Archive for the ‘Federal Vision’ Category

In light of our FV discussion from a couple of months ago, I thought that it would be worth posting this snippet from a recent interview of Carl Trueman at Reformation21:

The book’s concluding chapter is on the issue of justification – a somewhat “hot” topic today. Would you care to summarize for us what “the old perspective” of justification as taught by Owen was and what can we learn from it in terms of our current controversies on this topic?

Adam and Christ are the two great representatives of humanity. Adam failed to fulfill the law and lost eternal life for himself and his descendants. Christ came from the Father in the power of the Holy Spirit as the second Adam, positively fulfilled the law on behalf of those the Father gave to him, and took their punishment on the cross; those who trust in Christ and are united to him receive his work as credited to their account, his life and death as vicariously performed for them and as the basis for God’s judgment on them.

What’s at stake in the current controversy? A whole heap of things. If the Reformed Orthodox misunderstood the nature and purpose of the law (i.e., if Chapter XIX of the Westminster Confession is fundamentally wrong) the whole Reformed understanding of salvation collapses and needs to be rebuilt from the ground up. If justification involved the believer’s works in any ultimately constitutive way, then assurance goes out the window – except the lack of a sense, or reconstruction of the nature, of God’s holiness in some of the new stuff would make lack of assurance incomprehensible. Then there is the `Bourne Identity’ Christology which is replacing Chalcedonian orthodoxy that underlies the classical soteriology – Christ wanders around doing these amazing things, and finally he guesses who he is (assuming he isn’t suffering from delusions, that is!). That’s pretty hard to square with scripture or tradition or major theological concerns. One could mention the hermeneutical issue, whereby Second Temple Jewish texts become determinative on understanding the New Testament. I’m no expert on modern biblical scholarship, but the critique of classical Protestant notions of justification seem predicated on the rejection of so many Reformation tenets, both materially in terms of the revision of definition and methodologically in terms of scriptural sufficiency, clarity, and the authority for interpretation. Much closer to Roman Catholicism on all fronts – and it doesn’t surprise me that numerous students I have known who have become enamoured with this stuff and done the decent thing and returned to Rome. I would do so myself if I came to abandon these central Protestant tenets – the only honest thing to do.

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For nearly three weeks the DRC has been home to a great discussion. I want to thank all of our contributors for participating and all our readers for reading.

May the Lord bless these conversations as the NAPARC community continues to try to wrestle with the difficult questions raised by the present controversy.

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Before you go Doug (and others) maybe you could help with one last question. I am still trying to figure out FV’s rejection of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ (IAOC). The FV Statement on-line says that Christ is all in all and that his work is credited to us. It goes on to deny that the all-in-allness of Christ requires in any way the IAOC. I am perplexed by the relationship between the affirmation and the denial. I don’t understand why the denial follows from the affirmation.

Here’s one way of getting at my confusion. Machen (yes, I’m going to get sentimental Barlow) gave a talk about the active obedience of Christ that was very explicit about many of the issues that we have been discussing, the law, merit, justice, rewards and penalties. And yet I see no reason why Machen’s argument contradicts the affirmation of the FV statement, even if the FV document denies Machen’s construction.

Here is an excerpt, an imaginary dialogue between the law of God and a Christian:

“Man,” says the law of God, “have you obeyed all my commands?”
“No,” says the sinner saved by grace. “I have disobeyed them, not only in the person of my representative Adam in his first sin, but also in that I myself have sinned in thought, word and deed.”
“Well, then, sinner,” says the law of God, “have you paid the penalty which I pronounced upon disobedience?”
“No,” says the sinner, “I have not paid the penalty myself; but Christ has paid it for me. He was my representative when He died there on the cross. Hence, so far as the penalty is concerned, I am clear.”
“Well, then, sinner,” says the law of God, “how about the conditions which God has pronounced for the attainment of assured blessedness? Have you stood the test? Have you merited eternal life by perfect obedience druing the period of probation?”
“No,” says the sinner, “I have not merited eternal life by my own perfect obedience. God knows and my own conscience knows that even after I became a Christian I have sinned in thought, word and deed. But although I have not merited eternal life by any obedience of my own, Christ has merited it for me by his perfect obedience. He was not for himself subject to the law. No obedience was required of him for himself, since he was Lord of all. That obedience, then, which he rendered to the law when he was on earth was rendered by him as my representative. I have no righteousness of my own, but clad in Christ’s perfect righteousness, imputed to me and received by faith alone, I can glory in the fact that so far as I am concerned the probation has been kept and as God is true there awaits me the glorious reward which Christ thus earned for me.”

Now this may not be scintillating dialogue, but I wonder what FV folks think Machen has missed in this statement of the doctrine. So far I have received two answers — 1) it is not fully biblical; 2) to impose it on anyone is to engage in spiritual tyranny.

But my question goes farther. What does this miss about Christ’s work on our behalf? FV is clear in denying the IAOC. But I still don’t see what we gain from that denial. I don’t see a fuller account of Christ’s amazing allness, nor do I see in FV the sort of hope and comfort that I have received from the IAOC.

So before everyone signs off, I wonder if you could be kind enough to formulate the FV one more time.

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Hello happy bloggers. It is good to be back to civilization. Sorry to have missed to much fun. I will have some catchup reading to do. I am not married to dates. I was thinking today was the end but Rev. Brown has noted that things do not officially end until friday.

Long time readers, those who remember the Secular Faith discussion, know that 2 weeks can be relative on DRC time. Anyway, all contributors can feel free to write up their closing arguments and I will try to wrap the discussion up on Friday.

Thanks to everyone for the patience and hard work.

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Hold Your Horses!

I know there has been confusion over when this forum will end. It is my understanding that this discussion of the FV is slated to end on October 5–this Friday. If any of our guest participants can’t continue on after today, we’ll certainly understand. I apologize for this confusion, and also for the fact that the discussion slowed down somewhat yesterday. That slow-down was due in part to the fact that Bill Chellis had to take a short trip out-of-town and away from computers. But he should be back online later today to help us wrap up things here.

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Darryl’s questions about relational v. forensic point to one dimension of the FV discussion that we haven’t talked about, the effort to think through our theology on thoroughly Trinitarian premises.

The basic question is: If the ultimately reality over the universe is a communion of Divine Persons, what does that say about the character of the universe itself, about human beings, and about God’s relation to creation and human beings?

In raising this question, I’m not implying that anyone on the other side denies the Trinity, or that the Reformed tradition is non-Trinitarian. But the doctrine of the Trinity has not had a central role in theology since the 17th century. (Philip Dixon’s Nice and Hot Disputes describes the decline of Trinitarian thinking in 17th-century English theology, and William Platcher has also studied this.) In the last century, there has been a Trinitarian revival, of course, and the FV has been partly an effort to apply some of the insights of recent Trinitarian theology within the Reformed tradition.

I’m not drawing any specific conclusions here. To say we’re interested in discussing a “Trinitarian soteriology” doesn’t by itself answer questions about relational v. forensic, and certainly does not cancel forensic categories. I’m only describing one of our motivations.

For those who are unfamiliar with this discussion, Ralph Smith’s books are an excellent place to start.

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Re-Paganizing the Church

James brought up pagans in the comments. Darryl mentioned that Lewis thought pagans were more ready to accept Christianity than moderns. Recently, Leithart had a short piece in First Things making basically the same point and arguing for a “re-paganization” of the west. This is an important discussion to have, I think, and it strikes me that, though not immediately obvious, this stuff is closely related to the phenomena of the FV (though perhaps not directly related to the specifics of FV).

Leithart argues: “Part of the trick is cultivating a healthy skepticism toward secularization theories. For Max Weber and armies of Weberian sociologists, modernity disenchanted the world, locking us all in the iron cage of rationalized bureaucracy. Even modern religion and music, Weber argued, submit to the tyranny of systematization and disperse the gods. Latour will have none of this. The world has not and cannot be disenchanted: ‘How could we be capable of disenchanting the world,’ he asks, ‘when every day our laboratories and our factories populate the world with hundreds of hybrids stranger than those of the day before? . . . How could we be chilled by the cold breath of the sciences, when the sciences are hot and fragile, human and controversial, full of thinking reeds and of subjects who are themselves inhabited by things?’ … Kant moralized and modernized sin, atonement, justification, and the Church to bring Christianity to Enlightened maturity. Perhaps we must reverse the process and primitivize the Enlightenment, so that the gospel can again speak directly to our not-so-modern society. Perhaps we must re-paganize the West as a prerequisite to its re-evangelizing it.”

This is a sophisticated argument and I think can teach us something about the roots of FV. For example, in their deep readings in Latour and Girard. I have noticed this in Wilson as well. Readers of this blog will know that I do not give such short shrift to Weber as Leithart does here, and I am skeptical of the Girardians. But the Girardian/Latourian argument has merit as well. It is true that we have not and cannot escape completely from the pagan “world full of gods.” However, Weber was right that the gods have been dispersed.

To put it another way, our late-modern existence is characterized just as much as any age by “magical thinking.” Just look at the rhetoric surrounding Iraq. Or your local lottery ticket sales. The problem is in who people craving some magic turn to as witchdoctors. Armies of materialists: therapists, experts, politicians, scientists, etc.

But Leithart’s conclusion is wrong. What is needed is not a re-paganizing of the west (anyone who wants to see what that looks like need only travel a while in west Africa), but a repaganizing of the church. Let me explain.

There is a fascinating body of literature and study on tightly knit groups of people with closely held identities who are driven from their home land. For example, the “famine Irish” and “famine Russians” who emigrated to the North American plains in the 19th Century. For these two groups of famine immigrants to the Midwest, the stigma of being “emigrants” was large, and largely felt as a motif of self- and communal-identity. These folks talk and write about their lives, both formally and informally in letters and such, as if they are haunted by the “old country.” They are totally displaced and suffer a kind of disorientation that seems almost unique among human experience. One writer said that emigrants (his family) “never again feel at home any place in the world.” Once gone, they can never arrive, and they can never go back. Their writings are infused with a kind of limbo-esque existence in the borders or twilight, which of course contributes to this spiritual sense of haunting. This same writer says that “for those attempting a return, even for a visit, a break had occurred that could not be healed. And in the new land, few emigrants ever made a home that they knew for certain would be theirs. Once you leave home, your native land, no matter how tenuous your hold has been, you can never feel at home anywhere you live.”

I think this is a powerful description of the church, raised up in the psycho-spiritual home of blood and sacrifice, etc., and then put on the trail of emigration towards the new heavens and new earth. This is the conundrum between conversion and tradition I spoke of earlier.

Modern Christians tend to feel this phenomena of being socio-spiritual emigrants, or “famine Christians” acutely. Not only have they been exiled from paganism, but they have also been exiled from what I will call the church’s “deal with paganism” which began to crumble with the enlightenment and onset of modernity.

There was a recent letter exchange between Matthew Lickona and Jody Bottum in First Things. Bottum observes in Lickona this phenomena which I think of as the “famine Christian” … “the hunger for culture, the sense of loss, the damaged world of those in rebellion against rebellion, the strangeness created when a tradition is chosen rather than inherited—combined with intellectual seriousness and a joy in the ancient Catholic faith.” The only thing Bottum left out is this inchoate foreboding of being haunted. I think the New England transcendetalists and Hudsonschool guys were onto some of this same phenomena—think Washington Irving.

Anglo-catholics like Lewis, Tolkein, Chesterton, Eliot, etc., all understood the Church as a crypt in which the essential and primary blood and soil paganism of Europe was embalmed and allowed to stare up at us out of the waters. Think Tolkien’s ghostly undead kings of the past coming back to help the heroes/true church at its time of need. I don’t know exactly what Tolkien meant by that, but they are a cursed and unfriendly lot. This isn’t really redemption but a lingering paganism that speaks to this not entirely appropriate collaboration and amalgamation between Christianity and paganism in the west, which Protestantism/enlightenment/modernity has tried to efface and now has completely forgotten. This forgetting has caused all kinds of problems which was the most basic point of Tolkein’s books. The foremost problem is that Christianity as a depaganized political religion is Liberalism, radicalized and out of whack with reality in which one must at times do evil and even commit mortal sins for temporal goods that are the charge of those with political power. And then seek absolution in the magical appeasement of the gods. The medieval church allows, or found a way to admit and cope with this. It is a deal with paganism. Take it away and you get a devolution from Protestantism into liberalism. You get the new American personal faith Christianity (evangelicalism) with the magical thinking of overbought homes on ARMS and credit cards and daycare and building democracy in Iraq and all the other delusional magical thinking of late-modernity in the capitalist-state. And you get a whole new class of materialist therapeutic witchdoctors rising up to give the newest incantations: “your best life now!” “your purpose driven life!” or whatever.

So now we see American Christianity “emerging” more and more into universalism. It is in the water. All roads lead to ruin as Eliot knew. And for those who see this, the desire for “tradition” or whatever you call that which is largely lost and haunting us is a partly sick desire to unearth the dead.

We are at a dangerous crossroads. Messing with the dead is dangerous stuff. But it must be done. But like Tolkein understood, it can only be done by the “true King,” by the church, and even this is not without debilitating and compromises. This is connected to what I have been arguing about being able, at least occasionally, to admit that the narratives of tradition and church history are to an extent myths that legitimize what I would call the “mojo” … or the magic … the authority of the church. The simple yet profound truth that at the very bottom, we have very little to go on other than “because the church says so.” So this is in part what I mean by repaganizing … that our churchmen need a hint of witchdoctor in them, or if you prefer, a touch of Gandalf or Merlin. They have “powers” as my kids would say. This is completely flattened out in a rationalistic modernizing deracinated disenchanted liberalizing protestant culture. And the inchoate need for magic and appeasement of the gods gets shifted in very unhealthy materialist directions which can be exploited by those who understand the psychology. Just read some of the high-end literature on advertising today.

To what extent is all of this relevant to FV? I’m not entirely sure, and I apologize for the rambling post, but my gut tells me that this stuff is very relevant.

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Christ the Center

Many thanks to everyone for the stimulating discussion.

Despite the many different threads, I would like to conclude by pointing to what I believe to be the circumstances driving, not only our discussion, but the controversy overall. We live in dislocated, de-centered times, and this means that even the most ardent conservative has nothing incarnational, no actual society on the ground, to conserve. This is profoundly unsettling and explains a number of things — the attractions of agrarianism, the Tishbite integrity of confessional curmudgeonliness, and so on. I do not say this thing as a criticism, but rather just want to point out that when the entire society around a position changes, that position changes necessarily also. A farm in the middle of the city isn’t a farm anymore, even if the barn is painted the same way it always was. Someone here pointed out that the Westminster theologians were establishmentarians all, and now virtually no one who subscribes to Westminster is. But this is a global change of context, affecting everything in the document.

I do not say all this as one who wants to distance himself at all from the content of what our fathers knew, and which we have lost. I subscribe to the original form of Westminster for this reason, and Jones and I had a chapter on a form of agrarianism in Angels in the Architecture. But I am arguing that, having lost it in society, we cannot get it back again on paper.

This is why I believe that we, in such de-centered times, must resort to the only center that never moves, which is Christ. If we don’t do that, all our conservatism will amount to little more than historical reenactment, or being dressed-up tour guides at Williamsburg. But if we worship God through Christ, in a manner which pleases and honors Him, this really will be the engine of a new Christendom, and a continuation of the Reformation in deed and word. This is because Christ is the only true center.

Blessings on you all, and many thanks again.

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So far the FV reaction to critics at DRC seems to be “why are you guys persecuting us? We’re not trying to impose our views on anyone else, so why are you doing that to us?” In effect, FV projects itself as liberal if not libertine and its critics as intolerant dogmatists.

And yet somewhat below the surface FV harbors theonomy and postmillennialism, not to mention that one of its chief advocates is known as a prominent cultural warrior doing battle against the “secular jihad.” In the culture wars, FV does not seem to be capable of the breadth and tolerance it promotes in the theological wars.

So is FV as tolerant and open as it seems? Why would FV be so chilled about the witness of the church but so worked up about the health of our culture? And why does the FV seem to stress the forensic when thinking about politics and civil society, but affirm the relational when it comes to soteriology and the relationship between God and his people?

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Doug earlier today talked about latitude in the Reformed tradition regarding the active obedience of Christ. Bill later chimed in with some remarks about the Marrow Controversy and neo-nomianism. As I’ve read the blog for the past two weeks, I can’t help but think that this debate is really between supporters (FV) and critics (non-FV) of Norman Shepherd and his proposals that started over three decades ago.

As I understand the origins of that controversy, Shepherd was concerned about anti-nomianism within the Reformed ranks. He sought various ways to correct it, one of the most important for him being the idea of obedient faith, or that the kind of faith that is full or alive is always obedient. This developed into a full-blown controversy about the relationship between justification and sanctification, and whether Shepherd blurred these doctrines in his effort to counter anti-nomianism.

It seems to me from my limited reading of FV that it is characterized by a similar concern to counter anti-nomianism. You question the doctrine of assurance, you attach a high importance to attending the means of grace, you deny the active obedience of Christ — all of these moves seem designed to get Christians to be diligent, to be faithful, to observe God’s law, to walk in the way of the covenant.

The Reformed tradition has had ways of countering anti-nomianism (the third use of the law, the Heidelberg’s structure of guilt, grace, gratitute) while also maintaining that faith alone rests and receives the saving work of Christ. Justification always leads to sanctification, but sanctification never leads to justification. In that sense, the gospel has an anti-nomian ring. It invites Paul to ask, shall we sin that grace may abound?

So I wonder if this is a big part of the difference between the various sides in this discussion.

I also wonder why those who oppose anti-nomianism are so eager to encourage us to be faithful and obedient, as if our faithfulness or obedience vindicates our faith. The Bible and the WCF are clear that our good works, our faithfulness, are filthy rags. That is why I quoted from Calvin’s catechism of 1536 way back when where he teaches that even our good works need the imputed righteousness of Christ to receive God’s favor. So I wonder if the neo-nomians do not have a sufficiently realistic view of the sin that continues to corrupt our faithfulness.

If FV teaches that continuing in the covenant through faithfulness, FV offers me no hope because I know that my faithfulness is still polluted with unfaithfulness. How could such faithless faithfulness ever keep me in the covenant?

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