Tuesday, December 06, 2005

The Dilemma of the PCA

In 2001, the Presbyterian Church in America decided that the phrase, God created, “in the space of six days” in the Westminster Confession of Faith could mean a variety of things. Most of these views had little or nothing to do with “six days.” One should notice that recommendation number 2 states that the “diversity of views” means that the Westminster’s view must take a back seat to allow everyone else’s view a place at the table. People at the time worried that this would lead to a slippery slope that would expand beyond the creation controversies into other areas of the Confession or theology.

Welcome to the bottom of the slippery slope. The “diversity of views’ argument is being tossed around by almost all the Federal Vision adherents. They want the Westminster’s view to take a back seat again, and allow the many other views on doctrines like justification and the sacraments. They can cite Norman Shepherd and his redefinition of faith to say in thesis number 11 “Justifying faith is obedient faith,” as a diversity of views. Then they can have the Westminster’s phrase “Faith, thus receiving and resting on Christ and His righteousness, (XI.2)” to actually mean ‘receiving, resting, and acting.’ Or one could redefine the ‘righteousness of God’ as his faithfulness rather than his moral perfection and apply that to any passage he wanted. This would allow them to deny a covenant of works (VII.2) among other things. This then is the dilemma how to stop such redefinition. Sadly, the answer is plain. The PCA has no ability to stop them. In fact, the precedent is in favor of allowing the diversity of views to exist. Creation was sacrificed in order not to look anti-intellectual in the world’s eyes, and now all the Confession is sacrificed to the Federal Vision and to whoever else comes along. Gone are the days when the Confession said what it meant. Now, are the days when the Confession says one thing, but all other voices are acceptable.


Dale Courtney said...


Talk about a witch hunt!

Do you know any FV proponents who hold to an old-earth/creation-day/etc view of creation?

All the ones that I know of hold to a 6-day view.

I would commend to you Jim Jordan's book "Creation in Six Days: A Defense of the Traditional".


If Jordan isn't *the* example of a FV guy, I do not know who would be.

Also, Peter Leithart: http://www.leithart.com/archives/theology_-_creation.php

Methinks that in your jihad against Federal Vision, you are grasping at straws and hurting your case -- it's actually the FV proponents who are pro-six day creationism.


Fred Carpenter said...


Stop being afraid of the language of scripture.

And Re: your slur of Shepherd's justifying faith' comment is truly amazing especially when the Bible talks of nothing but an obedient faith (Abraham obeyed and was justified Gen. 22/Js. 2, nothing new here)and that we are justified by works, not faith alone, forensically speaking, which is the language of scripture (James).
Nothwithstanding your law-gospel imposition on scripture or "faith against doing' hermeneutic you impose which, Paul/James, for example, isn't opposing anyway.

Lee, don't question anything brother.

Ddn't think outside the closely guarded TR 'strict subscriptionist' guild.

You should read this article (and book) by Ben Witherington:


Lee said...

I did not mean to imply that FV proponents hold to any thing, but a literal view. The point I was trying to make is that the PCA as a denomination has established the precedent with the Creation-Day views that ought to allow the Federal Vision to exist within the bounds of the PCA. I was not trying to say the Federal Vision held to divergent views of Creation days, only trying to say that both groups used the same argument for a diversity in Reformed Views to support why they ought to be allowed in the Westminster Confession tradition. I freely admit that most of the FV men are strict 6 day creationists. I only know of one who is not. Sorry for the confusion.

Fred, thanks for the link. I will read it and see what I think.

Andrew Duggan said...

I belong to a church in the OPC. As for the terrain, some would say, “same slope different trail”.

All these new or rather diversity views whether on God, creation or salvation require a level of wisdom or should I say subtlety that is beyond me.

The corruption of our whole nature is certainly demonstrated in that considering the number of millennia that have past since the fall, we are still suckers for the lie. Satan gets a lot of mileage out of that one lie. In a very real way, there is only one lie. In what I think is the most important way, the concept of truth is defined by what God says. The truth obtains its status as truth by virtue of the fact that it is God who says it. Accordingly, every lie must be introduced with the question, "Yeah, hath God said...?" In the garden, the serpent had to state the question explicitly. Our first parents in their originally righteous nature were incapable of inferring that question had the serpent only implied it. In our totally depraved state, it is our nature to infer this question, so now, it is always implied, never stated.

God said, "For in six days the LORD made heaven and earth, the sea and all that in them is." (Exodus 20:11)
Others say, Yeah hath God said that in six days, he made the heaven and earth? If you were wise and studied you would see those days are really ages, or periods, or more properly seen as groupings of activity.

God said, "For by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast." (Eph 2:8,9)

Others say, Yeah hath God said you are saved by grace through faith? You must view that in the context that faith means demonstrating by your own good works, your faithfulness in keeping covenant with God, and grace means the infusing (by his Spirit, of course) of the ability to do those good works.

The slope is slippery and it is greased with guile, and the sound you hear is the hissing of a generation of vipers.

Fred Carpenter said...

aah...slippery eels at work trying to confuse language of scripture (which interprets other language of scripture) stripped of its proper context ala Eph 2:9 on "works" that lead to boasting, which is not faith.

Norman Shepherd writes (theses 24):

"The "works" (Eph. 2:9), or "works of the law" (Rom. 3:28; Gal. 2:16), or "righteousness of my own derived from the law" (Phil. 3:9), or "deeds which we have done in righteousness" (Titus 3:5) which are excluded from justification and salvation, are not "good works" in the Biblical sense of works for which the believer is created in Christ Jesus (Eph. 2:10), or works wrought by the indwelling Holy Spirit (Rom. 8:9; Gal. 5:22-26), or works done from true faith (I Thes. 1:3), according to the law of God, and for his glory, but are works of the flesh (Gal. 3:3) done in unbelief (Gal. 3:12) for the purpose of meriting God's justifying verdict."

By Rev. Norman Shepherd

Presented to the Presbytery of Philadelphia of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church
November 18, 1978.

Fred Carpenter said...

Mr. Andrew Duggan,

What do you reply to Rom. 2:13 commentary below that the doers of the law will be justified -- versus Rom. 3:28 of works of law, and therefore unbelief??

"Does Paul’s teaching in Rom. 2:13, then, deny what he asserts in virtually the same context, that justification is by faith apart from the works of the law (Rom. 3:28)? It is already apparent that this is not the case. Just as the author to the Hebrews in Heb. 10:38, Paul in Rom. 1:17 affirms that the righteous man shall live by faith. In terms of Rom. 2:13 this righteous man is the doer of the law and not merely a hearer. How does this righteous man live? This question is tantamount to asking, how is this righteous man justified, for justification is unto life (Rom. 5:17, 18, 21). He lives, not by the merit of his works, not by self-righteousness, not by a righteousness, which no longer needs the imputed righteousness of Christ. He does not live out of himself but out of Christ upon whom he rests by faith. Faith lays hold of Christ and his righteousness, but the faith, which does this, is not a dead faith. It is a faith that lays hold of Christ and in doing so turns away from sin in order to follow Christ (Cf. Zech. 8:23). Anything less than this is dead faith and does not justify or save. That is why Paul can say that the doers of the law will be justified."

"The doer of the law in Rom. 2:13 is by no means a man who is entirely without sin. If his doing were, in fact, the ground of his reliance he could not be justified. His doing would have been transformed into works of the law, and the law itself would condemn him as a sinner. But this doer of the law who will be justified is a man of faith. The question is, therefore, not whether his doing is perfect, anymore than it is whether his faith is perfect. The question is whether he believes with a true and genuine faith, however weak it may be, but a faith, nevertheless, that rests upon Christ alone. The foundation of justification, salvation, hope, and assurance ever remains, also in Rom. 2:13 for the doers of the law, Jesus Christ and his righteousness."

The Grace of Justification
Norman Shepherd

February 8, 1979

"The Pauline affirmation in Romans 2:13, "the doers of the Law will be justified," is not to be understood hypothetically in the sense that there are no persons who fall into that class, but in the sense that faithful disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ will be justified (Compare Luke 8:21; James 1:22-25)."

N Shepherd Theses: 20

Fred Carpenter
South Dakota

Andrew Duggan said...

Mr. Carpenter,

First, in my own defense, I did say that I am not all subtle enough to really understand these diversity views.

However, I think two small remarks are in order.

In response to comment #5, I would say this: In Eph 2:9, the word works is left unqualified. Shepherd's subtle attempt to force the qualifier of "of the flesh" on to the usage in Eph 2:9 does not mean that God is so qualifying it. At least in English the lack of qualifier for the word works would render it along the lines of "not of any works". I think this is all the more shown by the next phrase, "lest any man should boast". If the works are only works of the flesh, what then would be the basis of the boasting? There would be no rational basis. Who among the saved would boast in his works of the flesh? Obviously, the answer is no one. Forcing the qualification of “of the flesh” onto the word works in Eph 2:8,9 makes the passage irrational. Like salt having lost its savor, it would be good for nothing.

Shepherd's argument boils down to: yes, but is that God really means here?

In your second comment (#6) the longer quote from Shepherd at least in my opinion hinges on this assertion:

How does this righteous man live? This question is tantamount to asking, how is this righteous man justified, for justification is unto life.

Unfortunately that assertion is specious. Just because the gift of righteousness reigns in life (Rom 5:17) and the free gift of justification came upon all by the righteousness of one (Rom 5:18) and grace reigns through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ (Rom 5:21) does not mean that the question of how does a righteous man live is tantamount to asking how (or on what basis) is that righteous man justified.

How a righteous man lives (at least on this earth) is by the working of God in sanctification. That is a work of God's Spirit enabling the man more and more to die unto sin and live unto righteousness. How he is justified is a very different matter. He is justified in that God has freely pardoned all his sins (because of Christ's sacrifice) and is accepted as righteous in God's sight only on account of Christ's righteousness in his (Christ's) active obedience in keeping the moral law, imputed to him (the believer) and received by faith alone.

I must say thank you Mr. Carpenter, you have been very kind to produce such a fine example of erroneous confusion of justification and sanctification.

Anonymous said...

I recently attened a PCA church and was suprised to see NIV Bibles in the pews. That in itself is a sure sign of liberalism creeping in, not to mention it goes against the Westminster Confession of God's Word being "by His singular care and providence kept pure in all ages"

Fred Carpenter said...

Anonymous: I hear what you're saying, NIV bibles laying around are pretty much THE sign of the End times

Mr. Duggan: My simple point is: there are two (maybe more) but basically two kinds of works. One set of works are not of faith, but rather unbelief; the other are spirit-filled and accepted by the Beloved, in fact are from Him. To create all works as moral equivalent leads to confusion.

Faith is not only beleif but a (spirit-filled) Work. Abraham was justified by what he did, not by mere faith alone. In fact James 2:14 spells this out clearly in asking, "Can faith alone SAVE you?"

Did I understand you're in OPC? If so, that synod or GA has acquitted a man with these Biblical ideas, incl. Kinnaird's understanding of Romans 2:14, "that not hearers but doers of the law will (and are) justified.

No confusion thank you, just straight ahead Bible narrative; and not a collection of systematic, rationalistic theology propositions that, unfortunately, take away from the Story.

Andrew Duggan said...

Mr. Carpenter,

You're not serious are you? Although you might prefer the point to be that there is more than one kind of works, the fact of the matter, that is not the point at all. The point of the matter especially regarding Eph 2:8,9 is that salvation is not of any works, done by the person being saved, it is the gift of God. The works that count are Jesus' not mine.

Who would boast in works of the flesh, or disobedience? Reread my last comment. You can't ignore that question and maintain any credibility. You must answer that question. If you want Eph 2:9 to read: “not of evil works, lest any man should boast” or “not of works of the flesh, lest any man should boast” or “not of works of disobedience, lest any man should boast”, you must answer the question: who would boast in disobedience?

If you are going to accuse me of making a moral equivalence of good and evil works, you really should at least try to make reference wherein I make such equivalence. In fact I made no such equivalence. I said that Eph 2:8,9 has no qualifier on works. In fact it does not. Please within the text, notice the word text, show the qualifier on works, in Eph 2:9. You can't because in the immediate context we have evil works mentioned (verse 2 “disobedience”) and good works (verse 10 “good works”). So I guess you are making that charge against the Apostle Paul? It certainly is a bold move, but I'm not sure a wise one.

It seems to me that as far as I read the proponents of the F.V, boasting in their works is what they do or at least advocate. One man even claimed to be looking forward to the Judgment Day so he could be rewarded for his good works. If that's not boasting in one's works, well I don't know what is. You might try to claim that since the works in Eph 2:8,9 are limited to works of the flesh, then exclusion of boasting would not apply to works done in (or by) the Spirit. That however is not what Eph 2:8,9 is saying; I explained that well enough in a previous comment, and you didn't have any answer, but the plain meaning is obvious, lest any man should boast. On the other hand, I did say I am not subtle enough to really understand this.

I find it both sad and amusing that you would try to claim that I am mangling the meaning of Eph 2:8,9 because I am supposedly reading it through the lens of a system of doctrine. Your charge is false for a couple of reasons. First, in fact, I am the one advocating reading Eph 2:8,9 in the plain meaning, since there is no qualifier on works, and a reason given for salvation not being of works is to remove the ability for any man to boast. You on the other hand, have to go looking high and low over the whole N.T. and on the basis of the fact that in some places the word works is qualified in one way or another, presume on your preconceived insistence that one's acceptance before God is on the basis of one's own good works, done as God works in him to live unto righteousness, that in Eph 2:8,9 God must be talking about only works of the flesh. I read Eph 2:8,9 in their plain sense and you read it in the pretext of your erroneous view of a [con]fusion of justification and sanctification.

I believe in a doctrine of gratuitous justification (on the basis of nothing I have done including my faith), because Eph 2:8,9 say that it is by grace that I am saved through faith, it is the gift of God.

You on the other hand, say that the works in Eph 2:8,9 are only works of the flesh. Why? If you honestly answered that question you would find it is because you want your acceptance before God to be based, at least in part, on something you yourself have done.

My salvation is the gift of God. I get get everything and I supply nothing. If I supply something (even after-the-fact) then it's not a gift, it's a purchase. Christ paid, in full, the price in doing the good works I need and in sacrificing himself for me. Christ purchased salvation for me, I contributed nothing to it. Considering the fact that I am a wicked vile sinner, it is all the more wondrous that Christ would love me to do that for me. I don't deserve it. Thanks be to God alone, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, he loves me and he saved me. I was dead and now I live in Jesus Christ.

The second is you fail to consider your own prejudice against Systematic Theology. You accuse me of reading the bible through the lens of the WCF etc. The fact is, I don't. I use the WCF, WLC and WSC as my confession of faith because what the WCF,WLC,WSC say agrees with what the Scriptures teach. The Holy Scripture is the first and only (I'll repeat that) only rule that directs me how I may glorify God and enjoy Him. (Oh how great it is to enjoy Jehovah my God, through Jesus Christ my Lord and savior.) Jesus Christ is literally my best friend. If you think that I am going to let something like the WCF come between me and my best friend, you are very much misinformed, and out right wrong! Does that change the fact that the WCF is my confession? No, because it is the most accurate summary of Scripture on a topic-by-topic basis. I say “nice try” to your attempt to place a wedge between Biblical and Systematic Theology. It seems to be a recurring theme with proponents of the F.V., et al. Unfortunately, it is specious. There is no such wedge. Please read G. Vos Biblical Theology.

It seems pretty clear that you are reading Eph 2:8,9 (if not the whole Bible) through a lens of a story that lets you contribute something, however small, to your own salvation. Unfortunately, that story begins with an implied, “Yeah hath God said, for by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast.”

I will have to disappoint you once again, as when you bring up James 2:14, “Can faith alone SAVE you?”. First that's not what James 2:14 is asking at all. Here is the entire verse of James 2:14.

What doth it profit, my brethren, though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?

What that is really asking, is if someone says he has faith, yet there is no evidence that he is living unto Christ and dying unto sin, can his faith (that he claims) save him? James is pointing out in his rhetorical question, that those who claim faith in Christ, but show no outward manifestation of that faith by living unto righteousness, really don't have saving faith. If one shows no outward change in life, no living unto righteousness, no providing for the needy, no helping the fatherless and widow, then they really don't have saving faith in Jesus Christ. James is telling us what it means to have a credible profession of faith. Its a warning to us all not to be Sunday-morning only Christians. Your desire for it to be otherwise does not make it so.

When one reads Romans he is still supposed to remember Jeremiah.

In his days Judah shall be saved, and Israel shall dwell safely: and this is his name whereby he shall be called, THE LORD OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS.(Jer 23:6) cf Jer 33:16, and Jer 51:10.

Our righteousness that makes us acceptable to God comes from God. It comes from Jesus Christ. It comes from Christ's active obedience imputed to us.

Yes, I am in the OPC. I think the case you mention demonstrates Lee's point. Same slope, different trail. Take a look at Yahoo! BBWarfield List posting this week. It gives you another man's view.

I didn't mean to suggest that you were confused. I don't think you are confused in the least. That does not change the fact that Shepherd fuses justification and sanctification together, blending them in a way where one's own good works (or at least one's work of faith) can be part of the basis by which one is to find acceptance with God. The problem for anyone holding to such a view is that it necessarily includes an admission of trusting (at least in some small way) in one's own self that he is righteous.

Really, what part of “and that not of yourselves” don't you understand in Eph 2:8?

Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life, no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” John 14:6. The man, his works, not even his work of faith are even part of the way. Jesus is the way. Its all 100% Jesus Christ. When it comes to salvation our only involvement is as beneficiary. The elect, the saved receive the gift of God. That gift includes the faith in Christ, the righteousness of Christ imputed to him, received by that faith, the forgiveness of one's sins because of the sacrifice of Christ, and it includes one's being renewed in the whole man after the image of Christ, whereby he is enabled more and more to die unto sin, and actively live unto righteousness. Its all the gift of God, not of ourselves, not of works, lest any man should boast.

Finally, claiming to be Biblical, doesn't make you Biblical.

Fred Carpenter said...

To:9 Does speak to works that boast before God; if you read Eph. 2 8-10 as a unit it compares in contrast to "works that lead to boasting" and "works that spring from obedient faith". James and Paul both speak forensically; in Romans 4:2, Paul says "Abraham is not justified by works as if they are wages to be earned or in any way that we can merit or boast in that before God". But, James tells us that Abraham was justified by works by spirit filled obedience. If you look in Gen. 22 text, it simply says Abraham obeyed God and James says he was declared righteous because of it. Part of what faith is, is obedience, Eg. Heb. 11:8 "By faith Abraham obeyed." It's one unit of thought. Reformed theology has tried to seperate faith and obedience when the Bible has not done so, in order to preserve their ordo salutis. Read Scott Haffemann, Scotts' book, "The God of Promise and the Life of Faith." the standard reading "takes the works" in Eph. 2:8-9 to include any and all activity, even the "good works" brought about by Christ that are spoken about in Eph. 2:10, rather than referring only to those self-generated perfomances or distinctives as if we attempt to earn God's blessings. Haffenman argues against this view that the "faith" contrasted with "works" in Eph. 2:8-9 actually includes the "good works" spoken in 2:10. I'm sorry that we don't agree, but Biblical theology by good and faithful men in our day who are being slandered and railed against a confession that was written and the way they understood the Bible to relate to man 500 years ago. The HOly Spirit still works in man and helps man to develop fresh new ways to understand His word too. Have a good day. Fred Carpenter

Andrew Duggan said...

Mr. Carpenter:

A few of observations:

1) Its a shame that you can't respond to the question asked: who would boast in works of the flesh? Your failure to answer that question invokes my warning in my previous comment: you have lost all credibility.

2) I dealt with the text of Eph 2, and you still need your F.V. Guide to Making Scripture Say What You Want It To

3) You should have put a scriptural reference for your sentence about who it is that leads people into new ways of understanding scripture. If what you are promoting is really the gospel, and it's new, how was anyone saved before Norman Shepherd, et al, came up with this new way, or is justification not an essential to the Christian religion?

4) In reality what you are proposing is hardly new. John Calvin refuted your view 450 years ago in his commentary on James (and elsewhere). It is both sad and amusing that you want to claim newness when your erroneous view is very old. Do you really expect me or anyone else for that matter to buy the suggestion that the Holy Spirit was the agent that lead to the rehash of this tired old view? Not everyone is so ignorant of church history that he will swallow your assertion that this is new. If this had really come from the Holy Spirit, don't you think He would have clued you into the fact that it's not new? You might want to reconsider asserting the Holy Spirit behind this. He doesn't say something is new when its old. He also doesn't lead anyone into new (meaning different and not previously known) ways of understanding anything. He leads people into Truth, reread my first comment There is only one way. Jesus is the way. You want a new way? OK, but I will stick to the way, I'm going to stick with Christ and his righteousness, He won't fail me.
You want a new way? OK, but please head the warning from I Peter 2:1,2.

But there were false prophets also among the people, even as there shall be false teachers among you, who privily shall bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction. And many shall follow their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth shall be evil spoken of.

5) What you fail to realize is that reformed Christianity is just plain Christianity. Go ahead, follow your ears, obviously, by your admission in saying “...develop fresh new ways to understand His word...”, itching for something new, but do so at your own peril:

For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears; And they shall turn away their ears from the truth, and shall be turned unto fables. II Tim 4:3,4

If want to follow the teachers you have heaped to yourself, well, OK. If you want to believe their fables and trust in yourself that you are righteous, that's your choice, it just doesn't lead to eternal life.

Trust in Christ and him alone. He can save.