The Erstwhile Queen of Norway

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As our discussions of regeneration continue, let me thank my friend Jim Jordan for summarizing his views on all this. In like manner, allow me to summarize the three basic points I have been seeking to make, and put them in a comparatively small but surprisingly spacious carrying case.

1. The need to speak biblically to the people of God is central. But this must be done tota et sola Scriptura, and not just sola Scriptura. Not just scriptural expressions only, but all scriptural expressions, and in this case, all scriptural expressions that are addressed to the people of God, in their various and varying conditions. This means that there is a sense in which we must insist that the people of God can be divided into two groups — tares and wheat (Matt. 13:25ff), sheep and goats (Matt. 25:32), those who have the Spirit and those who do not (1 Jn. 4:13), and so on. Examples can be (and in this thread have been) multiplied.

And, at the same time, there is another sense (a different sense) in which we must insist that genuine branches can be cut out of the Vine which is Christ (Jn. 15:1-6), or lopped off the olive tree of the new Israel (Rom. 11:17ff), or wheat can fail to grow to fruition (Matt. 13:3ff). In these cases, there is a sense in which they share branchness or wheatness with the elect. So some biblical metaphors point to the nature of the thing (tares/wheat) while others point to the outcome of the thing (fruitless branches/fruitful branches). We must not pit these metaphors against one another for the sake of a system; we must use them all, as appropriate. We do not juxtapose them, and choose which set we want to preach on. We layer them, accepting them all.

2. We must remember one particular foundational point of continuity between old and new covenants. Sons of Belial are covenant members who ought to know the Lord, but who through their sin and rebellion refuse to know the Lord (1 Sam. 2:12). But the perennial temptation for us in the new covenant is to draw contrasts with the Israelites at just the places where the New Testament requires us to draw parallels (1 Cor. 10:1-11; Heb. 3:1-4:13; Rom. 11:17ff). “Watch out for this,” the apostolic writers repeatedly tell us. “This really tripped up the Jews, and you guys could easily fall into the same thing.”

Now clearly there is a glorious discontuity in the fulfillment of all things in Christ. But at the same time, we must not emphasize that discontinuity in any way that allows us to dispense with the warnings that the New Testament repeatedly gives us. Those warnings highlight the fact that not all Israel are Israel, which means that — if we are following — not all Christians are Christians.

3. The issues surrounding regeneration should not be settled by looking at the biblical uses of the word regeneration only. It needs to be settled by looking at the thought group of generation/regeneration. Who is your father? Regeneration is not a spiritual joy juice; regeneration is what replaces your previous generation, from Adam to the new Adam, from the devil to Abraham, from Cain to Abel, from Hagar to Sarah, and so forth. This is why it is possible for Jesus to acknowledge that the Pharisees were sons of Abraham in one sense (John 8:37), and sons of the devil in quite another (John 8:44). Life is simple. If God were their Father (as they claimed), they would have loved Jesus (John 8:42). Once we come to grips with the fact that covenant members can hate Jesus, and that many of them do, a robust evangelicalism becomes a scriptural necessity.

We must be in a position to say to a baptized covenant member (in high rebellion against every article in the Apostles’ Creed, and in settled noncompliance with every one of the Ten Commandments), that there is a sense in which he is a Christian (John 8:37), and there is quite another sense in which, if he is a Christian, then I am the erstwhile queen of Norway(John 8:44).



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