“Reformed” Is Not Enough: Overall Review

I am planning on here starting a series of posts examining Douglas Wilson’s book “Reformed” Is Not Enough, published by Canon Press (Moscow, ID, 2002). In this post, I will record my inital thoughts about the book as a whole. I am not blogging as I go. I have already read the book, and so I will have the chance to reflect on the theology as a whole in addition to particular ideas.

Overall, I have to say that I was expecting worse. This is not to say that I agree with what Wilson says. However, the title really turned me off, scare-quotes not withstanding (this is not helped by the fact that he uses the phrase without scare quotes on page 13). However, the first sentence of this paragraph doesn’t really say anything about what I really think about the book.

Wilson’s concerns in the book center around the objectivity of the covenant. Indeed, the subtitle of the book tells us that: “Recovering the objectivity of the covenant.” Further defined, I think Wilson’s concern is with a denigration of the visible church that is present in many sectors of Christian thought, not least in the Reformed world (pg. 70 hints at this, at least). Also of concern to Wilson is the credal formula “I believe in one holy, catholic, and apostolic church.” Wilson does not want us to think of the church as two, but as one.

In line with these concerns, Wilson makes a large effort to define the church. He devotes an entire chapter to the marks of the church (chapter 9). I appreciate very much this one-liner: “A Church with no discipline is a Church with no immune system” (pg. 80). Wilson affirms the traditional three marks of the true church: Word, Sacraments, and church discipline, although noting that the last-named mark came later (pg. 80).

Positively, Wilson seems to affirm many aspects of traditional Reformed thought. The monergism of God in salvation is present throughout the book. Justification by faith alone is clear on page 45, for instance.

He makes a very interesting comment on pg. 85: “Misunderstanding about what actually constitues sacerdotalism is at th heart of the controversy over the objectivity of the covenant.” One would assume from this comment, then, that a correct understanding (and rejection of) sacerdotalism is key to a proper understanding of the church. He then goes on to emphasize the closeness of the relation of sign and thing signified, saying that sacramental union means union (p. 89. I’m not quite sure how strong he means for this to sound; it sounds very strong indeed).

Nevertheless, there are criticisms that I would make of this book, some of which Wilson has already acknowledged. One is the lack of clarity in some of the formulations. The visible/invisible church distinction is not the same thing as the historical/eschatological distinction, an error which he seems to make on pg. 73, when he says, “The different terminology (historical/eschatological LK) is suggested because it affirms the same doctrine (as the v/i distinction, presumably) and is not open to the same objections.” Now, I don’t know about you, but this is confusing at best, and wrong at worst. This confusion is not helped by his (honest!) desire to improve on the language of the Confession (pg. 74).

Another place of confusion exists in his discussion of sacramental efficacy. To my mind, he does not seem to emphasize properly the efficacy of sacraments in their sign-ness and seal-ness. The point here is this question: the sacraments are efficacious for what? For the thing signified, or for the sign-ness and seal-ness? I believe strongly in the latter. I say that the former is too Roman. I’m not quite sure where Wilson will net out on this, but I was not clear as to his real position on this. More later.

1 John 2:19, Again

Here is the first post on this passage. There are several good arguments there for the understanding of the passage as supporting the traditional visible/invisible church distinction. I wish to add some more, extremely weighty arguments. I owe these arguments to discussions with Wes White.

First of all, if John is saying that these folk who went out “from us” are false teachers commissioned by the apostles, then his rejoinder makes no sense. Why would “they would have remained with us” be an acceptable rebuttal for why they are false teachers commissioned to be sent out? This makes no sense at all. Commissioned folk, according to this intepretation, are by definition sent out. Clearly here, the “not of us” is being here contrasted with “remain with us.” Therefore, it seems highly unlikely that the “remaining” would mean some sort of thing as “remaining in spirit or doctrine,” which would have to be the case, if Wilkins’s view was correct.

Secondly, the purpose clause (ἵνα plus subjunctive) also makes no sense. Why would the apostles send out false teachers in order for them to be exposed? If I were an apostle, and I knew that so-and-so was a false teacher, the last thing I would do is to let him out among the sheep! This would be for a shepherd to let in a wolf in sheep’s clothing in among the sheep! Unthinkable! No, the burden of the passage is that God allowed them to go forth out from the congregation in order that their true origin would be exposed. It is not a commissioning, but a self-induced excommunication that is here related. The going forth was voluntary (the voice of ἐξῆλθαν is active, after all; there were plenty of ways that John could have said “We sent them,” if he had wanted to do so. Plus, the normal word for sending out is apostello).

Thirdly, the definition of “antichrist” in the context is someone who denies the Father and the Son. Their activity is not firstly that of teaching, but that of confessing (vs. 23). They are confessing a denial of the Son, which entails a denial of the Father also. Now, I do not deny that they are trying to teach false doctrine, since that is plainly indicated in verses 26-27. All wolves want to make their own job of eating the sheep easier by trying to convince the sheep that either 1. The wolves are really sheep, or 2. The sheep are really wolves. But this is a far cry from saying that, because these false teachers were commissioned by the apostles, that therefore it cannot be referring to the visible/invisible church distinction. Even if we granted the point about being commissioned by the apostles, that would still not negate the truth of the assertion that they were part of the visible church, but were shown not to be part of he invisible church.

Westminster’s Book Sale

Westminster Seminary’s Bookstore now has a fantastic weekly sale. Those looking for basic Reformed classics should take a good look at some of the amazing prices they are currently offering on this sale.

Retraction

A few months ago, I published this article by Wes White on the validity of the visible/invisible Church distinction:

In that article, Wes critiqued Doug Wilson as one who denied this distinction.  As of that paper, he defined Wilson as saying that visible Church is that which professes the true faith in time and the invisible Church as referring to the Church at the end of time. Thus, in the present time, it seemed to us that Wilson was saying that “Church” in the present time can only refer to that visibly gathered community.

We would like to retract this because Wilson does affirm that in addition to the historical/eschatological distinction, the Church can also be distinguished into those who are truly converted (invisible) and those who publicly profess the true faith with their children (visible).  We hereby withdraw our criticism of him on this point.

Nevertheless, this does not affect the substance of the article or any of the argumentation, and we continue to recommend this article (with these qualifications) to our readers.

Sincerely in Christ, Lane Keister and Wes White

Thomas Goodwin on Adoption

Thomas Goodwin, in his Ephesians sermons, makes this point about salvation: that there are two kinds of benefits: benefits of reputation (consisting of God’s actions upon us and towards us), and benefits of real change (the working of God in us). See volume 2 (of his complete works), pp. 314-316 for this distinction. He argues against the Roman Catholic understanding of adoption in a way that is unique to theology, I believe. Maybe others who know more can correct me on this. Here is what he says:

They (the Roman Catholics, LK), to maintain that we are justified, not by being accounted righteous, but by being inherently righteous, say that our adoption doth not consist in a relation to God as a Father, but in the image of God wrought in us. Why, if that adoption did imply a real change in the person that is made a son, it must make a real change in the father, for father and son are relatives; and so when God becomes a Father to us, you must make a real change in him, for always for things that are relata there is the same reason, as we use to say.

A very interesting argument, I think. What say you?

A Few Links

Meredith Kline died on Friday. he was the author of Kingdom Prologue, Glory In Our Midst, Images of the Spirit, God, Heaven, and Har Magedon, The Structure of Biblical Authority, and The Treaty of the Great King. I have learned much from his writings.

Virginia Tech had a massive massacre today. This was very scary to me, because my brother is Ph.D. student there.  I am sure it was even more scary for him. I praise the Lord for His providence, even as I mourn for those who were lost. I understand that the body count is now 39.

We Lepers

Matthew 8:1-4

In 1873, a young Belgian Roman Catholic by the name of Father Damien went to Molokai island, which is part of Hawaii. Molokai Island is where the leper colony is located. He went to serve there. He always preached to them a sermon that started with this word, “Brethren.” He loved the people, who were all lepers. But he was not exceptionally careful, and that was on purpose. He did not want the people there to feel that they were excluded from him socially. And so, he would use the same pot that they used, smoke the same pipe that they did. One day, he poured hot water on his foot by accident, but didn’t feel it. The next Sunday, he got up into the pulpit, and started his sermon with these words, “We lepers.” It is a wonderful story of a pastor’s love for his congregation. Here in our passage, we see a very similar story. However, the differences are as instructive as the similarities.

Jesus has just finished the Sermon on the Mount. He has given us many words that are enormously important and helpful for living the Christian life. However, Jesus does not merely talk the talk. He also walks the walk. He does not merely say that He is God incarnated in the flesh. He does not merely say that He is the new Moses, coming down off the mountain. He is also going to show us by deeds that He is God, mighty to save.

Notice that Jesus is the new Moses. Just as Moses came off the mountain after receiving the law, Jesus comes down off the mountain after giving the law. But He is greater than Moses, as Moses predicted He would be. For Moses directed the people to keep away from unclean things, unclean animals, and unclean people. Jesus, however, goes to the unclean person and touches them. Their lives are never the same again. As for us, we should feel unclean after we hear the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus comes to do something about that.

A leper comes to Jesus. Now, leprosy actually describes a number of diseases in this time period, not just the disease that we know today as Hansen’s disease. Scholars think that the word covered psoriasis, ringworm, and lupus, in addition to Hansen’s disease. The important thing about this disease is not what it is, but what it does socially to a person. A person who was leprous had to keep away from other people. They were social outcasts. They had to cover themselves and cry out “Unclean, unclean,” whenever they got anywhere near anyone else. This was such a serious issue that the Rabbis devoted a great deal of attention to the matter in their official writings. Some of them even determined that you had to stay at least 100 feet away from a leper, especially if that leper was upwind of you. In fact, Jews usually regarded lepers as the walking dead. Under no circumstances, then, was a leper to approach someone who was ceremonially clean. The law for this is in Leviticus 13-14. You should go read it. It is too long to cite here. The upshot of it is not that it is a contagious disease, but that it contracts ceremonial uncleanness. Therefore, it is all the more remarkable that this leper approaches Jesus, something he was not supposed to do, according to the law. But rather than a reproach, it is actually a sing of his great faith. He knew that Jesus had the power to heal him. From chapter 4, we learn that Jesus went around healing people. Probably this leper had heard of Jesus. Therefore he came to him.

But notice how he came to Jesus. The text says that he “knelt” in front of Jesus. That is a good translation. The word has connotations of worship. The man came in deep humility, recognizing his own need of healing, recognizing that he could not heal himself, and recognizing that only Jesus was mighty to save. He was not arrogant and prideful, assuming that Jesus would heal him. Notice how humbly he asks Jesus, as well. He says, “If you will.” We need to remember those words always when we are sick and pray to God for healing. It can be God’s will that we not be healed. God can say, “no.” Notice though, that there was never any question in the leper’s mind about whether Jesus could do this thing. It was always and only a question of whether Jesus would do it.

So now, we come to the point of greatest tension in the story: will Jesus, or won’t He? All three accounts of this healing say that Jesus reached out and touched this man. For those of us who know our Old Testaments, that speaks volumes. Jesus was (supposedly) making Himself ceremonially unclean for this man. But this is the power of God: when Jesus touches us, He does not become unclean, but rather we become clean. Therein lies the main difference between the story of Father Damien, and the story of Jesus. When Father Damien touched the people, he eventually contracted the disease. But when Jesus came to earth, and touched our flesh, we became whole again.

The same thing is true of our souls. Our souls are unclean, because every manner of sin lies entrapped therein. However, when Jesus comes by the Holy Spirit into our souls, our souls are made clean. What a contrast to how we usually treat others! We like to hold them at arm’s length, and touch those kind of people as little as possible. But Jesus came down into the pit with us, and took us in His arms, and made us clean. Are we afraid of what might happen if reach out? We have a new neighbor, for instance. Some of us might possibly be afraid of him. But are we going to reach out and touch him with the love of Christ? I am not advocating recklessness. But I am advocating reaching out and touching them.

Jesus has concern for this man after he his healed. The important thing here to remember is that the man had to go through some hoops in order to be re-introduced to society. Those requirements are also listed in Leviticus 14. Jesus tells him that he is no longer an outcast. The former leper is now part of the people of God.

We must never underestimate the power of meeting people’s physical needs in getting to the place where we can discuss issues of faith. Medical missionary teams often experience this. When they bring healing, people will listen to their testimony. We can experience this too, even if none of us are medical experts. Any physical need can be a springboard to tell someone about the Gospel. You help someone move hay, or work cattle, or harvest crops. That person will want to know why it is that you are helping him. Ladies, you can help with someone’s children, baby-sitting. Or you can help clean their house. Then that lady will want to know why it is that you are doing this for them. But here’s the thing: we must not limit our actions to those people who can pay us back. It is not wrong to do nice things for people who can repay us. However, that needs to be only part of our goal. We need to focus especially on giving to those people who cannot pay us back in any way whatever. It is those people whom we can reach with this Gospel of soul-cleansing.

But even in doing that, we have to be careful not to seem better than they are. When I am counseling someone, for instance, I often say to that person, “You know, God is working on two people in this room, not just one.” And that is definitely true. We should think of ourselves as being in the same boat with these people. Like Father Damien, we should be willing to say, “We lepers.” Then, our actions will be interpreted as acts of love, and not acts of “charity,” in the sense of a great philanthropist helping out a poor, dumb, socially inferior dope addict. We cannot give that impression. Humility is required. Humility is required precisely because we were spiritual lepers. Maybe some of us still are. But if Jesus is willing, He can make us lepers clean.

But God Made Us Alive

Ephesians 2:4-7

The last time I preached on Ephesians, I mentioned that it was really part one of two sermons. We come today to that second part. We left ourselves in the valley of dry bones. Hear now what Ezekiel says, in what is perhaps the best Scriptural commentary/illustration of our passage today:

The hand of the LORD was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the LORD and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord GOD, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the LORD. Thus says the Lord GOD to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the LORD.” So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them. Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord GOD: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army. Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are clean cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the LORD, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the LORD; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the LORD.”

The question in front of us today is this: can our spiritual bones live? The answer is a resounding “yes.” But only if God works. We left off last time with all people dead in trespasses and sins. We were not mostly dead, but all dead. We were therefore under the wrath of God. That is, God’s just wrath against sinners was directed against us. We did not have at that time a close relationship with God, so much as a close relationship with God’s wrath.

Then, we have the first beautiful words of verse 4 “But God.” The NIV does not follow the Greek word order here. The first two words are “But God.” In those two words we have the Gospel in a nutshell. God acted while we were dead. He didn’t leave us in that sad, sorry state. Rather, God acted.

Verse 4 then goes on to tell us of the cause of our spiritual resurrection. The cause is God’s great love and His rich mercy. In our case, God’s love and mercy trumped His wrath. It has nothing to with anything in us. It is not because we deserve mercy more than someone else that God has done this. No, it is simply because of God’s love and His mercy.

Verse 5 then tells us what God did. Verse 4 told us why. Now, verse 5 tells us what. It is in the midst of our deadness, in the midst of our helplessness that God acted. You know, God does not help those who help themselves. That proverb is one of the most misleading, false, and dangerous proverbs out there. God did not come to those who are well, but to those who are sick. More precisely, He came to those who are dead. Paul uses the same phrase in verse 5 that he used in verse 1 “dead in trespasses.” That is why these two sermons really have to be taken together. We cannot realize just what God has done for us until we realize the depth of our own sin. And, on the flip side of that coin, we cannot realize how deep and soul-damning our sin is until we realize the greatness of God’s love for us. To illustrate this point, all one has to do is to speak in a whisper for a while, AND THEN SHOUT ALOUD. If someone speaks in a normal voice all the time, then you don’t really understand anything unusual. But if you have been in a dark room for any length of time, and then come out into a bright, sunlit, snowy landscape, your eyes will tell you just how dark that room was. Here, Paul has painted for us the bleakest, darkest picture of human nature that it is possible to paint. And he did that so that he could show off just how gigantic the love of God is. Walk into the daylight, and be dazzled.

Notice this little parenthesis in the text, “By grace you have been saved.” Paul is going to talk more about that in verses 8-10. But he cannot resist anticipating what he’s going to say later. That parenthesis contains yet another statement of the Gospel in a nutshell. We are saved by grace, not by what we do, and certainly not because of some decision that we made to choose God. Yes, the Gospel is often proclaimed in such language, “Choose you this day whom you shall serve.” However, the Bible makes clear that we are dead in our sins, and cannot make a choice for God, unless God first works in us. God’s work is primary. Our will is also dead, and has to be renewed in order to trust in God. And, to a large extent, that is what this resurrection is all about.

Paul describes this resurrection with three words that he invented. Paul had to coin three words in order to describe this reality. They are used nowhere else in Greek literature except in Paul’s writings only. The three words each describe our relationship with Jesus Christ: we are 1. made alive with Christ; 2. raised with Christ; 3. seated with Christ. The fundamental truth here is that what happened to Christ happens to us when we come to faith by God’s grace. Christ was in the grave. So were we in our trespasses and sins. Christ was made alive. So are we when God’s Holy Spirit breathes into our spiritually dead bones the breath of spiritual life. Christ was raised from the dead. So are we raised from spiritual death. Christ is seated at the right hand of God almighty. So also are we seated (right now!), spiritually speaking, with Christ. The reason that there is this connection between what happened to Christ and what happens to us is that we are united to Christ, when we come to faith in Him. What happens to the bride-groom also happens to the bride. We are the bride of Christ.

Have you been made alive? Have your spiritual bones been breathed upon by the Holy Spirit? Have you been seated with Christ in the heavenly places? Do remember that if you are seated with Christ, then you are seated on thrones, just as Christ is seated on His throne. In other words, if you trust in Christ, then there is a very real sense in which you can never be more saved than you are right now. And that should be of some comfort to you. One of our biggest limitations is that we cannot know the fullness of God’s love for us. What we need to know is that it is greater, higher, broader, and deeper than we can possibly imagine. The beauty of heaven is that we will be able to comprehend how great that love is, and yet never come to the end of it. It is as if our desire for God will be infinitely more so, and shall, at the same time, be infinitely satisfied.

God’s purpose in all of this is given to us in verse 7, and it relates to what we have just been saying about heaven. God wants us, and the whole world, to know how much He loved us. When it comes to Judgment Day, then, God will show the world. We will be vindicated by God. And the world will know just how much it missed out on what God was doing. And on that day, we will finally be able to measure the love of God. In one sense, it is infinite. In another sense, it measures like a cross.

We have looked at how this applies to our own lives by asking the question of whether or not we have been made alive. But we also have to ask this question: how do we treat our neighbors, in response to this? Do we treat our fellow Christians as if they are reigning with Christ even now, seated at His right hand? Do we treat non-believers as potentially sitting with Christ in the heavenly realms? We need to show the Holy Spirit to these people. For the Holy Spirit often breathes on their spiritual bones through us. We are His tools. Ligament by ligament, bone to bone, sinew to sinew, we were made alive by God. Only by His Holy Spirit can this happen. Can these dry bones live? “But God made us alive.”

Reformed, Always Reforming

This book looks fascinating. It is focused on a topic dear to my heart: the relationship of Reformed confessions to the modern practice of ST. There is a great imbalance in the way many theologians today exercise their trade. Exegetes cannot stand to have any systematic concerns wend their way through the process of hermeneutics. I see this distaste on the part of exegetes as the chief danger in today’s theological culture. Explaining the reasons behind this bifurcation of ST and exegesis is not exceptionally difficult. Postmodernism is the culprit, in my opinion. Since postmodernism has an inherent distrust of metanarratives (and ST surely partakes of nothing if not an overarching explanation of everything related to God), each text of Scripture is made to tell its own story. The analogy of faith is something either not known, or not heeded.

However, not all the problems lie here. After all, there are those who argue rather strenuously against postmodernism, and yet still do not like the influence of ST in exegesis. What is the reason behind this phenomenon? Either postmodernism has gotten into their unconscious mind, influencing them in ways they do not appreciate, or they wish to have contradictory, muddled theologies rattling away in their compartmentalized brains.

Be that as it may, postmodernism is not the start of this bifurcation. Surely, we must trace it back to the Enlightenment, or as my brother is fond of saying, the Endarkenment. Surely, postmodernism has its origins there. Whenever mankind thinks of himself as the arbiter of truth, each man’s truth becomes authoritative in his own mind. Thus, the idea that several voices should say one thing is anathema. I really think that hatred of ST is a product of man’s desire for autonomy.

Is there danger of ST drowning out exegetical concerns? Of course there is. We have seen many examples of this in the history of the church. A preconceived idea dictates the course of exegesis. However, it has been a hallmark (mostly) of Reformed scholarship that the ST flows from the exegesis.

I think it terribly important, however, that we recognize this fundamental truth about ST: it must guard our exegesis. Our doctrine of God must prevent us from looking at “God repented” and saying that God is open to changing in the light of what mankind does. In other words, the relationship between ST and exegesis must be a two-way street. Exegesis is, and always has been, the life-blood of ST. However, ST must put boundaries around our exegesis. I am hoping that the above linked book will deal with these issues in some detail.

More on the Visible/Invisible Church Distinction

David Gadbois has a couple of very helpful articles on the v/i church distinction, along with quotations from the Reformed fathers (quoted at some length). Here and here.

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