Co-Laborers and Co-Heirs

(Posted by Paige)

Last year I had the unexpected privilege of contributing a chapter to a book by and about women in the PCA, Co-Laborers and Co-Heirs: A Family Conversation, which was published this week. The project is intended to be an outlet for and an encouragement to theologically gifted women in this complementarian denomination, as well as a plea to PCA (and other) church leaders to listen to and care about such women in their congregations. I’m flagging it here in case any of you decide to read it and want a place to comment or ask questions afterwards.

It’s an anthology, so if you do pick it up I think I can guarantee two things: (1) that not every chapter will appeal to you; and (2) (if you persevere with it) at least one of the authors—a mother, sister, brother, or daughter in the faith—will articulate a truth or an experience that will add to your store of compassion for women in your congregation, regardless of denomination.

In my chapter I chose the unusual path, for me, of writing autobiographically. As a rule I have mostly veered away from telling my own story when I write, wanting to keep my focus on the biblical and theological topics that I’ve opted to explore. I’m also not a fan of setting up myself (rather than my thinking) as a target for criticism.

But this time I decided that my story was worth telling. Fourteen years ago, I took the life-changing step of voluntarily moving from an entirely egalitarian church background into PCA membership. At the time, I was already a decade into what became a twenty-year dive into Reformed theology and redemptive history, and the leaders of my very traditional church didn’t know what to do with me. My chapter recounts how we muddled through more than a dozen years together, in that context and with my gifts of study and teaching.

Spoilers: there’s been love in that mix, as well as sorrow and frustration. I tell my story for the sake of others who might also end up walking this road-less-taken, either as theologically trained women in a complementarian setting, or as elders who receive such women into membership and don’t quite know how to welcome them.

I’d be glad to field specific questions about my experience or general questions about the book, though I cannot speak for any of the other authors. (I didn’t even know most of them existed until we collaborated on this project.) Mainly I wanted to provide a space in the GB context for the reactions I expect our project will provoke. Have at it.

The Wrong Starting Point

Reed DePace 

I’ve spent some time contemplating a commentator’s repeated references to the historical (covenantal) vs. eschatological (decretal) perspective. I think he dwells on an essential distinction in the FV reading of what is possessed by the elect Church member (ECM) and reprobate church member (RCM). I believe this is an essential distinction because this distinction in perspectives functions as the fundamental interpretive principle the FV applies to understanding the issue of ECM vs. RCM.

It is clear from this exchange, and others, that the FV truly believes we who are opposed are not accurately hearing what the FV is saying, and that this misunderstanding flows in large part from a failure to rightly comprehend and apply these two differing perspectives. If only we would do so, we would realize that the FV is not saying anything contradictory to the reformed standards, it is merely saying more than they do.

I thought it might be helpful to express my understanding of the basic contours of this perspective distinction and how it impacts the FV’s approach to interpreting the Bible in this matter.

If I am reading this commentator rightly, I think he would say something like this, “from the eschatological perspective, I agree with the differentiation between the ECM and the RCM. Yet from the historical perspective such differentiation does not apply (at least in the same way.)” Another way the FV might say it is, “Eschatalogically (decretally) it is correct to differentiate between the ECM and the RCM. Yet historically (covenantally) you are making distinctions that cannot be demonstrated. You are insisting on reading eschatalogically things that can only be read historically.”

To be fully fair in letting the FV speak for itself, we need to note that the FV is not arguing that the historical perspective is in contradiction to the eschatological perspective, but the validity of both of them in their proper uses. Let me offer this summary of how this interpretive principle fleshes itself out in the FV:

  1. The eschatological perspective is indeed valid.
  2. Yet it is the perspective known infallibly only to the Trinity in history, and to us only in the eschaton (the end of this world and existence).
  3. The context of the Church at present is the historical perspective. We can only see the Church undifferentiatedly, ECM and RCM necessarily are seen as the same at present.
  4. Since we cannot know (infallibly) the eschatalogical perspective, the Bible is to be read from this historical perspective.
  5. This necessitates reading the references to church members and their blessings in an undifferentiated manner. E.g., both ECM and RCM experience union with Christ, justifying faith, when viewed from the historical perspective.
  6. The FV is not saying that the ECM and RCM posses the same things from the eschatalogical perspective. Rather it is to say that from the historical perspective the ECM and the RCM posses the same things. It’s a matter of two different perspectives.
  7. Since we cannot know the eschatalogical perspective, we must minister the gospel (in all its fullness) from the historical perspective. We must treat RCM and ECM in an undifferentiated manner. Both possess Christ historically. Both must be ministered to as believers truly possessing Christ and His benefits.

Hopefully it will be concluded, without need for further detail, that in essence I get what the FV is trying to say.

My problem is that the FV wrongly limits the perspective of both biblical interpretation and gospel ministry. The eschatological perspective is not some minor, inconsequential one. Rather, it is the heart beat of the NT (the NT being best understood as the definitive commentary on the meaning of the OT). Rather than there being even parity between the historical and eschatalogical perspectives in the NT, in point of fact the eschatalogical is the dominant perspective. The historical only comes into view in the role of a servant to the eschatalogical perspective.

This is not an immaterial observation. If right, it cuts to the heart of the essential FV interpretive principle, thus vitally and negatively impacting the whole FV system.

The NT does not operate in a manner like this, “now to be sure from God’s perspective there are ECM and RCM. But since you can’t infallibly see this eschatalogical perspective difference, treat all as if there were no such distinction as ECM and RCM.”

Such chapters as Matt. 13 are dominant in making this point. It is the very fact of the reality of the ECM and RCM that drives Christ’s commands in terms of ministry in the Church in this chapter laden with express distinctions between ECM and RCM. Without the eschatalogical perspective, the distinctions Christ makes devolve into at best principles that can neither be understood or applied this side of eternity. Note that Christ’s words will not lend themselves to a historical perspective – they are expressly rooted in the eschatalogical perspective and are intended to guide us in our historical setting!

Consider the example from a passage such as John 2:23-25. John begins (vs. 23) with a perspective that is clearly historical only. The “belief” of the crowd is offered for consideration in an undifferentiated manner (we could say both RCM and ECM potentially in view). Yet Jesus’ response cannot be understood as growing out of the historical perspective. Rather, his point only makes sense from the eschatalogical perspective. He makes a distinction between two kinds of belief, one possessed only by RCM and one possessed only by ECM – a decided eschatalogical perspective understanding. Here it is clear that the historical perspective is the servant of the eschatalogical perspective.

This is the heart beat of the whole NT. It is the light of the eschatalogical perspective that explains the mystery hidden in the historical perspective of the OT. The OT veiled is historical perspective dominant. The NT revealed in eschatalogical perspective dominant. Jesus speaks to his people not in the uncertain, unclear, hidden and veiled manner of the historical perspective of the old covenant. He speaks to them in the clear revelation from the eschatalogical perspective of the new covenant.

Again, this is not an insignificant criticism of the FV. Not to engage in hyperbole, but to demonstrate the significance of using the wrong interpretive presuppositions, consider that a Mormon, a Jehovah Witness, and a Roman Catholic can all (and do) affirm in sincerity, “I trust in Christ.” Yet they all mean something different about both “Christ” and “trust.” These differences flow from their differing interpretation of Scripture. As is obvious, faulty interpretive presuppositions inevitably lead to faulty understanding of the gospel, and often with eternally significant consequences.

To the degree that the FV rests on the faulty interpretive principle of giving preeminence to the historical perspective (over the eschatalogical perspective), it leads to faulty interpretations. I am not inferring anything about the degree of danger of such faulty interpretations. Don’t read between the lines and here me offering veiled accusations against the FV.

Rather I hope the points here bring home the seriousness of this issue. It should be obvious to all that we should so run so far away from faulty interpretive principles, and the faulty interpretations derived from them, as we never discover how truly dangerous they may be.

The FV is not simply saying something more than the reformed standards, and completely consistent with the Bible. It applies a faulty interpretive principle to the Bible and proposes interpretations the Bible does not support. This is dangerous.

Reed DePace