One Last Word

Doug is in England right now. If he does reply to this post, it will probably be a bit. Just a heads up to folks.  His last post in reply to me is located here. I will let him have the last word if he so desires.

First point (corresponding to Doug’s first three paragraphs) regarding imputation. Some FV writers affirm imputation, and others do not. But it does not seem to me that any FV writer, Doug included, views imputation as essential to the Protestant doctrine of justification. Doug thinks that if someone believes in the marriage analogy rather than imputation, that still does not mean that someone is un-Protestant. It is just here that the problem arises. For every single major confession of the Reformed churches (except maybe the Canons of Dordt, which were not addressing the issue of justification) affirms imputation in no uncertain terms. If the confessions define what being Reformed is (as I believe they should), then imputation is a non-negotiable of being Reformed. To use one of Doug’s own funny analogies, it takes at least 7 years of grad school, or of FV environment to think otherwise. So, to be clear, the issue is not whether imputation is inherent or not inherent to the FV position. I agree that some FV writers hold to imputation. The issue is the view as to whether imputation is essential to being Reformed. This is part and parcel of the larger issue concerning the definition of the word “Reformed.” Should not the Reformed church through its confessions define the word “Reformed?” If imputation is not essential, then it is redundant. And, by the way, I hold to the marriage analogy as well. I merely hold to it in a way that emphasizes the importance of imputation rather than being somehow held in tension or contradiction to imputation. The marriage of Christ to the believer prevents imputation from being a legal fiction. But, as I have said before, Christ and the believer remain two distinct people (however closely they are united in marriage) such that the transfer of Christ’s righteousness from Christ to the believer in imputation is still necessary. Christ not only needs to pay the debt of His bride, but also needs to pay her way to her eternal home. Looking at the church’s relationship to the law is where you will find “what the bride got in her bags,” as Doug might put it.

Second point, I reject utterly Doug’s reading of WCF 7. Doug seems to have forgotten that the administration of the covenant of grace is different from OT to NT. It is in this administration of the covenant of grace that the overlay of the covenant of works comes into play with the Adamic repetition of “do this and live.” For more details, and far better argumentation than I could provide, and for full answers to Doug’s points (not explicitly but implicitly), see the new book edited by Fesko, Van Drunen, and Estelle entitled The Law Is Not of Faith. So, if the administration is different, then there is absolutely no warrant for saying that the entire apparatus of the Mosaic economy was of the covenant of grace, as Doug says. If the administration was different than the new covenant (which WCF 7.5 explicitly says: “This covenant was differently administered in the time of the law, and in the time of the gospel: under the law it was administered by promises, prophecies, sacrifices, circumcision, the paschal lamb, and other types and ordinances delivered to the people of the Jews, all foresignifying Christ to come”), then, at the very least, the administration of the Mosaic economy was not of the covenant of grace. So, Doug’s reading of this chapter does not comport with the terms of the chapter itself. I would really encourage all readers to take a look at the Fesko/VanDrunen/Estelle book. It is a very timely exposition of all these matters. I should forestall a possible objection here. One might object and say that both differing administrations were part of the covenant of grace. The difficulty with this is that it is the substance which is said to be the covenant of grace (see the last part of section 6), not the administration in the various dispensations. With regard to the differing dispensations (WCF’s word), that is not the substance of the covenant of grace. The contrast then, is between the time of the law (section 5) and the time of the gospel (section 6). For any further points on this, I will simply refer the reader to Fesko/VanDrunen/Estelle on this.

Furthermore, my distinctions regarding the covenant of works and covenant of grace in the Mosaic economy are irrelevant to the question of whether Wilkins actually holds to a distinction between the elect and the non-elect in the church. Saying that I need to have clearer distinctions concerning the Mosaic economy is no answer whatsoever to whether Wilkins has made adequate distinctions regarding a far more central point. The point here is that Wilkins is not willing to say that the difference is between those who are regenerated and those who are not. Now that would be a very clear distinction between the non-elect visible church member and the elect covenant member. It is precisely this that Wilkins does not want to say. Because of his view of baptism, he wants to say that the non-decretally elect members of the visible church are regenerated in some sense. The qualification “in some sense” is always the problem with the FV, because they can never define “in some sense” in a way that allays the fears of the critics that the FV is Arminian with regard to these non-decretally elect (again, the issue of the decretally elect is not on the table here).

I will try one last time to make the point about the living nature of faith and its relation to justification. We both agree that justifying faith is alive. The WCF says this: “is no dead faith” (WCF 11.2). Contrary to the criticisms of FV proponents (especially in the horrible caricatures in the book A Faith That Is Never Alone), I know of NO Reformed scholar who says that we are justified by a dead faith. I know of no Reformed scholar who even hints at this. I know of dozens of Reformed scholars who say the aliveness of faith is not what justifies us. The best way I can put this is to say that the aliveness of faith is a sine qua non, but is not part of the inherent structure of justification. Of course the person who stretches out his arm to catch a ball has to be alive to do that. But his being alive is not an action inherent in stretching out his arm. Maybe I can put it this way: states of being are distinct from actions, just like verbs of being are distinct from verbs of action. We must distinguish then between the state of being alive and the verb of action of what faith does in laying hold of Christ’s righteousness. To put it another way, our aliveness can have no object. It is inherently reflexive. But faith’s action in justification takes a direct object: the righteousness of Christ. I really think this is as clear as I can be. I don’t see any reason why Doug should disagree with this, either.  I suppose I will have to enact a qualification of this, nevertheless, lest people think I am making faith active. When I am referring to “faith’s action” I do not mean that we are doing a work. I mean only that faith is doing something in justification. And this is what it is doing: it is “accepting, receiving, and resting upon Christ alone for justification” (WCF 14.2).

To answer the question about Augustine: to use categories that were developed later in church history to describe earlier church fathers is anachronistic. Therefore, whatever Augustine believed about the losability of regeneration could not be called Arminian, since it is anachronistic and speculative. However, if one wanted to speculate in a different direction, I could answer the question: if Augustine had been alive in the time of the Reformation and the debates at Dordt, which side would he have chosen? Without hesitation, I would answer that he would have chosen the side of the orthodox.