Reflecting on Theonomy After I left it

EDIT AND CORRECTION: Prof Clark linked David Bahnsen’s post where his father, Greg, supported Norman Shepherd.

A few blogs ago, I did a series called “The Theonomy Files.” I have since updated my own thinking more in line with Reformed Scholasticism since I wrote that. Here is the gist of it. Part of this will be a number of problems in theonomy. These aren’t “gotcha” but they are difficulties to which I never saw a satisfactory answer. I do plan on offering more substantial criticisms later.

 Let’s briefly define our terms:   theonomy is the position that all of the old testament laws are binding for the new covenant Christian, unless rescinded by command (or presumably practice), and are to be applied in their new covenant context.  

It is hard to debate with theonomists.   Part of the reason is they respond to every criticism with “Oh, but you are simply an antinomian/statist/relativist.”  

The following points of criticism do not necessary serve as any one  refutation of theonomy.    Taken together, however, the place a burden of epistemological proof upon theonomists that I deem is impossible for them to bear.

  1. Where were you all this time?   Theonomists like to point out that older, medieval Christian societies were theocratic and would be opposed to the secularism of today’s politics.   Yes, they were theocratic, but they were not theonomic.   And to the degree that the early Western medieval church was Augustinian, they were most certainly not theonomic (Oliver O’Donovan’s reading of Augustinian ethics shows how difficult the Augustine = theonomist case really is).  Further, almost ALL of these societies were explicitly monarchist, a position theonomists vehemently reject.  Obviously, you can’t simultaneously say you affirm (King) Alfred the Great’s social ethic while denying the form of Alfred the Great’s politics (and by implication, social ethic).
  2. Bird’s Nests and God’s Law.  Deuteronomy 22:6 tells you what to do when you come across a bird’s nest.   Is that considered civil case law, moral law, or ceremonial law?   While I admit at times the law can be delineated along such lines, more often than not it cannot.  It is not always clear whether a law is civil, moral, or ceremonial.  Or maybe it’s all three.   If it’s all three, and we obey the moral part, do we not also obey the ceremonial part? But isn’t that heresy on the standard reading of the law (by both sides)?
  3. Moses isn’t the same as John Locke.   Similar to (1);  theonomists have a tendency to read 18th century American (and 17th century British) political concepts back into the law of God.  Ultimately, this means they reject Christian Monarchy, but they reject Christian Monarchy along American revolutionary lines.   They conclude their rejection of monarchy (which would entail a rejection of most of Christian historical ethical reasoning–a point theonomists often fail to grasp) by an appeal to 1 Samuel 8.   Presumably, 1 Samuel 8 is binding on all Christians all the time (though 1 Samuel gives no evidence to that claim).   Notwithstanding, theonomists cannot give us a clear answer to the question:  does Torah teach monarchy or theocratic republicanism?  (Read Deuteronomy 17 and Genesis 49).  Further, is 1 Samuel 8 civil law or moral law?  Is it even law? If it isn’t a law, should we be bound by it?

Torah isn’t the Congressional Register

Of course, by Torah we mean after Christ, apart from works of Torah.   I am saying that seeing the “Law” as Torah and not theonomy provides a better model for understanding Scripture.  A quick perusal of the Pentateuch will show that it was not written with late Western modernity in mind.  In fact, seen in our categories, much of it is quite bizarre.

That’s not to deny its importance.  If anything, the strange ways in which Torah is organized should invite the reader to reflect even deeper about reality and the way that God’s world works.  Let’s consider a few and ask how these can possibly work on the theonomic thesis:

  1. While there are covenantal-sequential patterns and typological motifs (riffing off of the days of creation–Ex. 25-40), many of the laws are apparently haphazardly organized together.  This should alert us to the fact that maybe God didn’t intend for these laws to be understood in a post-common law framework.
  2. Torah is also story.  In Paul’s use of Abraham in Romans Torah is not functioning as a list of dos and don’ts, but as story.  How do you put story into a law code?

Women Breaking up fights

Here is another difficulty with theonomy.   Maybe it’s not with theonomy the idea, but it does invite young theonomists to reflect more deeply on what they are actually saying.  Here is Deuteronomy 25:11

“When men fight with one another and the wife of the one draws near to rescue her husband from the hand of him who is beating him and puts out her hand and seizes him by the private parts, 12then you shall cut off her hand. Your eye shall have no pity.

There are several problems here if we take it at face value and apply it to a modern Western law code:

  1. Just think about it:  how likely is something like this ever going to happen?   I am a school teacher and I break up fights all the time.   It’s not that easy to get between two people in a fight (and I’ve been hit before, though I was so pumped up with adrenaline I didn’t feel it).
  2. If two guys are moving rapidly and throwing punches, how likely is it that a woman is going to go low and grab the private parts of the other guy?
  3. And would you really apply this?  If a bad guy broke into your home and the wife was able to help out by “disabling” him (and for the sake of argument, save your life), are you really going to reward her by cutting off her hand?  Really?

Someone could say, “Well, that applies to the Mosaic covenant when it was important to provide an heir.”  Maybe.  The text doesn’t say anything about that, so it’s just ad hoc and speculation.  There is still the justice of the matter, covenant heir or no.

And then there is the equity of the matter.   Well before that:  is this law moral or civil/judicial?   It’s obviously judicial since there is a penalty attached to it.   So what’s the equity for today for theonomists?  Remember, on the theonomic gloss the “judicial law abides in exhaustive detail.”    The Reformed Confessionalist does not have this problem.   The Confession only says “allows” the equity and no more.  Which is a nice way of saying that this law would never be applied.  The theonomist has to apply the law.

The After-Calvin Source Failure

One of the reasons theonomy failed as a movement, and this reason perhaps dovetails with why theonomy went Federal Vision and also failed to work out a coherent alternative, is that theonomists generally did not read the Protestant Scholastic sources carefully, to the degree they read them at all. 

That raises another problem:  reading these sources required reading these sources on the sources’ terms.  Theonomists usually viewed anyone who disagreed with them as a “natural law adherent,” defining natural law as a mix of Locke, Newton, and Aquinas.  Here is an experiment for you:  pick up a theonomic text and find a fair definition of natural law on Reformed terms.  Bahnsen avoids it in TiCE . Gary North slams it but never really defines (or explains how modern Reformed accepted natural law).   The real villain, I think, is Kuyperianism (though, ironically, Kuyper himself was a pluralist).   The result was the no-neutrality concept was applied to areas which really didn’t make sense in a practical way (yes, we should do math and plumbing to the glory of God, but there really isn’t a Christian praxis to Christian plumbing).

If you read Reformed natural law sources carefully, you will note that
1) they don’t contradict Moses [many advocated using the Mosaic judicials because of the wisdom found therein;
2) they aren’t using the term “nature” to mean butterflies and puppies [which is how I had usually glossed it].

Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, reading the Protestant Scholastic sources on their own terms will also bring the reader face-to-face with their teachings on covenant and justification, areas which modern theonomists are painfully weak. 

The Steroid Effect

One of the dangers in taking steroids while lifting weights is that despite all the gains, the level you reach is likely the highest you will ever reach.   Once you get off steroids, and even the biggest “user” won’t take them perpetually (No one does steroids, or even creatine, during the regular season for risk of dehydration), it is unlikely you will ever reach those levels naturally again.

We see something similar in theological studies.   Deciding which area to major in will determine how deep one’s theological knowledge can get.   Here was my (and many others; and for what it’s worth, throughout this post substitute any Federal Vision term in place of a theonomy term and the point is largely the same) problem in institutional learning:  I immediately jumped on how important apologetics was for the Christian life to the extent that I made apologetical concerns overwhelm theological concerns.  I essentially made theology proper (and soteriology and ecclesiology) subsets of apologetics/ethics, instead of the other way around.

I won’t deny:  I became very good at apologetics and ethics, but I didn’t know anything about theology outside of a basic outline of Berkhof.   Studying Reformed theology among sources, and worse, movements, who are only barely Reformed, limited how deep I could go in Reformed theology.

I’ll say it another way:  when I was taking covenant theology we had to read sections of Gisbertus Voetius and Cocceius in class.  I got frustrated thinking, “These guys are tying in the covenant of works with natural law.  Don’t they know how un-reformed natural law is?”  Problem was, I was wrong.  But if you read the standard theonomic (or FV; by the way, the FV fully adopts the Barthian, and now historically falsified, Calvin vs. Calvinist paradigm) historiography, there is no way to avoid such misreadings.  Even worse, said historiography fully prevents one from learning at the feet of these high Reformed masters.

The Collapse of First Generation Reconstructionism

I’m not going to touch on the infamous “whitewall” sermon.

I suppose the inevitable question, one loaded with irony, is that given Christian Reconstruction’s commitment to postmillennialism, how come the movement fractured immediately and society is not reconstructed?  Before we get into the individual faults of the men and camps, it is important to first note perhaps why they were prone to fracturing.

Many CR leaders knew they wouldn’t be welcomed in the presbyteries.   So they reasoned:  too bad for the presbyteries!  For all the problems and limitations in local presbyteries, they tend to keep individuals from going off the deep end.   We will soon see why.

  1. Rushdoony:  On one hand it’s a good thing that Rushdoony’s errors are so easy to see.   Being egregious errors and out in the open, they are fairly easy to avoid.  His main errors are the dietary laws, ecclesiology, and shallow readings of some Reformed sources.  I won’t bother refuting his interpretation dietary laws.   I suspect his personal experiences drove his ecclesiology.  I don’t know the whole story, though Gary North has documented it here.   Evidently he got angry at the OPC and separated himself from church bodies for the greater part of a decade. A bit more minor issue but one more prevalent is that many young CRs began their study of theology by beginning with Rushdoony.  As a result, many simply parroted his slogans without really understanding all the theology and philosophy behind it.  Their grasp of Reformed theology was very tenuous beyond the basics.   Once they came across sharp Orthodox and Roman Catholic apologists, they were toast.  They didn’t have the strong foundation in Turretin, Hodge, and Owen that older men had.  Had they begun with the latter and had a decent foundation, then they could have approached Rushdoony Finally, people who really follow Rushdoony have a hard time accepting any criticism of the man.
  2. Was the home-church movement an inevitable spin off from Rushdoony?  That he endorsed something like it is clear, but most Reformed people understand he is wrong on that point.  I think one of the dangers of the home church movement is that apart from any presbyterial oversight, there is nothing stopping the members from embodying outrageous positions.
  3. Gary North:  His Y2K debacle lost him his credibility.  Others have pointed out his refusal to condemn the Federal Vision, though truth be told, would it have mattered?  Most people stopped listening to him in 2,000.   Would his condemning FV in 2003 have changed anything?  Another of his problems would be the Tyler connection. Tyler had the bizarre mixture of independent congregationalism and quasi-sacerdotal episcopalianism.  
  4. Was Federal Vision inevitable?  If you read Bahnsen’s Theonomy in Christian Ethics carefully, it doesn’t seem like it.  He is citing standard P&R and evangelical textbooks on hermeneutics and the Sermon on the Mount.   All of this is wildly at odds with the later Federal Visionists. That’s the problem: other theonomists either became Federal Visionists or they ran interference for them.  

Gary North notes that CR split into two camps:  Tyler Ecclesiasticalism and Rushdoony’s Home Church Patriarchalism. Neither seems like a good choice.

On Why I stopped being a Wilson Fan

Chris Coldwell of Puritanboard asked me what made me switch.

I was newly married around 2008. My wife and I were not going to attend AAPC (and not just for theology reasons). We were going to a PCA church 45 minutes away. At the same time Steve Wilkins had left the PCA for the CREC, which led the La. Presbytery to implode. So we were in denominational limbo. At the same time I was exploring some claims made by Eastern Orthodoxy. I knew Wilson at the time was interacting with some guys who just swam the Bosporus. He was completely out of his depth. Instead of analytically dealing with the issue, he just inserted the theological equivalent of a laugh track every few paragraphs.

I realized then that he is just not very good at theology. A good rhetorician, to be sure, but that’s it. In any case, I was disillusioned with him. He couldn’t give theological guidance when it mattered most.

Around 2012 I swung back to a Reformed mindset and was in email conversation with R. Scott Clark on the covenants and justification. That’s what really let me see how wrong the Federal Vision was. I started reading Richard Muller’s works (ALL of them) and well, you don’t leave filet mignon for hamburgers.

Around 2015 the abuse scandals from Christ Kirk (Sitler, Wight, Jim Nance–that one’s really bad) started coming to light. That also revealed the Hive Mind among many Kirkers and Wilson apologists.

While Wilson wasn’t front and center in the Trinity War of 2016, he still aligned himself with the wrong side and hasn’t repented of that.

That’s pretty much where I am today.

Bredenhof’s booklet on Federal Vision

Bredenhof, Wes. Federal Vision: A Canadian Reformed Pastor’s Perspective.

This is a decent primer. From what I can tell, as an outsider to Pastor Bredenhof’s denomination, this is somewhat a defense of Klaas Schilder from the interpretations given to him by some Federal Vision proponents.

Bredenhof has a helpful discussion of Schilder’s view. While Schilder did reject the language of internal/external relation to the covenant, he nonetheless held to a legal/vital distinction. It appears to be the same thing. Federal Visionists such as Wilkins completely reject that, as Wilkins defines the covenant as union with Christ (The Auburn Avenue Theology: Pros & Cons, ed. E. Calvin Beisner (Fort Lauderdale: Knox Theological Seminary, 2004), 262).

Schilder said we make a distinction between sharing in a promise and sharing in what is promised. The former we partake of through baptism. The latter is a gift of the Spirit. This involves a vital union with Christ. I completely agree. I just don’t see how it is different from traditional formulations. Instead of internal/external, there is a new division between promise/what is promised.

Van Bruggen suggests it is the difference between being entitled to a check for $1,000 and having the actual $1,000 (or better yet, having real money like gold). Will you take the money to the bank?

Bredenhof clearly and carefully notes that Schilder uses neither the words nor the content of Wilkins’ definition of the covenant. He simply does not identify it with union with Christ.

Pace Theonomy

Schilder was more about cultural formation than transformation.

Bredenhof suggests that their theonomic hermeneutic played into a rejection of the law-gospel paradigm. That seems accurate.

Justification

Most of this discussion is fairly standard, but what is new calls attention to Leithart’s subsuming “loyalty and allegiance” under faith (Leithart, Baptized Body, 84). Faith is acting. This just seems wrong. Even Rome isn’t this crass

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.

Review: Calvin and the Calvinists (Paul Helm)

Overview:  early summary of the Calvin vs the Calvinists debate but excluding the Barth factor.

Application for today:  Good early rebuttal against some Federal Visionists who sometimes tend to pit Calvin against Calvinists.

This is an early response to the line of argument that said Calvin taught the sweet doctrines of the Reformation until the Puritans came along and ruined it. Paul Helm responds to RT Kendall’s book on Calvinism. While Helm vindicates Calvin, that is secondary in my opinion. The book is a fine, short read and gives helpful ways of thinking about Christ’s work.

Unity of Christ’s work of intercession and death. 

The question of the hour: Did Calvin teach Limited Atonement? Kendall takes Calvin’s silence as a “no.” Helm rebuts by showing what the atonement actually means for Calvin. It produces actual remission (Helm 13).

We are going to jump ahead and examine a claim by Kendall: Christ died for all but intercedes for the elect. Helm points out that such a view means Christ’s death wasn’t enough. The efficacy had to be completed by his intercession. But this is not what Calvin said: Christ discharged all satisfaction by his death (Inst. II.xvi.6). If that’s true, then what remains to be accomplished by his intercession (Helm 43)?

The Christian and Conversion

Kendall said that Calvin saw faith as God’s act; it is passive. The Puritans saw faith as man’s act, and Kendall quotes Inst. III.13.5 for proof of the former. Helm, however, shows that Kendall moves too quickly. Calvin said in that passage that faith as regards justification is passive, but not faith simpliciter.

The final problem Kendall has with the Puritans is their emphasis on “preparationism.” He sees them as proto-Arminians, as though man can prepare himself to be saved. But this isn’t what the Puritans meant. They denied man could prepare himself, but they affirmed that man could find himself in a state of being prepared (that is, by using means such as hearing the Word, etc.).

Conclusion

I read this book in about an hour. It is short and clear. Highly recommended

FV, Shepherd, and where the bodies are buried

I’ve put off doing an autobiographical post on my relationship to the Federal Vision for quite a while.  Maybe for several reasons.  Too much blood still on the floor. RTS never distinguished between those who were mentally Baptists (e.g., RTS) and Covenantal, thus making everyone who wasn’t a Southern Presbyterian a Federal Visionist.

I’ll go ahead and put my cards on the table. I don’t consider myself Federal Vision for reasons that will be apparent.

But this post isn’t just bashing RTS, as fun and necessary as that is.  I’ve forgiven them.  They stole money from me but it was for the best.  But RTS did represent a certain moment in American Presbyterianism that does need to be addressed.

There isn’t a strict logic to this post, but it will follow some general order.  I didn’t write it all at once since I have a bad case of carpal tunnel syndrome. A note of interpretation: when I write “FV” in negative connotations, I mean certain young bloggers.  The older FV generation, the “conference speakers,” so to speak, have been the soul of kindness to me.

Federal Vision, the Good and the Bad

What is the Federal Vision?  Proponents say there isn’t one view.  Critics are impatient with that answer because it seems like FV is evading the issue.  But there isn’t one view. Doug Wilson has nominally rejected the label.  For years Jordan and Leithart were polar opposite from Wilson.  No one has heard of Steve Schlissel in a decade.

Let’s take the book Federal Vision.  Look at the essays.  Barach’s essay is Schilder 101.  I have some questions about it but there is nothing “new” to it. Simple, post-Kuyper Dutch theology.  Horne and Lusk rightly (which even critics acknowledge) point to the Baptist nature of the American experience.  Jordan’s essay is controversial.  I grant that.

My Seminary Experience

I was a postmillennial theonomist when I went to seminary.  Yeah, you can see what RTS would have thought about that. To be fair, most of the profs in person were great guys.  Most people actually are decent people in real life.  Really, it wasn’t the profs themselves who were the problem.  It was the adjunct people they got to teach classes. They were usually local pastors.

On the kindest analysis, they were simply incompetent.  Realistically, some were mentally unhinged.  It’s not simply, “Oh, you’re a theonomist, then you are wrong.”  Rather, it was, “Oh, so you don’t fall into my interpretation of a unique slice of Presbyterian taxonomy, then you deny justification by faith alone.”

But enough bashing RTS.  I was involved with several FV guys (who no longer wear the label).  They really wanted me to become Federal Vision.  I didn’t.  I was under the authority of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church at the time and I didn’t have any business joining unique movements.  Did I like some of the FV thoughts?  Sure, but I challenged the FV  to show me what ecclesiastical obligation from the OPC that  I had to join FV.

In any case, I was probably more influenced by Norman Shepherd. I was new to covenant theology and NS’s views really made a lot of sense. Further, the OPC dealt more with Shepherd than FV.

But as irritating as some FV  were, the Southern Presbyterians weren’t making it any easier.  I got points taken off in Covenant Theology because I quoted Peter Lillback’s The Binding of God.

I remember that Herman Bavinck’s volume 3 of Reformed Dogmatics came out during our week long Christology class (yes, only a week long.  That’s how important knowing about Jesus is.  That’s why Eastern Orthodox eat our lunch on Christology discussions).  I went up to the adjunct, the aforementioned mentally unhinged prof, and said, “Isn’t it great that Bavinck’s volume on Christology came out?”  He gave me an “Are you kidding?” look?  I wonder if he even heard of Bavinck.

It’s not hard to see that FV and American Reformed world would end up with a messy divorce. I don’t think FV always alleviated their critics’ concerns about regeneration.  But even more problematic, there was a strong Baptistic mentality in the Jackson area.  This was about the same time that Reformed Baptists were gaining a presence in American life.  The Gospel Coalition was just hitting the stage.  Mohler was the intellectual voice of conservative Christians.  Therefore, it made more sense to move on that wavelength than to ask how “covenant and liturgy” were related.

I guess it’s good I left RTS when I did.  I never dealt with the Gospel Coalition until I came out of the EO orbit in 2012.  And further, from what I’ve gathered, there are some Critical Race adherents working for RTS now.

Conclusion

One thing the Federal Vision did was make clear the latent division lines in the Reformed world. From the RTS perspective, only a certain amalgam of Scottish and Southern Presbyterian thought counts as acceptable Reformed theology.  Bavinck might get grandfathered in, but he is so close to Kuyper, and Kuyper is basically the evils of theonomy that you are better off not associating with Bavinck.

Van Til was another problem. RTS didn’t like him but they knew it was not wise to anger the OPC (and thus lose precious tuition money–their finances were in a bad shape for a few years). As long as you didn’t actually “do” anything with Van Til, you were okay.

In a weird way, it kind of reflects the Clarkian taxonomy of American Presbyterian life.  The OPC, for them, was bad because it had “Dutch” elements.

I’m not angry with RTS anymore.  They meant it for evil (that is, their stealing $30,000 from me not counting tuition) but God meant it for good.    There is a post by a former FV guy that (accurately) says where FV, at least the younger disciples, are weak at.   I am going to tag onto what he said and add my own thoughts.

  • FV guys really don’t know the post-Calvin sources that well.  Well, neither does the average Reformed guy.  Really, who does?  This stuff is only now being translated into English.
  • FV claims catholicity but isn’t really in line with the larger Reformed world.  Maybe.  I am not in the CREC nor am I in NAPARC, so I can’t say.

Upcoming post on the Federal Vision

Yeah, that’s a dangerous title.  The short of it will be this:  Doug Wilson’s distancing himself (de jure if not de facto) from the Federal Vision is actually good for FV.  It will allow some to do theology and try to work out hard knots without having some chucklehead throwing time bombs into the arena.

My own theology is something akin to a postmillennial Schilderite.

Trinity and the Covenant?

One of the criticisms of some Kuyperians is that they read Covenantal relations into the Trinity, and if that’s true, then there is historical development in the Trinity. Obviously, that’s wrong.

But of course there are covenantal relations in the Trinity. What’s the Covenant of Redemption all about, anyway?  I don’t think that’s the problem.  The problem seems to be the claim that the Trinity is the pattern for Covenantal thinking.  Well, why wouldn’t it be?  The Trinity is the source of all good theology.  Think about it: if the Trinity isn’t the source of all good theology, then where did covenantal relations come from?  We are now on the edge of ontological dualism.

Leithart isn’t Wilson

This is a dangerous post.  I believe I can now quote and interact with Leithart’s scholarly works in good conscience.  True, he was involved in the Sitler affair, and he made some bad decisions.  But he repented of them publicly.  Wilson hasn’t.

And James Jordan kept himself from that whole fiasco.

Leithart and Jordan are public theologians.  Jordan forces me to wrestle with the Hebrew text.  I can respect that.

FV statement, part two

I’m trying to explain some of the differences and why the Federal Vision’s redefinitions undercut the Reformed faith.  Or rather, let the reader draw such conclusions.  I doubt I can do all of that in one blog post.

Click to access joint_FV_Statement.pdf

Baptism

In their statement there is not a single word about “signs and seals” or the “covenant of grace.”  In fact, when I was in seminary I mentioned to a militant FV supporter (who has since abandoned the FV) that circumcision was a “sign and seal” of the faith Abraham already had. He said that was “crazy.”   Of course, I was just quoting Romans 4.

Lord’s Supper

Surprisingly clear, which is something no one ever accuses Wilsonites of.  Wrong.  Very much, so, but clear.

Union with Christ

It looks like they are affirming imputation of active obedience, but if so, that rules out Rich Lusk and Jim Jordan.  Lusk told me in person in 2005 that imputation is a legal fiction–so what gives?

But in the second paragraph they take away any gains they just made.  After coming close to active obedience, they then say, “Yeah, but that’s not active obedience.”

Law and Gospel

This seems more of a thrust at Lutheranism by denying L/G as a hermeneutic.  Okay, fine.  But some questions:

  1. Is the Law “do this and live”?
  2. If we fail in one aspect, do we break all of it?
  3. Doesn’t (1)-(2) sound like the Covenant of Works?

Apostasy

All who are baptized into the triune Name are united with Christ in His covenantal life, and so those who fall from that position of grace are indeed falling from grace.

This seems like it is Arminianism 101, unless they allow themselves an escape clause in “covenantal life.”

The branches that are cut away from Christ are genuinely cut away from someone, cut out of a living covenant body. The connection that an apostate had to Christ was not merely external.

And here is where they reject both Scripture and the Reformed Faith.  We speak, with the Apostle Paul (Rom. 2 and 9), of an internal and external Israelite.