Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry

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Clark, R. Scott. ed. Covenant, Justification, and Pastoral Ministry: Essays by the Faculty of Westminster Seminary California. Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2007.

This is an early foray into the Federal Vision controversy.  The book’s value, however, extends far beyond rebutting Federal Vision errors.  It explores parallels between “a faith formed by love” (Rome) and FV’s rejection of law/gospel, covenant of works, and imputation of active obedience.

How we Got Here

R. Scott Clark explores the history of evangelicalism and puts the spotlight on the fact that American Reformed Christians thought of themselves as evangelical first, confessional second, conservative most of all.  This led to a loss of key Reformation categories.

Where Are We: Justification Under Fire

David VanDrunen explores recent ecumenical documents on justification.  He reminds us, contrary to all these documents, that “faith is the instrument by which we are justified.”  Love is a fruit flowing out of this justification.  By contrast, the Joint Declaration says justification is that which gives faith (loc. 544). Furthermore, while the Roman Catholic doctrine of progressive sanctification sounds Reformed at times, it is always placed within the context of justification.

Norman Shepherd: He will sometimes use innocent-sounding phrases like “living faith.”  The question then becomes, “Are we justified by an obedient faith?”  Indeed, in “The Grace of Justification” (Shepherd 15) “faith is the fruit of the regenerating and sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit.”

It’s not enough for Reformed revisionists to say, “But faith is never a faith that is alone.”  That’s not the point.   Just because faith is never temporally apart from works, it does not follow that faith is the fount of good works causally (Van Drunen loc. 895n).

Covenant Nomism and the Exile

Rich Lusk: “The initial clothing in white is received by faith alone.  This is the beginning of Joshua’s justification.  But if Joshua is to remain justified–that is, if the garments he has received are not to become re-soiled with his iniquity–he must be faithful.  Thus initial justification is by faith alone; subsequent justifications include obedience” (Lusk, “Future Justification to the Doers of the Law,” accessed at Hornes.org).

The above might be the worst thing a Federal Visionist can say.  I know, it is tempting to say that any random quote by Wilson would be the worst thing–and there is some truth to that idea, but unlike Wilson, Lusk is able to communicate in clear sentences.  Federal Visionists cannot say, “Oh, but you misunderstand.”  No, not really. We misunderstand Wilson, to be sure, because everything he says is “yes and no” (contra 2 Cor. 1:20).  Lusk is quite clear: in by grace, stay in by works.

Duguid’s thesis: if we get in by grace and stay in by law, and if the exile is a metaphor for the punishment of sin, then does God have a relationship with his people when they are in exile” (loc.1037)?  If we get in by grace and stay in by works, then why does God renew his covenant with a sinful people who already had broken it?

The Covenant of Works in Moses and Paul by Bryan Estelle

Estelle begins on a strong note by rebutting Rich Lusk’s reading of Aquinas. Lusk said Aquinas maintained that strict justice can only exist among equals.  That’s true.  That’s also not the only thing Aquinas said: man can only merit (here for the sake of argument) based on God’s previous divine ordination (ST I-II 30.203).

Do This and Live: Christ’s Active Obedience as the Ground of Justification by R. Scott Clark

The Reformed have linked the imputation of Christ’s active obedience under his priesthood.  As a result, those who reject this shortchange “Christ’s work for us in favor of his work in us” (Clark loc. 3524).  Then comes a subtle shift: the ground of my justification is not outside me, it is inside me.

When Jordan replaces “merit” with “maturity,” he seems to see our problem as ontological, not legal.  Adam needed more being.  This is hard to square with the claim that he was created “in righteousness and true holiness.”

Legal fiction: imputation isn’t a legal fiction.  God’s “speech-acts are creative, constitutive, and nominative” (3886).  In any case, the charge from Romanists is odd since they do the same thing with the merits of the saints.

Faith formed by Love or Faith Alone? By Robert Godfrey

Thesis: the medieval church taught that faith, “in its essence, was simply or implicitly a mental category or habit to which the believer must assent, fides informis” (Godfrey 4026; see passages in Thomas II-II Q.41).  Charity, therefore, brings the act of faith to its form (Thomas).   Therefore, the unformed faith perfects the intellect as formed faith perfects the will.  At this point, he is capable of doing good works.

And before critics say “faith working by love” (which is not what Thomas was saying, for what it’s worth), the point here is that faith “does not take its power to justify from the working of love” (4123).

Conclusion

There was a point in my life when I was critical of faith alone.  But even then, I never advanced the idea that it leads to antinomianism.  I knew from observing other people that that wasn’t true.  The value in this book isn’t simply a comprehensive refutation of Federal Vision or N.T. Wright. Much has been written since then.  Rather, the book points out where the FV writers (and Wright) are simply ignorant of basic Reformed distinctions.  I speak from experience.  I never joined the FV club (mainly for factional reasons) but I did embrace many tenets.  Quite frankly, I was ignorant.

You are welcome to disagree with the conclusions in this book.  However, you can’t disagree with the Reformed and medieval source as to what the Reformed actually teach.

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