. Remember, please read the other two (theological, ethics) before posting comments. Thanks.

(Reed DePace)

Affirmations about Vocation

1) Affirmation: the church is called to gather and perfect saints through word, sacrament and discipline.
Denial: the church is not called to meddle in civil affairs.

2) Affirmation: the Christian family is called to nurture and oversee children in both religious and secular matters.
Denial: Christian families will not all look the same but have liberty to rear children according to Scripture and the light of nature.
Denial: non-Christian families do not rear children in godliness or holiness but still have legitimate responsibility for rearing their children.

3) Affirmation: the state is called to punish wickedness, reward goodness, and promote peace and order.
Denial: the state does not hold the keys of the kingdom.

4) Affirmation: A Christian is called to use his talents and gifts to serve God and assist his neighbor.
Denial: some Christians are not called to engage in civil affairs.
Denial: the responsibilities attending one Christian’s vocation may not be the standard for other Christians.

DGH

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