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 tell the difference between a Kellerite soul patch and the other kind.

True ecumenism requires precision of thought, and precision of language, but we have gotten to the place where every attempt at careful definition is dismissed as a run up to war. Postmodernism does to theology what leaving a watercolor out in a downpour does to the painting. True ecumenism requires oil painting in the Mojave, where the blue stays blue, and the brown stays put.

So let’s assume that all our discussions of these issues have the same understanding of Schaeffer’s “true truth.” We can draw straight arrows from the signifier to the thing signified. We really care about the truth, and we want to learn and affirm as much of it as we can. We have trouble being patient with those who say “no creed but Christ, no law but love” because what they just said is, when you come down to it, a very fine creed, and it isn’t Christ.

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 cocky, kid. If you don’t believe that the laws of thought are attributes of God, then peril is crouched by your door like sin stalking Cain. To maintain that lettuce and cabbage are the same thing represents a profound capitulation to a view of the world that turns absolutely anything into heresy.

There are important issues here that require careful definition — catholicity and confusion should not be considered dialog partners. We can define things carefully, and distinguish things that differ, without slinging careless accusations about. But we have to debate like (charitable) 17th century divines who believed in absolute truth, and not like pomothinkers, whose softness of head is rivaled only by their hardness of heart.

So whatever you call this particular issue — lettuce/cabbage, amber ale/oatmeal stout, puritan/lutheran — keep in mind that we are distinguishing for the sake of maintaining good fences between good neighbors.

But if this in fact were the case, and Jim and I have been saying almost the same thing all this time, then I would be content to retreat from the discussion, fully abashed. Here I have been, pleading words and names and our own law, just begging Gallio to drive us away from his court. I never want to be the guy who hands Gallio a ripe story capable of making Seneca crack up at the next family reunion. I mean, who wants to be that guy?

But . . . and you knew that was coming, right?

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 three uses.

There is a use of the law that convicts us of our need for Christ. If the basic message of the gospel is preached by evangelists whose message is “repent and believe,” this creates the obvious question — “repent of what?” That question cannot be answered without a standard, and the standard in Scripture is the law of God. This use of the law is essential in evangelism — more rich young rulers need to go away sad.

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 just apply to the language of apostasy. It also applies to the language of true heart conversion. It applies to everything Scripture addresses, and Scripture constantly speaks of the problem of false hearts saying true things.

The Scripture routinely speaks of the difference between true saints and sons of Belial as being a difference that is internal to them. I cheerfully grant that the biblical way of speaking of “the heart” may differ in some respects from the modern English-speaking way of talking about it — but our modern heart is a lot closer to the ancient Hebraic heart than either of them might be to the secret decrees of God.

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.

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).

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 be such.

“His views are well known. I can read English.”

The blunt answer, which cannot really be softened, is “no, he cannot read English.” Let me take one example that Clark likes to use. He says that FV teaches that baptism puts everyone in a state of grace, which is then maintained by the believer through his own covenantal faithfulness. Is that not a fair summary of what Clark says I teach? Well, here is some English for Clark to read. I think that such a doctrine is bad juju. I believe that it would be what theologians of another era might call a lie from the pit of Hell. I hope that one day I might be privileged to soak this doctrine in lighter fluid and set a match to it. If I ever found this doctrine on a sheet of paper in my office somewhere, I would run it through the shredder. Prior to my weekly dump run, I search my house for any traces of this doctrine so that I might throw it in the back of my pick up truck in order to take it out to the landfill along with all the bottles, empty ice cream cartons, grapefruit rinds, and coffee grounds. So the next time you read Scott Clark saying that I teach some form of this, you should probably say to yourself, “Hmmm. No speekee.”

A Few Heideljinks

A friend wrote, drawing my attention to this and, with regard to the one statement of mine that the OPC report took issue with, asking me if I meant it. I would prefer to divide that into two questions — first, what did I mean by it, and second, did I mean it?

I can answer what I meant by it generally right now, but I am on the road right now and away from my books. When I get home I will post some context from the essay quoted to establish what I meant by it at the time.

But here is a general statement. At the moment of the effectual call (normally something that happens because of the preaching of the Word — as the OPC rightly notes), God’s gift of faith to an individual is what enables us to call him a worthy receiver. Without evangelical faith, there are no worthy receivers. If that worthy receiver had previously been baptized, the teaching of the Confession is that the grace represented by the baptism came to be exhibited and conferred at the moment of true conversion.

Second, Clark quotes this, and it was a bit rich, coming from him.

[The Arminians] “rejected the judgments of the Synod and refused to answer the points in question in an equitable fashion. No admonitions of the Synod, nor resolutions of the honorable deputies of the States General, nor even the illustrious members of the States General themselves could make progress with them.”

I forget how many times and how many ways I have offered to meet with Scott Clark. But let me reiterate. I will fly down there at my own expense, I will debate with him publicly, I will meet with him privately, and I will even buy a special membership card that will allow me to comment on his blog. If we are drawing historical parallels, the only one being coy here, and refusing to engage in a theological exchange is Clark. So here is the offer put another way. Why doesn’t Scott Clark do for me what he says here what the divines at Dort did for the Arminians, and see what happens?