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Archive for the ‘Federal Vision’ Category

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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RE: Latitude

If we are taking about the Gospel being at stake, I agree. I have not suggested otherwise. What I have suggested, and I think Jeff and Peter have been a bit vague in their responses, is that if you are agreeing with the substance (i.e. recieving the whole of Christ’s perfect righteousness as our sole and perfect righteousess before God) I think they have not endangered the gospel. If they are simply speaking the language of the tradition in its earlier stages, fine.

Still, I am fully convinced (and I think the historical theologians would back me up) that Calvin, Ursinus, and other believed in the substance of the active obedience of Christ when they affirmed (as the WCF does) that justification was based on BOTH Christ’s obedience and death…. and obedience and satisfaction.

But if that were the case, why not point to Calvin and Ursinus and say I fit into the tradition and I affirm the substance of the gospel and the Reformed understanding of justification.

More likely, they are pointing to Piscator, Gadaker, and Twisse as representatives of an actual denial of the imputation of the active obedience of Christ. The did so for a reason. They sought to take a stand against antinomianism. I suppose that the tradition also includes the neonomianism of the early 18th Century Church of Scotland. The Marrow was condemned by the COS but vindicated by the AP and RPC traditions. Here would be an area of friction but we would know what we were dealing with.

No such defense has been clearly asserted. I am left wondering. Does the FV (sans Wilson) affirm a view of justification tinted with nomism or does it only quibble with words?

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I agree with Darryl Hart’s reading of Robert Rollock. Rollock was an early covenant theolgian and it is anachronistic to demand that his theological language look exactly like it would after various controversies helped us define our more precise understanding.

Rollock, like Ursinus in his Large Catechism, is rolling Christ’s active and passive obedience into His total righteousness:

Q. 87. What benefit accrues to us from the suffering and death of Christ? A. The one sacrifice, by which he has merited for us reception into the covenatn of divine grace, that is, remission of sins, the gift of the Holy Spirit, RIGHTEOUSNESS, and eternal life.

Now, the point is not whether you will say it the same way but whether you accept the substance. The substance is that the justified is not just forgiven but stands before God as absolutely righteous. He does not stand with a righteousness like Adam, one that is not consummated, but with the perfect righteousness of the 2nd Adam who consummated the covenant. Do you agree?

Jim Jordan’s earlier comment stated: ” affirm Christ is all in all for us, and that His perfect sinless life, His suffering on the cross, and His glorious resurrection are all credited to us. Christ is the new Adam, obeying God where the first Adam did not obey God.” I take from the is agrees with the substance. Am I right? Does Pastor Meyer’s agree?

Finally, if this is not what Meyers has in mind, please clarify where you leave the justified believer? Back where Adam was? Forgiven but in need of a personal obedience unto righteousness? Does he need to be like Adam and/or Jesus, obedient and faithful unto righteousness? Or is he already, perfectly, and eternally righteous?

To me, the gospel is at stake in the way this question is answered.

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Playful Calvinism

Peter

I got suckered. Darryl challenged the seriousness of FV. Harumph, said I – touchily. Of course I’m serious. I mean, I write books. How could I not be serious?

Wrong answer.

I don’t know exactly what Darryl means when he talks about our lack of seriousness, and I don’t agree that a “serious” effort at reform has to follow the channels he seems to suggest. But he’s hit on something important.

“Playful” has not been the most natural modifier of “Calvinist.” But it should be. Doug Wilson has often talked of promoting what I think he calls a “sunny Calvinism.” Calvinists above all other Christians have theological grounds to follow Jesus’ exhortation, Don’t be anxious. There should be a buoyancy and lightness to Calvinists since we believe in a God who is in absolute control over everything. Everything, literally EVERYTHING, is a gift from a God who is infinitely good and who has committed Himself with utter faithfulness to us. And knowing that God is in control relieves us of the burden of having to be. We should be the most thankful, joyful, playful of people. We have far more reason than Chesterton to remember that Satan fell by force of gravity.

Take this as another effort to describe the psychology of those associated with the FV. And with no implication that non-FV Calvinists are automatically dour. Darryl, for instance, is hilarious.

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Sectarians All

Peter asks in an earlier post how much of FV the folks here contributing have read. It points to a psychological trait that I am still trying to understand, not simply on Peter’s part but in several interactions I’ve had with folks who identify with FV. It is a certain touchiness about being criticized. When attacked, FV’s defense is to claim that it is well represented in the mainstream Reformed tradition. As James Jordan has insinuated, the mainstream (read: PCA and OPC) are really sectarian; FV is mainstream and catholic.

That perception conflicts with other descriptions of FV on this blog. Doug spoke about FV being a conversation among a select group of pastors and theologians. He also wrote about the importance of worship each Sunday and that FV’s ambitions were not much grander than that. Jeff Myers seconded Doug’s motion.

So I’m still trying to figure out FV’s psychology and sense of purpose. The reason FV has attracted so much attention is not because it’s views have been widely promulgated. James Jordan can claim that FV’s views are out there for anyone to read. But while that’s technically true, FV has not pursued an active publishing program in the “mainstream” publishing world. Auburn Ave and Canon Press have published most of the collections or books commonly associated with FV. That means you have to look fairly hard for FV. It also insures that FV will only circulate as it generates controversy, not as it makes proposals in the wider world of Christian publishing.

I don’t point out the in-house character of FV to impugn its character or motives. I am a great advocate of the local and the provincial. I have even been criticized on this blog for conceiving of the Reformed tradition in such a narrow way. But could it be that FV is even narrower than the narrow tradition I have affirmed, that FV has not circulated outside its local habitat in ways sufficient to justify its own claims to inclusion and catholicity? In other words, do FVers need to get out more?

Back in Feb. (“Who Defines ‘Reformed’?”) Peter wrote about the controversy over FV as one between the center and the margins. He ended by speculating whether FV will remain on the margins and be a passing fad, or whether it will create the new center. I for one am still wondering if FV wants to create that center, if it really wants that responsibilty. I don’t think it has acted that way. It seems instead fairly content to work on the margins, but then get upset when the center tells FV it is marginal.

So does FV want to be the center or not? Does it really want to define what Reformed means/is? If FV’s pater familia, James Jordan, says Reformed is third down on the list of his Christian identities, how much is FV invested in Reformed Christianity?

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