The OPC Report on Republication, Part 6

In this post, we will address the first part of Chapter 2 of Part 1 of the report, which addresses the subject of typology. Typology is much disdained in today’s academia, since it assumes a Christian view of the Bible. Even in Fairbairn’s time (Patrick Fairbairn is the author of what is surely the most definitive work on the subject), typology was on the decline. What is typology? Typology is NOT allegory a mistake commonly made even today. Some have merely said that typology was akin to allegory. Others have said that there is practically no difference. The difference is actually rather easy to see. Typology sees a historical connection between something in the Old Testament and something in the New Testament. There is always a crescendo, or heightening in the process whereby the antitype is better than the type. The New Testament itself does this on several occasions. 1 Peter 3 refers to baptism as an antitype of Noah’s flood. Romans 5 calls Adam a “type” of Christ (verse 14). Again, in 1 Corinthians 10, things that happened in the time of Moses are called “types” for our benefit (verse 6). There is therefore a typology of the New Testament, at the very least, that we can explore. Allegory is not tied to two historical events. It takes one historical event and idealizes it, such that the pattern is attached to the air. It should be noted that the word “allegory” does not, of itself, point to the concept. Paul uses the word, but not the concept, of allegory in Galatians 4. Hagar and Sarah are types of historical realities, not idealizations. Therefore, even though Paul uses the word “allegorize,” he is not allegorizing.

The main question that the report addresses is the scope of typology. According to the report, those who hold to various forms of republication have a more expanded view of typology in the Mosaic economy. There are various aspects of the Mosaic economy that non-republication folks can see as typological. Examples here would include the Red Sea crossing and the Rock of 1 Corinthians 10. The question the report addresses is whether priestly obedience in the Mosaic economy can be assigned a typological function to point forward to an antitypical perfect obedience of Christ. The report seems non-committal on the question, but leans towards opposing such a view (their word is “unlikely”). This is only one particular aspect of the Mosaic economy, of course. It is not clear how other aspects of typology that republication advocates point to would be handled.

The OPC Report on Republication, Part 5

In this post, we will cover Part 1, Chapter 1, section 2 of the report. This will cover the distinction between substance and administration of the covenant of grace.

The substance of the covenant of grace is the same during all the time of its various administrations, or dispensations. The covenant of grace has its beginning in the protoevangelion of Genesis 3:15, and grows, like a tree from a seed, into a huge kingdom that, with Christ as its Head and King, conquers all spiritual opposition. The substance of the covenant of grace is Christ Himself. Therefore, the covenant of grace is understood to be a covenant of saving grace. Christ as Savior is the substance of it. The writers also note, however, that conditions are also often described as being at the heart of a covenant: change the conditions, change the substance of the covenant.

There is both unity and diversity in the various administrations of the covenant of grace. The administration of the covenant differs going from Old Testament to New Testament as typology relates to the fulfillment of typology. Typology itself is a rubric under which we can organize the entire administration of the Old Testament iterations of the covenant of grace. So, the substance of the various iterations of the covenant of grace (or covenants, as the various dispensations can be called) is the same, even if the typological administration varies.

Although the grace God gave to the people of the Old Testament was true saving grace, the amount and clarity of that saving power was mitigated in the Old Testament times by virtue of the lesser stage of redemptive history. 2 Corinthians 3 is very clear in this regard. We have better access now to the grace and power of God than any Old Testament believer did.

The OPC Report on Republication, Part 4

In this post, we will cover Part 1, Chapter 1, Section 1 of the report, on defining terms. I am slightly puzzled by the organization here, as the first part of the report was also defining terms. Maybe there should have been one introductory section defining terms. However, we will plow on, and look at their definitions of covenant and law.

Interestingly, they do not define what a covenant actually is. Of course, that part of the definition is not as relevant to their subject matter as the difference between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace. The differences related to the distinction between the covenant of works and the covenant of grace resolve into several points: 1. The federal heads (Adam versus Christ); 2. The requirements (perfect and perpetual obedience versus grace); 3. Pledges (the tree of life versus the Holy Spirit). The similarity between the two covenants hinges on the Creator/creature distinction: both covenants require God to condescend if there is to be any covenantal tie at all between God and man. Of course, the most important thing to safeguard here is that the acquisition of eternal glory happens in a completely opposite way in the two covenants. For humans, it was works in the covenant of works, grace in the covenant of grace. However, when viewed from the standpoint of the respective covenantal heads, it was works in both cases, although Adam would have earned it for himself and his posterity, whereas Christ earned it vicariously for us.

The section on law distinguishes among three definitions (these are distinct from either the three uses of the law, or the three parts of the law, with the exception of the third definition): 1. Redemptive-historical, as in “the time of the law” versus “the time of the gospel”: 2. The Mosaic economy in general, or the Torah, which is most often the way Paul uses the term; and 3. Particular laws, referring to the three parts of the law.

There is nothing particularly controversial here, though the next section on the distinction between the substance and the administration of the covenant of grace is certainly disputed in certain quarters. More on that in the next post.

The OPC Report on Republication, Part 3

This post will take us to the end of the introduction section of the report. In this section, the committee writes to distinguish between a more general works principle, and a more narrow works principle.

The more general works principle is defined thus: “Broadly defined, a works principle is merely communicating obligations with sanctions.” They take care to distance this term from the Old Testament scholarship’s definition of retribution theology, a la Koch. They say unequivocally that there is at least an echo of a works principle in the Mosaic covenant. Equally clearly, however, they assert that salvation is by grace through faith in the Mosaic covenant. How these two ideas are both true will, I’m sure, be seen in the rest of the report. The works principle in view has a great deal to do with Jesus’ person and work. This principle helps us understand how it is that Adam failed to attain the glorified state, whereas Jesus attained it.

The more specific sense of a works principle has to do with external blessings. Writers (like Kline) who talk in this way are separating the idea entirely from a works salvation view, and are instead tying it (typologically, in Kline’s case) to the pactum salutis, the eternal intra-Trinitarian covenant, as well as the accomplishment of salvation in history.

Some thoughts on the progress so far: 1. Starting with definitions is a very helpful way to proceed, especially in a thorny area of theology, and also given how much misunderstanding there has been in the discussion. 2. As I have already noted, the tone is one of light, not heat. This is so essential to any kind of understanding, that I will keep reiterating it as I go along, especially because this is a blog, and blogs have not always been known for preserving light instead of heat.

The OPC Report on Republication, Part 2

Sections 2-4 of the “Mandate” portion of the report have to do with terminological distinctions and definitions. This may not be the most riveting part of any report. However, the importance of defining one’s terms becomes rather clear when recent Federal Vision debates are kept in mind. We cannot enter the realm of this debate without carefully defined terms. It helps us to frame the issues with clarity, however difficult the rest of the conversation might become. Three terms are defined in these three sections.

First up is republication itself. The problem of definition concerning this term is the most acute, since there are so many different versions of republication. However, all forms of republication do have this element in common: they all hold that the covenant of works is, in some sense, repeated or republished in the Mosaic economy. That is as much as can be said of all the views of republication, because some republication views believe that there is a national covenant with Israel concerning the land, and others do not. Some believe in various forms of merit (on which, see more below) and others do not, or believe in different merit. Some believe that this republication is an overlay on top of a covenant of grace and is therefore subservient to the covenant of grace, while others do not. So the definition offered above, which is the same as in the report, is narrow enough to have value, and yet broad enough to encompass all the republication views. It should be noted (as the report also does) that the words “in some sense” are not meant as a dodge, but as a recognition of the many varieties of republication on offer.

The next term up for discussion is typology and symbol. Typology refers to an Old Testament historical pattern (whether person, place, thing, or idea) that foreshadows a fulfillment in the New Testament. It says that God works the same way throughout history, only with a crescendo. The money quote here is: “In a very real and profound sense, when we study the history of Israel, we see that she was not behind the times but was actually ahead of her time.” Reformed Christians will quickly recognize that typology centers on the person and work of Jesus Christ, and that this is how Jesus is actually IN the Old Testament. Why is this definition important for the discussion of republication? Questions concerning how the Mosaic economy foreshadows Jesus are an integral part of the debate, especially when one considers the exegetical questions swirling around Galatians 4:21-31.

The third definition has to do with merit. I rather wish the report had defined condign and congruent merit, and not just pactum. They sort of hint at it with the term “proper.” Of course, that follows the Westminster Standards, and one could argue that such is the better course. I believe that problems concerning the definition of merit are some of the most snarly questions in the whole debate, especially because Meredith Kline was not always very clear about how he used such terms. Anyway, condign merit means that the action is directly proportional to the reward, as when a person goes to buy a car and pays the exact amount of money that the price tag has on it. The analogy is not quite exact, since money can buy many things, whereas condign merit is usually a narrower conception. However, the idea is similar. Congruent merit is a Roman Catholic category not used anywhere in Reformed circles that I am aware of, although it is helpful to know its definition. Congruent merit implies that a person has the proper kind of merit, just not enough. So, if a son has $5k to buy a car, but the car is worth $10k, then the son has to have some help to get there (usually from moneybags father). His $5k would be congruently meritorious, but not condignly so. Pactum merit, or ex pacto merit, is very different from condign and congruent, in that the merit in view in “pactum” merit is NOT of the proper kind to merit the reward offered. It only merits by virtue of an agreement. So, in the analogy of the car, the father and the son make a pact whereby the father will buy the son a car if the son’s GPA is 4.0. Obviously, the son cannot take his report card to the car dealership in order to buy a car: it is the wrong kind of merit. However, because of the agreement the son can merit a car by virtue of studying hard and getting good grades. It was reassuring to see the OPC report mention the wisdom of embracing the category of ex pacto merit in the light of Karl Barth’s theology, the Federal Vision advocates, and the New Perspective on Paul scholars. Pactum merit describes how Adam would have achieved the glorified state. Since his obedience was already owed, it could not be viewed as condign or congruent merit. Adam could only merit the glorified state by God saying so, as the committee phrases it. It could also be called “fiat” merit, I suppose, although that does not convey the nature of an agreement, so I suspect that pactum is better.

One last point on these three sections has to do with the definition of grace. The committee rightly distinguishes between the pre-Fall situation and the post-Fall situation by saying that if the category of grace is invoked to describe the pre-Fall situation, it cannot be considered redemptive grace. The Westminster divines preferred the term “voluntary condescension” in chapter 7 of the WCF. The definition of grace will be much discussed in these posts, as I have become convinced that it is helpful to say that grace is not just “unmerited favor” but actually “demerited favor.” In other words, in a redemptive situation it is not merely the case that we have not merited eternal life. It is that we have merited the opposite, and I mean that we have all condignly merited Hell both in Adam (through the imputation of sin, and the generational passing on of original sin) and in ourselves (through our actual sin). Incidentally, it is helpful to remember that the helpfulness of the categories of merit is not limited to positive meriting of good things, but can also be applied to sinners meriting eternal punishment in Hell. The committee is comfortable using the term “grace” to describe the pre-Fall situation, but only in a modified sense, since there is no redemption before the Fall. I have no quarrel with using the terms this way either, as long as one is careful to note the difference between pre-Fall and post-Fall definitions of grace (and thus come to virtually the same place). We could say that before the Fall, grace is unmerited condescensive favor, while after the Fall, grace is demerited redemptive favor. One could also simply say that before the Fall, God acted towards us by means of voluntary condescension, while after the Fall, God exercises grace (understood as demerited favor).

The OPC Report on Republication, Part 1

The idea that the covenant of works has, in some sense, been republished in the Mosaic economy is an idea that has recently generated much more heat than light. On the one hand, proponents have not always been very clear in their presentations of the idea. It is a highly complex issue, requiring a great deal of nuance in order to avoid problems. On the other hand, critics have become so polarized against any form of republication (in reaction to some of the more extreme formulations) that all forms of the idea have sometimes been drawn and quartered as heretical. Surely there is room for a more sober analysis! We have it in the OPC report. I plan on blogging my way through this report in the next few weeks, and hopefully help shed some light on this complex series of ideas. Of the “Mandate” section, we will cover just the first two sections today.

A salutary emphasis of this report is on careful exegesis, cautious statements, and accuracy of expression. The report commences with a discussion of its mandate. The OPC has been troubled by these questions, particularly in the Presbytery of the Northwest. In other words, this issue arose in the church courts. It is not simply an academic question. It is an issue affecting the purity, peace, and unity of the church.

Republication is an enormously complex issue, and the nature of the Mosaic economy one of the most difficult Old Testament concepts to address. This the writers of the report acknowledge often. It is also an issue about which Reformed theologians have disagreed. Hodge favored a national covenant view of republication, while Murray rejected any form of republication. This ought to make us extremely cautious about our conclusions, as well as extremely charitable concerning those with whom we disagree. To jump to the conclusion of the report, some forms of republication are consistent with the Westminster Standards. Therefore, great precision, patience, and charity must characterize any discussion of these things. More light, folks, not more heat.

The Church and Americanism

I’ve been reading some church history books recently, and one thing that has come up rather forcefully to my consciousness is the degree to which Americanism has affected the church in America. The main question is whether, in the church’s desire to communicate to culture, it has so embraced America that its message is no longer exportable to other nations, thus falling foul of those people who critique the American church of imperialism.

For instance, people who claim that Presbyterianism cannot work in a given context are obviously infected with Americanism. What else could explain how people could claim that a form of church government that has worked in every major cultural context in the world could not work in America? Usually, in the case of urban contexts, the issue is a radical individualism that makes people believe that a connectional form of government cannot work. Maybe the individualism should bow its neck to the yoke of connectionalism, and not vice versa!

A good example of a church that has resisted Americanization is the Orthodox Presbyterian Church. When Carl MacIntire proposed to the OPC that it go with the temperance movement, he was offering the OPC a way of being distinctly American. When the OPC refused, MacIntire left and formed the Bible Presbyterian Church. The OPC refused to be an Americanized church. This (among other factors) has contributed to its appeal being rather limited. But what the OPC lacks in numbers it makes up for in the unity of message, and the singular power of doctrinal purity it has enjoyed over the years.

An Interesting Argument Against Immersion

Geerhardus Vos gave a lot of ground to the Baptists (some would argue too much). He insisted that “baptizo” means “immerse,” although he goes on to argue that the immersion is secondary, and that washing is primary. For Vos, the immersion is incidental to the meaning of the word. The substance of baptism can, for Vos, be accomplished in another way. But the most fascinating thing about his argument against immersion is his advocation of catholicity (Reformed Dogmatics, volume 5, p. 125):

To what, finally, can one still appeal against the Baptists? To the universal character of Christianity. Christianity is catholic, that is, intended for all times and places. That must come out in its sacraments too. Hence, the signs in these sacraments are such as are to be found everywhere: water, bread, wine-the most common products of nature that can be kept everywhere. But the same thing will also have to apply to their manner of use. Immersion is something that is sometimes feasible in Middle Eastern lands, but then again in many regions, not. If Christianity is thus bound to something like this, then in this respect it is the same as Islam, which obligates all its adherents to a pilgrimage to Mecca. But Islam is then also particularistic; Christianity is universal, catholic, intended for all times, countries, circumstances, and conditions.

I had not thought of using the catholicity of Christianity as an argument against immersion before. So I thought I would throw it out there for the readers. What do you think of this argument?

Old and New Testament Sacraments

One of the most controversial aspects of sacramental theology is the relationship between the Old Testament sacraments of Passover and circumcision (and some would even dispute that they are sacraments!) and the New Testament sacraments of baptism and the Lord’s Supper. I am not going to treat this subject exhaustively at all. There are just two points that I wish to make, fueled by Vos’s discussions in volume 5 of Reformed Dogmatics, pp. 103-104.

The first point that Vos makes is that the Old Testament sacraments are types of Christ, not of the New Testament sacraments. There is, indeed, a correspondence between the two sets of sacraments. However, there is not a typological relationship between the two (p. 104).

The second issue is something that has bothered me for a while. Why is it that the recipients of the Passover have in an important way narrowed (those who can discern the Lord’s body versus all children in the Passover, thus making an age differene), while the recipients of baptism have broadened (all children and believing adults on their conversion, not just the male children)? Of course, it is merely a Baptistic assumption that the New Testament sacraments must be alike in how they work. There are several important differences between baptism and the Lord’s Supper, which we will not get into here. But why has the change to New Testament sacraments resulted in a seemingly opposite scope for circumcision giving way to baptism, and Passover giving way to the Lord’s Supper? Vos offers an explanation I have not seen elsewhere (though I would be surprised if this explanation originated with him: anyone know of sources from which this could have come?):

[I]n Israel the sacraments, besides their significance for the covenant of grace, also had a national aspect, from which a difference in practice arose between them and the New Testament sacraments on a few points. For us, one comes to the table of the Lord only after one has learned to discern the body of Christ. In Israel the children also ate the Passover. This was because the Passover together with its covenantal significance had national significance. The same is true for circumcision. Baptism in the New Testament is administered to both sexes of the children of believers. In the Old Testament, circumcision was only for infant boys. Indeed, in the national life of Israel only the men counted and represented the women, and this also had to come to light outwardly (p. 103).

There might be some fruitful ground here for answering both the Baptists and the Federal Vision folks, who both have the same error in treating the NT sacraments as working the same way. Indeed, as a friend of mine once said, the problem of the FV’ers in their sacramental theology is not that they have over-reacted to Baptistic theology in every respect, but that they have not thrown off the problems of Baptistic thinking enough. It must be born in mind that most FV’ers were Baptists before they became FV.

Identity Crisis

There can be no doubt that many, many people are experiencing identity crises these days. How people see themselves is usually determined by what other people think about them, or else it becomes something that they set a standard for themselves. Of course, the “high self-esteem” gurus have held the field for decades now. The problem, they say, is that people simply have too low a self-esteem, and that we need to encourage people to build up their self-esteem. Is this the answer?

While I have several important theological differences with Tim Keller, the little booklet he wrote called The Freedom of Self-Forgetfulness is not one of them. He starts off discussing the problem of self-esteem, and, quoting Lauren Slater’s New York Times article of 2002, notes that it is rather high self-esteem, or hubris, or pride, that seems to be the problem, whether it is that someone has an over-inflated view of themselves, or an under-inflated (implying a previously inflated) view. The imagery of Paul in 1 Corinthians 3-4 describing ego and hubris uses the amusing metaphor of bellows at a forge: empty, painful, busy, and fragile.

The biggest problems in this area are that we look for approval in the wrong places, and by the wrong people. A blogger can write just to please his readership and get that many more hits. Or, a preacher can tell a congregation what their itching ears want to hear. The problem, as Keller points out, is that looking for approval in these places is a black hole (citing the example of Madonna’s rather honest self-portraiture), a bottomless pit that can never be filled.

What matters is not how other people evaluate us, nor how we evaluate ourselves, but what God says about us. This simultaneously results in a feeling of being filled, contrary to the bottomless emptiness of what humanity can do in ascribing worth to people; and also, a justification in God’s courtroom. Keller connects true biblical self-worth to justification. We are worth what God says we are worth, and His declaration of innocence (Keller mentions the imputation of Christ’s righteousness) defines our worth. The quote of the book is on page 39:

For the Buddhist…performance leads to the verdict. If you are a Muslim, performance leads to the verdict. All this means that every day, you are in the courtroom, every day you are on trial. That is the problem. But Paul is saying that Christianity, the verdict leads to performance.

Of course, Keller is not addressing the fine-tuned discussions between Westminster East and Westminster West about the relative order and relationship of justification and sanctification. At any rate, contrary to the contemporary grace movement, Keller does not shy away from performance. One might wish that he would have included a statement to the effect that even the performance is based on the enabling grace of God. Presumably, however, he would not disagree with that. All in all, a helpful little exposition of 1 Corinthians 3:21-4:7.

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