No Need to Count the Barnacles

Garden Deer Fence

In a previous post, I alluded to the important matter of the marks of the church. Historically among the Reformed, these have been considered as Word and sacrament. Some have added a third mark, that of discipline, but I think this represents a small but significant confusion. This is a fallen world, which means that if you don't have discipline you won't have Word and sacrament for very long, but you can have them. Word and sacrament are what constitute the garden -- discipline is the fence around the garden. To use the classic terminology here, discipline is part of the bene esse of the church, not the esse of the church. If we try to make it the part of the church's esse, we can make trouble for ourselves. Discipline, by its very nature, focuses on boundaries, fences, gates and doors. Lettuce grows in the middle of the garden, and the fence edges the garden. The only thing the fence cares about is marking the line between the deer zone and the no deer zone. Of course, we must … [Read more...]

A Bucket With No Bottom

Warfield Order

I am currently reading A Humble Inquiry by Jonathan Edwards, in which he explains the reasons why he was putting some doctrinal daylight between himself and his predecessor Solomon Stoddard. And since these basic issues, being what they are, cannot ever go away, and because in addition they have become deeply embedded in the American psyche (even our pagans are evangelicals), let me say just a few necessary things about the practice of child communion in the CREC and the doctrine of regeneration. Edwards had a high level of respect for Stoddard, and this was possible, I believe, because both were evangelicals, as opposed to the formalists. Stoddard believed that communion was a "converting ordinance," but he did so believing that there was such a thing as conversion, and that there were visible communicant members of the visible church who needed to be so converted. The debate between Edwards and Stoddard was over how best to get the people from here to there, and not over whether … [Read more...]

One Kind of Baptism Means Two Kinds of Christian

In my stack of books being read, there are a handful of writers that are always in there somewhere. I make a constant point of always having a book by Chesterton, Bunyan, Lewis, Thomas Watson . . . and, to come to our point this morning, Jonathan Edwards. I am currently in Volume 12 of his Collected Works (no, I am not that far along -- I jump around), and therefore have recently begun reading his Humble Inquiry. This is the book Edwards wrote defending his attempts to walk back the communion standards established by his predecessor Solomon Stoddard (also his grandfather) at Northampton, and which eventually led to Edwards getting the sack. Stoddard believed that the Lord's Supper was a converting ordinance, and therefore did not want to limit access to the Table to those known to be "truly converted." Edwards was seeking to establish some kind of process that would enable the church to inquire as to the true heart condition of the person seeking to become a communicant. In … [Read more...]

Nothing Coming Down the Pike

The question of assurance is a subset of epistemology. And that means Christians today who struggle with assurance are dealing with an extra factor that previous generations of Christians (usually) did not have to deal with. We live in a skeptical postmodern age, and so the question of knowing that you are saved is related to the question of how you can know anything. This becomes even more challenging when we are talking about our own faith five years out. In Scripture, genuine faith in God now is necessarily related to faith in God in the future. Baptism binds the future. “Only let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ: that whether I come and see you, or else be absent, I may hear of your affairs, that ye stand fast in one spirit, with one mind striving together for the faith of the gospel; And in nothing terrified by your adversaries: which is to them an evident token of perdition, but to you of salvation, and that of God. For unto you it is given in the … [Read more...]

21 Theses On Assurance and Apostasy

1. There are only two final destinations for human beings after the day of judgment, those two destinations being the final damnation of the old humanity in Adam, and the final salvation of the new humanity in Christ. 2. Throughout all history, God has kept a visible covenant people for Himself, intended to declare, model, test drive, instantiate, train for, grow toward, and otherwise approximate that final redeemed humanity. 3. Depending on location and era, that visible covenant people has ranged between a grotesque parody of that final redeemed humanity and a genuine approximation of it. As history grows toward its glorious consummation, the historical progress toward that final eschatological goal will be more and more unmistakeable. 4. But in either case this means that the rosters of names involved, those of the visible covenant people, and the final redeemed humanity, the elect, are not identical rosters. 5. God has always given His visible covenant people visible … [Read more...]

Down at the Pool Hall

Warfield's little book The Plan of Salvation is one of the few books that I have read three times. The first time was in 1988 when I was first becoming a Calvinist, and it was no doubt part of that bumpy but wonderful process. I read it again the next year. I read it a third time just a few years ago, and this leads to a needed retraction. I interact with that book in several of my own. The first book is "Reformed" Is Not Enough, published over a decade ago, and the second is Against the Church, published late in 2013. In RINE, my assessment of Warfield is fairly critical. "But I do want to argue that Warfield was being inconsistent here..." (pg. 86). And then a bit later I say this: "According to Warfield's definition, to have the covenant dispensed in ordinances and to have them be spiritually efficacious, is sacerdotalism. But this is the Westminster Confession, which he claims is anti-sacerdotalist. And so it is, but the inevitable conclusion is that there is something wrong … [Read more...]

Future Grace

The evangelical hinge is not whether sacraments accomplish the blessings they speak of. The issue is whether they accomplish every blessing they speak of. The sacraments, like the Scriptures, like the gospel itself, like the very existence of the Church, are eschatological. The words of baptism are future-oriented -- from that moment forward, the baptized person is to be reckoned my brother or sister. The words of institution at the Supper are future words. “For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord’s death till he come” (1 Cor. 11:26). We baptize and we commune leaning forward. Every Lord's Day we break bread toward the end of the world. In the meantime, the Church is God's salvation community in the world, and there are two ways to come into this community. The first is real conversion. When someone is truly converted, and he comes into the Church, he receives all that the Church contains, or ever will contain (which is to say, Christ). Faith -- … [Read more...]

A Helicopter on the Front Lawn

This last week my friend Peter Leithart did some musing out loud about some problems that he identifies as resulting from an emphasis on the "legal status" of righteousness. One post, "How to Say, 'I Am Righteous'" is here, and another related post on Luther and imputation/infusion can be found here. In response I have some questions, some hesitations, some suggestions, some objections, and some exhortations. Here we go. Peter argues that we hesitate to speak the way the psalmist sometimes does because of unbelief. Peter says that to say that I am legally righteous and existentially sinful is dualism -- a dualism "fed and nurtured by Protestant preaching and teaching that treats the 'legal me' as righteous while consigning the 'real, existential me' or 'my nature' to the realm of sin." First, what is dualism exactly? I don't think we can say that it occurs just because we have distinct nouns for distinct things. Sun and moon are two, as are heaven and earth, but do not … [Read more...]

Playing Puritans and Lutherans

So this is a bit behind the curve, but I wanted to say a few things about this post by my friend Tim Bayly. He posted this just a week after I was there in Bloomington for their Salt & Light conference, and so you would not be far off if you thought my visit might have had something to do with it. And now it has something more to do with it. Some of what I say here will simply reinforce what Tim is saying, and some of it will consist of "but what about this factor . . .?" Good fences make good neighbors. Good labels can do the same thing, which is bad news for a generation that "hates labels." Just as liberalism was a rot that got into every denomination extant, so the postmodern vibe is doing the same thing to us -- largely through the death grip that academia has on pastoral training. Just as it was very difficult to tell the difference between a liberal Methodist and a liberal Presbyterian in the late fifties, even when the light was good, so also it is difficult now to … [Read more...]

Making Seneca Crack Up

My friend Garry Vanderveen has been kind enough to suggest a side-by-side comparison of what Jim Jordan and I teach on the subject of regeneration, coming to the conclusion that we are not all that far apart. I commend that post to you, with the exception of whatever was going on when they justified the right margin. As Peter Leithart put it a couple years ago, everybody in the room is a high predestinarian, which surely should count for something. I want to keep myself quite open to the possibility that what we are saying is not that far apart, and I certainly believe we are not as far apart as some might like us to be. And that said, however far apart we are -- is it lettuce/arugula or is it lettuce/cabbage?) -- I don't believe these issues in themselves are issues of heresy. But with that said, in this postmodern climate, heresy is never that far away from anyone who graduated from seminary in the last several decades, whatever the presenting issue might be. So don't get … [Read more...]

The Central Square of Reformedville

Earlier today I tweeted this: "God comes to us in three books -- nature, law, and gospel. Read plainly, we read God above us, God against us, and God with us." I have been asked for additional explanation, and so here it is. The responses ranged from huh? what? to "you sound like Michael Horton." But this thought is actually a reworking of something I read from Matthew Henry, and shows how, once again, I am sitting on the edge of the fountain in the central square of Reformedville, just swinging my legs. First, the Scripture: "And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross" (Col. 2:13-14). There are differences between Lutherans and the Reformed on the three uses of the law (usus legis), but the differences are not over whether there are … [Read more...]

That’ll Preach

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 … [Read more...]

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 … [Read more...]

A Romans 11 Olive Branch

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). … [Read more...]

No Speekee

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 … [Read more...]