Messing With the Verb

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.

The first thing has to do with how we should categorize it if we cannot come to agreement about these issues. Let’s hope we agree, but what if we don’t? One of the disservices that came out of the early FV controversy is that Morton Smith defined heresy as anything out of accord with the Westminster Confession. This, in my view, confused the difference between the early creeds of the Church — which distinguished Christian from non-Christian — and the confessions of the Reformation era — which distinguished Reformed from Lutheran, and so on. There is no such thing as an “in-house” heretic. Heretics ought to be rejected by every Christian communion, and not just by one or two of them. So I do think that these are quite possibly confessional issues, but I don’t believe these confessional issues touch on basic Christian orthodoxy. I am unconfessional at certain points also — I subscribe to the Westminster Confession, but my views on the sabbath are only partially Westminsterian, for example — which is fine if the exceptions are duly submitted to the appropriate ecclesiastical body, and authorized by them. That is what I would envision as a good end point of this discussion — a church officer who differs with what I have been calling “effectual call regeneration” should take — again, in my view — an exception to the Confession, and then we would all know where we are. Nothing could be simpler, and universal harmony and peace would break out all over.

Second, to the theological point. Jim says, “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.” I could sign off on this if we mess with the verb a little. How’s this?

“That is, those who persevere in the faith (good soil believers) show they have participated 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 reason for stating it this way is that a theological dilemma is created if we postulate that every baptized Christian is given all of Christ, in the same ways and in the same respect, and that some of them “commit suicide.” If this is the case, and if some covenant members can in fact commit that spiritual suicide, then this has to mean that Christ is not our perseverance, and that it has to come to us (if it comes to us) in some other fashion. If it comes from within ourselves, then this pushes us in an Arminian direction. If it comes from God, then God is doing something salvific for the elect apart from Christ, which would create a separate cluster of problems. The only way I can see that extricates us from this dilemma is to opt for the classic Reformation understanding of the new birth — that there must be a qualitative distinction in those who are saved, a distinction separating them from unsaved covenant members. They are not all Israel that are of Israel (Rom. 9:6).

The reason this is necessary can be seen in the third point. I appreciated Jim’s emphasis on the ground of our salvation being extra nos, outside of ourselves. But this just illustrates how this problem won’t go away, wherever we locate it. This is not really about what a spiritual biopsy of the new heart would look like under a celestial microscope. The answer to that question is “I don’t know.”

The Jesus who saves brings us to the Father, and is the basis for making God our Father. The new life I am talking about consists of a Father transplant. Now the Father is outside us; this is an objective relationship. But there is a fundamental distinction in the nature of that relationship to the Father between different kinds of covenant members. Certain covenant members have God for their father in one sense (John 8:37), and the devil for their father in another (John 8:44). Other covenant members have only God for their Father (John 8:42). If God is your Father, in this sense, then you love Jesus, pure and simple, and the devil is not your father in any sense.

I appreciate Jim taking the time to interact on this point. If he wants to respond to anything I have written here, I would be happy to link to it. In my view, discussion of these issues in this manner would be most profitable.

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43 comments on “Messing With the Verb

  1. Pastor Wilson, I appreciate you graciously and tactfully responding to the criticisms of the FV and for clarifying what you mean by what you say. I praise God for that. 

    I don’t know how I feel about some of the things the FV folks believe, but I do pray and long for full reconciliation to happen between the FV folks and the confessionalist Reformed folks who have taken issue with the FV.

    Thank you for the way you are handling this. My prayers are with you.

  2. It seems to me that when someone offers a thoughtful and humble rejoinder to your thoughts, the clarifications are often quite helpful. Let’s have more of that.

  3. I think it is much easier to dispense with the Reformed paradigm; I choose neither the Westminster nor the FV approach.  For me, Arminianism answers it perfectly. 

  4. So, three of the seeds spring up from faith and only
    one perseveres.  And, the faith itself is not the issue; it’s
    soil and fruit.  JBJ wants to wait until the historical
    manifestation of fruitfulness to declare who the good
    seed is and DW wants to start with the soils.  It’s a
    timing thing.
    As one reads the above, he should read it with a
    slight cast of question in the tone.  I don’t mean
    to speak declaratively on this.

  5. I look forward to seeing how this plays out.   This was the issue of my pastor Steve before presbytery (back when AAPC was PCA). I submitted a paper on this exact issue pertaining to Pastor Wilikins to Dr. Scott Swain @ RTS and how this issue caused both Pipa, Jeong, and Waters to think that Steve was saying those effectually called (regenerate) – (elect) could lose their salvation (which Steve was not saying).  Here is what Pastor Steve clarified before presbytery (which I believe he still holds to as far as I know):
    . I believe that the non-elect do receive benefits
    from Christ through the Spirit and may enjoy real communion with Jesus during
    the time in which they are branches in the vine, members of the covenant olive tree,

    and members of the body of Christ. I do not believe, however, that the relationship the non-elect have with Christ is identical to the relationship sustained by the decretally elect.  (

    [ Source: Wilkins, Steve. Steve Wilkins' Letter to Louisiana Presbytery Regarding the “9 Declarations" of PCA General Assembly’s Ad-Interim Committee’s Report on the Federal Vision/New Perspective”. Monroe, LA: Auburn Avenue Presbyterian Church (, n.d. PDF.]




  6. Mr. Wilson: Having read the Bible and a number of early church fathers, the best definition of heresy I can figure is any denial of: 1. the doctrine of the Trinity (perichoresis) 2. doctrine of Jesus’ dual nature (hypostatis) or 3. salvation by grace (Gal. 1).
    For awhile I thought heresy could be defined as any denial of the Apostle’s Creed, but some perfectly orthodox Christians, such as Calvin, deny that Jesus descended into Hades. So the scheme above is the best I can come up with. Care to shed some light of exactly defines a heresy?

  7. And can you recommend any books that would help me work through these issues?

  8. It’s pretty clear to me, but let me be the first one to predict it publicly: Douglas is setting the stage to recant on FV. 
    The only question is whether you are putting out feelers to give others a chance to join you in the lifeboat, or if you are going to cut and run solo.

  9. Things are “pretty clear” to Tim H, but what is not clear to me is which Tim relishes more:  to punish Doug for sticking with the FV joint statement, or to humiliate Doug for “cutting and running”.  It seems Doug is damned either way.  This attitude may tell us more about Tim than about Doug.

  10. Tim H, when Doug doesn’t “recant”, will you be the first to publically admit that you don’t know what you are talking about?

  11. I was intrigued by the last couple of paragraphs of this post.  If there is a qualitative distinction, why do I see that the personal ethics of many of those I know that lean towards the FV side of the Reformed spectrum end up looking much like the personal ethics of those I know who are on the PCUSA/RCA/progressive CRC end of the spectrum?  I’m in neither camp, though I am confessionally Reformed (in the continental, Three Forms of Unity way), and am finding my closest allies to be conservative baptistic evangelicals who stress a new birth evidenced by a life of repentance and growing holiness.

  12. Doug,
    Is it true (as Tim H. seems to suspect) that you are changing from your former position, or are you merely clarifying your former position?
    Also, I don’t really see how you necessarily disagree with James Jordan’s position. A born-again heart of good soil that yields by God’s grace a persevering faith is also given by God in His grace. Such persevering faith and such a good-heart are both originated by God’s grace against any merit of the individual. In other words, I am doubting that your position is any different from Jordan’s in that I don’t believe you would deny your modified statement by implication also means (and could thus be written as):
    “That is, those who persevere in the faith (good soil believers) both show they have participated and show that they at present do 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.”
    If you believe by God’s grace it’s ‘both and’ rather than the fallacious ‘either or’, then your statement seems to be in harmony with Jordan’s, and also (most importantly) what God has revealed in the Bible. Do you concur?

  13. Brian, it is possible we are close, and possible that we are not. I believe that it is necessary that we have a principle that distinguishes the faithful believer and the apostate prior to the point of apostasy. If Jim believes that the persevering faith and the non-persevering faith are qualitatively different from the get-go, then I think we have agreement. If he says that they are indistinguishable (to God) prior to the point of apostasy, then we have a disagreement.

  14. Tim H, I continue to hold to everything I signed in the Joint FV statement. If things that are not in that statement come to be identified with what it means to be FV (despite my best efforts), then at some point I might want to call myself something else. Or I could simply start saying that FV stands for Forum Vision.

  15. Doug Wilson wrote:

    If Jim believes that the persevering faith and the non-persevering faith are qualitatively different from the get-go, then I think we have agreement. If he says that they are indistinguishable (to God) prior to the point of apostasy, then we have a disagreement.

    The difference between persevering and non-persevering faith is a qualitative difference that has already been stipulated, “from the get-go”, by those two adjectives.  One is persevering and one isn’t.  The nature of the adjective presupposes no flip-flopping along the way.  Persevering faith doesn’t become non-persevering faith, otherwise the adjective is meaningless.  Doug also wrote:

    I believe that it is necessary that we have a principle that distinguishes the faithful believer and the apostate prior to the point of apostasy.

    Could the principle simply be the distinction between the number ordained to eternal life by God, and those not in that number?  In other words, is it necessary to locate the distinction within the kind of faith/works/perseverance/soil of the individual, or could we locate the distinction externally in the eternal ordaining decree of God?  This distinction exists “from the get go” as Doug advocates should be the case.  Faith, works, perseverance, soil, etc, all connect to this eternal ordaining decree, but they seem to logically follow it, rather than establish it.  In other words, a “persevering faith” doesn’t establish the eternal decree.  Rather the other way around, logically speaking.  Anyway, just some thoughts to throw on the pile.

  16. Chill, Dan Glover — it was a prediction, not a claim to knowledge.

  17. Cain was as federally covenented as Abel and Esau and Muhammad.  And as is your neighbor. 

  18.  If it comes from God, then God is doing something salvific for the elect apart from Christ, which would create a separate cluster of problems

    Pr. Wilson, could you clarify/expand on this statement? Thanks.

  19. The FV Joint Statement was not a set of hard and fast theological positions but a zone of open conversation. There’s lots of room for varying emphases.
    I do believe that the difference between Christians who persevere and those who don’t lies in the decree of God. (Well, everyone believes that.) But the mystery of apostasy is just that: a mystery. It’s the same mystery as how Adam, created good, could rebel against God. I think that a trillion years from now we still won’t understand this. After all, both God and His image partake of incomprehensibility, and hence the relationship of God and His images partakes of incomprehensibility. I’m wary of trying to press too far into these questions, though the conversation is fine with me.

  20. Doug,
    Thanks for your irenic tone. You wrote, The reason for stating it this way is that a theological dilemma is created if we postulate that every baptized Christian is given all of Christ, in the same ways and in the same respect, and that some of them “commit suicide.”
    My understanding is that you are looking at this synchronically. You’re saying that if someone at any point in time had “all of Christ,” then he could not commit spiritual suicide unless Arminianism is true or unless perseverance is given to the decretally elect apart from Christ. But the gift of perseverance is diachronic by definition — it means steadfastness over time. It is given moment-by-moment, not all at once. The only way to receive the gift of final perseverance is to be dead in Christ. After Paul tells the Corinthians that they “were enriched in every way in Christ” (1 Cor 1:5) and “are not lacking in any Spiritual gift” (1 Cor 1:7) — that they have been given all of Christ — he does not invite them to infer from this they have been given the gift of final perseverance. Rather, “Christ will sustain you to the end” (1:8) — this is not a decretal statement about effectual calling, but it does indicate that something outside of them (Christ) will have to sustain them in the “all of Christ” grace they’ve been given. Paul also warns each one who has been given all of Christ to “take heed lest he fall” (10:12). Paul reminds them that they have all of Christ so that they might persevere, not because it is an ontological certainty that they will. I question whether Scripture invites us to look at perseverance as a punctiliar gift. Some are sustained by Christ in all of Christ for a while; the decretally elect, to the end. And if we don’t look at perseverance as a punctiliar gift, the dilemma you mention goes away.
    Blessings in Jesus,
    Jeremy Sexton

  21. James B. Jordan wrote:

    I do believe that the difference between Christians who persevere and those who don’t lies in the decree of God. (Well, everyone believes that.) But the mystery of apostasy is just that: a mystery.

    I agree that there is a proper mystery here.  Hopefully we are all comfortable affirming that God’s decree is the external (remote) qualitative difference that organizes any other differences.  My concern would be that, even if there are qualitative differences located within the individual faith, or individual personality, we may be tempted to dig at those differences with our own tools.  We may want to self-diagnose based on local qualities that we have access to (since we don’t have access to God’s decrees).  I’ve known several atheists who have convinced themselves that they aren’t ordained to eternal life by following that reasoning.
    If we label persevering faith and non-persevering faith, then of course that is a qualitative difference, but I would suggest that this difference is not located within the faith.  That quality is located in God’s eternal decree.  We could make a similar statement about individual persevering persons, souls, vessels, or personalities.  Why does one person receive and abide in the good news and another does not?  Is the difference located in the kind of personality or in the type of soul?  We know that God does prepare individual vessels for honor and others for common use and destruction, but I don’t think that we can infer from this that there is therefore some local difference within the vessel itself.  If we think there is, we may be tempted to inspect the qualities of the vessels rather than trust in God’s faithfulness.

  22. P.S. In other words, the qualitative difference — the distinguishing feature that you’re looking for — can be found not in the elect but in God’s decree. I submit that it does not get any more qualitative than that. On the ground, the qualitative difference can be found in the way God’s preservation plays out over time, enacting his decree. Some are preserved by Christ in all of Christ for a while; the decretally elect, to the end. (The point of 1 Cor 1:8, to clarify my earlier comment about how it’s not decretal statement, is that when those in Christ fall away, it is not because Christ failed to sustain them in the way he promised; for our discussion, this verse points out that we need Someone outside of us to preserve us, even those who have been given and received “all of Christ.”)

  23. Jeremy Sexton’s comments are interesting.  I’d offer another related thought…  In a particular sense, I’m not sure that we should look for “all of Christ” to be found residing within the covenant member, discretely.  Though Christ does promise to make His abode with us, we aren’t big enough to contain “all of Christ” in any free-standing sense.  Neither do we contain salvation in any free-standing “I got saved” sense, as if it was a card in our wallet.  Rather I would say that the covenant member is united to, and buried over their head in, “all of Christ”, and possesses salvation and all of Christ as they abide in Him.  In other words, it’s not Christ who is transplanted into us, but we who are transplanted into union with Him.  We must abide in that relationship.  Those in the number ordained to eternal life (NOEL) are those who will, and do, abide to the end.
    In yet other words, I would offer that “all of Christ” and “salvation” are not items transferred into the covenant member, but instead “all of Christ” and “salvation” is the covenant environment into which we are transferred/buried/grafted/born (as is normally sealed and witnessed in public covenant ritual).

  24. @katecho, Jeremy, et al
    I don’t submit to the FV, but I do have a question for those who do here.  By saying that there is no qualitative difference between the elect and the non-elect that apostatize in themselves, that the difference is only in the decrees of God, aren’t you saying that it is possible for a born again believer to apostatize?  After all, while being born again is an act of God (not our own, not of our merit), it does indicate a difference in the one being born again — doesn’t it?  You can’t just define those who are being born again as those who are decreed by God to eternal life without any qualitative difference in themselves (produced by God alone of course).
    Perhaps you do believe born again believer can apostatize.  If so, I’m sure that’s a difference between those who adhere to FV and those Reformed who don’t.
    I am also curious as to whether Pastor Wilson believes that those who apostatize can be properly called born again.  It seems to me his comments seem to indicate the answer is no, but I could have easily misunderstood him.

  25. Sorry for no paragraphs above… they were there when I typed the comment…

  26. Nick, both Wilson and Jordan are FV. This is an in-house conversation about a mysterious matter. Let me try to say something about your question. You use the phrase “difference in themselves.” Well that statement is thinking of a human being as something that has an inside in a kind of spatial sense. But that needs to be thought about. Before we can really talk about these things, we have to follow the FV dictum of letting the Bible tell us what it means, and not bringing in our cultural notions. What is the stone heart and the flesh heart in Ezekiel? They are the hearts of humanity, first the Ten Words on stone in the heart of the Temple, which is the heart of the world, of humanity; and then the incarnate Word, Jesus Christ. What is the new Root of our lives? Jesus. Where is my new “born again” life? It is hid with Christ in God.
    Our relationship to Jesus is totally personal and in no sense mechanical. Everything between us and God is personal and relational. Can a person have a warm personal walk with Jesus, but over time walk away from Him and finally perish? The Bible certainly seems to think so: King Saul, Judas, the person who leaves the Vine in John 15, the people warned in Hebrews, etc. So, if you want to use the term “born again” in the way I think you are using it, the answer is clearly Yes: some people born again do not persevere. Luke 3:38 says Adam was the son of God. Born of God. How could he fall away? He did not even have a sin&death nature to tempt him? If you can explain that, you can explain the mystery and horror of apostasy.
    But drop back to an even more basic matter. We tend to think that people come in categories, but by itself that’s problematic. Yes, some people are Chinese, some are women, etc. But is that how our Creator sees people? No: Every single human being is totally unique, so that Jesus has a totally unique relationship with every human being. When Peter betrayed Jesus, Jesus pursued him. When Judas betrayed Jesus, Jesus did not pursue him.
    Doug is concerned about a “qualitative” difference between Jesus’ relationship with those who are only temporarily faithful and those who persevere to the end. That is, a qualitative difference in these GROUPS. I’m not sure about that, since God’s relationship with each of us is totally unique. There are as many qualitative differences as there are people.
    Yet, there are four kinds of soil. And as an FV, I want to give due weight to EVERY way the Bible says things. And that’s why the conversation continues, and will do so.

  27. I want to clarify that those with Federal Vision goggles are able to speak of the “born again” covenant member who walks away from Christ (their life) without threatening God’s sovereignty over such a process.  The number ordained to eternal life doesn’t change no matter how much grafting and pruning goes on during the history of the covenant Vine.  The final result will be exactly as God decreed, by name.
    Some may insist that God should defend that eternal number at the perimeter gate, in every moment of history, by not allowing the non-perseverers into the covenant community in the first place.  However, Scripture (Old and New Testament) is full of examples of God letting non-perseverers within the walls of His covenant, for a time.  This is God’s prerogative.

  28. But the question Wilson is asking is, is every baptized Christian given all of Christ, in the same ways and in the same respect, and then some of them fall away? I say this as a Reformed Baptist.
                                                                                                                                                     Are some of you affirming that the Lutherans are essentially saying the same thing as the FV regarding these things, only perhaps in a less roundabout way?

  29. Gianni wrote:

    But the question Wilson is asking is, is every baptized Christian given all of Christ, in the same ways and in the same respect, and then some of them fall away?

    Speaking only for myself, I would first clarify my view that water baptism is God’s ritual which bears public witness of an existing covenant relationship and identity.  In other words, water baptism doesn’t create a covenant relationship, but it recognizes it publicly and objectively, even if it only existed a few seconds before the water was applied.  So, for example, the baptism of an infant of a covenant parent is not what creates a covenant relationship spontaneously afresh, but the ritual is recognizing the existing truth of it, just as Abraham’s circumcision did not create his covenant identity, but testified of it after the fact, as God had already moved between the divided animals.  This means that infants of a covenant parent have a federal (represented) identity with Christ that is theirs at conception, even if they die before the ritual recognition.  It means the Spirit can move, and an unbeliever can be converted into real covenant relationship with Christ and this would be so even if they never get baptized to have God’s public corporate recognition of their identity.  Since water baptism recognizes, but does not create, it also means that baptizing an unbeliever in their sleep does not create a covenant relationship either.  We can avoid ex opere operato fallacies because of that.  As a reminder, I don’t say that this covenant identity with Christ means one is necessarily part of the number ordained to eternal life (NOEL), but that would typically be the case unless there was apostasy.
    With all of that as clarification, I would then answer that all those who are federally represented, born into, or converted into covenant union with Christ are buried in Him.  They are completely submerged in all of Christ from head to toe.  All of Christ is theirs, and is the covenant environment that they reside in.  (This would be the case even without the public ritual of water baptism.)  However, we don’t possess all of Christ in some free-standing sense that we can wander off with.  If we break covenant, we break covenant with all of Christ, and have no more part in Him.  So apostasy removes one from the environment of salvation they had been buried in.  Salvation is not plucked out from them like a feather, but they are plucked out from Salvation.  They fall away.  They move.  All of Christ does not.
    Someone clever might suggest that an apostate had all-of-Christ except the persevering-all-of-Christ, and therefore was missing something of Christ.  I think this is a meta- or semantic argument (a function of language) rather than anything ontological about the nature of full participation in union with Christ.  Imagine someone who just sold their home and moved away.  Could they claim that they were somehow denied the full experience of owning the home because they owned it last week and not this week?  They didn’t persevere in union with the home, but there was nothing ontologically lacking in the home or in their experience of it.  The new owners may persevere, but it’s the same home.  We don’t look for a difference in the home, or in what it meant to own the home.
    Further, if the apostate wants to say that he was missing something of Christ that the persevering are not missing, then it seems to go against Paul’s point in 1Cor 10:1-22.  What about those in Israel who fell away?  The apostate and the persevering ones each ate the same spiritual Bread from Heaven, and they all drank the same spiritual drink from the Rock, which was Christ.  Paul’s point is that those apostates weren’t missing anything of Christ that would provide any excuse.  No temptation overtook them except what is common to man.  There was a way of escape, but they did not endure.  This is an example for those of us in the new covenant who also have all-of-Christ.  Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands (in all-of-Christ) take heed lest he fall.

  30. Nick & Katecho,
    I don’t think we have good reason to believe the Bible teaches that some of those who are born again do not persevere in faith unto salvation. Unlike the rocky and thorny hearts that result in temporary faith commitments (Lk 8:11-14), the person that God has graced with a good heart (Lk 8:15), produces persevering fruit of righteousness as a result of the persevering faith in his born again good heart (Ro 10:4). After John teaches that the born again have a need to repentantly confess sin (1 Jn 1:8-9), he says there is a sense where the born again do not sin (1 Jn 3:6,9-10). Paul, after teaching that he (as one who has been born again) sins against the law, also teaches there is a sense where it is not him who is really sinning (Ro 7:17,20) since he in his faith concurs in his born again good heart with God’s law in wanting to do good (Ro 7:21), but that is the sin that is in his flesh that is sinning (Ro 7:18). Those with a born again heart, which concurs with the law, is in contrast to the persons who are not born again with a new heart of flesh have a natural heart of stone (Ezk 36:26), as those who categorically hate God and His good law (Ro 8:7), and thus do not keep the Lord’s commandments (as opposed to the person with a new heart that by the Spirit causes men to walk according to God’s law in Ezk 36:27). Along with John who says that the one who knows God, in being born again walks in the Lord’s commandments (1 Jn 3:4,6,9-10,19,24), the writer of Hebrews also says that those who participate in the New Covenant with faith of a good heart have God’s laws written on it (Heb 8:10-11; 10:15-17), and the writer of Hebrews knows that such New Covenant partakers he is addressing/warning are not of the temporary sort who “shrink back to destruction,” but are of those who possess a type of “faith to the preserving of the soul.” (Heb 11:39). Thus, those who participate in the New Covenant with good fruitful hearts “of the divine nature” per 2 Pe 1:4 (being born again of the Spirit, which belongs to those of some sense do not sin), have faith that is persevering with a persevering increase in good fruit unto eternal salvation (2 Pe 1:5-7,8,10-11). The Bible certainly teaches there are those who participate in God’s covenants with unbelieving hearts that do not persevere (Heb 3:12,13-14,15,16,17,18,19; Heb 4:1,11), but eventually in sin fall away from faith and good fruit of obedience per Lk 8:13,14; Mk 4:17,19 (including obedient repentance from previously known unrest/works of disobedience per Heb 10:26; Lk 9:23; 14:27,26; Ro 8:12-13,14; Gal 2:20; Heb 4:10,11). However, I don’t know of any teaching in the Bible that shows those who are born again, are also said not to be graced with good hearts that only temporarily give fruit. Yet, the Bible does teach that the born again are those with good hearts by God’s grace produce good works/qualities of obedience to God’s commandments as a non-temporary fruitful increase (2 Pe 1:8; Lk 8:15; Mk 4:20), being “protected by the power of God through faith” unto salvation (1 Pe 1:3-5). And, where God teaches us various categories that men fall into, we ought to use these biblical categories for categorizing unique and particular persons in our thinking and beliefs (faith). The subset of participants of the New Covenant who in being born again have good and thus persevering hearts that concur with God’s law as a result of God’s grace will not be conceited, but in the fear of God (Ro 11:20; Heb 4:1) will perseveringly remain standing in their obedient faith/trust in Christ as one of the better promises that God has made with them in His New Covenant (Heb 8:6,8,10-12).

  31. @Brian – I agree with you.  I am definitely not FV.  I am a Reformed Baptist, and FV has little appeal to most Baptists.  Furthermore, I think this is a major issue with those of us who are not FV, and a major part of the controversy.  Let me see if I can get paragraphs now using HTML. <p></p>
    @James Jordan — See Brian’s comment.  For the record, I do notshare your presupposition that Christ came to simply turn back the clock to Adam’s state.  The new creature is not like Adam in the same way the new Earth is not like Eden.  The Bible speaks of Christians already being glorified (Rom. 8:30).  While I would agree we are not fully/completely glorified, Christ came to make us like Him, fit for Heaven, and those in Heaven do not fall away.  So the analogy with Adam is in my view, not only unpersuasive, but flat out incorrect. <p></p>
    I also know Pastor Wilson signed the FV document, and I apologize if my comments implied otherwise.  But I do wonder, given his latest comments about this issue, whether he would call those who apostatize “born again”.<p></p>

  32. HTML tags don’t work… I give up trying to format comments in here…

  33. I see Pastor Wilson just posted a follow up further explaining his views.  Thanks Pastor Wilson.

  34. Brian, Good comments.  Very helpful to me.  Yours is a useful collocation of Scriptures supporting the historical understanding.  At least, reinforcing in my mind why Regeneration, Election and Assurance are not to be divorced.
    The anti-FV accusation that “FV destroys assurance” kept coming to mind as I read this thread.  This disconnect between the decree and history took my breath away back in 2001 when listening to some of the Auburn tapes.  This was a different flavor than most of what I’d experienced as a Reformed believer, or as as a Conservative Baptist (once saved always saved).  (I say “Mostly” because I’ve been listening to and reading Jordan and Leithart and Rushdooney and North since 1983, and the Covenantal Gospel of the Dutch and -yes – the even some of the Scottish Covenanters - partook somewhat of this different flavor.)  I still read Ephesians Chapter one as I did before all this FV stuff came along – it is my default understanding.  I’m not saying it is exegetically justified in all respects. (On a parallel note - I read NT Wright and the NPP and I see what he’s saying, mostly agree, but I don’t know how much he influences me in the end.  I still don’t like the feel of translating righteousness as Covenantal faithfulness [Cf. NTW's Roman's for Everyman popular commentary].)
    Perhaps the lines that most experimental Calvinists (Puritan Banner of Truth folks) draw from the decree down to the individual experience in time and space <<via heart regeneration/forensic jusitification/personal assurance>> are too direct.  The puppets on the stage below the line (all of us) might have some idea that there are strings attached and that there is a puppet master pulling the strings, but can they know infallibly that they are elect?  Is our personal {{decretal}} election a subject of which we are capable of epistemic certainty (i.e. knowledge)?  
    For, if the elect lady is a church, and the chosen in Christ are really just people covenantally included in the Church, and the regenerate is the cosmic regeneration which is first about the world and only secondarily (incidentally?) about the individual believer … Where does assurance go? I thought I knew I was born again and therefore elect, and while I knew that I needed to see fruit fitting with repentance, and needed to persevere in my faith … I wondered if all this former knowledge (for myself, and for my people as a pastor) was lost in the mist of Federal Cosmic Covenantalism.
    As the FV speakers (e.g. Steve Wilkins, even Schlissel) went through the texts which speak of election, the visible covenantal aspect of election became clear, while the internal and invisible aspect of election became more and more fuzzy.  How is election a matter of comfort - as the WCF says {even if we are to handle it carefully} if it is an unknowable thing?  Wilson’s _Reformed is not Enough_ answered many of these questions to my satisfaction, but shifted (or redefined) The Visible/invisible Church rather as the Eschatological vs. Historical Church.  Helpful, but adequate?  I was helped, but not satisfied.  Maybe Doug is similarly itching to get this clearer.
    And, OTOH, I understood that we reformed types too often tend to teach our children to doubt their salvation more so than to trust in their Savior.  If we don’t fall into the error of presumptivism (which my Reformed Baptist friends accused the Kuyperians of doing), we slide over to the danger of morbid introspection (of which the “Dutch” and FV accuses many).  I saw how there was a cheap grace assurance handed out by easy believism.  But, the Shorter Catechism cured me of that danger.  Then there was a difficult question of how to relate our ongoing problems and sins to our infallible assurance.  That’s still not easy.  _The Christian’s Great Interest_ is a classic Covenanter answer to that.  And, while there may be too much emphasis put upon assurance, I agree with Rev. Guthrie (and the WCF) that it is a Christian’s Great Interest to know.  John writes the Gospel so that we’ll be saved and the First Epistle so that we can know that we have eternal life. 
    But, I think that the FV discussion is important.  I find it useful.  We don’t have a lock on the exegesis of all these passaages.  I have long had problems with Jim Jordan’s “unitarian” view of Man’s nature (that’s not the best word, monist?) – But, it’s within the bounds of orthodoxy (well, JBJ, at least almost :0)).  I think that this ties to his views of regeneration.  If there is no distinct and separable there there (Spirit/Soul), how can it be given distinct life?  Now, the separation of soul and body is abnormal.  Greek views of immortality are to be eschewed.  But, while regeneration gives a new direction in life, is that all we’re talking about?  Sure, decretal-emphasizing Experimental (Banner of Truth) Puritans, and ontological regeneration heart-as-a-thing/place inside you/ changers draw lines between the decree and the diachronic experience in regeneration because there is a there there for them, a thing that can be directly changed.  While – in Jordan’s case at least – I don’t think that the tail (anthropology) is wagging the dog (regeneration up to Decrees), but they certainly are related.  I’m open to persuasion.  I’m almost of two minds.  But, I’m trying not to be too much a dichotomist. 
    I like Jim’s emphasis on the “mystery of apostasy.” 
    One final wandering note… This whole discussion is kind of like the revolution that happens when you start to realize the significance of AD 70 as a coming of Christ… At first it does not make sense, then it seems to make sense of many other things, and then your world view starts to change and your eschatology is revised.  Then you might ask, “What’s left for the future… Which texts about resurrection and the change of the world are left clearly speaking about a bodily, visible appearing and the final last day?” 
    Don’t worry, there are enough.  And, I think there are enough texts (such as Brian gives) which retain regeneration as something an individual experiences in his inner man.
    And, of course, everyone should talk more about the Holy Spirit.  I say that in the most judgmental tone possible.  YOU guys need to talk more about the Spirit that indwells believers… or is that the Church corporate first and only?  Huh?  I think He is the answer :-)  And, I hate slogans.

  35. Lost

    Tony, I’m glad you found that helpful. I have also benefited from a Scripture-”collocation” approach that I first noticed in Demar, Kenneth Gentry, and Bahnsen. I’m not sure all flavors of FV necessarily destroy assurance; Doug seems to advocate for assurance, and there is nothing that I have noticed in his writings that seems inconsistent with the Joint FV Statement that he signed. Since you mentioned Wright, I look forward to reading N.T.’s “Paul and the Faithfulness of God” sometime soon. I think I saw an interview about it where he said in regard to ‘justification’ (also discussed in this book) that conceptualizing justification as an individual aspect which Luther emphasized is indeed not bogus, but that Paul’s instruction on justification has corporate/community implications also. I’m not familiar with ‘Puritan Banner of Truth’, but I do think we can know in the sense of having justified belief about our selection for salvation from God’s wrath against sin since 1 Jn has a lot about how to know if we are the Lord’s by what our faith in Him yields/works. Also, we are instructed to reliably/justifiably “test to see if we are in the faith,” rather than arbitrarily guess to see if we are in the faith (2 Co 13:5). If we are not willing in our faith/trust in the Lord Jesus to obediently repent of our known disobedience against Him, then I believe we are without biblical warrant to think we have been selected/elected by God for justification unto salvation from His wrath on the basis of Christ’s righteousness as our Advocate through faith in Him (1 Jn 1:8,9,10; 2:1,2,3-4); a faith that is not demonstrated/”shown” in obeying commanded repentance in our faith toward God ought to be considered a faith that is unable to save, useless, and dead (James 2:14,17,18,20,26; Heb 10:26-27). For me also, I noticed a lot of systematic biblical connections after understanding Christ’s non-physical coming in judgment as vengeance for how (again) the murderously blood-filled “great city” Jerusalem harlot (Rv 18:19,20,24,18,9; 11:8; 17:2,5,6; Mt 23:34,35,36,37,38; 24:2,9,34) and priest/Sanhedrin gov’t beast of the land as well as the Roman/Caesar-kings gov’t beast of the sea (again as previously before per Jn 19:11,12,13,15,21) persecuted their Lord & King in His body (as the persecuted apostolic church after His resurrection cf. Ac 9:1,4,5; 22:4,7; 26:9,10,11,14,15; Mt 25:44,45) as the theme of Revelation and Mt 24. This was especially systematically helpful to me as an additional aid for defending the sole sufficiency of Scripture (consistently advocated by the cessationist) after understanding how tongues/languages of foreign nations as a miraculous revelatory gift in Christ’s generation were a “sign” of judgment to imminently come against unbelievers (1 Co 14:21,22) [whom typically could not understand them, being non-local languages] (1 Co 14:23,16,9,10,2) for rejecting revelatory prophetic instruction from God (some of which was to be contemporarily transcribed as NT Scripture); just as the murderously “blood-filled” Jerusalem/Samaria harlots (Jer 3:8,10; Ezk 23:4,5-6,7,9,10,11,22,23,24,25,35,36,37,45; cf. Mt 23:30,31,32) 600+ years previous to 70 AD were destroyed by Babylon/Assyria after the sign of covenantal curse in hearing (non-revelatory/non-miraculous) languages/tongues of foreign nations (Is 27:13; 28:2,11,13; 33:19; Jer 5:15,16,17; 4:16,27,29) as another rebellious and perverse adulterous generation of Israel, who in similar unbelief did not repent of their disobedience especially after hearing/mocking prophetic instruction (some of which also was recorded in Scripture in a contemporary context — e.g., in Isaiah and Jeremiah) while delivering persecution against the prophets that attempted to reconcile them to God. Hearing foreign languages as a prophetic sign of God’s judgment unto the captivity and sword of another nation for unrepentant disobedient unbelief was in accordance with what Moses prophesied (Dt 28:49,50,51,52,53,45,46-47,48). But, yes I also do believe in a physical resurrection to come, avoiding hyper-preterism like I avoid believing hyper-Calvinism — along with many good things to be meant for nurturing life or blessing but then perversely used as an unintended means for evil, death or destructive curse (Ex 23:19b), all sound doctrines can be twisted/abused against their intended purpose/instruction.

  37. Brian – Thanks again. 
    I don’t think most, if any, FV proponents mean to deny assurance of salvation.  In fact, they throw the accusation back in the face of their opponents, in a slightly different way.  We needn’t rehash that here.
    What happens with Election and Assurance (and in Jim’s case, it seems, Regeneration itself) is that the terms are subject to a biblical repristinization, and then held up for comparison with the history of doctrine.  FVers do not do this in a primitivistic manner, nor unaware of the history of doctrine and the development and usage of the terms in systematics.  (Occasionally, I think NTW has not given due attention to the history of doctrine, but that is partly where he lives in the ecclesiastical universe…sometimes he means to shock…. I suppose we all do).
    In our Westminster Confessional world we see things which are deduced by *good* and *necessary* consequence from Scripture as having the force of Scripture (and, as Heinrich Bullinger asserted in the Second Helvetic Confession, the Preaching of the Word of God is the Word of God).  And, this is good.  And, by logic we can build far and high.  If our exegetical roots are solid enough, we can do so safely.  But, if, at the base of our building we include too many theological deductions that may be good but not necessary, or may be framed with some peculiarities that are not strictly biblical, but are partially cultural, then these concepts should not survive unrefined. 
    Many of us have labored hard to attain any fluency in confessional reformed language and concpets (e.g. to put our brains back in to 1638-47).  It is not easy to, then, be told that we ought to put these understandings “on hold” as we check them out against the claims of people subjecting them to challenge or revision (e.g. Leithart and Jordan and Wright…).  Thankfully, those very confessional documents tell us that this is what we need to do when people come claiming they have the Word of God.  We don’t abandon our whole superstructure, or fundamental basis, but we look carefully at what is being said. 
    My earlier post was sharing some of my own existential (and Confessional) angst as I entered into the FV question more fully.  I am a strong believer in the Objectivity of the Covenant.  I think that Baptism does something every time.  And, I believe that this is the Confessional position.  But, there is tension with the manner in which assurance is attained, and how we understand Scripture.  The definitions of terms like Justification, Sanctification, Regeneration, Election and how they are used in systematic exposition has always been known to be somewhat different than the Biblical instances of these words and the related concepts as we find in them in the Bible.
    I believe that Doug Wilson is someone who lives with this same tension I do.  And, I occasionally tune in to the conversation because I respect him and have learned from him.  He usually puts helpful words to what I am just beginning to think.  I don’t find it useful to go about seeking whom we may exclude from the conversation, or the church.  I think we need to be honest about where we are, and where we have issues with the Confessions.  I see both Wilson and Jordan as doing this each in their own way.
    Okay, again, listening in, learning (hopefully), appreciative and Thankful…
    Happy Thanksgiving!

  38. One of my e.g.s should be i.e.  Guess which.

  39. I just wanted to chime in on assurance.  Christians don’t receive assurance from disecting the doctrines of predestination, foreknowledge, regeneration, perseverance, etc.  Rather, assurance comes from a heart that trusts in the covenant promises of God, looks to what Christ has done in his life, death, resurrection and ongoing mediation and reign, and takes up one’s own cross daily to follow Jesus in loving obedience.  When sin comes, assurance isn’t necessarily shaken if we obey God’s commands to confess, repent, receive forgiveness, and believe God’s promise of forgiveness.  Of course the doctrines must and should be studied, but assurance won’t be found there by itself.  We can understand assurance and still not have it.   Christian faith and experience is not primarily about intellectual assent to the correct understanding of all the relevant doctrines.  This is why children often have the strongest faith.  As Jordan points out above, it is primarily an interpersonal relationship with God.  Not making a false dichotomy here, just wanting to point out that assurance is primarily a relational quality rather than a doctrinal point to confess.  We can talk about the doctrinal aspects of assurance and perseverance (and should) but we don’t often or primarily grow in assurance through those discussions.  We grow in assurance through a deepening relationship with God in Christ and through the Spirit.  This deepening relationship comes over time as we walk in faithful, trusting obedience to Jesus.  Assurance can’t be separated from trusting obedience (aka: faithfulness) and that is as God intended it.  When we are caught in repeated sin, and our consciences tweak and we begin to wonder if we are indeed among the elect, this is a mechanism God uses to call us back to obedience and to himself.  The experience of assurance might be likened to two people debating about the flight properties of a bubble bee.  Sometimes we can get so caught up in the systematics, we are like an aeronautical engineer who looks at a dead bumble bee pinned to a piece of cardboard and determines that it cannot fly.  But a Christian who feeds on the Word of God regularly, participates faithfully in the corporate life of the church, and walks in trusting obedience to Christ, is like a 4 year old child who argues that a bumble bee can fly.  The engineer points out all the “design issues” that make the case for why the bee can’t fly, but the child argues the bee can fly because they’ve seen it flying.  The engineer could gain the same certainty as the child if they come outside and see the bee in flight.  This would take nothing away from their disection of the bee (in fact it would greatly illuminate it), but it would give them the sense of assurance that only real life experience can give.  We could also liken this to marriage.  When a husband and wife are walking in loving fellowship with each other, each giving their love whole-heartedly to the other, they are quite assured of the other’s love for them and of their partner’s faithfulness.  This assurance doesn’t primarily come from pulling out the marriage license, paging through the wedding album, or looking at the ring on the finger, although those are all perfectly fine things to do.  Neither does assurance come from monitoring the other spouse’s activities all through the day, say with CCT.  It is usually the spouse whose own heart is unfailthful that begins to doubt the love and faithfulness and constancy of the other.  Assurance in marriage comes from lovingly pursuing the other person’s happiness and honour.  Again, none of this is meant to take away from the important and necessary discussion of the theology of perseverance and assurance and all things related.  However, we need to remember that theology should always done in the context of a faithful relationship with God. 

  40. Tim H, no worries, I’m chill.  I’m a bit jumpy after the strange fire talk going back and forth right now.  I just didn’t want to see people coming after you with stones later, that’s all.

  41. Dan – I really didn’t want to comment any more here on this subject, but I feel I should respond to what you wrote.  Not to be contrarian (after all, I am not FV so I will disagree with a lot of what has been said in here), but experience and doctrine cannot be separated the way you seem to imply.  You said “Christians don’t receive assurance from disecting the doctrines of predestination, [etc]… assurance comes from a heart that trusts in the covenant promises of God, [etc.]“.  Well, the list in your second group is, guess what, doctrinal.  You can’t get away from doctrine.  All you are saying is that you receive assurance by trusting in the second set of doctrines (which includes promises), not the first set (which also includes promises).  And by that I’m not denying there is a personal aspect, but that personal aspect is always defined by the Word of God, and not outside of it.  You don’t know about the second set of doctrines outside of the Word of God — you don’t even know you are obedient to God without consulting the Scriptures.  Short of getting some angel from Heaven talking to you about them, they are written doctrines found in Scripture themselves.  And so you can’t decouple experience from the Scriptures, and true doctrine is nothing more than an explanation of the Scriptures themselves.
    <Here is supposed to start another paragraph>.  As for the first set of doctrines, to me they are as important as the second when it comes to assurance .  A Roman Catholic can agree with your second set, but he doesn’t know if all his sins have been forgiven (not just past and present, but also future – Hebrews 10:14), because he doesn’t believe (if he agrees with Trent) that his future sins have been forgiven.  He can commit a mortal sin right before he dies and be lost.
    <Last paragraph> As to your emphasis in trusting obedience, being someone who sides with MacArthur on the Lordship salvation controversy, I fully agree the life of the Christian should be marked by obedience.  But that brings me very little assurance, because that does not mean perfectionism, and the Lord requires perfection.  The Lord requires us to love Him with all our hearts, and I fail that more often than not.  My assurance is that even in Hell I will praise Him, not under compulsion but from the heart, which is a thing only born again believers could do (every knee will bow and confess, but the unregenerate will do so under compulsion).  Since I believe He will give all born again believers eternal life (John 6:39), which means He will not let them fall away, then I trust Christ is mine and I am His.  The only thing I can find within me for subjective assurance is that heart of praise for Him, and the only thing I can really hold on to for objective assurance is His promise that He will complete the good work He started  (Philippians 1:6) — He doesn’t just start a good work to let it fall away.  So yes, Christians can find, and have indeed found, comfort and assurance in the first list of doctrines you listed (not apart from experience, but coupled with experience).

  42. Nick, Good comments.  I don’t disagree with you that doctrinal study is important for all aspects of the Christian life including assurance.  I don’t believe my comments played experience off against doctrine (perhaps in the opening statement you quoted of mine, but taken together, I believe I qualified it).  I just wanted to point out that, in many of the debates about FV and other intramural theological debates over election, predestination, assurance, etc., those in the debate tend to focus on the first half of each of Paul’s epistles (the largely doctrinal teaching) and often don’t include the aspect of Christian living, “praxis”, obedience, the second half of each of Paul’s epistles.  Of course we must study Scripture to know what God’s promises are and to know what obedience looks like.  We study Scripture to know that we can have assurance and why (in Christ and all he is and does for us).  However, if we are to make anything out of the apostle’s and Christ’s warnings to continue in the faith, to not run in vain, to abide, to not fall away, not to live the way the world does, etc., we must admit that the best doctrinal precision, if it is separated from faithful obedience, is useless.  These warnings are usually found together with exhortations to continue in obedience, in righteousness, in putting off worldliness, and putting on godliness.  Yes, we need to know God through the Scriptures to know what godliness is, but actually obeying the commandment is more relational interaction rather than a doctrinal understanding.  In otherwords, it is something even the simplest child can do in response to God their father, even one with very little doctrinal training.  I’m not advocating that people forgo doctrinal study and instead just live right.  Its not an either/or thing.  However, I am advocating that those who look for assurance primarily (note the use of this word in my post above as well) in correct doctrinal formulations won’t find it there, apart from a life of faithful obedience to God.  My children don’t really know the particulars about my job, the payment schedule of my salary, or the security structure of the bank that holds our money, but they trust that there will be three squares a day on the table, clothes on their back and a warm house to live in.  They have an idea that Dad earns the money which purchaes these things, but their trust is not based on knowing the mechanics of how this all works out.  Rather it is in the commitment of love Dad has always shown and in his promises to continue to provide for them.  They look to their Dad and what he has always done, not to the electronic deposit slip or the company share price.  As they grow, knowing how the system works may enhance their understanding of how they are provided for, but it will not necessarily increase their assurance that they will be provided for.  I agree fully with your last sentence, especially the portion in brackets.  I would go so far as to say that any comfort and assurance derived from studying doctrine, if it is separated from the faithful walk of trusting obedience, is a false comfort and assurance. 

  43. Dan – Thanks for your gracious response.  OK, this is really my last comment. :-)

    I do agree that assurance from doctrine without obedience is false assurance.  On that we fully agree.  However, unlike what you seem to be saying, I see experience more as a way to find out if a person (or one self) is a false believer, and not as a way to gain any substantive comfort or assurance.  When the Apostle Paul tells the Corinthians to examine themselves, it sounds to me more like a warning than a comfort.  Warnings are not meant to provide assurance, but simply to point out the tare more easily.
    To use your analogy, your children trust you because they cannot imagine their dad abandoning them, even if they misbehave — because they know they are your children.  The question about assurance is not about whether God is a good dad or whether He will provide for His children, but rather it is whether we are His children.  I mentioned Roman Catholism above on purpose — the FV view of assurance to me is dangerously close to the RC (or perhaps the Arminian) view.  In the FV view advocated by some in here, how do you know you are a child of God?  Or perhaps a better question, how do you know you will remain a child of God?  Did Christ pay for all your sins (past/present/future)?  I don’t believe your children merely rely on their experience to answer those questions about their relationship to their dad.  Rather they do not believe that it is possible to be mistaken about their identity as your children, nor do they believe it is possible they can stop being your children.  That part is knowledge (perhaps instinctive knowledge, but knowledge nevertheless), and it is in that part of knowledge (doctrine) that I disagree with some of the FV views of assurance.  To those of us who hold to the traditional Reformed view, the doctrines of predestination, regeneration and perseverance of the saints also provide assurance — indeed, I find no real assurance in the Arminian, RC, or (some?) FV views.  I don’t want to start a debate (this is my last comment), just to state what I just wrote as clearly as I can, so that no one deceives himself into believing that those doctrines don’t affect assurance.

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