Relativism and the Church

Relativism is the third tooth in the mouth of the wolf that attacks the church. This one is particularly nasty, in my opinion, because it is so prevalent, and so hard to fight. You can’t always even use logic to fight this one, because they usually reject logic outright (at least, they say they do). The consequences are severe for the church. Everything becomes “relational,” while commitment to truth simultaneously erodes (see Sittema, With a Shepherd’s Heart, p. 61). The only thing that is absolutely wrong is to hold absolute values (pp. 62-63). Church discipline becomes extremely difficult, since how dare those elders tell me that I am sinning! People lose conviction that the Bible is really God’s Word.

Sittema gives us five suggestions on how to fight this horrific error. 1. Proclaim loudly and often the infallible and absolute authority of the Bible; 2. Call sin by its rightful name: sin! 3. Teach the Bible (I would include with this Bible memorization); 4. Rebuke sinners with the Bible; and 5. Lead by example. I might add a few other suggestions here that will help, especially geared towards young people, who are the most affected by relativism. 6. Teach young people the catechisms, so that it’s in their blood. 7. Preach against the television (who can fight the indoctrination of relativism if the television has such a complete grasp of the time of our young people? Plus, there is usually little of value on the TV) 8. Teach apologetics to the youth groups and to college age folks, so that they are not only aware of relativism, but also how to understand it and avoid it, and even maybe help others avoid it.

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Trust and Belief

Sean Gerety has posted a thoughtful short essay on saving faith and trust. I thought I would respond to it here and see what people thought about this.

First of all, I think two problems are evident. On the one hand, when looking at the Clarkian position, the tendency has been to say that Clark believes in salvation by intellectual assent alone. This is not what Clark is saying. Clark most definitely includes a personal appropriation of the truth of the Gospel when he talks about saving faith.

On the other side, when people look at the three-fold definition of knowledge, assent, and trust, that last word is ambiguous. What is trust? Is it a once-for-all entrustment of the soul to God? Or is it a lifelong loyalty to the covenant? Here is where the rubber hits the road. It becomes a little bit more complicated once we introduce the distinction between justification and sanctification into the picture.

I would say that if we use the word “trust” in relation to justifying faith (faith as related to justification specifically), we absolutely have to eliminate any thought of life-long loyalty from the discussion, because then we would be justified by loyalty, which obviously includes works of loyalty. So, if we use the word “trust,” then we have to limit it to the once-for-all entrustment of the soul to God.

Now, let us relate this once-for-all entrustment of the soul to God, on the one hand, to belief in a personal appropriation of the Gospel, on the other hand. Are they not really the same thing? The former is what most Reformed theologians have said. Clark has said it in the latter way. Might they not actually be the same thing? At this moment in time, I am more inclined to favor the personal appropriation language of belief to describe the third element of faith, precisely since, as Sean has pointed out, the word “trust” is so ambiguous.

To conclude, when Clark/Gerety et al say “justification by belief alone” they are not talking about just knowledge, or even just assent. They are also including in that a personal appropriation of that truth to the sinner. I do not see a whopping difference between that and what others have said concerning trust. Are you not placing your trust in God when you come to the belief that God’s Gospel applies to you personally? Maybe the two orthodox sides are not so different after all.

The New Perspective on Paul Schools the FV

I was quite pleasantly surprised to find this in none other than James Dunn’s commentary on Romans. Given the recent discussions on faith versus faithfulness, I thought people might enjoy mulling over this quotation. Dunn is commenting on Romans 4:21 (which describes Abraham’s confidence that God fulfills His promises):

It was confidence in God, a positive acknowledgment of God’s power as creator, a calm certainty that God had made known to Abraham his purpose and could be relied on to perform it without further question or condition. Here from another aspect is the same reason why Abraham’s faith should not be though of in terms of covenant loyalty or as incomplete apart from works, for faith is confidence in God’s loyalty as alone necessary, as alone able, as alone sufficient to bring God’s promise to full effect (p. 239 of volume 1).

It should be noted here that in the context of Romans, Paul goes on immediately to apply Abraham’s faith as a template or example for us (see 4:23). I should note that this quotation does not alleviate the other problems in Dunn’s theology. However, on this point, Dunn seems to agree with the critics of the FV.

Two Baptisms Or One?

I am becoming more and more convinced that the Federal Vision believes in two baptisms. Consider this point: do they expect an infant baptism to work the same way an adult baptism would? This presupposes another question, of course: should our doctrine of baptism be able to take into account all baptisms? The answer to this latter question is yes, since we believe in one baptism, as Ephesians 4:5 tells us, and as the creeds tell us. So the problem for the FV is this: if the sign and the thing signified are tied so closely together that you can’t even insert a credit card in between the two, then how to explain adult baptisms? Does the adult get the thing signified at the time point of faith, or do we have to tell him, “Whoa there, slow down, pardner! You don’t have union with Christ and forgiveness of sins until you’re baptized.” Isn’t that telling an adult that faith alone is not sufficient for justification?

Let’s try a thought experiment that seeks to make infant baptisms and adult baptisms work the same way. Let’s suppose that an adult comes to faith before he receives the sign and seal (like Abraham in Romans 4, for instance). Could this be paralleled in an infant’s life? Sure thing. An infant can trust in its Creator even in the womb (an implication of John the Baptist, not to mention David’s strong language of infant faith in the Psalms). Okay, what about coming to faith after baptism, can that happen? This is also very possible. An adult can fool himself into thinking that he has real faith, and only realizes his mistake after baptism. We would certainly not re-baptize such a person. His faith came after the sign and seal. This also happens with infants, since it happened with me. I came to faith when I was six, though baptized as an infant. And no, no one doubted my words when I said I came to faith. I was always encouraged to hold to what I said. I was encouraged both before and after my conversion to grow up in the nurture and admonition of the Lord. My parents did not assume one way or the other whether I was saved or not. In other words, I myself do not fit the FV paradigm.

If one believes, then, that the thing signed and sealed always comes at the time-point of baptism, then one believes in two baptisms, because it never happens that way with an adult, and almost never with an infant. Would a church responsibly baptize an adult who did not have a credible profession of faith? Of course not. In baptizing an adult, the church is required to assume that the thing signified is already present. Therefore, the FV believes in two baptisms. It works one way for infants, and another way for adults. This is not tenable, and it is certainly not confessional. The Westminster standards says that the efficacy of the sacraments is not tied to the moment when they are administered. It comes in God’s own appointed time. That appointed time is when the Holy Spirit comes upon the person in power and changes that person from a citizen of Hell to a citizen of Heaven. That happens by faith alone.

This is why saying that sign and thing signified always or even mostly occur at the same time is very dangerous. Whenever God gives faith-that is when the thing signified and sealed is granted. God is not tied to the moment of baptism to give that.

One commenter long ago wrote on this blog that the FV is a baby-driven theology. I think this is true. Rather than coming at the sacrament in such a way that all forms of it fit the same template, so as to have only one baptism, they think almost exclusively in terms of how a baby experiences baptism, and it is not consistent with how the adult baptism works. They should work the same way.

Faith Strengthened

Romans 1:8-15

8/15/2010

Audio Version

It is a wonderful thing to have one’s faith strengthened by someone else. It could be a small or a big thing. Maybe it gives you that boost that you needed to start climbing your way out of despair. Or maybe you just needed a little pep in your walk, and someone gives you a word of encouragement. Maybe it’s a worship service that seemingly lifts you to heaven itself. Regardless of what it is, you know that God sent it to you at just the right time. That may well have been how the Romans would have felt on hearing these words from the apostle Paul. Of course, most of the Roman Christians had not ever seen the apostle Paul. However, most of them would have known that Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles. Some of them might have wondered why it was that the apostle to the Gentiles had never visited the capital of the Gentile world: Rome. They might even have felt a little neglected by Paul. So Paul here reassures them that they are in his mind very often, and that he wanted to go see them, but had been prevented until then from going to Rome. For us, as we look at this passage, we will be focusing our attention on the ways in which faith can be strengthened.

First, faith is strengthened by Paul’s words of thanksgiving and encouragement that show that he is impressed with their faith, and thankful to God for their faith. Verse 8 shows us Paul’s attitude towards the Romans. He thanks God for their faith. Now, that in itself is a remarkable thing, for how many times have we thanked God for someone else’s faith? If we thank God at all for anything, usually it’s what He has given us, not what He has given our neighbor. But Paul is very unselfish here. He thanks God for the faith that has been given by God to the Romans.

Notice this small phrase “through Jesus Christ.” Paul never forgets that all our prayers (and thanksgiving is certainly one of those prayers) can only be heard through the mediation of Jesus Christ. He is our mediator, who is our advocate at the throne of God. He pleads with the Father that the Father should hear our prayers. God the Father hears our prayers because of Jesus Christ. In this case, it is the thanksgiving of Paul that is mediated through Jesus Christ, and is then heard by the Father.

Paul commends the faith of the Romans, saying that it is reported all over the world. I’m sure that Paul here means the known world, specifically, the Christians within it. It would be a great encouragement to many people to know that there were Christians at the very heart of the Roman empire. So, Paul thanks God and encourages the Romans by his words. We should encourage one another concerning their faith. We should mention to people that we thank God because of their faith, and the things that they have done for God. We should make it one of our missions in life to encourage other believers. Some of us are very good at this. You would hardly hear a word of criticism from them. Others of us, however, will only speak up to someone if they have a word of criticism. It might feel weird to some of us to encourage someone else, but we should seek to try to get used to saying those kinds of things. Goodness knows we need far more encouragement than criticism in our lives, although criticism has its place. But we should imitate Paul’s example here and thank the Lord for other people’s faith, and encourage them by saying so.

Secondly, faith is strengthened by prayer. And in this case, it is the prayers of other people, the prayers of Paul, that strengthen the faith of the Roman Christians. Paul wants them to know how much he prays for them. In fact, Paul swears an oath here that he has prayed for them many times. He calls God to witness, as in a court of law, that he has prayed for the Romans constantly. Notice in verse 9 that Paul desires the Romans to know that he is sincere in this. He says that he serves God with his whole heart. Paul’s religion is not some window-dressing that masks a heart full of hatred. No, he serves God with his whole being. It is one thing to hear that someone is praying for you. It is quite another to know that this person who is praying for you is a genuine, fervent Christian who is praying for you! It is that kind of assurance that Paul wishes to give to the Roman Christians.

This kind of Christian, in the form of the apostle Paul, is the one praying for the faith of the Roman Christians. And God uses that prayer of Paul to strengthen the faith of the believers there. Hear this truth, then: our prayers can strengthen the faith of other believers. This happens because God is the one who uses our prayers to accomplish His will. It is obviously God’s will that the faith of the saints be strengthened. Therefore, God will use our prayers for other people in order to strengthen their faith. How often do we pray for those Christians we know that their faith be strengthened? All too often, we have this idea that once they’re a Christian, we don’t really need to pray for them anymore. As if regeneration and conversion were all there was to the Christian life! If Romans itself is any indication, conversion is just the beginning. The rest of life is then a constant battle between the old sin nature that dwells within us and the regenerated part of us, which is the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives. We need to be growing constantly in the faith. And prayer is one of those things that is absolutely essential, both our own prayers, and the prayers of others on our behalf. One prayer isn’t enough, either. For notice Paul’s words here. He prays constantly for them at all times (verses 9-10). He does not simply pray for them once, and then forget about them. He prays for them all the time.

Prayer, however, can be a puzzle to us, can’t it, especially the connection between prayer and faith? Let us consider some errors in this area of doctrine before we consider what the truth of the matter is. Many people think that strong faith means prayer is answered, whereas a weak faith means that prayer might not be answered. Know this for a certainty: the prayers of all true Christians, no matter how weak their faith is, will be answered. God might answer “no.” But He answers “no” to strong Christians like Paul, as well as to weak Christians. Paul mentions in verse 13 that he planned to come to the Romans many times, but was prevented. There were good reasons for this, since God had other work for Paul to do. We must remember, then, that if God doesn’t not give us the answer we want, He will have His reason for saying no. Maybe it is to humble us, to help us realize that we are not as indispensable as we think we are. Maybe it is because God has other work for us. Maybe it is because the thing we pray for would not be a good thing for us to have or to do. Faith trusts in God that He knows better than we do. So it is not the power of our faith that fuels the power of prayer. The prayers of even the strongest saint needs the help of the Mediator, Jesus Christ, in order for God to hear it. This, by the way, is the reason why God does not answer the prayers of non-believers. They have no mediator.

Does prayer do anything? Yes, it does. It does two things. Firstly, prayer is what God uses to accomplish His will in our lives. That is the relationship between our prayer and the sovereignty of God. When our prayers line up with God’s revealed will, then God will use our prayers to accomplish His will. Furthermore, prayer changes us. Talking to God is always something that will change us. James Montgomery Boice told the story of a missionary who had served long and hard overseas, seeking to make converts to the Gospel. When he came home to America, he happened to be on the same boat as Theodore Roosevelt, who naturally got all the attention. There was, in fact, no one to welcome the missionaries home. The missionary was offended by this, until his wife told him to take the matter up with God. After praying to the Lord, the missionary felt much better. He said to his wife that he had told God how he felt, and it was as if God had laid His hand on the man’s shoulder and said to him, “But, my son, you are not home yet. When you come home, then I will give you a royal welcome.” Prayer changed him, and it changes us. It changes our attitude. It can be very useful, for instance, if we are having a dispute with someone, and our attitude is getting out of hand. We may not even realize it at the time, but if we can only remember to pray right then, we will find that our attitude will change in the circumstance. So prayer changes us, and God uses it to bring about His will. That is especially true with regard to other people. When we pray for others, that their faith will be strengthened, God will answer that prayer with a yes.

Praying for other people is therefore essential. However, sometimes there is simply no substitute for being with the other person. And that is our third point. Faith is strengthened by the communion of saints. That is one of the things we say in the Apostles Creed. We believe in the communion of saints. Here in verses 10-13, we have a beautiful picture of what the communion of saints looks like. It starts with prayer. That is how our second point leads to our third point. For Paul was praying that he might at long last, finally get to see the Roman Christians. He has been very eager to get there, but has been prevented until then. What good will the communion of saints do to the Roman Christians? Verse 11 tells us that there will be an impartation of spiritual gifts from Paul to the Romans, and that such a gift will help to make them strong.

Notice how humble Paul is here. Paul immediately corrects himself in verse 12. The Roman Christians might think that the strengthening might go only one way: from the great apostle Paul to the Roman Christians. But Paul wants the Romans to know that he needs encouragement and strengthening as well. So that is why he says in verse 12 that the strengthening goes both ways. Even the apostle Paul, one of the strongest Christians ever, still needs strengthening and encouragement. The faith of Paul and the faith of the Romans will strengthen each other’s faith. That is the beautiful thing about the communion of saints, isn’t it? It is like how geese travel. They travel in a V shape so that the air lift that comes from the one in front helps the goose that comes behind. And no one is at the front of the V for very long, before it is relieved of its post, so that it doesn’t get too tired. They help each other fly, and in that way, can cover much longer distances. So it is with the Christian faith. We all have something about our faith that will help someone else’s faith. It doesn’t matter how small we think our gift is. It will help someone else. Even if it’s just a small lift, that is important. Let’s ask ourselves this question: is my faith encouraging other people’s faith? It is one of the most important aspects about faith, the effect that it has on other people. Faith believes in the God who gives us the communion of saints.

Finally, faith has obligations. Paul says here that he is obligated, or under debt, to everyone, that he preach the gospel to them. To understand how this works, we need to look at two different kinds of debt. If person A borrows money from person B, then person A owes that money back to person B. That is one kind of debt, what we might call “direct” debt. However, supposing person A gave something to person B in order to give that something to person C. In that case, as long as person B has the item, he is in debt to person C in order to give it to them. This is what we might call “indirect” debt. It is the debt of having something entrusted to us, that we might give that in turn to someone else. That is the kind of debt Paul is talking about here. Paul was entrusted with the gospel in order that he might give it to all other people. He had never simply been given the gospel to keep it to himself. And here we see the last aspect of faith that Paul writes about here: the indebtedness of faith. When God gives us faith, He tells us that that faith is not ever meant to be kept to ourselves, but must also be given away to others. We are in debt to all other people to give them the knowledge of what faith is. Paul says he has to give this to Greeks and non-Greeks, to the wise and to the foolish. This is everyone in the world. He is in debt to everyone in the world. It is never wise to live in constant debt. Therefore, we must pay off that debt by sharing the gospel to everyone. We need to make sure that everyone has heard the gospel and knows what is the true nature of faith. Has everyone in Hague, Strasburg, Pollock, Linton, and Herreid heard what the gospel truly is? I think not. Our way forward is clear. Probably everyone in those towns is known by someone or other in our congregations. That means that we have the opportunity to reach every single person in those towns for Christ.

Our problem here is that we can tend to have the wrong idea about what faith really is, and it is on this point that I will close. Faith is not the same thing as sincerity, although we certainly want faith to be sincere. But people can be sincere, but sincerely wrong. We are not saved by sincerity. We are saved by faith. Faith is not the same thing as emotional feeling, either, although there again, faith includes our emotions. But emotional feeling can be just as wrong as sincerity. Muslims are sincere, and they can be very emotional! But that does not mean that they are saved. Faith is knowledge, assent and trust in Jesus Christ. Faith knows Jesus personally, agrees with the truths concerning Jesus Christ that are laid out in the Bible, and entrusts itself to Jesus Christ. That is true faith: knowing Jesus, agreeing with the truth, or believing the truth, and then entrusting oneself to Jesus, as the crucified and risen Lord. That is the only thing that will save. It is that faith that we need to seek that others should have. And it is that faith that needs to be constantly strengthened by encouragement, prayer, and the communion of saints.

Hermeneutic and Ontology in Justification

Some of the comments on the previous threads have gotten me thinking about the Law/Gospel Distinction (we’ll abbreviate LGD) and justification in terms of hermeneutics and ontology. Some seem to be saying that if the LGD has to be in the text, then we are basically saved by faith plus hermeneutics. The distinction that is thought to be important here is what is happening in the text versus what is happening in the person’s life when he is justified. Let me state the positive principle here: what you believe about what is happening has a drastic impact on what is actually happening. Can one actually be justified by grace alone through faith alone if that same person believes that he is actually being justified by faithfulness? Let’s ratchet it up a notch. Can one actually be saved by faith in Jesus Christ when that same person believes that he is actually being saved by Jesus Christ plus something else? I am probably going to shock some readers by saying this, but it seems fairly clear to me that a person cannot be justified in Christ if he believes that he is being justified by Christ plus something else. Quite simply, this is because the belief that someone is justified by Christ plus something else is not true faith. It has the wrong notitia (content, or knowledge). We do all believe that notitia is an essential element of faith, don’t we? In addition to this, to continue on to another key aspect of faith, such belief would be assenting to the wrong thing, as well. And, in fact, if one believes that trust is key to faith as well, one would be trusting in the something else, and not in Jesus Christ. So all three aspects of faith get messed up if the notitia is wrong on the point of justification.

Working some more on the right notitia, then, it is of the essence of justifying faith that one believes the right thing about the Word of God when it says, for instance, that faith is opposed to works in justification, or when the Bible defines justifying faith as having nothing to do with law, but rather has everything to do with Gospel. When the Bible defines faith, if one believes that it essentially equals faithfulness, then we have a problem here. The wrong content is being assigned to notitia.

The objections that will immediately come my way will probably sound like this: “You believe in justification by faith in justification.” Or, “You believe in justification by correct doctrine.” Or, “You are a rationalist.” No, currently I am comfortable with the three elements of knowledge, assent, and trust, as long as it is understood that in justification, none of these three elements can be defined in relation to law. “Trust,” especially gets difficult here, because people drive trucks through this word, and this is usually where “faithfulness” gets sneaked in the back door. But in justification, the trust aspect of faith simply means that we entrust our souls to Jesus. We are resting in His righteousness.

So, what is the relationship between hermeneutic and ontology in faith and justification? The content of our faith has a drastic impact on what is happening. And I firmly believe that if the content of our faith denies that the Word distinguishes in the text between law and gospel when it comes to justification (note the careful qualifiers here), then the content, or knowledge, of our faith will not be in Jesus Christ alone, but will rather be in Jesus Christ plus our own faithfulness.

A Retraction

It gives me no pleasure at all to write this post, first of all. To come to this conclusion means thinking worse of a person’s theology, which person has at the very least commanded my respect, and has been very courteous to me throughout our debates.

But I feel that I need to retract an earlier statement I made about Douglas Wilson’s theology. I have come to the conclusion that the law/gospel distinction is essential to preserving sola fide. Here’s how this worked in my own mind. If there is no distinction in the text of Scripture between law and gospel (that is, if the difference between law and gospel is only in the application, and not in the text), then all the discussion of faith in the New Testament is both law and gospel, which we’ll call Golawspel. This means that, even in the apostle Paul’s most rigorous separation of faith and works, which occurs in his discussions of justification, Paul is not really claiming that law observance is separate from faith within the structure of justification. For the definition of faith itself must fall prey to the Golawspel muddlement. If faith, therefore, is not opposed to works in justification, then justification is no longer sola fide.

Put more positively, the definition of sola fide has always been dependent on the prior distinction between law and gospel, such that when God calls people to faith, this has nothing to do with law observance of any kind. It is pure gospel. Paul does not speak of faith-faithfulness in justification, but of faith as utterly opposed to works in justification. Who are we to turn around and call faith Golawspel?

This means that every proponent of the Joint Federal Vision Statement denies sola fide. They will, of course, claim the opposite. And they will also claim that denying the distinction of law and gospel in the text of Scripture does not mean that they deny sola fide in justification. This will have to be a difference between them and me. For if there is no difference between law and gospel in the text of Scripture, then faith is no longer what the Reformers said it was: which is opposed to works in justification.

No doubt, references will be thrown at me like Paul’s “obedience of faith” in Romans 1:5. But Paul is not talking about justification there. When he talks about justification, he utterly opposes faith to all obedience. Faith, in the Christian life, always results in obedience. But faith itself is not a work of the law. Instead, it is a receiving and resting on Christ for His righteousness.

Another possible objection thrown my way is that people will say I believe in justification by a dead faith. I believe in nothing of the sort. But faith’s aliveness means its reality, not the obedience that results from faith.

I am not particularly interested in getting into a huge debate over this. And as I said, it brings me zero pleasure to write this. But I feel that I must. I hope and pray that it will result in reformulation among the FV proponents, especially of the law/gospel distinction, but also in their tendency to connect faith to faithfulness, even in justification.

On Birthdays

Calvin has some interesting thoughts on birthdays in his commentary on the synoptic Gospels, volume 2, page 225:

The ancient custom of observing a birth-day every year as an occasion of joy cannot in itself be disapproved; for that day, as often as it returns, reminds each of us to give thanks to God, who brought us into this world, and has permitted us, in his kindness, to spend many years in it; next, to bring to our recollection how improperly and uselessly the time which God granted to us has been permitted to pass away; and, lastly, that we ought to commit ourselves to the protection of the same God for the remainder of our life.

The Obedience of Faith

Bill Mounce has an article here, to which Lee Irons has responded in a part 1 (part 2 to follow). I wanted to point out a couple of things that I think are important here.

Lee says: “He did not discuss the context but merely appealed to a broader theological truth.”

Is not broader theological truth one of the very important contexts with which the interpretation of a given passage has to agree? There is meaning on every level: letter, word, phrase, clause, sentence, paragraph, chapter, book, section of canon, testament, Bible. So perhaps it might be better for Lee to claim that Bill did not discuss the immediate context (probably paragraph level). However, Lee then proceeds to discuss something that is nowhere near the passage in question within Romans, but is on the (other) bookend side of it! Is such a passage irrelevant? Of course not. I just finished saying that there was qualifying meaning everywhere in Scripture, although such a statement must be qualified by saying that not every passage is immediately relevant. Indeed, some passages may be rather convolutedly related to others.

That being said, Lee needs to prove a bit better the envelope nature of chapter 1 and chapter 15. If he is going to claim that there is some sort of envelope structure (which certainly might well be), a simple assertion that it is so is not sufficient. After all, Lee’s entire argument rests on that claim, since, if the letter is not an envelope form, then 1:5 is not in the immedate context of 15.

This is not to say that Lee has not tried to do this. However, in my opinion, it is unsuccessful in the way he has framed it. The word “Gentiles,” for instance, does not necessarily mean “out of the covenant.” Given the fact that chapters 1-3 goes to great lengths to prove that Jew and Gentile are alike under sin, and are both covenant breakers, I think that Paul’s use of the word “Gentile” in 1:5 is most certainly ethnic, not moral.

Secondly, on a broader systematic level, Lee will have to prove that he is not mixing the categories of faith and works, which his interpretation seems to do. The exegetical work will have to fit the systematic Reformed confessional faith. I realize that most people in this world would think me unimaginably narrow-minded for saying such a thing, and that most exegetes would say that I am seriously contracting the Procrustean bed of ST on the feet of exegesis, but I cling to the old ways on this one. ST most certainly has a bearing on exegesis, as the message of the Bible as a whole is the ultimate context for any particular passage.

A Response to Dr. Clark

Many thanks to Dr. Clark for taking the time to respond to me. There are some very helpful clarifications there of what he was trying to accomplish in writing his book. I am still left with a few questions that I would like to lay out there.

1. I agree that there is very little substantive difference between Calvin’s duplex gratia and Olevian’s duplex beneficium. This is not all that surprising, since, as Dr. Clark notes in his book, Olevian was Calvin’s student.

2. What is Dr. Clark’s definition of “substantive interaction?” He makes the claim that Garcia did not substantively interact with Cornelis Venema’s thesis. At the very end of page 11, and going through page 14, Garcia at least interacts with Venema’s thesis. The question is: does this qualify as “substantive?” Added to these pages, the footnote on page 34 may be added, which clarifies for us the relationship of Venema’s thesis to Garcia’s thesis. Given the crowded nature of theses on Calvin, my impression was that Garcia gave as much time to Venema as to anyone else. Not even Lillback or Armstrong receive more attention than Venema. Garcia was generally favorable to Venema’s thesis, while allowing that further development of various aspects of Venema’s thesis was possible.

3. I do not think that my question concerning union with Christ, justification, and sanctification is anachronistic. I think it genuinely is something that Calvin was dealing with. And in saying this, my motivation is to ask what Calvin believed, not to try to find some antecedent for my favorite theologians. Instead, I am asking the question in this way: is Gaffin correctly understanding Calvin? Is Garcia correctly understanding Calvin?

4. I am not so sure that it is a good idea to separate historical inquiry from systematic theology. We can distinguish them. However, compartmentalization of the two is not healthy, in my mind. This is the field of my thesis, by the way. The separation of the two enterprizes is not something that the Reformers would have done. They dance happily among the various theological disciplines (which only we, in our post-Enlightenment state, have separated) with almost no awareness that they have crossed the boundaries of disciplines. They engaged in historical theology in order to prove their systematic theses. Their systematic theses were historically conditioned. Both were grounded in exegesis and used in polemics against Rome, the Anabaptists, the Lutherans, and later on, the Socinians. All of this had profound practical ramifications for the Christian life. Why is it a good thing to cordon off historical theology from systematic theology? I know that this is how historical theology is done today. But should it be done this way?

5. What places in Calvin support the claim that union is an a posteriori explanation of how one comes to faith in Christ? My original question was whether justification and sanctification can be considered temporally distinct in view of the simul in Calvin’s Romans commentary. I do not feel that this question has been answered.

6. I would agree that the structure and doctrine of justification itself in the Reformed world of the 16th and 17th centuries is precisely the same as the Lutherans. It is in this sense that we can speak of a pan-Protestant doctrine of justification. However, it seems to me that the relationship of justification to other doctrines (like covenant and union with Christ) is where there are differences between the Reformed and the Lutherans. Would Dr. Clark agree with this assessment?

7. Why did Calvin treat sanctification before justification?

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