Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Nature and Grace’ Category

O Happy Fault!  

I have been thinking about the fall.  What tragedy.  Adam had it all.  A pretty wife (who was naked all the time), an productive farm, and a good job (farmer, priest, king).  Adam never got sick, had no fear of death, and walked with God in familial communion.  He was the son of God, and the servant of God.  What a deal!

 

And then the rebellion.  It began with the serpent rising up against his God ordained place in the creation to seduce the woman, who, rising up against her God ordained place in the creation to seduce Adam, who, having neglected the command to exercises godly dominion over the creation, rose up against his God ordained place in the creation.  Amidst the order of God’s well balanced creation, Adam and Eve sought to be as gods, knowing (defining?) good from evil.  Boy did they get their wish.

Genesis tells us that their eyes were immediately opened… an interesting detail.  Their eyes were opened but their vision did not improve.  Rather, their eyes were opened and the darkness flooded their souls.   Death had entered the picture from the inside out.  Sin had destroyed everything.  

Sin destroyed Adam’s relationship to Eve.  Their eyes were opened and they knew that they were naked.  No longer at peace with God, they could no longer be at peace with each other.  They had something to hide.  Thus began man’s constant effort to find a way to cover their sin.  Fig leaves would have to do. (Gen. 2:7).  Adam and the women were the first pelagians. 

Sin destroyed Adam’s relationship to God.  Our first parents heard the sound of God coming in the garden and they hid themselves amidst the trees.  Adam knew that God was coming in the judgment of the Day.  Fear consumed them.  No longer could they stand naked before their God with shame.  Responding to God’s call, Adam responded- “because I was naked I hid myself.” (Gen. 2:10). 

Finally, sin destroyed Adam’s hope of eternal life.  This was it.  This was judgment day.  I do not know what the threat of God’s primeval covenant, “the day you eat of it you shall surely die” meant to a folks who had never seen death or known its consequences.  Adam will know the full impact of good and evil.  The hour of judgment is at hand.  Death is the fruit of their rebellion.  The story of man is over.

Well, almost.  First comes the judgment of the serpent.  The head of the dragon will be crushed under the foot of the woman’s son.  God would destroy the rebellious union between the woman and the serpent.  He would create enmity between the woman and the serpent, between her seed and his seed.  Amidst judgment– promise.  Amidst curse– blessing.  The counsel of death has been transformed into a covenant of grace.   

This is the moment that Eucatastrophe entered the world.  Euatastrophe, that wonderful phrase coined by J.R.R. Tolkien to describe:

“the sudden happy turn in a story which pierces you with a joy that brings tears (which I argued it is the highest function of fairy-stories to produce). And I was there led to the view that it produces its peculiar effect because it is a sudden glimpse of Truth, your whole nature chained in material cause and effect, the chain of death, feels a sudden relief as if a major limb out of joint had suddenly snapped back. It perceives – if the story has literary ‘truth’ on the second plane (….) – that this is indeed how things really do work in the Great World for which our nature is made. And I concluded by saying that the Resurrection was the greatest ‘eucatastrophe’ possible in the greatest Fairy Story – and produces that essential emotion: Christian joy which produces tears because it is qualitatively so like sorrow, because it comes from those places where Joy and Sorrow are at one, reconciled, as selfishness and altruism are lost in Love.” – The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, # 89 (7-8 November 1944).

 

The Church fathers put it this way- Felix Culpa (or O Happy Fault)!  What a blessing was found in the darkness of sin!  Grace has transcended our fall and made known the glory of God’s plan of redemption.  God has come in judgment and has given promises.  He has promised to restore peace between Himself and the seed of the woman by creating enmity between the woman and the dragon.  A Savior would come.  Sin would not be the last word.  Sin could destroy everything… everything but God’s plan for His people.

And so Adam responded to grace in faith, “The man called his wife’s name Eve, because she was the mother of all living.”  This is no mere human-interest narrative about how Eve got her name.  Rather, it is an act of saving faith.  It is reliance upon the promises of God.  It is a living faith that restores Adam’s kingly vocation of naming, and in doing so, thinking God’s thoughts after Him.  

And what was God’s response to Adam’s confession of faith? “Then the LORD God made for Adam and for his wife garments of skins and clothed them.” Genesis 3:21.    By the grace of God a covering worthy of hiding their shame.  Far from a Mosaic fashion commentary, the word of God points us to the greatest Eucatastrophe.  

Sin will be dealt with, but only through the shedding of blood.  These animals died the death deserved by sinners.  Their lives forfeited for our lives.  But the blood of bulls and goats could only go so far.  Only so far as they pointed beyond themselves to the worthy death of one whose blood did merit deliverance and salvation.  The blood of the Lamb of God without blemish, the Lord Jesus Christ whose perfect righteousness would cloth those who call upon His name and rely upon Him as the only means of salvation.  That is, the precious blood of the innocent Savior who suffered the full penalty of sin, and rose again in triumph even over death.  This is Eucatastrophe, the heart of the gospel.  And so we say again, “O happy fault!”  

 

Not, of course, that we should sin that grace may abound.  But rather, we rejoice in the grace of God, by which, even in spite of our sin, in fact, as a direct response to it, we, His church, has been exalted beyond Adam’s wildest dreams in the days of innocence.  Consider:

1.  Because of the fall, man’s dignity has been magnified and the race has been exalted by the incarnation of God as man in Jesus Christ.  God entered into His creation as one of us.  What if God was one of us?  He was… not a slob like one of us… but the perfect man who kept the whole of God’s righteous law and suffered the whole of the penalty for its transgression.  

 

2.  Because of the fall, man’s dignity has been transformed by the resurrection.  Jesus Christ is not dead.  He is alive at the right hand of the Father.  The tomb is empty.  This is demonstrably true.  But more, not only is Christ alive but He has bestowed the Spirit of that new life upon His church.  United to Christ through the Holy Spirit, we have passed from death to life.  We who have been baptized have been baptized into His death and raised with Him into life everlasting… into the very mystery of the Triune God-head (Romans 6:3,4).  As the blessed Black Dwarf said, “God became man that men might become God.”  

 

3.  Because of the fall, we now reign with Jesus Christ in the Heavenly places (Ephesians 2:6).  Not someday.  Not, “when do I get my crown”.   Paul tells us that we have been raised with Jesus Christ and seated with Him in the Heavenly places.  We are united to the mystical body of Christ in which there is no death, only the treasures of Christ.

Sin has made a hash of this world, and it makes a hash of our lives.  But, to the praise of God, sin… Adam’s sin… your sin… my sin…. cannot destroy God’s glorious plan for his people.  We maybe sinners whose twisted hearts dwell on the fading glory of this age, but we are also pilgrim saints united to Christ and  being prepared for a heavenly homeland.  Sin has made a hash of things… but with the fathers we can say, “felix culpa” Oh happy fault!  (that has lead to such a great salvation).

Read Full Post »

Andrew Matthews

A Non-redemptive Providential Reign of Christ?

“The word of the Lord came to me: ‘Take silver and gold from the exiles Heldai, Tobijah and Jedaiah, who have arrived from Babylon. Go the same day to the house of Josiah son of Zephaniah. Take the silver and gold and make a crown, and set it on the high priest, Yeshua son of Jehozadak. Tell him this is what the Lord almighty says: ‘Here is the man whose name is the Branch, and he will branch out from this place and build the temple of the Lord. It is he who will build the temple of the Lord, and he will be clothed with majesty and will sit and rule on his throne. And he will be a priest on his throne. And there will be harmony between the two’” (Zech. 6:9-13).

In order to maintain his earthly people/heavenly people dichotomy, John Nelson Darby multiplied Christ’s priestly ministries. In studying Hebrews, Darby thought he discovered a distinction between Christ’s Melchizedekian ministry of blessing and another sacrificial ministry analogous to Aaron’s priesthood. The Klinean-W2K theology accomplishes the same effect in the particular way it distinguishes between common and redemptive grace. The intent is to maintain an earthly secular kingdom (culture) parallel with a heavenly kingdom of redemption (cult). For example, Darryl Hart writes: “Well, maybe we could choose the wise, strong and high and reputable if two ways are at work, the way of redemption and the way of creation-providence.” Both Dispensationalism and W2K have an interest in denying the catholicity of the new covenant—its cosmic universality and authority—during the present “parenthetical,” as they call it, Church age.

While Meredith Kline employs “common grace” language, Darryl dislikes the term, since it is a legacy of Abraham Kuyper’s Neo-Calvinism. He prefers instead to talk about Christ’s providential rule vs. redemptive reign. This is basically a semantic difference, however. Darryl understands history in light of Kline’s cult/culture dichotomy. Having examined Kline’s arguments for common grace in Kingdom Prologue, I have found them to be exceedingly weak (See below). In the final analysis, the Klineo-Hartian method of “dispensationalizing” Scripture turns out to be yet another destructive nature-grace dualism.

There is no providence/redemption dichotomy to be found in either God’s redemptive purpose, the post-Fall economy, or Christ’s mediatorial ministry. Rather, considerations may be brought to bear from each which imply a complete coordination of divine creative and redemptive acts in every era prior to the eschatological consummation. What I intend by “complete coordination” must be understood in light of the incarnate economy of Christ’s two natures united in his single hypostasis. It is time to exorcize the Nestorian spirit from the Reformed subconscious once and for all.

A. God’s Redemptive Purpose

First, redemption, broadly considered, is the activity God undertakes to save his created works from the ravages of sin, death, and corruption. It is quite literally the salvation of the kosmos (John 3:16-17). The argument being made here is that it was God’s intent all along to beatify creation. Compelling evidence for this is to be found in St. Paul’s teaching in Romans 8. Paul speaks of an intrinsic “desire” within creation for the liberty it will experience when God’s sons are revealed (Rom. 8:19). This desire, a desire for life—not annihilation, was inherent within it from the very beginning, part of its nature as created by God. This is because all creation was to be glorified with Adam after the probationary term of the CoW expired. Therefore, the world’s originally created purpose and its anticipated deliverance seamlessly coincide.

St. Paul’s teaching in Romans 8 is not a metaphorical anomaly easily dismissed by sophistical rationalization. Creation’s corruption and consequent suffering is integral to the narrative structure of redemptive history. When Adam fell, sin came into the world, and death by sin (Rom. 5:12). Also, the ground was cursed to yield thorns and thistles, and generally to impede man’s labor, which had once been a joyous task (Gen. 3:17-19).

There is thus a relationship between creation and the fate of humanity. Man was to rule and subdue the earth, rule the animals, and be sustained by the earth’s produce. However, the ground was cursed because of Adam’s sin, and the principles of death and corruption entered the created order. This means, at the very least, that the structure of organic life was biologically altered. At this point I’d like to recommend the traditional view against Kline that animal death did not naturally occur before the Fall. Indeed, Kline’s work is largely an attempt to demystify Scripture. He seems intent on providing theological reasons to explain away the mystical-cosmological features of biblical revelation, effectively dissolving much of the material into insubstantial abstraction: ceremonial symbol (e.g., the typological theocracies of the Ark and Israel) and literary metaphor (e.g., the framework hypothesis).

B. The Perpetuity of the Cultural Mandate

Meredith Kline argues that the cultural mandate (Gen. 1:26-31) was altered after the Fall. He writes:

The common culture that is the direct fruit of common grace is not itself identifiable with the holy, Sabbath-sealed redemptive kingdom of God…Another way of saying this is that common grace culture is not itself the particular holy kingdom-temple culture that was mandated under the creational covenant. Although certain functional and institutional provisions of the original cultural mandate are resumed in the common grace order, these now have such a different orientation, particularly as to objectives, one cannot simply and strictly say that it is the cultural mandate that is being implemented in the process of common grace culture. It might be closer to the truth to say that the cultural mandate of the original covenant in Eden is being carried out in the program of salvation, since the ultimate objective of that mandate, the holy kingdom-temple, will be the consummate achievement of Christ under the Covenant of Grace. On the other hand, the genealogical and earthly aspects of the original cultural mandate that were to consummate its preconsummation history are not part of the redemptive program per se…As brought over into the postlapsarian world, the cultural mandate undergoes such refraction that it cannot be identified in a simple, unqualified way with either the holy or common enterprises. (KP, 156-7, bold face added).

Here we see that Kline held that the original mandate had as its goal consummated glorification. He writes, “to produce the cult itself, the cosmic-human temple, was the ultimate objective in view in the cultural enterprise” (ibid., 89). We know that man’s confirmation in a state of righteousness was promised in the sacrament of the tree of life and was to be granted after Adam completed his probationary test. Humanity was to fill and cultivate the world in anticipation of his future glorification. Kline believes he can affirm the perpetuity of the cultural mandate post-Fall, and at the same time say it has been refracted. The question I have been raising is whether Kline has indeed preserved anything like the original cultural mandate in his theological reading of Scripture.

The answer is no. To refract a beam of light is to bend it. A prism can be used to break light up into its constituent spectral colors. Kline says that the post-fall economy divides the cultural mandate into parallel redemptive and common grace rays, and redirects cultural labor under common grace to a different end, a dead end. Here, then, is the source of the W2K providence-redemption bifurcation. Prisms are used to produce beautiful rainbows of light. Kline’s hatchet job on the cultural mandate separates the means from the end, effectively destroying it. Man’s work is now not only rendered difficult by God’s judgment; it is drudgery, stripped of its God-glorifying potential. God is then glorified only in the intention of one’s faith and not in one’s labor.

It should be noted that W2K proponents work with demonic persistence to strip temporal vocations of any intrinsic transcendentally oriented character. They applaud pagans who organize society on “neutral” technological and utilitarian principles, and oppose Christian transformationalists at every turn. W2K’s raison d’etre is to desacralize human life and to keep it profane.

Kline has two arguments that the common grace order was established to be secular: 1) Adam and Eve were addressed in the post-fall arrangement as representatives of common humanity, not as God’s elect and, 2) The Sabbath was not to be observed outside Eden, the Sabbath sanctuary.

Kline finds special significance in the fact that on the occasion of the protoevangelium, the first gospel, God addressed all three offending parties: Satan, Adam and Eve. He writes,

In pronouncing his verdicts, the Lord followed the sequence in which guilt had been incurred in the temptation and Fall. Judgment, therefore, moved on from the devil, by whom the temptation was first conceived, to the woman (Gen. 3:16) and then to Adam (Gen. 3:17-19)…Covenant-breakers though they were, Adam and Eve were predestined to become God’s covenant people once again through redemptive grace. Before long they were displaying faith and hope in the salvation promise contained in the curse of Satan (Gen. 3:15). Nevertheless, the divine revelation addressed directly to them (Gen. 3:16-19) did not have in view their personal identity as elect individuals; it rather contemplated the mankind that had been represented in Adam and in him had broken the covenant (ibid., 134).

Here we have simultaneously what Kline calls “the inauguration of the covenant of grace” (ibid., 143), and the inauguration of the common curse/common grace order. It can be clearly seen that whatever common grace is for Kline, it is founded by and for the Covenant of Grace (CoG).

Kline’s methodology is that of the Darbyite dispensationalist. Where there is only one covenant, he tries to find two. He wants so badly to find both a redemptive and a common grace covenant, that he imports predestination into the scriptural context.

Wonderful things in the Bible I see, things put there by you and by me.

Adam and Eve not viewed as elect? What is he talking about? Were they elect or weren’t they? Where else was the woman’s seed to come from that would defeat the serpent?

Yes, Adam and Eve broke the covenant. But God’s purposes for humanity and creation were not to be overthrown. This is the predestinarian error as opposed to true Calvinism: to underplay God’s steadfast commitment to ensure that his creative purpose is achieved. This can only arise from a hesitation to affirm that the Lord is truly good. Seeking to glorify God, an imbalanced piety says that God could have destroyed all creation and started everything over after the Fall. No, he would not. For his own sake, God initiates a covenant of grace to save the world.

Immediately after confronting the man, God pursues a line of interrogation until he reaches the source of the rebellion: Satan (Gen. 3:9-13). Without asking Satan his side of the story, God pronounces judgment upon him and declares warfare between Satan and the woman(!). He also announces—and by his word, guarantees—that the woman’s offspring will destroy him (vv.14-15). Redemption is clearly in view.

Why then does Kline claim that God “did not have in view their personal identity as elect”? The answer is simple: he wants to literally divide the covenant into separate dispensations. But God’s word cannot be broken. The contextual chain of thought remains intact: When he next speaks, God addresses the woman, taking up the difficulty she will experience in laboring to bring forth her seed (v.16). In doing so, the original mandate to “be fruitful and multiply” is perpetuated in the service of redemption.

When he addresses the man, God declares that man’s toil will be both painful and wearisome, that the earth will not easily yield its produce as before (vv.17-19). The original mandate to cultivate the earth is perpetuated despite the fact that death has entered the picture. Adam and Eve must have breathed a collective sigh of relief. Kline is surely correct to note that God’s graciousness maintained marriage, the propagation of offspring, and labor to sustain human life and realize “cultural satisfactions” (ibid., 154). For Kline, “cultural satisfactions” must mean anything other than works done to glorify God, because he thinks he has successfully divided redemptive cult from common grace culture. But he hasn’t.

Everything we have seen so far shows that God has graciously carried over the cultural mandate into the post-Fall phase of history. He has done so in the context of his announced redemptive plan. He affirms the perpetuation of the mandate’s various duties despite new difficulties. There aren’t two covenants present in Genesis 3; there is only one.

I mentioned above that Kline also argues for common grace’s secularity on the basis that the Sabbath was not institutionally reissued after the Fall (ibid., 155-6). Did it need to be reissued? God sanctified the seventh day (Gen. 2:2-3) so that man would labor six days and rest the seventh (Ex. 20:8-11). Was Adam to laboriously toil without respite, without following this pattern? Was Adam to pursue cultural ends without reference to the final rest of which the Sabbath is a sign? To ask these questions is to answer them.

A principle of discontinuity—a kind of crazy regulative principle—is at work in Kline’s theology here. In fact his treatment of the Sabbath is nothing more than an argument from silence. To assume that man is no longer to pursue the cultural mandate’s original purpose through his labor, despite all the evidence of continuity; to deny that God’s original purpose remains intact, despite his gracious intervention, evinces a presumptuous wresting of the word of God.

C. The Corruption of the Earth

After God cursed the ground for Adam’s sin, subsequent acts by succeeding generations led to further curses. The shedding of Abel’s blood led to Cain’s alienation from the ground (Gen. 4:10-12). By Noah’s time, the earth was corrupted so much by violence that God wished to destroy it (Gen. 6:5-7, 12-13). And though after the Flood, God promised never to comprehensively curse the ground again (Gen. 8:21), sinful and violent men have further defiled it. Later, the land of Canaan vomited out the nations that had originally settled it due to the defilement they perpetrated (Lev. 18:24-28). All this is to show that, according to Scripture, death and sin, especially the shedding of man’s blood, corrupt the earth. The provided examples show this “corruption principle” to be operative well before the “typological kingdom” of Israel was established in the land of Canaan (Numbers 35:33-34). The Israelites were even commanded to destroy the livestock of particularly wicked peoples (e.g., 1 Sam. 15:3). The same principle forms the basis for the Jerusalem council’s prohibition of food associated with idolatry (Acts 15:29) and St. Paul’s teaching about food associated with demonic idolatry (1 Cor. 10:14-22; Cf. 2 Tim. 2:20-21). This is confirmed by the fact that the council grouped “idol food” together with blood-eating and sexual immorality. The reasons for this particular association will become clear in my dicussion of the Noahic covenant.

The corruption of the earth by sin provides an explanation for the biblical differentiation between clean and unclean animals. The ground is where blood is shed and corpses are left to rot. This defiles the earth (Gen. 4:10; Num. 35:33-34; Cf. Deut. 21:22-23) and the creatures that move upon it, especially carnivorous animals (Lev. 5:2; 11:1ff.; 17:15-16). To engage in a bit of speculation, we know that once an animal tastes human blood it acquires a taste for it. There may be a partial explanation here for the disorder and violence of the natural world. However, it can hardly be denied that a cosmic imbalance occurs when the image of God is destroyed (or murderously attacked) (Gen. 4:10; Num. 35:33). Such is intuitively understood by every man whose moral sense has not been entirely extinguished.

Even the killing of an animal is not meaningless, but contributes to the disruption of the created order. When animals are slaughtered their blood must be poured out and buried under earth (Lev. 17:13-14). This is because burial is a kind of temporary atonement, a restoration of balance in creation. Since life is in the blood (Gen. 9:4; Lev. 17:10ff.), the consumption of animal blood entails an unlawful taking of what belongs only to the Lord (Lev. 17:11) and is indicative of man’s transformation into a bestial deity who wastes and destroys creation for satiating his own lusts. It is plain that the prohibition against blood-eating has validity outside the Mosaic dispensation (Gen. 9:4; Acts 15:20, 29), and is therefore obligatory for Christians as well. Therefore, a “corruption principle” is operative in the fallen creation that is not peculiar to the symbolic economy of the Mosaic covenant. Even now there is “fruit” forbidden to us.

Kline tries to evade the import of the scriptural data by restricting the clean/unclean distinction to various “intrusive” theocratic dispensations. Another strategy he employs is to restrict the blood prohibition to altar communities (ibid., 256-62). What his explanation does not account for is why all animal blood is disallowed, and not just that of animals designated for sacrifice. His account also fails when he tries to explain the presence of the blood prohibition in the so-called postdiluvian common grace covenant. I will return to this issue in my discussion of the Noahic covenant in the next installment of this series.

The Bible presents a metaphysical view of reality that constantly leaps off its pages. God sovereignly created the world to be enchanted by supernatural powers. Angelic beings govern creation. The Fall affected creation metaphysically. Sin is the principle of corruption and death. Both righteous acts and sin affect the world. Demonic possession happens; exorcisms are performed. Symbolic actions have cosmic ramifications. The water of baptism is the washing of regeneration. We should take care that we accept Scripture’s teaching by faith and then seek to understand it. We do not begin by deciding what is first possible. God’s word defines what’s possible. Meredith Kline’s biblical theology is an attempt to accommodate Scripture—to domesticate it—to the modern secular mind’s sensibility. It’s time to identify this kind of theology for what it is—a form of godliness that denies the power thereof.

To be continued…

Read Full Post »

My time as Chairman of the RPC Synod’s Committee for the Understanding the Times came to a very final conclusion at this evening’s session of Synod.

My attempt to send the committee to its eternal slumber was defeated by a vote of 53-47. This was the last year of my term. For what it is worth, and apparently it is not much, I offer it to DRC readers for their edification.

Committee on Understanding the Times Report
2007 Synod of the Reformed Presbyterian Church

Recommendation: That the standing Committee on Understanding the Times be dismissed.

Historical Evaluation:

The Committee on Understanding of the Times has a long and colorful history. Once titled the Committee on the Signs of the Times, the committee has served an important historic function. Although the Committee on the Signs of the Times was discontinued some three decades ago, it was reborn as the Understanding the Times Committee in 1989. At that time, the Committee on Priorities and Administration reported:
While there were good reasons for discontinuing the former “Signs of the Times” reports, we believe that something has been lost, and that the time has come when we again seek to evaluate our culture from a biblical perspective in order that we might better see the progress of the kingdom and how the grace and mercy of God must be brought to bear (Minutes of Synod, 1989, pg. 88).

The Reformed Presbyterian Synod created the Committee for Understanding the Times and charged it with the work of evaluating the culture from a biblical perspective. No small task for an otherwise insignificant committee! Yet, standing in general continuity with the old Signs of the Times Committee, the Understanding the Times reports have given voice to the unique Covenanter interpretation of current events while seeking to contextualize them within the breadth of post-canonical redemptive history. These reports are a treasure in waiting for future historians and have added a great deal of color to our Synod meetings and annual Yearbooks.
Still, your committee believes that it is again time to affirm that there are good reasons for discontinuing these reports. Formerly, the Covenanter Church was deeply committed to a Whig interpretation of history (history as the narrative of progress). This commitment led the Covenanters to raise their peculiar postmillennial historiography to a confessional status through her former Historical Testimony. Borrowing an interpretive grid from the Testimony, current events could be expounded by Synod committees in a way that gave voice to the Covenanter cause and provided a unifying social and cultural vision for the church.

Confessional Difficulties:

The Reformed Presbyterian Testimony no longer includes a historical part. Wisely did the church conclude that only inspired history could bind the conscience set free in Jesus Christ. Further, chastened by a century of mass bloodshed and ideological extremism, the Reformed Presbyterian Church no longer views progress as the hallmark of history. A diverse denomination, no common understanding of post-canonical history draws us together. Artificial unity is no answer. Without confessional grounding, unhinged from classical postmillennial historiography, the Understanding the Times reports, although interesting, are a temptation for division within the Synod.

Further, Chapter 31, paragraph 5 of the Westminster Confession of Faith declares:
Synods and councils are to handle, or conclude, nothing, but that which is ecclesiastical: and are not to intermeddle with civil affairs which concern the commonwealth; unless by way of humble petition, in cases extraordinary; or by way of advice, for satisfaction of conscience, if they are thereunto required by the civil magistrate.

The wisdom of the Confession of Faith should not be ignored. Covenanters, following the example of Andrew Melville, have ever proclaimed that, where the gospel has taken root, two kingdoms exist within each nation. As the kingdoms of men cannot legitimately interfere with the holy politics of God’s Kingdom neither can the Kingdom of God legitimately politicize the gospel by binding the conscience of believers on matters purely secular and political.

Interpretative Difficulties:

While ministers of the gospel are well equipped to exegete the Holy Scriptures, they are not necessarily equipped for exegete-ing the newspaper. Although the church must not give up its duty to call the magistrate to faith and repentance, especially in response to corporate sins and issues of morality, it must not allow the politicization of the gospel of Christ. Further, we must humbly recognize that God’s providences are fundamentally inscrutable and defy our ability to interpret with any degree of certainty.

Cultural Difficulties:

Culturally, the Reformed Presbyterian Church is no longer homogenous. Released from the confessional authority of the historical Testimony, neither Elder nor laymen can be asked to assent to a grand reading of non-canonical history. The present Synod includes Ministers and Ruling Elders representing various shades of political opinion. Your committee suspects that in the midst of this Synod are seated wild Whigs and high Tories, traditionalist conservatives and classical liberals, Republicans and Democrats, authoritarians and anarchists, populists and progressives. Yet, our diversity in matters cultural and political is tempered by our common agreement that Jesus Christ is King over the nations, that God’s Word should regulate worship, and that the Westminster Standards are a faithful exposition of Biblical Christianity.

Can Christ’s Kingship be applied?

The mediatorial Kingship of Christ over the nations is a precious doctrine that calls the nations to faith and repentance. It demands that civil authorities apply the norms of God’s law to the political process. Without hesitation your committee believes that this doctrine has substantial application. Against the sin of slavery our 19th Century fathers pressed the royal claims of Christ. Against the sin of abortion we have so contended. Yet, we are also keen to remember that Christ’s mediatorial kingship is not an ideology. No champions of an armed doctrine, proponents of Christ’s Kingship recognize that Christian politics remains the art of the possible. Indeed, not inebriated zeal but sober-minded prudence is foremost among the virtues prized in the faithful statesman. Therefore, your committee believes that the Synod should be restrained in binding the conscience of its members by authoritatively speaking where there is not clear consensus, not only of the present generation but also among the faithful saints of the historical church.
Can greater consensus be achieved? Possibly, but it is not the work of the Synod. Such work should be faithful accomplished from the pulpit, in the pages of the Reformed Presbyterian Witness, the Christian Statesman, Semper Reformanda: Covenanter Theological Review, on blogs, in pamphlets, and in the editorial section of your local newspaper.
Therefore, your committee thanks the King of the Church for the many years of faithful service and insight provided by this committee and asks that the Synod grant its indefinite dismissal.

Respectfully Submitted,

Rev. W.H. Chellis, Chairman
Rev. Katsunori Endo*

* Rev. Endo wishes to note his discomfort with the hyperbolic tone of the sentence: “The present Synod includes Ministers and Ruling Elders representing various shades of political opinion. Your committee suspects that in the midst of this Synod are seated wild Whigs and high Tories, traditionalist conservatives and classical liberals, Republicans and Democrats, authoritarians and anarchists, populists and progressives.”

Read Full Post »

Andrew Matthews

“To him who overcomes and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations…just as I have received authority from my Father. I will also give him the morning star…To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.” (Rev. 2:26,28; 3:21)

“I tell you the truth, anyone who has faith in me will do what I have been doing. He will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father…It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you. When he comes, he will convict the world of guilt in regard to sin and righteousness and judgment: in regard to sin because men do not believe in me; in regard to righteousness, because I am going to the Father; and in regard to judgment, because the prince of the world now stands condemned.” (John 14:12; 16:7-11)

“The weapons we fight with are not the weapons of the world. On the contrary, they have divine power to demolish strongholds. We demolish arguments and every pretension that sets itself up against the knowledge of God, and we take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ. And we will be ready to punish every act of disobedience, once your obedience is complete.” (2 Cor. 10:4-6)

To begin with, I’m going to request Darryl’s forbearance for this budding “theologian of glory” (2 Cor. 3:9-11, 18), especially for some of the excessive statements made about his version of Westminster Two Kingdoms (W2K) theology. Plainly, it is improper to claim W2K “positively attributes evil to creation.” And so, I apologize for this uncharitable exaggeration. Darryl and other representatives of the W2K school repeatedly affirm the goodness of creation as originally created, whatever the unintended consequences of their views.

For the purpose of easily referencing all viewpoints broadly characterized as transformationalist or “theocratic,” I designate the letter “T,” without meaning to imply all such views are adequately represented by my arguments. There are two objectives I hope to accomplish in this post and subsequent postings. First, I purpose to meet Darryl’s challenge in a way that provides a general defense of all T views. Second, my specific agenda is to defend historic Christendom as a viable model for future T efforts. Once the majority view, Christendom has fallen out of favor even with most T proponents. Yet, Christendom is the only T program that has been tried. It lasted for over 1500 years, demonstrating significant—even extraordinary—stability, and perhaps is not completely beyond resuscitation. I feel honored to advocate for the venerable tradition of Christendom on this forum.

W2K Critiques T

As far as I can ascertain, Darryl offers the following arguments against theologically motivated culture transformation (T): 1) T breaks down the providential division between cult & culture, thereby compromising the Church and undermining political order; 2) T is impossible because natural and Christian ethics are incommensurate; 3) T represents a premature effort to “immanentize” the Kingdom of God; 4) T inadvertently subverts Justification in an attempt to save the world through works; 5) The NT nowhere indicates that Christianity is supposed to take over society, but precisely the opposite; 6) T implies persecution of other religions and has historically done so.

Darryl’s first four points represent a chain of argumentation, first formulated this way by Meredith Kline, which goes like this: The economy of the original Covenant of Works (CoW) was the first theocracy. Theocracy (the full integration of cult & culture) was the social order through which humanity was to render “personal, perfect, and perpetual obedience” in order to merit consummated eternal life (beatitude) under the terms of the CoW.

This original theocracy was ended by the fall when humanity split into two groups, elect and reprobate. As a result, a new common grace order was established by God (point 1 above). This new order was established so that elect and reprobate could cooperate together to a certain extent in order to build a peaceful society. While the elect are motivated by an ethic of gratitude (for the anticipated redemption of Christ), the reprobate retain the old CoW ethic of merit (human works will earn the state of beatitude). These ethics are incommensurate with one another (point 2), though there is some overlap because natural law forms the basis for each.

Kline would argue that any attempt to restore theocracy (T) by the elect ipso facto involves a regression back under the CoW, a rejection of the Covenant of Grace (CoG), which is an unconditional covenant whereby God has undertaken the sole responsibility of establishing man in beatitude. All human activity is excluded from this enterprise. Therefore, for Kline (and W2K in general) the elect no longer have a cultural mandate (Gen. 1:28). Kline would hold to a common mandate (common to elect & reprobate), and therefore circumscribed in principle by natural law shorn of its original orientation toward consummated beatitude.

A revived theocracy would constitute an attempt to prematurely establish God’s Kingdom through natural effort (point 3). Justification is incompatible with T (point 4). Natural effort, comprised of human works, characterizes fallen man’s pursuit of beatitude. Since the CoG is received and perpetuated by faith alone, human works represent “unlawful” impositions upon God’s prerogative to establish beatitude through his own provision. Sola Fide is here framed in a radically monergistic way, such that the faithful have no responsibility to advance godly culture. Any cooperation between Christ and his Church in the outworking of redemption is excluded.

Responding to Kline-W2K

Allow me to address a preliminary response to this Klinean-W2K critique. The whole line of argumentation depends on T being equivalent to the Adamic theocracy, complete with its works principle. I am unaware that Darryl or any other representatives of W2K have established this necessary connection. Why couldn’t God have graciously perpetuated the cultural mandate as part of the duty gratitude enjoins? What evidence is there that God’s elect are absolved of the original command to produce offspring, subdue, and cultivate the earth?

As I have already argued fairly extensively (I apologize for the repetition), there doesn’t seem to be a necessary conflict between carrying on with the construction of Megapolis (the cultivation of creation as a garden-city) in anticipation of Metapolis (the beatifying work only God is able to perform).

Theocracy doesn’t necessitate conceiving the present order of things as ultimate. Rather, theocracy, if valid, would be God’s way of maintaining teleological continuity between the old and new creations. Present work would therefore be a profound expression of faith in God’s work of cosmic regeneration. Rather than despairing of the significance of his activity, the man of faith expects that the results of his labor will be gloriously transformed on the day of his Lord’s reckoning. Ten minas will be transmuted into ten cities (Luke 19:17), and so forth—so to speak. The regenerating fire of the final judgment will consume the wood, hay, and stubble, but leave behind (and reveal!) the gold, silver, and costly stones (1 Cor. 3:12).

In succeeding portions of this essay I intend to develop an argument that the original cultural mandate retains viability in the redemptive post-fall economy drawn from the following scriptural evidence: the promises made to Abraham and his seed, the OT prophetic anticipation of the new covenant era, the Melchizedekian ministry of Christ, and the gift of the Holy Spirit. I hope to show that the cultural mandate has been assimilated into the covenants of promise, and that creation’s preservation and ultimate deliverance is inextricably linked to the Church’s own destiny. Indeed, there is an ontological relation between the world’s birthing pangs and the Church’s suffering (Rom. 8:22-25, Cf. John 16:20-25). Finally, there is eschatological continuity between the world and the Church. In the final pages of inscripturated revelation, St. John unveils the mystery of the world, its consummate identity. The new heaven and new earth are revealed as the New Jerusalem (= the glorified body of Christ) that descends out of heaven from God (Rev. 21:1-2).

Read Full Post »

Here is a fine example of a Reformed Thomist dealing with natural law.

Read Full Post »

Nature and Grace Redivivus
W.H. Chellis

Dr. R. Scott Clark from the Heidelblog commented on re: Rehabilitating Theonomy:

This is an interesting and significant discussion for which we’re all grateful.

At the end of your post you say, however, that grace both restores and “perfects” nature.

Did you mean to say the latter?

Didn’t the Reformation reject that notion? Why does nature, per se, need perfecting? Do you mean to embrace all that phrase entails?

It seems to me that the Reformed confessions were at pains to deny that very notion. Adam was created in “righteousness and true holiness.” What’s to perfect?

He anticipated a consummation upon completion of the probation, but this was a change in status relative to God not a perfection of nature, was it not?

R. Scott Clark

http://www.oceansideurc.org/the-heidelblog

Thanks Scott. The short answer is that I agree with what you are saying. I use the language of Thomas but I equivicate on the meaning. I understand Thomas to be referring to being while I am suggesting eschatology status.

I do not think I am being inconsistant with the Reformed tradition in using the language this way. This question came up a couple of months ago when the inestimable DGH objected to the language. Click here for that discussion complete with references to Rutherford, Bavinck, and others.

Read Full Post »

The Paradox of Christianity and Culture
W.H. Chellis

From the introduction to Christianity and European Culture: Selections from the Work of Christopher Dawson:

“In many of Dawson’s books, there is a clear tension between the Christian virtue of hope and anxiety over the present world situation. Dawson expresses more doubt about the chances for a Christian civilization than T.S. Eliot, but prefers to see in the contemporary state of affairs a challenge similar to that faced by the early Christian’s. They faced what they thought was the end of the world with hope and joy. They were able to surmount the decaying Roman Empire and create a new civilization for the world while keeping their eyes fixed on the promise of eternal life. It is the paradox of Christianity that those disdainful of temporal affairs created a new world, while the pagans whose vision was fixed on this life disappeared (pg. xxvi).”

This is a great reminder that we are pilgrims amidst the nations and that our primary concern is focusing on the cross and worshipping our holy God. Social righteousness is not the fruit of political savvy but a by-product of Christian lives well lived. Jesus said, “seek first the Kingdom of God and all these things will be added to you (Mat. 6:33)”.

From the perspective of Christ’s kinship over the nations, what happens in the sacred Assembly on the Lord’s Day is much more important than what happens the rest of the week in the legislative assembly.

Read Full Post »

On Grace and Nature…
W.H. Chellis

Darryl Hart writes:
“If you really think that grace perfects nature, then we may have finally arrived at the chief difference (at least for me). I don’t think Calvinism is compatible with that construction of grace and nature (H. Richard Niebuhr didn’t think so), nor am I sure about Augustinianism.”

Chellis responds:

I know that the grace perfects nature idea is not popular in our circles. Still it certainly has a prominent place within the Reformed tradition. Long before I had read anything from Aquinas, I read Samuel Rutherford say:
“neither civility nor grace destroyeth but perfecteth nature…” (Lex Rex, pg 68,)

Coffey notes,”Although written by a Calvinist, it [Lex, Rex] was in some ways a deeply Thomistic book… In several places he appealed to Aquinas’s classic maxim, ‘grace does not destroy nature but perfects it.’ This maxim is perhaps the key to Lex, Rex, because Rutherford insisted on the compatibility of natural reasons conclusions and God’s revelation in Scripture.”
Politics, Religion, and the British Revolutions, John Coffey, pg. 152-153

Richard Muller writes, “Given, moreover, that “nature and grace are not opposed,” there can be a Christian natural theology, one which, in Alsted’s view, is grounded in ‘reason, universal experience, and Holy Scripture.”
Post-Reformation Dogmatics,Vol. 1, pg. 280

Herman Bavinck suggests the problems with the radical division between nature and grace found in Roman Catholic theology and notes,
“And that, too, was what the Reformation wanted: Christianity that was hostile, not to nature but only to sin. Such a Christianity was not externally imposed in the name of an infallible church but was inwardly assumed in one’s conscience by a free personality. Thus, through this personality, it had a reforming and sanctifying effect upon natural life as a whole. We are far from having reached the ideal and will presumably never reach it in this dispensation. Still, it is full of fascination and beauty and worthy of being pursued with all our strength. Coming again into its own in the Reformation was the old adage: nature commends grace; grace emends nature.” Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 1, pg. 362.

Bavinck’s English editor John Bolt writes, “Put more simply, the fundamental theme that shapes Bavinck’s entire theology is the trinitarian idea that grace restores nature.” pg. 18.

A. Hoekema, in his standard work The Bible and the Future, puts the matter in perspective:

“It is commonly thought by many Christians that the relationship between the present world and the new earth which is to come is one of absolute discontinuity. The new earth, so many think, will fall like a bomb into our midst. There will be no continuity whatever between this world and the next; all will be totally different.

This understanding, however, does not do justice to the teaching of Scripture. There is continuity as well as discontinuity between this world and the next. The principles involved is well expressed in words which were often used by the medieval theologians, “grace does not destroy but restores nature.” In His redemptive activity God does not destroy the works of His hands, but cleanses them from sin and perfects them, so they may finally reach the goal for which He created them. (pg. 73).

Read Full Post »

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 968 other followers