In the comments below this post, Jeremy Sexton explains an objective, outside-the-individual way of understanding the qualitative difference between a persevering covenant member and a non-persevering covenant member. I appreciate Jeremy’s contribution. In line with my previous comments, I don’t have any difficulty seeing this as a position that an orthodox Christian could take. The fact that someone holds to this position would present, to my view, no barrier to fellowship whatever.
At the same time, I have four major difficulties with this explanation, in descending order of importance. Here they are:
One of the central methodological moves we made in the FV controversy was this. We understood the controversy as a question of whether we would be allowed to speak to God’s people as the Scripture speaks, without being constantly constrained by a priori theological considerations. I believed that such a stand was appropriate then, and I believe it now. But this criterion does not just apply to the language of apostasy. It also applies to the language of true heart conversion. It applies to everything Scripture addresses, and Scripture constantly speaks of the problem of false hearts saying true things.
The Scripture routinely speaks of the difference between true saints and sons of Belial as being a difference that is internal to them. I cheerfully grant that the biblical way of speaking of “the heart” may differ in some respects from the modern English-speaking way of talking about it — but our modern heart is a lot closer to the ancient Hebraic heart than either of them might be to the secret decrees of God.
I recently wrote about how catholicity begins at home, which you can read here if you missed it. Jim Jordan was kind enough to comment in the thread below that, but because the conveyor belt of time won’t slow down, his comments were kind of buried. I wanted to bump them up to the top again, and then quickly respond to just a few things. I appreciate Jim’s interaction on this.
“Well, I for one welcome your interaction with the Driscolls and Pipers of our age. As for ‘evangelical,’ you define it as absolute necessity of a new birth ‘down in your heart.’ I’m happy to sign on to that as well. That is, those who persevere in the faith (good soil believers) participate in the new birth of humanity in the resurrection of Jesus, which means they are individually born again also and do not commit suicide along the way. The ‘down’ heart stuff, being a metaphor, is fine with me also, though from an exegetical standpoint, I’ve never gotten clear precisely how what the Bible means by ‘heart’ fits with what most Christians think it means today. I’m happiest knowing that the Heart of my life is not inside of me, but is Jesus, who will never let me down.”
So let me note three quick things in response.
I would like to thank Shane Lems for his post at The Aquila Report for his post on the FV as it relates to union with Christ. The reason for this is that he quotes from the Joint Federal Vision statement, which is very rarely done. I really appreciate it — that is what the statement was for.
The upshot of his article is that FV views union with Christ as something a Christian can lose, while the Reformed confessions view it as a permanent reality. “The Federal Vision movement says it is losable while Reformed theology says it is an eternal union.”
To illustrate the latter point, he cites the Larger Catechism.
“The union which the elect have with Christ is the work of God’s grace, whereby they are spiritually and mystically, yet really and inseparably, joined to Christ as their head and husband, which is done in their effectual calling” (WLC 66).
I said here that I was looking forward to Peter Leithart’s answer to some of the responses to his piece on the end of Protestantism. And you can read his response to Fred Sanders piece here.
If I might, I would like to add just a few observations to the discussion, without assuming that either Leithart or Sanders or Escalante would differ with any of this. At the same time, I think it might help put things in perspective. This is not so much a rejoinder to anything really specific as it is a set of pastoral observations about how people tick — and, while we are at it, how theologians tock.
In doing this, I want to join with Peter and Fred Sanders in deploring a blinkered, sectarian, and bigoted spirit. There is that kind of narrowness within the Protestant world, but not because it is Protestant — rather it is because it is in the world. Whenever you have provinces, you have provincial people in them. Whenever you have farms, you have people who have never gotten around to leaving them. Whenever you have catechisms, you get the folks who use them as a security blanket — and it has happened with the Baltimore Catechism and the Westminster Catechism. You can get stuck in Bovill, Idaho or East Toad Flats, Arkansas, but not both.
The problem comes, not from being located in a particular place, but when this particularity is combined with hubris, resulting in an ignorant superciliousness. Nobody should want to defend ecclesiastical jingoism, dogmatic chest-pounding, or sloganeering substituted for careful theological craft.
I will say it right now. Chesterton is my favorite papist. This is something you could probably figure out from how much I quote him, but how much I have learned from him extends far beyond that.
One of the things I learned from him is the fundamental stance of a reformer — in order to do any good whatever, a person must have a clear-eyed view of what needs to be corrected, and he must have a fundamental loyalty to that which he seeks to correct. It was Chesterton who taught me how to be a good Protestant, how best to be an evangelical son.
In Orthodoxy, in the chapter “The Flag of the World,” he writes about how women are fiercely loyal to their men, but notes this is no blind loyalty. They stick with their men through thick and thin, but they see and understand their man’s faults all right. They are “almost morbidly lucid about the thinness of his excuses or the thickness of his head.”
You don’t need to have a reason to love your people. When you have a reason your attachments become mercenary and opportunistic. To reapply Chesterton, and to change cities, we should not love Geneva because she is great. She became great because we loved her. Protestantism built one of the world’s great civilizations, but that is not why I love it. I would have loved the doctrines of grace before we were allowed to build anything, and were still hiding from soldiers on the Piedmont.
In the comments on this post over at his blog, Scott Clark threatened to cut off comments if people persisted in asking why he wouldn’t meet with me.
“Why is it curious that I should refuse to meet personally with the leading proponent of the corruption of the gospel?”
Well, it is curious because in the post just above these comments, Clark had made quite a point about how the Arminians would not meet with the men investigating their views. It is curious because all these Reformed bodies denounced “a thing” called Federal Vision, the characteristics of which thing I also denounce, and they did this without ever once meeting with me — despite my cheerful willingness to meet with any or all of them.
“This is not a personal matter. This is a matter of truth.”
That is correct. It is not a personal matter. It is a matter of truth. And Scott Clark persists in perpetuating palpable falsehoods, and will not allow the legitimacy of any venue where those falsehoods might be demonstrated to be such.
“His views are well known. I can read English.”
The blunt answer, which cannot really be softened, is “no, he cannot read English.” Let me take one example that Clark likes to use. He says that FV teaches that baptism puts everyone in a state of grace, which is then maintained by the believer through his own covenantal faithfulness. Is that not a fair summary of what Clark says I teach? Well, here is some English for Clark to read. I think that such a doctrine is bad juju. I believe that it would be what theologians of another era might call a lie from the pit of Hell. I hope that one day I might be privileged to soak this doctrine in lighter fluid and set a match to it. If I ever found this doctrine on a sheet of paper in my office somewhere, I would run it through the shredder. Prior to my weekly dump run, I search my house for any traces of this doctrine so that I might throw it in the back of my pick up truck in order to take it out to the landfill along with all the bottles, empty ice cream cartons, grapefruit rinds, and coffee grounds. So the next time you read Scott Clark saying that I teach some form of this, you should probably say to yourself, “Hmmm. No speekee.”
A friend wrote, drawing my attention to this and, with regard to the one statement of mine that the OPC report took issue with, asking me if I meant it. I would prefer to divide that into two questions — first, what did I mean by it, and second, did I mean it?
I can answer what I meant by it generally right now, but I am on the road right now and away from my books. When I get home I will post some context from the essay quoted to establish what I meant by it at the time.
But here is a general statement. At the moment of the effectual call (normally something that happens because of the preaching of the Word — as the OPC rightly notes), God’s gift of faith to an individual is what enables us to call him a worthy receiver. Without evangelical faith, there are no worthy receivers. If that worthy receiver had previously been baptized, the teaching of the Confession is that the grace represented by the baptism came to be exhibited and conferred at the moment of true conversion.
Second, Clark quotes this, and it was a bit rich, coming from him.
[The Arminians] “rejected the judgments of the Synod and refused to answer the points in question in an equitable fashion. No admonitions of the Synod, nor resolutions of the honorable deputies of the States General, nor even the illustrious members of the States General themselves could make progress with them.”
I forget how many times and how many ways I have offered to meet with Scott Clark. But let me reiterate. I will fly down there at my own expense, I will debate with him publicly, I will meet with him privately, and I will even buy a special membership card that will allow me to comment on his blog. If we are drawing historical parallels, the only one being coy here, and refusing to engage in a theological exchange is Clark. So here is the offer put another way. Why doesn’t Scott Clark do for me what he says here what the divines at Dort did for the Arminians, and see what happens?
Before I became postmillennial, I noticed something odd, and since then, some of the oddities seem even more so. Some of the most cogent cultural criticism I have ever read has come from postmillennialists, who described in excruciating and exact detail how and why our culture is falling apart. And yet, back in the day, there were pessimistic dispensationalists, those who specialized in understanding how this world is supposed to be falling apart, and yet who were pointing to culprits like the antichrist bar codes at Safeway. Why was that?
I am an evangelical, the son of evangelicals. And while I know that my optimistic eschatology is not the majority report among evangelicals, I also know that testimonies are common enough fare. So here is my testimony. This is how postmillennialism happened to me.
I am not sure why we did it, but when we founded Logos School, we determined to teach every subject as parts of an integrated whole, with Scriptures at the center. We had a commitment to a world and life view, one that had probably been gleaned from Francis Schaeffer, but a commitment to such a thing in principle is not the same thing as knowing how it all might tie together. But once you start a school with such a commitment, you have all those little pie faces looking up at you expectantly, as much as to say, “Teach me something.” They do this for five days a week, eight hours a day, for nine months out of the year, for twelve years. You have to start hunting for material that will help you with the task of integration, this task you have assigned to yourself. In the early eighties, that meant mining material from the reconstructionists.