Reply to Jeff Meyers, Part 6

Point 13 is Meyers’s claim that Christ does not fulfill the Covenant of Works in order that we might participate in eternal life. Now, Meyers does affirm that Christ fulfilled all obedience to the Father, and he further affirms that Jesus fulfilled the calling and duties of Adam. But he stops short of affirming that Christ fulfilled the Covenant of Works. I would like to ask Jeff just one question, then. Are the WS correct in asserting that there is a covenant of works? If so, was it Adam’s duty to obey the terms of that covenant? If it was Adam’s duty, and (as Jeff himself admits) Christ fulfills the calling and duties of Adam (one of which was to obey the terms of the covenant of works), then what exactly is the problem with saying that Christ fulfills the covenant of works? The proofs from the WS go in a line of logic that looks like this: p1 Adam had to obey the terms of the covenant of works in order to obtain eternal life; p2 the thing promised in both covenants is the same (eternal life); p3 Christ is the Mediator between God and man. p4 The Mediator provides perfect satisfaction (for Adam’s sin) and complete obedience (fulfilling Adam’s duty). c1 Therefore, Christ fulfilled the Covenant of Works. Is this not implied in the logic of the WS? I am at a loss to know why Meyers would affirm that Christ fulfills the duties that Adam should have rendered, and yet will not affirm that Christ fulfills the Covenant of Works. To me, these two affirmations would be practically synonymous.

Point 14: the problem with this point is that the FV men believe that if one is baptized, one is justified (Federal Vision, p. 59). The benefits that one obtains simply by virtue of baptism are ordo salutis benefits, according to FV advocates. They are certainly not limited to the negative efficacy of which Meyers speaks. The problem is that ordo salutis benefits (justification, sanctification, adoption minus perseverance, which assertion breaks the golden chain of Romans 8, by the way) are being ascribed to NECM’s (non-elect covenant members). NECM’s do not participate in any way, shape, or form, in any of the ordo salutis benefits. In order for true consistency, the FV would have to posit “covenantal justification,” “covenantal sanctification,” “covenantal adoption,” none of which are eternally saving. It is quite safe to say that such definitions of these ordo salutis benefits are nowhere to be found in Scripture. The issues of the FV really boil down to the benefits which NECM’s have. If there is one single ordo salutis benefit that a NECM receives, then we have blurred the line, and crossed out of the WS into Romanist ground. That distinction must remain sharp, or we are not Reformed.

Point 15 is a misunderstanding of the Report’s position. There is no other way to speak of it. The report expressly limits the discussion to the sign all by itself. Water baptism, all by itself, the sign all by itself, does not effect union with Christ. Faith needs to be present for baptism to be improved. That is all the Report is saying, and that is what the WS say: “to such as that grace belongeth unto” (WCF 28.6). This is a plain indicator of the elect. The Report does not rule out the idea that the thing signified can happen before, during, or after baptism. But the WS carefully delineate what baptism does and does not do. The FV folk are always forgetting 28.5

Although it be a great sin to contemn or neglect this ordinance, yet grace and salvation are not so inseparably annexed unto it, as that no person can be regenerated or saved without it; or that all that are baptized are undoubtedly regenerated.

Some might say that this section proves that the usual procedure is that baptism regenerates, and that there are cases where it does not. Actually, the Report (and I) would have no problem with anyone who said that the efficacy of baptism usually happens at the time-point of baptism. This amounts to a truism: baptism happens at baptism. But what is the nature of that efficacy? Plainly, it is the efficacy of sign and seal. There is a distinction between sign and thing signified. The thing signified never comes without faith. This is the WS’s position, and it is Calvin’s position, a fact which Meyers completely forgets to note: “But from this sacrament, as from all others, we obtain only as much as we receive in faith” (4.15.15 of the Institutes). This must qualify all of Calvin’s statements of baptismal efficacy. It is only efficacious as it is joined with faith. No Southern Presbyterian would object to that. And the Report is not narrower than that.

51 Comments

  1. Todd said,

    May 16, 2007 at 11:48 am

    “In order for true consistency, the FV would have to posit “covenantal justification,” “covenantal sanctification,” ”covenantal adoption,” none of which are eternally saving. It is quite safe to say that such definitions of these ordo salutis benefits are nowhere to be found in Scripture.”

    But you affirm a covenantal sanctification in Hebrews 10:29, right?

  2. Tim Wilder said,

    May 16, 2007 at 12:38 pm

    The FV does have an “objective regeneration”

    http://whilinawaythehours.blogspot.com/2007/03/regeneration.html

    I don’t know why it’s being vague and fallible makes it “objective”.

  3. Xon said,

    May 16, 2007 at 12:52 pm

    Infernal device! It is doing it again, Lane.

  4. greenbaggins said,

    May 16, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    I have now emailed them twice about this. I hope they will take Keith’s advice. I am getting very tired of this getting in the way of the discussions.

  5. Xon said,

    May 16, 2007 at 12:53 pm

    BOQPoint 14: the problem with this point is that the FV men believe that if one is baptized, one is justified (Federal Vision, p. 59). The benefits that one obtains simply by virtue of baptism are ordo salutis benefits, according to FV advocates.EOQ

    No, according to FV advocates they are similar enough to ordo salutis benefits that they can be described using many of the same words. The temporary believer has a cognitive and ‘existential’ experience regarding the Gospel that is enthusiastic and positive and sure seems to be “belief” of some sort, so we call it belief (or, more properly, “temporary belief”). But nobody (except maybe for Jim Jordan, who as I have said before is not making any claims to be ‘Reformed’ on this issue) says that this temporary belief is exactly the same as the kind of belief which God gives to the elect.

    BOQIn order for true consistency, the FV would have to posit “covenantal justification,” “covenantal sanctification,” ”covenantal adoption,” none of which are eternally saving.EOQ

    Right, and this is precisely what they do posit. This is not some point you are logically forcing them into, to their great embarrassment.

    BOQIt is quite safe to say that such definitions of these ordo salutis benefits are nowhere to be found in Scripture.EOQ

    Well, if you say so, but at best there is an exegetical debate raging on this very topic. Leithart’s article in the FV book says a good deal about the meaning of “justification” in Scripture, for instance. Furthermore, words like “sanctification” or its relatives (“holy”) are clearly used in Scripture to refer to non-elect people (but who are in the covenant community), so your “safe to say” seems blatantly unsafe.

    BOQThe issues of the FV really boil down to the benefits which NECM’s have.EOQ

    I agree with this completely. This is clearly the substantive area of disagreement between all FV advocates and their opponents, as far as I can tell. The “objectivity of the covenant” that FVers advocate boils down in some way or other to non-elect covenant members receiving benefits through their covenantal union which non-FVers want to deny to them. It’s nice after five+ years to get close to the actual question.

    BOQIf there is one single ordo salutis benefit that a NECM receives, then we have blurred the line, and crossed out of the WS into Romanist ground. That distinction must remain sharp, or we are not Reformed.EOQ

    If there is one single ordo salutis benefit (as defined by WS) that a NECM receives, then I agree that we have ‘blurred” what should not be blurred and that would be bad. But, of course, FVers do not blur that line, because they agree that ordo salutis benefits as defined by WS only go to the elect. This is because those benefits, in the WS, are clearly defined as being irrevocable and everlasting. No NECM receives such benefits irrevocably or everlastingly.

    And, what’s more, you of course have concerns that we make a “qualitative” distinction between the benefits as well; that we don’t just boil them down to a difference in duration. (This concern seems to be motivated more by the Canons of Dordt, which clearly state that the difference between elect and reprobate is not one “of duration only”.) But FVers do this, too. So the line is not blurred. There are benefits only the elect receive, and there are “lesser” but similar versions of these benefits which the non-elect cov members receive.

    The disagreement, as I understand it, is over whether the benefits received by NECMs can properly be said to be similar at all to the benefits recieved by the elect. Most anti-FV folks seem willing to acknowledge, for instance, that NECMs are members of the covenant of grace and that as such they receive blessings of some sort via that covenant membership. But they deny that these blessings can properly be called “justification”, “sanctification,” etc., b/c they want those “ordo salutis” words to apply only to the elect. FVers, on the other hand, think that the benefits received by the NECMs are sufficiently similar (though not the same, differing in both quality and duration!) that they can be referred to (and the Scriptures refer to them in this way) with words like “justification”, “sanctification,” etc.

    This is, most definitely, a substantive disagreement. But I fail to see how the FV position amounts to retreading “Romanist ground”, or how it is not in truth Reformed. What is it? Well, I guess you’ll say it’s “Romanist”, but strikes me as absurd, frankly. What is “Romanist” about holding that eternal salvation is by grace alone through faith alone b/c of Christ alone, that the only ultimately authoritative revelation from God concerning salvation and the Christian life is the Scriptures, and that those Scriptures reveal that some people who do not receive eternal salvation nonetheless get some pretty cool benefits that can be called by similar names? This is not Reformed at all? This is Catholicism? Come on.

  6. greenbaggins said,

    May 16, 2007 at 12:54 pm

    Well, I think your comment just showed up, Xon!

  7. Xon said,

    May 16, 2007 at 2:10 pm

    Yeah, I stripped all the html, like you said (there had been an italic tag hiding that I missed the first time I resent it), and that worked.

  8. Wes White said,

    May 16, 2007 at 4:06 pm

    Xon,

    I agree that FV proponents do believe in eternal election, and total depravity. I recognize that they believe that it is only by God’s grace that someone is a covenant member for a time and that those who continue as covenant members do so only by God’s grace.

    I agree with you that the debate is about the nature of the benefits that the NECM receives for a time. The question is what is their nature and how are they different? I agree that all FV proponents believe that there is a difference not only in duration but also qualitatively. What is that quality?

    I also agree with you that the terms sanctification and adoption can be used in a sense that refers to the non-elect. But, when we define them as the Scripture often uses them of true, individual salvation, I would like to know if you think they can be applied to the NECM?

    For example,
    Are the NECM’s accepted as righteous for the sake of the righteousness of Christ imputed to them?
    Do they have their sins forgiven?
    Are they renewed in the image of God?
    Do they have the Spirit of adoption that cries out “Abba, Father”?
    Is their heart of stone taken away and then are they given a heart of flesh?
    Are they truly taken out of a state of sin and death and brought into a state of grace and salvation?

  9. R. F. White said,

    May 16, 2007 at 4:31 pm

    Xon,

    Thanks for your focus on the benefits to NECMs. One sentence of yours caught my attention: “No NECM receives such benefits irrevocably or everlastingly.” Ok, but they do received them provisionally, according to some (not all) FVers. Isn’t that correct? If so, what is the basis of that provisional conferral?

  10. R. F. White said,

    May 16, 2007 at 5:13 pm

    Xon,

    Let me try to advance the discussion one bit more. If I’ve understood FVers correctly, at bottom, they urge that, to account for the way the apostles speak about the visible church, we must attach provisionality to the conferral of divine grace. This correlation of provisionality and grace — such that grace is provisionally conferred on some — is at the root of the FV distinction between decretal and covenantal language: decretal language is absolutist language, covenantal language is provisionalist language. So, it is the non-decretal, covenantal — read: provisional — nature of the grace (blessings) conferred on the NECM of the visible church that accounts for both their apostasy and their blessedness.

    Here’s my question: what is the basis, biblical or otherwise, for making grace and not something else provisional? To put it differently, why is the provisionality located in God, not man?

  11. pduggie said,

    May 16, 2007 at 11:55 pm

    I think provisionality, while used in the conversation, might not be the best term.

    Decretal language is eternal and teleological language. It is diachronic langauge, dealing with the full story of the persons life

    Covenantal language is historical and contingent. It is synchronic language, dealing with the story of the persons life at the particular point she is at.

    What is God doing, for instance, when he offers Moses the opportunity to be the head of a new nation of Israel? A real offer from God? Or not? Synchronically, its a real offer. Only in terms of the wider narrative can we see that it’s part of a “larger” plan.

    But there are analogies to be drawn between the two languages when we use them in the different contexts. That’s how we reason. We understand that a healthy sandwhich and a healthy person aren’t the same kind of “healthy”, but we’re saying something important about both by using the same word for both.

    And that’s even for the unlearned to comprehend, and possibly easier, too

  12. pduggie said,

    May 17, 2007 at 12:19 am

    “Water baptism, all by itself, the sign all by itself, does not effect union with Christ. Faith needs to be present for baptism to be improved.”

    that’s not what Jeff is complaining about. He’s complaining, that on the reports terms, baptism ISN’t improved, former faith is improved.

    Bob is baptized, and Bob later believes, he tries to improve his baptism, and is told that his baptism didn’t do anything, but rather it was the faith that actually united him to Christ, and baptism was just a picture. We can know this because Bob knows he wasn’t a believer at the time of his baptism. So he thinks about all the great things his faith has brought him after baptism, and his faith is strengthened.

    Sally is baptized, and Sally believes. She improves her baptism, and the FV tells her that she can look what God did to her with it for assurance of her ingrafting into Christ, because God used it to apply Christ to her, and claim her as his own in Christ. So she considers how God has used baptism to give her title to Christ’s benefits, and how grateful she is for the justification she possesses in union with Christ. Her faith is strengthened. The report can’t follow this kind of narrative.

  13. R. F. White said,

    May 17, 2007 at 8:38 am

    pduggie,

    I’m sorry that the denseness of my post #10 didn’t help make my interests clearer. In the discussion of the blessendness of NECM, we’re not being told merely that God’s offer to NECM is real and that we only understand that offer in terms of a wider narrative that discloses the larger plan. There’s no controversy there, at least for me. What we’re being told is that God’s conferral (aka, application) of grace on NECM is real and is not irrevocable or everlasting; stated positively, we’re told that God’s grace to the NECM is real and revocable and temporary. My questions include the following. Besides the fact that the grace applied to NECM is not irrevocable and not everlasting, what is the nature of that grace? Is the grace applied to NECM different from the grace applied to ECM? What is the basis, biblical or otherwise, for the difference between the two or, as the case may be, the sameness of the two?

  14. May 17, 2007 at 8:56 am

    Could we not talk in categories of “temporary grace” much like we speak of “temporary faith”? We seem to understand the concept of temporary faith and use it often to describe certain types of individuals. Maybe those with temporary faith receive temporary grace?

  15. Ken Christian said,

    May 17, 2007 at 9:01 am

    Might we even speak of “temporary forgiveness” given the parable of the unmerciful servant? His debt was originally “forgiven” it seems, at least for a time…

  16. May 17, 2007 at 9:36 am

    Very well then if we are going to talk about temporary grace does that mean we have created a category of ‘temporary irresistable grace,’ or ‘temporary persevering grace.’

    Wouldn’t such language be oxymoronic and not worthy of Reformed people?

    Bret

  17. R. F. White said,

    May 17, 2007 at 9:42 am

    David and Ken,

    To be sure, we could speak of “temporary” this or that and understand these things well enough. But let’s push ourselves here. Is the only difference between grace to NECM and grace to ECM the fact that the former is revocable and temporary, the latter is irrevocable and everlasting? What are the implications of such claims? More than that, what is the basis, biblical or otherwise, for such claims?

  18. May 17, 2007 at 9:56 am

    Dr. White,
    Do you regard “temporary faith” as a biblical concept? The seed on rocky ground, that last awhile, then is swept away? The vine that is grown into Christ, then cut off? I’m wondering (more than asserting) what that “temporary” status receives if not some form of temporary grace. At least at first glance there seems to be some precedent to suggest those that “taste of the heavenly gift receive something we would recognize as grace, though we would know it was not efficacious or eternal grace. If we understand the very nature of faith, its essence as something that allows us to receive something else, it neccesarily follows that even temporary faith recieves something. Your thoughts?

  19. Ken Christian said,

    May 17, 2007 at 10:02 am

    Mr. White,

    I do see your point. But I think one of your questions illustrates a difficulty that keeps coming up in our discussions. You ask (pinging off Xon’s wording, I think):

    “Is the only difference between grace to NECM and grace to ECM the fact that the former is revocable and temporary, the latter is irrevocable and everlasting?”

    I think both sides of this debate cloud matters by often discussing “grace” as if it were some sort of substance that can be given and than taken away. I do realize that good men have spoken this way for some time. And I think we could say that sometimes the Bible even does…maybe.

    But what if we also understood grace to be something like “God’s unmerited, favorable disposition towards someone”. I think an understanding like that has Biblical warrent as well.

    Now given that, is it really that hard to imagine God choosing to be favorable towards someone for a time? He is a person. Does He not have the right to treat people with temporary favor, even GREAT temporary favor (like the servant in parable of the unmerciful steward)? And could we not say that there are others (the eternally elect) to whom God chooses to show favor forever?

    If we could ever come to agreement on issues like this, I think the pro-FV folks and anti-FV folks would have some common ground that would pave the way for more unifying conversation.

  20. May 17, 2007 at 10:06 am

    Does He not have the right to treat people with temporary favor, even GREAT temporary favor (like the servant in parable of the unmerciful steward)?

    Is that temporary favor and the favorable disposition towards the NECM a temporarily saving favorable disposition?

  21. greenbaggins said,

    May 17, 2007 at 10:07 am

    Bret, you’ve put your finger on it. This is the real question.

  22. Ken Christian said,

    May 17, 2007 at 10:15 am

    Good question, Bret. I could be wrong of course, but I think these types of discussions get to the root of the matter.

    Obviously God knows who He’s going to be eternally favorable to (pardon the horrible grammar of that sentence). So no, of course the level of favor is not the same for the NECM as it would be for ECM. There is what I think you could point to as a qualitative difference. And I would doubt any FV’er would disagree.

    I think all they’re trying to say is that the Bible seems to teach that the favor God chooses to have for the NECM’s is beyond what we call a “common grace” or everyday time of favor. It’s a higher level favor that includes with it real blessings.

    Is that a fair summary?

  23. May 17, 2007 at 10:32 am

    “Is that temporary favor and the favorable disposition towards the NECM a temporarily saving favorable disposition?”

    ~ Yes this is getting to the crux. And I think it very important to speak clearly here. I think the essence of “temporary” and the essence of “saving” have to be kept mutually exclusive. We use the term temporary faith as opposed to saving faith simply because it isn’t saving. The same respect for terms and definitions must be kept when applying them elsehwere, as to grace.

    So like Ken intimated, are there three forms or degrees of grace

    1) saving

    2) covenantal

    3) common

    or only two?

  24. Anne Ivy said,

    May 17, 2007 at 10:33 am

    That sounds like quite a fair summary, and it also shows how there can be no assurance whatsoever under the FV system, since there would be no way to know whether the favor the LORD has shown one in the past and at present will continue into the future.

    Does the LORD have the right to act thus? Bestowing ostensibly “saving” grace on someone for a period of time before withdrawing it?

    To be sure, He does.

    But that doesn’t fit with the response Christ warned some will receive: “Depart from Me, for I never knew you.”

    Never knew them? NEVER? He was bestowing some sort of saving grace on them but He never knew them?

    Either He is bestowing grace on goats or withdrawing it from sheep, in that case.

  25. Sean Gerety said,

    May 17, 2007 at 10:36 am

    “If there is one single ordo salutis benefit that a NECM receives, then we have blurred the line, and crossed out of the WS into Romanist ground. That distinction must remain sharp, or we are not Reformed.”

    I think Meyers rejection of Christ’s moral obedience imputed to believers crosses that line completely. On his blog he questions “whether Jesus merited something by all his good works he accomplished in his life that is then ‘imputed’ to believers.” How can this be a question for debate?

    Because of such blurring I simply do not recommend the PCA to friends, relatives or even acquaintances looking for a church. There was a time when one could I guess even naively look for the letters PCA in the phone book. Today I would never recommend a PCA church without actually first contacting the Pastor(s) to make sure they actually believe what the Confession teaches specifically that both Christ’s obedience and death is imputed to those effectually called and freely justified.

    Keep up the good work Rev. Keister.

  26. greenbaggins said,

    May 17, 2007 at 10:40 am

    Welcome to my blog, Sean. Yes, I agree with your post. the PCA is getting too big to stay all in one tent, I think. There are too many opposing and widely varying viewpoints. Eventually, it will hamstring all procedures and church discipline.

  27. Xon said,

    May 17, 2007 at 10:47 am

    Hey, Mister White and Dr. White,

    First of all, I don’t know if you remember me, Dr. White, but I met you at Redeemer PCA in Athens, GA back in 2004 when you guys did your John-Revelation conference there.

    Second of all, both of you (Wes White and Dr. White) ask good questions, and I’ll be happy to answer for myself as soon as I can. My wife is actually going in to be induced (our first baby) tomorrow morning, so needless to say I’m a little busy today!

  28. pduggan said,

    May 17, 2007 at 10:58 am

    Jesus heals people. His healings have always been understood as pictures of the salvation he is bringing. But there are accounts of those who are healed, who then have no gratitude. The healings they receive are not guarantors of full salvation.

    But they function as much as pictures of the salvation Jesus is applying to his people as the healings he brings to those who turn to him with fully saving faith.

    Diachronically they’re different in their ultimate end. But syncronically, looked at as the pictures they’re supposed to be, the healings are identical. jesus never even revokes a healing for ingratitude.

  29. May 17, 2007 at 11:30 am

    Ken said,

    “I think all they’re trying to say is that the Bible seems to teach that the favor God chooses to have for the NECM’s is beyond what we call a “common grace” or everyday time of favor. It’s a higher level favor that includes with it real blessings.”

    Bret

    Real temporary blessings that will, in the end, lead to greater eternal punishments (Heb. 10:29) since God has determined that the NECM are vessels fit for destruction. Temporary Covenantal favor to the NECM is God’s means to bring heavier eternal condemnation.

    In terms of the kinds of grace, I don’t know why we need three. We could easily posit that covenantal grace to the NECMs is just a more intense version of common grace.

    In terms of the denial of active obedience I am reminded that this was the position of the early (and perhaps later) Wesley. Now I don’t want to be guilty of trying to establish guilt by association but the advocacy of Reformed men of only passive obedience is troubling to one who grew up in Wesleyanism. If active obedience is not true then it seems that justification only brings us to ground zero with God in terms of acceptability. True, it removes our offenses but it leaves us in a kind of naked neutrailty in terms of righteousness required. This void of righteousness required for acceptability would then need to be gained by the believers efforts to clothe himself, aided naturally by the Holy Spirit. It seems that were we to believe that we had no active obedience then we would have to hold to a position that demanded the consideration of our post passive imputation works as a basis for the righteousness that God requires of us, since without active obedience of Christ imputed to us we have not the righteousness of Christ to be considered. Informed Wesleyans would be quite content with this.

  30. Xon said,

    May 17, 2007 at 11:38 am

    Bret said:

    Very well then if we are going to talk about temporary grace does that mean we have created a category of ‘temporary irresistable grace,’ or ‘temporary persevering grace.’

    Wouldn’t such language be oxymoronic and not worthy of Reformed people?

    I don’t see why it would be, necessarily. Since God is sovereign over every detail of history, everything that happens is “irresistable” in that sense. So, consider even a mundane fact such as that I go to a Braves game but leave during the fifth inning. Being at the Braves game is a temporary reality for me; I was not at the Braves game forever. But, it was also “irresistable” that I go to the Braves game for that amount of time. I was foreordained by God’s holy and secret will to go to the Braves game for five innings.

    I don’t see why there is anything inherently problematic in speaking the same way about grace/favor. God can choose to show genuine favor to a person for only a time. This favor is irresistable, in that if it’s part of God’s plan to bring a person into His favor for any amount of time (temporary or permanent) then God’s plan is going to happen no matter what. So I don’t see any logical problem, or anything oxymoronic, about speaking of a grace that is both temporary and irresistable. (Or, temporary and persevering. I “persevere” at the Braves game for exactly as long as God wanted me to be there.)

    Dr. White asked me this question earlier (#13):

    Besides the fact that the grace applied to NECM is not irrevocable and not everlasting, what is the nature of that grace? Is the grace applied to NECM different from the grace applied to ECM? What is the basis, biblical or otherwise, for the difference between the two or, as the case may be, the sameness of the two?

    We have to be careful, first of all, not to speak of grace like a “thing,” so that we can hold up the grace given to the NECM and compare it side-by-side with that given to the ECM. I’m not accusing anyone of missing this elementary point from Reformed Theology 101, but just for the record it seems like a good thing to remind ourselves (myself) of. This does make it a bit difficult to talk about the “nature of that grace.” I mean, grace is favor; i.e., it is a disposition on God’s part to be favorable towards us.

    On the one hand, every person is unique and so the “way” in which God is favorable to every person is also unique. I’m not obfuscating here; I’ll bring it back around to a direct answer in just a minute. When we ask a father if he is favorable to all of his children, of course he answers “Yes!” But is it the “same” favor that he shows to all of them? I imagine that it differs in a number of respects, tailored to each child in some way.

    But there’s one really obvious way in which we can distinguish between two kinds of favor, and that is in terms of the final end. What is the end, ultimately, of the favor being shown? Suppose that a father knows that one of his sons is going to end up abandoning the family and choosing a pagan way of life in his early 20s, and will die in unbelief. But his other son will live a strong Christian life all the way through. Keeping those two very different “ends” in mind might very well affect the “kind” of favor the foresighted father shows to his two sons. I don’t mean that he might love one son less, or that he would only show some kind of “fake” favor to the son who he knows will perish. I think he would show real sincere favor to the perishing son (if he really is a loving father). But clearly the son’s final end will effect the kind of favor he is shown in some way or another.

    Now, when it comes to divine favor, we’re talking about the omniscient, omnipotent, omnisovereign God who works all things according to His will. God doesn’t just know that one person will go to Heaven and the other to Hell; God predestined it to go down that way. Yet, why can’t God still show favor to the person who is going to Hell, if only for a time?

    But, you are asking, is that temporary favor the same “kind” of favor as what God shows to the Heaven-bound person? Or are they different kinds of favor? Well, I think they are different kinds, though they have a lot of strong similarities, too. Again, just as a human father will “love all his kids the same” in one sense but in another sense does not love all his kids the same at all. For different sons need different kinds of love. I think that the favor God shows people is tailored to the people individually in some sense; but all people can be broken into one of two groups when it comes to eternal destiny. There is either Heaven or there is Hell. Every person, no matter how “individualized” God’s favor to them might be, is ending up in one of two places. And so, in that sense, we can say that there are two kinds of favor that God shows–one is temporary and one is permanent.

    Yes, but you are asking whether that difference in duration is the only difference, right? I take it this is the point of your question about “the nature of that grace?” Again, you ask:

    Besides the fact that the grace applied to NECM is not irrevocable and not everlasting, what is the nature of that grace? Is the grace applied to NECM different from the grace applied to ECM? What is the basis, biblical or otherwise, for the difference between the two or, as the case may be, the sameness of the two?

    That second question is the key one to me. It seems that you are assuming implicitly (but please correct me if I am wrong) that a difference in “kind” and a difference in duration are separable issues. But to me, I would say that a difference in duration automatically (if you will) entails a difference in kind. The two characters in the story, one of whom is going to cheat on his wife and the other who is going to be faithful all the way through their marriage, are different from the beginning of the story simply because they end up in different places. When the Author writes the story differently for two people, those become two different people from the beginning.

    I don’t want this point to be mystical, but it is a bit mysterious and I am happy to admit that. I do think that part of what FVers are getting at is that the difference between the way God deals with NECMs and the way He deals with ECMs in history has been too easily cut in traditional Reformed theology. We want to say that God gives the ECM all this stuff–the “Golden Chain”, more or less–and that He gives the NECM none of it (though He may give the NECM other stuff). But what if the historical, or covenantal, outworkings of God’s interactions with humanity are not this “clean cut” in Scripture? What if God actually does some really “awesome” stuff for NECMs, stuff that is so awesome that it even looks a lot like the even better stuff He does for ECMs? What if NECMs experience a change in status that seems worthy of the word “justification”? Make no mistake, FVers still want to make a distinction between the two “kinds” of justification; but what if the best way to make sense of the Biblical data is to speak this way, instead of the older more popular way?

    So, the shorter answer to your question is this. We know the favor God shows to an NECM is only temporary, while the favor He shows to an ECM is permanent, and that difference of duration means that there is also a difference in “quality” or kind from the get-go. But explaining exactly what that difference is is tough. We can’t just take the traditional “ordo salutis” and say “Elect gets all of it, non-elect gets none of it.” However, we can say that there are different “kinds” of these benefits, one of which is permanent and one of which is temporary. So we can still clearly distinguish between the elect (they get the “fullest” salvific blessings) and the non-elect (they get some “lesser” salvific blessings). We just can’t do it using all the ordo salutis words, without any further qualifications.

    As to where all this is found in the Bible, I think FVers have done a decent amount of exegesis on these points but I’m also admittedly not the Biblical scholar now that I hope to one day be. I’m happy to sit quietly and listen to my elders discuss these things; but at least on the surface (speaking from my strength as someone who is philosophically trained and does have a fairly good grasp of how different ideas relate to one another) I can say that I find FV exegesis more-or-less persuasive. But I also don’t think that that exegesis requires us to give up very much of the more common Reformed picture. I just think it helps us go even “deeper,” or “higher,” or something.

    (To be fair, I’m not an exegetical rube, either. I’ve been a Bible teacher at a Reformed school, in fact. I know my way around a lexicon, and so forth. In college I was a Bible major, and I wrote all of my papers as a Calvinist arguing against my Wesleyan-Arminian surroundings. So I like arguing from the Bible, and I am a convinced Calvinist and always will be. Calvinists understand the Bible, the whole Bible, far better than any of their rivals. Yet, one of the reasons I personally resonated so well with the original Aub Ave Conference in 2002 was that this “objectivity of the covenant” stuff really DID help me make sense of some passages that had always troubled me. Passages like the warnings in Hebrews in which, while I knew the Arminian interpretation wasn’t right, something was not quite gelling with my typical Calvinist answers, either. But, in any case, while I wasn’t born to exegesis yetserday, I still openly and happily recognize that I’m not in any position to judge whether Peter Leithart or R.F. White is a better exegete of this or that passage. All I know is that FV makes a good prima facie case to me, without violating fundamental Reformed orthodoxy (if I thought it did, I would run in the other direction), and that the responses I typically hear from critics don’t seem persuasive. But, again, I don’t claim to be able to dazzle everyone with exegesis on my own.)

    (A quick side note. I understand a good bit of the anti-FV concerns here, I think. For one thing, this picture is admittedly mysterious, which upsets the nice balance we’ve come to feel regarding a lot of Scriptural passages. The Reformed tradition has done so much great work over the centuries, indeed it is clearly the leader in this regard among the traditions of Christendom, with exegesis and understanding the Bible and connecting different teachings together systematically. Now FVers are, in one sense, upsetting some of that. There are passages which FVers now want to give a “different” reading to, when we thought the meaning was already settled and, frankly, not in need of being tinkered with. I’m going on too long, sorry about that!, so I won’t go into why I think that FVers should be allowed latitude here. But I do understand where this particular concern is coming from.)

    There are other great questions that need answering, and I’ll try to do that more concisely later. I didn’t mean to go on so long here, but I hope it at least helps illustrate where I’m coming from.

  31. May 17, 2007 at 12:01 pm

    Xon,

    I don’t see why it would be, necessarily. Since God is sovereign over every detail of history, everything that happens is “irresistable” in that sense.

    It is true that everything that happens is irresistable in that sense but I wasn’t speaking of irresistable in that sense. I was speaking of the seemingly oxymornic character of making ‘irresistable grace,’ eventually resistable by the NECM who before they joined the ranks of ‘N’ by their resisting were by all accounts ECM. I was speaking of the seemingly oxymoronic character of making ‘persevering grace,’ eventually non-persevering on the part of the NECM who, before they joined the ranks of ‘N,’ by their discontinuation of persevering, were by all accounts, ECM.

    So, consider even a mundane fact such as that I go to a Braves game but leave during the fifth inning. Being at the Braves game is a temporary reality for me; I was not at the Braves game forever. But, it was also “irresistable” that I go to the Braves game for that amount of time. I was foreordained by God’s holy and secret will to go to the Braves game for five innings.

    Ah yes, but the question is were the NECM foreordained by God’s holy and secret will to be saved for five innings. (I hope at the very least they picked a game that Smoltz started)

    I don’t see why there is anything inherently problematic in speaking the same way about grace/favor. God can choose to show genuine favor to a person for only a time. This favor is irresistable, in that if it’s part of God’s plan to bring a person into His favor for any amount of time (temporary or permanent) then God’s plan is going to happen no matter what. So I don’t see any logical problem, or anything oxymoronic, about speaking of a grace that is both temporary and irresistable. (Or, temporary and persevering. I “persevere” at the Braves game for exactly as long as God wanted me to be there.)

    Well, I guess we will have to disagree here. This all depends on how you view ‘genuine favor.’ If genuine favor is only to be considered in its temporal and temporary capacity without any reference to the context of the whole of God’s doing there is no doubt that it should be considered ‘genuine favor.’ However, should one consider this ‘genuine favor’ in light of the greater condemnation it works in the long run (greater because the NECM spurned God’s grace – Heb. 6, 10:29) then I don’t see how it can be considered anything but a genuine increase of condemnation.

    Cheers,

    Bret

  32. May 17, 2007 at 12:21 pm

    I ran across this recently from Turretin,

    “Faith is not true because it perseveres, but it perseveres because it is true. Thus perseverance is not the cause of the verity of faith, but the consequent and the effect—for because it has solidity and a deep root in the heart, on this ac­count it is constant and perpetually endures. As from lightness arises liability to fall, so from solidity arises stability. For although duration does not properly con­stitute the essence of a thing, still it so follows it that from it a judgment can well be formed concerning the truth of a thing a posteriori. Duration is an index of truth, as truth is the principle of duration.”

  33. pduggan said,

    May 17, 2007 at 12:30 pm

    “and it also shows how there can be no assurance whatsoever under the FV system, since there would be no way to know whether the favor the LORD has shown one in the past and at present will continue into the future.”

    The Spirit of adoption still works in the FV system.

  34. Xon said,

    May 17, 2007 at 12:37 pm

    I was speaking of the seemingly oxymoronic character of making ‘persevering grace,’ eventually non-persevering on the part of the NECM who, before they joined the ranks of ‘N,’ by their discontinuation of persevering, were by all accounts, ECM.

    But they weren’t, “by all accounts,” ECMs. NECMs are never ECMs (where, remember, “ECM” actually means “decretally Elect Covenant Member”). Covenantally, they are united to Christ temporarily (separated either via excommunication or the final judgment). In the “decretal” (really not the best word, but it’s been used for years now in this debate) or “eternal” sense, they are never united to Christ.

    When I go to the Braves game for five innings, I don’t become “non-elect to go to the Braves game” when I leave. I was elect to go to the Braves game, but only for five innings. That “election” is never revoked. But I am no longer a Braves-game-watching person, and so in that sense that my “election” was only temporary. But really it’s probably to say that my election is permanent, but it is only an election to a status which is temporary.

    The decretally, or everlastingly, elect on the other hand have an election to a status which is permanent.

  35. Xon said,

    May 17, 2007 at 12:44 pm

    Ah yes, but the question is were the NECM foreordained by God’s holy and secret will to be saved for five innings. (I hope at the very least they picked a game that Smoltz started)

    I would say “Yes,” but it all depends on what one means by “saved.” If “saved” means “delivered once for all from sin and death and guaranteed to go to glory”, then my answer is “No,” the NECM is never saved in any sense.

    But if “saved” can mean “received a new status in God’s sight which takes them out of an old way of life and puts them into a new community which is the ordinary means of eternal salvation, even though not every member of that community ends up going to Heaven,” then Yes, I say that NECMs are “saved” temporarily. That’s precisely my point.

    Well, I guess we will have to disagree here. This all depends on how you view ‘genuine favor.’ If genuine favor is only to be considered in its temporal and temporary capacity without any reference to the context of the whole of God’s doing there is no doubt that it should be considered ‘genuine favor.’ However, should one consider this ‘genuine favor’ in light of the greater condemnation it works in the long run (greater because the NECM spurned God’s grace – Heb. 6, 10:29) then I don’t see how it can be considered anything but a genuine increase of condemnation.

    Yes, this is where disagreement has arisen with a couple of different people on my own blog, too. But I appreciate what you just did, Bret. You just granted that, if we define “genuine favor” a certain way, then “there is no doubt” that the NECM can be said to receive “genuine favor.” Thanks, that’s all FVers are saying!

    More particularly, though, I actually disagree with your claim that if it works condemnation in the long run then it can’t really be genuine favor. I don’t understand why you say that. If a judge takes a delinquent and sets him up in a mansion rather than sending him to prison (which he deserves), in the hopes that it will move the kid to reform his life, this is a genuine favor. I mean, the kid enjoys being at the mansion while he is there. When the kid later breaks out and returns to his old ways, and this time the judge throws him in the clink, the fact that he ended up in the clink doesn’t retroactively make the mansion a crappy time. No, the mansion still was a good time. It just didn’t last. What do you think?

  36. Anne Ivy said,

    May 17, 2007 at 1:03 pm

    Xon wrote: “I understand a good bit of the anti-FV concerns here, I think. For one thing, this picture is admittedly mysterious, which upsets the nice balance we’ve come to feel regarding a lot of Scriptural passages. The Reformed tradition has done so much great work over the centuries, indeed it is clearly the leader in this regard among the traditions of Christendom, with exegesis and understanding the Bible and connecting different teachings together systematically. Now FVers are, in one sense, upsetting some of that. There are passages which FVers now want to give a “different” reading to, when we thought the meaning was already settled and, frankly, not in need of being tinkered with.”

    Actually, I’d say FVers are “upsetting that” in virtually every sense, not just in one sense.

    However, that aside, I’ve asked before and not received a response, but perhaps I’ll have better luck this time.

    What if the PCA doesn’t WANT these different readings included in the PCA system of doctrine? I mean, seriously? Let’s say the the PCA finally manages to get the FV right, understanding what the FV is saying, but still wants to give it the ol’ heave-ho.

    How’s that going to happen?

    Plus, I’m still curious as to whether the FV believes in grace-gifted-goats or shape-shifting-sheep, seeing as how Christ clearly said His sheep are identifiable while here, otherwise His fervent instruction to Peter of “Feed My sheep!” doesn’t make a dime’s worth of sense.

  37. Xon said,

    May 17, 2007 at 1:39 pm

    Let’s say the the PCA finally manages to get the FV right, understanding what the FV is saying, but still wants to give it the ol’ heave-ho.

    How’s that going to happen?

    Well, if the FV views (now properly understood) are compatible with the Confession, then there’s nothing they can do, with integrity. Being a confessional denomination means you can’t give people the “ol’ heave-ho” if their views are compatible with your confessional standards, no matter how much you personally may dislike their views.

    If the FV views (now properly understood) are incompatible with the Confession, then critics of FV can press that point and attempt the removal of FV teachers and preachers in the PCA via the proper channels, generally through individual examinations at the presbytery level, though with a certain amount of “top down” authority vested in the SJC acting on behalf of the General Assembly. But, again, we are presbyterians, and so we are committed to a certain pretty decentralized way of doing things. There’s no mystery here as to “how things work.”

    Plus, I’m still curious as to whether the FV believes in grace-gifted-goats or shape-shifting-sheep, seeing as how Christ clearly said His sheep are identifiable while here, otherwise His fervent instruction to Peter of “Feed My sheep!” doesn’t make a dime’s worth of sense.

    Or Jesus expected Peter to treat all professing believers as sheep until they proved otherwise, which is the standard Reformed practice more or less.

  38. Anne Ivy said,

    May 17, 2007 at 2:22 pm

    You mean He was using the judgment of charity?

    And here I thought the FV wasn’t especially enthusiastic about the JoC; well, at least not when it comes to the writers of the epistles. ;^)

  39. Xon said,

    May 17, 2007 at 2:51 pm

    The FV view and the TR view can both be characterized, I think, as “judgments of charity”. The real question is what is the basis for the judgment of charity? Is it just because, gosh darnit, we can’t know who is really connected to God and who isn’t? (But, with Spurgeon, we kind of wish that people had stripes painted on them so we could tell) Or is it that all baptized people really ARE blessed in a very real way by virtue of their covenantal connection to Christ, but whether they have an even fuller eternally saving connection to Christ is something we can’t tell?

    Nobody FV is opposed to “Judgements of charity.” What we question is the way the “judgement of charity” is sometimes used or understood by Reformed folks. For instance, does saying “judgment of charity” do full justice to those passages in the NT where Paul addresses the entire congregation as elect? We don’t think so. This is not an inconsistency at all.

  40. R. F. White said,

    May 17, 2007 at 8:46 pm

    Xon, thanks for reintroducing us to one another. I have tried a couple of times to respond to your comments in #30. Let’s see if this one works.

    Allow me to focus on the paragraph in which you summarize the shorter answer to my question (way back in #13), the heart of which was this: is the grace applied to NECM different from the grace applied to ECM? Your answer is, basically, “It’s tough to explain, but we can clearly distinguish between the fullest salvific blessings given to the elect and the lesser salvific blessings given to the non-elect. We can’t, however, distinguish these two, the fullest and the lesser, using the ordo salutis terms, without any further qualifications.”

    You’ve told us that the difference you want us to make between genuine favor to NECM and genuine favor to ECM is capable of being clearly distinguished. You’ve also told us that the explanation of the difference shouldn’t be as “easily cut” as the explanation of traditional Reformed theology. You’ve told us that this is “the key question” to you, at least of the ones I posed to you.

    Well, okay then. Use whatever terms you want, but explain the difference between the fullest and the lesser salvific blessings. Tell us how these two sets of salvific blessings — these two categories of genuine divine favor — differ, citing any relevant Scripture.

  41. Kevin said,

    May 17, 2007 at 10:27 pm

    “I would say “Yes,” but it all depends on what one means by “saved.” ”

    It depends upon what the meaning of “is” is.

  42. R. F. White said,

    May 17, 2007 at 10:44 pm

    You did it–and with no ordo salutis words! :-)

  43. Kevin said,

    May 17, 2007 at 10:53 pm

    41, line 1 was a quote from Xon at #35.

  44. R. F. White said,

    May 18, 2007 at 7:50 am

    Kevin, thanks for the attempt to help. I had read #35. What would be helpful is substantiation of the thesis from Scripture.

  45. Wes White said,

    May 18, 2007 at 6:17 pm

    Xon,

    I would still be interested in hearing your answers to the questions I posted in # 14.

    Xon,

    I agree that FV proponents do believe in eternal election, and total depravity. I recognize that they believe that it is only by God’s grace that someone is a covenant member for a time and that those who continue as covenant members do so only by God’s grace.

    I agree with you that the debate is about the nature of the benefits that the NECM receives for a time. The question is what is their nature and how are they different? I agree that all FV proponents believe that there is a difference not only in duration but also qualitatively. What is that quality?

    I also agree with you that the terms sanctification and adoption can be used in a sense that refers to the non-elect. But, when we define them as the Scripture often uses them of true, individual salvation, I would like to know if you think they can be applied to the NECM?

    For example,
    Are the NECM’s accepted as righteous for the sake of the righteousness of Christ imputed to them?
    Do they have their sins forgiven?
    Are they renewed in the image of God?
    Do they have the Spirit of adoption that cries out “Abba, Father”?
    Is their heart of stone taken away and then are they given a heart of flesh?
    Are they truly taken out of a state of sin and death and brought into a state of grace and salvation?

  46. Xon said,

    June 8, 2007 at 12:11 pm

    Hey, folks….

    My wife had our first baby the day after I posted my last comments here, and so I haven’t even thought about this thread until now. Sorry for not responding to folks.

  47. Andy Gilman said,

    June 8, 2007 at 12:21 pm

    Congratulations Xon! Have you slept since mid May?

  48. Xon said,

    June 8, 2007 at 12:51 pm

    Wes, thanks for all the agreements. My only question after reading all that is “Why are we making such a “big deal” out of the questions that remain between us, when we agree on so much?” For instance, you graciously say the following:

    “I agree with you that the debate is about the nature of the benefits that the NECM receives for a time. The question is what is their nature and how are they different? I agree that all FV proponents believe that there is a difference not only in duration but also qualitatively. What is that quality?”

    Right, just so. But I’m curious as to how a debate over so precise a proposition (What is the quality or qualities by which ECM benefits differ from NECM benefits?) amounts to a concern about the basic Reformed orthodoxy of FV men such that the PCA and other Reformed denominations would even consider defrocking them. We agree on predestination, total depravity, differences b/w elect and non-elect, etc.–yet the precise nature of the quality of the difference between them could be a dealbreaker for our orthodoxy? Why?

    More great stuff from you:

    I also agree with you that the terms sanctification and adoption can be used in a sense that refers to the non-elect. But, when we define them as the Scripture often uses them of true, individual salvation, I would like to know if you think they can be applied to the NECM?

    Sure thing, let me answer that. I assume by “true, individual salvation” you are referring to the eternal life experienced by the “decretally” elect. (If I am wrong in this assumption, then please disregard the following and correct me!) My answer to your question can thus be clear direct and unequivocal: No! The “sanctification” and “adoption” experienced by (some of) the non-elect is not the same kind (though it might be similar in certain ways) as that experienced by the eternally saved (the elect). No way, Jose!

    But now as we look at your particular questions, we are back into the Scriptural usage of these terms and I have already admitted that I am not as confident an exegete as some. I can’t promise that I have a definitive answer to all your good questions, therefore.

    For example,
    Are the NECM’s accepted as righteous for the sake of the righteousness of Christ imputed to them?

    I think that any special favor that anyone gets from God, whether temporary or permanent, happens only for the sake of what Christ has done for the world. So, yes, I would be willing to say that NECMs receive a temporary change in status in God’s sight, and that this new status only happens to them because God reckons them as “in” Christ through their baptism. He is, as we say, the Fount of every blessing, and so that includes whatever blessings are received by non-elect people.

    Do they have their sins forgiven?

    I think this is the clear teaching of the Parable of the Unforgiving Servant, Lane’s intelligent posts to the contrary notwithstanding. Even if I can’t quite “make sense” of it, I have to go with what the Scriptures seem to say here.

    But, unsurprisingly, I would be sure to make it clear that it is only a temporary forgiveness, and that the accompanying pardon before the throne of grace that they receive is not as “full” or of the same caliber as the pardon received by the elect when they first believe. But I don’t have a problem with saying that God can forgive someone temporarily, as odd as it may sound at first.

    Lane and I have gotten into this in a bit more detail already. He presses very well the Confessional language about original and actual sin, the latter always flowing from the former. I agree that the non-elect alway remain in their sins in some sense–most likely (I’d need to think about this more) because God leaves them under the curse of their original corruption in Adam, but chooses to “wink” at particular actual sins during they commit during their lives. (Hence, they are “forgiven” in one sense, but remain under the curse in another sense.)

    Do they have the Spirit of adoption that cries out “Abba, Father”?

    I’d have to think more about this particular passage and how it relates to these issues.

    Is their heart of stone taken away and then are they given a heart of flesh?

    I am (again, despite my own lack of expertise) currently persuaded to the “deep weird” interpretation of James Jordan on this passage. The “heart of flesh” is Christ, not the “inner self” of Christians. And all who are baptised are, in some sense, united to Christ and can therefore be said to receive this “heart of flesh.”

    As far as the ‘inner self” is concerned, though, I do think that non-elect people can experience a genuine change here, too. The parable of the Sower indicates this to me, among other things. I think the Spirit wrestles with all kinds of people, and brings about genuine changes within them, even though in some of their cases He is not going to bring them “all the way” to a truly and finally saving disposition of persevering faith working through love.

    Are they truly taken out of a state of sin and death and brought into a state of grace and salvation?

    I would say “Yes,” in the sense that they are brought into a new community where grace and salvation are offered and the only place where (ordinarily) they may be found, and that God genuinely becomes more favorably disposed toward them than He was before hey were baptized (i.e., they receive “grace”) and looks at them differently just as He looked at Israelites as special people even when he knew that they were going to end up dancing before the golden calf and getting swallowed by the ground. Etc. etc.

  49. Xon said,

    June 8, 2007 at 12:56 pm

    Thanks, Andy! I’m getting less sleep than I would prefer, but more tha most couples in our position (from what I’ve heard). So I consider myself lucky in that regard. Lucky, but still too tired to do a lot of other stuff outside of the bare support-the-family necessities. (Though, as a hopeful minister of the Gospel, one could argue that defending my theology from charges of heresy is one of those necessities…)

    Kevin (#41), stay out of grad school! :-) Seriously, you wouldn’t make it a week if you actually think that every attempt to be clear on what words mean, or the recognition that the meaning of a statement depends on what a word means, or the recognition that words have more than one meaning (almost always), makes you a Clintonian sophist. Good luck with getting through life with that plemical approach.

    Seriously, while it does not in any way excuse Clinton’s immoral nonsense, even the word “is” does, indeed, have more than one straightforward meaning. Was this not Zwingli’s rejoinder to Luther?

  50. Xon said,

    June 8, 2007 at 2:52 pm

    Dr. White, I think you summed up my broadly stated position really well. My only concern is over this idea that the distinction between ECM and NECM can be put “clearly.” In some sense (there I go again!), I think this is true, but it really does depend on what we mean.

    Thinking of the classic Calvinist position on free will here. On the one hand, I would say that we assert a mystery: God determines everything that comes to pass, but man is still responsible for what he does, even though I’ve never heard any explanation of how this works or even how it is possible. There is a very strong intuition that most people have that says that you cannot be responsible for something if you could not have done otherwise. Yet we Calvinists assert that for every human action ultimately God willed it to happen the way it happens, and we cannot thwart His sovereign will. And yet we still say that man is free. We say this because the Bible teaches both things, and that’s just all there is to it. Rationalists who think we should have to pick one or the other because their conjunction is not really understood be darned.

    Now, this is a mystery, but in another sense I’d also say that it’s “clear.” I mean, the explanation I just gave in the previous paragraph is pretty clear, isn’t it? And we Calvinists can intelligently and clearly discuss these issues without collapsing into blatant self-refuting nonsense. And what our position actually is is also very clear. Right?

    I would say the FV position (as I have come to understand it and as I would advance it myself; I can’t speak for all FV sympathizing men, obviously) is very similar to this. It is clear and myserious, all at the same time. On the one hand, we’re talking about a pretty mysterious thing here, and I don’t know that there is very much we can say about how all these things work out without crossing into human speculation and, if we are especially uncareful, the idol factory of the mind that Calvin warns us about. When people say “Here is a list of stuff all the elect and only the elect get, and here is a list of stuff that the non-elect get”, they have to be very careful that they do not go beyond Scripture and into their own appealing speculations.

    But, that said, I think our position is still rather clear, properly understood. We aren’t just saying “It’s a mystery! The end!” We aren’t humming mantras and, most importantly (to those of us who still hold on to something of a rationalist mindset), we aren’t asserting a blatant self-contradiction. We don’t say (as some mystics in the neo-Platonic or other traditions have tried to do), for instance, that A is not A. We say “A and B”, all the while acknowledging that B looks a lot like “not A”, and that a lot of people assume it amounts to “not A”, but nonetheless it is not so. A and B are compatible, even though it’s hard (or donwright impossible) to see exactly how.

    So, when it comes to this issue of a “qualitative” difference between NECMs and ECMs, it’s hard to know what all to say. On the one hand, I do think the world could benefit from a systematic theology produced by an FV thinker. But these things don’t just get popped out overnight, and a number of FV men seem to have methodological and philosophical reasons for not writing those kinds of works. But in principle I think such a thing could get written at some point. But, in the meantime, I’m not going to claim to have worked all of these things out in a rigorous way. Part of the problem is that sometimes the Bible itself just isn’t that systematic. Returning to the analogy with compatibilism about free will, Calvinist systematic theologies don’t tend to go into a lot of detail about how man is responsible for what he does, or about how exactly God can predetermine our actions without violating our responsibililty. They don’t go into these issues in detail because the Bible doesn’t give us any details to go into. Smart systematicians know their limitations, right?

    So, I look at Scripture and I see a field of wheat and tares, indistinguishable to any of us until the harvest. I see God giving His Spirit to King Saul, who later fell away. I see Jesus telling stories of seeds that receive the word “with joy”, but then later whither and die, and of servants who are forgiven but who later get that forgiveness taken away. I see Paul calling all children who have at least one believing parent “holy,” and I see him in multiple addressing the entire congregation he is writing to as “elect” or as “predestined from the foundation of the world,” etc. I see NT writers telling us that so-and-so shipwrecked his faith, that apostates trample the blood by which they were redeemed, etc. I’m just listing stuff out right now; admittedly I would need to give more detailed exegetical arguments if I was actually trying to persuade anyone that my view is correct. But the point is that I see all that stuff in Scripture, and so I have trouble turning around and saying “Only the elect are redeemed, forgiven, or sanctified (made holy).” Of course, if we want to start “doing systematic theology” (which I like) and give these words some more precise and technical definitions, then I think we can say things like that. But I also think we should be careful we don’t do this so much that we end up thinking that it is the only truly proper way to use these words, and that when someone just preaches a sermon on I Cor. 7 and says that children with a believing parent are sanctified that he must have abandoned the Reformed faith. (Nobody has ever made such an accusation, to my knowledge; but I’m just sayin’…)

    We know from Scripture that God predestines all things, and that one of the things He has predestined is a fixed number of those who will live with Him eternally in glory. But we also know that the visible, ordinary means by which He brings that number is by incorporating them into the (visible) Church, a community of all who have been brought into covenant with God through baptism. People don’t “get saved” in a vacuum; they get saved as they live out their lives in this community of the favored (receiving all the special favors that go with it; the Word preached, the sacraments administered, etc.) But this community includes all baptized people who have not been excommunicated; but not all of these are predestined to live with God forever in glory. But we also can’t tell them apart. So we then search for theological “definitions” by which to distinguish them: well, even though we can’t tell who’s who, we can know that God gives all the elect ones such-and-such and doesn’t give that to the non-elect. I’m willing to say this, but only in a much more vague way than many of my fellow Reformed people. What I’m willing to say is that God works something in the elect that is everlasting and persevering and which appropriates God’s grace in a “strong” way; at the same time, He works something in non-elect covenant members that appropriates grace in a “weaker” way, and is thus not everlasting and persevering. The fact that Bob is predestined for Heaven and Sam is predestined for Hell means that there is a difference right now b/w Bob and Sam. But I have no idea how to define that difference, besides saying what I have already said. Bob the elect is justified, but in some sense Sam is too. Bob is forgiven, but in some sense Sam is too. But in some other sense they have different justifications and different forgivenesses.

    All of this is, on the one hand, a very large appeal to mystery, but on the other hand I think it’s fairly “clear” in that what I’m saying (I hope) is fairly easy to follow, I’m not saying anything that is blatantly self-contradictory, and I am recognizing the traditional categories the Reformed have drawn up.

  51. Xon said,

    June 8, 2007 at 2:54 pm

    Okay, take #50 as background and this comment as a (kind of) shorter and more to-the-point answer.

    I’d love to take you up on your invitation to “explain the difference between the fullest and the lesser salvific blessings”, but I’m not sure how much I can say at this point. My “quick” answer is this: in the Bible, the primary way of telling those who receive fullest and those who recieve lesser salvific blessings apart is by who perseveres and who apostasizes. The majority of the Bible, I would say, is written from a “covenantal” perspective in which we are all in this covenantal boat, told not to jump out, and some of us do anyway. Now, there are other passages of Scripture (as well as “good and necessary consequences”) which clearly teach us that who jumps out and who doesn’t is in God’s hands ultimately. God decides who stays in and who leaves the covenant. And, since this is true, we can also say that those who stay in and those who leaven were in some sense different all along, just like when we study a novel in a college literature class we tend to think of the characters as having their personalities “locked” from the beginning. In drama, characters reveal who they are by what they do, as Aristotle said. If an author writes a book about two husbands, one who cheats after ten years and one who remains faithful, and we studied this book in a lit class, we would study the two husbands and think of them as “different” kinds of characters from the very beginning. We would look through the book for signs of “foreshadowing” that one of them was going to cheat, etc. Well, I say the same thing about the Author of the world. He must have “built” the different characters differntly from the start, in some sense. But, aside from acknowledging this difference, I don’t think we can give a “systematic” theological definition on the front end of how exactly it works.

    But, given that we know all of these things about predestination and the like, when we think about the “ordo salutis” we realize that, again, there must be a difference of some kind, all along, between the “justification” received by eventual apostates and that received by perseverers. But, again, how exactly to express that difference is not so easy. I just don’t think Scripture lays it out there for us. So, we acknowledge that we are on holy ground, that God works salvation out into the covenantal hihstory of the world in mysterious ways, and that we simply aren’t meant to figure all this out until (perhaps) when we sit down with Paul and Calvin and a couple of angels at a Heavnely cafe one day.

    In the meantime, though, we preach to people that salvation is only by grace (including the ‘doctrines of grace’ that make Calvinism so great), and we tell them that God has called them and set them apart by their baptism and that they have a responsibility to be faithful to that calling, to make it sure by continuing to cling to Christ in faith and never letting go. If they do this, then they persevere. If they don’t persevere, then that just means they stopped having faith, which all of us Calvinists would say is a thing that you can’t go to Heaven if you ain’t got. We tell the baptized–all of them–that they already are recipients of God’s grace, and we tell them that this should be a sign of assurance to them that they will continue on into futher grace. And if they don’t continue, well, that’s on them because they didn’t have faith! (But ultimately that’s because God did not give them the faith).


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