A New Journal

For all you Confessional guys out there, you really, really need to subscribe to this journal. It is scholarly, confessional, conservative, and Presbyterian. I just received the first two years in the mail today, and they look absolutely fabulous. You can see the table of contents at the link above. Book reviews for 2005 include reviews of Auburn Avenue Theology (by Lig Duncan), Stephen Westerholm’s book (by Rowland Ward), and other interesting books. The main editor is Chris Coldwell, of PuritanBoard fame. The associate editors include Lig Duncan, David Hall, Thomas Reid, Frank Smith, Alan Strange, Nick Willborn, and John Muether. If you don’t have it yet, get it at your earliest possible convenience. Volume 1 is 184 large double-column pages, volume 2 is 256 pages, and I understand that the third volume is even larger. Much meat here. This may be the single best conservative Reformed journal in existence.

Sacerdotalism, part 2

Here I began my critique of chapter 10 of RINE. One note must be appended to that post: it will be observed that my tone became quite a bit more critical in that post. I must say that I found rather a lot with which I disagreed in that chapter. However, I am steadfastly keeping to the issues in hand, and am making no move to attack Wilson himself.

I believe that the chapter is really misnamed. The chapter is not really about a system of priests that gets in the way of God and man in the church today. The chapter is really about sacramentalism, his definition of it, and why he differs from some definitions of it, and what his view of the sacraments actually is.

Let’s start this critique with noting Wilson’s definition of the purpose of a sacrament:

A sacrament is placed upon a particular individual in order to establish a link between the promises of the covenant and that person (p. 89, emphasis original).

This definition of purpose is vague enough to be acceptable to many people. He goes on to note a further purpose, which is to distinguish between the Church and the world. His point there is that it is visible. But more important is his discussion of WCF 27.2:

This is something we understand quite well in other realsm, and it is not hard to master. “With this ring, I thee wed.” Really? The water cleanses us and washes our sins away. But only a doofus would think that water all by itself would wash away sins. Moderns who are stuck with the language of Westminster want to say that we actaully have to understand this as a sacramental union, with the word sacramental being understood as some sort of diluting agent. But I want to say that it is a sacramental union, with union meaning union (p. 89, emphasis original).

What is important to emphasize here is the connection that Wilson makes with this understanding of WCF 27.2 and his understanding of the objective character of baptism: “The applications of the sacraments are objective, meaning that the Spirit is at work in the words of institution. This is what brings about the resultant blessings (or curses), as covenant members are faithful or faithless” (p. 90, emphasis original). In other words, for Wilson, the objective nature of baptism means that all people who are baptized come into the same relationship to the covenant, in this sense: that they are all under the same sanctions of the covenant, either for cursing, or for blessing. In fact, he identifies the sacrament with the blessings and curses of the covenant (p. 90). What I would ask is this: what kind of union does he mean? Saving union? Unsaving union? The union of a branch, or the union of a parasite? This brings us to another quotation, which I confess has me puzzled a bit:

A true son is brought into the covenant and is nourished there. A false son is brought into the covenant and by his unbelief incurs the chastisements of that covenant. Objectively, both the true and false son are brought into the same relation. But because one of them is elect and the other not, the former is faithful and the latter is faithless. (p. 96).

This begs the question: does one stay in the covenant by works or by grace? See Iain Duguid’s excellent article in CJPM proving that the OT religion is not what Sanders said it was. The OT religion is that God preserves His people despite their unfaithfulness. If staying in the covenant depended on works, then Israel would have been exiled long before they actually were exiled. Wilson qualifies this statement with the following qualification of Calvin’s quotation:

What we need to say is that the nonelecdt do not receive what the sacraments signify for blessing. They do taste and participate, and they taste Christ as their covenant Lord and Judge. They do come in contact with the blood of the covenant, but this happens because they have trampled it. (p. 97).

So, what I think he is saying is that the elect and the non-elect do not participate in the Sacraments in the same way, although they both participate.  Maybe he is reading the “promise of benefit to worthy receivers” (WCF 27.3) to include an implication of “promise of curse to unworthy receivers.” I think that would be a fair summary of Wilson’s position. But if that is the case, then I have this question: how can the thing signified in the sacrament (which I do not believe is the sanctions, but rather the promise of benefit) be said to be given to the non-elect? How do we define the thing signified? Well, the water of baptism signifies Christ’s blood, which washes away sin. The bread and the wine signify Christ’s body and blood, and to participate in the thing signified seems to me to reside on the positive side of things. I realize that the waters that baptized the Israelites into Moses were the same waters that drowned the Egyptians (cf. the same issue with Noah’s flood). And I realize the danger of inappropriate partaking of the Lord’s Supper (see 1 Corinthians 11:27). But does this constitute part of the essence of the Sacrament? Or is it a distortion of the Sacrament? I have seen many FV writers say that the Sacraments convey blessings. I understand what they’re saying here. However, does that also include the threats? To me that makes the Sacraments into much more scary things than they are meant to be. I realize that baptism conveys judgment to someone who apostatizes. But is that the essence of the Sacrament? For some reason, that doesn’t fell right to me. The thing signified is a positive thing, not a negative one.

Exegesis and Systematics: a response to Peter Leithart

Leithart has responded to my critique here. The substance of his critique is in this quotation:

When Keister attempts to apply Barr’s concept to systematic theology, I don’t know (what LK) he’s talking about. Systematic theology is precisely the effort to formulate a “total” view of a subject. When we formulate the doctrine of justification, we pay attention to all the passages that use the term, and all the different contexts in which it is used. Some relevant texts, of course, don’t use the term “justify.” The doctrine of justification, at least, should be placed within the larger context of a biblical doctrine of judgment (again, something I’ve been aiming at in my articles on this topic). But taking the texts that use the term into account is at least an important starting point.

The difficulty with this is that Leithart now commits the word-concept fallacy to try to cover over his ITT fallacy. He seems to think that the doctrine is present (or at least a portion of the doctrine) wherever the word is present. My point is that many contexts that use a particular word (such as צֶדֶק) don’t necessary deal with justification. Leithart is proceeding on the assumption that every text that uses the word needs to be taken into consideration when formulating the doctrine of justification. Yes, ST is about laying out the substance of what the Bible says about justification. But we cannot commit the word-concept fallacy in so doing.

On to the next text in Leithart’s article: 1 Kings 8:31-32. Here is it in Hebrew:

אֵת אֲשֶׁר יֶחֱטָא אִישׁ לְרֵעֵהוּ וְנָשָׁא־בוֹ אָלָה לְהַאֲלֹתוֹ וּבָא אָלָה לִפְנֵי מִזְבַּחֲךָ בַּבַּיִת הַזֶּה׃

וְאַתָּה תִּשְׁמַע הַשָּׁמַיִם וְעָשִׂיתָ וְשָׁפַטְתָּ אֶת־עֲבָדֶיךָ לְהַרְשִׁיעַ רָשָׁע לָתֵת דַּרְכּוֹ בְּרֹאשׁוֹ וּלְהַצְדִּק צַדִּיק לָתֶת לוֹ כְּצִדְקָתוֹ׃ ס          

Several things need to be noted here about this passage. First of all, the reason why Solomon is making this particular prayer. Keil/Delitzsch says it best:

But as this punishment could only be inflicted when the guilty person afterwards confessed his guilt, many false oaths might have been sworn in the cases in question and have remained unpunished, so far as men were concerned. Solomon therefore prays that the Lord will hear every such oath that shall have been sworn before the altaer and work…i.e., actively interpose, and judge His servants, to punish the guilty and justify the innocent (p. 129).

So the context is undeterminable oaths which the Lord alone could judge as to its truth or falsity. Secondly, note the close parallel between “bringing his conduct on his own head” and “rewarding him according to his righteousness.” These in turn qualify the sense in which “condemn” and “justify” are taken. Leithart argues that this forensic use of the term is not limited to the mere declaration of a sentence, and that Solomon is “asking that God reward those whom he declared righteous; indeed, he is asking Yahweh to declare the righteous by giving rewards” (p. 211). At this point, we need to remember that the Reformation exegesis of “justification” language made mention of two main uses of the term: declarative and demonstrative. This is how they explained the difference between James and Paul: Paul was talking about declarative justification (the verdict of not guilty), and James was talking about the demonstration of being declared not guilty. See, for instance, John Owen’s works, volume 5, pp. 384ff., Calvin’s Inst. 3.17.12, Pemble, pg. 200. For more modern discussion, see CJPM, pp. 149-150 for a discussion of dikaioo. A good case can be made that tsedeq and dikaioo overlap to a considerable extent, even to the two definitions of declarative and demonstrative. More than half of the LXX instances of dikaioo translate tsedeq (see Hatch/Redpath, I, p. 334). Surely, the background for Paul’s usage must be found there. In short, our understanding of how the passage works looks like this: either the meaning of tsedeq means the declarative sense, in which case, we take the lamed preposition to be indicating the result of the declaration; or, conversely, if we take tsedeq in the demonstrative sense, then the lamed preposition has the meaning “by.” I take the latter meaning to be more probable, given the parallel with the condemnation in the same verse. This is Matthew Poole’s verdict: “Ostendendo quod justam causam habuerit” (p. 484 of the Synopsis Criticorum).  Translated, it says “In order to show that he will have the just cause.” Waltke leans this way also: “In these instances the person is probably recognized as becoming either righteous or wicked by some observable act of judgment imposed on him” (IBHS, p. 439, emphasis added). Having shown, therefore, not only that the Reformers were aware of this use of the word, but also that they had read this passage (as Poole’s quotation shows), and didn’t feel that their definition of justification needed to be expanded, Leithart’s thesis that we need to broaden the Reformer’s definition of justification falls flat. In any case, Leithart’s contention that this is a declaration by reward has certainly not been proven. By the way, it should be noted in passing that Leithart does not deal explicitly with this passage in his commentary. So, no additional light may be thrown on Leithart’s interpretation by looking at his commentary, which, by the way, I reviewed briefly here.