Review: Delivered from the Elements

My earlier notes here.  A potential problem with Leithart is that most people who read him either “join his camp” or “attack his camp.” I don’t want to do either. I actually think the book is quite good.  It has a lot of promise for evangelism and missions and steers a path through the problems with New Perspective on Paul. It is also a good book on metaphysics.

Main idea: the fundamental physics of every society consists of purity, pollution, and ritual (Leithart 12). If you “relocate” the sacred then you change the structure of society.  Goal: a successful atonement theology must show how Jesus’s death and resurrection is the key to history.

One interesting point is that he draws attention to the word “nature.”  Yes, the NT uses “substance” language, but not the kind usually thought.  The NT use of “nature:” a moral order rooted in the differences of the sexes (27).  When Paul uses “nature” it is neither Aristotelian or Stoic.  Gentiles do not have the Torah “by nature” but they still can do what Torah commands (sometimes). Physeis is closely linked to nomos, so of law means a change of the elements (29).

Here is the problem: given what is wrong with the world, how does Jesus’s death as my substitute fix the world?  Leithart will defend substitutionary atonement, but he does not the problem in most popular accounts.  If the goal is to cash Jesus out as the credit card on my account, then did it matter that he was a Jew?  Framed another way: how does Christ’s dying for me deliver humanity from ta stoichea?  You have to be able to answer this question.

“The elements (ta stoichea) are features of an old creation that Christ has in some way brought to an end” (25).  In both Gentile and Jewish worlds they are structures and symbols that involve distinctions between purity and impurity, sacred and profane.

Yahweh’s intention is to destroy the fleshly physics.  When he introduces Torah he is continuing his cutting away of flesh.  The problem with flesh is that flesh spreads pollution (100). As Leithart notes, “Torah cannot kill flesh without killing the man or woman who bears that flesh” (102).

Torah provides a way for Israel to be Yahweh’s people among the division of nations.  It regulates the flesh but does not fix it. As long as Israel is under Torah she is under managers. It is spiritual and we are flesh.  If we come to it it will kill us.

Justification

(1) The judgment is not a  mere verdict of righteousness, but it is the very act by which it is accomplished (181). “It is a favorable judgment in the form of resurrection.” It also makes more sense in the historia salutis than in the ordo.  Justification was an act in Jesus’s life (1 Tim. 3:16). And through it we are delivered from the realm of death and stoichea to the realm of Spirit.

Thesis: Paul denies that the Spirit comes through the mechanisms of Torah (193). Flesh and Torah are mutually defining (Romans 7:1-6).  Paul’s argument: to be reckoned righteous is to receive the Spirit.  We receive the Spirit who does acts of power by hearing the message [as Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness.

Humanity is supposed to grow into maturity, but it cannot do this while remaining under the elements and Torah.  The elements are beings who guard and manage children. They could be angelic beings, since Jews received Torah through angels and Gentiles were under beings that are “by nature no gods” (Gal. 4.8).

While stoichea regulate the elements of social life, and a dissolution of stoichea would dissolve the universe, Jesus gives the Spirit who is the new fundamental element of social life (219).  As the Spirit spreads, stoicheic divisions give way to a new order of the Spirit. Instead of a pyramid society of slaves, Paul sees a single body.

Conclusion

The book has several appendices of varying interests.  My main problem with the book was it could have been about 50 pages shorter.  The chapter on Presbyterian Buddhists was neat, but could have been reduced to a footnote.

Advertisement

Notes on Leithart’s Delivered from the Elements

I clean this up in a book review later.  This review is neither an endorsement nor a critique of Leithart.  It’s simply looking at scholarship in NT studies.  Full stop.leithart

Main idea: the fundamental physics of every society consists of purity, pollution, and ritual (Leithart 12). If you “relocate” the sacred then you change the structure of society.

NT use of “nature:” a moral order rooted in the differences of the sexes (27).

Goal: a successful atonement theology must show how Jesus’s death and resurrection is the key to history.

Part 1: Under the Elements of the World

The Physics of the Old Creation

“The elements (ta stoichea) are features of an old creation that Christ has in some way brought to an end” (25).  In both Gentile and Jewish worlds they are structures and symbols that involve distinctions between purity and impurity, sacred and profane.

When Paul uses “nature” it is neither Aristotelian or Stoic.  Gentiles do not have the Torah “by nature” but they still can do what Torah commands (sometimes). Physeis is closely linked to nomos, so of law means a change of the elements (29).  Paul does not use stoichea in the Greek sense. It is a cultural cosmos linked to religious practices.

Flesh

Adam was placed under the elements.  “Touch not, taste not” was his pedagogy (76).  After the fall, though, flesh was a reminder that the strength of man cannot save.  This might explain circumcision as a symbolic attack on flesh, a reminder that salvation won’t come through natural means.  As Leithart notes, “it is a division from division,” from the pride of nations (89).

What Torah Does

Yahweh’s intention is to destroy the fleshly physics.  When he introduces Torah he is continuing his cutting away of flesh.  The problem with flesh is that flesh spreads pollution (100). As Leithart notes, “Torah cannot kill flesh without killing the man or woman who bears that flesh” (102).

Torah provides a way for Israel to be Yahweh’s people among the division of nations.  It regulates the flesh but does not fix it. As long as Israel is under Torah she is under managers. It is spiritual and we are flesh.  If we come to it it will kill us.

Part Two: Good News of God’s Justice

The Justice of God

Torah and every form of stoichea institutionalize a world of death (126).  In Jesus’s death the old world, the stoichea, the old humanity is gone. Torah established a pedagogy under the conditions of the flesh.  Jesus established a pedagogy under conditions of the Spirit (139).

The Faith of Jesus Christ.

Penal substitution can stand only if it emphasizes the resurrection.  If Christ is not raised, then it is not clear that God accepted his sacrifice. 

Justification 

(1) The judgment is not a  mere verdict of righteousness, but it is the very act by which it is accomplished (181). “It is a favorable judgment in the form of resurrection.”

It also makes more sense in the historia salutis than in the ordo.  Justification was an act in Jesus’s life (1 Tim. 3:16). And through it we are delivered from the realm of death and stoichea to the realm of Spirit.

Galatians 2 Chiasm:

A. Knowing that a man does not receive delivering verdict by what Torah does.
B. But through the faithfulness of Jesus Christ.
               C. We have believed in Jesus Christ.
        B’ so that we may receive the delivering verdict by the faithfulness of XP.
A’ and not by what the law does, since the law does not justify

Pistis Christou in B and B’ refer to the faith of Christ and not Paul’s act of believing. Paul isn’t saying the same thing in three different ways (189).

“Works of Torah” refer to the man and not the deeds (190).  It is someone whose nature has been molded by circumcision, temple, and purity laws.

Justified from the Elements

Thesis: Paul denies that the Spirit comes through the mechanisms of Torah (193).

Flesh and Torah are mutually defining (Romans 7:1-6).  Paul’s argument: to be reckoned righteous is to receive the Spirit.  We receive the Spirit who does acts of power by hearing the message [as Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness].

Chiasm in Galatians 3

A. Spirit comes through the message of faith (1-5).
       B.Abraham believed God (6-9).
C. Those who are of the law are cursed by the law (10).
D.Law vs. Faith (11-12).
            C* Jesus becomes curse to remove curse (13)
        B* So that the blessing of Abraham can come to the Gentiles (14a)
A* So that we might receive the Spirit through faith (14b).

Justify has to refer to more than a verdict.  It also includes a rescue. When Yahweh promised to justify the Gentiles, he was going to judge sin and death. (197).    The good news was not only to the Gentiles, but about them. The content of the gospel is that “all nations shall be blessed in you” (Gal. 3:8).  

Back to Paul’s use of nature:  those who are of different cultures are of different natures.

Galatians 4 is an Exodus motif. Torah works death, so to remain under Torah is to remain under the realm of death.

“The Seed”

Refers to a collective line of descent.  Moses doesn’t mediate the Seed, nor could he since, as mediator of Torah, he can only have a divided humanity (206).

Chiasm in Galatians 4

A. Heir as child (nepios)

       B. no better than a slave (ouden diapherei doulou

                 C. under guardians and managers (hypo epitropous…kai oikonomous)

A’ When we were children (nepioi)

          B’ held in bondage (dedoulomenoi)

                    C’ under ta stoicheia tou kosmou

Humanity is supposed to grow into maturity, but it cannot do this while remaining under the elements and Torah.  The elements are beings who guard and manage children. They could be angelic beings, since Jews received Torah through angels and Gentiles were under beings that are “by nature no gods” (Gal. 4.8).

Chiasm of Galatians 3-4

A.  Faith of Abraham (3.1-14)/
        B.  Faith and law (3.15-22)
               C. Law as pedagogue (3.23-25)
                        D. Baptism into the Seed (26-29)
                C’ Childhood under guardians and managers (4.1-11)
        B’ Weakness of Paul’s flesh/first visit (12-20)
A’ Allegory of Abraham and Sarah (21-31)

Contributions to a Theology of Mission

In Ranks with the Spirit

While stoichea regulate the elements of social life, and a dissolution of stoichea would dissolve the universe, Jesus gives the Spirit who is the new fundamental element of social life (219).  As the Spirit spreads, stoicheic divisions give way to a new order of the Spirit. Instead of a pyramid society of slaves, Paul sees a single body.

Summary of argument so far: “After the curse of Babel, Yahweh continued his war on flesh by beginning an anti-sarkic pedagogy within one family” (283).  Jesus has to be the sacrifice because if he were merely “good,” we would still be barred from Eden.  We would still have to face the flaming cherubim.

 

Review: Puritan Theology (Beeke and Jones)

Beeke, Joel.  and Jones, Mark.  Puritan Theology: Doctrine for Life.  Grand Rapids, MI: Reformation Heritage Books.

This is one of those “game-changer” books.  Beeke provides decades of pastoral reflection from the Puritans (and admittedly, there is a lot of repetition) while Jones brings clear Christological reflection from giants like Thomas Goodwin and John Owen.  The book is structured around the standard loci.  While we perhaps would like more from some chapters, the overwhelming amount of primary sources, and the clear mastery of secondary literature, allows us to continue the research if necessary.

My review will reflect my biases and what I like to study.  That can’t be helped, otherwise an exegetical review of this book would take ten pages.  This book is a Christological masterpiece.  I learned more from the chapters on Christology than I did in my week-long seminary class on Christology.  I agree with Carl Trueman, this book is both doctrinal and devotional.

Christological Supralapsarianism

In regard to the end, Goodwin viewed mankind as unfallen in His election of human beings, but fallen in His decrees as the means to that end” (155).

“Means” — what Christ, as redeemer of God’s elect, performed for his people.  It has reference to Christ’s redemptive work, which presupposes a fall.

Key point: “whether God’s decree regarding both the end and the means was pitched ‘either wholly upon man considered in the mass of creability [potential human beings] afore the Fall, or wholly upon the mass of mankind considered and viewed first as fallen into sin” (Jones, quoting Goodwin 156).

The decree to elect falls under a twofold consideration: a) regarding the end, the fall was not a necessity…but an impediment; b) the decree to elect may be understood also with respect to man fallen, which God foresaw, as the means.

Election has reference to the end.  Here God decrees to give men eternal life without consideration of the fall.  But when we look at predestination, we view man as fallen.  Predestination involves the means to the end.

Covenants

While some have noted concern on the section of the Covenant of Works, the section on the Covenant of Redemption is fantastic. Differences between Covenant of Grace and Covenant of Redemption

(1) CoR sprang from grace in both parties (Father and Christ), whereas the CoG sprang from grace only from the Father.
(2) Though both are everlasting, only the CoR is eternal.
(3) The parties in the CoR are equal; the parties in CoG (and CoW) are not.
(4) The parties differ in both covenants.
(5) There is no mediator in the CoR
(6) The promises of the New Covenant (such as a new heart and forgiveness of sins) cannot be applied to Christ.
(7) Christ was not threatened in the CoR, whereas those in the CoG are (Heb. 2.3; 1 Cor. 16.22).
(8) The conditions in each covenant differ.
(9) The CoR did not require man’s consent.

Taken from Patrick Gillespie, Ark of the Covenant Opened, 113-117, quoted in Beeke and Jones, 254.

On Coming to Christ

The chapter on preparationism, while correct in rebutting the “Calvin vs. Calvinists/Preparationists” thesis, didn’t quite address the reality of those covenant children  who hear the covenant promises from earliest days and trust in the Christ of these promises, yet don’t appear to go through the preparationist stages.  

Owen on Justification and Union

For Puritans like Owen and Goodwin, there is a Three fold union

Immanent: being elected in union with Christ from all eternity
Transient: union with Christ in time past; to wit, his mediatorial death and resurrection
Applicatory: experience of union in the present time.

Christ “apprehends” and gives his Spirit to the believer.

Owen: Christ is the first and principal grace in respect of causality and efficacy” (20:150). Union is the cause of the other graces.  It is the ground of the imputation of Christ’s righteousness to believers.  Such is the logical priority of union regarding justification.  The act whereby Christ unites himself to the elect is the same act whereby he regenerates them (3:464).

Witsius: the elect are united to Christ when his Spirit takes a hold of them and infuses a new principal of life.  Yet, there is a mutual union whereby the soul draws near to Christ by faith only.  From this follows the other benefits of the covenant of grace.

Charnock: justification gives us a right; regeneration gives us a fitness (3:90).

Conclusion

This review did not cover all, or even much of the book.  Indeed, it could not.  But not only does it encourage you to read the Puritans, it points one to a number of crucial studies on the Puritans.

Bahnsen on Shepherd on Justification

This is from his tape set on Calvin’s Institutes.  I think it is tape GB449b.

“I think [this] is rather convoluted. Let me very briefly point out, some people will say James can’t mean the word justify in a forensic sense, because then he would contradict Paul. Paul says we are justified by faith, not works. James says we are justified by works. So if they both mean ‘justify’ in the forensic sense, there is a contradiction. Well, I don’t think so, because in Galatians 5:6 Paul teaches exactly what James does. Paul says we are justified by faith working by love. We are justified by working, active, living faith. I think that’s what James is teaching. They mean exactly the same thing. But nevertheless some people have insisted-and this has been a bone of controversy in my denomination even, because a professor at Westminster Seminary insisted James means this in the forensic sense. Now. people who don’t like that say, It is to be taken in the demonstrative sense.

The problem is, the demonstrative sense of the word justify means “to show someone to be righteous,” and that doesn’t relieve the contradiction between James and Paul, because Paul in Romans 4 looks at Abraham as an example of how God justifies the ungodly. James is saying, Look at how God justifies someone demonstrated as godly. The contradiction is not relieved. And so what you really get–and this is crucial, this is a crucial point–modern interpreters who don’t like what I am suggesting and what Professor Shepherd is suggesting end up saying that to justify in James 2 really means “to demonstrate justification,” not to “demonstrate righteousness.” That is, they make the word to justify mean “to justify the fact that I’m justified.” And the word never means that. That’s utterly contrived. It means either “to declare righteous” or “to demonstrate righteous.” It does not mean “to justify that one’s justified.” Am I making myself clear? I’m suggesting that the reason Paul and James are not contrary to one another is because the only kind of faith that will justify us is working faith, and the only kind of justification ever presented in the Bible after the Fall is a justification by working faith, a faith that receives its merit from God and proceeds to work as a regenerated, new person.

I think, as David Bahnsen makes clear, Greg was a defender of Norman Shepherd.  The Morecraft-types simply can’t get around that.   From Greg’s other writings and debate with Catholics, he held to the imputation of Christ’s active obedience, something Shepherd was more reluctant to do.

A justification musing

We often say that if you aren’t being accused of antinomianism, then you aren’t preaching justification rightly.  True, but something else struck me:  in Galatians Paul links his doctrine of justification as opposed to the physics of the old creation (stoichea).  Galatians 5:

 But now that you have come to know God, or rather to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and worthless elementary principles of the world, whose slaves you want to be once more?

 

Notes on Thomas Aquinas’s Treatise on grace

Obviously, this is not a full endorsement.

Can we know God without grace?

The act of the intellect depends upon God in two ways: it has its form by which it acts from God

Preparing the human will

The preparation of the will cannot take place without habitual grace.

Man incurs a triple loss by sinning: stain, corruption of natural good, and debt of punishment (ST 1-2, q. 109, art7).

Christ restores us in the mind but not entirely in the flesh (Thomas is working upon a faulty spirit-flesh dichotomy).

Grace is located in the essence of the soul (q. 110).

Cooperating with God (q. 111)

There is a twofold act in us: interior act of the will, which is moved by God, and the exterior act which is moved by us.

Miracles: q. 111 art. 4.  They happen today.  Thomas is most certainly (and rightly) a continuationist.

Justification

Right order in man’s act (ST 1-2, q. 113 art.1)

Infusion of grace: the logic is that God must change something in our soul for us to be right with him, since sin is a disordering of the soul.  “In the infusion of grace there is a certain transmutation of the soul” (ST 1-2, q. 113 art. 3).

Merit

It is the effect of cooperating grace (q. 114).

Merit exists on the grounds of God’s ordination (art 1).  

Man merits everlasting life condignly (art. 3).

Outline Thomas Aquinas Treatise on Law



Question 90: Of the essence of law

  1. law is a rule and measure of acts
  2. The principal and object in practical matters is the last end, beatitude.

Question 91: Of the various kinds of law

  1. There is an eternal law. It is the divine Reason.
  2. Natural law, as a rule and measure, partakes in a greater rule and measure, the Eternal Law.
  3. Human law is practical reason.  Man has natural law by creation, but he does not have the particular determinations of individual cases
  4. The divine law is twofold, Old Law and New Law.

Question 92: Of the effects of Law

  1. Law does not make men good absolutely, but relatively.

Question 93: Of the eternal law

  1. The eternal law is the type of Divine wisdom.
  2. All laws, insofar as they partake of right reason, are derived from the eternal law.

Question 94: Of the natural law

  1. There is an analogy between the precepts of natural law and the first principles of demonstrations of speculative reason.
  2. The natural law is unchangeable in its first principles, but changeable in its secondary principles, which are proximate conclusions.
  3. Sin blots out the law of nature in particular cases, but not universally.

Question 95: Of Human Law

  1. A thing is said to be just from being right according to the rule of reason.

Question 96: Of the power of human law:

  1. human laws should be proportionate to the common good.
  2. Human law isn’t intened to represes all vices.
  3. On unjust laws
    1. a law is unjust when it is contrary to the human good
      1. with respect to an end
      2. with respect to an author of the law
    2. contrary to the divine good.

Question 97: Of change in laws

  1. Even though human law participates in natural law (which is unchangeing), human law is still subject to change, because the mind of man is imperfect.
  2. Can custom be as strong as law? Well….kind of.  When a thing is done again and again, it proceeds from rational deliberation.
    1. Further, custom can act as a temporary check when human law fails.

Question 98: The Old Law

  1. The Old Law was good because it was in accordance with Divine reason
    1. It repressed concupiscience
    2. And other sins that were contrary to reason.
  2. The Old Law was given by angels
    1. All good things were given by angels.
    2. The Old Law represents an order, and angels mediate in that hierarchy.

Question 99: Of the precepts of the Old Law

  1. A precept implies a relation to an end. The OT law is one in respect of relation to the End, but many in respect in how things are ordered to that end.

Question 100: Of the precepts of the Moral Law

  1. all moral precepts belong to the law of nature.
  2. all moral precepts of the old law are reducible to the Decalogue.
    1. knowledge of which man has immediately from God.
    2. Aquinas is excluding general principles that are self-evident.
  3. No man can act virtuously unless he has the habit of virtue, thus the mode of virtue does not fall among the precepts.
  4. Aquinas allows for other moral precepts besides those in the Decalogue.
    1. Moral precepts derive their efficacy from reason.
    2. In this section Aquinas also explains the reasons why Catholics enumerate the Decalogue differently.
  5. Justification is the causing of justice (ST I-II, q.100. art.12)
    1. It exists in the habit and/or the act.
    2. Man is made just by becoming possessed of the habit of justice
      1. This is both acquired virtue and infused virtue.
      2. The latter is caused by God through his grace.  

Question 101–103: Of the Ceremonial Precepts in themselves

  1. Thomas spends an inordinate amount of time on ceremonial ordinances, showing once again that his Treatise on Law has little to do with natural law.
  2. Ceremonial precepts were instituted with a dual purpose: the proper worship of God and the foreshadowing of Christ.

Question 104: The Judicial Precepts

  1. In every law some precept derives its binding force from the dictate of reason itself.
  2. Judicial precepts do not merely concern actions at law, but also are directed towards the ordering of actions of one man to another.
  3. Aquinas approaches profound and even “modern” exegesis at points, noting that the “entire state of that people had to be prophetic and figurative” (ST I-II, q. 104. Art. 2)

Question 105: The reason for the judicial precepts (Thomas is addressing the charge that the OT law is faulty because it didn’t prescribe a monarchy).

  1. The best form of government is one where one is given power to preside over all, while others under him have governing power.
  2. Right ordering of a state: all should take some share in the government.
  3. Loans: the difference between is that a loan is in respect of goods transferred for the use of the person to whom they are transferred, while a deposit is for the benefit of the depositor (art. 2).

Question 106: Of the New Law, the Gospel

  1. The New Law is both written and unwritten.
  2. It contains things to dispose us to receive grace, and things actually pertaining to the use of that grace.

Question 107: The New Law Compared with the Old

  1. It is different from the Old in that it is ordered towards a different end.

Question 108: Of the things contained in the New Law

  1. Some things in the New Law prompt us to receive grace
  2. The grace of the Holy Ghost is an interior habit.  It inclines us to do rightly and those we do freely those things in keeping with that grace.
  3. Difference between commands and counsels
    1. Commands are word of God status
    2. Counsels is left open to us.

 

McCormack on Thomas on Justification

From Bruce McCormack’s essay “What’s at Stake in the Current Debate?”

I do not intend this as a “refutation” of Thomas, nor is this McCormack’s larger goal in his essay.  Thomas is simply too powerful a thinker to be refuted in a 600 word blog post. But McCormack nicely highlights conceptual difficulties in Thomas’s account in particular, and various evangelical-catholic paradigms of “ontological healing” in general.

And to be fair, if one were given the option of choosing between a strong Thomism or the evangelical-catholic goofiness today, Thomas is the obvious choice.  But there are more choices.

(1) For Thomas grace is two things: the work of God upon the soul and the effect of that action.

Two things are considered in the soul: the essence of the soul and the work of its powers.  The form of the soul is intellectual in orientation

The Subsistence of the Soul

Thomas: Nothing acts so far as it is in act, and nothing acts except that whereby it is in act. The soul is the form of the thing.  The soul’s powers are its mind and will.

(2) Form is the act in which a thing has its being and subsistence.

For Aquinas justification, in short, will consist of reorienting the intellect back to God’s proper order.  It is important to keep in mind that the soul is a spiritual substance that is intellectual in character (and this isn’t unique to Aquinas.  This is roughly the historic Christian position).

(3) Grace finds its seat in the essence of the soul, not in the powers.

What metaphor does Aquinas use to explain the nature of this grace infused into the soul?  Light.  Light, however, suggests an intellectual range.  This would place grace somewhere else than the essence of the soul–some place like the intellectual powers of mind and will (87).

This doesn’t mean Thomas is wrong, of course, but it does highlight a conceptual confusion.

 

(4) Justification, for Thomas, is a movement from a state of injustice to a state of justice.

And for those who know their Thomas and Aristotle, this means

(4*) There must be a mover (God), which sets things in motion: the movement itself and the object of the movement.

In short, God moves all things (in justification) according to the proper mode of each.  It looks like this:

Infusion of justifying grace → a movement of free choice → forgiveness of sin

There is one big problem:  infant baptism (89). Infants are not capable of movements of free choice towards justifying grace, and it won’t work, pace Thomas, to speak of this as an exception, since Roman Catholicism practices infant baptism as the norm.

For most of Thomas’s account, justifying grace finds its “point of entry” on the level of the intellectual powers of the soul.  McCormack writes,

“In other words: there would be no need to locate the infusion of grace in the essence of the soul if it were not for the fact that the Church’s accepted practice was to baptize infants.  And that also means that Thomas’s tendency to understand justification as rooted in an ‘ontological healing’ of the soul, rather than in a more personal understanding of the operations of grace, is a function of the fact that the regeneration of the infant is the truly paradigmatic case where that infusion of grace which initiates justification is concerned (89).

Thomas’s project would be largely free from this confusion if, say, he were a Baptist and baptismal justification worked only with adults–but that isn’t the case.  And here is where Thomas will switch metaphors from “light” (which suggests intellectual illumination) to seeing grace as a quasi-substantial “thing.”


Thesis: The work of God in us was being made the basis of God’s forgiveness (90).

And this is what the Reformers rejected and what is at stake.  If imputation holds, then the hierarchical mediations of Rome are unnecessary.  And this is precisely what is glossed over in many “ecumenical” discussions.

 

FV Joint Statement Exposed, part 1

Click to access joint_FV_Statement.pdf

Our Triune God

We affirm that the triune God is the archetype of all covenantal relations.

The problem with this is archetypal theology is specifically not communicable to ectypal theology.

As the Waters Cover the Sea

This section is fine, but the reader is encouraged to read Iain Murray’s The Puritan Hope for a healthier presentation.

The Next Christendom

Again, not really a problem and neither is this what the FV is about.

Scripture Cannot Be Broken

We affirm further that Scripture is to be our guide in learning how to interpret Scripture, and this means we must imitate the apostolic handling of the Old Testament, paying close attention to language, syntax, context, narrative flow, literary styles, and typology—all of it integrated in Jesus Christ Himself…We deny that the Bible can be rightly understood by any hermeneutical grid not derived from the Scriptures themselves.

Why don’t you say what you really mean?  Go ahead and say those who hold to the Covenant of Works self-consciously seek not to be guided by Scripture.  No one rejects these propositions, so you are actually dealing from the bottom of the deck.

The Proclamation of the Word

Some words about rejecting specialized language, but since they are too scared to say specifics, there isn’t much I can do with this.

Creeds and Confessions

This section is tricky.  On one hand, no Reformed person would disagree with the propositions.  On the other hand, the CREC view of Confessionalism is loaded with self-contradictions.

See here.

The Divine Decrees

We deny that the unchangeable nature of these decrees prevents us from using the same language in covenantal ways as we describe our salvation from within that covenant.

Here is the problem.  Western Christendom, whether Protestant or Catholic, has always said the decrees of God are as immutable as God’s essence.  So, you can say “covenantal” all you want to, but at the end of the day, if you hold to the correct doctrine of God, you must agree with me.

Church

We affirm that membership in the one true Christian Church is visible and objective

It’s hard to say yes or no on that.    What do they mean by “objective”?  I think I have an idea, but that’s the problem.  It’s loaded language which the average reader won’t catch.

Reformed Catholicity

We affirm that justification is through faith in Jesus Christ, and not through works of the law, whether those works were revealed to us by God, or manufactured by man. Because we are justified through faith in Jesus alone, we believe that we have an obligation to be in fellowship with everyone that God has received into fellowship with Himself.

It’s interesting to note which phrase wasn’t used.  Again, these propositions aren’t wrong, but I am left in the dark concerning:

  1. What is the ground of my justification?
  2. What is the instrument?

Covenant of Life

I’m too tired to deal with this one.  They say that Adam was in a faith-alone relationship in the pre-lapsarian covenant.  True, on one hand God condescends to us by covenant, and covenant isn’t something we deserve, but the principle in the law is “Do this and live.” Federal Vision fails to preserve these clarities.

Harvest of Medieval Theology

Narrowly speaking, this is a work on the theology of Gabriel Biel. As it is, one must be careful extrapolating Biel’s thought onto the canvas of late medieval theology. On the other hand, Oberman conclusively argues that Biel’s nominalism is not the stark break from an earlier Pristine Thomism that one often thinks.

Indeed, as one narrative has it (Pickstock, After Writing) in the beginning there was Thomism. Instead of a serpent, we have Duns Scotus. Instead of Cain, the Reformation. While this narrative has been refuted, it holds sway among certain circles. Oberman’s thesis has the merit (no pun intended) that “nominalism” had many varieties, and rather than ruining a pure medievalism, faithfully developed many points and anticipated Trent on others. Now, on to Gabriel Biel.

Biel’s theology can be structured around a dialectic: ordained power and absolute power.

The potentia ordinata and absoluta should not be seen as two different ways of divine acting, since all of God’s works ad extra are united (Oberman 37). God does things according to the laws he has established, potentia ordinata. However, he can do everything that does not imply a contradiction, potentia absoluta.

de potentia ordinata: necessity of the consequence; relates to the contingent order. Since this is not a logical absolute, this means humans cannot predict what predestination per the contingent order will do, since it is contingent (this is a huge point in later Reformed Scholastics).

de potentia absoluta: this does not mean that God can do anything he wants. It means he can do anything that doesn’t imply a logical contradiction. This distinction allowed scholastics to speak of miracles in the created order without the later Humean charge of a violation of natural law.

These categories allow Oberman to move from prolegomena (natural knowledge of God) to epistemology proper to man’s created state to justification and beyond. What makes this book so exciting is that everything is interconnected.

Facere quod in se est, Deus non denegat gratiam

Do what is in you–this line summarizes Biel’s thought. It forces him to rework sacramental theology, justification, anthropology and even Mariology around it. And Biel knows all of this. Per creation and the Fall, original sin is simply an “outgrowth of natural difficulties” already present (129). Grace, therefore, “means the infusion by which man is made a friend of God and acceptable for final beatification” (136). This leads Oberman to conclude: “grace is not the root but the fruit of the preparatory good work” (141).

Biel’s conclusions are not surprising. If his maxim holds, then whenever he comes across something that seems to imply divine power “closing the gap,” so to speak, then it needs to be refocused.

Habitus and Justification

The pre-act of Justification: “the dignitas of an act is its bonitas with respect to its heavenly reward…The habit of grace is the necessary bridge between bonitas and dignitas which gives the viator a de condigno claim on his eternal salvation” (161). And consistent with Biel’s de potentia ordinata God must grant the reward to once the conditions have been met (168).

habitus: disposition necessary before man is beatified. Parenthetically, Oberman notes Biel’s concern over a problem–another area where Biel paints himself into a corner: how can one talk about free will if one has a habit of grace? Aren’t people enslaved to their habits, whether good or bad?

Three stages of Justification
Acquire the habit of grace. “The sinner can reach the demarcation line” between the state of sin and the state of grace; he does what he is able to do (175).
meritum de congruo: semi-merit that is a spontaneous act and worthy of its reward. This creates an initial problem, since no human act is worthy of heaven. That’s okay, though, if we remember the above dialectic (absoluta/ordinata). God has committed himself de potentia ordinata to reward meritum de congruo.

Are There Reformed Antecedents?

It is commonly charged that the Reformation nominalized the pristine beauty of earlier theology. But can we really say that Reformed theology is nominalistic? Not really, or not without heavy argumentation. Oberman notes concerning justification, “Biel explicitly rejects the position which later was to be characterized as Protestant” (183).

PREDESTINATION

Again, Biel’s dialectic appears and governs his thought. The potentia absoluta is God’s mercy. What causes predestination? We must first ask what is meant by cause. Biel will eventually define cause as order of priority (189). Not surprisingly, Biel will soften predestination for the most part (and this is certainly a move away from Anselm and Aquinas).

SCRIPTURE AND THE CHURCH

Keith Mathison took a lot of heat because Roman Catholics and Eastern Orthodox for his categories Tradition I and Tradition II, except that Mathison didn’t invent these categories; Oberman did. Oberman points out that the church has long differed over whether “Tradition” is an independent stream alongside Scripture. What is important for Oberman’s argument is that the nominalists who opposed the Pope for the Council all agreed that Tradition (II) was an independent stream. Thus, any charge that nominalism is the antecedent to the Reformation is clearl false.

Evaluation

This book deserves highest possible praise and widest possible dissemination.