James, All By Himself


Children second in line hardly ever get as many pics as the first child. This is something of an apology to him.

Brotherly Love


Too cute to pass up. Definition of Philadelphia.

Family Pic


Ila, James, and Edmund

An Analogy for DW

I was given this analogy by someone who wishes to remain anonymous. He thought that since Wilson loves analogies, he might try this one on for size:

The Louisiana Presbytery’s exoneration of Steve Wilkins is like the Arizona Republican party exonerating John McCain.

It is to be expected that the Louisiana Presbytery will exonerate one of their own; the presbytery now has a majority of FV proponents to support their voting and Wilkins is the epicenter of that presbytery. And if LA presbytery protests that they are simply playing by the democratic rules, I remember what one person has said about the definition of a true democracy: it’s two wolves and a sheep deciding what’s for lunch.

Psalms and Prophets, part 4

Since it has been awhile since I’ve posted  a Leithart article, I will direct people to read the first three articles on this section of his article here, here, and here. In this post, we will look at Leithart’s treatment of Isaiah 54:11-17. The argument here is fairly simple (though the conclusion is unstated). The passage states that opening of the womb, restoration (marital imagery), and rebirth/glorification of the city is summarized by the term vetzidqatam (וְצִדְקָתָם) used in verse 17. In other words, their justification consists of the opening of the womb, restoration, and rebirth.

Now, I found his exegesis of the passage to be by and large convincing, except for one thing. I would translate the term “vindication.” I think that the opening of the womb, the restoration of the covenant, and the rebirth of the city are the evidentiary tokens of God’s restoration of the people. In other words, this is the same kind of evidentiary justification that James is talking about. At least, this is analogical. There are points of discontinuity, since Isaiah is speaking corporately (rather obviously), and James is not. These acts of God’s grace are God telling the world that He and His people were in the right. In other words, we do not have to reformulate our definition of justification by faith because of this use of the term by Isaiah. The unspoken conclusion of Leithart is that this broad range of use of the term tzedeq should drive us to expand our definition of justification to include definitive sanctification (and, it appears, something more. At least it is more when you look at his coined words forenstorational, militorensic, and forensurrection. Leithart wants to include adoption in justification, if restoration to fellowship with God is included in justification proper). The conclusion is not justified.

Wilkins and the Doppelgänger

Now we will address this incredibly clear statement of Wilkins regarding a completely separate ordo salutis that is covenantal.

I believe that membership in the visible church brings with it a covenantal form of justification, adoption, and sanctification which would not be identical to the stipulated definitions given to these terms in theWCF.

There we have it. All the terms that we normally associate with the unbreakable ordo salutis are now to be associated with the covenant. Wilkins argues that it is not the same definition of these words that the WCF has. But this doesn’t really matter, since Wilkins hasn’t even remotely proved from Scripture that such terms are used “covenantally” in addition to the way the Confession describes them. He has to dismiss all argumentation for the judgment of charity approach. And, in fact, he has to precisely double the number of terms used in theology to do this. Now, every time he uses the term “justification,” he has to qualify it with “covenantal” or “decretal.” Wilkins has been extraordinarily sloppy in his Federal Vision article, for instance, in delineating the two. Let’s look at it this way. According to Wilkins’s paradigm there are two categories of people in the covenant of grace, those who participate covenantally, but not decretally, and those who participate covenantally and decretally. The demarcation between those two (according to Wilkins) has consistently been some kind of undefined qualitative difference that is related to (but not completely subsumed by) the diachronic, eschatological difference between them on the last day. Here is the question: what makes one persevere and the other one not persevere? Gary Johnson, in recent comments on this blog, has brought up the excellent point of those who die without ever having apostatized from the visible church, but who were never regenerated. That means, according to Wilkins’s paradigm, that they were covenantally justified all their lives, and yet (Wilson’s point now) they were sent to hell. Wilson and Wilkins want to claim that what the NECM has is something, not nothing, and yet it is nothing on the final day of judgment. Well, if it is nothing on the final day of judgment, then it naught availeth for salvation in this life either. That person is not saved. So, in what sense could they be said to be justified in this life? How can their sins be forgiven? If their sins are forgiven, and they never apostatize from the visible church, yet are not regenerated, then one would expect some kind of mitigated punishment for these people. But the FV usually claims that being a part of the covenant increases the punishment for those who are not elect. I cannot think of any solution to this huge problem in FV thinking.

Wilkins sees his Doppelgänger in the mirror, and says to him, “Hello, you’re elect to the covenant, justified covenantally, sanctified covenantally, adopted covenantally, but that’s a sure-fire guarantee of worse judgment on the final day.” That sure sounds like pastoral encouragement to me. That sounds like a recipe for navel-gazing: how do I know the difference between being just covenantally justified versus being really justified? This is highly ironic: the FV is wanting us to get away from navel-gazing “morbid introspection.” They want to treat people as being objectively in the covenant. They want people’s assurance to be based on that. But there is no assurance, since they have to posit a qualitative difference between the NECM and the ECM. That will make people navel-gaze even more to discern whether they are one or the other. The only way to get around that pastorally is never to mention the difference between the two. Pastorally, then, it lapses into Roman Catholicism’s salvation equals visible church. How many times do FV pastors mention in their pulpits the distinction between NECM and ECM as being something that separates eternal reprobates and eternally saved people? Isn’t their emphasis on the fact that everyone in the covenant has the same benefits? Then those benefits cannot be saving in any way, shape or form. If there is the least little bit of overlap between the two categories of NECM and ECM, then the system is Arminian. This is why it is far better, and pastorally clearer, to reserve the ordo salutis terms for the ordo salutis, and not to use them of what the NECM receives. That would only create confusion, as it obviously has.

I wish that just one FV advocate would admit that if no critic can ever understand the FV, then it might possibly be that the FV teachers are unclear, and inherently ambiguous. If that is so, of course, then they are not fit to be ministers. Ministers need to be apt to teach. Clarity is essential in teaching. Confusion is utterly reprehensible in teaching.  

Score, Lee

Lee has decisively answered Jim Jordan’s ridiculousness here. See especially his devastating answer to Jordan’s completely wrong assessment of the RCUS. Can you say tu quoque?

The Lord’s Supper

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming of Wilson, Wilkins, and Leithart. Next up is chapter 12 of RINE, entitled, “The Lord’s Supper.” This is certainly not a misnomer, contrary to the chapter entitled Sacerdotalism.

The first issue up to the plate is the issue of “remembrance.” The phrase “do this as my memorial,” or “in remembrance of me” occurs twice in the NT. There is grammatical ambiguity there. The exact phrase is  εἰς τὴν ἐμὴν ἀνάμνησιν. The question is whether the pronoun “my-me” is acting like a subjective genitive or an objective genitive. Of course, the pronoun itself is accusative. But that does not solve the question, since accusatives can function as a subject in other constructions (with the infinitive, for example). For non-Greek readers, the question is this: is God doing the remembering (subjective), or are we doing the remembering (objective)? The grammar of the passage is ambiguous. The question must be decided on other grounds. Wilson appears to agree with Barach’s interpretation that the background is the rainbow-covenant God made with Noah, wherein God wanted to make sure that He would remember His covenant that He made with Noah (see pp. 109-110 of RINE). In fact, it would be interesting to know whether Barach or Wilson first came up with the interpretation. The first person in scholarship to hold the subjective view of the pronoun appears to be Joachim Jeremias (as almost all modern commentaries deal with the issue in the 1 Corinthians passage). Commentators have not followed Jeremias, by and large. The reason why Jeremias is incorrect (and Wilson/Barach, too, by the way), is that the background is not the rainbow-covenant God made with Noah, but rather the Passover itself. All Reformed folk agree that the Lord’s Supper takes the place of Passover. Therefore, there are bound to be areas of continuity and discontinuity between the two. By the way, it is important to recognize that Jeremias does not argue from the rainbow covenant: only Wilson/Barach do. However, the answer for both positions is the same: Exodus 12:14 and Deuteronomy 16:3. The point of the Passover was so that the people would remember what God had done. The original Hebrew of the former passage contains this key phrase וְהָיָה הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה לָכֶם לְזִכָּרוֹן, translated καὶ ἔσται ἡ ἡμέρα ὑμῖν αὕτη μνημόσυνον, which plainly indicates that it is the people who are to do the remembering. The Hebrew pronoun (“you”) indicates the subject of the infinitive “remember.” Translated, it says “for you to remember.” The dative in the Greek translation can be translated as a dative of advantage (“day of remembrance for your benefit”). The Greek here is unambiguous as to who is doing the remembering, however. It is quite simply the people who do the remembering. Of course, it is even easier to see in the Greek and Hebrew of Deuteronomy 16:3, where the second person plural is built right into the verb for remembering.

Now, the question of who is doing the remembering does not solve the question of who should partake of the Lord’s Supper, obviously. If I have argued that the OT background in the Passover indicated that the people did the remembering, and yet children partook of the Passover, then the same argument could be used for 1 Corinthians and Luke 22. I would argue the exclusion of infants from the Lord’s Supper on other grounds, therefore, than this phrase of who is doing the remembering. It is rather the self-examination of which Paul speaks in 1 Corinthians that is the deciding factor (I am not going to deal with that here, however: see this post for a bit more. There is a small (or maybe not so small!) cottage industry growing up around the exegesis of that passage).  

Again, Wilson pastes Warfield, and again gets him wrong. He claims that “the language of the Confession is very strong, and it is utterly inconsistent with the Warfieldian view that saving grace is not mediated.” First of all, Wilson’s statement is ambiguous. Is he claiming that saving grace comes to us in the Supper? Because he then goes on to say that true believers are nourished by the Supper. Well, if they are nourished as true believers, then they are already saved, and the grace that comes to us in the sacrament is a confirming grace. Three guesses as to who wrote the following:

What is done in the two feasts is therefore precisely the same thing: Jesus Christ is symbolically fed upon in both (he means both the Passover and the Lord’s Supper)…All who partake of this bread and wine, the appointed symbols of his body and blood, therefore, are symbolically partaking of the victim offered on the altar of the cross, and are by this act professing themselves offerers of the sacrifice and seeking to become beneficiaries of it. That is the fundamental significance of the Lord’s Supper…by which we testify our ‘participation in the altar’ and claim our part in the benefits bought by the offering immolated on it.

Time’s up. That was Warfield (SW I, pp. 333, 336-7). Warfield claims that we are symbolically partaking of the victim. That doesn’t sound like someone opposed to saying that the Lord’s Supper is a means of grace. It would certainly have saved Wilson some embarassment had he actually looked up Warfield’s views in the only place in his writings where he deals with them directly, rather than rely on a book that is not fundamentally about sacraments in the first place. Warfield’s view is confessional.

It is refreshing to see Wilson’s honesty in his treatment of WCF 29.8. Wilson thinks this section needs some revision. Wilson believes that both the believer and the non-believer receive something at the Supper, and that what they receive is the thing signified. It is just that the believer receives it for blessing, and the non-believer receives it to cursing (pg. 114). He argues that the non-believer cannot defile what he has not received. I beg to differ on this point. Is it not possible for someone to defile something without even coming into contact with it? If your Hasmonean decided to throw a pig into the sanctuary of the Jews, he would have defiled it without necessarily stepping foot into it. It is quite possible, therefore, to defile something without actually having what is defiled. But also, I think the meaning of the Supper is blessing, not curse. Paul never says that those unworthy partakers actually receive what is signified. He says that they partake of the cup of the Lord (this is plainly the sign), but because of their unworthiness, they do not receive the thing signifed (an unworthy manner). That in itself is a curse. Maybe it’s just semantics here. However, there is an important principle here, and that is this: we do not want to preach that the Lord’s Supper is a curse. It is fundamentally a blessing. But, like any blessing, it can be distorted into something it is not. Witness the apple in the garden in The Magician’s Nephew.

The last point to be addressed is Wilson’s read on ignorance (pg. 115). On what basis does he claim that the ignorance addressed in WCF 29.8 is only a culpable ignorance? LC 173 says that the ignorant or the scandalous are not to be admitted. This is surely the same meaning as the DPW on the celebration, which says “The ignorant and the scandalous are not fit to receive the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.” Plainly, the ignorant and the scandalous are two separate categories. There is therefore no indication that infants are to be excluded from the category of ignorant. I think if we are honest, we have to say that the WS exclude infants from communion.

Update on Indices

All, I have updated the index to the Federal Vision. I have on there now all the answers to Jeff Meyers’s Thirty Reasons document, as well as all of the posts critiqueing the Joint Federal Vision document. I will continue to update the index when I finish RINE, as well as when I finish the critique of Peter Leithart’s article.

Assurance, Apostasy, and Areas of Alternate Assertions

The last three sections of the document have to do with assurance of salvation, the nature of apostasy, and the nature of the intramural disagreements.

The first section is not objectionable in what it affirms. There is one thing that it leaves out, however, and that is the place of election in assurance. If one is generous, one can read into “the Word” the promises of election as feeding into assurance. I have hopes that they meant to include that, in which case, if they did, I have no problem at all with this section. (I especially appreciate the fact that they do not make assurance dependent on baptism alone. I agree that baptism is a means of assurance. Many things feed into assurance.) I believe that assurance of salvation is the main reason why we are told about election in Scripture. Assurance is most certainly dependent on our walk with the Lord, as the WCF 18.1 clearly states (“endeavoring to walk in all good conscience before Him”). Notice how careful the statement is. Those who truly believe in Jesus, love Him in sincerity, and endeavor to walk a godly life may be certainly assured. The three conditions are necessary but not sufficient conditions. As it says in section 2, it is really the Holy Spirit that testifies with our spirit that we are the children of God. That is the sufficient condition of assurance. We also agree with the FV statement when it says that those who live in open rebellion against God may have no assurance that they are saved. Assurance does not belong to those people.

The section on apostasy is much more problematic. Now, it is important to note that they use the term “Christian” of someone who is baptized, not of someone who is decretally elect. We do use the term this way when we say that a certain percentage of the world is “Christian.” Usually those figures that we use are quite a bit higher than we would allow if we were talking about just the decretally elect. Nevertheless, the statement does not make it easy here to distinguish among the various uses of the term. One gets the distinct impression that that use is the only use they want to use. But in evangelicalism, surely the more common use of the term is of someone who is born again.

The real problem (the above paragraph is only a small quibble about a term) is with what is ascribed to the apostate before he apostatizes. They say that such people were united to Christ in His covenantal life, that they fall from real grace, and that the connection to Christ is not merely external. Let’s break this down, claim by claim.

Such people were united to Christ in His covenantal life. Almost certainly they have their interpretation of John 15 in view here, especially as they use the branch metaphor in this very paragraph. So, whatever the NECM has, he has life. Chapter 14 of John is usually ignored in FV discussions of John 15. There is not only no mention of apostasy in John 14, but the life that Jesus speaks of is clearly eternal life (look at verses 3, 4, 6, 12, 13, 15, 17, 19-20 (!), 27). Therefore, the non-fruit-bearing branches do not have the kind of life that Jesus speaks of in verse 14. They have an external connection only (contra the FV statement). Particularly, they have the “cut off” kind of life. They are already as good as dead. Plainly, verse 1 of John 15 is speaking of the visible church, not of the invisible church. It is only in that sense that Jesus speaks of the branches being “in me.” FV advocates really front-end load that phrase. They want to read covenantal life into that phrase. But if Christ is talking about true life, then the FV understanding is Arminian, even if they affirm decretal election. You cannot have a little bit of salvation. You cannot be a geep or a shoat. You are either a sheep or a goat. Period. There is no mutation or tertium quids. What is the difference between a fruit-bearing branch and a non-fruit-bearing branch? It is that they do not sustain the same relationship to the vine. The non-fruit-bearing branch is a sucker, a parasite. He is only externally related to the vine. The fruit-bearing branch sustains an ordo salutis relationship to Christ, and the other does not. The FV stresses that these branches are not stuck onto the vine by scotch tape. No, they are not. But the vine is not salvation, either. It is the visible church. It is not covenantal salvation, either. These branches never bear any fruit. I think I have dealt with the external thing as well.

No one can fall from saving grace. You cannot simply say that apostates fall from real grace, without defining what that grace is from which they have fallen. This is the same kind of ambiguity that has plagued FV teaching from the start. What kind of grace is it? Is it common grace, special grace, or a tertium quid? I suspect they would call it covenantal grace. That’s a big help. What does it do? Does it save or not? Wilkins says yes in his article in the Federal Vision. It just doesn’t save permanently. This is still Arminian, and it doesn’t matter in the least that he affirms decretal election also. To say that anyone has temporary saving grace and then loses it is Arminian. Leave decretal election out of the picture for a moment. Let’s just talk about those who will fall away. If you define what they fall away from as real salvific benefits, then it is an Arminian scheme, however much it may be juxtaposed with a more Calvinistic scheme. Affirming Calvinism in one spot isn’t enough. It has to be thorough-going. I suspect that there is division in the ranks of FV here, although Wilson was willing to put his name on this horribly ambiguous statement.

I will briefly note the areas of intramural disagreement. They are important, and this section is helpful in some ways. The first area is the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. The question I would like for us to debate on this is whether one can hold to the imputation of the active obedience of Christ without holding to the idea that Christ has merited eternal life for us. In other words, what is the relationship of the idea of Christ’s merit to the imputation of Christ’s active obedience? I have found no FV proponents who are comfortable with the idea that Christ merited eternal life for us. Wilson was reluctant in his admission that we could possibly use the term “merit” to describe Christ’s righteousness. He certainly viewed other terms as better qualifiers. So this raises the question as to whether any FV proponent holds to the IAOC. The regeneration question has certainly not been high on the radar screens of the critics. The renewal liturgy needs a whole lot more attention from the critics. They mentioned that the FV agrees on whether there should be a covenantal renewal liturgy, but they disagree on how high it should be. Tim Wilder has pointed out in several comments the importance of the liturgy for the FV. I believe he thinks that it is the key to understanding the movement. Here is another question for our readers, then: does the covenant renewal liturgy fall foul of the Regulative Principle? I am curious as to who in the FV robustly affirms the unique merit of Christ as the answer to our demerit? I thought all the FV guys hated Kline’s guts. Some clarification here would be helpful.

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