Not Having the Right Categories

“Westerners have become accustomed to think of good and bad government in terms of tyranny versus liberty. In Middle-Eastern usage, liberty or freedom was a legal not a political term. It meant one who was not a slave, and unlike the West, Muslims did not use slavery and freedom as political metaphors” (Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong? p. 54).

Mud and Stone of This Earth

“But we have also seen that he [Taylor] was a Puritan after all, that like his fellow Puritans he practiced his religion through metaphoric poetry linking earth and heaven. Like them he saw God’s glory immanent in the world and the flesh, and he never presumed to ignore either or to abjure metaphor. Like them he strove in this life to obey the command in Exodus, to build God’s altar from the mud and stone of this earth” (Daly, p. 199).

False Impressions

[Fairy tales are] “accused of giving children a false impression of the world they live in. But I think no literature that children could read gives them less of a false impression. I think what profess to be realistic stories for children are far more likely to deceive them. I never expected the real world to be like the fairy tales. I think that I did expect school to be like the school stories. The fantasies did not deceive me; the school stories did” (C.S. Lewis, Of Other Worlds, pp. 28-29).

Tradition is Contrary to Our Historic Practice

“The unthinking fundamentalist wants to reduce the whole problem to a very simple equation — ‘just stick to the Bible.’ His belief is that fooling around with traditions in the first place is what cause the problem. We may call this the ‘tradition as demon’ position. ‘We don’t believe in tradition. We have never believed in tradition. The founders of our denomination didn’t believe in tradition. We have always not followed tradition'” (Mother Kirk, p. 61).

Locating the Source

“The causes of our divisions from ourselves may be covered under three headings: 1. Dividing principles. Sometimes our divisions come down from our heads to our our heart. 2. Dividing distempers. Sometimes they go up from our hearts to our heads. 3. Dividing practices. These come from head and heart; they foment and increase both” (Burroughs, p. 19).

Some More Demands from Art

A couple films showing this year at Sundance are poised to top the charts . . . that is, if there are charts for which devotees of one-handed magazines are allowed to vote. Mouthbreathers everywhere, beads of earnest sweat on their foreheads, will no doubt blog their early a.m. approbation of this documentary about bestiality. The bestiality is “tastefully done,” oh good, and the film is breathlessly announced as not being exploitative. The result was “an elegant, eerily lyrical film,” in which fifty-gallon drums of true artistic disinfectant had to be shipped in and dumped all over the project. If everyone downwind holds their collective nose, and remembers the high calling of True Artistry, they might be able to write a stern letter to the local newspaper rebuking everyone else for their prudish refusal to pay attention to this final taboo. On the bright side, the producer had some disinfectant left over and so they are thinking of making an important docu-film about some guy who pushes oysters up his nose.

As if all this were insufficiently edifying, some other important aesthetic philosophers made a film in which a twelve-year-old girl is brutally raped. There will probably be some naysayers out there, of course, there always are. Some people don’t know that we simply cannot turn back the clock to that oppressive era when . . . oh, I don’t know . . . that oppressive era when preteens didn’t have to worry about their caregivers pimping them out to an American public lusting after Art that is Honest enough to be Real.

Thanks for the Opportunity to Respond

Editor,

In your last issue of The Confessional Presbyterian, I read an article by R. Scott Clark entitled “Baptism and the Benefits of Christ.” There are many issues here, but I would like for reasons of space to limit myself to two.

The first has to do with Dr. Clark’s straw man representation of the position he critiques throughout the course of his article, that of the Federal Vision. You would think that he would be especially careful in stating the views that he ascribes to this position — in that he concludes the article by calling for “confessional Reformed and Presbyterian churches to begin disciplining those pastors, elders, and teachers who teach the Federal Vision doctrine of baptismal benefits”(p. 19). This is no place for “ready, fire, aim!”

The focus of his article has to do with Dr. Clark’s claim that the Federal Vision denies the internal/external distinction for members of the covenant of grace, and the closely related issue of the visible/invisible church distinction. He says, “A group of writers, some of whom are ministers in confessional Reformed and Presbyterian churches, known collectively as the ‘Federal Vision’ are, however, either denying or calling into question the distinction between the church visible and church invisible and with that they are proposing that there is no distinction between those who in the covenant of grace externally and internally” (p. 4). I am cited in his footnote nine as one who is “expressing doubts” about the visible/invisible distinction (p. 4). He identifies me as a Federal Vision writer, and later sums up our position this way: “The Federal Vision denial of the internal/external distinction and their doctrine of baptismal union with Christ necessarily conflate the substance of the covenant of grace with its administration (p. 15, emphasis mine).

Yes, that would follow, if the premise were correct. But it is radically inaccurate. Not only do I affirm the internal/external distinction between regenerate and unregenerate covenant members, but I have done so repeatedly, in print, and in ways that are pretty hard to miss. I have done so in pieces that Dr. Clark apparently read and in pieces that he ought to have read. In my essay from The Federal Vision that Dr. Clark cites, I say this: “As an historic evangelical, in no way have I altered my conviction that a man must be converted to God in order to see the kingdom of heaven” (p. 263). In that essay, which Dr. Clark describes as a vehicle for “expressing doubts” about the visible/invisible church distinction, I actually said something more nuanced. “At the same time, the historic Reformed terminology can be applied in such a way as to cause some problems of its own. While it was a valuable distinction, it was still not an inspired distinction. I say this while embracing the distinction, as far as it goes” (p. 266, emphasis in the original). In my lexicon, “embracing” and “expressing doubts” are not interchangable. In that same essay, I show my agreement with the internal/external differences between regenerate and unregenerate covenant members in various ways and places. I referred to “unconverted professing Christians” on p. 268. I refer to “false professors” on p. 269. I refer to “baptized hypocrites” on p. 266. All this in the essay that Dr. Clark actually cited.

But there is more. In my book on the Federal Vision controversy (“Reformed” Is Not Enough), I make the same point over and over again. I embrace the internal/external distinction, and this is something that Dr. Clark had a responsibility to know and acknowledge before writing an article like this. For example:

“Circumcision was a sign of the covenant, but Paul points out that the mere possession of the external sign was not sufficient to guarantee a genuine spiritual reality. We can reapply these truths this way: ‘For he is not a Christian who is one outwardly; neither is that baptism, which is outward and external. But he is a Christian who is one inwardly; and baptism is that of the heart, in the spirit, and not in the letter; whose praise is not of men, but of God.” Paul’s statement is blunt — he is not a Christian who has only the externals” (RINE, p. 18).

In short, we can say that God knows those who call themselves Christians and who take upon themselves the marks of discipleship. Their lips are close to God, but their hearts are far from Him” (RINE, p. 19).

“Does this mean that anyone so baptized is a Christian in the other sense — one who is born of the Spirit of God? Not at all” (RINE, p. 19).

“The lips draw near while the heart is far removed from God. But such snakes within the covenant have the worst lot of all” (RINE, p. 21).

“Simply put, the objectivity of the covenant does not mean that a man does not have to be born again” (RINE, p. 33).

“First, the new birth is a reality. To be born again separates those who love darkness and those who love the light” (RINE, pp. 35-36, emphasis in the original).

“When the word regeneration is being used in this sense, we are talking about an invisible operation performed by the Spirit of God, who does what He does when and how it pleases Him. And when we are talking about what might be called this ‘effectual-call regeneration,’ we have to repudiate every form of baptismal or decisional regeneration” (RINE, p. 39).

Lest this become tedious, I will not quote very much from the three whole chapters later in the book that I dedicated to a detailed discussion of different aspects of the internal/external distinction, which I clearly and plainly hold and teach. Chapter 16 is on “Heretics and the Covenant,” Chapter 17 on “Sons of Belial,” and Chapter 18 on “False Brothers.” I close these chapters by quoting, with approval, from Calvin. “. . . we therefore distinguish the true from the spurious children, by the respective marks of faith and of unbelief” (as quoted in RINE, p. 155).

But as an announcer on television might say, with regard to the fantastic vegetable steamer he is trying to sell us, “Wait! There’s more!” In a collection of Credos, found in Credenda 15/5, I say this: “I believe that God in His sovereign and secret decree has elected by name a countless number to eternal salvation (Eph. 1:11). Each of these elect are justified individually, and irreversibly, at the point of their conversion, when God imputes to them all the righteousness of Jesus Christ (Rom. 8:29-30)” It sounds like whoever wrote that (to wit, me) holds to a pretty robust view of the internal/external distinction, which view, if it got any more robust, the Evangelical Theological Society would have tested for steroids.

In short, to put it mildly, Dr. Clark’s article is not a reliable guide on whether Federal Vision advocates like myself deny the internal/external distinction. Given this problem, it is not surprising that his paradigm blinders cause him to say other inaccurate things in the course of this article as well.

This is not intended to be an exhaustive refutation, so let me close with just one example. In his discussion of Romans 9, Dr. Clark says this: “Paul knows nothing of any sort of historically conditioned or contingent election. He views redemptive history as populated by two classes of people, those who are unconditionally elect and those who are reprobated” (p. 13). This is yet another situation where someone’s ship of dogma, under a full sail, runs aground on the shoals of the text. Paul knows nothing of a historically conditioned or contingent election? “As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sakes: but as touching the election, they are beloved for the fathers’ sakes. For the gifts and calling of God are without repentance” (Rom. 11:28-29, emphasis mine). Beloved enemies on account of election? Paul’s profound discussion of decretal election in these chapters arises out of the problem created by the historical election of Israel. After Paul’s rhapsody at the end of Romans 8, a natural question would arise. If all this is true of the elect, then why was the elect nation of Israel trying to kill Paul? And that is why Paul goes on to distinguish between different kinds of election, distinguishing between the historical, contingent election of Israel, and His sovereign decretal election than reveals itself in a glorious way throughout human history, culminating at the last day. This is why Paul began chapter nine with a discussion of the status of Israel, who had the adoption, the glory, the covenants, the law, the service of God, the promises, and the fathers. But this historical election, by itself, was insufficient, because they are “not all Israel, which are of Israel” (Rom. 9:6). All Israel was elect in one sense, while those who were of Israel were elect in another. And I cannot fathom how someone who stumbles over equivocal uses of the same word like this can ever hope to interpret faithfully the teaching of someone like the apostle Paul.

Calvin did not have this trouble. “Therefore Paul skillfully argues from the passage of Malachi that I have just cited that where God has made a covenant of eternal life and calls any people to himself, a special mode of election is employed for a part of them, so that he does not with indiscriminate grace effectually elect all” (Institutes III.xxi.7, emphasis mine). Peter Lillback has shown convincingly that Calvin distinguished a general election from a secret, special election. “Calvin denies that those who fall from the covenant were never in the covenant in the first place. Rather, they were in the covenant, but only from the vantage point of a corporate election or adoption . . . General election is not automatically efficacious in imparting spiritual benefits because God does not always give to all in the covenant the spirit of regeneration that enables perseverance in the covenant” (Lillback, The Binding of God, p. 216).

Why is this so hard?

Cordially in Christ,

Douglas Wilson

Not An Economic Powerhouse

“Later attempts to catch up with the Industrial Revolution fared little better . . . According to a World Bank estimate, the total exports of the Arab world other than fossil fuels amount to less than those of Finland, a country of five million inhabitants” (Bernard Lewis, What Went Wrong? p. 47).