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.