Sunday, January 09, 2005

Shepherd and Reformed Tradition Part I.

I know that I said, I would not deal very much with Shepherd, but I feel the need has arisen. Rev. Mark Horne has tried to defend Norman Shepherd as in line with the Reformed tradition, and specifically called into question the RCUS position paper on the matter. Thus, I feel I should respond. Also, since Shepherd is first on the chronology, it fits the series on the Federal Vision controversy.

It first must be admitted that discussion is difficult because the two sides seem to have different definitions of justification. Rev. Horne claims the RCUS paper is wrong to state that Norman Shepherd believes that “faith and obedience function as conditions in the same way in that they both are equally necessary to obtain justification and eternal life. (this occurs in footnote 5 of his article)" Rev. Horne admits that Shepherd makes both necessary for eternal life, but not for justification. Here we see the differing uses. For the RCUS being justified is gaining eternal life, while Shepherd seems to desire stages of justification. Faith is the initial stage, but the final stage, the stage that ends with eternal life, works are required. Horne fails to note the paper specifically rejects the idea of a future stage of justification in Resolution 2.i. It is the very idea of Justification by Process that makes Shepherd so out of line with the Bible and the Reformed Tradition.

It is the main point of Rev. Horne’s article that Shepherd is a legitimate strand of Reformed Theology. He quotes the Westminster, John Owen and criticizes the RCUS for their quotes of Turretin and Calvin, which he attempts to refute. So, let us examine the idea in some Reformed authors of the past. This first part we shall examine the Dutch thinkers. In the next several posts we shall look at Germans, Puritans, and Turretin.

Herman Witsus is fantastic on the covenant of works and grace. He states:

A condition of a covenant, properly so called, is that action, which, being performed, gives a man a right to the reward. But such a condition cannot be required of us in the covenant of grace, is self-evident; because the right to life neither is, nor indeed can be founded on any action of ours, but on the righteousness of our Lord alone . . . Futher, the apostle, more than once, sets forth the covenant of grace, under the appellation of a TESTAMENT, which is God’s immutable purpose, not suspended on any one condition: and as it is founded on the unchangable counsel of God, and ratified by the death of the testator, so it is not possible it should be made void by any unbelief of the Elect. (3.9-10.284)

Later is Witsus discussion on faith he speaks of knowledge, assent, love, hungering for Christ, and receiving Christ. Faith is not discussed as part of faith. It is later referred to the fruit of faith, but nothing more. No ‘faith is not alone’ language.

Louis Berkhof continues the pattern and discusses both a covenant of works and a covenant of grace. He sees the covenant of grace as both conditional and unconditional. It is unconditional in the sense that there is no meritorious conditions. He does admit that faith and repentance are laid down as conditions of the covenant of grace, but reminds us that those are both from God, and that man is not expected to fill the conditions by his own strength. He believes the covenant is conditional only upon the suretyship of Jesus Christ in his fulfilling the covenant of works, which Shepherd denies. Just to make Berkhof’s distinction plain, he says;

We may say that faith is the conditio sine qua non of justification, but the reception of faith itself in regeneration is not dependent on any condition, but only the operation of the grace of God in Christ. . .
When we speak of faith as a condition here, we naturally refer to faith as a spiritual activity of the mind. It is only through faith that experimental knowledge of the covenant of life is entirely dependent on the exercise of faith (pg. 280).

In summary, we see both Witsus and Berkhof speak of two covenants, a covenant of works and one of grace. They speak of faith as apart from works, and that the covenant of grace is unconditional. Any conditions that can be adduced are filled by God, such as the giving of faith. Both state that Christ’s fulfilling the covenant of works, or his active obedience, is given to us. Neither speaks of a final justification where those who may have been justified by faith initially can now lose his justification for lack of works. Works are always referred to as a proof of faith, and are not granted any merit or any ability to knock one out of a state of justification. All of these things agree with the RCUS position paper. All of these positions listed also appear to be denied by Rev. Shepherd. Clearly he does not stand in the Dutch Reformed Tradition.