A Polecat in a Hollow Tree

Originally published January 22, 2010

As many of you know, the most recent issue of Tabletalk is devoted to N.T. Wright and the New Perspective. My intention in this space is to blog through this issue, article by article. My anticipation is that I will like some of the articles very much, and others, not so much. So, let’s get started.

The first article is by R.C. Sproul, in which he takes N.T. Wright to task for the following statement: “We are not justified by faith by believing in justification by faith. We are justified by faith by believing in the gospel itself — in other words that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead.”

R.C. rejects this as a straw man argument, where Wright sets up a position that is easy to reject, and then has an easy time of it rejecting it. “To intimate that Protestant orthodoxy believes that we are justified by believing in the doctrine of justification by faith is the king of all straw men.” He goes on: “I am aware of no theologian in the history of the Reformed tradition who believes or argues that a person can be justified by beliving in the doctrine of justification by faith. This is a pure and simple distortion of the Reformed tradition.” And, again, “The doctrine of justification by faith alone not only does not teach that justification is by believing the doctrine of justification by faith alone, but in fact, teaches that which is totally antithetical to the idea.” And last, “We understand that believing the doctrine of sola fide will save no one.”

It is worth noting at the start that R.C. and N.T. agree on the substance —  that a man is justified by faith when he looks in faith to Christ crucified and risen, and not when he looks at himself looking at Christ. The difference here  that remains (which is a sharp one) is over Wright’s implication that there are people in the Reformed stream who believe in the right doctrinal formulation of faith instead of believing in Jesus.

Now on what constitutes the teaching of Reformed orthodoxy, R.C. is perfectly correct. No reputable Reformed theologian, confession, or convocation has taught what Wright is rejecting, and if they did, they wouldn’t be reputable or Reformed. If someone started teaching this, we would all chase them down the road, throwing rocks at them, something we have gotten pretty good at.

But there is another layer to this, and I have to confess myself kind of amazed by it. And I am astonied, as the King James would put it, because this next layer down is the one where R.C. adopts New Perspective argumentation with regard to the history of Reformed theology, while N.T. Wright adopts the posture of the TRs, going for the heart, confessions be damned. Shall I explain?

As a theological point, R.C. is correct, and then some. He is correct, with dividends. But as a matter of pastoral concern, N.T. Wright is quite right to point to this phenomenon. The words can be right, the confession can be correct, the orthodoxy impeccable, and the heart of the supercilious Pharisee be high and lifted up precisely for that reason. Anybody who has been a pastor in conservative Reformed circles for more than fifteen minutes has surely seen this phenomenon — unless of course, he is an exhibit of it himself. Then he doesn’t see it. Ah, well.

 

John Newton, no fooler-about with New Perspectives, he, pointed to this pattern.

“And I am afraid there are Calvinists, who, while they account it a proof of their humility that they are willing in words to debase the creature, and to all the glory of salvation to the Lord, yet know not what manner of spirit they are of . . . Self righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace” (John Newton, “On Controversy,” The Works of John Newton, Vol. 1, p. 272.)

So here is the weird thing. A fundamental mistake that E.P. Sanders makes is that of declaring first century Judaism to be a religion of grace based on their own testimonies about it. Turns out that first century Jews didn’t walk around muttering to themselves about how they would going to shinny up the greasy pole of self-salvation by works, works, works. No, they gave the glory to God, just like the Pharisee in the Temple did — “I thank thee, God, that I am not like other men . . .” What’s wrong with that? Nothing, and yet he went home unjustified. He was condemned in the midst of his declaration of soli Deo gloria. That doesn’t make the confession soli Deo gloria wrong; it makes his heart wrong. Sanders’ problem is that he believes what these guys say about themselves, instead of believing what Jesus and the apostles said about them. And as far as the net assessment of the Pharisees in the eyes of the New Testament is concerned, the Pharisees’ spiritual condition resembled a polecat crawling out of a hollow tree after a heavy rain. But the paperwork of grace was in order.

The irony is that the mistake Wright makes about first century Jews, R.C. makes about the Reformed, and the valuable insight that Wright offers pastorally about some of the tight-shoed Reformed, he declines to apply to first century Jews. In short, R.C. judges the Reformed tradition by the paperwork, and first century Jews by the heart. Wright judges the Reformed by the heart, and judges the first century Jews by the paperwork. It is enough to make you go huh.

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Joe Harby
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Checking CSS stylesheet for comment paragraphs.

New paragraph break here!

Joe Harby
Guest

Bold italic underline strikethrough

A successful man is one who makes more money than his wife can spend. A successful woman is one who can find such a man

Link to something wonderful

A successful man is one who makes more money than his wife can spend. A successful woman is one who can find such a man.
Read more at http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/topics/topic_funny.html#lRv33juXoHb4QDgv.99

 

Katecho
Member

Let the paragraphs begin!
Glory to God in the highest!

prayersofadoration
Member

You’re doing God’s work Joe.

Tim H.
Guest
Tim H.

That the statement is a straw man is a minor point. The focus should be on the fact that Wright’s alternative is also not the gospel, i.e. We are justified by faith by believing in the gospel itself — in other words that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead. Believing “that Jesus is Lord and that God raised him from the dead” is, presumably, among those things that the demons believe. It is not saving faith. The gospel is believing on the referent of that description as the satisfier of God’s justice for me and… Read more »

Katecho
Member

Reformed folks aren’t the only ones that agree with the doctrine that we are not saved by our works.  Unfortunately, I’ve heard some Christians of different stripes drift into the view that, “I’m not saved by my works, I’m saved by my faith”.   It seems more accurate that we aren’t saved by our works or by our faith.  We are saved by God.  As God saves a man, He prepares a measure of faith, and He prepares good works for him to walk in.  This is how we (and the man) have evidence and assurance that God is saving… Read more »

Katecho
Member

Hahaha.<p>
Where did my paragraph breaks go?

Katecho
Member

It must be an admin feature.  8)

Joe Harby
Guest

You no longer have to add:<p> you just have the press enter to go to the next line :)

Katecho
Member

˙ʇɥƃıɹ ɯǝǝs ʇ,usǝop ןןıʇs ƃuıɥʇǝɯoS

Katecho
Member

I’ve tried with single enter
and with double enter,
 
but still no line breaks for me.
 
(View the source in my comment to see the line breaks are there, but no paragraph tags <p> are added.)
 
 

Joe Harby
Guest

testing form paragraphs from the frontend using… wait for it.

Safari!

Joe Harby
Guest

and now from the frontend using:

Chrome!

Joe Harby
Guest

Now for:

Firefox!

Matthias
Guest

What is this strange new power at my fingertips?
I do love format.

Matthias
Guest

That’s an oddly shaped paragraph break… I’m expecting a post in the future on postmodern usage of formatting language!!

jay niemeyer
Guest
jay niemeyer

Tim H, 
You have a good point when you point out that “The gospel is believing on the referent of that description as the satisfier of God’s justice for me and provider of alien righteousness.”
Is that all, however? Is not reliant trust in the rule of the Risen Lord Christ an aspect of salvific faith as well? 
Is it just a sincere belief (however brief) in Jesus’ propitiation and alien righteousness for me that eternally saves my soul? 

Katecho
Member

It appears that the admins have paragraph breaks with the new comment system, but so far it doesn’t seem to be working for others.  In fact, the old method of using <blockquote></blockquote> no longer seems to work either.
 
Hopefully just a temporary step backward until victory!  Thanks for the attention to this issue.  Not sure if I can help, but let me know.

Jane
Member

Really?
Firefox?
 
Really?

Jane
Member

Nope. No joy. And the font in the combox is about 7 pt now, too. Back to work, gentlemen!

Ianopolis
Guest
Ianopolis

In the past I have made similar comments as Wright’s. I fear that at times the language used in Reformed circles places too much emphasis on election. I believe unconditional election is a biblical doctrine, but I think at times the emphasis on that doctrine creates angst amongst some Christians. When people are more inclined to ask “am I elect” vs. “what has Jesus accomplished” I get a slight case of the willies. I am not suggesting that is at all an official doctrine of any Reformed tradition, but I have observed it in some who belong to that tradition. We… Read more »

Ianopolis
Guest
Ianopolis

And the paragraphs didn’t work for me either.

Katecho
Member

I noticed that Joe Harby’s and Doug’s comments also display with a different font.  It might help to test paragraphs as a non-admin regular user.

JDA
Guest
JDA

katecho,
You said,

ɹǝsn ɹɐןnƃǝɹ uıɯpɐ-uou ɐ sɐ sɥdɐɹƃɐɹɐd ʇsǝʇ oʇ dןǝɥ ʇɥƃıɯ ʇI

<p>Google Chrome Test</p>
 

JDA
Guest
JDA

Before Test

<p>IE9 Test:</p>

After Test

JDA
Guest
JDA

 

 
 

 
<p>testing form paragraphs from the frontend using… wait for it.</p>

 
<p>Safari!</p>

JDA
Guest
JDA

 
can be used either for fun on various online web-sites and chat systems, or to create a strong password: “mypassword” will become “pɹoʍssɐdʎɯ” which is easy enough to remember and re-generate using this tool.
Character substitution table
The following table shows that character substitution list: each character on the left is replaced by the flipped version on the right.

JDA
Guest
JDA

This posting by faith and not by sight may leave a lot to the imagination, but it’s not very practical.
 
It would be great if there were a Preview mode, so that we could actually see what our post looks like before we push it out into the cold cruel world.
 
BTW, Moderator Dude, feel free to delete all of the above JDA tests. Oh yeah! Being able to Delete our posts would be another great option.
 
Not judgin’, jest askin’!

Katecho
Member

Testing
line
 
breaks.

Katecho
Member

test

 

line breaks.

Katecho
Member

one more
test

Andrew Lohr
Member

How do paragraphs square with the Regulative Principle?  There were no such breaks in the Scriptures as originally written.

Giovanni Maresia
Member
Giovanni Maresia

Hi Katecho, I have written something in the recent What Nature Teaches thread as a follow-up to something you said regarding head coverings. No paragraph breaks due to known reasons, but still readable, I trust. Your comments are consistently helpful and well-argued, and I would appreciate your thoughts on this. I agree with you on hair vs. hats, and with Wilson on Paul’s theology of hair, but we probably differ on whether Paul’s concern in this chapter was really that some women in Corinth were coming to church with short hair: I don’t think so. Although Paul is not really… Read more »

Darren Moore
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Darren Moore

But – RC isn’t claiming to KNOW the hearts of the Reformed
Merely that their teaching and confessions didn’t teach self-righteousness. Even if some quietly thought it.

Jane
Member

How are y’all making the type post upside down like that?

Rick Davis
Guest

T̴h̤͎̱͎̞͓̥e̪͚̩̹̱ͅ ̗͚̩͕̻̰̦u̥̥̱p̵̲̬̤̠̳̱̟ș̠i̶̻̯͕̖̣ͅd̟̜̖̟͔͙é̖̣ ̠d̡̝o͜w̢̪̺̺̪n̯̺̹̯̯ ̣̝̜t̬̩̼̯̖̬͟e̟̺̺͝x̝̮̫̤͙͎̳t̸̫̣̦̼ ̡͍̤̦̼i̩̠s͍̙ ̜p͖̖r̳̻̮͝o̟͔̙̦̥̣b̖̳̰̲̱̘͕a͈̻̼̫̠̞ͅb͚̰̦l͙̀y̶̖͍͚ ̧̝j̛̱̮̮u̯̬̟̻̦̹͉s̱͎̮͍̪t̫ ̦̲͔̤̠͘ͅa҉ ̲̜̭́g̹lì̺̞t̛̙͙̘̳c̯̠̟̼h̨ ̘̲̟͚i̡̜͇͇̼̺̞ņ̮̫ͅ ̶͙͕̣̣͈͙t̤h̜̝̩̘̫͓̕ͅe̜ ҉s̗̠͚̩͈̻̠͟y͇̪͖̯̙s͇͕̬͕̩̤͈t͓̮͎̰͕͇e͖̙̟̫m̺̼̳̰̟.

Rick Davis
Guest

Ḭ̖̣̱́̒̊̀̈t̘̩̤̱̙̼ͥ̾̈̓̍ͫͅ ͫ̋͛̆̂w̧͍i̘̬͚̫̠͈ͮ͆̿͑̽̾l̼͍̠̦̠͚̔ͧͦ͛ͭ͢l̮̺͗͛̀̌͂ͯ ͚̜̩̇ͮm͎ͬ̍ö̩͙̤̖͓̖́͊͠s͉̜̘͎̝͇͉̋̽̏̋͆̑͛t̳̘͒ͭ ̤̜̳͕͙̮̿̆̋͐̅̊l̯͍̳̪̖̺ͩ̋͝i̛̦̒̋ͣͮ̎̍k͉̟͈̲̏e̞͜ĺ̠̹͇̠͓̞͕͋ͦ̂͌͌̔́y̦͖͓̬͗̒̏͑̈́͂͝ ̯̞̜̥͋̈́ͮç͚̜l̰̎ͩ͌̉̃͐e͉̠͙̗̅̓̌ä́̒̌͋̚͝r̮͈̗̘̊̈ ̦̱ͯͨi̥̝̒ͬ̈̒͒̾̄t̞̣̬͔ͭ͟s̼̼̙̝̣̐ͯͨḙ̣͕̯͉̤ͪ̔͗̉ͪl̜̳̮͇̾̈͋f̤̞̜̘̖̋̅̃̚͢ͅ ̭̱̫̼͐́̑͊̓ͧͯu̯̠p̡̣̩̣͔̳͉̠̊̑̃̐ͨ.̸͙̘̠̂ͭ̂ͣ

antexw
Member

“Having faith/trust/belief that Jesus Christ is Lord and resurrected is a sufficient notion (Ro 10:9) to describe the gospel’s way of salvation from God’s wrath if what is meant by such a faith/trust/belief in His Lordship entails a philosophical commitment (Romans 6:17-18) to repentantly obeying Him (Mk 1:14-15; Ac 17:30; 2 Co 7:10) in all His teachings of the Spirit’s doctrines found in the 66 books of Scripture (Mt 5:17-19; 28:19-20; Lk 5:27-30; 24:25-27; 2 Tim 3:15-16) — this would include not trusting in ourselves and our performance of so-called good works (e.g., circumcision) as the basis of being declared righteous (i.e., justified) by God as a form of antithesis to trusting in the Lord Jesus’ holy… Read more »

Katecho
Member

Andrew Lohr wrote:

How do paragraphs square with the Regulative Principle?  There were no such breaks in the Scriptures as originally written.

Let’s hope that blog posts are never considered for canonization, and that Doug’s blog never becomes a place of worship.  ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)

antexw
Member

“Having faith/trust/belief that Jesus Christ is Lord and resurrected” is a sufficient notion (Ro 10:9) to describe … (see above).
Sorry about the quote mishap.

antexw
Member

Also, I meant to reference Lk 16:27-30 rather than Lk 5:27-30 in my original comment above.

Tim H.
Guest
Tim H.

I will try alternating text an blockquote as a way to simulate paragraph breaks. However, I’m also curious why this is the only blog in the world that has this problem. Brian, what you seem to be saying is that believing in Jesus as Lord presupposes and/or entails all kinds of other things such that demons could not believe it. However, an analogous argument from entailment could be made on James 2:19 as well. That is, it is not just “any god” but this particular God that is at issue, with all that that implies, including all the things you… Read more »

Katecho
Member

Tim H. wrote: There is no mention of repentance in your entire summary. I am one of those afflicted with the chronic disorder of not being able to say everything at once.  I will attempt to remedy my oversight.  Along with not being saved by our faith, or by our works, we are also not saved by our repentance.  God saves.  He gives a measure of faith.  He prepares good works for us to walk in.  He grants repentance.   When one is faithful, obedient, chastened, and repentant, it is powerful evidence of God’s salvation on an individual level.  It… Read more »

jay niemeyer
Guest
jay niemeyer

Tim H.,
I am not asking about things other than saving faith. I am asking whether the reliant trust that justifies necessarily includes the Person of Christ as Lord – not just in the effectual propitiatory sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf.

Willis
Guest
Willis

I love this article. This is why I like Doug Wilson. 

antexw
Member

Tim H., James says that the demons’ problem with their belief is that it is not such a belief that produces works of obedience, where such obedience is worked by faith working through love towards God (James 2:5,8,15-17; Gal 5:6). That is their faith/belief-entailment problem. Their faith has this ethical entailment problem because they are not regenerated with a new nature that loves God so as to submit to His authority through Jesus Christ as Lord. The demons may have very accurate metaphysical beliefs about God (e.g. his oneness, etc.), but no matter to what degree metaphysical truth is entailed in their faith/beliefs,… Read more »

Tim H.
Guest
Tim H.

Brian: At several places in the gospels, the demons acknowledge the lordship of Jesus. They also acknowledge that he rose from the dead. They therefore meet Wright’s terms for “believing the gospel.” Now comes Brian and wants to argue with the demons: “No demons, you are not being self-consistent; for, if you meditated on all the Scripture teaches about lordship, you would realize that you do not believe all the implications, and thus you are being inconsistent.” But that’s neither here nor there. My claim is not that they are fully consistent, but that the starting premises are affirmed. Likewise,… Read more »

jay niemeyer
Guest
jay niemeyer

Tim h.,    Yes, it is, of course, the “Lordship question.” And it seems to me that Brian stated the Biblical answer perfectly when he said  no matter to what degree metaphysical truth is entailed in their faith/beliefs, without an ethical conversion/regeneration, which yields works of loving obedience (which includes repentance) their (and any other unregenerate’s) so-called belief/faith is as good as dead. 

jay niemeyer
Guest
jay niemeyer

Please assume my quoted section above looked as though it were in quotations. Trying to use them from the header bar didn’t work for some reason.