Yes, I have had another comment problem. The "History Lesson" post seems to be broken, and I have no idea how to fix it. But, I was able to retrive this comment.
"What book would you recommend to study more about this area of church history? In addition, do you know if the Mercersburg Theology was at all related to the Oxford Movement in the Anglican Church? Scaff and Nevin seem to have had similar ideas to Newman and Pusey."
I am not sure if I could recommend just one book. I am of the mind that primary sources are always your best bet. So, if I were to choose one book I would recommend James I Good's "History of the Reformed Church in the United States in the 19th Century." Of course, like all good books, this one out of print. But you are in luck. The RCUS has put this book along with many others on a CD Rom as an e-book. Just call this number 605-347-5666 and ask for the James I Good Collection on CD Rom. I believe they still have this.
As for how they relate to the Anglican movement I am unsure. I have not read enough. It can be said that Pusey comes up quite a bit in the writings of Schaff, he personal does not see himself as related, but others did charge him with Puseyism. I am afraid, I do not know enough to decide who is right and who is wrong.
I do apologize for not getting this answered earlier.
Saturday, January 29, 2005
Yes, I have had another comment problem. The "History Lesson" post seems to be broken, and I have no idea how to fix it. But, I was able to retrive this comment.
If I may take a moment to speak politically for a few moments. Sunday is the scheduled election in Iraq. We should all be praying for a safe election for the people of Iraq, and pray for a stable future for the country.
That being said, let us not get too caught up in the moment. President Bush would have us think that freedom is on the march. But let us not confuse democracy and freedom. As the movie Patriot states, "Why would I trade one tyrant 3,000 miles away for the 3,000 tyrants 1 mile away?" Democracy is not a synonym for freedom. One brief look at America should tell you that fact. There are many ‘freedoms’ that we do not enjoy. The government requires we pay into their retirement program, the government requires that no religion, or more specifically Christianity, be taught in government schools. They limit how I give my money to political candidates, they tell us what a ‘hate’ crime is and what it is not. Other countries that have constitutions and democracy like Canada and France are even better examples. Canada has banned ‘hate speech’ or any speaking out against homosexuality. France has banned religious symbols worn by children at schools. No crosses, no stars of David, no head dresses, nothing. All in the name of democracy, constitutions and freedom.
True freedom is not brought with the sword or even the Abrams Tank or the Apache helicopter. It is brought only through the gospel of Jesus Christ. Without the truth of Jesus, Iraq will be in the same state it was prior to the war. Enslaved to sin, with rulers enslaved to sin, in a culture that loves only sin. Sure, it will be better politically, and it is always good to have madmen removed from power, but it is not the same as freedom.
So let us pray and watch the elections in Iraq, but remember that the true battle for freedom is not over. The spiritual battle is being fought by the church, by our Christian brothers and sisters who proclaim the truth of Jesus Christ in Iraq. True freedom can only be brought by preaching, by witnessing, and by the power of God.
Tuesday, January 25, 2005
The next thing that needs to be examined in the Federal Vision controversy is the idea of Historical and Theological development. I believe that this belief serves as the underpinning for the entire system. To show this a little history lesson is in order.
Historical Development (which includes the idea of theology developing) was popularized by Philip Schaff, a professor of Church History in Mercersburg Theological Seminary in the mid-1800’s. He came to America from Germany where he partook of the theology of Hegel. Schaff, while verbally denouncing Hegel, used Hegel’s idea of Synthesis to make a model of church history. For Schaff history unfolded as a series of conflicts between a thesis and an antithesis, which formed a synthesis, which in turn fought with a new antithesis forming a new synthesis, and so on and so forth. The process did stop at some point, but until then theology changed as the process moved on. Schaff preferred the term develop or grow to change, but you get the idea.
Schaff and his friend and fellow professor at Mercersburg, John Nevin, promoted this idea through their teachings and writings. Schaff’s first speech was entitled the Principle of Protestantism where he unfolded these ideas. The RCUS brought him up on charges, but failed to convict him. Schaff continued with a book, What is Church History, and Nevin wrote one called, Antichrist the Spirit of Schism, in addition to several articles. Here they taught that the Reformation was the budding of the Middle Ages, and that what was needed now was a reunion of Rome and Geneva. A church with the doctrine of justification by faith, but with the sacramental teachings of Rome. This was the next and final synthesis for Schaff and Nevin.
It should not surprise us then to know that after the battles concerning history subsided with a Schaff victory, the next step in Mercersburg Theology was the sacraments. Nevin and Schaff went on with those who followed them to teach a Roman view of the sacraments, reform worship to make it follow a liturgy and look much more Roman, as well as redefine views on the incarnation, salvation including justification, and the church. Again, it all flowed from this first principle of Historical Development. Of course this story ends with the heirs of Schaff and Nevin merging the RCUS with a Lutheran denomination, and eventually with some congregational churches to form the United Churches of Christ, an extremely liberal church.
How does this tie into the Federal Vision? Well, the two groups are strikingly similar. The views on the incarnation, sacraments and salvation are almost the same, and worship in many of these churches tends toward the high liturgy that Schaff and Nevin would have applauded. So, it should not surprise us that we see a shared view of Historical development. When we read Doug Wilson’s book "Reformed" is Not Enough: Recovering the Objectivity of the Covenant we should understand that what Wilson means is that we need to find that synthesis between the subjective doctrines of the Protestant church and the objective things in the Roman church such as their sacramentalism. It should also not surprise us that we find some in this camp who actively seek an audience with Roman Catholicism to work toward union, such as those on the Reformed Catholicism blog. After all, Schaff himself said the end purpose of historical development is Christian union.
Friday, January 21, 2005
Federal Vision Theology. Is there such a thing? If so, what does it teach? Many militate against the idea that there is such a theology. Others do not want to be lumped into a category at all much less this one. It must be admitted that there are a wide variety of views held by those who have been labeled as Federal Vision proponents. Yet, I do not think that is excludes the idea of a Federal Vision Theology. Allow me to outline what I believe are some major pillars of Federal Vision Theology.
1. Justification and salvation are no longer "by Christ" rather they are done "in Christ." This is a subtle but huge difference in the two approaches. The first is forensic, forever, and final. The second is best described as Participationist. It can be forensic, but should not be limited to it. It is possible that it is forever, but it is assured. It is not final until death, but it has a final stage. The Federal Vision men seem to all have a place for falling out of Christ or apostasy. The claims are made that one can truly be "in Christ" and then fall out of Christ. A difference from the "by Christ" traditional view.
2. Sacramentalism. The Federal Vision proponents unite behind an intrinsic grace or objective grace that is given in the sacraments. Baptism becomes our way into Christ. The Lord’s Supper becomes grace we eat, Christ brought to us. This change in the traditional reformed approach often leads to weekly communion and infant communion.
3. Doctrinal development. The vast majority of the Federal Vision men are committed to the idea that doctrine develops. I will let Andrew Sandlin say what this means.
Another perspective from which to view RefC comprises what we might call the contemporary school. John Armstrong, Steve Schlissel and I (others too) are convinced that the semper reformanda principle demands a critically sympathetic assessment and implementation of contemporary (20th and 21st century) theology. (I suspect that Jim Jordan and Peter Leithart often spin in this orbit.) We are confident not only that profound theological insights are around today (e. g., John Frame, Don Garlington, Cornelius Van Til, N. T. Wright) but also, moreover, that those insights need not be mere appropriations of the 15th and 16th centuries. In other words, we believe in substantive, and not merely amendary, theological development.
This is a crucial and critical idea. They believe that doctrine develops, or in other words, the Reformation, the apostles, the apostolic fathers were wrong, and in another century so too will this generation. Notice Sandlin says "demands a critically sympathetic assessment". The church must read new ideas with a sympathetic eye, and a view to implement them. The church must substantially develop new doctrinal positions. It is what their theology demands. Thus one can notice several other idea that permeate the majority of Federal Vision men and churches. The vast majority are theonomic, the Regulative Principle of Worship is often being replaced by the Informed Principle of Worship or at least a higher liturgy, the New Perspectives on Paul are often held, Biblical Theology is favored if not outright replacing Systematic Theology, creeds are held loosely or not at all, and the next round of development will also be implemented according to their own words.
This is what I believe helps define the Federal Vision. All aspects including the doctrinal development aspect needs to be addressed by churches. If not then the crisis will not be resolved and the discussion will not yield the desired fruit.
Wednesday, January 19, 2005
Matt has a great discussion going between himself and an atheist named Darksyde. And it all started with Martin Luther King Jr., and his dream. I suggest you check it out.
And as long as I have a quick post, I want to remind everyone about that January is the anniversary of Roe v Wade. Today we may believe the climate is changing and I pray it is, but in the end Late Term abortions are still legal. This is the sort of abortions that Pharaoh wanted during the time of Moses in Exodus 1. And sadly the Supreme Court has become a place of party politics and agendas. This month I suggest everyone write your Congressman and Senator. Also write your State Representatives, after all Constitutionally this is a state issue. More importantly, pray. This is a national sin, and we should all be on our knees. It is God who heals and forgives, not any form of government.
The problem of definitions and agreement is perhaps the biggest problem in any debate. It is no different in the current Federal Vision debate. In fact, many will get upset by the name Federal Vision Theology. They claim there is no such thing. They claim that Reformed Catholicism is not a movement, but simply the name of a blog (please note the blog refers to itself as a movement). No one likes the name, but you have to call it something. But, maybe that is the whole point, once they admit they are something else, that is not the traditional (and I believe biblical), they have given away the farm.
This debate about definitions goes far beyond what to call the movement. Do Federal Vision men believe in Justification by Faith alone? Yes, they all say so, but then again, no for they fight for conditions of repentance and obedience on the covenant of grace. Do they believe in forensic justification? Yes, they say they do. But then again, there is an initial justification, and a final justification and final salvation. Do they believe in a process of justification? No, they will tell you as much. But then there is that initial and final part that sure makes it sound like a process.
One could list the examples forever. This is simply part of the process of debate, I believe. The Remonstrants debated for several years before they were pinned down, as were the Nestorians, the Arians, and even the Protestants if you want to look at it that way. Every other group you could imagine has the same process of taking time to settle into terminology and definitions.
Thus, after I finish the next post on Shepherd, who I still believe has minimal influence over the current debate, we will begin to examine the theology of the Federal Vision and compare it with the Reformed Confessions. It is important to remember that you cannot take one piece of the puzzle like Justification, and hope to score a victory for they will not be pinned down. This was part of the mistake that Westminster Seminary made when they first examined Shepherd, they did not want to look at his other views. It is looking at the whole of one’s theology that nails one down to a position. It takes looking at the sacraments, Christ, covenants, worship, and justification (just to name a few) to understand the implications and definitions of one’s theology.
Does Norman Shepherd find a place in the Puritan theology? I confess that this is the one Rev. Shepherd seems to believe teaches his position. He did, after all, teach in this strand of Puritan-Presbyterianism and always maintained that he adhered to the Westminster Confession of Faith. As can be seen in many who believe similar things to that of Rev. Shepherd, quotes from the Westminster Confession are many. Yet, it is still difficult to argue that he does truly adhere to the Westminster and the Puritan brand of theology.
William Ames seems to disagree with the distinctive of Shepherd in his Marrow of Theology. Ames specifically states, yet without naming it, the Covenant of Works in section 10 paragraph 32. Man was governed by a covenant that stated ‘Do this and you will live, if you do it not you shall die.’ He then proceeds to elaborate on how man broke this covenant, and then into the process of redemption. He does specifically refer to a Covenant of Grace.
Ames appears to have a different understanding of justification than Shepherd as well. Ames clearly argues that justification is "completed in a moment and in only one act." It is also a "gracious judgment of God" and the "pronouncing of a sentence" and a "judicial" change. Yet section 27 paragraph 8 seems to be pointed toward today’s controversies.
Therefore, Thomas [Aquinas presumably] and his followers are completely mistaken for they would make justification a kind of physical motion from the state of unrighteousness to that of righteousness in a real transmutation. They consider that it begins with sin, ends in inherent righteousness, with remission of sin and infusion of righteousness the motion between.
Ames continues to explain "the righteousness of Christ is imputed to believers in justification." Ames deals with good works in a completely separate section Book II of the above mentioned title. Here he declares that good works in this life are all "imperfect and impure." He goes on to state, "The works of the regenerate do not have any merit worthy of a reward obtained on the basis of justice." This includes for Ames the judgment on the last day. Our reward there is merely of grace, and not viewed as a final justification.
It should be noted that Ames was widely read, and his book was the only theology text book for the first several years of Harvard’s existence. It is safe to say, Ames had a large impact on the Puritan theology, especially in America.
Robert Trail said in a book entitled Vindication of the Protestant Doctrine Concerning Justification:
All great fundamentals of Christian truth, . . . centre in this of justifcation of a sinner by the imputation and application of that satisfaction.
Trail saw justification by works as the natural religion of the world and threat to the Protestant doctrine of justification. Yet, they claimed that faith was never alone, a line from the Westminster Confession of Faith. Faith produced the works of repentance and obedience. They came after faith. Faith produced them. This is how quotes from the Westminster and John Owen given by Rev. Horne should be understood. Of course they say repentance is unto life, but it comes out of faith, not along side of it and independent of it. Shepherd often confuses the two at best. It does appear clear that the Puritans believed in justification in faith alone. While they adhered to works being the fruit of the faith, they kept a wall between works and justification. Some other quotes may be of assistance.
"Faith justifies the person, works justify the faith." – Elisha Coles
"We are not justified by doing good works, but being justified we then do good." – William Jenkyn
"As the apple is not the cause of the apple tree, but the fruit of it: even so good works are not the cause of our salvation, but a sign and fruit of the same." – Daniel Cawdray
"There is, indeed, mention made of a mercy-seat in the temple, but there was never heard of any school of merit but in the chapel of the Antichrist." – John Trapp
Not even a mention of justification at the last day or meriting eternal life in the mainline Puritans. The idea of justification as a process or participationism also does not appear to be a teaching of the Puritans. I am sure that there are many out there who are more qualified to defend the Westminster Confession, so I will leave the Puritans for now.
Monday, January 17, 2005
Please forgive me for interrupting the series on the Auburn Avenue controversy, but sometimes something makes you so mad that you have to vent. And since my wife wants me to let her go back to sleep, here I am.
Beyond the Da Vinci Code was a show on the History Channel tonight. It was supposedly checking into the historicity or plausibility of the teachings popularized by Dan Brown in his book, the Da Vinci Code. For those of you lucky enough to have never read the Da Vinci Code, the book claims that the Holy Grail is Mary Magdalene who was the wife of Jesus. Of course, I suspected the show was not going to be completely fair, but it surpassed even my imagination.
Not a single Christian believer was interviewed during this whole show. Those who were supposedly against Dan Brown’s version of events, never argued that Dan Brown was wrong, or that Gnostic Gospels are heresy, or wrong. No, these people only argued that Dan Brown lacked solid proof. An understatement by the way. It was apparent that no one believed that Jesus was God, but instead, only a man. No one seemed to have a problem with the Gnostic claims of the Gospel of Philip. The claim was made that these 2nd century documents predated the Biblical gospels. The claim is made that Eusebius is the only history we have of the early church, and that he was a pawn of Constantine, who is the main villain in Dan Brown’s novel. The only decent part of this mind numbing bias that passed for television is when an art critic thoroughly debunked Dan Brown's theories about Da Vinci's paintings. Yet, that did not stop the show, or the outlandish claims to Dan Brown being correct. While, this show occassionally offered the possibility that Dan Brown was wrong about documented events such as the end of the Templar Knights, the proceedings of council of Nicaea, and the systematic burning of false gospels, they made sure always to come back and propose a loop hole in the established history that is beyond question. The Bible was thrown out for the Gnostic gospels and Egyptian legends and a few stories about the Merovengians in France.
This show by the way is only a month or so removed from a Discovery Channel production of The Wrath of God or Man a wild claim that the story of the 10 plagues and the death of the Pharaoh’s son can now be proven false by archeology. I must say my eyes are open now to an all out assault on Christianity. We should probably prepare for more of these outlandish, biased attacks. It appears that the liberal elite are indeed scared. They are pouring all of their energy into discrediting the Lord of the Universe. May God have mercy on their souls.
Thursday, January 13, 2005
The buzz about the 2005 Auburn Ave Pastors Conference is in. It seems apparent from my reading of the many bloggers who participated that the conference was a great success. Around 500 people attended the conference to hear Bishop N.T. Wright and Dr. Richard Gaffin speak on the theology of Paul. Apparently some small differences between the two men exist, but all was handled in a polite and courteous way. As a side note, I am not sure if I have ever seen so many pastors write about what a magnificent speaking ability Bishop Wright has been given before in my life. It must be concluded that Bishop Wright truly must be a wonderful orator. The conference concluded with a standing ovation for the two men.
The lecture by lecture notes are appearing on the web. The general flow of the conference can be found in them, if you do not want to purchase the audio version. Let the discerning reader decide for himself the teaching of these men.
It should be noted that Rev. Norman Shepherd preached in the Auburn Ave pulpit the Sunday prior to the conference, and he stayed in attendance the whole time, as did the previous four speakers.
Now allow me to ‘rant’ for a moment. The AAPC has started a whirlwind of trouble in the Reformed churches. Trials have occurred, accusations are thrown about, and it cannot be denied that it started in earnest with the 2002 AAPC. Since then the men adhering to the New Perspectives on Paul and the Federal Vision have been quite sensitive to any sort of condemning speech from their opponents. The affectionately refer to the word ‘heresy’ as the ‘H-bomb’ and constantly denounce the idea of their views being outside the pale of orthodoxy. Usually they admit that the traditional views are also inside the pale. Indeed, Reformed Catholicity argues many people are inside the pale of orthodoxy. After reading the posts from those who attended, I am beginning to see that sort of ‘peace-talk’ disappear. They are becoming a community within a community, and a community longing to lash out, if you ask me. Take a few examples if you will. Dr. James Jordan apparently wore a John Robbins nametag. John Robbins of course is no friend to the movement. This sort of mocking is always a first step, and a sure sign of a growing identity that does not include those outside of the Federal Vision. So much for everyone in the pale of orthodoxy. Doug Wilson openly states that he believes people will not be careful with the words of those at the conference, and that a new sort of Salem Witch Hunt is on. Tim Gallant seems to argue that Guy Waters, in his new book, butchers the view of those he critiques. Others show their low view of J. Ligon Duncan III, who has argued against the NPP. The ‘can’t we all just get along’ rhetoric is over.
I for one am glad for it to be gone. The views appear to be diametrically opposed to one another. The Protestants and Romanists anathematized each other over the doctrine of justification, and now a new doctrine has arisen. Can any change in the Protestant position be peacefully lived with? No. No it cannot. Historically, it never has been. The complete re-working of theology that the Federal Vision is, cannot stand together with the Traditional Reformed views. They are not able to share the same space, the same denominations. Not that we have to be rude to one another, but we should at least be honest about doctrine and unity with one another. The talk of large pails and peaceful unity at any cost is a dangerous one. The people who always take the denomination to liberalism or corruption are not the true liberals. They never win on their own. The people who take denominations down are those who want peace above all else. Those who prolong the stalemate, who put off the fight, end up giving victory to the innovators, the liberals. I submit to you Charles Erdman of Princeton Seminary. A self proclaimed Old School man, who just wanted unity. He helped take apart Princeton Seminary, and he was the moderator who forever gave control of the General Assembly to the true liberals. He opposed them theologically, but he wanted that giant pale of orthodoxy that can never truly be. Maybe now the debate can be joined in earnest.
Wednesday, January 12, 2005
Does Norman Shepherd have a place in German Reformed theology? I would answer no. I readily admit I do not have access to all of the great German leaders, mainly Martin Bucer (if anyone wants to donate some, I am always ready to accept), but I believe one can still conclude that Shepherd is out of place in German reformed theological history. It should be noted that Rev. Horne did not quote from the works of the German leaders such as the Heidelberg Catechism, and that the Reformed Church in the United States, the only German reformed church in America, is one of the leading opponents of Shepherd’s theology.
The Heidelberg Catechism goes out of its way to exclude works from any part of salvation, justification, or righteousness before God. Let us just quote the most germane questions.
Q60: How are you righteous before God?
A60: Only by true faith in Jesus Christ: that is, although my conscience accuses me, that I have grievously sinned against all the commandments of God, and have never kept any of them, and am still prone always to all evil; yet God, without any merit of mine, of mere grace, grants and imputes to me the perfect satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ, as if I had never committed nor had any sins, and had myself accomplished all the obedience which Christ has fulfilled for me; if only I accept such benefit with a believing heart.
Q61: Why do you say that you are righteous by faith only?
A61: Not that I am acceptable to God on account of the worthiness of my faith, but because only the satisfaction, righteousness and holiness of Christ is my righteousness before God; and I can receive the same and make it my own in no other way than by faith only.
Q62: But why cannot our good works be the whole or part of our righteousness before God?
A62: Because the righteousness which can stand before the judgment seat of God must be perfect throughout and entirely conformable to the divine law, but even our best works in this life are all imperfect and defiled with sin.
Q63: Do our good works merit nothing, even though it is God's will to reward them in this life and in that which is to come?
A63: The reward comes not of merit, but of grace.
Here we can see Casper Oleianus and Zacharias Ursinus reject the idea of works having any merit or necessity for eternal life. Even the rewarding of our works on the last day is of grace, and thus the answer of question 63 is ‘Yes, our works merit nothing.’ If that were not enough to show that Ursinus did not agree with the teaching of Norman Shepherd regarding works as necessary for a continuing state of justification between the initial justification (which Shepherd seems to admit is of faith alone), and the final judgment and life eternal, he refutes it in his commentary as well.
Eternal life is not given on account of our works, whether present, or forseen; but only out of the free mercy, and love of God toward the human race, and from his desire to manifest his mercy in the salvation of the righteous, through the satisfaction and merits of Christ the mediator, imputed unto us through faith, for this end, that God may be eternally praised by us. (pg. 322)
Ursinus goes on when he comments on the questions listed above to deny that even faith is a work, which Horne hints he will show later. Ursinus points out that we are justified ‘by faith’ and never ‘on account of faith’. He actively defends the idea of faith only and claims that the idea of justification partly by faith and partly by works is a Romish invention. He even directly states that the idea of eternal life (not justification, but eternal life as Shepherd seems to indicate) being the reward of works is the doctrine of Rome according to Ursinus. His commentary on the subject is rather good.
As for the Covenant of Works, it is not mentioned specifically by the Catechism. Yet its existence seems understood. Question 4 states God requires man to love the Lord with his whole heart and his neighbor as himself, a summary of the law. It goes on to explain we cannot keep it. Question 60 makes explicit again that we fail to keep the law, and adds that Christ kept it for us, and that Christ’s obedience is imputed to us as if it were our own. This seems show that the idea of two covenants is in place. The names do not appear, but the theory is there.
Oleianus also appears to be one of the original fountain heads of Covenant Theology. He was the author a book on Covenant Theology, that again I do not have. Yet, it can easily be assumed that he agreed with the Heidelberg Catechism in its final form. He did after all subscribe to it, and co-author it.
The German Tradition seems to exclude Norman Shepherd from consideration as a legitimate strand of Reformed Theology. In later posts we will show the links to German Theology of the Federal Vision and New Perspectives, but calling it German Reformed Theology seems to be contrary to the Heidelberg Catechism.
Sunday, January 09, 2005
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.
Saturday, January 08, 2005
My apologies to all who may have tried commenting. I am still fairly new at this stuff. Apparently only Registered Users or some such non-sense were allowed to post comments. That problem has been rectified. If there are any other problems, let me know. Thanks for reading the blog!
Perhaps before we discuss the details we should look at the time line of the recent controversy. There was a controversy back when Norman Shepherd taught at Westminster, but that had long since been forgotten. This new round of controversy appears to have a broader scope, and involves a larger cast of characters. Of course the New Perspectives on Paul, a biblical theology movement, also has roots that go back to the 70’s. We will get to the NPP, but this timeline will only cover the recent events. I do apologize that I do not have the exact dates for all the events.
2000 – Norman Shepherd publishes his book Call of Grace.
June 2002 – Auburn Ave. Presbyterian Church held its Pastor’s Conference. The speakers were Doug Wilson, Steve Wilkins, Steve Schlissel, and John Barach. Apparently Norman Shepherd was scheduled, but was unable to make it.
June 22, 2002 – The Covenant Presbytery of the Reformed Presbyterian Church in the United States sent out resolutions condemning the teaching of these four men at the conference. It should be noted that none of the pastors who were speaking are members of this denomination.
July 2002 – The church of all four of these pastors respond with a denial of the label ‘heresy’ to the teachings of their pastors. They also all complain of not being contacted first by the Covenant Presbytery.
July 17, 2002 – Andrew Sandlin weighs in with a couple of different articles that do not specifically support the ‘Auburn Four’, but do attack the RPCUS Resolutions.
Late 2002 – Doug Wilson takes his view to print with the release of “Reformed” is Not Enough: Recovering the Objectivity of the Covenant. This book generated a great deal of controversy.
March 2002 - July 2003 - Elder John O. Kinnaird placed on trial for teaching the New Perspectives on Paul. This former moderator of the OPC General Assemble faced a trial, and the original guilty verdict was over turned by the GA, if I am not mistaken, John Robbins covers this topic.
2003 – Auburn Ave. had another Pastor’s Conference with the same speakers. This time they also included a group of speakers who were against the Federal Vision as it was now being called. These speakers included Joseph Pipa, Morton Smith, Carl Robbins, and R.C. Sproul Jr.
April 28, 2003 – “Christian Renewal” Magazine ran an interview with the four speakers of the Auburn Conferences. Later the same magazine would run an interview with others who opposed the new Federal Vision.
2003 – J. Ligon Duncan and Douglas Kelly weigh in against the New Perspectives on Paul. The PCA discussion board carries an open debate concerning the New Perspectives on Paul. The debate was by no means one sided as the depth of the division in the PCA is revealed.
2003 – Canon Press publishes Peter Leithart’s Against Christianity.
2004 – The Trinity Foundation publishes a response to Doug Wilson’s book. This book authored by John Robbins and Sean Gerety called, Not Reformed At All opens a new round of vitriolic debates.
May 2004 – The Reformed Church in the United States unanimously votes to pass a statement condemning the teachings of Norman Shepherd.
2004 - Federal Vision, a book of articles edited by Steve Wilkins, enters circulation. The book includes not only the original four speakers, but has articles from James Jordan, Peter Leithart, Rich Lusk, and Mark Horne.
2004 – Also sees the publication of a symposium held at Knox Theological Seminary, Federal Vision: Pros and Cons. This book has 7 pro articles and 7 con articles over the Federal Vision.
Late 2004 – A book comes out critiquing the New Perspectives on Paul. This book was backed by J. Ligon Duncan.
January 2005 – N.T. Wright and Richard Gaffin speak at the Auburn Ave. Pastors Conference.
Which brings us up to date. So now we shall go through and examine the aspects of this debate. It should be fun, entertaining, and educational for us all.
By the way, if anyone has specific dates or more that should be added, let me know. I will add them into the timeline.
Wednesday, January 05, 2005
The Auburn Ave Conference took place this past weekend. It will be interesting to get ‘the buzz’ in the upcoming days. This conference really helped bring out the controversy over Justification in the past several years. Pastor Wilkins and the Conference boldly go forward this year with, from all accounts, a record setting attendance for speakers Bishop N.T. Wright and Richard Gaffin. Wright is of course famous for his work in what is called the New Perspectives on Paul, and Gaffin was a vocal supporter of Norman Shepherd during his teaching stint at Westminster Seminary.
I look forward to hearing the results of this conference and posting some thoughts on the whole thing over the next few days, but let me start with one that seems so obvious that it is over looked. Rev. Wilkins, his associate pastor Rev. Lusk and really the majority of the Louisiana Presbytery are actively promoting a different doctrine concerning many things in the PCA. Regardless for now of who one thinks is right, it has to be admitted that it is a different approach, a different doctrine. The opposition of Dr. Pipa, Dr. Smith, and many others in the PCA can attest this fact. Yet, not a peep about discipline can be found. This Presbytery is in active opposition to a large group, I would venture a majority, in the PCA, yet no one seems to desire to put an end to it. Yes, there have been debates and discussions, but no real talk of shutting down the annual conference, or asking them to avoid certain themes.
The PCA is now in a situation where the Mississippi Valley Presbytery helps publish a book that specifically attacks and condemns the teachings of N.T. Wright, who the Louisiana Presbytery supports and brings to teach. As a former member I hate to say this, but the PCA appears to be in some shambles. They have trouble bringing about discipline and agreeing major matters. Before this controversy erupted in the ranks, the Presbyterian Pastors Leadership Network had seemingly taken over. They weakened subscription, made it harder for other presbyteries to ask the General Assembly to step in to discipline wayward presbyteries, and now this. It has to be said that unity among the PCA is gone. You could go to a PCA church in the South, for example, and hear Puritan style preaching and worship, go to another PCA church in Colorado Springs and get a mix of contemporary worship styles and music or even a completely “seeker sensitive” church. You could find churches that follow the Westminster strictly, others that barely follow it at all, and some who want to redefine it. It just seems a shame to me that this denomination struggles so with unity and appears no closer to finding it now than 30 years ago when they started.
I will be posting the next few days on the controversy that has arisen in the Reformed Camp over Justification and the Covenant. I hope that it spurs some comments and discussion.
I will be trying to cover all the aspects of the controversy, but I will not be discussing Norman Shepherd. There are three reasons why.
1. I have not read Norman Shepherd.
2. His views are covered fully by the RCUS position paper. Also the history of the controversy is well discussed in The Current Justification Controversy by O. Palmer Robertson.
3. I do not believe that he is the primary motivator in this new controversy. I am sure that some of his former students are on his side, and that his book has influenced some, but over all I believe that the other big names are the ones that have more impact, and Shepherd has little to do with them. He is seldom quoted in their books and articles, and some of them get offended when you refer to them as Shepherdites.
So, I have no real inclination to discuss Rev. Shepherd, since I believe his role in the controversy is minimal.
Let the discussion begin!
Tuesday, January 04, 2005
Rowan Williams, the Arch Bishop of Canterbury has spoken out again. I know that I should be charitable to others, but this guy scares me. The article begins with this statement.
The Asian tsunami disaster should make all Christians question the existence of God, Dr Rowan Williams, the Archbishop of Canterbury, writes in The Telegraph today
He also speaks of the “random, accidental death” of those in the Tsunami Disaster. This man is the head of the Anglican Church. I will be honest and admit that I openly worry about the health of the Church of England. This is the same leader who has taken a rather weak stand on the openly gay bishop elected in America. He has supported a new ‘sinner friendly’ bible translation and wants the Gospel of Thomas included in the Bible. Now he has done it again. A complete denial of God’s sovereign control. He offers no help, no comfort. Instead, he tries to rip away the only source of comfort in such an event. I have to wonder, how did this man ascend to the highest post in the Anglican Church? How can those faithful branches of the Anglican community, not only the churches here in America, but in Africa especially and elsewhere, remain united under this man’s leadership?
It saddens one to think that there are Christians out there who would turn to the Arch Bishop for guidance, and this is what he gives them. ‘It is okay to doubt God, and wonder why God exists.’ The great and glorious history of this church suffers a black eye under Dr. Williams. Somewhere Thomas Cramner is rolling over in his grave.
R.C. Sproul Jr., sometimes makes me laugh. He actually has a blog about why blogging is not so good. Actually, it is a nice post about how we should not think too much of ourselves, and it is a reminder to go play with your kids. Yet, the irony was just too much to pass by. Sort of like the irony of having an agrarian mindset that teaches us to think locally, buy locally, and play locally, yet get frequent flyer miles for all of the lecturing, and have a web site and a magazine that reaches far more than just locals.
Monday, January 03, 2005
Yes, finally! My blog now has some links. I do hope that you will check them out. It should be noted that inclusion on my Blog Roll in no way is an endorsement of anything on their page. It simply means that I read their blog regularly. The Links category, however, is reserved for things I use, and endorse. These are not blogs, but web pages. I do hope that all enjoy. I will be adding to these from time to time, so keep checking the links for new places to go.
Saturday, January 01, 2005
I am amazed at how accepted pictures of our Lord are today. Jeff Meyers links to a report that decides pictures of Christ are okay. It in effect decides all pictures are okay as long as they are not worshipped, but that is another matter. Here is a portion:
Another argument against portraiture of Christ is based on the idea that all such representations of Christ are necessarily limited to depicting His human nature, failing to do justice to the fact that the Second Person of the Trinity has both a human and a divine nature. But surely this line of reasoning fails to recognize the teaching of Scripture that God appeared in human form when He walked the earth, and that is what the people of Jesus's day saw--a man. Moreover, God was pleased to reveal to Peter and others that this man who lived among them was the Messiah, the Son of God--divine as well as human (Matt. 16:17). And so the apostle John testifies: "We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son" (John 1:14), and again, Jesus said, "Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father" (John 14:9).
I find this paragraph an astonishment. This paragraph is a defense of pictures? It is not even really historically accurate. First, most defenders of pictures admit they depict only the human nature. Even John of Damascus admitted that much. Second, it is the fact that the person of Jesus Christ is both divine (which is not to be pictured) and human that is the problem. Any picture of the person is a picture of divinity. Jesus was God and man. The verses quoted show exactly why it is so troubling to picture Christ as a man. “For anyone who has seen me has seen the Father.” Can that be captured in a picture? No, never.
Basically you either have to admit that the divine nature can be pictured without violation of God’s law, or you have to say the natures can be separated and only the human nature is in the pictures. The former way opens the door to allowing pictures of the Holy Spirit and the Father since the divine nature can be pictured (few are willing to go there), and the latter destroys the formula of Chalcedon and makes one a Nestorian. Either way it is wrong.