Recent Book on Trent

There are very few full-length books on the council of Trent. There is an historical reason for that, in that the pope forbade any commentaries from being written about the council, since he wanted to control the reception and implementation of the council. With the opening up of the Vatican archives in the twentieth century, Trent is finally fair game for historians. In this regard, John O’Malley has done it again, and the scope of his achievement is rather mind-blowing to me, especially when one considers how much research he also has done on Vatican II. In both cases, he not only read the complete series of books that document the councils, but also most of the secondary literature as well. This may not seem huge until one realizes that in both cases (Trent and Vatican II), the documentary series of books runs to over 30 volumes. O’Malley certainly seems to have read everything of importance, and the result is a highly compact, incredibly fact-dense, but also very readable history of Trent. I thought I was going to run out of the world’s supply of lead, I underlined so much. Now, his being Roman Catholic means, of course, that I am not going to agree with him in many places. However, that does not take away from the fact that this is an incredible book. It will give you an excellent handle on what happened at Trent. Given the situation of the RCC at the moment, which is in large part determined by Trent, Vatican I, and Vatican II, it is exceedingly important that we know not only what happened at Trent, but also what did not happen.

He does an especially good job making distinct the actual acts of the council from the reception and perception of the council. His delineation of the political situation was a real eye-opener. The reason why the council took so long and was interrupted, was due to the highly volatile political situation involving the two most powerful political entities (France and the Holy Roman Empire) in their various relations and machinations with the popes of the day.

The only thing I wish he had done was to analyze the Joint Declaration that the Lutherans did with the Roman Catholics. O’Malley seems to think that the entire discussion of whether the anathemas of Trent still apply is to be referred to those ecumenical discussions. I’m not so sure about that, to put it mildly, and I would have liked to see his own evaluation of that in the light of his own mastery of the history of Trent. Still, this is only a minor blemish on a work of fantastic historical value. If you want to know what happened at Trent, you really need to read this book.

Traditions 1, 2, and 0

I’ve been reading in Timothy Ward’s excellent little book Words of Life, and he has a very helpful and clear description of the three main view of Scripture and tradition that were circulating at the time of the Reformation. In this description he builds on Heiko Oberman’s very important work in his Harvest of Medieval Theology. What Oberman calls Tradition I (T1) is the view “that tradition is a tool to aid in the faithful interpretation of Scripture, expounding the primary teachings of Scripture, with Scripture remaining the only source of infallible divine revelation” (Ward, 144). Tradition II (T2) is the view “that there are two distinct sources of divine revelation, Scripture and church tradition, with the latter being handed down either orally or through customary church practices.”

Ward argues that T1 was the position of the early church, and that T2 developed only in the twelfth century, appealing (in his view wrongly) to Augustine and Basil in so doing. The Reformers were therefore advocating a return to T1 in their rejection of T2.

The Anabaptists rejected both T1 and T2 in what Ward calls T0 (this comes from Keith Mathison and Alister McGrath). This view elevates individual interpretation above the corporate, which T1 and the Reformers did NOT do, contrary to Roman Catholic accusations. It is a failure to distinguish these various views of tradition that has prompted so much misinterpretation of the Reformed tradition, and this misinterpretation comes from various quarters.

From the perspective of Roman Catholicism, any view that is not T2 (though there have been some rather widely differing interpretations of T2 in modern Catholicism) elevates personal interpretation above corporate. When Reformed folk respond with T1 views, the typical Roman Catholic response harps on the situation where an individual disagrees with the church. What happens then? The ultimate authority for the Christian is the Bible. Furthermore, Reformed folk believe that the Bible actually means something objectively considered. It is not all just a matter of interpretation. Otherwise, God should never have given us the Bible in the first place. The Christian needs to be patient in asking his church what the church’s real position is, and needs to show that interpretation great deference. However, since the church can err, the church cannot bind anyone’s conscience. If the church contradicts the Bible, then the church loses. This is not making the individual higher than the church. It is making the Bible higher than the church. Remember that the Reformed position holds that the Bible objectively means something apart from our interpretation of it. This is, I believe, one of the great sticking points when Roman Catholics and Protestants speak about authority. What is the nature of the Bible? Does it have any objective clarity on any issue? Does it have any inherent authority? The Roman Catholic typically believes that the Bible doesn’t exist except as interpreted by the church. We demur and say that even if there was no soul on earth existing at all, the Bible would still be there, and would still be clear on the matters of salvation, would still have the authority of God behind it (since He wrote it), and would still mean something.

Another attack from another quarter comes from the “no creed but Christ” crowd. They, like their Anabaptist forefathers, reject all tradition, as if the Holy Spirit never instructed anyone else in all church history before they came along, and as if they have nothing to learn from church history. This is the T0 crowd. Among them, the Hebrew Roots Movement has shown itself definitively to be in this category. They despise the church, and they despise all forms of extra-biblical tradition, whether those traditions are elevated to the level of Scripture (T2) or not (T1). And they cannot distinguish between T1 and T2. To them, everything that is extra-biblical is automatically T2 if appealed to in a debate. Usually the only time they quote the early church fathers, for instance, is to find fault with them. The entire church was completely heretical until they came along. There never has been the seven thousand who did not bow their knee to Baal until they came along. To put it mildly, this is sectarianism in its worst form. For them, the gates of Hell prevailed against the church until they came along.

The Reformers were very different in their approach to church history. They believed that the Roman Catholic church, by excommunicating the Reformers (who didn’t leave of their own volition (another myth initiated by Roman Catholics), but were expelled) and anathematizing the gospel at the Council of Trent, thus broke themselves off from the true church.

There are those even in the PCA who have a great deal of sympathy with the “no creed but Christ” crowd. Whenever any confessionalist quotes the Westminster Standards to address any question whatsoever, they will immediately charge us with T2. For them, there is no intermediate, fallible authority present in church creeds at all. Therefore, the creeds should never be used in any church controversy. The problem with this, as Ward demonstrates so clearly and helpfully, is that we need a rule of faith as a summary of what the Bible is saying. Creeds and confessions provide the church’s agreed upon Rule of Faith. It constitutes the analogy of faith as we understand it. And, as Trueman in his book The Creedal Imperative says so well, everyone has a creed! The question is not whether you will have one or not. The question is whether your creed is visible or not, and thus can be used as a means of accountability, and for unity in the church. People who desire to have unity by scrapping the creeds are therefore whoppingly wrong. There can be no unity without truth. And without creeds, we have no way of agreeing on what that truth is. So creeds and confessions are T1, fallible authorities that nevertheless have more authority than an individual, but less authority than the Bible. It is as we are abandoning the Westminster Standards, for instance, that we are having the unity problems in the PCA right now. The abandonment of the Westminster Standards will presage not the salvation and progress of the PCA, but rather its destruction.

Whither Roman Catholicism?

I was reading Robert Strimple’s outstanding article on modern Roman Catholic theology (in the book on Roman Catholicism edited by John Armstrong), and I was faced with a whopping conundrum. That conundrum can be simply phrased: who speaks for Roman Catholicism? For many people, that answer is simple: the magisterium speaks for the church. The problem is that the magisterium is becoming increasingly liberal. One only has to look at the state of Roman Catholic education in the United States to see this. The vast majority of the major voices in American Roman Catholic education are liberal. It is only a matter of time before the Pope is a liberal, and there are some who are claiming that Francis is a liberal.

The problem it creates for Protestants like me, who wish to write on Roman Catholicism, then, is which documents and writers to engage? David Wells, in his book Revolution in Rome (written quite a while ago!), believed that the future of Roman Catholic theology was liberal, not conservative. And so, he decided to engage the liberal Roman Catholicism. What seems to me to be happening is that the conservative element in the magisterium is becoming increasingly isolated and marginalized. If I decide to use the historical documents of the RCC as the basis for engagement, then I won’t engage the majority of Roman Catholic authors who are writing today. If I engage the McBriens of Catholicism, then I risk being accused of distorting the Roman Catholic faith. While it is true that the Catechism of the Catholic Church is a very authoritative document (indeed, one of the few lynch-pin documents available today that seems to be well-loved and well-used by all Roman Catholics), it still doesn’t seem to be getting at the disagreements between the liberals and the conservatives. It is, despite its length, a fairly basic document. That is not a criticism of it, per se. It is a catechism. Catechisms are supposed to be basic! But that limits its effectiveness in solving the problem I have just outlined. The effect of the problem on writing, then, is that I would almost have to write two books, one on historical Roman Catholicism, and the other on Roman Catholic theology today. If I wrote only one, then I would have to choose, or else risk writing a disjointed book that would have two different sections, and that would involve a lot of repetition wherever the historical Roman Catholicism and the modernist Roman Catholicism overlapped.

Equal to the effect this bifurcation in Roman Catholicism would have on my writing is the effect this would have on the readership. The majority liberals would probably not be terrifically interested in a Protestant book on historical Roman Catholicism. They would just respond by saying, “But he doesn’t engage modern thinkers like Rahner and Schillebeeckx.” If I engage Rahner and Schillebeeckx (and that’s only the tip of the iceberg, of course), then the conservatives will retort, “But that is not the magisterium, that’s only individual theologians, who don’t speak for the magisterium.” Again, the problem is this: who speaks for Rome? Technically speaking (de jure), the magisterium does speak for Rome. Practically speaking, the magisterium is becoming increasingly ignored, such that (de facto) the liberal theologians speak for Rome. I know that the Called to Communion folk would probably advise me to ignore Rahner and Schillebeeckx. They have already advised me to ignore McBrien. I don’t think I can do that. But it might mean two books, not just one. They could profitably be divided according to the Roman Catholic distinction between the magisterium and theology (which distinction Strimple helpfully points out as one which evangelicals often ignore, to their great detriment).

The last question is this: what caused this problem and division? Strimple believes that the floodgates were opened with Pius XII’s encyclical Divino afflante Spiritu (1943). This encyclical, while including some conservative-sounding language about Scripture, stressed the need for biblical criticism. Whether Roman Catholic biblical theologians were rightly interpreting it this way or not, the effect was a mass transit to the methods of modern biblical criticism. I would argue that this change was the largest change in Roman Catholic history, and resulted in a great fragmentation of Roman Catholicism into many different groups (a fragmentation largely paralleled in Protestantism, of course). I think that discussion about whether Vatican II changed Rome is actually a moot question in the light of the far larger sea-change that happened after that encyclical. It is, of course, far easier to time-stamp Vatican II than it would be to investigate the changes that modernist biblical methods brought about, but it seems to me that anything that did “change” with V2 is dependent on the prior change of modernism. I would certainly refer the new ecumenical stances in Roman Catholic theology and even magisterial documents to these changes. Having read two histories of V2 so far (Faggioli and O’Malley), the struggle between the curia and the majority of the bishops over the agenda of V2 seems to bear out this thesis.

Leithart on Justification and Baptism

Posted by David Gadbois

An alert commenter on this blog has noted some unfortunate (but unsurprising) comments from Peter Leithart in a recent web article that he penned:

Does the New Testament teach that “baptism justifies you”? I think the answer is Yes.

This is from an article that was published on the Trinity House blog, less than 2 months ago. Now anyone who has been following the Leithart trial should have realized that this is the logical implication of Leithart’s theology, but it is useful that he would explicitly state this belief, even if at this late hour. In the balance of the article he nowhere attempts to explain how this doctrine is compatible with the historic Protestant doctrine of justification sola fide. That is, the biblical and orthodox belief that we receive the justifying righteousness of Christ solely by the instrument (i.e. the appropriating organ) of extrospective faith in Christ. In passing he admits that his “argument creates difficulties elsewhere in our understanding of both Paul and Protestant orthodoxy.” Well, no kidding. It is a marvel that so many learned men fail to grasp that “alone” means that everything besides faith, including the sacraments, are excluded in justification. But then, logic was never the strong suit for FV.

Additionally, he repeats in this article his error of defining justification as “deliverict”, combining the forensic declaration of justification with an inward delivery from sin. To top it off, he denies the perseverance of the saints when he states that “God regards [those who will apostatize] with favor, counts them as just, for a time” before they fall away.

Now it is certainly important to answer Leithart’s argument on biblical grounds. This has been done, in some cases more directly and in some cases less directly, in various FV-critical books, denominational reports, and perhaps most effectively in Lane’s written testimony in the Leithart case. And we, the blog authors, together with the many smart, gracious, and orthodox commenters, are prepared to continue a biblical critique of these errors in this forum.

However, it is worth pointing out that this article represents a doubling down of error on Leithart’s part, bringing his public teaching more explicitly at odds with the reformed standards (both the Westminster Standards and the 3 Forms of Unity) and, indeed, a fundamental reformational and Protestant understanding of justification. This ought to be sufficient reason for Leithart’s apologists to either find a more honorable line of work or simply admit that his doctrine is incompatible with basic Reformed and Protestant teaching, even if they consider it to be biblical and true. But let’s not continue to pretend that this teaching has any place in the PCA or any other church that claims the historic reformed creeds as their own. The intellectual case for such an idea is threadbare, even if some would hold up the fig leaf of ecclesiastical process as a cover for such foolishness.

De Chirico’s Assessment of Berkouwer

Chapter 2 of Leonardo De Chirico’s book Evangelical Theological Perspectives on post-Vatican II Roman Catholicism (which I regard as the single most important Reformed work on Catholicism published since Vatican II) deals with various treatments of Roman Catholicism pre- and post-Vatican II.

The first theologian De Chirico treats is G. C. Berkouwer. Berkouwer wrote three books on Roman Catholicism, two of them before V2 and one after. De Chirico’s overall assessment comes at the end of the section: “Berkouwer’s studies on Roman Catholicism enrich Evangelical theology in terms of providing a model of serious scholarship, fair interpretation of Roman Catholic sources, and passionate concern for the Gospel’s sake” (65). Berkouwer recognizes at least one of the two pillars of Roman Catholicism that De Chirico mentions: the self-understanding of the Roman Catholic Church as an extension of the incarnation of Christ. For De Chirico, this seems to be the main reason why he describes Berkouwer’s work as a fair interpretation.

At the forefront of Berkouwer’s work, especially in the volume written after V2, is the discussion of continuity and discontinuity. This question became quite acute, given that many people thought of V2 (and many people still think today) as ushering in great changes. De Chirico quotes Berkouwer’s description of the semper eadem (“always the same”) as “no more seen in isolation but correlated in Roman Catholic fashion to the ever changing tempora” (61). It is unchangeability within all the variations of history. I could be wrong, but this sounds quite a bit like what Newman describes more simply as development of doctrine. After all, what promotes this development if not the historical circumstances? As De Chirico himself says elsewhere, the proper interpretation of V2, when seen within a Newmanesque viewpoint, is that the Roman Catholic Church did not change at all at V2: the RCC has always had the additive impulse.

To use a specific example of how the RCC is continuous while developing, the assertion of vestigia ecclesiae (remnants of the church) in bodies outside the RCC still assumes the unica ecclesia (62). This leaves the real ecclesiological problem untouched. After all, vestigial churches are not the same thing as the church. This must qualify our interpretation of the infamous “separated brethren” phrases in the V2 documents. In fact, this admittedly new way of speaking about non-RC folk doesn’t even (supposedly) contradict the dictum of Cyprian: extra ecclesiam nulla salus (outside the church no salvation). Instead, there is a “narrow” and a “broad” view of what constitutes the church. The fact of the matter is this: if one starts with Newman’s development of doctrine standpoint, there will be no contradiction between pre-V2 and post-V2. If one does not hold to the Newman development of doctrine, there will be contradictions. The Nouvelle Theologie fully embraced Newman, and this is why JPII and Benedict can assert continuity within renewal.

To end with an aside, my problem with Newman is that he doesn’t seem to distinguish between two different kinds of development. One kind of development comes from the logical inferences that are based on the texts themselves. This may be called “good and necessary consequence.” The doctrine of the Trinity is surely the prime example of this. The Bible tells us that the Father is God, the Son is God, the Holy Spirit is God, and that there is only one God. We have to have some way of describing these facts, and the church logically came up with the Trinity. However, a second and different kind of development happens when the church looks at, say the virgin conception of Jesus (which, by the way, is a more accurate description of what happened than “virgin birth” if you think about it), which is explicit and logically derived, and then, based on a particular view of what sex could and could not do to Mary, proclaims that Mary was a perpetual virgin, despite the substantial biblical case that can be made against the position. There is no biblical evidence that Mary was a perpetual virgin, and it is certainly not logically derivable from the biblical texts. To me, these two cases are vastly different, because one is based on logical inference from the text, and the other is based on logical inferences from tradition that have no basis in the text.

A Nail in the Coffin of the Hebrew Roots Movement

I came across a very curious passage in 1 Corinthians that I thought shed a lot of light on Paul’s relationship to the ceremonial law. Here it is in the ESV (1 Corinthians 9:19-23):

For though I am free from all, I have made myself a servant to all, that I might win more of them. To the Jews I became as a Jew, in order to win Jews. To those under the law I became as one under the law (though not being myself under the law) that I might win those under the law. To those outside the law I became as one outside the law (not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ) that I might win those outside the law. To the weak I became weak, that I might win the weak. I have become all things to all people, that be all means I might save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, that I may share with them in its blessings.

The first curious point to notice is this language “I became as a Jew.” The word “ginomai” can mean “be” or “become” depending on the context, but “be” seems unlikely in this context, since Paul’s point is that when he was with Jews he looked like a Jew, and when he was with Gentiles, he looked like a Gentile. He therefore “became” one of them in order to win them to Christ (N.B., he wanted to win them to Christ, not to the OT ceremonial laws).

The second point to notice is the phrase in verse 20 “though not being myself under the law.” There is a textual variant at this point. The Byzantine manuscript tradition does not have this phrase, while the rest of the manuscript tradition has the phrase. It is almost certainly original, when one considers the age, weight, and geographical distribution of the manuscripts that have the phrase. We will proceed on the textual conclusion that it is original. The question is this: what does Paul mean by that, especially when one considers verse 21′s description of not being outside the law of God but under the law of Christ?

The answer is that there must be a distinction between various parts of the law operating here (verse 21 is quite clear about this: there was some way that Paul could be as someone outside the “law” without being outside the law of God. If law means the same thing in that sentence all the way through, then Paul is declaring nonsense, for he would be saying that he was both outside and inside the law at the same time). There are aspects of the law that are non-negotiable (this is what verse 21′s “the law of God” is talking about, the moral law, the Ten Commandments). Then there are parts of the law that are definitely negotiable depending on the group of people he is with (this is what verse 20 is talking about, the ceremonial aspects of the law). It is just here that the verb “became” is important. Paul does not regard the status of being like a Jew as something that he normally is! This is what is so odd about the verse. Paul was a Jew by ethnicity! The answer to this conundrum is Philippians 3: all those things such as his ethnicity are skubalon (dung) compared with the glories of Jesus Christ. Being united to the Messiah is Paul’s new way of being human that is far more important than ethnicity or anything else (Galatians 3:28). What things are skubalon in Philippians 3? Being a Hebrew of Hebrews, being a Pharisee, being zealous for the law, having confidence in the flesh, and even being blamelessly righteous under the law! See Philippians 3:2-6. For our purposes, the things that Paul counts as skubalon are the things that the Hebrew Roots Movement prizes above Jesus Christ.

This is the particular hideousness of the HRM: the Old Testament is more important than Jesus Christ and does not point to Jesus Christ despite John 5:45-47 and Luke 24:13-49. Jesus (they will always call Him Yeshua regardless of what the entire GREEK New Testament calls Him, because somehow Hebrew is more sacred than Greek. It was really rather stupid of the New Testament authors to call Him “Iesous” of which “Jesus” is simply a transcription into English. It’s a good thing that the HRM folk are smarter than God at this point) always recedes into the background in the HRM. Just ask a HRM person why there are no sacrifices anymore. They will invariably answer that there is no temple. That’s their reason. Not that Jesus Christ was the once-for-all sacrifice that ends all other sacrifices (as the book of Hebrews makes abundantly clear all the way through the book). No, it’s because there is no temple. So why don’t they go build one and finish their denial of Christ’s ultimate sacrifice for sins by starting up the sacrifices again, which Hebrews tells us never took away the guilt of sin anyway? The fact of the matter is that God had the Temple destroyed precisely because Jesus had ended the sacrificial system of the law by being the one perfect sacrifice to which all the OT sacrifices always pointed.

The juxtaposition of verse 20 with verse 21 indicates that there are things in the law that are regarded as negotiable for Paul, depending on the people he is with, and the possibilities for evangelism. Those aspects of the law are not what Paul usually does. When he does do them, it is for evangelistic purposes only, and even then it is only when he is seeking to reach Jews, and needs to avoid offense. These things that are included are things that distinguish Jews from Gentiles, such as dietary laws and feast-days.

Paul only did those things around Jews as a concession so that no one would be distracted from the gospel of Jesus Christ. But when people started insisting on these things, as in the book of Galatians, Paul fought back tooth and nail. He berated Peter for forcing the Gentiles to live like Jews (Galatians 2:14), something the HRM is most definitely advocating. In chapter 3, Paul says that the works of the law do not justify anyone. For anyone who relies on the works of the law (and the HRM definitely relies on the works of the law) they are under a curse, for perfection is required (Galatians 3:10). The law was a guardian until Christ came (3:24), which is no longer required as a guardian (3:25) because Christ has come. In chapter 5, Paul says that if they accept circumcision as a requirement, then Christ is useless to them.

It is important to notice here that when Paul is saying these things about the law, he is not abrogating the Ten Commandments. After all, Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, quite clearly states their continual application. Paul himself in chapter 5 will go on to list a bunch of sins on the one hand, and a bunch of virtues on the other, that are required to be walking in the Spirit. They all have to do with the moral law, and none of them have to do with the ceremonial law.

In Galatians 6, Paul says that the real motivation for these ceremonial law-keepers is that they want to boast in the flesh (6:13). Paul says that he wants to boast in something different: the cross of Jesus Christ. He explicitly says that circumcision counts for nothing (6:15). If there is never any change whatsoever in the OT law (which is what the HRM claims), then why is circumcision declared by Paul to be counting for nothing? Is circumcision the only thing that counts for nothing? Or is circumcision the symbolic issue that stands for the ceremonial law of the OT? Surely it is the latter.

Part 2 of the interview with one of the prosecutors in Meyers’ Federal Vision Trial

Posted by Bob Mattes

Dr. R. Scott Clark has posted Part 2 of his excellent interview of TE M. Jay Bennett on the TE Meyers’ Federal Vision trial. In case you missed Part 1, you can find it here. As you might expect, the two flow together.

Part 2 delves a bit more into the unseemly manoeuvring by TE Meyers and his friends in Missouri Presbytery (MOP) to limit the prosecution’s ability to function in accordance with the PCA Book of Church Order. The actions explained by TE Bennett severely hampered the prosecution, whilst providing easy avenues for the defense to “run out the clock”. The transcripts make the tactics obvious even after the fact. Given the magnitude of the issues at stake, the prosecution should have been given both adequate time to prepare and present its case. It was not.

I commented in this post about my involvement as a prosecution witness in the case. In light of TE Bennett’s comments on his cross-examination of TE Meyers, I need to point out that I was not present for that cross because I had to catch my flight home. So, I want to make it clear that my previous post should take nothing away from TE Bennett’s observations about his cross-examination of TE Meyers.

So, where does all this leave us in the PCA? Certainly, there are presbyteries like Missouri, Pacific Northwest, Siouxlands, and perhaps a few others in which faithful officers cannot recommend churches to inquirers without personally knowing individual pastors who are orthodox and confessional. It also means that transferees from said presbyteries must be carefully examined in detail for their views. We saw that with Lusk when he tried to transfer to Evangel Presbytery a few years ago, and Leithart most recently. Though Leithart has not yet been examined, his work out of bounds teaching Federal Vision doctrine in Evangel’s geographic area has been rejected in accordance with the BCO. Faithful presbyteries must be on the watch and guard their flocks from FV wolves.

Dr. Clark’s excellent post on the parallels between Federal Visionists today and Arminians in the Reformed church centuries ago captures this watchfulness issue well. While the Federal Visionists deny on one hand that they hold aberrant views, they openly teach them outside of the view of the PCA courts. Although Meyers, Leithart, et al, remain “in good standing” in the PCA just as James Arminius did in the Dutch church in his day, they would not and should not be welcome in many if not most pulpits in the PCA or should they be permitted to spread their poison at General Assembly seminars. If confessional elders would not invite Arminius or Pelagius into their pulpits, then how could they in faithfulness to their vows invite a Federal Visionist? They cannot.

Confessional, orthodox Reformed elders in the PCA must stay diligent and informed in these trying times until we can change the BCO to correct these recent travesties. In the meantime, although we cannot at this moment directly treat the cancer in some presbyteries, we can and must contain the disease.

Posted by Bob Mattes

Great interview with one of the prosecutors in Meyers’ Federal Vision Trial

Posted by Bob Mattes

Dr. R. Scott Clark, church historian, pastor, and Westminster Seminary California professor, interviewed Rev. M. Jay Bennett for the Heidelcast. Jay was the lead prosecutor for the TE Jeff Meyers’ Federal Vision trial in Missouri Presbytery. The interview comes in two parts, with the second part slated for next week. In the first part that’s posted now, Dr. Clark covers Teaching Elder Bennett’s background, a bit of Federal Vision (FV) background, and the timeline leading up to the Meyers trial. The latter provides some insight into how the discipline process in the PCA proceeds. As usual, Dr. Clark conducts an informative and engaging interview which I highly recommend. Scott and Jay discuss a few anomalies in the case history, but so far haven’t mentioned the big one in my opinion.

In the trial record of case, on page 872, you see that Missouri Presbytery (MOP) was basically pushing TE Bennett out of the presbytery, which would, of course, make him unable to complain against the decision in the Meyers case. In the end, MOP succeeded and the PCA Standing Judicial Commission apparently let MOP get away with this ploy without even reading the record of the case. The bigger story is that MOP had kept men like TE Mark Horne, another Federal Visionist like Meyers, without call for over 3 years. Yet, TE Bennett, who opposes the unreformed FV, was being bounced almost immediately. The politics is pretty clear when looking at the bigger picture.

To be totally up front, I signed the original letter of concern mentioned in the interview and was a witness for the prosecution in the Meyers case, flying to St. Louis on my own nickle (i.e., at no cost to MOP) for the trial. I worked with Jay on my testimony, and found him a fair, honorable, and confessional teaching elder who deeply loves the Reformed Faith and understood the unconfessional nuances in the Federal Vision. The PCA owes TE Bennett a great debt of gratitude for standing firmly for the gospel in the face of overwhelming opposition.

Don’t miss part 1 of the interview, and check back next week for part 2. And you could benefit greatly by following Dr. Clark’s Heidelblog as many of us do.

I would be remiss without adding that Jeff Meyers, after being acquitted by MOP, now teaches with all the FV heavyweights at an FV school. I couldn’t make this stuff up.

Posted by Bob Mattes

Horton Vs. Keister?

In the Leithart trial transcript, Rayburn, in his closing arguments, argued that since I was “confused” about a statement that came from Michael Horton’s writings, and that I wound up disagreeing with Horton, that therefore I was “biased” and my testimony was worthless. There are quite a few other charges levelled against me in the closing arguments by Rayburn (the comments about me start on page 401 of the transcript and continue through page 403 line 5). Those will be dealt with as we get to them. For now, let us examine the trick that Rayburn played on me (which can be found on page 119, line 7, and continues to the next page). Rayburn quoted something that belonged to Horton’s writings, and asked if I was comfortable with it. Then, after stating that was I uncomfortable with that way of putting it, Rayburn said that it was Horton’s writings. In the conclusion, Rayburn uses this as an example of why my testimony is “virtually worthless.”

I have emailed Mike Horton about this particular quotation. Horton agrees with me that Rayburn took the statement out of context, and Horton affirmed that he said the same thing about baptism that I said. I fell for the trick because I naively thought that a Presbytery would treat a member of another Presbytery (who was in good standing) with a modicum of respect. I was obviously wrong in that assumption. The quotation was delivered by Rayburn anonymously and out of context. In other words, it was a lie. This is a trick that many FV advocates and defendants have tried on me over the years. You’d think I would have been ready for it! I had been meaning to address this point long before this, but had never gotten around to emailing Mike about it.

I will now address some of Rayburn’s statements concerning me in the closing arguments. I had admitted to bias in the cross-examination. Of course I was “biased.” I was a witness for the prosecution, and thought that Leithart was guilty. But then Rayburn put a construction on the term “biased” that I had never agreed to. He says, “Bias suggests the failure to put the best construction on what a man says or writes, a determination to find fault and a lack of even handedness in the evaluation of evidence.” He did not mention this definition of bias when he cross-examined me. I do not agree that I am biased according to this definition. Instead, as Rayburn himself says, “It is not biased to believe to be true a certain opinion regarding the facts of the case.” That is where I was and where I still am. I was interpreting the term “bias” to be equivalent to “non-neutral.” In that case I was biased, just as Leithart was biased. But Rayburn put a construction on those words that I never intended. On the first page of my testimony, I explicitly said that I owed Leithart all the charity and care of reading possible. Rayburn just assumed that I was incapable of achieving that.

Then Rayburn says, “Along with competence, the objectivity of an expert witness is his most important recommendation.” Objectivity is absolutely impossible. Is there anyone in the PCA who is objective when it comes to FV issues? Now Rayburn shifts the ground entirely to say that the only witnesses worth anything are those who don’t actually have an opinion.

Rayburn claims that the defense read my testimony. That is seriously misleading. I watched them during the entire 15 minutes (which was all that the defense counsel requested to examine my testimony). All they did was flip desultorily through my testimony. They didn’t read it. Not so as to be able to interact with it. It was not interacted with by the defense counsel in any way, shape, or form. The court asked one or two questions about the substance of the testimony, and then jumped on my statement about Leithart leaving for the peace of the church. The court did not interact with my testimony on any kind of thorough basis either.

Then Rayburn brought up this comment on my blog by Sean Lucas. That Sean Lucas and I would disagree about the import of Michael Williams’s book is taken as evidence that my testimony is worthless. Not sure how this follows. Even if Sean Lucas was were correct in every point of his critique of my review, that would be irrelevant as to whether my testimony in the Leithart case was accurate or not. If Rayburn takes it that therefore I am reading people uncharitably, again it doesn’t follow. Even if I were reading Williams uncharitably (and Lucas’s comment did not convince me of that), that does not mean that I am reading Leithart uncharitably. Every single quotation from Leithart in my testimony I attempted to set in its immediate and broader context so that I was not misreading him.

Rayburn also claims that I am a known controversialist, and that I am known by many as someone who relishes conflict. I do not relish conflict. I only engage in it because I feel I have to contend for the gospel, as Jude directs me to do. This is a blatant attempt at reading my motivation, and I will say flat out that it is a lie. Rayburn had never met me once before the trial. He doesn’t know me at all. He made a lot of statements about me that assumed a greater knowledge of me than he in fact had. To be blunt, he lied about me multiple times in a very public way.

In his sermon (always interesting to be preached about!) Rayburn says that I only pretended to scholarship. I never pretended to anything other than what I actually own. At one time, Jason Stellman slipped up by calling me “Dr. Keister,” and I corrected him on the floor of the PNW Presbytery. When asked whether I was an “expert” witness, I debated in my mind how to reply to that. On the one hand, I did not want to toot my own horn and appear like I was an expert in all theological fields, which I certainly am not. On the other hand, I had read all of Leithart’s theological writings, and about 80% of all the original source FV writings, which put me in a position to say something about the FV, and about Leithart. I can say without fear of sounding too grandiose that I am an expert in FV matters. I have since learned that Rayburn has accused me of being “obsessed” with Leithart. I had read exactly 2 books written by Leithart before Stellman asked me to be a witness in the case. I did almost all my reading of Leithart after being asked to be a witness in the case. No obsession there, unless you want to say that I was obsessed with accurately describing Leithart’s theology, which I most certainly was.

I debated a long time whether to post this or not, because it has a rather defensive tone about it. These accusations that have come my way are very public in nature. The main reason I wished to set the record straight on these matters is, again, the wrongness of the SJC decision. I have written before on how the SJC did NOT need to show great deference to PNW’s decision. This post adds more arguments to that post.

The Interpretation of History

The review of N.T. Wright that I wrote just recently sparked some reflections in my mind on the nature of history. What is the overall shape of history? For Wright, Israel plays a very large role. The question is whether that role is too large. Of course, we live in a post-Holocaust age wherein no one desires to be on the wrong end of “anti-Semitism.” Nevertheless, that should not significantly impact our reading of Scripture, considering that both the writing of it and the majority of its interpretation came before the Holocaust.

N.T. Wright’s construction of history runs something like this: after the Fall, God appointed Abraham (and through him Israel) to fix what Adam broke. However, Israel became part of the problem, because, instead of becoming the second Adam, they revealed that they were in the first Adam, and therefore subject to the Fall. Therefore God, if He was going to put the world to rights, needed to fix Israel as well, and through Israel, the world, so that the promises made to Abraham concerning being a blessing to the nations could be fulfilled. This God did through the faithful Israel: Jesus Christ. Having begun that fulfillment, God will bring it to completion in the new heavens and the new earth, which is not some Platonic divorced-from-this-world result, but rather a transformation of this world, putting it to rights.

Now, there is much that I can agree with in this narrative of history. In fact, I can agree with most of it. However, I would deny that God appointed Abraham himself or Israel itself as the solution of the problem. Instead, Abraham and Israel functioned as the carrier of the Messiah, who was always intended from the beginning (dated from Genesis 3:15, humanly speaking; from eternity, from God’s perspective) to be the solution to the problem of Adam and Eve’s Fall. This does not result in a demotion of Abraham and Israel. To see why this is the case, we must examine Genesis 3:15, which I regard as the fundamental statement of the meaning of history, when it is properly interpreted in the light of the rest of Scripture.

Genesis 3:15 promised a battle between two seeds. There would be enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. This enmity must be interpreted in the light of the switch in covenantal allegiance that Adam and Eve had effected in their Fall: instead of being covenantally in agreement with God, they became covenantally allied with the serpent. God’s promise of enmity between the two seeds is a gracious statement of the breaking of that new covenantal allegiance, and reverting that allegiance back to Himself.

The enmity between the two seeds immediately began manifesting itself in the incident of Cain and Abel (it is not terrifically difficult to discern who is the seed of whom, surely!). The two seeds (or two cities, as Augustine would say) continued their battle in the incidents of Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Israel and Egypt, Israel and the Canaanites, Elijah and the prophets of Baal, and scores of other stories in the Old Testament. Sometimes the seed of the serpent was outside the people of God. Sometimes it was inside the people of God. The climax of that enmity is, of course, Jesus and Satan, the ultimate seeds of the woman and of the serpent. From Genesis to Revelation, this conflict explains everything that happens in world history, with the seed of the woman ultimately victorious. To me, this makes better sense of world history than Wright’s version, which seems to imply that God’s purposes almost failed when Israel became part of the problem. God’s purposes never came even close to failing, since the whole plan was established before the creation even came into being.

For Israel, not only are they the carriers of the seed, but they are also themselves of the seed of the woman. This is their significance in the Old Testament, and one could hardly think of a higher significance or honor for a people to have than that. The only thing I want to stress here is that God never intended for Israel itself or Abraham himself to be the solution, except insofar as Abraham and Israel looked ahead to Abraham’s greater Son and the True Israel.

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