Intramural Disagreement?

Well, it’s been a long journey again. My hope and prayer is that my interactions with Doug have clarified in people’s minds the real issues surrounding the Federal Vision. Clarity is at a premium in a conversation where there has been much confusion. I dare say that both Doug and I have failed at points to provide perfect clarity for people. For that I certainly apologize (and I’m sure Doug would, too). In this post, I will look at the areas of intramural disagreement as well as respond to Doug’s last two posts.

The last segment of the Joint Statement has to do with areas that the FV claims are not integral to the definition of what the Federal Vision is. These areas include the imputatin of Christ’s active obedience to the believer, certain issues regarding regeneration, the relative “height” of covenant renewal liturgy, the relationship of justification to final judgment, and the relative worth of using the term “merit.” It is important to note these things, as it is fairly certain that some people have made some of these issues into a blanket statement concerning the FV as a whole, when not all of the FV advocates believe what has been imputed (!) to the movement as a whole. It always behoves critics to be extremely careful in this regard, and to be pinpoint accurate in what they say. This has been my goal, and it seems that Doug acknowledges that generally I have succeeded in being accurate. Some of the other FV advocates might want to take note of that assertion.

I have some questions regarding these areas of intramural disagreement. Firstly, with regard to imputation. Would Doug agree that the IAOC is not the same thing as imputation in general? After all, there is the view of Piscator, who firmly believes in imputation, but not the IAOC. What some of the critics are concerned about is not even the IAOC (although we are certainly concerned about that, as well), but whether some (notice the important qualifier there) advocates of the FV even believe in imputation at all. For instance, Rich Lusk, in his retraction of his infamous “imputation is redundant” statement (for which retraction see especially pp. 19-21), still denies that imputation should be viewed as an extrinsic transfer term. For Lusk, the fact that faith unites one to Christ precludes the “alien righteousness” of Luther. This guts imputation of all meaning, and fails to account for the fact that union does not erase the distinction between the Head and the body, that Christ and the believer are still distinct people, such that something can be transferred from one to the other. Imputation is inherently an extrinsic transfer term. That is how it has universally been understood not only by the Lutherans, but also by the Reformed. It is certainly the meaning of logizomai in Romans 4. So, presupposing that the question of imputation itself is distinct from the more specific question of the IAOC, again I ask the question, isn’t imputation itself at stake in some of the FV writers? Doug does not seem to me to be denying imputation, but then I have never viewed Doug as speaking for the other FV writers on this issue, either. Now, to answer Doug’s two recent posts.

In Doug’s first reply, there are several issues that need to be addressed. Firstly, about Wilkins’s views. I am well aware that he qualified his views in his discussions with the LA Presbytery. I have read the full record of the case (having been an assistant prosecutor in that case) several times. However, his qualification has no substance to it, in my opinion. He acknowledged that there was a qualitative difference, not just a temporal distinction, between the elect and the non-elect within the church. However, he was completely unable to state what that difference was. This indicates to me that he was not willing, for instance, to state that the elect were regenerated and the non-elect were not. That wouldn’t be the difference, would it? Could it really be that simple, I wonder? What, after all, is the value of a distinction that not only cannot be specified as to its definition (is it then really there?), but point-blank refuses to say what the Reformed faith has always said about the difference between the elect and the non-elect? I will answer Doug’s brief point about Matthew 18 with an equally brief response: it doesn’t mean what Doug seems to think it means.

On the point of imputation, I would actually refer people to the third paragraph above. I would only add that imputation as a transfer term is a non-negotiable in Reformed soteriology. It is precisely where the Catholics and the Protestants disagreed in the 16th century. And it is precisely what is meant in Romans 4 and Philippians 3, Psalm 32, Isaiah 53:11 and many other places. If one disagrees with the transfer sense of imputation, one automatically exits the entire Protestant camp. Now, I do not believe that the transfer sense of imputation (as Christ’s alien righteousness being reckoned as ours) in any way contradicts or is incompatible with union with Christ. It is union with Christ that ensures that imputation is not a legal fiction. But union with Christ, as I have mentioned before, does not mean that the distinction of persons between Christ and the believer is thereby erased, which is what Lusk seems to think. There is still a Head and a body, and righteousness which is not inherent in the body can be reckoned judicially to the body.

On the CoW/CoG issue, I will only say this. As I have said many times, the Mosaic economy is part of the Covenant of Grace. This is true regarding the ordo salutis. I am becoming more and more convinced that the CoW aspect of the Mosaic economy has to do with the corporate aspects of Israel in the promised land, although the hypothetical possibility of earning one’s salvation by works was still there (as it is today), provided someone could be sinless, which only Christ has been. To me this is clear and nuanced.

On the aliveness of faith, I believe that Doug is confusing a sine qua non with a causa. If I say that ice has to be solid in order to be ice, I am not thereby saying that ice is ice because it is solid. Ice is ice because it is cold, indeed, specifically, below 32 degrees F. It is ice, because the atmosphere has caused it to dip below that threshold, not because ice is solid. In other words, ice would not be ice if it wasn’t solid. Indeed, that is part of the definition of ice. But ice is not ice because it is solid, but rather because of the outside temperature forces which are acting on it. Similarly, true faith is alive. How could it be otherwise? But even the aliveness is dependent on something else, which is the true connection to Jesus. And the aliveness of faith is not a causa in justification, but a sine qua non. Faith justifies because of faith’s object, on which faith lays hold. The problem with saying that faith’s aliveness is a cause of justification is in defining faith’s aliveness. This is where such formulations begin to sound suspiciously like “faith formed by love justifies,” which plainly reintroduces works in the back door. No doubt Doug would deny that his formulation does this (and he has repeatedly denied that his formulation does this). All I am saying here is that there are category mistakes going on here. When we talk about what causes justification, the Reformers were very careful to distinguish among the various kinds of causes. The ultimate cause is the glory of God. The material cause of justification is the righteousness of Christ imputed. The instrumental cause is faith. The immediate cause is the Holy Spirit working faith in the believer. The only one of these causes to which the aliveness of faith is directly related is the instrumental cause. But there, faith’s aliveness is a sine qua non, not the substance of the cause. The instrumentality of faith is in laying hold of Christ, which can be distinguished (though, of course, never separated) from the fact that such faith is alive.

In response to Doug’s second post, we need to discuss exactly what we mean by assurance, and what feeds into it. Doug believes that this is my position:

In other words, decretal election with my name on it is in the premises, from which I derive the conclusion that I am saved.

I do not believe that he has read me correctly on this. This is my position: assurance of salvation is a broad category. Lots of things funnel into this category. Perhaps most importantly, all the means of grace funnel into this category. Specific special revelation that my name is written in the book of life isn’t one of the means of grace. We live by faith, not by sight. Rather, it is the Word, prayer, sacraments, fellowship that are the means of grace. That is one (and probably the largest) strand that funnels into assurance of salvation. Another large strand is the fruit that comes from faith. This one is obvious: fruit is evidence (though, of course, not absolute) of salvation. If we see fruit, then our assurance is greatly helped. And, furthermore, the doctrine of election in general (knowing that if I am saved, it is because God has planned this from before the foundation of the world, and has accomplished it in history) also funnels into the assurance of salvation. I believe that knowing that I personally am elect is synonymous with assurance of salvation. Hope this is clear. It seems to me that Doug has read a fair bit more into my one sentence there than is warranted by the evidence. Indeed, the way I meant the sentence in question was this: the knowledge of assurance of salvation consists in knowing that I am decretally elect. Is this kind of assurance possible?

On Augustine, I think we need a bit more in order to answer the question. What specific aspects/quotations of Augustine does Doug have in mind here?

On Being Presbyterian

Posted by Bob Mattes

Dr. Sean Michael Lucas, Chief Academic Officer and Associate Professor of Church History at Covenant Theological Seminary, wrote the excellent book On Being Presbyterian some time back. He has condensed it down to a set of very nice Powerpoint briefing slides. These provide an excellent summary of the material suitable for new members’ classes or Sunday school. Ideally, of course, members would read the book before class and the briefing slides would be good jumping off points for discussion.

On Being Presbyterian: Our Beliefs, Practices, and Stories makes a great read for new believers, those who transfer from non-Presbyterian or liberal denominations, as well as for those whom God brought into the Reformed faith many years ago. Dr. Lucas has a talent for condensing the essence of the Reformed faith and Presbyterianism down to its core truths. He covers the Reformed faith, worship, the sacraments, church government, and a brief history of the Presbyterian churches, relying heavily on Scripture and the Westminster Standards – all from the perspective of historical Reformed orthodoxy.

I believe that On Being Presbyterian would be a valuable read for all members, new and old, and officers in Presbyterian churches, especially the PCA. These Powerpoint slides will provide a handy means of teaching through the book.

Posted by Bob Mattes