The OPC Republication Report, Part 12

With this post, we delve into Chapter 4, section 1, of the report dealing with merit and demerit. Most of the section is taken up with defining what condign merit is. There are five categories that explain condign merit, and these categories prove that humans have never been in a position to condignly merit anything, even in the case of Adam before the Fall.

The five categories are: 1. free (the performer of merit must be himself free of debt); 2. perfect; 3. personal (meaning we cannot borrow the merits of others); 4. profitable (must be above and beyond what is required, in other words); and 5. proportional to the reward. While the authors take some pains to prove that Christ’s work is meritorious in these five categories, a question remains in my mind. While I have no problem ascribing full condign merit to Christ’s work, I wonder how and if the situation is complicated by the pactum salutis. Would the Son’s agreement with the Father before time began have an impact on our definitions of Christ’s merit? Would it negate the possibility of condign merit? Or would the idea of pactum merit co-exist alongside condign merit in the case of Jesus’ righteousness? This issue has nagged away at my mind for quite some time, and I am not at a point of cognitive rest on the matter yet. My current leaning is that we cannot take away condign merit from what Christ has done, because He has earned our right to heaven. I also think that if any ideas of pactum merit are introduced into any understanding of Christ’s merit, it would have to be heavily qualified such that any idea of disproportionality between work and reward would be eliminated. So, is there a way of saying that Christ’s work both inherently earns eschatological blessing and saying simultaneously that the Father and the Son agreed to this?

Psalm 1 Prayer

I have taken to praying the Psalms in corporate worship, and what I am doing is making the wording corporate, interpreting the Psalm christologically, and seeking to make the Psalm ours. This is my effort at praying Psalm 1:

Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, you have revealed to us that we are blessed if we do not walk in the council of the wicked, stand in the way of sinners, or sit in the seat of the scoffer. Make us instead to delight in your law, that we might meditate on it day and night. Make us to be like trees planted by streams of water, yielding their fruit in their season, never withering, gaining an internal, invisible nourishment so that, in anything that we do for you and for your kingdom, we will prosper. Make us not like the wicked, who have so little weight that the wind can drive them away. Though we feel alone in this, though we see and feel the pressures against righteousness by the world outside, we know, Father, that the whole congregation of the righteous will stand with us. Above all, you stand with us, for you know our path, the end from the beginning. You know that path of wisdom, and you delight to show it to us. You also illuminate for us the path of the wicked, and you show us its end. We praise you that Jesus walked not in the counsel of the wicked, nor did he stand in the way of sinners, nor ever sit in the seat of scoffers. We praise you that He delighted to do your will, that He delighted in your law, that He always meditated on it, that He therefore has become for us the life-giving vine who nourishes our faith always.

Redneck Biblical Hermeneutics

As some people have probably thought I have dropped off the face of the planet, I thought I would signal my return to the blogosphere with a bit of humor.

A redneck from one of the southern states desired to enter the ministry. He went to a minister to be examined and the following conversation took place: “Can you read, Sam?” “Naw, I can’t read.” “Can you write?” Well, naw, I cain’t write.” “Well, do you know your Bible, Sam?” “Oh yeah, I know me Bible right well.” “Tell me, what part of the Bible do you prefer?” “Well, I prefers the New Testament.” “And what do you like in the New Testament, Sam?” “The book of Mark.” “And what do you like especially about Mark?” “I likes the parables the best.” “And which of the parables is your favorite?” “Well, I likes the parable of the Good Samaritan the best.” “Well, Sam, will you tell me the story of the Good Samaritan?”

“Sure I will. Once upon a time a man was goin’ from Jerusalem to Jericho and he fell among the thorns. The thorns grew up and choked him, an’ he went on and didn’t have no moolah. An’ he went to the Queen of Sheba, and she gave him one thousand talents of money and a hundred changes of raiment. An’ then he got in a chariot and druv furiously. An’ when he was driving under a big ol’ juniper tree, his hair done got caught in the limb of the tree, and he hung there, an’ hung many days an’ the ravens brought him food to eat an’ water to drink, and afterward he was an hungred, an’ he ate five thousan’ loaves and two small fishes. An’ one night while he was ahangin’ there, asleep, his wife Delilah came along an’ cut off his hair an’ he dropped an’ fell on stony ground. But he got up an’ went on, an’ it began to rain an’ it rained forty days and forty nights an’ he hid himself in a cave, an’ lived on locusts an’ wild honey. Then he went on till he met a servant who said, ‘Come take supper at my house,’ an’ he began to make excuses an’ said, ‘No, I won’t, I married a wife and I cain’t go.’ An’ the servant went out in the highway and in the hedges an’ compel him to come in. An’ after supper he went on an’ came to Jericho an’ when he got there he looked and saw Queen Jezebel sittin’ a way up in a high window, an’ she laffed at him, an’ he said, ‘throw her down,’ an’ they threw her down, an’ he said, ‘Throw her down some more,’ and so they threw her down seventy times seven. An’ of the fragments they picked up twelve baskets full, and then they say, ‘Now in the razzerection who alls wife is she goin’ to be?'”

Pastoral Advice on Eastern Orthodoxy

Posted by David Gadbois

With the recent news that Hank Hanegraaff has been received as a member of the Eastern Orthodox Church, it might be helpful to post the report on Eastern Orthodoxy that Classis Southwest of the URCNA adopted as pastoral advice at the recent classis meeting.  The reader can download it here.  It deals with some of the major issues that have attracted former members of our churches to depart for Eastern Orthodoxy, and provides guidance for ministering to those considering Eastern Orthodoxy.  It includes a lengthy appendix by Dr. Robert Godfrey on the Roman Catholic Church, due to the fact that the essay contains material that overlaps with many of the major issues relating to Eastern Orthodoxy.

To briefly comment on Hanegraaff, from what I have read he was raised in the Christian Reformed Church as the son of a minister, but for some reason as an adult he drifted into broad evangelicalism as an amillenial, baptistic Arminian.  He never received seminary training, and was ordained by Chuck Smith of Calvary Chapel.  Until he makes an explicit statement on the matter, it is difficult to speculate on what drew him to Eastern Orthodoxy.  I will say that it is unfortunate that he did not resign from the Christian Research Institute, or was not forced out, when he became an EO catechumen.

The temptations that Eastern Orthodoxy offers to evangelicals are surely stronger than the temptations that can be offered to Reformed believers attending solid confessional churches.  Nonetheless many of the temptations are the same; temptations such as the aesthetic appeal and what Dr. Scott Clark has termed the Illegitimate Quest for Certainty.  We shouldn’t be too proud, because recent history has shown that Reformed churches aren’t immune to having members who are seduced by such errors leave the faith.

I have heard reports that Reformed seminaries, even seminaries we would consider strongly confessional and of high educational standard, are not properly preparing ministers to deal with the modern apologetic claims of both Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy.  I’d be curious if that is the experience of others in the Green Baggins readership.  Perhaps that problem can be fingered as one of the root causes behind many of the recent apostasies to Rome and EO.

A Friendly Introduction to Biblical Literacy

Posted by Paige (Yes, I’m still around here sometimes!)

I’m pleased to be able to share with you a quirky biblical literacy resource that I created this year. Originally commissioned for a women’s Bible study conference last fall, this half-hour talk instructs beginning Bible students in the difference between “doing devotions” and studying a passage, using Isaiah 61 to reinforce my main points.

It’s meant to be a primer, so the content won’t interest most readers of this blog. But if you listen for just a few minutes, you’ll likely think of a few people who would benefit from this kind of friendly instruction. (Of course, if you listen to the whole thing I will be flattered!)

This talk is on YouTube not because it’s a video of me speaking, but because I created slides to accompany it, for the sake of visual learners. The talk can be enjoyed profitably just as an audio recording, too. Please pass this link along, as appropriate. Thanks!

Green Baggins Is Going OPC

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!

The OPC Republication Report, Part 11

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.

A Van Til-Clark Discussion on Archetypal-Ectypal Knowledge

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.

The OPC Republication Report, Part 10

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.

New Book on Adoption

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!

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