What a Good Idea!

To republish this excellent work on subscription to Reformed standards (originally published in 2001) right after this book came out. For one thing, the latter book quotes the former quite a lot. I found myself wanting the former book on occasion as I was reading through the latter. I wonder if this reprint was intentionally combined with the publication of Clark’s book. It is impeccable timing for republication, nevertheless.

Omnibus Reply

Doug Wilson has taken up the discussion again in three posts, responding to my three posts. I will respond in one post, so as to make things a bit easier.

In the first post, Doug talks about the visible/invisible (v/i) church distinction as being a different distinction than the historical/eschatological (h/e) distinction. Great. I’m glad we agree on this. My position is that Doug has changed his position. In the 2002 AAPC lectures, Doug talked about tipping over the v/i distinction on its (diachronical) side, and voila, you get the h/e distinction. Forgive us for thinking that the h/e distinction (in the minds of the FV) was then supposed to supplant, not merely supplement, the v/i distinction. What does “tipping over on its side” mean but elimination of the v/i distinction? Now, keep in mind that I claimed that Doug’s position has changed. After all, we did admit (even in a retraction!) that Doug does believe in the v/i distinction. But I would argue that Doug did not articulate that in RINE, or in the 2002 AAPC lectures. Certainly, the trend in his thought at that time was towards the elimination, or at the very least, the down-playing of the v/i distinction in favor of the h/e distinction. That being said, I have this question: what Reformed theologian has ever denied that the church is militans and triumphans? I often get the impression that the FV folk get it into their head that there is an imbalance somewhere in Reformed theology, and then they seek to correct it. There are two problems with this. The first is that usually there is no such imbalance. It is an imagined imbalance. The second problem is that there is a tendency to over-correction. However, I must take issue with this quotation:

Well, another way of saying largely the same thing is to describe the visible church as the church throughout history, and the church of all the regenerate as the eschatological church.

Despite the qualifier “largely,” this quotation still assumes way more overlap between the v/i distinction and the h/e distinction than is warranted. Here are some important differences between the two distinctions: one is synchronic, and the other diachronic. That is, one is a cross-section of the current church, whereas the other is not a cross-section at all, but rather a view of the progressive, unfolding character of the church. Secondly, the v/i distinction has to do with the church as composed of individuals, either elect or non-elect, whereas the h/e distinction has to do with the church as a whole as it matures and has its wrinkles gradually eliminated. Thirdly, the v/i distinction has to do with a straight verticle line (reaching from heaven to earth) separating the believers from the non-believers, whereas the h/e distinction has to do with a ramp upon which the church travels from this world to the next. The only point of similarity between the two distinctions, in fact, is that both distinctions look at the same church, which is one, not two. But they are completely different perspectives, not largely the same.

I agree with Lane entirely that the position of the Baptist proper is to define the visible church as consisting of the regenerate only. But what we mean when we talk about “baptyerians,” for example, is that the same logic in presbyterian circles draws the same kind of line at the Lord’s Table, and not at the Font.

Maybe I can get at the real issue by asking this question: given that the vast majority of the Reformed world in its entire history has not been paedo-communion, is it even remotely fair to say that Reformed folk who are not paedo-communionists are also Baptistic in their thinking when it comes to the Table? Doug goes on to claim that “Lane believes that the standard for communicant membership in the visible church is a regenerate status.” I have never said this, and in fact do not believe this, nor do most Presbyterians of whom I am aware. The standard for communicant membership in the visible church is a credible profession of faith. Note the very key difference between those two things. That is the difference between Baptists and Presbyterians when it comes to the table. Presbyterians freely admit that many children are Christians from a very early age (I would argue that it is possible for them to be regenerate in the womb, though I would not want to presume that). But the church has to be the body that discerns this as well as it can do so. The only that can happen is by talking with the child, and asking them about their heart. All the church can go on is a profession of faith (which is, of course, connected to their baptisms). But since so many who are baptized are not regenerate, it is not unreasonable at all to require a profession of faith. This is not Baptistic.

The second post deals pretty much with the law-gospel hermeneutic. Doug says that he agrees with the law/gospel distinction as it applies to the human heart, but not with the law/gospel hermeneutic that separates one verse into law, and another verse into gospel. In other words, the distinction is not in the text, but in the application to the human heart. Doug seems to give the impression that I didn’t understand this before. I really think I did. Now let me say that of course I agree that the law/gospel distinction affects the human heart, and is a part of the application of a text. Where we disagree is in saying that the distinction is also in the text. In the Reformed theologians, I would point to these three articles (part 1, part 2, part 3, and also to Scott Clarks’s posts on the topic) which prove fairly conclusively that the law/gospel hermeneutic is Reformed. And if you look carefully, you will also see that these quotations come out of their exegesis of texts, not from thin air. Given this state of affairs, I think that the burden of proof does not rest with me to show that the Law/Gospel hermeneutic is scriptural or Reformed. It is the burden of the FV to show that it is neither Reformed nor scriptural. Now, to anticipate Doug’s reply, he will probably say that most, if not all, the quotations do not deal with the interpretation of Scripture, but rather with the application to the heart. I will simply reply that such a distinction did not exist in the time of the Reformers. Therefore, discussions about the law/Gospel distinction apply also to how they read their Bibles.

The third post argues that I have completely misunderstood the FV definition of covenant. My exact words were: “The covenant of grace is undifferentiated between the elect and the non-elect (used in a decretal sense). This is the FV definition of the covenant.” Doug argues that I have thereby completely misunderstood the FV position on this, and cites his own position as rebuttal. Let me talk about ale for a moment. The pale ale (self-described) tells the world that the dark ale is really pale ale when it comes toa particular issue. On the one hand, it accuses the world of never differentiating among the various ales, and then complains when the world does in fact differentiate among the various ales. When ale is attacked as being dark, the pale ale defends the dark ale by pointing to itself, claiming non-differentiation. However, at other times, when the world says that all ale is ale, the pale ale says that the world hasn’t been nearly careful enough in its distinctions. Which is it? It should have been clear (with the retraction made earlier about the v/i distinction within the church, which has to do with decretal election) to Doug that I recognize that his position is that the church is made up of believers and unbelievers. Therefore, when one connects the dots, I am differentiating his position from the other FV’ers on this point. For instance, I have read or listened to almost everything of importance to the FV in Steve Wilkins’s literary and auditory output. When he is not being pressed on his position, he argues that there is no distinction between the decretally elect and the non-decretally elect within the covenant. What is true of the one is true of the other, head for head (see his church Sunday School lectures on the covenant). When pressed on his position, however, he will admit a distinction without a difference by asserting that there is a distinction between the elect and the non-elect in the covenant. However, for the life of him, he can NEVER articulate what that difference is. He has never done so. Ever. It wouldn’t be that one is regenerated and the other isn’t, would it? No, that would be way too simple and direct. Instead, he abuses John 15 to say that what is true of one is true of all.

Lastly, let me just put forth my understanding of John 15. A knowledge of horticulture is handy here. There are branches that are called “suckers.” They grow straight up, never bear fruit, and simply steal away sap from the productive branches. They are parasitic, not vital. The fundamental point in John 15 is NOT the undifferentiated nature of the branches, but rather the contrast between the kinds of branches, namely, that some are fruit-bearing by their very nature, and others are not. John 15 never deals with mere branches without qualification. The branches are of two types: fruit-bearing and non-fruit-bearing. The point of John 15 is not that non-fruit-bearing branches have a vital relationship to Christ, but rather that they are as good as dead (vs 6). The FV’ers over-read the phrase ἐν ἐμοὶ to make it say something of which it cannot bear the weight. One cannot harp on the “in me” phrase to the exclusion of everything else in the passage, which clearly differentiates between fruit-bearing and non-fruit-bearing. We can ask the question this way: what constitutes life in John 15? Is it sap, or is it fruit? It is clearly the latter.