General Response to Leithart’s Article on Justification, part 2

This post will be mostly about hermeneutics. We will take as our starting point Leithart’s statement about justification language and the Reformers: “The other dimensions of justification (other than the legal act, LK) language have played almost no role in the Protestant formulation of the dogma of justification” (pp. 207-8). Leithart’s basic argument goes like this: the Reformers saw that the relevant word-groups often refer to a courtroom setting (and Leithart does not explicitly deny the courtroom setting definition). Therefore they formulated their doctrine of justification based solely on that legal setting. This truncates to a certain extent the biblical range of use of the word-group. Therefore, we ought to expand our definition of justification to include this broader range of meaning in the relevant word-groups. I believe I have his argument correct. This seems to be indicated by several statements like the following: “As far as it goes, the Protestant doctrine is correct” (p. 209); “The problem is, this is not the only setting for justification in Scripture” (p. 209, emphasis original); “‘justification’ language has a wider and more flexible usage in Scripture than in Protestant systematics” (p. 211).

I bring this up, since it is a crucial part of his argument (indeed, one may well argue that it is the linch-pin). I am going to argue that this is a very sophisticated version of the illegitimate totality transfer fallacy. Most words have a range of meanings. Take the word “lie,” for instance. You could say that I am going to lie down or tell a lie. Another example is “set.” I will set down the computer, and then play a set of tennis. What illegitimate totality transfer does is to import all or most of the meanings that a word has into a particular text. Now, Leithart is not necessarily doing that with individual texts. Rather, he is doing it with the relevant word-groups as it feeds into doctrine. What he is saying is that we need to consider what every meaning of tsadaq means (or dikaiosune), in order to determine our doctrine of justification. The problem here is that systematics does not work on the basis of individual words. Rather, it works with the ideas. Ideas may or may not correspond to the words. Take Genesis 30:33, for instance. I am going to argue (in a future post) that the word there means “integrity” or “honesty.” I think that is the most exegetically defensible position. Does our integrity factor into our doctrine of justification? Not the least little bit. First of all, our “integrity” is as filthy rags. Secondly, it is Christ’s righteousness, not ours, that is the ground of justification. To use language that has been used by some on this blog(hesitantly, since I am not sure I agree with it: I use it more for rhetorical force), Leithart is confusing the levels of discourse here.

The Visible/Invisible Church Distinction, Again

In response to Wilson’s latest, I will say three quick things. Firstly, my argument was not that law and holiness were identical. They don’t have to be identical for my analogy to work. My point is that just as justice/holiness and mercy/love are equally ultimate in the mind of God, so also would those attributes manifest themselves on earth in equally ultimate categories. Those categories are Law and Gospel. Just as we could have no relationship with God unless He voluntarily condescended to reveal Himself to us, so also that relationship would be undefinable without the law. The basic relationship is defined by law. So, I do not (and actually didn’t say) have to say that law and holiness are identical. My point is that equal ultimacy in God means that God will reveal Himself as that kind of God, leaving no attribute behind or overshadowed by any other attribute. The characteristics of Scripture mirror the divine attributes.

Secondly, I am surprised that Wilson would not affirm the language of eternal life being dependent on personal and perfect obedience, since I was self-consciously using the language of WCF 7.2: “wherein (the covenant of works, LK) life was promised to Adam, and in him to his posterity, upon condition of perfect and personal obedience” (emphasis added). I wasn’t trying to pull any trick here. But this is the language of the WS, which Wilson professes to uphold. Does he not agree with WCF 7.2?

I don’t think that it is all that profitable to keep on talking about the vote. The fact of the matter is that it passed, and we need to examine the fall-out from this decision of GA. As good Calvinists (I think this point has already been made), we need to acknowledge that it was God’s will not only that the report passed, but also by the margin it did pass. I do think that one’s view of Sproul’s comments will depend on which side of the fence one is on. But I think that it is completely unprovable what level of knowledge people had about the report. But others have commented that the presentation of the report was an admirable summary of the issues. The declarations and recommendations were all read aloud to the assembly and each one was discussed in the introducation, so that no one can claim that these other issues were not on the table. The whole report was passed.

Now, to continue on to the Visible/Invisible Church distinction. This has already been dealt with rather decisively in this post. I would perhaps point out that Wilson now believes that the historical/eschatological distinction is not the same distinction as the visible/invisible. I am not sure that he was thinking that when he penned pages 73-74 of RINE. But as he has acknowledged that those pages were not the most clearly written pages of the book, I will let the matter pass.

General Response to Leithart’s Article on Justification, part 1

Peter Leithart has thrown down the gauntlet for someone to challenge his paper on justification. I will take up that gauntlet in a series of articles on justification, dealing specifically with the Scripture passages that Leithart exegetes in support of his position. What I am going to do in this post (and the next few posts) is a general response based on more systematic concerns and summaries. This will probably drive the FV crowd crazy. However, I wish to provide a framework in which we can work, as well as see the positives and negatives of Leithart’s position. I invite the FV folk to wait patiently. I will deal as thoroughly as I can with the exegetical concerns that Leithart raises. But that will primarily be for future posts.

The purpose of Leithart’s essay (pp. 203-235 of Federal Vision) is best said in his own words:

The purpose of this essay is to explore the “picture” (more accurately, the pictures) surrounding the Bible’s use of “justification” and related terms…Though this essay holds implications for those issues, my focus here is narrowly on the question of the meaning of “justification” itself (pp. 204-205).

My argument in this paper is that by ignoring the “improper uses” of justification and by failing to take into account the larger biblical theology of justification that these uses imply, the Reformation doctrine of justification has illegitimately narrowed and to some extent distorted the biblical doctrine (p. 209).

In other words, this appears to be a word-focused study concentrating on various passages in which the word-groups tsedeq, shaphat, and dikaioo appear, and in which Leithart challenges (at least to some extent) the Reformational understanding of justification. Leithart qualifies his statement with this idea: the Reformational understanding is not wrong, it is merely incomplete. His point is that justification is described in settings other than forensic in the Bible. 

That his essay is a word-study in exegesis does not prevent Leithart from introducing historical concerns (indeed, how could one avoid doing this when the history of the doctrine is so incredibly crucial to the discussion?). He discusses Augustine’s doctrine of justification, noting the commonplace charge that Augustine thought of the word as meaning “to make righteous.” Leithart summarizes Augustine’s doctrine by saying that “God justifies when He transforms a sinner into a saint (sic), and thus the doctrine of justification is worked out as part of the picture of an unjust man made just” (p. 205). It is important here to note that Leithart disagrees with Augustine as interpreted here. He says, “Though justification terminology has a number of different nuances in Scripture, it does not refer to an act of ‘making just'” (p. 206). However, the picture of Augustine’s doctrine is not so simply summarized. The definitive article now is surely David F. Wright’s article in a book recently published. Wright sharpens our understanding of Augustine’s doctrine. Leithart’s claim must now be contextualized by various concerns that Wright brings up (of course, Leithart’s article appeared well before Wright’s article). A more Reformational (to use an anachronism) understanding seems now quite evident in Augustine:

Since he is extremely careful to clarify that justification is received sine operibus, sine ullis praecedentibus meritis (“without works, without any preceding merits”), he seems consequently careful to avoid linking justification to works that must ensue in the justified (p. 66, from Expositions of the Psalms 110:3).

Then follows a quotation from Augustine’s work on the Psalms: “No one works justitiam (‘righteousness,’ ‘justice’) unless (already) justificatus: ‘to believe in him who justifies the ungodly’ starts from faith, so that good works do not by coming first show what a person has deserved, but by following show what he has received” (p. 66). Wright’s conclusion is thus important for us: “Thus Augustine unmistakably preserved the distinction between faith as the free grace-gift of God and the fruitful life of good works to which it must give rise” (p. 66). This other strand in Augustine’s theology, overlooked by Leithart, is surely the reason why the Reformers claimed Augustine in their battle against Rome.

Warfield and the FV

Apologetics and Reason

This looks like a phenomenal book on apologetics and reason. I plan on purchasing this book in the near future.

The Covenant of Works

I have already addressed this issue in several posts here, here, here, here, here, and here. I do not wish to duplicate what I have already said in those posts. What I am interested in doing here is to try to nail down what Wilson is willing to say about the CoW. He affirmed that he was a bi-covenantalist. This is good, because it wasn’t excessively obvious from the book.

One important point here is the relationship of law and grace in the mind of God. Wilson says that he doesn’t buy the equal ultimacy of law and grace. I would answer: is God more gracious than He is holy? Is the righteousness of God more or less important than the love of God? I don’t think we can make either more important in the mind of God. Surely we have to say that holiness and love are equally ultimate in the mind of God. That is the reason why God has to find the way of atonement the way He did: to be just and the justifier of the ungodly. Surely God is infinite, eternal and unchangeable in all His attributes. One does not trump another. If that is so, then one attribute does not trump another in His dealings with us, either. The only way He can be merciful to us is if He drained the cup of His wrath dry, squeezing it out on Jesus. Justice and mercy kissed each other on the cross. They are equally ultimate.

So, the questions come down now to the issue of how we define the relationship God had with Adam. We agree that it is covenantal. Wilson has certainly affirmed that. What was the nature of that covenant? Was eternal life for Adam conditioned upon perfect and personal obedience? I agree wholeheartedly that for God to have a relationship with Adam required condescension on God’s part. God is God, and we are not. However, that condescension was before the Fall. Furthermore, it does not rule out pactum merit. Wilson has allowed (with careful qualifications) that one can speak of such merit as synonymous with perfect and personal obedience. So then, is Wilson comfortable with chapter 7 of the WCF? Does he agree that Adam had the law of God written in his heart (WCF 4.2), and had the power to fulfill it (ibid)?

To address briefly the question about GA and the vote, I will say that the commissioners received the report no later than Tuesday. Most received it on the internet. Many received it on Monday, giving them two days to read the report, which after all is only 30 pages, one hour’s reading. I think, therefore, that it is speculation to assert that the men who voted that day were only supporting sola fide. It was clearly explained by the committee itself that they were voting on all the recommendations (which, if I remember rightly, were all read out in full), which commended the report as a faithful exposition of the WS, and that the declarations were correct. That was the vote. If anyone thought that they were only upholding sola fide, then there is precious little evidence for it. Dr. Sproul was making justification the rhetorical point of his address. Surely we must think of him as using justification as the most important issue, but not exclusive of the other soteriological concerns. Dr. Sproul is not so ignorant as to think that election, covenant, perseverance, etc., were not issues. But he didn’t have thirty minutes to make a speech. How does Wilson know that many have barely heard of this stuff? Almost every pastor I conversed with at GA had heard something about it, and already had an opinion.

Books on Job

I am always looking out for more books on Job, one of my favorite books. It is so epic in scope. This one just came out, and looks to be outstanding in pointing us the way to our Living Redeemer.

Ossification and “Defining the Covenant”

Douglas Wilson has offered his opinion on various comments that I have made (and some others might also have made), regarding the NAPARC decisions so far on the FV and the NPP. The argument that he makes here is that Luther can happen again, and that Rome can happen again, ironically in the TR camp, which would claim to be rather militantly against Rome. I will assume that by “already there” in Rome, he means the method of argumentation that we have been using, not any substantive doctrinal content. He is saying that the TR’s are actually trying to ossify the tradition, rather then being actual scholars in the tradition (which would imply, presumably, continuity and discontinuity with the tradition). This seems to be the point he is making by saying, “Those who go by the nickname TR are actually curators of the Reformed mausoleum, and not scholars in the Reformed tradition.”

In reply, I can say two things to brother Wilson (not meaning this sarcastically). The first is that the form of his argument is indeed valid. It is quite possible for another Luther to come along and stand against the ecclesiastical heirarchy, and even be right in doing so. But the logical corollary of that is that the TR’s are completely wrong in their doctrinal stance, if Wilson is correct. This is, of course, different from saying that we are all under one big umbrella tent, and that we can all fit, which seems to be what most FV’ers have been saying. Now, there is always the possibility of rhetorical overstatement with Wilson, and I hope he will clarify this point. Maybe he is only claiming that the method of argumentation tends towards ossification, and not the actual doctrinal content. We will have to wait and see what he says on this point. I can modify the actual statement a bit to make it more logical: while all these alphabetical soup mixes do not prove that the FV is out of accord, does it not become more and more likely that the critics are correct, at least in some of their critiques? Yes, truth is not in numbers, and God outweighs the world by anyone’s reckoning. And more folk saying it does not necessarily mean that it is true. But is it not more likely? I confess that I would like to see some humility on this point from the FV side. I would like to see evidence of soul-searching “Are we really correct on these points? Do the critics have valid points of criticism? What about the fact that all of these denominations have condemned these views? Should I go back to the beginning and start from the ground up?” Instead, I see a lot of FV guys claiming that the critics are doing nothing but smearing the FV. As if accusing the TR’s of breaking the ninth commandment is a less serious charge that the purported problem of the TRs’ using the word “heresy.”

That being said, I am now going to turn my attention to his earlier response to my response. I would certainly agree that this statement is quite a bit more balanced than his earlier statements:

Now, to the point of Lane’s disagreement, now that a person is converted, can we make distinctions in the text? Certainly we can distinguish imperatives from indicatives, laws from promises, and so on. But now that I am saved, everything is contexualized within that grace.

I can go with this, except for one thing, which is mainly more a question: does the first use of the law still apply to the Christian? Do we still need to know that we have not obeyed and that Christ has obeyed for us, vicariously? I think so. I doubt that Wilson would disagree with this as I have put it here. However, I would not phrase it in such a way as to imply that grace is more fundamental than law in the believer’s life. They are both equally ultimate…in Christ, the Law-Keeper and Grace-Giver.

On the egg-omelette question, we are just going to have to agree that the analogy breaks down. We might differ on where it breaks down, but we agree that it does. So let’s move on.

On the Reformed Scholastics, I am going to ask a respectful question: has Wilson read Muller’s volumes? It is very difficult to maintain that the Reformed scholastics were rationalistic, decretal theologians in the face of Muller’s evidence. I would be very interested in Wilson’s interaction with Muller. No one can state a position with authority on this question unless he has read Muller and interacted with his arguments. Maybe Wilson has done so. That’s why I ask the question.

And now, I will move on to the next chapter of RINE, on the definition of the covenant. Wilson defines: “Covenants among men are solemn bonds, sovereignly administered, with attendant blessings and curses” (pg. 63). I was a trifle confused by this: is he referring to covenants only among men, or to covenants between God and man? I assume that he means the latter in context, since he does say “sovereignly administered.” But the phrase “covenants among men” is not clear. The other question I have is in the term “bond.” Does that term mean an agreement, a relationship, or both?

Then he goes on to talk about whether covenant history is bicovenantal or monocovenantal. I must confess to some confusion here. First he says that “Scripture teaches that there is only one covenantal history, which we may call the covenant of grace” (64, emphasis his). Does he mean that there is only one covenant in history? What is the precise import of the phrase “covenantal history?” Because later, he says that “Before the Fall, God had made a covenant with mankind in Adam…” and then “The subsequent redemptive covenant was equally grounded in history” (64, emphasis mine). He seems to be saying that there is one covenantal history with two covenants. Is he saying that the first covenant was a covenant of grace, and that it was remade? Then he later says “Ultimately, they (the successive, unfolding covenants) constitute the same covenant. The first was with Adam and Eve” (pg. 65, emphasis original). So this seems to state a monocovenantal position.

I agree with Wilson that “All of these covenants find their ultimate fulfillment in the Lord of the covenant, that is, in Jesus Christ” (pg. 65), although I, being a dual-covenantal guy, would probably say “Lord of the covenants,” plural. I would argue that Christ fulfilled the Covenant of Works by His perfect active and passive obedience, and fulfilled the Covenant of Grace by being the source and fountain of grace for His people, precisely because He fulfilled the CoW as just described. Certainly, Romans 5 points in this direction (see the outstanding discussion of this in the Fesko book). Christ was in the same position as the first Adam, only Christ obeyed where Adam disobeyed. Therefore, to us it is a Covenant of Grace.

The implications of Wilson’s theology in the practical realm can be seen on pp. 66-67, where Wilson enumerates the implications. The first is that we should avoid “morbid introspection,” since our duty is to visible covenantal faithfulness. I wonder what he means by “morbid introspection.” Does he mean thereby to exclude all introspection, as in seeking to determine what the Holy Spirit is doing inside of us? Is this an impossibility? Or is he only excluding morbid introspection, and allowing non-morbid introspection? I apologize for having so many questions for Wilson, but in all honesty, I found the chapter confusing. I think I know where he is going (monocovenantalism), but am not sure.

A Response to Leithart

Aside from casting the PCA in a worse light than the Roman Catholic Church, is his point valid? I think not. For one thing, there was detailed interaction with the written materials of the FV. The problem with verbal interaction is that anything can be interpreted to mean anything else. “I didn’t say that,” “Yes, you did,” etc. With written materials, the foundation is firm. It’s on paper. That does not, of course, eliminate all possibility of misunderstanding. But it lessens the possibility quite a bit. I highly doubt that “greater understanding” would have resulted from personal contact. Has the FV ever admitted that the critics have understood the FV, as a whole? What would more interaction accomplish? But this comment of Leithart’s is a bit rich, since they had their chance on the floor of GA, not to mention before GA, when Meyers sent out his 30 reasons to just about every church in the PCA. Why didn’t one single big name in the FV come to a microphone and speak? Mark Horne was there. Silence from him. I’m sure others were there (I didn’t meet anyone of the other big names, but I would be shocked if at least some of them weren’t there). Silence from them. Most of the people who spoke for the postponement were actually favorable to the content of the report. Paul Gilchrist was one such (and he was quite impassioned in his speech). For the FV to be silent on the floor of GA, and then claim that they haven’t had a chance to speak is ludicrous.

A New Commentary

This commentary promises to be excellent.

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