The Interpretation of History

The review of N.T. Wright that I wrote just recently sparked some reflections in my mind on the nature of history. What is the overall shape of history? For Wright, Israel plays a very large role. The question is whether that role is too large. Of course, we live in a post-Holocaust age wherein no one desires to be on the wrong end of “anti-Semitism.” Nevertheless, that should not significantly impact our reading of Scripture, considering that both the writing of it and the majority of its interpretation came before the Holocaust.

N.T. Wright’s construction of history runs something like this: after the Fall, God appointed Abraham (and through him Israel) to fix what Adam broke. However, Israel became part of the problem, because, instead of becoming the second Adam, they revealed that they were in the first Adam, and therefore subject to the Fall. Therefore God, if He was going to put the world to rights, needed to fix Israel as well, and through Israel, the world, so that the promises made to Abraham concerning being a blessing to the nations could be fulfilled. This God did through the faithful Israel: Jesus Christ. Having begun that fulfillment, God will bring it to completion in the new heavens and the new earth, which is not some Platonic divorced-from-this-world result, but rather a transformation of this world, putting it to rights.

Now, there is much that I can agree with in this narrative of history. In fact, I can agree with most of it. However, I would deny that God appointed Abraham himself or Israel itself as the solution of the problem. Instead, Abraham and Israel functioned as the carrier of the Messiah, who was always intended from the beginning (dated from Genesis 3:15, humanly speaking; from eternity, from God’s perspective) to be the solution to the problem of Adam and Eve’s Fall. This does not result in a demotion of Abraham and Israel. To see why this is the case, we must examine Genesis 3:15, which I regard as the fundamental statement of the meaning of history, when it is properly interpreted in the light of the rest of Scripture.

Genesis 3:15 promised a battle between two seeds. There would be enmity between the seed of the serpent and the seed of the woman. This enmity must be interpreted in the light of the switch in covenantal allegiance that Adam and Eve had effected in their Fall: instead of being covenantally in agreement with God, they became covenantally allied with the serpent. God’s promise of enmity between the two seeds is a gracious statement of the breaking of that new covenantal allegiance, and reverting that allegiance back to Himself.

The enmity between the two seeds immediately began manifesting itself in the incident of Cain and Abel (it is not terrifically difficult to discern who is the seed of whom, surely!). The two seeds (or two cities, as Augustine would say) continued their battle in the incidents of Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau, Israel and Egypt, Israel and the Canaanites, Elijah and the prophets of Baal, and scores of other stories in the Old Testament. Sometimes the seed of the serpent was outside the people of God. Sometimes it was inside the people of God. The climax of that enmity is, of course, Jesus and Satan, the ultimate seeds of the woman and of the serpent. From Genesis to Revelation, this conflict explains everything that happens in world history, with the seed of the woman ultimately victorious. To me, this makes better sense of world history than Wright’s version, which seems to imply that God’s purposes almost failed when Israel became part of the problem. God’s purposes never came even close to failing, since the whole plan was established before the creation even came into being.

For Israel, not only are they the carriers of the seed, but they are also themselves of the seed of the woman. This is their significance in the Old Testament, and one could hardly think of a higher significance or honor for a people to have than that. The only thing I want to stress here is that God never intended for Israel itself or Abraham himself to be the solution, except insofar as Abraham and Israel looked ahead to Abraham’s greater Son and the True Israel.

Advertisements

Pauline Perspectives

N.T. Wright is alternately enthralling and infuriating to read. He is enthralling when he is trouncing dispensationalism, and leaving the tattered remnants (!) of their theology on the floor; or when he writes a beautifully written, cogently argued defense of the literal resurrection of Jesus from the dead (The Resurrection of the Son of God is, in my opinion, by far the best book Wright has ever written, even though I disagree with some of his methodological standpoints); or defending the substitutionary atonement (though there are points in that area where he makes me very nervous indeed). He is infuriating when he positions himself as a sort of eschatological exegete: all the Reformers were wrong, and only with the advent (!) of N.T. Wright has there come understanding of Paul. No doubt he would cry foul for that blow, and yet his dismissal of Reformational understandings of Paul is so thorough and systemic that one wonders if Wright believes anyone really understood Paul except Paul and N.T. Wright (and those who have had glimmerings, such as Sanders, Dunn, Hays, Horsley and some others). When I read Wright, therefore, it is a surreal roller-coaster of sorts, with interesting insights in many places followed immediately by howlers.

This book, by N.T. Wright, consists of essays written from 1978-2013 on the subject of Paul’s theology. Most of the important articles on this subject are included with the exception of those that found their way into Climax of the Covenant. The most interesting feature of reading these articles in chronological order is to see his development. The essays are a working out, development, and continual updating of what is largely one thesis, looked at from mostly overlapping (there is a rather enormous amount of overlap in these articles), but still complementary angles. Early in his career, the thesis looked like this:

Paul regarded the historical people of Abraham as God’s answer to the problem of the sin of Adam…First, the Messiah sums up his people in himself, so that what is true of him is true of them. Second, the Messiah has died and been raised. From these two sources flow salvation history and justification by faith, not as two parallel streams, nor even as two currents in the same stream, but as one stream…the one God has purposed and promised that he will create one worldwide family for Abraham, a family in whom the sin of Adam is reversed: and this he has achieved in the Messiah, Jesus (pp. 6-7).

What is central to Wright is what happened to Israel, which is that “this people, being themselves sinful, fail in the task, and their anointed representative has to do the job solo” (p. 8). In responding to this, I want to affirm with Wright that dispensational readings of Scripture simply do not do Galatians 3 and Galatians 6 justice. God’s purposes for Israel always had a worldwide perspective on them. I agree wholeheartedly with Wright on that point.

Sometimes, however, I get the impression that Wright’s position entails some sort of “plan B” on God’s part: that Adam sinned, and Abraham was elected to fix the problem, and his people Israel failed too, so then God had to cast about for a further solution. Put this way, Wright would probably disagree that such was what he meant. He does not always guard against this possible misinterpretation, however. Israel was the carrier of the promise of Genesis 3:15. Israel’s failure did not necessitate a change in God’s plan. This problem is not helped by the unguarded language on p. 426: “Humans sin; that’s their problem, but God’s problem is bigger, namely that his plan for the world is thwarted.” This is unguarded at best, simply wrong at worst.

Lately (2012), the thesis looks like this: “Paul was picking up the idea of Israel’s vocation, to be the light of the world, and was explaining, in terms of Israel’s own scriptures, not so much that all Israelites were sinful (though he believed that too) but that Israel had failed to be faithful to its commission” (p. 489). This is still closely connected with the Abrahamic promise of one worldwide family that would inherit the new heavens and the new earth.

At the beginning of his career, Wright was much more open to the Reformational understandings of Paul, as is demonstrated on page 12, where we nevertheless see the first of many false dichotomies (Wright may be said to be a master of false dichotomies, in fact):

Paul never speaks of Jesus obeying the law (though he certainly did not imagine that Jesus had broken the law), but rather, in Philippians 2 and Romans 5, of Jesus’ obedience to the whole saving purpose of God. Not only did Jesus offer God the obedience which Adam had failed to offer: he offered God the obedience which Israel should have offered and had likewise failed in, obedience to the vocation of redemptive vicarious suffering for the sins of the world.

This is a false dichotomy for a very simple reason: God’s saving purpose involved Jesus obeying the law (as Galatians 4:4 makes rather clear). Even if one rejects (as Wright rejects) the idea of the imputed active obedience of Christ, there still remains the vitally important truth that Jesus would not be the proper substitute for sinners without a sinless perfection. How can God be faithful to the covenant if Jesus is not? And does not that covenant include the law?

As this thesis started working its way through his thinking, he became much more pugilistic against the Reformational readings, probably because those holding to Reformational readings started critiquing his work. Of course, that pugilism reached an apex in his book What Saint Paul Really Said, which I regard as by far the worst book he ever wrote (not because it is pugilistic, but because it distorts so much). Pugilism is not necessarily bad. The thing that strikes me about Wright, though, is that he is considerably more careful and considerate of Second-Temple Judaism than he ever is with Reformation authors and views. He dismisses Reformational readings (usually caricatured) with a wave of the hand, hardly ever quoting an author who holds said view. For example, he accuses Reformational authors of equating justification with conversion (or regeneration) numerous times in this book (pp. 36, 215, 221, 284, 308, 342). Maybe I am woefully under-read in Reformational systematic theologies, but I have never seen this advocated even once by Reformed systematicians. Wright shows his own enormous ignorance of Reformed systematics on pp. 283-284, cf. p. 310, where he advocates something that Reformed systematics has supposedly completely missed. The word for conversion is “call” and not “justification” (p. 284). Hang on, I’m quite sure I’ve read something about effectual calling somewhere in every single Reformed systematic theology I’ve ever read. These kinds of caricatures raise a very important question: he wants us to treat him with charity and kindness, even asking for criticisms to be directed his way privately before making them public (see p. 222, which is nonsense: Matthew 18 is not about public teaching but about private offenses. Public teaching falls under the category of what happens in Galatians 2, where Paul did anything but criticize Peter privately first). However, Wright doesn’t treat Reformational readings with charity in any sense of the word. Take as another example his ridiculous statement regarding moral effort on p. 202: “Earlier readings of Galatians, particularly in the Reformation tradition, had so emphasized the wrongness of ‘justification by works’, understanding that phrase in a Pelagian or Arminian sense, as to make it difficult to articulate any sense of moral obligation or moral effort within the Christian.” This is so outrageously unfair to the Reformation, even to the Lutheran tradition, that Wright really ought to be ashamed of himself here. He should read Walter Marshall’s The Gospel Mystery of Sanctification or Edward Fisher’s The Marrow of Modern Divinity and seriously revise this caricature or eliminate it entirely. He might receive a bit more charity from old perspective people like myself if he himself were a bit more charitable towards the Reformation. A lot of his insights are not as original as he seems to think.

His understanding of the Reformational doctrine of justification is quite errant as well. For instance, in his description of the law-court setting of justification (take p. 100 as an example), he repeats the same error that was in What Saint Paul Really Said, namely, that the Reformational doctrine of justification has the judge passing his own righteousness to the defendant. There are only three parties in the courtroom, according to Wright’s account: the judge, the defendant, and the prosecutor. He leaves out the most important character of all: the Defense Attorney. In Reformational accounts of justification, it is our Divine Lawyer whose righteousness is imputed to us, not the Judge. The Judge passes the sentence of innocence on the basis of the imputed righteousness of Christ. This takes place because of our faith-union with Jesus Christ. In that divine marriage (which is both corporate and individual), all of our divine husband’s assets become ours, and all of our debts become His. The marriage being both individual and corporate actually makes the Reformational reading much more global than Wright’s reading, which leaves out and denies imputation, despite his attempts to say that the NPP really retains all that is good from the Reformation.

Later on in his career, though still having many false dichotomies and caricatures, he makes more of an effort to say things like “if you believe my view, you get everything the Reformation wanted and more” (see, e.g., p. 427). In his Justification and in what I’ve read so far of his massive Pauline theology, he seems more interested in moving beyond the old and new perspective divide, though still being firmly new perspective.

Another development that happened around 2000 is his interest in the thesis that “Jesus is Lord, therefore Caesar is not” (see his “Paul’s Gospel and Caesar’s Empire”, pp. 169ff.). Here there would be significantly more grounds for me to agree with his work. I can definitely see a lot of what he is saying in Paul’s letters, though I am still a moderate two kingdoms guy myself.

There is much more than could (and should) be said. This is a very important volume for understanding N.T. Wright’s work. There are valuable insights in this work, and also many errors. The critical reader needs to be discerning.

Lose 15 pounds in less than a day!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Too good to be true? No, it has worked for me five times. No gimmicks, just the straight stuff. In fact, in spite of the way it seems, it is a righteous and self-sacrificing thing to do. What is this amazing way? Many of you will have guessed already. It is, of course, giving birth. Just think of the advantages – you get to eat lots of food for months leading up the the one day instant diet, you get an adorable baby afterward to love and enjoy, and there’s no sit-ups involved (though there might be afterward!) So there it is, folks, my best diet tip. Enjoy:)

Please note that my wife actually wrote this post, thinking she was doing it on her blog, when she accidentally put it on my blog (she’s very new the whole blogging thing).

Some Thoughts on Doug Phillips

The internet is talking quite avidly about Doug Phillips’s letter that he posted on Vision Forum’s website, and the follow-up here. The reactions have varied from “I told you so” to godly grief and prayer. It is certainly inappropriate for those opposed to Doug Phillips’s ideas to gloat in his downfall, and to connect his downfall with his ideas in a direct line. I wonder if some of the talk is not lurid fascination with the scandalous. I am reminded of one of the Miss Marple videos “Murder at the Vicarage,” where the Vicar’s wife talked about the get-together that the ladies had every day, and called it “tea and scandal.”

A better tack has been advocated by some, and I think it is a better way to analyze the situation. Whenever a pastor preaches the Word of God on a particular sin, Satan will try mightily to undermine the pastor precisely in that area. This doesn’t happen only to people like Doug Phillips. Did you preach against greed on Sunday? Then beware of Satan’s temptations to greed throughout the week, and pray, pray, and pray some more. Did you preach against pornography? Then again, beware of Satan’s temptations in that area either in the immediate or even distant future, and pray, pray, and pray some more. The fact is, no matter what sin the pastor preaches against, Satan will love to tempt the pastor with that particular sin, because he knows he can cause more damage to the church that way.

Most pastors who have any experience whatsoever will be well aware of the fact that they are under almost constant assault from Satan’s temptations. He will try to make the pastor feel so hypocritical that the pastor will lose his preaching authority, and seek to water down the message so that he is no longer a hypocrite, or the pastor will preach only about one topic, trying to correct himself in that area, when he is in fact almost under the waves from that very temptation.

Note to those who listen to preachers: if that preacher has a hobby-horse, beware that something might be amiss in that particular area. The Word of God searches every area of life, not just one.

However, if the pastor is aware of this problem, he may try to over-correct by taking the teeth out of the practical application sections. How does a pastor avoid this? First of all, he does have to preach to himself first. Then, he must repent of his own sin and folly in that particular area. He must continually throw himself on the mercy of Christ. He must be the chief repenter. But then he must also believe that the blood of Christ really does cleanse him of that sin. Satan loves to lie to pastors with this simple, but effective lie: “Your sins, being that of the leader of the congregation, are much harder to forgive than the congregant’s sins.” Do not confuse consequences of sin with the guilt of sin. A pastor’s sins may have more grave consequences, but they are not more difficult for Christ’s blood to cleanse, since Christ’s blood has infinite power to cleanse.

It has been noted that Doug Phillips’s sin happened in the very area (marriage and family) that he preached most vociferously and counter-culturally. This is true. But given Satan’s tactics as noted above, it should not surprise us when Satan tries to get pastors to sin in just such areas.

In the following comment, I am making no judgment on what is in Doug Phillips’s heart. I am only using my imagination: it may not be true of his situation in any way. It is only a possibility. When a pastor preaches heavily on particular subjects, there is always the possibility that he can start to view the doctrines he has preached as safeguards for his own morality. He believes that extra-marital affairs are sin; therefore he won’t be tempted in that area, or if he is, he won’t fall. Again, given Satan’s tactics, pastors should be expecting the very opposite: the more strongly we believe and preach something, the more we should expect Satan to try to get us to fall precisely in that area. Doug Phillips may already know this. I don’t know, I’m just mentioning it, because I think it is important.

Our only true safeguard is the Triune God’s mercy and grace towards us, especially the Holy Spirit indwelling us and feeding us with Christ Himself. That is an empowering grace that enables us to put to death all (not just some) works of the flesh, and to put on Christ. This is what the Puritans called “mortification and vivification.” It is the putting off and the putting on. Another term to describe it is “sanctification.” We get this grace through the means of grace: Word, sacrament, and prayer.

As to Doug Phillips’s own ideas, I think he has some valuable things to say. There are certain areas where I think he may take some things to an extreme. But there is no doubt that he has pegged some serious wrong things about out culture and its vision of marriage. I say that because I have no joy whatsoever in what has happened to him or Vision Forum. I think it is tragic.

To those who would gloat over his downfall, just remember this: God is a God of resurrection. You may gloat over your fallen foe, but God may raise him up, Phoenix-like, and use him for His glory. I earnestly hope and pray that Doug Phillips will use this time to examine his ideas and doctrine once again in the light of Scripture, that he will listen to his critics, avoid completely a self-defensive attitude, and bring every thought captive to Jesus Christ and to His Word. May we do the same.

Two Unions?

It’s been a while since I actually posted on a theological topic vis-a-vis the Federal Vision, but I was prompted to do so by this article on the Aquila Report. I have a very high respect for Shane Lems and Andrew Compton both. Nevertheless, it seems to me that one aspect of Shane’s blog post needs a bit of sharpening.

The Federal Vision will typically claim that union with Christ is a losable benefit. When pressed, however, they will usually admit to two different unions: one that the elect have with Christ which is not losable, and one that the non-elect have with Christ, which is losable. The way I have typically described this is that the FV is Calvinistic with regard to the elect, and Arminian with regard to the non-elect who have this temporary union with Christ. However, they claim that the union with Christ which the non-elect have is a real union.

So, the point of Shane Lems’s article that I would gently suggest needs a little sharpening is his quotation of WLC 66 to address the losable union question. That question is explicitly talking about the union that the elect have with Christ. In my opinion, a better way to get at the question is to ask the question of whether the non-elect can have true union with Christ. Exegetical questions would revolve around John 15, in particular, which has been hashed out before on this blog. For other exegetical discussions, see the index.

For the confessional material, it seems easier to get at the issues by referring to those sections that talk about true union belonging only to the elect. WLC 68 is particularly apropos: “Are the elect only effectually called? All the elect, and they only, are effectually called: although others may be, and often are, outwardly called by the ministry of the word, and have some common operations of the Spirit; who, for their wilful neglect and contempt of the grace offered to them, being justly left in their unbelief, do never truly come to Jesus Christ” (emphasis added). Question 63 combined with question 65 is also a clear place to go, since those questions refer to the special benefits that members of the visible church enjoy (none of which includes union with Christ), and the special (or particular) benefits that the invisible church enjoys (which includes union).

Great Book on Canon

This book is one of the best books I’ve read in a long time, and that for a number of reasons. I tire quite easily and quickly of theologians who, being experts in one discipline (say, Old Testament), look down on the other theological disciplines (like, say, systematic theology). Kruger will have none of that. He mixes in exegetical, systematic, historical, apologetic, and practical disciplines in one happy feast. Of course, that might be grist for criticism from some reviewers, but this reviewer found it quite refreshing. We need more generalist theologians rather desperately.

A second reason I really like this book is the wealth of scholarship on offer. Kruger has really done his homework, and there is no doubt that he is one of the world’s experts on canon. And yet, this scholarship never overwhelms the prose, which is compact, pithy, and accessible.

A third reason (and the reason I picked up the book to read in the first place) has to do with his treatment of Roman Catholicism vis-a-vis the canon. Kruger is always quick to point out strengths and truth in opposing viewpoints while pointing out the extremes. In his treatment of Roman Catholicism on the question of canon, for example, he points out that the community does have a role in the formation of the canon. It just doesn’t have the exclusive role. The primary driver in the Reformed position on the canon is the self-authenticating nature of Scripture. But that does not meant that history and community play no role whatsoever.

Among the many insights that Kruger offers, I want to point out some of the most important answers to Roman Catholic objections to Sola Scriptura. First of all, he notes that there are plenty of Roman Catholics out there who do not believe that the church created the canon (see p. 41). Even Vatican I states that the church holds these books to be canonical no because of the church’s authority but because they have God as their author. To put it lightly, this is not the position of most Roman Catholic apologists today who argue against the Protestant position. In addressing Patrick Madrid, for instance, and his objection about the “divinely inspired table of contents,” Kruger rightly notes that this objection is artificial, since, even if there was a divinely inspired document that was a table of contents, that also would need to be authenticated by the church, and would never satisfy Roman Catholic objections, “because they have already determined, a priori, that no document could ever be self-attesting” (p. 43).

He mentions that the early Christian church did have a canon: it’s called the Old Testament now (p. 44). So, unless the church wants to claim that it created the Old Testament canon as well (before the church was even officially in existence), we fall back to the Protestant position that the church is built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets (Ephesians 2:20).

This raises the question of how the Roman Catholic church establishes its own authority. If the church is to be infallible, then it must have an infallible foundation for its infallible authority. Where is this infallible foundation? Kruger remarks on the three possibilities: 1. Scripture is the source for the infallibility of the church (which would be rather viciously circular if the church grounds the canon, and the canon grounds the church); 2. external evidence from the history of the church (his reply here is that historical evidence cannot be infallible. His footnote 79 on p. 47 is particularly telling); 3. the church is itself self-authenticating (the church is infallible because it says so, to which Kruger responds that the Roman Catholic church chiding the Reformers for positing a Sola Scriptura self-authenticating model seems a bit hypocritical when it is advocating a self-authenticating Sola Ecclesia model).

This book is essential reading on the canon, all the more so for those engaged in Roman Catholic-Protestant debate. Tolle lege.

Evangel Presbytery Stands to be Counted

On the Aquila Report, you can read of the latest development in the Leithart saga. The account points out the bind into which this decision puts Leithart. He will not be able to stay in the PCA, since he is required to have the “full concurrence” of Evangel Presbytery in order to labor out of bounds at that position at Trinity House. I wish to point out a few of the implications of this unanimous vote by Evangel Presbytery.

First of all, it is quite apparent that the “grass-roots” experiment, which I regard as a complete failure, is nevertheless a double-edged weapon in the hands of those who wish to see our denomination get broader and broader. My puny little comments on this blog are one thing. A court’s decision is quite another thing. All of those who wish me to shut up about Leithart are now going to have to say the same thing to an entire court of the church. I stand with Evangel Presbytery.

Secondly, for all those interpreting the SJC’s decision to be an exoneration of Leithart’s doctrine, please note that if you believe that, then you must also believe that Evangel Presbytery is in direct violation of the SJC’s decision. They are living in full-blown rebellion against a higher court of the church. How about them apples? It will be interesting to see if any of the FV-friendly Presbyteries decide to contest Evangel’s decision (which cannot be complained against, since it was unanimous). For anyone who believes that the SJC decision exonerates Leithart’s doctrine, you will need to do something about Evangel Presbytery.

Thirdly, and building on the previous point, this vote will probably have the effect of cementing the interpretation of the SJC’s decision in the Leithart case in a direction other than doctrinal vindication, especially if the FV-friendly Presbyteries do nothing about Evangel’s decision (which will amount to a tacit agreement that the Leithart decision was not doctrinal). This is, of course, what the authors of the decision intended, anyway. If that is the case (and that is a genuine “if,” since the jury is still out on that one), then the denomination has not publicly pronounced in favor of FV doctrine. The logic would then inexorably lead to this conclusion: the Leithart decision, because it is based on polity, and not the doctrinal issues at all, is a lost battle, and not the war. In that case, we will need to fight tooth and nail in the upcoming battles, and there will be more.

I want to say publicly that I applaud loud and long Evangel Presbytery, and I am thanking the Lord profusely for every member of Evangel Presbytery, who yesterday stood to be counted for the gospel. As for Evangel Presbytery, they will serve the Lord. I hope and pray that other Presbyteries will take similar action.

Retrieving the Lord’s Supper

A very common attitude that I have seen these days is that the Lord’s Supper is not a gospel issue. Therefore, issues surrounding the Lord’s Supper are peripheral, not central. I wish to challenge this assumption rather sharply. It came to a focus for me after reading this outstanding book on the Lord’s Supper. The fact is that the Lord’s Supper is gospel proclamation. Take 1 Corinthians 11:26 as proof of this: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.” That word “proclaim” is a preaching word. The Lord’s Supper is a proclamation of the gospel every bit as much as preaching itself is, though the mode is different. Reformed theology has always tied Word and Sacrament together. Calvin believed that not only does the Lord’s Supper signify and seal the Word of God, but the preaching helps us to understand the sacrament.

A second swath of evidence is the myriad of books that the Reformers wrote on the Lord’s Supper. They wrote more books about the Lord’s Supper than they wrote about justification, Scripture, or worship. Obviously, the Reformers did not think of the sacraments as peripheral at all.

Mathison argues that one of the reason why the Lord’s Supper has become a peripheral issue for evangelicalism is that the true view of Calvin has given way to the early Zwinglian view. We have relegated the Lord’s Supper to something we do in our own minds as a pledge of our devotion to Christ, almost completely forgetting that it is a means of grace. Of course, the Lord’s Supper (abbrev. “LS”) is not something in which we are passive. However, the LS is a means of grace, not just a pledge. The LS is therefore in the same category as prayer and preaching, NOT in the same category as recitation of creeds, or profession of faith, or singing of hymns.

Mathison also posits that Calvin’s view is not something actually held much today (though he sees a resurgence), even by those who claim to hold to it. Calvin’s view can be summarized this way: 1. Jesus Christ is physically located in heaven; 2. Therefore we do not masticate Christ with the physical mouth (we don’t have bits of Christ floating around in our intestines), but the spiritual mouth, which is faith; 3. We feed on Christ’s actual body and blood, though not in the bread and wine; 4. The Holy Spirit bridges the distance between Christ and us through our union with Christ; 5. God communicates Christ to us through this means of grace; 6. The sign is connected to the thing signified, but is distinguished from it, such that unbelievers get nothing, but believers get Christ; 7. By “spiritual presence” Calvin does not mean that Christ is present to us only in a spiritual way, but rather that the whole Christ (including His physical body!) is given to us by the Holy Spirit through our union with Him.

Before you jump on this summary by saying that it is absurd, you should read Mathison’s book. It is an excellent cure for the incipient memorialist, pietist (as opposed to pious), non-means-of-grace understanding of the LS that is so prevalent today.

SJC Answers the Overtures in the Negative

There were three overtures in the last General Assembly requesting the SJC to take over original jurisdiction in the Leithart case. The SJC has ruled on those three overtures in the negative. The reasoning of the overtures was that a mistrial should have been declared, given the conflict of interest of the prosecutor. Given, then, a failure to act (regarding the conflict of interest, NOT the charges themselves: the decision of the SJC miscontrues the overtures on this point) on the part of PNW Presbytery, the SJC should take over original jurisdiction. The judgment concludes that BCO 34-1 does not allow the General Assembly to assume original jurisdiction over a case that has already been adjudicated. Then, invoking the principle of double jeopardy (though qualifying it by saying that new grounds for charges could emerge in new publications), the decision says that a person cannot be charged for the same crimes after being acquitted (this is the definition of the principle of double jeopardy).

On the key issue of the mistrial, the concurring opinion states that a mistrial can only be declared while the trial is ongoing. It cannot be declared after the trial is concluded. However, the concurring opinion (written by RE Sam Duncan) disagrees with the main decision in one respect, by saying that there was a refusal to act on the part of PNW Presbytery, since the Presbytery did know of the Prosecutor’s struggles, but did not report this fact to the Presbytery. He says that there was a time to request original jurisdiction, and that was during the time the complaint was being handled in the PNW Presbytery. During that time, the decision of the PNW Presbytery could not be viewed as final, and thus there would have been no double jeopardy.

The basis for the main decision, however, is the concept of double jeopardy as it has been viewed in the Western legal tradition and the Constitution of the US. As far as I know, there is nothing in the BCO that even supports double jeopardy. If someone were continuing to commit adultery, and was acquitted the first time in an ecclesiastical court, would that mean that we could not bring up charges again based on his continuing sin? Similarly, the views of Leithart, if they are in error, are continuing offenses. Those books are still being published and sent out. Leithart hasn’t changed his views whatsoever. He still teaches error after the trial is concluded.

Still, this decision does not leave us with a lot of choices. Leithart has moved to Birmingham, AL, which is in the jurisdiction of Evangel Presbytery. There are some issues that will probably come up with regard to that move. It is still disappointing that our SJC refuses to address the doctrinal issues at stake. This decision will not promote either the peace or the purity of the church.