Podcast on Leithart and NW Presbytery

Posted by Bob Mattes

There’s an excellent discussion of the NW Presbytery action (or lack thereof) on TE Peter Leithart over at Ordinary Means (HT: Heidelblog). Dr. Scott Clark has some great background links at the Heidelblog link as well. You can catch my summary post on the situation here. For convenience, here are links to the presbytery’s majority report and the excellent minority report. The podcast is about an hour long but provides excellent insights from Jason Stellman into the meeting at NW Presbytery that cannot be directly gleaned from the reports.

I spent some time last night going over the two NW Presbytery reports in some detail. I had said in this post that I would be writing a series of critiques of the majority report, but have changed my mind. It has already been done. The minority report thoroughly covers anything that I would have said. Together with the podcast, the minority report captures all of Leithart’s key errors that place him outside the Westminster Standards and strike at the vitals. In addition, Lane has an index of his posts engaging Leithart’s views on justification here. I have engaged Leithart’s position on final justification here, here, and here; and touched on baptismal efficacy here. In those posts, I draw on early Reformed writers to show the historical errors in both Leithart and, as it turns out, Rayburn’s argumentation.

I’m very disappointed in Rob Rayburn’s excuses for Leithart in particular and Federal Vision in general. His argumentation in the majority report comes right off of the Federal Visionist blogs, and is directly contradicted by the PCA’s Study Report on the Federal Vision and the PCA Standing Judicial Commission’s actions concerning Louisiana Presbytery and Steve Wilkins (SJC Cases 2006-7, 2007-8, and 2007-14), as well as the well-constructed minority report. TE Stellman’s coming appeal to the General Assembly looks very good at this point. NW Presbytery would do well to repent at its next meeting to avoid the embarrassment that Louisiana Presbytery drew on itself, as it is making the same arguments that were rejected in those cases.

As I’ve said before, I respect TE Peter Leithart’s openness, although I certainly disagree with his Federal Visionist theology. He took the initiative to provide his views to his presbytery, and then to follow up by asking, together with TE Jason Stellman, for a committee to study those views in light of the Westminster Standards. Short of simply transferring to the CREC (where he currently works anyway), he’s done all that one can ask, short of simply transferring to the CREC where he would obviously be happier.

Posted by Bob Mattes

33 Comments

  1. JB said,

    November 10, 2008 at 11:13 am

    Correction, it’s not Spellman, but Stellman.

  2. David Gray said,

    November 10, 2008 at 11:19 am

    Perhaps Rev Raybrun’s actions are a tribute to the weakness of the PCA’s Study Report on the Federal Vision?

  3. November 10, 2008 at 11:23 am

    JB,

    Oops. Thanks, fixed.

  4. November 10, 2008 at 11:24 am

    David,

    Nice try. The 35th PCA GA almost unanimously disagree.

  5. greenbaggins said,

    November 10, 2008 at 11:30 am

    I heard Rayburn at the GA this last year speak on the sacraments. I am beginning to think that he is FV himself. Certainly, he is too smart not to know what he is doing. The majority report was absolutely horrible.

  6. November 10, 2008 at 11:41 am

    Lane,

    I was also at that symposium and was shocked. Rayburn and Meyers were quite the pair, but I thought that they were well answered both Scripturally and confessionally by Will Barker and Lig Duncan. I was going to post on Meyers’ nonsense, but decided that it wasn’t worth the electrons.

    Although Rayburn may well be FV, his comments strike me as parallel to John Frame’s. Both dance at the edges of orthodox confessionalism by pushing for or backing an undefined “cutting-edge theology”. I challenged Frame on this at the “denomination renewal” discussion, but he never answered. Honestly, I didn’t expect him to do so.

  7. E.C. Hock said,

    November 10, 2008 at 12:20 pm

    Is Peter Leithart, like Wilkins, eventually on his way to the CREC?

  8. November 10, 2008 at 12:43 pm

    Is Peter Leithart, like Wilkins, eventually on his way to the CREC?

    I believe so. Once the appeal hits the SJC, Leithart will probably bolt. As Lane, Jason, and I have said, the NW Presbytery report fails in exactly the same places as the Louisiana Presbytery’s. The SJC case summaries are there for all to read. I can only assume that few in the NW Pres have read those cases.

  9. November 10, 2008 at 2:21 pm

    Thanks for the post, Bob.

    For the record, Rob Rayburn would strongly disagree with being labeled FV, and would say that he doesn’t even think Peter’s views are all that helpful. But he is very adamant about not wanting the PCA to become a place that continually draws an ever-shrinking circle around itself.

    The point I kept making on the floor of presbytery was that it is wrong to make this broader concern about the long-term vitality of the PCA the driving factor in answering the very narrow question before us of whether Peter is confessional or not.

  10. greenbaggins said,

    November 10, 2008 at 2:56 pm

    Thanks for this, Jason. However, I am not convinced. His views on the sacrament were at least bordering on mysticism, ascribing to them an efficacy which he would not ascribe to the Word.

  11. Stephen Welch said,

    November 10, 2008 at 3:47 pm

    Robert Rayburn has obviously changed his views in the last few years. His material on worship was used at Knox Seminary and he has been highly regarded by solid men in the PCA. He wrote an article on baptism a few years ago that never caused any concern.

  12. November 10, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    Jason,

    You’re welcome. I thought that the podcast was extremely informative and appreciate you taking the time to participate.

    Like Lane, I’m not sure about Rayburn anymore. In his and Meyers’ remarks on the efficacy of the sacraments at GA, they described something bordering on magic rather than any Reformed means of grace that I or my friends recognized. I will give him credit that it must have taken a long time to cherry-pick the few orthodox-sounding quotes from Leithart in the first half of his majority report. The whole last half of the report read like an extended excuse by someone who didn’t want to take responsibility for the first half.

    I have a post in my head about that broader concern, largely based on my experience with the “denomination renewal” discussion. I can roll Rayburn into it as well.

  13. tim prussic said,

    November 10, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    I look forward with little jitters of excitement to hearing the lectures on the efficacy of the sacraments – and to Dr. Rayburn in particular!

  14. E.C. Hock said,

    November 10, 2008 at 5:31 pm

    Reformed said, “I have a post in my head about that broader concern, largely based on my experience with the “denomination renewal” discussion. I can roll Rayburn into it as well.”

    Perhaps this is where Jason’s point is appreciated. The phrase, “based on my experience” needs examining and only goes so far for any of us. An aura of suspicion can easily rise by an accumulated “sense” rather than a just hearing. Good men through the years can be suddenly re-defined unjustly.

    There is a part of me that likes what Rayburn is trying to cultivate, that is, guarding the PCA against the narrow draw-string approach to all positions. Stated tenets of unity are redefined too much in terms of prickly uniformity. In time, the PCA would become little more than churchmen preoccupied as heresy hunters.

    Yet, no matter who we are, any one of us can slide into positions where once, out of theological ease (American style), clear boundaries get blurred, re-negotiated and devalued. So, we keep each other honest, thoughtful and humble, as iron sharpens iron. Astute men like Rayburn, however, are just as conscious as we are, in some cases more so given their church profile. I do not see him falling asleep at the wheel over the vitals. He knows where orthodox lines are drawn in the Reformed Tradition, where they are non-negotiable, and where they are best left to fruitful discussion as each of us must work out our salvation with fear and trembling. One’s growth in grace, freedom of conscience, and use of biblical language in an already well-defined confessional faith, will always have a degree of tension in our quest for more understanding of what we believe.

    So let’s be guarded, lest we blog and wag too boldly at a brother’s expense before the fuller and clearer picture is told.

  15. greenbaggins said,

    November 10, 2008 at 5:57 pm

    If that is true, then why did he give a clean bill of health to Leithart, who is so clearly out of accord with the WS? Leithart mixes up definitive sanctification and justification, for crying out loud.

  16. E.C. Hock said,

    November 10, 2008 at 6:37 pm

    Lane,

    Frankly, I am not sure why Leithart was given a “pass” by Rayburn in the report. Allowing for something does not necessarily make one a secret supporter to a position, only a supporter to the liberty to hold a more diveregent view, until examined further. Evidently, Rayburn to date does not think it as flagrant a deviation as do others. Clearly, there is more to come from this as the matter is teased out and moves through evaluative channels.

  17. tim prussic said,

    November 10, 2008 at 7:12 pm

    Pr. Lane – #10 – I don’t think Dr. Rayburn attributed more to sacrament than to word. I think it’s pretty clear that he sees each having it’s own advantages in teaching and in the life of the Christian, but who doubts that? He puts them all on a level at the very end when he says that they’re Christ’s, that Christ himself is the efficacy, and that Christ uses all the means of grace (how many ever there be) to minister himself to us.

    I think his goal in that rapid-fire lecture is to shake it up. Just because one can recite the Standards doesn’t mean that one knows the widely variegated ways that the Spirit uses the means of grace in our lives. There’s a lot more mystery in the the sacraments (along with the other means of grace) that we tend to allow or at least speak of. Sound a lot like, well, Calvin.

  18. greenbaggins said,

    November 10, 2008 at 8:53 pm

    Tim, that’s the other thing that really bugged me about Rayburn’s speech. He attacked the standards all over the place. We have a difference of opinion on the upshot of his talk, it seems. :-)

  19. November 10, 2008 at 10:11 pm

    tim,

    Calvin? Calvin didn’t provide for efficacy in the sacraments to non-elect reprobates in the visible church as Leithart and other Federal Visionists do. In his Consensus Tigurinus, Calvin wrote:

    Wherefore, though we distinguish, as we ought, between the signs and the things signified, yet we do not disjoin the reality from the signs, but acknowledge that all who in faith embrace the promises there offered receive Christ spiritually, with his spiritual gifts, while those who had long been made partakers of Christ continue and renew that communion. [my emphasis]

    and

    And it is proper to look not to the bare signs, but rather to the promise thereto annexed. As far, therefore, as our faith in the promise there offered prevails, so far will that virtue and efficacy of which we speak display itself. Thus the substance of water, bread, and wine, by no means offers Christ to us, nor makes us capable of his spiritual gifts. The promise rather is to be looked to, whose office it is to lead us to Christ by the direct way of faith, faith which makes us partakers of Christ. [my emphasis]

    Calvin provides no comfort to Leithart, Wilkins, or anyone else who would ascribe temporary saving benefits to the reprobate. No faith in Christ, no efficacy and no saving benefits for the reprobate, which agrees with WLC Q.63.

  20. tim prussic said,

    November 11, 2008 at 12:48 pm

    Bob, I agree with you regarding Calvin and the efficacy of the sacraments relative to the reprobate. In his Institutes, Calvin speaks of the grace of the sacraments to those without faith as rain water bouncing off a rock. I, however, was not speaking about that aspect of the FV issue, I was speaking about Rayburn’s lecture and the thrust toward mystery in the sacraments. Calvin, with respect to the mysterious workings of the Spirit though the sacraments, sounds a lot more mystical than most Calvinists. That’s plain old undeniable. Many Calvinists have been ashamed of Calvin’s teaching at this point. One excellent book in this regard is Given for You by Mathison.

    I agree with Rayburn that sacraments have a tendency to defy definition. We need to define what “sign” and “seal” mean. We need to be able to speak about the sacraments intelligently. But we also need to know that the sacraments are way bigger than our puny minds and our definitions, which are true, but not exhaustive.

  21. E.C. Hock said,

    November 11, 2008 at 1:26 pm

    Good words above on Calvin. Calvin has both mystery and realism in the sacrament. Many Reformed people actually have, unconsciously or not, a more simplied (and minimalistic?) Zwinglian view of the sacraments. Calvin however, when he speaks not of the literal body of Christ present, but rather a rich “embodiment” of Christ in the sacrament, still affirms a spiritual priority of word-promise, yet leaves room for a deeper sacramental expression of the spiritual experience, for the Christ present is the risen, exalted Christ. He has something of this same kind of expression reserved for how we ought to view the imago Dei when discussing the constituent parts of body and soul. There is room left for expressionless facets to it. But this more undefined area of the Supper has more or less been a part of the Reformed tradition on the sacraments.

    Rayburn seems to imply there is mystery to the sacraments worth preserving and allowing, for indoing so we also protect a reality that rightly exceeds our grasp. They are spiritual and efficacious by God’s spiritual provision and determination. But it not the kind of mystery that sends us into mystical wanderings and unwarranted speculation. It is a mystery of how God is God to us through the sacraments, and how achieves his renewing grace and benefits to us through them as continual means of grace. American pragmatism likes the freeze-dried approach to mystery, like turning a rich Kona blend coffee into Necafe, and still expecting the same experience.

  22. November 11, 2008 at 3:00 pm

    The issue at hand, gentlemen, is Leithart’s views vs. the Standards. That’s what my comment #19 addressed. Rayburn’s covering for Leithart’s errors is indeed troubling, but not the core issue. We have no shortage of Leithart’s writings that testify to his views. The minority report writers had no trouble culling those writings to build their case. On the other hand, the majority reporters had to cherry-pick quotes to give Leithart a pass. That might have floated in NW Presbytery, but I’ll go out on a limb and posit that it won’t fly at GA. History is not on NW’s side.

  23. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    November 11, 2008 at 6:57 pm

    I just have a clarifying question. How does the minority report’s appeal to the parable of the sheep and the goats differ from the the FV’s appeal to John 15? Certain FV commentators have been soundly castigated for an illegitimate application of details by appealing to John 15 to say that the branches which are cut out were truly in the vine and going from there. The minority report, following a suggestion I recall someone mentioning in discussion on this blog, argues that the fact that the sheep are separated from the goats before any works are mentioned therefore implies that the final judgment is based entirely upon the finished work of Christ–WCF 33.1 and important parts of Scripture notwithstanding. If someone could please lay out for me how it is illegitimate to build an idea of some sort of real union from the details (the plot order: remission of debt, then re-application of it) of John 15, but perfectly legitimate to build an idea of the final judgment being based in no way at all upon our works from the details (the plot order: separation, then discussion of works) of Matt. 25, I’d appreciate it.

    And this is an honest question, not some sort of FV baiting. Maybe I’m too stupid to see it (Scott Clark would agree with me on this, quite a change from when I was in his classes), but I would still be interested in an explanation. Thank you.

  24. Joshua W.D. Smith said,

    November 11, 2008 at 7:03 pm

    Also, why does the minority report (along with Waters and others) reject the stipulated definition of “final justification” as “final judgment”? As I have stated in discussion here, I would not use that terminology, but why is it outlawed by the Confession, given their stipulation? As a point of comparison, the late M.G. Kline states baldly in one of his works that the OT is not the canon for the church. That would seem to put him squarely in opposition to Ch. 1 of the Confession, yet no one called for his head. Why not? Because, in the context, he gives a stipulated definition (highly idiosyncratic) of what he means by the term “canon.” In both cases, we have a uniquely-stipulated definition of an otherwise well-known term, resulting in statements which can cause radical confusion. In one case, we reject the stipulation, in the other we accept it. Again, as Clark might say, I could be too stupid to see the difference, but I would like some clarification as to the difference? Is ‘canon’ a less important term than ‘justification’? Or is it just because we know Kline is orthodox and Leithart is not?

  25. E.C. Hock said,

    November 11, 2008 at 7:33 pm

    As some maybe pondering Joshua’s questions above, I wish Lane, in the meantime, if possible, would clarify the source of Rayburn’s speech he referenced in #18. Is that speech available somewhere now? If not available, then what especially was said that renders him somewhat suspect about how he handeled Leithart’s case.

    I am not assuming anything. I am simply curious on this aspect since this post continues to widen and develop. No doubt, Rayburn will continue to surface as one whose views for the majority are being weighed in this matter, good or bad as it relates to Leithart (who of course remains the real focus).

  26. November 11, 2008 at 8:36 pm

    Joshua,

    Those are good questions you raised, and as the author of the minority report I would like to respond to them as soon as I can (but that won’t be for a couple hours).

    Cheers,

    JJS

  27. November 11, 2008 at 10:40 pm

    Joshua,

    Certain FV commentators have been soundly castigated for an illegitimate application of details by appealing to John 15 to say that the branches which are cut out were truly in the vine and going from there.

    Maybe so, but the minority report does no such thing. Our argument is not that the FV draws undue attention to the phenomenon of the cut-off branches of John 15, but that they insist on referring to what those branches lost as “union with Christ” (a blessing which our Standards unequivocally refer to as a saving, non-losable benefit).

    If someone could please lay out for me how it is illegitimate to build an idea of some sort of real union from the details (the plot order: remission of debt, then re-application of it) of John 15, but perfectly legitimate to build an idea of the final judgment being based in no way at all upon our works from the details (the plot order: separation, then discussion of works) of Matt. 25, I’d appreciate it.

    Well, nowhere in the minority report does it say that the final judgment is “based in no way at all on our works,” so I obviously can’t speak to that detail. Here is what the minority report says about Matthew 25: “Concerning the final judgment, we confess that its ‘end’ is ‘the manifestation of the glory of [God’s] mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of His justice, in the damnation of the reprobate’ (WCF XXXIII.2).’ As Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats demonstrates, the righteous are separated from the wicked before their respective works are evaluated or, for that matter, even mentioned. This is why WLC 90 says that on the last day, the righteous will be ‘openly acknowledged and acquitted,’ and will then participate in the judgment of the wicked.” So as you can see, the only point being made is that there will be a final judgment according to works, but that those works don’t serve to distinguish the sheep from the goats in any decisive way since they are separated by the shepherd before their respective deeds are even brought up.

    Also, why does the minority report (along with Waters and others) reject the stipulated definition of “final justification” as “final judgment”? As I have stated in discussion here, I would not use that terminology, but why is it outlawed by the Confession, given their stipulation? As a point of comparison, the late M.G. Kline states baldly in one of his works that the OT is not the canon for the church. That would seem to put him squarely in opposition to Ch. 1 of the Confession, yet no one called for his head.

    First off, I would argue that there is quite a big difference between an idiosyncratic definition of “canon” and an idiosyncratic definition of “justification,” since the latter and not the former is the articulus stantis et cadentis ecclesiae (or so we once believed). So you’ll have to ask Kline’s former OPC presbytery why they let him slip out of their collective hands on that one. But as far as the minority report on “final justification,” our Confession is quite clear that justification occurs “not for anything wrought in, or done by, us.” Now if this were Leithart’s only error, we’d probably just ask him to be more careful in his language, but as you know, this is not the case. So in short, when you weave the various FV threads of Peter’s theology together, one of which is his view of “final justification,” it amounts to a whole cloth that is not recognizably Reformed (at least insofar as “Reformed” is defined for us by our Confession and Catechisms).

    Hope that helps a bit.

    JJS

  28. November 11, 2008 at 10:47 pm

    I tried to post a long reply to Joshua, but it’s not showing up for some reason. Watch, it’ll show up in two minutes with three duplicate posts right behind it….

  29. November 11, 2008 at 10:53 pm

    Jason, RE #28,

    For some reason, WordPress tagged the longer post as spam. I just freed them up. I don’t see any reason why it would be miscategorized like that, but I’ll try to keep up with the queue to spring anything else that gets misdirected. Thanks for posting #28 to let us know that something funky was going on.

  30. November 11, 2008 at 10:54 pm

    Bob,

    Feel free to delete one of them if you want since they’re dupes.

  31. November 11, 2008 at 11:09 pm

    Jason,

    Thanks. I just finished comparing the posts and then deleting the duplicate as you were typing your last note. I think that we’re even now. Sorry about the trouble.

  32. jeffmeyersphoto said,

    November 13, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    I see my name comes up again and positions imputed to me that I don’t hold. Magic? Please. You’ll have to do better than that.

    Mr Hock: links to the mp3s of the lectures by Rayburn and myself (also Lig Duncan’s and Will Barker’s) can be found here.

    A copy of the papers can be found here

    Enjoy!

  33. greenbaggins said,

    November 13, 2008 at 4:42 pm

    Jeff, is there no difference between “bordering on magic” and “magic?” I heard the lectures. I was there. To be honest, Rayburn was saying this more than you were. You were attacking a sort of dismal Christian, joyless morbid-introspective way of “celebrating the sacrament.” And, of course, in this respect I would totally agree (although with Will Barker’s helpful caveat that we are remembering Christ’s death, and so solemnity is certainly not out of place). However, my thoughts were asking these kinds of questions as I listened to you: I have never seen the kind of Lord’s Supper that Meyers is attacking, what’s his target? However, to be fair to Bob Mattes, your views on sacramental efficacy are certainly higher than the majority of the PCA’s. This is clear in your book. That’s what Bob Mattes is talking about: a view of sacramental efficacy that is higher than the standards’ view.


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