It is now official. I have been examined and approved by the OPC’s Presbytery of the Midwest for a call from Momence OPC, which is south of Chicago about 35 or 40 miles. The presbytery is an extremely congenial presbytery, full of vanilla presbyterians like myself. I want my friends in the PCA to know that I still love the PCA, and I did not leave primarily for ideological reasons. The main reason was that Momence OPC and I really hit it off, and we appear to be a good fit for each other. I had applied to churches in several NAPARC denominations, but this church is the one that worked out. That being said, I will not particularly miss the progressive wing of the PCA, and I daresay that some of them will not miss me! I will continue, however, to pray for my confessional brothers and sisters in the PCA, that they will not compromise, but will hold fast the faith once for all delivered to the saints. I will continue also to follow the PCA with interest and prayer. I cannot forget a denomination of which I have been a part for 38 years!
March 10, 2017 at 10:40 am (Covenant)
In this post, we look at Part I, chapter 3, sections 3 and 4 of the report, the historical examination of the Westminster divines’ exegesis of key passages. The third section starts out by noticing that certain passages that speak of a works principle are applied to the Mosaic economy in the prooftexts of the Westminster Assembly. However, the question that remains when this is noted is whether this supports a Westminsterian substantial republication idea, or some other position. The range of the question must be carefully noted here, for they are not asking what is the range of Westminsterian opinion on the Mosaic economy as a whole. Rather, the inquiry focuses on the divines’ exegesis of key passages that were cited in the prooftexts.
Their conclusion surprised them a bit. There does not seem to be much evidence in the exegesis of those texts for a substantial republication idea. It looks as though William Gouge is the only divine who would seem to point in that direction. There is ample evidence for other positions, such as the position of William Strong, who held that the CoW is always republished with regard to unbelievers (I hold this position at the least, as indeed, probably most Reformed folk do who hold to the CoW at all). The committee also found evidence for the view that the CoW is administratively republished in the Mosaic economy as an equivalent of the pedagogical use of the law (this also seems reasonable to me).
The fourth section asks questions regarding trajectories. The trajectory of a substantial republication does not seem justified by the Standards. Even if the door is “cracked open” a little bit, that does not change the overall situation. The basic covenantal theology of the Westminster Standards is that the substance of the CoG is repeated in all the post-lapsarian covenantal iterations. If there is an administrative overlay of something else, that can in no way compromise the underlying continuity of the substance. On the level of covenantal administration, the Westminster Standards freely acknowledge redemptive-historical change (“differently administered in the time of the law, and the time of the gospel” in WCF 7.5 and similar language in other places).
It seems plain to this writer that the term “substantial” is important to define. If “substantial” means “of the substance of the covenant,” then it is obvious that the Mosaic economy is not a republication of the CoW in this substantial sense. However, if the word “substantial” is used in some other sense, then there might be a bit more room for discussion.
Again, the larger questions have to do with how God treated Israel in the land, so I will take another stab at this question. On the one hand, if Israel was either to acquire or retain the land on the basis of their own perfect and personal obedience, then why weren’t they kicked out of the land far sooner than they were? If Israel was either to acquire or retain the land on the basis of Christ’s perfect and personal obedience, then why would they ever be kicked out, unless faith was made a necessary instrument? It seems dubious to me, however, to make acquisition or retention of the land dependent on the instrument of faith. Obedience and disobedience seem clearly to be a factor in Israel’s retention of the land, but if it is not perfect and personal obedience, then how do we understand this conundrum?
While I haven’t yet worked out all the details, it still seems to me profitable to understand the relationship between God and Israel as being a filial one at just this point. Just as a father might make retention of a place in the home to be dependent on the son obeying certain rules, so also might God have done. The underlying relationship is not based on works, but on the grace of filial adoptive relationship (and salvation is of grace). This would help explain why there was so much slack built in to the arrangement (an earthly father would surely not kick out his son from the home on the first or even tenth violation of the rules). However, as a long-standing pattern of disobedience started to emerge in Israel’s history, the Heavenly Father (slow to anger and abounding in lovingkindness), in His good timing, decided (according to His eternal plan, of course) that filial discipline was needed. Hence the exile. Just as an earthly father may come to the point where he decides that his son is so consistently disobedient that the arrangement can no longer continue, but that discipline is needed, and kicks the son out of the house in order to bring him to his senses, so also God saw that discipline was needed for Israel and Judah. Given the fact that the situation in the Garden of Eden was so much stricter, and that one instance of disobedience only was required to break the covenant completely, I think the most we can say is that there are quite possibly echoes of Eden in the Mosaic economy. Indeed, the very fact that so much slack is built in to the Mosaic economy must be proof against a substantial republication idea. God did not deal with Israel’s sins as Israel deserved.
On this understanding, one crucial question must be asked: how does this idea of fatherly disciplne square with the divorce language of the prophets and the marital metaphors concomitant with the situation? First of all, it must be noted that more than one metaphor is appropriate when considering God’s relationship to His people. The people of God are both God’s adopted children, and, at the same time, the bride of Christ. Even the divorce language of the prophets, however, must be softened by the situation of Hosea pursuing after his bride, even after her unfaithfulness. There is always a remnant. God never abandoned His people, even in the exile, as Ezekiel and Daniel well attest. I believe that the language of a final end must be interpreted as the language of shock and awe, used to bring God’s people to their senses. If one takes the language of a final end in an absolute sense, then we cannot make sense of the return or the idea of a remnant. In other words, the metaphors of adoption and marriage in the Old Testament cannot be pressed beyond their proper boundaries so as to come into conflict with one another.
I am not going to get into a discussion of the interpretation of the Van Til-Clark debate, and whether they were talking past each other or not. I am only going to address a small part of the discussion, namely, the difference between archetypal and ectypal knowledge, and whether this forms an area of common ground between God and man.
First, some definitions are in order. The archetypal/ectypal knowledge distinction is not by any means original with Van Til. It comes from Protestant Scholasticism. For instance, see the first few chapters of Markius’ Compendium Theologiae Christianae. Archetypal knowledge is the knowledge that God has. Ectypal knowledge is the knowledge that creatures have. The scholastics usually divided ectypal knowledge into the knowledge of angels and humans. Then human knowledge was further subdivided into the knowledge of man at creation, the knowledge of man as distorted by the Fall, the knowledge of the pilgrim, the knowledge of the blessed (glorified in heaven), and the knowledge of Christ as the God-man, Who had two knowledges, if you will, the archetypal knowledge of God according to the divine nature, and the knowledge of the hypostatic union as the God-man.
One of the points at issue, and the one most controverted, is whether God’s knowledge and man’s knowledge coincide at any point. Usually those of the Clarkian persuasion will say that of course it must coincide, or else we are doomed to complete skepticism and we cannot know anything correctly. Those who follow Van Til believe that such a coinciding would violate the Creator-creature distinction. Sometimes a quantitative/qualitative distinction is introduced here as well. Those of the Clarkian persuasion would say that God knows a greater number of thoughts than we do, but that there are at least some thoughts that God and man have in common. To put it in its most forceful way, wouldn’t God have to know all ectypal knowledge in order to be omniscient? If we look at a pencil, and can agree that a human knowledge of a pencil might extend to its molecular structure, wouldn’t God also have to know the way in which we know the pencil in order to be omniscient? Wouldn’t there be overlap precisely at that point between God’s knowledge and man’s knowledge? Van Til and his followers would claim that there is a qualitative distinction between God’s knowledge and man’s knowledge just as there is a qualitative difference between God’s being and our being.
So what am I adding to this conversation? I believe that there is a way beyond the forceful way of putting things that I mentioned. It has to do with the atomization of knowledge implied in Clark’s way of thinking. By putting the matter in quantitative terms, God’s thoughts, while infinite in number, are thought of as building blocks. They are discrete points in a matrix, if you will, that extend infinitely in all directions. But God’s knowledge cannot be atomized in this way. If Van Til is correct in his analysis of facts having both substance and context, then the holistic context of all things (and by this context I am NOT positing some sort of higher reality to which both God and creation belong), including Himself, is always the context for God knowing all things, including His knowledge of ectypal knowledge. We cannot atomize God’s knowledge of ectypal knowledge from the rest of God’s knowledge. That context is one that humans will never and can never share, since that context would include God Himself in all His fullness. God’s knowledge is whole, just like His being is a simple whole. The simplicity of God prevents our dividing God into pieces. Therefore, His knowledge must be likewise one whole.
So this formulation of things must also answer the objection: how can our knowledge be true at all? Are we doomed to skepticism? The answer is a simple no, because of God’s self-revelation to us in both nature and Scripture. We would be doomed to skepticism if God did not reveal Himself to us, because then we would have no test of knowledge given to us by God. This would also answer the possible charge that we have descended into Kantianism (the idea that we cannot know anything in the noumenal realm, but only believe). If God did not choose to reveal Himself to us, then we would indeed know nothing. However, revelation is God’s way of ensuring that we can know things rightly, even if in a limited creaturely way. God’s revelation is an anchor that tethers all human knowledge.
The other objection that must be answered is this: is God’s knowledge then the all-encompassing whole that everything belongs to? Do we lapse into a form of idealism by saying this? Again the answer is no, simply because God’s knowledge is distinct from creation itself, just as God’s being is distinct from creation. We cannot separate epistemology from ontology in our thinking.
February 7, 2017 at 4:00 pm (Covenant)
In this post, we will cover Part I, Chapter 3, sections I and II of the report, dealing with creation, law, and covenant.
The committee makes a very important point with regard to creation and covenant, and that is that creation and covenant are not synonymous. It is quite true that the covenant of works was a special act of providence (providence set over against creation). However, the committee is equally clear that this point does not preclude republication views by itself, since some republication advocates appear to hold to a closer relationship of creation to covenant, whereas others do not (although they give no citations here, which would have been helpful).
The second section deals with the relationship of law and covenant, which is fairly complicated. They have in common that they both require perfect and personal obedience. However, law is something imprinted on the human heart at creation, whereas covenant is not. The WS’s treatment of both is fairly nuanced. Their description is that covenant is a broader category than law. However, the requirements of perfect and personal obedience, combined with the sanctions for disobedience and blessings for obedience have made republication a possibility, especially in Hodge and the Marrow men.
My friend has finally finished his published book on adoption, and it looks to be a dandy. I have only read the sample so far, but it looks to be encyclopedically informed, confessionally Reformed, exegetically sensitive, Vossian biblical-theologically, historically exhaustive, systematic theologically incisive, and pastorally rich. Adoption really is the most under-rated doctrine of all. It is fully as important as justification itself, and is a key plank of union with Christ, which has finally come into its own. Take it and read!
January 27, 2017 at 3:41 pm (Covenant)
In this post, we will address the interpretation of WCF 19, a vitally important point to the whole debate. For ease of reference, sections 1-3 of chapter 19 will be reproduced here in full:
19:1 God gave to Adam a law, as a covenant of works, by which He bound him and all his posterity to personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience; promised life upon the fulfilling, and threatened death upon the breach of it: and endued him with power and ability to keep it.
19:2 This law, after his fall, continued to be a perfect rule of righteousness, and, as such, was delivered by God upon Mount Sinai, in ten commandments, and written in two tables: the four first commandments containing our duty towards God; and the other six our duty to man.
19:3 Besides this law, commonly called moral, God was pleased to give to the people of Israel, as a church under age, ceremonial laws, containing several typical ordinances, partly of worship, prefiguring Christ, His graces, actions, sufferings, and benefits; and partly holding forth divers instructions of moral duties. All which ceremonial laws are now abrogated, under the new testament.
I have not found republication arguments convincing on this section. For one thing, no republication advocate believes that the Mosaic economy required personal, entire, exact, and perpetual obedience. Of course, they usually have an answer for this difference, namely, that the works required in the Mosaic economy are typological.
For another thing, as the committee notes, the words “as such” in section 2 do not refer to “law as a covenant of works,” but rather to “perfect rule of righteousness.” So, while it is true that the three paragraphs need to be read together, and not as completely separate, this fact does not prove the republication theory.
However, I am just as equally unconvinced that this passage actively forbids all forms of republication. As the committee says, there is not enough evidence here to judge one way or the other. Not even section 6 is conclusive. I am not sure what significance the committee notices in the comma after “works” in section 6. It does not seem to me to affect the sense much, especially when one considers that the 17th century authors tended to be somewhat comma-happy, putting them in even in places where we might not.
Their conclusion is very cautious: at this point in their inquiry, they do not see the WCF as either blessing republication or condemning it.
January 26, 2017 at 12:58 pm (Covenant)
In this post we will address Part I, Chapter 2, section III B of the report, entitled “Not Names, But Things.” The main burden of the section is to note that Reformation era writers often relied on juxtaposition for qualification, especially when it comes to any kind of formulation of republication. Robert Baillie’s statements are an excellent example of this principle. The reason why it is important is that the juxtaposition needs to be seen and acknowledged, or else a particular writer might be relegated to the realm of the heterodox. Baillie’s own position is that the substance of the Mosaic covenant is the covenant of grace (or else the Old Testament fathers are lost), but that the clothing, as it were, is of the covenant of works, and is tied to temporal blessings. But this clothing does not change the substance of the Mosaic economy into anything mixed. If one part of Baillie is quoted, and another part ignored, then a highly distorted picture of his views could emerge. The committee recommends similar care with regard to modern advocates of republication.
This whole principle is then placed in a larger context of the word/concept distinction. They argue that it is not problematic to call the Mosaic covenant a covenant of works. The term itself does not convey much. It is rather what is meant by the terms in the way they are used that has to be ascertained. It is a good caution for anyone in the debate to slow down and listen more carefully. Sometimes I get the impression that critics of republication don’t always listen very carefully, or else they sometimes (not always!) listen to secondary sources before primary (like using Patrick Ramsey for interpreting Kline instead of Kline for interpreting Kline).
Douglas Wilson is going to (eventually) produce a statement of his faith that will be a non-consensus document vis-a-vis the Federal Vision Joint Statement. In this he hopes to clarify where he is now doctrinally, specifically with regard to paedocommunion and the objectivity of the covenant. It will follow the same topical order as the Joint Statement, but will be all Wilson, no consensus. He hopes that people will wish him luck, and then lightheartedly mentions me. I did laugh, by the way, Doug. And I certainly hope for the best and wish you the best in this endeavor.
One of the biggest concerns in my mind, at least, will be the definitions of terms. One of the reasons that the FV theology is so hard to describe is that it tends to use normal Reformed words like “election, regeneration, baptism, justification,” etc., and infuse them (pun intended) with new meaning. This has made communication nearly impossible from the get-go. Many critics have tried (and I am certainly one of them) to understand how the FV uses terms differently. We have been told rather consistently that we just don’t understand. So, one of my hopes is that in this proposed document, Wilson will include lots of very precise definitions of words so that we can see how he is using them. This will make it much easier to compare with the Westminster Standards, to which standard Wilson claims a close affinity.
What will also be helpful will be specific statements of what is repudiated from the Joint Statement. Mere parallelism of document will not convince any critic that Wilson has left errors behind. Wilson was the main editor of the Joint Statement, and the Statement has many significant errors in it. In order for us to believe that he is coming around to a truly Westminsterian viewpoint, some significant repudiation will be required. There is also the consideration that Jim Cassidy wrote about here. I am sure that there are other things which critics will want to see, which we can clarify as Wilson goes forward.
January 25, 2017 at 1:35 pm (Covenant)
The OPC report speaks of a variety of views that were on offer with regard to republication. By the way, we are looking at Part I, Chapter 2, sections II and III-A in this post. The fact that the Westminster Assembly only explicitly rejected Tobias Crisp’s covenantal notions (Crisp believed that the New Covenant was substantially different than the Old Testament iterations of the Covenant of grace, such that they could not be considered as the same covenant in substance) does not tell us much more than that. This leaves us without clear standing on the question of whether more views than Crisp’s were either condoned or condemned.
However, support of an allowance of some forms of republication can be found in two points, according to the committee: 1. The presence of covenantal conditions in WLC 93 (the committee argues that bare precepts are more usual with the moral law per se, whereas the presence of conditions usually signals a covenant); and 2. The prooftexts underlying WCF 7.2’s description of the covenant of works are verses that apply to the Mosaic covenant. As the committee says, “How could the assembly think these passages relevant if a majority of its members did not see substantive continuities between the prelapsarian covenant of works and the Mosaic covenant?”
This leads us straight to a consideration of how the prooftexts function. While they are not a confessional issue per se, they do offer a window into the interpretation of the Westminster Standards, since they were carefully chosen, according to the extended quotation of Chad Van Dixhoorn. Hence, they make it into the report as part of an argument.
It seems clear that the committee is concerned to ensure that at least some views of republication are consistent with the Westminster Standards. Which ones are and which ones aren’t remain to be seen, but I am certainly in agreement with this assessment, even though I don’t think my own views would be described fairly as republication.
Doug Wilson is older than I. I am therefore hesitant to write this, since it could be perceived as arrogant. However, I am fairly confident that older men than I who are critics of the FV would agree with either all or part of what I am about to write.
Firstly, I want to note that responses I have seen to Wilson’s post are generally skeptical. Wilson has not really moved in his theology, though the responses are also acknowledging gratitude for Wilson’s distance from Leithart. The critics want to see some movement in Wilson’s theology towards the Westminster Standards, though, not just in his terminology. Some still see Wilson’s post as yet another example of slippery language. It’s possible, although I want to leave the door as wide open as possible for Wilson to move towards us.
Secondly, I think Wilson needs to do some rebuilding, specifically, of his theology. Wilson does not have a seminary degree. There is something about a wholesome seminary education that allows one to see the virtues of one’s theological tradition in a holistic way. In the past, I have seen Wilson (and others in the FV tradition) cherry-pick the Reformed tradition, looking only for statements that seem to support their position, ignoring the vastly more solid (not to mention voluminous!) majority of what the Reformed tradition has to offer.
How does one rebuild a Reformed theology? It should happen in an encylopedically sound way. By this I mean that all the theological disciplines need to be seen as interdependent (this is what the science of theological encyclopedia is all about, especially in non-Enlightenment driven, confessionally Reformed circles). In other words, the best works in each discipline ought to be the building blocks that one uses on top of the foundation of Scripture itself (which nothing can replace, of course).
What would these building blocks be? Well, the most encyclopedically sound approach would be to take the best representatives of Reformed systematic theology and read those. The advantage of this approach is that not only do the best systematicians have an eye towards the other disciplines, but also one can have a much better opportunity to learn what “vanilla confessionally Reformed” theology is from its best proponents. The systematic theologies of Calvin, Turretin, Hodge, Bavinck, Vos, and Berkhof come immediately to mind as non-idiosyncratic representatives of the Reformed tradition.
On certain topics, additional focus should be given. The three main topics of the Reformation should have a certain priority after general dogmatics: doctrines of Scripture, justification, and worship. On Scripture, William Whitaker’s Disputations and Richard Muller’s volume 2 of Post-Reformation Reformed Dogmatics will cover most of the important bases. On justification, besides the excellent treatments in the systematic theologies listed above, essential reading is volume 5 of John Owen’s Works, as well as Buchanan’s treatment of justification. J.V. Fesko’s recent book will cover all the modern debates from a confessional perspective. On worship, authors like Calvin, Gillespie, Old, and Johnson seem to me to be the most important.
I have recommendations on commentaries (see the indices), so that leaves biblical theology, church history, apologetics, and practical theology. In biblical theology, one cannot do better than Vos, Beale, Goldsworthy and Clowney. For church history, there is Kuiper’s history of the church, which, although brief, is exceedingly good. One will have to go outside the Reformed tradition a bit, however, if one wants more depth in general church history. There is d’Aubigne, of course, but even he does not cover everything. Nor does Schaff, who is somewhat idiosyncratic, as good an historian as he was. For apologetics, one reads Van Til, Bahnsen, Oliphint, Pratt, and Edgar (Wilson is already an accomplished apologist). For practical theology, one needs to read the Puritans, the Puritans, and a little more of the Puritans. Owen, Brooks, Bunyan, Goodwin, Flavel, Sibbes, Manton, and Edwards come to mind.
So, suppose Wilson answers by saying, “I’ve read all these, what more must I do to inherit eternal life?” My response would be, “How did you read these?” Did you read them in order to confirm what you already hold by virtue of listening too much to the modern FV proponents, Girard, and a few other authors? I suspect not, in which case they need to be reread. Read for the center of confessional Reformed theology. Dig deeper, not sideways. Ditch the Joint Statement entirely. Don’t go for idiosyncratic, but instead go for the vanilla. The whole Reformed world would welcome you back.