One Last Response to Dr. Clark

I think it has been a fruitful discussion, and I hope Dr. Clark thinks so, too. I have learned a lot from Dr. Clark, even in these exchanges.

On the historical point, Dr. Clark has convinced me that the problem I am seeking to avoid is not a pitfall into which he has fallen. The problem I was mainly seeking to avoid is the fragmentation of knowledge that has been brought to us by our own, friendly, neighborhood Enlightenment. To my satisfaction, anyway, Dr. Clark has proven that one can ask different questions distinguishing history and theology without compromising the unity of truth. I do question whether such a complete objectivity is possible (not merely difficult!). My only last question is this: when engaging in historical analysis, does one have a thesis or not? Should a person have a position which they should argue? If so, how does one avoid subjectivity while simultaneously arguing for a position? Do unbelievers, for instance, have the same view of cause and effect with regard to God’s providence that believers do? Of course, Dr. Clark has made a distinction here regarding secondary and primary causality, which is important, since an unbeliever can, of course, describe secondary causality just as well as a Christian can. but is the historical task done then? Or do we have then to go on to point out how God’s providence has been working? It would seem to me that on the level of secondary causality, the believer and the non-believer could reach the same conclusions. However, it is on the level of primary causality (which is surely still a part of history!) that the believer and the non-believer will come to radically different conclusions.

I accept Dr. Clark’s distinction between Scripture and what follows after. But I have this question of him: how does one engage in historical analysis of Scripture itself? Is that a valid enterprise? If so, do we check our presuppositions at the door? Will not an unbeliever’s historical analysis of the Bible be radically different than a believer’s historical analysis of the Bible?

Secondly, on the theological issue, I have held to this position on union in relationship to justification and sanctification since seminary. It has not stopped me from attacking the FV over the course of several years now. It seems to me that the far more crucial question here is keeping justification and sanctification distinct, which is something about which Dr. Clark and I are equally concerned. Union with Christ does not compromise this in any way that I can see. For it is in confusing justification and sanctification that we confuse law and gospel. The law gospel distinction was as important to the Reformed as it was to the Lutherans. And that is a hill on which I will die. By all means, let’s have the third use of the law (which at least some Lutherans also held to in the Formula of Concord, article VI, an inconvenient fact for the FV crowd, as well as for N.T. Wright, who seems to think that the Lutherans have a truncated view of the law).

And it seems to me that the Gaffin/Garcia thesis (I don’t know that I would attach my name to it as an originator of it!) does have difficulties in dealing with the passage “God justified the ungodly,” since, although we are always ungodly in one sense, the sense in which Paul uses it in Romans 4:5 might seem to exclude any sense of renovation happening before or even at the same time. I would love to see Dr. Gaffin’s interpretation of that verse. Jeff, maybe you can step in here with some thoughts on this passage?

13 Comments

  1. Jeff Waddington said,

    August 1, 2008 at 10:07 am

    Assuming “Jeff” is me, I do not have access to Dr. Gaffin’s notes on Romans. But I can ask around. Here is a conundrum. Even with the standard ordo salutis, regeneration goes before faith and justification. So our discussion about the relationship of union with justification is not alone in having this puzzle. In other words, this is a question for Reformed theology in generl.

    Jonathan Edwards has addressed this by noting that no manner of our finite regenerated goodness will make us good enough to merit justification. So he saw this conundrum. So even with regeneration preceding faith and justification, it does not make us worthy and we are still ungodly. Is that satisfactory? I am not sure.

    Perhaps Scott Clark can offer some insight here.

  2. Stephen Welch said,

    August 1, 2008 at 10:21 am

    Lane meant either you, Jeff or Jeff Meyers :-)

  3. August 1, 2008 at 10:46 am

    Hasn’t Mike Horton’s renewal of the idea of simultaneous possession of regeneration, faith, and union helped with this problem? It’s in vol 3 of his WJKP series.

  4. Jeff Waddington said,

    August 1, 2008 at 10:57 am

    Actually yes.

    Thanks Scott!

  5. August 1, 2008 at 10:58 am

    Lane,

    On the questions:

    Or do we have then to go on to point out how God’s providence has been working? It would seem to me that on the level of secondary causality, the believer and the non-believer could reach the same conclusions. However, it is on the level of primary causality (which is surely still a part of history!) that the believer and the non-believer will come to radically different conclusions.

    That’s the function of theology. Reformed theology makes us want to be very careful about interpreting providence, of course. We like to appeal to providence selectively (God raised up Whitefield, okay, but didn’t he also raise up Finney?), but that’s not very good theology. History, any more than science or brick laying isn’t concerned with ultimate meaning.

    So, yes the believer and unbeliever will come to radically different conclusions about the meaning of history. That’s a function of the antithesis.

    How does one engage in historical analysis of Scripture itself? Is that a valid enterprise?

    A believer approaches the canonical text in submission to it. Scripture is like other texts, in certain respects and we don’t go back to the old “Holy Spirit Greek” approach nor to the dictation theory, nevertheless, it is the inspired Word, it a covenant document from God to humans and particularly to his people. Thus, it’s distinct from all other texts. It’s a human document, yes, the Spirit inspired humans to write and worked through their circumstances and gifts etc but it isn’t a purely human document. It’s the divine Word.

    Surely we can verify the historicity of Scripture and we investigate it and study it and relate it to history. It is an historical document. It was given in a time and place. It must be understood first of all in that time and place, but as it’s part of a larger historical process, the historia salutis, it has to be understood in its canonical relations as well.

    There is a profound difference between my relations to canonical and non-canonical texts. I stand in judgment over non-canonical texts. I can criticize Calvin or Thomas or whomever. I cannot do that with Scripture. In the nature of the text it will not allow it. It stands in judgment over me– the Word forms the church not the reverse. As a Christian I have a different relation to it than I do to other texts.

  6. Benjamin P. Glaser said,

    August 1, 2008 at 10:59 am

    RSC,

    You say “renewal”. Being pretty new to this stuff 2 questions:

    1) Where did it go?

    2) Who “originated” the ideas?

  7. August 1, 2008 at 11:03 am

    […] On the questions: Or do we have then to go on to point out how God’s providence has been working? It would seem to me that on the level of secondary causality, the believer and the non-believer could reach the same conclusions. However, it is on the level of primary causality (which is surely still a part of history!) that the believer and the non-believer will come to radically different conclusions. […]

  8. August 1, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    Benjamin,

    It’s best I think to commend to you the reading of Mike’s argument.

    The short, and probably misleading, form is that it was a pre-Dort way of speaking and thinking. The Armiinian crisis pushed us to elaborate the doctrine of regeneration. Chastened by the Arminian problem, accepting and building on the Reformed response, he wants to go back to the earlier way of thinking (as I sketched above) instead of the way, e.g. that Van Mastricht spoke (see the ET of his treatise on regeneration) where there is this temporal lag between regeneration and faith during which there is a habitus to faith, a potential for faith that is not actualized. This lag has become a playground for troublemakers.

  9. Benjamin P. Glaser said,

    August 1, 2008 at 2:16 pm

    Thanks RSC. I assume by “Mike” you mean Dr. Horton’s Covenant and Salvation?

  10. August 1, 2008 at 3:26 pm

    Hello. This is a fascinating thread.

    I posted the following over on Dr. Clark’s blog (as part of a larger comment). I hope it is acceptable for me to post here and that it is not too far off topic. It relates to Dr. Clark’s commendably concise comments on if/how we study Scripture historically.

    I certainly agree with you [Dr. Clark, see his blog and comment 5 here] about how when it comes to historical study/analysis of Scripture we are in a submissive relationship to it—we submit to it. You make a distinction here between canonical and non-canonical texts, and rightly bring in the distinctions of non-canonical texts not being divine and human, etc. I agree with you on all this.

    If you do not mind me asking, what does this actually mean for how we historically study the writings of our Bible? To put that another way, how do these differing attitudes and understandings of the natures of canonical versus non-canonical writings play out in different ways (methodological, historical-hermeneutical ‘rules,’ etc.) for historically studying such writings? How does the way we go about understanding Daniel in its historical context differ from how we go about understanding Ignatius, the Pseudo-Clementine literature, Aphrahat, Porphyry, Plutarch, Calvin, etc., in their historical contexts in view of the canonical non-canonical distinction? How do these attitude differences work themselves out in hermeneutical-methodological practices?

    Thanks for your time.

  11. Patrick said,

    August 1, 2008 at 3:27 pm

    The simultaneous possession of regeneration and faith does not by itself completely resolve the problem because you still have to place them in a logical order. Interestingly, Rom. 4:5 is a favorite proof text for advocates of justification before faith like Tobias Crisp and John Gill.

  12. August 1, 2008 at 11:55 pm

    Hi Patrick,

    Like Berkhof and most of the Reformed orthodox up to Hodge and Warfield, I reject eternal justification. There’s no need to push everything back into the decree. If you read Horton’s 3rd volume he doesn’t do this. In fact it actually puts more emphasis back on faith. I spent much of today working through portions of Olevinaus’ commentary on Romans, De substantia foederis, and Expositio symboli. He consistently connects union (existential union) with faith. It’s only when the Spirit operates through the Gospel to create faith that one comes into possession of the benefits of Christ, including justification. The whole structure of Olevianus’ thought works against eternal justification.

  13. Patrick said,

    August 2, 2008 at 9:32 am

    Scott,

    I was not suggesting that you or Horton hold to eternal justification but simply making a general comment that Rom. 4:5 is a true connundrum for the Reformed, in part because they do, for the most part, reject EJ.

    Anyway, John Owen’s tentative solution to this conundrum is interesting, albeit mistaken imo. He suggests that God actually absolves the sinner’s guilt in heaven before regeneration (what he calls “absolution in heaven”), and then changes his heart so that he might believe, thereby completing the process of justification in the conscience. All of this is logical and not temporal.


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